Friday Desk Report – June 16, 2017

A lovely carpet of creeping phlox

Seems like it was a bit of a slow week around the desk, but of course the intrusion of the warming weather and demands of the outdoors have something to do with that. (Not that I am complaining!) Still, I managed to keep up with most things, started a new novel revision, and spent hours refining the magic system used in that novel draft. It now makes more sense and is on its way to becoming a rational magic system. Still a few things to work out, but it definitely has a good foundation now. It was a pain in the butt interesting to try to reconcile the magic use/character abilities that I’d written into the story into a more coherent framework. I’ll have to make changes and adjustments as I work my way through this revision, but I feel much more confident about a good result now.

In my research into building good magic systems, I also refreshed my memory on Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of magic systems, which are very helpful to keep in mind when building one. The first one is at the link, and the others are linked from the bottom of that page.

A gorgeous tall tulip from a “Pretty in Pink” bulb mix from Vesey’s Seeds

I started the week bouncing between projects and finally landed on that revision, but I foresee that pattern continuing over the next little while. There are short stories I want to submit by upcoming deadlines, so although I’m a bit stuck on them right now, I have to keep going back and pecking at them until they agree to cooperate. I love it when I can sit down and write a new story straight through, but alas, that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s more likely to take a lot of digging and mucking about before I reach those two sweet, sweet words: The End.

Family, fire, and cake

Last week was my birthday (which I share with my sister, but no, we’re not twins–she was born five years after me, but on the same date) so we had our traditional outdoor party on the weekend. I made a first attempt at icing flowers made with a Russian ball decorating tip; they turned out all right, but I learned some tricks for making them better the next time. Still delicious!

Still working with my assistant, so despite the yard and garden needs, I think I’ll be able to stay productive in the coming weeks.

 

Friday Desk Report June 9, 2017

This month I have the great pleasure of having an author assistant helping me out with all sorts of things. It’s a short-term contract, but I’m loving the ability to hand off some tasks to someone else for a change. So far she’s taken care of some social media tasks, proofread a manuscript, created promotional materials, researched blog post ideas and found a cover image I’ll need soon. All this has freed me up to concentrate on writing and some other things, which has been great. It’s not something I could afford to pay for full time, but for short-term bursts of super-productivity, it’s fabulous.

Today has probably been the least productive day of the week, but mainly because several ROML (Rest of My Life) things took me out of the house numerous times. I was even productive yesterday, on my birthday! When, I’m sure you’ll agree, most of us deserve to take the day off if we’re able.

This week’s main projects were the newest Olympia Investigations story, and another story I’m hoping to have ready for a particular anthology call. They’re both fun to write, although very different tales. I’ve been switching back and forth as the mood takes me; I may try to work on a more deliberate schedule next week. I also have some rewrites coming up soon, so I’d like to clear these stories off the decks before then. My goal for this month is 13k words for those two stories combined; I’m slightly behind so far, but there’s still time to catch up!

Before I forget, I have a Kindle Countdown deal running on The Two-Week Short Story from now until June 15th. If you or someone you know might be interested, click over and check it out!

Spring has finally arrived and my gardens are starting to fill with colour–and weeds! So I’ll have to find time to work on that, too. I might need an assistant for longer than I anticipated…

The Alternative Expletive Project

A long, long time ago, over at The Scriptorium, I had a feature page called the Alternative Expletive Project. Here’s how I explained it then:

For many writers, the use of expletives in our fiction writing presents a quandary. Do we go ahead and use one of those infamous “seven words you can’t say on television” (although I think they’ve all been said there by now)? Do we tone down one or more of those words, making the work less likely to offend–but, some would argue, less realistic?

It’s a personal choice that we all must make at some point, when our character smashes a thumb with a hammer, loses everything in the stock market, gets into a huge screaming match or realizes that the spaceship’s life support system has just failed. To swear, or not to swear, that is the question.

For those who’d like to walk the line somewhere between an “R” rating and an unbelievably dull character, The Scriptorium presents the Alternative Expletive Project. Our goal: to offer writers real-life, inoffensive examples of what folks say in times of anger, pain, despair and other emotional extremes.

I asked The Scriptorium’s readers to send me their examples and suggestions, and the response was…edifying, to say the least. So I collated all the responses into one large (partially) alphabetically-sorted list. As responses continued to roll in, I gave up on alphabetizing them. It’s interesting to note that today’s possibly most popular swear-without-really-swearing, “WTF,” did not even make the list at the time.

When The Scriptorium underwent a redesign, that page was overlooked and didn’t make it back onto the new site. So I present the list here, for your browsing and reference pleasure. You never know when it might come in handy–and it’s fun, at any rate. Do you say any of these? Do your characters?

The Alternative Expletive Datalist

Ah, Buddha All-fired Blamed
Blast Blasted Bleeding
Blimey Blinking Bloody Mary
Bloody Blowed Confound it
Confounded Crap Crappola
Crikey Cursed Cussed
Dammit Dang Danged
Darn Dash it Dashed
Dern Dungduggetty Mud Durn
Feck off Fishcakes Frig
Gee C. Cow Gee Gol-danged
Gosh Heck Jehosophat
Jiminy Crickets Motherfather Motherflower
Poop Rats Sugar
Ballspun Road and Crumpets Fiddlesticks Sugar and (bloody) cats
That’s SpongeBob (means “That’s B.S.!”) Bother Botheration
Tidy Bowl Shiver me timbers Dag nabbit
Split me infinitives By carbonate of soda no Fark
Cheese ‘n’ Rice For frog’s snake Fudge
Good Gravy Jeezly Heavenly Day
Good Googa-Mooga Go to Halifax Gol-dashit
Ficky-doo BALLoons BASTion of indecency
Mother flubber Cock-a-doodle-diddle Drat
Shoot Jeepers Flick
Boulder Dash Chickens Fudgesicle
Nuts Sugar Honey Iced Tea Fungus
Jackrabbit Crappers Dadgummit
Pickles FartBurgers Criminy
Sammich Bachkalooey Hajamabajah
Rat Farts Jolly Bad Luck Jolly Rotten Luck
Dorkburger Filth Belcher Dirt Merchant
Chickenplucker Cheezles Flackit
Summon a witch Grudge damn it Faff (off/you/this)
Judas H. Priest Bollards (load of) Bilge
(you) Richard Cranium Baloney Fricking
Jeeze Louise Cheet Beach
Sugar Plum Fairies Flipping Frack
Howling Horse Biscuits Cheesers
Shittles Skittles Shootles
I could spit nickles Fack Ymir’s Bones
Son of a Biscuit Eater

Submission Planner Updated

I’ve been using the submission planning spreadsheet I talked about here and realized that a couple of tweaks would improve its functionality.

I added a column to enter the word count of your story, and formulae in the “Projected Payment” column, so that now if you enter your word count and the pay rate for a particular market, the spreadsheet will calculate the projected payment for you (because I don’t know about you, but I’m all about doing as little actual math as possible). There’s also now a separate column for flat rate payments.

The instructions page has been amended accordingly.

Here’s the really cool part: if you’ve already started using the older version of the spreadsheet, don’t despair! Open your version and the new version in different windows on your desktop, and simply drag one of the updated sheets from the new version into your old version. It won’t update a sheet you’ve already started, of course, but you can use the new version for any new ones you start. You can take advantage of the new features without having to start a new file.

The new file is now linked below and on the original post’s download page. Happy submission planning!

Friday Desk Report ~ April 28, 2017

Work on improving my marketing strategies continued this week. There’s a LOT of information and advice out there, and much of it concludes with “see what works for you.” That’s a lot of trial and error, but I guess it’s really the only way. I have worked out the beginnings of a weekly/monthly action list, which just sounds too organized for me. ;)

Not much in the way of word count this week, since my focus was elsewhere. I do have a new story to work on, though, and I figured out some more things about The Chaos Assassin. I also got those two non-fiction ebooks mostly formatted, so I think this weekend I will try to run through them both one last time and maybe get them out the door early next week. I’ve decided I’m happy with the covers. I have a school visit coming up on Monday, but fortunately there’s little prep work involved for that. I do have to finish up the last of my prep for the workshop I’m presenting next weekend. I’m hoping we’ll have some fun talking speculative fiction all day!

This new story idea is really giving me a brain itch, so I think I might have to write it before it drives me crazy. It will be the next installment in the Olympia Investigations series, so I know it will be fun to write. Although it rarely happens, I think I know the throughline of the whole story right off the top, so maybe I’ll be looking at a fast first draft. Here’s hoping!

 

Submission Planning Sheet

It takes a while to get a story ready for submission–there’s a lot of rewriting, revising, editing, polishing, and agonizing to arrive at that point where you give yourself the green light — your project is ready to send out into the world. The act of submitting is not an easy one for every writer, often fraught with self-doubt, trepidation, and  anxiety. Trying to decide where to send your story can seem like a huge, time-intensive chore, which has to be revisited after every rejection (usually when we least feel like doing it!).

What you, the writer, need — is a plan. A submission plan for your story that will help you easily decide on the best markets to target and which ones to try first, and also let you turn rejections around quickly into new submissions. No more going back to pore over the market lists every time a story comes back; no more agonizing over where to send you work; no more letting a story lie fallow on your hard drive for weeks or months while you regather the will, nerve, or gumption to figure out where to send it next.

Enter the Submission Planning Sheet. I’ve kept one of these for years (inspired by an old article by my friend writer Terry Hickman) using this method, but I’ve recently updated it to an Excel spreadsheet from my old pen-and-paper method. I thought I’d share it here for any writers struggling with keeping their stories in submission. You can use it for as many stories as you’d like by simply adding a new page/sheet for each story. It comes with instructions and some sample data, and I hope you’ll find it useful.

You can download the spreadsheet file directly from my site right here:

The spreadsheet is free, but if you find it useful and feel so inclined, you can show your appreciation with a small donation – buy me a cup of coffee? You’ll keep me fuelled for creating more useful things like this. :)

 

Friday Desk Report – April 21, 2017

The desk report for this past week is, well, sort of boring. I’ve been mainly focused on marketing and promotion this week; spiffing up my website, trying to wrangle all my social media, figuring out how best to spend the time I allot to this sort of thing. It’s an unfortunate reality of being an author these days–unfortunate, I say, because it takes time away from what we’d really rather be doing: writing. There’s a balance out there, but the trick is to find it. I’m working on that.

I did have a lovely epiphany about something important in The Chaos Assassin, and immediately made copious notes about it. I’ve finished a major read-through and next week I hope to add some serious word count to the manuscript.

I’m also considering a new short story collection for stories that have come out since my last collection. Just kicking the idea around right now, but I did a little preliminary planning for that this week. Which reminds me, I have several short stories underway that I really should look at again next week…

Today though, I’m honoured to be participating in the fourth Rita Joe Memorial Literacy Day, so some of the week has been spent preparing for that, as well. I’m expecting to have a great day with the students talking about reading, writing, and speculative fiction.

If you’re a fellow writer looking to overhaul your own marketing strategies, check Duolit. Although the website is currently on hiatus, there’s still a lot of good information to be found!

Writing Prompt – 5 Pictures

At our writer’s group meeting last night, we did a freewrite, which we haven’t done in a while, but we’ve been meaning to get back to. “Freewriting” means taking a prompt and writing immediately for a set amount of time–no planning, no stopping, no editing, just see what happens. If you haven’t tried it, do so! It’s fun.

The 5 Pictures idea is one where I pull out five (or so) images from a huge stack I’ve cut from magazines over a number of years. Writers can choose whichever one they want to write about, and the way we do it, no-one is under any obligation to share what they’ve written when the time is up. Usually people want to share, which is great and makes the exercise even more fun as we read our pieces aloud afterwards, but there’s no pressure. I think the knowledge that there’s no expectation of sharing makes it easier for people to let go and write.

Anyway, I rather liked mine from last night, although when I randomly pulled this picture from the pile my first thought was, “boring!” In the end, though, this was the one that spoke to me. We wrote for ten minutes, which is not long to tell a whole story, but I think I pulled it off…

“What They Don’t Know”

House-hunting with Marta is a bitch.

“Nothing too big,” she admonished, “because how many bathrooms can one person be expected to keep clean?”

I closed the browser tabs for all the places over 5000 square feet.

“And lots of windows,” she added, smoothing her dark locks.

“With wide windowsills,” I said, “for you to sit on.”

“Goes without saying, but yes.” She stuck her pink tongue out at me impudently.

“Neighbors?” I asked.

She gave me a green-eyed stare at that.

“Right,” I said. “No neighbors too close.” I closed more browser tabs.

“And you know how I feel about dogs,” she said, stretching over to look at the laptop screen.

“Well, the density of canine population isn’t usually part of the property listing,” I reminded her. “We might have to take our chances.”

Marta sighed languidly. “Of course, you’re right, darling. We’ll just have to ask the agent when we go for a viewing.”

I stroked the silky fur on the back of my wife’s neck. “I assume you’ll be in human form for that?”

She butted her head against mine with a rumbling purr bubbling up like laughter. “Darling,” she said. “Who in their right mind would sell a house to a shape shifter? But what they don’t know…”

Friday Desk Report 2-17-2017

The return of the Friday Desk Report! And look at that fabulously almost-symmetrical date.

So, there hasn’t been a Friday Desk Report for a while, mainly because for the past couple of months they all would have read something like, “Tried to work on the novel edits this week in between bouts of feeling utterly depressed with the world. Drowned my sorrows in Guild Wars 2. Also, winter.” I mean, how many times would you want to read that?

But here’s the good news: there’s actually news. I turned in the novel manuscript! I turned in the short story! I edited and submitted another story! So things have really picked up again around the old desk. With luck, it will continue. I have a few new projects pestering me for some attention, and some older ones lined up in the “go back to” queue. Time to open up my year-out project planning spreadsheet and fill in some things for the next few months.

I’ve also been asked to give a WFNS workshop this spring, which is exciting. We’re calling it “Exploring Speculative Fiction,” and I’m looking forward to spending a day talking genre with folks writing and hoping to write specfic stories. So over the next few weeks some of my desk time will be spent putting the workshop together.

I’ve also been busy Saving The World Through Knitting. Well, okay, not *quite* saving the world. But making a small difference. So far I’ve knit ten hats from my yarn stash, which will be sent to an organization that distributes such items to refugees in need. I’m finding it a very useful strategy in coping with stress, distress, and the darkness demons of the winter months. (In the course of this project I’ve also become addicted attached to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I expect I’ll be writing some new mysteries this year…)

Two Weeks of Winter

Well, yes, on the East Coast of Canada, we certainly get more than two weeks of winter. Winter meanders in sometime mid-November, hunkers down, and usually has to be forcibly evicted sometime in May. Occasionally it will pack its bags in April, if we’re really lucky.

But the past two weeks have been…worse than usual. Last week my high-school-aged son had three snow days…this week he’s had four. He’s not complaining, and I’ll admit it–I’ve enjoyed being able to sleep later than usual. But–wow. I’m not sure what the two-week accumulation has been, but in one day we had 70+ cm (that’s around 28 inches for my non-metric friends), so you can imagine that the two-week total is considerable. My office window sits at ground level, and it’s a good thing I have an OTT Light on my desk, because sunshine’s been in short supply.

My office window on Valentine’s Day. Not much light creeping through that snow drift!

We had more last night, although a mere few centimetres. And the forecast for the next few days…only flurries!

I’ll believe it when I see it.