Category Archives: Fiction

The living room for all of my stories, great and small.

Update to “My Books” Page

Just a quick maintenance note:

I’ve updated the “My Books” page with a comprehensive list of not only all of my existing book tiles and brief status descriptions for each one, but also of all of my planned future books.

This is truly the one-stop shop for information on all of my present and upcoming titles. It it’s not on this page, there’s no news on it.

Remember to click the tab, not the drop-down selections, to access the page. Or, you can just click the link here.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 2: Using the Novel Creator

Yesterday, I introduced you to a writing app called Fictionary StoryTeller, which functions as a developmental tool for any writer who wants to see if his or her story is structurally sound before shopping it off to beta readers or actual editors. Its purpose is to provide visual cues to any trouble spots the story may have before any living reader ever sees the flaws.

It works best when the story is finished and imported.

But, it doesn’t require prewriting to be useful to writers.

That’s because Fictionary StoryTeller also allows writers to construct the story from within the app.

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Starting a new novel in Fictionary StoryTeller

Yes, that’s correct. Building the story from within is just another feature that comes with the Fictionary StoryTeller subscription (along with the feature of paying every month to use the service, but more on that later).

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The blank canvas of doom in Fictionary StoryTeller

Now, I could spend precious article-writing real estate discussing everything that StoryTeller can do, from labeling scenes, to organizing chapters, to defining characters long before they ever enter the scene, etc. I could also discuss how the savvy writer can label plot points or scene intentions (like establishing setting, character arc, etc.) through metatags within the scene constructor itself. I could even talk about how StoryTeller allows the writer to manage each scene detail through four categories of informative story elements (giving credence to Fictionary’s boast of tracking 38 of them).

But I don’t want to do that because the app’s Web page will do all of that for me.

What I would rather do is to use this article as an opportunity to express what Fictionary StoryTeller can’t do, at least as of this writing, so that you, the writer, have a better idea whether this app is even worth your investment, at least for now.

I should also note that I have a video companion on my Zippywings YouTube channel that not only shows the app’s novel creation feature in motion, but also voices my opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and what the app still needs if it wants to be truly formidable in the war for writing software dominance. So, if you’d rather watch a demonstration than read about it, then click over to my video and spend the 15 minutes it takes to get to the end. And, if you missed yesterday’s article, it’s worth noting that I have a longer video (43 minutes) evaluating the 38 story elements that are already featured in the program (or at least the ones currently implemented).

Now, if you’ve read up on the details, then you should already get a sense of what’s missing, but in case you’re not sure, here are the top elements I believe Fictionary StoryTeller needs to truly stand out as an exceptional program for writers. Keep in mind that these elements are currently missing, or are at least not as well developed as they could be. The app may have improved by the time you read this, so you should still check it out for yourself to be sure. Also note that, as of this writing, some of the 38 story elements may actually be missing or inactive in the trial version:

Scene structure tracking. What Fictionary does well is to track and visualize the story’s global structure, but it does not accurately track how well the scene or scene unit maintains its own five-point structure, in particular when it comes to establishing conflict and resolution or scene beats. It does allow you to set certain “elements” through scene tags, like setting details and mini-descriptions, and even puts them up in a chart, which is a great start, and for anyone who wants a big picture view of his story, it definitely fills a hole that Microsoft Word cannot fill. But when it comes to tracking actual conflicts, polarity shifts, and miscellaneous scene intentions (like scenes that should only establish exposition), the program is good but not yet perfect. When it comes to scene tracking, I still think yWriter and Scrivener allow for a bit more flexibility, even if they don’t handle the visual element nearly as well. What it does track, it tracks well, but it is certainly not complete. Maybe someday it will be.

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A sample of the many scene elements at a glance in Fictionary StoryTeller

Character tracking. Again, Fictionary StoryTeller has some competency in tracking characters throughout the story, but not at the level a subscription-based app should perform to be worth the cost. What it does, and does well, is to crawl through the entire novel and extract every named character it finds and populates them inside a master character list, which you can then check for accuracy. This character chart allows you to set POV characters, mentioned characters, and combine same characters together (“the chef,” for example, may have a real name later, so both instances would be tracked to the same character). It’s a handy management tool.

But, it has major limitations compared to yWriter and Scrivener, and even, oddly, compared to itself. What do I mean by this? Well, Fictionary’s appeal is in the visuals. The two elements it tracks and converts into visuals are the character’s entrance and exit scenes (which can be accessed from the master plot graph) and the number of scenes that the character appears in. It does not actually chart which scenes the character appears in. An app like this should place dots everywhere the character appears, and allow the user to click on those dots to access those scenes. And, on these same lines, I think the character tracker is weirdly absent of character description. Unless I missed something, all you can do at this stage is to name the character and determine his importance to the story (POV only—not even protagonist, antagonist, mentor role, lover, etc.). So, the character tracker needs a lot of improvement. It also has trouble identifying merged characters as the same character. Even if it lets you combine them, it seems to forget sometimes who those combined characters are.

Character arcs. This is a separate component to story structure, but I think StoryTeller could stand to handle character arcs in the same manner: draw a line along the character’s path toward three-dimensionality. It comes nowhere close to doing this at the present. In fact, as I noted in the above bullet point, tracking any kind of character development is currently low-rate in StoryTeller. This isn’t to say that all characters need three-dimensionality (and that would be an option worth selecting: Does this character need three dimensions?(Yes/No/Let me think about it)). But those that do should have a tracker and visual component attached. What StoryTeller does do is allow the writer to set whether the scene develops the character via a simple “scene intention” tag. It just doesn’t let the writer note how it develops the character. The closest it comes is to identify what the character wants, which is still very important, and very useful. But it does not note how the character succeeds, fails, or changes. Not yet. It needs to.

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Another scene visual reference in Fictionary StoryTeller

A/B plot tracking. Perhaps a major omission to Fictionary StoryTeller, both in actuality and according to the 38 elements, is the ability to track subplots within the main story. On a similar note, it does nothing to track external and internal storylines. For any writer who wants to see if the A/B plots or the internal/external plots converge at the end of the story, Fictionary won’t be able to tell them. Right now, it’s all about the main plot.

Genre and obligatory scene tracking. This may not be intuitive to writers who haven’t studied story structure or genre development, but any story written for genre still has its particular obligations (like a romance that fails to bring the lovers together at the end is, perhaps, not really a romance), and Fictionary StoryTeller seems to leave these elements out in the cold. Even a quick scan of the 38 elements suggest that this feature isn’t on the planner. But it probably should be.

Element highlighting. This missing feature is arbitrary, but adding it would greatly enhance the user experience. In short, clicking on buttons and dots in Fictionary StoryTeller will open up whatever scene corresponds to the selected element, so that the writer can review the scene for the specific instance he wants to check. Sometimes it will even jump to a point in the scene where the element can be found. However, what this fast-access method grossly lacks is a simple highlighter that draws attention to the element immediately. I’ve found that whenever I click on the visual that opens the scene, I then have to read the entire passage to figure out where the element sits in the prose. It takes time to find it, especially when the text is small. A simple highlighter on selection of the element would make opening the scene much better. As of now, this relates to character names, but as the program evolves, it should also search for embedded tags the writer may place within the scene to identify “important moments” that link to that tag to make searching for these broader-based elements faster and easier.

And that’s for starters.

Now, in fairness, I believe these limitations are simple enough to add within the current architecture that I’d be surprised if Fictionary never addresses them. So, my belief is that this app will become quite useful for every type of fiction writer in time. But, as of my trial period, I was a bit underwhelmed by my cost-to-usefulness ratio. I’d like to see some of these elements taken into consideration before I take in consideration a subscription to the service ($20 a month or $200 a year).

But, you may feel differently, so by all means give it a go if you’re interested. You get the first 14 days free, anyway.

Also, in reviewing the 38 scene elements listed on the main page, I think it’s possible that the current version of Fictionary StoryTeller doesn’t yet have all the elements implemented (I know that’s true of two of the five senses) but will shortly. It certainly seems that some of the elements listed appear nowhere on the app, as far as I could find. Maybe they’re behind a paywall. Maybe they’re on the way. It’s worth keeping an eye on them if they are.

Anyway, don’t forget to check out my video reviews of Fictionary StoryTeller if you haven’t already.

Video 1: Overview and Review

Video 2: Using the Novel Creator

And, if you don’t think Fictionary StoryTeller is your cup of coffee right now, then check out my series yWriter vs Scrivener to see if either of those programs are a better fit for your storytelling needs.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 1: Overview and Review

So, remember that time you told all of your friends that you’re a writer, when what you really meant is that you plan to become a writer, someday?

Well, now’s your chance to prove yourself true, thanks to a new weapon in the arsenal, a new tool in the chest, a new float toy in the pool . . .

Okay, that last one got away from me a little.

Introducing Fictionary StoryTeller, the writing app that actually helps the writer track his or her story’s development structure and informs him if he’s on the right track.

(. . . and also makes it fun to stop wasting time dreaming about becoming a writer . . .)

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The main navigation page in Fictionary StoryTeller

For the next two days, I’ll be bringing you both written and video content about this handy option for the writer’s development needs, the former which you can read right here, and the latter which you can view over at my Zippywings YouTube channel, specifically at this link (but don’t go just yet; you should read on—I’ll repost the link at the bottom so you don’t forget).

So, now that I got your interest, what is Fictionary StoryTeller?

Well, StoryTeller is the developmental tool for writers from Fictionary (see, calling it Fictionary StoryTeller is a lot like calling PhotoShop, Adobe PhotoShop) that provides structural feedback via flowcharts, graphs, and other fun visual things that would make Microsoft proud (or jealous), giving writers an opportunity to spot weaknesses from a bird’s eye point of view.

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Example of the plot structure graph in Fictionary StoryTeller

In short, it tells writers if their novels or novellas still need developmental considerations.

But, how does it accomplish that, exactly? If StoryTeller is just a piece of writing software, a measly app on the Internet, then how, pray tell, does it inform you, the writer, if your story needs more development?

I know what you’re thinking: The robot apocalypse has started.

While that may be possible, that’s not actually what’s happening here. No, what’s happening here is that you feed the app your story’s information, by scene, and based on your knowledge of structure, including inciting incidents, plot points, scene shifts, etc., you’ll essentially give the program something to track, which it can then convert information back to you via graphs, charts, and other visual matters.

So, it’s not entirely scary. It’s barely even an algorithm.

But, if that’s all StoryTeller did, just feed you visuals on the stuff you’ve already written, then it probably wouldn’t be particularly impressive. Clever writers who moonlight as Excel wizards could probably accomplish something similar on their own, for a lot cheaper.

What StoryTeller does well is convert your manuscript into indexes for easy labeling and makes those tracking adjustments on the fly, so you can always know what your development looks like at every stage of the story, even as you’re still writing it.

And what does it track, exactly?

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Using the scene editor in Fictionary StoryTeller

Well, Fictionary’s StoryTeller Web page will give you all the details, but the short version is that it allows you to check 38 different developmental categories, from the core elements of story structure, all the way down to sensory details (minus touch and taste, as of this writing).

It also, conveniently, searches your document for all known names and converts them into character lists (in some cases erroneously), which you can also adjust, reference, or delete as needed. Nearly everything in Fictionary StoryTeller that you can click will take you back to your scene of reference.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it’s definitely heading in the right direction—I’ll say that with confidence.

The question is, is it worth the price? At $20 a month (yep, subscription!), it offers writers the answers to a number of questions, such as, “Is my structure in line with proper story structure?” and “Do my scenes begin and end in different places or times?” but it still lacks the answers to other important questions, such as “Do my scenes follow an internal five-point structure?” or “Which scenes does Fred appear in?”

In other words, even though StoryTeller does track the entrances and exits of characters, and it tracks how many scenes a character appears in, it does not tell you, the writer, specifically which of those eight scenes he’s in, which would be convenient given that everything in StoryTeller can be clicked, whisking you away to the very scene you wish to explore, and this means, ultimately, that StoryTeller isn’t yet perfect.

But, it looks like it’s trying to become just that, so whatever it lacks today may likely appear as a feature tomorrow, or whenever its engineers figure out not only which good ideas need implementation but how to implement them.

Anyway, I offer you a full look at Fictionary StoryTeller in action, through the lens of my novella Gutter Child, over on my Zippywings YouTube channel. Check it out to see all of its strengths in weaknesses, as well as get my full opinion of the program (and whether I recommend it).

Then come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my mini-feature on Fictionary StoryTeller, when I review its capability as a writing substitute to yWriter or Scrivener. There will be a video on that, as well.

November 2019 Update

In the month of Blade Runner (look it up), I’ve spent every day adding new content to my NaNoWriMo 2019 project, Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure. That was my entire month. Every day. Writing. Lots of writing. Lots and lots of writing, especially on the 22nd.

In a moment, I’ll share with you the results of that marathon, but first let me tell you that I predicted in October that I would be posting my November update late. Was that prediction by design? Not really, but I do find it fitting that I’m combining a monthly update with a Friday update. Also, it would be difficult to post a November update that is focused almost entirely on NaNoWriMo without recording the last day’s progress. So, waiting until now makes more sense. Plus, it’s Friday.

Also before I show you how NaNoWriMo went, I wanted to say that I did spend one evening working on Snow in Miami, bringing me close to the end of the first draft. I’m almost there. Though, it should be noted by now that I won’t have it publishable until next year. Sorry! But I want to get this one right.

Speaking of getting it right, I think I’ve figured out a new plan for my series of Christmas fables, originally conceptualized as The 12 Fables of Christmas (plus three more). Snow in Miami (the second in the series) features a storyteller character named Douglas McCray, who is essentially the lower class stepfather version of Grandpa from The Princess Bride, who gets his lazy points of view across to his family through a series of self-serving parables, but who must then endure one parable from a family member (or other) as a counterargument to his argument and ultimately a source of change for him and his way of thinking. I’m considering repurposing The Fountain of Truth as the first part of the “McCray Parables.” The idea came to me while I was driving home from Barnes & Noble a few minutes ago, but I think it’s a great idea. I’d have to make a new cover for it (and add a new story to give the current three a reason for existing), but I’m up to the challenge. I even have an idea: Douglas McCray may be justifying a decision he makes at his job during the holidays through his use of allegory. It could work. The downside is that now I’ll have to add him to all five of my planned holiday fable books.

Yes, I said five. More on that in the future.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2019

So, like I said at the top, I participated in NaNoWriMo 2019 by starting on Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure, the first book in my new pirate trilogy tentatively called WTF Pirate Adventure. Because I’ve raced through it with minimal research, I can safely say that it’s a mess. But it has potential, and that potential will hopefully spawn a successful series of at least three books. I used my new NaNoWriMo Scrivener template to write it, and now I need to transfer everything I wrote to a new document where I can finish it. I’ll do that today.

Regarding the story itself, I made it to just shy of the midpoint when the NaNoWriMo event ended, but I’ll definitely need to do a lot of editing for any of this to work well. It’s got some bloat at the moment. Bloat and a boat.

But it also has some entertaining moments. And that’s what we want when all is said and done. Right?

So, with that all said, here are the results of my NaNoWriMo participation, taken directly from my Scrivener “Tracking Elements” section. As you can see, I wrote quite a bit this month.

Day 1:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,414 words
  • -Total Word Count: 2,414 words

Day 2:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Total Word Count:  4,414 words

Day 3:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,121 words
  • -Total Word Count: 5,535 words

Day 4:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,701 words
  • -Total Word Count: 7,236 words

Day 5:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,529 words
  • -Total Word Count: 8,765 words

Day 6:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,060 words
  • -Total Word Count: 10,825 words

Day 7:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,050 words
  • -Total Word Count: 11,875 words

Day 8:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 830 words
  • -Total Word Count: 12,705 words

Day 9:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,801 words
  • -Total Word Count: 14,506 words

Day 10:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,611 words
  • -Total Word Count: 17,117 words

Day 11:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,822 words
  • -Total Word Count: 18,939 words

Day 12:

  • -Target Word Count: 200 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 201 words
  • -Total Word Count: 19,140 words

Day 13:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 604 words
  • -Total Word Count: 19,744 words

Day 14:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,036 words
  • -Total Word Count: 20,780 words

Day 15:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,264 words
  • -Total Word Count: 23,044 words

Day 16:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,746 words
  • -Total Word Count: 25,790 words

Day 17:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 539 words
  • -Total Word Count: 26,329 words

Day 18:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,884 words
  • -Total Word Count: 29,213 words

Day 19:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,830 words
  • -Total Word Count: 31,043 words

Day 20:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 735 words
  • -Total Word Count: 31,778 words

Day 21:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,758 words
  • -Total Word Count: 34,536 words

Day 22:

  • -Target Word Count: 3,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 7,625 words
  • -Total Word Count: 42,161 words

Day 23:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,397 words
  • -Total Word Count: 43,558 words

Day 24:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,111 words
  • -Total Word Count: 44,669 words

Day 25:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,327 words
  • -Total Word Count: 45,996 words

Day 26:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 3,302 words
  • -Total Word Count: 49,298 words

Day 27:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,524 words
  • -Total Word Count: 50,882 words

Day 28:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,277 words
  • -Total Word Count: 52,099 words

Day 29:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,178 words
  • -Total Word Count: 53,277 words

Day 30:

  • -Target Word Count: 3,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 4,238 words
  • -Total Word Count: 57,515 words

If you want to glimpse the story and the first eight days of my NaNoWriMo experience, please be sure to check out my YouTube channel for the NaNoWriMo 2019 playlist.

What I’m Reading

November hasn’t been just about NaNoWriMo. I’ve also started reading the classic Treasure Island to remind myself what pirate literature looks like (and because I’ve never read it, and I really need to read more classic literature). I have an old paperback version that was printed in the 1960s (part of my grandfather’s collection), but my go-to site for researching pirates, The Pirate King, has a faithful reproduction of the story, complete with parchment background. It’s pretty nice. (It also has better copyediting than the version I’m reading.)

I also finished reading Lee Child’s One Shot (Jack Reacher #9), which is the book that the first Tom Cruise movie adapts, and Christopher Moore’s Noir, who I’ve never read before but wanted to for some time (of his books that aren’t about the supernatural), and found both books quite entertaining. If you’re looking for a great book this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with Jack Reacher or Noir. Though, you also can’t go wrong with my favorite from 2018, Stuart Turton’s The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I loved that debut as much as I did Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011). See all of the name-dropping I’m doing?

Finally, I’ve picked two new books on the writing craft: Fight Write and Compass of Character (the latter of which I’ve just bought today). I don’t spend much time discussing the books on craft that I’ve read, but it’s often been my intention to start one of these days. At some point, I’d like to write a series on the best writing books I’ve read. Let me know if you’re interested.

So, that’s November (and the first week of December). Hope yours went well. Stay tuned for the next update, coming in a few weeks.

Cover Image: Pixabay

I Be Winner. NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner.

I’ll list the stats in a few days, but I’m writing this post to announce that I’ve just crossed the 50,000-word mark for the 2019 National Novel Writing Month event, and let me tell you…

It’s a relief.

I don’t have much trouble with writing large chunks of text in short time, but keeping that chunk a piece of quality is a bit tougher. Spending a month writing a historical novel I’ve done hardly any research for is also a thing of toughness. But most challenging of all?

I still have to spend a big chunk of December plotting this story, as most novels typically run between 70,000 words and 90,000 words, with my novels hitting the high end of about 100,000 words, if I’m letting my whims get the better of me.

In short, it’s a relief to hit 50,000 words only in the respect that I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo. What I haven’t yet done is to write something you’d want to read…yet. That, hopefully, will happen in 2020.

At any rate, here’s the badge to prove that I didn’t sleep much this month.

NaNo-2019-Winner-Web-Badge

Let me know if you want a sample of the story.

Oh, actually, you can see my first eight days in action on my YouTube channel by clicking on this playlist.

Yes, I’ve actually recorded myself writing. In real time. You can watch me make typos and rationalize dumb decisions. It’s great fun. If you’re into that kind of thing.

The Coming of NaNoWriMo 2019

I just posted a video about NaNoWriMo 2019 and how we can prep for it with Scrivener. This comes with the idea that I may actually record my writing progress this month, for those of you who want to see a story written in real-time.

Will this likely end in disaster?

Probably! So, now you gotta watch, right?

In the video, I reveal two new templates I’ve developed this year: one for planning a story (and is still a work-in-progress), and the other a basic template for NaNoWriMo that includes options for journaling, tracking progress, and writing a postmortem when all is finished.

If you’d like to use either template for your own prep or writing adventure, you can find them both here.

If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, then comment below and talk about it.

Good luck!

October 2019 Update

It’s October, and you know what that means!

No, not Halloween. I mean, yeah, sure, it does mean that, but no, I’m not talking about that. And, no, not pumpkin spice lattes, either, even though those are awesome, and I don’t know why I’m not drinking one right now. But not that, either.

No, not scary movies. Not Oscar-bait films.

Why all of these off-topic guesses? Don’t you know me by now? You know what October really means! Right?

You do know what that means.

Right?!

Time for an update?

Familiar at all?

*blank stares*

Okay, yeah, I guess that was not at all obvious since I rarely post updates except for the exceedingly rare Friday update that I do every twentieth Friday or so in an even-numbered year, and my last monthly update was not in September or August. It may not have even been in 2019. I’d have to go back and check.

I really need to stay on top of this blog more often.

Okay, well, that all said and off-topic, I think it’s time to give you an update about all of the writing-related stuff you either missed or I didn’t share this past month (or year). Given that it’s not yet the end of the month, calling it the “October 2019 Update” is probably weird. If I do a “November 2019 Update,” then I’ll fill in the details that we missed in the weeks between now and November. I may post that update sometime in mid-December. We’ll see.

The point here is that it’s update time, regardless of what we call it, and if you’re a reader of this blog, then hopefully that means you’re interested in what I’ve been doing. And let me tell you, what I’ve been doing is playing lots of videogames.

Kidding. Most of my games are passive and don’t require me to interact with them that much.

Outside of that, I’ve been dealing with pain in my right arm for a number of weeks now. I haven’t gone to the doctor about it yet because I don’t want to deal with pain medication or any other quick fix that could potentially create new complications, nor do I want to deal with the issue that I’m supposed to see the doctor about but have been putting off because I’m tired of getting stuck with needles. But this is not a unique problem. Since about 2014, I’ve been dealing with occasional bouts of long-term muscle strain in both arms (not at the same time), usually brought on by thinking I can do more than 20 push-ups a day or more than one pull-up. This new pain is especially difficult because it’s primarily in my thumb joint, which can affect my typing, but it does seem to hurt less than it did a couple of months ago, so I may be doing better. Either that, or I’ve just gotten used to it by now. Fortunately, I have support gear to help me minimize further strain. So, as long as I remember to wear it, I’m fine. At the moment as I type, I’m not wearing any of it.

Anyway, this isn’t a medical blog, so you don’t care about any of that. You’re here for the writing updates. Or you’re here because you meant to click on something else and your aim is a bit off. Not sure which, so let’s assume you’re here for the writing updates.

Snow in Miami

For those of you who remember that I’m still working on my second series of Christmas fables, Snow in Miami, I’m happy to say that I’m almost finished with the first draft. Yes, after three years of working on it, I’m finally near the end. I think. I’m writing the final section this week, but it’s taken a turn I hadn’t anticipated, and I may end up with a lot more story by the time I finish than I originally planned to have. Hard to say. As of now, the story has over 43,000 words. I’d expected about 25,000 for the whole thing. Not sure why anymore, as it clearly needs every word it has and more.

I’ve also come to realize that the smaller stories that make up the larger tale are in need of details that I don’t yet have, so the final product will likely top 50,000 words, well over twice the length of its Christmas fable predecessor, The Fountain of Truth. Part of what I’m dealing with here is that the three fables are not separate stories like they are in the previous collection but interwoven tales that help form an outer narrative involving a storyteller who must learn from his family how to prioritize their needs better so he can become a better husband and stepfather. This story was always intended to frame the smaller tales, similar to Peter Falk reading The Princess Bride to a 12-year-old Fred Savage, but the story’s final act has taken a life of its own, thanks to the realization that the narrator’s story means nothing if he doesn’t have his own active arc to deal with. So now I’ve effectively turned Snow in Miami into four stories, not three. And because the three smaller stories need more details to really work (to the extent that they’re stories within a story), I know I’ve got a bit more to write before I can start the revision process.

That said, here’s what I have left to do:

The McCray Parables: This is the main story, the narrative hub for Snow in Miami. As of now, I’ve got the story’s narrator, Douglas McCray, wandering around downtown in the middle of the night, searching for a toy to give to his stepson before Christmas officially begins. I think I need a bit more story in the transitional sections to really land the change that he and his family make along the way, but most of what I have left to do is to simply finish it. I’m nearly there.

Unexpected Weather: This is the first fable (and the base story where the name “Snow in Miami” comes from). It’s basically finished, but it needs some continuity checks and possible transitional sections to keep it sensible. I haven’t yet read it from beginning to end, so I’m not completely sure it even works, but I’ll get it to work, even if I have my doubts that it works right now. I can say that it’s comfortably absurd at least. It’s partly about an unexpected change in weather patterns, but it’s also about one man’s adjustment to a new city as he vapes his way to happiness and Christmas.

A Black Friday Tale: This is the second fable and pretty much exactly as I want it. The only work I have left to do here is to edit and revise it. It’s a mashup of clichés in story form, involving a bet that two people make about who can score the best flatscreen television on Black Friday, using the classic clichés in motion: “The Early Bird Gets the Worm,” “Cheaters Never Prosper,” “Crime Doesn’t Pay,” and “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” There’s actually a fifth part to this tale, but that’s hidden until the great reveal at the end. Anyway, I’m happy with it.

The Pear Tree: This is the third fable, and I just finished the core story a week ago (finally!). This is the story that’s held up production for the last two years. I’ve always known what I wanted out of the first two fables, but I’ve had a much harder time thinking about the point of this story, especially since it’s not Douglas’s story, but his wife’s, so the heart of the fable had to come from a different place than the previous two. The story itself, I more or less knew what I wanted out of it since the beginning, but the theme has been elusive until fairly recently. I think I’ve got the angle now, so I’ll be spending the revision process making sure the details fit that angle. That said, I have more to do in the first draft, as the early sections of the story are vastly underwritten compared to the late section, and it’s clearly become more character-involved than I had originally intended.

So, what does this all mean? Will it be ready for Christmas?

Probably not. Even though I expect to have the first draft finished very soon, I don’t expect to have it ready for readers until sometime next year. The good news is that once the first draft is finished, I’ll be able to see the whole thing for what it really is, and then I can make sound decisions on how to shape it and make it better. But I won’t be racing through the process like I did for The Fountain of Truth. I want to make sure that every product I release from this point forward is actually ready for readers. Snow in Miami won’t be ready for readers until I get readers to tell me it’s ready. I can’t expect to finish, edit, revise, find cover art, and get several beta readers together before December, not if I want a strong first impression. So, this update is basically to let readers of this blog know that the story is nearly finished, but I probably won’t release it until sometime after September 2020. It doesn’t mean that it absolutely won’t make a 2019 debut, but the likelihood is so low at the moment that it’s probably not worth holding your breath for it. I do think 2020 will be the year it finally makes its debut. Four years after its target release ain’t bad!

Sigh.

What I may do if I can’t get the book done and ready by December is post the first section here for you all to read sometime in the days leading to Christmas. I think that’s reasonable.

NaNoWriMo 2019:

NaNoWriMo is coming up in a couple of weeks, and though I’ve told myself to skip 2019 and focus on completing my second editions for current e-books, I do have a story in my head that needs to get out, and I would like to start it in November, if for no other reason but to get something on paper. But, I’ll talk more about that soon. Until I actually work on it, it’s probably not the right time to discuss it. The most I’ll say is that it may or may not be a pirate adventure in the same universe as A Modern-day Fantasy, and it’s possibly the first in a trilogy. Okay, that’s all you get.

Unless I record my progress for YouTube, in which case you may get to watch me write the thing …

No promises, though. Not unless you ask for one.

Second Editions:

Speaking of second editions, let’s talk about those for a spell, as I’m still putting a few of them together.

First of all, I’m still exploring a new angle for Cards in the Cloak that will leave me more satisfied with the final product than what I currently have. I’ve got one new chapter already written, and I know what I want to do with the rest. I just have to sit down and write it. Once it’s finished, I’ll likely discontinue the current version (on Amazon and the major retailers; Smashwords will continue to host all editions for anyone who really wants it), and make the next update the official story.

Gone from the Happy Place is still in a holding pattern. Because The Computer Nerd is fine as it is, I haven’t been in a hurry to “fix” it. The improved version will come eventually, but probably not before I invest in my own ISBNs. I would like to push out the newer story sooner than later, however. Not much has moved on it since 2018, unfortunately.

Shell Out has a new opening chapter, but I don’t think I’ll attach it to the current story that you can find online. I’m pretty sure it will be part of a from-scratch retelling of the current story, told as a novella, or even a novel, with new stakes, premise, and everything. It will likely endure the same treatment that Amusement and The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky are going through, with the same story receiving a much greater expansion into a much greater world. I’m still trying to figure out how to prioritize certain stories for the backlist so that they’ll be better prepared for my front list series releases.

The Fallen Footwear is probably the next story to receive an emergency update. Because the current e-book is a major update to the original short story that I wrote in college, and because I wrote that update during my ultra-prolific release period of May 2015 to May 2016, which meant I released it before really taking the time to decide if it was actually ready for release, including skipping the time I needed to set it aside and read it later to see if I even liked it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s my worst public story, and I need to redo it (though I still really like Chapter 1—it’s that dang rest of the story I can’t stand at the moment). So, that’ll happen soon. I’ve actually begun the update already, but I hated so much of what I’ve read that I had to stop and take a break from it. That was about two months ago. It’s another reason why I won’t be doing any more release blitzes in the future. I can give better first impressions.

The Audiovisual Book Experience:

In other news, last month I recorded myself reading Amusement off of Scrivener and uploaded the video series to YouTube. As of now, each episode has views in the low single digits. Basically, it wasn’t a successful experiment, so I probably won’t do another for a while, but I might if more people discover it. If you’re reading this blog, you can jumpstart the Audiovisual Book Experience series by checking out the videos. The playlist for Amusement contains nine videos, including one overview and one introduction that includes legal information (which I read in a funny voice because legal information is lame otherwise).

If you want to see more of these, please leave me comments and feedback, and maybe vote for the story you’d like to see me read in public next.

Writing a Scene in yWriter6:

As of this writing, my YouTube video “Writing a Scene in yWriter6 (yWriter vs Scrivener Part 7)” has 164 views, the third highest in the series, in spite of it being over an hour long. Its total retention rate is at 6.3%, which is pretty amazing given the type of video it is. One commenter liked it so much that he wanted to see more. I don’t know if he’s ever come back to my channel to see if I actually did make more “Writing a Scene in yWriter6” videos, but he did get me thinking that it’s a good series worth continuing, so I’m probably going to make more of them in the near future. So, if you like the video and want to see more of that series, let me know in the comments either here or on the video’s page. It would also be useful to let me know if you want to see the outlining process included or just the scene writing.

Either way, the scene series will continue with Pop Goes the Waterbed.

Conclusion:

So, that’s what’s going on in writer’s world at the moment. Keep checking this blog for new updates about the stories you care about and the life events that you don’t. Leave a comment if you have anything that you want to ask that I can answer and won’t feel shame about later. As always, click the blue button at the bottom of the page to subscribe to this blog.

And while we’re at it, let me know if you’d like these updates split up into multiple releases. Looking at the word count, I can see I’ve given you a lot of information today. Raise your hand if you’ve read this far.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Fun with Cover Design Using PaintShop Pro 2020, Corel Painter 2019, and GRFX Studio Corel Edition on My Ebook “Lightstorm”

This weekend, as the title implies, I ran my concept cover for Lightstorm through another round of edits, this time by employing the services of a few new programs that I picked up in the Painter: Create with Confidence Bundle over at Humble Bundle (available until Wednesday at 1pm EST).

The bundle, which includes a number of designer products, including PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate, Corel Painter 2019, and Pinnacle Studio 23 Ultimate, cost me just $25. Individually, I would’ve spent over $250 for them, maybe much more, and finding the bundle was perfect timing, as my copy of Paintshop Pro 2019 (normal edition) kept bugging me to upgrade to 2020 for just $47.99 (a 70% discount!), which I was planning to do anyway until I found the bundle, but now I don’t have to, though doing so would’ve meant I would also get a video editor program, VideoStudio Pro 2019 (noticeably absent from the bundle, but hopefully Pinnacle Studio will work just fine), which probably would’ve been nice. But I ended up getting a lot more for a lot less, and I’m typically fine with that.

So, just to give a little backstory, I released Lightstorm in September 2015 with this cover (created with my old copy of PaintShop Pro 9, which is probably 14 iterations of PaintShop Pro ago):

lightstorm cover (title 4)
Lightstorm Cover Image

As you can see, it isn’t very good. I needed to upgrade it, but I didn’t have any software that would be particularly useful for the job.

Then last year I found another photography bundle at Humble Bundle that included PaintShop Pro 2019, and I thought, Yeah, I’ll buy that for a dollar! I think I actually paid $25 for that bundle, (a dollar would’ve gotten me just the cheap stuff) and I got a load of decent software for designers that I haven’t really used yet outside of PaintShop Pro 2019. I plan to use them eventually. Maybe.

A few months after getting that bundle and practicing my cover design on other covers, particularly Eleven Miles from Home, by locating free stock photos and manipulating and combining them for effect, I decided it was time to upgrade Lightstorm. This is what I made:

lightstorm new background 8

And when I wasn’t fully satisfied with that version, I kept toying with it until I got this:

lightstorm new background 10a

So, that’s the version I have online at the moment. I thought it was pretty good. But I still had my doubts. Compared to the original, it’s a masterpiece. But compared to other book covers, it’s meh. I figured I could do better, but I didn’t know how if all I had at my disposal was PaintShop Pro 2019 and other painting programs I hadn’t actually used yet but probably should’ve looked into. Oops.

So, then came along the Painter Bundle, and now I’ve got programs that can do more than simply adjust the visuals of an already assembled composite photo (I used four different images and a lot of blurring to make the above image). With Corel Painter, I was able to add particles, including glow brushes, make my title font (Vallen) much better detailed, and I ended up with this:

lightstorm new background 12.png

Now it’s looking more thematic, but I admit I wasn’t fully satisfied. As much as I liked the new particle effects, I worried they were cluttering the image too much.

So, I doubled-down and opened up GRFX Studio Corel Edition (included with PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate) and added a bunch of light flares:

lightstorm new background 13a.png

So, that’s the state of Lightstorm‘s cover and what I did this weekend with my new design programs. Just to recap, I went from this:

lightstorm cover (title 4)
Lightstorm Cover Image

to this:

lightstorm new background 13a

I’m sure PhotoShop and a proper graphics designer would’ve made this cover even better, but as I say on this blog from time to time, I’m not rich, and while that remains true, I won’t throw money at high-priced subscription software or someone I can’t afford.

For the resources and skills that I have, I think I did pretty well. What do you think? Can you do better? Hopefully the answer is yes. Comment below if you have an opinion!

The Audiovisual Book Experience, an Experiment

Today on YouTube, I launched the beginning of what could become my next big feature: “The Audiovisual Book Experience.” The premise behind it is that people don’t read anymore, but they do listen. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from people who listen exclusively to audiobooks and podcasts and can’t be bothered with an actual book or blog post. I think these same people watch YouTube videos on occasion.

I confess that I don’t get it. And, I do think the information is a little suspect. Of course people still read. I’m a person, and I read! I read books and blogs. I also write both. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re a reader, too. Already, you’re proving them wrong.

But, I also see the point they make. The people who prefer audio text to visual text are the people who are too busy to sit down with a good book; they probably spend more time looking through their windshields, making sure they don’t hit something or someone than they do staring at the pages of a paperback or the screen of an e-reader. Of course, they still stare at their phones for some reason, on the road and off. But it makes you wonder: Has no one told them they can read a book on their phone? What else are they going to do at a red light?

Okay, they shouldn’t read a book while driving. Point made. Audiobooks are much better for that. And they’re also much better for running. I’ve tried reading a book while running a few times. It’s definitely too shaky to concentrate. An audiobook would’ve been nicer for that scenario. If these people are so active that they can’t even spend a few minutes in bed with a good book, then perhaps the audio version is necessary.

But what of the people who want both, the reading and the listening experience? Haven’t we all started our reading lives by reading with an adult, where the adult reads out loud while we follow along and try to understand each word? Would it be so odd if we were to read along with someone else again, but as adults?

Maybe. Probably. But we’re going to try it anyway!

And that’s the point of the Audiovisual Book Experience, to allow YouTube users to read a book while someone else narrates it to them. That way, if they need to, they can do other things while the book is “playing.” Or, if they’d rather follow along, they can see each word in its book form. This gives each reader the option of reading the book however he or she wants. For free!

Is it a good idea? I don’t know. That’s why it’s an experiment. But, if it does generate interest, I’ll likely do another. If not, then I’ll commit my time and energy to something else.

I do wonder, though, how other authors with better voices than mine could make use of an audiovisual book experience. It might be worth it for them to give it a try for their own books.

That said, I’m launching my own experience with Amusement, a short story about a businessman who must confront the corporate entity responsible for the faulty product that ruined his life.

The overview video has already launched. The introduction and legal information video will launch at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday, September 23, 2019), and “Part 1: Professionalism” will launch immediately after, at 1:15 p.m., both Eastern Standard Time. Each additional episode will launch on consecutive days at 1 p.m. until next Sunday when the final episode, “Part 7: Crash,” airs.

The entire audiovisual book will be curated into a playlist that you can run at your leisure.

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think, either here or on YouTube. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

Now Incorporating Draft2Digital and the Books2Read Platform

Remember when I had exciting news last week about my various book updates? Well, now I have even more exciting news to share with you!

And when I say exciting, I mean exciting for book nerds! The rest of you probably won’t care that much.

A few nights ago, I began porting my recently updated e-books to the Draft2Digital platform. For those who don’t know Draft2Digital, it’s a distribution platform like Smashwords, but much nicer looking and reaches a few international markets that Smashwords doesn’t yet reach, specifically !ndigo (Canada), Angus & Robertson (Australia), and Mondadori Store (Italy). Pretty much all of Rakuten Kobo’s international partners. It also connects to subscription services 24 Symbols and Playster, but as of this writing, these platforms have not yet received my books. Soon. Hopefully. Maybe.

I’ve spent a couple of evenings modifying and uploading six of my current e-books to the Draft2Digital platform, and the result is that these e-book versions are the most attractive yet.

Draft2Digital Amusement InteriorDraft2Digital Waterfall Junction Interior

Now, I haven’t yet ported them to the usual retailers (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo) because they’re already opted-in through Smashwords, and to get them connected through Draft2Digital, I’d have to opt them out first, which could mess up their rankings (especially since they’d be listed under a new ISBN). Not sure I want to go through all of that, so for now, this update is limited to the newer storefronts. But I may test the new format with my next release (Snow in Miami).

But, that’s not even the best news. The best news is that my books now use the Books2Read platform to connect readers to all relevant storefronts. That means one link can take you to a hub where all active storefronts are listed.

Check out the link to Eleven Miles from Home for an example.

Books2Read also has a sign-up option for readers to receive notifications every time I submit a new release. It’s a mailing list without all of the fluff! Now you don’t have to miss a single story! (And why would you even want to?) If you haven’t yet used Books2Read, as an author or a reader, you’re missing out. It’s really convenient.

Oh, and if you check out my new Draft2Digital author page, you can also see which books are in the system. See how nice it looks? Yep, it’s a booty! Er, beauty.

It’s also worth noting that I’ve updated the description pages for each of these books right here on Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm. The description pages now include the abovementioned universal links and relevant descriptive information including genre, literary style, characters, settings, store descriptions, formats, copyrights, book reading stats, prices, media galleries, and links to Wattpad samples and Goodreads reviews. If you’re still not sure whether you want to read these books, hopefully the new description pages will make your decision easier.

The books that currently apply the new format are Amusement, Eleven Miles from Home, The Fountain of Truth, Gutter Child, Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy. During the month of August (and maybe September), I’ll be working on getting Cards in the Cloak, Shell Out, and The Fallen Footwear up to speed. Subscribe to the Draft2Digital email alerts to find out when they’re live.

And that’s all for now. Hope you like the changes!

You did notice, right?

Cover Image: Pixabay