Codewords and Mental Shorthand #amwriting

Many of us are in the revision process, working on the novels we wrote during November’s NaNoWriMo. These novels are disjointed and uneven, but they contain the essence of what can be a great book—with a lot of work.

depthPart1revisionsLIRF05252021On November 1st, when we began setting the first words on the blank page, our minds formed images, scenes we attempted to describe. In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker notes that we are not born with language, so we are NOT engineered to think in words alone. We also think in images.

For each author, certain words become a kind of mental shorthand, code words used with frequency in the first draft because they are efficient. Code words are small packets of letters that contain a world of images and meaning for us. These words help us get the story down more quickly when we are in the grip of creativity. Code words are a speedy way to convey a wide range of information.

Because we use them, we can get the first draft of a story written from beginning to end before we lose the fire for it.

I have mentioned before that one codeword I sometimes find in my first draft prose is the word “got.” It’s a word that my family used and is ingrained in my subconsciousness as a tool word.

It is a tool word because it serves numerous purposes and conveys many images with only three letters. “Got” is on my global search list of codewords. The words in the list are signals to me, indications that a scene needs to be reworded to express my true intent.

Got can signify understanding or comprehension, as in “she got it.” Some other instances where I might use “got” as a code word for my second draft:

  • He got the dog into the car. (put, placed)
  • He got the mail. (acquired)
  • He got (became) In an instance like this, an entire scene must be written, one I didn’t take the time to write during the rush of NaNoWriMo.

Codewords are the author’s multi-tool—a compact tool that combines several individual functions in a single unit. One little word, one small packet of letters serves many purposes and conveys a myriad of mental images.

Every author thinks differently, so your codewords will be different from mine. One way to find your secret codewords is to have the Read Aloud tool read each section. I find most of my inadvertent crutch words that way. When you hear them read aloud, they really stand out.

ozford-american-writers-thesaurusOnce you find them, you need to go to the thesaurus to find alternatives that better express your intent.

A first draft codeword high up my personal list is “felt.” Let’s go to Merriam-Webster’s Online Thesaurus:

  • Synonyms:
    • endured
    • experienced
    • knew
    • saw
    • suffered
    • tasted
    • underwent,
    • witnessed
  • Words Related to felt:
    • regarded
    • viewed
    • accepted
    • depended
    • trusted
    • assumed
    • presumed
    • presupposed
    • surmised

We all overuse certain words without realizing it. That is where revisions come in and is where writing takes effort. You’ll discover that some words have very few synonyms that work.

When you discover one of your first draft codewords, go to the thesaurus, find all the synonyms you can, and list them in a document for easy access. If it is a word like smile or shrug, you have your work cut out, but consider making a small list of visuals.

Consider the word “smile.” It’s a common code word, a five-letter packet of visualization. We can use it to show happiness, but also it can suggest so many other moods and unspoken emotions.

Synonyms for the word smile are few and usually don’t show what I mean. When I find that word, it sometimes requires a complete revisualization of the scene. What am I really trying to convey with the word smile? I look for a different way to express my intention, which can be frustrating.

Facial expressions are only one of the many ways to display happiness, anger, spite, and other emotions. We shouldn’t rely only on a character’s face to show their moods.

Yes, their eyebrows raise or draw together, foreheads crease, and eyes sometimes twinkle. However, posture conveys a great deal. Shoulders sometimes slump, and hands often tremble. Sometimes characters refuse to look at the person they are speaking with.

Sometimes the brief image of a smile is the best expression to convey your intention.

Nothing is more off-putting than reading a story where a person’s facial expressions take center stage. As a reader, I’m more concerned with what is happening inside the characters than about the melodramatic outward display.

Think about the body language an onlooker would see if a character were angry.

  • Crossed arms.
  • A stiff posture.
  • Narrowed eyes.

A little list of those mood indicators can keep you from losing your momentum and will readily give you the words you need to show all the vivid imagery you see in your mind.

emotion-thesaurus-et-alIf you don’t have it already, a book you might want to invest in is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Some of the visuals they list aren’t my cup of tea, but they know how to show what people are thinking.

The revision process is sometimes the most challenging aspect of writing because we are also looking at scene composition and framing (which was covered in my previous post). It takes time to revisualize each scene when we are also looking for codewords and rewriting entire paragraphs.

But codewords don’t always need changing—sometimes, a smile is a smile, and that is okay.

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Composition and Scene Framing #amwriting

Composition is defined as the way the elements inside a frame are exhibited to the viewer – the layout of a picture. In the second draft of a novel or story, you must consider what to show and how to arrange the visuals to achieve the best effect. The environment (world) against which the events and actions are shown is the frame that enhances the scene.

scene framingEach chapter is comprised of one or more scenes. These scenes have an arc to them: action and reaction. These arcs of action and reaction begin at point A and end at point B. Each launching point will land on a slightly higher point of the story arc.

Each scene occurs within the framework of the environment, which must be shaped to emphasize the emotion of the narrative. This is called scene framing.

Our written narrative is the camera through which the scene is viewed.

We want the characters’ interactions to convey the most emotional impact. Also, we want to keep the wordiness to a minimum. We supplement our descriptions by using the environment to highlight the characters’ moods and darken or lighten the atmosphere.

When you target the focus of the scenery to frame the action, you draw attention to the subtext you want to convey, beneath and around the ruminations and conversations.

Today’s example is taken from Anne McCaffrey’s 1988 novel, Dragonsdawn. The Dragonriders of Pern series is recognized as science fiction because of its knowledge of the nature of the star Rukbat and its planetary system. Many elements in the earlier books are primarily fantasy in origin as they deal with dragons and telepathy.

However, the early novels also detail the gradual rediscovery of lost technology, the revelation of their forgotten history. Dragonsdawn reinforces the science fiction nature of the series by explaining the science behind McCaffrey’s dragons and why they were genetically engineered to be what they are.

The story follows several POV characters, giving us a comprehensive view of the colony’s successes and failures. For the first ten years, the planet Pern seems a paradise to its new colonists, who are seeking to return to a less technologically centered, agrarian-based way of life. They believe Pern is the place where they can leave their recent wars and troubles behind.

A decade after arriving on the planet, however, a new threat appears. It is a deadly, unstoppable spore that periodically rains from the skies in the form of a silvery Thread that mindlessly devours every carbon-based thing it touches.

TDragonsdawn_coverhe scenes we are looking at today have two distinct environments to frame them: first the planet and then the abandoned colony ship, Yokohama. These scenes are filled with emotion, high stakes, and rising dread for the sure and inevitable tragedy that we hope will be averted. Not all the drama is in Sallah Telgar’s direct interaction with Avril Bitra. The environment heightens the drama, the sense of impending doom.

Before the advent of Thread, Avril disappeared, gathering resources and intending to leave the planet with as much treasure as she can carry. She has been pretty much forgotten by the others but has an agenda and refuses to be thwarted.

In the first scene of this chapter, we see Sallah on her way to work, leaving her children at the daycare. We zoom out and see Kenjo, the pilot, putting the last of the precious fuel into the only working shuttle, the Mariposa. This shuttle has been refitted for one last science expedition: to discover the source of the Deadly threads that rain down upon the planet periodically and to retrieve a sample. If this mission fails, there will be no other.

The camera moves out, and we see Sallah as she observes a woman she recognizes as Avril Bitra slipping through the abandoned shuttles on the landing grid. The view widens again as we see Avril following the pilot, Kenjo, who vanishes. We then see her entering the Mariposa alone.

Sallah makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to follow her, to see what Avril is up to.

Here is where the sparse visual mentions of the environment become crucial as they emphasize the stark reality of Sallah’s situation. Sallah enters the shuttle just as the airlock door closes, catching and crushing her heel. She manages to pull it out so that she isn’t trapped, but she is severely injured. Later, the dark, abandoned interior of the Yokohama reinforces Sallah’s gut-wrenching realization that her five children will grow up without a mother.

Subtext is the hidden story, the hints and allegations, the secret reasoning. It’s the images we see of the environment and how it affects the atmosphere. Subtext is the content that supports the dialogue and gives purpose to the personal events.

Scene framing is the way we stage the people and visual objects. What furnishings, sounds, and odors are the visual necessities for that scene?

Whatever you mention of the environment focuses the reader’s attention when the characters enter the frame and affects the reader’s interpretation of a scene. In this chapter of Dragonsdawn, we see the junk and scrap on the grid and the decaying shuttles. Two shuttles have been dismantled and parted out and used to keep the few cargo sleds they have converted to Thread-fighting gunships in working order. One shuttle remains in usable condition.

Sensory details are important, showing how the environment affects or is affected by the characters. Conversely, not mentioning the scenery during a conversation brings the camera in for a closeup, focusing solely on the speaker or thinker.

A balance must be struck in how your characters are framed in each scene. We flow from wide-angle, seeing Salla floating in freefall, blood pooling in her boot. The camera moves in to closer up, showing Avril’s rage at the fact that she can’t control the course of the Mariposa, which is programmed to dock at the Yokohama.

Plot-exists-to-reveal-characterWe see Avril taunting Sallah for her matronly body and move out again to see Avril tying a cord to Sallah’s crushed foot and forcing her to make the navigational calculations for Avril’s escape. We move close up and hear the interaction, Sallah pretending to do as Avril asks but really setting her enemy’s doom in action. The camera moves to the wide view again, and we hear the interaction with her frantic husband on the ground. We are caught up in her determination to seize this only chance, using her dying breaths to get the information about the thread spores to the scientists on the ground.

Atmospheric Mood: Ask yourself why you have placed those things in that scene. Why are they important, and what are you conveying to the reader with that visual composition? What subliminal elements does the environment contain that clue the reader into the deeper emotions in that scene? What subtext will carry over from this scene to the next?

Scene framing is the way you compose the scene. How you use the setting to place your characters supports and reinforces the subtext of the conversations and events and is what makes a scene feel powerful.


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#FineArtFriday: Fishermen at Sea by J. M. W. Turner 1796

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_Fishermen_at_Sea_-_Google_Art_ProjectArtist: J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851)

Title: Fishermen at Sea

Genre: marine art

Depicted place: The Needles, off the Isle of Wight

Date: 1796

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 914 mm (35.98 in); Width: 1,222 mm (48.11 in)

What I love about this painting:

I love seascapes, in all their many forms. This particular painting is dark in many ways beyond the obvious. It is a night scene, and it tells us a story of the dangers that fishermen face. Fish don’t care about the weather and some fish can only be caught at night.

If you must go out in the stormy dark, sometimes the catch is death.

We see an event unfolding by moonlight, observed by three seagulls sailing on the wind. Two boats, one a small vessel and the other a larger boat, tossing upon the rough sea, both with their sails furled. This tells us they fear being driven onto the rocks known as the Needles.

A line has been cast toward the larger boat, but no one is tending it. Nearly all the art scholars say it is a fishing line, but it seems rather stout for a fishing line, and there is only one line in the water although two ships are braving the storm. Waves threaten to wash everything overboard on both boats.

I’m a storyteller; to my imagination this scene looks less like a fishing expedition and more like a rescue, as if the rope has been cast toward the other vessel to bring it close.

This is the beauty of great art. It inspires the imagination to think beyond the obvious, to look outside the accepted view and to find new ways of looking at things.

The warm glow of lantern in the stern of the smaller boat casts little light and is the only warmth in this scene. The moon has emerged from behind the clouds and illuminates the action.

Whether this is merely a rough night of fishing or a rescue at sea, this a powerful moment of fear and bravery.

About this painting via Wikipedia:

Fishermen at Sea, sometimes known as the Cholmeley Sea Piece, is an early oil painting by English artist J. M. W. Turner. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 and has been owned by the Tate Gallery since 1972. The painting measures 36 by 48.125 inches (91.44 cm × 122.24 cm). It was the first painting by Turner to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. It was praised by contemporary critics and founded Turner’s reputation, as both an oil painter and a painter of maritime scenes. Art historian Andrew Wilton has commented that the image: “Is a summary of all that had been said about the sea by the artists of the 18th century.”

The painting depicts a moonlit view of fishermen on rough seas near the Needles, of the Isle of Wight. It juxtaposes the fragility of human life, represented by the small boat with its flickering lamp, and the sublime power of nature, represented by the dark clouded sky, the wide sea, and the threatening rocks in the background. The cold light of the Moon at night contrasts with the warmer glow of the fishermen’s lantern. [1]

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851), known in his time as William Turner,[a] was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist. He is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper. He was championed by the leading English art critic John Ruskin from 1840, and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.

Turner was born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest lower-middle-class family. He lived in London all his life, retaining his Cockney accent and assiduously avoiding the trappings of success and fame. A child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 15. During this period, he also served as an architectural draftsman. He earned a steady income from commissions and sales, which due to his troubled, contrary nature, were often begrudgingly accepted. He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828. He travelled to Europe from 1802, typically returning with voluminous sketchbooks.

Intensely private, eccentric and reclusive, Turner was a controversial figure throughout his career. He did not marry, but fathered two daughters, Eveline (1801–1874) and Georgiana (1811–1843), by his housekeeper Sarah Danby. He became more pessimistic and morose as he got older, especially after the death of his father, after which his outlook deteriorated, his gallery fell into disrepair and neglect, and his art intensified. In 1841, Turner rowed a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as present at any property in that year’s census. He lived in squalor and poor health from 1845, and died in London in 1851 aged 76. Turner is buried in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. [2]

Credits and Attributions:

Fishermen at Sea, J. M. W. Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Fishermen at Sea,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 21, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “J. M. W. Turner,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 21, 2022).


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The Business Side of the Business, part 2: Inventory #writerlife

The pandemic will end someday. Whether you are traditionally published or indie, if you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you will have an inventory of books on hand to manage and account for at the end of the year. This can be quite a headache if you have more than one or two books to cart around with you.

Its a BusinessBut more importantly, even if you are traditionally published, you pay for the books you sell at shows. 

The good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information you will generate for your tax report is discussed the previous post, The Business Sequence for Writers. Ellen King Rice has given us a great framework for keeping our business records straight.

There is only one more skill to have, and this is only for those who intend to sell books in person. A wise author understands that good records ensure a successful business and sets up the bookkeeping system before they go to book fairs. They have a list of the stock on hand, what books are on reorder, the day they were ordered, and how long it takes for them to ship. Also, you should keep an account of your cost for each book, both for tax purposes and insurance purposes, if the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator. However, a green or yellow ledger book with eight to twelve columns is already set up for you to begin using.

I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in a green or yellow ledger book of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). Then, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure that we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable.

I use Excel for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several costs associated with it. What follows are several screenshots of a simple way to organize a spreadsheet:


The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list each book you take to shows by the title. We will use Huw the Bard as our example book.

On the same line as the title, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the length of the book and the trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay KDP or Ingram Sparks or your publisher for that book: $4.69

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 19

Column 4 is the sum of column three times column two: Inventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a certain limit, say $5,000.00. My stock on hand never exceeds that limit.

This is why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what the book sells for at bookstores: $12.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions, and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.

Did you have to collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County. Washington State has no income tax, so all our state’s revenues come from businesses and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase. Make a note of the city or county where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to the Department of Revenue. If you are smart, you will make another page with these columns:


At the bottom of the page for both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set the money collected as sales tax aside because it is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you are out there doing shows and signings every week.

The bookkeeping side of your business should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money on stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud as are all my business and other records. It looks like this:


Something we rarely consider is the random natural disaster, but we must be prepared. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss. Many authors are more prolific than I am. I have only 12 titles, including several anthologies that my work was published in. For most of us, replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is an expense that is difficult to carve out of the family budget unless we have sold enough to cover that cost.

Theft is rare, as people are usually quite decent at conventions and trade shows. I’ve only had one book stolen from a table at a show in all these years—a $15.00 (show cost) loss (or $6.80 my cost).

While it disturbed me on one level, I was a bit honored that someone wanted my book that badly. The experience left me confused as to how I was supposed to feel. But on the good side, it was nice to know that shoplifters are readers too!


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The Business Sequence for Writers, guest post by Ellen King Rice #writerlife

Today I am featuring an excellent post by my guest, Ellen King Rice, on the business side of this business. Ellen is a successful indie author of an engrossing series of mushroom thrillers set in the Pacific Northwest.

Its a BusinessShe also wrote the brilliant, hilarious standalone novel, Larry’s Post Rapture Pet Sitting Service.

So, without further yak-yak from me, here is Ellen King Rice and her advice on how to treat this business like a business.

*** *** ***

Moving from hobbyist to professional can be challenging in any field. For indie authors, financial numbers and formal paperwork matter. There are several steps, and the sequence of them can make life easier or . . . not.

The first step in finding a path through the thicket of “business stuff” is to remember past challenges conquered. For many people this may be recalling a first bicycle ride or an early cooking effort. For others there may be a wince as we remember that first round of playing “Hot Cross Buns” on an instrument. Whatever your early challenge was, you didn’t know everything when you started, but you learned quickly.

Today, let’s build a ramp up to a business set up, including tax prep work.

  1. Author’s name.

Search your name on the internet. Make sure you are aware of other writers, activists, artists and business people who share your name. In my case, there were several, including one who shared my middle initial. After some agonizing, I decided my author’s name would be Ellen King Rice even as my friends and family know me as Ellen Rice.

  1. Publisher’s Name

I highly recommend that you chose something other than your author’s name. This gives the writer flexibility to write in more than one genre. There are also times when the publishing house name gives a bit more cachet to projects. I chose Undergrowth Publishing.

  1. Tax Number

This requirement will vary by nation. In the United States, you will want an EIN tax number from the Internal Revenue Service. There is an on-line application here: IRS EIN application online.

The EIN is a Federal Tax ID number used to identify businesses.

Having a Publisher’s name and Tax number helps with getting a business license and a bank account. Of course, I didn’t know this, so I did things backwards and sideways. I tried to get a tax EIN and failed when I was faced with the question “What is your name?”  I highly recommend brisk walks and much chocolate to break up paperwork-filing sessions.

  1. Business license

Again, requirements will vary by location and jurisdiction. If you are resident of the State of Washington, you can find the details here:

I chose Sole Proprietor for my business, but some writers choose to form a Limited Liability Company.

Do you need city or county licenses? In my area, obtaining a state business license triggered a letter from the city demanding I purchase a local license. It took some research, but I determined that the local vendor’s license did not apply to my circumstances (I live in the county, and I sell books on-line).

It’s wise to learn about your community rules, but often these rule sets only apply to those who are selling in person (i.e., your online sales aren’t part of the local tax structure). Even then, there are times when small vendors or special events like an arts fair are exempted.

  1. Bank account

With your writer/publisher names sorted, a Tax EIN and your business license number, getting a business bank account should be straightforward. Mine is with the Washington State Employees Credit Union. I was able to open the business account with $50 and a $5 savings reserve. This gives me an account for Amazon expenses and deposits. I also asked for a dozen checks, which the credit union provided as a courtesy.

Credit card? A business debit card is easy to request once your account is set up, but a business credit card is hard to get. So far, I’ve managed without one.

  1. Spreadsheet and Tax Forms

Last steps! At this point, it is wise to print off the small business end-of-year-tax form that you’ll be using so you can see the information required.

In the United States, this is the Schedule C “Profit or Loss from Business” form from the IRS website. We can use this form to set up a spreadsheet, by category.

We want things set up so a “Sum this category” command will make it easy to fill out the Schedule C at the end of the year.

Details matter. Take some time looking over the Tax form for your situation. Think of it as your End-of-Year Party destination. A party in the tropics requires different prep than a party with penguins. Knowing the lines to be filled makes for clever spreadsheet set up. And, yes, it feels wonderful to be fast and accurate at year’s end.

For Americans, pay attention to Schedule C, Part I which asks what your “gross receipts or sales” are (line 1) and your “cost of goods” (say, printing 30 copies of your book) for line 4.

Next look at Part II. Lines 8 to 27 list different expense categories you can report. Line 8 is Advertising, so I want an “advertising” category when I set up my writer’s spreadsheet for the year. Line 11 is “Contract Labor”, so I’ll set up that category too. My book cover designer fees can go here. Line 18 is “Office expense.”  I set up Office Expense as a category and that’s the designation to house all my paper and printer cartridge charges.

DEFINITELY check in with a qualified tax advisor (which I am not!) to make sure what you are doing is correct before you file your taxes. All I’m encouraging here is to use the Schedule C as a guide to setting up bookkeeping for easy end-of-year number crunching.
Once you have slogged your way through all six of these steps, you should be well on your way as a writing professional. Be sure to celebrate!

Footnote for American tax filers: What happens if I don’t make money? After filling in Part I (income) and Part II (Expenses), I typically show a Net loss (line 31).  That loss amount will go onto a Schedule One form, and from there to Line 8 of the 1040 form as a negative number, which will lower my taxable income.

Thank you, Ellen, for a wonderful and enlightening post. If we intend to sell books at book signings and conventions, we have a business. If we want to avoid problems with our respective taxing agencies, we must jump through the proper hoops.

The next post in this series will talk about book signings and book fairs, and tracking inventory for both tax and insurance purposes. When the pandemic eases and we can go back to having signings and in-person events, we need to manage our costs and protect our investments. This something we all need to consider no matter where we live in this ever-smaller world.

EKR_author_photo_2022About Ellen King Rice:

I am a wildlife biologist who suffered a spinal cord injury many years ago. Although my days of field work are over, biology continues to intrigue me.

I am fascinated by sub-cellular level responses to ecosystem changes. I also like the predictability of animal behavior, once it is understood.

A fast-paced story filled with twists is a fun way to stimulate laughs, gasps and understanding. I work to heighten ecological awareness. I want the details and your new insights to remain in your thoughts forever.

You can find me and my books at

​Please join me on Instagram at:

And on Facebook:



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#FineArtFriday: Red hollyhocks in the garden of the Ancher family at Markvej in Skagen by Anna Ancher ca. 1916

Anna_Ancher_-_Røde_stokroser_i_haven_ved_Ancher-familiens_hus_på_Markvej_i_SkagenArtist: Anna Ancher  (1859–1935)

Title: English: Red hollyhocks in the garden of the Ancher family at Markvej in Skagen.

Date: circa 1916

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 63 cm (24.8 in); Width: 47 cm (18.5 in)

Collection: Unknown

Inscriptions: Signature bottom right: A. Ancher

What I love about this painting:

January tends to be dark and rainy here in the Pacific Northwest. We were snowed and iced in for two weeks, and then four inches of rain fell in one day and the floods came—boy, do I need a summer day! So, I found us this one—a perfect day in Skagen a century ago.

She is mostly known for her interiors, but Anna Ancher captured the essence of summer in this painting. Along with foxgloves, hollyhocks are my favorite summer flowers. Hers are beautiful, juxtaposed against the blue sky. Her eye for color was amazing. The yellow and red flowers perfectly complement the color of the building behind the garden.

I feel so much better for having had this glorious day in Anna’s serene garden.

About the Artist via Wikimedia: Anna Ancher preferred to paint interiors and simple themes from the everyday lives of the Skagen people, especially fishermen, women, and children. She was intensely preoccupied with exploring light and color, as in Interior with Clematis (1913). She also created more complex compositions such as A Funeral (1891). Anna Ancher’s works often represented Danish art abroad. Ancher has been known for portraying similar civilians from the Skagen art colony in her works, including an old blind woman.

While she studied drawing for three years at the Vilhelm Kyhn College of Painting in Copenhagen, she developed her own style and was a pioneer in observing the interplay of different colors in natural light. She also studied drawing in Paris at the atelier of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes along with Marie Triepcke, who would marry Peder Severin Krøyer, another Skagen painter.

In 1880 she married fellow painter Michael Ancher, whom she met in Skagen. They had one child, daughter Helga Ancher. Despite pressure from society that married women should devote themselves to household duties, she continued painting after marriage. [1]

Credits and Attributions:

Anna Ancher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Anna Ancher – Røde stokroser i haven ved Ancher-familiens hus på Markvej i Skagen.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed January 14, 2022).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Anna Ancher,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 14, 2022).

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The Author’s Toolbox: Version Control #amwriting

The new year has arrived, and we are getting back to work on our NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Over the next few months, we will generate many new files that pertain to this work. I meet many authors who don’t know how to properly save files. Unfortunately, they often lose or save over the top of important documents.

tree_of_filing_LIRFIn an instant, an entire manuscript is gone, wiping away hundreds of hours of work on their labor of love.

Hardware disasters or computer failures are unavoidable and always take us by surprise. That is why we must have a consistent system for saving and backing up the files in each project. If the computer dies, your files won’t be lost forever. You will have a backup.

Naming files consistently is a skill most people never had a reason to learn. They have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

Fortunately, I worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for many years. I was responsible for naming and saving my employers’ files in a consistent and manageable way.

I generate work in a variety of subgenres. Each project is intended for submission to different places, so I have a large number of files in my writing folder.

This is where a logical system of version control comes in handy.

“Version control” is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. The worst thing that can happen to an author is accidentally saving an old file over the top of your new file or deleting the file entirely.

First, you must save regularly. I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a cloud-based file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced. My files are always accessible even when working offline, so if the power goes out, I can access my work for as long as my computer’s battery holds out.

I work out of Dropbox, so when I save and close a document, my work is automatically saved and backed up to the cloud.

You can use any storage system for your backup—Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive. But today, we are discussing how to name your files so they are consistent and easy to identify.

You can make many different configurations for your filing system. Your decision as to what works best for you should ultimately be based on what you’re filing, how many files you have and how many sub-categories (subfolders) your system needs to be broken down into.

Detailed below is the system I use for saving my writing files.

version_control_3A filing system is quite simple, rather like a tree from the ground up. For most documents, my system is a standard office-type system that consists of:


My first draft of any manuscript will be given a Master File with a working title, a handle to carry it by, such as Ivan’s Story.

Within that master file, I have every version of the original manuscript and subfolders to contain the old versions and any research that pertains to that manuscript. One of my current works in progress is on version 18. It may never see publication.

Every version of that novel has some good things that I had to set aside for the sake of the story arc, but I never delete old files. You never know when you will need something you have already written. So, when I go back to work on that novel, I will have every version of it available in the HA_old_files subfolder because the file name of the current manuscript in the master file shows what version we are looking at:  HA_version_18 (Heaven’s Altar version 18).

I make a separate subfolder for my work when it’s in the editing process. That subfolder contains two subfolders, one for the chapters the editor sends me in their raw state with all her comments, and one for the finished work with the completed revisions. My editor copies and saves each individual chapter to a separate new document, giving them a specific name, such as RoA_edit1_IL_01-10-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, Irene Luvaul edit 1, January 10, 2022.)

She does this because she edits one or two chapters a day and sends it to me that evening. I make the revisions she has suggested and save the chapter into a new file, such as RoA_chapter_1_cjj_revised_jan-11-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, chapter 1, Connie J. Jasperson, revised January 11, 2022.)

We don’t lose the order of chapters because we have a reliable system for naming files, and we ALWAYS use it.

One thing to be aware of is to save it as an actual Word DOCUMENT and not a Template. If you save it as a template, you will get a warning the document is read-only, and it won’t let you save it.  That is quite frustrating but is simple to resolve. Just make sure you are clicking on .docx instead of template.

Libraries’ is the screen that opens when you click “Save As” and is where you go to manage your documents, music, pictures, and other files. You can browse your files the same way you would in a folder, or you can view your files arranged by properties like date, type, and author.  These pictures, above and below, are of File Explorer libraries.

version_control_4Name your files consistently and save each version in a separate folder within the master folder. Below is the master file for Valley of Sorrows.

version_control_5You may create many versions of your manuscript. YOU MUST manage your versions with meticulous care, or you will lose files, have to rewrite sections you just wrote, and which were brilliant, or any number of horrible, irritating situations.

These tragedies are not caused by your word processing program, so don’t blame your computer. They are caused either by you not knowing how to prevent them from happening or inattentiveness when saving files.

But now you know how to avoid the heartache of version control disasters.


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The author’s website #blogging #amwriting

January is a good time to think about your career as an author, even if you must still hold down a full-time job. Authors who want to find readers should have a website and perhaps a little blog. The website is more than just a pain in the neck that you haven’t figured out yet.

blogging memeIt’s a platform where you can advertise your books and discuss your interests, and most importantly, talk about what you are writing.

If cost is a problem, don’t sweat it. WordPress offers free blogs and free theme templates, so with a small amount of effort and a little self-education, you can have a nice-looking website. I began in 2011 with no website skills whatsoever, but I can hold my own now.

I have made a personal commitment to post three times a week on this blog. This allows me to rant about the craft of writing and gives me a place to talk about my growing love of fine art.

My first blog failed in 2010 because writing about current affairs has never interested me. Journalism is not my strength, but my unlamented first publisher wanted me to write about politics, etc.


What I learned from that otherwise-negative blogging experience is important. When I stopped trying to fit into a mold someone else had designed for me and began writing about my interests, I learned to love blogging. When I made that connection and commitment to writing about what I enjoy, I began to grow as a writer.

This blog never fails to provide me with a sharp dose of reality. I proofread my own work, run it through Grammarly, have the Read-Aloud function of my word-processing program read it back to me, and then publish it.

Still, I drop words, phrase things incomprehensibly, and misspell things.

Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Writing blogposts requires me to become a thinking author, as well as a pantser. I can write using the “stream-of-consciousness” method or from an outline of whatever interests me at the time. I do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

Readers like short articles. I have found that a reasonable post length varies from about 500 words to not much more than 1,000. Having that limit forces me to keep my area of discussion narrow. Also, topics that try to sidetrack me in the writing process often become posts in their own right.

This constraint helps me when writing flash fiction. Most publishers of flash fiction only want stories that top out at no more than 1,000 words in length. When I first began writing flash fiction, telling the entire story in so few words was often an issue. Writing blog posts really helped me learn that skill.

For me, writing blog posts isn’t that difficult per se. If I’m fired up about the subject, I can knock one out in less than an hour.

Finding new and interesting content can be a challenge. Sometimes, I consider cutting back to publishing only on Mondays and Fridays. I have written posts on nearly every aspect of the craft and worry about repeating myself.

But then, a complex subject is raised and can’t be dealt with in only 500 – 1,000 words, and I get fired up again.

strange thoughts 2I love to see what questions people might want to have answered. Sometimes topics crop up at my writing group that no one has an answer to, and then I get to do a little research—my favorite thing. Other times I find interesting questions in the writers’ forums that I frequent.

During the week, I make notes as I come across topics that might make a good blog post. The only day I write blog posts is Sunday. Usually, writing the posts for the week only involves the morning.

If you are a blogger who only posts once a week or once a month, writing your blog post should only take an hour (or less).

I spell-check and self-edit my posts as well as possible. Then I go to my website and preschedule them.

You can do this too. Use the tools that WordPress or whatever platform hosts your website offers to schedule your posts in advance. They will post without your having to babysit them.

Prescheduling allows me to work on my real job the rest of the week. (Writing novels, baking bread, cooking, and doing laundry.)

If you are an author, you might consider having a little blog as part of your website. You don’t have to blog as frequently as I do.

Your website is your store, your voice, and your public presence. We write novels and want people to find and read our work. Readers will find you and your books on your website. It’s your job to give them a reason to come and look at your books.

Authors regularly complain that it’s hard to gain readers when you first begin to blog. That is true but if you keep at it, you gain readers. If you write it, readers will come.

When we have a limited audience, gaining readers can feel like climbing Mount Everest.

In the world of blogging, as in everything else, we start out small and gain readers as we go along—but we gain them more quickly if we keep the content updated at least bi-monthly.

My advice is to write short posts, schedule them for a particular day and time and not worry about how many hits, likes, or comments you get. That’s a stress you don’t need. Instead, write your posts as if every person on the planet is going to read them. Just post them and forget about them until it’s time to post the next one. Don’t even look at the stats.

Once you’ve been at it for six months, you have a history of stats to look at. THAT is when you gauge what topics do best, and make sure the time the blog goes live is a good slot. You want to post it when people are looking for something short to read, like when they’re riding the bus/train to or from work.

Readers will find you, and you will be doing one positive thing to advance your career during this pandemic.

Authors want to gain readers, so we must use every opportunity to get the word out. Updating your website twice a month to discuss what you’re writing and how life treats you is interesting to readers.

softwarewordcloudIf you feel that it’s too much work, consider how you update your other social media. Try posting a haiku, a tweet-length post, or an Instagram-style post once or twice a week. Any social media platform post can be converted to serve as a blog post.

It’s your opportunity to connect with people who want to read your work. But beyond that, I’ve met wonderful people from all over the world through this platform!


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#FineArtFriday: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour by Anna Ancher 1891

Anna_Ancher_-_Sunlight_in_the_blue_room_-_Google_Art_ProjectArtist: Anna Ancher:

Title: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour

Alternate TitleSunlight in the Blue Room

Date: 1891

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: w58.8 x h65.2 cm (Without frame)

Collection: Skagens Museum

Inscriptions: A. Ancher 1891

What I love about this painting:

It is a painting that must be viewed from a distance, as only then does it come into focus. I love the way the light falls on the wall, the shadow of a plant silhouetted there. Helga’s golden hair stands out in contrast to the blue of the walls and matching blue of her dress. Who is the woman in the image on the wall? Is it a picture of grandmother?

This is definitely a blue room, a shade of blue with a kind of depth and boldness to it. It must have been a colorful home.

I love all of Anna Ancher’s work. She painted the humanity in the small everyday things, such a daughter sitting near a window, crocheting. She melded art with homemaking, proving that even in an era of oppression women could be artists to be reckoned with.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

As indicated by its full title: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour (Solskin i den blå stue. Helga Ancher ved strikketøjet i bedstemoders stue), the painting depicts Anna’s daughter Helga knitting in her grandmother’s room. With her back to the observer, the child is busy crocheting. Despite its everyday subject, the painting is one of Anna Ancher’s most captivating masterpieces with its many shades of blue and the sense of tranquility it conveys. Devoid of action, the theme is essentially the play of light in the room. The only indication of the outside world is the light streaming through the window. Mette Bøgh Jensen, curator of Skagens Museum, explains that Anna Ancher’s interior paintings are “more about the colour and light than anything else”. The artist’s main interest is “not in replicating the reality of the room or wall, or even the light, but rather what is left when these things are stripped away and all that remains are colour and form”. Bøgh Jensen continues, “Anna Ancher’s art is unlike that of anyone else. In its essence it is tied to the special world of motifs in Skagen: the fishermen’s families, the harvesters, the heathers, the special colours, and the brilliant summer light.”

In her Concise Dictionary of Women Artists, Delia Gaze assesses Anna Ancher’s achievements as remarkable “in the modernity of her idiom, with its reduced, abstracting forms and bold expressive colours, singling her out as one of the most innovative painters of her generation, exceeding most of her male colleagues, including her husband” [1]

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Anna Ancher (18 August 1859 – 15 April 1935) was a Danish artist associated with the Skagen Painters, an artist colony on the northern point of Jylland, Denmark. She is considered to be one of Denmark’s greatest visual artists.

Anna Kirstine Brøndum was born in Skagen, Denmark, the daughter of Ane Hedvig Møller (1826–1916) and Erik Andersen Brøndum (1820–1890). She was the only one of the Skagen Painters who was born and grew up in Skagen, where her father owned the Brøndums Hotel. The artistic talent of Anna Ancher became obvious at an early age and she became acquainted with pictorial art via the many artists who settled to paint in Skagen, in the north of Jylland.

While she studied drawing for three years at the Vilhelm Kyhn College of Painting in Copenhagen, she developed her own style and was a pioneer in observing the interplay of different colors in natural light. She also studied drawing in Paris at the atelier of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes along with Marie Triepcke, who would marry Peder Severin Krøyer, another Skagen painter.

In 1880 she married fellow painter Michael Ancher, whom she met in Skagen. They had one child, daughter Helga Ancher. Despite pressure from society that married women should devote themselves to household duties, she continued painting after marriage. [2]

Credits and Attributions:

Image: Sunlight in the Blue Room by Anna Ancher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Sunlight in the Blue Room,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 6, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Anna Ancher,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 6, 2022).

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Identifying Tropes and Subgenres part 2 – Crime, Thrillers, Historical, and Westerns #amwriting

Last week, we began discussing how to identify tropes and subgenres when you are trying to sell a short story (or novel). We need to know what our product is if we want to find a buyer. Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesToday, we continue that discussion with four more genres, each with many subgenres. First up is westerns. This is a popular genre with several common tropes and can be tricky to write respectfully and find a publisher for.

I grew up reading my grandmother’s Louis L’Amour novels, so westerns are in my blood. The common topes of the classic western are evolving, but they still follow this pattern:

The setting will be the frontier of the old American West, set in the years after the Civil War and before WWI.

Our protagonist is likely to be the lone cowboy – who doesn’t love the handsome loner who rides into town and saves the day? In many stories, his trusty steed is also a character, as a good pony is critical to the hero’s ability to go places. At times, the horse is his only companion.

the-woman-who-built-a-bridgeHowever, more and more, we are finding stories with female protagonists. An excellent example of this is the novel, The Woman who Built a Bridge by C.K. Crigger. I found this novel on the Wolfpack website and loved it. Wolfpack Publishing offers a great article on the tropes that have historically characterized the genre of classic westerns.

The conflict between cowboys and Indians. This particular trope must be handled with care and an awareness of stereotyping and glorifying cultural oppression. Westerns are historical, so accuracy and research are required.

Also, one must avoid committing cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or culture. Talk to the tribes in your area if possible. They will help you find ways to portray your indigenous people with respect.

Romance – enter the beautiful woman/handsome ranch hand. Often these characters will have a mysterious and tragic past.

Revenge – the redressing of wrongs is often a significant plot driver. The need to avenge a wrong becomes a character’s obsession, and murder frequently ensues.

A Sheriff becomes involved when a murder happens, and this lawman/woman is frequently the protagonist or love interest.

And finally, when the law catches up to the criminals, a shootout ensues.

Two subgenres of Westerns are Alternate World Westerns and Sci-fi Westerns. The setting may be a different kind of Old West, but just as in a classic Western, there is always a moral for the reader to take away. The action and mystery are sometimes accompanied by a star-crossed romance. The emotional stakes make these stories popular.

Next up, we will look at the genres of Crime Fiction and Thrillers.

The Crime genre is comprised of two main categories, true crime and fictional crime. Crime fiction has several subgenres, but I’m going to talk about only a few of them here.

The Crime Noir is set in dark, gritty urban environments. It often features hardboiled men with anger issues and alcohol problems who work as private detectives. Women are often portrayed as repressed sex objects. The protagonists are usually divorced ex-cops with a nasty reputation. Female protagonists have been making inroads in this genre, with some success.

A modern subgenre is a cyber-punk crime noir. These stories are set in a dystopian high-tech society but with all the tropes of a traditional crime noir.

True Crime sheds light on the sensational crimes that made headlines in real life. These are meticulously researched, and the authors work closely with law enforcement as they detail the events and personalities of the people involved.

nemesis agatha christieThe Agatha Christie / Sherlock Holmes style of novel is the classic whodunnit. They feature a private detective with close ties to law enforcement but who is still an outsider. The detective sometimes has a sidekick who chronicles their cases. At times, the detectives butt heads with the police as resentment of the protagonist’s stepping on their turf crops up. This jealousy hinders the investigation. Clues are always inserted so that the reader doesn’t notice them until the denouement, and the sidekick never guesses right either.

An excellent analysis of Agatha Christie’s writing style and work can be found here: Analysis of Agatha Christie’s Novels.

Thrillers are a complex group of subgenres. Wikipedia says:

Thrillers generally keep the audience on the “edge of their seats” as the plot builds towards a climax. The cover-up of important information is a common element. Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twistsunreliable narrators, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is often a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. [1]

  • Political thrillers
  • Legal thrillers
  • Medical Thrillers

Then, there are Supernatural Mysteries, stories dealing with the paranormal. They may be gothic and dark.

One of my favorite genres is Romantic Mystery. I love a good mystery and a happy ending.

All crime novels and mysteries have common tropes: they involve a puzzle that the protagonist must solve, usually placing themselves in great danger in the process. Good mysteries have small clues embedded along the way for the reader. They also include many false clues that keep the reader on the wrong track. Mystery readers want to solve the puzzle—that’s why they buy these books.

Finally, we must look at Historical Fiction, which I don’t write. However, I can quote from the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia:

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.

440px-Brock_Pride_and_PrejudiceDefinitions differ as to what constitutes a historical novel. On the one hand, the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works “written at least fifty years after the events described,” while critic Sarah Johnson delineates such novels as “set before the middle of the last [20th] century … in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.” Then again, Lynda Adamson, in her preface to the bibliographic reference work World Historical Fiction, states that while a “generally accepted definition” for the historical novel is a novel “about a time period at least 25 years before it was written,” she also suggests that some people read novels written in the past, like those of Jane Austen (1775–1817), as if they were historical novels. [2]

When you know your story’s genre, you know what publication might be interested in it.

More importantly, you know where NOT to submit it.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Thriller (genre),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 4, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Historical fiction,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 5, 2022).


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