What I’ve Been Up To

Here is what I’ve been up to:

My manuscript submission exploits are a bit slow at this time, mainly because I only have one brand new story completed. I’ve got two other stories close to completion, which I’m sure will make the submission process more fun for me.

Speaking of manuscript submissions…I still hate writing cover letters.

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I purchased a laptop last year to be used for scholastic pursuits. Obviously, my current workhorse desktop (the one I use for writing) fails the ‘portable’ test. However…said desktop is also starting to lose the battle with age. Yeah, I’ve had it for a long time.

With that in mind, I am looking to switch all my writing exploits to the laptop. With a bit of research, I will hook it up to a multi-monitor set-up in my studio and retain those current advantages. The only problem I’m having so far is I’m still struggling with typing on the laptop. Yeah, it could be said I struggle with typing, period. Apparently, that semester of personal typing I took in high school didn’t do much for me. Mostly, though, my somewhat large hands and big fingers were not meant for small keyboards.

So, what’s the best way to improve my skills on the laptop?

Do more typing on the laptop! Duh. And, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Between accidentally hitting the ‘caps lock’ button instead of the ‘A’ button, having to learn how to reposition my hands to execute keyboard shortcuts due to the narrower keyboard, and correcting unnecessary typos because they put the ‘delete’ button in a stupid place, the experience has been annoying. But, I am getting better.

There is one other option. A wireless keyboard. I actually saw someone using that very same setup at a bistro one afternoon. I would prefer fewer components to lug around while I’m on the road, but at least I will no longer look like someone who is seeing a keyboard for the first time.

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I’ve been taking advantage of the diverse perspectives and experiences of the WordPress community by carving out time on select days to check posts that aren’t on my normal Reader page but that I find through normal keyword searches. Then, just when I think I’ve experienced something new, I search topics that are completely out of the norm for me.

This practice actually makes sense for a writer.

Which is why I’m probably having a blast with it.

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Critiquing the Critiquers

This topic comes up on writing sites from time to time: the art of critiquing and the adventures of receiving critiques.

Depending on what stage my story is at, and depending on who I pass it off to, I will ask for my critiquers to approach my manuscript from specific perspectives (may contain one or more of the following): “How did I do with sentence structure?” “Can you point out typos and misspellings?” “Does the story make sense?” “Did I leave any loose ends that leave you unfulfilled or otherwise scratching your head?” “How does the story flow?” That sort of thing. Then, when it is my turn to critique something of theirs, I return the favor and the courtesy by approaching the task in whatever way that matches their preferences or concerns. If they want me to focus on character development, that is what I do. If they ask only that I find every last grammatical error I can find, that is what I do. Etc.

There is one form of critique that I have never asked for (and never will), yet I still get it at least once per manuscript: the critiquer tells me how they would have written a certain passage by actually rewriting it!

To express my dismay and confusion as eloquently as possible…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I’ve never even had an editor do that to me, and they’re the gateways to a contract! Whatever happened to telling me that the passage in question is too convoluted or too rambling or too off the point?…then explaining why you feel that way without doing the actual revision for me? A few years ago, before I had any publishing credits to my name, I sent a 20 page manuscript to a fellow aspiring writer; the edited version she sent back was almost double in size because of how many passages she rewrote for me. Suffice it to say, I ditched that file and sought out a different critiquer.

When I critique, I might come across a passage that screams for a rewrite, and an obvious way of doing exactly that might cross my mind, but I fully understand and accept that what I have before me is their story, not mine, so I only point them in a direction with a humble “Consider having your character do / feel / express…”, and let the writer him/herself handle the heavy lifting…because, how else are they going to learn and improve if somebody else writes it for them?

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Realignment, Reinvestment, Reimagining

Realignment
Despite my best intentions to blog more often, I’ve been focusing most of my writing efforts to my short stories and novels. The result…this is only the second post I’ve made since April 5.

The obvious good news is that I’ve made encouraging progress on my fiction.

But, will I get back to a regularly intended Bloggathah schedule?

Not sure, but I am at least going to make the effort.

That usually involves shuffling a few things in my life around, to the point where I have no memory of my original plan.

Yeah, this’ll be fun.

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Reinvestment
I’m always looking for ways to invest more time towards my writing. Sadly, that often means sacrificing some of the fun things I like to do.

iE9X9QET0 The Washington Capitals have been knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Caroline Hurricanes in what turned out to be a more brutal series than I expected. No defending their title this season. It also means no watching hockey every other night until June.

oriolesThe Baltimore Orioles manage to put together an entertaining performance every once in a while, but unfortunately not often enough to keep them out of last place in their division.

Hmmm…I think I just figured out two ways to acquire more time for writing.

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Reimagining
I’ve finally decided what I want to do about the course my ‘working for others’ life is taking, and where I would rather it go.

It should be to the surprise of absolutely nobody that I would prefer to get rid of that aspect of my life altogether and work for myself as a full time writer. However, I’m still debating with myself about getting back into the software development world. Plus…I have an outside opportunity to dive into a field I knew nothing about until a few years ago.

As this post goes to press, I still haven’t made a final decision. But, when I do, the efforts to realign my work status will be furious. And a lot of fun. For me, anyway.

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Books of Influence – Baseball is a Funny Game

Welcome back to my Books of Influence series. Even though I’m essentially still at the beginning of this chronicle (elementary school), I’ve enjoyed wandering back into the past to see exactly what effect literature had on the way I interpret things. And, as you will see in this post, reading was starting to teach me a few things about myself.

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Baseball is a Funny Game (Joe Garagiola)

I didn’t start showing an interest in sports until approximately fifth grade, so I was already behind the curve compared to most of my friends. I watched baseball, football (American rules), college basketball (we lived in a college town), and auto racing with my dad, and he answered as many questions as I could ask. I also discovered ice hockey at about that time; but, since my dad knew nothing about that sport, I turned to our local library for answers.

While I was there, I checked out books about other sports, too.

My parents obviously noticed what I was up to, because, for my birthday one year, they got me a few sports books. My favorite from that collection was “Baseball is a Funny Game.” I recognized the author, Joe Garagiola, from his commentator work on TV (of course, I found out he also played in the Major Leagues for a short while as a catcher). BaseballFunnyGame The book made me laugh and smile many times, so I decided my parents picked well.

One of my school friends saw me reading this book, and asked me about it. He seemed interested, so all was well as far as I was concerned. About two weeks later, the same guy noticed I was still reading the same book, and asked me what was taking me so long to finish it.

That was the point I realized I didn’t read as fast as everyone else. I had no idea how to explain it, so I smiled and said, “I’m savoring the story.” My friend laughed at my response, and never mentioned my reading slowness again.

Except, from that point, on, I mentioned it to myself on a frequent basis. For the first time in my life, I became self-conscious about being the last person in class to finish a reading assignment, and I wanted to know why.

The unfortunate part in all this is that there was no way I was going to come up with the reason on my own. Not during that particular timeframe, anyway. I was dealing with dyslexia before the condition even had a name.

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Quick-March

With all the writing craftsmanship and eloquence I can muster, I will pose the one question that is most prominent in my conscious thoughts:

What the hell happened to the month of March?

It feels like I merely blinked, and we’re already in April.

I know I took a lot of extra shifts at work in March. What can I say? I have a list of things I want to do and buy.

iE9X9QET0 I watched the Washington Capitals clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Call me a fanboy, but I see them repeating as champions this year.

I took my first writing-related road trip this month. I would like to have stayed out longer, but I did accomplish my main goals, so I consider that roadie a success.

testudo I watched Maryland’s men’s basketball team get knocked out in the second round of the NCAA tournament. I wasn’t thrilled.

I spent a good deal of time researching and studying for a possible—probable—career change.

So, as far as I can tell, March really was an active and productive month.

Maybe, it seemed like it moved faster because I was moving faster?

I’d really like to believe that. Let’s see what April’s review looks like.

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Books of Influence – Key to the Treasure

Welcome to my collection of books that had the most influence on my life. Going in as much of a chronological order as I can remember, this is the second book that meant something to my up-and-coming self.

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Key to the Treasure (Peggy Parish)

I don’t remember what grade in elementary school I was in when I saw this title at a used book fair, but I remember leafing through the book, seeing the picture of the hidden objects, and thinking: “Nobody solved the puzzle in over a hundred years? Hold my 2 cent carton of milk!”
KeyToTheTreasure__sketch
No, that’s not really what I said, but I did pluck down a quarter to accept the challenge.

Regrettably, that book went missing from my collection a long time ago. I might have given it to one of my younger brothers. I might have donated it back to the same school book fair I bought it from. Who knows? When I started identifying the books I wanted to highlight in this series, I decided to acquire a replacement copy of “Key to the Treasure” to reacquaint myself with the story before I wrote about it. As it turned out, the prevailing feeling I had while reading it the other day was about as close to the same way I felt when I read it as a young elementary schooler as I expected it to be: “Stop with the distractions, and get to the clues! Who cares about a tree house? Who cares about that little brat, Timothy? Get on with the mystery! These side-steps are agonizing!”

I definitely didn’t appreciate back then the actual reasons for adding the distractions to the story. Nowadays, though, it is a tactic I have no problem using in my own stories: make the reader suffer through the same impatience as the characters by putting other events, other actions to be taken or problems to be solved, in their way. I appreciate how this tactic reflects reality: there is always something that gets in the way of what we want to accomplish. Jed, Billy, and Liza went through much frustration in getting to where they wanted to go, but they got through it, and gained more than they expected. That result matches something I learned early on in my life: distractions can be turned into experiences that could be as much fun and could offer as many valuable benefits as the achievement you’re focused on. Depends on your mindset. Of course, I describe this philosophy with slightly different wording: if you narrow your focus too much on what you want to do with your life, you might end up forgetting to live your life.

Without realizing it at the time, it seems that Jed, Billy, and Liza were my first philosophical teachers.

[CHECK OUT EVERY BOOKS OF INFLUENCE POST HERE!]
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Roadathah

I finally took my first writing-related roadie of the year this past Friday, spending a few hours bouncing around the city of Annapolis. One of my upcoming short stories, and the vast majority of the action in my Metzgerhund Retreat series, take place in that city, so I thought it a good idea to visit for the first time since—wait a second—I just realized I haven’t been to Annapolis since one of my friends got married there to a Naval officer back in—holy crap!—the mid 80s! I’ve been away that long? Well, as it turned out, all the points that are important to my story were just as I remembered, plus I saw a few things that didn’t exist back then, so the trip was well worth the drive. While eating lunch at a chicken place we don’t have in Virginia, I jotted down a few observations about what I saw that morning…which, in accordance to my way of doing things, turned into several pages of potential material. I’m thinking my travel companion was glad there was a strong WiFi signal in the area.

I, of course, have ideas for other writing-related road trips later this year. One of my novels takes place in the western Maryland mountains, so a trip to Frostburg or Cumberland might happen. I also know there is a scenic railroad tour in that part of the state that definitely interests me, but that sort of thing is more of a fall activity. Reshuffling my flight plan is a simple matter of seeing how long it takes me to actually get to working on that story.

Another one of my potential novels will take me to parts of the east coast for a bit of looking around: Rehoboth Beach and Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, then up to New Jersey via the ferry across the Delaware, then through parts of New Jersey where I’m considering hosting at least one significant scene, then across the river and into Philadelphia.

OK…none of my scenes are planned for Philadelphia. I’m only going there for the cheese steaks. A writing road trip can also be a vacation, you know.

Which is why I’m going to Rehoboth, too.

I am my own travel agent.

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