23 July 2012

My Friend Gwen (AKA Gary, AKA Faith)


Gwendolyn Faith Hunter Now
by Fran Rizer

A couple of posts ago, I expounded on pen names with primary emphasis on pseudonyms themselves.  Just as interesting as the fictitious names used by some writers of fiction is the WHY of the pseudonyms.

In Victorian times, females wrote under male names because of ideas about appropriate activities for women. More recently, Jeanne Rowling published under J. K. Rowling because her editor thought boys would be more likely to read books they thought were written by a man. Stephen King published under a pen name because he wrote too quickly for his publisher's concept of how often he should be published. Why has the blonde author pictured to the right been published under three different names?  I'm going to tell you, but first, the backstory.

A few years ago, I was leaving B&N one evening when I noticed a well-dressed lady sitting at a small table with books stacked on it.  Being my usual nosy self, I stopped to talk with her, and since her books were paperback, I bought a couple.  At that time, she was signing books in her Rhea Lynch series published by Mira Books.  I learned later that she'd already had a number of mystery/thrillers published both in the USA and abroad.  Her name was Gwen Hunter.

The story of how  Gwen first published mysteries sounds like a fairy tale. Gwen had known she wanted to write way back in tenth grade, but she played it safe and earned a degree in the health field. She met Officer Gary Leveille in the ER while working.  With his experience in law enforcement and Gwen's writing ability, they collaborated on two police procedurals under the pen name Gary Hunter.  Okay, I know you're wondering, "What's so fairy tale about that?

Thse Second Gary Hunter
The fairy tale part comes when they sent their first manuscript directly to publishers since they had no agent.  This was before electronic submissions, so it was hard copy.   Here's the fairy tale fantasy part of the story--the book was picked up out of the slush pile and published by Warner Books!

When I met Gwen that night in B&N, she was writing under the name most folks called her--Gwen Hunter.  She'd already published the DeLande Saga series--three books that had been translated into several languages and published worldwide.  She was now signing Rhea Lynch books--a thriller series about a small town female physician.


 Gwen Not Long After I Met Her
Gwen and I became friends, and she mentored me a lot about writing and being published. I learned from her when I attended seminars and festivals where she spoke as well as personally when I asked questions in person or by email.  She grew up in the Louisiana Bayou country but now lives in Rock Hill, SC, only an hour or so from my home in Columbia. 

Some of what I learned from Gwen:

Most beginners start their stories too soon. She threw away the first ten pages of the first manuscript I showed her. I took her words to heart almost to the extreme as I now try to murder someone in the first few pages.

If backstory is necesssary, spread it throughout instead of writing "info dumps."

Name characters carefully.  Unless writing about identical twins who may have been named in rhyming or an alliterative manner intentionally, use  distinctive names that won't be confused. 

When paranormal stories began growing in popularity, Gwen wanted to try her hand (actually her computer) at writing  post-apocalyptical dark fantasy. For personal and professional reasons, she didn't want to write these under the same name as her thrillers.  She chose to use her middle name and became Faith Hunter when she wrote the three novels in the Rogue Mage series and future paranormal. 



The Newest Jane Yellowrock
Signings were a hoot during this time.  Since both the thrillers and the Mage books were selling, she appeared at first as well-dressed, professional-looking Gwen Hunter, then appeared later in the day as Faith Hunter, who had a gypsy flair about her with long wigs, colorful floor-length skirts, and lots of jewelry.  She fooled  a lot of people who didn't realize the two Hunter writers were both the same lady.

Although she wrote several paranormals and developed a role-playing game, when Faith really hit the big-time with paranormal was when she began the Jane Yellowrock series.  Jane is a shape-shifting skinwalker and vampire hunter. Faith Hunter has made the New York Times Bestseller List with Jane Yellowrock, and she has shed her double identity.  Thriller fans still know her as Gwen while paranormal fans know her as Faith, but we all know she's the same extremely talented writer.

Faith has the same urge to assist beginning writers that she had as Gwen. When I asked her what I could do for her since she'd been so helpful to me, she said, "Pay it forward."   She's a founding member of the blog www.http,MagicalWords.net   For more info about Gary, Gwen, Faith, see www.http.FaithHunter.net, and check the Internet for additional listings and Wikipedia.

Until we meet again. . .take care of YOU.

22 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Chapters


Microsoft Wordby Leigh Lundin

Last week, I promised to show you how to create self-updating chapters. We're going to do much more than that today. No one's ever accused Microsoft of being user-friendly, so let's get started.

Stylin'

You've probably heard of styles and style sheets. If you're a writer and especially if you write novels, learning how to use them saves you time and effort in the long run.

Why? Why not select bold and italic as I've always done? And selecting double-space isn't so difficult, is it?

Because, Grasshopper, we'll do much more than that, and if you save them in a template (.dot or .dotx) then you don't have to redo them each time.

The screen shots come from MS Word 2011 for Macintosh but, depending upon which of the many versions of Word you're using, yours should prove similar.

Paragraphs

StyleMicrosoft Word defaults to a style sheet called Normal. Through use, this generalized template can change over time. If your nine-year-old daughter creates notes for her special friends, you may end up with 18-point lavender Nuptials Script as your new setting. Even if that doesn't happen, Microsoft's Normal style isn't suitable for submission to editors; at the very least indentation and double-spacing won't be set.

To create your new style settings, find the Style dialogue box. The two most recent versions of MS Word for Windows are exceptionally obnoxious– I know at least one editor who still uses MS Word 2003 and doesn't plan migrating any time soon. If you're using MS Word 2007 or 2010, check under that little gear icon for the Format menu and then look for Style. Macintosh users will see the Format menu where it's always been and can select Style from that. Click New.
style: paragraphWe could use Normal style (not the same as Normal template– see what I mean?) but let's set a style specifically for the body of manuscripts. Call it 'paragraph' and type that in. Set the font to Times or Times New Roman unless your editor requests Courier. Professionals recommend 10- to 12-point as a standard type size. 10-point saves paper if you're writing a novel, 12-point saves your editor's eyes. If you're submitting electronically, by all means give your editor a break.

We've chosen 'paragraph' as our main formatting name, but you may want to create particular styles in the course of your novel, styles such as 'eMail' or 'telegram' or even 'suicide note'.
Format submenu: paragraphNote the Format submenu (which is not the same as the hi-level Format menu we used to navigate here) in the lower left corner. Select Paragraph, which we'll use to set block formatting.
paragraph info 1Set the alignment to Left, the line spacing to Double, and then set the indentation to your editor's demands. In the US, that will likely be between a quarter and half inch; in the rest of the world, set the indentation to 1cm (which, at .39 inch also works as a good in-between setting for the USA).
paragraph info 2At the top, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn all those settings off, which helps editors estimate how much space your article will take.

Click Okay and Apply, and if you wish, save your work as a template, say, My Novel.dot.

Chapter and Verse

My friend, Claire, sent me her novel where she'd carefully (and manually) numbered each chapter, but chapter 17 appeared twice and another two may have been out of order. Like page numbering, MS Word will automatically number your chapters– even renumber them when you add chapters in the middle– if you set up your styles correctly. Here's how to do that.

style numbering As outlined above, to bring up the Style dialogue box, locate the Format menu, select Style, and click on New again. Name this new style 'chapter' and set the 'Style Type', 'Style Based On', and 'Style for Following Paragraph' to 'paragraph'. In other words, you're piggy-backing your 'chapter' style on your previous 'paragraph' style to get the correct font, size, and double-spacing.
paragraph info 3 As above, click Paragraph in the Format submenu, but this time set the indentation back to 0. Set the 'Outline Level' to Level 1; this is where the magic starts to happen. Click Okay.
paragraph info 4 As before, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn on 'Keep with Next' and 'Keep Lines Together'. Click Okay.
Format submenu: numberingOpen the Format submenu again and this time select Numbering…
numbering menu 1 You'll see a dialogue box titled something like 'Bullets and Numbering', which allows you to set up lists, but also controls outlines. If you select 'Outline Numbered', you may notice a thumbnail preview that has 'Chapter' in it, which can save us time. Select it and then click Customize.
numbering menu 2 You shouldn't have to do much other than check settings, which should look similar to that shown here. You may click the Font button to confirm that we're indeed using bold Times. When satisfied, click Okay (once), Okay (again), and Close (or Apply if you happen to have the cursor positioned where you want a Chapter heading).
chapter 0 Anytime you wish to create a new chapter, position the cursor at your chosen location. Then from the 'chapter' setting in your Styles button bar or from the Format > Styles > chapter menus, select chapter and congratulate yourself when the appropriately numbered chapter falls into place. Because we instructed the 'chapter' style that you wished to follow on with the 'paragraph' style, you should be find your everything in place to continue writing.
chapter 1 Enhance your template with your by-line and the heading as discussed last week. Save the template when you're satisfied.

Now you're set to crank out that next award-winning novel or short story. Good luck!

21 July 2012

On the Road Again



Last weekend was a little unusual.  I didn't mow the lawn, I didn't doze off in the backyard swing, I didn't attend a sporting event that included our four-year-old grandson, and I didn't watch a single Netflix movie.  What did I do?  Well, I think you'll be proud of me: I went to a writers' conference.

The truth is, I've never been particularly fond of conferences.  There are exceptions--I've thoroughly enjoyed the Bouchercons I've attended, and I'm planning to go to this year's event also, in Cleveland--but in general I've viewed most writers' conferences in the same way that I viewed sales meetings in my business days: they were a nice way to get together and have refreshments and see everybody, but they didn't often accomplish a whole lot.  All in all, I'd rather be working than talking about working, and I'd rather be writing than talking about writing.  Besides, literary conferences are usually far-flung, and I'm no longer enthused about the idea of traveling.  The half-zillion miles I logged with the Air Force and IBM have made me perfectly content to stay within my own zip code.
But I've decided I might've been a little too hasty.  The conference I attended on July 13th, 14th, and 15th has made me rethink my position on the matter.

Hop along to Cassity

About six months ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to be one of five "featured authors" at the second annual Turner Cassity Literary Festival this past weekend.  Sponsored by the local Cultural Arts Center, the three-day festival is a gathering of writers and readers from all over the southeast and beyond, held in a rambling century-old home on tree-lined Campbellton Street in Douglasville, Georgia.


My wife Carolyn and I left home early last Friday (the 13th!?) to drive the four hundred miles to Douglasville, a small town about twenty miles west of Atlanta.  The weather wasn't the best--we were greeted with the same kind of afternoon/evening thunderstorms we had left behind in Mississippi, and even when it wasn't raining the humidity made us feel right at home--but it was a great weekend anyway.  The food was good (and plentiful), the accommodations comfortable (and conveniently located), the conference site beautiful (and appropriately "literary"), the people friendly (and smart), and the subject matter . . . well, the subject matter involved what you might expect: an appreciation of the writing of others and the improvement of your own.

The unusual suspects

The guest lineup of authors consisted of three poets (Dan Veach, Annmarie Lockhart, and Alice Lovelace), one novelist (Patricia Sprinkle), and one short-story writer (guess who).  Each of us taught two ninety-minute workshops and held individual critique sessions on Saturday, and then participated in readings and signings and Q&A's on Sunday.

I knew I would have a good time with Patti Sprinkle because we think the same way, she and I.  Not only do we both write fiction, we both write mystery fiction, and we had already swapped a number of e-mails over the years.  I wasn't so sure about the poets.  (As I think I've mentioned before, both here and at Criminal Brief, I'm not a poet and I noet.)  But I was pleased to find that I liked the poets and their work.  Dan Veach, I discovered, is not only a talented writer and illustrator, he's the editor of Atlanta Review--and the two ladies are gifted poets as well as outstanding speakers; Annmarie delivered the kickoff speech and Alice the closing address.  Both presentations gave me goosebumps . . . and remember, I'm too uncouth even to understand most contemporary poetry, much less enjoy it.

Friends and countrymen

On the first of our three rainy nights in Georgia, I found out that one of the attendees--actually, the wife of the head fred--had graduated a year behind me in high school, back in Kosciusko, Mississippi.  (Tell me it's not a small world, after all.)  I hadn't seen her in more than forty years, and after we caught up on which of our classmates were still alive or in rehab or out on parole, she and my wife hit it off and spent much of the conference talking about everything from grandchildren to politics to quilting projects.  I also met some delightful and interesting "aspiring" writers, and began what I hope will be longtime friendships.

When Carolyn and I finally arrived back home Monday afternoon, I told her the same thing I mentioned to you at the beginning of this column: I now have a different view of that weird phenomenon we call writers' conferences.  I still think it's more fun to just sit down and write--no question about that--but now and then, if the time's right and the stars are aligned correctly . . . it's also fun just to talk about writing.

I'm hoping they'll invite me again.

A word to the wordsmiths…

What are some of your favorite writers' conferences?  Which, if any, do you attend regularly?  Do you choose conferences based mostly on genre?  Location?  Cost?  Featured speakers?

Also, who's planning to go to this year's Bouchercon?

Save a seat for me.

19 July 2012

Medical Genetics


One of my many strange jobs was at a Medical Genetics Lab in the 80's.  It was your typical lab:  clean but shabby, hard-edged, hard-used.  The whole place reeked of what I called a "wrong smell" - which was basically amniotic fluid and chemicals.  Light came through glazed windows.  The samples came in bagged or bottled and sealed.  The results went out in plain brown envelopes.  The lab did buccal smears (cheek swabs) for babies, blood tests for children and adults, amniocenteses for pregnant women.

The technicians would take the samples and distill them down to that one little drop that went under the electron microscope.  The next day I’d be handed a blurry 8 1/2 by 11 photograph, full of chromosomes no naked eye could ever, would ever see, transformed into inch-long fuzzy banded crosslets, tumbled and curled and overlaying one another like sleeping puppies.  My job was to sort them out.

I got to know those chromosomes really well.  Me and my trusty scissors untangled 9s from 4s, 18s from 21s, and set them in neat ordered pairs for the first time in their existence.  At first, like every Other, they all looked alike to me, but time and use and my own fancy gave them personalities.  The first five sets were large and strong and unmistakable -- any flaw in them and there would have been no being to be tested.  6 through 12 were like the dancing men of Sherlock Holmes:  jaunty, poised, often with one foot kicked up in dance or play.  16 through 20 were smaller but just as playful, children learning at their parents’ knees.  13 through 15 were Hopi women, with their looped hair risen above long blankets, or nuns in banded shawls; an elemental female image.  And then the mysterious, smaller shrouded shes, 21 and 22, solid, dark, impenetrable, unpitying, even when you winced with pain, even when you cried as you found a third come to join their pair, or one so damaged that nothing good could come...


When I found a trisomy or a monosomy or any other abnormality, I took it to the lab director.  She would inspect my work carefully, assuming - usually correctly - that I had made a mistake.  But when I hadn’t, the whole lab went into panic, running and re-running the test.  When the results were certain, the phone call was made to the patient’s doctor and the sealed plain brown envelope, stuffed with test results and interpretation, was hand-delivered to the doctor’s office.  What happened next was between the patient and her doctor, her family, her God.  We knew what the options were:  we made no recommendations, rarely learned the outcomes. 

The search for sex was a lot more fun.  I found the male in microcosm elusive, mainly because the Y chromosome looks nothing like a Y.  Half the time I thought it was a scrap of something else.  I started a lot of panics until I got it through my head that what looked to me like a tiny, flat-topped, spread-legged 21 was not a trisomic sister of doom, but a Y, a HE.  My only comfort, as I sat with my scissors and a worried look, was that over in the hospital, with the baby right there in front of them, they couldn’t tell either.  Parents panicking, doctors shrugging, nurses whispering, and all waiting for me (!) to find that other damn chromosome and tell them whether it was a girl or a boy.  

This happened a lot more often than you might think.  Mother Nature does not always get it right, or perhaps she just has a very perverse sense of humor... 

18 July 2012

Respect Your Elders


My last blog was about writing in a laundromat in Port Townsend.  We go there every year for the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.  (The festival is in the city, not in the laundromat.  Just in case you were wondering.)

The first time we attended, about a dozen years ago, the highlight for me was a guy named Bob McQuillen.  As I recall the story, his hobby for many years had been playing piano for contra dances (think New England square dances) in Maine.  After retiring he decided to try his hand at writing a fiddle tune suitable for dancing and by the time I heard him he had written hundreds.  (Note for non-folk music fans.  Trust me, we WILL get around to mystery fiction.)

I remember thinking it was great to get to see the old guy, because who knew how long he would be around? 

Jump ahead to the 2012 Festival and there he is, the iron man, age 84 anf still performing.  He now as fifteen volumes of Bob’s Notebooks, each of which contains 100 original fiddle tunes.  As near as I can tell the only concession he has made to his age is asking his collaborators what key they want to play the tunes in, and then writing them down so he gets it right.  



One day I saw him lifting tablecloths, peeking at the spaces where people had stored instrument cases, obviously hunting for something.  He noticed me watching and grinned.  “Lookin’ for my coffin!”  What a character.

But Bob was not the oldest teacher at the festival.  I think that honor went to 94-year-old fiddler Elmer Rich.  In this video you will see him, somewhat  younger, playing the mandolin.  He switched to fiddle when someone stepped on his mando long ago.



Now here’s the kicker, Elmer lives in West Virginia.  To come to Washington state for the festival he flew for the first time.  Well, why not?  I mean, if you don’t fly at ninety-four when will you fly?

Respecting our elders

And now to the point of the story.  Those of us who write fiction are lucky, like musicians, that in many cases we can keep going way past retirement age.  I decided to take a look at some of our elder statesmen.  I’m sure you can add some I missed.  Each of the numbers below indicates the author’s age (within a year) when the last novel was published. 

ED MCBAIN 79

GLADYS MITCHELL 83

AGATHA CHRISTIE 83

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER 84

NGAIO MARSH 87

REX STOUT 89  
 
DICK FRANCIS 90 (but his last few books are co-credited to his son Felix.)

Stout deserves special honors, I think, because his last novel was one of his best.  How often does that happen?)

 And ELMORE LEONARD is still going strong at 86.  Can anyone beat that?  . 

17 July 2012

E-volution


    Perhaps it is because each of our lives is linear that curiosity and a quest for order leads us to search out the beginnings of things that surround us in the world.  Sometimes it can be difficult to determine when something we now take for granted first originated, but other times we can track the beginning with certitude.  For those of us “of an age” I therefore pose a question:  what were you doing on July 4, 1971?

The IBM System 370 circa 1971
   I can remember that date pretty well.  It was a holiday, of course, and it was the first one for me at my first job after college.  I had just completed one month as a computer programmer in St. Louis Missouri.  The computer that I wrote programs for was an IBM 370, state of the art at the time.  It had to be housed in a climate controlled room and the computer itself took up, as I recall, the space of my present living room and dining room combined.  It sported, again as I recall, a wondrous storage capacity of 512 kilobytes.  Most of the things we take for granted on a laptop it could not do. 

    The COBOL programs that I wrote in 1971 were punched into 80 column cards.  A program usually comprised multiple boxes of these cards that were loaded into a card reader that spat them into the IBM 370 which then, under the guidance of what the programmer had written, could do wondrous things – like keeping track of spare parts and inventory.  By the time I left programming two years later to attend law school I had worked on one of the first “on-line” programs, which allowed data input from a (gasp!) stand alone terminal. 

The University of Illinois
    While I was toiling out a living commanding that IBM 370 computer to perform menial tasks something much more exciting was happening some miles away across the Mississippi river in Illinois.  On July 4, 1971 a young man, roughly my age, named Michael S. Hart, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, was granted free access to the University’s computer.  Such access was invaluable – unheard of at a time when computer access was scheduled in advance in minutes.  But nonetheless, through a friend of his brother, who operated the University’s mainframe computer, Hart was given the key to the kingdom. 

    But what kingdom?  What would I have done with such computer access in 1971?  Well, likely nothing.  The computer, after all, was a data processing instrument.  That is what it did – it processed data.  Why would you want free access to such a tool?  Would you want to spend your spare time sitting around processing even more data? 

Michael S. Hart
    Michael Hart, however, was not me.  Michael Hart was a visionary.  The university’s computer, it seems, was hooked into a system of computers and was one of fifteen nodes in a network of computers known as ARPANET, a network that years later would itself expand and blossom into what we now take for granted:  the internet.  There were approximately 100 users who, like Michael Hart, could download information from ARPANET.  I began using email in 1986, which was long before most people.  But, again, Mr. Hart had me beat – in 1971 the University of Illinois already had an early version of email that utilized ARPANET.  Hart put one and one together and saw the future. 

    Even at that the idea started out small.  It was, after all, July 4.  Hart had a copy of the Declaration of Independence that he carried with him. 
We were just coming up on the American Bicentennial and they put faux parchment historical documents in with the groceries. So, as I fumbled through my backpack for something to eat, I found the U.S. Declaration of Independence and had a lightbulb moment. I thought for a while to see if I could figure out anything I could do with the computer that would be more important than typing in the Declaration of Independence, something that would still be there 100 years later . . . .   
    So Hart sat down and typed the document into the computer only to find that it was too large for the rudimentary email system available on the network.  So Hart saved the document to the computer’s hard drive and provided his friends with the storage address, so that they could down load their own copies.  It is thought that of the 100 people who had access to data stored in ARPANET six actually downloaded the Declaration of Independence.

Volumes offered on Project Gutenberg by year
    From that rather inauspicious beginning came Project Gutenberg., which now offers the world’s largest collection of free on-line ebooks.  Early on Michael Hart typed in the text of all of the books that Project Gutenberg stored on-line.  By the mid 1980s the total was something over 300 books, comprised of older works such as the classics and the works of Mark Twain.  All were in the public domain, which meant that there were no royalties associated with distributing them freely.  From the mid-1980s on Hart began recruiting volunteers who also typed in the full texts of books.  By 1989 advancing technology allowed Project Gutenberg to begin scanning in books.  Currently over 39,000 works are available on line and it is estimated that Project Gutenberg adds books at the rate of over fifty books per week.

    While all of this is astonishing on its own, Michael Hart’s vision also laid the groundwork for today’s surge of epublications, ebooks and ereaders, such as the Kindle, the Nook and the Ipad.  And those, in turn, are bringing about an astonishing transformation in publishing, where marketing of new works of fiction and non-fiction can be offered directly to the reading public. 

    What makes all of this such an interesting story is, again, the prescience of Michael Hart, who came up with the idea when there were only 100 people on-line at the time who could have utilized the fruits of his labors.  As Hart said in 2011, “[s]omehow I had envisioned the net in my mind very much as it would become 30 years later.”  Remember also that back in 1971 there was no way for individuals outside of those with access to ARPANET to access computers and that, as noted above, the computer itself was hugely unwieldy and largely used for menial tasks – for processing data.  The first rudimentary desk top computers were still over ten years away; lap tops more than that.  And the reading devices such as Nook and Kindle that we more and more are relying upon to bring us our chosen reading material were approximately forty years away – hardly even a glimmer in the eye.

    It’s probably safe to say that Michael Hart not only anticipated the future, but also, through his efforts, helped to bring about that future -- our present.

    Michael Hart died last September, a little more than 40 years after he first typed the Declaration of Independence into that keyboard wired to a University of Illinois mainframe computer.  His legacy has been a revolution in literary independence that may be more profound than even he imagined.

16 July 2012

Necessary Evils


by Robert Lopresti


Some people write in their offices, surrounded by shelves of fine old books.  Some go to special retreat homes set aside for the dedicated scribbler.  Others drag their laptops to the local Starbucks, inspired by the lattes and the bustle around them.
I am writing in a laundromat in Port Townsend, Washington.

Not my usual hangout, really, but I do seem to spend part of a morning here every summer.  We attend a weeklong music camp and since the classes are much more up my wife’s alley than mine, I volunteer to do the wash ‘n dry duties.  Long as I can plug the laptop in, I’m set.  The fact that there is no wireless is so much the better; fewer distractions.

When I packed for this vacation I brought the text of a book I have been working on, hoping to make some progress on it. But after a page or two I knew it wasn’t where my heart wanted to spend the week.

You see, I have a new idea for a novel  And when I say “idea” that’s almost all there is.  I have a one-page outline and calling it a page is generous.  But it was summoning me and with a big (for me) chunk of time to work, I decided to give it a shot.

All of which might be of mild interest to my dearest friends, but let’s see if I can make it more general by getting to my point.  It’s here somewhere, possibly next to the fabric softener.

Right!  At this point in my young manuscript Character A realizes he needs to get to a certain place.  He’s an executive type and it seemed reasonable to have him call an underling for a ride.  But the chapter was awfully short so I decided that the underling – call him B – would be busy.

“Okay,” says A.  “Send Ray Ray.” 

And who the hell is Ray Ray?

That’s what I wanted to know.  Until A mentioned him I had no idea the guy existed.  I did like the name, though.

Now, he could have passed by the reader like a ship in the night, showing up only long enough to transport our protagonist to his destination.  But in the early stages of a book you should take advantage of every possibility that offers itself.

So I thought about the little I knew about Ray: the childish name, the fact that he was a low-level person in the organization who could be expected to jump when summoned…

And bingo!  I suddenly realized that Ray Ray was a double-crosser, working for Characters Q and R who, as you can tell from their place in the alphabet, don’t come into the story for quite some time.  Even better, because of Ray Ray I now knew how they WOULD arrive in the book.

And, by the way, remember Character B, who was too busy to give his boss a ride?  It turns out he was busy with his wife, which gave me something more I hadn’t known about him, as well.

All of this progress on the novel happened because my protagonist was too cheap to call a taxi.   I’m very grateful to him.

Which brings us to the witches of Lancre…
I have blogged before about Terry Pratchett, the brilliant English fantasy writer who invented Discworld. In one of his books he created a witch named Granny Weatherwax: a grimly Puritanical old woman who was a good witch simply because she was too vain to be a wicked one.  (Being wicked is weakness.)

In another book Pratchett introduced another witch to interact with Granny but he realized he needed a third because “You needed three witches for a coven.  Two witches is just an argument.”

And so, simply to fill that temporary gap in his cast of characters he invented a jolly, twinkle-eyed, much-married, bawdy-song-singing, unrepentant old witch named Nanny Ogg.  After many books she remains one of his most popular creations,  the perfect foil for Granny Weatherwax.  Clearly these were the kind of life-long best friends who couldn’t go ten minutes without an argument.

God knows I am not trying to compare myself to the brilliant Sir Terry.  But it is clear that at many levels of the writing ladder an author can take good advantage of a character who seemed to be only designed to fill a space on the set.

Ray Ray and Nanny Ogg are necessary evils who turned out to be pretty useful  Sort of like a trip to the laundromat.

Speaking of which, you will have to excuse me.  The driers have stopped.

15 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Headers


Microsoft Word Sometimes writers need to work with the technical aspects of formatting a document. This often means setting up style sheets for a document and then saving them as a template. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but a couple of topics elude writers, such as how to automatically update chapter numbers and how to set page numbers and a word count.

Kicking and screaming, a couple of months ago I upgraded from Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh to Word 2011, only because the beautiful new MacBook Air (a piece of sculpture) didn't support the eight year old MS Office. I abhorred 'improvements' Microsoft made to the Windows versions, which rendered the venerable suite unusable except to the most anally ardent users.

BaconAlthough I retained the templates I'd created before, I decided to format a document for a manuscript. It's taken HOURS to figure out the new and improved Microsoft Word. With that in mind, I'll pass on a few tips just for creating smart headers that will maintain the date, page numbers, and word count.

Creating MS Word Headers Without Slitting Your Wrists

So, let's say you set up standard document formatting… double-spaced 12 point Times or Courier, the first line of each paragraph indented, but you want the headings to look professional. Here's how to do it.

View > Header Go to the View menu and choose Header and Footer, i.e, View > Header and Footer. If you happen to be in Print Layout mode (Page Layout in previous versions) and can see or estimate where the header is, you can also double-click the header.
You should see a display that looks something like this. Note check box that says Different First Page… Don't check it yet, but you will in a moment. If you click on the Header icon, you're offered a plethora of not-very-useful headers. Unless you want to build your header manually, select the first one in the upper left.
Now select the pieces that say [Type Text] and enter your particulars, generally your real name, the manuscript title, and the page number. It's wise to place the page number in the upper right corner of each page to make life easy for editors. If you have thoughts of submitting your manuscript outside the United States, consider the convention of setting your surname in all caps; i.e, SHAKESPEARE, William. To create a page number that updates for each page, type the word 'page' with a blank following and then click the Page # icon.
Once you've established page 2 through 844 of your opus, check-mark the Different First Page setting. This allows you to build a header unique to page 1 containing your true name, address, telephone, eMail address, date, and word count. An actual copyright is unnecessary because publications will copyright your manuscript for you, but a © is a relatively unobtrusive reminder when you submitt the bloody thing. In days gone by, authors often included their SSN, which is no longer safe, but at least one instructor suggests including the last four digits of your SSN as an 'ID'.
Microsoft Word can use 'fields' that can be updated by the program or by the author. You can set Field Shading in Preferences to make them more visible while editing and the shading won't show when printing. The Page # above is an example of such a field. Another is Date, which you can set by clicking the Date icon. If you want only the year displayed, right click the field and select Toggle Field Codes. This reveals the internal code behind the field. If you want to display only the year, edit the code until it reads: {DATE \@ "yyyy"}. Then Toggle Field Codes again.
Field dialog box Editors require us to include the number of words rounded to the nearest 100 or so, but you can include an exact word count in the following way. Position the cursor where you want the word count. In the Insert menu, select Field…; i.e, Insert > Field… That invokes a dialogue box. In the left panel, select Document Information and from the right panel select NumWords. Click OK. You'll see the number of words currently in your document (if any).
Field menu The good news is you can keep the number-of-words field updated, but Word has a minor hitch: It doesn't keep a running tally in your document. Instead it only updates the field (a) when you Print or Print Preview the document or (b) when you manually tell it to update. To manually update, either select Print Preview or double-click the header to edit it and right-click the field. Select Update Field. You'll see the new word count.
Why go through all this work for one document? Because if you create a generic document with your name, address, word count, double-spacing, etc, you can save the document as boilerplate or 'template' to reuse for each new story. From the File menu, select Save As… and then set the Format to Word Template (.dot or .dotx). I.e, File > Format… > Format > Word Template. Give a name you remember. The next time you create a new document, select File > New from Template… and look for your prototype.

Templates become more valuable if you're writing a book, because you can create one that will update chapter numbers automatically, even if you decide to insert a new chapter in the middle of your book. That, however, is a topic for another time.

14 July 2012

The Beauty in the English Language


by Elizabeth Zelvin

I received this as an email from an Israeli friend who's spoken fluent English since I first met her in 1965 and who has lived in the US and traveled all over the world. My first impulse was to correct the errors, but when I thought about it, I suspected that they were a side effect of the fact that Hebrew is written and read from right to left. The email included what I assume was the title in Hebrew, but unfortunately, I found I couldn't copy and paste the Hebrew characters to the blog. I think it has a certain charm, besides offering a view on language that's right in line with posts from some of my SleuthSayers blogmates. So I'm sharing it with you as is.


  The Beauty in English Language!



ONLY THE ENGLISH COULD HAVE INVENTED THIS LANGUAGE

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!
 Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England ..
 
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposite
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns
down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on. 
And, in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop? 

AND IF PEOPLE FROM POLAND ARE CALLED POLES THEN PEOPLE FROM HOLLAND  SHOULD BE HOLES AND THE GERMANS SHOULD BE GERMS.,

13 July 2012

Working for The Woman


A few weeks back, I went to the mailbox with my usual expectations of both hope and dread. The writer's hope of good news, such as a contract or something of interest from the world of writing. But then, there's also the dread of receiving a very unnecessary rejection of one's most excellent creation. Of course, the box could contain nothing more than junk mail and bills. Those, I give to my wife, Kiti.

On this day, nestled in with the utilities bill, an offer of a free steak dinner if we listened to a lecture on how to invest our money in a retirement fund, two health insurance companies who desperately wanted my future business, plus several discount coupons from various stores offering to save me some money, was a single, plain white, #10 business envelope with one of my address labels on it. No return address. The postmark was Seattle.

I quickly recognized this envelope as the SASE I had enclosed with a mini-mystery manuscript submitted to Woman's World Magazine. In the more distant past, such an envelope would contain two pieces of paper. They would either be a form rejection letter and the first page of the rejected manuscript, OR they would be a very nice congratulatory letter of acceptance and a one-page contract stating when this story was to be published and the $500 fee the author was to receive in a few weeks.
HOWEVER, last year in reply to my 24th submission, I had received an e-mail from Johnene Granger, the column editor, stating that she needed an electronic copy of my manuscript because the head editor wanted to be able to look at a mock-up of the proposed magazine issue on screen before he made his final decisions. Thus, an e-mail request meant the column editor liked the story and there was only one more hurdle to pass. A follow-up e-mail would then provide info on acceptance or rejection, and the contract still came in one's SASE.

Advance notice on what to expect in the snail mail. I could live with that, after all that's how they bought my 24th submission in 2011. Problem now was here I stood holding the return envelope on my 25th submission and there had been no advance e-mail from Seattle. CRAP!

My questioning fingertips felt the envelope. Yep, it was the usual two pages thick. Same as always. And, you can't tell a one-page contract from the first page of a rejected manuscript.

Should I pour a Jack and Coke before opening, or just tear into the envelope and pour the drink later? Maybe pry up one corner of the seal and sneak a peek? Nah, be a man and take it on the chin. All or nothing. It's not the end of the world.

RIP!

TEAR!

PULL OUT!

Sonofagun, it's a contract and a congratulatory letter of acceptance. A hand-written personal note at the bottom of the letter says, "Thanks for another good one, Johnene Granger."
Whatever happened to the advance e-mail notice program and the mock-up on screen for the head editor before accetance? At this point I don't really care. The Woman has just accepted my 25th submission. Let's see, that makes 10 acceptances and 15 rejections. A whopping 40% goes to the plus side for that market. My average is improving. It's another writing credit, which you the reading public can run right out to your local grocery store and find "Officer, It Was Self-Defense" in Woman's World Magazine, issue #31 with an on-sale date of July 19th. Hey, that was yesterday. Better hurry, that issue is only on the racks for one week. (Actually, Dix had a last minute uploading problem, plus his Dad was having eye surgery, and he flat ran out of time. Therefore, we swapped weeks and  this is early, so don't look for that magazine until next week.)

Moving on. Tune in next time when I go over some personal notes about writing those 700 words or less, $500 mini-mysteries. But right now, you'll have to excuse me, I have to go back to working for The Woman.

12 July 2012

The Power of a Strong Vocabulary


I keep hearing there is a dumbing down of America. I don't want to believe it, but I'm reminded that:
  • Educators have stopped teaching cursive writing in elementary schools.
  • We are relying more and more on spell check rather than knowing how to spell.
  • More and more we are using a text-derived shorthand language, which is neither correctly spelled or as a gauge of a good vocabulary.   
Editors have said the average language level for our novels and short stories should be written for an eighth-grade reading audience.

Just as I am buying into the "dumbing down of America," I find a spark of hope. The last couple of years, I've spent considerable time with young people on a regular basis. From my new grand daughter and our time with children's programming on television to the college students I've been fortunate to interact with, I can vouch that the reading audience is out there and selectively reading on a better grade level than what we have been told to expect.


Cuddled with my grand daughter, we found on Sesame Street, Eva Longoria presented the word of the day: exquisite.



That afternoon, Word Girl concentrated her energies on the word pensive. These are early school educational programs. It looks like the writers for those programs expect the next generation to have extensive vocabularies. Good for them to recognize the need for quality education for our little ones.


Those books that reach a popularity with the masses that have introduced new words for our dictionaries --like muggles from the Harry Potter series -- and quark  from Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce and the word, robotics, from Isaac Asimov, have done a great service to readers. They made reading FUN.

Something about knowing the new "in" words found in a story we love and then sharing them with our friends is a wonderful way writers can ensure readers continue being readers all their lives. I think those authors finding ways to encourage their young reader's to embrace a larger vocabulary with choices like tesserae and apothecary from The Hunger Games, is doing anything but dumbing down American readers.

So what about the adult mystery audience? I don't enjoy novels that force me to head for the dictionary every page, but I do like learning a new term or phrase. It's my opinion if we can keep learning, we grow old slower than those who have given up on additional knowledge.

The idea of being the writer of great mysteries means delivering all the clues in just the right measures to allow the reader to almost guess the outcome.

As a writer, I've read between the lines too much not to usually guess who-done-it and why. That's why when I discover writing that surprises me with its delicate hiding of clues where I should have noticed them like the envelope hidden in plain sight in Poe's The Purloined Letter, that I am in awe and more than eager to read more from the author.

I don't want to be treated like someone without a brain who needs someone to lay the clues all out like a clear blueprint which a child could understand.

As a reader, I want to be entertained and elevated by the language. As a mystery reader, I want to be mindful of the careful plotting and clues being planted and tenderly cared for so as not to be disturbed before they are ready to emerge like tiny buds on a rosebush. Pretty enough to keep my interest and just thorny enough to be dangerous is exactly how I like mysteries.

I adore films and television, but not so much those that are expecting not to know when to laugh so I'm provided with a prompting laugh track. I don't want to know in the first scene who committed the crime. I don't want the detective in a series to deduce the criminal's motives in the initial setup.

That's probably why I was astounded to find how wonderfully written the television series "Revenge" turned out to be this first season. 

Good writing is being done everyday all over America. Isn't it nice we still have an audience for such clever authors? 

American readers are smarter than they are given credit for being. Thanks for being one of them!