Monthly Archives: August 2007

Writing’s hard enough …

… but there are tools you can use to make it easier. I work occasionally on Lulu’s LiveHelp desk, and one of the questions that people are asking more and more is, ‘What software do you recommend for writing?’

Of course this is a tough one because a number of factors come into play: What hardware set-up do you have? How much can you afford to spend? Are you writing fiction or screenplays or stage plays?

I’ve spent a long time trying out various demos of downloadable software and, in doing that, have come to some conclusions about what I need from a writing software package:

1. It has to have a good word processing function. Although I might not use all the bells and whistles, I want italics, bold, word count – for chapter and book total – and spell check.

2. I have to be able to Save As … or export to a recognised word processing format, either Word.doc or rtf. As I’m writing fiction, there’s no need for drawing or image functions to be included. I’ve tried packages in the past that will only allow you to print from the software, with no ability to translate your document into another format. As the formatting functions are often minimal on this kind of package, that’s hopeless.

3. The ability to make character and scene notes, and to jot down ideas where necessary (that is, when they occur to me!) is essential. I used to keep box files full of hand-written notes – nowadays, everything’s in the software, searchable and close to hand.

4. Finally, the function that I took a long time to recognise I needed – the ability to shuffle events on a time line. Some packages enable you to outline your story – with varying degrees of detail – but not all of them allow you to switch them, like shuffling note cards. When I discovered a program that would allow me to do that, I was in heaven.

And the winner is?

Well, typically, I haven’t found one package that does all of these things. But I have discovered two that enable me to work relatively seamlessly.

The first is a suite of software from Anthemion Software, called Writers’ Cafe: www.writerscafe.co.uk/ In particular, I use the Storylines program from within the suite for the outlining process. It has what appears to be a cork-board, on to which you attach your story-threads. On each of these threads (which are like your main and sub-plots) you then attach virtual notecards containing your individual scenes. These can be dragged and dropped at will, and contain as much or as little information as you like. When you’re plotting something complex, it’s great to be able to see the story graphically like this, instead of just having a linear, text-based description.

The other program I use is called WriteItNow, from Ravenshead Services. With this package you can store ideas, create characters (it includes a couple of psychological models in its character-creation options), even invent plot events. Best of all, its word processing function allows you to create individual chapters, then export them to rtf format, which opens automatically in Word if you have it installed. Each chapter is formatted according to rules that you determine, so that you have a complete book ready for printing at the point at which you click Export. Also included are the spell check and word count functions that I use all the time, plus a thesaurus and a readibility index.

I liked these two programs so much I actually spent money on buying them and I keep them upgraded. It would be hard for me to write without them now. Demos are available on both sites, so give them a go. (Incidentally, I have no financial relationship to these businesses!)

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What I’ve Been Reading, and Planning a New Book

Besides the latest Harry Potter, I also read James Lee Burke’s, The Tin Roof Blowdown and Wm. Kent Krueger’s, Thunder Bay. Both author’s are master’s at writing description of places. Burke’s book is set during and after Hurricane Katrina and description of the devastation of New Orleans was difficult to read. Usually in Burke’s books, which are usually realistic and bloody, the contrast of the action with the beauty of his descriptions of the countryside make the books easier to read. Not so with this one. Just the same I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve read everyone of Kent Krueger’s books and loved them all. He writes about Native Americans like I do and does it extremely well. They are all exciting and I’ve grown to know and love the characters in his series.

It’s hard to find time to read when I’m in the midst of promoting a new book and trying to start writing another. I belong to a critique group that meets every week and I don’t have anything to read there yet. I’m just in the stages of figuring out where I want to take Tempe, who is going to be killed, who is going to do it, who else might have done it, and the reasons why. I also want to add a bit of Native American mysticism as I do in most of her adventures, but not sure exactly what will work best.

So, instead of planning my book, doing research as I should be, I’ve been reading instead–when I’m not doing some sort of promoting.

To celebrate my birthday, we headed to Oxnard and our oldest daughter and her hubby took us to a play in Ventura, “Rotten Apple.” It was interesting and funny in spots. Precious Chong was one of the stars (daughter of Chong of Cheech and Chong fame.) The next day, I participated in the Ventura Book Festival. That was fun though a bit long. I was delighted to see my good friend, Becca Buckley, who is also the founder of Wizards of Words. http://www.wizardsofwords.org/

In September I’m headed for Tampa FL (hoping a hurricane won’t be heading there at the same time–did that with Hurricane Isabel and everything that we had planned was cancelled and we spent an exciting night, waking up to a house surrounded by water and our rental car floating away) to the Wizards of Words writing conference which will be the 14th and 15th. Along with many other speakers, I’ll be giving a presentation on How to Write a Mystery, and another on Electronic Publishing.

I also visited a bit with Michael Mehas, author of Stolen Boy, http://www.michaelmehas.com/home.htm This man know how to promote! Everything he does is so professional. It’s interesting to me that his book was published by iUniverse, since he probably could have found any New York publisher to do it for him. However, I suspect that iUniverse was able to get it out faster–and he certainly has more control.

I did a presentation on Putting Life Into Your Characters–unfortunately, the time was only about 20 minutes which isn’t long enough for such an important talk. They assured me they would change the time schedule for next year.

In the evening, hubby, daughter Dana and I drove over to youngest daughter Lori’s house where we had a wonderful homemade Mexican dinner. We played the crazy game, Estimation–also known as Screw Your Neighbor–and laughed a lot. We were still celebrating my birthday and had ice cream and cake.

After breakfast the next morning with assorted members of our family, we headed back to Springville and the hot weather.

Marilyn
Still promoting Judgment Fire. Http://fictionforyou.com

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Relato LA OCTAVA PLANTA

Sin dejar de apuntarme a la cara con su dedo, la voz de mi amigo se tornó casi confidente, pero firme…
-…Y no preguntes, ¿oyes? Tu misión aquí consiste en bajar y subir con los clientes, nada más… Obedece al mayordomo jefe en todo, no olvides llevarte el uniforme el viernes y volver a traerlo el lunes, ¿oíste?…
-De acuerdo… -musité, mientras mi compañero desaparecía tras la puerta giratoria del hotel sin volverse hacia atrás.
En verdad que debía estarle agradecido pues con su favor me brindaba la oportunidad de sustituirle en su período de vacaciones, como en anteriores ocasiones, y así enriquecer mi maltrecha economía necesitada de una estabilidad más perdurable. En los otros hoteles tuve ocasión de familiarizarme con su puesto de recepción, pero esta vez lo novedoso de la tarea consistía en acompañar a los clientes en sus idas y venidas en el ascensor. En apariencia, una tarea fácil y cómoda, aunque no exenta de una monótona fatiga como enseguida tuve ocasión de comprobar.
Mi antiguo amigo me había asegurado que desde su cambio al nuevo hotel había mejorado de categoría y, en principio, lo achaqué a las cinco estrellas que destacaban en el rótulo. Una vez dentro, comprendí que aquellos anchos espacios marcaban la diferencia con los hoteles precedentes y, sobre todo, el mero hecho de que el ascensorista hubiera de trabajar uniformado.
Desde la terraza de la décima planta podía contemplarse una panorámica sobre la bahía de la ciudad; las oficinas y dependencias administrativas ocupaban la novena planta. De la tercera, descendieron las hermanas Kossack, un par de gemelas nonagenarias que podían permitirse el lujo de residir permanentemente en el hotel. El restaurante se encontraba en la primera planta, y en la segunda los salones para convenciones o reuniones. En el cuarto piso estaba la sala destinada a los enseres de la limpieza y allí también se había habilitado un hueco para el vestuario del personal. Se podía intuir que uno había llegado a la planta quinta por el pestilente aroma que dejaba en el ambiente el hilo de humo de los puros del señor Bruhnin, siempre trajeado y de elegantes maneras. Y de la sexta, sobre todo, temía el escandaloso tropel de muchachos excursionistas que en desordenada algarabía vociferaban y competían con sus alaridos y risas estridentes. El trajín en el hotel resultaba incesante y se renovaba a diario con nuevos clientes. Me fijé en especial en la bella chica que recogía en la séptima planta y que destacaba por su porte distinguido, un ceñido vestido la entubaba de lentejuelas hasta los pies, pero dejaba al descubierto unos hombros contorneados, casi perfectos… Seguí con los ojos cerrados el sugerente rastro que desprendía su perfume, pero desperté brusco a la realidad, fustigado por lo insólito de un detalle recién descubierto. Acababa de percatarme que nadie bajaba ni subía de la octava planta… Sí, en los pocos días que llevaba allí no conocía a nadie que se alojara en ella. A la hora del almuerzo, libre de pasajeros, decidí investigar el misterioso hecho. Mi zozobra se tiñó de inquietud, el ascensor pasaba de largo de la séptima a la novena o viceversa, sin obedecer el mando. Lo comenté a las chicas de la limpieza y entre los botones que, con esquiva extrañeza, no atinaron a darme explicación alguna.
Aquel viernes el mayordomo jefe me acompañó durante toda la tarde en el trayecto del ascensor. Casi al acabar la jornada me aseguró que no hacía falta mi presencia en el hotel durante la semana siguiente y que, debido a mi carácter amenazante, podía darme por despedido. Iba a rechistar, pero recordé las palabras de mi amigo y, por respeto, callé. Recuerdo igualmente su teatral transfiguración cuando quise contarle lo sucedido a su regreso.
-Estás loco si crees que con amenazas o insultos vas a provocarme. Ya me lo contó el mayordomo jefe. Me equivoqué, no quiero nada contigo…
Después de tanto tiempo un nudo de perplejidad aún acompaña mi desolada decepción. Resultan curiosos los avatares que esconde el destino. Por fin encontré mi camino, hoy trabajo y viajo por las comarcas de la zona norte. Eso sí, nunca me alojo en un hotel de más de cuatro plantas…

* Es una Colección “Son Relatos”, © Luis Tamargo.-
http://leetamargo.blogspot.com

© 2007 Luis Tamargo

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Politics as usual?

Political campaigns are in full swing, and these are just some of the thoughts I’ve been having as the time to vote gets closer. I’m sure there is much more to go into–and these thoughts aren’t likely to be anything “new”–but in the interest of time, I’m only going to highlight a few of the points.

Like anybody else, I have my concerns about the future of America. Some statistics (which are usually about as trustworthy as your average politician) say that Americans are falling behind in just about every major area–education, productivity, etc.,. Education is a big concern here in Baltimore. However, violence is one area in which America seems to be leading, and again, Baltimore is at the forefront. A truly “charming” city full of promise, one that rivals any other major city, it’s also plagued by one of the worst crime rates in America. Supposedly worse than New York, if you can imagine that.

Every year politicians claim they’re going to lower the crime rate, improve education, improve the relationship between the police and the people, improve housing and the job market, and every year–with few exceptions–it’s the same old same old. Where are the politicians that care beyond election day? When Shelia Dixon (Baltimore’s interim Mayor) addresses the issues, it’s usually a typical loop over and over again. She’s not responsible for this or that, she’s “working on” this or that. The outlines seem to be there, and yet crime in the city has gone up since she took over. The educational system is still in bad shape. Granted, she hasn’t had much time to prove herself as Mayor, but she exhibited the same reluctance to take responsibility before she took the office. I’d like to believe in her, but in such a situation, belief does not proceed results.

Back to the concern about America as a whole; one thing that worries me is the constant talk about the “fact” that America is not ready for a woman President (Hillary Clinton) or a black President (Obama Barack). Regardless of who I may vote for, I wonder if we as a country are so far behind that a person’s gender or ethnicity really still weighs so heavily as a factor when it comes to the well-being of the nation. After everything that this country has been through in the past few years, one would think that voting for the best person for the job would be at the forefront, not voting for the person that “makes [me] feel comfortable” or whom “[I’d] like to have a beer with”. Of course there are factions in this country that have their own ulterior agendas, but what about the majority?

True, human nature doesn’t change over night and politicians don’t work alone. The political campaigns are still popularity contests where charisma, looks, and money matter as much as (if not more than) ideas, strategy, and ideals. There are few politicians that can balance the two sides effectively. Usually, if a candidate is charismatic, he or she lacks substance; if they are strong on ideas and ideals, they lack social skills. Occasionally someone comes along that can wow the crowds and actually has a solid plan for improving the country for everyone, but they seem to be few and far between.

While I’m far from the gloom and doom type, I do think that as things move at a faster pace globally, Americans on the whole have to elect politicians that can help us make real progress at home and on the global stage, not make us stagnant–or even worse–throw us back into the dark ages. It may still be a field where one has to select the lesser of the evils, but voting (if our votes still truly matter) based on irrelevant issues has to be a thing of the past if America is going to remain relevant on the world’s stage.
Nancy O. Greene
http://www.portraits.bravehost.com
http://www.writersgroupblog.wordpress.com

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Choosing Your Books

books

I’ve built up a pretty size library here at my home. As I go to the bookstore, discount stores, garage sales or the Good Will Book Store I try to look for gems to add to my private collection. When it comes time to choose I go by what my needs are at the moment. For years it was educational purposes what I needed to attend since I homeschool my kids, so I kept my eye open for books we could use to supplement the curriculum. Now that I have most of the books I need for educational purposes and the kids are soon to graduate I’m cleaning out the shelves for classical and best selling books. I also like to have history and art books around.

I have three different areas in which I keep books; the study, my bedroom, and my office. In the study I keep all the educational and reference books. That’s the area where the kids go when they need to work on something. In my bedroom I have a small three shelf bookcase with all of my spiritual books and in my office all the books that has to do with my work, writing, fiction and travel writing. I also keep my magazines, notebooks and journals.

When it comes to choosing which book to read next I go by the mood I’m in or the time of the year. People love to pick up fiction set in a Christmas time during the Christmas season and books then you have fantastic stories set during the summer time or travel setting that attract readers that time of the year as well.

Now that summer is over I won’t have that much time to read anymore even though I eliminated television viewing in order to gain time to do so. I’m not sure what I will be reading next but I’m loving to read poetry lately and that is something that doesn’t take that much time. I might pick up one of two fiction books in order to get better at writing a story someday.

So share with me how do you go about choosing your books and influences you to purchase certain books. Are you going to be able to read much this fall season?

Clary Lopez, Author
Simplicity – Richness of Life

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Fear to Fail

Fear as an emotion has received its fair share of critics and defenders. Often it’s not fear itself that is the harbinger of doom. Fear, physiological fear that is, is a good and empowering emotion. It brings about physical changes to the human body and mind that makes them, like the six million dollar man, faster, better stronger. It narrows the focus, causes the body to excrete life saving hormones and changes (producing adrenaline and increasing the production of blood clotting agents). These amazing changes  are ancient life-saving formulas that have guaranteed the survival of mankind from its early walks upon the planet. Fight or flight stuff. True fear is an innate, instinctive emotion that requires absolutely no conscious thought to tap it. You don’t have to train the human body to feel fear or react to its effects. Place a person in front of a charging, rabid dog and it knows exactly what to do. Stories of supposed magical feats of strength, endurance and speed are all as the result of those changes (e.g. the diminutive mother lifting a car off of her child).

Psychological fear on the other hand is a crippling, irrational emotion. It has no basis in logic or reality but its effects can be paralyzing. Gavin De Becker in his book The Gift of Fear coined the acronym for this emotion False Expectations Appearing Real or F.E.A.R. In other words, you fear that which has not yet, or may never happen. From deeply felt inexplicable phobias to simple irrational fear, this emotion has quite the opposite effect of the real one in terms of action.

I’ll give you an example. Many people have a supposed natural fear of spiders and snakes, venomous or otherwise. If you think logically about this, you would wonder how you could fear an animal you can a) squash with your shoe, or b) outrun? The fact that neither of these animals considers us to be natural prey and avoid us as well, striking only when they feel threatened, underscores this point. So what are we afraid of? Simple. We’re afraid of that which has not yet happened; namely, the poisonous bite. There are countless actions we can take to avoid this once we’re conscious of the animal’s presence but often the psychological fear will paralyze us into inertia.

I’ve faced fear ferociously in almost all aspects of my life. I’m a bit of the T personality; adventurous and risk taking. I’ve held firm to a philosophy to not let fear dictate my life’s decisions, but even I have not been immune to its crippling hold along with its strongest motivating ally, uncertainty. Fear of the unknown. Is this a real fear? Of course not. Yet, it will stop us dead in our tracks when it comes to leaping out of our comfort zones.

The fear of rejection and ridicule stopped me from finishing a novel for the early part of my life. Sound familiar? I’d get a brilliant idea for a story, began to write it, lovingly shaping the big lump of clay into a semblance of the story and then somewhere in the process, stop abruptly. I was very clever in talking myself out of finishing the work. Lack of time, the idea was no longer “topical”, its focus is too narrow, too vague, too oblique, not funny, not exciting, wouldn’t sell, blah blah blah. None of these were the true reasons for not finishing it.

In taking a brutally honest assessment as to why I did not finish a book I had started I discovered quite by surprise that the reason was simple. The psychological fear of rejection and/or ridicule. It’s a toughie isn’t it? Putting yourself out there. Sink or swim. There’s a certain warm fuzzy coccoonish feeling of writing just for you. I actually know two people who have written more than three books apiece they have no intention of publishing. This I really don’t understand as once my book was finished I couldn’t wait to put it out there. When I ask them, they very quickly rattle off similar reasons to the ones I listed above. They were just more diligent in finishing the work.

Once I honestly accepted my reasons for not finishing, I was able to slay that dragon very easily. I decided that everyone has at least one book in them and by the same token every one has an audience, no matter how small. So I would just tell the story my way. Put one word after the other until I could come up with a logical place to put (30) or The End.

 

Good thing too because before I decided to self-publish I received 148 rejection slips from my queries and submissions to conventional agents and publishers. Nonplussed I settled on self-publishing and the results have been extraordinarily rewarding (well, I haven’t bought that Viper yet. I’ll keep you posted). My new challenge is to finish the second, third and fourth ones I’ve started so I won’t be just a “one book wonder”.

I’ve received many positive reviews for Protecting Nahir. Two of my favorites have come from people who know me. What they say is that when they read it, they could hear me talking. This is important to me. It means I’m not mimicking or copying anyone. I have my own writer’s voice. Like it or hate it, it is my own.  As wildly successful as James Patterson is, I’d hate for anyone to say that I write like he does. Or anyone for that matter (of course, maybe that would get me that Viper).

Writing a book is not an elite, obscure talent only a select few of us have inherited from God. Writing of itself is a skill I still work on improving, but telling a story is as innate to people as talking. Some are just more enjoyable than others and it’s all subjective isn’t it? I simply love the stories of authors who were rejected countless times until that one story ignited a spark that spread like brushfire! It’s all a matter of conquering that fear isn’t it? Okay it’s not that simple but that fear is more daunting than anything that may stand in your way. A famous writer once said (I forget his name and I’m paraphrasing here), “Writing is simple. All you need do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” I have one of my own. Writing a book is easy. Simply put one word after the other until you’ve reached a logical place to put THE END.

                                                         THE END

See what I mean?

 

Anthony D. Hubble

Author, Protecting Nahir

http://www.amazon.com/Protecting-Nahir-Anthony-D-Hubble/dp/1594535000/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-5384234-0766251?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187709660&sr=8-1

 

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To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish

The debate still rages on the viability of self-publishing through POD (print-on-demand) outfits.

I recently weighed in on the topic.  Also of special note to those who have used iUniverse specifically, I discuss a fellow author who provides wonderful, in depth reviews of iUniverse titles and recently featured my novel, The Thief Maker. 

See Below:

http://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/the-verdict-on-self-publishing-and-the-thief-maker/

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