Category Archives: writer

#amwriting: #Interview with @Aaron_Volner, author

Today I am interviewing my good friend, indie author, Aaron Volner. A screenwriter, game designer, and playwright, Aaron is launching his first published novel, which I must say is an awesome debut. Chronicles of the Roc Rider has all the hallmarks of a great fantasy adventure, with the flavor of the wild west.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing: What books influenced you most as young reader?

AV: Hi Connie! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it.

I was influenced by a wide range of titles as a youngster. My parents made sure I read widely, everything from “Hank the Cowdog” to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I would have to say one of the books that has had the largest lasting impact was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. For a novel about rabbits, you can learn so much of human relationships from it, and it’s one of the few books I’ve reread multiple times. The “Animorphs” series by K.A. Applegate rings in right up there with it. However the books that really inspired me to start writing my own fantasy were “The Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. My lifelong passion for fantasy began there.

Early life was spent buried in books and playing make believe a lot longer than most kids do, with a healthy dose of video games on the side. There were a number of factors that first influenced me to start writing, but one of the strongest was the example of my sister, Heather. She wrote what I remember as truly wonderful poetry when she was in Junior High/High School, even having some of it published. Much of it was serious, inspired by our pet rabbits and grandparents, and some of it was funny for the sake of it. Through her I learned how much fun playing with words and the language could be.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

AV:  The first novel I ever started writing (in about 5th or 6th grade) was a blatant Star Wars ripoff with my friends and I under different names as the swashbuckling crew of a rebel starship, one of whom could change into different space animals because of how obsessed I was with the “Animorphs” books.

My first completed novel was inspired by “The Eye of the World,” but I wanted to take a different spin on things. I chose to deliberately explore fantasy without “The Dark Lord,” but a regular, albeit unusually powerful, person with terrible ambitions as the antagonist. At the time, I thought this was a really new and novel idea, hahaha. I also have a scene in that book inspired by “Watership Down,” where one of the main heroes discovers he can communicate with animals to a degree. He strikes a bargain with a local rabbit warren to have his compatriot with plant-based magic provide them a great feast in a safe spot in exchange for sending a rabbit sentry forward to scout out information they need.

CJJ: What inspired you to write Roc Rider?

AV:  I’ve always had something of a fascination with falconry and birds of prey. I suppose, given my penchant for fantasy, it naturally followed that I fell in love with the idea of rocs, the elephant hunting birds of middle eastern legend, as well. I realized a few years back that there weren’t as many rocs in fantasy as I would like, and decided to do something about that. I started thinking about how humans and rocs would interact, where a roc would realistically fit in the food chain, how a human who rode rocs would be perceived by others. The characters and the story naturally flowed from those musings.

CJJ:  Tell us about your main character, Tanin Stormrush. Who is he as a person, and what is he capable of?

AV:  When we first meet him Tanin has suffered a terrible loss. His wife and his original roc partner have both passed away, leaving him to raise his new roc partner, Zera, alone. His first roc partner died laying her final clutch of eggs. His wife died protecting one of them from the man who murdered her. Tanin is on a quest to find the man who killed his wife and discover what happened to the other egg from the clutch, at her final request. So in Tanin we see a man who is undergoing several stages of grief at once, while trying to raise an animal partner with care and compassion at the same time. In a way his quest is a form of bargaining, in that he hopes to make everything right in his world if he can just find the egg. But in some ways, it’s also a form of denial.

Tanin comes from a proud tradition of warriors on the wing, but one that has been declining for many, many years. Tanin’s early life after learning the ways of the roc rider was spent flying campaigns with various armies to protect against invasion by the Narn, a mysterious religion that rules the lands beyond the desert to the north. It was there he developed his own code of honor, based on Roc Rider values but combined with his own worldview. Tanin doesn’t speak of this directly in the book, but we do see hints at it throughout. There are moments when Tanin is more than capable of muscling his way through a situation to get what he wants, but chooses a different path even if it costs him. I intend to explore this a bit more in the second book, with Tanin’s code being challenged more openly in situations where he must decide if it’s worth the pay off to break with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AV:  So far, my process changes quite a bit from book to book. I do wing it in a lot of respects, however I’ve always had a tendency to plan ahead at least somewhat. My first fantasy book began with me writing out the rules for the magic system and then diving in and discovering the character and story through a few chapters. Throughout that book I would periodically stop writing altogether to try and get my thoughts together in my head for where the story was going. I never wrote them down, just got a plan in my mind and then pressed forward a week or so later once I liked what I was thinking.

My second book, on advice from a writers conference, I wrote an outline before I started writing. That didn’t go so well. The book turned out good after major rewrites, but I discovered that written outlines and I have some issues and just don’t work well together.

With Roc Rider, I had a notebook and spent a few weeks riffing ideas in it. A lot of world building, character, and potential plot stuff. Whenever I faced a question I would write that question down and then riff possible answers. Obviously, the majority of what’s in that notebook never made it into the final product but it served as an invaluable resource when crafting the first draft of the story.

For the second Roc Rider novel, I’m going to do the same thing with one added step. Last year I took part in the 3-Day Novel Contest while Roc Rider was out with my beta readers. Since preparation is allowed for that contest, I tested out writing a story treatment for that book and loved what it added to the process.

A story treatment was something I had just recently learned about. A technique used mostly by screenwriters, it involves writing out the story in prose but in a succinct, descriptive fashion. I don’t have the space in this interview to explain it well, but I think of it as sort of a hybrid between writing an outline and simply diving into the first draft. You can dive into a story treatment like a ‘pantser’, but the treatment lets you see story problems and fix them before you start writing the first draft itself. Best of both worlds, in a way.

Anyway, after my notebook riffing I intend to do a story treatment for the second Roc Rider book as well. I believe it will help me get the book out more quickly and be better for the storytelling in the end.

CJJ: I love that. A story treatment is my way of getting a story off the launch pad too. But now, this is the question I hate to be asked, but here I am asking you: how does your work differ from others of its genre?

AV: This is a doozy of a question, isn’t it? But I’ll try.

I think my work is a little different in how it develops themes. A lot of fantasy is either aimed at a specific theme and the stories, characters, even sometimes the magic system is built around that theme. Other fantasy tries to be purely escapist and not speak to any specific theme at all.

I’ve always been dedicated to what I call organic theme development. This is a process that happens both in the writing and the reading of a work. I have certain ideas I want to explore. Not full themes, really, just human ideas. I attach them to elements I want to include in a story for escapist reasons and allow those ideas to develop as they will in the telling of the story. The result is generally a tale that can be interpreted any number of ways. The ideas get layered throughout the story in the writing, allowing themes to develop in the reader’s mind as they experience it.

Some read my first novel and see a story about the resilience of the human spirit. Others read the same book and see a cautionary tale about trusting your instincts and challenging authority.

Probably the best example, though, was my stage play “Behind Stone Masks”. That play follows a German soldier during WWII, who has a Jewish best friend and is later forced to take part in Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), when German soldiers were ordered to ransack Jewish neighborhoods in civilian clothing and the Holocaust began. Audiences had an almost staggering array of reactions to the play. Some saw it from a political perspective, others saw it through the lens of friendships and human relations. I had countless audience members express how they felt it was a poignant reflection of today’s world, but each in a different way.

I know organic theme development isn’t a unique idea and I’m sure there’s other fantasy authors who use it. But nevertheless, it’s what I feel sets my work apart.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AV: I write fantasy because as a reader fantasy is what brings me the greatest joy. Creating it myself adds a whole new level of enjoyment, and allows me to hopefully bring some measure of that joy to other readers through my words.

CJJ: What are you working on now?

AV: I am already hard at work on the second Roc Rider book (notebook riffing stage), which I intend to release in 2018. I have also been working on a text-based choose your path adventure game for my website, but that project is in development limbo while I address some technical problems with it. I am toying with the notion of choosing one other prose project to write on the side. Maybe short stories or one of my other books. But I haven’t decided yet.

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

AV: I have a bumpy mental history with independent publishing. As a teen writer, I always swore I’d self-publish if I couldn’t find a publisher. I later became an indie skeptic after learning the ins and outs of traditional publishing and the view on indies at that time. Then along came the kindle and I once again got excited by the notion of going indie… until I learned that publishers at that time wouldn’t consider you if you had an independently published book.

However, once things changed and agents/publishers became more than willing to consider indie authors for traditional deals I started seriously considering it again. I guess at the end of the day I just didn’t want to pursue indie if it meant cutting out traditional as an option. I was sold when I realized there really is almost no downside to indie publishing anymore, as long as you put in the work to produce a quality product. Further, based on my research, the majority of writers these days who are breaking into fiction and being successful enough at it to make their living are the ones pursuing hybrid career models. Meaning they have both indie and traditionally published works. Why cut yourself off from either world when both have so much to offer?

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AV:  Ask yourself why you want to go indie and why you want to go traditional, and how either is likely to impact your writing. Be as honest with yourself as possible. I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with wanting success, but at the end of the day you should choose the path that’s better for your writing. For me, choosing to go indie with Roc Rider helped focus me in a way that really helped me improve as a writer in a number of ways. My productivity and decisiveness in editing being two major ones. However, I know there are some writers whose writing would suffer from the decision to go indie. They’d feel compelled to rush the process to get something out, for example. Once you have a good, completed book in hand you can always change course if the one you’re on isn’t working out for you.

>>><<<

Thank you, Aaron. You are a joy to know and to have as a friend, and are an integral part of my personal writing life. About Aaron Volner:

Aaron Volner spends a lot of time creating interesting places in his mind and getting irretrievably lost in them. Fortunately, he managed to find his way back long enough to write this book. He lives in the high desert of southwest Wyoming, where if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait ten minutes.

Writer by night, librarian by day, Aaron also enjoys reading, acting, gaming, crocheting, golf, and doting on his dog.

He is also the author of Behind Stone Masks, a two-act stage play first performed in 2013 that follows a German soldier through the events of Kristallancht (the Night of Broken Glass) when the Holocaust began.

>>><<<

Aaron can be found at these places:

Website – http://www.aaronvolner.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aaronvolnerauthor/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/aaron_volner

Google+ – https://plus.google.com/u/0/111301735131803935026

Amazon Book Page: Chronicles of the Roc Rider

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#amwriting: Update, and the Room of Shame

I work in a room officially designated as the Room of Shame. It is not a room of shame in a dark, Fifty Shades of Gray way.  No. That would be interesting, which this particular Room of Shame is not.

This room is a boring office that could be owned by hoarders. I’ve mentioned before that it’s haunted by the Ghost of my Feline (Past): Yum Yum (the demon-possessed cat). My little companion died died in 2009, and I’ve never had the heart to replace her. Despite my oft-repeated intention to clean this toxic waste dump out, her ghost still manifests in the fur that still lurks behind the sagging bookshelves and boxes of papers dating back to the Bronze Age. Plastic bins filled with my books, ready to take to a show or signing, are stacked atop dusty crates still bearing her furry imprint. The disgraceful carpet is proof that to clean the floor, one must be able to find it.

Somehow, despite the embarrassing chaos, I do manage to crank out the work.

Last month I finished the second draft of Billy Ninefingers. He has been through the beta reading process and is currently fermenting in a dark place while I wind up some other projects. I received excellent feedback and have a firm idea as to how I will structure the final draft.

I am making headway on the first draft of Eternity’s Gate, a new novel in the Tower of Bones series. This is the ‘how it began’ story, and it features Aelfrid Firesword, Edwin’s many time’s great-grandfather, and the unintentional founder of the College of Warcraft and Magic. Even though it is set in an established world (Neveyah), planning this novel presented an unusual problem in that the magic system had to be redesigned as much of what is canon in the later books doesn’t exist during the time this story is set. New maps have been drawn. Alf is a Barbarian, so I have learned a great deal about his culture in the process of creating this early, far wilder version of world of Neveyah.

Knight’s Redemption, a novella featuring Julian Lackland, Golden Beau Baker, and Huw the Bard, is in the final stage of the revision process.

As always, I am working on flash-fiction and poems as the mood strikes, some weeks more than others. Flash-fiction usually happens when I’m at a stopping point on my other projects and my mind just wants to roam free. This is always a good time to think about possible blog posts.

And finally, I’m in the process of rewriting a short story for an editor who likes the overall premise, the protagonist, and the way the story ends, but wants me to make some fundamental changes to the way I am telling the tale. In my opinion, any interest from an editor should be celebrated, and their requests and suggestions should be given my full, immediate attention, so that will be an ongoing project over the next few weeks.

Not being rejected out-of-hand is good, in my opinion. I see this type of interaction as an encouraging thing. The door is open to an opportunity I might not have again, so I try to make whatever changes they request. The trick is to make the changes with your own flair so that you don’t lose what they liked about the piece in the first place. Either way, whether they ultimately reject it or not, I will gain something out of this.

Also, I have been cooking. I’ve found some more wonderful food ideas to take along when I am on the road. Traveling as a vegan can be quite dicey, unless you carry your own food. Once I leave the Northwest, restaurants don’t offer vegan options. Rather than go hungry, I make my meals ahead. I’m always looking for tasty treats that travel well, and are satisfying.

Today is a good day to write. I intend to make the most of it, working on whichever project is inspiring me. Having more than one project going at a time allows me to stay productive because when I can’t think what to do next in one manuscript, I’ll know exactly what I need to do in another.

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#amreading: Stephen Swartz, EPIC FANTASY * With Dragons

Today I am talking with a dear friend of mine, author Stephen Swartz. Along with myself and twenty other authors, Stephen is a founding member of Myrddin Publishing. We have been down a great many rough roads together since those early days of taking the plunge and leaving our former publisher. Not a day goes by that I don’t communicate with him in some way, and he always has a way of making me laugh.

His most recent novel is an ambitious project called EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons which was just launched. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I am enjoying the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.

CJJ: EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons is an awesome title for the book. Your dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. How long did you toy with the idea of this book before you began writing it, and what made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

SW: The fact is the title was the first thing I thought of. Because I was challenged to write an “epic fantasy” I started with that as the title, more of a spoof, I suppose, but also a focus. I imagined poking fun at the tropes of the epic fantasy genre. Of course, that’s not what I ended up with: it was not a spoof but a serious work of daring-do over a harsh landscape.

I had never been a fan of dragons as a story element. Too many dragons were cute, affectionate, like pets to humans, or the opposite: dragons hoarding gold, talking to humans. I couldn’t deal with those. So I went full biologist and reimagined dragons as perfectly wild beasts following the laws of physics and biology. Then I let them be nuisances, then terrors. I imagined a life where dragons constantly flew overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting thatch roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. People would not put up with that for long. Hence, the need for “gamekeepers” to keep them in check.

As is often the case for me, I had an image in my head, the opening scene. It had to be a fantasy world. Some guy doing his thing in that fantasy world. So I thought of dragons flying by and there is our hero, sitting on the side of a cliff shooting them down. And then what happens? I thought for about a month, then continued: he goes home and faces all kinds of trouble, a bad weekend in the city which ends with him being banished by the prince.

Now that I’ve finished Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I’m finally reading McCaffrey’s books. Long ago, when I was a child, I showed my mother a story I had written and when she said it reminded her of The Hobbit, I swore never to read The Hobbit so nobody could say I got my story idea from Tolkien. Now, however, we do research. Even so, I don’t think my take on a dragon tale is like any others that I’ve read or heard of.

CJJ: The works of yours I am most familiar with, Aiko, After Ilium, and A Girl Called Wolf are contemporary fiction, set in our real world, as is your vampire novel, A Dry Patch of Skin. You’ve also written an epic Sci-Fi series, The Dreamland Trilogy. This book is a real departure from those novels, as the prose is far more formal and literary. Corlan is a compelling character, and the story moves along at a rapid pace, but I would say it is not a quick read. What kind of reader were you writing this for?

SW: I began writing science fiction, which was what I read as a child and teenager. I transitioned into magical realism by the time I entered an MFA program in college. There we were supposed to write literary fiction, introspective stories of real people in a real world. So that became my focus. There are good things and not so good things about each genre, something that satisfies me when writing each but also challenges for each genre. It comes down to the story: Is it better as a real story in a contemporary setting or as a sci-fi story in an invented world? I usually do not have the choice; the story comes to me already set in the genre it wants to be.

The novels you mention had some basis in my own reality. For Aiko I lived in Hawaii and then in Japan. After Ilium began with me studying Classical rhetoric and the epics of Homer; I transported Homer’s ancient tales to a modern setting. A Girl Called Wolf is really the biography of a friend; I felt her story of hardship growing up in Greenland would make a great novel. I encouraged her to write it but she gave up and insisted I write it for her.

One thing I did learn in that MFA program was that all stories are about people – not the setting, or the technology or the aliens or the dragons. That made a big difference in the writing I’ve done since then. So in Epic Fantasy *With Dragons I focused on my protagonist, making him a real person with real problems but also, as per the epic fantasy rules, some dark secrets, some stubbornness, and some talents. The Dream Land Trilogy, although sci-fi, also focuses more on the characters and their relationships than on the interdimensional doorway and the world they discover and come to rule. Perhaps it is all a matter of growing older myself and experiencing relationships. Who knows?

With the epic fantasy genre comes the criteria: a strange landscape, a variety of odd characters, a quest, and a lot of words to get the reader to the destination. When I began, I decided to aim for 200,000-plus words. I was half joking at first, just like with the title. But it really did not take so long or was too much effort to put that many words on paper. As a quest tale, the right number of episodes would naturally add up to the designated word count. I wrote quickly and did not linger to write lavish descriptions of places or a character’s fashion; I kept my focus on action, dialog, and moving to the next scene.

Like everything I write, I try to do two things, with regard to readers: give them a story that is compelling and within the criteria of the genre, and do something different, enough different, to make it not the same old thing they have read before. I think I’ve achieved that with Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. There is a deeper story that gradually boils to the surface by the end. I hope readers will enjoy the familiar elements of an epic fantasy and then appreciate how I’ve toyed with those elements to make some new and different.

CJJ: Now we get to the question I really want to know the answer to. At what age did you start reading, and what books influenced you most as a young reader?

SW: Being the child of a pair of teachers, I began reading at an early age. It wasn’t too soon after I began writing my own stories. They were comic strips at first: drawings with dialog. Then I dropped the pictures and added more words. All my teachers liked the stories I wrote, often having me read them for the whole class. In 7th grade I invented a superhero: Micro Man who could shrink himself to get out of tight jams. Everyone awaited the next episode every Friday. As a teenager I read sci-fi and fantasy…as well as some of the unabridged Classics on the shelves of my house. Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, Damon Knight are the authors I remember always reading. Plus Homer, the Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, and some Italians like Dante. And I tried to write better stories than what I read. Or at least as good: “Write the stories you want to read.” That’s what I do.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SW: Aside from some stylistic tricks and some phrasing quirks from the authors I named, I was shown many (more) ways of seeing the universe than I ever could in my simple world of Missouri. And that’s the reason we read, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Technically, I still use the “two-fer phrase” (He dipped the cup into the stream, drank it.) that I learned from reading Zelazny. I got a literary lesson on how, in a conflict, the side that seems morally right at first glance is not always morally right, courtesy of Moorcock (The Eternal Champion). As an only child who spent a lot of time entertaining myself, I loved reading and writing. Now I teach others to enjoy reading and appreciating literature and to write academically and creatively.

CJJ: I like that. In the opening chapters of EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons, Corlan is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s protagonists embodied. Do you ever take a vacation from writing? Do you have a current work in progress?

SW: The only vacation from writing I take are the agonizing weeks between projects. I might slip into a depression, fearing I’ll never write again. Maybe I’ll have no more ideas. Gradually an idea will emerge from the vagaries of daily life and once again I become excited at inventing something that did not exist before. I’m in that slump presently but I will soon be able to get back to work on something.

Work-in-progress? I hesitate to mention it because that in itself might prove to be a spoiler, but I have ideas and a plan for a sequel to Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. I have tentatively titled it Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons. Now that the dragon situation has been resolved, our hero will turn to problems in the north. We will also learn more of the War of the Five Princes…mapped out in 1973, long before George R. R. Martin thought up his Game of Thrones.

CJJ: What would you like to say in closing about EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons?

SW: EF*WD started as a spoof, then became a serious tale of a quest. Then began the painting of patina of philosophy under many of the scenes, letting characters discuss the issues relevant to them and by extension to all of humanity. That is why I remarked at the close that I had said everything I wanted to say. And that, I believe, is something of the requirements of the epic fantasy: to make a statement about the human condition (without being preachy, of course) that gives the reader far more than a simple quest tale with action and romance. Perhaps that’s what I like most about writing fiction: juxtaposing the mundane reality of our present world with the vivid possibilities of the fantastical world and finding somewhere between them, in the cracks, a few universal truths. Then I can sit back and muse: “My work here is done.”

Stephen Swartz, thank you for stopping by and talking about your work and especially about this wonderful new novel.

Stephen can be found blogging regularly at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire, where he discusses all aspects of his travels and writing life and also illuminates the darker corners of the craft of writing.

>>>|<<<

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired

with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy

from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

And yet, as dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive – and perhaps return home – no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

CONTACT Stephen Swartz at:
BLOG

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com/

TWITTER

@StephenSwartz1

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Stephen-Swartz/149555308427639

STEPHEN SWARTZ BOOK LINKS 

Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Swartz/e/B007391TQK

Goodreads Author Page:

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (Mar. 2017)
paper https://www.amazon.com/dp/1680630253

kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XF5FQ57

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (Dec. 2015)

A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (Feb. 2014)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296307

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (Oct. 2014)

AFTER ILIUM (2012)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296218

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SDW1KC

AIKO (May 2015)

THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY

BOOK 1: Long Distance Voyager (Sept. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296226

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AH1V78Q

BOOK 2: Dreams of Future’s Past (Nov. 2013)

BOOK 3: Diaspora (Dec. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296277

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVJGP9E

 

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#amreading: The Karaoke Novelist

BIF Blog Print ScreenI used to write an indie book review blog, before I got too busy to read as much as the blog required. The blog was called Best in Fantasy, and I still post reviews to it once in awhile, but only when something really rings my bells.

Sometimes I had to attempt to read six novels before I found one worth reviewing. In the process of searching Amazon for those really good fantasy reads, I’ve read a large share of badly written books. There is no  describing the agony of seeing a perfectly good idea for a plot destroyed by an author who was too eager to share their genius and rushed to publish what was clearly an excellent first draft .

You will get no snarky reviews from me—in fact I don’t review books I don’t like. I just move on to the next one in my pile and hope for the best.

Instead, I focus on the really awesome books I have enjoyed, some written by the famous, but most by the NOT so famous. Many of the great books I have enjoyed will never be best sellers because they are just one drop in an ocean of Kindle books.

It’s the wild west of indie publishing right now, and while it’s not necessarily a terrible thing, many untutored authors publish less than stellar works. These books are written and published by people who have no idea how the industry works.

Writing is like any other craft. There is a learning curve. Publishing is a separate craft, but nowadays the two go hand-in-hand.

At some point,  as indies gain the knowledge of what is involved in writing and publishing a good novel, the overall quality will  improve and level out. Those who are in it for the long haul will gain better visibility.

I have some hard-earned advice for new authors, those of you who want to leave the ranks of the Karaoke novelists, screeching their inept renditions of Wind Beneath my Wings. If you’re serious about your work, get your manuscript professionally edited.

Yes, it will cost you money, and you may get feedback you don’t want to hear. But that experience will enable you to put a book out there that you can be proud of, one that will stand up to any put out by the big publishers.

When I was writing a book review blog on a weekly basis, I often spent my week looking through five reasonably priced books only to discover they were

  1. Poorly formatted.
  2. Poorly edited.
  3. Rife with newbie errors such as beginning the book with a big info dump (been there done that).
  4. Thick, lush descriptions of “creamy blue eyes” (pardon, must barf now).
  5. Written by an author with no concept of a story arc.
  6. Boring filler conversations to fluff up the word count.
  7. Threads to nowhere,
  8. A random event that was intended as a cliff-hanger ending, but was obviously stuck there to entice the reader to get the sequel, which hadn’t been written yet and was now on my “No Way in Hell” list.

This also happens regularly with traditionally published books.  TOR can publish a novel that was poorly edited and no one will blink an eye, because they are one of the Big 5 Publishing houses.

Indies have to be better than that. Indies are scrutinized more closely and are held to a much higher standard. Flaws in our work are held up as an example of all that is wrong with the industry.

I used to curse at my Kindle when I read the first pages of books, both indie and traditionally published, that were  travesties. Many had gorgeous covers. I feel strongly the authors would be better served if they spent that money having their manuscript professionally edited.

I cringe when someone blithely tells me their friends edit for them. Most people aren’t best mates with a professional editor, and if you don’t have a degree in creative writing, you probably need a professional eye on your work.

Indies–aren’t you glad I only reviewed the books I liked? I didn’t want to be known for being a bitch, which is what I felt like when I read some of those travesties.

Thus, I say

  1. Go to writing craft seminars and conventions.
  2. Take writing classes at your local community college.
  3. Take online classes in writing.
  4. Buy and read books on the craft of writing.
  5. Write every day, even if it is only a paragraph.
  6. Hire a professional editor and consider following their suggestions.
  7. Have your manuscript proofread professionally before you publish it.

keep clam and proofreadI can’t stress this enough: before you publish that book you wrote during NaNoWriMo, please develop the craft of writing and rewrite that amazing novel.

You can join a writing group in your town and they will help you with these things. With the right group helping you grow, you will develop the skills needed to truly be a published author. And remember, if one group doesn’t really feel like a good fit, keep looking until you find a group you can work with.

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#amreading: Night Watchman Express by Alison DeLuca

Alison DeLuca HeadshotOne of my dear friends is author Alison DeLuca, who is the main driving force behind Myrddin Publishing.  Alison is the idea woman, and has the follow-though needed to successfully run the equivalent of a small publishing house these days.

Alison is a superwoman. Not only does she guide 25 authors through the wild west of indie publishing, she is the mother of an active pre-teen, a working author and blogger, and is one of the finest editors I know.

My husband and I share 5 children, and so we have “a passel” of grandkids, as my grandma would have said. While I generally write books more geared for adult readers, Alison has written a young adult Steampunk collection of books, the Crown Phoenix series.

She has written several other novels, and numerous short stories more geared for mature readers, and if there is one thing I can say about Alison, everything she writes is classy and well-crafted.

I am always looking for good, challenging books for my grandkids to read, ones that will keep their interest and stretch their minds, so I was thrilled when I met Alison and discovered her young adult work.

night watchman expressThe first book of hers that I ever read was the Night Watchman’s Express. I loved this book. The story never stops moving until the last page. Miriam, an unhappy young girl is orphaned when her wealthy industrialist father dies. With no other family, her father’s business partners, the Marchpanes, become her guardians. The Marchpanes immediately move into Miriam’s house, and take over her father’s rooms. (Mrs. Marchpane is deliciously evil.) They make their attempt to gain full control of Miriam’s money and her father’s company.

Gradually, Miriam begins to find common ground with the Marchpane’s son and their other young ‘guest’ when a nanny, who is both wise and skilled in certain magics, is hired. Mana is a woman who is of a race of people, who are considered to be second-class citizens, and contrary to the Marchpane’s hopes, she turns out to be exactly what both Miriam and the two boys needed.

There is a reluctant camaraderie that develops between Miriam and the two boys. The three of them do a certain amount of exploring the grounds of the estate, and discover a strange machine that her father has constructed. Another interesting thread is also Miriam’s strange emotional attachment to her father’s typewriter-like machine, which she has claimed for her own since his death, and keeps hidden in her room.

This book was so good for a rainy-weekend read that I read it twice. And guess what? It’s currently a free download for your Kindle, but if you are into paper, it also available in that format for $12.99.

This month, Alison is participating in The #BigBookGiveaway, which starts today, July 1st. For avid book lovers, this is an awesome deal! Sponsored by Girl Who Reads, two boxes of books donated by multiple authors and publishers will be given away through Rafflecopter, and the link to enter that contest is here: #BigBookGiveAway via RafflecopterJust click on that link and it will take you to the contest page, and you too could end up with a large box of books to while away your summer with, and Alison DeLuca’s Night Watchman Express is only one of them.

Christmas O'clock 2013Girl Who Reads is a great resource for avid readers like me, as it’s a website where you can find balanced book reviews, many of them indie books. Books are being offered in this giveaway by many wonderful authors, several with larger publishers, such as Penguin Books and Random House. Alison is also including a copy of Myrddin Publishings children’s’ anthology, Christmas O’Clock.

I did pen one of the stories in that collection, a little thing called A Christmas Tail.  I loved writing that tale—I was in a Toad Hall mood apparently, and Ratsy’s adventures with his friends are reminiscent of that wonderful series of tales.

Alison is one of the easiest people to work with I’ve ever known. We began this publishing adventure in the summer of 2012 as refugees from a bad publishing situation, and while it was rocky in the beginning, we have never regretted our decision to go indie. Our publishing cooperative began with a great group of authors who were all as committed to the indie way as we are, and every year we have gained new authors who bring new ideas and new fire to our collective. Alison is the glue that binds us together.

You can find Alison and more of her work here:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Amazon Author Central:  http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

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#amwriting: the struggle is the story

A point that was raised on another blog I follow is something many authors struggle with: devising the complicating events that raise levels of risk for the protagonist, and also for the antagonist. A compelling story evolves when the antagonist is strong, but not omnipotent. The protagonist must also be stronger than she thought she was, but still not omnipotent.

Small hindrances must occur between the larger events, frustrating the journey. These things delay the protagonist, and sometimes send them down the wrong path, but as each is overcome the reader feels a small sense of satisfaction. Following the protagonist as he/she is negotiating these detours is what makes the story captivating, in my opinion.

If you have a story of any length, short or long, you can’t have people sitting around idly chit-chatting. Conversations must have a purpose, and be designed to advance the plot. Information emerges that the protagonist (or antagonist) must know. The reader discovers this at the same time as the characters.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollIn the literary novel Better You Go Home by Scott Driscoll, Chico Lenoch, a Seattle attorney, is desperately ill and needs a family member to donate a kidney. None of his family members here locally are suitable donors. He has always wondered about his family in the Czech Republic, which his father won’t discuss, and has recently discovered he has a half-sister still living there. He journeys there to find his sister, and in the process, he unearths the secrets his father and mother left behind. As each terrible secret is revealed, hindrances arise. Danger, political fallout, personal vendettas, and a growing concern for his sister conspire with Chico’s failing health to keep him from achieving his goal.

If the path had been easy, Chico’s story would have been an exploration of a man with a problem, but not real exciting. Because of the roadblocks, it’s a taut thriller, and his journey comes to an unexpected and electrifying conclusion.

TA patch of Dry Skin, Stephen Swartzhis notion of making the path difficult is explored well in  Stephen Swartz’s literary fantasy, A Dry Patch of Skin. The story opens in Croatia but moves to Oklahoma. This tale is a fantasy in the sense it’s an exploration of vampirism, but is literary and gripping in its plausibility. Two of my favorite lines of all time are in the opening chapters of this novel:

Mirrors are such odd devices, and whoever invented them should have been killed. They purport to show us the true state of affairs and yet everything is distorted.

The protagonist, a man of Hungarian descent, named Stefan Székely, has a disturbing genetic skin condition and embarks on a quest to find a cure, desperate to somehow salvage his relationship with Penny. He has a job as a phlebotomist, which allows him to conceal his ailment, but eventually he is unable to hide it. Many roadblocks arise, interfering with Stefan’s success, forcing him to seek a cure in Budapest, but even that trip is fraught with frustrations. Because of those hindrances, the tension builds toward the end, making for a gripping read. The novel ends in an unexpected fashion and is one that stayed with me for a long time after.

Both these novels detail a seemingly ordinary thing—a person dealing with a life-threatening illness, both seeking a cure that seems like it should be easy but which becomes virtually impossible. In both novels, the roadblocks and detours along the journey create compelling narratives I found impossible to put down.

e.m. forster plot memeBoth are set in a contemporary setting, and both have surprising endings that could only have been arrived at because of the roadblocks and hindrances placed in the paths of the protagonists.

This is why we can’t make it easy for our characters. The struggle is the story.

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#amwriting: advancing the plot

e.m. forster plot memeIn the previous post, I discussed the story arc, and how it relates to what E.M. Forster said about the plot: that plot is the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. The story arc is a visual description of where events should occur in a story. For me, knowing where they should happen is good, but it doesn’t tell me what those events are.

Planning what events your protagonist will face is called plotting, and I make an outline for that.

“Pantsing it,” or writing using stream-of consciousness, can produce some amazing work. That works well when we’re inspired, as ideas seem to flow from us. But for me, that sort of creativity is short-lived.

Participating in nanowrimo has really helped me grow in that ability, and one nanowrimo joke-solution often bandied about at write-ins is, “When your’re stuck, it’s time for someone to die.” But we all know that in reality, assassinating beloved characters whenever we run out of ideas is not a feasible option because soon we will run out of characters.

As devotees of Game of Thrones will agree, readers (or TV viewers) get to know characters, and bond with them. When cherished characters are too regularly killed off, the story loses good people, and we have to introduce new characters to fill the void. The reader may decide not to waste his time getting invested in a new character, feeling that you will only break their heart again.

The death of a character should be reserved to create a pivotal event that alters the lives of every member of the cast, and is best reserved for either the inciting incident at the first plot point or as the terrible event of the third quarter of the book. So instead of assassination, we should resort to creativity.

This is where the outline can provide some structure, and keep you moving forward.  I will know what should happen in the first quarter, the middle, and the third quarter of the story. Also, because I know how it should end, I can more easily write to those plot points by filling in the blanks between, and the story will have cohesion.

Think about what launches a great story:

The protagonist has a problem.

You have placed them in a setting, within a given moment, and shown the environment in which they live.

You have unveiled the inciting incident.

Now you need to decide what hinders the protagonist and prevents them from resolving the problem. While you are laying the groundwork for this keep in mind that we want to evoke three things:

  1. Empathy/identification with the protagonist
  2. Believability
  3. Tension

We want the protagonist to be a sympathetic character whom the reader can identify with; one who the reader can immerse themselves in, living the story through his/her adventures.

Also, we want the hindrances and barriers the protagonist faces to feel real to the reader. They must be believable so that the reader says, “Yeah, that could happen.” Within every scene, you must develop setups for the central events of that moment in their lives and show the payoffs (either negative or positive) to advance the story: action and reaction.

Each scene propels the characters further along, each act closing at a higher point on the story arc, which is where the next one launches from.

Some authors resort to “idle conversation writing” when they are temporarily out of ideas.  Resist the temptation—it’s fatal to an otherwise good story. Save all your random think-writing off-stage in a background file, if giving your characters a few haphazard, pointless exchanges helps jar an idea loose.

imagesDon’t introduce random things into a scene unless they are important. What if you had a walk-on character who was looking for her/his cat just before or just after the inciting incident? If the loss of the cat is to demonstrate the dangers in a particular area, make it clear that it is window dressing or remove it.

If the cat has no purpose it needs to be cut from the scene. To show the reader something  is to foreshadow it, and the reader will wonder why the cat and the person looking for it were so important that they had to be foreshadowed.

Every memorable element in a fictional story must be necessary and irreplaceable.  In  creative writing, this concept is referred to as “Chekhov’s Gun,” as it is a principal formally attributed to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.

Finally, we want to keep the goal just out of reach, to maintain the tension, and keep the reader reading to find out what will happen next. Readers are fickle, and always want what they can’t have. The chase is everything, so don’t give them the final reward until the end of the story.

But do have the story end with most threads and subplots wrapped up, along with the central story-line. Nothing aggravates readers more than going to all the trouble of reading a book to the end, only to be given no reward for their investment of time.

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#amwriting: keyboard tics and power punctuation

Exclamation points, Emdashes, Ellipses memeWhen a friend phones us, we’re usually able to identify them from the sound of their voice. We take this for granted, accepting the singularity of each speaker, seeing their idiosyncratic speech habits as part of what makes them who they are.

We writers communicate through our fingers, keying our thoughts. Our readers can recognize our work because we each have a unique voice and pattern to our writing, not unlike our individual manner of speaking.

And just as we do when we are speaking, we may have ‘keyboard tics’ when writing the first draft of a given work. These small keying habits occur as a pause in our thoughts, a simple twitch of a finger, liberally sprinkling the work with hyphens, semicolons, and exclamation points, to the extent the work makes our first reader breathless.

These punctuations have their place, but when they are used excessively, they must be weeded out, and this is part of making effective revisions.

One good way to do this is to print out each chapter, one at a time. Use a blank page, and work your way from the bottom up, covering all above except the paragraph you are looking at.

When you go back and isolate each paragraph, removing the context, you can make a better determination of how you really want to punctuate those ideas. Eight times out of ten, a simple period or comma will better serve the sentences and make the paragraph less confusing.

Using semicolons to make strong pauses in your sentences is WRONG, so remove them and use a comma or a period. Use an emdash or a hyphen to set a clause off for emphasis, and an ellipsis to show uncertainty.

But don’t go nuts.

No one enjoys reading a choppy narrative because  short sentences are distracting and hard to get into. The way we smooth the narrative is to join short sentences into longer, compound sentences, but frequently that creates run-on sentences. (I am the queen of those.)

You do not join independent clauses with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuum: the Dreaded Comma Splice:

Comma Splice: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu and I like it, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

Same thought, written correctly: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu, and I like it. The dog likes to ride shotgun.

So when do we use a semicolon? Semicolons join independent clauses, which are clauses that can stand alone, and your best bet is to avoid using them except under extreme duress.

The two clauses that are joined together with a semicolon should be

  1. complete sentences that relate to each other
  2. if they don’t relate to each other, make them separate sentences and reword them so they are not choppy.

Two separate ideas done wrong: We should go to the Dairy Queen; it’s nearly half past five.

The first sentence is one whole idea—they want to go somewhere. The second sentence is a completely different idea—it’s telling you the time.

Two separate ideas done right, assuming the mention of time is important: We should go to the Dairy Queen soon. They close at eight, and it’s nearly half past five.

If time is the issue in both clauses, and you feel like you absolute MUST use a semicolon or you will explode, say, “The Dairy Queen is about to close; it’s nearly half past five.”

I generally try to find alternatives to semicolons, but I don’t dislike them, as some editors do. I think they are too easily abused and misused.

But what about exclamation points! I get so excited when I see a plethora of pointy exclamations! It makes me breathless! Too many, and your reader will be thrown out of the narrative and put the book down, never to pick it up again.

We shouldn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points. I am just as guilty as anyone when it comes to peppering the first draft with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses, because a little power is a dangerous thing, and certain punctuation has power:

em dash memeExclamation points!

Em dashes—

Ellipses…

Never underestimate the power of the “e-punctuation,” and never forget how easy it is to get carried away with them.

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses should be used at important points. For the most part, the way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself will convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with ‘e’ punctuation.

Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions. Done right, you will only need one or two morsels of power punctuation. The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well, and won’t throw the reader out of the book.

Power punctuation can inadvertently become keyboard tics when we are laying down the first draft. They are road marks to show us how we felt when we first expressed that thought and want to just get it down on paper before we forgot it. The second draft requires us to step back and craft the narrative so that we are not relying on these signs to tell the story.

We want to show the story with mood, atmosphere, and setting the scene. The words we choose for each character’s conversation conveys their emotions, as does the way you have portrayed them. Thus, power punctuation should be used, but sparingly and for emphasis.

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#amwriting: MS Office 365 Crash and Document Loss Workaround

windows-10-blue screen of deathThose of us who use Microsoft Office are familiar with both its versatility and its problems. In many ways, it is a great package of programs, but it has several major flaws.

The very annoying issue I never had with Office 2010, but now have with Office 365 (2016) is the program crashing right as I go to “save” a new document or spreadsheet. The program shuts down and the file vanishes, never to be found again, when the program reopens itself a minute later.

I will have the file library open, and the correct Master file open, and have correctly named the sub-file and then…just as I am about to click “save”…

Word (or Excel) shuts itself down. Any work that was done on that particular document or spreadsheet is GONE.

And no, kind sir, that document is not recoverable in my unsaved files as “Document 1.docx” nor is it listed anywhere as some gobbledygook file name with a .tmp extension. Even when you search the hard drive files by date, which should bring up anything you have done that day, the file is gone.

I’m actually quite Microsoft-savvy. When this first happened to me, I did the research and tried all the measures and remedies posted on the internet for recovering these lost files. Those remedies don’t work because the techs assume the machine’s default autosave function is working. The glitch is actually in that particular function, so it does not, and the file is not even stored in a temp file.

The program crashed, dumped the file into the ether and then said, “Oops! My bad.”

The tech support out there on the Microsoft boards seem as mystified as anyone else, and gives the same stock, canned answers. I feel bad for them–they want to help, but don’t know how.

Microsoft Office 365 Logo 1280px PNGI have an idea as to why these documents that were lost at the moment you tried to save them are unrecoverable.

The document is lost because the Windows autosave function does not always work properly, and it is the autosave glitch that causes the program to hang and then crash. Something about the  process of relabeling from the generic “Document 1” title that Word names all new documents, to whatever you need it to be,  seems to short circuit the program, causing it to shut down. 

And, the moment the unsaved document vanishes, it is as if it never existed. It was never autosaved to begin with, so there is no autosaved version to retrieve. I am sorry my friend, but that document is gone.

I have a simple workaround. It is old-school and dates back to the early days of Windows when everyone knew Word and Excel could crash at any moment. But unless you could afford Corel WordPerfect, which was horrifically expensive in those days, most businesses were stuck with Microsoft. We knew and used several workarounds which we have not had to do for many years. However, it’s time to pull them out and dust them off:

  • For every new document you create, I recommend that while the page or spreadsheet is still blank, before you do any work whatsoever on that document, you give the file a working name and save it to whatever folder you normally work out of. Do that immediately.

I work out of Dropbox, so my files look like this:

  1. Main Folder: Dropbox
  • Subfolder > cjjasperson
  • Subfolder> LIRFblogposts
    • >post_May_15_2016_microsoft_rant

However, it is when we get to the  subfolder folder and attempt to give our work a file name that Word/Excel crashes.

This is the problem scenario: I went to save the blank page on which I intended to write a post for this blog this morning and Word crashed. But, unlike several times previously, I had lost nothing as I hadn’t done any work at that point. The level of frustration is much lower when you’ve lost no work.

As long as I name my file first, before I do any work in the body of the document, I will never lose the beginnings of an entire project even if the program crashes, as it does periodically.

And once the file is renamed, autosave seems to work more efficiently.

This issue is not just with users of Dropbox.

I mentioned above that I have researched this extensively. The internet is rife with complaints that Office 365 crashes just as frequently when people are trying to save to the Documents file on their computer’s hard drive, and also occurs when saving to Microsoft’s own One Drive, and also Google Drive, and any other way people can save their files.

This means it is an issue inherent in the program itself, and not a compatibility issue. This is a problem with the software, and it needs to be addressed.

So, if you are using Office 365, name that file the minute you open a new document or spreadsheet. Once you have successfully saved your blank document/spreadsheet the first time, you will never completely lose it if Word or Excel crashes again while you are trying to save or are just working as sometimes happen.

However, if autosave hangs and fails, you will lose work you didn’t manually save prior to the crash.

But there is an old-school workaround to help with that too:

  • On the ribbon, open the File tab again and this time, scroll down to Options:
  • Click to open the Options menu and a large menu will open
  • In the left-hand menu underneath Word Options, scroll down and click on Save
  • This will open the menu to where you will reset your autosave options.
  • The default option for autosave is 10 minutes, and yours will likely say that.
  • I reset mine to 2 minutes.
  • When you are satisfied with your choices, click ‘OK.’

ms_word_rant_5-14-2015_LIRF

You can always change the working name of your document later, but once it has an official name and a place in your file directory, a temporary file will be saved should it crash again and all you will lose is what you did in the two minutes prior to the crash, assuming autosave worked at all.

Save manually and save regularly, because you never know when autosave will fail. Here we are, back to the mid 1990s, when the dreaded Blue Screen of Death owned you.

Some people use Open Office, or Google Documents quite successfully. They are free to the user and are ideal for some people. Google Docs even saves as you go, which is a really nice function. But while those two products are basically useful for simple projects, they are quite limited and don’t have the range of tools I need for my word-processing and spreadsheet programs.

I owned a Mac in the mid 1990s, and it was okay, and I’ve held jobs where my machine was a Mac, but I never really been a Mac devotee. I’m a PC person through and through. I need a program with all the features of Microsoft Office 365. All I ask is that it work reliably, the way Office 2010 did.

I confess, I’ve been checking into dumping this hinky, already-paid-for program and switching to Corel WordPerfect Office. I have used earlier versions in various work environments and absolutely loved the the program and what it offered. However, the reason I haven’t gone with it in my home office was cost–it was an extremely expensive program.

corel wordperfect office 8

Switching to Corel products is a real option for me now, as in recent years they have become competitively priced. Documents can be saved in .doc and .docx format which most publishers want, so the program will work just fine for my needs. It may be time to reconsider my loyalties.

Making the switch at the end of my subscription would require retraining myself, as there is a learning curve when you get a new program. Also, Office 365 is useful across all three of my electronic devices, which is the main reason I went with it.

But I can work out of Google docs when I am on the road, if I must.

This fall when my subscription is nearing the end, I will be weighing what my time spent learning how to use a new program is worth against how high my level of frustration with Microsoft’s lack of accountability is.

I will be watching the tech boards as always. The way Microsoft addresses this problem will determine if it is worth the time and effort for me to make that switch.

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#amwriting: Setting and keeping your preferred font in Microsoft Word

Fonts in all their gloryOkay. We all know that Microsoft Word is a hinky behemoth of a program, but it is what many of us are using. Publishers all want their manuscripts in a serif font, and will usually specify Times New Roman .12 or Courier .12 and want it double-spaced.

Microsoft Word comes with Calibri .11 as the default font, set at 1.5 spacing which is not wide enough for most editors and publisher’s purposes. Also, Calibri is a sans serif font and does not comply with the requirements of publishers and editors. Reading it large chunks is difficult as the spacing between the letters is identical and it is hard to distinguish some letters.

One major problem with Calibri font is a visible homoglyph, a pair of easily confused characters: the lowercase letter L and the uppercase letter i (l and I) are virtually indistinguishable.

Font differences in sentences

Publishers hate confusion.

If the manuscript is not formatted to their requirements as posted on their submissions page, your work will not be considered.

So to comply with their guidelines, we format the manuscript according to their needs. Most use what has become the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in .12.

These are called ‘Serif’ fonts because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

209px-Serif_and_sans-serif_03.svg

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.

Select all printscreen

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

You can change this on the home tab by clicking on the little grey square in the right-hand corner of the font menu and accessing the drop-down menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, and set it to .12 as that is easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Follow these steps to reset your default formatting, but only click “set as default” if this is what you really want. You can reset it to what you you want if you find you don’t like your new settings. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

Format paragraphs printscreenBut, you say, you have done that and every time you go to insert a word into the body of your document the font for what you are inserting has automatically gone back to Calibri size .10! And every new document is still formatted with Calibri.

On the home tab, in the Styles pane (click on the lower right-hand arrow of the styles box), click the Manage Styles button. In Word 2016 that is on the bottom of the list, the far right-hand button (just before the word options).

Word 2016 font change steps

On the Set Defaults tab, specify the settings that you want. The changes will apply to the current document, but if you select “New documents based on this template” before clicking OK, the settings will be transferred to the attached template. All your documents after that should have your preferred font as the default font. In my case, it is Times New Roman .12, double spaced, with a .03 indent. You may want a different font, single spaced and a different indent.

Word 2016 font change steps 2

But say you need to format your manuscript differently, for a unique purpose.

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 show up, and you will change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu.

Scroll down to the new font, and set it to the desired size. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Again, any errors can be undone by clicking the back arrow. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

Standard manuscript format means margins of 1 inch all the way around, indented paragraphs, and double-spaced text. For more on this subject, see my post of Feb. 27, 2015, Formatting a submission-ready manuscript.

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 to make the text align with both the left and right margins. Justifying gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.

For my purposes, I have found it is easiest on my eyes to use Times New Roman .12, aligned left, double-spaced, with a 0.3 indent for all my work, so that is what my default settings are. I always reformat my manuscript to comply with whatever the requirements are for every magazine or publisher I submit my work to.

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