Communication: Easy to screw up and hard to get right

I’m wandering over to Unleaded: Fuel for Writers this week with a post on communication:

For the last few weeks I’ve been taking a free philosophy course over at Coursea.  I’ve never taken the subject before, and I thought it would be useful for my writing.  This week, though, I dropped it because of bad communication.

A kitten plays with the can of an improvised communications device.
Bad communication is often called “two tin cans and a string,” though this kitten probably isn’t helping either.

The lectures started out interesting, but I got to the second one and I couldn’t connect to the material.  I’d look at the answers to the test questions that I’d gotten wrong and didn’t understand why I’d gotten them wrong.  It was a tough lecture because nearly everyone did poorly on the test, so I thought it was me versus the material.

The professor promised the next lecture would be easier, but I found the same issue.  Then I got the test, and there were questions about information not in the lectures.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this.  More than 20 people commented on the missing information, and everyone else was curiously silent on the quiz.  One person drove by and said, “Oh, all the answers are there.  You just have to study really, really carefully.”  If you don’t mention a widget in the lecture and it’s a question on the test, how is it there?

But that was only person who deigned to comment.  Though the professor answered questions in other threads, he ignored the ones about the missing information.  That communicated something I don’t think he intended.  I wasn’t concerned about passing the tests — not if I got an understanding of the material.  I’m a poor test taker and can get answers wrong that I know.  But this told me that I wasn’t going to learn anything, so it immediately because not a good use of time. I dropped the class (I’ll be taking the Introduction to Philosophy later on).

I always think about things like this when it comes to writing.  It’s a harder than it looks to communicate well … Read the rest on Unleaded: Fuel for Writers.

Accessibility for Writing Websites and Why It Helps You as a Writer

I’m doing a guest post over on Jami Gold’s blog today on making your website accessible to disabled readers.

When I was growing up, it was common for my father to ask me to check the color of the bands on a resistor.  He was colorblind and couldn’t tell what the colors were.  I always think of my father when I work on my writing site, and now I also think about a writer in my critique group who is blind.  I’m not an expert in accessibility, but I have built sites with accessibility in mind.  Frankly, my first thought was “Why not?” and my second thought was, “Why exclude potential readers?” Read the rest on Jami Gold’s blog!

Photo of soldier girl from Desert Storm

I was cleaning up and ran across this photo of me taken in November, 1990.  We had gone to see President Bush speak, and there were thousands of soldiers.  The belt is the gas mask, more properly known as a “protective mask.”  I later wore it more like a purse because it kept pulling down my pants.

Linda Adams in desert camo uniform against a backdrop of other soldiers

I’m participating in The A to Z Challenge

Okay, I’m probably crazy, but I’m going to participate in the A to Z Challenge in April.  The challenge is to have blog posts for each letter of the alphabet, sort of like Sue Grafton’s mystery alphabet series (i.e., is A is for Alibi).  I tried the challenge last year and got to the last third, and I was done.  All the posts were starting to burn me out.  I’d tried to get ahead, but honestly, when you’re a fiction writer, it’s hard coming up with posts that fit in with a “platform.”

I’ve thrown the platform away (sorry, Kristien Lamb).  To be blunt, I suck at it, and after two years of trying, it was becoming not worth the effort.  Writing about writing is much more interesting to me, and I’m fine if it keeps my really ordinary name high on the search engines. (I’ll still have periodic solider posts though.)

So the theme for my A to Z Challenge posts will be Linda’s Rules of Writing.  I’ll admit, I’m not much into rules, because they often get treated like the rules police are going to come after you if you break one of them.

Two meerkats stand on their hind legs and stare at the camera
Wait a minute! You broke a rule?! A pair of meerkats stand on their hind legs and stare at the camera.  My spell checker wanted to change meerkats to beermats.

These will be more like Gibbs’ Rules from NCIS — pearls of wisdom learned from experience and me doing dumb things, and sometimes me doing smart things.  Mostly me doing dumb things.

This time I’m making a lot of effort to get ahead with posts.  Here’s a look at some of the topics:

  • All writing isn’t the same
  • writing has to come First
  • treat line editing like Housekeeping not revision
  • eXperiment with new things
  • always make sure your story is dressed in a Tuxedo (seriously, this was an excuse for penguin pictures!)

If you want to follow the posts via hashtag, I’m posting them under #AtoZChallenge, where you will find many other people posting, as well as via #WanaBlogs.

Meanwhile, wander off and check out my short story “A Soldier’s Magic,” which appears in the anthology The Darkness from Within.   It addresses sexual harassment in the military using fantasy and magic.  Thanks to my critique group, it turned into a really pretty good story.

When You Hate to Research

That’s me, by the way.  I don’t really enjoy research and am never going to get lost in it and forget to write a novel.  In fact, what Advanced Fiction Writing says is absolutely true:

If you hate research, then [you] are probably not doing enough of it and your fiction writing is going to suffer in various ways.

* Sigh * Yup, it’s true.  It also doesn’t help when I see another writer produce a huge list of questions about details to research and all I want to do is hide because I’ve instantly gotten overwhelmed.  Don’t mistake this — I like some of the information I find because it does inspire creativity, like researching Chinaman’s Hat in Hawaii:

Chinaman's Hat

Screen reader: Palm trees and grass frame an island shaped like a hat the Chinese immigrants used to wear.

Butt the process of research is at the opposite end of creativity.  I’d almost rather do proofreading.

Almost.  Proofreading is pretty boring!

So it starts with making the research as efficient as possible.

I have to know exactly what I need.  What I’ve been doing is identifying details in scenes that I need to research.  Like if the scene is set outside, “What are common trees in Hawaii?”


Screen reader: Shot of a monkeypod tree in Hawaii, which resembles an umbrella.

Then all I have to do is bring the list of questions with me and hunt down the information with a fast scan through.  I also have to make sure I take good notes so I don’t have to repeat the research. Been there, didn’t want to do it, but got stuck doing it anyway.  I’ve always had a problem with being able to take useful notes, so I’ve been experimenting with visual note taking.

The time to do the research is also a consideration.  I ran across a reference in a book where a non-fiction writer would do footnotes when he wasn’t feeling particularly inspired.  So I try to do the research when I know I’m probably not going to be writing.  That way, it doesn’t feel like it’s cutting into the writing time.

Do you hate to research?  What do you do to make the process of it less painful?

Cover for A Princess, A Boatman, and a Lizard showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard.How do you take these three diverse subject — a princess, a boatman, and a lizard — and make them into a story?  My short story “Six Bullets” turns the princess into a soldier who has to fight an army of warriors of a river.  Check out the Forward Motion anthology, A Princess, a Boatman, and a Lizard.

Not Shooting Yourself in the Foot With Your Online Image

I have a confession: I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since 1976.  My goal for many of those cons were to see actors.  Some of them were nice people and others I wouldn’t want to know.  One I became friends with.  He was always a gentleman and very aware of his image he presented to the world.  At one con, he did an interview for a horror magazine.  So when it first came out at Borders, a friend and I snatched up copies right away.   I called my friend, a little worried because the interview was laced with f-bombs.  We’d both read all his interviews in the past, more than 20 years worth, and he’d always kept it very clean.  We debated about it and wondered if the writer had added the words for that magazine.

Nope.  The actor had gotten to drinking during the interview and said the words himself.  When he saw the interview, he was livid because he’d gotten the writer to promise not to use the profanity.  But the true problem was that he’d said them in the interview in the first place.

On a backdrop of a grid, a gun with the muzzle tied in a knot

There’s been a lot of that online lately from writers.  It’s like people have forgotten … Read the rest on Unleaded: Fuel for Writers.

Cover of the Darkness Within shoing a monstrous face in shadows.My short story “A Soldier’s Magic” appears in the anthology The Darkness Within, available from Indigo Mosaic Publishing.  It features two women soldiers who have to make a tough decision to save a lot of people.

How Many Women Characters Are in Your Book?

A striking photo of a Latina woman at laptop, a painting of a redhaired woman mounted on a bright green wall behind her.March is Women’s History Month, though I actually don’t like these types of events.  They exist because history and even present doesn’t always recognize people outside of a select group.  I remember one time, when I was in the military I was talking to one of of the NCOs.  He was African-American, and he lamented that it would be a long time before he saw an African-American President of the United States.  I told him that it would happen before a woman became President.

You know how that came out.

To look at the high levels of politics and management, and even to look at books, it doesn’t look like there’s many women out there.  I find far too many books where there’s only one woman character.  Even a book with 100 characters, and 99 are men.  How exactly is this reality?  It’s like history months.  We’ll recognize one to sell the books, and everything else will be status quo.  And by the way, we’ll put in skintight leather, too, because the men are the important readers, not the women.

Okay, that may not be accurate, but that’s the impression I keep getting.  And it’s made worse when the lone woman character tends toward masculine and immature.

I want my women characters to be smart.

I want my women characters to be savvy.Three women in their 60s and 70s recline on a beach under two umbrellas, the blue of the sea behind them.

I want my women characters to be mature within range of their age.

I want my women characters not to be sex objects.

And especially, I want there to be more than one woman character in the book.

Is that too much to ask?

Cover of the Darkness Within shoing a monstrous face in shadows.My short story “A Soldier’s Magic” appears in the anthology The Darkness Within, available from Indigo Mosaic Publishing.  It features two women soldiers who have to make a tough decision to save a lot of people.  There are three women in the story.

The Frugal Novel Researcher

Man looks at a very tall stack of teetering books.  It's so tall a ladder is propped up against it.
Maybe a few too many books?

How many research horror stories do you have?  I’ve bought books that I’ve never used, made copies of magazines for scenes that ended up being jettisoned from the story, and had to research topics multiple times because of my bad note taking abilities.  Yet, as the sequestration looms on Washington, DC, I may be furloughed.  The writing isn’t stop, but I’m going to have to find ways to cut costs out of things like research.

That means, among other things, not buying books.

Must.  Resist. The. Bookstore.

Man's toupee pops off as he stares at computer in shockAnd it’s easy to buy books.  It doesn’t look like a lot of money.  Until I realize I’ve bought five books on a topic and have spent $100.  Start adding up what you’ve purchased and see what it comes out to.

I think one of the reasons I spent so much on the sources was because I’m a terrible note taker.  I’m visual spatial, so I don’t connect well to the typical note taking methods, nor was I taught how to do it.  I’ve had to start out saving money by learning how to do this part better with visual note taking (which is also a lot of fun!).

But the internet, while free, isn’t always a good source.  Ever gone online for a quick 5-minute search and 1 hour later got back to writing?  Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted, and specific information can be hard to find.

So the local library has been my first resource for research.  It’s pretty close, so if I needed to save on gas, I could walk there (you are tracking your gas mileage when you do research, right?).  I’ve been using a combination of the library’s online catalog and WorldCat, which is a great tool for telling me what library the books are located at.  Sometimes I’ve had to go to other libraries, like the University of Maryland.  But that has additional mileage costs and parking, so I have to make sure that my visits there are a good use of my time (back to taking good notes).

Inter Library Loan has also been a great tool.  It does cost about $3.00 a book, so I still have to look at what I’m spending.  I once made the mistake of getting a book through ILL, and the book turned out to be available in its entirety on Google Books (having been published around 1900).  Worse, it wasn’t helpful.  So, before I order an ILL book, I look around to see if there are other resources I might be able to use.  The result is that I’ve only ordered two books recently because they’re topics I know I’m going to need to spend more than a few hours with the book.

Copies are also one of those things that add up.  I used to copy pages from magazines when I found an article I needed, and for the same reasons as buying books: note taking issues.  Often what would happen is that I’d make the copies, and then the scene that had needed the research would get deleted.  :>

What are your research horror stories?  What to do you do to save money on research?

Links on research for fiction writers

Guns, Drugs, and Elvis: Research tips for novels from Kenyon College

10 Research Tips for Fiction Writers:  Practical tips based on experience from Sheryl Clark.

Researching Details in Fiction: Worth a look alone for the list of links.

Linda – 0; Seagulls -1

It’s about three weeks until spring comes in Washington, DC. I can already see signs of it. Tiny buds are popping up on barren tree branches, and the music of the birds in the morning that wake me up earlier than I want. But the surprise was the seagull spotting I had at the local K-Mart when I went to buy two jigsaw puzzles.

Seagulls landed in the parking lot aisle, their white and light gray coloring are a shock in the last vestiges of winter. We’ve barely gotten the birds, and the weatherman is talking snow flurries, and here these seagulls are. I was surprised to see them because we’re not near the ocean. Since I’m from California, I’m more used to seeing them on docks or near the beach:


Photo from Stacy Green26 on Flickr, WANA Commons

But it turns out they come because of nearby Potomac River and have been sighted in Georgetown.

Still, a K-Mart in Annandale seems like a strange place to be, especially if you’ve ever been to Annandale.

The seagull won’t move. In fact, he deigns not to even look at me. This giant car is sitting in front of him, and he’s completely ignoring it.

Okay, so I press the horn lightly. Beep.

Not one seagull in the group takes to flight. The one in front of my car doesn’t move.

A man with swarthy skin and black hair, bundled up in a black jacket, watches from the shopping cart area. Guess this bird battle must be entertaining because he’s laughing.

I honk the horn again, this time harder. BEEP!

And those seagulls still don’t move.

Finally, I steer my car around them, like an obstacle course made out birds. The birds still ignore this giant metal monster moving around them and continue doing what they were doing, which was standing in the parking lot.

Linda – 0, Seagulls – 1.

The Journey of a Jigsaw Puzzle

Every time I build a jigsaw puzzle, I think of my grandfather Jack.  We would go visit my grandparents in Morro Bay, California, at least several times a year.  They had a small two bedroom house with hardwood floors that creaked when bare feet walked on them.

There was a hallway closet, too — a strange thing to me, since we never had one.  The closet shelves always had stacks of boxes of jigsaw puzzles.  The 1,000 piece kind.  Then, the boxes were large, and primarily used photographs.  Jack always had a lot of lake and mountain scenes, nature scenes set against a perfect blue sky.

Out came the folding card table.   He’d set it up in a corner of the living room, near the kitchen.

He’d spread the puzzle on top and flip the pieces one at a time so they were all right side up, then rearrange them by what was on the pieces.  We’d help him flip the pieces.

The edges were first.  Always first.

He would rearrange them, fitting them together, until he had the frame assembled.  Then he would focus on sections, searching for each piece to fit into that section.

People always knew what to get him for gifts: More puzzles.  One year he complained.  The puzzles were too easy.  So my mother went to the stationary store, which was where all the puzzles were sold then, and searched and searched until she found the perfect puzzle.  Yes, this would be a challenge for him!

The puzzle was a closeup of a Dole banana.  Almost entirely yellow, except for the label in the center.

Jack decided he probably shouldn’t have asked for hard puzzles.

I think about that story, too, when I buy a puzzle.  I buy ones with images that catch my eye — images that are vibrant with color.  I like the ones with bigger pieces, and especially ones with more unusual shapes.  Age makes it hard to see smaller pieces, and I wonder if they were actually that small in the puzzles my grandfather built.

I dump the pieces on the table.  As I run them through my fingers and listen to them fall to the table, I think of buried treasure and lost time.  The shapes smell of clean cardboard, and are smooth and perfect, as if someone polished them up nice and shiny.

I don’t bother flipping them over.  It’s the shapes I look for.  I push the pile around, searching for a flat line, an edge.   I assemble the edges by the colors, and then look for how the shapes fit together.

And I can feel my grandfather sitting next to me. Edges first.