Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Three Days

Three days .... In three days, I am launching the first issue of Emerald Tales ... THREE DAYS ... The panic is setting in. My to do list is a half a page long and includes such small tasks as revamp the website to add the shopping cart. *headdesk*

I will get it all done and on time, but if my friends or family decide now is the time to have a mental health crisis, well they're on their own. Temper tantrums to get my attention will also be ignored. Why is it when one is super busy and entirely focused on doing something that one's friends and family decide either a) they need you for something or b) to pitch a fit over something minor? What is up with that?

I'm off to whittle down that to do list.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Writer's Life and Goal Setting

Sometime in the past few days, I read the following sentiment sometimes heard from writers: "I just want to write. I don't want to do all that other stuff like querying, editing, publicity, researching markets, blahblahblah"

But, you know what, that is just part of being a creative person and having a creative career. Artists have to find an Art Gallery to show their work and do shows and stuff. Actors have to get headshots, take classes, find an agent, go on auditions. Dancers have to do about the same thing. Directors have to find scripts and meet with producers and do a whole lot of other stuff to get a movie made. I can't think of a single creative career that does not have aspects to it which are business related.

This is not a new thing. Throughout history, creative people have had to do things they didn't want to do in order to work in their creative field. Shakespeare had his theater to run. Michaelangelo preferred to sculpt, but he had a ceiling he had to paint. Leonardo preferred to invent things, but he had a portrait to do.

I've also been thinking this week about goal setting for writers. Some people use word count goals. Some people use time goals. Some people treat writing like a second job with a block of time carved out for writing and nothing else. What it really comes down to is figuring out what works for you and doing that.

But, along with that is how do you count the time that you spend doing research for a story, outlining (if you outline), brainstorming, building worlds, character development, and all the other things that a writer does before, during, or after the first draft? So, you've spent all day brainstorming plot ideas, developing characters, or making decisions about the setting and you only wrote four hundred words that day. Does that mean you didn't work? That you didn't accomplish anything? That you're just playing at being a writer? What about the time you spend querying, submitting, researching markets, etc? Shouldn't that count, too?

Is there only one way to be a serious writer? I think not. I think there are as many ways of being a serious writer as there are people on the planet who write with the intention of selling their work.

Friday, July 24, 2009

User Friendly is an Oxymoron

I would like to take all the computer programmers who writer "user-friendly" word-processing software, lock them in a room, and not let them out until they have written one thousand times with pencil on paper: "I will program computer software so it is easy to use and understand. And I will write a Help menu that answers every question a user might have."

Nothing frustrates me more than having to learn how to do in a new program what I know how to do in another program. It's the reason why I stick to the old version of a piece of software until I absolutely have to upgrade to a new version. Let me explan:

I've been using MS Works for over ten years. Up until two months ago, that was the version that I got with my first desktop computer back in 1998. I loved that program. I could make it sit up and beg. I can do things with that program that you wouldn't believe. One of the things that I can do with it is "Word Art". That's where you play with the fonts and give it shadows and outlines and other cool effects. A really handy function for making flyers, brochures, and other nifty desktop publishing things.

But, when my computer died at the end of May and I had to get a new one, the new one came with Vista. My old version of MS Works is not compatible with Vista. But, wait the new computer does come with the newest version of MS Works. It sucks. Everything I could do in the old version, I can't do or figure out how to do in the new version. I have already spent several hours trying to figure it out and have not succeeded.

Why don't I just use Word? I hate it. Everytime I have used Word in the past few years, because I've had to for one reason or another, I have spent several very frustrating hours trying to figure out how to do something super simple. It wants to make everything complicated. And I end up screaming at the monitor, "NO! I didn't tell you to do THAT!" I'd rather go to the dentist and have them drill on my teeth without novocaine, than use Word. If something absolutely has to be done in Word, then I save my file in RTF format, upload it into Word, and save it in Word format. It's less aggravating that way.

My son suggested that I download Open Office. It's free and I can save the files in PDF format. Unfortunately, it's a lot like Word.

All I want to do is design the Title for Emerald Tales. That's it. I'd like it to look pretty. I know what I want it to look like. If I could use my old version of MS Works, I could do it in fifteen minutes. I have spent several days and many hours trying to figure out what is so simple to do in MS Works the old version, in Open Office. It took me two days to figure out that "Word Art" is called "Font Works" in Open Office. The help function was no damn help in figuring that out. I discovered it when I randomly clicked on a button wondering what it was for.

So, I've spent five or six hours playing around with "Font Works" trying to get it to do what it should be able to do, and I haven't figured it out, yet. Can you say "frustrated"?

There is something seriously wrong with a computer program when an engineer who knows how to program a computer spends two days trying to do something really simple and then discovers it by accident. Then spends several hours trying to work with that tool until giving up in frustration.This is not a new problem with the computer programming industry. It's been like this since Bill Gates designed an operating system in his garage. It is past time for them to stop making their computer programs so damn difficult to use and learn the definition of "user friendly."

*climbs down off her soapbox*

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Learning to Write Well From the Oddest Sources

Last night was class night at my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) meeting. One of the members taught drop spindle spinning. An ancient technique of spinning fiber into thread. Anyway, the teacher spoke about the history and some of the interesting things that she was learning in her research on the history of spinning. One of the things she said was that a female would spend seven hours a day spinning wool into thread or yarn. They carried their distaff and spindle with them whereever they went. They would spin while they were walking, tending sheep, whatever they were doing that didn't require the use of their hands. Now, what, you ask, does that have to do with writing?

The details in the setting. If the writer knows those little details, then it will make the story richer and fuller. Even if the writer never mentions those details, they will be there subtly.

On the Deluxe Extended version of "Lord of the Rings", there are a lot of documentaries on the making of the film. In particular, the making of the costumes, the set design, and decoration. So much detail went into making the costumes, the sets, the props, real, detail that the viewer never sees, that when you watch the movie on screen the story comes alive. The viewer is transported into Middle Earth, because it looks real.

I am not suggesting that a writer spend an inordinate amount of time on building their world, deciding on the details in the scene or, heaven forbid, dumping it onto the reader. But, if the writer knows some of those details in the background, then it will help build a better story.

Recently, I asked someone where in the world their story was set, because I couldn't tell. They came back with the answer and then said, "It doesn't really matter." No, for that particular story it didn't really matter. And yes, it does matter. The story loses something when the setting is generic. Just as "Lord of the Rings" would have lost something if the costumes hadn't been embroidered, the sword hilts not decorated, the support posts in the Hall not carved.

Before someone decides to counter this, let me say: There will be times when a generic setting is the best setting for the story, but more often than not, it isn't.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Army Mom - A Non-writing Post about Irony and Anxiety

I don't like arguing or fighting. I don't like guns or other things that go boom and can kill you. When my son was a toddler, I wouldn't buy him toy guns or allow anyone else to buy him a toy gun either, thinking that if he didn't have guns to play with, he wouldn't become enamored of them. Yeah, right. He started making guns with his Duplos; I gave in on the no toy guns policy.

He's in the army now. When I visited him last weekend, he told me about his qualifying as an expert in everything a soldier holds in his hands, points at an enemy, and goes boom. What can take some soldiers all day and I forget how many rounds to do, he did as fast as one can do it with the minimum number of rounds. They would put up the target, he would nail it. He had people watching him qualify, it was so impressive. Yes, I am proud of him, but *headdesk* how's that for irony?

Several years ago, he joined the army. Despite being a Buddhist and believing in a non-violent approach to life, I supported his decision to join the army. I still do. Even when that means he gets deployed into a combat situation.

I've experienced a lot of tragedy in my life. I've been in dangerous situations where someone has had a gun in their hands and could have shot me with it. Having my son in a combat situation provokes more anxiety than any of that. Because there is nothing I can do to protect him and keep him safe. Nothing. It's the most helpless feeling in the world. And it sucks.

He'll be deployed again soon. All I have to say about that is: Hooahh!

Now where did I put that bottle of Ativan?

On to the Fun Part!

WooHoo! I have finished editing all the stories for both editions of Emerald Tales. It took a lot longer than I thought it would.

The biggest problem that I faced, other than commas, was putting the suggested changes into a computer file so that the author could see and understand what I was suggesting. Editing on paper is easy, get a colored pen or pencil, read through the text, and zip zap you're done. To do the same job on the computer takes forever. What is one second stroke with a pen is: highlight with the mouse, click on format, click on character, click on font, click on strike through, click style of strike through, then click on highlight. All that so the author can see the change. And most of the suggestions were for taking out or putting in a comma. Do you know, there is no good way on the computer to show that you want to delete a punctuation mark? The good part of it taking so long, is that I stopped and thought about each change that I suggested. Many times what I marked on the print out did not make it into the computer file. And sometimes, I caught stuff when I was working with the computer file that I missed my first time through.

And now on to the fun for me part, as soon as I get all the approvals for the changes in, I get to do the laying out of the magazine and making it all look pretty. Woo Hoo!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Editing Process

I have just finished editing the stories for the first issue of Emerald Tales. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would. My brain imploded sometime, yesterday, trying to figure out how to punctuate verbals.

What are verbals, you ask. They are those verbal phrases which don't function as the verb in a clause, they act like nouns or adjectives or adverbs. Go get your grammar book out and look it up for the full definition.

The ones that were giving me the most fits were the present participles (the -ing form of the verb). Sometimes, they need a comma, sometimes they don't. But, do any of the THREE grammar books that I have adequately explain when they do and when they don't? ... Nooooooo ....

It's a present participle after a verb. One would think that it would always be the same. But, it isn't because it depends on what that participial phrase is doing after the verb. Is it acting like a noun, an adverb, or an adjective. Is it the subject complement, direct object or object of a preposition?

I'll toss some sentences out to illustrate my confusion.

He walked dragging his foot behind him.
He walked, gazing at the sunset.
He said, weeping into his handkerchief.
He said spraying spit everywhere.

Fear not. I did read this helpful bit regarding commas in "Eats, shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss: "This is why grown men have knock-down fights over the comma in editorial offices ..." Well, hell, if grown men are getting into knock-down fights over the comman, it's no wonder I feel like my brain has imploded.

Perhaps, the most interesting and important point of what I have learned in the editing process is this: If the story grabs the readers attention, they won't notice the punctuation. So, it really doesn't matter if I put a comma in front of that present participle or take it out. Unless they are grammar nazis, the reader will not notice. And even if they are, they might not agree with the rules that I learned and am using for proper punctuation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And ...

So, I am working on editing the accepted submissions. It's not really that bad. However, I have noticed several writers doing this, so I thought I would mention it. The overuse and misuse of the word "and."

It's okay to have a few short sentences in a story. Sometimes, the story flows better if there are two short sentences instead of one compound sentence linked with the word "and."

Using "and" instead of "then." Okay, I went and looked it up in the dictionary. One of the definitions of the word "and" is "then." However, "then" is a perfectly good word. Sometimes it reads better to use the word "then" in a sentence, instead of "and."

Consider this sentence: She swallowed and said, "Hello." Man, that is quite a trick --swallowing and speaking at the same time. I think I'd choke if I tried that. Doesn't this read better: She swallowed then said, "Hello." Doesn't that give you a better visual of the action?

Maybe it's not that big a deal. I didn't notice it when I was reading the stories. It wasn't until I slowed down and started editing them that the "ands" starting jumping out at me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Submissions - An Analogy

Yesterday on the Scribblers Forum, one of the members was upset about a "rejection." As I thought about how best to respond, I came up with the following analogy which I will share with you here.

For me, choosing the stories and poems for the first issue of Emerald Tales has been like picking a few flowers from a huge bouquet. There are roses and tulips and daffodils; chrysanthmums and daisies and baby's breath; there's foliage; but, there are NO weeds. For this issue, I decided on all tulips, that doesn't mean the roses, daffodils, and all the other flowers are ugly or damaged. It doesn't make them weeds. They are still beautiful flowers, but this time I was looking for tulips. Next time, I may be looking for daisies. Other publishers are looking for orchids, roses, or wildflowers.

I expect at some point in the future I will get a few weeds in my bouquet of submission flowers. They will not be seeing this from me in their response letter: "I would really like to see more from you for future issues." *wink*

Monday, July 6, 2009

How I Handled The Submissions

For those of you interested in the submissions for the first issue of Emerald Tales and how I handled them, here it is. A run down on what I did with your babies. I tortured them mercilessly, then tossed them to the wolves, the ones that survived that were accepted. ... Just kidding.

It was a lot harder to choose which stories to include than I anticipated. I thought I was going to end up with a lot of garbage and only a few really good stories, instead I ended up with a lot of great stories and no trash. *headdesk* There were a handful of really great stories that I thoroughly enjoyed and had absolutely nothing "wrong" with them, but I had to pass on because I didn't have enough room to print them all. *sad face*

Except for those that came in the last two days before the deadline, when I received a submission, I sent a reply to the person telling them that I had received it and when they could expect an answer from me about it and when to enquire if they hadn't heard anything one way or the other. Emails get lost, they get deleted, this way the author knew that I got it and when to expect a reply from me and what to do if they don't hear from me. (I have inadvertently deleted a submission. Fortunately, I was able to rescue it. )

Then I read the submission and placed it one of two folders, "maybe" and "maybe not". That was my first impression of the story.

After I received all the submissions and the deadline had past, I read through all the "maybe nots" again to see if I still felt that way and shifted any that I had changed my mind about into the "maybe" folder.

Those that ended up in the "maybe not" folder, the only thing "wrong" with them that I could see was that they needed to be beta-read. I've beta-read for three years now, I can usually tell when a story has been polished by an author, but not gotten feedback from others. Writers, if you don't have any beta-readers, get some. Now. Join a writer's forum or a real life writer's group. If the first forum you join doesn't work for you, find another, keep looking until you find a group that you connect with. With the internet, it is easier than it used to be to find a good writer's group.

So, now I am working with the "maybe"s folder. There were thirty (30) stories in that folder. I only planned on purchasing the rights for six or seven from different genres. So, I sorted them into their genres. I'll just pick the best one out of each genre and I'll be done. Piece of cake, right? ... Wrong ... It's like a grandparent of thirty being asked which is their favorite grandchild ... *headdesk*

I tried using just one criteria for making my selection. That didn't work. What I ended up doing is coming up with a score sheet for each of those thirty stories and rating them in six different areas then totaling the score. Was that enough to pick the top six or seven from different genres? ... No ... *headdesk*

Surprisingly enough the top of the scale was heavily weighted with Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and horror. A month ago, I would have told you that the Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror stories would have been on the bottom. I love reading Fantasy, but I am frustrated as all get out finding published Fantasy authors that I enjoy reading. And, I read a lot.

Anyway, picking the top six or seven was not going to give me the mix of genres that I was looking for. So, I ended up picking the top one in each genre plus one that even though it scored a bit lower just has to be in the regular edition. So, eight stories for the regular edition.

I had so many Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal stories that were great that I decided that I will also issue a special edition, a Sci-i, Fantasy, Horror edition of "Follow the Butterflies" on August 15. Two out of each genre.

And I still had to pass on some really great stories. Basically, the only difference between them and the ones I accepted was how well I thought the story fit the theme.

I'll be honest, there was one point when I considered going "eenie meenie miney moe" to pick the stories to accept ... What? ... It would have been almost as fair.

So, there you have it. I planned on maybe getting six or seven great stories, I ended up with sixteen and a bunch more that I had to pass on. I'm drinking tequila now to soothe the pain of having to pass on some of those great ones. Why can't I win the lottery and have lots of money to buy great stories?

I do want to thank everyone who submitted a story to "Emerald Tales." The breadth of human creativity always blows me away. I was amazed to see what all of you came up with ... Amazing ... Simply amazing ... And every one of you owns a piece of that. *smile*

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Formatting Submissions

*puts on editor/publisher hat*

When I wrote up my submission guideline I wasn't too particular about the font and formatting. I'm still not. However, having read over fifty short stories in the past few weeks that I will be rereading again over the next two days, I decided to take a little break and tell you what it is like on this side of the desk.

The stories that are the easiest to read are the ones that are in twelve (12) point font. 14 is too big. Ten is small. Unless the submission guidelines specify otherwise, use twelve point font. Please.

Fortunately, I didn't receive one that was in color. They were all black text on white background. I'll tell you right now, if anyone sends me a submission with colored font. I won't read it. It will be automatically rejected and the author won't find out until I send the acceptance and rejection letters. (I need to find a better word than rejection, because that is not what I am doing.)

And one other point, paragraph formatting. Either indent the paragraphs or put a blank line between them, please. This is what happens when I open a submission without an ident or blank line between the paragraphs: I see all that black. My eyes roll up into the back of my head. I ask myself if I feel like wading through all of that black. If the answer is no, I close that one and open another one. Oh, I will go back and read it, when I am feeling up to the annoyance of looking at all that black with very little white space. I know it is a pain in the butt to put a blank line between every paragraph, but it is so much easier to read a story on the computer when there is more white space around the text.

In a day or three, I'll post how I am handling the submissions. It's turned out a lot differently than I expected.

I just wanted to toss this bit of food for thought out at you. Does font and formatting matter? Yes and no. Twelve point standard font in black text on a white background with a blank line between paragraphs is the easiest on my eyes to read. At this point, I won't reject anyone who doesn't do that, but I will be annoyed. Do you want an editor feeling annoyed when they are reading your submission?

One more thing, do NOT resubmit your story to reformat it. I've already read it. By the time you read this and resubmit, I may have already reread it. Changing the formatting won't change my mind. I'm not allowing it to sway my opinion. *smile* It's fine the way it is. Please don't clutter up my inbox.

Edited to add: I wasn't clear. The result of blogging after reading so much. My only purpose in posting this is for writers to get a glimpse into what editors and agents deal with on a daily basis. Do what you want with this information. *smile*