Saturday, October 31, 2009

Family Carvings 2009

Courtesy of Daughter #1

And, on the home front, this year's jack o'lantern, setting a carving speed record, is brought to you by the shape: Triangle.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

First, thanks to those who follow this blog. I hit a 100 milestone yesterday. I remember when Google first offered the "follow" option, and I had one person sign up--my daughter. Knowing there's some interest in my meanderings is extremely gratifying.

Tomorrow is Halloween here in the states (and Canada, I'm assuming from the picture I took in Quebec City). Although we don't do much anymore, what with the kids being on their own (I leave the massive celebrations to daughter #2, who throws a major bash every year), Halloween was a favorite holiday in our household for years. As a matter of fact, hubby was late coming to pick me up from the hospital after I was released when our twins were born because he and big brother had to make a stop at the pumpkin patch to pick out one large and two tiny pumpkins.

This year, he bought a pumpkin. I'm not sure if he plans to carve it, though. In this part of the country, you don't carve pumpkins before October 30th or they'll rot. That's something my neighbor learned the hard way when she moved here from Chicago and set about half a dozen carved jack o'lanterns outside her house in early October.

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Hubby was the carving supervisor. I roasted the pumpkin seeds (and ate most of them, because nobody else really liked them. It's good to be the Mom.) The kids designed and drew the faces; he carved. With the advent of those nifty little pumpkin carving kits with the short serrated carvers, they were on their own.

They still carve 'non-traditional' jack o'lanterns, but they were doing it long before it was trendy. My son did this one when he was in high school.

Costumes were fun too. My kids went to a special center for elementary school, and their big bash was Halloween, and costumes were supposed to be kid-made. They came up with some very clever costumes. One year daughter #2 and her best friend went as squeeze bottles of mustard and ketchup. Alas, that was long before digital cameras, and all my photo albums are packed up and in a POD somewhere.

But I did find these the year I turned them into scarecrows.

Also note: Color film HAD been invented, but I was a hobbyist photographer and shot black and white. I'd often hand color bits and pieces of the photos.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting It Right

A question frequently asked of authors is how they do their research for their books. Answers are as varied as the books they write. Some might spend months doing research. Some have budgets that permit travel to research exotic locales. While I take advantage of any travel I do, I've yet to reach the point where I can write it off as a legitimate business expense, since I'm pretty sure the IRS expects you to have a contract, or at least expressed interest, for the book in question.

I don't plot very far in advance, so for me, research is an ongoing project. I want the details to be right. At the very least, I want to be the one deciding if I can stretch the truth for the sake of the story.

Sources? I tend to start with Google if it's a topic about which I know nothing, or very little. Their map feature helps me verify things like terrain, routes to and from locations, and local landmarks.

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Using a site such as the Farmer's Almanac, I can check sunrise, sunset, and phases of the moon for the time of year in my book. Even what stars will be visible to my characters as they stand on the porch and gaze heavenward.

I also rely on people I know, whether for their professional expertise or because they live where I've set my books. My sister-in-law will attest to countless emails from me with questions like, "What street trees are blooming in Salem in May?" My daughters provide the music my characters listen to, since they're closer in age than I am.

Since many of my books involve law enforcement officers, I've cultivated sources to make sure the information is accurate. (No, CSI is NOT a reference – more on that later)

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I belong to several Yahoo groups made up of professionals who will answer questions. A favorite is Crimescenewriters. Another invaluable site is "The Graveyard Shift" hosted by retired detective Lee Lofland. When my agencies are fictional, I still try to adhere to proper procedure for that state/county. When writing Nowhere to Hide, my hero was an Orange County deputy. I felt obligated to be as accurate as possible, because these were facts that could be checked. Things like uniform color, and the different uniforms worn by patrol officers versus the motorcycle cops. The fact that nametags show both first and last names. That the department issued weapon is a Glock. And I know that one does NOT thumb a safety off a Glock.

Most agencies have a Public Information Officer who will answer questions. Sometimes whoever answers the phone is intrigued when you introduce yourself as an author, and they'll direct you to someone who can help. I also enrolled in the Civilian Police Academy and made some wonderful contacts there (including Detective Hussey, whom you've probably met on this blog).

I went to a firing range and had hands-on experience firing a variety of weapons. I did a ride-along with a patrol officer (note: I deliberately picked a relatively quiet sector and shift, hoping I'd have time to ask lots of questions. Which I did.)

Details keep the reader on the page. Even the little ones. I read a book not long ago where the character was on the South Beach diet. A scene showed him going to the vending machine for a packet of almonds and then counting out fifteen of them. Seems like a minor detail, but if it had been a different number, anyone familiar with the diet would have been pulled out of the story.

Sometimes you can't help the 'mistakes.' I set a scene in a local restaurant, but by the time the book was accepted, the restaurant had gone defunct. Or, sometimes your publisher's legal department doesn't want you to use real places or people to avoid possible litigation. You've got no control over that. (Other than finding another publisher.)

Sometimes you stretch the truth because it is, in the end, fiction. And nobody should be using fiction as a research source. Which brings me back to CSI and The Graveyard Shift. There's a very real phenomenon, the "CSI Effect" that creates all sorts of problems in the judicial system. People see what the actors do on television and assume it's that way in real life. Lee Lofland has been having fun analyzing the hit television show, "Castle" for police accuracy. He will review each week's show, but his commentary is strictly about the police work and forensics. It has nothing to do with whether or not he likes the show (he does). He provides these insights so authors won't take something they see on the show and assume it's how things work and include it in their books, thus perpetuating the error.

Sometimes the hardest part of research is knowing what to look up. In Finding Sarah, I wanted to make it impossible for her to escape, even though she eluded her captor. Fine. She's found his car keys. But he drives a stick shift, and she doesn't know how to use a manual transmission. To make sure, I had the vehicle parked facing a tree, so she'd also have to back up to get it moving. Reality: you can't start a modern manual transmission vehicle unless you depress the clutch. She wouldn't know this, so the car wouldn't start at all. BUT. I had no clue that the make and model of the car I'd chosen didn't come with a manual transmission. Lucky for me, a crit partner pointed this out, so I was able to save that embarrassing error from appearing on the page.

And at the moment, I'm awaiting an answer to my current plot question about what my cop should do when one of his officers thinks "something isn't quite right" when she checks a local residence. Is the bad guy inside? Does he have hostages? Or did the residents simply not answer the door because they were asleep? Does he go in guns blazing? Knock on the door? Wait for enough backup to surround the house? I don't want a reader to say, "No cop on earth would ever do that" when they read my books. I don't mind, "Well, not the BEST choice, but I can buy it."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where's "The End?"

What I'm reading: Watch Me, by Brenda Novak

Thanks to Jeff for his fascinating tale of the Jersey Devil. Not something I care to meet up with on a dark night. Or even in broad daylight.

The boring, real-life stuff: Communication. Why is it so hard? I'm STILL going round and round with the dryer repair people, who can't seem to communicate with each other, much less me. I call, they check, they need more information. "We'll call you right back." Yeah, right.

Hasn't happened yet. We've gone back to square one with the company that administers our extended warranty. They agree the best way to proceed is to file a brand new claim, specifying that another company handle the repair job. I won't mention how the first person took all my information, read it back to me and said she'd transfer me to Customer Service. "All they have to do is copy and paste my report and confirm your address. It'll only take a minute." Yeah, right. "Oh, but you've been transferred from a different department. We have to fill out the forms the right way." So I repeat my story. We conclude with, "Someone will call you to set up an appointment within 3 business days." Yeah, right, I repeat.

For the record, my first call to the warranty people was on July 27th. The biggest problem seems to be that the dryer in question is so good that nobody ever needs a repair job, so nobody knows how to deal with the manufacturer. Next time, maybe I should buy a clunker. At least the repair folks will have had lots of experience fixing them.

Back to writing:

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With my final edits turned in (and only one new typo found after I hit "send", but my editor said she'd alert the copyeditor) it was time to get back to my mystery.

As I opened the document and looked at where I'd left off, my first reaction was, "Who ARE these people?" I had to back up and read the last few chapters I'd written to remember what was going on. And, as always when I get near to where the end should be, I find I still have more to say.

I'd been watching word count on this novel, trying to meet publishing guidelines of 70-90,000 words. Normally, I'm happy at a bit over 100,000 for a first draft, but when I hit the 70K mark in this manuscript, I realized I couldn't possibly wrap it up in 10,000 more words. Maybe I could squeeze it in under 90.

Not going to happen. I'm almost there already, and I haven't caught the bad guy, although we know who he is. As a matter of fact, he's captured four of my major characters and is holding them hostage. I haven't revealed his motive for being a bad guy (and it's still a bit shaky – needs a bit more depth), nor have I dealt with the resolution of either of the relationships that have been growing. Not to mention, the whole book has revolved around finding a secret, and that hasn't been revealed yet either.

I've decided (again) that I have to write the book until everything is covered. Then I can go back and see if I've had too much 'fun' and put in brilliant writing that doesn't advance the plot. But I'm afraid if I try to rush the ending, the book will fall flat. And if I try to cut now, I might be deleting critical details. Time to get back to the storyboard and review all my plot points and reveals.

I have Gordon, my police chief. He's got his duties to perform, and solving the case I threw at him is only one of them. Plus, the case has more than one victim, and he's got to put everything together. Then, I have my elderly couple, Rose and Sam, who are at the crux of the mystery. Megan is their ward, and Justin is their grandson. They've all got their own priorities at the beginning of the book, and they've been moving closer together as the book progresses.

Looking at what I had, I realized that to move forward I was going to have to break with the structure I'd been following with scene length, chapter length, and POV shifts. It's about the STORY, stupid. Trying to balance five important characters, even if only three are POV characters has been my challenge. They're not together all the time. And this isn't a romantic suspense where you throw the hero and heroine together on page 3 and they're in each other's pocket for the duration of the book. It's a mystery (actually, all my books are mysteries, and there's only one where hero and heroine are together almost all the way through the book).

As I struggled to bring things to a close, I figured out that there was no "rule" that said I couldn't extend one of Gordon's scenes a few pages longer in order to cover some critical plot points. Or just because I'd been writing chapters with a Gordon POV scene alternating with a Megan or Justin POV scene, that wasn't a "rule" either. IT'S THE STORY, STUPID!

So, now I'm left with deciding if I can capture the bad guy and still have another two chapters to wrap up the mystery behind it. Have I left too much for exposition, or does logic dictate that a lot of the finer points wouldn't be revealed until they have the bad guy in custody? As a reader, I don't like abrupt endings. Give me a little time to ease out of the story, to feel comfortable that things have been wrapped up, and give me another peek at the characters and how they adjust to what they've been through.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Legend of the Jersey Devil

Today, my guest, Jeff Markowitz, takes us on a tour of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and introduces us to one of the Pine Barrens’ most famous citizens.

Folks are always surprised when I tell them about the Pine Barrens. After all, it’s not what people think of when they think of New Jersey. You might be surprised to find more than one million acres of pine forests and cranberry bogs less than one hundred miles from Manhattan, less than fifty miles from Philadelphia.

Towns have grown up in and amongst the forest, and some are now thriving cities, but, even today, there is vast acreage in the Pine Barrens that remains virgin pine forest. Deep in the forest, amongst the pitch pines and the cranberry bogs, the fragrant berries and the abandoned cemeteries, strange things abound.

None stranger than the Jersey Devil.

The Jersey Devil is one of the enduring legends that have come out of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, dating back to the early 1700s. There are several accounts of the birth of the Jersey Devil, but the most common story dates back to 1735, to Mother Leeds, pregnant with her thirteenth child, saddled with a drunken, ne’er-do-well husband, and burdened with far too many responsibilities. Mother Leeds cursed her unborn child to the devil. And then she gave birth to a horrible creature, with a horse-like head and hooves, bat-wings, a forked tail and an ear-piercing shriek.

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Sightings of the Jersey Devil have been reported ever since, terrorizing south Jersey (although, curiously, rarely causing any actual damage). The most extensive sightings date back to 1909, to the week of January 16-23. During that week, in 1909, the Jersey Devil was seen in more than thirty different towns, by hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. The terror was so widespread that schools and factories were closed and posses were formed in an attempt to capture the elusive Jersey Devil.

The sightings began late at night, January 16 in Woodbury, NJ and early on the morning of January 17 in Bristol, PA. The sightings in Bristol included eye-witness accounts by a police officer (later to become the Bristol Chief of Police) as well as the town’s postmaster, who described the creature as follows:

“Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its long thick neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind. Again, it uttered its mournful and awful call – a combination of a squawk and a whistle, the beginning very high and piercing and ending very low and horse.” (from The Jersey Devil, by McCloy and Miller, published by Middle Atlantic Press).

Over the subsequent twenty-four hours, reports of the Jersey Devil, or Jersey Devil tracks were reported in Burlington City, Gloucester City, Columbus, Hedding, Kinkora and Rancocas. On Tuesday, January 19, the Jersey Devil made a well-documented appearance in Gloucester City, that resulted in the following description by Nelson Evans:

“It was about three feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse’s hooves.” (from The Jersey Devil)

In the ensuing days, the Jersey Devil was spotted in Haddonfield, in Moorestown and in numerous other towns in south Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Public meetings were held to address citizens’ concerns.

On Thursday, January 21, the Jersey Devil’s rampage intensified, with an attack on a trolley car in Camden. Before the day’s end, there were sightings in Trenton and Ewing, in Roebling, Pitman, Bridgeton and Millville, in West Collingswood, Mt. Holly and Atlantic City, as well as Philadelphia, PA. Trolley cars in Trenton and New Brunswick armed the drivers in an effort to protect the trolleys from attack.

The panic was palpable. By Friday, January 22, people had locked themselves in their homes in towns all across the Delaware Valley. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Sighting continued on Friday in Camden and Woodbury. The final reported sighting of the week occurred Friday night in Salem.

And then the Devil was gone.

There have been occasional reports of the Jersey Devil since that harrowing week, but nothing comes close to the magnitude of the events that transpired one hundred years ago in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

But you never know when the Jersey Devil may strike. So, if you’re in the area, you might want to make your way to Bass River State Forest at 7:00 pm on October 30 for the Jersey Devil Prowl. (Ages 7 and up. Jersey Devil prowling, after all, is dangerous work).

Jeff Markowitz is the author of the Cassie O’Malley Mysteries, an amateur sleuth series set deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. His latest novel, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder has just been released by Five Star. To find out more, please visit

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's in a Cover?

What I'm reading: Knock Off, by Rhonda Pollero.

Where do those covers come from? People ask if authors design their own, or hire artists to create them. No, the publisher has an art department, and someone there is responsible for the cover. So far, all my publishers provide a questionnaire, and we fill in things like locale, time period, tone, theme, any special symbols, and character descriptions. The artists don't read the book. They are also much closer to the marketing side of things, and will make decisions based on what they think will sell the book. All that stuff about not judging a book by its cover? Well, the cover is the first thing you see, and the idea is to entice a reader to take a closer look at what's inside.

My cover for NOWHERE TO HIDE. This arrived while I was in Quebec, but I wanted to make sure everything was approved before I unveiled it here. It came with a note from the artist, who said finding images that would 'match' my heroine would be almost impossible, so she opted to create a "good looking cover." It's definitely HOT, don't you think?

Here's a bit more about the book:
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The trouble with running away is that you take yourself with you. After a case goes south, Colleen McDonald leaves her police job in Oregon for a fresh start as a civilian in Orlando. The last thing she needs is some cop with killer blue eyes coming around, looking for her missing landlord. The quickest way to get Deputy Graham Harrigan out of her life is to beat him at his own game.

Finding Jeffrey Walters might be Graham's ticket to a slot in the Criminal Investigations Division. Determined to prove he's the man for the job despite the stain of an unsavory reputation passed down by his training partner, he can't afford to be distracted by the pretty tenant in Walters' guest house. A tenant who seems to know more about the case than he does. A tenant with her own demons.

Will Colleen's secrets destroy Graham's chances for a promotion, or will love make theirs a permanent partnership?

I don't have a release date yet, other than 2010.

And, believe it or not, I spent the weekend doing … edits. But I've cross-checked the manuscript against the editorial fixes based on the corrections I've turned in. Something I learned:

Even the best editing can still need to be tweaked for wonkiness. The formatting for many e-books tends to rely on Word's rules of spacing. That can be problematical if the house style doesn't like hyphenating words (the splitting of a word based on syllabification at the end of a line, not the kind where hyphens are used to connect words. And yes, I'm sure there's a term for that.).

What often happens is that you get lines where the words are spread out to fill the space, leaving bigger than normal gaps. Word simply looks for spaces between words, and when the last complete word approaches the end of the line, it moves on to the next. If the margins are set to full justification (meaning they're lined up on both the right and left sides), Word evenly spaces all the ones to that point. If there are no hyphens to help make the words more equal in size, you get what looks like the example below:
Sometimes, a simple word change can fix the appearance. Sometimes, it's a matter of hoping a reader's eye will glide over the page and not notice the hop.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Jeff Markowitz. who will take us on a tour of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and introduce us to one of the Pine Barrens’ most famous citizens.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thanks to All

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on Friday's post. And congratulations, and thanks to Nicole for her tremendous efforts. Based on the comments, I'll be making a $35 donation to the cause. If anyone wants to join me, the link to her fundraising page is here.

And if you're looking at another way to help, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I've been doing my part--having a Pink Ribbon Bagel at Panera on our weekly outings.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Respect for the Beast

What I'm reading: Hunt Her Down, by Roxanne St. Claire.

Today, I'm turning my blog over to someone special - my youngest (by 3 minutes) daughter. It's her birthday, and I wish her (and her sister, of course!) the happiest of days, but I'd like to share her recent experience. Always warm and giving, she joined up with Team in Training several years ago, and has become a triathlete dedicated to raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Most of us would be content to sit back and write a check, but she goes after things on a much more ... active level. Last weekend, she ran a full marathon. As her mom, all I could think about was how the guy who ran the first one ended up dead ... but I'll let her tell her story.

Sunday, Oct 18th I experienced my very first marathon. I've run one half-marathon and a couple others as part of half-iron distance races, but this would be my first attempt at the full 26.2. I was part of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT) team, so there was tons of support. Our Colorado Springs team was extra motivated, because one of our teammate's daughter was at the very end of her struggle with leukemia on race day. I was also running for my aunt, Amy, who has recently been diagnosed with a form of lymphoma.

On the day before the race, I was getting the lay of the land when Jaci and her husband showed up - Jaci's daughter, Kalia, is the one fighting leukemia. We didn't expect her to be there, but Kalila told them to come so they did. She was obviously very distraught so I walked her through packet pick-up and back to the team meeting location. They were certainly surrounded by a wonderful support team.

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The team headed over to Maggiano's for our Inspiration Luncheon. It was very inspiring, to say the least. First we get the red carpet treatment as we enter the restaurant, with TNT coaches, staff, and volunteers cheering extremely loudly as we walk in. Then we watch a slideshow of the reason we are running - pictures of all the people the team knows who have fought or are still fighting blood cancers. I was sitting at a table with Jaci and Brian, and you could see them wait in anticipation every time Kalila's picture would be about to come up. I can't imagine what they were feeling.

We heard from "Mascot Dave," a Team Hero who is dealing with leukemia. He's currently in remission after several different experimental treatments. It seems that he truly enjoys giving back to others and pushing his own personal limits. "There are no mistakes, only lessons."


Jaci and Brian showed up but they didn't stay long. They got a call that Kalila was not doing well at all and might not make it until noon. So after a lot of hugs from the team, they headed out. A friend of Kalila's ran the half for Jaci in Kalila's honor. The troops were gathered and before heading to the race start we had a "Mission Moment" from a young leukemia survior, probably not much older than Kalila and was diagnosed a year or so ago. I think Jaci and Brian were still around for that so I can't begin to imagine how they were feeling with a young survivor speaking and thanking us for saving her life while their daughter was in her final hours. An extremely emotional start to the race morning, but it certainly put a lot of things into perspective.

I head over to the start. Crowded! I pressed start on my Garmin as I crossed the mat and I had officially started my first marathon.

Start slow. Take it easy. Get your legs warmed up nice and slow. I was taking in the vibe of running with so many people on the streets of Denver at sunrise. Beautiful feeling. I was taking it easy the first mile - my Garmin had me at 10:30 or so pace. first 3 miles were good - legs got warmed up and I was plenty comfy in my singlet and arm warmers. By mile 3 the 4:00 pace group was near me and the leader said "3 miles, right on pace." My Garmin had me at 2.7miles. OK - so don't believe the Garmin today. I started feeling good and picked up my pace.

We wound around the streets of downtown Denver. Around 5.5 miles was the TNT cheer/aid station. Crazy people in purple and cowboy hats cheering and screaming. I remember pumping my arms - woohoo and yeehaw!

Around mile 9 or so I heard my name and Becky (another former TNTer) was there and took my picture. Soon there was a TNT coach who was monitoring us on the course. He said I looked really relaxed. I felt good, even though my legs were feeling it some. I just kept going. I didn't realize I was in a park. Oh well. After the park we were close to the half-way point. I remember looking at my time at mile 12 and seeing 1:48. Still on track for a sub-4 race so I felt good. Just keep up this pace and I'll be golden.

Eastbound was slightly uphill and I could really tell. Another TNT coach ran with us for a couple blocks and then headed back down to find the next person in purple. I couldn't wait to get to the turn around on this part for the recovery on the slight downhill. Oh so wrong. At this point my legs were pretty sore so there was no recovery on a downhill, only pain. I remember looking at the miles and couldn't wait for the miles left to be in the single digits.

Then the pain registered even more. Everything hurt - well everything except the knee pain that put me into PT all last week! Hang on and keep the legs moving. I knew why I was out there - didn't question that. I knew I would finish. I just didn't know how long it would take me to get to the finish line....

Mile 17 the TNT coach who saw me at mile 9 or 10 was back. He said I looked a little sore. I agreed. He got me to shake out my arms, relax and breathe. Really breathing wasn't an issue. At this time I was going slow enough that my cardiovascular system wasn't taxed at all. I had no trouble breathing. I had trouble moving my legs. But I was tensing up in the shoulders too, so it was good to remember to shake the arms out a bit. Mile 18.

Just 8 more miles. My IT band tightness was manifesting itself in my knees. Joy. Been there, done that, don't want that again. Just keep moving. Mile 20...OK, only a 10k to go. really - just a 10k! That's still an hour...

Shuffle, shuffle, walk at an aid station. Shuffle again. Didn't even bother checking my pace on the Garmin. I hear there is a wall at mile 20. Nope, no wall, just an extremely viscous medium to sludge my way through. I didn't want to walk (other than aid stations) but I did. I admit it. I started to see more people going by me. Even though I was going pretty slow by now and was hurting (see the race photo grimace) I was moving.

The cops were managing the traffic at the intersections and the runners were very polite and thanking the cops. I usually do that too, but today it was all I could do to just smile or give a thumbs up. 5 more miles. 4 more miles. 4:15 pace group goes by at some point - just hang with them...or not. 3 more miles. 2 more miles. Another TNT coach on the course - better get to running again! He asked how I was but didn't buy the "OK" I managed to squeak out. But I convinced him I was fine other than the pain (with which I am sure he was familiar). He gave me a brief run down on the last 1.5 miles of the course, said I looked good and let me go on my way. Mile 25 marker. I was almost there. walk, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. OK maybe a little more walking.

Woohoo! There was no final kick for me, but I will finish with my head up high! Now, don't trip on the timing mats! Didn't - good. I had finished my first marathon in 4:26.

This was by far the most pain I have ever intentionally inflicted upon myself. But was it worth it? Yeah. Would I do it again? Yeah. (got to figure the pacing stuff out for sure!) Pressure is gone, right now who cares about a BQ - finishing was fine, just fine. I knew it was going to be painful and hard, but I really did underestimate the power of the beast. I definitely have a new found respect for the marathon.

And unfortunately, later that night, Jaci and Brian lost Kalila to leukemia....

This is an abridged version: the entire story can be read at Banana Death, Nicole's blog.

More pictures here and here.

As a closing note: One of my Wild Rose Press author colleagues has just received the heartbreaking news that her daughter has been diagnosed with leukemia. Thanks to all the Team in Training athletes who give so much for the cause.
If after reading, you'd like to make a donation, you can do it here.

And, finally: For every comment left on this blog, I'll make a donation to Nicole's fund raising efforts. Happy Birthday, kiddo! We're proud of you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Backup, Backup, Backup

Still working on galleys -- as hubby puts it, "Reading like this sure pulls the eyeballs out of your head."

I think everyone has had those panic and despair-filled moments when we lose a file, whether it's due to a computer crash or simple user error. When you're writing a 100,000 word document, it can be frightening.

Backup, backup, backup. We have a networked hard drive. I have flash drives. I have a PC and a laptop, and I'll email files to my daughter in Northern Ireland. But sometimes it gets confusing as to where a specific file might be. And there's more going on than just working on a manuscript.

Just before we went to Quebec, hubby mentioned a piece of software he uses to share files with one of his colleagues in another state. I checked it out and decided to give it a try. Although I don't often need to share files with colleagues, I do need to keep my laptop and my PC up to date, especially when I travel. (Sometimes, as far away as the bedroom!)

Note: this is not an official 'endorsement' of a product. It's just something I discovered and thought if I found it useful, someone else might, too. It's also kind of a cop-out post, because I really have to finish reading these galleys.

It seems to be an excellent solution to moving things back and forth from one computer to another, or via a flash drive. I'm always forgetting which system I was working on last, and on more than one occasion have accidentally saved an older file on top of a more recent revision. Normally, when I open my manuscript, I save it with the day's date. That way, I can watch the manuscript grow, and I always have the older versions around.

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So, my latest 'toy' is called "Dropbox." I downloaded the free version, which gives me a base 2GB of storage. When you download the program, it creates a folder which you put on your hard drive. At the same time, it has the files on its server. You can create numerous sub-folders within your dropbox, so I have one for photos, and another one for my writing files, and another I can share with hubby when he's got something on his computer that he wants me to have on mine.
The nifty thing is every time you update a file, it's saved in your dropbox – both on the server and on your hard drive. So, when I got home, all the files I put in my dropbox on my laptop were now on my PC as well. And, hubby put all of the pictures he took into our shared folder, so I have easy access to those as well.

You don't have to be logged onto the Internet to work on your files. They're saved locally, and then the next time you're on line, everything is synced.

One of my crit partners is a computer guru. I pointed him to the site, and he embraced it. He said,

It seems to be quite intelligent - if you move a file to a different
folder in the dropbox folder on your hard drive, it notices that and
moves the copy of the file on the server, saving a lot of time. Some
systems would have to do that by deleting the file in its old location
on the server and re-uploading it in the new location.

I figured out that you can create shortcuts in your Dropbox folder to
other files, and Dropbox will upload them. (These are the same as the
shortcuts that you can already do in Windows.) This is the same as if
you'd copied them into the Dropbox, but takes up almost no extra space
on your hard drive. The next experiment is to create a shortcut to a
file I'm working on, to see if it gets uploaded whenever I change the
file - real-time automated backup.

I'm not 100% sure I understand everything he says, but I've had some fun with my new toy. And if you're interested in giving it a try, they have a special deal where they'll give added memory to anyone who signs up via a referral. Since both parties get the bonus, I'm not trying to push a product for my own benefit – after all, it's free. But if you check out the site and think you might like it, email me (link on the sidebar) and we'll both get another 250 MB of storage space.

Tomorrow, PLEASE come back for a very special guest with a very special message. She inspires and amazes me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Selling a House, Selling a Manuscript - What's the Difference?

Life is almost normal again. At least the routines are settling in. I enjoyed a leisurely second cup of coffee while I did some blog-hopping, catching up on all the sites I hadn't visited while I was away. Of course, as Murphy's Law would have it, I was about to shower and get back to reading the galleys for Nowhere to Hide when I got a call from a Realtor who wanted to show the house. In an hour.

Now, things weren't horrendous, since we'd cleaned thoroughly before we left, but other than laundry, I hadn't done much actually cleaning. The showing instructions say we prefer a day's notice, our cleaning service was scheduled for the next day, and we've gotten so few calls to see the house, we've become lax about getting everything in shape before doing anything else for the day.

Hubby had left early to go off on his research project on the coast. Had he left "his" areas in showcase shape? Not hardly. So, I'm frantically trying to get everything done in the allotted time so I can be out the door. Not perfect, but acceptable. The lawn could use a mowing, but I don't know that hubby would have cut the grass on such short notice. I know I certainly can't do it and everything else.

I pack up my galleys and go to Panera to have more coffee and get some work done. So far, most of what I'm finding are places where I'm not sure if I need a hyphen or not. Part of me feels good that with all our edits, we have a very clean manuscript. Another part thinks I'm not reading carefully enough, and there are plenty of glitches sneaking past.

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Overall, reading galleys is more suited to these interrupted days than writing. What I'm looking for isn't plot anymore. Strictly typos. It's a different kind of reading. As a matter of fact, I've started at the end of the manuscript. This way, I'm not distracted by the story. And unlike my read for major edits, revisions, and continuity, I don't want to do this all at once. Small intervals seem to work better for me, so a half hour here, and hour there, or even a page or two at a time is acceptable. That way, I can concentrate of looking at each sentence for words and punctuation, rather than how they're moving the story forward, or revealing characterization.

I get home, pleased to see the Realtor was actually there. I deal with a few more household issues (like has the part for the dryer arrived yet? They don't know, they'll check and call me back.) Then, I got another call, this from a local Realtor who wanted to preview the house. He'd be here "shortly."

An hour later, he still hasn't shown, and I'm doing my chores in bits and pieces. Finally, he arrives, looks over the house, makes a few comments, and is gone. Will he bring clients? Who knows? He's not the first to comment that our natural vegetation out in front hides the house. However, that's exactly what we wanted. It provides privacy as well as keeps the need for high maintenance down. If that's going to be the deterrent to a sale, should we pay big bucks to have it pulled out and re-landscaped with "pretty" stuff? Or do we hope that if it's the only problem for a potential buyer, that they'll know they can do what they please after they buy the house?

That's sort of like deciding if you should change a manuscript every time you get feedback that suggests you do something different. When my agent was submitting the sequel to When Danger Calls, she'd pass along the reasons for rejection. They were as varied as the places she submitted it to, so there wasn't a common denominator. It never got to the point where I had to decide if I was willing to change the story to make the sale, and I wonder what I would have done. The genre is 'romantic suspense' but my books are 'romantic mystery.' Would I have uprooted my plot and replanted it with a villain's point of view, so the reader could be nervous about what was going to happen if an editor asked? I don't know. That wasn't really the kind of book I wanted to write.

Meanwhile, the manuscript is sitting on an editor's desk, and I'm waiting to hear if they'll like it with all the natural vegetation. And if not, will they simply reject it, or will they ask me to re-landscape?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Self-publish and/or Perish

Today my guest is Sheila Deeth, who's discussing some of the alternative roads to publications.

We used to travel on trains, back in the age of steam, and my Gran would teach me to listen to the engine’s refrain, “I think I can, I think I can…” I’d watch the slowing countryside from the window. “I hope you can.” Then at the top of the hill, the engine would always speed up. “I said I could, I said I could,” I’d sing, running up and down the aisles while Gran tried to keep me in my seat.

In life, in writing anyway, I guess I’m still thinking I can, though I wonder sometimes what made me decide to self-publish.

I tried looking at real publishing houses first—ones I’d heard of—and they said no un-agented submissions. So I tried the agents—again, ones I’d heard of—who said no unpublished writers. Then I tried the internet and searched for publishers and agents that I hadn’t heard of. The smoky clouds of too much information surrounded me, and I soon became expert at knowing why my work wasn’t suitable without even trying.

Afterwards I looked at the houses that publish “for a price. We expect our author’s to invest.” But I’m investing time, and I haven’t got a job, so I invested more time and found Lulu. FREE! It said, and that was enough to hook me.

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It really wasn’t that hard to get started with Lulu. I panicked when the “upload” button mentioned pdf files, but then I realized I could just use Microsoft Word documents and Lulu would convert. I even learned to format my Word docs to the right page size and pagination (File>Page setup…). It was easy, apart from the pages that required endless re-edits and re-uploads when they didn’t quite fit, and the sudden crash when I changed an x to a y. It turned out Lulu didn’t like the font I’d used.

Soon, I had a genuine downloadable pdf file. For someone who’s never created such a thing, that felt pretty good. And when I said CONTINUE, Lulu took me to its book cover page. I checked the size requirements for an uploaded picture and typed them into Microsoft Paint (Image>Attributes). I like drawing on computers. The fact that the resulting page went from my computer’s windows all the way out to the back yard was a bit of a problem, but I remembered those old drawing games I played as a kid, and sketched pieces on a grid.

Meanwhile Lulu kept saving my unpublished project till suddenly it declared that I was DONE! Price setting came next, and that was really a pain. All those happy dreams of selling on Amazon disappeared when I realized I’d have to set the price so high even my best friends wouldn’t buy. So I couldn’t get free distribution after all, just a Lulu storefront to keep the prices low. (Nice storefront though.)

“I think I can,” I said, in happy delight, imagining my writing in craft stores and book stores and Christmas fairs and markets. But books aren’t crafts, and self-published books aren’t quite accepted as real; even the library wouldn’t look.

If I’d known then what I know now, I might have saved up my money and gone with a company that gives you some help selling. Lulu’s great quality, easy and cheap to use, and has really incredibly wonderful customer support. But if the books are priced too high, or aren’t offered to Amazon and bookstores, sales are hard to find. And if you have to buy your own stock, mail your own copies to reviewers at your own expense, pay for copyrights, send “best versions” to the library of congress, advertise, pay for stalls at Christmas fairs, etc, pretty soon you’re already spending several times what you’d planned.

One day, this train’s going to reach the top of the hill and I’ll sing “I said I could.” But for now, “I hope I can.” And I’ve got to admit, thanks to Lulu, I do have real books on my shelves (and on some strangers’ shelves) with my own name as the author. It may be rather small as triumphs go, but I still think it’s worth running up and down the aisles while my family tries to keep me in my seat.

Sheila Deeth finally took the plunge into self-publishing just one year ago, so Terry’s guest-blogging invitation seemed like the perfect excuse to assess where her adventure’s taking her. Sheila just attempted to turn her blog into a website and would love to have some visitors.

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Even More Quebec and Edits

What I'm reading: 9 Dragons, by Michael Connelly

As I write this, I'm home again. A cold front had blown through and we returned home to glorious weather. Today, it's laundry, so while the machines do their things, I thought I'd recap more trip highlights.

Thursday, the weather was crisp and sunny enough to walk through the old city, although I felt the aftermath of the previous night's walk to and from the port. One of my goals was to visit the Choco Musée, which is a small display and shop outside of the old city, not too far from the hotel. The distances aren't great, but the changes in elevation are killer. I can't imagine navigating those sidewalks and stairs in icy conditions.

I did get to the museum and chocolate shop, and treated myself to a box of assorted confections. The box was almost too pretty to open -- almost.

These are the chocolates I picked out.

And if you have a few minutes, check out their website.

On my wanderings, I found a couple of Irish pubs, so we decided we'd go back down there for dinner. We ended up at St. Patrick's where the Guinness was on tap (although it was a fast pour), and the fish and chips were … well, they weren't the same as the ones I had in England. Of course, after walking down to the pub, we had to walk back up to the hotel.

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As for the 'working' part of the day:

After turning in my revisions, and getting editorial comments, I mentioned that I had originally written a different sort of ending for the book, and since she was having trouble with the way the current ending was going, I said I'd send it to her. Luckily, I had an old, old draft on my laptop with that first ending.

I didn't want to spend TOO much of my 'vacation' time working on edits if she didn't like the concept, but I did give it a rough polish and figure out where it would fit into the existing manuscript. She liked the new version better, so we're back to editing again. Cutting, pasting, checking for continuity, weaving in transitions was a challenge. I'm used to working on my PC, and having a printer on hand so I can look at a hard copy to catch things like repeats, places where I hit 'copy' instead of 'cut', etc. But, I trudged through it, and sent it back to her.

She sent her comments and edits. This time, she not only said things like, "here she should look at him, searching for ... 'something' … and then "and here she finds whatever it was" but she also added bits of dialogue, touches of narrative. The issue then becomes deciding 1) if I agree with the premise; and 2) if the wording is not my voice (or the voice of my character), and how to adjust it so it is.

I'm fortunate to have an editor who's willing to discuss why she wants changes, and who will listen to my reasoning when I don't agree. We must have gone back and forth half a dozen times on the final paragraph of the manuscript, before we found the wording that evoked the right reactions in both of us. I don't like to think of our process as one of compromises, because that implies that we end up with something neither of us really likes.

Tomorrow, my guest is Sheila Deeth, who will be talking about alternative routes to publication.

Friday, October 16, 2009

His Brain, Her Brain #1 revisited

Since Detective Hussey's manuscript is over, I thought I'd spend Friday's rerunning some of my more popular posts, based on what I see from my site statistics. This is from Sept 2, 2008, from workshop notes from the 2008 RWA conference, on a workshop given by Eileen Dreyer.

His Brain, Her Brain, or Why it Took Moses 40 Years to Find His Way Out of the Desert.

One fascinating point Dryer shared was that although we all know that someone with the XX chromosome set is female, and the males are XY, it's not 'either-or'. During gestation, at about the 6-8 week point, the fetus undergoes a 'hormone wash', which may be highly loaded with estrogen or testosterone. This overlays brain development and influences brain function. So, there's really a continuum of sexuality.

And – all of these points are generalizations. There will always be exceptions. Don't shoot the messenger. I'm sharing my notes here.

There are definite differences in brain structure in males and females. Differences are noted at 26 weeks of pregnancy. The brain develops differently in males before sex hormones are produced, so part of the sex differences in the brain is genetic.

Now, cutting to the chase: Humans started out a long, long time ago. Changes in the brain are nowhere near catching up. So, we're basically hard-wired to survive, but not in this century. Traveling back to the days of early man…

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Males are hard-wired as hunters. They have better long range directional skills. They've got a better spatial sense. They focus on single tasks, on procreation, they focus on things.

Females are hard-wired as protectors of the nest. They're communal, have more finely tuned sensory skills, are multi-taskers. They're non-verbal communicators. They can process and integrate input faster.

Some differences (and remember, these are generalizations)

The male resting brain is 30% active.
The female resting brain is 90% active. (So, yeah, it's hard for us to 'shut down')
The male brain is logical.
The female brain is emotive.
The male brain is left hemisphere dominant, with the exception of the spatial area.
The female brain is more multi-hemisphere, with a thicker Corpus Callosum.
When men speak, only one site is active. (Right—they talk OR listen.)
When women speak, both the hearing and speech centers are active.

On the topic of lying:

Women lie to make others feel better
Men lie to make themselves look good.
Men don't lie more than women, they just get caught.
Women lie for self-deception
If a man and a woman are in a close relationship, it's harder to lie.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And More from Quebec City

The promised post on "Floating Body Parts" is below -- just thought I'd add a bit more color from Quebec City.

The other night, we had dinner at a local restaurant, "blu". You might recall the pictures I posted from our trip to Nassau of the restroom signs (here).

These were a little easier to figure out. As they were on opposite sides of the room, the panels showed you which direction to go


and then the doors were marked so you didn't wander into the kitchen or a storage closet.


Floating Body Parts?

First, a note about good customer service, since I complain when it's sub-standard.

I had a hardware failure with my e-book reader. Given that I'm out of the country it's a bit of a bother, since I don't have access to my normal library of reading materials. I emailed their help desk, and within hours got a return message saying they would ship me a brand new unit. It won't do me a lot of good here, but I think that in the upcoming world of e-readers, it's critical that the companies provide good service should things go wrong. Having trouble with a reader isn't the same as losing a paperback. So, kudos to eBookwise and their technical support team.

And yesterday's weather was cold and windy, but sunny, so I took a city tour.

On to the floating body part discussion.

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Do the eyes have it?

How do you react when you read things like this:

Their eyes met from across the room.

His eyes raked her body from head to toe.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this one. I'm on the side that doesn't mind. I understand that 'eye' can be used as a noun or a verb. "He eyed her" is acceptable. "He gave her the eye" is an idiom I have no trouble with. I don't see him extracting an eyeball and handing it to her. So if a characters eyes move, I don't get visions of eyeballs floating free.

Which side are you on? Would the following pull you out of the story?

Her blue eyes, enlarged by her wire-rimmed glasses, rambled from Colleen's head to her toes.

"What's wrong with my face?" Her fingers flew to her cheeks, and she pulled them away, studying them.

Yet there are those for whom those would be book-tossing offenses. Me, I see the eye movement in the first example, but the eyes remain firmly set in their sockets. In the second, my brain assumes the fingers are still attached to the hand, and I don't think about body parts floating in space.

If we took everything we read literally, a lot of the richness of the language would be lost. If his eyes are pools of molten chocolate, do we really think that he's got Godiva eyeballs? Or just deep brown eyes?

(That's a metaphor, I think – if his eyes look like pools of molten chocolate, that would be a simile, right?) I've never been good at remembering terminology. Metaphors, similes, idioms, hyperbole—they're things I use, but I don't worry about what they're called when I'm writing them.

At any rate, my editor says it's a house 'rule' to avoid using floating body parts. Apparently they want to avoid having books thrown across the room by readers in the 'I see eyeballs' group. I'm guessing they figure that those who don't mind won't notice. For me, however, substituting 'gaze' for 'eyes' in those situations gets tedious and repetitive. Which means I don't feel comfortable with a simple swap, and end up trying to rewrite the entire passage.

Chime in – what's your preference? Which group are you in?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Final Edits

I spent the better part of 2 days going through final edits. I've picked up a few more "Track Changes" skills, which sped the process. For this run-through, I didn't do another full read of the manuscript. Since any changes the editor made appeared in the margins, I trusted that what she sent back didn't have any surprises.

My method for this round: I used the formatting toolbar and hopped from change to change. That was one of my discoveries: there are buttons on the toolbar that take you from one to the next. And I also learned to highlight the section where there were changes so I could approve more than one at a time. I should have figured that out a long time ago – sure beats accepting a deletion, then accepting the insertion every time there's a word change. One new trick for this old dog.

At any rate, I accepted almost all of them (you can see Monday's post for the types of things that moved relatively quickly.). Then it was time to dig in to the comments. Here, it's not a matter of simply agreeing with what she's said. It's working them seamlessly into the text when you make these changes. Even a minor change, such as, "can you work in a line or two about why your heroine never had a close girlfriend until now?" requires more than finding the right scene to reveal that information. Should it be in dialogue? Internal monologue? Should it come in all at once, or should it be dripped in gradually?

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Then there's the kind of comment that says, "Why didn't she mention this before?" You think about that one for a bit, go back to see where "this" happened, and decide maybe she should have mentioned it. Or at least have a darn good reason for not doing so. Because if the editor asks the question, it's likely a reader will too.

I like to think my writing is tight, which means each sentence connects to the next. (Okay, there was a lot of stuff that the editor cut, but even those bits were tightly written!) It's a challenge to create the necessary transitions, even when adding one new sentence. You have to be willing to sacrifice a line or two you've already written to keep the new bits from looking like they were patched in using a different color thread.

But it's done. I sent it to her last night. And I even got a peek at a draft cover, which was a total surprise, since the book probably won't come out until about a year from now.

As for Quebec – Since I was working, I didn't stray far from the hotel yesterday. There's an underground mall connected to the hotel, and a food court where I grabbed a quick breakfast, and then went down again for an equally quick lunch. Hubby had dinner plans, so I went down to the bar for a drink and light meal. I hadn't changed, so I was still wearing my "Careful or you'll end up in my novel" t-shirt. A woman got onto the elevator, read the shirt, and we struck up a brief conversation. I gave her a bookmark, and she said she'd get the book from Amazon. (Yeah, right). But she also came into the bar and asked if I'd autograph it for her. We ended up sharing a table, and had a very nice conversation over dinner.

Now, it's changing gears and getting back to my mystery. Since it's raining now, I can spend some time working with the other set of characters. I finally got everyone into the same town, but my police chief is thinking about going to Arizona to follow a lead. This will not work so late in the book, and I'm going to have to have a long chat with him.

And if the weather clears the way it's supposed to, I might even get outside and wander around the Old City. Tomorrow, I think I'll talk about floating body parts.