Friday, January 1, 2016

Year End Catch Up

Life in General...

I've been away for a few months. My only excuse is mind-boggling laziness.  A LOT has happened, especially recently, so bear with this lonnnng post while I catch you up, and then talk about my New Year's Resolution . . . er, Self-Challenge rather.

In the middle of October, someone hacked into our bank account and stole what money we needed to survive the rest of the month. In fact, we would not be able to pay our electric bill. To our great relief, the money was returned a few days later, when the bank verified the charges were fraudulent, and none of our financial fears came to fruition.

A few days later, someone knocked on our door not long before bedtime, lightly as if not to offend. It was a young mother with a baby on her hip.

The baby coo-ed excitedly. The mother responded, "Yes, pumpkins," and pointed to the three sitting on our porch. Each year, my son asks us to buy three pumpkins to represent each of us. We set them on the front porch and decorate them (eventually).

The woman looked at me through the closed screen and said, "Um, do you have any clothes hangers I could have?"

The unusual request puzzled me, and I turned to my wife, who sat on the couch. "Do we have any extra clothes hangers?" I knew we did, but asking her gave me time to process.

The mother said, "If you don't have any, that's all right."

My wife went to our laundry alcove and grabbed a handful.

I handed them to the woman. She thanked me and left.

Normally, when something like that happens, I feel good. This did not feel like a good deed. I felt suspicious. It was just odd for some reason.

The next morning, my son whisper-shouted, "Our pumpkin is gone!"

Sure enough, one was missing. Not the biggest, but the most unique. It was the one my son picked out for me because it had a big wart on the side, and he thought I could make something funny out of that.

Did the mother steal it? Seems likely, but still circumstantial. I guess they needed it more than I did. . . . But they didn't take it from me. They took it from my son. This was just confusing, ethically. I'm not sure the lesson here.

The end of October involved a lot of Brillo pad sensations in the throat, fever, and gargling various home remedies for fighting infection.  I also inexplicably lost 38 lbs -- this was the precursor of something else happening.  More below.

The first week of November, I got sick again.  Cough-flu-wheezy-crud stuff.  It probably had something to do with having spring temperatures in November.  By November 7, I had lost 42 lbs.  I was neither dieting nor exercising.

By Nov 12, the flu-like symptoms started to break.

Nov 16, migraines became more frequent, and by Thanksgiving, they struck daily.  I was having trouble focusing my eyes. I attested this to eyestrain and getting older.

A couple days later, taking my morning medicines brought on intense heartburn and continued each day for two weeks. My doctor assured me that none of my meds caused heartburn.

Ongoing issues with my back, issues with anxiety and depression.

Dec 3, I started having pains in my legs. Internet research led me to think I probably had a blood clot. It was in both legs, however, which the Internet said was rare. Also, my feet were itching around the ankles. I noticed a slight rash.

Dec 4, the rash turned to what I thought were ulcers but were actually large blisters.

Dec 6, another migraine before I went to bed, which was 10 PM, and I didn't wake up until 10 AM -- 12 hours!  Most generally, I roll out around 7 or earlier.  Again, I attributed this to stress.  It is so easy to rationalize individual symptoms and ignore what they could mean collectively.

Dec 7, the apartment issue turned out to be a non-issue, which unloaded a mountain of stress from me.

Dec 8, my legs and feet were getting worse. At this point, a nurse friend of mine and I thought I probably had stasis dermatitis. Aspirins (as blood thinners) and ibuprofen and hydrocortisone helped . . . well, not at all.  Maybe it was fungal?  Anti-fungal medication did nothing.  That night, my right foot started turning blue.

Dec 9, the rash, which had merged into zombie-like sores and blisters, actually looked a little lighter in color.

Dec 12, I went to the doctor. She did not think all the pains in my hips and thighs and the rash was a blood clot. She said I had folliculitis that got infected.  Gave me antibiotics.

Dec 13, got word that doctors said my brother-in-law would likely pass away in a few days. He and I were not close, but he is the man who got me interested in reading. So, I owe him what I consider one of the foundational defining aspects of my life.   My sister asked me to write his eulogy, since I had done so for my dad almost six years ago.

Dec 17, at 5 AM, I started chilling.  It was just once for a short period, then it was over.  After daybreak, I got up and saw that I still had the rash. The antibiotics the doctor gave me did not seem to be working. I had decided that it was probably shingles, since it was starting to hurt. I couldn't even stand clothes touching it. Both feet had begun to swell -- seriously abnormal for me.  Then, mysteriously, at about 8:30 AM, the pain dropped to about 30% of what it was.  I called the doctor again and spoke with the nurse. She said they would have to review my chart and that they would call me back. 

At 2:24 PM, my niece messaged me that we lost my brother-in-law.

Dec 18, I woke up after sleeping 12 hours. Rash still hurt and itched like crazy. The sores looked bigger. Still thinking it was shingles, I thought maybe this meant they were flattening out and getting ready to crust over, which the Internet said was a sign of the ailment ending. By 10:30 that night, I could not walk. My wife took me to the ER. The physician seemed to think my problem was unusual, and she even called in a few coworkers to "take a look at this!"  They swabbed the blisters, took blood, and came back an hour or so later.  For the first time since 1976, I was admitted to the hospital.  One of the doctor's main concerns was tachycardic and that my blood sugar was 320.  I had no idea I was diabetic. They started an IV of medicines, one of which the nurse called, "The mother of all antibiotics."  I even got to experience what a shot of morphine was like.

The doctor came in the next morning and said, "Have you recently lost a lot of weight?"

My jaw dropped.  "Yes."  That explained the 38 lbs that fell off me inexplicably.

He asked, "Have you had blurry vision?"

"Yes."

"Frequent urination?"

"Yes"

"Thirsty?"

"Yes"

Every question was yes, yes, yes.

Finally, he said, "I don't need no A1C to tell me you're diabetic."

Over the next couple of days, my blood sugar slowly came down and the rash started to fade once they got the test came back that told them the correct dosage of vancomycin to give me. I was released in the early afternoon on Dec 21. 

I still have the rash.  Still have the infection.  Still am on antibiotics.  But I am getting better.  The diabetes is forcing me to eat better.  And, best of all, I have lost 52 lbs -- on purpose, now.



The Writing and Current Projects...

In October and November, I was still working on the Alaskan Fantasy novel, but I kept yearning to write a short story.

I did some content editing for my best friend, Yancy Caruther's, second novel.

Days and days and days and days passed with me waffling over whether or not to outline or discovery write:


Don't know whether this idea cluster thing is going to work out or not. For the last several days, I have been tempted to just start writing blind again. I can't see the story do anything but wander if I do that, though. . . .

I did a 5-minute writing sprint, and now Ch 3 is 318 words. That's the fastest I have written yet at 1,836 words per hour.

I think I am seeing something in outlining vs pantsing. With an outline, yes, my ideas are better, but they come VERY slowly. Why? Because I am constantly second guessing myself. "No, that's not good enough. How can the situation be worse? More interesting?" Obviously, a good plot needs these questions, but I am getting hung up on them.

With pantsing, I don't have time to do that second guessing. Maybe I should write at 1800 word per hour. If I wrote for 3 hours per day, my productivity would go through the roof, and if I wrote the same scene 3 times, I would probably see ideas of similar quality to the outline.

The problem is that it won't work that way. If I actually wrote for an hour, I'd be really jazzed to continue writing, but I would also be too close to the material to see how to truly improve it. I would need a couple of days.

Maybe I could take a week per chapter, though. That is stupid slow for the indie circuit, but it might not be bad for my first try. New Chapter Monday might not be a bad thing.


I tried a free month of Kindle Unlimited and read several books on writing -- and, to be honest, got my first taste of books that were not really ready for publication.

Even though I have nothing ready to publish yet, I wasted time wondering about traditional publishing vs. indie:


Many indies say there is absolutely no reason to go traditional. Trad publishers take all rights and you get a much thinner slice of the pie. True, but I don't see that it has hurt the NY Times bestsellers. That slice is like comparing a Generic Brand Pizza Roll to one of those monster wheels that restaurants take out of the oven on a ginormous boat oar.

I don't know, man. I love writing, but it is because I love it that I don't want to piss away whatever talent I may have forcing myself to hit quotas of 80K words a month. If I were 20 years old, instead of nearly 45, this decision would be much easier to make.


Then a friend told me, "It's not like this is a career plan, anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool." I don't take it well when someone shines the abyss in my face and, wrong or not, I was a little too aggressive in my response:

I don't have to get rich, but for me, it is a career plan. If the world's dilettantes want to call me a fool, so be it. These are the same people who vomit shit like "real job" and pontificate that trickle-down economics is the only American way and all poor people are poor because they are too stupid to manage their own money

Near the middle of November, I started experimenting with lots of timed writings, Pomodoro Techniques, etc. My efforts produced words, but I am not sure how much quality.  I kept remembering Dean Wesley Smith's blog posts about not writing sloppy first drafts.

In combination of the timer, I am using a modified Snowflake approach. The standard method is to write a sentence encompassing the entire story. Expand that one-liner into a paragraph. Break up the paragraph and expand each sentence into paragraphs. Those are essentially your chapter outlines.

Since my Stepping Stones chart worked so well yesterday, I am replacing the initial paragraph snowball with the chart. I take the chart as far as I can, meaning that when I get stuck I move to a different technique that takes me closer to manuscript. I look at clusters of boxes and circles that imply a beginning, middle, and end, and start turning those into a scene-sequel outline. Scenes and Sequels take the haphazard ideas from the Stepping Stones and add structure that creates continuity and suspense.

Next, I plan to move onto something that resembles a cross between a high school English class outline and a screenplay. This will help me nail dialogue and optimize scene organization.

Finally, will come manuscript.

That sounds like a lot of work. And it is. I am taking all the techniques that have worked on some level since I started writing, and I am combining them.

But it is not as complicated as I make it sound. Really all that is happening is that I am starting with a sketchy plot skeleton and continually filling in the gaps until it starts looking like a manuscript. One stage is not that much different than the next, except I think about each stage differently. Mixing up the approach keeps me on track and breaks the doldrums of routine.

It's an experiment. I don't see that my productivity has anywhere to go but up.

In the middle of November, I started hating the outline I had for my novel, which was only up to Chapter 3.  Around this same time, I became obsessed with increasing my productivity.  I experimented with voice dictation a little. This resulted in 100 words LESS per hour than typing -- and believe me, I'm not that fast a typist.

Nov 23, I converted what I had written of my novel into an epub file and uploaded it to my tablet. Wow! Did that ever make a difference in being able to see mistakes.

Nov 28, I spent failing to write on the novel because I was stressing out over issues with our apartment.

I am about >< this close to shelving the idea and going onto something new. Something where I can start with the hero having something to do other than look up and say, "Oh, that's big!"

I have been working on this idea for years. It is becoming an albatross.

I think I will. Maybe even switch genres for a while.

That evening . . . .

Well, my old dilemma is whether or not to outline. The writers I enjoy reading the most don't. However, when I try to wing it, I wander aimlessly.

This afternoon I began to wonder whether I could develop some sort of iterative drafting process. Essentially, it is simply writing several drafts to figure out the story, rather than outline. It would be slow as smoke off molasses but not any worse than never getting to the manuscript when you outline.

I think the difference this time will be that I now know that I need to quit concentrating on the language so much. It's better to be a good plot builder than be a good word smith. If you can do both, great, but if you can only pick one, tell a good story. . . .


It's the psychology of one process versus another. The old saying is "Writers are readers moved to emulation." Drafting without a net more closely mimics reading for enjoyment. Plotting/outline is more like planning a budget so you can go on a vacation.

One has a sense of wonder, the other a sense of responsibility.

Oh damn, I think the Tylenol is finally kicking in.

Only my right eye hurts now.

Dec 5, my friend Yancy drove from Missouri for a lesson in both Photoshop and designing book covers.  He did most of the work himself and did a surprisingly good job.

Dec 10, I finally shelved (perhaps not forever) the novel I had been working on.  I had been reading quite a few short stories recently, and the pull to write them was growing.

Christmas Day:  Ray Bradbury said something along the lines of "Write one story per week and do that for a year. Nobody writes fifty-two bad stories in a row."  So, I decided to do a little messing around with titles and eventually came up with "The Stranger from the Crater's Rim."  That sparked my imagination, and suddenly I was writing about a frail man climbing the side of a mesa. 

I'm thinking about taking on Bradbury's challenge of writing a story per week.  The story I started on Christmas Day was kind of a warm-up exercise.  To fulfill the requirements, I'd have to finish it by Dec 26, and I'm only half way done.  But, maybe it will take a few stories to gear up. 

Dec 31, By the way, the story has a different title now, which I won't reveal just yet.  For now, let's just call it LWL.


Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Heeere's Johnny! With an Outline

Life in General...

My wife spent last night at the hospital with her mother. The doctor released her today with barely more than, "It wasn't a heart attack, but we don't know what it was." She seems to be doing well, as her shopping trip this afternoon indicated.

Most of the day, I tried to educate myself about website traffic, and I washed a few dishes. Google Analytics proved to be a really useful tool.  (For websites. I'm not sure what it does for dishes. Let's all Google it, shall we?)

Google Analytics is not completely accurate, but it more closely targets the number I am looking for than does Blogger stats. Blogger does not differentiate between real people and bots. G.A. does. How? Cookies. Bots lack them; people don't, usually. Some people disable cookies, so that's why the count is only close. 

Now, we add another layer. In the old days, websites measured traffic with "hits." The problem was sites garnered a hit for not only a page, but also whenever someone clicked a picture or banner or link. One page could have 20 hits when the user viewed it maybe only once.  Page views replaced hits.

Today, the reliability of PVs are starting to fall in with hits, because if a visitor revisits a page, the PV counter goes up. Maybe that person engaged, maybe they just really liked pressing the F5 key.

What are PVs good for, then? Reporting the most popular pages on a website. That way, the site owner can target those pages for placing links he or she wants people to follow.

What is more accurate than PVs? Sessions. Well, not more accurate, but they give a different type of data, more useful in judging overall traffic. Sessions measure the time from app open to app close. They show that a person visited your site and how long they stayed engaged. Obviously, that provides another dimension in understanding how well a website is doing.


The Writing and Current Projects...

No word count progress on the manuscripts, but I did brainstorm and outline. I consider myself a pantser but only to a certain point. I can vomit words onto a page all day, if I want. But it is usually a waste of time, just something mechanical. It reminds me of the conversation between Wendy and Jack Torrance in The Shining:


WENDY
Any ideas yet?

JACK
Lots of ideas. No good ones.


Sometimes a writer simply needs to see the path ahead, at least a vague impression. Outlining to excess (of which I am prone) traps a writer in a loop of never being ready to write. Points on a map, though, help immensely. When I write toward something, the writing is usually better, even if I am writing as fast as I can.







Word counts for Sunday, Oct 16, 2015...

0 = Fiction
507 = Blog




Monthly totals for October 2015...

4,509 = Fiction
5,632 = Blog




MANUSCRIPT TOTAL COUNTS...

11,485 = Af (Alaskan fantasy)
3,679 = Mhn (Missouri horror novel)





Saturday, October 17, 2015

Somebody Broke Thursday and Friday



Life in General...


One day you win the lottery; the next, colon cancer!
      - Harlan Ellison 


I don't want this to become the woe-is-me blog. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and lifelong ouchies, and so it would be easy to forget there are people out there far worse off than I am.

I also don't want to produce the here's-your-daily-dose-of-sugar blog. Life just ain't like that. (When I was in junior high school, I asked my eye doctor to tint the lenses of my glasses rose colored. I thought the irony was hilarious.)

What works best for me is what psychologists call "radical acceptance" and my wife calls "Suck it the hell up and get over it."

Anyway, this is a long, preamble way of saying:  I didn't blog for the last couple of days, because they sucked. They sucked in that mother-in-law-in-hospital, somebody-stole-your-bank-account sort of way. One of those days that you mean to pour a glass of cola and a few minutes later realize you have just neatly placed a couple of ice cubes on a saucer and don't remember doing it. You know? They happen to all of us. I just assumed you didn't want to hear that kind of blogging therapy.

New diet?

 Should writers let bad days stop them from writing? As a general rule, no. Give them the chance and bad days start outnumbering the good. Then again, taking an occasional day off to prevent burnout often sets up better days on the other side of the break.

Don't make it a habit--unless you enjoy stacks of unfinished stories--but every once in a while, put an Out of Order sign on your office door.


The Writing and Current Projects...

None. Same reason as above. I found some time to brainstorm the main character of the Af novel, using a technique that John D. Brown and Larry Correia talk about in their Life, the Universe, and Everything lecture (LTUE). For anyone who struggles with ideas, it is really a great series of videos.  Here's a link to Brown's website where he writes about the techniques in detail and provides links to his videos:



By the way, no charts for the manuscript totals, since they did not change from last time.








Word counts for Sunday, Oct 16, 2015...

0 = Fiction
417 = Blog




Monthly totals for October 2015...

4,509 = Fiction
5,125 = Blog




MANUSCRIPT TOTAL COUNTS...

11,485 = Af (Alaskan fantasy)

3,679 = Mhn (Missouri horror novel)



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Verbal Kombat



Life in General...

I played a video game today. It's something I haven't done in about 20 years. 

Oh, on a rare occasion and usually no more than for a couple of days, I played those Facebook games, and for about a week, I needed a frequent fix of 2048. Since I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grow up, I have been afraid to play them. I thought they were these little time-suck viruses that made you forget to write today or maybe for October. I love to write, but let's face it, zapping aliens can often be more fun than conjugating a verb.

Why did I play today?  My son. 

A few weeks ago, he and I got to talking about different games. He wanted to know the ones I played as a kid. I was mostly an Atari, Nintendo, and arcade player. As I ticked off the list of the '80s and early '90s most famous games, I said, "Oh, and I used to play Mortal Kombat a little."

He is good about remembering details. Today, he went to the video rental store and rented, you guessed it, Mortal Kombat for his Xbox.

"I'll play it with you," I said, smiling.

He answered, "I was hoping you'd say that."

My smile got bigger.

"We are both going to be noobs at this," he said. "Do you know what that means?"

"Yes," I said, shaking my head.

Then he proceeded to kick my video game butt.


The Writing and Current Projects...

The video games most certainly did not detract from my writing today . . .   Because I wrote 2000 words!  Woo-hoo for me. I am going to do a little narcissistic happy dance now, because I have the self-esteem of a slug getting a "Love Me" tattoo.

I wrote that all in one sitting.  I just kept hearing Brandon Sanderson say in my head, "Momentum is everything," and I didn't stop.

This might sound contrary to what I just said, but I don't think it necessarily has to.

I realize that for a writer--not a dilettante--writing should trump leisure activities like TV and books (and video games). I can take a break throughout the day, but I must observe portion control. The blogs are now easier and faster to write, when I used to think they detracted from writing fiction. I've loosened the quality versus quantity sphincter. Understanding (as opposed to simply "knowing") has begun to set in that I can go back and fix it later. Furthermore, I've finally realized that the revision process is a light touch, like the final brush strokes near the end of a painting. Otherwise, the writing flies past beautiful prose and dives into the pretentious. In the heat of obsessing over each word, I can't tell the difference in exciting and overwritten.







Word counts for Sunday, Oct 14, 2015...

2,001 = Fiction (not counting the 543 I cut and rewrote)
524 = Blog



Monthly totals for October 2015...

4,509 = Fiction
4,708 = Blog


MANUSCRIPT TOTAL COUNTS...

11,485 = Af (Alaskan fantasy)

3,679 = Mhn (Missouri horror novel)