The Raven

While I was dealing with all the health issues I had this year, I was so exhausted at times that it was all I could do to make it to work.  Even reading was too much for me to handle.  Needless to say, I haven’t been as productive as I’d have liked, at least until the past couple of weeks.  However, to try to keep my writing mojo going, and at least stay in the mindset of writing, editing, reading, creating, etc., I redecorated my writing desk area with a writerly theme in mind.  (Actually, I overhauled my entire living room / dining room with the writerly theme, but I’ll save the rest to show you another time.)

desk

As I’ve shared before, my décor is a late 1950s / early 1960s motif, so I tried to keep that going while adding literary touches.  You’ll note the books on the top shelf include an old school dictionary, thesaurus, and volume library.  (Of course, they also include the “Chicago Manual of Style,” Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents.” Though those aren’t vintage, they are good to have around.)

books

My mouse pad as well as my little statuette features The Raven from my favorite guy, Edgar Allan Poe.

nevermore

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My printer is just the best investment ever!  I’ve definitely made use of printing my manuscripts in a different font than I type in then editing the hard copy.  It makes a huge difference seeing your work on paper as opposed to digitally.   This model is reasonably priced on Amazon (more reasonable than I’d have ever imagined), and the laser cartridges are under $30 which is less than I used to pay for ink in my old inkjet!  Better yet, a single cartridge prints around ten reams of paper with no quality problems whatsoever.

laser printer

I found these cool plastic envelopes at The Container Store to hold the manuscripts I print while I’m editing them.  (They’re great for carrying them back and forth to work to peruse during my lunch hour.)

editing envelopes

And finally, my awesome sister Michelle got me a subscription to Writer’s Digest as well as Poets & Writers.  Both are very cool (though I favor WD by far), and they both have lots of useful information that make them worth keeping after I read them.  (Those actually go in another one of those cool plastic envelopes once I’m done with them.)

Writers Digest, Poets & Writers

Anyway, thanks for visiting me at my house today.  As I’m starting to get my energy back, I hope my creativity will start flowing again and I can think of more interesting things to blog about.

So tell me, what do you have in your writing nook, and what keeps you inspired?

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It finally happened!

Enough talk about my failing health!  I want to share a cool story with you…  A couple of years ago, I shared a story about my close encounter of the presidential kind.

Since it’s an election year, I thought it only fitting to recap that story and give you the more recent follow up…

In 1980, I was ten years old and in the sixth grade.  That year, the presidential election was between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan.  In my Civics class, we had to draw campaign posters for our favorite candidate and write a speech that they might have used in a campaign debate.

I had an instant affinity for Jimmy Carter from the first time I saw him.  I don’t exactly know why, but I loved that he had the warmest, friendliest smile and I liked that he was a former peanut farmer.  (The fact that he was born in a mental hospital also didn’t hurt my affinity for the psychological thriller genre of which I write.)  I think I also liked him because his daughter, Amy, was only a couple of years older than me, and I thought it was so cool that she got to live in the White House.

So, on the campaign trail, President Carter was scheduled to come to my town to speak.  My school was on the corner of two main roads that led to the Civic Center, and back then, the newspaper always published the President’s motorcade route.  Imagine my surprise when, only hours after my grandparents read me the newspaper over breakfast and told me the President was coming to town, all the students of my small private school were called out of class that Halloween morning, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at him.  I was ecstatic!

At the time, I was a short kid, so the two boys on either side of me told me I should climb up on the fence so I could see better.  As the motorcade rounded the corner, the limo window went down, and the driver slowed.  President Carter grinned and waved as he rode slowly past us, and when he saw me standing on the fence, he pointed at me.  I was thrilled!

When I got home after school, I begged my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

Less than two weeks later, I received a reply from The White House which said that the President was very busy and couldn’t accommodate all the people that personally asked for autographs, but they still sent me an autograph card as well as a booklet about The White House.  It didn’t matter to me that the autograph wasn’t official.  The man just lost an election, yet his office still had time to reply to a little girl.  I was overjoyed!

Looking back thorough an adult’s eyes, I appreciate this pseudo-autograph more than ever.  I mean, between a hectic schedule campaigning for re-election, and dealing with the hostage crisis (among other things), the staff at The White House had to have been crazy busy at the time, yet they still managed to reply to a little kid’s letter, and in such a timely manner, too.

So, the follow-up to my story is this:  I caught a fleeting glance of President and Mrs. Carter (along with the Secret Service) at Epcot on New Year’s Even in 1998.  Between that close encounter and my admiration of their work for Habitat for Humanity, my love for this former President only grew.

Fast forward a few years.  I’d heard that President Carter taught Sunday School classes that were open to the public.  At the time, I had two autistic kids at home, and with no child support, finances were tight, so I put that dream on the back burner.  But having learned more about the work of The Carter Center and how it affects the entire globe, I was even more impressed with this incredible, awesome man.

A few years later, my kids were close to grown, and I mentioned the Sunday School class to a trusted source.  The friend told me that President Carter didn’t do that anymore.  I was crushed that I’d missed my chance.

A couple more years passed.   President Carter was diagnosed with cancer, and, again, I was heartbroken.  But only a short time after that, I was elated to hear that he’d gone into remission.  In fact, I went out of my way to read more than the one news report I would have normally read, and that’s when I found a link to his church’s website along with the information that he never, in fact, stopped teaching his Sunday School class!

That was last December.  I wanted to go immediately, but President Carter didn’t teach every Sunday.  I then planned to go the following month, but then my own surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February, so I had to push things off again.

Jimmy Carter 2016But in March, I finally got to go to Plains, Georgia, and sit four rows from the front while President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School!  This was the thrill of a lifetime!  You have to get there early (and by early, I mean while it’s still dark outside) to line up.  My sister and I got there around 4:30 AM. (I know I didn’t want to discuss my failing health, but this 6 hour drive and no-sleep weekend, while exciting, was literally a spur of the moment decision as to the timing, and was meant to make me feel better after all my post-surgical woes. Mentally, it did wonders, though physically, those two days set me back about two weeks.)

Once they open the doors, you’re searched by Secret Service then escorted to your seat.  (If you’ve never been around the Secret Service, that’s exciting in itself.)  You’re allowed to take photos all during the introduction period, then you have to turn your cameras off during the lesson.  If you sit through the church service following the Sunday School lesson, you can then get a photo taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  WOW!  {The photos are very rushed, and you have to be in a group shot with everyone who rode in your vehicle, but, still, it’s so generous of the Carters to donate their time like that.  (As such, my photo is not good [we’re all blurry], and I won’t be sharing it, but I will be returning soon to try again.)}

Rosalynn Carter & Jimmy Carter, 2016As if that’s not enough, there’s a museum just down the road from the church.  In the museum is a bookstore that sells nearly thirty of the books that were written by either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter.  The most amazing part of this journey is that if you purchase any of their books there (which are no more expensive than if you purchased them on Amazon), they give you a form to mail, along with the book and a SASE, and between four to six weeks later, you get President Carter’s autograph!  Yes, really!  (Have I mentioned yet how much I love Jimmy Carter?)

So, that’s exactly what I did.  I purchased two books and mailed them as soon as I got home, and close to five weeks later, I received them back, autographed by President Carter!  Only thirty-five and a half years after I first requested Jimmy Carter’s autograph, I got two of them!  SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  (For those who don’t know {as my sister didn’t}, squeeeeee is about ten times better than Woo Hoo, and about a hundred times better than YAY!)Jimmy Carter's books

Jimmy Carter's autograph

Let’s talk:  Have you ever seen a President or other world leader up close and live?  What’s the best autograph you’ve ever gotten?

I Like Mike

From Antananarivo, Madagascar
To Stockholm, Sweden,
There’s no rhymester better
Than the poet Mike Steeden.

His lovely wife Shirley
Is his best friend and muse;
She’s also on his book’s cover –
Now that’s exciting news!

The humor in his book
Will truly make you convulse;
So go pick up a copy of
Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse!

Not only is it amusing, but
Its brilliance will make you think;
To purchase it, just click below
On the Internet hyperlink.

I got to help Mike with his cover
And formatting for publication;
It was so much fun, I wish I could
Make that my life’s vocation.

It’s a good gift for the holidays,
And looks great in giftwrap;
And I promise you it’s far better
Than this, my own rhyming crap.

(As promised, here’s that internet hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Gentlemen-Prefer-Pulse-Poetry-Lunacy/dp/1517436478/ref=la_B015WAUW8C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446143038&sr=1-1)

Okay, so as the poem said, I was honored to recently assist my buddy and yours, Mike Steeden, in getting his first book of poetry, Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse, published.  It comes in both Kindle and paperback versions, and features over one hundred magnificent poems by his highness, Sir Mike.  As you can imagine, the poems are not unlike those on his blog… filed with brilliance, lunacy, humor, wit, and WOW!

Of course, Mike did all the really hard work by writing it, but I contributed a teeny-tiny bit by designing the cover and formatting the paperback version.  We searched high and low for a photo that I could manipulate for the cover art, but when we selected the perfect photo, we couldn’t authenticate its owner to request permission to use it.  (A few sources said it was a French postcard circa 1920, but we couldn’t be sure.)  So finally, Mike was able to dig up a photo of his lovely wife, Shirley, taken on the Cob at Lyme Regis (the same spot they used in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman).

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

When I saw this, I fell in love with the scene, and just knew it would be perfect.  So I did a little Photoshop magic, and voila!

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

So to conclude, GO BUY THE BOOK!  (You won’t regret it.)

On Editing

Tap, tap, tap.  (Tapping my microphone.)  Is this thing on? 

Well, folks, I thought I’d have a nice little Tuesday segment during the summer that all of us writers could participate in and share and enjoy, but I can’t get anyone else to play along.  Don’t YOU want to share some of your editing tips and tricks with us here?  In exchange for your participation, you’ll get a shameless plug for your book(s) as well as a heartfelt thank you from many of my followers.

Too many of you seem to think that you don’t do anything special or you don’t know anything that everyone else doesn’t know.  But that’s not necessarily true.  We all do things a little differently, and we want to hear from YOU.  What do you say?

If you’d like to play along, please email your responses to the following questions to my email address below, and include any photos and/or links of you and your blog and your work so we can purchase it.

  1. Please share one to three tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.
  1. What was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing? What’s your weakest point of editing and why?
  1. Have you used any editing methods previously that just didn’t work for you? If so, what were they, and why didn’t they work?
  1. Please tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).
  1. If you have any other news to share with us, please feel free to do so now.

The Gator at Sam’s Club

Can you believe how North Carolina had eight (severe) shark attacks in just three short weeks?  I’ve been going to the beach regularly my whole life, but this makes me seriously reconsider my pastime.

I think the thing that is really frightening is that all of these attacks were in shallow water.  I mean, who’d have ever thought that a shark large enough to sever a limb would – or even could – be swimming in three feet of water?

So, with all these shark attacks in the news, it got me thinking about other creatures with big, sharp teeth that lurk in water, and of course, my mind came to alligators.

Today’s Throwback Thursday tale won’t be from the Way-Back Vault, but rather, it’s something that happened not too long ago.  Remember last month when I told you about What Happens in Florida Stays in Florida, and in that post, I mentioned my recent sighting of the alligator at Sam’s Club?  I told you then that that was a story for another day… and today’s the day.

Now, in case you didn’t realize it, Florida is actually a giant swamp.  (Yes, really.)  A lot of the state used to be under water (even in my lifetime), until engineers devised a way to fill in the water holes and build on them.  Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons we have so many sinkholes here.  So, per our state’s law, when someone builds a structure on what used to be swampland, they must provide a certain square footage of watershed on the property.  As such, we have watersheds in front of just about every commercial property I can think of.  (Some people might refer to a watershed as a retention pond.)

A couple of years ago, I dropped my sister off at Walmart then I drove around the parking lot until she was ready.  During the few minutes she was inside, I drove by a ditch (which was not their official watershed) that had filled with rainwater, and I noticed something moving.  Now, keep in mind that this ditch was three feet away from the parking lot!  Well, if you guessed the thing I saw was a gator, you’d be correct.  A small alligator, about five feet long, crawled out of the ditch and walked in front of my car!

(That’s where my friends up North usually gasp in horror, but it’s actually not that uncommon.)  I sped back to the front of the store to pick up my sister so she could see, but by the time we got back, we just saw his tail as he was going back into the water.  Unfortunately, it was nighttime, so the photo I took didn’t turn out.

Anyway, my point is that when I have friends visit from somewhere other than Florida, if they want to see an alligator, I generally point them to Walmart or Sam’s Club where I see them most often.  Which brings us to today’s story…

Sam’s Club & Watershed

A couple of months ago, Michelle and I were at Sam’s Club.  As we pulled in the parking lot and past the watershed, we spied a large alligator (about 13 feet long).  I thought it would be cool to blog about it if I could get a decent photo, so we parked and started walking to the watershed for a closer look.  (Don’t worry, it was fenced in.)  As we crossed the aisle in the parking lot, the gator was sunning himself on the far bank.  He was quite handsome and regal with the sun glinting off his fangs back.  I was so excited to be able to get a good photo of such a large reptile.

Can you see him in the water?So as we neared the fence, the sun was shining something fierce.  It just so happened that we both looked down for only a split second because it was so blindingly bright, and when we both looked back up, our gator was gone!  Not only had he run quite a distance to get back into the safety of his watery home, but there weren’t even any ripples in the water where he entered!

How about now?Seriously, it wasn’t more than two seconds that we each looked down, and he had to have traveled 30 feet to get to the water’s edge!  I was of course overcome with disappointment that I couldn’t get a good photo, but more than that, I was amazed at how quickly and stealthily he moved!  It sure made me appreciate that chain link fence between us that much more!

So to conclude, I apologize that I didn’t get any good photos of my friend, but so that I don’t leave you empty handed,  I’ll instead share a photo of a creature I took at Blue Springs a couple of years ago:

At Blue Springs

Let’s talk:  Would you be comfortable with only a fence between you and a 13 foot long reptile in the wild?  Do large creatures reside outside your Walmart?  Did you have a clue alligators could move so quickly?

On Editing

A while back, I posted a call to all writers who wanted to share their editing tips, and up next on my offer was my good friend and blogging sister, Claire Luana.  If you don’t already follow Claire’s blog, you’ll want to hope on over there right now and hit the Follow button!  Anyway, here’s Claire…

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Please share one to three tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.

When I am hitting a rough patch in editing, I change the format. Somehow, sitting in front of the computer looking at the same screen for hours on end can kill my editing mojo. When I was doing a developmental edit of my current WIP, Moonburner, I started writing plot points on post-it notes and moving them around. When I hit another bump in the road, I created a non-linear map of how all my subplots connected, so I could look at the whole universe of it together.

For my latest edit, I printed my manuscript out and read it like a book. I highlighted areas that tripped me up or didn’t sound quite right, but didn’t go back and edit them until later, to keep myself in “reader” mode, rather than “editing” mode. I have found that the change in perspective from something purely mental to something a bit more tangible has made a huge difference for me when I am stuck.

What was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing?  What is your weakest point of editing and why?

I haven’t been writing for very long, so I am not sure I have fixed my biggest mistakes yet! As far as process, it was a mistake for me to over-outline. I am a very type-A person and so I assumed that I would be a “plotter,” not a “pantser.” I spent several months outlining, creating character sketches, even finding photos for my characters to put into my Scrivener folders! But when I actually sat down to write, I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. My overanalyzing of the story before it even began crippled my creativity. I ended up scrapping the whole project and starting from scratch on another idea with a one-page outline. It flowed amazingly!

I would also say it is a mistake (for me at least) to read books on the craft of writing and editing while I am in the process. It makes me start to doubt myself and go back and end up in a revision spiral. It is better for me to read a book on craft, absorb those lessons, and then sit down to my writing and editing with those things in mind. Mid-stream just didn’t work for me.

As for my weakest point of editing, it is definitely large scale, developmental editing. I have spent a fair amount of time in my professional career with copyediting and line-editing; I feel comfortable with grammatical rules and the Chicago Manual of Style. What still feels like a foreign language are the big things: character arcs, weaving sub-plots, theme, etc. All the aspects of editing for what makes a story compelling, rather than what makes good writing. I am still learning how to get my hands around the scope of a novel without feeling overwhelmed. Any tips would be appreciated 🙂

Have you used any editing methods previously that just didn’t work for you? If so, what were they, and why didn’t they work?

Editing from the beginning, over and over again, without utilizing different methods or focusing for different elements. I spent about three edits just plodding through my work, looking for the same things as I edited. I would get increasingly cavalier about my edits as I continued, meaning the beginning of the work is much tighter than the middle or end. I have learned that each of my edits should be unique–focused on a particular element(s) of the work. And if you are copy-editing, maybe start from the end and work your way backward!

Please tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).

I am currently working on my first novel, a young adult fantasy novel called Moonburner. The synopsis:

Kai lives in Kita, where female sorcerers, moonburners, are hunted down and killed at birth. Her parents raise her as a boy in order to hide her true nature until she comes of age and can flee to neighboring Miina, where moonburners are trained and fight in the ongoing war with Kita.

Kai’s carefully laid plans are dashed when she is exposed as a moonburner and sentenced to death. In keeping with Kita’s cruel tradition, Kai is left to die in a vast desert bordering the two lands. Against all odds, Kai survives the desert and makes it to the citadel in Kita to begin her training.

As Kai struggles to learn to control her moonburning powers, she begins to realize that all is not as it seems at the citadel, and that the ongoing war against Kita has led the citadel leadership down a dark path that could spell the end of all burners. Kai discovers that her ties to the moonburners run deep, and that she holds the future of both Kita and Miina in her hands.

Moonburner is currently with beta readers and I am hopeful that I will begin submitting to agents in September. I am fully expecting that I won’t get any timely bites from agents, though, so I am also exploring self-publishing options!

I am loving connecting with other authors, editors, and writers, so please check out my blog at shotandahalfpint.wordpress.com!

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Thank you, Claire, for such wonderful tips!  (I really like the part about keeping it in “reader mode” versus jumping back and forth to “editor mode.”)  Now, who’s up next?  If you’re game, please contact me at:

Second Verse, Same as the First

The following is a repeat of a post I made shortly after I started blogging.  I thought that since I’ve been getting comments regarding the intensity of my microfiction these past few months, this would be fitting .  Remember, I write Psychological Thrillers.  By the very definition, a psychological thriller is a thriller story which emphasizes the psychology of its characters and their unstable emotional states.

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It’s Throwback Thursday again, and this week I want to talk about intense writing. Sometimes people think my writing is a little too powerful.  But in my stories, I draw a lot from my own personal experiences, which I admit have not all been upbeat and cheery. As such, too often, I may be numb to what others find disturbing.  Unfortunately, we didn’t all have the luxury of a Disney-version whitewashed life.  We all cried when Walt Disney showed us Bambi’s mother being killed by hunters, but have you ever read an unabridged edition of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale?  Those were a couple of sick and twisted individuals (not to mention the audience that bought their stories to read to their children)!

One of my favorite books when I was little was The Little Gingerbread Man.  The story was first published in the May, 1875 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine by an unknown author who claimed that a servant girl had told it to his or her children, and he or she felt it was worth preserving.  Apparently the servant girl claimed that an old lady told it to her in her own childhood.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, quite basically, it goes like this:  An old couple is hungry, and they have few ingredients on hand.  The wife uses the paltry amount of food in her kitchen and bakes a single gingerbread man for the two of them to share, but upon opening the oven, the gingerbread man jumps out and runs away.  He encounters several barnyard animals who all want to eat him, and as a pursuit ensues, the old couple and the animals chase the gingerbread man, but they aren’t as fast as he.  He inevitably tells them all, “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” Finally, having outrun all the hungry followers, he encounters a river, but he unfortunately can’t swim.  (That’s right.  Gingerbread cookies can, in fact, outrun even the fastest gazelles, but by golly, they don’t float!)  So a seemingly kind-natured fox offered to swim across the river, carrying the gingerbread man on his back.  The gingerbread man figured he’d be safe on the fox’s tail, but as the water got deeper, the fox persuaded him to climb higher, first to his back, then his head, then his nose, and of course you can guess the rest.  As the gingerbread man climbed onto the fox’s nose, the sly fox flipped him into the air, then snapped his mouth shut and ate the poor little guy.

(Yep, that’s me and my grandparents above.)

People who know me, know that my grandparents raised me from the time I was born, so I consider them both my actual parents.  And because my birth mother was their last child, they were older than a lot of my friends’ grandparents when they got me.  Now, the cool thing about living with my grandparents (which I didn’t appreciate until I was grown and had kids of my own) was that I got exposed to older culture than my peers.  And I’ve learned to truly appreciate the old-fashioned way of doing things.

My grandparents had already raised their kids and didn’t expect to have to take care of another one in their golden years.  So they weren’t necessarily equipped to look after an active child.  But, that turned out to be a good thing in the end.  You see, while other young children were hearing ’Twas the Night Before Christmas every December, I could count on Grandma reading me Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And while other little kids were hearing Jack and the Beanstalk as a bedtime tale, Granddaddy was reading me Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.  

If anyone ever questioned my grandma as to why she might find it appropriate to tell a young child such graphic stories, she wouldn’t hesitate to sing them a song that her mother used to sing to her and her siblings in the 1930s called “Babes in the Woods.”  This little ditty was apparently a true story of a couple of children whose parents died and left them in the care of their aunt and uncle.  But the uncle wanted their inheritance, so he told his wife that he sent them to live at a school in London, when in fact, he actually paid someone to take them into the woods and kill them!  It’s not unlike the original version of Hansel and Gretel where the children are actually eaten by the witch rather than them killing the witch and escaping as they do in the sanitized version.  And if The Tell-Tale Heart isn’t enough to give you nightmares, just take a look at the lyrics to Grandma’s song:

Oh, don’t you remember, a long time ago / Those two little babies, their names I don’t know / They were stolen away one bright, summer’s day / And left in a wood, so I’ve heard folks say

Chorus: Sweet babes in the wood / Sweet babes in the wood / Oh, don’t you remember / Those babes in the wood

Now the day being gone and the night coming on / Those two little babies sat under a stone / They sobbed and they sighed, they bitterly cried / Those two little babies they laid down and died Chorus

Now the robins so red, how swiftly they sped / They put out their wide wings and over them spread / And all the day long on the branches among / They sweetly did whistle and this was their song / Chorus

So, in conclusion, I don’t think I was depraved because I heard all these stories as a kid.  I actually think it enhanced my creativity.  Am I going to tone back my writing because someone might think it’s too intense?  Nevermore!