Can You Write A Selfie?

I’m getting better at taking selfies–really I am–though I doubt they’d help me sell any books if I stuck my image on the back. Aging, graying, not quite sure which direction to look in–would you buy a book photographed by me? More importantly–from my point of view anyway–would you buy a book written by me? And can you write a selfie?

Photographic selfies come–or at least they came–in many forms. Here’s my first one, taken through a mirror.

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Hmmm, a little blurred isn’t it, like one of those out-of-focus stories that never quite gets to the point, or has so many points the reader can’t find them? Next came the camera-on-the-computer selfie, with me so proud, holding the first (of many) proofs.

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Are you looking at the books or the writer here? If you read my stories, will you see my characters or me? Then I ponder: Even if my opinions don’t totally obscure the scene, they can still distract (and detract from the best-told tale). But At last I got a phone with a backward-facing lens–my chance to take a real, modern-day selfie. What do you think?

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Look up, look down, look straight, left, right, or somewhere: Choose an angle, I guess, but surely don’t choose this one, in writing or photography, from which I conclude, points of view are really quite important.

I tried again. Does this one work…

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…or should I have chosen a background that made sense? Set a scene that’s understandable for the reader or the viewer–that’s one to remember.

And then there was this. What do you think?

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(No glasses – the wonders of cataract surgery earlier this year!)

Someone suggested that everyone we write about lives in our heads (unless we’re writing biographies I suppose). So all those characters entering and leaving rooms, victims and perpetrators of crimes, male, female, adult, child… are they all me? Is every character study in my novel a selfie from some hidden part of my mind?

I don’t know the answer, but the question did inspire a writing exercise:

Now Write

  1. Imagine yourself entering a room–to win a writing prize perhaps, or to stop your child from crying, or…
  2. Describe your entry from your own point of view–are you confident, scared, excited… how do you walk? Is your breathing slow or fast? Where are your eyes focused? What are you doing with your hands? And what are you wearing; how does the fabric move with you, or the wind blow your hair?
  3. Describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s glad to see you–parent, child, spouse, best friend, eager recipient of your benevolence… Who or what do they see, hear, or smell, and what thoughts fill their minds?
  4. Now describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s not pleased to see you–the person who hoped to win the prize, the cat who hoped to stay with the child, the monster returned to its closet…
  5. And finally, turn one of those descriptions into a story.

If I Write A Blogpost, Will You Read It?

Our writers’ group met last weekend, and I need to copy up the minutes and send them out. We talked about internet-connections and the need to have a blog, write blogposts, and find people to read them. Among the questions we addressed were:

  • What is a blog? It’s kind of like a diary, but don’t make it your diary. Nobody wants to read your day-to-day life.
  • What’s the difference between a blog and a website? Mostly they’re attached to each other. The website is the bit that doesn’t change. The blog is the bit that’s supposed to keep offering something new.
  • And between a blog, a website, and your Facebook page? We had a picture for this one: I wonder if I can reproduce it in a blog…webs blogs and facebook So…
  • Websites are really well thought-out, like a query letter sent to a publisher.
  • Blogs are moderately well thought-out, like a report to your writers’ group about the writing of query letters.
  • Facebook status is where you tell the world “I just send that query in.”

We finished our meeting with a writing exercise because, of course, we’re a writers’ group. So here it is

Just Write

This is your chance to blog, and mine to see if I can read what I wrote:

  1. Think of a title and turn it into a questionWhy would anyone read this?
  2. Think of who might read your blogpost and tell them why you think it should interest them: Has anyone ever asked you to write a blogpost?
  3. Make sure your first sentence and title repeat the same words. If they don’t, rewrite one or the other: If I write a blogpost, will you read it? could be a better title.
  4. Write something that flows from that first sentence: Has anyone ever asked you to write a blogpost? That’s what happened to us at the end of our Writers’ Mill meeting this month. But many of our members don’t have blogs. So the real question, perhaps, should be “If I had a blog, would you read it?” closely followed by, “If I had a blog, what would I blog about?”
  5. Now you know where you’re going, make sure you get there quickly. The blogging world suffers from the internet’s inescapably short attention span, so simply say what you want to say, then stop: I’m going to blog about writing here, specifically about writing answers to prompts. I’ll post things like, say:
    1. How to write a mystery in 7 steps
    2. How to create a believable character
    3. How to use point of view effectively
    4. How to use all five senses, plus whatever extras you can think of, or even
    5. How to blog
  6. Add a final sentence, include a picture if you can, then click on “Publish.” You’re done: So… will you read it?

 

 

 

 

Who sabotaged my tablet?

Did Microsoft sabotage my tablet, I ask myself, as my last-ditch attempt at repairing it runs into yet another can’t-do-that message. I stare at the mournful blue screen in that dreaded reboot-loop-of-death and confess, the only option left is to phone the manufacturer. Luckily my tablet’s not a Surface Pro. The Microsoft website says send-it-in-for-repair when a Surface Pro hits this problem. But a phone call will surely be easier (I hope). And just one simple line of code, inserted in all the right places, would have redeemed me long ago.

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So no, I don’t really think Microsoft sabotaged my tablet. But I do wonder how the programmers failed to put a virtual keyhole into every error requiring a virtual key, and how the qa engineers failed to spot the problem, and how the sales people failed to notice it might annoy customers accustomed to performing their own software repairs.

My tablet’s all backed up, of course. The novel’s still out there, waiting for its edits in the cloud. Fred and Joe are still barking up many wrong trees. Book reviews are ready to be posted. And I’ve lost nothing but time, time, time and more time. But WHY ?????????

So, if you have a tablet running Windows 10, enjoying the invisible default protection of the dreaded Bitlocker, beware.

Bitlocker, it seems, encrypts or locks your drive, or some partition thereof, whenever your computer feels threatened, stolen, or sabotaged. Unfortunately, failed Windows updates can be perceived as a threat. So Windows will helpfully try to restart for you, then demand a key. Luckily Microsoft tells you how to find the key at this point, and provides a nice long space where you can type in those 48 (!!!!!) characters. Less fortunately, the computer will continue to feel threatened when the restart fails again, so guess what…

There you are, sitting, not at the blue screen of death and restart, but the blue screen of helpful options, and none of them work because the drive/partition has locked itself again. But this time there’s no keyhole for your 48 digit key. Just a message – can’t restore windows, can’t repair, can’t re-install windows, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t… because that drive or that partition is locked.

If only they’d thought to provide that virtual keyhole whenever you’d need a virtual key, I’d have a working machine. But Microsoft didn’t sabotage me, not really; it’s just a Windows update gone wrong – it might even have been the one that would fix the problem. And I did at least manage to mend the other machine – the one I used to look up reboot-loop-of-death and how to use those helpful options. It broke the same way on a failed Windows update the following day. But, of course, that machine didn’t have Bitlocker protecting it.

I feel un-protected.

Meanwhile… back at the writing group… it seems we have a fairly appropriate upcoming writing prompt:

WINDOWS!

Think:

  • The eyes are the windows to the soul.
  • Windows is driving me insane (see above).
  • Double glazing is wonderful (we just had it installed).
  • Cataract surgery is wonderful too (I no longer have triple vision – I’m not an alien!).
  • And defenestration is truly a wonderful word (even tempting at times like this).

Which one caught your imagination? Which story will you tell?

Enjoy!

A New Year Drabble

They told her it couldn’t be done; there’d be no going back; she shouldn’t waste her time. No rhyme or reason now, they said; just live for today. But Verda couldn’t watch unmoved as TV screens grew dark. She couldn’t sleep through radio’s silence, nor take those happy pills and hide herself in the dying cave. Instead she closed her office door; sealed the frame; set plants to cleaning air and water; and cranked her computer.

At the stroke of midnight, that final day, Verdandi, goddess of destiny, reset the human clock. So we began the Fall all over again.

 

Our writing group’s prompt this month is to imagine our main character receives some news which will change the year ahead. I’ve invited members of the group to imagine what they’ve heard is their own commitment to enter something in every month’s writing contest. How will that change their lives? How would it change yours?

Now write!

Happy Thanksgiving

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Today I had my annual mammogram – I’m thankful for advances in medicine that keep track of my health.

Then I went for my annual blood test but they’d lost the order – I’m thankful for the kind assistant who got it reinstated and took my blood – I’ll be even more thankful if my cholesterol’s gone down – I’ve been working on it, and I’m thankful for living in a place where it’s so easy to get exercise.

Next was a quick trip to the bread store, feeling seriously hungry by now since I’d fasted for the blood test. Sadly the bread store had mislaid my order too – it’s one of those days – but I’m thankful for helpful and patient staff who reconstructed it and introduced me to some wonderful gluten-free rosemary garlic bread, my official new favorite!

In Safeway I forgot what I was shopping for – that hunger thing I guess – I’m thankful I (think I) remembered.

And back home I was thankful for food, at last! Then the phone rang – the hospital wanted to set a date for my cataract surgery, so I’m thankful there’s a chance my eyesight could improve again – I’m really looking forward to the day!

The phone rang again – our new windows have arrived and they wanted a date to install them – I’m thankful for warm double-glazing and clear glass, and for the fact that soon we’ll have them both throughout the house.

And the phone rang – that strange foreign voice said I had a problem with windows on my computer – I’m thankful I don’t have a problem, and I love Windows 10.

And I’m thankful!

What are you thankful for?

Writing Exercise

Our Writers’ Group prompt for December is white, and for March it’s windows. With eyes, double-glazing and computers, there are many types of windows we can write about. But which windows are white? Sometimes it’s fun to try to connect two random words, hence this exercise:

  1. How old are you?
  2. Open a book to that page number.
  3. What’s your birthdate?
  4. Pick the line (for day) and word (for month), and write down the word. (i.e. if your birthday is March 20th, pick the 3rd word on the 20th line)
  5. Now do the same for your best friend, spouse, child, or dog… (just one of these)
  6. Can you think of a connection between the two words you’ve found. If so, you’ve probably just engaged your creative side. Creativity inspires writing. So write at least one paragraph inspired by the words and/or their connection.

Happy Writing! And Happy Thanksgiving!

Dribs and drabs and writing

I went to Wordstock last weekend. It’s a writers’ conference held almost annually in Portland Oregon and it had just moved to a new venue. The move, not surprisingly, had a few pluses and minuses, just like the rewrite of an old novel. (Did I mention, I’m rewriting an old novel – Imaginary Numbers – soon to be released by Indigo Sea Press?)

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Plusses:

  1. Those of us lucky enough to get into a lecture hall could actually hear the speakers
  2. Those of us not standing out in the rain were in a very pleasant, inspiring venue (the Art Museum)
  3. The guy keeping the floor dry so nobody would slip in the crowds trying to cram through tiny doorways did a wonderful job.

Minusses: see above.

What stayed the same was the quality of the speakers – they were great.

And what I learned:

  1. You are who you are. You can’t pretend to be someone else – to look like someone else, or to write like someone else – because your critics will tell you who you are.
  2. You’re never too old, too young, too weak, or too anything else (except perhaps too scared). You can swim the impossible (Cuba to Florida), write the impossible, paint the impossible, and most importantly dream the impossible. Those dreams should never be discarded (well, unless they involve hurting somebody, I guess).
  3. Culture determines what people see and believe – in a world without artificial light, it’s really not so hard to believe in witchcraft.
  4. Friendship determines what people do and achieve – trust your friends to help you, accept their help, and praise them for their help.
  5. You can find inspiration anywhere. (Where else would I have found myself comparing swimmers to angels?)

Since this is the week of the Festival of Drabbles celebration, I’ll try to turn the above into a drabble writing exercise.

Imagine

  1. A place where you would never be found, dead or alive. A shark cage perhaps?
  2. A person or creature who is not in that location but would like to be. The shark maybe?
  3. What makes them want to be there?
  4. How will they try to get there?
  5. Why will they fail?
  6. What will they do when they fail?

Write

  1. A one-sentence introduction to your character, and a one-sentence introduction to your location – one paragraph
  2. A one-sentence answer to each of 3, 4, and 5 – second paragraph
  3. A one-sentence answer to 6 – third paragraph.

Edit

You now have a three-paragraph micro-story that’s almost a drabble.

  1. Count the words. If less than a hundred, you need to add more description. If less, you need to remove some.
  2. Once your story gets longer than 100 words, start shrinking and polishing it. Look for
    1. What is most important in the story? Don’t delete it.
    2. What is least important in the story? Can you take it out?
    3. Any repeated words or phrases – what can you replace them with?
    4. Any adjectives and adverbs – can you replace the noun or verb with a stronger one?
    5. Sentence connectors – do you need all those ands, buts, afters, thens, etc?
    6. long sentences or sets of sentences – can you say the same thing more simply, with fewer words? Do you even need to say it? (see above)

Now you have something close to 100 words. Add or delete judiciously and you’re there. It’s a drabble.

Once you’ve written it, don’t forget to join the fun and look for more at http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/festival-of-drabbles-2015-calendar-of.html

Publishing is Murder!

If I’ve fallen off the face of the internet recently, I have a good excuse. Our local writers’ group, The Writers’ Mill, committed to self-publishing our fourth anthology in time for Christmas 2015, and time sped by. Suddenly I was fifteen books behind with reading and reviewing, three behind with writing, and deeply entrenched in editing, formatting and publishing one solitary volume. But now, at last, I can raise my head above the metaphorical quick-sand. Our next writers’ contest has the theme of murder, and I’m thinking it won’t be half as murderous as this.

In case you’re interested, our anthology, The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4, is now available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-2015-Journals/dp/1517594472/) and all good bookstores (and from Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-Journals-Book-ebook/dp/B016C98RI4/):

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 4
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4

Meanwhile, how about those murders… Here’s a writing exercise for our next Writers’ Mill meeting, and for you:

First Think

  1. What do you think of when somebody says “Murder”?
    1. Clue – Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick?
    2. TV cop show – CSI Miami?
    3. Recent events and shootings – gun control?
    4. Old movies – Arsenic and Old Lace?
    5. Self-publishing
    6. What else?
  2. A murder story doesn’t have to be a mystery. What else can it be?
    1. Horror
    2. Psychological thriller
    3. Humor
    4. What else?
  3. The type of story might determine the point of view
    1. Whose head do you need to be inside for horror to scare you?
    2. Whose head do you need to be inside to get involved in solving a mystery?
    3. Whose head will you be in to understand the murderer’s mind?
    4. Whose head to not take it seriously?

Then Try

  1. You’re going to write three one-paragraph mini-murder stories, but first we’ll do the Clue thing:
    1. Where might a murder take place?
    2. Who might commit a murder?
    3. Who might get killed? (or what, I suppose)
    4. Who might try to solve the crime?
  2. Pick a location, a murderer, a victim and an optional investigator or bystander.
    1. Write one paragraph describing the murder scene after the event. This might be through the eyes of an investigator or passer-by, or just describe from an omniscient point of view.
    2. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the killer. This can be before, after or even during the event – depends how gruesome you want to be.
    3. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the victim. This can be before or during the event… or if you want to deal in ghosts or inanimate objects, describe the scene after the event.
  3. Read your three paragraphs
    1. How did the scene change as you looked through different eyes?
    2. Which version was harder to write?
    3. Which point of view will you choose to write the longer story?

Now Write

Writing the Author Bio

No book reviews, no blog posts, and I’ve almost disappeared from Facebook and Twitter: What could be going on? Meanwhile the deadline for the Writers’ Mill Journal, an (almost) annual publication from our local group of writers, came and went and…well…that’s what’s been stealing my attention and my time.

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 3
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 3

For my sins I’m compiler and editor in chief, and we had lots of pieces to be compiled, carefully stored online by our intrepid computer guru, Rom. Now we have a large document with nine sections, nearly 60 pieces of writing, and around 35 pictures. But we, at last, means more than just me; and I’m looking forward to a little more spare time, since I’ve finally sent that doc to our intrepid team of editors. Six editors. 200 pages. Around 35 pages each.

Of course, the journal is only almost complete, as you might see from the heading to this post. It’s one thing to ask our brave authors to write, and write we do, most wonderfully (see last year’s journal above – enjoy!). But asking us to write about ourselves; that’s an entirely different matter. So the author bio page languishes, while sentences and paragraphs drift in email replies to be added to those author names.

First person bio or third is the first question to be asked of course. Does

  • Joe Soap says, “I’ve been writing since I learned to wash my face…” work better than
  • Joe Soap has been writing since…

I’m going for third person–at least, that’s what I said–though several writers insist on first. What do you think? Which sounds more professional to you?

Then there’s the question of one sentence, or two, or a paragraph or two, or a page. For myself, I’ve got bios of varying lengths on almost every website, Facebook and Twitter included, all different, and mostly out of date. I’ve got a mini-bio in the signature line on my emails, also out of date (depending on whether I’m writing from my computer or my phone). I’ve got bios on my books, bios in the back pages of as yet unpublished books, bios on publishing websites, bios re-edited, bios…

But we’ve got 200+ pages, and every page costs, and we run this on a money-less shoe-string. So I asked our authors for just one or two sentences, or maybe three or four.

I sent a sample:

  • Joe Soap has been writing since he learned to wash his hands. He’s the author of several unpublished books, has taught laundry techniques in high school for many years, and can be found online at joesoap.com.

And the answers are still slowly trickling in.

Meanwhile, here I am, finally finding time to write a blogpost. Since most of my readers write, which makes you authors of a kind, I’ll set an author bio challenge this time:

Write (or find your latest) author bio, in all its multi-paragraph glory: Who are you? Then…

  • Pick out the section that describes how long you’ve been writing. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve done with your life. Which detail is most important. Rewrite it in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes why you write. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve written. Rephrase this in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes where you can be found online. Which place is most important, or easiest to find, or best linked to everywhere else. Mention this in one short sentence.
  • Now combine your first and second sentences, second and third, third and fourth, and fourth and fifth.
  • Combine the resulting sentences, shortening, deleting, and EDITING until you have just two (one short and one long is good).
  • Now you’ve got a nice brief author bio that might even fit on Twitter!

So here’s mine:

  • Sheila Deeth has been telling stories since before she learned to write. She’s the author of contemporary novels from Second Wind Publishing, childrens animal stories from Linkville Press, and The Five Minute Bible Story Series from Cape Arago Press, and she blogs at…well…here ’cause you’ve found me!

I guess I should go update all those other random bios wherever they lurk now. But first, I’ve still got 35 pages to edit…

How do you choose your point of view?

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First person, present tense narration – they told me both of these were no-nos, but I read them everywhere. Multiple-viewpoint, told in a mixture of first and third person, is another unlikely mix that I seem to read now all the time. Then there are dual-viewpoint novels, with alternating first-person chapters that let you “get into the head” of both the protagonists and “really understand them.” If you’re George R R Martin you’ll write different chapters from multiple different viewpoints and be everyone’s hero. (If you’re me, you’ll write Divide by Zero similarly, then follow up with Infinite Sum – first person, present tense.) But what do readers want? What do stories need? And what should I be doing?

I read these questions asked in a blogpost about multiple-viewpoint-novels recently: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/07/multiple-points-of-view-good-or-bad.html. The author ends her post with a question:

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don’t love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

This, of course, provoked me to think and comment. I have read and written novels told from multiple points of view. Some I love. Some are okay. And some annoy me. But why? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Changing viewpoints are distracting when they feel forced – when the author chooses the POV because it’s time for a change, rather than because the story demands it.
  • They’re annoying when they make the story repetitive – same scene, alternative view, putting narration on hold.
  • They’re frustrating when the view-points feels cloudy and ill-defined – I have to read the chapter title to realize whose head I’m in ’cause they all sound alike.
  • They’re tiring when they flog the story to death – every view-point told with no exceptions till the reader falls asleep.
  • They’re confusing when they’re unnecessarily inconsistent – A thinks B thinks this but B thinks that and C thinks A couldn’t possible think…
  • But sometimes they’re great.Infinite Sum

So here’s my question. Have you read Divide by Zero? What did you think of the multiple view-point, village-tapestry approach? And will you read Infinite Sum, even though it’s a different story, told in a different way?

And here’s a writing exercise

Get ready to write

  • Choose two characters.
  • Choose one location.
  • Choose a time where your characters might meet in that location.
  • Choose a topic they might discuss.

Write

  • Working from the point of view of your first character:
    • Write one paragraph describing your approach to the meeting place.
    • Write one paragraph describing your first sight of the other character.
    • Write one paragraph describing the discussion
      • Include your feelings
      • Include the other character’s responses.
    • Write one paragraph describing the other person’s exit from the meeting.
  • Now repeat the process from the second character’s point of view.

Read and think about it

  • Which version was easier to write?
  • Which version is easier to read?
  • Why?

Just Write

Our local writing contest is approaching its deadline. But what if, like me, you’re not ready, and time moves faster than your fingers on the keys. Here’s the advice I sent out to the group – if you find it useful, enjoy!bottle

What to do if the deadline looms and you haven’t finished your writing…

  1. If you’ve already started, but the piece isn’t ready to submit (to Writers’ Mill, or to any other contest):
    1. Turn short into long: Pick your favorite scene. Expand on it. Polish it. Make sure it has a beginning, middle and end (as all scenes should) and then submit it.
    2. Turn long into short:
      1. Pick a suitable chapter break and submit a single chapter. Leave your readers begging for more, or
      2. Cut, cut, cut, until your start and your finish, both beautifully polished, matched up in the middle perfectly.
    3. Edit the life into it: Take your perfect beginning – perhaps it’s the only bit you’ve written – and expand on it, edit it, polish it, until it’s so perfect everyone will demand to know what happens next.
  2. If you haven’t started yet but had an idea:
    1. Write the beginning and submit that
    2. Write the synopsis and submit that
    3. Just get one scene written – anything’s better than nothing.
  3. If you haven’t started yet and didn’t have an idea: Let’s assume you have a prompt, say, a message in a bottle…
    1. Find a bottle lying around your abode
    2. Think of a message you’d like to receive
    3. Write short – a poem, a one-line zinger, a two-paragraph essay, whatever….

Just write.

reading, 'riting, 'rithmeticking

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