When You’re Left Behind

I am not referring that book and later TV series. I’m talking about what happens when you’re a military spouse and your significant other (in my case it’s my wife) is sent overseas.

That’s the reason why you haven’t seen me blogging for the last couple of months. The adjustment is difficult and I’ve been bogged down. Many other things demanded my attention.

Evening is the worst part of each day. I’m accustomed to her not being around during the day. But with each sunset, we’re not together. Either enjoying dinner, snuggled on the couch, reading, or playing LOTRO (Lord of the Rings on Line).

For those who been visiting this blog for a while know about my love of cooking. But when there’s nobody to share it with, it loses its appeal.

However, on the writing front, I formed a new on-line critique group. My fantasy novel is just getting better all the time. With each passing week, noticeable refinements are put into place. The short stories are doing well too.  The small critique group here in town has provided me with a few insights on my shorts stories.

Tell me how you’re doing?

Here’s My 2015 Reading List

An author should also be an avid reader. Upon reading the list below, you may notice that I’m not locked into any particular genre or type of book. You’ll see fiction and non-fiction of various sorts and subjects. Rather than make a long blog post about the value of reading, I prefer to make a note below to each title about why I have chosen each particular work.

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Photo by Megan and used under CC license

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

I’m Catholic and he’s the Pope – need I say more? But seriously, I am truly interested in what Pope Francis has to say about the gospels. Some of the stories I’ve heard about Pope Francis while he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires makes me want some insight from this very special man.

The Science before Science by Dr. Anthony Rizzi

I saw Dr. Rizzi on EWTN Live one night and was fascinated. He sees no conflict between science and the Church. Too often they are portrayed as enemies at each other’s throats. Of course, he also reminds us that it was the Catholic Church that invented the science that we have today.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Author and columnist, G.K. Chesterton is also known as “The Apostle of Common Sense.” His works vary greatly from novels to non-fiction, but the themes are usually the same. How does the truth of theology clash with modern western society? I’ve seen the series about him on EWTN, and it’s always intriguing. There is also a website for the Chesterton Society.

The Blackguard by Ben Garrido

I find the concept of this book utterly irresistible. Imagine an enclave of people living according to their own rules in modern America. I started reading this book last year and then had to put it down (with the rest of my life) on account of moving across the country. If I were teaching a sociology class, I would assign this book.

Also, Ben Garrido’s blog articles are always an academic and illuminating treat.

Over My Dead Body by Bruce Borders

From what I’ve read about Bruce, he seems like a real Texas Libertarian. Many Libertarian authors (myself included) are making frightening predictions about the iron hand of government. Imagine if the government took away your child without any proper justification. That’s the premise of Bruce’s novel. I also know that this book was released just a month or two before an actual story eerily similar to Bruce’s novel hit the news cycle.

The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision by Henry Kamen

It never ceases to amaze me how many people are just sucked in by the anti-Catholic myths that were generated around the time of Henry VIII and the English “Cold War” with Spain. I plan on writing some historical fiction concerning these myths, so this will be the start of my research. Now I just need to find a few good titles on Galileo and Pope Pius XII (I know that most of the definitive titles about Pope Pius XII are by Sister Marchione; just haven’t decided on which one to buy).

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

I can’t resist a good fantasy novel, and I’ve heard many positive things about this one in particular. Since I’m writing a fantasy novel, it seems like a good idea to read some well-written fantasy. Brandon can describe magic, world-build, and get into character’s minds in a smooth and non-heavy-handed manner.

Writing About Magic by Rayne Hall

I’ve read another title by Rayne Hall called Writing Fight Scenes. Her research is so exhaustive and complete that when I saw this title, I knew I had to have it. I know authors can go a bit wacky with the self-help writing guides, but I do not. This is my fourth book in two years.

I also need to choose a few more books from the Rave Reviews official list. There are so many titles and genres by so many talented authors. Help me out with a suggestion…or two or three.

The One Thing I Hate About Christmas

I can hear some of the initial reactions to the title of this post.

Most likely you’re thinking, “Bah Humbug to you too, pal,” or… “Is your real name Ebenezer San Giacomo? After all, your initials wouldn’t change.”

To save myself from the holiday madness:

I can avoid crowded stores and traffic by shopping online.

I can avoid spending lots of money by hunting for bargains or doing the shopping earlier.

I can avoid cooking for hours on end by enjoying a simple dinner with my wife and no guests.

I can avoid the anti-religion ad campaigns by Atheist groups by simply ignoring them.

I can avoid (place any other pet peeves about the holidays here).

However, the one thing that I wish I could avoid, but can’t, is going to church.

That’s one incredible thing for a devout follower of Catholicism to say, but it’s true. In fact, you can toss in Palm Sunday and Easter as well.

***If only I had the ability to photograph your wide eyes and gaping jaws at this moment.*** 🙂

But that’s the truth. Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas are the three days of the year that I’d like to avoid going to Mass.

Why? Because of all the PECs. “What’s a PEC?” you ask. It’s what regular parishioners call those people who attend Mass three times a year. PECs only go to church on Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas. Although I think crediting them with three church attendances per year is being nice. I’m sure the majority of PECs actually score only one or two out of three.

I agree with most clergy on this matter when they say things like “Well…they (PECs) are better off in church than not.” Who knows? Maybe they’ll come back for more and become a regular parishioner. It’s possible, and I’m hopeful for such things.

So it’s not their presence that bothers me. Nobody’s presence bothers me in church; those doors are always open to all. Which naturally begs the question, what bothers me about PECs?

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It’s their attitude.

I’m sure at some point, you’ve seen video footage from stores where people get trampled or fight over that toy in short supply. How depressing it is to witness something like that. Well, that’s the same attitude that the PECs bring into church, treating communion like a first-come, first-served “free for all.” The clergy have wised up over the years, and now give out instructions that communion is dispensed row by row. Imagine the PECs’ disappointment over the fact that they got to the church early in order to be the first in line for the communion and “beat the crowd”, only to find out that it’s done in an orderly fashion. It’s as if they are on line at Best Buy for the latest iPhone gadget.

Oops, I almost forgot something important about Catholicism. If you’ve ever missed a Mass, then you can’t receive communion until the sacrament of reconciliation (confession and absolution) has been dispensed to you by a priest. But don’t try to tell that to a PEC.

I don’t mind standing in church; sometimes I actually think it’s a good thing that the pews are full. However, on the three days in question, I know that it is not a good thing. PECs cram into the front pews as if they’re lucky to get a better seat for a concert. Like I said, I really don’t mind standing, but what about the little old lady with the walker and the oxygen tank that shows up faithfully every week? Why  should she have to stand?

I would get up and offer her my seat. PECs don’t.

Next comes the unruly PEC children. Sometimes they play with toys and games. I remember one kid crawling up to the podium with a toy truck imitating engine sounds, while the priest was giving his homily. The PEC parents were smiling and laughing at their adorable child, and made no effort to stop him.

How I just wanted to tell them that not everybody thinks their child is a bundle of joy, especially when said child is interrupting a solemn ceremony.

And then there are the dreaded cell phones. There’s nothing like having a bright light jiggling around in your peripheral vision, or hearing that ring tone during the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, or their chattering.

In all fairness, I do have to say that not all PECs are created equal. The San Antonio PECs are much better than the New York City PECs. I have not yet experienced or witnessed the behavioral pattern of the typical Idaho PEC, but I’ll find that out tomorrow at Midnight Mass. Yes, I now only attend Midnight Mass for Christmas and Easter, because they are fewer PECs.

O Lord, please give me patience…right now!

Your Second Draft: Paragraphing

Now that #NaNoWriMo 2014 is over, many authors, including myself will be scratching our collective heads in the #editing phase of bringing our works to market.

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Journal Entry by Joel Montes De Oca used under CC License

What you should look for in your first glance at your manuscript is spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing. The first three, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are obvious enough, but you’re going to have brush up on their rules.

If I were to go into every rule for those three concerns, then this would be a book rather than a blog post. Try to obtain a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook, or if you’re in a pinch check out the Ask a Grammar Guru page on Facebook.

In the end, paragraphing seems to perplex quite a few #authors out there. After all, your paragraph can be spelled and punctuated properly and yet be considered wrong.

As far as the mechanics go, the general consensus out there for proper paragraphing is as follows…

When the speaker-tag changes, then a new paragraph is needed. If done right, then you can actually avoid the over-use of tags.

The action of one character causes a reaction from another character. The action-reaction dynamic needs to have its own separate paragraphs.

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A Crumpled Paper Ball by Turinboy used under CC License

A character can only think, say, or do something. Therefore, keep it all in the family in the same paragraph. However, this can lead to paragraphs that are just too long.

Keep the length of a paragraph to five or six lines. If your character says and does a lot, then keep any internal dialog separate in order to avoid a lengthy paragraph.

You can go as far as half a page in one paragraph, if your intention is to slow down the pace.

Did you find this helpful? Did I forget to address something?

Quality Editing: People Will Notice

I have a very strict and grueling editing process. After my first draft is complete it goes to my wife (The Queen) for a cleaning. I’ll make any suggested changes for clarity, verb choice, descriptions et al and pass it back to her. She’ll make another pass and then it’s ready for a critique group (I’ll go into these processes in detail in later posts).

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After the critique group (about 4-7 readers) is done, I’ll address any changes that I deem necessary.

Then it goes back to “Queen-editor and chief” for any further corrections. I’m still not done.

Now it is time for the beta readers.  The piece is mostly “clean” for beta readers, so their concerns can be addressed with a few minor tweaks.

Finally the piece is ready for public consumption.

All of my Amazon and Goodreads reviewers have been impressed. They’ve mentioned that they love the quirky stories and characterizations. However, some have also called attention to the quality of the work, i.e., the quality of the prose, the lack of passive voice, or no grammatical errors. They recognized the time and trouble taken to create a quality product.

Therefore, do not ever skimp on your editing process, because people will notice.

Have others ever remarked about the process that you’ve put into something?

#NaNoWriMo 2014: +++ The End +++

I know that November isn’t over yet, but for me NaNoWriMo 2014 is done. I also know that I didn’t make the 50K word count, but that wasn’t my goal anyway.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

My #fantasy novel “The First Light” had a word count of around 38K on November 1st. My goal was to finish the first draft, and I had hoped that this year’s NaNoWriMo event would push me along. It did.

I added 23K words this month to the first draft of my manuscript, and I was able to type those glorious words “+++ The End +++”.

Yes, I’m glad that I got to do that. What #author wouldn’t be? However, I do feel like I’ve just lost an old friend. I know that my friend will be back when the editing process begins in a couple of months.

A current #wrtitetip states that an author should put their manuscript away and leave it alone for two months. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to cease writing. I have a backlog of short stories to edit. Those stories will afford me the opportunity to hone my editing skills before going back to the novel.

Has NaNoWriMo 2014 been good for you too?

#NaNoWriMo 2014: At the Half-Way Point

The word count for my second week of writing in NaNoWriMo 2014 wasn’t as good as the first. I churned out 11,500 in the first eight days and only 4,500 during the next eight. However, there were several reasons for this slow-down.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

The plot had reached a complicated point; some things that were originally meant for chapters got lumped together. Also, I made three blog posts during that time. Those blog posts (Synchronicity and Indie Authoring) were more than a two or three paragraph NaNoWriMo update.

The good news is, that I’ve gotten past the complicated plot circumstances and can now #write at full speed toward the end. As I look at my table of contents, I can truly see the light at the end of the tunnel. For an #indieauthor or any other #author, it’s going to be a great week.

How are you doing at the NaNoWriMo 2014 mid-point?

Indie Authoring: Art or Business?

I’ve heard a few indie authors over the years claim they are artists. Be careful, because when an author makes a statement like that, the word “artist” may denote a few veiled meanings. For example:

I am an artist and therefore

 …I may break conventional rules.

Sometimes indie authors think poor editing and grammar make them an artist working outside of the box, thumbing their noses at the bleakness of conformity. Wrong! A lack of editing and grammar means that as a communicator, you’re only contributing to the dreaded “Indie Author Stigma” and nothing else.

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Photo by Megan used under CC License

The craftsmanship of the product that bears your name must be as good (if not better) than what the traditional publishing industry can produce. It’s a fine standard and it should be adhered to and strived for at all times.

I love it when authors excuse their lack of standards by comparing themselves to Picasso. Well, I hate to break the news, but Picasso paid attention to many standards. He used paint and applied it to a canvas. If he wanted green paint, he had to mix yellow and blue. He followed formulas concerning composition and color schemes. If I’m not mistaken, Da Vinci did all of that as well.

…I am unsullied by the pursuit of profit.

Now that’s a big fat lie! Like any other artist, we all seek an audience. And the only way to reach an audience is to sell your material. Many blogs discuss Author Branding and similar marketing concepts. Let’s face it, we’re all business competitors in this new vibrant field.

This leads to another potential problem: free downloads. An absolutely foolish thing to do that gets right under my skin. The only thing achieved by a free download is that the author has just told the whole world that the value of his creation is zero. Now there are legitimate reasons for putting free material out there – fan fiction for one, since you can’t legally profit from it. Or perhaps you want to do a promotion for a period, or put out a short story to get your name known.  But for the most part, making your work free is not the best idea.

…my work is an honest reflection of my world view and wasn’t generated by a marketing computer.

Ding! Ding! Ding! This is where the world of indie publishing and traditional publishing (thankfully) split apart. An indie author can explore themes and characterizations that traditional publishers shy away from.

The world of traditional publishing is a business. They will only invest the cogs of their machine into something based on a proven formula. They’re only hedging their bets for a payoff, and why shouldn’t they operate from that standpoint? They’re a business, making business decisions for the sole purpose of generating sales and profit.

This is the reason why most mass produced entertainment is nothing but a huge steaming pile of banal nonsense churned out for maximum appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Therefore, if you’ve got a great story about a teenage prostitute who gets addicted to drugs, and is then saved by a store front group of revivalist Christians, and from that group of Christians she finds a boyfriend, and they don’t have sex until after they’re married, you won’t be published traditionally.

However, if you make your Main Character a vampire, give her a zombie boyfriend love interest, who she met at an illegal vampire / zombie orgy, and of course set the story in a future post-apocalyptic dystopian society, you’ll have a better shot at a publishing contract.

So yes, indie writing can offer a freedom of expression and creativity that is unmatched anywhere.  However, to be successful, one must also follow the established rules of the trade.  So in my view, it’s really a mix of art and science.  What are your thoughts?

Synchronicity in Surreal Advertising

I just read a blog post by Kristen Lamb that calls for an end of spam advertising by Indie authors. I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon on #Facebook and #Twitter. She says that we should start partaking in a new form of marketing and promotion called “Padvertising.” Since most readers are women, it should come as no surprise that Padvertising means to promote your book on panty liners.

Despite the humorous and Monty Python-esque nature of the idea, reading it brought back a memory.

You can’t see me typing away on my keyboard, but I have placed a hand on the Bible and promise to tell the whole truth.

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Photo by Andre Chinn Used under CC License

One day in January 2001 I was waiting for my girlfriend to arrive at Penn Station in NYC. She was a total nympho and I was eagerly anticipating a week of debauchery with her (see, I promised to tell the truth). While waiting for her train to arrive, and after two or three cups of coffee, I needed to relieve the old bladder.

I went into the men’s room and approached the urinal, and boy was I surprised at what I saw. On the plastic screen inside the urinal was an advertisement. I do not remember the name of the investment firm or the phone number, but I do remember the rest of the ad.

“Stop pissing your money away! Call Johnson Investments (212) 555-1234”

There I was, chuckling and snorting while standing at a urinal in a public men’s room. Luckily nobody punched me. Thanks, Kristen, for helping me to dredge up this memory.

So what’s the most oddball / comical form of advertising that you’ve ever seen?

#NanoWriMo 2014 Diary, Nov. 1 – 8

This was a tough week. I think it would have been difficult for any #indieauthor. I had a busy personal day on the third and picked up a bug / flu on the fourth. Of course I was ill for several days with my nose feeling like it weighed twenty pounds. On some days I only managed about 450 words. However, on the eighth I managed 2,688 words.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

I refused to let life get in the way. My total for the first eight days is now at 11,594 words.

On November 1st I was still in chapter 17 with about a page to go. By the 8th I had completed chapter 22. Yes, I think I’m going to have the first draft of my #fantasy novel The First Light completed before November is over.

I love it when a novel starts #writing itself. Characters start doing and saying things that I didn’t plan for them. A very minor sub-character has stood up and asserted herself in a dramatic way. I had never thought about a sequel for The First Light or even creating a trilogy or a series under the banner of The Tales of Tyrhennia. However, so many things have just fallen into place that I can see the possibilities.

I’d like to try to attend another couple of write-ins in #Boise before the month is over as well.

How is your NaNoWriMo 2014 experience going?