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Archive for December, 2013

I’ve spent over a week now dealing with a gnarly head cold. You know the kind; body aches that would cripple an elephant, sneezes so hard you piddle your pants each time, coughing fits that hock up a lung or two along with whatever that green stuff is, and a head full of snot so thick you could chink a log cabin with it. It’s not serious enough to go to the doctor for, but it’s just serious enough to completely wipe away even the most die-hard desire to actually accomplish anything. So I’ve been a total waste of air, in between doses of daytime cold medicine, Gypsy Cold Care Tea, and Robitussin cough syrup. When I’ve been conscious, that is.

Most of my waking hours, what few they’ve been, have been spent either killing things on my computer (yes, I like computer games. No, I don’t do on-line gaming – they call it World of WarCrack for a reason.), streaming video of the latest Daily Show or Colbert Report on Hulu, or watching reruns of the latest infomercial from (insert name of B-list celebrity here). Since we don’t have cable, most of my TV watching is regular network television, and since most of network television consists of some really awful sitcoms (Big Bang Theory excepted) or cat fights disguised as “reality” shows, I tend to watch a lot of news when Hawaii 5-0 and CSI are in reruns. And one news story last week made me sit up and take notice. I noticed it so much I’m still miffed about it almost a week later and so here I rant.

For most of the world, last week was Christmas. It’s supposed to be that time of the year when we join together with family and friends and exchange gifts while basking in the love and joy of being alive. We’re supposed to be thankful, and share our bounty with those less fortunate. But what we get here in the US is a feeding frenzy that would turn a pack of great white sharks into a handful of helpless, jibbering goo.

The big news story of Christmas wasn’t about how wonderful things had happened to deserving people, it was about how some people didn’t get their overnight packages on time. That’s right, the news made a big deal about late packages. The volume of last-minute overnight packages was so huge that the system just simply couldn’t handle them all, and some didn’t get to their destination when originally promised.

Big Fucking Deal. Here’s a picture of the world’s smallest violin playing “My Heart Bleeds For You.”

Tiny violin

    (Courtesy of People of Ar)

As they say, a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part. I mean, it’s not like no one knows when Christmas is, right? It’s the same date every year. You have 364 days to prepare for the next one, so why the hell are you waiting until two days before to order something that’s supposed to be under the tree Christmas morning? If it was that important, it should have been done long ago.

One of the examples used to show how terrible a situation this whole thing was consisted of a woman standing next to a large box of less-than-lively lobsters. It seems her family had ordered fresh lobster to be delivered just in time for their Christmas Eve dinner, but because of the glut of packages, the afore-mentioned crustaceans hadn’t arrived until the day after Christmas. Now, I can understand being slightly miffed at having spent that kind of money and then not receiving the promised product, but could we find an example any LESS sympathetic to the plight of the average American? Lobster? REALLY??? And then the woman went on to moan about how the whole debacle had ruined – RUINED, I tell you – their entire Christmas holiday. Just because they didn’t get to boil alive some highly expensive denizen of the deep for dinner.

You know what? Suck it up, Princess!

Russian civilians are being blown up by suicide bombers as they ride the bus to work, children in the Central African Republic are being beheaded as part of that country’s descent into sectarian violence, and Syrian refugees who have poured over the border into Jordan are facing a brutal winter in over-crowded, under-equipped camps. So you can just quietly take the refund for your overnight shipment and sit back in your warm chair with your nice hot toddy and STFU.

Oh, you don’t care because those aren’t Americans? Okay, how about the nearly 22% of American children who are living in poverty? Or the nearly three-quarters of a million elderly women who are living in extreme poverty? Or maybe the plight of 1.1 million homeless children is more to your liking?

You, my dear, are suffering from what is referred to as a First World Problem. It’s not a real problem. Real problems are hunger and war and prejudice. Real problems are scary and horrible and dangerous. Anything less is just an annoyance.

What I came away with, from all that nattering, is that a lot of us are just dicks, not really caring about the real problems in the world. So this is where that New Year’s Resolution comes in:

Don’t be a dick.

It’s easy. Really it is. If you’re teasing someone about their weight, race, skin color, sexual preference, religion, or football team, you’re being a dick. If you’re sending off snarky emails about the boss’s supposed affair with that hot new secretary, you’re being a dick. If you support cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits that would help those above-mentioned poor and homeless while giving big corporations and billionaires even more tax breaks, you’re being a dick.

So, just don’t be a dick.

Think about that the next time you want to rip your barista a new one because the foam isn’t quite right on your latte.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Sentiments

We are all on different paths, but the destination is the same. And instead of thinking about this just during a “special” time of the year, how about doing something about it all year long? Extend a hand in friendship, in mentor-ship, in help, in support to someone you might not normally. Do it without judgment, without questioning, without proselytizing. It’s a long road, and the journey is always easier with some interesting company.

coexist2

Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, or if you even acknowledge a holiday at all, may you be safe and prosperous in the coming year.

Happy Holidays and Blessed Be.

Cheri

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I was one of those weird kids, as you’ve probably already figured out. That quiet one in the corner who likes to read, will actually eat her vegetables willingly (except squash – not even on a dare!), and asks questions that make teachers stutter. While the rest of my peers were either 1) teasing me, or 2) ignoring me, I was plotting the overthrow of the universe, one backwater planet at a time. Starting with this one, of course. You’ll get your orders soon.

Anyway, one of the other indicators of my weirdness is that I actually like to write by hand. I was taught cursive in school, probably part of the last generation to have that skill. Which is kind of scary to me, given that our founding documents and many other Very Important Papers were all done in cursive, and if we don’t teach it anymore, how are we going to read it? Those documents will become the domain of an elite who will tell us what they say and, like the Dark Ages when the clergy told the masses what was in the Bible, we’ll end up with some twisted, garbled version like out of a Star Trek episode. (E plebnista, anyone?)

I had to learn to write by hand because “keyboarding” didn’t exist (yeah, I’m that old), unless you meant taking a typing class, which I took under duress (then, but am thankful for it now) to waste time before I could take Driver’s Ed. That one’s not offered in schools anymore either, sadly, and we’ve been seeing the results of that on the roads a lot lately. But I digress.

I thought cursive was cool. I even dove into calligraphy for a while. It fascinated me that something so simple as handwriting could be so beautiful. As a kid, I was really into the Gothic styles, but I’ve mellowed with age and now prefer the more elegant and simpler styles of penmanship. Handwriting allows a connection to the mind that typing directly into a computer just doesn’t quite match. I love the scratch of a fountain pen nib across the face of some really nice cotton bond paper. It makes me feel like I’m really accomplishing something. But I’ve already blathered a bit about that aspect of manual writing before (check out my previous rants “Recycling” and “Keyboards and Pencils and Pens, Oh My!” for further details), and this entry isn’t really about that, anyway.

No, today I’d like to tell you about how I realized handwriting my latest novel wasn’t going to be the best course of action. Not if I actually wanted it finished this century. Let alone this decade. I started it with my favorite fountain pen (fine point, green ink) and this lovely paper I get from Levenger (a business that caters to the discriminating writer and reader in all of us). Yes, it’s pricey, but the stuff is a dream to write on and I can use both sides of the page without experiencing bleed-through. Plus the format works well for keeping track of project info and scribbling in notes. Regular notebook paper you get from the local big box store can barely handle pencil. Once I found this combo, it was really hard for me to write any other way.

So off I go, scribbling away on the new novel. I very quickly have lots of paper floating around, with scenes from all over what is becoming a massive project. No, I often don’t write the first draft in linear form – it comes to me how it comes to me, and then I have to put the puzzle pieces together in some sort of order later. Plus there’s the research for the various science, historical and cultural aspects, sticky notes tacked all over with links to websites, books and articles. Add to this, there are the character notes, glossary of terms and names and places for me to keep straight; pictures for inspiration, and all the other little bits and pieces that one must keep track of when jotting down what is looking like a serious trilogy. After a few months and about 20,000 words, I tried to organize it into a binder. It was 3” thick.

I struggled with that for a few weeks, but it got really frustrating flipping pages back and forth to try and find that one bizarre reference in one character’s history I didn’t think would be important enough to note, and now finding out that it was a major deal. I was losing a lot of time looking for stuff instead of writing, and I had barely begun the project! It was time to join the computer age.

There are a lot of decent software programs out there, for a variety of things. And I know plenty of writers who use just plain word processing programs quite successfully. But this was going to be beyond just word processing, and I hate Microsoft Word even on a good day (the original WordPerfect was a superior product, IMHO), so it wasn’t even in the picture. No, this was going to take something a little more than straight typing from page to page. I have Final Draft for my screenwriting, and while it’s fabulous for how I work in that medium, it wasn’t quite what I wanted for the novel.

After stumbling around the Internet for a while, I came across Scrivener. It took me going back to the site several times while looking at other programs in between before I finally bit the bullet and bought it. As most programs go, it’s damn cheap. Especially once you find out just what it can do for you. And it was also one of the (VERY) few that ran on a Mac (it was actually specifically built for Mac first). I can organize on the computer now like I was doing with pen and ink. I can write the individual scenes and move them around on a virtual corkboard into whatever order I want, as many times as I want, with just a simple drag and drop. I can link to my research, add all sorts of media, jot notes, keep track of the different drafts, compile and export into various formats, and all sorts of other things I haven’t even begun to investigate. Yes, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but the onboard tutorials and help sections are stellar.  If you’re like me, and write by the seat of your pants as the voices in your head blurt their life stories at you, Scrivener is an organizational lifesaver.

Yes, I miss my fountain pen. Handwriting is just such a luxurious creative connection. But I think in the long term, my conversion will work out for the best. Now I don’t have to hand write everything first, trying to keep track of all those pieces of paper over the months and years, and THEN type it all into the computer so it can be edited and submitted somewhere. And with various electronic backups, I don’t run the risk of losing everything in a house fire or having Chapter 3 eaten by the dog. My novels have joined the computer age.

The short stories, however, are still fountain pen fodder. Just where did I put my ink…

P.S. Just to be clear, I wasn’t asked to do any reviews of the above-mentioned products, nor have I received any compensation in any form from any of those businesses. I just wanted to share what I found to be helpful for me, and hope it helps some of you.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All rights Reserved.

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I’ve taken a little break from my novel. After grinding out nearly 16,000 words on it in November (yeah, I know – NaNoWriMo winner I’m not) I realized I needed to take a step back and look at the whole forest instead of just the trees. In reviewing the flow of things and all the little pieces of the story I’ve been allowed to see, it’s looking like I’m only about a third of the way through this particular book (@65K words already!), and there seem to be a couple more books to follow. This is going to be massive, which means it’s also going to take A LOT of time to sort out. At the rate I’m going, it’ll be about three years total for the series. I’m so screwed.

So I’m taking a break because I need to get some other things done. I have a couple short stories rattling around in my head I should actually write down, and a couple to submit to publications, and I have to make some more queries for my first novel. The submission and query process is the part about being a writer that I really can’t stand. Writing is hard enough, but now I have to be my own PR agent, too? That’s nearly impossible for a depressive with no self-esteem. Just imagine Eeyore being a cheerleader, and you’ll understand.

But it’s part of the package. And if you’re a writer and haven’t figured that out yet, get on the boat, kids. Even those really successful writers with big buck contracts and agents and managers and PR firms have to play salesman at some point for their product. Whether it’s a book signing, a convention appearance, or an interview, writers who actually sell their books will have to come out of their caves and pitch to the masses. Yeah, I’m not thrilled about it, either, but it’s what we signed on for, so might as well put on the sunscreen and practice walking in the daylight.

Now, some of you might be asking why I don’t just go the electronic/self-publishing route, and the answer would be because I’m a traditionalist. That translates to old fuddy-duddy. I like real books. I like the smell of old ones, the crisp feel of new ones, the weight of all of them. I like how they don’t require a battery to operate and how I can read them by the light of the moon when I’m out camping. I can even level a table or crack a crook over the head with one, and still be able to read it. Betcha can’t say that about your Kindle or iPad. Traditional printing is still the gold standard as far as I’m concerned, so that’s what I’m shooting for.

Plus, to go that electronic/self-publishing route, you REALLY have to promote yourself. You have to be well versed with all things social media, and you have to be willing to spam yourself across the Internet. In a good way, of course. I just don’t have those kinds of skills. I can barely handle e-mail and this blog. You can just forget about Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and whatever else there is out there. That’s a realm for the young, those kids born with smart phones in their hands and wondering how the hell anyone could possibly survive without instant access to everything. I need a guide for that strange world, and so I look to an agent and publisher to lead me through that maze.

To get those, I have to sell them on my novel. Agents and publishers all have query and submission guidelines. No two of them seem to be alike, but the one thing they all want is some form of summary or synopsis. A summary can be as short as a few lines, to several paragraphs. It’s that blurb on the back of the dust jacket that teases you into cracking the pages, or those tantalizing few paragraphs on the inside front that convince you to spend your hard earned cash on a few hours of escape. It has to be the kind of sales pitch that could sell ice to Eskimos, because your book is just one snowflake on the tundra of publishing, and it had better be damn good to get any attention.

My short summary for Decker is as follows:

The dreary rains of the Seattle Free Zone hide more than the hungry maw of a corporate power gone mad. In the streets a mercenary seeks redemption for a crime not hers, while the FBI agent sent to find her learns he no longer believes. Forced into an alliance against a foe long since human, the pair discovers success will demand a heavy price.

It took me two years to finally get it to that point, but I’m liking it now. Hopefully, so will an agent or publisher. I have a longer summary as well, but that still isn’t where I want it, so more angsting I will go…

A synopsis is a more in-depth summary. Usually two or three pages long, it includes your characters, plot points and how the whole thing ends. It’s your novel in a nutshell. That’s right, you just spent a year writing 100K wondrous words, only to turn around and cut it down to the bare bones. And it has to be fabulous bones.

My current synopsis sucks. But since I’m querying a publisher that wants one, I need to take these next few days and pull it together into a rousing, teasing, passionate read they won’t be able to resist. It’s going to mean some hair pulling, tea drinking, cat scratching hours in front of the computer. I think I’ve written a good novel. I think it’s something other people will want to read, and my beta readers seem to agree. But I have to convince some pretty skeptical professionals first.

Therein lies the hardest part about being a writer. You can’t just sit back and let your work speak for itself, because it will just be a miniscule voice in a massive chorus. You have to plant a flag, send up fireworks and summon a flyover from the USAF Thunderbirds just to get noticed. Luckily, I’m an Air Force brat, so don’t be surprised if there’s an F-16 parked out front. It’ll be on its way as soon as I get the flag and fireworks.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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So, those of you who participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo might actually be crawling out of your word-smithing stupor by now. If you’re one of those who made it across the finish line with 50K+ words, good on you. If you’re one of the also-rans, even better, because you stuck your toes in the water and learned something. The only “losers” are those who weren’t brave enough to try in the first place.

Probably the one lesson everyone learned is: writing isn’t easy. It’s a lot more than just putting words on the page in some sort of order. It’s looking at a blank page and wondering just where to start in the epic miasma floating around in your head. It’s listening to the characters tell their stories in a jumbled mass and trying to decipher it into something that makes sense. It’s point of views, verbal tenses, story through-lines, picturesque descriptions, witty banter, bad guys, heroes, cats sitting on keyboards and not nearly enough tea. And that’s all AFTER trying to squeeze in the time to write in the first place. Sometimes just that alone is enough for the Charlie Brown Happy Dance.

I have yet to officially participate in NaNoWriMo. Plenty of excuses as to why not, but not really any good reasons. This year, since I was already in the middle of my latest novel, I set a goal of matching the pace required of actual participants – 1667 words a day. In looking back over the log I kept, I managed to hit that mark only once in 30 days. My grand total for the month? 15,926 words. That averages out to about 530 words a day. Some people might snicker at that, and I initially was disappointed with myself. But then I made a realization: that’s 530 words more than most. That’s another page, another scene, another plot point, another conversation in the bag. It’s forward progress, and that’s what really matters.

So I won’t be one of those authors that put out multiple novels in a year. I’ll be in good company. Cormac McCarthy (The Road) has released ten novels in a career spanning five decades. Joseph Heller had seven over the course of his half-century career, though arguably none better than his debut, Catch-22. J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) each only had one novel to their credit (though they were some doozies).[i]

Not to say I’m anywhere close to the caliber of those esteemed gentles, but it does help to know that there are great writers in the world that don’t push out words at the speed of light. Some can (here’s looking at you, Isaac Asimov and Stephen King), and are damn good at it, but those guys are freaks of nature. The rest of you exploding all over the place might need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

 The Internet and electronic publishing have made it far easier to get words out there (this blog a case-in-point), but, sadly, it hasn’t made writing any better. In fact, the deeper into the Information Age we plow, the worse writing seems to get. With editorial oversight slim to none on most aggregate news sites (i.e., The Huffington Post), poor grammar, lousy punctuation, mixed tense and badly constructed sentences are more and more common. Yes, language and writing are constantly adjusting to new trends and discoveries, but I have a problem w/u typng n txtspk 4 my nws. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, but I think you should always put your best foot forward when presenting to the public. It’s more than just imparting information – it’s representing YOU. And if you ignore the proscribed formal rules to write like a schlub, that’s what people will think of you. Take the time to do it right because what’s on the Internet stays on the Internet, and one day what you have out there may play a big part in the next phase of your life.

That’s why I try my best to write well here. Yeah, it’s just a little vanity blog, somewhere for me to rant, but there are people reading it (even beyond my family!), and more literary agents and publishers are researching an author’s on-line presence as part of the decision-making process. If the day should come that one of them happens upon these musings, I want them to see a unique voice with consistently good writing, not some lazy schlub who can’t be bothered with proper form. Form matters in the publishing industry. Content is still king, but following the rules of writing is the difference between a lovely evening and cannibalism: you can declare “Let’s eat, Grandma!” but don’t be surprised if somebody starts running when you let loose “Let’s eat Grandma!”

The bottom line: it doesn’t matter how fast you write, only how well. I’ll take a decent 500 words a day over 2000 words of crap anytime. In our instant-gratification society, we are all pressed to produce, produce, produce, now, now, now with little outside incentive for quality. So we have to make that conscious decision within ourselves to put the best we have out there. Otherwise, we’re all just schlubs running from the cannibals.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.


[i] Check out  “10 Authors You Didn’t Realize Never Wrote Second Novels” for some other startling examples of one-hit wonders.

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