Category Archives: Geekery

Awkward…

I have to confess:  A couple of weeks ago I swore at a shoe saleslady because I thought we were just joking around.  Apparently I was wrong.  Awkwardness ensued.

So…

I went to the running shoe store and explained to the saleslady that I buy runners based only on comfort.  Style is irrelevant, as long as my feet are happy.

“Oh,” she said snarkily.  “It’s my lucky day.  You’re going to make me drag out every pair of shoes in the store, aren’t you?”

I was slightly taken aback, but I decided she must be joking.  After all, dragging out shoes is her job.  So I laughed and said, “Yep, probably.  Sorry about that.”

She brought out a couple of pairs and I tried them on.  She immediately pointed to one pair.  “Those are the ones.  I like the way they look on your feet.”

“They’re nice,” I agreed.  “But they don’t fit.  Do you have any others?”

She made another remark about how I was inconveniencing her, and I dutifully laughed.  She returned with a couple more pairs, and again pointed out the ones she liked; and again I explained that their appearance was irrelevant.

“Wait, I have the perfect shoes for you!”  She scurried off and returned with another box.  “Here!  These are beautiful!”

She triumphantly displayed the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen.  I mean, we’re talking about some unholy union between a giant marshmallow and neon bedroom slippers; and if you’re having difficulty visualizing that, you’re lucky.  The reality was retina-scarring.

I burst out laughing and exclaimed, “Those are hideous!”

“They’re beautiful,” she insisted.  “Just put them on.  You’ll love them.”

So I put them on, because if they had fit well I would’ve bought them no matter how ugly they were.  To my everlasting relief, they weren’t comfortable.

“Nope, sorry,” I said.

“But they look so lovely on your feet!  Just walk around in them a bit more.  They’re so beautiful!  These are absolutely the right shoes for you!”

And that’s where I screwed up.  I was sure she was joking.  Why else would she hard-sell the shoes when I’d already clearly said I hated them and they weren’t comfortable?

“Oh, stop with the bullshit!” I said with a grin.  “I’m up to my neck in it!”

A chilly silence ensued.

I did buy a pair of runners (not the hideous ones), but it was awkward.

I feel vaguely guilty.  One might argue that if she wasn’t joking, then she deserved a verbal slapdown; but that’s not how I roll.  If I had known she was serious, I would have politely deflected her like any other annoying salesperson.

This ‘social interaction’ stuff is ’way too complicated.  Maybe I’ll just order everything online from now on.  And if that limits my contact with other human beings to once or twice a year, well, what could possibly go wrong?

At least if I really offend somebody and have to run away, I’ve got a snazzy new pair of runners…

Book 15 update:  A productive writing week!  Chapter 7 ended with a bang, and Aydan and the gang are off and running (literally).

 

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A Day In The Life

People often ask me what it’s like to make a living as a writer.  I tell them I’m living the dream; but I also add that my dream could be their nightmare.  Here’s a peek into my writing life:

The snow is finally almost gone!

(And some outdoor photos, since one of the best parts of my writing life is being able to pop outside for a few minutes whenever I want!  Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Writing is my favourite thing, but I only get to do it about 16 to 20 hours per week.  The rest of the time I’m bookkeeping, maintaining my web page, marketing, keeping in touch with my readers through my blog and social media, and doing research on  publishing trends, legal and copyright precedents, book design, marketing, and new technologies.

The native ferns are already vibrant.

Weekdays, I usually work from 8 AM until noon, take half an hour for lunch, and work until about 4 PM.  Then I have a snack and hit the gym for a couple of hours (or skip the workout and stay at my desk, but I try to exercise at least 4 or 5 times a week).

I take an hour off for dinner and then I’m back in front of the computer from 7 to 9:30 PM.  I try to knock off at 9:30, but sometimes I work until 10 or 11 PM if I’m really in the flow.

I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year; but I sometimes only work half-days on Saturdays and Sundays.  (I know; I’m such a rebel!)  Even when I’m on ‘vacation’, I work an hour or two per day.

The heather and crocuses are in full bloom!

That may sound gruelling, but it’s flexible — I usually take Friday afternoons off to do some watercolour painting and grocery shopping, and I can make time for friends and family whenever I want.  I don’t watch TV, but if I’m not in the final 25% of writing or buried under a book release, I often read a novel in the evening.  (It’s market research — I love this career!)  I read fast, so I usually finish the book in three or four hours, and then it’s off to bed and on to the next day.

Such is my glamorous life.

The birth of a book is (maybe) a little more interesting: (I won’t include any graphic birth photos, I promise. 😉 )

The first minnow daffodil is blooming!

I decide which events will kick off the book and how I want the characters to develop, but I don’t do a lot of plotting in advance.  Instead I throw my characters into the action and see what they do for the first half of the book.

Every day I re-read and edit my earlier 4 or 5 chapters (by the end I’ll have read the whole manuscript at least 25 times) and then write my new content for the day.  By halfway through the book my characters have gotten themselves into a batch of impossible situations, and then I stop and spend a LOT of time deciding how they’ll get out.

The bees are hard at work already.

That’s when I write a plot outline, which is mostly a waste of time.  I make a “final” decision and write in that direction; and a few chapters later one of my hardheaded characters blows my plot out of the water.  I’ve never actually ended up following my outlines, but at least it gets my brain working.

By the 75% mark, all the plot threads start to come together.  Then I write obsessively while the rest of my schedule falls in tatters.

Tiny anemones, only a few inches tall.

After finally writing “The End” I re-read and edit the entire manuscript a few times to tune up pacing, stakes, and clarity before passing it on to my beta readers/editors.  (Nobody gets to see a single word of the manuscript before I’m completely finished — not even Hubby.)  In between final edits, I choose a title (I never know the title until I’ve written the whole book), do the cover design and photography, and write the cover blurb.

At last I announce a release date — hooray!  Then I assign ISBNs, register copyright, send the new book to Library and Archives Canada, convert the MS Word manuscript into epub, Kindle, and paperback formats,  and upload it to retailers.  When that’s done, I fix typos and update links in my previous books, and upload their new versions, too.

Crocuses, winter aconite, and heather.

After that I switch to my ‘marketing’ persona to develop ads, promotional listings, and social media announcements.

When the release furor dies down, I tackle any major work like updating my website, and finally take a breather for a few days.  But within a week or two (or less) the next book scratches at my mental doors, and next thing I know I’m writing again.  The administration is a slog, but the joy of writing makes it all worthwhile!

So… anybody wanna be a writer…?

I love crocuses!

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Geek-Speak

I’ve been a geek all my life.

I’d like to clarify that I’m referring to the current definition of ‘geek’, as in “a socially awkward oddball who thinks too much”; not “a sideshow performer who bites the head off live chickens” (which was what the word meant when I was young).

I have never bitten, and with any luck will never bite, the head off a live animal of any sort.  Chocolate animals?  Oh hell yes!  Cooked animals?  Maybe… though I’d likely use a knife or cleaver or some other suitable implement instead of my teeth…

Oops.

There I go again.  Over-thinking.  Over-clarifying.

Even as a child, I couldn’t grasp why people didn’t simply say what they meant.  When the teacher asked, “Does anyone know the answer?”, I never understood why she apparently stopped being able to see my wildly-waving hand after I’d answered the first few questions correctly.

When the other girls assured me, “Of course we’re still friends!” and then never spoke to me again, I just… didn’t get it.  There’s something to be said for being completely oblivious to social cues.  I thought I had lots of friends, and it was sheer coincidence that I never got invited to anything.

The rest of the world doesn’t understand that geeks take words at face value.  A classic geek joke goes like this:  A software engineer was found dead of starvation in his shower.  Preliminary investigation suggests that he was following the instructions on the shampoo bottle:  “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

This joke is funny and sad on two levels:  1) You have to be a bit of geek to get it; and 2) If you are a bit of a geek, there’s probably some small part of you that’s thinking, “You know, that makes perfect sense…”

Another diabolical geek trap is the phrase casually bandied about by normal human beings:  “Suggestions are welcome”.

Hint for the geeks in the audience:  No.  No, they’re not.  One suggestion is welcome.  Maybe two, tops.  If it’s your personal responsibility to resolve the issues, you might be allowed three suggestions.  Presenting twenty pages of closely-spaced bullet points will only end in annoyance for you when you realize that your listeners’ eyes glazed over after the first two points and their minds are now fully occupied by desperate escape plans.

Another hint for geeks:  If your listener is gripping a letter opener with whitening knuckles, it’s time for you to leave.  Lingering to make sure they grasped the subtle nuances of item 20.1.5.3(b) will only result in bloodshed; and that gets awkward for everybody.  For one thing, stab wounds hurt.  For another, if your listener decides to commit hara-kiri instead of attacking you, it’s very difficult to explain to the police.  (Don’t ask how I know these things.)

Anyway, after 50-odd… okay; very odd years, I honestly thought I had this stuff all figured out.  (Note:  All geeks think this.  They’re always wrong.)

But then I went for physiotherapy a few years ago.  The physiotherapist said, “Keep your legs straight and touch your toes.”  So I did.  It hurt like a bitch.  But she hadn’t said, “… and tell me if it hurts”, so I didn’t mention it.  I threw away a lot of money on physiotherapy before I grasped that little detail.

But I’ve got it all figured out now.  Really, I do…

* * *

P.S. Book 13, “Once Burned, Twice Spy” is now available for pre-order at all retailers (click here for links)… except, for some unknown reason, the Amazon international sites.  Amazon.com is up, but none of the other countries are showing the listing.  Grrr!  I’ve submitted a trouble ticket to Amazon and hope to have the problem resolved shortly.  To everyone who received the pre-order announcement and can’t buy from the Amazon of their choice:  I’m sorry about this.  I’ll send an updated announcement as soon as the pre-orders are up in all countries.

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Thanks, Technology… I Think…

Fortunately, it was Thanksgiving here in Canada this past weekend.  If I hadn’t been reminded of how thankful I am for all the good things in my life, I’d be seriously cranky.

The night before I left for another 1,600-mile road trip a couple of weeks ago, my computer’s USB ports died, leaving my mouse and keyboard to uselessly mourn their passing.

It’s kinda hard to use a computer when you have no input devices, but hell, no problem.  It’s not like I really needed to finish my last-minute work and pack and get a million other things done before I left.  Technology, you’re a real sonuvabitch sometimes.

But on the up side, I use my laptop to work remotely on my home computer when I’m travelling.  It was as if nothing was wrong the whole time I was away.  Thanks, technology.

When I got home, I spent the better part of a day trying to fix the ports.  No luck.  Sonuvabitch.

But I could still work through my laptop.  Thanks, technology.

But my laptop couldn’t connect to the program I need for my invoicing.  Sonuvabitch.

But that was okay.  Since my motherboard was toast anyway, I decided to replace my aging computer.  I could take my time building my new machine and make a graceful transition using my laptop in the mean time.  Thanks, technology.

Which was a great idea… until I woke up the very next morning to discover my old computer had committed seppuku in the night and was completely dead.  Not even a beep or a blinky light.  Where it got that sword, I’ll never know.  Sonuvabitch.

Computer seppuku. Try not to look at the bloody entrails.

But I had backups, and I had my new hardware.  I could start rebuilding right away.  And it was the long weekend, so I had three whole days free.  Thanks, technology.

Well, sorta free.  Except for the bazillion other things I’d hoped to accomplish after being away for a week.  Oh, and maybe have a day or two off?  Nah.  Not allowed.  Sonuvabitch.

Amazingly, all the Microsoft products installed beautifully and worked first try.  Thanks, technology.

Unfortunately, all the other hardware and applications seemed childishly determined to assert their independence.  One after the other, they:

  1. refused to install; then
  2. installed grudgingly after I spent hours pissing around finding solutions; after which they
  3. promptly broke the parts of the installation that had actually been working before, so I had to go back and fix them.  Again.

I spent three solid days glued to my desk, swearing until the windows melted.  Sonuvabitch.

But I’m thankful beyond words that this is the only thing in my life that’s complaint-worthy.  My saintly husband tolerated my savage mood with his usual graciousness and helped me buy and assemble my components.  I ate Thanksgiving dinners on two different days and didn’t have to cook for either of them.  I was warm and safe and well-fed and surrounded by family and friends.

Now I’m happy in my home office, doing work I (mostly) enjoy on a zippy new computer that’s (mostly) loaded.  It’s all good.

Thanks, but, um, technology…?  You’re still a sonuvabitch sometimes.

It looks like an angel when it’s sleeping…

P.S. I’m still reloading my RSS feeds and digging out from under my backlog, so I haven’t been by to visit my blogging buddies lately.  I’ve missed you – looking forward to visiting you again soon!

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PANIC!! …Nah.

It’s funny how the bloggers I follow seem to read each other’s minds.  This past week, there have been all kinds of posts about stress, panic, and overwhelm.  So what the hell, I’ll get in on it, too.

Panic is an interesting critter.  It starts out as, “Oh, crap, I forgot the candles for hubby’s birthday cake”, and instantly morphs into, “Oh-my-God-I’m-such-a-loser-my-husband-will-divorce-me-my-friends-will-hate-me-I’ll-end-up-dying-broken-and-alone-in-a-rat-infested-cardboard-box-under-a-bridge”.

Whoa, say what?  That’s good stuff.  If I could pour that into an engine, I could blow the doors off some top-fuel dragsters.  Zero to insanity in under a second.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not joking about real panic attacks*.  But our everyday “panic situations”?  Yeah, I’m joking about them.  They’re an overrated pastime.

This was inspired by the “Everybody PANIC!” post over at Visiting Reality. Thanks, Linda!

And since Charles Gulotta over at Mostly Bright Ideas reminded me he wants another flow chart (and he just did a stressed-out post, too)… voilà:  here’s another scary glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.

Charles, this one’s for you.

Is It Time To Panic Yet?

Panic Flow Chart

*If you’ve ever had a real panic attack, you know that on a 0 – 10 Funny Scale, panic attacks are about a -50.  A word of advice from someone who’s been there:  If you have panic attacks, find yourself a medical professional who specializes in cognitive therapy.  You’re not crazy, you’re not a coward, and you’re not weak.  Your brain just took a wrong turn down the logic-path and ended up in the “Oh-shit-I’m-about-to-be-eaten-by-something-big-with-sharp-teeth” parking lot.  Trouble is, it gets in the habit of taking that shortcut, and the longer you let it do that, the longer it takes to break the habit.  And yes, it is possible to stop having panic attacks, it just takes a while.  Go take care of it.  Soonest.  Not kidding.  Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now.

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Better Left Unanalyzed

I’ve just been reading a fascinating dialogue between Charles Gulotta at Mostly Bright Ideas (Better Left Unsaid, Part 1), and Priya at Partial View (Better Left Unsaid, Part 2).  Go and read both posts, along with all the comments.  It’s well worth it.  I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, here’s my two cents worth. 

I was intrigued by the fact that both Priya and Charles seem to use the words “attraction” and “appreciation” interchangeably.  I think there’s a fundamental difference between the two.  Appreciation is window-shopping.  It’s harmless, enjoyable, and free.  Attraction is walking into the store to buy.  Attraction can cost you big. 

It doesn’t bother me a bit if my husband appreciates, or is attracted to, another woman, celebrity or otherwise.  My husband and I are both geeks, so our minds work a little differently than the rest of the world. 

Geeks believe that all issues can be resolved using a flowchart.  Look below for my take on the whole “Better Left Unsaid” discussion, if you dare.

WARNING:  Viewer discretion is advised.  This flowchart reveals the horrifying inner workings of the geek mind.  May cause warping, distension, or catastrophic failure of normal brains. 

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Tip: Using Highlights For Editing

Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer.

Drop me a comment below or contact me if there’s something specific you want to know.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Using Highlights for Editing

When I’m writing in MS Word, I use highlights to mark places where my document needs work.  I use a blue highlight to indicate “unfinished”, a green highlight to indicate “needs research”, and a yellow highlight to indicate “needs to be fixed”.  That way, if I’m on a roll, I can just keep writing and come back to the problem area later.

In a 400-page document, it can get difficult to find all the highlighted areas.  That’s a lot of scrolling. 

Fortunately, you can search your document for highlights and jump to them automatically. 

How To Do It:  Highlighting

Step 1:  Find the Highlight button
It looks like this:  

In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Formatting toolbar.  If you don’t have that toolbar turned on, you can enable it by clicking on the View menu, choosing Toolbars, and then clicking Formatting; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, it’s on the Home tab.

Step 2:  Choose your colour
Click on the little arrowhead to the right of the button, and choose a colour from the dropdown box.

Step 3:  Highlight
Click and drag your mouse over the text to apply the highlight.

Step 4:  Stop highlighting
When you’re done, click on the Highlight button again to disable highlighting.

Note:  Removing highlights
To remove highlights, click and drag to select the highlighted text in your document, then click the arrowhead on the Highlight button and choose “No colour” from below the coloured boxes.

How To Do It:  Searching for Highlighting

Step 1:  Set up the search

In Word 2003 and earlier, click on the Edit menu and choose Find; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, click on the Find button on the Home tab.

If the dialog box shows a More button at the bottom, click on it to expand the dialog box.  If you see a Less button, you can skip this step (it means the dialog box is already expanded).

Click on the Format button at the bottom of the dialog box, and choose Highlight.  You’ll notice that your search box now includes the words “Format:  Highlight” right under the “Find What” box at the top.

Step 2:  Search for highlights

Make sure there’s no text in the “Find What” box (unless you want to search for a specific word or phrase that’s highlighted).  As long as the “Find What” box is blank, the search will find all highlighted text.

Click on the Find Next button.  Keep doing this until you find the highlighted section you’re looking for.

Step 3:  Remove Highlight from the search criteria**

In the search box, click on the Format button again, and select Highlight.  You’ll notice that now your search says “Format:  Not Highlight” under the “Find what” box.  Repeat the process, and the “Format:” line will disappear.

Type a word, any word, in the “Find what” box, and click the Find Next button once.  This saves the settings so that you won’t be searching for highlights the next time you use the search box.

Close the search box.

**This isn’t essential to the process, but it saves you some frustration the next time you want to look for words alone instead of highlighted words.

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Tip: Readability Statistics



Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer. 

Drop me a comment if there’s something specific you’re wondering about.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Get Readability Statistics For Your Document

Microsoft Word calculates readability statistics based on the length and complexity of the sentences and words you use in your document.  It doesn’t tell you anything about whether your writing is “good” or “bad”, but it can give you a hint if you’re making your readers work too hard.

The Counts are self-explanatory (and you can find them more easily than by using this method).  I’m assuming you know how to find your word count; if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.

The Averages are used in the formulas that calculate the three things that concern me most as a writer:  reading ease, grade level, and passive sentences.

The frequency of passive sentences is an interesting stat for fiction writers.  All the “how-to” books warn against passive voice, and this is a handy-dandy way to see at a glance if you’re overdoing it.

Reading Ease is based on a 100-point scale.  The higher the score, the easier the document is to read.

Grade Level is based on average reading levels in the U.S. school system.

The readability score at the right is for my flash fiction piece “Freedom” (about 1000 words).  It’s told from Dave the trucker’s point of view, and you’ll notice that sentences are short, readability is a whopping 93.5, and it’s written at a Grade 1.7 level.  Dave is not a complicated guy.

Freedom, Too”, the companion piece told from Beth’s point of view, comes in at Grade 4.6. 

Another day, another 1000 words.  Just for contrast, here’s the score for a technical piece that one of my clients requested, describing the ramifications of the Privacy Act here in Alberta.  Trust me, you don’t want to have to wade through this puppy. 

(Disclaimer here:  As a technical writer, I usually write as simply as possible, but this one was full of polysyllabic legalese.  Kinda like those last two words.)

Conventional wisdom states that for most writing, you should aim for minimum readability of 60 to 70, at a Grade 7 to 8 level.  And yes, that includes non-fiction writers.  Despite the complexity of his concepts, Albert Einstein’s papers still clocked in at about a Grade 8 reading level.

How To Do It
Here’s how to get these little gems of wisdom in Microsoft Word (sorry, Mac users, Apple doesn’t consider this a priority.  Readability stats don’t exist in iWork at the moment.)

First, you have to set Word to show the readability stats (this is a one-time thing).

Step 1:
In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Tools menu and choose Options; or 
In Word 2007, click on the round Office Button in the top left corner, and choose Word Options (lower right corner of box.); or
In Word 2010, click on the File tab and choose Options.

Step 2:
Click Proofing (this will be a tab in 2003 and earlier, or a menu selection in the left pane for 2007 and 2010).

Step 3:
Select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox.

Step 4:
Select the “Show readability statistics” checkbox.

After you have this set up, get your readability statistics by running your spell-checker through the entire document.  (I’m assuming everybody knows how to do this, if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.)

Unfortunately, you do have to spell/grammar check the entire document before you get the stats.  When the check is complete, the readability window pops up automatically.

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