Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Craptastic Meter. Do you have one?

I was rewriting my first chapter, which of course is daunting since the balance of all humanity rests on it. Okay, well, maybe not. But it feels that way.

So a fellow writer who's been donating a little of her Beta-reading time tells me, "Send over your new chapter. I'd love to read it."

I write back, "I'll let it sit for a day or so. Then I'll reread it. And my Craptastic Meter doesn't go off, I'll send it over."

And that's when I learn, "Oh geez. I have a Craptastic Meter. It goes off all the time. It's fueled by a clear mind, a good night's sleep, and an absence of excessive caffeine/stomach viruses/the occasional glass of wine."

I also knew I couldn't possibly be this witty in my adjective discovery, and of course it's in the Urban Dictionary.

So. How's your Craptastic Meter working today?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Backing up your writing: Is it secret? Is it safe?

Sorry to steal Gandalf's line there, but he does have a good point. Is your Precious safe? No, I don't mean your jewelry. Even if it can destroy the world. I mean your writing! Your writing, your ideas, your work-in-progress. How do you safeguard it?

This past summer my PC laptop suffered a horrible crash but the IT Gods at my workplace managed to recover my files. I was soooooo lucky. If that happened to you, would you be so lucky?

So here's a quick run-down of how you can save your writing. I am NOT a computer whiz, so by all means, if I've missed something, then please comment!

Flash Drive/USB
Pros: They're tiny, convenient, portable, and have no moving parts, so they don't break easily. And buying one that's at least 2GB is pretty cheap and easy.
Cons: They're easily misplaced or stolen, and it 's up to you to remember to use it to back up.

Burn to a disc/CD
Pros and Cons: similar to the USB, but more limitations on storage and size.

External Hard Drive
Pros: Separate from your computer, and you can save a huge amount of material. You can download software so this is done on an automatic schedule. On Mac, this is the Time Capsule/Time machine program.
Cons: Like the USB and CD, you're still susceptible to disasters of the catastrophic kind, like earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, theft, small children throwing stuff out the window... And hard drives can be pricey.

Use email.
Pros: it's remote, and password protected.
Cons: You're limited to how many files you can save at a time. And it's user dependent. If you forget, you forget. I used this all the time for day to day saves, until I got lazy one day and then my PC crashed...

Online/Remote Backup
There are a slew of companies that offer online backup at these mega-gargantuan servers. Mozy, IDrive, Carbonite, SOS to name just a few. I am using IDrive, which isn't perfect, but it does the job every night when I'm asleep.
Pros:You can automatically update whenever on any kind of schedule (daily, weekly) without lifting a finger after you download the program. Some have free (but limited) storage programs.
Cons: Many of the downloads are slow going and can have complicated interfaces but they aren't supposed to interfere with the functionality of your computer. If the company goes bust, what happens to your data?

I've included a bunch of reviews on online backup companies for you to peruse.
PC Mag review
Computer World review

And more specifically for Mac there's a review here MacWorld Review which got a bit too complicated for me but there was a nice comparison chart that made things clearer.

So what do you use? Anything I missed?

Addendum circa 2011: Right now, I use Dropbox and iDrive. So far so good!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Please forgive my tendency to create new words. I probably screwed up the spelling too but anywho...

Definition: Flawsomeness. noun. The quality which makes a fictional person less than perfect, and yet that much more attractive as a character.

In writing my current WIP, I had the feedback that my MC was too perfect. She adapts to a new harsh environment with ease. She adapts to a new parent with grace. She learns to kick ass without any problems.

Translation? Boring MC. How can anyone relate to a person who can't do anything wrong? So I infused her with flawsomeness. Now she's stubborn, occasionally snooty, charmingly clumsy when wearing a dress. And I like her so much more.

So how much flawsomness do your characters possess?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Medical Mondays: Don't lick that bridge!

Okay, so here we go, our first Medical Monday post. Thanks Ee Leen Lee for your question!

Question: Is ingesting lead through food or water toxic or lethal?

Short answer: Toxic, yes. Lethal, possibly.

Long answer: Lead poisoning can occur by inhaling lead or ingesting it. Inhalation toxicity occurs mostly in adults working in or living near factories (batteries, ceramic glazes,ammunitions, pigments). Adults might consume lead via moonshine (home distilled alcohol), eating off ceramics that contain lead glazes, or certain Aryuvedic or home remedies. Long term toxicity definitely imparts a higher mortality risk.

A classic story of lead poisoning occurs in children who would nibble the paint chips off older houses painted with lead-containing paint that went unregulated until 1977. Also, right now 89% of the bridges in the U.S. are still covered in lead-based paint. So don't lick that bridge.

If you get a lot of lead toxicity in a short period of time, you'd have headaches, muscle and joint aches, decreased appetite and libido, decreased concentration, and kidney disease.

Now if someone had been getting lead poisoning over a longer period of time, they might have high blood pressure, fatigue and lightheadedness, dementia, anxiety and phobias, and hostile behavior.

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Inspiration arrives at 45 MPH

Right now I'm revising a novel, and i'm finding the need to think up whole new pieces of the plot. Sitting in front of my laptop is, sadly, not the best way for my imagination to fly.

I've probably experienced the most eureka moments driving in the car. Don't ask why good fiction ideas are incited by watching gas stations and Ruby Tuesdays whip past me. It just happens.

The second place I've had miraculous brainstorms is in a dark room. On the occasions I've put my daughter to bed and had to wait for her to fall asleep before leaving, many odd, new thoughts have popped into my head.

So just wondering. Do you have a particular place where your best fictional brainstorms occur, unasked for?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ode to the Em Dash "—"

Oh dearest Em Dash
How I've used you so badly
Let me count the ways.

My beta readers can attest to how I've mangled the em dash. This "---" being a common offense. Good thing I don't get fined for crappy usage of punctuation!

So the em dash. Let's learn about his little guy.

The name "em" comes from the typographical unit of measurement in points, which used to be the width of a capital M. So in 12 point font, one em is 12 points wide. I knew they didn't name it after Aunty Em.


1. as a parenthetical thought.
Example: I slurped the hot chocolate—hot being the key word here—and cooked my taste buds to kingdom come.

2. at the end of an unfinished sentence because of an interruption.
Example: It appeared to be a nice kitty. I extended my finger into the open, mewling mouth—
"Stop right there! Them's poisonous kitties!"

3. instead of an ellipsis (...) to indicate an aposiopesis (no, not a disease) or when the speaker is too emotional to continue.
Example: "When I gave her the hot chocolate, I had no idea—"
Mom wept, overcome by her guilt. She knew she was responsible for her daughter's horrible taste in everything.

4. an abrupt change in thought, similar to using a colon or set of parentheses. Or, when a period is too strong, or a comma is too weak.
Example: No—I would tackle the poisonous kitties with my own two hands.

5. And for the most part, there is no space before or after the em dash.

And a final note on how to type the darn things. Instead of using two dashes, you can use the actual em dash from your symbol keyboard. Shortcuts are as follows:
For Mac users, the shift-option-hyphen is the fast way to make the em dash.
In the PC world, use Alt + 0151.
Also, you can do this: word--hit return then backspace, or word--word. The dashes will automatically turn into an em dash. Cool!

Em dash away now!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Medical Mondays! Mental Health Mondays!

No, this post is not about how to get yourself a day off from work every Monday. Nice try.

So Laura Diamond and I are starting a twin blog series about answering Mental Health (hers) and Medical (mine) questions for fiction writers.

I've been asked questions by writers such as "What test would someone need if they fell off a cliff?" or "What does it really feel like to have a heart attack?" And keep in mind that on Laura's blog Diamond--Yup, Like the Stone every Monday she will post an answer to a question regarding psychological/psychiatric questions that might be relevant to your fiction piece.

Here's how it works.

1) Post a question in the comments section or email me if you prefer, at
2) I'll pick out one (or a few) questions to answer every Monday and I will post links to your blog (unless you choose to remain anonymous).
3) Become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog if I help answer your question.
4)FYI, this is for fiction only. The information in the post is only for writing purposes and does NOT constitute medical advice.

...So no disguising your personal toenail fungus problems as a mysterious plot twist. 'Kay?

The best part? We won't charge you a bill!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Apple Turnover

I have a new MacBook Pro! After nearly four years of punching away on my old Dell laptop, one catastrophic hard drive crash, and an ironic functionality where it would freeze when the machine grew burning hot, I finally made the switch to Mac.

I mean, the last time I had a Mac was in college. I'm talking the Mac SE with a dot matrix printer and I'd better shut my mouth because I'm really dating myself.

So far it's hasn't been so bad getting used to the weirdo Fn button and how the Command key is now my old control key and all. And I must say this, because yes, I'm a little bit of a design snob, but...

It' *Sigh*

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ignorance is bliss

There's two pieces of advice almost universally given to new writers.

1. Write. A lot.

2. Read. A lot.

Okay, I get rule #1. And I do write a lot. Heck. I'm doing it right now. And rule #2 is plenty fun. Except...when it tortures me.

The one thing I didn't anticipate with writing all the time was how much it would change my perception while I read. It's harder for me to get lost in a book. It's like the Matrix. I started to learn the craft of writing, and whether I liked it or not, I had swallowed the Red Pill.

I appreciate it so much when the world is constructed seamlessly, when the dialogue flows without effort, when the plot is amazing without being heavy handed. And all the while I'm realizing this, I'm not inside the story in the same way I used to be.

Sometimes I really wish I could take that Blue Pill. At least, temporarily.

When I do pick up a book and get completely lost in the story, I sigh. Because part of me appreciates the craft of what I just read, and part of me is so freakin' jealous.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Flashbacks in Fiction

I'm having a really hard time incorporating valuable backstory into a plot. Going on a fourth revision, I did a informal poll of my online writing friends.

The vote was unanimously, "Do flashbacks!" followed by a chorus of "But do it well, or else you're writing a mess of Hungarian goulash."

My issues against flashbacks:
1)Fear of reader whiplash
2)Getting displaced too far out of the plot that you need a map to get back to the story
3)Not having a wiggly clue as to how to do them, and do them well.

The pros:
1) No need for a prologue
2) No need to bore the reader into a stupor waiting for the real present story to start.
3) If done well, who cares that it's a flashback?
4) I can drop a lot of the 80 pages or so I originally wrote, and just distill the back history down to a few key scenes

I found some helpful articles about flashbacks:

Writing the Flashback in Fiction
On Flashbacks by James Frey
Writing Techniques: Using Flashbacks to Enhance your Fiction by Plotcafe

A YA example of flashbacks done seamlessly is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Thanks ElanaJ for the suggestion!). I'm 1/4 the way through, and so far, so good.

I'll give it a try. Can't hurt right? What's another revision, after all?

The First Break-Up: Shelving your first novel

Ah, I remember my first love. It happened this past summer. My heart raced. I lost sleep. I didn't eat. And at the end of three weeks, it was done. My baby. My first novel.

I revised it. (Barely). I rerevised it. (Hardly). I changed the beginning. (Once).
And after a lot of querying (you don't want to know the number. Okay, crap, of course you do. It was like 130), I got a surprisingly decent amount of positive responses and one bona-fide phone call with an agent.

The agent asked for revisions, but something inside me was kind of glad she didn't offer me representation. Because I knew it wasn't good enough, and the changes it needed would require rewriting a huge amount of the manuscript.

Plus, there was something else. My new love. My current manuscript.

In any case, I may revisit my first novel, now lovingly tucked away in the nonexistent waiting room of my hard drive. I may rewrite it, or I may pick it apart for donor organs to be used in a different future novel. Viva recycling!

But in the end, it taught me more about writing than any professor could have. And for that, I am endlessly thankful.

So...any kind words for your written and departed, living on that dusty shelf?

Friday, March 5, 2010

*Blushes* I'd like to thank the Academy...

Okay, what a blogging week. I started, I stopped. I entered the blogosphere just under the speed of write and I'm still trying to catch my breath.

And I just got an award! From a fellow writer Lizzy Mason:

Am now feeling so fuzzy I may be blurry to those around me.
Check out the other awards being given and share the good news!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I'm feeling very warm and fuzzy and no, I have not been drinking.
Please. One beer and I'd need a trip to the ER.

I just finished up a two-hour session with the Seven Doctors Project writing group tonight and (brace yourselves--gonna get all Hallmarky on you)---I love having a writing family.

Having people aroud you who love the craft of writing--poetry, prose, whatever--is an enormous relief. I am proud to say that I write but for a long time I was bothered by the weird looks zinged at me when I disclosed my secret other life. I wondered if I oozed the scent aerosolized coffee grounds from hanging out at the Blueline. Or maybe they thought, "Geez. I thought she looked okay to me."

Yeah. My world's axis spins a little more askew than it did before, and it's splendid. And part of the splendiferousness is because I have an amazingly supportive group of writer friends here in Omaha, and as far out as Malaysia in the virtual world. They don't give up on me and they push me to be better. And when I'm having a crap day, they yank me up and start quoting Galaxy Quest. Never give up...never surrender.

Are you blushing yet people?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pantser or Planner?

I've heard lots of people discuss how they write their novels. Some are "fly by the seat of their pants"ers, and some are meticulous planners, even to the point of doing 20+ pages outlines, complete with encyclopedia of world-building and character sketches.

For my first novel, I scribbled many pages of ideas, let them congeal into a single unified world, wrote a page and a half of chapter sypnopses, and opened up the laptop.

It was interesting to see my characters (or me? still not sure) move the plot around. They sure did a lot of boring stuff I had to cut out.

For my second novel, I did months of research because it was an historical novel, and this time the outline was two pages. Needless to say, the characters changed, the plot changed, and I interwove subplots and twists after the first draft.

For number three, I'm planning my pantsers off. Thick outlines, characters sketches, and weird bubble plans for plot and subplot twists. I'm tired just thinking about it.

So...who's a pantser, and who's a planner?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chunky Soup for Brains

So I have about three ideas for a next WIP. All very different time periods, different characters and plots, and different subgenres of YA. Gah.

I am letting them stew inside my mind but it's not fun having Chunky Soup for brains. It's distracting, for one. I like to have a clear goal and a path in front of me to follow. When there are three, I'm a little lost.

Starting a new novel feels like a huge committment. I'll be be daydreaming and spending a lot of precious time on it. Months and months of time. Maybe I've just got committment-phobia. But I do love the feeling of falling into and developing a story. It's intoxicating. It's time to make a jump soon.

Maybe tomorrow. Soup-for-brains here is going to read a new YA novel. It's nice to live in someone else's world for a while.