MIND CLUTTER…..

My last blog referenced ‘mind clutter’ and this seems to be a good place to start.

It’s been three months since I posted and much of that time has been spent trying to figure out what to post. The purpose of this blog was to promote my books (both of which are still selling…thank you) but in researching reaction to my previous blogs there’s really no distinct pattern favoring any individual topic. My ramblings on wolves, books, music, renovations or shoes all seem to gather the same amount of interest which, in itself, is interesting.

So, with a quick reminder to check out my books on Amazon, let’s do some rambling and perhaps de-clutter a little.

I have a third book, perhaps three-quarters finished. I love everything about the story and the characters but I can’t seem to find the drive to finish it. Unlike the first two books which were loosely based on personal experience this one is total fiction and slips into areas requiring me to forsake my comfortable place and explore the inner thoughts and external emotions of characters with which I have trouble identifying.

Once I sit down and open the file I’m okay. I consider it a challenge to see a life, albeit fictional, through different eyes. I re-read what I have written and I like what I have done so far. I pick up where I left off and new words come easily but while I know where I want the story to go I have trouble driving it there. It seems every sentence or line of dialog I type takes me into a different direction, usually away from the intended conclusion.

There have been many times I’ve relegated this manuscript to the back burner and worked on a couple of different ideas but I’ve gone so far with this one that I feel the need to finish it. I suppose I have put undue pressure on myself as I made the mistake of hinting at the final outcome of the story in the first chapter. Eliminating that subtle spoiler at the beginning is a possibility but with 51,444 words already laid down the idea of going back through them all to correct any references to the original ending only serves up more pressure.

An unfinished story is a ghost that will never be set free until that final ‘save’. It just lies in wait somewhere in the furthest reaches of your mind, taunting and teasing until it commands your undivided attention. You could be sitting in a food court sipping a coffee when you realize that the person at the next table looks like your main character or you’ll hear someone talking and you’ll think ‘hey that’s something Corbin Wessler would say’. That’s the story beckoning, its spirit reaching through the mush and mayhem of conscious thought demanding to be noticed, insistent on the peace that only completion will bring.

Thank you for bearing with my venting. Oddly enough it has served to make me realize that I have to accept my self-declared challenge and buckle down to exorcise this demon.

COVER UP…..

….actually the insides are up too…finally! ‘Barking at Yesterday’s Moon’ is now available on Amazon as a trade paperback.

It’s been a learning experience but I’ve figured out what NOT to do the next time around. I’ve learned that the most important three words in writing are proof, proof, proof. When I got the initial download I immediately checked for those nagging formatting errors and found quite a few. Pages containing only two words, justified lines with far too much space between the words or blank pages where the ‘page-breaks’ were too close to the bottom of the previous page…fun stuff like that. While going through this process I discovered a few errors not related to the formatting and changed those. The second time through I was looking for those little mistakes and found three, one of which made me shudder. It was the use of “your” instead of “you’re” which is one of those things that drive me nuts, like “their” and “they’re”. Such simple mistakes but such unallowable mistakes. I found nothing on the third proofing but did a fourth anyway. The lesson to me was to do the proofing in a different format than the full page Word document. Switching the text to the format in which it will appear gives a different perspective and it’s surprising what it reveals. While I still have to select a portion of ‘Barking at Yesterday’s Moon’ to use as a preview I consider the final upload to Amazon a bit of an accomplishment.

With this part behind me I’ve returned to a manuscript I worked with for a few months, one I really wasn’t fussy about originally. Perhaps it was the time I spent away from it while putting this one to bed but I’m feeling better about it now. I can see so many possibilities and directions and I’m looking forward to diving back into it.

For now though I’m getting caught up on blogs and facebook…and maybe a little yardwork.

A LITTLE VOICE TOLD ME I WAS WRONG….

My old desktop computer had a text-to-speech feature that I don’t have on the laptop I’m using now. I never used the feature anyway so I wasn’t concerned about upgrading or downloading it when I set up this computer. A few years ago I bought a home music studio program to record a few songs for my own entertainment. This program (Music Maker) has the text-to-speech option but other than trying some special effects on my music I didn’t use it…until now.

This morning I decided to put the first three pages of my new manuscript into the program. I listened while a pleasant, if not somewhat static, female voice read it to me. Aside from a few words that had double meanings (wind as an example) and mispronouncing both the main character’s names she did quite well. Keep in mind these are pages that I have gone through twice, checking for errors and flow, and I was prepared to sit back and just enjoy having someone read me the story.

This isn’t quite what happened.

First she found the missing word “a” in what I had written (“brief career as writer/singer”). That’s one of those things I had read over countless times and just read it as being there. Then the little lady found an ellipse that wasn’t and read it as “period, period, period” although I find it funny that she doesn’t read aloud the single periods or other punctuation. The non-ellipse, I believe, was the result of me switching the language on the keyboard, something that happens frequently although I’m not sure how I’m doing it. This became clear when she read “he’d” as “he-accent-dee”.

She also repeated a line and corrected my grammar by removing the “s” from a word. (“Evan had toured the exhibition of those ‘exciting new visions’ but had seen nothing of note in any of the pieces, most resembling his own failed attempts in Grade Nine art class. He guessed it must be an age thing. With so many years behind his eyes his ‘visions’ probably aren’t what they used to be.”) Out of context she was right…but the “s” stays.

I also found that when you hear sentences transferred to speech you pick up on clumsy wording and I’ve smoothed a few lines out that actually sounded fine in my head but not-so-fine out loud.

I’ve nearly finished tweaking the whole manuscript but I’m throwing another step into the process. Once done I’m going to find a quiet place, throw on the headphones, and let this charming computer lady read me the whole book and see if she finds anything else I’ve missed.

For those that have the Word (or any version of) text-to-speech I suggest giving it a try. It reads exactly what’s there and assumes nothing.

Writers today are fortunate. We have a wealth of wonderful computer tools to assist us with our passion. Text-to-speech has just been added to my list.

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THANK YOU JOE SOUTH!

I love it when I have one of those ‘out-of-the-blue’ and ‘ain’t-that-weird’ moments.

I’m in the process of tweaking a scene where my main character Evan Morris goes back to Edmonton, Alberta…the city he called home before he moved to Kamloops. I started off by walking him down a once-familiar street but then I hit a bit of a block and found myself wondering where I was going to take the internal narrative. I resorted to one of my usual distractions.

When I stumble with writing I’ll sometimes pick up a guitar and just strum random chords and stare at the screen. Normally it doesn’t take long to come up with something but today I found myself listening more to the chords I was playing and I realized that they weren’t all that random.

It took me a while to figure out the melody but when I did my ‘ain’t-that-weird’ moment arrived.

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It was a song I learned back in 1969 titled “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” written by Joe South. This is a song I haven’t really thought about for thirty or so years but it came back so easily and quickly. Of all the random chords or songs that those chords could have represented this was the one that I needed it to be. As I played it and recalled the lyrics I stared at my computer screen and everything started to come together.

Inspiration sometimes comes from the damnedest places doesn’t it?

http://www.joesouth.com/

CYNOSURE

I admit to using the “synonym” feature in Word. It’s a handy little tool that I utilize to substitute a word in a sentence (or replace a word, swap a word, trade a word or interchange a word) that I feel I’ve overused. Usually I can come up with my own different word but that little synonym tool sometimes comes in handy although I will still choose the most common replacement and here’s why.

“The Grey wolf is the cynosure of the wilderness.” is the opening sentence in a blog that I just finished reading. “Cynosure” isn’t a word I use in my regular life and it isn’t one that I would use in anything I wrote. First, it sounds pretentious and second I’m not sure how many people would know what it means (a person or thing that attracts notice, especially because of its brilliance or beauty). It was on a ‘word-of-the-day calendar I once had so I’m familiar with the word but I appreciate that a lot of people might have to google it if I chose to drop “cynosure” into a sentence.

“The elk were deliberately traversing the field below…” This line threw me as well. Do these elk normally “traverse” a field unintentionally thus making this deliberation something unusual? Through context I established that the elk were slowly crossing the field…at least I think that was what the writer was trying to say. Why didn’t he just say it? While “deliberately” is indeed a synonym for “slowly” in this case it changes the meaning of the whole sentence, at least to me. Yes I suppose it is grammatically correct but sometimes you have to re-read what you write the way that a reader might…and this line just felt funny. Perhaps it’s just the way I interpreted it but I think others might read it the same way that I did and that’s not what the writer should want.

I don’t consider myself an expert writer but of all the good comments I’ve received on White Wolf Moon the one that pleases me most is that it’s “an easy read”.

An author should write for his market. My market just wants to escape into someone else’s world for a while…to be entertained and perhaps have a laugh or a cry. They shouldn’t have to work at figuring out what I have to say.

Okay my little rant is done…back to my book. Right now I have Evan traversing the scullery flooring surface en route to the coffee-manufacturing apparatus with the intent of filling a demitasse with his usual ante meridiem beverage.

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PLEASE WAIT…UPGRADING TO EVAN3.0….

A friend of mine asked why I haven’t been posting to those anti-wolf pages lately. Apparently my doing battle with those ‘people’ provides some comic relief to Lindsey’s day. I no longer get into it with them for various reasons…not the least of which is that they won’t let me.

Those that haven’t figured out how to permanently prevent me from posting anything will quickly delete any comment I do manage to upload but that’s okay. To me every ‘delete’ is a victory. I appreciate I’ve made fools of some of them (actually they did it themselves, they just needed a little nudge from me), especially with my Berton Hernie gag (see previous blog). This resulted in my not being allowed to post on pretty well any of their pages. It seems the word got around fast.

On one page I even offered to help them create better photo-shop images as the one they presented was really poorly done. My offer was deleted, as was the photograph.

The capper was the photo post of a chubby li’l grey-haired dude with oversized gloves and badly stitched wolf that shows up every six months or so. Depending on which page you choose to blindly believe this poor wolf weighs anywhere from 135 to 210 pounds and has been shot in Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, and two undisclosed locations (‘cos the hunter is scared the pro-wolf folks are going to burn down his house or come after his kids). That wolf gets around more than George Clooney yet each time this same old picture shows up we get the same old outlandish comments from the same old people that either have a really short memory or haven’t got the smarts to realize they’ve been had (which, based on Berton Hernie, is the more likely explanation).

Those tired stories, phony photos, and cries of conspiracy have echoed through the canyons of their minds for two years. It’s all become so boring, insulting, and abundantly clear to anyone who has a modicum of intelligence that these folks have their wheels stuck in the ruts of some long forgotten wagon trail and missed the turn-off to the twenty-first century.

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What has this got to do with my book? Growth…in particular with my characters. Like the stagnant content of the above mentioned pages, re-occurring fictional characters need to be updated…refreshed, if you will. 85,000 additional words without bringing new life to the people you rely on to keep the story moving won’t cut it with readers.

The fictional time span between events in the first book and this one is only two weeks so really how much can a character grow in fourteen days? Surprisingly…a lot.

Introducing unexpected emotions, actions or previously undisclosed facts can bring a fresh interpretation to a character. Those that thought they knew Evan in White Wolf Moon will discover that there’s more to him than he revealed the first time around. He finds himself in a less-than-legal activity and involved in situations where he can’t simply play the “peace” card and walk away. Although it’s only been two weeks he has grown immeasurably as have the other characters around him, including Ginn the wolf-dog.

I’m more than familiar with Evan (in essence I’ve lived with him most of my life) but this is Evan3.0…an upgraded form of the one I’ve grown to love. It was uncomfortable at first, especially as there is no “help” file accompanying this version, but I’m getting the hang of it. Placing him in activities I’m unfamiliar with has required me to research various and sundry locations and laws but that’s my part of the growth process.

I have a lot of flexibility (this is fiction after all) but unlike those pages I mentioned at the beginning I prefer my fiction to be at least credible.

DETAILS, DETAILS…TOO MUCH? TOO LITTLE?

A couple of lifetimes ago (the Seventies actually) I was a member of the IPMS (International Plastic Modeler’s Society)…yup, geekdom. I used to build military models and took great pains to add all the little details like rust and dents, shovels and saucepans. I did occasionally put together a muscle car or two, just for a change. It was here I learned more about details.

I was at a public show and contest and received good comments from my peers who knew what work went into my creations far more than the casual onlookers. It was the onlookers however that taught me more about this modeling thing than the other modelers. Along with my tanks and armored cars I displayed my MG-TC that I had spent months building. A ‘civilian’ studied it closely then commented that I’d forgotten to add the dipstick (it was there, he was looking in the wrong place). I figured out that you can add all the details you want but it’s the one thing you don’t add that some $m@rt@$$ will notice.

I’ve just finished the undercounter trim for our new kitchen and I’ve had to layer a shim of thin wood along the top. This required a little bit of filling and sanding to make sure it has a smooth transition. It took an extra couple of hours but it’s up under the counter where it’s not readily visible so why go to those lengths? Because if I don’t another Sm@rt@ss will comment on my shoddiness. Trust me.

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What does this have to do with writing?

Details…particularly in narrative…how much is too much?

One of my favorite authors is Sharyn McCrumb and “She Walks These Hills” has continued to be one of my favorite books since I first read it back in the nineties. Sharyn describes a scene right down to the color of flowers nesting in a ditch by a country road.  She presents all the intricate details and she does it well. I once read an article (I think it was by Stephen King) that stated it’s best to give the reader only enough information to create a familiar scene in their own mind. His example was an antique shop. You describe the commonalities in every antique shop so that readers can hopefully imagine a real antique shop they visited. Thus, the scene becomes more meaningful and they become more involved. Which approach is right? Are they both right?

I followed the minimalist  logic in White Wolf Moon with my description of a bookshop (among other things). Other than the color of the walls (a necessary addition for my Kamloops readers) the store was generic yet everyone seemed to find their way around it easily. I think allowing the reader to create the image in their own mind without having to ‘fit’ my descriptions into place would make for an easier read…but maybe I’m wrong.

I’ve had no complaints with the narrative in the first book yet I find myself being more picky with the second and I’m not sure why.

I still prefer dialogue and character driven stories but this time around I’m more conscious of the setting. Someone suggested that it was because I’m growing and wanting to explore writing more. Dialogue is just talking and while you can say what you want to say in dialogue, normal speech patterns don’t allow for the descriptive adjectives that narration can supply. That makes sense.

A character might say: “Look at that old tractor over there!” But it’s unlikely he’d ever say: “Look at that overly-rusted Massey-Harris tractor in traditional red with dried and cracked grey rubber falling off the yellow rims over there!”

It’s obvious I need a blend of both approaches and perhaps that’s why this new scene-setting attitude seems to have created a rebirth as such. I have found myself going back to some of the first chapters and reconstructing them with narrative descriptions and they do feel better to me.

But now I’m beginning to wonder again…when is enough enough?