Monday, September 19, 2016

Who Is This For?

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that I was having trouble with my computer. Well, I've actually been having trouble with it for a couple of years, due to a damaged hard drive that, for some time, would cause complete system crashes--a rather inconvenient thing, to say the least. Those problems seemed to disappear over the last six or seven months, which was really nice, though it was always at the back of my head that I could crash anytime. I got in the habit of saving early and often, and of setting up AutoSave to go off every two minutes or something like that.

Of course, we all know that computers, like cars, don't just fix themselves, and the hard drive was the least of my worries. My computer had a lot of stuff in it--by which I mean hard drives (two), optical drives (2), USB ports (more than you could shake a stick at)--and those things started disappearing. When I lost my speakers two years ago I thought it was something I had done; I had disabled them but then couldn't enable them. Inconvenient, but no biggie: no one in the house really wanted to be subject to the barrage of Grateful Dead I listen to when I write, and I have since found headphones are more effective at blocking out distraction, and might actually be better for picking up nuance in music. As the month of August wore on, however, I realized that it probably wasn't me failing to find the proper audio component in my Device Manager--it was my computer, slowly but surely dying.

My wife had bought an expansion drive some time ago with a universe of storage space on it and had been urging me to back up the hard drive. I had started this back when the crashes were occurring, but hadn't finished. The last week in August I got on my horse and copied files, and it's a good thing: the old computer had a couple of nights where it shut itself down, and each time I turned it back on, I noticed that, one by one, the various bits of hardware were disappearing from the list. Then one evening it wouldn't turn on at all (not entirely true: fans spin and that's about it). Meaning...

The day after Labor Day, the replacement arrived. It's a sleek, cheap Dell that takes up about a third of the space the old tower filled. When it arrived, I wanted to put it up on my desk, alongside my monitor. That meant I needed to excavate my desk, which I did. Well, almost. I excavated about two-thirds of my desk--not my idea of fun, but necessary (and not complete; I hate cleaning up).

As I excavated, I found a lot of interesting things, which I will not go into much detail about, but I did find this, and if you're a writer, you probably have some of this, too:

Yes, these are printed out manuscripts. On the top is my most recent epic, printed out this spring. You can see a bunch of sticky notes hanging off the side. Below that are actually more recent editions, from later in the editing process. Mixed in with the mess are parts of my last two manuscripts, along with notes and e-mails from beta readers.

In prepping my desk for the new computer, I filled a bag with garbage and a big cardboard box with recyclables. Perfect time to pitch the old manuscripts away, right? Well, that picture was taken this morning.

Last week, Katrina Lantz, writing at the blog Operation Awesome, embedded a vlog from writer Beth Revis (Across the Universe) on failure and success. In the video, Beth displayed a pile (actually, it might have been two piles) of manuscripts she had written before getting Across the Universe published. She mentioned, I believe, ten manuscripts, and you can bet she's got all ten of them printed out and saved somewhere in her house. After seeing this video, and finding myself with a pile of three unpublished (but hopeful) manuscripts on the floor to my left, two weeks after cleaning up my desk, I have to ask: Who are we saving these for? And why?

I know the impulse that drives me to save drafts upon drafts on my computer. It's the same one that makes me do a Save As... every time I make a major change to my manuscript, the same one that explains why I have 11 versions of my currently on submission project in various stages of completion on the computer: fear. Fear that something will go horribly wrong with the new version and I'll have to go back to a previous version; fear that, if I don't keep it, it will be lost forever should I need to go back, that I won't be able to pull something out of my head again if needed.

But the pile of paper is different. Given the gazillion-gigabyte expansion drive, the cloud, the ability to e-mail myself or Agent Carrie the manuscript at any time as a safeguard, the pile of paper is completely unnecessary. So why do I do it? Why do we do it (since Beth Revis' video shows I'm not alone in my manuscript hoarding)?

Fiction writers are historians, in a way, charting the lives of people and families who never existed, recording their histories in exacting detail. Maybe saving our drafts and notes is akin to preserving important documents: records of births and deaths, marriages and moves. Or maybe it's just an ego thing: Or maybe it's some sort of ego thing: we're hoping to make it big, and we want to leave something to posterity. Here are my eyeglasses, here's my coffee mug, here's the marked-up first draft of my first mega-bestseller.

Wow, I've gone on much longer than I expected. So, what do you think? Are you a manuscript hoarder, and if so, why?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Triggers, Again

While I was on my break, triggers and trigger warnings popped rather suddenly into prominence again. Triggered by a post Porter Anderson wrote for Writer Unboxed in mid-August, I started drafting my own bit on this, which, of course, I've already done at least once before (Tipper Stickers). The initial work I did on the latest post was lost when my computer finally collapsed in a heap of aging processors and blown capacitors, but I had enough in my head to carry on. So, here we are. Again.

When I began crafting my response to Anderson's post, it was not all that different from my Tipper Stickers post: the purpose of literature is to provoke thought and feeling; I don't like the idea of putting ratings on books, though I accept them on movies and TV programs; a reader can always stop reading, etc. and so forth. Not a lot had changed.

But as I started my comment, a thought popped into my head: As a person who has never suffered any real trauma in life beyond the usual scrapes and bruises, am I really qualified to decide?

The major traumas in my life involve the deaths of my parents (and neither of those events qualifies as scarring; it's sad that they aren't part of our lives anymore, and watching loved ones succumb to illness sucks, plain and simple; but nothing in their deaths rises to the level where there are triggers) and one assault at the Lenox Avenue subway station that I got over long ago. Simply put, I am fortunate--and happy--not to have had incidents that leave me prone to debilitating emotional responses. And much as straight white men in America are not usually that reliable when it comes to commenting on issues of racism and sexism (particularly the sneaky institutional kinds), this may leave me unqualified to really determine whether there should be triggers or not.
Wait, not that kind!

Sensitivity in this world is a must. The whole point of so-called "Political Correctness" is not about stopping people from thinking, or stopping people from speaking their minds; rather, it's to get them to think about what they're saying and writing, to consider other people's lives and points of view, and to recognize that there are other experiences out there beyond their own. You can go on thinking whatever you want--you will, anyway. Just think a little about who you're impacting before you say it.

Whoops, I've drifted a bit off topic. The simple truth is, I don't think there should be any topics that are taboo in writing, and I think it's absolutely wrong to tell writers not to include potentially upsetting scenes. As for trigger warnings? Again, maybe. My question is this, though: Who gets to decide what warrants a trigger warning and what does not? What do you think?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Whoa, What Is This Place?

It's September and my self-imposed blog break is over. I return a bit refreshed and even have enough ideas sketched out to get me through a month of this--the question is whether or not I'll do enough pre-writing on these would-be future posts to make it not too much of a struggle or not. I'm thinking I might. At least for a little while.

Now, I must admit, I've totally screwed up. I sat down this morning thinking how I would ease into the blogging thing by reporting on my reading list for the third quarter. I even started writing up the introduction. But, somewhere on my way to get the coffee ready (and it's still not ready; another two minutes or so), my fogged brain did some calculations and I realized I'm too early--the third quarter doesn't end until the end of September. Which means I'll actually have to post something else (I knew my reading list for the quarter was looking a little thin!). Let me think of that while I get me some...

 One sip, and things are suddenly much better!

So, reason for the break: as I may have said when announcing this break, I really haven't been happy with either my post quality or the fact I've been squeezing things out under pressure. I like to post on Monday mornings, and several of my posts were coming Monday evening, and I think I even deferred one to Tuesday. Not what I wanted. So, here's where I place the blame for all this!

Summer is typically my busiest time at the job, as I have a lot of outdoor work to arrange, and I also tend to have a lot more weekend work because of the nature of what I do. This summer was no exception. It was compounded, however, by the departure of my boss, who told us back at the end of March that she was leaving. Her last day was in mid-May. While the board of directors searched for a new boss, I took on most (hell, pretty much all) of Old Boss' responsibilities--in addition to my own. I didn't necessarily work longer hours, though perhaps I should have, but my days were definitely packed a bit more.

I did not realize until New Boss started how much the job was weighing on me, until New Boss started. Some of it was almost certainly the pressure of carrying two sets of job responsibilities; I suspect there was some anxiety in there about what kind of person New Boss would be. She started in early August, and so far, so good.I like her personally; professionally, I think she's going to do a great job. The evidence of how tough the summer was for me is that I realize I've been in an extremely elevated mood for the last three weeks or so--my energy level is up, my mood is up. I'll ride that as long as I can.

On top of all the other stuff, summer is summer and both girls were home (Yay!). We're a one-car family (Boo!). So, there was a lot of ferrying of people back and forth, and a lot of car juggling going on.

And then there are the worries of being on submission, even though through most of July I was on Amnesia Mode where that was concerned, and working on The Next One. I'm happy to say I made solid progress on The Next One, particularly during July. I slowed down a bit in August, but there is some reconfiguration I need to do on that piece.

Anyway, New Boss is working out really well so far, the Catbird is back at school, thus cutting some of the car juggling, and I'm back and ready to blog--at least this week, so far. I've been keeping tabs on many of you, but tell me: How's your summer been?

Monday, August 1, 2016

And it's Break Time

As the title says.

Lately, I've been arriving to blog work late and unprepared--more unprepared than usual, that is. When I'm on a roll, I've at least thought about my posts ahead of time. When I'm really on a roll, I've put some ideas down on virtual paper. When I start writing about visits from Mauritius, and then turn up a week later having done no thinking whatsoever about the blog (except for the idea of taking a break), it's time to take a break.

This summer has been a bit crazier than summers past, I think. We are a one-car family with four people, so juggling cars and coordinating departure times, and drop-off times, and pick-up times and who needs to be where when has been a pain. I'm in the midst of a WiP (~26,000 words so far, which is good, but it's still not entirely sure what it wants to be), I'm on submission, and I've been trying to handle two sets of responsibilities at one job since May.

Yeah, it seems like a good time for a break.

I'll still be around, checking out other blogs, and I suppose if I find something that I just can't resist writing about, I will (almost guaranteed, right?), but I expect to be taking pretty much all of August off. By the time September rolls around, the Catbird will be back in college, I'll have a new boss who should be pretty well settled in, I should be past the dread middle stage of my WiP, and who knows what else. Until then, see you around, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Musing: Mauritius!

First things first: Agent Carrie is running her monthly Query Critique today--with bonus 1st page--so if you want to see what an agent thinks of a submitted query and first page, and if you want to help a fellow author potentially win a critique of her first hundred pages, hie on over to Carrie's blog and leave a comment. Some day, maybe it will be you on the receiving end!

Some time last week I logged on to Blogger as I regularly do and noticed one of those funny spikes on the heartbeat monitor stat line snippet that shows up on the main page. Curious, I clicked the stat bar and was shocked to see that I was in the midst of one of those days: the day of the unexpected explosion of blog visitors:
Yes, that was 180 page views, apparently instantaneously. Now even more curious, I clicked on the "Audience" bar--where were all these people coming from?

Okay, then. To blatantly rip off borrow from John Oliver: "Mauritius. A country you think about so little, you didn't even realize it's not on Blogger's map."

Mauritius is an island nation of 1.2 million people located some seven hundred miles from Madagascar.It's arguably most famous for being home to the dodo, a bird which was driven to extinction within a century of the island's settlement.

I honestly don't know what to say. No, really. In the past, I found handy phrases for welcoming a rush of visitors from Romania ("Bună zuia!") and Latvia ("Laipni ludzam!"). But Mauritian? According to that great source of information for the modern age (i.e., Wikipedia), there is no official language. The Official Site for Mauritius states that French and Creole are the most frequently spoken languages, but just about everyone also speaks English. So, "Bonjour," I guess. Welcome to my little blog!

On a slightly more alarming note, the ridiculous number of hits and page views continued through the week. Rather than a continued onslaught of Mauritians, I was overwhelmed by Russians. As of now? 695 page views originating in Russia. This week. "Dobro požalovat'! Welcome! (Psst: I think you're looking for the DNC--that's over here)"

That's it for me. Hope you all had a nice weekend and are having a good start to your week!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things My Characters Can't Do

Good morning, all.

A day late this week. I woke yesterday and started writing the post that was rattling around in my head all weekend, but I ran out of time. Figured I'd take care of it when I came home from work, as I have done on other occasions. That didn't work, either.

I've gotten in one of those funny ruts over the weekend,  the kind where sleep doesn't come easy. Or, rather, sleep comes easily enough, but staying asleep is the problem. I've taken once again to waking up somewhere around 1:30, then again around 4, so when I do finally wake up at the appointed time--nhyeah, I'm not feeling like doing much of anything. When I got home from work yesterday, about all I wanted to do was collapse into bed and call it a day.

This sort of thing happens once in a while, and I usually get out of it after a few days, but man it's really throwing me right now.

The post I'm going to write--but not today--is about the things I can't seem to get my characters to do. In the various stories I've written--novels and shorts--I've had point-of-view characters who are very different from me. There have been killers and con men, hot-headed women and artsy teenagers, and a megalomaniac. These characters haven't always been easy to write--the megalomaniac, in particular, left me feeling like I needed a shower after I wrote some of his point-of-view chapters--but they have been fun, in their way, and, for the most part, I've never had all that much trouble slipping in and out of their skins to write them.

Where I have trouble? Mundane things. Stupid, every day things that are rapidly taking over our lives, but that I'm strangely resistant to: Uber. Airbnb. Crowdsourcing/funding. Ashley Madison. Taking pictures of food and posting it to Facebook, Twitter or some other flavor-of-the-month social media platform. My characters still tend to use landlines, though they are starting to use cells, smartphones and texts a little more.

I think, for me, the motivations for the killers, con men, hot-headed women, artsy teenagers and megalomaniacs are understandable. These things are rooted in the characters' backgrounds and emotional landscapes. And even if I've never killed someone myself, for example (I haven't), I can empathize with the character, and understand the journey that takes him to the point where he swings a baseball bat at someone's head. It ain't pretty, but I can get it.

On the other hand, I don't really understand the language of Uber, for example. Need a ride? Call a taxi. Crowdsourcing? It's electronic panhandling. And I can't figure out why you're calling it a hashtag when it's really a pound sign, let alone how you use it in a 140-character "conversation." The devil is in the details, and I don't have the details of these things, so it's usually easier to just skip them all together.

So, go figure, here I've gone and written my post after all. I'm not sure if it's coherent or not--I've finished my second cup of coffee and I'm still feeling a little groggy. So, let me put the question out to you: are there things you can't seem to get your characters to do? Thanks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Musing: Clunky Computer Edition

This is one of those mornings where my computer is wheezy and sluggish and unresponsive. It gets like this once in a while, where it takes forever to switch between tabs, and heaven forbid if I try to close a tab or a window or anything like that. It's times like these when I make sure any of my work is saved, saved, SAVED. What does it need? Maybe a restart, or a run-through with Spy-Bot. Maybe I should pour some of my coffee into it, because that's about how I feel right now, myself! So, where to start?

Ah! The chestnut! On the left is the "tree" as of May 23. On the right is the tree as of this morning:

It's put on an inch, maybe two. I'm wondering if I should ditch the corrugated plastic tube in favor of a cage. I have little doubt that rabbits (which are not nearly as numerous as they were a couple of years back), woodchucks (which are far more numerous) and deer (which are ubiquitous) would snap that tender mini-tree down in an instant if I left the tube off. I'm not sure how much more growth it's got in it for the rest of the summer, but we'll be checking in again with it.

The Magpie will kill me for this, but what the heck. She and a friend of hers from school have started doing a...podcast? At any rate, once a week they review a cartoon or anime series or movie, updating every Friday. This week's "review" of Captain Planet made me smile. Check out their Youtube page here!

And speaking of: it's always interesting to discover the ways your children are like you. And the ways in which they are not. The Magpie has eagerly sought our input (mine, the wife's, and the Catbird's, that is) and wants us to watch her videos. When I threaten to post the link on Facebook, she gets a little nervous. "Don't do that!" She would prefer family to watch, not people she doesn't know (though they do want more people to watch). As for me? When I do any sort of public program or public speaking (and I used to do it pretty much for a living), I hate presenting to an audience of people I know. The worst for me was when I would go into my kids' school--I loved the kids, don't get me wrong, but I would always be much more nervous than walking into a room with a hundred strangers. This carries over into my writing life, too: it's why it's much easier to share what I've written with relative strangers like my beta readers, my writers' circle, and my agent than with my wife.

Speaking of writing, I am in another project now, hooray! I have a feeling, however, that this one may be even tougher to write than the last one, which gave me fits throughout. I'm in that stage where I'm in the beginning, and I have a path to the middle of the story, but the ending is not quite clear yet. Of interest: author Brandon Sanderson teaches a writing course at Brigham Young University. His lectures are being made available on Youtube, posted once a week. I've been watching and finding it interesting. Will it change how I write? Maybe not, but maybe I'll try something new.

I think that's about it for me. The computer seems to have woken up without me having to pour coffee into it. I, on the other hand, could use some more, and so I say, "How are you?"