Three and a half months

That’s how long it has been since my last post.

I am, apparently, a terrible blogger.

But enough whining. Forward!

So what’s been happening? I’ve been writing and (unfortunately) working my ass off. I don’t know how far along I was when I last wrote, but at this point I’m probably pushing 75% done with this edit. And this isn’t some rinky dink edit where I just go through and write what my editor told me to, this is the most substantial rewrite since I scrapped the whole thing and rewrote it from scratch several years ago.

So bully for me, I’m frakking rocking it!

Expect to see more action around here in the next several months. I still have writing and editing to do, but this train is chugging down the track.

Things are gonna get real.

Transition

Today, a reblog from my post over at The Scribblerati.

Coming soon – a status update and other tasty bits. You know you want it.

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icicles-ice_w725_h544It’s – not quite spring.

You can tell it wants to be. I saw my first robin three weeks ago. The sun is strong and melty. The porters and stouts are slowly disappearing from the taps.

It won’t be long before buds will start to pop, coats will get stowed away, and our pale Minnesota skin will get its first splash of color.

Transition.

I wish I could say it was just the weather.

I’m very much a creature of habit – a fussy Virgo. I like my things just so. I like to know what I’m going to do each day. I want to know where I’m going to get my coffee. I don’t want the day to suddenly get one hour longer.

So why am I an IT consultant? Why do I have a job that can change on a dime, and take me to God only knows where?

Why am I choosing to move? Why am I cleaning out, digging through old memories, sorting away those I want to keep and wincing as I throw away those that no longer hold the meeting they once did?

And what am I doing with my writing? I’m so close to done – months away from being a bona fide published author – and yet my day job and the move pull me away and into chaos.

Transition.

And yet I’m thankful for all of it.

I’m blessed to work with good people, to have the means to move, and to have the time – however little it seems some days – to write.

Here’s to transition – and may it settle the fuck down.

Head Down

Writing and Whatnot has been quiet for a while. I have, in fact, shattered one of the cardinal rules of blogging: add new content!

Well, we’ll all deal, right?

So what have I been doing? Regrouping and digesting Brett’s (my Editor) comments and recommendations.

First there was despair over how much there was to change. Then there was brief period of “Frak it, I’ll write something else,” followed by, “I’m not giving up on this,” and finally, “How in the hell am I going to make it work?”

Now I’m heads down, writing my ass off.

Character. Point of view. That’s what I’m working on.

And I think I finally figured something out.

A writer, needs to immerse themselves in the moment, not just of the scene, but of the character, and their perception of the reality unfolding around them. The trick is to precisely, and concisely convey that moment with words that evoke both emotion and empathy.

That’s what people mean by show don’t tell.

I think.

Enough blogging. Back to work. Heads down.

Take Off Your +3 Cloak of Isolation

It should come as no surprise to anyone that we writers are a relatively solitary bunch. Regardless of how outgoing we are in our everyday lives, we have to shut away the world to write.

And we like it.

Writers get high from a brilliant plot twist or off the buzz of a perfectly crafted sentence in the same way normal people do from partying with their friends. Ok, writers do that too, but we just do it less often, and even when we are with friends, our minds aren’t all that far away from our story, or the possibility of story laying nascent in the gestures of the woman across the aisle, or in the way the light shines through the window and onto the bar.

We writers know that constant churn of creativity is gold. It can only come from within our minds and only we can spit it out onto paper. We have to do it, and we have to do it alone. No one can do it for us.

And that’s where we get into trouble.

Consider all those indie publishers out there. Some of them find success but a lot of them don’t. Now take a look at all those “real” authors out there. They may have the vindication of being published, but we all know that’s no guarantee of financial success. Regardless of our path, the problem all us writers face is the same: How do I become successful?

Yes, we all know the road to success is long and winding, and while we all face the challenges of editing and marketing, we indie authors have one defining challenge that will separate those who fall flat on their face and those who go on to find success: knowing when you are ready.

Now I can’t speak for all writers, but after accomplishing as much as I have, I’m pretty impressed with myself. I kinda think I’m the shit, you know? And I am. I’m pretty damn good. But I’m not ready for the Big Show. Not yet. Not quite.

My writing group (Scribblerati Agents unite!) didn’t tell me that. Nor did I wake up knowing that. My editor told me. She didn’t come out and say, “Shawn, you handsome, egotistical bastard, you’ve got something here but you aren’t ready to publish.” What she did was point out all the things I need to work on, which in turn saved me from joining the ranks of those indie publishers who publish too early.

So allow me to pass along a little advice. If you, like me, are one of those lonely indie writers who are preparing to knock on publishing’s front door, then start talking to other people in the industry. Make connections beyond the immediate focus of your peer groups. Stretch yourself. Challenge your certainty and make certain that you really are the shit. Find those people who can help with the next stage of your evolution.

The Big Show is waiting. Take off your +3 Cloak of Isolation, get the help you need, and make your entrance with style.

Go Get an Editor Right Now

It’s been silent here on Writing and Whatnot. You might think nothing has been happening, that I took the month of December off to drown myself in beer, football, and holiday cheer. And that would be a good guess, because I’ve done all that. I’ve also been doing A LOT of editing.

All of you fans (ha!) will recall me posting about hiring an editor to review my novel, To Kill the Goddess. I knew that TKtG needed more work, but I didn’t know what I needed to do next. How close was I to publication? Did I still have a little work to do? More than a little?

So I found Brett, my editor, and sent her my book. Then a few weeks later I received her editorial report and the marked up manuscript.

Holy crap.

Brett commented at the end of her thirty some page report that I probably felt as if I had just been disemboweled, but that every writer felt that way and that I should take time to absorb her comments.

Personally, I wouldn’t use the word disemboweled. For me it was as if my every flaw and blemish had been laid bare. Kind of like that dream where you realize you are standing naked in front of your high school gym class and all the cool guys and pretty girls are laughing their asses off.

But then a day or two went by, and I started to see that instead of displaying my insides for everyone to see, Brett had presented me with a MRI. What I had was not a thirty page outline of my failures, but an extensive diagnosis of my weaknesses, as well as a blueprint that would enable me to elevate my writing to the next level.

*lightbulb*

I began to study Brett’s report, and to really think about what she was saying. Then I picked up Witness It, my recently completed novella, and started making changes.

And let me tell you, it’s been awesome. I’m excited. Stoked, to borrow a word that might have been used in my gym class. My writing still isn’t perfect, but thank God (and the Goddess) that I finally took this step because the results are kind of astonishing. My novella’s plot is exactly the same, but my technique and word choice has improved so much that Witness It is a significantly better story for it. And I haven’t even had it edited yet.

So if you are one of those writers who has been debating as to whether or not you should get an editor, then end that debate right now. Get one. Also get a good beer or scotch to help you through the naked gym class phase. Then sit down and really read that report. Accept the diagnosis, study the blueprint, and begin to focus on realizing your dream.

I have, and I’m now one day closer to making that dream happen.

Amazon and the Case of the Unjustly Deleted Review

There has been a lot of discussion on the interwebs about Amazon deleting author reviews. Lots of authors are upset, and rightfully so. Being an author myself, I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have good reviews deleted from my upcoming book. However, being an Information Technology professional who specializes in data, Big Data, metadata, etc., I can also appreciate how difficult this task is for Amazon.

Amazon doesn’t have enough time or money to hire and train a staff dedicated to manually policing every review and ensuring that only those reviews that are in violation of the rules are deleted. Therefore, they must automate those efforts.

Let me be clear: this is VERY difficult to do.

I have no inside knowledge of how Amazon is doing this, but based on my own industry experience, my assumption is that they are using a score based approach. By score based, I mean that they are programmatically scanning the reviews and using computer algorithms to generate a score value when certain targets are found.

For example, combinations of words, phrases, and other targets will generate a score. “I am an author” could generate a point. A five (or one) star review could generate a point. A URL to another book could generate a point. If the reviewer’s name is found in Amazon’s author database, it could generate a point. Some targets will generate multiple points, others fewer.

Once enough points add up to a predefined threshold, then the review will be targeted for deletion. This deletion could also be automated, or the review could then be funneled into a queue where a human would examine it (although it doesn’t appear as if that is happening).

As you can imagine, this process isn’t foolproof. In fact, we have all seen enough examples to know that just about anyone could unwittingingly generate a review that hits the threshold. Alternatively, it is just as likely that reviews which should be deleted won’t be because they won’t generate a high enough score.

Is there a better way that Amazon could do this? Aside from the human staff I mentioned earlier, the answer is no. At least there isn’t a method that I’m aware of.

One could justifiably argue that Amazon has implemented immature algorithms in a knee-jerk response to paid reviews, or that they should have done more extensive testing before implementing these algorithms in the marketplace, but what’s done is done. Now all Amazon can do is learn from their mistakes and refine their scoring algorithms. Eventually these algorithms will become “pretty good” at their assigned task, just as Google has become pretty good at getting the answers to your search requests, but these algorithms will never be perfect. At least not until computers start thinking for themselves.

And then we will have a whole new bucket of problems to deal with. 🙂

Life is what you make it

Ah, the holidays.

Always crazy.

This year we hosted for the Lovely Leann’s family. It was a small gathering about 12 which is both manageable and a lot of fun. There was turkey, of course, as well as lots of yummy sides and some good wine. It was a success, despite me being sick.

Head cold. Ick. Lots of handwashing and lots of coffee to keep me going!

But what really made it crazy was the unplanned 4 hour (each way) drive down to Iowa to see my abruptly hospitalized grandmother.

My grandmother was born in 1918. She married my grandfather in the thirty’s and the two of them left their Illinois family behind and moved to a farm in the middle of Iowa. They had no electricity, no running water, and farmed with horses. The house they rented and was an old, sand insulated homestead that sat alongside a railroad tracks. General Custer rode by that house on his way out to South Dakota for the battle at the Little Bighorn.

My grandmother and grandfather had three children, a girl, and two boys, including my father. Some of my earliest memories include going to the farm, riding on my grandfather’s three row combine, and playing with my grandmother’s jewelry collection.

They retired and built a house in town when I was just a boy. Or rather, I should say my grandfather built the house. He was an amazing carpenter. He died about 15 years ago and my grandmother lived in that house for a few years before moving to assisted living, and eventually the nursing home. When I got the call that her congestive heart failure was being complicated by pneumonia and several other issues I dropped everything, left Leann to work on Thanksgiving preparations, and drove down with my brother to see my grandma.

It was a very bizarre experience. My grandma was always a fighter, a slightly vain, image conscious woman who who could cuss with as much eloquence as she could bake a holiday feast.

She looked small when I saw her. There was a tube in her nose, her hair was tangled with neglect, and her head hung, as if overcome by the weight of all those years. Her body was done even if her mind was as sharp as ever.

I watched her make the decision to move to Hospice, to go there to die, and afterwards, we talked for a while. I showed her some pictures on my phone and told her about my upcoming vacation to New York, but it was a strange, strange experience. For both of us, I think. After all, what is the point of talking when someone has lost the will to live?
But my grandma had said something to the Hospice representative that gave me hope. They were speaking of all the years she had spent without my grandfather and she said, “Life is what you make it.”

Life is what you make it.

Those are strong words, spoken by a strong woman. It doesn’t matter if you are a struggling writer, a newlywed living on the homestead without water or electricity, or an old woman surrounded by people who keep dying before you do.

Life is what you make it.