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Archive for the tag “novel”

A Heart, a Mole, and a Limerick

It’s been a sort of eventful (and yet not) couple of weeks. There have been a couple scares, some new side effects, a milestone, some experimentation, and a minor epiphany.

Tasting and Smelling

First, I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the nausea. It’s much worse this round, but as before, I’m not actually vomiting…I’m just nauseous all the time. Maybe weed would help, but I’m not willing to trade barfy for high at this point. If I were face-down in the toilet I’m sure that option would be more attractive.

Still, it’s very odd. It feels sort of like a mixture of pregnant and hungover. The constant low-level nausea is just there…ever-present like a tiny fetus in my gut. It’s accompanied by an excruciatingly sensitive nose. I can smell everything in exquisite detail and most of it makes me want to yak. And when I say I can smell everything I mean it. I can smell morning breath from across the room. I can smell YOU right now, reading this. I can detect whiffs of the soap you used this morning and the mint you ate after lunch.

Crime LabParadoxically, my sense of taste is completely whackadoo. One evening last week I got a sudden and very strong craving for pizza. Specifically, Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza. Thinking I was turning the corner on my nausea/chemical taste issues, I ordered one for delivery (sans sauce because tomatoes give me heartburn now). I opened wide and took what was meant to be a nearly orgasmic bite. And tasted…nothing. Nada. I haven’t been that disappointed since Santa failed to deliver Crime Lab back in 1970-whatever.

But then there are good surprises as well. Cantaloupe, for instance, which is one of my favorite things to put in my mouth. Cantaloupe has to be just right. The flavor is so subtle that if you have a slight cold you won’t be able to taste it. Or if it’s not quite ripe. I got some cantaloupe the other day with the thought that it probably wouldn’t taste good, but what the hell. I took the first bite and was overwhelmed with sweet flavor. It was the highlight of my day. It was THAT good.

can-dogs-eat-cantaloupe

Mole Hunt

Here’s something that wasn’t good. My youngest, Allison, is blonde. We’re not sure why or how, because everyone else in the family is dark. Some family members were blonde as very small children, but grew out of it. It remains to be seen if Allie will keep her yellow hair or not. My point is that I don’t know what to do with a blonde head and have always been super wary of the sun. Those corn silk locks don’t seem to offer any protection and so I’m hardcore about making her wear a hat in the summer. A couple of years ago I found a large-ish (relative to her four-year-old noggin) mole near her ear and have kept a close watch on it. Last Wednesday while washing her hair I saw what I’ve been dreading: the mole has changed. Where it was once uniform in color and perfectly round, it has suddenly shown all the signs of a potential melanoma.

IMG_1960Basically, my baby’s mole flunked the ABCDE test. Herewith:

  • A – Asymmetry (lopsided is bad)
  • B – Borders (blurry, uneven is bad)
  • C – Color (different shades are bad)
  • D – Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser is bad)
  • E – Evolving (change is bad)

So, Gunny and I resolved to take her to the pediatrician ASAP and put her to bed. Then I opened the freezer to get a popsicle and burst into tears. Those heaving, silent “Don’t mind me, I’m breaking down” sobs. Because cancer can take me, but it better not lay one turdy tendril on my child. Because I will burn this world down.

The pediatrician agreed the mole is “suspicious,” and has referred us to a dermatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Once Tricare approves it, I’m hoping to make the appointment for a Tuesday. Just in case we run into Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on his weekly trip to visit sick kids. You gotta find the upside wherever you can.

Side Effects

In honor of some fun new side effects I have composed this limerick:

There once was a lady named Trix
Who found herself in quite a fix
Her gums were receding
Her ass, it was bleeding
And she still has four rounds left of six!

Also, my nose is running in what is lovingly called the “Herceptin drip.” Yaaaaaaaay.

My Heart

In my last post I mentioned that I’d been having some shortness of breath. The next day it concerned me enough to call Dr. Cap’s office. He had me come in and Gunny and I spent two hours there. First, I had two panic attacks before I even saw the doctor. I haven’t had one since, well, I guess since I met Gunny seven years ago, but I used to have them fairly often and once severe enough to land in the ER where the nurses nodded knowingly when I told them I worked at Microsoft. “Oh, we see Microsoft people all the time for this.” Anyway my heart rate was too high for Dr. Cap and he sent me to the lab for a blood draw to check my iron. My iron was fine but my postassium was low. He decided that we’d check on my heart a little sooner than planned so this Monday I had another echocardiogram which was absolutely fine. So my heart is in good shape and I don’t know what the shortness of breath was about and haven’t experienced it since.

My Hair

What about your bald head, Christa? Oh, I’m glad you asked. So here’s something I didn’t expect: my head gets a little bit stubbly every few days. But only in patches. So if I hadn’t shaved my head I would still have hair, but I would also have bald patches, which I think we can all agree would not look very cool.

IMG_1993

I’ve decided I like the idea of wigs more than I enjoy wearing them. So I’ve been going naked-headed most of the time inside the house and rocking some hats out and about. These are the two I like best:

IMG_1985 IMG_1995

And now for the good news. At long last, after more than three months, I’ve started working on my novel again! The second Mike Malick mystery You Go To My Head is back on track. I’m not promising a release date yet, but at least the wheels are back in motion. It feels really good to be creating something again.

An Epiphany

That’s sort of my takeaway from the whole cancer experience thus far: being grateful for the small things. The kindness of a friend. A sunny day. The flavor of ripe melon. I’ve discovered that Death doesn’t have to come very close at all to make Life taste very sweet.

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Finishing touches: Getting your novel in top condition

This post isn’t about that final-final review when your manuscript has already gone through professional editing and proofreading. This is about getting your manuscript ready for the next step, whether that’s beta readers or your editor.

Getting to the end of the first draft and typing “The end” is a fantastic feeling and nothing should diminish that sense of accomplishment. But you’re not done yet. At least I’m not. Because I’m the kind of writer that appreciates momentum over all. If I’m writing a scene, I don’t like to stop and look up a fact, ponder a new character name, or go back through my story to verify a date or time. I type XXXXXXX and I move along.

So, once I’ve written my final scene, and after some celebration, I need to go back and fill in those blanks.

Filling in the blanks

Since I use the multiple X convention, all I have to do is search for it in my document and there’s a list of all my unfinished business. I can methodically go through and replace X’s with the good stuff. (Here are some tips on character names, btw).

Next up–and this is especially important in the mystery genre–is making sure all my dates and times match. Ensuring that the Time of Death pronounced by the medical examiner in the beginning of the book is the same window in which my suspects must account for their whereabouts. In short, if the victim was killed between midnight and four a.m., my sleuth doesn’t need to check alibis for noon to three p.m. To that end, I created two calenders: one shows all the action in the book by chapter and the second shows the details of the crime. What happened when, where each suspect was, and when evidence is revealed.

It's blurry by design. No spoilers!

It’s blurry by design. No spoilers!

Sometimes the facts that need checking are of the real world and not the fictional world I’ve built. For my upcoming book, Glitched, I’ve verified quotes from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Supertroopers, names of Pokemon characters, the color of Top Pot Doughnuts carry out boxes, tracks on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours album, the number of city blocks between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Police Department headquarters and whether one says “on Maui” or “in Maui.”

And, of course, as I go through this process (printing out chapters, making edits in pencil, and then doing corrections in the Word doc), I find stuff that bugs me. Awkward phrasing, or unnecessary sentences. Other times I make additions that clarify the action or make it more powerful.

This is the part of the creative process that feels most like work, but in the end will make my book better. And may even save me money! The less time my editor has to spend checking my facts and cleaning up sloppy shit, the fewer hours she’s going to bill me.

The most important part of this phase is to stay focused. Here are my top three techniques for the finishing touches:

  1. Bite-sized chunks. I do three chapters and then take a break.
  2. Block out the real world. Noise cancelling headphones, isolation booth, hotel room.
  3. Be extra nice to your spouse/housemates/friends. When you’re not hunkered down, nose to the grindstone with music blaring in your private headspace you’re probably thinking about the book and not really engaging with your humans. You are kind of an asshole right now. Once you hand off to your editor, please cook your people a nice meal, take them to the movies or otherwise reward their patience and understanding.

Series Fiction: What I wish I’d known at the start

long gameI’m in the final stretch of writing the fourth book in my Lexy Cooper mystery series. Now, I’m certainly nowhere near as prolific as many writers, but by the time you get to Book 4, you’ve built up a pretty substantial cast of characters, a history, and a world. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way and wish I’d known when I was writing the first one.

Consistency in World Building

Just because I write books set in modern times in the “real” world doesn’t mean I haven’t done some world building. It’s not Middle Earth, but Lexy Cooper’s fantasy world mapRedmond and Seattle are not exact replicas of the real thing and those subtle differences need to be consistent. Sometimes I run up against a perception I had while writing earlier books that cause me to hesitate and stumble writing later books. Take the Redmond Police Department headquarters, where Detective Malick does his murder-solving thing. When I wrote Schooled I had a very vague idea of what it looked like: a lobby where a desk sergeant sits, desks where cops do their work on battered government-issue desks, a conference room where the cops can gather to brainstorm, and an interrogation room for grilling suspects. That’s all I wrote about, because it was all I needed. Then in Pwned, I added another interrogation room and now there’s “Interview A” and “Interview B.” Each book has added new areas as the story requires them. By the time I wrote Summer Wind, in which Detective Malick gets his own series, the building is three stories high and has a computer lab, briefing room, Chief’s office, gym, and impound lot. The good news is I never said, in Book 1 that the station was small or one-story, or lacked any facilities. So looking back, is it better that I was vague in the beginning, or should I have mapped it out with a little more diligence from the get-go?  Vagueness has allowed me to get what I need from that location, but every time I send Malick up a flight of stairs that wasn’t in my head during the previous books, I feel a little bit guilty.

ss-100512-laworder-01.grid-8x2

The Trouble with Character Names

There are two male cops in my series: Mike Malick and Mark Rogers. In the first three books Rogers was always “Rogers” because he’s a young cop still in uniform and Mike is the star. But by Book 4, Rogers has a new job in a neighboring city and is a detective. Now equals–mostly–“Mike and Mark” are so close it sounds lame.

name gameWorse yet are rhyming names. Lexy’s brother is Kent and her cameraman is Trent. I never even noticed it until the two characters have a scene together in Book 4 and I had to write around putting their names next to each other. Meanwhile I cursed myself for my foolishness for not noticing in Book 1. Another example? Kenny Longworth and Kent Cooper don’t share a scene in the first four books, but that too, could be problematic in the future. And then I have to wonder: What’s with the “Ken” thing? Why did I choose those names? I don’t think I even know anyone named Ken.

Now I’m being much more careful in naming new characters. In book 4, Lexy’s friend Harper Cole (who appears in Pwned and Griefed) is a major player. When it came time for me to introduce a new character, I wanted to name her Hopper after Grace Hopper. But Hopper and Harper? That’s a no-go. So right now her name is Borg after Anita Borg, but I don’t think I can get past the Star Trek association on that one and it will most likely change again.

Now here are a couple of things I think I did right. And I did them right because I was slow and careful about what I was doing. I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can here, but if you haven’t read Lexy 1-3 and are super sensitive to vague hints about the plot, you may want to skip this bit.

The Long Game

If you’ve got the foresight to plan the major plot points of the books in your series, it’s very effective to lay the groundwork early for the biggest payoff. So there’s a bad guy in Book 3. Now I could have created a new character to do the bad things, but instead I played the long game. Knowing all along what I was going to write in Book 3 (at that time the end of a Lexy trilogy) I introduced the character very casually in Book 1. This character was so minor he or she may have mostly gone unnoticed. But then he or she became more important in Book 2. So by the time Book 3 rolls around and he or she does the bad thing it is a shock and betrayal to both Lexy and the reader.

See also: Foreshadowing. This character offers hints of what he/she is capable of in the first two books. What you’re going for is either a “I felt like there was something weird about that person!” or “Why didn’t I see that coming!?” So hopefully, a person who read Book 3 could go back to Book 2 and smack themselves for not realizing this character was trouble.

Another example: In Summer Wind (which is Malick #1 but also Book 3.5 in the Lexy series), I introduce a character who is not really going to be very important until Book 7. But when she becomes important she won’t have dropped out of a clear blue sky. She’s already been established in the cast and the world.

Incremental Change

It would have been easy to begin the series with Lexy Cooper–community manager by day, kick-ass vigilante detective by night, but let’s face it…that’s not really believable or relatable. Instead, Lexy learns new skills as the series progresses. Not because she has an end-goal of being some sort of Dirty Harriet, but because she has reactions to the things that happen in her life. Possible spoilers For instance: In the first book, something happens to Lexy that makes her interested in finally learning to handle a firearm. So in Book 2 she learns to shoot. In Book 2 and then again in Book 3, she is in a situation where she has to run to safety. And her speed and endurance fail her. In Book 4, running has become a priority for her. She’ll be ready for the next time. And at this point, she carries her Glock everywhere. By Book 4 or 5 readers will not be shocked–or skeptical–if Lexy outruns an assailant or uses her gun because these are skills she’s worked to acquire and not superpowers she’s granted when she suddenly needs them.

The Downside

The downside of the slow build and the long game is that readers can’t see inside your head and may get impatient as they wait for your heroine to “grow up.” I have had feedback about how Lexy often gets rescued in early books, or that she’s immature or didn’t have a big enough reaction to the tragic events at the end of Griefed. All I can say to that is: keep reading.

 

 

Course Correction – When a work-in-progress isn’t working

titanic-shipLast week I wrote a long post lamenting the shitty state of my new novel Summer Wind. If you want to read the whole boohoo thing it’s here. The short version is: It sucked. My main character Detective Mike Malick was stiff and uninteresting. One of the solutions I pondered was “Try switching to the first-person POV” but I quickly nixed that as a “cop-out.”

My hesitation went deeper than a knee-jerk reaction. I wasn’t sure I could write a whole book from a man’s viewpoint. I’ve written brief scenes from male points of view in my Lexy Cooper series, but never in the first-person. I don’t know what it’s like to be a dude. Will Malick, channeled through me, come across like a chick in a false mustache? I was afraid.

Helena-Bonham-Carter-Mustache-Big-Vogue-Portable1

But then I tried it.

And it flowed pretty well. Better than I expected. I rewrote a chapter of Summer Wind changing the third-person past tense to first-person present tense, and compared the versions side-by-side.

And yeah, I liked it. And my alpha readers liked it too. One of them said, “I already love it.  his dry noir wit comes comes through even when he’s taking the high road on the outside,” and another said, “seeing it through Malick’s eyes is much more telling about who he is.” So it was decided. Now I just had to do a complete rewrite on a by then 37,000 word novel-in-progress. I estimated it would take nine days to fix and then I’d be able to go forward and write the rest of the book.

SW Old v New side by side

What I hadn’t really considered is how much I would end up cutting. About 5,000 words actually. The entire prologue (which I wasn’t sure was going to be in the final version anyway), scenes in Officer Yi and Officer Rogers POV, and while I was at it a clue that was too obvious too soon and a scene with a character that I’d sent out of the town in the previous chapter (logic fail.)

Here are a couple examples of how I did the rewrites. In scenes that were orginally in Malick’s POV (most of the book) it was an opportunity to add a little more stream of conscious personality. I changed this scene, when Malick wakes up and houseguest Lexy Cooper is burning breakfast:

She had twenty-nine years on her, but looked five years younger and acted ten years younger. He blamed part of it on her job. She worked in video games as something called a “community manager” which as far as he could tell involved writing stuff for the company website, traveling around making videos that streamed on the company’s online gaming service, and being subject to startling levels of harassment and abuse. That’s sort of why she was here. Had been here for weeks sleeping on his sofa and burning his bacon.

To this:

She has twenty-nine years on her, but looks five years younger and acts ten years younger. I blame part of it on her job. She works in video games as something called a “community manager” which as far as I can tell involves writing stuff for the company website, traveling around making videos that stream on the company’s online gaming service, and being subject to startling levels of harassment and abuse. That’s sort of why she’s here. Has been here for weeks sleeping on my sofa and burning my bacon. I keep buying it, she keeps burning it. Hope springs eternal, right? At least when it comes to salted meat.

The part of the rewrite that stung the most was eliminating the Cricket Yi and Mark Rogers scenes. I was especially fond of the scene in which my young redheaded cop interviews the murder victim’s daughter, who is sunbathing on the deck.

“Soooo if you want to ask me questions or whatever, I should probably put some clothes on. If you’re just here for the view…”
Rogers looked down, ashamed. “No, I…”
“I meant the view. You know, the valley and shit?” She swept an arm across the horizon and Rogers felt like a bumbling teenager. He pulled out his notebook and mechanical pencil so she wouldn’t see him blush.
“Go change and I’ll meet you back inside. You know gingers can’t take too much sunshine.”

How do I keep the gist and the flavor of the scene but make it Malick’s? This is what I did:

“Soooo if you want to ask me questions or whatever, I should probably put some clothes on. If you’re just here for the view…” She rolls her shoulders, suggestively.
“What? No, I…” I’m surprised at how offended I am.
“I meant the view. You know, the valley and shit?” She sweeps an arm across the horizon and I feel like a dirty old man. This is not going well. I pull out my pen and notebook and attempt to get control back.
“Go change and I’ll meet you back inside.” When she disappears behind her bedroom door, I call Rogers and tell him to get his ginger ass up here, pronto.

Once all that was done and all the “Malick”s and “he”s had become “I”s and “me”s, I got back to writing. In the first-person present tense. And man, do I feel better about the book. I’m so glad I decided to stop and check the map instead of just blundering along in the wrong direction. Sure, I’d probably be 10,000 words closer to finished, but it would be a shitty book. I’m behind schedule now, but only by a week, and the difference in the story, the character and my confidence in the book is more than worth the short delay.

If your book isn’t working, stop. Not forever, but long enough to assess the problem, mess around under the hood a bit and find a solution.

B.Y.O.P – Be Your Own Publisher

I’ve been blogging about my trials and errors in this writing thing for a couple years now. From a post about discovering Kindle Direct Publishing and unearthing a long-lost novel, to crowdfunding a research trip, I’ve shared the journey with my blog readers.

BYOP Cover

If you’ve found my writing tips interesting or helpful, I’m collecting them into a short non-fiction book on writing, publishing and marketing your own book. If you’re a follower of this blog, some of it will be familiar but a lot of it is new content.

Why am I doing this? Because two years ago I hadn’t written any fiction in nearly two decades and hadn’t published a damn thing. Since then I’ve published four novels and a short story and have had a crash course in indie publishing and marketing. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learned some tricks, and I’d like to help writers get past the doubts and inertia and get their book out into the world.

Look for B.Y.O.P this summer!

Why is this book taking so long to write?

My first novel, The Sleepless Nanny, took nine months to write. It wasn’t a long book, or particularly complex. I wrote it for one hour each night, most of the time with a toddler on my lap.

Second novel (Schooled)? Three months. Ditto with the third (Pwned). This, the fourth book, should be the quickest/easiest yet, shouldn’t it? Here’s why my fourth novel (and third in the Lexy Cooper series) should have been a breeze to write:

1. It’s the fourth book! At this point I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words! I should have this down!

2. I’ve known how this book would end when I wrote the very first bits of the first book in the series. It’s the conclusion of a three-book story arc and a set up to the next three books in what will be a six-book series.

3. I know these characters as well as I know my children. Better! Because they do what I tell them and share all their secrets.

Despite this, take a look at my writing record for the last seven months. This shows weekly word counts for May through November 2013.

Writing May to November - Lexy Cooper

Looking at this, a couple of reasons for my lack of progress on Lexy #3 jump out at you: I published Lexy #2 and also wrote and published a seasonal short story, I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa. That lull in mid-June? That was when I was working with my editor and proofreader to finish up Pwned. That little spike in word count in July? That’s when I discovered the Ommwriter app (which I wrote about here). The big lull in September? Started a new consulting gig. Giant uptick in gettin’ shit done in October? Gave up a year-long consulting gig, giving myself back two days a week to write. The fuck-all I got done last week? Um…holidays?

I’ve gotten to the point now in Lexy #3 where I’m running up against a deadline, which is December 30. I have about 15,000 words to go. I know what those words need to be. It’s all outlined out with snippets of description and scraps of dialog. The last three chapters are already done–I wrote those after returning from my Roswell research trip.

So what’s the problem? Why am I sketching out new projects and blogging and reading spy novels when I should be FINISHING THIS BOOK? It turns out that the book I thought would be a breeze to write is more difficult than I thought. Why?

1. Expectations. Originally this was going to be the final Lexy Cooper book before I had trilogy creep. If I get hit by a bus, I want this book to be a satisfying end.

2. Two storylines. Yes, there’s a dead body on page two (or three) and that is a mystery that must be solved. But there’s a second…um…criminal activity going on that also must be resolved. Figuring out how the plot points and revelations happen in each line of investigation so that the pacing is compelling and they both come to some kind of conclusion at almost the same time (the end, natch), is challenging. There’s so much going on with Lexy and Malick and…bad people…that some secondary characters are not getting as much play as they have in the first two books.

3. Sneaky shit. I’m introducing themes and characters that will be important in book 4 and book 5. So I’m having to make decisions that I didn’t think I’d have to make yet. It’s scary.

4. The death of a character. Yes, someone always dies in Lexy Cooper books (except for the Christmas short story), but this is different. This is a character that has been around since book one and this character is pretty important. It was heartbreaking to kill off this character. Many many tears were shed. When the book is done, I will never get to spend time with this fictional person again. In that way, I’m losing the character twice and…it’s harder than I thought it would be. Hard, but necessary.

5. Pressure. People  have pre-ordered Lexy #3. People have paid lots of money to have characters named after them. With Lexy #1 and #2, if I dropped the ball and said “fuck it” — well I would have had some disappointed readers, but this time? It would be fraud or theft or something. I have to finish it. There’s no giving up.

And so, I press on.

Casting the Novel: Herding Your Characters

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies!

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies!

I always knew that at some point I would need to create some system for tracking characters in my Lexy Cooper series. I just didn’t know it would happen this soon–by the third book. Actually if I’m honest, it would have been helpful to have something in place while I was writing Pwned, the second book in the series. What was that intern’s last name? Was that marketing chick married? Most often though, I couldn’t remember exactly what flavor of 1337 that Lexy’s hacker friend used for his Skype name and had to search frantically through the Word doc of the first book.*

It was while I was working on the third book that I stumbled across the style guide that my fantastic editor Marti had put together during the editing of Schooled and added to during Pwned editing. It was a great resource for her and for my equally excellent proofreader Stacie. As it turned out, it was pretty awesome for me as well. For the life of me I couldn’t remember a character’s last name–or if I’d given her one. Sadly there are a couple of recurring characters (Mandy the marketing “Barbie” and Kim’s boyfriend Thomas) that still have no surnames. Maybe they’ll get lucky in Lexy #3.

Well, seeing Marti’s list of characters complete with nicknames, Twitter, and Skype handles made the lightbulb come on for me. Durrr, here was the perfect place to keep track of who was who. And keeping it in Google docs means that when it comes time for Marti and Stacie to work their magic they can access it as well.  There is one little spoiler, so don’t look too closely if you haven’t read Schooled yet…

Tucked into little boxes like good characters.

Tucked into little boxes like good characters.

So I went about filling in the details, including new characters as I add them. One of the perks for my Indiegogo campaign is to have a character named after funders, so I make note of that (because at some point I may not remember that Luther the freelance cameraman is named after a real person and not a name I pulled out of my ass. Sorry, Luther!) . At first I only added a notation if a character was important in the book. For example, I had Xenon CTO Jimmie Vath as appearing in 1, 2.5, and 3, but not 2. He do anything vital to the action in the second book but he WAS in it. He gave a speech at the Helium launch party at the Garage in Seattle. That’s enough to count.

Some characters are only last names. Barnes, the forensic tech at the crime scene in Pwned. Swanson and Hicks, security muscle in I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa Claus (aka 2.5). Is it silly to put them on the list? Maybe, but what if I want to flesh them out later? What if No-First-Name Barnes goes on a killing spree in a later book? Or dates Officer Yi? Or loses some vital evidence and takes an ass beating from Detective Malick? Hmmm, I’m giving myself ideas here….

My planned story arc for Lexy continues for six books. After that, there could be more–or not. But it seems like a good idea to herd my cast of characters into little corrals where I can keep track of them. Because who knows? Maybe the series will be Grafton or Evanovich-length (Sue Grafton just released her 23rd Kinsey Milhone mystery, and Janet Evanovich’s 20th Stephanie Plum mystery comes out November 19). Or maybe Cricket Yi will get a spin-off series. Who knows?

But I mean to be prepared, and this low-tech, simple method is working for me so far.

* Kemp, no, and Vi0L8r

Roswell or Bust! A reader-funded research trip

space_alien_grayAnd now for an experiment in novel research and crowd funding! I’ve been to every location in the first two Lexy Cooper books Schooled and Pwned. Granted, they weren’t all that exotic–just Los Angeles in Schooled and Vegas in Pwned. But in the third book, due in early 2014, the most important part of the story–the climactic ending–takes place in Roswell, NM, a place I’ve never visited. So, I’m planning a research trip to check out the town, the vibe, the locals, and the former Walker Air Force Base.

Right now I’ve got an IndieGoGo campaign to fund the Roswell trip, and I think the perks are very fun. More than half of the Xenon Executive slots (perks are digital copies of all three books, a character based on you, signed paperback of Schooled,etc) are already gone, so if you’re interested, take a look.

roswell-new-mexico-profileThe Xenon Community perk gets you the next Lexy book and a shout-out in the acknowledgements. That’s basically a pre-order plus a literary high-five. Not bad for ten bucks! Plus, you can put “Patron of the Arts” on your resume. 🙂

I appreciate support at any level. And if any of you have tips on what to see and what to avoid in Roswell, please let me know.

Here’s my campaign page.

Thank you!

UPDATE – 8/14

This campaign was fully funded about an hour after I made this post. Roswell is happening! So now what do I do with the 55 days remaining in the campaign? Well, since the Have-A-Character-Named-After-You “Xenon Executive” perk sold out, I’ve added ten more identical perks called “Chief of Detectives.” I’ve also added what basically amounts to product placement: the “Board of Directors” perk in which I will write a donor’s business, product, website, podcast or…whatever into the story of Lexy #3. I put real restaurants and bars into my books all the time–let’s see if anyone wants to pay for it.

“But Trixie! You’re fully funded already! What will you do with the extra scratch?” I’m glad you asked, dear reader. For I shall use the funds beyond the initial $1000 to pay the artist to create the book cover!

Thank you to all the fantastic patrons/donors/angels/awesome people who made this experiment in reader funding a huge success!

Writer meets writing app, falls in love. Words flow.

lotus-om-bigFriends, I want to tell you about the new love of my writing life. It may be old news to you, it may have been around a while. But to me it’s new like a fresh love affair. Like a charged glance across a crowded room. It’s so new I can’t stop singing its praises. What is it, you ask? It’s an app called OmmWriter, and it is nothing short of amazing.

Now I do a pretty decent job of getting my writing done. I’ve written and published two 300+ page novels since May 2012. Future readers: That’s 15 months. I write on weekdays and my goal is 500 words per day. As I’ve mentioned before, however, I don’t actually feel like I’ve accomplished anything until I hit 1,000 words. If I’m being very honest, I will feel a nagging sense of unfinished business if I shut down Word without having committed at least 1,400 words to digital paper.

But I’m very easily distracted. In writing this blog post, I’ve already checked Facebook twice and Twitter once. And I have the sounds turned off on notifications.

I know I can’t write with my 4 year old at home, so I work on my novels when she’s at preschool.  I prefer the house to be empty, but if one of the older kids is at home I can work with my noise-cancelling headphones on. I’m annoyed, but I can compromise.

So, and here’s where I finally get to my fucking point, readers, several days ago I met Ommwriter. It’s…what? an app? I don’t know, but this is what the website says:

OmmWriter is your own private writing room where you can close the door behind you to focus on your writing in peace.

It’s available for PC, Mac, and iPad, and –oops I just visited Facebook again. And peeked at Twitter.

THIS is why it takes me an average of 3 – 4 hours to hit my word count. Because I keep fucking around. Adjusting the music selection, transferring laundry from washer to dryer, getting the mail, texting a friend, running to the grocery store, or harvesting my fruit in Animal Crossing New Leaf. I know it doesn’t have to be that way because occasionally I’ll look at the clock and see that it’s nearly 4pm and I’ve wasted the majority of my time. I leave to pick up my preschooler no later than 5pm, so now I’ve got one hour in which to redeem my sorry ass. And many times, that works. When I make the decision to hunker down and make progress–I do.

What the Ommwriter does is put me there without the time constraint. It takes me immediately to that flow state in which words are just coming out and before I know it, I’ve blown past my goal (the real one, not the fake 500 word one) and in a fraction of the time.

How? Can’t you just shut down your browser/unplug the modem and have the same effect? No. And here’s why:

Ommwriter delivers exactly what it promises: A private writing room. It fills your entire desktop with a soothing background. I chose this one because it reminds me of the beach. As my writing fills the page I get closer to the water.  There are no formatting selections to slow you down (Ooh I need to italicize that. But wait, I should consult the Chicago Manual of Style, first–DISTRACTION!) You just type. And format later.

Ommwriterwithwordcount

My background of choice. Your mileage may vary.

The sound is a critical piece of this puzzle for me. You can choose ambient music if you like. I think the train is particularly nice. It’s kind of noisy at first as the train leaves the station and gets up to speed, but by the time it hits its stride of soothing trainnoise, your writing will be flowing along too. No chugging, no rushing, just a nice even speed that gets you from here to there. After 25 minutes the audio loop pulls into the station. Look up, and you may have written a thousand words or more already.

My favorite part is the keyboard sound that accompanies your typing. I like a manual typewriter sound, myself. Or you can go for something that sounds like a water drop, or that soft cursor click of old school computers–like when Doogie Howser updated his diary at show’s end. There are seven choices, including silence.

Ommwriterkeyboardsoundselection

Selecting keyboard audio. You have to listen to choose.

Maybe looking at it you’re thinking, So what, I can accomplish the same thing by taking my laptop to Starbucks/the park/a rubber room. Cool. Go do that. Ommwriter works for me. Works so well I’ve doubled my word output and halved the time I spend at the keyboard. Which means I could finish Lexy Cooper #3 a lot sooner than I’d anticipated OR I can write 2 or 3 days a week and enjoy more of the summer. Maybe I’ll use the time I save to write a Lexy Cooper screenplay. Or a YA prequel featuring Lexy in high school. Or finish my long-shelved non-mystery about the summer Skylab fell.

This is the full screen. All you see as you do that writing voodoo that you do.

This is the full screen. All you see as you do that writing voodoo that you do.

Whatever I decide to do (or not do!) I am thankful to Ommwriter for giving me more productivity in the guise of tranquility.

Things my proofreader taught me

Proofread

I’m a professional writer. By that I mean that since 1995 I have made my living–paid my rent, fed my offspring–by writing. You’d think I’d have words pretty much figured out by now, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. I still have a lot to learn. Here are some of the things I learned recently from my phenomenal proofreader Stacie Magelssen when she worked over my second Lexy Cooper crime novel Pwned.

All these are one word, no hyphen.

  • armpit
  • coworkers
  • debriefing
  • doormat
  • snickerdoodle
  • footprint
  • website

I also learned that the “web site” to “website” transition is FINALLY accepted by all who matter. Behold:

Image

Stacie says, “Web site is usually one word these days–website. Also is website as per CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and (finally) AP style.”

Did you know there is a debate raging over “than she” and “than her?” I do now! Check this shit out:

Image

So sayeth Stacie: “Okay, so…this is actually part of a hotly contested debate over whether or not this sentence should end with “she” or “her.” The best summary of this debate I’ve seen was by GrammarGirl (one of my favorite sites). You can find it here if you want to read the whole boring debate: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/than-I-versus-than-me.aspx. Anyhow, the long and short of this is that I’d highly suggest a rewrite of this sentence or just change it to “…shorter than she was.” That ends the whole conundrum. ;)”

I wasn’t about to take up arms in this battle, so I rewrote the sentence. This is what I published in the final version:

Yi followed him down a narrow hallway. At five-foot-eight, she was two inches taller than Ricky and she couldn’t tear her eyes from his hair plugs.

Capitalization after a colon. Always, right?

Image

Wrong. “Lowercase w (as per our style guide, lowercase the first word after a colon, unless it’s a proper name or it introduces two or more sentences.” Sigh. More stuff I learned:

  • Military titles are lowercase unless they come right before a name. I.e. “When Mike Malick was a young army sergeant” “Sergeant Mike Malick” Apparently you’re not supposed to capitalize Army or Marine, but fuck that, I’m a military wife.
  • Job titles are also lowercase unless they come right before a name. I.e. “Jimmie Vath was Xenon’s chief technology officer and media darling.” “The press loved Chief Technology Officer Jimmie Vath.”

Need another hotly-contested grammar debate? Of course you do! Stacie - lay laid debate That bit in pink says: “This is one of those grammar rules that makes my brain hurt. But I do believe this should be “laid.” In present tense, it would be lay, because she is the subject and her head is the object. However, you’re telling this story in third-person past-tense narrative. All other verbs are past tense. Past tense of “lay” is “laid.” Now, since this grammar rule always hurts my brain, I’d be perfectly fine with you rewording to avoid it all together. 😉 You know, something along the lines of: She rested her head on his chest… But your call!”

In retrospect, I probably should have changed it to rested, but this was Chapter Twenty and I just changed it to “laid” even though it looks weird to me.

Then there were things I didn’t learn from my proofreader. Mistakes I just keep making, and will probably continue to make. One of the more amusing moments in this proofing process was a note from Stacie that said, “Did you omit the serial comma on purpose?” Um, yesssss, let’s go with that.  Commas are my nemesis. I either don’t use enough of them or put them in the wrong places. Sometimes my editor and proofreader disagree on when and where they are necessary or merely optional. It all makes me feel tired and I’m grateful I can hire professionals to wrangle my shit.

And so I push forward with Lexy Cooper #3. I will continue to write about sex and death, greed and video games, love and loss, and let the commas fall where they may, secure in the knowledge that Stacie will sort me out in the end.

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