Category Archives: Writing fiction

A new route to self-publishing? An inchoate idea

Okay, so we know that self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints is no big money-maker, at least not for most folks. We also know that some of us “publish” our squibs not because we want to get rich or become famous writers, but because we’d like to share our creative extrusions with the few people in the world who might care to read them. In thinking about this state of affairs, an inchoate idea comes to mind..

If you’re going to publish for free, why pretend that you’re publishing for a profit? Why not just…yes…publish for free?

Self-publishing begins to make sense when you think of it not as a potential money-maker but simply as a way to get stuff that is written for the fun of writing to people who read for the fun of reading. 

In a word, it’s not a business; it is a hobby.

With that thought in mind — particularly where a novel-in-progress is concerned — how would this work? How would you get your scribblings to the greatest number of interested readers at the least cost?

Here’s a strategy that comes to mind. I would love to know what readers think of this scheme and what you would add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

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• First, write the magnum opus. You could either write and polish the entire novel, or you could write a few chapters and publish them serially as you go, much as, say, Charles Dickens wrote his novels. Serial publication was popular in the 19th century and even all the way through the middle of the 20th century. I can remember following stories in The Saturday Evening Post…and for heaven’s sake, the digital publishing universe invites serialization. It’s surprising that we don’t see serialization again. Not in the sense of a series of genre novels, but as publication of a single work in regularly appearing segments.

Post teasers on Facebook. These would be scenes or descriptive passages or bits of dialogue that leave the reader wanting (you hope!) to read more. Link from there to your website, where an entire serial might be posted.

• Post teasers at Amazon, for free, inviting people to come to the website for more. Here is how you would do this:

Take one or more of your serials (enough to make some sense and to intrigue the reader), put them together into one manuscript, and format the thing as a short e-book. This might be, say, 5,000 to 10,000 words. Make it clear in there that this is part of a larger work, and if they want to read the rest of the story, they should come to your website where they can follow it, for free, or download a free copy of the whole noveloid.

Publish this squib — with the plug for other parts of it included in the bookoid — through Amazon’s KDB program and set the price as $0.00. That is, publish it for free. Doing so will cause a few readers at Amazon to notice and read the book, and they will notice that you are publishing more serials at your website: free.

Back at your website, serialize the story, for free, in the form of blog posts. (A good WordPress template will allow you to create website a with a static front page, pages to advertise your products, and a blog — that is what you are reading now, at this P&S Press site.

You don’t have to buy a domain name if you make the blog name a subdomain. So this would allow you to have a single website, in your name or in your business’s name, with a series of subdomains bearing your separate novels’ names. This is very easy.

When you finally complete a seralized book, offer it — in digital format only — for sale at Amazon and/or on the site. You can do this easily, for free, if the book does not have a lot of graphic content. Any novel will upload handsomely to Amazon’s Kindle format.

This is the only part of the process that should cost you anything: you might want to have it copyedited or at least proofread. If you’re an accomplished, literate writer with experience in publishing, you may find that unnecessary, though most people are helped by another set of eyes to read the copy.

If you want to ask money for it, when it goes on Amazon, offer it for what you’re charging at the website…or maybe even more. At your Website, you can offer it in ePub format, which can be read on practically any device, or in PDF. Either of these formats can be prepared for free. You can make an ePub book in Scrivener, and any Mac or PC will make a very fine PDF, which you can “lock” to keep it from being copied.

But if you felt you just must make some money on it, once you built a decent readership, you could sell advertising within the book, in the same way magazines, newspapers, and websites sell ad space. Indeed, nineteenth-century fictional works did carry advertising. Writing a genre novel? Suggest to other scribblers in your genre that they buy ad space in your book or on your website. Doesn’t cost you anything, so even a few pennies is pure profit for you.

Electronic publishing is essentially free. The only part of the process of bringing finished copy to the reader that should cost you any money is preparing printed, hard-copy books. Otherwise, plain-vanilla text without a lot of jpegs, tables, and graphs is so simple to convert to digital format you need not pay anyone to do it for you.

So. Publishing is free. What that means is that if you don’t care whether you make any money on your golden words — if you write and distribute your content as a kind of hobby — there is  no reason at all to pay to have it published. No reason to produce it as a bound book in hard copy. No reason to distribute it in any other way than as a freebie give-away.

Why not?

Progress Being Made

As you’ll recall, if you visit here now and again, awhile back my creative schooner ran aground on the shoals of ennui. I decided to try a new tack: write the backstory for a character that kept pushing herself to the forefront of the imaginative stage.

This scheme is working well, to my surprise. So well, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if the story is really about Ella, second-in-command to the Kaïna Rysha’s overseer, and not at all about her highness, Rysha Delamona, described by said overseer in a moment of impatience as ruler of “This, That, and the Other, not to Exclude the Whole Fucking Universe.”

I had conceived of this tale as an “Upstairs” story, one that would follow the exploits of an imperial aristocracy challenged not only by its own divisive intrigues but by the appearance of a mysterious alien entity.

But maybe in fact it’s a “Downstairs” story, following the exploits of a hard-bitten interstellar working and criminal class struggling to survive in the context of an aggressive imperial culture. Maybe the interesting stuff has little to do with the privileged, the wealthy, and the hereditary elite.

So far, we have about 6800 words, five chapteroids of copy that consist largely of flashbacks occurring while Ella is having a spate of insomnia. The next scene is clear in its author’s mind and likely to roll right along.

If this keeps on, I’ll end up with a whole story about Ella, Dorin, and the “Downstairs” crew, probably with rather little characterization or story-telling about the elite. That’s why I think maybe it’s a whole different story than the one originally envisioned.

At this rate, she was never going to get to sleep. Leaving the light off – none was needed, after all, nor did she want to wake anyone – she slipped out from under the covers, pulled on a robe, and padded barefoot down the cool stone hallway to the side entry at the far end of the women’s quarters. The door was alarmed, but she had a key and a code, which she used to let herself outside.

Zaitaf [Varnis’s largest moon] cast her argentine glow across the landscape that spread out before Ella’s restless gaze. What a thing, she reflected. Who would have imagined she would ever see such a place, pastoral and only half-peopled, much less live in it? Monochromatic beneath the moon’s platinum mantle, the broad pastures, the sturdy manor house – conservative but large and commanding – the gardens, the domesticated woods, and off in the distance the low mountains from which Skyhill took its name glowed like a painting limned in ebony ink on silver. Lovely by daylight, this evening it took her breath away. It wanted to fill her with love for the place. But it also stole other things away from her: her self, her loves, her past.

She gazed up at Zaitaf and wondered which of those gray patches on its face was Ethra. Could a person see Ethra at all without a magnifying lens? And . . . how was it possible that she’d been here almost 30 years? That she’d spent almost ten on Zaitaf?

Djitti had died a couple years after Ella was brought to Skyhill, recruited as Dorin’s second in overseeing the estate’s staff. Her daughter, now the Kaïna, was ten at the time. Not quite twenty when her father was assassinated. Five years Kaïna now, Rysha was.

How did all that happen between yesterday and today?

Bhotil [overseer on Ethra, the colony on Zaitaf] would be in his 90s now, if he’d lived. He had been good to her, helped her work her way up from the resort’s laundry to dispatching and then to supervising staff. She missed him.

Every now and again she missed Bhotil. Now and again. But she missed Vighdi—her lover, her boss—every day.

Vighdi, shining bright in the sky. What was she doing now? Was she still on Zaitaf? Hell, was she even still living at all? Ella had no way of knowing, no way of finding out.

“Madame.”

She jumped, startled out of her reverie. At the door, watching her with a half-smile, stood Dorin [overseer for the Kaïna’s estate, and Ella’s immediate boss].

“It’s after curfew. What are you doing out here?”

“Not much,” she said. “Just having a hard time getting to sleep. You, too?”

“Well, no. But opening the door sets off an alarm on my desk.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I thought my key would open it without waking you.”

“Well – at least it doesn’t wake the dead an all their kindred.”

“Can’t win, hm?”

“Never.”

He stepped outside onto the landing with her and stood gazing at the silver-plated landscape.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” he remarked.

“Oh, my, yes.”

Dorin stood quietly, his attention taken by the glowing scene. The moonlight picked up the silver in his hair and, to Ella’s eye, made him part of the show.

“So,” he said after a moment or two, “what’s keeping you awake tonight, Ella? Something on your mind?”

Ah. The talk-to-me gambit. She’d had the same steward’s training: social work and counseling. Maybe it was unkind of her, though, to suspect a “gambit.” Overseer, he was, but he’d also been a good enough friend to her.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Different things, I guess.”

He was quiet for a moment. The wait-’em-out gambit. She gave in. “The Darl business, I suppose. It’s just…a little much.”

“Upset you to see him suffering like that?”

“I suppose, yeah.” He waited some more. “No,” she added. “It’s not anything we haven’t all been through.”

“Most of us,” he agreed.

“When you think about it…well, hell. Dorin. You and I worked like animals to get where we are. This guy comes along, this guy, and he just drops out of the cooker into the dormitory at Skyhill? I mean…how does that happen?”

A dubious glance. “When did you start expecting life to be fair?” He actually sounded a little surprised. And yes. It probably was…out of character. The man could spot bullshit a mile away.

“Not recently,” she admitted. He smiled distantly, gazing at the silvered landscape. At length she spoke into his silence. “It’s just that it annoys me. This is Bintje’s doing. If she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with a new slave, and the paperwork and the damn blacksuits in our faces and the training and the headaches that go with someone fresh out of the cooker [a particularly excruciating type of punishment marking the transition between conviction for a crime and a lifetime of servitude].”

“Well. It’s not Bintje’s fault she got pregnant. She had the shot. You saw her get it. And you know the stuff doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time.”

“Okay, so Bintje brings home a belly, and the mistress decides…what? She’s going to buy a doctor for her? Why? The place is crawling with perfectly fine midwives.”

Why, indeed?

I have no idea. Who knows what mysteries lurk in the hearts of absolute rulers?

“Free” Writing Workshop Pays for Itself!

Check out the guy's books!

Check out the guy’s books!

Okay, so the fiscal truth is…what I paid to listen to Mr. Sam Sykes hold forth in yesterday’s writing workshop was the cost of a quarter-tank of gasoline (about five bucks, I’d guess) and four and a half hours of my time (two of them spent driving to and from the venue). That would come to about $275 worth of time and gasoline.

He talked about developing a plot line, and in the course of doing so presented a visualization of a plot’s forward momentum that I had not heard before. It was good: essentially what he said is that the old model of rising action, climax, and falling action is only one of several ways to look at a fictional work’s architectonics. He suggested one that resembles a graph showing short bursts of rising tension topped by decisions that lead to change, causing changes in circumstances that lead to new rising tension, and so on.

I like this way of visualizing what happens among characters in a work of fiction. And better yet, in passing he remarked that one need not and probably should not map out a plot line to follow religiously. And right there, I think, he solved the problem of why moving forward with the Varnis story has become such a PITA.

The Fire-Rider books got a few rave reviews, but very few. Indeed, they elicited almost no response from Amazon’s canny readers…I would like to imagine because where marketing is concerned, I share Bartleby’s sentiments (“I would prefer not to”), and so few canny readers have found the damn things. But more probably, no one has felt moved to write any comments.

Meditating upon this state of affairs, I speculated that the problem may be that I did not construct a cast-in-plaster plotline for Fire-Rider. Maybe it was too organic. After all, I just started writing and let the characters do their thing. I rather like the result, but maybe nobody else does. Maybe readers expect a classic plotline, not a soap opera.

But amazingly, Sykes remarked that a good genre novel may be a soap opera.

There’s also the problem that my writing doesn’t fit into any genre format, but rather floats between literary fiction and genre writing. But that’s another tale.

When he said these things, I thought Oh God! That’s it! Get rid of the stultifying plotline and just let the characters live!

Since leaving his precincts I haven’t had a minute to return to the Fire-Rider story. But I will. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this squib and posting it all over Heaven and Hell, I will return to the magnum opus at hand. Only this time, the characters — not some arbitrary design — will drive the action.

Creative Process as Wrestling Match

Alien City © SpinningAngelThis new noveloid, which I thought would fly on the wings of a lark, has turned into something out of WrestleMania. Lordie! I cannot BELIEVE how difficult the traveling is.

As I mentioned awhile back, on a whim I decided to try writing with a fountain pen and…you know, that flat stuff…paper? Interestingly, the break from the computer does help speed things along a bit. No Spider Solitaire link, no Bookworm link, no Mah Jongg link, no Washington Post Outspell link, no New Yorker cover jigsaw puzzles, no Google News link, no Huffington Post link, no CNN link, no Fox News link, no SciNews.com link, no Smithsonian link, no Astronomy Picture of the Day link, no…none of that stuff: the attention span extends over a slightly longer period.

Not much longer, but enough longer to be helpful. But still, I’m struggling to get the characters, the setting, and the action down on paper.

After some reflection, it occurred to me that the problem is lack of visualization. The setting is not clearly imagined: it’s fuzzy and lacks detail. The characters are ur-characters: I kind of know these people, but some of them are only passing acquaintances and even those at the center of the story have never settled in as my bosom buddies. The action is imagined, the series of crises and the main character’s “journey” is there, but these two are not well envisioned.

And that surprises me.

I like to build imaginary worlds. My fantasy life is full of them — hence, Fire-Rider. The specific imaginary world under construction just now has been around for a long time. When I first dreamed up the characters and the premise, I was about 10 or 12 years old. Off and on over the years, I’ve concocted stories involving these characters. Since I’m now in my early 70s, you can figure for yourself about how many years are involved.

So, sitting down to write this tale, I figured I knew the time, the place, and the people well. Yes. I knew the place like I know my neighborhood. The people like I know my friends and family. The time, in elaborate completeness.

Well, no. When I start to write about thus-and-such a venue, suddenly I realize I don’t know what this damn place looks like. Not at all.  When I think about the social customs of this or that set of characters, I realize they’re really not very detailed or convincing.

To complicate matters, new characters quietly pop to life. Yesterday, one Eylla came on the scene, previously unimagined and so, undeveloped. And characters who have been around for a long time turn out to have unsuspected whims and traits — one has a dual allegiance; another is secretly in love.

All this vagueness, all this malleability is slowing things way down. I’m having to stop and picture what does this person look like? what does that place look like? what explains the behavior of that group of people? how did this situation come to be? when did that series of events begin, and why? And that stuff is time-consuming.

Weird.

How can you dream up a whole empire of other worlds and a dozen characters and still not know what they look like?

Images: Depositphotos,
Alien city: © algolonline
Water planet: © artcasta
Alien worlds in space: © mozzyb
Snowy planet: © algolonline

The Five Worst Novice Writing Clichés

Recently I was asked to opine upon the five worst writing clichés that I encounter in reading and editing.

It’s a big question: the clichés go on and on. How many ways, in genre writing, can you tell the same story without beginning to sound a little stale? In nonfiction, most writers emit little that is new and much that is familiar. And there’s the question of whether the inquiring mind means cliché on the line level, or cliché on the structural or plot level.

On the line level?

1. I would say that “in today’s modern society” takes the proverbial cake. Note how you can’t even describe it without invoking yet another cliché.

“In today’s modern society” is a space-filling freshman-compism. However, just the other day I saw it used in an academic paper by someone who had attained the Ph.D. and was emitting what one might expect to be new and fresh knowledge. Well. One might expect it until one realized the mind behind the paper thinks in cliché.

On the structural or plot level?

2. Deus ex machina has got to be one of the worst offenders. The last three novels I’ve read have placed their heroes in terrifying predicaments, only to rescue them with the proverbial cavalry. When you design a standard plot, as you know, the plot line rises through several crises or turning points, in which the characters become tangled in some sort of conflict. The thing is, the protagonist needs to get herself out of the predicament on her own. She or he cannot be rescued by a merciful god, saved in the nick of time by the police, relieved when some pursuer is struck by lightning. How many times can God drop down out of heaven to rescue people, anyway?

3. Secretly, bad guys and bad girls are wannabe nice folks, eh? The whore (or thug) with a heart of gold is a sweet thought, but alas, another cliché, sort of like cute kittens, puppies, and baby armadillos on Facebook.

4. Endless sagas that go on and on through novel after novel. I’m guilty of this myself. Deep in the bowels of my computer is the plot outline of yet another Fire-Rider story. How much can one say about these folks’ adventures, anyway? Occasionally you’ll hit it big with a character that readers love, such as, say, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. That’s the time to keep writing until the world runs out of paper and bandwidth. But for most genre novels that appear on Amazon, a series is just an excuse to keep turning out the same story over and over. It becomes its own cliché.

5. Black (Native American, Latino, Asian, immigrant, whatEVER) characters who save the day through their pure angelic virtue and unassailable wisdom. People who are members of ethnic groups other than your own are people, just like you. They are not different, at base, from other human beings. Each of us is an amalgam of the good, the bad; the wise, the foolish. To deny this is to flatten the character — to show the character as more than human is to show him as less than human. And to my mind, it patronizes. Give your characters equal-opportunity humanity. Please.

What are your “favorite” clichés?

Images: DepositPhotos
Seen on TV: © valentint
Deus Ex Machina: © yellow2j
Kitten: © simply
To Be Continued: © iqoncept
Stereotype: © Rawpixel

Retrograde Motion: Fountain Pen Dept.

So there I was on Facebook, ranting about how Ms. User Error and the Mac collaborated to disappear the current version of a chapter in draft. The ensuing comments elicited a conversation with one of the group members who reminisced about the bygone joys of writing with a fountain pen.

Entertained, I wondered what became of my old fountain pens, long since relegated to hiding places where they would be saved for posterity. For “saved,” read “lost”… 🙂

Well, after a little shoofing around, what should I find but this lovely old Waterman pen, purchased lo! these many years ago. And I even found a bottle of ink that was still liquid. And two bottles of ink whose contents had petrified.

Pen Fountain Pen

Click on the image to make WordPress deliver a better view in another tab.

It really is a lovely pen: smooth writing and elegant.

There’s something to be said for drafting fiction longhand (and, I suppose, for drafting nonfiction with actual ink). The computer has melded itself into my fingers, and as a result, it’s difficult for me to write with a pen anymore. I type as fast as most people can speak — not well, but it gets the words down. And I spend so many hours of my days at the computer, I hardly ever practice real physical writing at all.

Writing with a pen forces you to slow down and think about what you’re putting in front of the reader. It also brings to your attention — startlingly, in my case — how much you revise as you’re writing. A page of handwritten copy hereabouts is a page of cross-outs, re-cross-outs, crossed-out cross-outs, paragraphs circled and pointed with inked arrows to new places in the narrative, question marks, misspellings, doodles in the margins…on and on. A word processor allows you to fix all those things as you go along, so that by the time you reach the end of the document, you don’t even remember all the changes you made in the process of writing.

Back in the day, when I first started life as a journalist, we still used typewriters. It was several years before personal computers came into our lives.

I hate typewriters. Did then, do now. We were expected to compose our stories at the typewriter, but I found I simply could not manage that. Reason: my neurotic perfectionism. I make a lot of mistakes when I type. Even on the word processor, where I type a lot better, my copy is full of typos and bêtises. Under the best of conditions, it takes several drafts and endless proofreading for me to get a piece of copy right.

It was so frustrating to have to pull out and discard a whole sheet of paper for ONE STUPID MISTAKE, for ONE slip of the finger, that every error would distract from my train of thought — to the extent that it was impossible to think through and compose a paragraph, to say nothing of a 1,000- to 2,500-word story.

So I would draft my assignments in longhand (unbeknownst to my editors) and then transcribe the result into typescript. This was far more efficient and even faster (believe it or not) than wrestling with error after error on the typewriter.

Hence, an appreciation for writing instruments.

And few writing instruments surpass a good fountain pen. Even a cheap fountain pen vastly improves over a ball-point or roller-ball pen. I used to use those Shaeffer cartridge pens — remember those? Found a few of them in the hiding place, but as it develops the things were part of a calligraphy set…fun, but not much use for trying to write 80,000 words of fiction.

But this Waterman…ahhh. What fun to write a scene in actual ink, on actual paper!

This, vs...

This, vs…

...this

…this

Computer: Why don’t you have a neck I can wring?

MacbookHOLY doggerel, Batperson! What a computer adventure yesterday! Went from day-before-yesterday’s ecstatic rave about the Mac’s talking narrator straight to the Ninth Circle. Digitally speaking, that is.

The trip was all my doing, like so many computerized adventures. Two portable external drives that I use to back up data had corrupted. The fix is simply to wipe and repartition them, which you can do easily on a Mac. I, being a  master of procrastination, naturally dawdled and delayed until I could dawdle and delay no longer. So yesterday I finally resigned myself to doing some work.

With the smuggest of success, I indeed did manage to reformat one of the external hard drives and set up Time Machine to restart its infinite backups. Problem is, when you have an internal drive that contains more data than Carter has oats, it takes a long, LONG time to establish the first backup. During that time, the computer drags painfully, kindly making work an exercise in frustration.

So I got up and went about some other business: watering plants, cleaning the pool, and generally farting around. I believe a bourbon & water was involved in the latter: user error #1.

Eventually I come back to the machine, plop myself down in my favored writin’ chair, and put the computer on my lap so as to continue the noveloid scene I’d been playing with. Looking forward to this, for a change: the past few hours had put me on a roll. A new character had come to life, and she’s the first in this book that I’ve really “connected” with imaginatively. Finishing the scene I’d been working on for days looked like a piece of cake.

Lemon cake.

Open the lid to wake up the computer, get the endlessly annoying “External drive was disconnected. Do not disconnect these things, idiot, without unplugging them in Finder, ’cause if you screw up on this you could damage the device.” The short cable I use to plug in the external drives is loose, so that every time you hiccup, sneeze, or pet the dog you elicit this effing message.

A-n-n-d…it interrupted the Time Machine backup and so shut down the process.

Shee-ut. So now I had to wipe the drive again and restart Time Machine.

Remember, the file I’m working on is open. It exists in various iterations in two places on my hard drive (user error!) and one place on DropBox (possible user error?). I save to disk but then go straight to wiping the drive, figuring I’ll come back to my project in a minute or two (user error!).

As I start to do this, I think…waitaminit: I’d better save the current items that matter over to DropBox because if I make a mistake, wouldn’tchaknowit, the thing that matters most to me right this minute will get erased.

This crosses my hot little mind as the Mac is wiping the contents of a large disk full of data, a process I find mildly alarming in the best of circumstances.

So, mildly spooked, I do a kind of panic backup: copy this, save there.

The system doesn’t like that. The backup crashes. I think fuck it and decide to re-open the file, work on my little fantasy for awhile, and then get dressed to go meet my friend for dinner and the concert we’d planned to go to yesterday evening.

So understand: while all this computer diddling is going on, I’m setting my hair so I can put it up, washing up, painting my face, shuffling through the closet in search of presentable clothing…and migrating back and forth from bathroom, bedroom, closet, mirror, makeup drawer to the computer screen. Yeah: user error!

Okay, so I re-open the file, ever-so-distinctively titled “chapter 1.docx.” Don’t do that, for cripes sake. Put something in your filename to distinguish it from the ten or fifteen other chapter 1’s on your freaking disk drive. User error.

Chapter 1 comes up…and it’s a version that’s at least a week old. All the work I’ve done over the past two days is absent.

Ohhhh shit.

I bang around and thrash around and I cannot find it. It’s not on DropBox. Whatever I saved to DB overwrote the copy that I’d been working on…deleting the stuff I’d written over the past couple of days. User error.

Word is set to auto-save every 5 minutes, because it habitually loses my clients’ work when I’m trying to edit a file that contains tables, Chinese characters, Hebrew characters or the like. But when I go to try to find a recent autorecover of the Great Novel of the Western World, what do you suppose I discover? WORD HAS NOT DONE AN AUTORECOVERY SINCE MARCH 21!!!!!!!!!!!

So the file that contains the last DAYS of work is GONE. And what’s gone is the most productive and lively copy I’ve managed to gag out for this book since I started.

Check autorecover: the settings have not been changed. No notice to the effect that the hard drive didn’t contain enough space ever popped up. Nothing. I am just screwed! I don’t know what TF is going on but suspect it’s not user error!

Oh, lord, how I hate Word.

Sumbiche. So I emit an electronic wail of dismay and post it to a private Facebook forum I subscribe to, as just about the only way of venting I can think of short of throwing the effing computer through a block wall. It’s now exactly 5:00 p.m. and I’m supposed to be in my friend’s driveway picking her up for our night on the town. Slap on some lipstick, grab a credit card, and fly out the door.

By the time I get back, several hours later, a number of people have posted replies at this forum. One kind person remarks, gently, “Think I heard once upon a time DropBox retains revisions? Might be something there.

Uhhhh…. Hmmm…. Yeah. Come to think of it: a year or so ago, my business partner managed to retrieve a whole set of “disappeared” files that one of our journal editors removed from DropBox, thinking she was doing us a favor. I had remarked to said Editor that mine is the free version of DB and so in due time we should remove completed articles from our shared folder, so as not to run me past the space limit. She took that seriously, and so she dutifully removed a bunch of stuff that neither my associate editor nor I had downloaded.

Well, Associate Editor is smarter than the average snail. She actually knows how to operate DropBox, and she was able to retrieve not only all the “disappeared” files but a record of who had disappeared them and when. So…there may be something to this…

Click on the DB icon, sign in, and find, by golly, instructions for how to recover a disappeared file:

DB instructions 1

A-n-n-n-d instructions on how to recover a disappeared file on a Mac:

DB instructions 2

This latter entails one (1) simple keyboard command. And…damned if it doesn’t work! Command + filename brings up 23 of the most recent pages of draft drivel, just as they were when User Error lost them!

Well, not quite just as they were: they appear in some sort of html-ish format:

copy saved from DB 1

But click on “download,” and mirabilis! The thing appears in perfect, uncorrupted(!) Wyrd format, complete with the infelicitous rhymes and the notes-to-self and the puzzling over what on earth (or…uhm…not on earth) this place looks like… (Click on the images to come close to seeing the details.) (No, WordPress will not let you post a screenshot in any way that makes sense, not that I’ve been able to figure out.) Best of all, this file contains the passage I was writing at the time I contrived to disappear the file: not one word is lost!

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!

It was well after 1:00 a.m. by the time this little miracle manifested itself. I staggered off toward bed to the sound of angels singing.

So upset was I by the fiasco at hand that I had not one but two panic attacks driving downtown last night, scaring the bedoodles out of my friend, who nervously offered to take over the chauffeuring job. Felt considerably better after two margaritas and a plate of hummus. Enjoyed the concert. Was pretty relaxed (heh) on the way home.

Now we know what takes care of panic attacks: margarita mix, right?

By the light of day, I’m thinking it would be good to overcome one’s cheapskate instincts and spring for the cost of DropBox’s premium service. That file recovery function is one helluva value-added feature. I’ll continue to alternate two or three external drives to back up the Mac’s software and data in Time Machine, thereby providing some protection against ransomware. Andthe extra space on DropBox will hold data files that I can’t afford to or don’t want to lose.

It’s $9 a month for the low-end subscription, and only $13 a month for the “Standard” plan that lets several people share its functions and archives files for three months. That plan gives you 2 terabytes of memory, which is twice as much as I need to back up my entire system, programs included, with TimeMachine. Unfortunately, its apparently not configured to work with TimeMachine. But it still would be worth $360 a year to have key files archived for 120 days.

Definitely worth it.

Characters Say the Darnedest Things!

Have you ever, in the course of writing fiction, had a character come to life on the page?

I mean…like suddenly this is a new person, not the one you envisioned? Happens to me every now and again.

Case in point, Merren, head of the Kai (roughly, “emperor”) Suhuru’s security guard. He has picked up a new man from a training center and is bringing him back to the estate, where the young fellow will serve as the first of a team (eventually to number five) devoted to the Kai’s daughter’s safety and convenience.

They’re riding a high-speed public-transit vehicle under the city of E’ho Cinnora. While they wait to arrive at their destination, they gamble at a board game and chat, tentatively getting acquainted. They live on Varnis, the center of a vast galactic empire. Chadzar is the offspring of natives of Michaia, an ice world in continual rebellion against the empire; Merren is from a world called Samdela. Merren has, earlier in the chapter, silently wondered if Chad is the son of his now-former master, Haddam. Chad’s mother is a handsome and (in Merren’s opinion) much-indulged Michaian slave woman.

§ § §

“E’ho Cinnora is big, isn’t it?” Chad remarked.

“As Varn cities go, I guess it is,” said Merren. “It’s not like Samdela, though, where the whole damn planet is a city. You’ll find it’s not very hard to make your way around.”

“You’re Samdi?” Chad asked.

“Mostly. My mother was Samdelan. They say my father was part Varn. I wouldn’t know, though — never saw him.”

“Me neither. Ever saw mine, I mean — my mother was pregnant when she was brought here.”

“With you?”

“Well…yeah.”

There’s a question answered, Merren reflected.

“Is it true what they say? That all of Samdela is covered with cities?”

“Pretty much. It’s all built up. Except for maybe a few mountain peaks.”

Chad seemed to think about that for a few seconds. “So, without farmlands, where do you grow your food?”

“We don’t. We eat our children,” Merren said.

The Michaian’s green eyes widened.

Merren chuckled. Gotcha! “They make food in factories. Or sometimes grow it there.”

Chad gave him a dubious glance and then laughed. “Should’ve known,” he said.

Et voilà! Merren has a sense of humor. A pretty deadpan sense of humor.

It never occurred to me that he could or would say a thing like that. During the several years that he’s inhabited the back of my mind, he’s shaped up as a hard-bitten veteran of Samdela’s criminal industries, which dominate the planet’s culture. Forcibly reformed and, by dint of talent and luck now employed in the house of a man who amounts to the king of the universe, he is stolid, wary, skilled with weapons and electronic surveillance, potentially murderous, and unwaveringly loyal. Not the sort of guy to see much  humor in anything.

Or…so I thought.

What Is “Free Indirect Speech”?

 

Involve an academic, and anything on this earth gets salted with arcana. 🙂 This morning I was reading some essay — in The New York Review of Books, I think — when I came across a new-to-me literary term: “free indirect speech.”

This, it develops, is a form of third-person narrative, in which, even though the narrative carries on largely in the third person, an element of the first-person is woven in. Without benefit of tags such as “he said” or “she thought,” the narrator articulates a character’s inward experience or thought.

Wikipedia, that repository of all knowledge human and otherwise, offers several examples that clarify nicely:

He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
  • Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

Here you can see two variants of indirect discourse: “reported indirect speech,” in which the narrator explicitly uses an attribution tag (“he asked himself”) to present the character’s thought’; and “free indirect speech,” which characteristically uses no attribution: “And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?”

There’s nothing new here, really, except for the “Theory” describing it. Chaucer apparently intended it in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Flaubert was a master of indirect discourse, Jane Austen and Goethe and Kafka used it, and it’s all over the place in current literature.

You probably use it yourself, without knowing you’re applying “Theory” to your golden words. A glance at my own draft brings an example right to hand, a brief passage in which a naughty thought about a young man’s mother enters a character’s mind:

What was going on there? Was something going on? This Chadzar was born on Varnis, yes? Was he…? Merren resisted putting that speculation in words, even in his own mind. Surely not: the emerald-green eyes hadn’t changed their startling hue to match the change of clothing — he was all Michaian, no question of that. But then…did that mean anything? A lot could happen between a man and a woman in eighteen or twenty years.

So if writers just do this kind of thing by virtue of being story-tellers, why clutter your mind with academic literary jargon? Good question, IMHO. Yet…it’s useful to be able to articulate styles and techniques — not just to know how to do them but what you’re doing, specifically. The insight builds your skill and enhances your control over your writing style.

Consider: if you were a carpenter, you’d know how to sand wood. But to know exactly what you’re doing, you would be much helped by knowing the difference between 100 grit and 500 grit sandpaper.

Comes under the heading of knowing your craft.

Images: DepositPhotos
Hands of a writer, © DmitryPoch
Hands of a craftsman, © stokkete

Drafting, drafting, drafting…

I feel like an old dog that, after laying on the rug half the day, climbs to its feet and shakes off  sleep with a great rattling of fur, ears, and tail.

Just as I arrived at the end of a VAST quantity of editorial work — to give you an idea, I earned as much in a month and a half as I normally earn in a year — I came down with one of the three or four nastiest respiratory viruses of my lifetime. And since my lifetime spans three-quarters of a century, that’s sayin’ something.

At any rate, around the single client project that remained, I’ve been fiddling with a new bookoid. Escapist scribbling, as it were: something to think about that is NOT Donald Trump, NOT mathematics, NOT academic screeds on the subject of how oppressed (fill in your favorite minority or majority group) is, NOT statistical studies of business management or economics, NOT indexes of medieval maritime history….

Drafting of fiction goes very, very slowly for me. Don’t know quite why that is. Maybe it’s that I spend more time visualizing and imagining the setting and the characters than I do actually writing.

Puzzling over this verity, the other day I decided to see how much I really could write in an hour. One hour. Beginning to end. Not much, as it develops: about four paragraphs, most of them dialogue!

Here’s what came of that exercise, draftig, draftig, draftig: set in another time in a galaxy far, far way…. Merren is the head of guard for what amounts to the emperor of the known universe; he is a slave. He has arrived at the home and training academy of Haddam, who turns out high-end servants for high-end clients. Chadzar is the son of Ileite; both are Haddam’s slaves; Chad is being sold to serve as a security guard and valet for the emperor’s unruly and rebellious daughter. Chad and Ileite are Michaians, a race distantly related to the residents of the planet on which they live, pretty much against their will. Merren has offered Chad the loan of one of his own distinctive liveries, exclusive to the emperor’s service, and Chad is trying it on.

“She’s only seventeen, you know.” [Merren said]

“The most difficult age,” Ileite remarked.

He smiled. “Actually, I think that was thirteen.” This line of talk, he thought, could lead him into trouble. Though Ileite and Haddam both chortled ruefully at his remark, evidently having enjoyed thirteen-year-old company themselves, he sensed he’d better direct the conversation away from the Kaina’s behavior, which surely had its moments. This mother sparrow worried about what her chick was flying into, with good reason.

“That sounds . . .” She was interrupted and Merren was rescued by Chadzar’s reappearance, resplendent in the borrowed livery. The mist-blue color made his translucently silver hair stand out in sharp contrast, in a way the standard gray slave’s livery did not. Even his eyebrows and eyelashes, Merren noted, were white. “Oh, my goodness!” she gasped, her eyes widening.

Haddam also looked a little wide-eyed. “Well, my lad,” he said, “you look. . .” he paused for the briefest instant, “very fine!” He smiled, and practically glowed with pride. Ileite blinked back an inchoate tear.

“Looks like it fits him pretty well, Merren,” the old man remarked.

“Not bad.” Merren stepped over and adjusted a loose area. “He’s got about fifteen years of filling out to go, if he’s going to catch up with me.”

Haddam chuckled. “Don’t overfeed him, or he’ll get there sooner than that.”

“We work out twice a day. He won’t get fat too soon, sir.”

“Two workouts a day!” Chad exclaimed. “What else do we do?”

“Well…every day? Target practice. Weapons maintenance and training. Prep for whatever events are coming up. Two work shifts a day. And about once each SECONDARY MOON we host a pow-wow with the police for security, strategy, and intelligence updates.”

“Police?” Ileite asked.

“We work with them all the time.” Ileite raised her eyebrow in Haddam’s direction. He ignored her. “When the Kai — or the Kaina, now — goes to a large event, we hire them as extra staff to help us out.” She making no reply, he added, “It’s good for our guys to spend some time with the hired help — some of us aren’t very comfortable with blacksuits, and it helps to be around them in less formal way. And I think it’s good for the cops, too, to see us as guys like them and not. . .” he shrugged.

“. . . felons,” she filled in his blank.

Surprised, he looked up and straight into her unfathomable, saucer-like blue eyes. The creatures never blink, the thought came unbidden to mind, irrationally oblique to his annoyance. [disquiet, discomfiture, see synonyms] “Former felons,” he corrected her.

Ugh. Talk about “inchoate.” Most of this will unrecognizable if and when it’s finished. But what the heck: at least something is installed in little glowing digital characters…

Image: DepositPhotos, © frenta