Thursday, December 27, 2012

And yet another record!

We've hit over 2000 visits this month, and that's an all-time high. Yippeee!

Just a reminder to use the tabs at the top to view the books available (click on any of the links to get the blurb and, in some instances, a sample of the first chapter). Ellora's Cave has updated their site, so be sure to update your links to those books.

Play safe!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday shopping?

If you're looking for a perfect gift for a reader in your life, don't forget nearly all my titles come in print and all ebook formats. Whether you're looking for historical fiction, slice of life short stories, erotic romance or something a tad bit more naughty, there are titles for everyone!

Note that Ellora's Cave has had a site upgrade, so former links to my books there no longer work. Try this one to get to the EC titles (there are two pages of titles there!). Of course, you can still find my erotic romance self-published works here.

Remember, there is no writing workshop this Tuesday. Workshops will resume in the new year with a whole new slate of tips and ideas. You can see the complete listing of all the workshops given over the past fifteen months here (I cleaned up the spacing some on the page and subdivided into "chapter" headings. Yes, at some point - probably after I retire, now - I will get my act together and put these all into a book!).

Play safe - and buy books!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking two weeks off

No special workshop today or next Tuesday. Every once in a while, you need to take time and enjoy the people in your life. Give them a hug if they'll let you, a kiss if you can get away with it. But laugh, relax, renew -- and we'll pick up the writing workshops again in the new year.

Till then,
Play safe!

PS. If you've found these workshops useful this year, please leave a tip in the jar. Tips encourage me to keep adding new material (and to revise the old).

Have a blessed two weeks!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On teaching and shooters

I am a teacher.

Most of you know that’s my day job.

I’ve been in the classroom as a teacher since 1979, taking only one year off after I got married to try other jobs.

But I came back to teaching. The reasons aren’t important anymore – haven’t been for a while. I see myself as a professional at getting kids excited about literature, helping them find their writer’s voice, and gettimg them to learn the skills they’ll need to express themselves no matter what life throws at them.

And then life throws a wicked curve ball.

Wicked. Evil. Deranged. There are a lot of adjectives being tossed about by people right now concerning the recent events in Connecticut. All true, all wrong. It’s horrible, it’s shocking, it’s inevitable.

It will be a while (if ever) before we understand the shooter’s motive. As the confusion over the timeline becomes clearer, as the victims are identified and the world grieves, one fact will become startlingly clear: this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

Is that cynical? Yes, I suppose so. No one place can accept all the blame people will want to assign it. Violent video games (before this happened I was preparing a post on the fact that I recently picked up Doom again and how I enjoyed it’s simple premise: shoot anything that moves. Think I’ll hold off on that for a while now...), loose gun control laws (which, admittedly, need to be tightened, but should not be the sole holder of blame), lack of mental health care (again, a component, not an end-run). All these and more will find themselves in defensive mode over the next few weeks.

Rightfully so. If you cannot defend your beliefs, you probably should change them. But to single out any one activity out and lay all the blame on that one doorstep is simplistic at best, harmful at worst. The issue is bigger than that.

You probably expect me to lay out the issue – but I can’t. Being in the classroom, I’ve seen the level of violence cycle from pacific to tsunami levels depending on the year. Even within the year there are cycles. Learning to recognize and head them off is part of our job as educators. We succeed a lot. You have no idea how many fights we diffuse, prevent or don’t even let get to that stage.

But sometimes there’s that one kid. Every teacher has had one, or two (or, if you’ve been at this as long as I have, several). It’s the kid in the class who makes you think, “That’s one to watch. That one is scary.” But then the kid grows up and go on to become a thoughtful, respectable, responsible member of the community. Sometimes still odd, but not violent. Believe me, it happens that way almost all the time.


I am a teacher.

Tomorrow I’ll be in the classroom teaching my students survival skills. We have fire drills twelve times a year by state law. No kid, teacher or staff member has died as a result of a fire in decades. The alarm goes off and everyone goes into automatic mode, leaving the building in an orderly fashion, often glad for the interruption. We’ve got fires down.

Bullets? Not so much. In the Oregon mall shooting, police are crediting store personnel and customers alike in knowing what to do and doing it in order to get out of harm’s way and keep the body count low.

In schools, we’re teaching that. Along with grammar, literary terms and parts of speech, what to do if a shooter comes into the building is part of my curriculum. We talk about it on the first day of school, tomorrow we’ll drill it. I’ll make the kids get out of their seats and get to the place in the room where they can’t be seen.

In a week I’ll do it again. And in a month.

Does it take time from my teaching? Yes. Does it piss me off that I have to teach such a thing? More than you can imagine. Will I do it? Over and over again until they don’t have to think. Hearing the word “lockdown” will trigger the same automatic response the fire alarm does. It’s how I’ll keep them alive to teach them another day.

I’m a firm believer that, if a person wants to kill, they will kill. Nothing will stop him/her. No amount of locked doors or security drills will keep out a determined person.

But we can teach survival skills that will lessen the opportunities for the shooter.

And that’s my lesson for Monday.


My heart grieves for the parents and first responders of Newtown, Connecticut. If you would like to help, please consider giving.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why do you write?

Time for a little reflection today.

Some people write because the stories well up inside and have to be told. They can't imagine NOT writing. Others write because it's expedient. People make money telling stories, why shouldn't they? Luigi Pirandello wrote because the characters pestered him until he told their stories.

Why do you write?

Is it to sell books? Or to tell stories? If you never sold a single book, would you write anyway? SHOULD you write anyway? If a writer writes a story and nobody reads it, does it exist?

Existential questions keep our minds active and our dreams alive. Spend some time truly thinking about your answers. Be a reflective writer and write out your thoughts.

Just why do you write, anyway?

Diana, the kettle-stirrer :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

grammar and editors

Warned you! The workshop on grammar is here :)

Presenting as clean a copy as you can to an editor makes a good impression on your level of professionalism. Using the correct forms of the verbs, properly distinguishing between "to", "two", and "too" is important as is figuring out where to put the commas. Spelling, especially in this day of spell-checking software, shouldn't even be an issue.

That said, I remember the first time, many years ago, when I read the first-draft manuscript of a book that had just sold to a major publisher. I was appalled at the mechanical errors. When I (gently) pointed one out, the author flipped her hand at me and said, "That's what editors are for."

Since the mss had sold, I had to believe she was right. 

Yet my spirit rebelled. How could someone who took writing seriously as a profession not care about the tools we use?

I've since spoken with many editors and, while there are some who are focused more on story and are willing to ignore bad mechanics, many of them were far more willing to roll their eyes and complain about them. In fact, more than one told me poor spelling and bad grammar were automatic rejects, in their opinion. That, if an author couldn't bother to take the time to learn how to purposefully use the language, then he/she as an editor didn't want to take the time to read the manuscript.

The key in there is "purposely use the language". Yes, characters exist that don't use proper English (Huckleberry Finn, anyone?). But Mark Twain made choices about his word usage. He didn't write out of ignorance.

Today, we're going to take a look at your choices.


Open your current work in progress or a finished work that isn't yet published.

First step is to use the editor that's in your wordprocessor program. I'm a fan of Microsoft Word 2003 (sidenote: I HATE the ribbons that have "improved" the newer versions. Microsoft dropped the ball on this one. They took something that wasn't broke and tried to fix it!).

Okay, off soapbox. I like Word 2003 because I can put all my tools on the top of the page and I can set the style editor to check my grammar and style as I go (Tools - Options - you can set most everything in the menu box that pops up). While I've always been conscious of my grammar, I'm not a style maven, so I'm grateful for the little green and red lines it puts under my words as I write. 

When I'm ready for a break from the creative side of writing, I go back and made conscious determinations about each of those lines. Remember, everything you write should be purposeful. If something doesn't fit with  what Word wants, it's because I want it that way.

Second step: Word doesn't catch everything. It won't look for comma splices or dangled modifiers. You need a different program for that.

I use AutoCrit, an online program that's VERY thorough. This is a site I pay for although the free tools are pretty good, especially if you're just starting out. I like the extra tools I get with the subscription (and the longer length to the manuscript checked). It will help me find not only my overused words but will helpfully point out cliches, frequently used phrases -- all sorts of style problems. 

AutoCrit is good because it makes no changes. It simply points out and I make the decisions about what stays and what goes. Purposeful writing!

Wordle is wonderful for those of us who are visually stimulated. It takes our most-often used words and makes a collage out of them, presenting our manuscript as an artwork. 

This can help a writer quickly see the overused words (when "back" is the largest word on the page, you know you have a problem!). You can also right-click on words to remove them from the image. Since character names are usually my largest words, I remove those so I can see what's left.

Once I have my Wordle, I find a black & white, easily read version (use the "random" button at the bottom to change the image) and print it out. It goes on my wall next to me and I use Word's "find" function to highlight and edit my overused words.

Grammar is important. It's one of your tools. Use Word. Use AutoCrit and Wordle and you'll find, after a while, you begin to learn grammar you never knew. 

Have fun and leave a tip in the jar :)
PS. Here's a guy who won't even look at hiring you if you have poor grammar. Good article!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

An homage to puttering

I have spent the whole day doing nothing.

Well, not nothing. I wrapped four Christmas presents before my family could find them, I cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the stovetop. Four loads of laundry got done and I played two full levels of Doom. Talked to my mom on the phone, made myself breakfast and lunch (and ate them) and read through the last four days of the local newspaper. Oh! And I washed up the pans from last night's dinner.

In other words, I puttered.

I love days like this. Awakening with lots of energy to get "stuff" done but without a clear agenda in mind. Moving from job to job as the mood takes me. Not having an agenda to accomplish or expectations about what needed to be done.

Perhaps that's what the world needs...fewer agendas and more puttering.

Play safe!
PS. Yes, it's the old, original Doom. I bought it on the Steam sale and have been having fun blowing away the bad guys. No plot, just shoot at anything that moves. What a great way to relieve the last vestiges of stress!