Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Year, New Laptop


Recently, I encountered an author's worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not worst, but one that probably ranks in the Top Ten.

My laptop died. I mean, literally. I had taken it to the library, and, when I returned home, I plugged it in to charge the battery. Everything seemed fine. So I went upstairs.

When I returned to my office, the screen was black and the power was off. I disconnected the adapter and tried turning the laptop on with only the battery. No luck. No luck, either, removing the battery and only using the adapter.

The DH took the computer apart, and we determined one cause to be the voltage regulator. Repaired it, but there seemed to be other issues, and we finally decided -- after a few days of troubleshooting -- that it was time for a new PC.

Now, a lot of people would be excited at the prospect of getting a new PC. I like my laptop. Have had it for six years. But I've accepted I need to say goodbye. Hopefully, the hard drive wasn't damaged, so I'll be able to transfer the files.

I'm not worried about losing files, since I store most on Dropbox, OneDrive, or on a secured personal storage cloud.

Needless to say, this incident has temporarily affected my writing. For the first time in a few days, I'm finally able to get back to my revisions. Part of it was the troubleshooting and doing research on computers. The DH has decided he's going to continue experimenting with the DOA laptop.

Meantime, I'm looking forward to the new one coming in. Not looking forward to putting the programs on, but it could have been a lot worse.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Monthly Round-Up: January 2016

I'm not a big fan of January. It's a dark and dreary month, no bank holidays, and everyone's broke after Christmas. So this is one month I'm glad to be nearing the end of, as it's time once more to round up my writing-related activities.

COMING SOON
 
I'm pleased to say that SUFFER THE CHILDREN will be released in Spring by MuseItUp Publishing. This is a re-release of my first published novel, but it's undergoing a whole new editing process. I don't have a release date yet, but watch this space.

PUBLICITY
 
I was pleased to be a guest on David O'Brien's blog this week, especially since I'm his first guest horror writer.  I'm talking about a previous experience that made me aware that not everyone likes horror writers.

WORK IN PROGRESS
 
Revisions to SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH continue at a good pace. The end is in sight on this manuscript now. I've also moved past the stage of thinking, "this manuscript is complete rubbish" to "actually, this manuscript's not half bad after all." This is usually followed by the "this manuscript is amazing! I rock" stage, and then finally back to the "this manuscript is rubbish" stage. But for now, I remain in a happy place about it. The fact that my editor is already looking forward to reading it gives me incentive to finish.

That's about all the news for now. Join me next month, when hopefully we'll be seeing longer days, warmer weather and maybe even the first signs that Spring is round the corner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Ten Commandments of Writing #6: Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers

It has been some time since I posted one of The Ten Commandments of Writing. I am returning to this series today with the Sixth Commandment - Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers.

I've been running my writing group for over 20 years now. Various people have come and gone over the years. Some people have stayed for a little while and then moved on; others have been with us so long it's hard to imagine a time before they joined.

Then there are others who came once, for a critique of their masterpiece, who  threw a tantrum when one or two members dared to suggest that perhaps this piece needs some improvement, instead of heaping effusive praise on it, and then they flounced off, never to be seen again. Just a tip - don't be this writer.

The other end of the scale is the writer whose work receives a ritualistic flaying during a critique session, and they get so depressed they shove the work in a drawer and never finish it. I admit that this latter category has applied to me once or twice.

Sending your work out to a critique group takes courage. You have spent months or possibly years on your novel, sweated blood for it, gone through the usual rollercoaster of feeling alternatively like you're an undiscovered genius or a blatant fraud, and now you have to sit there while a group of people take it in turns to tell you how ugly your baby is.

However, it is something that every writer has to learn to deal with. A common mistake that many self-published writers make is that they don't get their work sufficiently edited. There is only so much a writer can do with their own work - you get too close to it to see the full picture. You need someone who's not involved in it to give an honest critique.

That's why it's important to have beta readers and critiquers. People who will tell you honestly, and frankly, what needs improving. The problem we have in our group, though, is that for everyone who says 'I didn't like your character - she's bossy and annoying' there'll be someone else who says, 'I love the way this character argues with everyone and stands up for herself''.

There is a balance between listening to all the criticism and not listening to any of it. If you belong to a regular critique group you'll get to know after a while which writers are on your wavelength, and which ones are genuinely interested in the genre that you write in. If you write cosy crime, for instance, you'll probably find that the critique from the person who reads a lot of cosy crime is more relevant than that from the person who only reads hard SF.

On the other hand, if there are six people looking at your work and five of them make exactly the same point, it's worth heeding it.

So this is today's lesson. Find critiquers. If there is no 'realspace' writing group in your area, join an online critique group. Or start a group of your own (well, it worked for me). Once you have found them, submit your work to them and be prepared to listen when they take the time to read and comment on it. And be prepared to get your heart broken, because it's never easy to accept criticism of your work.

But the only way to grow as a writer is to understand where you need to improve. No writer is beyond editing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Writing Process

I'm actually in the process of revising a novel and a screenplay, so no new words as of yet this year. Although I am thinking of starting a new book soon, since of one my resolutions this year is to write more and write faster.

A couple of reasons I tend to write slowly is because I do a lot of plotting and research. And one of the first things I do is input my story information into Dramatica Pro, a story-engineering software. The program asks a series of questions regarding viewpoints, areas of conflict, main character vs. impact character, etc. Basically, it helps keep the story on-track from beginning to end.

Another program I use is WriteWayPro. Here, I can create a database of characters, take research notes, and write my book in a non-linear fashion. I can focus on the GMC of each scene, even make notes on the dialogue, plot, and revision, among other options.

Scrivener is similar to WWP, and I also use it to a certain extent. WWP was just easier for me to learn, but I'm sure I'll be utilizing Scrivener more in the future.

To plot my novel, I use Writer's Blocks 4, a virtual index card system. Each card can hold a scene, and I can add, delete, and move the cards around, much like screenplay writers do.

Power Structure is another software tool I'll use. It goes a little more into character development and plot development (such as asking what the opening hook is or the goal for the next scene). Yes, this is also covered in WWP, but only if chosen as an option when creating a book project.

I have noticed that using these programs (not always all of them for a book, but most of them), I tend to write faster than trying to "wing it." For example, it helped me write 50,000 words in 10 days for NaNoWriMo 2015. Not saying I could do that every month. But having everything available and organized helps with my writing process. Of course, as with everything, your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best Books of 2015

I usually start each year with a round-up of all the books I read in the previous year, and highlight the ones that I thought were the best. To clarify, my 'best books of the year' includes the ones I have read - not necessarily those that were published - in the relevant year.

Those who have been following the blog a while will know that I keep track of this via Goodreads, which allows me to log all the books I read and give each of them a star rating. The ability to do this appeals to my overdeveloped sense of law and order. Generally the way I pick out the best books of the year is to select all those I gave a five-star rating to. I can be quite critical when it comes to books. Not many get a five star rating.

In 2015 I read a total of 70 books (reaching my Goodreads target, hurrah!) and I rated six of them five stars. Only two of them, however, were books I had not read before.

I started the year re-reading Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, and throughout the year not only completed all the previous books, but read the latest one, SKIN GAME - purchased as a signed copy at EasterCon in London this year - for the first time as well.

They all warranted four stars or higher. Four of them I gave five stars to. They are, in chronological order:

Dead Beat (#7)
Proven Guilty (#8)
Changes (#12)
Skin Game (#15)

So why did these ones rate higher than the others in the series? These are the ones that left me breathless. That had me gripped from beginning to end, turning pages faster and faster to find out what happens next, even on the second reading. But if we want to a bit more specific - and if you don't mind spoilers (if you do, stop reading this post now) - there are specific incidents in each of these books that warranted that extra star in my mind. For DEAD BEAT, it was the T-Rex. No question. PROVEN GUILTY adds an extra complication to the series with the introduction of Molly Carpenter as a rebellious and confused teenager, who just happens to have burgeoning magical ability. A whole load of magical ability, and enough angst and anger to have her teetering on the precipice to the Dark Side. Harry just has to try and stop that from happening.

CHANGES is possibly the darkest book of the series. Jim Butcher says he likes to make Harry suffer, and he pulls no punches in this one. Harry loses everything. Literally. Starting with his office, which is blown to smithereens early in the novel. As the story progresses he pretty much loses everything else as well, including - at the end (SPOILER ALERT) his life.

But this is not the end of Harry, and the series carries on. SKIN GAME I was anticipating for a long time. I actually got to meet Jim Butcher himself at EasterCon, after standing in the signing queue for what felt like an age (and then babbled idiotically like a fangirl when I finally got to the front of the line). I had high expectations for this book. It did not disappoint. The series has taken a decidedly dark turn now, as has Harry. He is still as charismatic as he ever was, and still on the side of good, but due to various reasons is not quite as nice a guy as he was at the beginning of the series. But this means you never really know what to expect when you pick up a new Harry Dresden book. And that's not a bad thing.

My only regret is that now I've re-read the series and the new book, I've got to wait a while for number 16 in the series to come out.

So, that's four of my six 'best books of the year'. One of the others is also from a series I've been re-reading.

I started re-reading Terry Pratchett's 'Discworld' books a little while ago. I take comfort in the fact that there are rather a lot of books in this series - over 50 is the official count, I think - and I've only got to #7 in my re-read so there are still lots more to go. Number six, however, has made this list because I think it is the best one in the series.

Hence the next book on my list of 'Best books of 2015' is -
Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett.

I know there are factions of Pratchett fans, divided by the sub-categories of the various characters whose stories make up the Discworlds. The Watch have their loyal fans, as to the wizards. I have to say I have always favoured the witches - the crotchety Granny Weatherwax (the Crone); the earthy Nanny Ogg (the mother); and the spinsterish Magrat (the Maiden, though this latter category is represented by various characters throughout the series after Magrat gets herself married and can no longer be classified as a Maiden). And this book sums up why I love the witches. It parodies Macbeth; it features Shakespeare as a playwriting dwarf, regicide, dastardly royal politics and even magical time travel. What's not to love?

Finally, last but not least, the sixth book on my list is one I read for the first time this year:
NOS4R2 - Joe Hill

Son of Stephen King, Joe Hill proves himself here to be a horror writer in his own right. Featuring a supernatural and spooky car, rather like his famous father's novel CHRISTINE, NOS4R2 may appear to cover familiar territory but it soon becomes evident that this novel is not just a retelling of CHRISTINE. It's creepy and disturbing, and original enough to be a classic all by itself.

I have set myself a goal of reading another 70 books this year. I'm already working on the first two.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year's Resolutions 2016

To be honest, I normally eschew New Year's resolutions. Heck, I'll break 'em before January 31.

However, on the writing side, I've pretty much committed myself to at least the following:

1) Finish/revise three angel paranormal romances
2) Write at least four full-length screenplays
3) Get that TV pilot written
4) Write the second book of a planned four-book series
5) Write faster (That may be the first resolution to go flying out the proverbial window.)
6) Revise crime drama screenplay and enter it into contests
7) Convert The Ripper's Daughter to digital and upload it to B&N, Kobo, and Amazon

On the reading side, just for fun:

1) Read Tale of Genji
2) Read War and Peace
(Both will probably take a year to read altogether.)
3) Join the Savvy Readers 50 Book Challenge

Suppose I could add a few meaningful resolutions, such as:

1) Stop procrastinating
2) Get more motivated

All in all, though, the year is starting out quite well. I've just finished compiling the manuscript pages for Serpent Fire. And a secret project I'm working on is also coming along well. My goal is to have them both ready to submit by February 29 or before.