Shadow Worlds

Which came first, the idea or my belief in it? I’m not sure. I am deep into writing of the second novel in the FRAMES series, in which seemingly inanimate objects like books and buildings are sentient beings. And – guess what? Everywhere I look I see objects that appear to be more than objects.

Is this a new perspective? Or did I always see things this way but have no reason to think twice about it? Certainly, I’ve always been fascinated by shadows and reflections and silhouettes – their ability to reproduce while distorting, maintaining the familiar within the strange.

Case in point. Below is a staircase banister at the Egyptian Theater, a deco movie palace in Hollywood, CA. In silhouette, the banister’s reptilian underpinnings become apparent. I see a head in profile, facing right. The iris bisects an eye that narrows to a point, into an elongated snout that slopes down and to the right, out of frame…

EgyptianStairsphoto

You see that too, right?

Right?

How about this one? The ocean has carved creatures in this eroded beach wall. You see this furry guy with the long nose, right?:

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In this post-apocalyptic sunset, the creatures line up looking frail:

EerieSeawall

You see them, right?

This WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Silhouettes.

Pssst! I Want To Share My New Discovery: It’s Called Twitter!

How many times do you have to hear the same advice before you listen? For me, the answer is 17. That’s how many times somebody told me, You’re a writer? You need to be on Twitter or people won’t know about you.

Okay, I made that up. The 17, that is. It could be 12, could be 30. Anyway, I’ve heard it a lot of times. I resisted the advice for years, because I don’t really get Twitter, except it is amazing to watch the flow of tweets during big-deal world events. And it’s a brilliant medium for certain comedians. The 140-character limit is also an intriguing fictional milieu, and I once dabbled in creating multiple accounts for imaginary people so that I could engage them in a story. It was fun, but writing novels remains funner.

Funner is a word my son used, back when he was small. For example, he dictated this message with the shower gift to an unborn child, “At first it’s not fun but then it gets funner and funner.” (It = life.)

But I digress. Just like on Twitter, except with more characters.

As with my children, I want the best for my novels. Especially, I want people to read them. Towards that end, the first – and in the current publishing world, the most difficult – step is to make people aware that my novels exist! So, a week-plus ago, I took the plunge and joined the Twitter universe.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 5.46.40 PMThe Twitterverse is a peculiar place that I don’t much understand. I have come to learn that if you like what someone tweets, you can reward them with various coins of the realm. You can favorite the tweet, or re-tweet it, or follow that tweeter. Following someone is a particular honor, apparently, and important. Some people pay for services that reveal who followed – and who un-followed – them every day. What does one do with un-follow information? Beg them to come back? Make a Nixonian enemies list?

My number of followers fluctuates. This happens whether or not I tweet anything. The long-term trend is up so maybe it’s like the stock market. Or perhaps I have offended some, by failing to retweet them, and so they cut me off. More likely, they were false followers, who followed me just to get me to check them out and say hmm, interesting and follow them back… Mission accomplished, they hook another follower and then unfollow her. Me. Apparently this kind of thing is worth the effort because your ratio of followers to following could indicate how cool you are. In even more arcane ways, your number of tweets matter, but I’m not the one to explain how that works.

The unfollowing methodology perplexes me. Should I figure out who unfollowed me and – eye for an eye! – unfollow them? Should I unfollow the #Dalai Lama? What about my musical faves like #Chris Thile or #Noam Pikelny or #X (here Xtheband)? They’ve had more than a week to follow me back, how long am I supposed to wait for respect?

I can’t imagine how much energy it takes to keep track of such things. Twitter is overwhelmingly productive. I don’t follow many people yet, so I don’t get all that many tweets on my timeline. While I typed this, I only got 183 new tweets. Wait, make that 203. The tweets flow by and if I’m not watching the screen when your latest tweet posts, I will never see it. And so tweeters post and post and post, so that I might occasionally see one of their tweets. (Make that 247 new tweets.) Many writers claim that incessant tweeting noticeably boosts sales and downloads of their books. (272 new tweets.) Oy. I hope that is not the only way to grow readership. (292 new tweets)

Conversation seems difficult on Twitter. When you reply to a tweet, you do actually engage with another tweeter, but your timelines shows non-sequitur reply lines that make no sense to anyone else and it takes several clicks to backtrack to understand the conversation. I’m sure no one bothers.

For all of that, Twitter is amazing. Think about it. All over the world, millions upon millions typing and sending these cryptic messages in internet bottles, all day, every day. No need to reply, it’s all one-way. (337 tweets) Sometimes I go bittersweet and pretend that Twitter relays the transmissions from a distant galaxy, messages only just now captured after traveling light years from a civilization lost to a supernova, eons ago.

Do you tweet? My twitter handle is in the snapshot – stop on by! (363 tweets)

P.S. To those of you who have read Nica of Los Angeles – I sound like Nica now, don’t I? It’s kind of awesome and kind of creepy to be inhabited by a character in this way. After I finished book 1, I wasn’t able to shake her style of narration, and now that I’m immersed in book 2 in the series, I’ve stopped trying to shake it because I need it again. Maybe I will become more like Nica, and not just talk like her. Now that would be awesome!

Consumer Nirvana – a short list

All hope abandon, ye who shoppeth here.

All hope abandon, ye who shoppeth here.

Being a consumer makes me anxious and hostile. I go into a store, see shelf after shelf of choices and I don’t revel in having options. I just want to get my laundry soap and get out of here. I become loyal because overwhelmed. I stick with products that slightly work for me because I can’t bear another round of label reading or comparison shopping. Consumer-wise – except for the shortages – I might have done okay in the Soviet Union.

But – there are some times when I glory in being part of a consumer society, when I am enjoying the luxuries that have become necessities because I love them so frigging much. My top two consumer necessities are:

1) the iPad. It captures the essence of all that is charming and easy and cool about Apple products, while allowing me to read and write in the dark, such as on patios on summer nights. I write my first draft novels on my iPad now, and only switch to a laptop because iPad text editing remains at a Neanderthal stage.

2) the automobile seat warmer. Although my last couple cars have had them, it took me years to toggle the on button. The concept seemed weird and pointless, and reminded me of a failed toilet attachment from long ago called “Butt Spa”. Then I tried one (a seat warmer, not a Butt Spa). Now I look forward to driving in frigid weather. And yes, even in southern California it gets cold enough for a seat warmer — if you want it to.

Image from electronicproducts.com.

Four Answers, Then Tag, They’re It!

Folks, you are about to witness my first participation in a blog tour, a newfangled invention by which indie writers help spread the word that they exist. Lisa Voisin invited me to join. Lisa has followed an interesting life path and it’s no wonder, perhaps, that she now writes young adult paranormal romance.

The way this blog tour works is that I answer four questions, then tell you about a few writers whose books I have really enjoyed. They will continue this tour by answering the same questions on their own blogs in two weeks.

Q1) What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing the second novel in the FRAMES series, the follow-on to Nica of Los Angeles, a speculative fantasy with detective and dystopian elements. Book 2, Chapter 1: my most recently completed sentence reads “As I returned to the street, the air pulsed in a series of quick blasts, punctuated with the deep screams of grown men.” Maybe we should have a contest and the winner will correctly guess what that sentence will read like by the time this new novel matures into a final draft.

Q2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Frankly, I think the author would be the last one to answer this question well.

Q3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I feel compelled to write. The trick is to sustain that drive through the long haul of finishing a novel. More than once, over the years, I have fought the temptation to freshen my characters mid-book, by sending in a bus to run over the first bunch. Fortunately, I am having a great time writing Nica, and her second book looks to be more fun than the first.

Q4) How does my writing process work?

My subconscious has all the best ideas, but its contributions are scattershot and unpredictable. It’s my conscious writer that keeps plugging away, day after day, to draw the inspirations up to the surface and the page. Screen. Keyboard. Touchscreen.

I write first drafts on my iPad, and love sitting on a summer patio in the dark, illuminated only by my device. However, for editing and formatting, I have to return to my laptop, with its full-service software.

And now I’d like to introduce…

One benefit of being an indie writer is getting to e-meet other indie writers, all over the globe.

Hock Tjoa has this to say about himself:  “Hock is a retired teacher and banker and writes as part of his mission to make more widely known traditional Chinese values, but he makes digressions. He lives in northern California.” I read a play that Hock wrote, based on a Chinese folklore detective, and much enjoyed the dry wit and cleverness of the piece.

Louise White has had nearly as many career paths as I’ve had (!) and has covered both ends of the service spectrum, as a waitress and then a cop. She lives in Scotland and writes a young adult series about a kickass teenage girl who fights demons in a world that is … almost… just like ours. I love how normal and teenage her heroine is, in the midst of all the fantasy.

Tennesseean (?) Fran Veal also writes YA. She mingles teen drama with crime and just a touch of the paranormal. I am one chapter away from completing my first novel by her and it was painful to set it aside so that I could meet various deadlines like posting my blog tour entry on time. But hey, I’m a grown-up, right?

I sense some sniggering, somewhere. Grown-up? Reading a bunch of Young Adult books? And how! It’s one of my favorite genres! Let me know if you want some more YA recommends!

 

 

The Ah in Normahl Life

Conference hotel bathroom. Instead of keeping the paper towels stocked, some minimum wage worker had to keep these folded and stacked, all day long.

Conference hotel bathroom. Some minimum wage worker kept these folded and stacked, all day long. Isn’t that just like a day job?

My last several weeks have been absurdly hectic, with long hours preparing for big to-dos at the day job. The deadlines and the events are now past, everything went well, I’m enjoying kudos for my efforts — and I’m trying to not resent the time I had to squander on mere work, the time I’ll never get back to do the things that matter: hang with my kids and my friends and the four-legs, visit the ocean or mountains, write my new book, promote my newly finished book, post to this blog.

During that time, I had to toss my tickets to two different concerts because I was too busy or tired to attend. That is a lot of alliteration and so wrong!

Ah. At last I’m home again. You know you’ve been gone too much when you look forward to sweeping the tumbleweeds of shed dog fur, new clumps of which are repopulating my living room even as I type this. So. Much. Fur. How can she not be bald yet?

Ah. Time to take a few lessons from folks who know how to relax:

 

Shadow and Luna, lounging

Whatever your species, the morning sun feels good.

Stairways to Somewhere Else

Something disturbs me about an extra long flight of stairs, especially going down. Why would that be? Maybe because I’m a klutz and fear falling. Certainly the former is true! On a recent trip to New York, I snapped a couple of extra-creepy flights.

Manhattan subway escalator.

Looking down a Manhattan subway escalator.

Perhaps long staircases disturb me because I fear my subconscious. The mystical psychologist Carl Jung talked about stairs that descend to the subconscious, as I was fascinated to recently learn. Well, okay, re-learn, because I was surprised to read it in (my own damn) novel, Was It A Rat I Sawwhich I wrote a couple decades ago. But I digress. Anyway, I don’t fear my subconscious, I’m fascinated by all the things it seems to know that I don’t – and there’s no question that I get my best ideas from it!

Entrance to Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Greenwich Village.

Entrance to Le Poisson Rouge, a club in Greenwich Village.

I’m joking around. I know why some staircases bother me. It’s the sense that their steps are capable of taking me somewhere else, an unintended journey to an unexpected destination. Some building entrances feel that way to me, too. I’m finally exposing their truth in my fantasy series, FRAMES, where nothing in the universe is as it seems. The red staircase above will be a location – or maybe a character – in the second book in the FRAMES series, which I have just started writing.

New York doesn’t have a lock on eerie stairs. Here’s one that hails from Echo Park in Los Angeles:

EerieAptsphoto.smaller

P.S. I’ve finally finished the first FRAMES novel, Nica of Los Angeles. Watch for posts about that soon.

(This post responds to the WP Weekly Photo Challenge, Extra Extra.)

One Step From A New World

I love reflections, the topic of the current WP Weekly Photo Challenge. I especially love the otherworldly reflections of puddles. On the edges of a puddle I can see the reflected image continuing – into a separate world, just beyond the edge of the puddle. I should be able to take a step and enter. But I haven’t taken the right step yet – and even the dog can tell me that when you step in a puddle, what happens next is wet paws, not entry to a new dimension.

Here is a dawntime reflection of a puddle I discovered during from my recent trip to Hawaii (travelog post coming soon), which confirmed that my yearning to visit the new dimension exists regardless of how nice the current dimension is:

Hawaiianpuddle

Dawn in Waikiki, Honolulu, March 2014.

Here is a majestic piney mountain world reflected in a puddle:

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Muddy puddle in La Tuna Canyon, southern California, 2013.

Speaking of Hawaii, here are some other reflections I caught during my visit to Honolulu.

New day at the harbor, Honolulu.

New day at the harbor, Honolulu.

Canal with buildings, Honolulu.

Canal with buildings, Honolulu.

P.S. Thinking about reflected worlds was one of the inspirations for my upcoming fantasy detective series. There, the other worlds are called Frames, and I’m happy to say the first book in the FRAMES series is in final editing. Another coming soon (but not as soon as the travelog post).

P.P.S. I’ve got numerous photos of reflections in other posts. For example, in these posts about an optical illusion, a search for a deadly predator, and a spectacular view at the end of a hike. I will let you figure out which is which: here,  here, and here.

Who Would It Be And Why?

I’ve seen questions like this before, but never considered my own answer before.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Recently Michael invited me to do an author interview on his blog. This being the internet, I’ve never met Michael, but he certainly seems like an interesting fellow – a video game producer and writer with a blog name that applies to all of us: The Cult of Me. All that aside, Michael was not how I answered the question. That would have been too simple. In fact, the question sent my mind bouncing like a ping pong ball in a windstorm. Below is my answer. What is yours?

You wouldn’t believe the struggle I’ve had with this question. Over the years, I’ve encountered many brilliant, talented, or famous people so I know that having a gift doesn’t guarantee that you will be interesting or fun – or pleasant. And I want this day to be truly special. So first, I nerded out. (What if we don’t speak the same language? What if they take longer than a day to get to know? What if they’re heroes who turn out to be jerks?) Eventually I broke out of this spiral by reminding myself that this is the dream sequence part of the interview. Then I couldn’t decide my motivation. Did I want to learn something (the Buddha), be inspired (Thoreau), meet a hero (John Lennon), solve a mystery (the Shakespeares), have a great conversation (Einstein), have some laughs (Mae West), share an adventure (Michael Connelly)? Next I paused, troubled, because I didn’t have enough women on the list. I paused again because so few of my personal heroes made the list. Then I realized that maybe I could select someone living, which changed everything! Finally, I wished that the question included fictional characters.

At last I forced myself to make a damn choice, with two runners-up in case we have scheduling conflicts.

 First choice: Beatrix Potter. We would wander her country estate, while chatting and observing stuff; and I would watch her draw.

 Second choice: Thelonious Monk. We would have conversations I mostly didn’t understand while walking around New York; and then I would sit in on a gig.

 Third choice: Tolstoy during his last, visionary and/or crazy days when he lived at the train station. He would talk and I would take notes.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Home Is Where The Thoughts Stay

What I see this morning as I write this.

What I see this morning as I write this.

I love meeting new places, and so I am excited to be heading out for a week of work-related travel; however, there’s a part of me that never wants to leave home, and thus I must always shove myself out the door.

There is nothing special about my house. It’s a tiny, nondescript box. I’m always behind with my housework and yard work and I no longer pretend that I intend to catch up. It would be charitable to call the furniture antiques. At one time I had lots of Nice Stuff but multiple moves, kids, pets, and my waning interest in Stuff have all taken a toll.

But of course, that’s not what matters.

Home is where my kids grew up (when we stopped moving around), and where they stay when they need a place to. Home is where we marked their growth spurts on the wall, and now have a funny paint job as we paint around but never over those growth marks.

Home is where the cats and the dog reside, usually doing something goofy. This morning, two of the cats did some play-fighting in the backyard, on opposite sides of a tree trunk. They rose up like bears and batted at each other left right left right but mostly hit the tree trunk.

Home is where I sit on a patio and write novels, and blog posts, while listening to the morning birds or the evening freeway traffic, which really can sound like the ocean.

Home is where I get to choose my changes, or have that illusion. Home is where I can dress however I please, except maybe when a kid walks in out of the bright afternoon sun with a friend and I’m still in my jammies. Home is where I ignore the phone’s ring if that’s what I feel like doing.

Home is where I recharge, revive, restore, and become ready to go back out in the world.

The curious thing is that home is so portable. I have had many homes – big, small, fancy, plain – and they all have the same effect. A house is a building, a home is the state of mind.

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!