Macky, We Hardly Knew ye


On the morning of May 21, 2019, my trusty 13-year-old MacBook Pro 17″ laptop refused to wake from its slumber. I can’t really blame it: I’d dragged it all over the US, parts of Canada, and across the Atlantic to England and Denmark, banging it around in backpacks and bags on planes, boats, trucks, motorcycles, and miles and miles on foot. It had been upgraded to maximum RAM back in May of 2014 and had finally reached the “I just can’t do this any more” point.

Poor Macky. I loved that machine. Its timing wasn’t the best, though; I’ve been out of contract for a while, so there’s not a lot of money coming in, and I was in the middle of rather-delayed taxes, as well as a revision and a bunch of organizational stuff for the Northwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (of which I am the current chapter President.) When Macky went comatose, it took my work with it to Limbo.

It’s remarkably trick to buy a new computer when all the stores are locked down or doing business only via online ordering when one has only a cranky, aging cell phone and an even crankier, older tablet. But I persevered, did the research, put in an order, and received a refurbished Mac Mini on the Tuesday after Labor Day. I’ve been getting it up to speed ever since.

Being me, I forgot that a tiny desktop computer doesn’t have all the peripherals that a laptop has, so I didn’t order a monitor or a camera, or a mouse, or a keyboard, or a backup drive…. The latter 3 I have, but I had to go out and wander around my small, rural county in search of a monitor for about 3 hours until I found what I believe to be the last sub-32″ flat computer monitor in the county.

Good thing some government person sent me a check. Too bad it’s all gone so soon. But at least I’ve been doing my bit to stimulate the economy… of computer and peripheral vendors.

Now I just have to get a new web cam, because I think Mr. Kat has noticed I stole his…

Sometimes, You Rewrite…


Revising may require rewriting. I know this may not be what you want to hear. And much as I loathed the man, Hemingway may have been right: the only writing is rewriting. Or revising as the case may be. Not every word has to be throw out, but not all should be saved, either. Whole chunks may end up in the virtual trash bin. That is part of the process. It’s certainly part of mine with the current project.

Rewriting is far from my favorite part of any revision. It’s hard for me to completely let go of work already done, especially when it’s a piece that has been pretty difficult to create in the first place. But it is occasionally better to replace a part than to “fix” it. Some original phrases remain, because they work and were strong enough to stick in my memory, but lots of others get flushed, even when I can remember them; they no longer fit, so they have to go, no matter how much I like them.

In the following example from the WiR (Work in Revision), the protagonist is visited by some cops. First the new verision, then the original version.

 
NEW:

I finished sweeping up the salt, dumped it into the nearest waste basket, and rose to my feet. “Didn’t know the circus was in town.”

Contorini glowered. “What…?”

“Isn’t that where clowns with big, flat feet and vicious animals usually come from?”

 
ORIGINAL:

I didn’t like my instinct for what had brought Contorini to the office today. I finished sweeping up the salt and dumped it into the nearest waste bin—it was too dirty to salvage. I pocketed the chain of dimes and rose to my feet. “Sorry to see the standards of the police detective bureau have fallen to flat feet and big mouths,” I replied. “They used to have some self-respect. Back when Captain Stuttger ran the joint.” I kind of missed the poor, dead bastard. He’d wanted me in a cell as much as Contorini, but at least he’d wanted it because he had integrity. Stuttger had known I was guilty, even if the inquest had said otherwise. Contorini just wanted to watch me suffer.

Clearly the second piece is too long, unfocused, and the style is about as steady as a chair with one short leg. While some information is no longer in the selection, the general thrust of the piece is more clear and isn’t watered down by the intrusion of descriptive backstory. The new version still requires some editing and cleaning up, but it’s got a stronger sense of the hardboiled style I’m reaching for without being over-the-top. Most of the info did make it into other paragraphs, but it was shorter, smoother, and better integrated. My total addition to the manuscript was about 40 words.

This is part of what is now Chapter 4, but was originally Chapter 3. When you consider how much was cut from the original example, you can probably guess that I was able to insert other information—even a completely new scene—without adding bulk to the word count, which is a boon for this particular book and this style. More said in fewer words (unlike my blogging.) The original draft has been reworked a lot: First chapter cut, new material added, chapter order and event chronology changed, new scenes added to connect revised story arc and character linkages…. It’s not a light revision and I’m only just starting Chapter 5.

The rest of the manuscript will be revised and tweaked or tossed and rewritten as appropriate. It’s a long process; for this manuscript revision has actually been longer than creation, which is not usually the case for me. But this is entirely new work with an eye to a new series, and that tends to be rougher in first draft than sequels and continuations of established work.

I don’t enjoy this part or writing—it’s one of those processes that can make me want to give up on the whole business, because the writing is no longer “fun,” but if it’s necessary to create a better, more readable, and more marketable manuscript, I do it.

If writing is flying with your idea, then revising is the gritty work of cleaning dirt off the plane and tuning up the engine.

I’ll be glad when I can get back to flying, but for now, I’m scrubbing and tuning.

 

The Problem of Silence


This has been on my mind a lot lately:

Writers of every kind have a culture of silence about contract clauses and advances. Sometimes this is exacerbated by NDAs, but a lot of it is social and corporate pressure to keep quiet, and not to complain for fear of adversely effecting relationships with publishers and PR departments, or setting precedent for the next contract. It’s one of the reasons it’s also very difficult to address misbehavior and actual malfeasance by publishers, agencies, or their employees, since most writers fear retribution or ostracism. This also holds for self-pub and indie-pub writers working directely with small presses, distributors, and vendors. We need to work on breaking down that silence, and then the rest falls into place.

I understand the purpose of NDAs in relation to patents, R&D, and some other product aspects of commercial competition, but they should not be general gags on writers discussing publisher/press/distributor/vendor boilerplate, advances, ebook clauses, royalty schedules, non-compete clauses, rights reversion, or so-called “morals” clauses, among others. If we are free to discuss such aspects of contracts without fearing we will lose our often tenuous financial security,  we help aspiring writers as well as established ones, and writing will become a less-abused, and less anxious, profession.

There is a line between discussion and whining that can be hard to negotiate, but this self-censorship serves dishonesty and potential abuse in both small and large companies more than it serves the writing community.

Because I’m Stir Crazy


Couldn’t stand the state of the house any longer, so I decided to start cleaning it at the most-neglected area: the master bedroom. Spent 5 hours on the project, mostly because stuff was stacked on top of furniture that had to be moved before I could remove dog hair from the carpet before I could vacuum… You get the drift, I’m sure.

Anyhow, after all the picking up, moving around, raking up hair, vacuuming (and emptiing the container 3 times), I discovered I’d picked up 4 pounds of dog hair.  When we moved the bed, it looked like a black lab puppy was hiding under the headboard! (Out, out, damned Spot!)

Anyhow, it’s not perfect, but it’s done and all the furniture (Including the king-size bed) is reassembled and put back in place, the walk-in closet has been vaccumed and all the shoes and suitcases returned to their places, the vanity area has been vacummed, cleaned, disinfected, and re-stocked… I think I forgot to clean the ceiling fan, but it and anything else I missed will to have to wait: I’m really tired. Mr. Kat is probably tired, too, since he had to help me move the bed and the super-heavy low dresser with its massive mirror.

I may need wine, now.

It’s amazing what paranoia, isolation, and author-procrastination can accomplish!

Independent Bookstores in Washington Still Shipping Books during the Covid-19 quarantine


Because I’m in Washington, this is of interest to me, and possibly to you. Here is a link to a list of independent bookstores in Washington state that are shipping books during the current crisis: https://www.humanities.org/blog/washingtons-bookstores-who-you-can-still-buy-from-during-the-covid-crisis/

If you’re not in Washington, I urge you to consider buying your books—and other stuff— from local independents and small, local chains whenever you can. You can find information about local bookstores at IndieBound.org. Local shop owners and their staff are your neighbors and the most important foundation stones of your local community’s economy and future financial health. That means they are the folks who will be most important in rebuilding a thriving economy and healthy local community after the current medical crisis is over. They’re the future for all of us, not just books and authors.

Big chains and online giants may be cheap or convenient, but they don’t have a personal level of investment in the welfare of your community. You are a customer to them and, to a degree, you are also a product, since they sell your customer information to other businesses. Small, local businesses, rarely sell their customer information to others, and they are the most dependent on the loyalty of their community to survive.

If you can, please support your neighbors. I know that’s not always possible, but where you can, buy local.

social Media is the Only Media I have…


And it’s driving me crazy! I check in, just to make sure I’m not missing something I really need to be aware of, but it’s like a multi-vehicle pile-up out there. As soon as you get a look at the horror of it all, you try to pull your eyes away, but you can’t. You just. Keep. Looking! I may have to swear off all social media for a while and confine myself to looking only at the work screens on my computer. My browser may just have to be turned off altogether.

It’s hell out there. Which is making it hell in here, too.

Norwescon and Others


So, in a flurry of end-of-week emails, I’ve been notified of several event cancellations due to COVID-19 health concerns, and various state Emergency policies banning gatherings of 250 people or more, not only in Washington, but in other states as well. Many of these events weren’t even on my offiical books, yet, and some are not of professional note here, but this one is: Norwescon—the longest continually-running SFF convention in Washington State has cancelled the event, which takes place every Easter Weekend, in compliance with Governor Inslee’s “Social Distancing” guidelines and banning of large group gatherings for the duration of the declared State of Emergency.

Having lived through several epidemics, having read a lot about the 1918 Flu and other real world epidemics, I’m aware that our current health care and response actions are much more sophisticated than they were 100 years ago—largely due to hard lessons learned. Frankly, I find a great deal of what is currently ciruclating on social media and the news to be hysteria and catastrophizing, BUT, I see the necessity of a rule and standard action plans for management of a possible problem.

It’s frustrating to have worked to put events together just to have them shut down through no action or fault of yours or the venue in which they were to be held. But, as Grandma Jane used to say, “Thems the breaks, kid.” I’ll look forward to working on these events again in the future, but in the meantime, we’ll all have to keep on marching forward, because nothing is gained by standing still and crying (or howling at others).

For now: Use soap! Wash your hands (and face, and clothes, and dishes, and towels…) frequently. Stay home if you can, and don’t villify those who can’t. Don’t hoard the toilet paper. Be thoughtful. Don’t fling blame around—it’s nasty sticky stuff that you don’t want on you, either.

 

Grim Oak Press is having a Sale


Some of you may already have a copy of the anthology Unbound, from Grim Oak Press, which includes my slightly twisted fairytale villain story “Heart’s Desire,” but if you don’t, now’s the time to grab it for only $20! Yup, premium hardcover for a mere $20 or the Ebook for only $2.99! Quite the deal, yes? Click on the cover photo to the right to go straight to the hardcover edition.

If you just want to pick up some fantasy fiction that’s guaranteed to be Pretty Damned Cool, check out the rest of the offerings at Grim Oak Press—Including Street Freaks by Terry Brooks—during their Super Tuesday sale. It runs for the rest of the month of March. Just click the link:

Grim Oak’s Super Tuesday Sale!

Done

For now


I’ve got all the major parts of this site done. They’re not all to my liking, some of the widgets don’t work as I’d like and I still can’t figure out how to make a scrolling gallery for the Books page, but it’s functional at this stage.  More will happen in the Extras page eventually, and I’ll probably end up letting the original Blood Orbit page die off when it comes up for renewal, since I don’t have the skills to create the necessary graphics and art that would be needed to complete the Lexicon, but right now, things work here and are complete enough to get you the information you need.

Anybody who wants to talk will have to send email via the contact page, since open comments resulted in nothing but non-stop spam. I should eventually get the Akismet spam system back up and running, but not today.

I have a lot of work going on for Mystery Writers of America, and I’m still struggling with the rewrite of the current Work in Revision (WIR)—Marty is stubbornly refusing to change, the devious bastard—but it’s moving, if at a snail’s pace.

Someday, I’d like to write something new.