Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just How Careful Are You?

Are you self-published? Meaning do you publish your books yourself, either through Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace, NookBooks, or any of the other publishing formats accessible directly to the writer. If you are, how careful are you about the product you turn out?

Since I started reading whatever tweaked my interest, especially within the environment I've currently been swimming, meaning the different on line forums where books are advertised by my friends and acquaintances and other people who frequent the same sites, I've noticed the product has improved over the last few years. In the beginning, the documents and PDFs I read were really quite bad. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the story itself (most of the time), I'm talking about the product, the document, the book. Of course, most of the time, editing was the biggest issue in those early days, or at least that's what I noticed, and in those first days, if I noticed it, it was pretty bad.

Now, since I've had my Kindle, I see other things most of the time, not that editing isn't still something of an issue upon occasion, but usually it's just carelessness that grates my teeth these days. Nowadays, the eBook without a variety of formatting, or spacing, or paragraph indenting problems, is few and far between, and really very nice when I run across one.

To date, I've published two books all on my lonesome using CreateSpace (for paperback) as well as KDP for Kindle. Both allow me to look at what my book will look like as a finished product. Things I check for are:
  • Are the chapter headings at the beginning of the page?
  • Are my paragraphs all indented the way I like them to be?
  • If I used graphics, are they where I want them to be?
  • Is everything inside the margins prescribed by them?
  • Is anything at all out of place? (I once found a random line that didn't belong)
  • How about the header? (I once had to fix the indent there cause it was off center from the title)
  • How about the footer? Are your page numbers where you want them? I don't put page numbers in my eBooks.
That's not all though, that's just the kinds of things I look for while I'm there, but before I get there, I do a spelling and grammar recheck of my document. That clears all those things you've opted to ignore in the past. Now there's all those nice little red and green squiggly lines. Going through this step would have helped the book I'm reading right now quite a lot, because frequently the space is before the comma or period rather than after it. This is a byproduct of some formatting work that created more problems. I'm not sure what it is or how it got past the editor, but I've seen it more than just this time.

You also have to understand that those nifty little squiggly red lines won't find all typos. There are a lot of words that are official words, but they are not the word you want in that spot. One I've noticed in this book is a word I happen to like - belying - meaning 'to put a lie to' or 'show something as false or impossible' - in this case spelled 'bellying'. As you can see, the spelling isn't far off and they are both in the dictionary. Believe it or not, I even found a 'there/their' mistake. I was really quite surprised to find that one.

I do know that some of these typos are rather hard to spot. That's what makes a beta reader so valuable. There's nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to read through your manuscript, especially if they happen to be good with spelling. But in lieu of a fresh pair of eyes, you could accumulate a list of these kinds of typos and manually check for them. I strongly suggest you do this. At the very least, develop a list of your own writing weaknesses. I have one.

So writing your story is the fun part, but if you really care about your work, making sure the finished product is all it can be is the work part of your project, and none of it can be neglected. Take great care, and be very picky. The harder you work on this, the better the finished product will be. The byproduct of that will be a happy reader who just might tell a friend or two about your book, and that should put a smile on your face.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Dreams that Move Me

I went up the stairs toward the second story apartment. It was just like I remembered that day when I came here with my girlfriend, deep dark wooden banisters and carpet runners designed to fit each step, not the full sized carpet cut to run down the steps nailed into the contours. The wood was still published to a high shine.

I was just in time to meet a woman as she burst from the door above and ran down the stairs past me pulling a sweater on. Her path past me told the man that another person stood here. He hadn’t noticed that detail last time.

He looked over the rail. I backed up but I knew he could still see my feet. “Who are you?” he asked. The smell of alcohol was so strong, I could smell it from where I stood.

I went on up the stairs; this was why I was here.

As soon as I entered the apartment, he was pulling another glass from the cupboard. He handed it to me and turned for the fridge.

I turned to set the wine glass on the counter and saw two others sitting there already full. “You already have some here. Have you lost count? We can’t have that. We’ll start over.” I poured those two drinks down the drain.

He turned back from rummaging in the fridge and reached past me to fill my glass. This was his first time actually facing me. He looked at me with his bloodshot eyes. His hair was disheveled to say the least, and he probably hadn’t shaved in a couple days. His striped pajama shirt was buttoned with only two of its buttons and they weren’t lined up, and his bottoms might very well be on backwards. I found it odd, despite how obviously drunk he was, that he only had one black sock on.

Puzzled, he studied my face. “Do I know you?” He set the wine bottle down on the counter behind me.

Now I know I am no up town looker like the girl who had just left, not even like my girlfriend. I wasn’t his style at all. “We’ve met,” I said. “I heard you were drinking. In fact I heard several different accountings of your inebriation. Once upon a time you meant something to my girlfriend. Sandy. You do remember Sandy, don’t you? Since you meant something to her, I thought I’d come see for myself. You know, she still talks about you. I think if she were standing here instead of me, she’d be crying. I’d hate to see Sandy cry.”

I turned around to retrieve my drink. “I don’t much care for wine.” I poured it down the drain.

“Ah, well, um, that wine really needs to go back in the fridge.” He reached for the bottle.

“Well then, we can’t let it get cold.” I scooped the bottle out of his reach and poured it down the drain too. “Pretty bottle. I might have to keep that.” It was too. The cut glass would make a beautiful vase. I set it on the counter.

He turned back to the fridge. “Well then, can I interest you in some beer?” Drunk as he obviously was, he was quick with the bottle opener and had them flipped open and steaming cold in front of me, already one on the way to his lips. I snatched it from him and washed the wine down the drain with them.

“You’ve changed. Or have you? Maybe this is the you Sandy left. I admired you though.”

He headed for the bedroom. There were likely other drinks in there since the contents of his fridge were going down the drain so fast.

“You want to know what I admired about you? I thought you were almost perfect. You reminded me of what’s-his-name in that movie. Pretty Woman. You look a lot like him, you know. Heck, you almost have the same name. Dick Gear. You are the reason I even half remember his name. What is his first name anyway? I’ll have to look it up again one of these days.”

Dick headed directly for the bedside table and the half full bottle waiting there. In the dim light of the room, it looked like a bomb had gone off – a clothes bomb anyway. All the way around the large center of attraction, the rumpled bed that looked like it hadn’t been made in a month or more, were piles and drifts of clothes that looked like they’d been kicked there.

Even though the curtains were closed, blocking out the morning light, I could spot at least three empty bottles and more wine glassed among the clothes, and at least one more empty bottle under the bed – and yes, there was another glass down there too. What did he do when he ran out of glasses in the cupboard, order some more online? If he was this drunk, he wasn’t going to any store.

He turned around with his find and I was there to relieve him of it. “I remember that first day I saw you. You were so slick. I don’t think Sandy ever saw the girl you slipped past her. ‘Course you didn’t know I was down there on the stairs so I saw her. Sandy was so happy to be home; I couldn’t spoil it for her.”

He made a grab for the bottle, but I went back to the kitchen and upended it in the sink, leaving it to empty itself down the drain.

“You were the handsomest man, even with gray hair, I’d ever seen, I think. Your hair was immaculate. You were perfectly dressed, even your tie was centered – perfect. Sandy didn’t suspect a thing. How could she? That girl could have been a magazine salesgirl. But I saw. I saw how you snuck her out. I saw the utterly guilty look on her face when she saw me. But let’s get back to you. You had a beautiful smile. You want to know what was wrong with that smile though? That beautiful, charming smile, showing those perfect white teeth, never made it to your eyes, not even when you looked as Sandy. I knew, that first day, that Sandy was just another of your girls. The fact that she lived with you didn’t make any difference.”

I opened the refrigerator and started dumping the liquid contents down the drain as quickly as I could open the bottles.

“When was the last time you actually ate any real food?” I started in on the beer bottles. He had something for every possible occasion, and I knew there had to be more bottles in the cupboards, or somewhere.

He just stood there watching me.

“You mean something to her, therefore you mean something to me.”

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So yeah, my dreams take an odd turn sometimes. Where this one came from, I have no idea. I've been watching the Burn Notice series recently, and I haven't watched Pretty Woman in maybe a couple years now. The guy, Dick, really did remind me of Richard Gere in that movie; he could have been his twin or a stunt double, but the name was also given to me in the dream so the two were definitely not the same at all. My girlfriend's name was too, and I do have a girlfriend by that name, my longest standing girlfriend, and the only one of her kind. The picture in my head for this girlfriend, however, was the perfect model image of her - something neither of us were anywhere close to in all of our lives. She also never had any such an affair, and I never had the chance to meet any of her chosen mates. Her life has always been on the other end of the country from mine. We were fast friends in Junior High and stayed connected through collage. We lost contact after that as I went east and she went north. Then I went way north and she went south. We reconnected through my mom and would exchange whole books for letters. Now we stay in touch through Facebook. Her life and interests now are very different from mine, but I still love her. I can see myself doing something like this for her, even though she would never know.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Where to Begin

I've heard this question rather frequently recently. People think they have a story in mind but they just don't know how to start.

My reply is to pick a beginning >just pick one< Two of the people who approached me wanted to do something of a memoir, and in one case it was important to paint an early foundation behind a family relationship so that later issues would be fully understood. The other one, I think, simply wants people to understand him, and so a beginning might be kind of hard to nail down, but still, a beginning needs to be THE beginning - first thoughts - first realizations - first conflicts.

This holds for starting a fictional story too, no matter the genre you choose to write in. Pick a beginning - somewhere where the crux of the matter starts - somewhere where you first understand that a certain chain of events has come together.

I've picked several different points of beginning: A voluntary medical procedure which changes everything - a chain of deaths that forces my character to make hard choices - love at first sight - murder - the fall of the royal family, though my character did his best to avoid stepping into his responsibilities. Those are just a few, but you get the idea.

For me, starting a story was always rather easy. Some idea would give me a scene and then I would simply have a suitable character work out the details of getting to or from that scene. The biggest issue is agreeing on an ending. Sometimes my characters decide on something else, but it's still a goal.

Some people like to do a story outline. I prefer to drive in the dark with the headlights on high, but something of an outline might be useful as something like mini-goals to achieve within the bigger story. Whatever works for you, by all means have at it, but don't spend so much time on your outline that you get tired of the story before you start writing.

Recently I've offered my services for hire, but I do also try to be available just to help out. I do enjoy helping other writers however I can.

How do you come up with your beginnings? Inquiring minds wanna know.

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