Slow Dip into Wattpad

I’ve been giving some thought to rejoining Wattpad and today I did it. I’ve learned a lot about cross-promotion since I was originally on the site (turns out that was way back in 2012), so I wouldn’t have the same expectations. The first surprise was discovering that I either never got around to deleting my account, or it’s one of those sites you can never leave.

If anything, the site is more wildly popular than ever, hence harder than ever to win eyeballs, so I’ll have to figure out a fine balance between using it to my best advantage and not putting too much time and effort into it.

I did the basic profile setup, but won’t actually be posting any work for a while. Not until Camp Expendable is finished, and I’m making a good dent in Set Me Free. I’ll probably start with an expanded version of Refuge, which is posted here, and then, depending on its reception, start putting A Well-Educated Boy on the site. That’s one of the many stories I really need to finish, but will work out the still undeveloped part of the plot before starting to serialize it on Wattpad.

The whole thing is purely experimental, and will have to fit in the cracks and crannies between major WIPs. This is the kind of thing I’ll jump into just because I’m bored and need to do something drastically different. It also means that with my usual turn-on-a-dime mind-changes, I might just say “the hell with it” one day and depart Wattpad forever.


NaNo’s Done, Time Out, Kindle Notes

All through with Camp NaNo. Since the 7,000+ words I wrote are embedded in the novel rather than in a separate file, I can’t validate my “win.” Oh, boo hoo. I actually haven’t added any more for the last four or five days, having reached one of those inevitable temporary crashes. Instead, I’m working mostly on Set Me Free, the death penalty book.

There are times when I can work on two WIPs at once, but mostly it’s more efficient to switch back and forth and take a complete mental break from something I’ve been immersed in for some time.

My Kindle is becoming a useful research aid, as long as I stick with Kindle books. Print books are a long slog, since I almost always need to read a book once through, and then reread it, hoping I’ve underlined or otherwise marked all the material I might want to use. I just used Kindle’s export feature for notes for the first time, and it works like a dream. In this case, I only had one note, but had highlighted a ton of material for possible use. It was mailed to me as a PDF, and also as a CSV file that I have no use for.  The only hitch was that Notes uses page numbers rather than locations. On my Kindle, the book only used location numbers, so I’ll have to work with the desktop version in order to follow up.

Still, it’s a big improvement over copying and pasting from the desktop version, which includes the title, author, and other info in every quote. Some books also have limitations on how much material I can copy from the book, making it impossible to get through the whole book without having to start typing out every quote. Using the PDF, I can transfer the whole thing to a text file and edit as necessary.

All of this requires saving to a thumb drive and transferring the material to my secondary computer. When I set up the second computer in the living room, I hoped I would be able to transfer files back and forth via bluetooth, but no such luck. There are two walls, plus a refrigerator and microwave between the living room and the bedroom, so the signal is completely blocked.

Technology doesn’t always work exactly as you’d like it to, but it’s a heck of a lot better than a quill pen. Haven’t used one of those in years.

Of Novellas and Hop, Skip, Jump

No matter what writing project is currently top priority, there are always at least two or three other WIPs engaging my mind, on and off. The entire time I’ve been soldiering away on Camp Expendable, I’ve dipped into other projects to expand a scene, add a bit of dialogue, or make some notes.

The Darkest Prison isn’t a WIP. It’s a very long short story (or novelette of about 12,000 words, that I published four years ago. I’ve always wanted to expand it, and go deeper into the horror that is Brian’s life after being condemned for a crime he didn’t commit, but it remained very low on the must-do list. I don’t know what it popped back into the front of my mind recently; maybe it’s simmered without my being aware of it, and the time is now right to give it some attention. It’s an extremely claustrophobic story that needs to be opened up, if only to give the reader some relief from the tension now and then. I expect it will grow to novella length and that’s fine. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t need to be dragged out into a full-length novel, and I don’t think I would have the patience for it, anyway. New plot points have already presented themselves to me, so I now have the pleasurable problem of squeezing it in among all the other which demand my attention unexpectedly and intermittently.

The Passive Voice posted an excerpt from an Independent article today, which relates to my growing interest in writing novellas when possible, rather than novels. The article celebrates novellas for reasons that I find quite superficial. But I’m not one of those people who are so time-challenged that I can’t commit to anything that takes more than two or three hours to read. Judging from too many similar articles, I suspect that most of those people would simply rather watch TV or a movie than make a “serious commitment” to something that can be described as “excess baggage.”

In fact, the author spends most of her time talking about movies and the novellas that have been adapted for the screen. Maybe I’m reading too much into what she does say, but I get the impression that reading the classics is something she does as one of those things that makes you appear educated. So she’s willing to read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illich, but didn’t make it through War and Peace. All that extra baggage, you know. Does that have anything to do with the growing inability of writers to wrestle with the English language? “Patterson’s BookShots, by contrast, are unabashedly fleetingly.” And then there’s “Novellas are confidentially self-contained…”

“There’s something deliciously daring about a book that says no more than it needs to.” Really? Could that statement have come from anyone except a person who seems to approve of James Patterson’s statement about his new “book shots:” “’You can race through these — they’re like reading movies…’”

As a writer, the novella give me an opportunity to develop a complex plot in a comparatively compact space. As a reader, I’ll take the “excess baggage” every time.

Small is Beautiful by Holly Williams

Random Weekend Bits and Pieces

Amazon can’t spell. I happened to look at a book by someone named Alan Watt the other day, and ever since, Amazon has been suggesting books by Alan Watts. I find their algorithms for trying to sell me stuff alternately annoying and amusing. Apparently, the primary one is that if you look at just one item in a category, you’re potentially interested in others. Looking at Your 90-Day Novel resulted in being offered every book in this 90-Day shtick that someone is working for all they’re worth. I have no idea whether the books are selling, since the first one wasn’t worth more than a quick glance.

How many tomato plants does anyone need? Son and I toddled off to the Habitat for Humanity resell store yesterday, and came back with three flats of practically dead tomato plants. For free, so they couldn’t be resisted. I resisted, but he didn’t, and it turned out one of the flats was for me. Oh goody. Just what I needed: nursing three dozen moribund plants back to life. No thanks. Dumped them into a pail of water overnight and picked out eight barely-possibles to save, the most that would fit in a currently unused planter. At least they were loaded with a crop of ripe orange cherry tomatoes that must have been their last-ditch effort to survive. Pass on the genes. The tomatoes were excellent, so even if none of the plants come back to life and bear, that variety will be on my list for next year’s planting. Sunsugar cherry tomatoes. Yum. Hybrid, unfortunately, so there’s no point in saving seeds.

Camp NaNoWriMo — I’ve exceeded my goal of 6,000 words by 1,200 words so far. I can’t believe how much Camp Expendable has changed since the original draft, and I’m still working out possible scenes. Still clinging to the goal of having it finished and ready for publication by the end of the month, but it will probably run into August.

Gardening. Summer is now in full bloom, and promising to be an extremely hot one, after a very long, cool Spring. I cut the first two (very small )summer squash the other day, and tomatoes are going gangbusters. I hope to start seeing color soon. The Roma types started bearing first, so I imagine those will be the first to ripen. Green beans are coming back from having been eaten by some bug almost as soon as they popped out of the ground. Still waiting to find out whether the pepper plants Son gave me are hot or sweet. I suspect hot, so I planted some bell pepper seeds. The exotic Japanese variety of eggplant is probably a total loss. The one plant that got to a healthy, transplantable size is now failing. It looks like a spider mite attack, but there are none to be seen, and spraying hasn’t stopped the slow deterioration.

That Much is Done

I set a goal of 6,000 words for Camp NaNo and reached it today. After days of stress and non-writing, the muse took a giant leap forward and made up for lost time with close to 4,000 words in four days. There’s still plenty of work to be done on Camp Expendable, and I wouldn’t be surprised, if I finish with another 1,000 words or so after going through every chapter again and developing some scenes more fully.

And then on to line editing, spell-checking, and the nasty nitty gritty of formatting.

From the News: When Reality is Worse than Your Imagination

A lot of my fiction ideas come from the news. A lot of it comes from sources that aren’t  considered legitimate information except as inspiration for fiction. If I were writing an article or a nonfiction book about some of the abuses that go on in our prison system, anything written by prisoners would be just hearsay. I could quote them, but any arguments I based on what they have to say would be subject to challenges as to the authenticity of the details. After all, the public has been trained to believe that prisoners have every reasons to lie about the conditions they live in.

So I have mixed feelings about recent revelations about private prisoner-transport, which starred in a scene of New Serfdom, a novel I wrote a few years ago. Much of what I wrote about the suffering and near-deaths of some prisoners being transported to the property of a man who had leased their services from the prison came from prisoners themselves, in various articles and books. The rest was my imagination. I never thought that the truth could be worse than what I had imagined. I was writing about a near-future dystopia, but it could just as easily have been located in today’s United States.

“… when I showed up at some of these rural jails, the cops there looked at me with a measure of respect — Look at this glamorous Extradition Agent coming in from out of town, he must be like the U.S. Marshals!

“They didn’t know what it was really like.

“My prisoners got sick and threw up on each other all the time. They passed out from heat stroke — the windows barely opened, for security reasons, and the air conditioning was always broken. It got so hot that they would strip down to their underwear, and I would have to buy them buckets of ice and water.

“They were car sick, dizzy, panicked, and claustrophobic.

“Only one of our vans had cushions on the seats. In the rest of the vehicles, they were just sitting upright on a metal bench, squeezed in tight next to each other, with no way to lie down to sleep — for up to seven days in a row. Usually they’d just take off their shoes and sit on those.

“Imagine having convicted murderers next to you when you’re a first-time DUI offender. There were guys who were past due on child support sitting next to a murderer. That’s crazy — speeding-ticket people next to three-time felons.

“Meanwhile, your hands are bound but there ain’t no seatbelts, so if I put on the brakes or swerve, you get thrown like a pinball across the van and slammed against the wall, with no way to brace yourself. I would hear them slamming around back there.

“One night I was driving down the road, and I heard some chains shaking all the way in the back. Rattling, shaking — like a seizure of chains, and now the prisoners were all yelling up to me that this girl needed help.

“This woman had recently been in a car accident. She had metal headgear on, like a head brace, which I think was to keep her from banging her head on anything — and she was also five months pregnant. They actually let us transport individuals like that.

“So we pulled over, I jumped out of the passenger seat, and tried to go back and hold her. I fed her a soda, and she calmed down slightly. Then it was just back to business.

“Sometimes the inmates were 400 pounds and couldn’t even fit back there. I once transported a guy who couldn’t hold his bowels — he was taking a dump on himself and throwing up on himself the entire time. Others were constantly urinating in bottles.

“When we got to the next jail, “inmate cleaning teams” would clean the shit and vomit out of the vans, although sometimes I had to do so myself.”

It gets worse, believe it or not.

The Horrible Things I Saw Driving a Van Packed with Prisoners.

Inside the Deadly World of Private Prisoner Transport

Both articles are part of a Marshall Project series: Life on the Inside

New Theme I’m Trying Out

I like this theme very much, except that the widgets are at the bottom instead of in a sidebar. It took me some time to get used to seeing that setup, but it’s become quite common now, and I hope readers aren’t confused by it. My blog title is nowhere to be seen, but I have the option of creating a custom header. Don’t know when I’ll get around to it, but hopefully, within the next few days.

What didn’t I like about the old theme that I do like about this one? I prefer pages that don’t include the sidebar. The old theme didn’t allow any other style. This one allows nice, clean pages without extraneous material.

Just for the few who might be interested. A big push in revising Camp Expendable today produced 900 words. Maybe I’ll squeeze in a few more before the evening’s over, or maybe I’ll just rest on my laurels. It’s been ages since I’ve been able to write that much in a day, so laurels are good.

Lurching and Tilting

That title expresses, more or less, the way I feel lately, trying to overcome my own distractedness while also being submerged in the noise from what I now have to consider the neighbors from hell. Much of the noise problem is intensified by the two houses being not more than about 20 feet apart, with my bedroom/computer room windows on that side — of course. Currently, the neighbors are having their utility building and house reroofed. Since the work is being done only in the morning, I can look forward to several days of not being able to sleep past 7:00, being trounced by whatever noises are necessarily involved.

The weather is making its own contribution to the noise problem. I can’t tolerate much heat, so as the temps rise I’m spending more and more time with the window AC running. I bought it in the belief that it was a “whisper quiet” model, but it roars and rattles like crazy, driving me crazy. At least it does cover some of the noise next door.

I signed up for July Camp NaNoWriMo in order to give myself an extra push to finish revising Camp Expendable, but it isn’t going very well. I do most of my writing in the morning, which is now impossible, and by afternoon, I’m so frazzled that I can’t pull myself together enough to write anything, much less do a major revision. With a goal of only 6,000 words, and only eight more chapters, it should be a walk in the park. Best intentions and all that hooey.

The one thing I did accomplish this week, maybe because it was a mindless job involving only hundreds of mouse clicks, was deleting the last of my Live Journal posts. It went fairly quickly and contributed only marginally to my right hand’s ongoing deterioration. Skimming over some of the posts, I came to the conclusion that the ones without any comments were usually personal stuff, or about the writing process. Most of my readers hung around, pure and simple, for the free reads. Going back and back through those posts, I now find it unbelievable that I actually posted entire novels. Not something I’d do anymore, for sure.

The big question now is whether I can finish Camp Expendable this month, and get on to something else. I won’t be taking any bets.

From the News: Gender and Disability in a Post-Apocalyptic Future

Future gender

The subject of gender tends to be extremely divisive. Front and center in the media as it is these days, new questions keep coming up, vigorously debated but never truly answered. I doubt they’ll ever be answered since gender can be looked at from a social, a genetic, or a psychological point of view. An article that caught my eye recently was about the first person (in the US, at least) to be declared legally neither male nor female. It doesn’t, of course, answer any of the questions. In fact, it raises more.

Jamie Shupe can legitimately be considered transgender, although he has no intention of going all the way to surgery. I believe that people should be able to present themselves as whatever gender feels like their real self, but the question that constantly comes up for me is one that impinges on me as a writer of near-future science fiction. In that mode, I see transgender as a possible tragedy in the making. Whatever measures a person may take to change their gender, they remain the same at the genetic level. What if, in the future, be it near or far, the hormones that transgender people rely on to maintain their many of their physiological changes are no longer available? What happens to the male whose transition includes major surgery involving the sexual organs. Without hormone support, he will regress to most of the male physiological characteristics. What effects will that have — socially as well as psychologically? Will I ever write a story about such a man? It would take a great deal of intense thought to do it in a way that is sensitive rather than sensationalistic.

Zika and Climate Change

Again, I tend to see the news in terms of how it will spin out into the future. Zika and other tropical diseases that will affect new demographics is certainly something that attracts me as potential science fiction. Zika is already in the United States, and children have been born here with mental and other disabilities stemming from the disease. Scientists know that climate warming will be accompanied, in northerly nations by an increase in diseases once confined to warmer climates. Can they reach epidemic proportions? Will we see increasing numbers of badly damaged children born to infected mothers? How will that affect the larger societies. The questions, as in the topic of gender, are endless.

The worst-case scenario is that the apocalypse, if there is one, will come gradually, carried by insects, rather than as a sudden disruption of everything we know.

Goodbye Live Journal

I”ve been on Live Journal a long time, probably longer than I’ve been on WordPress. Over the last couple of years, it’s been changed in ways that make it harder to navigate. As a result (unless there are other reasons I don’t know about) it’s gone from a lively place where I could post chapters of ongoing work and engage with my readers, to an echoing shell. Most of the people on my friends list don’t post there anymore, so there’s rarely anything to read. I’ve had almost zero motivation to keep hanging on and I don’t know why I’ve bothered to keep posting now and then.

But it’s over. I’m in the process of deleting all my posts, which includes three whole novels and a short story. Two short stories? I haven’t finished yet, so I’m not sure. Another day or two and it will all be gone.

So long, LJ, it was nice knowing you.

The Never-Ending, One and Only Draft

Came across a moderately interesting review —Track Changes — of the book of the same name, on how the change from typewriters to computers has changed the way novelists write. Some writers still use typewriters, and a few write by hand. And of course, there’s mention of early criticisms that word processing would, in some way, degrade literature. I imagine that one topic is covered pretty thoroughly in the book.

What really stood out for me was just one line: “Philip Roth and Zadie Smith have both said the computer has done away with drafts: they edit as they go, saving over earlier versions.” That, quite frankly, was awesome, because I do exactly the same thing and have been working that way for a long time.

In discussions about novel development (or development of any book, but mostly usually novels) drafts are always a hot topic. How many drafts are optimum? How many drafts should I write? How many drafts do you go through? I never get into those discussions. What am I going to say, “I write only one draft?” Horrors! That has to mean I don’t care about grammar, construction, story development, or any other aspect of writing.

If I say that I just keep writing over the first draft, more horror. What if I cut out something I later realize I want to keep, and it’s gone? There are two ways to deal with that possibility. 1. If I’m really in doubt about cutting out some material and then regretting that it’s gone, I stick it in a text file called “Fragments.” Scrivener makes it very easy to do that. Or, what I’ve switched to doing instead, I can add it to “Fragments” in the floating Notes feature. The advantage of using Notes is that I can keep it onscreen, rather than having to jump between the “Fragments” text file and the chapter text file. There was a time when I just stuck the deleted text at the bottom of the chapter, but that messes up my word count if I’m keeping track of it.

2. The other way to make sure my golden words aren’t lost forever is to take a snapshot of the chapter as it is at that moment. Snapshots are another clever feature of Scrivener, but the truth is that I’ve used it only once, just out of curiosity. Snapshots are, though most people probably don’t think of them that way, another way to back up your material. Since I save to Dropbox, and have an external drive just for backups, plus thumb drives, when I remember to use them, that would be a bit of a redundancy on top of redundancies.

When it comes right down to it, though, over time I’ve developed the attitude that there are multiple ways to write a scene, a chapter, or an entire book. In a sense, writing a novel in a word processor is like playing with Silly Putty. Your ideas are plastic, always changing, always capable of being reshaped. To make the best use of the power of writing digitally, your mind also has to be plastic, willing to let the past evolve into the new.

If nothing else, you don’t have to deal with the clutter of all those old drafts that you’re probably never going to look at again.


Alice Adams talks about the books that have influenced her life. Why Does Anyone Write? “I didn’t set out to be a writer. As a child, being a novelist seemed like the most exalted possible career but it was like wanting to be a movie star, a wildly unrealistic dream.” I can relate to wanting to be a writer, but not to wanting to be a movie star. Luckily, I didn’t know how hard writing actually was, so I held onto that dream until I was almost too old to do anything about it.

If you claim that you don’t watch TV, you’re either an asshole or a liar, according to this article by Alissa Walker: Everyone Is Lying About Not Watching TV You can decide for yourself which one I am, because I don’t watch TV. And I don’t “cheat” by watching streaming programs on the internet. Granted, the title is meant to be provocative, but it does seem to be true that there’s a non-TV-watching segment of the population that seems to think it’s a mark of intelligence, or sophistication, or whatever, to let people know that they don’t watch. And apparently they never miss an opportunity to let the crass enthusiasts know, not only that they didn’t watch the latest episode of whatever, but that they don’t watch TV at all.

I’ve always had a problem with television, even back when there were a few shows here and there that I enjoyed. But by the time analog was ploughed under by digital, I hardly ever turned the set on. Despite all the media concentration on the cultural significance of certain shows, I see TV as basically a substitute for everything else that people used to do, like hobbies, travel, even creative projects. It’s a time filler, and pretty much of an addiction for people too tired out by pointless jobs to dredge up the energy for “free time” pursuits.

For SF aficionados: Systems fiction: a novel way to think about the present. Quirks of the human animal and the systems that it invents are two of my favorite concerns. Never been much interested in space opera or alien encounters. Still, when I looked up some of the books recommended as involving exploration into systems, none of them seemed very interesting. I started reading Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars years ago, but dropped it out of sheer boredom. It’s all very well to write about systems, but not to forget that they include human beings. So-called hard SF tends to forget about the characters in its fascination with the technical details.