Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
Blog Recommendation: The Passive Voice

I don’t remember how I first found The Passive Voice but I’m glad I did. It’s a blog written by an ex-lawyer that gives both writing insight and (most valuable to me) some insight into contracts and legal rights. Bear in mind that you should always hire appropriate legal advice when you need it and I recommend having someone review each contract you take, but I’ve picked up some valuable information from reading The Passive Voice.

Subscribe to the Passive Guy’s blog and read it consistently. Click on this link (goes directly to the posts flagged “contract”) and educate yourself on how various contract clauses work. You won’t be sorry!

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
Heinlein’s Business Rules

While getting things back on track and working on my (two) steampunk stories, I came across a great reminder to myself. These are business rules penned by Robert Heinlein, one of the first science fiction authors I read while growing up and they hit me where it hurt – in my tendency to procrastinate.

His rules go simply:

1) You must write.
2) You must finish what you write.
3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.
4) You must mail your work to someone who can buy it.
5) You must keep the work in the mail until someone buys it.

Time to put my eye back on the prize and get to WORK.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
Your fingers don’t speak my keyboard’s language

Several years ago, I had to have surgery on my right hand & wrist. I’d suffered for a while with the writer-standard sort of wrist pain from overuse and long hours of typing but, thankfully, had never developed carpal tunnel or any other really nasty hand ailments. Instead I developed a ganglion cyst – a fluid filled cyst that is mostly benign until and unless it starts to interfere with function. In my case, the cyst grew large and parts of my hand went numb or tingled. Not a good sign. And my right hand is my dominant hand.

Surgery plans were made and while talking about my recovery with my surgeon, I remembered that I’d read about a keyboard layout that was supposed to be far more ergonomic and easier on your hands and wrists that the qwerty layout we are all used to. This is the dvorak keyboard layout, developed by Dr. August Dvorak and Dr. William Dealey in 1936.

Now the qwerty layout was designed in the days of typewriters with the individual letter keys that would swing up to impact the ribbon to imprint on the paper in the typewriter. If you typed too fast, the keys would jam and you would have to stop and unjam them before you could continue on. This layout just became the norm and persisted long past the days of those typewriters and into the modern age. Now all they do is make a keyboard less ergonomic and slower to use (in English, mind you, I can’t speak for other languages).

I am a touch-typist. I don’t look at the keys at all. My recovery from surgery would mean that I would not be able to use my right hand at all during the first week or two so I would have to resort to hunt-and-peck as well as the dreaded left-handed mousing. I thought this would be the perfect time to switch from qwerty to dvorak. So before I had surgery, I bought stickers for my keyboard keys rather than a whole new keyboard, printed out the keyboard map on paper and switched my Windows to dvorak layout. Done.

I did invoke my stubborn side. I was determined and I would not go back. Good thing I’m stubborn, too, because it took a while for my brain to rewire its knowledge of where keys are. It was probably about a month before I was fluent in dvorak and another two months before my speed exceeded my prior typing speed on qwerty. I’ve now been qwerty-free for two years. After my initial learning period, I no longer even put any stickers or maps on my keyboards because I don’t need them.

Which brings me to when life gets funny – a friend pulled one of my laptops to her and said “let me show you this” and tried to type a URL into the browser. Except she was typing qwerty and my laptop only speaks dvorak. The look on her face cracked me up and I told her that my laptop doesn’t speak the language her fingers did.

Pros of switching:

  • Faster
  • No wrist or hand pain anymore
  • Geek cool factor
  • No one borrows your computers

Cons of switching:

  • Frustrating as hell at first
  • Occasional brain farts where I forget where a key I don’t use often is
  • Have to hunt-and-peck on other people’s computers now
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Inspiration: Forsake Not

I know readers are often curious about the inspiration for stories or characters and with my newest release, Forsake Not, out now, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what inspired it. I won’t talk about all parts of it, though, because I don’t want to put spoilers out there yet.

When I write, I’ve found I have to have a title to hang my story off of. The title is the story’s embodiment and, as I write, I often think about the title or how what I’m writing centers on that title. It keeps me grounded and on track. So I MUST have at least a good working title to focus on. I also tend toward short, simple titles. You can see that in my backlist. I don’t have a concrete explanation for that other than I think it gives both myself and my readers room for interpretation and different views.

In the case of Forsake Not, I’d already been thinking of the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and I happen to have a son who is a US Army Infantry soldier. When I went to his OSUT graduation (the equivalent of extended bootcamp for the infantry – One Station Unit Training), these new soldiers all recited the Infantryman’s Creed and it really tugged at my heart.

Infantryman’s Creed

I am the Infantry.
I am my country’s strength in war,
her deterrent in peace.
I am the heart of the fight-
wherever, whenever.
I carry America’s faith and honor
against her enemies.
I am the Queen of Battle.

I am what my country expects me to be-
the best trained soldier in the world.
In the race for victory,
I am swift, determined, and courageous,
armed with a fierce will to win.

Never will I fail my country’s trust.
Always I fight on-
through the foe,
to the objective,
to triumph over all.
If necessary, I fight to my death.

By my steadfast courage,
I have won 200 years of freedom.
I yield not-
to weakness,
to hunger,
to cowardice,
to fatigue,
to superior odds,
for I am mentally tough,physically strong,
and morally straight.

I forsake not-
my country,
my mission,
my comrades,
my sacred duty.

I am relentless.
I am always there,
now and forever.

I AM THE INFANTRY!
FOLLOW ME!

When I remembered this recitation and thought about those serving in our military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and forced to make choices between their personal lives and their sworn duty and this creed, I couldn’t help but have “Forsake Not” haunt me. They forsake not, but has their own country forsaken them?

So now you know where the title came from :)

You can purchase the Honorable Silence anthology, which Forsake Not appears in, from MLR Press NOW.

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Thursday Thirteen: Mistakes to Avoid as an Author

Thirteen (random) mistakes to avoid as an author:

  1. Misuse of colons. In fiction colons are used before a list of items (e.g. There were many things he hated about her mother: her voice, her red hair and her talons, just to start. Don’t use colons instead of semi-colons, em-dashes or just plain periods.
  2. Peppering your manuscript with exclamation points. This is especially true for stacks of exclamation points or exclamation points and question marks together. Remember you are writing a story, not a blog post or instant message.
  3. Using parentheses to create an aside. There may be a few places this would work but, in general, people don’t think or speak using parentheses.
  4. Expressing a character’s thoughts in a way no person would think about themselves. Most people do not go around describing their own personality in clinical terms or telling themselves something they know. Always question how you are expressing a character’s thoughts and why.
  5. Using an en-dash where you want an em-dash. It pays to look up the use and be sure of the one you want.
  6. Failing to ground your readers in the first few pages so they start to know and care for your characters and their situation. If the reader is lost, they’ll toss the book aside.
  7. Not using all the senses possible to enrich the story. How does the air smell? What texture does a fabric have? All these serve to draw the reader in and make the story seem more “real” to them.
  8. Giving too much time and space to unimportant things. If you spend a lot of time and attention on something, the reader feels it must be important to the story. If that is not the case, the reader will be confused and annoyed. Only give significant time and words to things that matter to the story progression.
  9. Failing to grow a character. If the same character makes the same mistakes over and over, they are quickly dubbed “too stupid to live.” Even the densest character should learn and grow over time.
  10. Breaking the “fourth wall.” Unless you are writing a story with a narrator, your characters should not speak directly to the reader. In theater, this is called “breaking the fourth wall.” Readers are watching and experiencing the characters but the characters are not aware of the reader.
  11. Using ellipses in narrative. Ellipses are used for trailing off thoughts or words. They usually have little place in pure narrative.
  12. Overusing accents or foreign words. While it’s great to pepper the dialogue with them, too much ends up like your character is trying to speak in LOLCat and makes it really hard to read.
  13. Failing to do research. Lack of research can break the belief of the readers so quickly that they won’t finish the book. If you are going to include details, make sure they are correct if at all possible.