The Sea Listens – Story Available

Woman kneels in water, looking at a glow under the surface

My fantasy short story, “The Sea Listens” is available on Smashwords:

On leave from the Army, Meredith Talmadge struggles with answers to why her uncle walked into the sea. What drew him to a beach rumored to be haunted? What did he hear in the voices that ride the fog, voices that Meredith herself can hear? Now those voices call to Meredith, and what they seek will change her forever …

Writing Mis-Advice Reported as Facts #1

Earlier this year, I took a class on writing produtivity, and one of the parts was listing all the writing junk that I’d heard over the years. You know, those things that get passed around by writers, sound reasonable, and yet may not actually be true. Here are five of them:

  1. You can’t make money writing

I’ve heard this one back since the 1970s. My uncle wrote during the pulp era and could never make enough money to write full time. What it tends to say is “You’ll never be successful” with the implication not to try too hard.

Granted, if I wrote one book every few years, I probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of money unless it hit the best seller list. A lot of indie authors are making money simply by producing a lot of stories.

  1. Build up your writing credits by writing for free

I also heard this one probably as early as the 1970s, but definitely into the 1980s. I remember looking at a Writer’s Market and seeing the percentages of writers submitting to pro-rate versus the non-paying. Then I’d think, “I’ll never have a chance, so I’ll try the easier one.”

I got a really rude shock when I applied to be a charter member of Interntional Thriller Writer, and they pretty much told me that none of it counted. Even submitting to the agents, I started finding that a lot of it didn’t count because it was non-paying, which, unfortunately, also said something about my writing that I wasn’t aware of.

What I also didn’t realize I was doing was that I telling myself that I was never going to be good enough to be professionally published and I wrote to that level. Once I started only submitting to professional paying magazines (.05 or more a word), I started improving dramatically and have been getting personal comments.

I wish I’d understood this one earlier.

  1. Delete the first fifty pages

I heard this one back in the 1980s I think. It assumes all writers spend the first fifty pages doing backstory and not story.

Of course, I was a writer who didn’t start with backstory. What listening to this gem of advice got me was starting a book in the middle, rather than where it needed to start. It’s not a good thing to start in the middle, especially for a pantser. Things came into the story out of order and distorted it into a mess.

  1. All stories use the 3-Act Structure

When I started writing in the 1970s, not one writing book talked about 3-act structure. It appears to have surfaced because of Blake Edward’s book Save the Cat, which is very popular. It’s gotten so embedded, I hear writers say, “Three act structure has been around as long as they’ve been doing plays,” as if all plays were in exactly that structure.

Uh, well, no. I was a theater major, I knew better. Just look up Shakesphere’s plays. See how many acts they have. I’ve attended plays with a very long first act (due to set requirements) and two short acts; a one act play; a two act play. It just depends.

Three acts started out in the movie industry because that’s when the reel ran out.

I’m not an outliner, so when I tried the 3-act structure, it put an artificial structure on top of the structure already in my story and turned it into a mess. I started thinking of adding something to end the second act and writing to that instead of following the natural flow of the story.

  1. To do (fantasy) world-building, you must start with a three-ring binder

Years ago, I was thinking of doing a fantasy novel. Then I heard the advice that to world build, I needed to do a tremendous amount of prep work. It was, “Start with a three ring binder and tabs.” Then I was supposed to answer a lengthy list of questions about the world.

I don’t outline at all, so I was so hugely turned off by this “requirement” that I never write the fantasy novel. Having to do all that prep work as described took all the fun of writing the story away.   It was years later that I discovered that the people giving that piece of advice were people who enjoyed building the world almost more than the story.

But it’s interesting that at a recent con I went to, the panelist in charge told a writer who asked what needed to do to world build was told “Write the story first.” No fussing about notebooks and tabs and tons of questions.

Any “facts” that you heard along the way that turned out to be really wrong?

Daily Life in the Military: Physical Training

I picked up a book on what it’s like to be a sous chef, so I thought it would be interesting to follow through the “Daily Life in the Military.” Of course, this was a number of years ago, so some things may have changed and others may not have.

Mondays, we’d start the day with physical training, called PT, since the Army likes its acronyms. Normally we did it Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though later, the post commander decided everyone was going to do it five days a week.

Formation for PT was at 6:30. A few hardy souls would get up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready, banging doors and flushing toilets. The rest of us dragged our zombie selves out of bed and changed into PT uniforms.

The full uniform was gray sweat pants, gray, sweat jacket, gray t-shirt, gray shorts, black watch cap, calf high socks, leather gloves, and running shoes. During winter, we wore all of that, and some of the women who hadn’t styled their hair yet would hide it under the watch cap. During spring and summer, we went down to shorts and t-shirts.

It also didn’t matter if it was too cold, too hot, raining or snowing. We went out and did PT, no matter the weather conditions.

We’d get out to formation ten minutes prior and line up in our platoons. Most of us were still half asleep, so the designated PT instructor that day (usually one of the sergeants) would start out with some stretching and then warmup exercises.

The stretches were your basic ones like bending over and touching your toes or

The warmup exercises were the horrid things. We always had pushups and sit-ups. The guys could always knock out the pushups, but grunted, groaned, and strained for the sit-ups. The ones I hated were the side straddle hop and the flutter kick. The side straddle hop is a jumping jack, and it was always very hard for me to do, probably because of my flat feet. The guys were always making fun of me. The flutter kick was just plain hard. This is what it looks like (shirtless guy alert):

No fair! He makes it look easy!

It would take about half an hour to finish that part of PT. The last half hour was the run. We always did it in a formation, which was supposed to encourage to slow runners to run faster to keep up. Amy logic. That never worked.

We ran on the streets of Fort Lewis, as cars drove past us.   When I was on main post, we would run through the housing areas, where it was kind of nice, and definitely quiet. If it was hot out and the person leading the formation spotted a sprinkler, we took a trip through it.

But someone would always get the idea to go up to Engineer’s Bluff, which was a steep hill and a killer to run up it.

With my flat feet, I was such a clumsy runner that I probably took at least three times the effort to run and came back exhausted. Once we stumbled back to the company, all sweaty and hot, it was off to the next scheduled event of the day: Breakfast.

Going Indie and the Teethpulling of Editing

One of my big sticking points about going indie was the editing. It’s not quite as easy it sounds to actually find an editor. Yet, it is essential because a book can’t be indie published without some form of editing.

The problem is that indie has opened a huge market for it, and specifically in one area: Developmental editing.

That’s when a writer sends their story to the editor and gets comments back on how to revise major elements in the story. If you hear someone say they spent thousands of dollars on editing, this is what they had done.

What I was looking for was copyediting.

That turned out be very hard to find.

I’d ask for recommendations for copyeditors, get a name, and then find out they did only developmental editing and proofreading.

I even went to a con, and there was an editor there, so I got his website and looked it up. I’d liked what he said at the con, but the site was another story – it was very clearly focused on pushing developmental editing onto the first time writer.

I think that’s one of the major issues of why it was so difficult to find an actual copyeditor. Everyone is focused on the first time writer, who needs a lot of help with the basics, and sometimes they forget that not everyone is beginner.

I also think there’s a lot of focus on the fear that many writers have – that they’ll get bad review because the story isn’t perfect. Newsflash – not everyone is going to like a story. It’s just the way it is, and it’s out of the control of the writer.

Anyway, I found the following things that became flags when I checked out an editor:

  • Offered developmental editing but no copyediting. This is kind of like saying, “We’ll tell you how to revise, but the small things are your problem.”
  • Overselling the developmental editing. This said that I was going to be pressured to upgrade to developmental editing.
  • Website under construction. This is always a bad thing to see, but worse for a business that is supposed to be about the details.
  • Too expensive for services. One had a starting point of $150 for short stories. I have 35 short stories of varying lengths, so the math is rather horrifying.
  • Too inexpensive. There were two places where I kind of felt like they weren’t going spend any effort on the copyediting because they charged too little.

I did have a price range that I was thinking of, and also an understanding of exactly what I wanted. I’d taken a class on editing, which wound up being helpful here. The class had us do exercises on editing – some of it was really hard! But it also gave me more knowledge than simply reading a description of the different levels.

Particularly, it helped me with deciding on the ones that were too expensive and too inexpensive.

Anyway, story #2 is in for a copyedit. Cover is below.

Cover for River Flight, showing a woman warrior standing on a cliff overlooking water.

Stuff and the Army

This post was inspired by comments on moving when I lived in the barracks.  There always seemed to be the assumption that somehow we all lived like monks who had taken a vow of poverty.  In fact one of the biggest impressions that barracks life left me was that where I was living was always considered “temporary.”

I lived in the barracks for six years.  Hardly temporary.

I think some of this comes from World War II military. Despite the fact that WWII was over 70 years ago, it’s still very much a part of our culture.

We have a local insurance company that uses a cartoon general.  WWII fatigues, steel pot helmet, and five stars (a rank that no longer exists).  And Beatle Bailey, which has the same type of uniform, the fat sergeant (who would be kicked out today), and the bay barracks.

So it seems like the imprint WWII made on our culture also impacted the military’s own image of soldiers living in the barracks.

Then, the soldiers would have been temporary, drafted for the war.  Once they finished their hitch, they would go back to civilian life.  It makes sense that everything was temporary.

But it’s seventy + years, and the world’s changed a lot.  What were the soldiers supposed to do once they got off work at 5:00?  Eat dinner, come back, and clean up the barracks and go to bed every night?

For six years?

So there was always that disconnect.  The sergeants sometimes forgot that we did have lives outside of the military.  No one thought hat we might want a place we spent a lot of time in to look halfway decent and not like a place to park for the night.

The Scariness of Going Indie

These last two weeks, I’ve been working on getting a short story ready to publish via indie. The story is called “The Sea Listens,” a contemporary fantasy.

I’ve also spent the last four months saying I was going to go indie and never quite getting going. I know there are people out there who type “The End” on their manuscript and throw the story up immediately, without even proofreading, and expect it to turn into an instant best seller.

Me? I felt like I’m going to screw it up all up.

So I’ve been stuck — procrastinating by writing!

My muse finally rebelled on me over the last month, and put her furry feet down (because she looks like a Golden Retriever). Every story I tried to write, I got stuck.

And I started thinking that I needed to take the first step. Just do one thing, and try to pretend like I wasn’t going to screw the whole thing up.

That first thing became “Pick the first story.” This one was already edited, and it was one of the stories that disappeared when my hard drive crashed.

The cover was simple, but then I’ve done graphics. I just have to be careful not to get lost in looking at all the pretty pictures. The fact that I have a balance of credits helps keep me from going, “Ooh! Shiny!” and downloading all kinds of images. Just the ones I’m going to use.

Woman kneels in water, looking at a glow under the surface

Formatting was a little tricky, and that was just because I worried about getting it right. I know, I know. I can go back and update it if it’s not right.

The blurb was an interesting experience to write (okay, I know I’m weird here). I’ve certainly seen some dreadful examples of them, like where the author just pastes in text from the book or complains about how hard it is. I started with the character, because that’s what readers want to see.

I think it was just hard because I’ve spent most of my life being berated for making mistakes. I’m not detail-oriented, and I can easily miss a typo that jumps out at someone else. Instead of just saying, “Hey, you missed that,” I would get people treating it like I’d committed a mortal sin. I got into the habit of checking things three or four times over, and someone would still find something. It was very frustrating. I even had a boss accuse me of lying because I missed a typo, and I was just going, “Seriously? Why is this worth all this effort?”

It got to the point where I would cringe if I spotted a typo and think, “I should have been more careful. Why didn’t I catch that?” And I would apologize to the person I was doing it for, like I’d done something wrong.

But work’s been helping me shed that. There’s been so much of “make do with less” that I’m finding that a lot of people aren’t checking anything in the effort to push it through. The story’s up, and I’m off to think about what the next one that will go up will be.

Ooh, shiny … I get to look for more covers …

Moving, Military Style

Moving in the military is always messy and stressful. So much so that the military classifies it as one of the top stressors.

But that’s when the soldier had a family — a spouse, children. But for the single soldiers who lived in the barracks, we always had problems with the sergeants, who seemed to think all we had was two duffel bags.

Not the TV set, video player, computer, books …

Lots of books.

Fort Lewis kicked us out of our barracks on main post, to move to the old World War II “temporary” barracks on North Fort. That was six miles away.

Initially, all the men were moving, but the women’s barracks wasn’t ready. We hit a holiday weekend, and the women were told “Move now!” A hurricane hit Washington State that weekend. So I’m throwing stuff in the back of my Geo Metro, which was a roller skate of a car, as I get pelted by high winds and rain.

Drive up this winding, six mile road as the rain battered at my little car. Got to the new barracks, hauled out my stuff, made a mad dash inside, dropped the stuff off, and back for another trip.

The problem part of the move was my computer desk. It wasn’t a monster like the ones you can get today, but it had a hutch, so it wasn’t going to be fitting on my roller skate car.   My squad leader had promised to come by with his truck, but he was a no show (boo! Boo!).

It was getting dark out, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do about this desk. I was the last one in these barracks, and I was stuck. Then one of the other platoon sergeants stopped by to check the barracks, and he had a truck. Yay!

It was probably good that I was the last one there. We discovered that the orderly room had left behind the company guidon. The first sergeant would not have been happy if he discovered it Tuesday morning.

After that move, I couldn’t find anything for ages because of Army expectations versus moving expectations.

Unpacking is messy. The Army expected us to be inspection ready immediately.

Yup. Those two things didn’t work together. But somehow, it made sense to the military.