Indie Review: “Something Wicker This Way Comes” by Colin Garrow

Check all your previous Sherlock Holmes assumptions at the door –  or book cover, in this case. The story within these pages does not simply consist of “fanfic” new cases added to the canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Rather, Indie Author Colin Garrow has re-invented the characters and taken them in a new direction. Imagine if you will, Sherlock and Dr. Watson solving cases in an alternate steampunk universe.

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Something Wicker This Way Comes” is the first in a series dubbed “The Watson Letters,” since it is written as a bulk of correspondence between Watson and Holmes. In it we find Dr. Watson as the intrepid gumshoe and Sherlock adding in his bit with rare appearances, and sometimes creating havoc by picking fights over minutiae. I cannot discuss the specific subjects of the letters without dropping spoilers, but I will mention what I can.

There are numerous shout-outs to famous true crime cases, movies, and other things in pop culture. And in the course of these comes a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor. Let me say that this series, in its steampunk setting, is first and foremost a satirical parody of the crime-solving duo. Colin Garrow dispenses his barbed humor with skill. Yes, I almost spit out my tea on several occasions.

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The quality of the writing is first class. At no point did I have to stumble over an oddly constructed sentence or back track. Colin Garrow’s masterful style gives us a sense of a whirlwind life and friendship. However, the best part is, Colin achieved this while maintaining a sense of a 19th Century steampunk world. Watson’s “voice” comes across as a living member of this alternate universe.

Whether you’re a fan of Sherlock or simply an armchair historian with some pop cultural knowledge, you will enjoy Colin Garrow’s creative innovation as much as I did.

Twitter: @ColinGarrow

Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

Every Time You Reply, Baby Patrick Doesn’t Cry

NaNoWriMo 2017: How to Find the Time

Pink Floyd, Jim Croce, and The Chambers Brothers have all composed wonderful classic rock songs about our friend and enemy: time. You can’t look at it, hold it, or examine it; time exists without form. Yet, time is incredibly valuable. For every day, and for the whole month of November, time will be prevalent in the minds of any would-be indie author racing for the finish line during NaNoWriMo 2017. So how to make the best use of the time you have for writing? I’ve summarized some of Chris Baty’s great ideas.

*In the last post I wrote about Setting a Proper Goal.*

A Study in Thirds

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It all starts with planning. In the final week of October, try logging everything you do over the course of a day. Identify everything according one of three criteria: Need, Delay, and Avoid.

Some Things Must Be Done

You shouldn’t avoid certain daily necessities during NaNoWriMo. Our days are filled with a laundry list of mandatory tasks, including laundry. And personal hygiene, feeding the cats, feeding the baby, cooking, cleaning, shopping at the supermarket…you get the idea.

These tasks should not be avoided or delayed, or things get ugly. Let’s say that author Bill stops showering and uses that time to write. Other local authors may use his lack of hygiene to their benefit. Imagine the following phone call.

Local Author John: “Hey, Bill. I hope you’re coming to the write-in tonight.”

Bill: “Wouldn’t miss it.”

John: “Good. Because I’m writing a scene that takes place in a foul-smelling bog. And Susan is up to a scene where some survivors find some rotting food.”

Bill: “I’ll bring my thesaurus.”

John: “We don’t need a thesaurus. We just need a quick whiff of you. Then you can leave.”

Sorry for the tasteless jesting, but I couldn’t resist.

Some Things Can Be Delayed

Yes, there are some tasks that should be done, but let’s face facts, putting them off for a month isn’t going to bring ruin to your life. Does the trim in the living room need a fresh coat of paint? So what? The house is not going to collapse for want of paint. Got some wood that needs to be stacked? It’s outside and drying out anyway. Does the back of the TV need to be dusted? No, it can wait. The TV will not explode from dust (although unattended Penguins on the Tele have been known to go up in smoke).

The Things to Avoid

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Study your list of daily activities. Look at the amount of time spent watching TV, commenting on humorous Facebook memes, Twitter, watching YouTube videos, or online shopping and gaming. If you’re going to implode because you’ve missed an episode of The Big Bang Theory or Once Upon A Time, use your DVR and watch it after you’ve done some honest-to-goodness writing for the day. Regard it as a reward for a job well done.

Consider Yourself Armed With New Knowledge

Come November, I hope you sit your butt down and get some serious NaNoWriMo writing done. If you don’t, you’ll never achieve your goal. Let me know if this strategy helped.

Every Time You Reply Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

NaNoWriMo 2017 Is Coming

Even if you’re not a fan or avid viewer of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you’ve heard the famous tagline “Winter is coming.” Well, for all of us denizens within the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth, winter is coming and that means yet another November dedicated to NaNoWriMo.

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Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

 

I’ve never dove into a NaNoWriMo event head first. Usually because I think too hard about the deadline and 50K words and shrug it off. Granted, I’ve used the push from others to force myself into dedicated daily writing and completed existing drafts.

What Makes NaNoWriMo 2017 Different?

A friend at my small critique group slipped me a copy of “No Plot, No Problem” by Chris Baty. In case you’re not familiar with his name, he’s is one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. Within its pages I’ve discovered that my previous method and mind-set were completely off-base and essentially at odds with the manner in which any would be author should approach a #NaNoWriMo event.

As An Aid to Other Indie Authors

Throughout this October, I’ll have a series of blog posts that will serve as a quick “How To NaNo” guide. So forget about finding a coffee maker with an intravenous tube, three cases of Twinkies, or a special box to lock up your cats. The good news is you will not need to do push-ups or run for miles in this training program.

My Project For This Year’s NaNoWriMo

A few weeks ago I was having a sleepless night. While I tossed and turned, book III for my Tales of Tyrennia came to me in a flash. So, it’s a sure bet what I’ll be working on this November. In the next post, I’ll reveal the correct mind-set to have concerning your end product.

Use the Comments To Tell Me About Your NaNoWriMo 2017 Project.

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Why Do We Write?

What motivates someone to sit down at a keyboard and write 75K words? Then attend writer’s meetings for critiques, spend months editing, find beta readers, design a cover, and lastly, format and upload the aforementioned 75K words?

If your motivation for all of the above is to be famous, have book signings, or an interview with Oprah, then I heartily suggest you find something else to do.

We write because we have stories to tell. We also go through the whole grueling process because we want to see our name on something worthy. The final product brings a certain element of satisfaction and a sense rebellion. An unnamed fire burns within indie authors. Some may call it a muse, while others refer to it as inspiration. We write because of our collective love of literature.

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The satisfaction comes from completing your project, like painting a room or crocheting a sweater. The rebellion comes from being independent. After all, as an Indie Author, your story welled up from your soul, not from a marketing computer within a publishing house in Manhattan.

However, we market and advertise to sell. There’s no shame or “sellout” factor if you want to reach readers. I am not familiar with any artist working within any medium who does not seek an audience. Even if you don’t have an advertising budget, social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snap Chat, et al are free. But that is the subject for a different post.

For a few years, I’ve been noticing a certain similarity between Indie ‘gurus’; those wise sages who dispense free self-help via social media. Just as people in real estate chant the mantra “location, location, location,” these folks cheer, “titles, titles, titles,” with equal enthusiasm. To be brief, they’re right. However, their advice should also include a caveat or at least an amendment to their cheer. The mantra should be… “quality titles, quality titles, quality titles.”

In a previous post concerning my random scan of samples on Amazon, I stated that the three most prevalent errors were echoing headwords, weak opening sentences, and overusing forms of ‘to be’. Perhaps rushing the writing process to amass titles is the cause.

I wonder why most Indie authors lack the extra layer of polish. After all, reading craft books, attending critique groups, and finding beta readers, are an essential part of churning out a quality product. Even if you can’t afford an editor, craft books and blogs are replete with editorial instructions and tips from plotting, character creation, dialog, show vs. tell, etc.

As I turn this problem over in my mind, I keep going back to the “titles, titles, titles” mantra as the influence. Well intentioned and true advice, but only loosely defined.

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Short Stories by Ernesto San Giacomo

 

 

 

Every Time You Reply – “Little Frankie” Doesn’t Cryfrancesco25

The Great Indie Author Twitter Challenge

I’ve seen some blogs and articles posted over the last few months that have referred to eBooks by Indie Authors as complete crap. Indie Author stigma is alive and well in the blogosphere and within the pages of The Huffington Compost. One blogger classified 98% of the eBooks written by Indie Authors as crap (her word, not mine). Can any of these opinions be true? Or are these negative purveyors just out for a “late-night-troll”?

In response to these naysayers, I’ve decided to offer myself a small challenge. Perhaps you may care to indulge in this experiment yourself.

Step1: Go into Twitter and start scrolling. Stop at the first eBook promo Tweet that has an Amazon link. Usually the Tweet is from the Indie-Author him/herself.

Step2: Follow the link and use the “Look Inside” feature.

Step 3: Jot down what you thought of preview.

Step 4: Go back to Twitter and keep scrolling until you find another eBook promo.

** I took a glance at 25 eBooks using the “Look Inside” feature. **

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The Results of the Twitter Challenge

In the final analysis, I did not find 98% crap, nor would I say that Indie Authored eBooks are an insult to the written word. Yes, I saw some stylistic problems. I have learned much about editing in the past few years, and can zero things down to three basic errors or should I say non-refinements. They are 1) Echoing Headwords 2) Weak opening line and/or paragraph 3) Overusing forms of “to be.” However, some readers probably wouldn’t spot those problems. They purchased a bargain book and were entertained.

For those of us who have published a few items and have spent hundreds of hours in critique circles; we know crap when we see it. Perhaps I’m being too harsh and wonder if I should give some people the benefit of the doubt. May be their definition of “crap” differs from mine.

Here are a few examples of my criteria for assessing the quality of an eBook with an excrement expression.

The writing is unreadable and unintelligible. If I see an endless stream of poor grammar, spelling errors, punctuation errors, p.o.v. shifting, or incomplete sentences, then I’ll agree it is crap. I can name a few more sins, but I think you get the picture.

Different “Yardsticks”?

There is no difference between 1 inch and 2.54 centimeters. The difference is the markings on the ruler. It is my belief that the insulters and naysayers are driven by one of two possibilities. Either they are paid trolls acting upon the behest of publishers*, or they are “setting the bar too high.”

*I am by no means a conspiracy theorist. However, I am all too aware of the dirty campaigns waged by different factions of certain industries. For example, the war between Edison’s DC vs. Tesla’s AC in the court of public opinion comes to mind.

The Relay Race Analogy

When I say “setting the bar too high,” I am not talking about giving everyone an award or a trophy for participating or a drastic lowering of standards. Rather, imagine a relay race between two teams of runners. Except, one team got food poisoning just 5 minutes before the race, and only one member of the sick team didn’t fall ill. Instead of quitting, the lone runner ran the whole race that was meant for five different athletes. And, he didn’t make it easy for the other team. He gave them a proverbial “run for their money.”

Even though he lost the race, is there any among you who wouldn’t give that runner a standing ovation?

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Well, that’s the difference between an eBook from an Indie Author and Traditionally published book. Too often, an Indie Author is simply one person doing the work of many hands. Therefore, when I say “setting the bar too high,” I mean passing judgment while not appreciating the lopsided nature of the comparison.

Indie Authors should not attempt to produce an end product as good as a traditionally published book. We should strive to be better.

DSC00166Every Time You Reply – “Little Frankie” Doesn’t Cry

On Vikings, Italian Grandmothers, and Wooden Spoons

Recently, a historical mystery has sparked a debate on Facebook between Kristen Lamb (Indie Author guru and Viking Goddess) and me. Namely, who weaponized the wooden spoon? Was it the Vikings or the Italian grandmother? Both parties are famed in both song and story for their ability to transform any benign object within arm’s reach into a deadly weapon. I began a quest to find the answer.

First, I turned to several noteworthy historians who have presented us with Viking lore. Famed British chroniclers who write under the collective pen name Monty Python have expounded on a wide swath of human history in a series of films, from the Biblical Life of Brian, to the medieval quest for the Holy Grail, and even the rather post-modern philosophical epic The Meaning of Life.

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Within the scope of their work, Monty Python has delved into the world of Nordic civilization, as evidenced by their presentation of Njorl’s Saga. Within this Icelandic Saga, there is no mention, either visual or vocal, of a wooden spoon. However, it does confirm the ability of Vikings to turn any benign object into a weapon. In part III of Njorl’s Saga , Eric Njorl, the son of Frothgar… is charged with using “the big brown table down at the police station,” in a deadly manner. While “the big brown table” may be wooden, it is certainly not a spoon.

There can be no doubt as to the historic veracity of this most scholarly endeavor.

Then I searched through the archives of Monty Python’s American counterparts – the Looney Toons. Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny have delved into prehistoric times through the medieval and modern eras as well. In one particular grand opus, “What’s Opera, Doc?” the duo performs Wagner’s four cycle opera Der Ring; there is no mention of a wooden spoon. Elmer’s aria concerning his spear and magic helmet – not spoons – should lay all notions of wooden spoons within a Viking context to rest.

Finally, I turned to the Beatles, who referenced the Nordic part of Europe with the song “Norwegian Wood.” Despite the fact that Viking influence is vast in the British Isles, the wood described in the song was thrown on the fire, and never fashioned into a spoon. In the end, in all of literature and film, I could not find a single reference to Vikings using wooden spoons as weapons.

What About Italian Grandmothers?

At a dead end with the Vikings, I turned to the other side of the question.

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I only found modern references to Italian grandmothers and wooden spoons (and shoes, and rolling pins). But I believe there is an indisputable case of cultural appropriation stemming from Italy. Fuhgeddabowt the Men in Black, for Italians there are the Women in Black. This may be the root of the old joke: What’s the difference between an Italian grandmother and an elephant? About 25 pounds and a black dress. 🙂

Let me explain. In the old days, Italian women who did not wed most likely became nuns – women in black. From their roots in Italy, nuns and the convent culture have since spread throughout the world. Whether a nun is in France, Germany, Britain, the U.S., or South America, their prowess with using rulers as weapons is legendary. Survivors of Catholic education readily show their scars and even compete with each other concerning their number and intensity.

I find it highly probable that Italian grandmothers found the ruler to be so effective that they instituted similar punishment in their homes, using the closest thing they had on hand – the wooden spoon.

IF YOU REPLY – “LITTLE FRANKIE” DOESN’T CRYfrancesco25

7 Easy Tips for Indie-Authors

I’ve noticed many memes or progress posts by indie-authors on Facebook and Twitter like “Wrote 2.5k today.” Of course, when such messages pop-up at around 10:30am, one has to wonder if the author’s blazing fingers melted the keyboard. Writing has to be done because we all understand the classic tidbit of wisdom that you can’t edit a blank page. However, some indie-authors should learn how to live life. Therefore, I’ve put together a small list to combat the typical bad habits that plague indie-authors. Hopefully, these tips will help the writing / editing process.

First: Open a window and breathe. That stuff you smell is called fresh air. Your body and brain needs oxygen, don’t deprive yourself.

Second: I’m sure there’s a place where you can order a couple of poached eggs and toast. Hotpockets, snickers bars, pizza rolls, and Twinkies* do not constitute a diet.

*I’ve discovered a widely held belief among indie-authors. Chocolate or fudge covered Twinkies are considered a healthier alternative to the standard Twinkie. Many authors believe the coating prevents bacteria or other micro-organisms from penetrating the cake and cream filling. 🙂 

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Third: Once a day, or for once in your life. Please put down the coffee mug or shot glass and try a glass of water or juice. Man does not live by bread alone, nor should indie-authors live by caffeine alone.

Fourth: Take a break. Even prisoners on death row are given some time to roam outdoors. Time spent on social media like Facebook or Twitter is NOT considered break time. You’re still typing and reading!

Fifth: Socializing can be fun. Maybe we indie-authors should try it. Going to the coffee shop to have a critique session with other authors doesn’t count. Perhaps combine this one with a trip to the diner.

Sixth: Please give your cat(s) some play time. There is an indie-author / cat owner corollary. After all, you are their human and they need attention too. Remember, cat lives matter!

Seventh: Just look at the disarray on your writing desk. When do you plan on cleaning it? There is probably a better place for the piles of notes and craft books. If you’re a voracious reader, then you should have shelves or a bookcase somewhere?

I’m sure this list can be expanded. If you’ve got an idea drop a comment below. Also, are you guilty of any of the above habits? I know I am, just look at the photographic evidence of the Twinkie.  🙂

Every Time You Reply – “Little Frankie” Doesn’t Cryfrancesco25

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History in a Fantasy Novel

The history of your world should play a major role if you are writing a fantasy or even a Sci-Fi novel. Imagine how a reader will feel when they are dropped into a civilization or a post-apocalyptic setting without any knowledge. Surely this scenario can make anyone feel like a stranger in a strange land. History is an essential part of world-building.

Of course, one has to naturally avoid long-winded historical passages when world-building. After all, it’s a fantasy novel not a history textbook. Earlier, I discussed the use of Technology In Your Fantasy World. Dropping such hints tells us where a civilization or society currently stands, but it doesn’t speak about how they got there.

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Reflect for a moment upon Gandalf returning to Bag End to impart his knowledge about the Ring to Frodo. The scene plays out with a sense of urgency rather than seeming conveniently dropped into place as world-building filler material by Tolkien.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I only delve into several great ancient battles and religious history. Both are incredibly linked to the main plot and the mystery at hand for the main character.

Another “history” would be backstory for characters. I used some of the same techniques and will discuss the in a future post.

I cringed at the thought of writing a chunk of history and sweated profusely when chapter 3 “Religious Relics Are People Too” was read at a critique. Oddly enough it passed with flying colors.

The trick was to “seed” the history in the previous chapter.

In chapter 2, there are sub-characters discussing and comparing historical notes. The main character listens and sometimes get frustrated by their knowledge. He wants to jump in and ask questions, but feels foolish. Later, he’ll accost one of them alone for the information he needs. His sense of “itching” for more information transfers to the reader. A sense of urgency made everything in chapter 3 flow without the aforementioned “contrived” element and seems perfectly plausible.

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History and backstory have to be present in order for a complete world-building experience in a fantasy novel, but many feel intimidated by it. How about you? How are you handling history or backstory in your novel?

Baby Francesco’s Nursery

Before, there was ugly medium shag carpet, and old dingy dark brown trim, which matched the window sills, doors and jambs.

The first thing was to rip up the carpet, padding and remove the staples; all 10,000 of them (not really that many, it just felt that way). Then I used some wood putty to repair any damage on the sill, door and closet jambs. The sill looked like a big dog teethed on it years ago.

Next I removed the old dark stained trim, and disposed of it. Don’t ever want to see that again.

When the wood putty dried I sanded the dark stain away. First I used a rough pad, and then decreased the coarseness of the pads for successive sanding sessions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The doors arrived sooner than expected. They’re pre-hung and slipped into the rough opening without a hitch. Although, I purchased new brushed nickel hinges to match the handle, because I really hate electroplate brass on doors.

For the next step I primed the entire room and closet interior. These walls hadn’t been painted in years. It took two full coats and in some spots three to get an even appearance.

Now I was ready to paint. I drew the birch trees on the wall with a light pencil and painted around those edges.

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For St. Francis and his animal companions I took a different approach. I had a roll of brown paper, so I drew the figure and animals on that. When I was satisfied, I cut out the components and affixed them to the wall. I traced around them with pencil and blocked in their edges. I basically turned it into a large coloring book.

 

Next I applied the toast color to three walls and added details to the trees and colored in St. Francis.

With the painting done the next item of business was the Pergo. These boards were a little wider than other laminates and went in with a lot of tweaking and tender loving care. The most difficult part was the trap door. The builder didn’t cut a straight opening.

Gee thanks Mr. Builder, now I have to work around someone else’s shoddy work.

The T-mold provided the edge for the trap door and door entrance.

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For the trim, I used 1×4 MDF board. It cuts, sands, and takes joint compound easily. The best part about using MDF is no jado cuts for inside corners. As you can see, I used a 1/2’” overhang for the top of the window and doors, providing a modern but “western” look.

 

After caulking and compounding, I painted the trim. The last step was the electric switches, outlets, and switch plates. A dimmer switch will work wonders in a nursery.

The last step was the closet doors and blinds. Bi-fold just seemed the best way to go for better access, and the white blinds appealed to my “less is more” philosophy.