Friday Desk Report – Nov. 13, 2015

Samsung_840_EVO_SSD-8_-_front_blackIt is Friday the 13th, and yet I am cloning and installing a new SSD in my laptop. Nope, no triskaidekaphobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, or friggatriskaidekaphobia here.

It’s been a good week for writing, and my NaNoWriMo WIP has topped 30k words. I spent the first 29k of that figuring out what the novel was about, and then yesterday finding out how it would all fit together, but it’s not the process, it’s the product, right? For a usual November I would be ecstatic to be at 30k words on this date (and it is, in my 13-year tenure, unheard-of), because I’d be more than halfway to goal–but of course, this year’s actual goal is much higher, and so I am merely satisfied. Satisfied is also a good place to be, however.

I had a story rejection this week but…well, as my good friend Nancy says, at some point they get to be more like a kick on the shin than a devastating injury. They sting for a bit and then you shrug them off and that’s it. I haven’t found a new place to send the story yet because, darn, it’s long, and the majority of markets these days are looking for 5k or less, it seems. I just don’t write that many stories in that length. I’ll try to find some time to focus on that in the next week.

I’m doing a lot of on-call story advising this month since there are so many stories happening in this household right now. But that’s fun, and it’s so interesting to be able to watch other writers develop under the microscope, so to speak. And it’s nice to be able to answer many of the questions that I had to research long ago.

I set up a new blog over at this week, called Stalking the Story. Why do I want another website to look after? Well, I plan to make it the repository for just my writing-related posts, so if that’s all you’re here for, they’ll be cross-posted over there as well. I’m also hoping to have some guest bloggers over there in the coming months. It may, over time, turn into a cooperative blog, which is something I’ve thought I’d like to do for some time now, in partnership with other writers. We’ll have to see how it evolves.

Habitica avatarMy desk is actually getting a bit messy, as it is wont to do during NaNoWriMo, so I plan to take a break this weekend and tidy it up. No, I will not be procrastinating on my WIP. The other thing I did this week was set up an account at Habitica, which is essentially a way to manage your productivity and habits by gamifying your life and translating it into a video RPG. So far, I love it. It’s amazing how much more satisfying it is to make my bed when I know I’m getting XP and virtual gold for it. :) I mean, I’ve only been using it for a few days and I’m already level 5!

Some things I did to earn gold and XP this week:

  • made my bed
  • walked on the treadmill
  • wrote. a lot.
  • did laundry
  • drank more water
  • finished the fall yard work

I’ll bet you did some of those things this week too. BUT did you get XP for them?

SSD Photo Credit: By Samsung Belgium (Flickr: SSD840EVO_008_Dynamic_Black) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Storyboarding with Pinterest

pinterestI know I’m not the first writer to use Pinterest as a visual aid in story-writing, but I was thinking about all the ways it could be used and thought–I may as well think out loud!

I started a Pinterest storyboard for my new novel, One’s Aspect to the Sun, during one of its numerous rewrites. If I remember correctly, I was trying to draw my mind back into the world of the novel after being away from it for a while, and I always find visual imagery very creatively stimulating. At first the board was a “secret” one, which is a great Pinterest feature for a board you’re not ready to share with the world yet. I was throwing all kinds of things into the mix to put me back inside the story.

Later, though, I realized that it also makes a good marketing tool. With judicious pinning, a writer can create a board that really reflects the mood, genre, time period, setting, and style of a book or story, as well as elements that play into the plot. Potential readers can get an impression about whether the book might be one they’d enjoy. Images can also pique a reader’s interest…why did the author include *this* particular image? My One’s Aspect to the Sun board is here:

I’m currently creating a Pinterest storyboard for my current NaNoWriMo novel, which has a working title of B.R.A.N.E., Inc. I’m using this board as a repository for things I might want to refer back to as I’m writing, as well as images that represent places in the novel, clothing, ideas, and bits of plot that are floating around in my head but not committed to paper or file yet. I have a mockup of a cover for the book, so that’s there, too. No doubt this board will be a mishmash of many things as the novel develops, but I can always pare it down later to better reflect the actual tale that emerges.

Do you use Pinterest in your writing life? If so, how?

Influences – L.M. Montgomery

I could hardly come to Prince Edward Island on vacation without taking a few moments to reflect on Lucy Maud Montgomery and her influence on me as a writer, and as a reader.

I grew up reading Montgomery. The big bookshelf at my grandparents’ house, which offered an absolute cornucopia of reading bliss, was well-stocked with Lucy Maud’s books–not only the ubiquitious Anne, but also the Emily books and others. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Anne well enough and read her series quite thoroughly; but it’s the later Anne books I particularly enjoyed, and I think Anne of Windy Poplars is probably my favorite of them.

It was always Montgomery’s lesser-known works that were my favorites overall, though. The Emily series–Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest–they spoke to me far more than Anne did. (And before you ask, no, it’s no coincidence that my daughter’s name is Emily.) Emily is the creative one–the writer, in fact, and probably my very first introduction to the notion of the long, slow path of a writer’s life. I think having that understanding has been a great help in finding my own way as a writer.

The Story Girl was another perennial favorite (and its sequel, The Golden Road), as was Pat of Silver Bush, and A Tangled Web.

Looking back, I think the appeal of the books to me as a younger reader and teenager was Montgomery’s deft hand at characterization. These were not thrilling adventure books with complicated plots (although A Tangled Web has a beautifully complex and interwoven storyline), but the characters came to life on the page with vibrancy and color, and their problems, big and little, mattered to the reader as well. They were, overall, “happy ending” stories, but not syrupy–Anne and Emily are both orphans, to start with, and the stories in all the books reflect both the lighter and darker sides of life in the time periods in which they are set. While the Anne books are more romanticized, many of the other titles explore more realistic themes and aspects of life. They are probably, as a whole, the most re-read books for me.

It saddens me somewhat that these stories have gone out of fashion for young readers with the passage of time. But I guess that kind of sentiment makes me sound old and crotchety, so I’ll just end by saying–thanks, Lucy Maud. You made my reading life much richer, and my writing life easier to navigate.

Book Juggling and Summer Reading

I’ve always been a voracious reader. When I was younger (say, in my teens and university) reading was really my first experience with multitasking (see my previous post!). I read while I was getting dressed. I read while I dried my hair. I read while I ate (whenever I could get away with it). I read before going to sleep. I’d have a book on the go in my bedroom, one in the bathroom, one downstairs, and one in my bag. People often commented on this, wondering how I could keep all the stories straight. I wondered how one couldn’t keep all the stories straight. I mean, they were all different stories, right?

If you pop over to my Goodreads “currently reading” page, you’ll see that I’m still the same book juggler. It’s a bit misleading, really–there are more books on that list than I’m actively reading at any given moment. That’s because when I start a book and then don’t really get into it or get distracted from it, I still leave it on the list until I’m quite certain I’m not going to finish it. I have less tolerance now for books that don’t keep me interested–but I don’t like moving them into the “shelved” category until I’m sure. That means my list can get pretty long at times.

My habits have changed in one regard; I still might have four books actively on the go, but it’s likely that no more than two are physical, print books. Another will be on my Kobo, and another will be an audiobook I’m listening to. I like this; it’s tidier, for one thing, and these days, tidy is like a lovely, usually-unattainable dream. I’ve come to love audiobooks–they appeal to the corner of my soul that loves multi-tasking because I can listen to them while I do so many other things. Cleaning. Sewing. Making jewelry. Driving. Gardening. When I got serious about writing, the time I could devote to reading suffered somewhat. Audiobooks have changed that. I might even attain my long-wished-for goal of reading more than 52 books in a year. Well, I know I have done that when I was younger, but not since I became a “grown-up.” I’d like to get there again.

All this is on my mind of late because summer is still my reading season. I read all year, of course, but there’s something about summertime reading that sets it apart for me. It’s easier to allow myself to take a whole afternoon off and just read. Or stay up late into the wee hours with a book I just can’t put down, knowing I don’t have to wake up early and get kids off to school. Summer is my time to read freely, in some sense. There are some books I save for summer reading, because I know the experience will have an extra fillip of enjoyment.

My Goodreads page and my reviews on this site will tell you what I’ve read lately…what else is still on my summer reading list? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you…

Things to do on Goodreads When You’re Bored

Wait, let me clarify that. I am never bored. There are far too many things I want to do and enjoy doing to ever really be bored. The title of this post should really read, “Things To Do On Goodreads When You’re Procrastinating That Editing You’re Really Supposed To Be Doing But You Can’t Get Your Brain In Gear,” but that doesn’t scan as well, nor does it cleverly mimic any movie titles.

Anyway. I love Goodreads. I really like keeping track of my reading there, posting ratings and reviews, and seeing what other folks are reading. The other night, however, I went poking around to see what else you could do for fun over there. Turns out there are quite a few things, and here are just a few:

Compare Books
You can compare books with any of your friends to see how similar (or dissimilar) your reading tastes are. I discovered that one of my sisters and I have read 30 of the same books, and our tastes are 86% similar for those books. Then I looked at some other friends and acquaintances, and tried to predict how similar our tastes would be before I did the comparison. I was surprisingly good at that.

Take A Quiz
There are loads of quizzes available to take, but my favorite is the Never-Ending Book Quiz. Not because it is easy–oh, no. (I’m running about 73% correct answers at the moment.) I like the variety of the questions that pop up. I like the fact that sometimes I know more than I expected to know. And I like the fact that it’s never-ending. You could sit there for hours and hours and not get to the end. Not, you know, that I would. But I like knowing that I could. And you can add questions of your own, if you’d like.

Join A Group
Whatever your literary interests, there’s probably a group for that at Goodreads. Groups for books, groups for genres, groups for authors, groups for regions–browse your interests and find like-minded folks to talk books with.

Find An Author
Find your favorite author on Goodreads, and you might find interviews (written or video), blog posts, news about new projects–you never know. You can follow them to see what they’re reading, too.

Enter a Giveaway
Authors and publishers can run giveaways through Goodreads for new titles, or those that are less than six months old. It’s completely free to enter these giveaways, so it’s worth looking them over to see if there’s anything you might be interested in. Who knows, you might even win!

Read Creative Writing By Other Members
Members post sample chapters, excerpts, poetry and more, for fun and feedback. You can too, if you’d like. Or just while away some time browsing writing in areas that interest you.

Become a Librarian
So you’ve always secretly longed to be one of those quiet but sexy and intriguing librarian types? Apply to be a Goodreads librarian and make that dream come true. You can be one of the select few overseeing the wonderful world of books on Goodreads. Oh, the power! (I’m just being facetious…being a GR librarian sounds like fun!)

Oh! And surf over to Scroll down to find some cool bookmarks you can print out!

Goodreads is a lively, interactive, fun place for bibliophiles and casual readers alike to hang out. If you’re not a member…what are you waiting for?

Oh, and you can always leave ratings and reviews for your favorite authors, as well…

The 1901 Eaton’s Catalogue

One of the coolest finds in the saga of clearing out my grandparents’ house (for me, at least) was this: the 1901 catalogue from the T. Eaton Company Limited. It’s actually a reprint of that catalogue, produced in 1970, which accounts for its exceptionally good condition. However, it is a faithful reprint of that catalogue, and what I love about it is the wonderful window it opens into the past. I mean, historical/steampunk writer’s reference, anyone?

Browsing through the catalogue is a ton of fun. It’s also an eye-opener in many ways. Yes, we seem to have some weird ideas about what constitutes the ideal feminine form these days. However, this is obviously NOT the first time in history that that has been true. Wasp waists, and oddly low-hanging, ample bosoms seem to have been the ideal of the day. One would think, looking at the corsets in the catalogue, that everything north of the waist would have been pushed dramatically up…but perhaps it’s a function of artist’s license, as well. At any rate, I am prfoundly thankful that I was not shopping from this section.

It’s also kind of mind-boggling to think that almost everything in the catalogue had to be drawn by hand, from all of these household items, to flowers you might want to order.

But what really struck me as I thumbed through it today was this little section: “Paper-covered Books for Summer Reading.”

As you can see, it’s a minuscule selection, when you compare it to the sprawling websites offering books for us to order today (there are other pages to order books in the catalogue, but it’s still a pretty limited number). There’s also nothing to tell you what any of the books are about. You want to know what House of the Wolf by Stanley J. Weyman or What Gold Cannot Buy by Mrs. Alexander are about? Pay your money and take your chance.

Which brings me to my real point. These books are “Printed on Heavy Paper” and cost “7 cents each; postage 2 cents extra.” When I read that, I can’t help thinking about all those .99 ebooks out there. Comparatively, that means that they cost about fourteen times the 1901 paperbacks. (Yes, yes, I know that some folks are going to accuse me of comparing apples to oranges because ebooks have no cost for physical materials, shipping, etc.–but bear in mind that those costs are a relatively small percentage of print book costs today.)

When I browse through the catalogue and see that most other items have increased in cost anywhere from twenty to fifty times (or more!)…I really wonder how we have come to this point. It seems such a devaluation of years of hard work on the part of the writer to say that the story is worth less than a dollar. When we’ll pay two to three times that without blinking for a cup of coffee, and ten to fifteen times that to watch a two-hour movie, it seems to me that something is severely skewed.

I think we need to think about this both as writers and as readers.

Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Zombies Vs. Unicorns
Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, look at the dates–I devoured this book. Precisely for the reasons I picked it up in the first place…the fabulous premise, and the spectacular lineup of authors.

I didn’t love every story, of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved every story in any anthology. I liked them all, though, and I did love some of them. That’s a tricky enough task, though, and enough to get it five stars from me.

I especially enjoyed the running debate between editors Holly Black and Justine Larbelestier as they defended their respective teams (Team Unicorn and Team Zombie, respecectively) in the introduction to each story. I think this book must have been as much fun to put together as it was to read.

View all my reviews

Title Fight

This is not one of mine.

In a recent interview I (and a number of other authors) did over on the Third Person Press News Blog, one of the questions was about story titles–specifically the title of the story each of us had in the new anthology, Unearthed, and more generally, when and how we get our titles.

The title of my story in Unearthed is pretty simple: “The Cache.” It’s a story about what happens to two characters who go geocaching and find more than they bargained for, so the title seemed a no-brainer. However, it’s probably one of the least interesting ways to get a title that I’ve used, so I thought I’d elaborate a little here.

My two favourite ways to get titles are: 1) have the title come to me before I even know there’s a story to go with it, and 2) find a pre-existing line of verse and take the title from it (either directly or slightly twisted). The first way is a product of serendipity, so it can’t really be planned. It can be coaxed, to some extent–by thinking maybe in very general terms about a theme or setting and just letting the words dance and mix and float around until they coalesce into something. But most of the time it just…happens.

The second way, I go about very methodically. I surf over to (although I’m sure there are other searchable verse or literary databases out there) and start running searches on keywords that have something to do with the story or story idea. I jot down everything that speaks to me, and then usually at some point I know I’ve got the one I need. Some of the titles I like the best have come out of this process: One’s Aspect to The Sun, Spaces Sharp and Bare, and To Where the Aether Failed. (I see, looking over my list of stories and novels, that this method seems to work best for novels. Huh. I never noticed that before.)

Other titles have come from the subject line in a spam email (Operant Moon), online generators (The Murder Prophet), and song titles (The Light of the Silvery Moon). And then the rest…I guess mostly from a word or phrase that comes out of the story or story idea itself. Sometimes I don’t even know how the title ties in to the story for sure until I’ve written more of it.

I rarely change a title. Maybe it’s a holdover from the old superstition that it’s bad luck to change the name of a horse or a boat, but once a story has a title, that’s usually it for me. In truth, I can think of only one that I changed on the suggestion of an editor. So thus far I guess I’ve been lucky.

Writers, what’s your favourite way to get a title? Readers, do titles ever turn you off before you even read the back cover blurb?

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn (Matt Cruse, #1)Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved every minute of this amazing book! The audio version is by Full Cast Audio, and they made the book and characters come vividly to life. Finishing it made me feel the way you do after an exquisite meal–you want to go right back and eat the whole thing again. If you like YA adventures, put this one at the top of your list. You won’t be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Tales of Tales ~ Part 7: Common Ground

Staying on the science fiction side of things, today I thought I would talk a little bit about “Common Ground,” another story in my collection To Unimagined Shores.

I actually can’t recall the “inciting incident” or the idea spark that led to this story. It’s based around a colony ship arriving at a new planet to find that it’s not as empty as the colonists expected. It also has a lot to do with parenthood, and I suspect the idea first came to me not long after our daughter was born. I do vividly remember lying awake one night thinking about the story and how excited I was to start writing it. There was a particular idea in it that, at that time, I thought was one of the best things I’d ever come up with. It’s a magnificent feeling, when you know you have a great story idea and it’s just waiting to come to life under your fingertips. The wonderful feeling doesn’t always last, and the story doesn’t always turn out to be as fabulous as you thought it was going to, but those moments of excitement and the feeling that you really have something are priceless.

“Common Ground” was published at Nuketown in 2001. Later, in 2003, the aliens from “Common Ground” formed the basis for one of the alien races who showed up in the novel I was writing for National Novel Writing Month, “One’s Aspect to the Sun.” I had obviously enjoyed writing these aliens. They were one of the first really well-developed alien races I’d created, and they have stayed with me. Years later an editor would tell me, “You really do write great aliens.” She wasn’t talking about these aliens in particular, but I’m quite proud of that comment, and it makes me strive, whenever I create an alien race, to make them very believable.

Once past the end of the garden we saw the cave. A dozen yards distant the shrouded entrance gaped blackly in the rock wall. And under a natural outcropping, half obscured by shadow, stood three aliens.

My stomach churned. My own breath made a hollow whistling sound in my throat. These were the creatures who had our babies. I could not even see them clearly yet, but a fist of fear tightened in my chest.

One of them held up a hand, but we had already stopped. The others were armed, not overtly menacing but standing easily erect, perhaps five feet tall and garbed in wrapped shirts and loose leggings.

The apparent leader gave a short speech, the words a tumbled gibber of growls, yips, and barks. It ended on a questioning note.

It’s the last day to enter my contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from,, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Image “Planetfall by Moonlight” copyright 2010 by Sherry D. Ramsey