A Day in the Life Amidst Virus Chaos


funny goat puts out its tongue
This baby goat made me smile.  Thanks to maximili from IstockPhoto for the wonderful image.

What’s happening now reminds of me when I broke my right foot in 2016. I was on no weight bearing for at least two weeks.  That confined me to my house essentially except for doctor appointments and a stop at Panera Bread on the way back to get something that was just different.

Cooking terrified me.  No weight bearing meant I was balancing on one foot and leaning against the counter while I prepared food.  Having a knife in hand to cut vegetables?  Well… I had a lot of scrambled eggs and smoothies.

I’m really glad I spent the time learning how to cook without recipes several years back because it’s serving me well now.  A lot of people are finding out they have a problem because they don’t have the cooking chops (this is why spaghetti sauce and pasta are selling out.  That was a staple of mine before I got better at cooking).

Morning of the Writing Nerd

My Saturday morning started as a sinus zombie again.  The DC area went from 79 the day before to 53 and rainy.

First thing was an attempt at the farmer’s market in Old Town.  I wasn’t sure if it was going to be open or not and they didn’t have anything online.  So when I showed up, the market square was empty.

Off to Trader Joe’s instead.  Since I was 30 minutes after they opened, I was going to do a fast assessment and see if I needed to abort the shopping mission.  But they had changed their hours, so I was 30 minutes early.  I stood out in front and chatted with a British guy.

By the time TJ opened, the line was over 1,000 feet.  Yikes!  The employees counted out fifty people and let us in.  There was a limit of only 2 each of everything, so no one could take all of one item. I zoomed in and did my shopping in 7 minutes flat.

Back home, I lazed out the morning, watching The Greatest American Hero.  Some joker decided to show the episode about bald guys in white t-shirts trying to steal the smallpox virus from a testing site.  Next episode was more of a Hollywood staple: character gets amnesia and forgets that he’s a superhero.

I tried a walk in the morning.  People were out and about, walking their dogs, or just walking like me.  You have to.  When I broke my foot, I couldn’t do that.  The best I could do was go outside and sit in the sun.  Connection to nature is very important for creatives.

The DC area is just in the very early stages of spring.  So it’s a wonderful surprise to see the delicate pink blossoms of a cherry blossom tree or a dusting of the dogwood petals blowing in the gutter.  The birds are out, setting up their orchestra for the spring.  On my walk, I kept hearing barred owls everywhere.

Lunch was a to-go order from my Thai restaurant.  I love the food, but I’m finding that take out doesn’t cut it.  Eating out is also about the people who run the restaurant.  You can tell a place is happy when they recognize regular customers.  The chef has come out to talk to me on many occasions.

Afternoon of the Writing Nerd

I started my afternoon stumbling across a writing book that caught my attention.  Yeah, I promised myself not to spend so much money on books in these austere times.  The books still won.

The book is called F*ck the Details: Fewer Words, Sharper Stories.  I’ve always wrestled with the details of the story.  A lot of my sticking points have been trying to get more details into the store.  I’m not detail-oriented, and frankly, it makes me write slower.

Worse, I can’t leave it out and add it through cycling later.  It was a habit to leave it out in the first place, so I don’t want to revisit it.

This book has a different approach to adding the details. One that might work better than what I’ve been doing.

And with that, I started writing the first scene in Heroes Portal.

First contact with the story had me changing my character worksheet for the protagonist.

I think also having a moratorium on the news has made a difference too.  I didn’t realize how much of a drain it normally was until I cut off this last week.  I’ve been having trouble writing for the last few months, and I think this might have contributed to it.  For the creative, so much news is like a slow poison.

Anyway, since we’re all in the same boat with not a whole lot to do, the first scene of Hero Portal is up for your reaidng pleasure.  I’ll see what else I can post.  Enjoy!

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3 Ways to Preserve the Creative Side


A small white British kitten lies upside down with his foot forward
Talk to the paw

Image from IstockPhoto, provided by SunRay BRI Cattery RU

One of the problems with all the craziness going on this week is that it’s very hard on the creative side, or the muse. 

Limit news sources

The media wants to sell us with headlines.  They also don’t care about us, beyond what they can sell to us.  There’s a constant barrage of “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!”  That takes mental energy to absorb.  When I was in Desert Storm, we lived in minute-by-minute fear we were going to be attacked.

All this is very hard on the creative side.  For the first few days, I gave up on any kind of writing.  The energy simply wasn’t there.  But I took control by doing all of the following:

  1. Unsubscribe to daily news emails.  Even seeing the email like is like a bell going off to keep reminding us that we should be afraid.
  2. Unsubscribe to any news sites in your social media feeds.  This is the same problem as the emails, only the email is just one.  On a place like Facebook, you might get barraged with ten articles.  Just no.
  3. Limit your news to one source.  I’m a paper subscriber, so that became one newspaper that isn’t doing as much hysterics as everyone else.  I also stopped looking at anything on TV.  It seems like it’s a long time ago, but those used to be how we got the news and we went the rest of the day without.
  4. Limit your time.  If you go online for your news, stick to the main page, look at what you want, and then get off.  Then STAY AWAY!
  5. Cut off social media.  I’ve been shocked at how many people will send post after post on Coronvirus to be “helpful.”  It has the same impact as the news screaming at me constantly.  So I’m off Facebook for the moment.

Exercise

Exercise of any kind is very good for your creative side.  Just make sure you pay attention to any guidelines from your doctor.  When I was locked down four years ago due to a broken foot, I still did some limited exercise—I had a lot of rules from the doctor on what I couldn’t do then because I was no weight-bearing.  I still managed something.

These are some things you can do:

Walk.  If you’re not on lock-down, just take a walk down the street.  Washington DC is starting to bloom, so I can check out the white flowers on the dogwood trees and listen to the birds.  There’s also a lady who walks her dog when I go out.  The dog’s got a topknot!

Use the walk to help you mentally separate from what’s going on.  I have to deal with Coronavirus at work.  At the end of the day, I shut off my computer and head outside for a walk to reconnect with my creative side.

Do other kinds of exercise.  Especially if you’re in shelter-in-place.  It’s too easy there to do nothing and keeping your body moving is essential t keep your creative side happy.  You can grab exercise here and there all day—and the tools are available to you in your house.

Jack La Lanne, the godfather of exercise, was big about keeping the exercise simple.  A machine with weights is nice to have, but there are exercises that you can do with a towel or a pair of cans or a book.  His famous “bicycle” is done sitting in a chair.

I’ve been doing things like calf raises or chair squats while I wait for the computer to boot up.  While I’m waiting for sites to load, it’s bicep curls, chest flys, or wrist curls with coconut milk cans. 

Be Prepared for Plan B

You might have to do some things differently because of how you feel and respect that you may not get done what you want.

I normally write in the evenings and on the weekends.  With the chaos of the last few weeks, I’m only able to do some early in the morning before work takes me back into it.  I consider it lucky that I’m getting anything done at all.

It’s very important during these stressful times to protect your creative side.  What are you doing for it? 

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A Day in the Life with Coronavirus Chaos


Dachshund snuggled up and asleep under duvet cover in human bed.
Because, well, dogs.

Image by Anton_Herrington from IstockPhoto

This week has been influenced a lot by coronavirus chaos.  I started the world semi-normal at the beginning of the week (as normal as a writer can be) and want to remain that way.

In that time, the US declared a national emergency and it seemed like everyone started taking crazy pills.  So my effort to remain normal (aside from not taking crazy pills)  Includes:

  • Minimizing my news consumption (once a day or not at all).
  • Dong my normal business.

I’m fighting to stay disconnected from craziness as much as possible.  During September 11, I remember when the media realized they needed to stop showing pictures of the attack and did.  Now they have no governer, and sadly, may even be doing it very intentionally.

So all I can do is control my input…and refuse to buy into the craziness.

Morning

I spent the morning running errands.  Groceries first thing.  It was a ghost town, except for a few people.  One woman was stocking up like she expected a nuclear attack.  All I was after was groceries for this week.

Pasta shelves empty.  Water shelves empty.  Frozen food empty.  Fresh veggies—untouched.

I couldn’t get tissues there, which I needed because the pollen’s pretty bad.  Time for the backup plan!

Writing Nerd Ninja Trick: Can’t get tissues because everyone else overstocked?  Head for Staples.  The office supply stores sell tissues and no one’s thinking of it as a place to find them.

Then off to the farmer’s market.  I had to check online to make sure it hadn’t been canceled.  People were selling, and my favorite vendor was there.  He brought a good selection, but much smaller quantities.  It was obvious they didn’t expect a lot of business.

After that, I visited my favorite restaurant.  They need the business, and I’m happy to provide it.  No seating outside today.  Sunny and gorgeous and cold.  Did dog watching while I was there.  People like to walk their dogs in the area while they shop and eat.

Final outbound errand was to a department store to shop for clothes.  I wanted something I was going to have fun with, and also a place that I had to hop on the freeway.  If I’m not commuting at all next week, I need a freeway run on the weekend to keep up the battery in the car.

Afternoon

Back to working on character worksheets.  The story is now called “Hero Portal.” 

One of the things I’ve discovered is that there was one writing skill that I should have worked at.  I’m really good at characterization, so I passed on workshots for it.  At the time though, it was the right decision because there were other skills that needed more love.

Now…

I’m wondering if that has to do with why my stories always end up too short.  It’s weird, too, because last year, I focused on learning to write longer and got no traction.  Then, maybe that goal wasn’t specific enough because I hadn’t tackled this one area.  We’ll see…

I feel like I’m working a muscle that was out of shape and needs some strength training. 

What are you doing to cope with cornavirus chaos?

Coronavirus Chaos Reading (Because, books, right?)

  • Golden Likes: An Al Travers mystery, set in 1940’s Hollywood.  The ultimate escape from the virus chaos.
  • Last Stand: A science fiction novel set in my GALCOM Universe.  Sometimes we just need a good action book.  I blow up spaceships and rip apart a space station.
  • Here Be Merfolk: A collection of short stories (including one of mine, of course!) on merpeople.
  • Here Be Magic: A collection of short stories on magic. Includes my clown magic story.

5 Quotes on the Creative Life


Shot of a pretty little cat biting the tip of a pen while its owner writes a note with him.
Idea Cat helps with idea. Photo from IStock Photos, by nensuria

Sometimes quotes from famous people can be quite profound. I thought I’d take some on the subject of creativity and share.

For anyone who has been told, “I have this idea. You write it and we’ll split the profits 50-50.”

Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.

Guy Kawasaki

This one reminded me of a writer I knew who was a gifted storyteller, but was too afraid to put her work out to the world.

The difference winning and losing is most often…not quitting.

Walt Disney

Sometimes writers falter because they’re afraid. The writer above put her writing in a drawer instead of risking rejection.

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.

John Wayne

When I broke up with my co-writer years ago, the one thing I had to do was get back up on my horse and write another book.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.

M. Radmacker

And this one just because…

It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy.

Steve Jobs

What the heck is pacing in a story?


Pacing is a topic I wish there was more information on.  It’s not just short sentences, though that’s a part of it. It controls the flow of the story.

Since we have a lot of streams in Virginia, picture a stream, or a river. 

Harper's Ferry blue Potomac River closeup riverside with colorful orange yellow foliage fall autumn by small village town in West Virginia, WV
This is the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  Study the picture to identify what’s telling you that this is a fast-moving (and dangerous!) river.

Image from IStock Photo.  Photo by:krblokhin

Trees crowd against the stream bank, their exposed roots like skeletal fingers.  Rocks washed from upstream are jammed against the stream bank.  Up ahead a giant oak groans and sways.  A snap and a crack and it falls into the stream with a huge crash.

That water is still flowing down to the Potomac River.  Where the stream narrows, it changes its pace to slow down.  Where the landscape’s slope is steeper, the water’s pace goes faster.  Then reaches that oak and the pace adjusts yet again to find its way around the tree.

And we hear the sound of the water.  Through the narrow area, where the water is slow, it trickles.  Or like my picture of the Shenandoah River above where it most fast, it can be a roar.

What does pacing include?

  • Controlling the timeline (which can be done through time markers or  light)
  • Character movement (I used to have a boss who entered any room with a slow, deliberate, control walk)
  • Cliffhangers at the end of chapters
  • Scene length (contrary to popular belief, there actually is a length for scenes)
  • Emotional highs at the end of paragraphs
  • How words sound

There are a lot of different ways to show pacing and probably more than what I listed.  Do you have any favorites you use regularly?

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More Reading

7 Tools for Pacing a Novel: I don’t normally read Writer’s Digest since their audience is people just starting a novel, but this a pretty good article.  I might have to add that book to my buy list.

X Marks the Spot Available April 15


Pirate woman guarding treasure.

Coming April 15 from WordFire Press: X Marks the Spot: An Anthology of Treasure and Theft!

Set sail on the high seas with dashing rogues, daring rebels, and wily pirates searching for treasures of all kinds. X Marks the Spot is a collection of 21 unforgettable stories about those men and women who live on the fringes of society, who are beholden to no man, no law, and who always have one eye on the horizon.

Proceeds go to the Don Hodge Memorial Scholarship.

Edited by Lisa Mangum. Cover art by Tiffany Brazell. With stories by Kristen Bickerstaff, Ken Hoover, L.V. Bell, Tracy Leonard Nakatani, David Cole, Linda Adams, Trisha Wooldridge, Amy M. Hughes, Jessica Springer Guernsey, Tanya Hales, John David Payne, Lauren Lang, Mel Koons, Elmdea Adams, Jace Killan, Clint Hall, Nancy Greene, Cindy Hung, Mary Stormy Pletsch, Julie Frost, and Robert J. McCarter.

How to Write for an Anthology Theme


I have four anthology calls coming up. Every time I write for one, I have to think about how to approach the theme.  It’s not always easy.  Sometimes the theme is abstract.

Pirate treasure map, treasure chest full of gold, compass, mooring rope and a sword on a wooden captain table background.
Pirate treasure map, treasure chest full of gold, compass, mooring rope and a sword on a wooden captain table background.

Image credit: undefined undefined

The first step is to reread the guidelines to make sure you understand what the theme is, as well as the more obvious requirements of genre and word count.  On one of the calls, I was glad I re-read it.  I remembered the theme wrong!  I would have written a story that didn’t fit if I hadn’t done that.

Identify the Low Hanging Fruit

Ask yourself what is everyone else going to do.  If it’s a call about a murder in a restaurant, the anthology will get a lot of submissions about a restaurant critic being murdered.

This low hanging fruit might even be the genre.  If the theme is for science fiction and fantasy and lends itself more to fantasy,  the editor might not get a lot of science fiction.  Opportunity time!

Start looking for unusual directions that only you can do.  When I came up with the idea for Magic Tidying in X Marks the Spot, I paired the theme of pirates with ghosts, magic, and tidying (Marie Kondo had just come out with her Netflix videos).

Hang a Lantern on the Anthology’s Theme

It should be upfront in the story and pretty obvious.  It shouldn’t only appear at the end or feel like you sprinkled it in because you didn’t know what else to do with it.  You should not be able to remove those elements without destroying the story. 

What’s the most challenging anthology theme you’ve run into?

Sign up for Writing Nerd’s newsletter! It comes out on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month and features links and other nerd tidbits.

More Reading

Time Markers in Fiction: These are easy to leave out of the story. Stand out for your anthology theme submission by including time.