October 27, 2021 - A Good Day

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

 As is often the case, a day of frustrating problems was followed by a day when I actually got some things accomplished. That formatting software (Atticus) cooperated, so I was able to finalize the novella—except for uploading, which I’ll do next month.

I spent a lot of time searching for floor plans of a ranch house so I could get ideas for the design of my fictional one. Unfortunately, since ranch is also a modern designation for a style of house, it’s not so easy to find the genuine article. The closest I got was a floor plan that a fan had constructed based on the series High Chaparral. If you can believe it, he wanted to build his own house to look like the one on TV. (And people think authors are crazy.)

So, with that as a basis, plus the rooms I needed for my story, I spent some time drawing a plan for the Rainbow Ranch ranch house. I wound up with some issues (like the rooms aren’t proportional), but it’s good enough for me to use as a reference as I write. I’ll either decide to buy Minecraft and try to build it in that, or I’ll fight with Photoshop Elements to create something a little prettier.

And then, since my Amazon delivery arrived, I put up bedroom room-darkening curtains and the rod to hang them on. I bought them more for privacy than making the bedroom darker. There is, however, a place next to the window where the outside light (which, because it’s an apartment, is on all night) does peek through. I’ll find out tonight if I can arrange the curtains to block that.

And that’s it for today. 

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October 25, 2021 - A Necessary Distraction Today

Monday, October 25, 2021

 My to-do list is getting very long. In between working on the first novel of the new series, I’m trying to get a related novella finalized. Months ago, I realized that although I had it in my head as to how and why Lilliana and Christopher leave the retirement home, there was no such explanations for my readers.

I’m writing the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries as if someone picking it up had never heard of the African Violet Club Mysteries series. The idea was to have what’s called another “entry point” into my novels. It was only later that I realized there were a bunch of readers who would be going, “What? How’d they get there?”

So I wrote that story earlier this year, and I want to have it ready for people to read before the first Rainbow Ranch Mysteries book comes out. There are lots of steps to that, and the next one on my list was putting it through ProWritingAid. This is probably my least favorite part of producing a novel. Or novella, in this case.

The software determines what it thinks is wrong with my grammar, spelling, style, and everything else it can think of. Lots of times, it’s right. (I almost always write “baited” breath instead of “bated” breath.) But lots of times, it’s flat out wrong. But the worst times are when it might be right, and I have to decide whether to change what I’ve written to what PWA suggests or keep it the way I wrote it in the first place. That’s hard work.

I finished that up before lunch time, so, being a glutton for punishment, I decided to put the novella through some formatting software I just bought rather than using Scrivener’s formatting like I usually do. This resulted in much trial and error with pauses to watch videos and redo several steps, one of which included contacting tech support.

I wonder what adventures I’ll have tomorrow. 

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October 22, 2021 - Distractions

Friday, October 22, 2021

It’s amazing how good I am at convincing myself that non-authorly stuff is actually related to my writing. In addition to NaNo starting up on November 1st, Ifcomp started on October 1st and runs through November 15th. Okay, you’re thinking. She just finished explaining one obscure activity and now she’s talking about another?

Yes, I am.

Ifcomp is short for Interactive Fiction Competition, which is another annual event. Interactive Fiction is a genre of computer game that is all about telling a story and solving puzzles. What distinguishes it from other games is that it is text based. That’s because it was invented before computers could do graphics. The first game of that type was Adventure (or Colossal Cave Adventure or some variation of that) written by Will Crowther for a PDP-10. I know you never heard of that computer, but it was a popular machine in its day.

Anyway, a bunch of students at MIT were enthusiasts of the game and came up with the idea that they might be able to make money selling games like it that ran on home computers like the Apple II and Commodore 64. They were right. People like myself were addicted to these games, starting with Zork (modeled on Adventure) and expanding into stories that were science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. For a brief time, Infocom was the most successful gaming company on the planet. Until home computers supported graphics and everyone wanted pretty pictures with their games.

However, text adventures never went away entirely. Today, there are hundreds (thousands?) of hobbyists who keep them alive by playing and writing their own games. Which is what Ifcomp is about. People submit their games to the competition to be judged by players of the games. The winners get prizes, nothing extravagant mind you, but it’s as much for the acclaim as the prizes.

And, like clockwork, every fall I get all nostalgic about these text adventures and want to go back to playing them for the competition. I did try writing one or two, but they use their own programming language and I was a programmer by day back then, so I wasn’t always enthusiastic about doing more programming at night. Plus, I was a single mom with a career, so I didn’t have time to get deep into hobbies.

But I kept those original Infocom games, including my two box sets of all of them ever released. And this year the force is strong in me. I even downloaded the latest version of the software to run the games and pulled one of the basic level ones off my bookshelf. (Since I’m out of practice, I thought I’d start small.) But I haven’t gotten around to actually playing it.

Because I found something else to distract myself with. Minecraft.

Remember I talked about making a map of the setting for my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries? As I was mulling over making a map in Photoshop Elements with all the preliminary work of isolating different types of buildings and fences and trees and stuff, as well as searching through Google maps for an area that had the basic terrain I was looking for, I remembered that Holly Lisle, a science fiction writer, used Minecraft to create her settings and buildings. So I thought maybe that might work.

Which led to a lot of Googling and downloading a trial and trying to figure out how that worked. After messing around on my Mac for a while, I figured out that it wasn’t the best platform to play Minecraft on. No, I’d be better off using my iPad, because that version has more functionality.

But before I went that far, I took a breather. Because, although I tell myself that both interactive fiction and Minecraft are also storytelling, I don’t think they’re going to make my world building for this new series any more efficient. And my limited brainpower (remember that from yesterday?) might be better off getting back to work rather than playing around with the fun stuff.

Ahem.

So I buckled down and worked on those characters for a couple of hours.

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October 21, 2021 - Pushing Toward NaNo

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Only 10 days until National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) starts. I’ve been working in fits and starts lately. I feel like I’ve got enough to start writing, and it’s hard to get motivated to fill in all the outline details. For the past two days, I’ve been doing some more character development. That’s where I always start my stories. It’s where I come up with ideas for the plot as I get to know each character better. I’ve been feeling pretty good about my progress with that.

Until today.

I was going through my character worksheets in Scrivener and discovered one character—who started out as minor, but might have a significant role to play after all—where I had only a name and his relationship to one other character. No picture. No description. No lines with things like want, need, secret, personality type, not even hair and eye color or general physical description.

Quickly, I brought up other character sheets. Most of them were in the same state.

Panic time.

And here I’d figured on spending the next few days fiddling with Photoshop Elements and drawing a map of the ranch. I’d even started cropping out different kinds of buildings to put on the physical map.

So I quickly developed a new spreadsheet based on one used by another author (and added to extensively by me) for my recurring characters. I’d already done one for the characters specific to the first novel, and I used that as a model. Putting those twelve recurring characters side by side and filling in the boxes I had answers for showed me a lot of blanks. I had a lot more work to do.

It’s been interesting, especially since working on those characteristics led to answers as to why I was going to have one of the characters do something—other than to make a different character not be available to the story at one point in time. But also exhausting.

Most writers can do creative work for only a part of the day. Writing new words—or fleshing out characters—takes a lot of brain power. I thought I was a slacker until I heard several successful authors say they only wrote two or three hours a day.

You can do research or things like drawing a map or checking your sales or setting up promotions after the creative work is done. But it’s tough to keep the words flowing when you’ve drained the brain. Yes, there are exceptions. Robert B. Parker would work on one book in the morning, have lunch, then work on a different book in the afternoon. I heard him talk at a book signing, and his attitude was that other people work eight hours a day at their job, so why shouldn’t writers? Obviously, he’d been in training longer than I have. And attitude matters.

I plan on working on attitude next year. As well as a bunch of other stuff. But as for today? I’m done.

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October 13, 2021 - I Found the Plot

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Today I decided I should make the effort to find the notes I made when I was first planning this book. Since I was certain I’d already looked through the notebooks on my desk, I pulled each of the spiral-bound notebooks off my book shelf and went through them looking for my scribbles. I didn’t find anything. So back to my desk to try to recreate whatever it was.

Except first, I went through all the pages in the first notebook with writing on them and discovered what I had was there. I also discovered I didn’t have as much as I thought I did. I’d come up with a sort-of motive for each of my suspects, but not a strong motive. Except, of course, for the actual killer. I thought I’d better work harder on the other suspects.

I also decided that I needed to give my actual killer a second motive, one that was weaker than the one that prompted her to kill the victim, but not so weak that it would scream “This one!” Yeah, it’s all too common to give the killer either no motive known to the sleuth or something so weak that you can just tell the author is trying to point you away from them. I think I figured something out that will work.

I also took out my hand-drawn map of the village of Rainbow Ranch (okay, I went through three different versions I had stuck in a looseleaf) to refresh my memory and to see if I’d indicated where the setting for this new series was. I hadn’t, but I knew I had a description of Lilliana driving to it in one of the African Violet Club mysteries. Of course, it was in the last book I wrote, but I went through two before that looking for that description.

So I’ll have to put on my to-do list: Draw new map.

The other thing I’ve got my subconscious worrying on is the subplot. I think I have a great idea for one that will carry through several books, but I’m not too sure how to work it into the current book, much less the next few books in the series.

I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

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October 12, 2021 - What's the Plot?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Before the move, I was working on the first book in my new series. I remember working out all the details of the victim, killer, and suspects and feeling really good about what I was going to write. Now that I’m mostly settled in and going to write the book for NaNo, I thought it was time to refresh my memory about the story and flesh out the details.

There’s only one problem. All the “feel” for the story that I had before the moving break is gone. I recognize what I wrote in my one line per scene outline, but not the richness that should happen in addition to that one line. And the ending is very sketchy, which was what I was hoping to flesh out.

So to feel like I’m making progress on this story, I started thinking about some other things.

For one thing, Lilliana, my senior sleuth had completed her character arc in the first series, and I thought she should have a new arc for the new series. I even got an idea as to what that should be. That required a new character, and I came up with a really exciting concept. The more I worked on that character, the more I thought this was going to be an excellent story.

There’s only one problem. It can’t be the main story of a murder mystery. So I have to figure out a way to stretch it over multiple books, not use a lot of what I’m coming up with right away, which is kind of deflating.

And I still have the problem of working out the ending of the murder mystery satisfactorily.

I know I’ll figure it out eventually. I always do. But at the moment, I’m in the stage where my brain is jumping around to all kinds of ideas and things I should do and not solving the central problem.

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October 9, 2021 - A Day with Photoshop Elements

Saturday, October 09, 2021

I’ve been watching a lot of NaNo prep YouTube videos lately. NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November. Since I’m about ready to start a new book, it’s good timing for me. I’ve also been beta reading a book on Writing and Marketing a Bestseller by Elana Johnson. I love her writing books. She’s a high-energy person (usually), writes a ton of novels every year, and makes really good money.


NaNoWriMo recommends having a cover for your NaNo novel to make it more real, and Elana is a big fan of pre-orders, for which you also really need a cover. And a blurb, but that’s a different problem. Since I’d started designing a cover for the new series I’m about to start a few months ago, I thought I’d pull it up and make the modifications I’d intended several months ago, like replacing the watermarked “try” images with purchased artwork. I started to do that late yesterday, only to discover I’d totally forgotten the techniques I’d mastered in creating the mockup.


Can you say “frustration”? I seriously wanted to cry. Photoshop skills don’t come naturally to me, and I’d spent so much time figuring some stuff out when I designed the original cover, none of which stuck with me. On top of that, I couldn’t find the pink index card where I noted how to do some of these things. (It’s probably still packed in a box somewhere.) I told myself to calm down, that being hangry was amplifying my frustration, and that I should think about it another day.


Of course, I woke up a 6:00 AM and, after feeding the cats and making coffee, the first thing I did was turn on my computer and open up Photoshop Elements. But, knowing I needed a refresher, I first spent a couple of hours watching videos from two different classes I bought earlier this year. This was followed by long sessions of relearning how to do a few things and learning different ways of doing others, until I finally had an acceptable cover for book one.


Since I was in the groove now, I copied that and made modifications to suit book two. (I’m not crazy. When I do my own covers, I stick with a single design that I can make minor changes to for each book. I’m not a professional cover designer who can make each cover unique. I’m not even sure that’s a great idea.)


You know, people think about a writer as someone like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, sitting and typing madly all day long. Or Richard Castle, who lives in a penthouse and effortlessly turns out books with hardly any work at all. But there’s lots of other tasks now, especially if you’re an indie. Yesterday’s lengthy project was trying to come up with titles for these new mysteries.


I thought I had come up with a clever idea of adapting song titles for the books, but after the first clever idea, nothing came to mind. So first I spent several hours making a list of song titles related to what I’m writing. Then I spent another span of time looking through word lists that would go with them. In the end, I only came up with a title for the second book, and I’m not sure whether I’ll keep it or not. If you have a publisher, they come up with the title. Even if you think you’ve got the perfect one, they’ll most likely change it.


Anyway, I’m glad tomorrow is Sunday, which is my day off. Then Monday I’m going to have to really dig in and start plotting the book so I can write it.

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October 7, 2021

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Hmmm… “tomorrow” turned out to be almost a week later.


My Halloween short story is ready to go. If you’re on my mailing list, you’ll get a link where you can download it for free. If you’re not on my mailing list, it will be available on Amazon in the middle of October.


Sign up for my newsletter here.


After doing a beta read for an author friend of mine, I spent today redoing my writing schedule because I changed my mind (again) about which book I want to write next. I wish I could write two books at a time, but I can’t. So it will be (as promised in last month’s newsletter) the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mystery Series. I’m definitely looking forward to writing this one. I just wish I could rearrange the calendar to put an event that won’t happen until the first week in February to next week.


I’ll tell you about that when it happens.


Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’ll be able to start teasing the new book with a cover and a blurb. All I have to do is come up with them.


Anyway, I wanted to write and post this before the Red Sox game. The AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night was perfect, and I’m hoping the ALDS series also goes their way. After being forecast to not even wind up in the hunt this year, the Red Sox have surprised everyone. I love this team!

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October 1, 2021 - Trying to find my routine

Friday, October 01, 2021

With cartons still left to unpack, organize, or find a place for, I haven’t quite established a new routine (although my old one is struggling to reassert itself). But I’m trying to do some writing task before tackling the next batch of boxes each day.


Today, I did the last bit of revision on my Halloween story, “Murder at a Masked Ball” and then put it through ProWritingAid. That’s my least favorite part of the writing process. PWA doesn’t understand the subtleties of language, especially when I’m trying to write in a more old-fashioned style on purpose. I’m surprised that it picks on what it considers excess verbiage even in dialogue. For instance, I have one of my characters say they were “a bit” something, like a bit tired or a bit confused. PWA, in its no-nonsense way, thinks the sentences would be a lot clearer if I eliminated “a bit” and just said they were tired or confused. It has no understanding of the subtle difference between the two.


On the other hand, it’s gratifying to discover I had zero usage of passive voice, one of the things that I had to change a lot in past years. It seems natural to tell a story in passive voice, but the words aren’t as strong that way.


Anyway, I sent the story off to my chief beta reader and requested some others from among mystery writer friends in a group I belong to, so hopefully I’ll be getting feedback in the next few days. I’ve already started looking for artwork for the cover, which is another difficult part of the process. I always think it will be easy to find a picture that reflects my story or novel, but the stock photo sites never seem to have what I think would be the most obvious kind of picture.


Until tomorrow.

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