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

Self-Editing For Dummies

By Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsOh, calm down, I’m not really calling you dummies. But after thinking about my post the other day regarding the dearth of attention paid to editing lately, I realized that some portion of the blame must come to rest on the author, as well. The better we are at self-editing, the lesser our dependence on outside editors to catch all those little things that are dragging our stories down. Which, of course, puts us in a better light–both when editors and publishers read our submissions, and when our work (eventually, hopefully) finds its way into the hands of our readers.

So–how do you become a better self-editor?

1. Practice. Repeat after me: the first draft is not a finished work. Yes, you may complete your first draft in a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and think it’s the best thing anyone has ever written, anywhere. It’s not. Never send out something until that first fine rush has ebbed and you start to doubt. Once the doubt is there, you can start looking for all the things that are wrong, and begin to fix them. And fix them, and fix them, and when you think they’re fixed, see #2, below.

2. Other Eyes. My friend Steph has a great post over here about the necessity and value of first readers. The more eyes you can get on your work–knowledgeable, practiced eyes–the more chances you have of finding those things that editors will (or should) only fix later anyway. So those problems won’t be there to trip up your readers later.

3. Tools. Don’t underestimate the value of your word processor’s built-in spell-check and grammar-check; at the very least, they should make you slow down and look at possible problematic areas of your work. But they’re only the very minimal basics. One tool I love is Cliché Cleaner. Run your work through this handy little program to find clichés, overused expressions, and internal repetitions. It’s amazing how much one tool like this can help you clean up your work. You may have your own favorite cleanup tools–just don’t forget to use them.

4. Distance. Remember that first rush we talked about, that comes with completion of your first draft? One way to avoid falling victim to its siren song and sending your story out too soon is to get some distance from the work. Let it sit until it’s no longer totally fresh in your mind–a week, a month, even longer if you have the luxury. There’s nothing like coming back to it with some heightened objectivity to clear away the tint of those rose-coloured glasses.

5. Humility. No matter how competent or skilled a writer you are, you will always benefit from remembering that you are not perfect and neither are your early drafts. Expecting that your work will need polishing allows you to see its flaws more easily. Accepting that others will spot problems that you haven’t seen will make you more open to using their suggestions wisely.

For more advice on good self-editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Got your own self-editing favorites? Share them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tales of Tales ~ Part 6: On The Road With Fiamong’s Rule

Writing some stories is an uphill slog from start to finish, while others are so much fun to write that they practically seem to write themselves. “On The Road With Fiamong’s Rule” was one of those pure-fun stories for me.

Yet another of my stories that was idea-sparked by an anthology call, this one was originally written for an anthology looking for road trip stories–with, of course, an element of the speculative thrown in. The idea of a human-alien partnership in that road trip materialized quite quickly, as I recall, and as I said, the story seemed to write itself. This was one that I actually finished before the anthology’s deadline date, submitted and had accepted. Alas, something went wrong with the project, the anthology itself never made it to print, and I had to send the story out looking for another home. Such are the vagaries of the writing life.

The good news is that it did find another home, in the premiere issue of the Canadian Neo-Opsis magazine. If you look carefully, you can actually see my name on the cover. That was a first for me. Cool!

This story doesn’t follow a strict chronological timeline–there’s a fair bit of jumping back and forth between the “present” of the story and flashbacks to the past and the events leading up to the story’s “present.” I think I was experimenting a bit when I wrote this one, and I’d probably just been reading something that recommended starting a story “in medias res”–in the middle of the action. To illustrate what I mean by that, here’s the opening:

The worst moment of the whole trip came just before three a.m. on Friday. I stood in the driving rain, mud seeping insidiously into my shoes. The alien’s outline looked enormous in the dark, and the tire iron in his hand even more so, silhouetted against the probing glare of the police car’s headlights. When the cruiser had driven past a moment ago I thought we might be in the clear, but no, it had turned and was coming back.

My credit card was still being held hostage by the jerk at the service station and I had lost the rest of my ID in the motel fire. We had to make it to Ottawa by noon the next day or the entire mission could fail. I had about thirty seconds to think of something to tell the police, and if I didn’t get rid of them quickly, the alien would give himself away and we’d both be in the soup.

What was I, a previously normal at-home-mom of two, doing here? Tim was going to be furious when he found out.

Definitely the worst moment of the whole experience. Well, except for what happened later.

“In medias res,” indeed. I think I might have been testing to see just how far into the action one could really start a story. :)

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a 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.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 2

Today I’ve picked another story out of the table of contents for To Unimagined Shores to talk about a little.

“Little Things” is my first-ever published story. It appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s FANTASY magazine in 1997. It’s also the first story I wrote about what turned out to be a series character, a young mage’s apprentice named Albettra. The funny thing about this sale is that I vividly remember getting a postcard in the mail simply telling me that this story was “on hold” at MZBFM. At that time I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t a rejection, so I was ecstatic! I don’t actually remember getting the acceptance letter. The brain is a funny thing.

This was also the first story I’d submitted anywhere. Its sale made me think that this whole getting-published thing was not going to be so difficult after all. Ah, the golden optimism of the beginning writer!

“That ill-begotten son of a cantankerous sow has gone too far this time!” he bellowed, stalking the room with beard aquiver. “The man is a mountebank! A copper coin would be too much to pay for one of his spells! A lying charlatan, that’s what he is, and he dares to spread rumors about me!”

“Zipnax?” I hazarded the name in a small voice.

“Of course, Zipnax! Bah! The name makes my tongue shrivel to say it!” Nissio was flailing his arms wildly now, his robe fluttering madly and his beard flying in every direction.

I was cautiously working my way around to the other side of my worktable. I had never seen the old fellow so angry and I knew I’d feel a lot safer with something solid between us. When his erratic pacing took him near a wall he’d take an angry swing at it with a wizened fist. There couldn’t be much physical strength left in the man, but it didn’t take much to set the walls of the rattletrap cottage swaying. Dust was floating lazily down from the ceiling again and I stifled a sneeze.

“To accuse me of stealing!” the old mage was ranting now. “Imagine me, stealing one of his pitiful ideas!”

Bam! His fist hit a wall.*

The origins of Albettra herself and the idea for this story escape me now, they’re so far back in the mists of time. I do like Albettra, though, and I like the way she keeps turning up in my brain with a story idea in tow. She’s sometimes unsure of herself but feisty when she needs to be, and determined to win out in the end. I suppose, if I get all psychological about it, she’s a bit of a reflection of myself as a writer.

There are four Albettra stories in To Unimagined Shores. I’d like to know what you think of her as a character, if you happen to read them. You can do that in the comments section of this blog, on my Author Central page at, or over at Goodreads.

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a 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.

*My more astute writerly colleagues will notice a fair bit of passive voice in this excerpt…probably in the whole story. It’s interesting to note that at the time this story was written/published, it was not considered such a stylistic anathema. It’s an example of the ongoing evolution of writing style that I find fascinating. Anyway, it didn’t feel right to me to re-edit previously published stories for this collection, so I left things like this alone.

Lowering the Scalpel

The past number of weeks I’ve been busy with revisions to a novel manuscript. A publisher requested them, and I have a deadline, and it’s been an interesting and challenging task. My first thought when I got the email requesting them, of course, was, I don’t know how to do this!

But I soon found out that, also of course, I did. It turned out to be a pretty logical process, once I took a few minutes to think about it. Re-read the manuscript, because it had been some time since I’d actually looked at it. Make copious notes about what to change and how to change it and how best to address the concerns. And then—do it.

The reading and note-making took the bulk of the time, because I wanted to be thorough. It’s also sometimes a precarious undertaking, to start tinkering with the innards of a novel manuscript, because if you’ve done it right, it all stands up, nicely stacked and interdependent like a house of cards. Switching out and adding in new cards after the fact can cause the entire thing to come tumbling down, so it takes a lot of care and a steady hand.

I got to a point eventually, though, where I knew it was time to turn on the change-tracking feature and start making those changes. Beginning that part of the process was something I had to push myself into a bit. To switch analogies from cards to medicine, starting to mark up the manuscript felt like the start of a surgical procedure. The scalpel is in hand, you know it’s time, but you haven’t cut into the skin yet, and there’s a moment of hesitation. You have a plan, but you don’t really know how much blood there’s going to be once you start to cut. Any number of things could go wrong. Once you make that initial incision, there’s no going back—you’re committed to seeing the whole thing through to the end.

However, the surgery is the only treatment option, and you know it. And I knew it. So I pushed past that moment of hesitation, and so far the surgery is going well. It has a ways to go yet, but I think the patient is going to survive, and emerge stronger than ever. I’ll report on the prognosis as it becomes available.

Photo credit: chrisgan

Organization Quest 2011

If you read my previous post, you might have noted that one of my short-term goals was “Organize submission history/tracking.” I’ve been thinking that organization, not only of this submission data, but of many other aspects of my writing life, is a really key thing that I have to tackle this year. Without a certain amount of organization, I can make as many other goals as I want, but I will have little chance of meeting them.

In the latter months of 2010, I spent quite a while scouring the internet for the “perfect” submission and manuscript tracking program. I wasn’t entirely successful, as I think the only way I’ll find the perfect program is to write it myself or bully my husband into writing it for me to my exact specifications. However, I did find one that came darn close, and after evaluating it, I ended up buying The Writer’s Scribe from Swatski Enterprises.

I’ve think it’s safe to say that I’ve given the program a complete workout since acquiring it. I did run into a few small hiccups along the way, learning the program’s ins and outs, but the support from Doug Swatski was quick, thorough, and altogether wonderful. I’m very happy with the program now and expect that I’ll be using it for the forseeable future.

The image I’ve included (from the program website) is the Submissions Overview screen, and as you can see, it does provide a very nice overview. You can see at a glance what subs you have out, how long since you sent them, and the results of the last submission for any given piece of work, as well as picking up on stories that are due to be sent out to a new market. It also provides a running total of acceptances, rejections, and subs that are pending.

On the other tabs, you can view the details of a story, publisher, or submission. Depending on the level of detail you choose to include on publishers, the program can also suggest publishers for a particular story. It will provide alerts on a time scale you set, to let you know when the date of an expected reply is past. It also tracks sales and expenses, and allows the generation of many different types of reports.

When I said I’ve given the program a thorough workout, here’s what I meant: I input the data for 72 works, 114 markets, and 193 submissions. I went all the way back to when I first started submitting stories, and although it’s quite possible I missed a few, it’s a pretty good record. All my various scraps and folders of paper data are gathered together to give me a nice overview of my submission habits and history, and I can easily see what I should now prioritize.

I did send the developer a few suggestions for features that might be useful to add to future versions of the program, to which he responded very positively.

I’d definitely recommend this program (especially at its very reasonable price of $25 US) for any writer who wants to get serious about tracking submissions. It’s available for both Windows-based and Mac machines.

The Waiting Game

old typewriter keysRome wasn’t built in a day.

Good things come to those who wait.

A watched pot never boils.

These are the things we tell ourselves as we wait for our manuscripts to be read, evaluated, and (we hope) accepted by editors and publishers. One of my novel manuscripts has made another jump up the ladder, an email today informs me.

{happy dance, happy dance, happy dance}

Okay, back to the waiting game. I’ll try to put it out of my mind again for another little while.