Category Archives: WordPress

2016 #YearEndWrapUp: #WordPressFails Grade for 2016: F-

Epic Fails signWhen I began blogging in 2011, I initially went with Google’s Blogger platform, because a friend of mine was a Blogger user. It was simple and easy to use, but several friends had WordPress blogs, and I liked the way their blogs looked in comparison.

So I made the switch. Up until January of 2016, I was a happy WordPress user. On January 15, 2016, I went to write my blogpost for the day only to find I couldn’t get to my faithful Dashboard and was forced to use the “new improved posting experience.”

That didn’t sit well with me. That post was titled  WordPress Blues. For some reason, that rant struck a chord with many WordPress users, and it started off like this:

WordPress people…you have pissed me off.

For a year now you have been trying to shove this new, less-than-useful dashboard down my throat, and for that same year, I have refused to use it. You allowed me the option to stay with the expanded version that played to my needs, and so I didn’t complain.

Today, however, you cut off my simple access to the old, better-for-my-purposes dashboard, and forced me to hunt for a way to get back to it. So rather than the post I had intended, we are going to discuss how a determined blogger can get around your arbitrary decision.

I posted my workaround so that bloggers like me who have compromised eyesight can get back to the easier to read dashboard. Pale blue on white is nearly impossible for me to see, so I need to be able to access what is now the WP Admin Dashboard and which is not easily accessible unless you know where to look. That post was popular because the wonderful people at WordPress are possessed of an “I can’t hear you” attitude. They ignore and refuse to answer the questions and concerns that long-time users have with the uninformed and unnecessary changes made to their product. A large number of bloggers felt that their legitimate needs and complaints were ignored by the new generation of WordPress Developers’ desire to be “new” and ‘innovative” at the expense of being useful.

For several months, the fabulous people at WP let things roll along in a dysfunctional sort of way, and I got used to it. I thought we were going get along despite my having to work around their unwieldy new platform.

But no. In April of 2016, the developers at WP somehow made it nearly impossible to upload images unless you upload them directly to the media library. Inserting links became a frustrating procedure.

But as always, I had a handy workaround for that too: #Amblogging: WordPress: If it ain’t broke, we’ll fix that.

Of course, the year is nearly over, so they had to break one last thing before 2017 came along. This time it is the stats page. They have messed with the stats page several times before, giving us less and less useful information to judge how our posts are doing and which posts are getting the most hits over all. Now they have us going to a page with so little information I wonder why they even bother offering it. But once again, grandma has a work-around that will take you back to the 2015 version (but still not as useful as the pre 2014 stats page):

In the upper left corner of your blog are the words My Sites and Reader. Click on My Sites. The new blue on grey and difficult to read menu will open. The developers at WordPress are ignorant of the fact that many people have vision problems and these colors tend to fade into each other, making the menu harder to read:

step-one

Next, click on “Sites Stats.”  Above the new, useless bar graph, you will find a small disclaimer indicating they have a better option that you may never have heard of.  You have heard of it, it is just the back door to the 2015 version of the stats page. Click on the arrogantly labeled little button that reads “Show Me.”

step-two

The developers at WordPress are not done talking down to us–they don’t really have a better stats page, as they have decided we couldn’t possibly have a use for something that really works, but they will take us back to the one that they forced on us last year. I have found the most useful information on the “Days” page. It’s all on the lower half of the screen, which doesn’t appear in this screenshot.  But for now, it is still there.

step-3

I blog from my PC. I’m sorry, if you’re trying to blog from your android or tablet, good luck. The menus they are offering you there are nearly nonexistent.

From all the wailing on various tech blogs, I am not alone in considering migrating my website to Blogger, as they don’t jerk their users around nearly as much. I have four Blogger sites and they are easy to use, images and links upload beautifully, and the amount of detail on their stats page is excellent.

If you are tech savvy, there is a way to get back to the really good stats page that they took away from us in 2015. Diary of Dennis has a workaround for you:

Check Out The WordPress Classic Stats Redirect Script V2

All in all, I give WordPress a failing grade for 2016. They have failed to listen to their customers, failed to meet their clients’ needs, and failed to give a damn for the entire year. To top it off, they don’t offer feedback, just canned responses. Quote from my blogpost,  #Amblogging: WordPress: If it ain’t broke, we’ll fix that.

If you go out and check the forums for this issue, you will see that the stock, canned answer by the forum mod is always: Have you tried deactivating your plugins?

On this particular blog, I am NOT running any plugins, nor have I ever ran any. Thus, that particular canned answer does not cut it, and there doesn’t seem to be any other answer out there.

WordPress developers and tech support need to rely less on the Ouroboros model of customer satisfaction and become connected with the users. There is a real disconnect between what the powers-that-be at WordPress want to give us, and what we long-time users need to have available.

I have no problem embracing change.

I have embraced it and found the workarounds I need to make my site work for me.

What I have a problem embracing is dysfunctionality.

OuroborosWordPress, I cannot and do not recommend you and your platform to new bloggers. I am one of your legion of bloggers who don’t want a dumbed-down, useless dashboard and stats that tell us nothing. We want the map so we can see what countries our reader’s hail from.

I feel no sense of loyalty to you as you don’t have any loyalty to me as a longtime user. At some point, if you continue down this path of dumbing-down your platform to the point of complete uselessness, many of your loyal, long-time bloggers will be forced to leave you and seek out other platforms with better functionality and real customer service.

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Filed under blogging, WordPress, writing

#Amblogging: WordPress: If it ain’t broke, we’ll fix that

OuroborosI’ve been blogging for about five years now. I turn out three posts a week, mostly on the craft of writing but sometimes on other aspects of my life. As a courtesy, I always link back to quoted authors’ websites and also insert links to other good reference posts elsewhere on the internet.

However, the once simple task of “inserting a link” has lately become quite difficult. Some days I don’t feel like I have the patience to blog anymore, and that lack of enthusiasm is all thanks to the folks at WordPress, where the new motto is “If it ain’t broke, we’ll fix that.”

A few months ago, the fine people at WP decided that those of us who prefer to blog using the old, more functional dashboard could simply screw ourselves, and they attempted to force us to use the “improved posting experience” which is anything but an improvement.

WPBlues2_prnt_scrn_3However, those of us who are determined to use the better dashboard can still get to it by:

  1. Opening the “My Sites” menu (top left of screen)
  2. When the menu drops down, look for the words “WP Admin” and click on it (don’t click on “Posts” yet)
  3. Once the second, new menu opens, THEN Scroll down to “Posts” and click “add new”

That takes you to the standard dashboard with all the functionality we are used to, with the buttons and other information we may use in the right places. The old dashboard is easier to use for those of us with impaired vision, as (for me) the pale blue on white of the new one blends together to become a wall of white.

Oh, we still have to look at the constant demand to “switch to the improved posting experience” but we can ignore that: We just go ahead and enter our blog post title as if that little bit of subtle bullying on WP’s part was not there. (Thanks, WordPress, for not giving us the option to turn that exceedingly untruthful notice off.)

I thought that would be the end of the misery for a while, but no! Here I am again, posting the workaround for yet another UN-improvement by the developers at WordPress, who are completely out of touch with the needs of real-world bloggers.

WPBlues2_prnt_scrn_4I’m not sure why they felt compelled to break the usefulness of this platform even further, but they did. As of last week when they changed the uploader box for inserting links into my content, I am finding their product is once again, incredibly difficult to use.

Normally, I key my posts into a WORD document and then copy and paste them into the body of the post. I insert my links into the document, and then edit them to make sure they open in a new window once the post is loaded here.  I also often have to do a lot of other editing once the post is loaded here.

However, the minute you have to insert or edit a link in the body of your post, things become sticky.

Let’s say I want to insert a link to Dictionary.com for the word “DYSFUNCTIONAL

  1. I open a new page and google “dysfunctional”
  2. I click on the webpage and open it.
  3. I highlight the page address in my browser and right-click copy
  4. I return to the open page for my WordPress post and highlight the word “dysfunctional”
  5. I place my cursor on the little chain icon in the task bar at the top of my post and left-click on it to open the insert link box
  6. When the box opens, don’t think you can just paste it into the box, and click on the blue arrow–because the link will go away.WPBlues2_prnt_scrn_5
  7. Instead paste the copied website address into the URL box, click on the  little gear,
  8. A new menu will open and you will click on the “add link” button in the lower right hand corner of the larger box.
  9. Be aware that when you click the box that says “open in new window,” the link will sometimes vanish. Then you get to play this game all over again.

The other wonderful new advantage of this less-than-useful link insertion system is that the annoying “Paste URL or type to search” box often won’t go away once you have successfully pasted the link.  This means you can’t key or change any words hidden by the box.

But as for everything else WordPress, there is a work-around for that, and Grandma will find it:

  1. Simply place the cursor elsewhere in the body of the blog post,(pick a random word and don’t highlight it) and
  2. click on the “insert link” icon again. This time don’t insert anything.
  3. With the cursor still on the body of the post, simply left click on an un-highlighted area and the box will finally go away, and you can once again write your post.
  4. Sometimes the only way to get the insert/edit link box to go away is to scroll back up to the right-hand “publish” menu and either click “save draft” or, if your post is already scheduled or live, click “update.”
  5. This is a problem even when I have inserted the links in my post in a WORD document before copying and pasting, as I still have to make sure they open in a new window.

I would like to not be blogging about WordPress workarounds. I would like for the nice people at WordPress to address the shortcomings of this new system and reconnect with their users.

I would also like to be able to recommend WordPress to new bloggers.

As Hal 9000 once said, “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that.”

Ouroboros definition

The other issue is that these problems are random. Sometimes this thing works as it was designed, and then the next time you need to insert a link, it fails.

If you go out and check the forums for this issue, you will see that the stock, canned answer by the forum mod is always: Have you tried deactivating your plugins?

On this particular blog, I am NOT running any plugins, nor have I ever ran any. Thus, that particular canned answer does not cut it, and there doesn’t seem to be any other answer out there.

WordPress developers and tech support need to rely less on the Ouroboros model of customer satisfaction and become connected with the users. There is a real disconnect between what the powers-that-be at WordPress want to give us, and what we long-time users need to have available. I have no problem embracing change.

I have embraced it and found the workarounds I need to make my site work for me.

What I have a problem embracing is dysfunctionality.

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Filed under blogging, WordPress, writing

#amwriting: the truth about blogging

Who are youNothing improves your writing chops more than writing every day. Deadlines can be daunting but say what you will about not being able to write under pressure—I think that is when I do my best work.

Blogging regularly offers me that mix of self-imposed deadlines combined with the opportunity to riff on my favorite subject—the craft of writing. Much of what I have learned over the past four years has been through researching topics for this blog.

When I first began, I was only blogging under duress—my former publisher was forcing me to. This, he said, would help get my name out there, and give me a regular platform for my opinions. That blog is long gone, and those posts were pathetic attempts to write about current affairs as a journalist, something that has never interested me.

It wasn’t until I stopped trying fit into a mold someone else had designed for me and began writing about my interests that I learned to love the craft of blogging. That is also when I began to grow as a writer, because I have to work hard to proofread my own work and then publish it. If I am not vigilant, it posts with “warts and all.”

I don’t like warts in my work.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON QUOTE meme copyBlogging has made me a “thinking” author, as well as a “pantser.” I can write using the “stream of consciousness” method as I am now, or I can write it several days in advance by putting together a quick outline about whatever is interesting me at the time. I just do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

I use WordPress for this blog—and many of you know how aggravating I have found some of the changes recently implemented by WP. I am a contributor to two other blogs hosted by WordPress, and the other authors I am working with tend to find WordPress technical “support” just as exasperating as I do.

Giving me a list of canned questions and redirecting me to threads filled with complaints by other users is not “tech support.” It is, instead, clearly an effort to maintain separation from the user and any real-life problems he/she may have with using their product. (See my post of March 2, 2016: wanted: flatiron for curly quotes and other blogging twists.)

And just today they have introduced a new “less invasive” way of inserting links into the post, by which I mean with fewer options (unless you know the magic trick) and less useful. However, although it is evident the fine people at WordPress are not done messing with our heads, I am still not going to change this blog to a different platform—yet.

Instead, I will continue to work around things until they force me to switch to a platform run by people who are genuinely involved with their users and who care enough to respond to technical questions with more than circular, canned responses that go nowhere, like a snake eating its own tail.

I am a contributor to several blogs hosted on Blogger (Best In Fantasy is one), and I do like the way Blogger does NOT keep changing and fixing what isn’t broke. But I’ve been here at this little corner for several years now, and I hate moving so this will remain a WordPress blog.

I have made many friends through blogging, people all over the world who I may never meet in person, but who I am fond of, nevertheless.

This place is where I develop seminars on the craft of writing. I find that talking to you about my obsession helps me organize my thoughts. And, although I hate to say it, my first publisher (Lord Voldemort) was right about blogging. Blogging regularly does get your author name out there and showcases your work and your voice.

But only if you are passionate about what you are discussing.

I recommend blogging to anyone who has a craft they are fired up about. For novelists, I also recommend publishing short pieces—flash fiction. Little off-the-cuff pieces of less than a thousand words are fun to write and often find their way into your larger work, as they are a great way to brainstorm ideas.

If you want to know more about getting your own blog up and running, see my post of December 14, 2015, Blogging is Writing TooThis post talks about how to use the new default system here at WordPress so that you can insert pictures and make a nice looking post.

  • Keep it down to about 1000 words more or less.
  • Use the spellchecker tool to look for obvious errors.
  • Write in draft form and don’t publish it right away–come back and read it over again, and make corrections.
  • If you use information found elsewhere, quote it and credit the author
  • Use images that are either public domain, or that you have the right to use
  • Put links to other informative sites in the text

Rule number one: be consistent. I began by blogging once a week on a now defunct site—but my actual posts were more often made only once or twice a month. I dreaded it and didn’t want to do it. My blog stats were in the tank because I wasn’t applying myself to it.

One day it occurred to me that because I am a hermit and spend all day writing, my only way of communicating with my potential readers was through blogging. And it also occurred to me that communicating with other writers in the process could only benefit me.

I hated the thought of it but sucked it up. Once I realized that I could talk about whatever I wanted, Life in the Realm of Fantasy was born. My first posts stunk like last week’s garbage, but they were a beginning. With every post I wrote, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and the next post was better.

Kahlil Gibran MemeNow I am writing three posts a week on this blog, and at least one post a week for each of several other venues. I spend Sundays putting my blog posts together and look forward to the time I spend here, exploring the craft of writing.

Life in the Realm of Fantasy has evolved over the years because I have changed and matured as an author. Four years ago I would never have felt comfortable publishing my poetry. Now, I regularly post short works and poems on Fridays, some bad and some worse—but all them exercises in creative writing.

At first it took courage to lay my work out there because letting people see my work unedited by my editors made me feel like I was a teenager all over again, getting ready for the prom and hating my hair. I feared the flaws I saw in it.

Now I feel more like I am sharing it with my friends and I feel good about it.

To repeat myself ad nauseum: If you really want to grow as an author, you must write. Try to write daily, even if it is only a paragraph or two. Consider writing that paragraph as a short blog and dressing it up with a picture or two. Someone will read and enjoy it–and you may have made a fan.

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Formatting a submission-ready manuscript

Félix_Vallotton_Nature_morte_à_l_assiette_bleue_1922 Félix Vallotton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMost editors have a great deal of work in their in-boxes, and don’t have time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts and these submissions are not even considered.  All agents, editors and publishing companies have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites.

If you intend to go the traditional route and submit your manuscript to a Big Publisher such as TOR Forge, you will want to make sure your work is submission-ready, and that it conforms to the exact standards they have laid out on their website.

But what makes a manuscript submission ready? TOR Forge clearly says: Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text; and Times New Roman in 12 pitch. Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text. Do not bind the manuscript in any way. Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

First of all, running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

First, we must select the font. I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and also has many sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt.  Most say .11 is fine – for me, in a printout .10 is too small for my elderly eyes, I prefer .12. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts, because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home’.  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, as it is the easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Any errors can be undone by clicking the back-arrow.  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

fonts post 2 of word series

 

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments, and makes it easier for reading.

Remember, TOR Forge says they want a standard manuscript formatted with margins of 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text. Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a far lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (known as “tracking”), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins. This gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. You have no idea what a crapped up mess that makes out of a manuscript.  You will have to go in and remove these tabs by hand and it’s a tedious job, but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

Instead of the tab key, a professional author who is writing in MS WORD uses the simple formatting tool:

On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph’. On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it .  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

  1. On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

The picture below has it all clearly marked out:

paragraphs post 2 pof word series

  1. Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.
  2. Where it says ‘Special’: on drop-down menu select ‘first line’. On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5’
  3. ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0’.
  4. ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double’

Now we need to make the “Header.”  This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, usually automatically inserted and, in this case, consisting of the title of the book and your name. Publishers and editors want this because when they receive a print copy, each page is clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Remember, they want it UNBOUND. Accidents happen: if the ms accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled and the editor will always know that brilliant work was written by you.

We insert this by opening the “insert” tab, and clicking on “page number.”  This opens up a new menu. We add the page numbers using this menu:

This is how it looks:header with page numbers

Now your manuscript is submission ready, and is

  1. Aligned left
  2. 1 in. margins
  3. Double-spaced
  4. Has indented paragraphs
  5. Header contains title and author name
  6. First page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in upper left hand corner

This may seem like overkill to you, but I assure you, if you are really serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be in as professional a format as is possible.

I hope these instruction will help you find the way to format properly in other word-processing programs. MS WORD is most commonly used, and is the one I use, because it is easy and has all the tools I need. Just don’t get too fancy with formatting your novel before you submit it  because no matter how pretty you make that manuscript, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.

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Filed under blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, WordPress, writer, writing

Comfort Books, the main course: The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Eye Of The WorldFor the main course of this three course meal I’ve chosen a hearty 14-book trilogy. I warned you that many of the books I love and turn to when I need a good book are NOT comforting in any way, and for many people the incredibly long, epic series, the Wheel of Time, definitely falls into the UNcomfortable category. This is for a variety of reasons.

The Eye of the World was the opening volley in what would ultimately become one of the most controversial series in epic fantasy. Written by Robert Jordan and first published in 1990, this series of books has polarized the most dedicated fans of true fantasy into two groups: the lovers and the haters.  No reader walks away from this series unscathed.

WoT05_TheFiresOfHeavenThe story begins in the exceedingly rural village of  Emond’s Field. They are so rural that they have no concept that they are still considered to be a part of a larger country. The village is suddenly attacked by Trollocs (the antagonist’s soldiers) and a Myrddraal (the undead-like officer commanding the Trollocs).  These creatures are intent on capturing the three protagonists, Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, although why they are being hunted is not revealed at first. To save their village from further attacks, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene (Rand’s first love interest) flee the village, accompanied by the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred, her Warder, Al’Lan Mandragoran, and gleeman, Thom Merrilin.They are later joined by Nynaeve al’Meara, who is their village’s medicine woman.

WoT03_TheDragonRebornThis huge range of characters and the many, many threads that weave an incredibly tangled plot are what polarizes the reading community over this series of books. Originally intended to be a trilogy, it eventually expanded to encompass fourteen LARGE, long books.

Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 while working on the final book, leaving the series uncompleted, but he left the rough draft and enough notes behind that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the series, eventually breaking that final volume into three very large  books, and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

WoT10_CrossroadsOfTwilightSo what is the basis for the plot’s tension, what conflict could possibly draw the reader in and keep them reading for such a long, drawn out process? It’s Robert Jordan, folks–the eternal quest for power, and dominance through violence, religion and politics is the core of this tale. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The series draws on numerous elements of both European and Asian mythology, most notably the cyclical nature of time found in Buddhism and Hinduism, the metaphysical concepts of balance and duality, and a respect for nature found in Daoism. Additionally, its creation story has similarities to Christianity’s “Creator” (Light) and Shai’tan, “The Dark One” (Shaytan is an Arabic word which in religious contexts is used as a name for the Devil). It was also partly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869).”

300px-WoT08_ThePathOfDaggersI loved the first three books in this series. I both enjoyed and endured the next three, hoping Robert Jordan would get to the point and finish the damned series. I had become a little irritated with book eight, Path of Daggers, but by the time Winter’s Heart came out, I was resigned to never seeing an end to it, and was back to simply enjoying each strange plot twist and new random thread for what it was–just a great tale.

When Robert Jordan died, I was thrilled that Brandon Sanderson was the author tapped to finally bring that unwieldy mess together. There were so many different stories within the greater story that the task of winding up each thread must have been incredibly daunting, and he did it magnificently.

The reason so many devoted fans abandoned the series somewhere around book six , Lord of Chaos, was that Rand al’Thor’s story ( and Mat’s and Perrin’s) stalled, and Jordan was sent way off track by the stories of Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elaine Trakand. In fantasy, there is a large contingent of readers who want instant gratification are not going to wait around for eight more books. They proved it by jumping ship and trash-talking his work.

TheGatheringStormUSCoverThroughout the series, the quality of the writing never faltered. The depth of story and the intensely alive characters whose stories graced those pages never failed to intrigue me. The fact that it felt like the conflict would never be resolved was, at times, upsetting to me as a reader, and is a lesson authors should take to heart with their own work.

To write a story that is so compelling that readers become so violently polarized over it is quite an accomplishment.  I see this happening with George R.R. Martin‘s fans right now. Although I adore him as a person, I’ve never cared much for his style of writing, as he jumps around too much even for me. Have patience, people! It looks like George has a large story there too, so it may take him a while.

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcoverFor Brandon Sanderson to step into the wasps’ nest of controversy that was the Wheel of Time and complete the series with such grace and finesse is nothing short of amazing, and I am glad I stuck with it to the end. Brandon Sanderson has become one of my favorite authors because of what he did to wind up this epic series.

In the end, the final resolution was satisfying, and was well worth the journey.  I have gotten rid of most of my hard copies, and am down to only one room’s worth of hardbound books at our house. I don’t buy too many hard copies of books, being a fan of the Kindle, and  but I did make an exception for this book.   For me, some books need to be in hard copy form and the Wheel of Time Series is one of them, as are the Harry Potter books. There was a large contingent of people who were upset that the epub edition wasn’t released until 4 months after the paperbook, but this was a choice made by Robert Jordan’s widow and her publisher, TOR. It was a strange one in my opinion, but it was their choice.

A_Memory_of_Light_coverAmazon’s early reviews of the later books in this series were rife with trolls and naysayers who couldn’t wait to emerge from the woodwork and have their say. Apparently very few of these people purchased the book, much less read it. That is the price of success and these days it’s almost an honor to have so many haters just spoiling to knock you down. But their strident caws and self-important rants should have no effect on the true fans of WoT. In my humble opinion these works are masterpieces and Brandon Sanderson’s three books are a triumphant finish to the series.

I love Brandon Sanderson’s handling of this series finale, and feel I more than got my money’s worth from this series of book, as I will definitely read it again and again–in my opinion it’s that good. If you love this series, you will love the way it ends!

The original cover artist for these amazing books was none other than the late Darrell K. Sweet, who was just as amazing a fantasy artist as is Michael Whelan. The newer covers are nice, but for me they lack the power of Sweet’s brilliant paintings.

And as we all know, I buy most books for their covers, even epubs, and then fall in love with the tale.

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Hyphens, style guides, and writing conventions

adult-footie-pjsYou need a good style guide. No, I am not suggesting that you need help with your wardrobe–those footie pajamas are awesome, and are the perfect uniform for the dedicated author. What I am suggesting is that you develop consistency in your writing, and there are guides to help you with that.

English is a completely wonky language, even for those of us who grow up speaking some form of it. My dialect is that of the western United States, specifically the Pacific Northwest, near the Canadian border. As in every other part of the world, we speak informally in our homes and with friends, but in writing, we should conform to certain standardized rules, or those who speak OTHER versions of English will not be able to follow us, despite the many similarities in our dialects.

Kathleen Cali, in an article at Learn NC, says: “Conventions are the surface features of writing — mechanics, usage, and sentence formation. Conventions are a courtesy to the reader, making writing easier to read by putting it in a form that the reader expects and is comfortable with.”

Since I am a US citizen, I use American writing conventions. In the United States, many non-journalistic professional writers use The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is the manual I use.

elements of styleA classic style guide for new authors and the general public is Strunk and White’The Elements of Style. This is a popular reference among writers just beginning in the craft. I sometimes use this guide, but as I have advanced as an editor, I find myself referring to the more in-depth Chicago Manual of Style. However, either one is excellent for the US author, and for any Europeans editing for a US author in this era of the internet and the global market for editing services.

Any author or editor who tries to tell you that one particular style guide is “the only” style guide is simply voicing an opinion, and if they are obnoxious and defensive about it, ignore them. Each style guide is an excellent reference tool, and each one plays to different requirements. But all of them are for the benefit of the reader.

chicago manual of styleThe Chicago Manual of Style is one of the oldest and most comprehensive style guides available, and for me in my role as an editor, it’s an indispensable tool because it contains information that I can’t find anywhere else. While I could easily access it all via the online version, I do like having my large book at my fingertips.

As a writer I rely on a style guide because  it often feels  like every rule has an exception, and knowing what those are makes huge difference in a manuscript’s consistency and readability.

For example, sometimes we don’t know if we should hyphenate or not. Or, we are unsure when to capitalize a direction or an honorific. When this occurs, our work becomes uneven and hard to read, because it’s rife with  inconsistency, hyphenating words in one place but not another. This happens because not every set of words needs to be hyphenated, and how do you know which to decorate with that dear little dash?

There are answers to these questions, in the handy-dandy style guides we have available to us.

So how DO we employ those little morsels of madness that work their way into every corner of my manuscripts? I love them!

Unfortunately, hyphens are not toys. As I discovered when creating my world of Neveyah for the Tower of Bones series, they are the gate-way drug to writer’s hell. Take my advice and do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building
Some compounds are created on the spot to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds start out as improvised compounds, but become so widely accepted that they are included in the dictionary as permanent compounds. Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are words like  know-it-all, heart-stopping, free-for-all, and down-at-the-heels.
shark memeContext determines whether or not to hyphenate.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?” Wikipedia offers the following examples:
  • Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)
  • Wild-goose chase (as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a goose chase that is wild)
  • Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)
  • Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which could be interpreted as there being no liability protection).

And finally, especially if you are writing in a fantasy genre, as you are writing your tale down and creating your world, also make a style sheet that pertains to your manuscript noting what words must be capitalized and what the proper spellings for invented places are.

Refer back to it frequently, updating it as needed. I learned this the hard way. Whether it is handwritten or a WORD document, a simple directory of compound words and phrases that are unique to the world you have created will be as invaluable to you as your copy of The Elements of Style.

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Don Quixote

Don Quixote in the library Adolf Schrödter 1834

Don Quixote in the library by Adolf Schrödter 1834

Lately I have been on a Don Quixote binge. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, volume I, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and volume II, The Ingenious Knight,  written by by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedrais considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon (a body of books traditionally accepted by scholars as the most important and influential in shaping culture.)

As a founding work of modern Western literature,and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library ( a series of classical books, mostly novels, published by the Norwegian Book Club since 2002) collection which cites Don Quixote as authors’ choice for the “best literary work ever written.” It is also said that the two parts of this masterpiece have been  translated into more languages than any book other than the Bible. 

Don Quixote had major influence on the literary community, as shown by direct references in Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers (1844) and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

The Story:

Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel (though he is not named until much later in the book), is a retired country gentleman nearing fifty years of age, living in La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. Although he is mostly a rational man, his excessive reading of books of chivalry has produced a skewed view of reality and what we might consider dementia. In keeping with the theories of the time, not sleeping adequately–because he was reading–has caused his brain to dry. (I LOVE that!) As a result, he is easily given to anger and believes every word of these fictional books of chivalry to be true.

Don Quixote’s niece commits, what is to me, the most heinous crime–she and the Parrish curate burn his library, and lie to him, telling him it was the work of an evil magician. Criminal!!!

He decides to become a knight-errant in search of adventure. To these ends, he dons an old suit of armor, renames himself “Don Quixote”,  and renames his poor old horse “Rocinante.” Cervantes was a genius when he penned the horse–Rocinante is not only Don Quixote’s horse, but is a reflection of Don Quixote himself, ungraceful, past his prime, and in way over his head.

Don Quixote asks his neighbor, Sancho Panza, to be his squire, promising to make him governor of an island. Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. At this point their adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on the windmills.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra created a wonderful, hilarious masterpiece when he penned Don Quixote. Even in today’s society the plot is relevant and and the characters leap off the pages. The extremes of the human condition are all laid out in glorious prose that has been beautifully translated to English in 2003 by Edith Grossman. The New York Times called Grossman’s translation a “major literary achievement.”

In the original version of Don Quixote there are basically two different types of Castilian Spanish: Old Castilian is spoken only by Don Quixote, while the rest of the roles speak a modern version of Spanish. The Old Castilian of Don Quixote is for comic relief – he copies the language spoken in the chivalric books that made him crazy; and many times, when he talks nobody is able to understand him because his language is too old. This comedic effect translates well to Modern English when the translator has Don Quixote use  Shakespearean English phrases.

I write fantasy, and I read widely. But to those purists who decry the work of genre fiction writers as being “created for the masses,” I would like to say this: it is quite clear that the modern perception of “fantasy” as having no literary merit is complete hogwash when you look at the books that make up the western cannon of great literature. ALL of them are fantasies of one sort or another, beginning with Don Quixote and going forward, and all of them were created for the enjoyment of the masses.

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Heart Search 3-Betrayal, Carlie Cullen

Betrayal front coverI read voraciously, in all genres and one of my not-so-secret vices is the occasional lust for a good paranormal fantasy.

One of my favorite authors in that genre is Carlie M.A. Cullen, who just happens have a new book coming out in her Heart Search Trilogy. Today she is revealing the cover for the final book in the series–and as with the first two covers, I  really love it. It totally speaks to the book’s dark theme. Her cover artist is Nicole Antonia Carro, who is one of the best indie graphic designers in the business, and an accomplished author in her own right.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to read this manuscript, and it is quite the finish to a bold trilogy.

What I find most intriguing about this series is that it revolves around people who have become vampires, and who no longer think the way humans do. But despite the real difference that having the kind of power they have makes in the way they view the world, they are family oriented and deeply committed to each other.

I’ve never considered writing about vampires and likely won’t, as my creativity doesn’t turn that way right now, but I confess I am curious about many things in regard to the conception of this series. To that end, I will be interviewing Carlie at a later date, and she has promised to answer most of my questions.

In the meantime here are the particulars for this book that is so beautifully covered:

Blurb for Heart Search: Betrayal

One bite started it all . . .

Joshua, Remy, and the twins are settled in their new life. However, life doesn’t always run smoothly. An argument between Becky and her twin causes unforeseen circumstances, an admission by Samir almost costs him his life, and the traitor provides critical information to Liam. But who is it?

As Jakki’s visions begin to focus on the turncoat’s activities, a member of the coven disappears, and others find themselves endangered.

And when Liam’s coven attacks, who will endure?

Fate continues to toy with mortals and immortals alike, and as more hearts descend into darkness, can they overcome the dangers they face and survive?

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Carlie M.A. Cullen, Author

Photo of CarlieCarlie M A Cullen was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing.

She has always written in some form or another, but started to write novels in 2011. Her first book was published by Myrddin Publishing in 2012. She writes in the Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genres for New Adult and Adult.

Carlie is also a principal editor for Eagle Eye Editors.

Carlie also holds the reins of a writing group called Writebulb. They have published four anthologies so far, two for adults and two for children, all of which raise money for a local hospice.

Carlie currently lives in Essex, UK with her daughter

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You can find Carlie’s books at:

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You can connect with Carlie via these social links:

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Do take a look at her books–if you are a fan of paranormal romances, these books are a fun read, filled with characters that are larger-than-life, and adventures into the dark and mysterious world of the immortals who surround us.

Editors Note: I did make a typo in the Title of this post.  It is Heart Search : Betrayal, not Betrayed as was originally posted.

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Talking with Erika M. Szabo

Field Roast holiday roast croppedWe survived another Christmas! The refrigerator is bursting with leftovers, and we had a wonderful dinner with one of our sons, and one of my brothers. Life is good! The carnivores said the turkey was good, but surprisingly to me, given the amount of teasing I endure at their hands, the Hazelnut Cranberry Holiday Roast en Croute was the star of show, with little of it being left over. The world did not stop in its orbit as the vegan meal was consumed with gusto, and no one left the table hungry!

I’m always intrigued by the way other authors think, and today, Erika M Szabo, author of The Ancestors’s Secrets series, has consented to answer a few questions for us.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

ES: I became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to my dad who introduced me to many great books. I started writing educational books twelve years ago when I received my PhD in Alternative Medicine. I love animals, therefore I created the Read for Animals anthology series and published two books with authors and poets to help animals. The story idea for Ancestor’s Secrets series came from my Hun heritage, from the legends and history. I created a magical, fantasy world using bits of real historical facts and incorporating real life events from my years of working as a trauma nurse into the story.

CJJ: I love that you are able to draw on your heritage for your work. Tell us about your most recent book.

ES:  In the Ancestor’s Secrets series, present and past blends into a paranormal fantasy tale with intriguing clan secrets, magical heritage, love triangle and Ilona’s exciting and dangerous life in a secret society. Ilona is a young doctor settled into a world of logic and reason. She inherits a world of traditions, well-kept secrets and magical powers, and is left to piece together her clan’s past, using nursery rhymes taught to her by her mother. Learning some of the secrets not only confuses her, but places her in mortal danger.  When a sinister man appears, Ilona connects his presence to a series of mysterious deaths. He can influence others to kill her, but why can’t he touch her? There are clues around every corner, and the elusive answers draw her further into the hidden world of her people.  As if the mysteries aren’t enough, her life becomes more complicated when she meets a dashing stranger. Although he saves her life by putting his own life in danger, she senses evil in him. The first book of The Ancestor’s Secrets series raises questions such as: what if there is a secret society exists hidden among us with its strict rules and fiercely enforced laws, and certain members come to possess magical powers? What if finding love, despite the obstacles thrown our way, is possible? What if we could have the power to visit the ancestors in the past and create our own future?

CJJ: That sounds intriguing! How did you come to write this novel?

ES: On a rainy afternoon I couldn’t find any new book to read. I was moping around, browsing my bookshelves, mumbling to myself. After a while my daughter had enough and snapped at me, “Mom, stop whining! If you haven’t a book to read, then write one.” Her challenge shocked me, but I started playing with the idea. I’ve never excelled in following rules or formulas, so I discarded the instructions I found in “how to write fiction” books, and made up my personal rules. At first, I started playing with the story just for my own enjoyment, I thought, writing the swirling ideas in my head was far better than being haunted by them. I kept writing for months, and soon I realized that I never had so much fun doing anything in my life before.

CJJ: I always wonder, and my reader do too, do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

ES:  When I started writing the novel series, I only had a vague outline of the story in my mind, and I kind of let the story develop on its own. Some parts are totally different now than I had originally planned.

CJJ: Many of us write fantasy, but how does your work differ from others of its genre?

ES: The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series written mostly in diary style with paranormal magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel.

CJJ: We each write for our own reasons, but why do you write what you do?

ES:  My favorite genre to read I love to read is magical realism/fantasy stories, therefore it is my favorite genre to write as well.

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

ES: The first edition of my novel series was published by a traditional publisher. I was not satisfied with the editing, book cover, formatting, as well as the full control they had on the story. I decided to break the contract, form my own publishing company and edit, format and publish the story the way I like it.

CJJ: I had a similar experience! What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

ES:  Both have advantages and disadvantages. If your book is accepted by a traditional publisher, read the fine lines of the contract and if it doesn’t suit you, then go indie.

I so agree with you, Erika!  Thank you for visiting today, and I can’t wait to read these books!

erika szabo protectedbythefalconebookBook 1, Protected By The Falcon

Ilona is a doctor and is ruled by logic, yet when she starts to develop unusual powers, her beliefs change and she’s thrown into a world of mysteries, traditions and secrets. Nursery rhymes taught by her mother lead her to discover her clan’s past, which still exist with its fiercely enforced laws. A dangerous dark man stalks Ilona who is unexpectedly rescued by a handsome stranger, Zoltan. As their relationship grows, her feelings for best friend, Bela, starts to fade. When her life and the future of her people become threatened, she must gather all her courage and use her inherited powers to fight back. Infused with Hungarian legend, the twisting plot keeps the reader turning the pages of this extraordinary fantasy story. The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series with magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel that is a great read for fantasy lovers and also suitable for young adults.

http://www.amazon.com/Protected-Falcon-Ancestors-Secrets-Book-ebook/dp/B00LNBSKIY

erika m szabo ChosenbytheSwordebook (2)Book 2, Chosen By The Sword

In book one, Protected By The Falcon, Ilona is thrust from her easy and steady life and forced to face the unknown, which prompts her to discover the ancient tribal secrets. The rules of her ancient Hun clan that still exist with strict laws suffocate her, but she is resourceful and daring. She discovers secrets and obtains unimaginable powers to protect her sister, who bears the next leader of the clan. If she does not succeed, the fate of her people is at stake. She must sort through her own feelings about the men in her life. Will she choose Bela, her best friend, or the handsome and noble Zoltan? From the time when her people were nomads, the castles of the 14th century to the present, travel through time with Ilona as she struggles to overcome the obstacles placed in her path by ruthless individuals who want to inflict their rule on the Hun clan. The Ancestors’ Secret series is an epic fantasy, heroic romance series with paranormal magical powers, ancient legends, love triangle and time travel that is also suitable for young adults.

http://www.amazon.com/Chosen-Sword-Ancestors-Secrets-Book-ebook/dp/B00RAGLWVI

Short Bio of Erika M. Szabo:

ErikaMSzabo I became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to my dad who introduced me to many great books. The writing bug bit me much later, on a rainy afternoon, when I couldn’t find any new book to read. My daughter had enough of my moping around and snapped at me, “Mom, stop whining! If you haven’t a book to read, then write one.” Her challenge shocked me, but I started playing with the idea. What if there is a secret society with strict rules and laws exist hidden among us? What if certain members come to possess magical powers? What if those abilities could be used to do good or evil? I’ve never excelled in following rules or formulas, so I discarded the instructions I found in “how to write fiction” books, and made up my personal rules. At first, I started playing with the story just for my own enjoyment, I thought, writing the swirling ideas in my head was far better than being haunted by them. I kept writing for months, and soon I realized that I never had so much fun doing anything in my life before.

If you are interested in seeing more of Erika’s work, here are her links:

WEBSITE: http://www.authorerikamszabo.com  

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Erika.M.Szabo.ND.Author

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ErikaMSzabo

LINKEDIN: http://www.lnkd.in/N64qzw

GOOGLE: https://plus.google.com/112402888400847638099/posts   

PINTEREST http://www.pinterest.com/erikamszabo/

SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/GoldenBoxBooks

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Sinking the Hook

book-cover-middlemarchThe books that ring my bells all start out with a really great hook–in some cases the first line is the clincher, but most definitely by the time the first page has passed, I am hooked and ready to be enthralled.

Some of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And who is the observer who chronicles this?

How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great lines, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

pride and prejudiceOr, take this quote from the Guardian regarding the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…” 

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. Our first lines must make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

TheEyeOfTheWorldDoes your first line have to introduce your main character? I think not. Dickens introduced an era in his opening lines, and it works. In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating that which Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

Regardless of what you introduce, the hook MUST pertain to the tale. It must reveal something about the book in such a way that it sticks with the reader. Do not waste time in getting to the plot, because even a good hook cannot save a bad novel.

The first pages of books that intrigue me introduce a “dramatic question” and even if the reader doesn’t realize it, that question can often be answered with a yes or a no–will the hero succeed? Will good conquer evil? Will love triumph? What the hell happened to drive Lews Therin Telemon mad and what will happen next?

Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

1. The opening lines set the tone for the story

2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story

3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Ask yourself where the story truly begins, and start there. What came before that can be cut from the final draft, as it is just background information that is necessary for your reference.

I think it’s good to read books outside your genre, and read them with the idea of understanding what makes them classics. Read literary fiction, read romance, read sci-fi–read widely if only to see what a different genre is about, how it is different from what you write. In all fiction, the first pages are the ones that kidnap the reader. Covers and blurbs may sell the book, but the first pages plunge the reader into your world.

 

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