Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Writing and Photography in the 21st Century

I have chosen two artistic occupations that have recently experienced similar technological advancements, leading to consumer/public indifference: Writing (as an Indie Author) and Photography. These different endeavors have both been clobbered by modern advancements. I embrace new technology, but recognize how it makes my artistic activities difficult.

Let's start with Writing. I am considered an Indie Author because I publish eBooks, and also have my own imprint and produce my own dead-tree books. Many articles, forum discussions and blog posts have expressed opinions on the Indie-produced products and authors. The technology that enabled this influx of tens of thousands of new authors (and even more titles) is not a fad (and in most cases, it's free!). Every month a new innovation is put on the market. In addition, the proliferation of social networking, especially blogs, encourage people that their words can be read by everyone (forever!). I became an Indie Author after decades of working in the traditional publishing marketplace (titles with HBJ, Westminster as well as regional publishers). That's where I started, and I admit, in 2002 I jumped on the electronic revolution as a faster way to get my books to an audience. But today it's easy for titles be lost in the increasing number of books by people publishing anything and everything with varying degrees of writing expertise.

The same is true with Photography. Early in this century, when digital cameras became a public consumer item, they fostered a plethora of shutterbugs. I've been shooting for more than four decades, and had my own darkroom for a while (an expensive, stinky condition). I'm pleased that today, taking pictures is no longer a costly activity of film purchase and development. Sharing with family and friends--and the world--is an easy upload. I switched to digital in 2003 when the top-end consumer digital had a whopping 3.2MP (wow!). I bought new cameras as the upgrades became available. Today, an actual stand-alone camera isn't even necessary. Almost all Internet-geared devices, from laptops to smart phone and tablets, have a camera built in, and social network sites encourage photo uploads. As with writing, professionals who developed their Art of Photography prior to the digital age--who were once considered having an elite talent--are now some of the billions who daily take pictures.

From a social development standpoint, I find all this fascinating. From an artist's point of view, it's troublesome. I'll be contemplating some of the ramifications in future posts.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Head Hopping is Aggravating to Read

There are times when I am absolutely bummed out by authors having too many "main" characters and switching point of view. They hop from one character's head to another. It has always seemed to be a quick fix way to tell a story. Rather than working out the literary strategies to relate a story from just one or two protagonists, the head hopping allows information to come forth without much stylistic creativity. Yet there are times…

When reading David Brin's Kiln People and Garcia-Roza's Southwesterly Wind I was struck by how appropriate it was to move in thought from character to character. I'll admit it took me a while to see the stylistic value in Garcia-Roza's book, but by the end, I knew it had to be written that way.

Both of those books were written by authors whom I consider skilled wordsmiths. I'm certain they thought out the complexities and made a conscious decision to employ this style.

In contrast, I think too many contemporary writers give viewpoints from many characters because they don't want to take the time to properly develop their story. They might consider this an "omniscient" viewpoint—where they can tell all, see all. But the omniscient style is much more distinctive, with the "narrator" having a distinctive voice and attitude. I like that style, and see very little of it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Catch-Up Reading Won't Work

Over at goodreads I had set my 2015 reading goal for sixty books. At the beginning of the year it didn't seem too far fetched; my previous years were in the mid fifties. Why not up it a bit?

However, I didn't factor in two art exhibits as well as regional shows, and also poor health that sapped my energy even to read. I've barely made it to halfway of my posted goal.

I'm done with shows and exhibits, and my health has improved. I'm suddenly reading again. Four books in the last week; bt it's too little too late. I'll have to give more thought to what I post for next year.

Right now I'm off to my public library's Overdrive system to get some new titles. I'd like to get at least two-thirds of my goal completed.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Winter Photo Project #1

It's winter (nearly). My house has become a place for indoor photo projects. I was inspired by the "shallow" challenge at GuruShots: narrow depth of field, highlighting a specific portion of the subject. Although I had images in my files that would fit, I decided to create some new ones, using a few tips I recently read at an online photo site.

I set up my portable light box on my work table (where I usually mat and frame images). That puts it at a good height to arrange the tripod, and electrical outlets are nearby for the accent lights. Although the kit came with a mini tripod, the work space isn't deep enough to use it; the full-size tripod is more than adequate and has less chance of vibration, since it's so heavy.

So far, several images are satisfactory; I scrapped about thirty or so. I especially like the garlic pod with the garlic press in the background. The monotone of it appeals to me. But at GuruShots, the votes have favored the pills and prescription container.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tweaks for Second Printing

As I prepare Blood and Bond for it's second printing, I keep making a few tweaks and changes. I have also caught a few glitches from the first printing I thought I had corrected in the eBook version. But no, a few still remained. How many times will I have to re-read this 105,000 word manuscript before it's really right?

The cover seems to be in good shape. After visiting several online bookstores and perusing the covers of mysteries, mystical, and contemporary genres, I think this will work.

Hmm. I can see that "A Novel of Restoration" doesn't show up too well in a small sized cover. Another tweak needed. (sigh)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Frugal Mac & Cheese

We finally have winter weather in Montana and I'm marginally snowbound. My driveway is under about 4-6 inches of snow, which wouldn't be so bad except to get to the road is a 6% uphill grade. My 4x4 truck has a dead battery. Oh, well.
Living on the North Hills is nice because we get sunshine when the city/valley is still in the murk of smoke haze. The snow is receding, even though the temps are barely in the 20s.

Nonetheless, I'm being frugal and making meals that take more preparation, yet don't deplete my food supply. Yesterday, dinner was pork-fried rice.
Today I had mac and cheese, but since milk isn't a commodity I buy, I made the dish with whole-milk yogurt. I had read several recipes online, and made changes to meet my taste.
Here's my recipe for those who are interested.
Yogurt Mac and Cheese (2 servings)
  • 4 oz. (about 1 cup) pasta; (I cook mine in a microwave pasta cooker to which I've added a tsp. of olive oil and 1/2 tsp. of salt)
  • 4 oz. (about 1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas (add to pasta during the last 2 minutes of pasta cooking)
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • While pasta is cooking, coat the shredded cheese with 1tbsp of cornstarch.
  • When pasta is cooked, drain--but reserve the pasta water for later use.
  • Melt/heat a pad of butter or a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan;
  • add the coated cheese. Stir.
  • Add reserved water from pasta as needed; since it is salted, adding salt to the finished dish probably won't be necessary.
  • Add pasta and peas when cheese has melted.
  • Stir and add reserve water until the mixture is hot and at the consistency you like. Garnish with fresh basil.

Friday, November 27, 2015

27 November Black Friday Art

For today only, Fine Art America (FAA) is offering Free Shipping for any product to anywhere in the world. Considering the shipping costs are nearly as much as the actual product, this is a pretty good deal.

The company has fourteen fulfillment centers in five different countries, and I, as a FAA artist, have often wondered if they couldn't do a bit better on their shipping costs. But today is the day when none of that matters. Yahoo! I hope many people take advantage of this, not just for my products (photos, photo art, digital painting, digital sculptures) but for any of the FAA artists. Perhaps the company will see the benefit of reduced shipping fees--or no shipping fees. So many other companies do this, I'd think it could work.

So go buy some of my art work at FAA! TODAY! FREE SHIPPING!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Discussion Group Guide A Good Idea?

I'm carefully preparing a new print version of Blood and Bond and debating on whether to call it 'A Novel' or 'A Novel of the West' or maybe 'A Novel of Redemption'. That last could be a grabber. This and the possible use of a Discussion Group Guide are currently my major concerns.
    The Guide
  • How would you categorize Blood and Bond? Is it a contemporary western? A book of spiritual discovery? A mystery?
  • Kae Cheatham uses a George Herbert quote at the start of the book: "…for things of this world depend on such a train of unseen chances that if it were in man’s hands to set the tables, still he would not be certain to win the game." How do you think this relates to the story?
  • The author has built intrigue into Blood and Bond. Were you able to predict certain things before they happened, or did the author keep you guessing?
  • How important is the setting to the story?
  • Are the male and female characters realistic? Which character could you relate to best and why? Talk about the secondary characters. Were they important to the story? Did any stand out for you?
  • Blood and Bond has an element of romance. Do you feel the love aspect enhanced or detracted from the story?
  • Kae uses many surreal and metaphysical events. Do you consider this American Indian spirituality? Did Kae effectively develop these elements? If so, how? If not, why not? Did you find those elements interesting or disturbing?
  • Has Eddie CloudRunner's character changed by the novel's end? If so, at what points in the book do we see him change? Do other characters evolve during the story? If so, how? If not, was that a detriment?
  • The novel is presented with three different points of view: Eddie CloudRunner, Beth Hardemann and Jess Stanton. Was there one perspective, one series of passages, that you enjoyed reading more than the others? Why?
  • The title of this book could suggest a gothic or horror story. Did what you read fit with the first impression? Would another title have been more compelling for you?
Anyone have any suggestions?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Illness Frustration

There's an element of illness that stays the same whether you've got a life threatening condition, a chronic debility or an aggravating run-of-the-mill cold; that element is the frustration of being incapacitated.

What I'm experiencing is neither life threatening, nor run-of-the-mill, but the frustration has been abundant as this condition (some sort of auto-immune thingy that doctors can't identify) has been with me in varying intensities for more that two years. I thought last month it was finally going away, only to have it show its rash in new areas of my body, including my face. I informed the doctor.

Antibiotics were prescribed—not the one I'd taken before that did little good, but a new Rx. Okay.

And it worked! Cleared off the facial problem, made dormant the itchy blotches that laced my back. Oh happy day!

Until my body reacted to the Rx and left me nearly incapacitated and wracked in pain. I had to cancel participation in the last big art show of the season, and was limited to huddling under covers (body temp was under 97.5 for 36 hours), only able to eat an occasional spoonful of yogurt and drink water. Struggling out to feed my horse morning and evening took all my energy. Was off line for two days (rare for me)!

That was last week. I'm a bit more mobile now, and was able to remove the art exhibit from D A Davidson at the required time. The large pieces are still in the back o the car, as lifting them is a chore. The Rx has affected my joints. My pharmacist added this drug to my list of allergens: penicillin, all steroids, and now tetracycline. My doctor didn't prescribe anything new, even though I didn't finish the run of that Rx. Wait and see. Maybe it worked. That's what I was hoping, too.

Yet yesterday evening, the itching and infection started again on my instep—a place where the whole mess first popped up two years ago.

Frustration. I have difficulty concentrating when the irritation is bad. Certain clothes cause reactions on my skin. I haven't been out to do any photography for ages; my writing is limited to copy-editing--nothing creative. And then there's the "homework": fencing that needs to be shored up before the winter snows get bad, replace the headlight in the car; dust, vacuum,...but with a last art show of the season looming in 10 days, I do the minimum, and I'm loathe to do anything that might exacerbate this condition and keep me from participating.

Tomorrow I'll feel better, I keep telling myself. and Remember what it was like last year at this time (5 times worse)? Don't be such a wuss!

But frustration remains.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sea World Prompt

KaeCsImages Orca image taken in the San Juan straits
The recent news about the changing status of orcas at San Diego's Sea World, reminded me of a poem I wrote a couple of decades ago. My subject is a dolphin, but it applies for orcas and all the creatures caught up in the human entertainment industry.

When I wrote this, I was also thinking of people who, intentionally or by accident, get caught in situations not to their liking. They are often hemmed in by perceived obligations or expectations of others. Trying to break free of those can be arduous, but the strong keep trying. They maintain an inner focus while fulfilling responsibilities; they don't give in to conformity and eventually can break free.

The sea creatures caught in the various amusement parks are considered some of the more intelligent of mammals. We can't know the full impact of their captivity. I hope the Orcas adjust well once they're away from the watery amphitheater.

© 1997 Kae Cheatham
All Rights Reserved
Breaking the Surface at Sea World 

Their eyes warned how unwise it would be
for her to go against the norm.
They were groupers in the channel bottom,
while she was a dolphin,
cutting keen lines in the current, careening
small pools, seeing blue above but restlessly sensing
the top of the tank. Smiles clung
to her movements—a wet suit of obligations—
and she fumbled along the planned ways,
eager for space. Rebounding
dreams were her guide.
When the ceiling moved, her first leaps
scalloped the water, tested the edge. She dove,
gathering strength while repulsed by obscurity. Big fish gaped
and gagged on her upward surge.

"To the sea!" she called.

Breaking the surface
she sailed in air,
arched in foreign light.

Far away—
past plastic seats and steel,
beyond unmoving waves of asphalt,
stone and glass—
morning tide crashed on saline beaches.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

No Mo NaNoWriMo

I'm out. The NaNoWriMo challenge has beat me. I really thought I had my intended project planned well, with a preliminary outline and several pages of notes. I was going to write the third book in the Gem of the Galaxy Series. Ha!

I whizzed through ten pages with ease, then stalled out. True, I had to get ready for the Downtown Helena Art Walk (Friday, 6 Nov), but I thought once I was through with that I'd jump in and knock out lots of words for this challenge. I tried...floundered...rethought the whole thing. It wasn't working.

When I'm writing articles or nonfiction for a specific cause or deadline, no problem; but certain incentives have to be in place for me to be productive with my fiction. First and foremost is a dynamic character. Not just the idea of one, but a character whose predicament and/or goals are firm in my mind. I might not have the final solution to whatever the conundrum, be it emotional or universal (often it's both), but I know what is driving this character. That is what my story centers on.

I'm reminded of a phrase by Writer's Digest columnist Nancy Kress in her book Characters, Emotions & Viewpoint: "Characters are the common denominator in fiction…without believable and interesting characters, you don't really have fiction at all…Character is the key."

Most of my fiction has started with a character and situation almost leaping to mind. True, I've had to jiggle things a bit, especially in the historical fiction where facts of the day play a role in the story development, but I have always had the essentials of my character. The character of Ellen Hargrove, in Kansas Dreamer had to be fiddled with quite a bit before I was satisfied. That novel is one where the story was strong, but the main character needed a lot of tweaking.

Unfortunately, this NaNoWriMo experience has not induced a strong character or story. I'm thinking the challenge just isn't my thing. The one year I completed my 50K words, I developed an OK story with passable characters—and I never finished it. Four years ago I didn't sign up for the challenge, but I used the November writing incentive to finish the languishing science fiction novel Dead Heroes. I worked daily to rewrite and amplify segments, and to smooth the manuscript into a  completed project. I published the finished story in winter 2012.

So this year, after a false start and abundant frustration, I am bowing out of NaNoWriMo and focusing on the several "nearly there" projects that will benefit from an intensity of effort. I credit the challenge for jump-starting my previous ambivalence to these on-the-shelf projects. I expect winter 2016 will see the results of my efforts.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dictionary Fun

I really like words: using them, knowing definitions and etymology. I should have been a lexicographer. Online dictionaries and thesauruses offer ways to spend time, when I should be doing other things, yet not feel like I'm wasting time. I'm learning something, after all!

The annual 2014's Top Ten Words are posted at the Merriam-Webster online site. I checked it out. In the explanation it's stated: "...The results, based on approximately 100 million lookups a month, shed light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation's interest in 2014." 

How can they know the words were in response to anything other than curiosity? I assume they have a program that registers the date and time a word is looked up (I wonder if it also collects IP addresses?), then someone (more likely some program) correlates that with national/world events.

M-W also has a Top Ten TREND words (different parameters in the above program, no doubt), and a Top Ten most frequently looked up words. It's pretty interesting, but I find the juggling of statistics, and the "newsworthiness" (the pages information is always picked up by the media) is a bit iffy. The word of the year for 2015 will be published in December. I wonder what that word will be. 

The entire site has myriad interesting pages and segments (although also filled with many monetizing ads and columns; I guess that's what keeps it free, so I shouldn't grumble). The "Words at Play" page has interesting vocabulary tidbits. Just the thing for not wasting time when I should be doing something else.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Nanowrimo Dilemnas

NaNoWriMo Logo
Names have been driving me nuts. Rather, the lack of names. I find it difficult to fashion a story without character names in place—especially the primary characters. I spent an hour or developing names. I haven't yet attributed any to characters. That's the next step. This certainly isn't adding to my daily NaNoWriMo word count!

A related concern to this is the number of characters that seem to be developing. Each of my already-published novels, both sci-fi and historical fiction, contain quite a few characters. The primary characters are rarely more than three, but secondary characters are numerous. I'm certain the more characters I fashion, the longer and more complex my story will become—and hence, the longer it could take to write. I won't give names to walk-ons and hopefully that will limit my thinking and writing to the primary story.

Photo Art Exhibit in an Evening

Downtown  Helena's Fall Art Walk is this Friday, 6 November, and I will have some digital sculptures and other photo art at SIGNS NOW. This Helena franchise of SIGNS NOW often prints my images on metal and other mediums. I pleased to be hosted by them.

My friend Louise Ogemahgeshig Fischer will also be there, with her impressive metal work. Large pieces with her American-Indian themes, that she cuts freehand from recycled metal with a plasma cutter.

The Art Walk runs from 5 - 9, and if you're in the area, here's a list of all the venues and artists

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NaNoWriMo It Never Goes as Planned

Into day three of NaNoWriMo, and already having my story twist and turn. My word count is okay, but I quickly realized that my prologue doesn't work. Keeping with the challenge admonishments, I haven't gone in to change it, merely made some notes. I wrote Chapter One with the planned changes in mind.

I've found the use of voice-recognition software quite helpful. I use a version of Dragon that I purchased a few years ago when they were running a holiday special. Dragon makes it easier to get my thoughts onto the page. Of course, a few problems pop up, especially since I'm writing a science fiction piece: names of characters are often comically rendered. After day-one of dictating, I spent nearly an hour training the voice activation to get the spelling I wanted. It goofs every now and then...but so do I.

Once that draft is in place, I go through it with a regular keyboard and catch the goofs (its and mine) and add needed embellishment to the descriptions and story. So far, so good.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Other Hat: Photography

I've been a part of the photo challenges at GuruShots for more than a year. I don't join every challenge, but it's fun to add images that I don't display in my online gallery, or even when I participate in art shows.
Some of these are images I've liked but never thought had a lot of potential in a wider market. Here are a few.
More reflections--a post in a puddle in the rain

A pumpkin cross-section
Bark gone, exposed pine

Reflections in office building windows
Not too many challenges have been for the abstract and digital art I create.
Arced tree-trunk

This shows a bit of my eclectic visions when I use my camera. My Gurushots gallery has even more.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Nearly Ready for NaNoWriMo

Only a day and a half before NaNoWriMo. I haven't felt ready until a few hours ago. I knew I wanted to write the next book in the Gem of the Galaxy series, but I had no title, and more critical for me--no characters. Not a one!

Then a sudden epiphany; the title came to me: Waifs of the Darkness. That might not stay the title, but it's more than I had when I got out of bed this morning. Also, a character came to me: Marrara.

I've started the other two books, Daughter of the Stone and Child of the Mist, with prologues (I know, lots of negatives with having prologues), and information in those weave through the rest of the novels. Marrara's scene will be critical to the story development.

Still a lot to develope, but this gives me a place to start, which is so critical in NaNoWriMo.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who Are Your Masters?

Finding your tribe can go beyond identifying with a contemporary community.

 A few years ago, when visiting Theresa Williams' blog, I read her post, "Finding Your Tribe." At one point she wrote, "Through our writing, we have a chance to connect with people who are like us, who have the same thoughts, the same longings." Although I know she is speaking of the writing community at large, I was reminded of a personal moment of clarity that altered the way I approached my writing.

Several decades ago I was on staff with a writers' conference and sat in on a workshop given by poet Robert Pinsky. I'd been struggling with my poetry--the only freelance writing I did at that time. When I'd write, it was like running underwater. I got nowhere and frustration predominated. I don't recall the exercises Pinski gave us, but I remember his continual insistence" Look to the Masters...Learn from the Masters." He didn't expect us to imitate them, but to understand how they expressed themselves and illuminated the human experience.

I struggled with this. For the most part, I found the works and poets he mentioned to be boring and dense. I wasn't at all moved by them. Yet these were the models he insisted who so well represented our culture. After the second class, it struck me: those aren't my Masters. I mentioned to a friend that all the Masters Pinsky talked about were men. She agreed. "We need to find women Masters." For me, I knew it had to be more than that.

I began following Pinsky's directive, but reading and learning from my Masters: women, non-white, people not related to the European Judeo-Christian background--those poets who wrote from philosophies I understood and believed. Once I did that, my poetry became stronger; I began getting published. More importantly, I enjoyed writing. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Positive Isolation

A friend recently confided that she was removing herself from the tech world. She has already cancelled her TV service, and radio is iffy. She does, however live quite close to a town with friends and social amenities.

There's no way I could give up my communication luxuries. Miss the futbol games from England, Italy and the U.S.? Huh uh. Not watch the PBS "Nature" series, or stimulating programs on Science or Ovation TV? Nope.

But I do have a positive type of isolation. My telephone rarely rings and my neighbors are not within hailing distance since we all have at least 20 acres. It's a wonderful writer's environment that seems so necessary for developing ideas. Yet it can also be a bane if lack of contact becomes too long--too intense.

Happily, I am not out of touch. E-mail allows me easy contact with my children, both if whom are more than 1200 miles away, and with friends, new and old, many of whom I've known for thirty years or more. I also belong to several online forums, that continue to stimulate as I read discussions about character development or what makes the prefect press kit. Congratulations go out to those who have recently published, and suggestions are given to those who are getting started. The forums also provides international connections, and I've exchanged writing and editing ideas with people from India, Germany, England, Canada as well as all over the U.S.

I used to think of myself as a recluse--maybe even gloated a bit that I could be content outside the parameters of daily social contact. And I did so--back before the Internet. But today I have the best of both worlds: my privacy and solitude, and selective contact with specialized interest groups. The best thing? It's all on my terms. I don't have to click on the Fine Art America discussions, I don't have to tweet or post a message at facebook, Google+, Goodreads, or here, I don't have to read an e-mail--until that's what I feel like doing.

This luxury of both environments has truly added to my productivity. And when I do go "out into the world" to give a presentation or sell at an art show, the circumstance feels fresh and stimulating, and it's not a shock to my private self.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why I Write

A few years ago I was invited by another blog to make a guest post on the subject of Why I Write. I knew this would be difficult in the space allotted, because I've been writing for most of my life and published for more than thirty years. Why I Write has changed a bit during this time. This article has been augmented since then...another show of change.

I started off writing because I had to. In school, from fifth grade on, a creative writing project was due every week or two, and each term, a non fiction paper had to be researched and written. But I quickly realized I enjoyed word work; the fiction stories I wrote were popular—my classmates always asked the teacher to read the next episode in the doofus series with cliff hangers I had dreamed up. I also found writing poetry was a way to vent emotions and make statements about things around me. In high school and college, with so much required writing, an occasional poem was all I could squeak out.

Once married and with kids, you'd think my writing urge would truly dwindle. But it burgeoned. During those years I wrote for "escapism," just as many people often pore over adventure/romance/fantasy books, watch soaps, or become cinema buffs. Most of what I wrote was poetry until, living 2,000 miles away from where I wanted to be, I began penning stories for my kids about the history and a part of the country they didn't know. At this time, I was also working for a community program for at-risk kids, and I realized how my renditions of history made them sit up and take interest. Why I Wrote changed. I felt I had something important to impart to readers—about adoption problems of Indian kids in Michigan (Life on a Cool Plastic Ice Floe), bussing worries of inner-city kids (The Best Way Out), pre-Civil War involvement of blacks in the West (On Promised Land and Hammer Come Down).

Now I feel like I'm back to the early days, where I'm writing for my own gratification and for the fun of working with words. I ponder my manuscripts and search out the way to make phrases, paragraphs, chapters work to the best benefit of the overall piece. Some of the fiction novels I have put up as eBook editions, had been previously published traditionally; I have also made them available in print. But I have new material, too: The three speculative fiction books I really had fun with, and I'm currently reworking a historical fiction piece. Historical fiction! Ha ha. Well, that shows I'm doing this for joy and fun, without concern for gargantuan sales.

I'm certain I'll never stop writing, and I imagine my reasons for being a writer will often be swayed by different motives. First and foremost, I like words, and I like using them and blending them to create a aural/visual tapestry that others can enjoy. Improving my ability to do this is an on-going goal, and makes it imperative that I keep writing!

Friday, October 23, 2015

How do you write: Male or Female?

I checked out a site mentioned on an Amazon forum, the Gender Genie [that site isn't available now, but Gender Guesser, from Hacker Factor, does the same thing]. You can insert a passage of text and the program will analyze it and determine if it was written by a man or a woman. Since I write stories from both gender perspectives and with male and female protagonists, I thought I'd give it a go.

Here's what I put up from The Adventures of Elizabeth Fortune.

Elizabeth rolled across the warped floorboards, scooted behind the bar and grabbed up the double-barreled shotgun the bartender had dropped when he was shot. A bullet careened off a nickel-plated beer spigot, sending six bystanders closer to the walls.
"She’s been playin' you for a fool all evening!" came a rough voice from ten feet away. "You can’t let her kind better you, Johnny."
Elizabeth gritted her teeth and checked the load on the gun. Both breeches were ready. She had learned firearms eleven years ago, at age eight. Her father taught her, and always insisted that guns were tools to provide food and to protect against varmints. Right then, the long-haired blond in striped denim pants, leather chaps and gray calico shirt was a varmint. She could taste blood on her lower lip, feel the warmth of it along her chin, and was again astounded that this drunk—that anyone!—had hit her. Even Grandfather Clark, with all his bitterness, had never struck her.
Two more shots whizzed from the single-action Colt. One smashed into the floor, the other cracked the four-foot mirror above Elizabeth’s head. Glass tinkled and fell, and a sliver spiked the back of her hand. As her blood welled, Elizabeth’s anger erupted to action. She came up with the shotgun leveled at the drunk and his mean-eyed friend. Five men bolted away from the nearby poker table.
"Get her, Johnny!" "Don’t. Please don’t!"
Elizabeth’s heart pounded. She had never ever aimed a firearm at a person. She eased the barrels to the right. The blond grinned and pointed his pistol at Elizabeth, arms outstretched, legs wide. He cocked the hammer. Elizabeth clenched her teeth and fired the shotgun. Boom!
The roar filled the big room and the man lurched and spun back as if jerked by a rope. His pistol thunked on the shot-pocked wall after skidding out of his hand. That hand swung crazily, too, two fingers shattered, white bone protruding; then blood soaked the arm of his shirt and flowed off the thumb like water from a red icicle. Elizabeth felt queasy as the assailant’s head lolled back. His stocky companion caught him as he fell.
The sound of the big gun echoed and blue smoke meandered out of the barrels. To Elizabeth, it suddenly weighed a ton. Four bystanders scrambled for the door while a bird-like woman in a beige linen-and-lace gown screamed at Elizabeth: "My God! What have you done!" She was Faye Wentworth, Elizabeth’s boss.
"She killed him!" the dark-haired thug declared.
Elizabeth shook her head, certain she hadn't. The blond moaned and leaned against the other man as he tried to sit up. The loud mouth bent to give comfort, and Elizabeth, her nerves tingling like drawn piano wire, hurried to the bartender who still lay motionless near the faro table. Blood trickled from his thinning black hair. She put her hand on his chest, grateful to feel the steady rise and fall of breathing through his leather vest and striped cotton shirt.
"Get away!” Lady Faye’s hazel eyes snapped with anger as she yelled at Elizabeth. Light brown curls flopped around her thin face when she stooped to the man....
...Three men crashed in from the street through the green-painted bat wings, delaying the tough’s revenge. “Hold it!” the tallest of the newcomers ordered. He held a sawed-off shotgun, butt to his shoulder, and wore a six-pointed star on the pocket of his dark shirt. "You’d think at seven p.m. a man could stop and get a meal, even if he is the county sheriff,” he said. “What the hell is going on?"
Genie said: male author.

From Blood and Bond.

Jess Stanton watched the blue van move slowly from the parking lot toward the black-topped access road. Concern had stopped him near the rodeo ticket booth after he left the van, but now the frown on his tanned face lessened. He adjusted the collar of his jacket and turned back toward the rodeo, hoping the woman would be all right. Ralph Fairchild had been talking to Jess at the concession stand. Now the man walked toward Jess in that side-to-side ingratiating way of his. What a sham, Jess thought, a placid put-on so he can butt into other people’s business.
“So! Did you get the little lady settled?” Ralph asked, a quick smile on this thin face.
"Pretty girl, wasn’t she? What was her problem, I wonder?” He pushed up his glasses.
“A migraine.” Jess started toward the grandstand. Ralph fell in step beside him.
“Decided to go into the rodeo, huh?”
Jess stopped at the arena fence and let his dark eyes scan the area, looking for familiar faces. “Lots of changes around,” Ralph was saying. “Mostly the land. The flood plain’s been altered something terrible. When the creek used to come up all over the lower valley, it left some good bottom land to be tilled. Yes sir. Now, with talk of a dam going--”
“There won’t be a dam,” Jess said. He disliked gossip, especially when it wasn’t based on fact. “It was turned down three weeks ago, Mr. Fairchild.”
“Oh! Oh, yes.” Ralph squinted at him. “You’re with the USDA…Or did you quit them? That why you’re home?”
Jess noted that Roy Clinderbass had a new dog in his act.
“Of course, we need a good government man, now. Check out what’s happening in West Valley. Some sort of blight, I figure.” Ralph laughed. “Old man Jerrens says it's a plague. He’s always predicting doom. It’s maybe bad grain is all. Brundy over at USDA hasn’t checked that, but if I was a USDA man I’d check out all the grain, and I’ll tell you they didn’t buy nothing bad from me! Yep. If I was with USDA…"
Jess ignored Ralph and chuckled at the six-foot spread of foam cowboy hat Big Ruthey Reed wore.
"Lookin’ for your mom?” Ralph asked.
Jess squared his strong shoulders and glanced at Ralph, perturbed. “No.” His way of answering questions made him appear aloof. “It’s his going off to all those schools,” some long-time valley residents had murmured, shaking their heads; or, “It’s the way his family cut him out of things after prison.” Jess knew this last was the reasoning of most people. Eleven months in the state pen had created an emotional abyss out of which he had been slow to climb. He had been weak and inexperienced, easy prey to inmates who, under the guise of friendship, sought to use his naiveté to their advantage. His main visitors, except for his mother and sister, were from the CloudRunner family, so he was confronted with a sudden awareness of bigotry that led to violence and threats of rape. But he refused to be intimidated, and had scars to prove it. He got tough, both mentally and physically, in order to survive the three years to his parole. Don’t get used, he had thought. Luckily he had been exonerated of all charges before one year had passed.
Genie said: female author

Hmm. Now I know my writing styles are different for different stories. I think that's good.
But what about this gender stuff?

2 comments in 2010:

D. Nathan Hilliard said...
I'm pretty much running into the same phenomenom. It's saying that my horror story "Death and White Satin" is written by a female...but my fantasy "Fate of the Coral Horn is written by a male. Since the first story has an all female cast, and the second has an all male cast...I'm wondering how much it's weighing the sex of the charactors involved.
Kae said...
The problem would be if Death in White Satin was sounding like a male writer. If it isn't then you're doing fine. I think it's important for the writing style to match the gender of the character.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reading Speed Bumps

I borrowed three books from the library, all of which had great promise, but I couldn't finish any of them. The writing was fine, in fact quite good: sense of place in all of them was distinctive and pulled me into the scenes; characters were well developed, but in one book, I became aggravated with the protagonist, disliking decision-making that moved the story line--hence, I didn't like the story. 

Another was billed as a mystery, and there were a couple of mysteries plotted in, but the major focus seemed to be the strong political overtones, with characters spouting their opinions and predictions. Often these were whimsically written and always gave insight into the governmental actions and reactions...BUT...all this politicking took place in a country I've never been to and was set 30 years in the past...AND...I wanted to read a mystery; this one didn't work. 

The third book had multiple points of view and almost no dialogue. It was like a treatise of events, and I just couldn't get into it. 

My evenings are spent reading for two to four hours before I go to bed. The past two nights I was struggling...trying to slog through these books..switching from one to another, hoping to be drawn in. (So glad these were from the library and I hadn't paid $ for them.) These are speed bumps to my reading, but to have three of them at the same time...well I was really bummed. I wondered if I was just distracted, tired, bored...something...that made these titles unappealing to me. 

I returned those to the library and borrowed more titles. Already I'm engrossed in the first one I opened. No speed bumps so far.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where it Started and Will It End?

In Print and eBook formats
On Promised Land is a story about the Blacks who lived with, fought with, and were moved West in the 1830s with the Seminoles of Florida. I have developed the extended family of Tru and Tall Deer Campos, caught in the turmoil, with hopes of portraying the determination and dangers of the times.

I first became interested in the history of Black Seminoles many years ago. I was traveling with my children to a Western Writers of America (WWA) convention. We were tent camping, and after a rainy, muddy night, we needed to do some laundry. I found a nice coin laundry in Wewoka, Oklahoma, the capitol for Western Seminoles. Near to the laundry was a museum, and of course, I had to go in.

It was orderly and informative, and I realized that the Blacks, free and slaved, who lived with the Seminoles had a fascinating history in Indian Territory. My interest was noted by the museum's curator. When I mentioned WWA and that I was a writer (I think one of my children sprung this tidbit of information), he became enthused, and encouraged me to create a story about the Black Seminoles. When we left to get our laundry, my tote bag contained several pamphlets and references.

But how to fashion this story? Up to that time, most of my published works were for YA readers; I attempted a story from that angle, but the more I read and studied, the more I wanted to write an adult novel for this subject. I collected books and information, and made several attempts at a manuscript.

A year or so later, I received a telephone call from a New York publishing house. (Now wasn't I wide-eyed and giddy!) The editor said she had gotten my name from a mutual WWA colleague ; he had recommended me for a project the house had in mind. They wanted a novel about Blacks in the West, to show the struggles, the fortitude, et cetera, and present information that, to a great degree, hadn't been given at that time. We talked at length, and I committed to sending a proposal, synopsis and fifty or so pages. I went immediately to information on Black Seminoles. It seemed the perfect subject for what this New York house had in mind.

Alas—I was so mistaken. I sent a professional proposal, synopsis, and the opening chapters, only to be told that my subject was too obscure. "No one's ever heard of this," the editor told me. I wanted to quip, "Isn't that the point?", but kept my professional demeanor and tried to fathom what she really wanted. I presented another idea about the free blacks who traveled the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. That didn't fly, either. The editor finally became more specific: "1870s. Ex-slaves settling on Western plains with their new freedom..." (Thinks me: Little House on the Prairie in black face).
I was done. My interests in western history pretty much end at 1870. I thanked her for considering my work. My writing was commended and my resume "would be kept on file." I never heard from them again.

But there I was with an outline, the research nearly complete, several chapters written about Blacks in Indian Territory during 1840-1865. I shopped my proposal to several other publishers, even had agent representation, but the story didn't fit into any publishing needs.

And here I am, still with a partial...a novella of the early years...On Promised Land. Will I finish this saga? The story of Tru and Tall Deer doesn't reach a moderate conclusion until 1865. I've written into the 1850s. Occasionally I look at the historical data and I'm overwhelmed. I like to write about people first, and set them into an historical landscape. The events of those years, particularly 1850 – 1862 are so volatile and convoluted, I cannot yet make it become background and not overshadow my characters.

At the end of On Promised Land, I have listed the history that follows where my novella ends. I have also added a selected bibliography.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Disgruntled Reader

I am so bummed. I chose this book because 1) it was a mystery 2) the overview promised something interesting.

It was told in first person, and first person stories have to be really special to hold my interest. This one started off as a cracker. The technique for utilizing  one POV was unique. That drew me in. Then the mystery didn't seem straightforward. That was a plus. Characters were really well drawn; language was very good.

Then, about 2/3rds through I started feeling glitches in the story line, and many segments seemed too long. Oh well, thought I, it's still reading pretty well...

Until just pages from the end, when the first person protagonist reveals that much of the story has been made up. I was getting fiction in fiction. Characters who had been portrayed so well weren't really part of the second story--they were the protagonist's imagination. I had been duped, and I could almost hear the author, "Ha,ha. The joke's on you." I'm still wondering what was there in this story I could believe? It's one of those things with first person...by just getting one viewpoint...you aren't seeing the whole picture. I thought this author had done so well giving the all-around.

So how do I rate this book? Very-well written, great language, interesting mystery (if I can believe the details of it, told only through this suddenly-unreliable first person). In Goodreads or at Amazon I click which star? 

I already know I won't write a formal review; I would be very critical. I keep wondering what I missed, but I'm not about to revisit this book to look for something extra. If it hadn't been on my eReader, I would have flung it into a wall, I felt so cheated.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I Wish This Book Were Electronic

I have an eReader, but that doesn't mean I don't still read old-style books. I recently went to my Public Library and brought home three new titles. I decided which one to start reading, and when I opened it I thought, 'Wow, I wish this were on the eReader.'

Two things really struck me: 
1) the traces of perfume wafting from the pages; 
2) the print is very, very small. 

I know at the library they wipe down the books when they're returned, but that doesn't reduce the smells from someone else's house, and it's especially bad if the previous reader were a smoker. Once, I actually sprayed a book with a fabric freshener in order to get rid of the awful smell.  In this book I started reading today, the font was nice, but it was small.  Similar to this little print. The book is 303 pages long, and if a more usual font for print books had been used, the book would probably be closer to 400 pages. So if I had this book on an eReader, there would have been no residual smells, and I could have enlarged the font to be more comfortable to read. As it is, I'm using a ruler to scroll down so I don't lose my place with this tiny print.  

Recent studies have been done about people's preferences of old-style books to electronic books. Most often, I just want to read, and I don't take the format into consideration. But this is one time I would've preferred an electronic version. 

As I leaf through the pages, the perfume smell is dissipating. I will squint at the small type and slide my ruler down the text, because in the first 10 pages I found this very interesting. I'm pretty sure I will finish this book, and if I don't it won't be because of the limitations of the physical book.

Linguistic Surprises

I really enjoy being surprised by language. When I'm reading along and take in a unique word that really fits, it makes me smile even as I continue with the story. After reading the unimaginative language in newspapers, magazines and most web sites, it's refreshing to find authors who haven't become lazy with their vocabulary. To assure that don't I succumb to the plethora of mundane word usage I read everyday, I often jot down words I like; in most cases they are words about which I had forgotten. Here's a list of recent finds:

lissome, weal, sintered, bucolic (it doesn't sound at all like its meaning), lachrymal, obfuscate, fugacious, hircine, glabrous

Many of these are best used in narration. Normal conversation doesn't often bring forth these words. In fact, a recent read of a library book had good friends in a casual setting and one character said, "It seems things have become profligate recently." My attention shifted from the story line to looking for a reason he would use this word--some reference to his stuffy language or a habit of showing off his erudition. Nothing. So why not use extravagant or lavish? Those words would have been better suited to casual Sunday morning dialogue.

Nonetheless, profligate made my list of interesting words, no matter that it wasn't presented in the best of manners. I doubt I'll use it in dialogue, unless I have some bombastic character I want to spotlight. But it's a good word. I've already scribed a few sentences with words from the list--giving them a stronger place in my word bank. I have to remember to use the words wisely and in the right way. I'm sure some readers don't like linguistic surprises, so I know I have to temper my vocabulary for the readership and not just use it to satisfy my own philological amusement.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Personal Challenge for November

NaNoWriMo logo
NaNoWriMo is coming up in fewer than three weeks. I have already signed up, and I'm in a quandary as to what I will do. It's not as if I haven't been writing. I have keyed in blog posts, and a few articles...But I haven't published a novel since 2012; that's why I signed in to this writer's challenge.

I participated in this exercise several years ago--and completed my 50,000 words. Unfortunately, what I wrote wasn't a complete manuscript, and I have yet to finished it.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo three years ago and didn't even get to 27K words. :-(

So this year, with three manuscripts unfinished, and two others in outline/brain-storming stage, what do I write?  The very-generous rules don't prohibit my using a work-in-progress, but I think I will start with brand new thoughts. That's what I did in the one year I completed the project.  I am aiming to do it again!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blustery Day On The North Hills

Taking pictures in the wind doesn't usually show the real force of nature that is going on. I tried a short video to capture the day. The wind was so loud, my voice-over was drowned even with my mouth near the little camera mike. If I intend to do more serious movie-making, I'll have to get a proper mike attachment.

Online weather sites had forecast high winds, with gusts up to 50mph. It calmed down as evening approached, and is now fairly calm.

But high winds are regular events where I am. Even when the valley and city are calm, I can experience steady winds of 20mph. The temp is 5 to10 degrees lower than the valley, too. When I go to town, I have to be careful not to overdress. Layers. That's the key.

With the calmer weather, I must get out to fix the snow fencing and fasten down the hay tarps. I'll put the heater in the stock tank, too, just in case we get a cold snap.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New Blog/Old Blog

Although this is a "new" blog, I am integrating older posts from another blog I had. Trying to get my online-self organized. Not always easy to do with so many pages and social media sites to coordinate.
Where else am I?
Come visit my main web page;
at Facebook for my photo talk;
my photo gallery;
on Twitter for a bit of everything;
and on Google+

Hope to hear from you!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Disposal Blues and Why I Like POD

Twenty-five years ago I contacted my publisher to have books sent to a conference I was headed for. An autograph party was planned, and I expected my title, only 13-months old, to make some sales. I couldn't get the books. Turns out the publisher had discontinued the title. This happened twice...same publisher. It was probably a breach of contract that they didn't contact me with an offer to buy copies at discount, or even to buy the printer plates. Each time, I was too upset and naive to pursue it.
I also didn't consider the reality of  what "discontinued" meant: A forklift truck hoisting a pallet of books with my name on them and trundling it to a large trash bin where the books are unceremoniously dumped in disarray...Ugh. But I'm thinking about it today as I discontinue the print copies of three titles: one from a small press, and two I had published myself (before Print-on-demand [POD] options) and had too many copies still in my house. All three titles sell okay as eBooks, but most of the trade copies only sell when I'm at art shows with my photography.

So today I wore my "publisher" hat and ripped the front covers off of these books and tossed them into trash bags. Hard to do...My babies! yes? But that's a silly thought, since they were not giving enjoyment to other people. That's why I wrote them.
I have kept a couple dozen of two titles to set out at the art shows (I have three coming up this fall). The third title, from the small press, wasn't that well produced and I didn't like the cover at all. Trade copies of that are history.
I'm a bit blue even though I know this is the practical way to proceed. Off to the dump tomorrow to get rid of these books, and I thank the world for POD. By utilizing the POD option I won't have to do this disposal task again!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Alarmist Response not Appreciated

Research is high on my list of fun things to do. I flit around the Internet, take notes, order books through IL at my library. On an Internet trip a few days ago I clicked into a site and, Bam!, Firefox immediately closed the page. By the time I blinked, my AntiVirus popped up saying it had blocked an intrusion, and then...A large popup from Microsoft declared (These aren't the exact words, but something close) "Your computer has been infected. All your files are compromised! Click here to get an immediate cleanup."

 ka-THUMP goes me ol' ticker, but I didn't click the Microsoft buttons. I ran a full scan with antivirus, and it found no unresolved issues. Yes, there had been attempts, but they were neatly taken care of with the software I had in place. That alarmist response from Microsoft, along with other frustrating things from that company, has me thinking again about changing my OS.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Other Muse

This past weekend, I set up my art and book display at the Big Sky Draft Horse Expo. Most of the vendors were in the lower area under the bleachers, myself included. I've been doing this show since 2010—always invigorating. Although the grassy settings of the summer shows were replaced with concrete and a ceiling, I didn't have to contend with the wind, which had occasions of briskness on both days.

Draft teams were in from several surrounding states as weell as Montana. While the audience watched the classes, the vendor area had few visitors, so I utilized the time to take pictures of the activities. I took LOTS of pictures--nearly 400 pictures! Taking lots of pictures is a luxury allowed with digital cameras. I used to go to horse shows and marshal the number of photos I took, being restricted by cost and how much film I had. Now--the limits are lifted. I really like the mules. My friend Kayo had a nearby space; she is also a photographer (and writer) and we alternated ins and outs and had the help of other friends to watch our spaces. I enjoy my photography work--my other muse. Getting all these images sorted offers a nice diversion from my writing. Switching between the two endeavors usually keeps me feeling invigorated. Hopefully that will translate to more industry and good results. Whatever. Always a fun weekend.