STASHING IT

Here’s my system for organizing my stuff when away from home out shopping or doing errands.

Do you forget the shopping list? Can’t find your keys? Have to dig through a huge purse for your wallet? And does this sort of thing annoy the heck out of you?

It used to annoy me. I have learned some tricks I want to share with you.

I always wear something with a pocket or two and carry a large tote-type purse with a smaller purse inside. Since I also wear glasses off and on (cheaters and prescription sunglasses for distance), I have a special around-the-neck eyeglass case for those. It even has a zippered side pocket where I could put my credit card and driver’s license and some cash, cell phone, and car key, if that’s all I wanted to take into stores.

But why the pockets? If I make a list, it goes in my pocket right away. I never forget to take it into the store with me. The trick with that, though, is to have the habit of emptying your pocket when you get home so the list isn’t washed with the clothing. I often just stick the receipts I get in my pocket, as well. Then when I empty it, there’s the receipt, ready to file away, not stuffed in my purse where it will get lost.

http://openclipart.org/image/250px/svg_to_png/25193/Anonymous_Architetto_--_Borsetta.png

I use a very small wallet-like purse to take into the stores which can sit at the top inside of a larger tote or in an outer pocket. I carry the car key, credit card, license, library card, some cash and a few other items I might need in a store. I rarely use my cell phone when I’m out, so it’s in its own case inside the tote. (It would also fit in the case I have for my eyeglasses, if I want to use that.) I have a second wallet (old one) for all the stuff I might need but probably won’t such are store cards, some extra cash, some change, postage stamps, etc. This way if my small purse gets lost or stolen while I’m out of the car, I have some extra money for an emergency. The big bag also carries a small notebook, my checkbook, pain killers, a thumb drive with my stuff backed up (in case the house burns down when I’m gone—LOL), and other miscellaneous stuff.

The point is, I have a system. Do you? Please tell us about it in the comments.

WHO SAID THAT?

I really want to know who said what. All the time. In real life, and when reading.

Nothing makes me more ticked off with a story than not knowing who’s speaking. And it’s rare anymore for me to read a book where I don’t find places where I have to re-read to figure it out.

Please, don’t do this to your readers. I notice it happens most often near the end of a story when things are winding down, answers to questions are provided, and lots of characters are talking. Just when you really don’t want to stop to figure out who’s saying what. Did the writer get in a hurry and leave off the attributions? Did the author figure that her characters’ voices were so clear by now the reader would automatically know who was talking? (Doesn’t happen with me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.) Has the writer bought into the idea that writing “he said” or “she said” is breaking a rule?

See, you don’t want me wondering about this when I’m reading your story. You want me to glide through it, to never have to stop to puzzle out something as simple as “who said that?”

I’ve been reading and writing for a long time now. A decade or so ago a very popular author suggested that a simple “he said”/“she said” was the best way for the reader to know who was talking. This was suggested instead of using modifiers or such attributes as “he hissed,” or “he growled,” or said with an adverb: “she said softly,” or “he said loudly.” This decade, someone else “ruled” that you should not only not use attributes at all, but instead use small actions to show what the character is doing and thinking and feeling while speaking. Thus, you may notice a heck of a lot of coffee being drunk now in what you read. Or tea. It’s so easy to use “Jenny took a sip of coffee” that many writers do use it. Over and over again. After Jenny takes a sip of hers, John answers and adds cream to his. How does this add one bit of information or interest to the story? It doesn’t. Instead, it’s distracting. Not only that, there’s a set up when the coffee if brought by the waitress, or made by one of the characters, or even simply poured.

What to do? Mix it up, of course.

  1. Have some characters use certain tics to show they’re upset, impatient, or some other emotion (fingering a necklace, tapping a pen, etc.).
  2. Have the occasional character hiss (be sure there’s some “s” sounds in the words he utters, however) or roar or whisper.
  3. Occasionally use small actions, being sure they add to the story. If John is waving his arms around because he’s upset and knocks his coffee into Jane’s lap, we now have something of interest happening. What will Jane’s reaction be?
  4. Use “he said” or “she said” when you want fast action along with the dialogue. Any reader older than ten is used this and won’t even notice. But they will miss it if they cannot figure out who is speaking.

 And they will be ticked. Trust me on this.

One more bit of info. With e-readers, things can get even worse when the attributions are left out because of wonky formatting. Which is exactly what happened to me just before I wrote this rant, I mean, advice. Near the end of a novel by an extremely famous and popular writer, she left out a “he said” when the formatting got messed up (big NY publisher, too) and two paragraphs ran together. Or I think they did. I had to go back to re-read it because at first I thought one person was speaking, but when I got about four or five paragraphs further with no attributions and two characters speaking, I thought it might have been the other character. I’m still not sure I ever got it right. There was a small action in there, but it didn’t help identify the character speaking. In fact, it made it harder to figure out. What do you suppose I’m going to remember the most about this novel?

Takeaway—be sure your reader knows who is speaking every single time. If in doubt, for heaven’s sake, drop in a “he said” or a “she said.” Readers will thank you. This reader will even bless you.

TRICK YOURSELF

How? Pretend you earn $100 a hour. You would need to work really hard and smart to earn that much an hour, right? This can work for you in two different ways.

One, you want to prove to yourself you’re worth $100/hour.

Two, you won’t waste your time wasting it, because if you do, you don’t get that $100 a hour.

So, the essential stuff gets done, the stuff you really, really want to do. And the non-essential stuff gets short shift.

Could this become a self-fulfilling prophesy? Let’s give it a whirl for six months and see what happens. Report back here. LOL

Good luck!

THE STORY BEHIND A STORY: Travels with Going Where the Wind Blows

More than a decade ago there was a wonderful on-line publication called Hardluck Stories published by Dave Zeltserman. I’d had one story published there already, and when he called for stories with a Western Noir theme, I decided to try my hand at one.

I had written maybe three noir stories, and no Western stories, so I took some time to decide on how I could write something that was different, but also publishable. I knew there were a lot of prostitutes back then. I thought that probably not a lot of other women were writing for this call for stories, and that if a male writer had a prostitute in his story, she probably was not the main character. I picked San Francisco as the setting because it’s a great city with a wonderful history and would be easy to research if I needed to.

After that, I’m not sure how I came up with the story—I never am. I did decide that something had to happen right away, so I chose to have the man Rita Mae arrived with in San Francisco get murdered and all their money lost. Once I began to write, the story just came to me, as it usually does, and I had fun with the characters, the setting, the details (I even researched a cocktail that Rita Mae drank), and of course, the plot.

Dave really liked the story, and so it was published in Hardluck Stories.

But there was more. Dave had been in contact with Ed Gorman, and Ed agreed to put an anthology together with the stories from that Hardluck issue plus ask for more submissions from some very popular writers he knew. And he got them. Here’s where to find a whole list of who was published in the anthology, On Dangerous Ground (unfortunately now out of print). Isn’t that a great cover?

http://www.cemeterydance.com/page/CDP/PROD/gorman07

But there’s more! Now, twelve years later, I was Googling around and put my name into search, plus the word “review.” And that’s when I found a wonderful review at Spinetingler, which I knew nothing about. So, I checked my contract with the anthology’s publisher, Cemetery Dance, and found that I have ebook rights. Of course, I immediately thought of the folks at Untreed Reads who have published all my Artie Crimes stories, and I sent it off to them. And they decided to publish the story as a stand-alone ebook. So, now it’s available again, and since On Dangerous Ground is out of print, I am, of course, ecstatic.

You can find “Going Where the Wind Blows” at just about any bookseller on-line you can think of, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the Apple Store (iTunes), etc. But you can get it directly from the publisher in all formats much easier.

http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=7_48_698&products_id=919

I hope the story behind the story interested you. You just never know where the wind, or a spark for a story, will take you.

CAPTURING IDEAS

You are sitting around or working, and a sudden idea hits you. Could be something to add to your shopping list, or a note to call someone, or a brilliant idea for your next novel. What do you do with it?

1.     Continue working because you’re sure you’ll remember it later?

2.     Tell someone else, hoping they won’t steal it?

3.     Write it down?

That was a test, and of course #3 was the right answer.

I had an idea for this post as I was doing something else—answering an email, actually. But I stopped and quickly opened a new Word .doc and wrote down the title and a few lines. I will come back to it later to flesh it out, and that will be an easy column for me to have ready some time in the future.

And now I’m back. Before I got here, however, I thought of a couple more ideas and “captured” them as well.

Ways to save ideas:

1.     If I’m on the computer, I open a word processing doc, either a new one for something I plan to flesh out later as a document, an old one to add to I’ve already started about the same subject, or key it into a .doc I’ve labeled “Notes.”

2.     If I’m not on the computer, I always have a small notepad nearby, and I jot the idea down there.

3.     If you have a handheld device or smart phone you can make notes on and can do so as quickly as you could writing them down by hand, that’s another way to do it. I love my laptop, but I’ve never used any handheld device enough to be able to make a note easily and quickly, so I carry a small notebook in my purse instead.

Do you have other ways to capture your ideas? Please share in the comments.

WHEN ONE IS ENOUGH

Time management is tough. Picking the right tools can take some time because everyone is different. Some swear by paper and pen. Some won’t go anywhere or do anything without having and constantly checking their smart phones. Some use paper for some things and a personal digital assistant  (PDA) or smart phone for others.

The three essentials are a calendar, a to-do list, and a way to keep notes.

 And most important of all is to only have one of each that you carry with you at all times. The only possible exception is the calendar—you might have one you carry, and one at the office and one at home for everyone to look at and add their own items. But you have to be very careful to update everything at least once or twice a day if you have extras. If you can get everyone onboard, you could also use Google Calendar in “the cloud.” And if only you need to use it, that’s a great option if you’re on-line line a lot and have a smart phone to access it.

Pick each tool with care. Then stay with it. Once you’re used to your system, it will probably take more time to switch to another than you’ll save. The plus side is you’ll both feel and be more organized with those three essential tools.

POSITIONING CHARACTERS IN YOUR STORIES

Getting your characters into position can be a royal pain. This hit home for me earlier this week when I had six characters and a dog all in front of a house and had to get them all into said house. In real life, some of them would naturally be talking to each other, so I had to work that in, as well.

I only know one good way to do this, and that is to visualize exactly where everyone is at all times, and write down exactly what you see in your mind’s eye.

Of course, it will then have to be fined-tuned. Probably several times. Nowhere else is clarity more important than letting the reader know where your characters are, except to let the readers know who is speaking. (A topic/rant for another post.) Have you ever seen a character teleport from a chair one minute to a bar stool the next? Or from one room to another, or even from one map location to another? Writers call that whiplash. Your readers need to visualize what’s going on as if watching a movie in their heads. So, it’s a good idea to get into the practice of writing it from what you see in yours.

But there’s also a major caution involved with this. Don’t describe every tiny detail. You may write every detail down in your rough draft. Character gets into car, fastens seat belt, turns on ignition, puts car in gear, adjusts sunglasses, tunes the radio, checks mirrors and pulls out of the garage and hits the remote to lower the garage door. Um, no. Character gets in car and drives to destination. The point is, your reader doesn’t see him in his house, and in the next sentence, he’s in the grocery store. You may decide to have him tune into his favorite radio station and get some astonishing news or listen to a favorite song. You may mention one or two interesting or pertinent things he sees along the way. But be careful. Use only details that add to the story itself or to characterization. The rest is filler, fluff.

I admit, it’s a fine line. Notice how your favorite writers move their characters from one place to another and see if you can do the same. And notice what annoys you about how other writers do it and avoid doing that yourself.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

Today I’m not here. Well, I’m not here except to let you know I’m somewhere else.

I’m delighted to say I’ve done an interview over at The First 750 blog. Go here to read all about me. Well, not all, but a lot.

http://bit.ly/YZfDKQ