This is How Much I Love Family…

I lead a small existence. I have home, immediate family, and a few friends I connect with on the regular. It’s what I’m used to and what I most enjoy. Heck, I fill the bulk of my days talking to voices in my head. You can’t get much smaller than living inside your head!

Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

We went on vacation about a month ago. We drove to Quebec, Canada, which, depending upon where you live, is either a big deal or a little deal. For me, it was a big deal, having to drive half-way across the country (from south to north, so maybe not such a big deal as I make it sound, but yeah. Fiction. It’s what I do.)

Image by JoeBreuer from Pixabay

But for the first time in my life, I had a panic attack. Okay, I’m not sure it was a full-blown panic attack, so I don’t want to minimize the trauma suffered by people who have full-on panic attacks. But if anything is going to induce a panic attack, I would say the traffic around New York/New Jersey along the turnpike, is probably up there with panic attack-inducing events.

Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

I’m a pretty cautious person. I drive the speed limit or a mile or two under… unless it’s raining, and then I’m 5-10 mph under the speed limit. (Yes, I am that old woman.) I’m comfortable doing that. I drive in heavy traffic if I must. But since that event driving through NY/NJ, I’ve been a nut job. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more now, having experienced it once. I sit in the passenger seat, clenching the door handle, sucking air through my teeth when someone cuts in front of us in what I would deem an unsafe maneuver, and I have even said the choice word or two. (Okay, for both of my kids, their first swear words came out while in heavy traffic. One was in her little car seat. She asked me if, indeed, that car that had just cut dangerously close in front of me was an “ass-ho’”. The other child, while playing with MatchBox cars with his father, looked up at him angrily and said, “Daddy, you bein’ a ‘ass-ho’.” Note: don’t cut my kids off in traffic. They’re adults now and have a richer vocabulary and they’re not afraid to use it.)

Okay, so I’m a nut job who has panic attacks in heavy traffic and I was a terrible parent of toddlers.

All this just to say, we just drove through the D.C. Metro area on our way to Ocean City Maryland, the busiest, touristy, peoplest place on the east coast, and that is why I’m blogging from a little Microtel, in the dark, recovering from yesterday’s trauma. Not sure it’s worth it for a three day weekend away, but the company that awaits us in Ocean City is worth it. Proof that I’d cross hell and back for you. See ya soon!

I Live a Cozy Mystery

No, no one has lost a life or limb by unnatural means. Well, okay, occasionally, every town has a “stranger than fiction” occurrence. That’s the fodder for writing, but mostly, I think of myself as living a cozy mystery, because of the setting.

I live in a strange little community where the make up of neighbors runs the gamut, from what some would call “filthy rich” to “church mouse” socio-economic status. There are the salt-of-the-earth characters, the gossips, the high-rollers, the social climbers, the mean girls, the church-goers, a wiccan or two, diversity in race, gender, orientation…

In the same neighborhood, there is an old mill for atmosphere, pastures of horses, cows, sheep, quaint and elegant churches, mountains, a country club behind gates, vineyards and a cidery…

Millhouse in the woods…

I can always drive just a few miles for inspiration… or look out my own window. Heck, sometimes, I don’t even have to look outside the window very far, like the time my son found a buried treasure in the form of those little porcelain animals that used to come in boxes of tea, a miniature two-inch soda bottle… filled with soda! Remnants of a dog kennel behind an old shed where it was purported someone died, a death in our own house that occurred before our habitation, an old moonshine still….

Last weekend, I was inspired by the environs on the Mattaponi River, so much so, I’ll be heading back this weekend. There is a main street community, multiple churches within the township, water, wildlife, and in my next cozy series, there’s even a made up building or two, inspired by long-gone historical features.

The Terminal Hotel. (Grey’s Hotel, in my books.)

I hope you will join me for the introduction of this new series and “family” of outcasts who make friends and enemies by shining light on murder and mischief. I keep pushing back the release date, but let’s say, before the end of the year.

In the meantime, here’s one of those made-up buildings that figures prominently in the first book in the series.

How can a cozy be based on both fact and fiction? Well, here’s a long-form blurb from the first book with explanations in parentheses: “Rocky Smith loves his hometown of Poropotank. (Poh-rope-oh-tank – it means muddy river in a native dialect. The town does not actually exist, but it is based on the peninsular town of West Point, VA.) So much so, he finds himself still lurking around after his death. Searching for his raison d’etre in this limbo, he takes up residence in the condemned Gray’s Hotel. (Again, it no longer exists in the real town. That’s the beauty of fiction.) From his perch in the attic of the condemned building, Rocky can easily see the comings and goings of the town’s characters, but slowly, as clues are exposed by the dear ladies with whom he shared his life, Rocky begins to remember how he died… and at whose hands.”

Or something to that effect. I hate writing blurbs. Love writing stories. I never know how much to give up, how much to hold back. I’m like that with gift-giving too. I’m a terrible secret keeper. In my tradition of reading, writing, and making art, I hope you will come back as the release date approaches. I’ll be launching in slow dribbles and drabs, the animated video of the book trailer in serial form. Woo hoo!

Hosting a Writers’ Retreat

I’ve been on a few writers’ retreats over the years. My favorite though, is the one in my own backyard, er, Mom’s backyard, er, Mom’s vacation home backyard. This weekend, I am joined by friends. Not long. Just a three day weekend, but there is something to be said for sun, the sand, good company, any food that I didn’t have to prepare, and the pressure of hearing those keys a clickety-clackin’ in the next room, to get the creative juices flowing.

No, not those keys. Those keys barely budge.

Ever thought of hosting your own Writers’ Retreat? It doesn’t take much, but here’s a list of a few things to consider.

Venue.

I am lucky enough to have the occasional use of my mother’s home away from home, a very motherly house on the Mattaponi River. She was kind enough to let me come here with a couple of writer friends. We have kayaks and will put them in the water later… provided our balmy 93 degree fahrenheit temperatures take a dip later in the day/early tomorrow morning.  (Somewhere in there, I’ll squeeze in some grass mowing.)

Temp dropped for 86 deg. for kayaking. Currently, 77 deg. F.

If you don’t have access to a cool venue, you might consider an Airbnb, or other venue suited to a very quiet house party. In the past, I’ve attended retreats at Winter Green Ski Resort, The Porches, a lovely remote, rural setting in Nelson County, Virginia, the guest house at a lovely estate just outside of Culpeper, VA, and a few that took place in conference centers. Consider something with few distractions, a nearby grocery store, and an evening amenity or two.

wifi and a grocery store three miles away.

Food.

On the topic of food, you may want to confer with your fellow retreaters on this. On a previous retreat weekend, we broke up meal duties by the number of people in attendance, each of us preparing a meal and snacks – three meals over the course of two full days, six writers. It was a hoot and surprise at every meal. It’s tough though if there are special dietary restrictions or likes/dislikes. This weekend, we’ve opted to just catch-as-catch-can. Everyone is on their own for food prep, but we may decide to go out for a meal, or we can always shuffle on over to the grocery store. (I am, of course, the least prepared among us, so l will hit the grocery store before dinner.)

Transportation.

Is your venue accessible to everyone in your party? Our little troop is small enough, we could pile into the one car (electric) so it has also been very little cost to anyone. Okay, it’s no cost to anyone traveling with and literally pennies to charge at the outside plug now that we’re here.

Costs.

That’s always a consideration. Well, it is for me. This weekend it is not, but at those past retreats, we have had to figure out the rate per person (if we were renting a venue) and split it accordingly. There is typically one person in charge of collecting all that dough and reserving the place. The cost is a factor for many, so they should know that figure going into the retreat.

Quiet Time.

In the past, with larger crowds, we have established quiet times during the day. Those are the hours that everyone agrees will be for the express use of writing or another quiet endeavor. Then there are often pre-determined gathering times. In past retreats, we had a time in the evening when we got together to discuss our WIP. (We arranged to have time slots, so no one person monopolizes the feedback time.) Maybe your writing time is in the evenings and mornings are set aside for a leisurely breakfast together. S’all good. It can be a time for critique or a fun time for a game or two. In our case this weekend, one of my friends and I will head out on the water and scope out the wildlife in the marsh. There are curious tracks on the sand that I believe to belong to a family of fisher cat living in the cypress tree on the beach. I’ve yet to see it or catch it on camera. They are very elusive. Maybe we’ll have better luck checking out the marsh.

Check-out.

Best if everyone is on the same page with regard to check-out times, especially if you may incur financial penalties for late check-out. Depending upon your familiarity with your group, you may or may not want a contract informing everyone of “da rules”, check-out times, check-in times, the structure of the day regarding quiet and not quiet times, etc. I’ve participated in gatherings both ways – loosey goosey and contractual. (We’re all adults, used to working with one another, so no contracts this weekend.)

Most of all, enjoy. Yeah, yeah, it’s work, but all work? Well, to work without distraction you might just as well stay home and shut the office door. Have fun!

Findin’ My Peeps at Comic Con

I’ve been remiss in my blog posts for the past two weeks, but I was doing research, i.e., on vacation, finding my peeps.

Montreal Comic Con 2022.

This year took me all the way to Montreal, Canada for the Montreal Comic Con, 2022! What a hoot!

Jedi and Queen, filtered to protect the innocent… and because my camera is awful.

I was there with our in-house Comic-Con talent, UNSOCIALIZED BIRDMAN.

Rare Unsocialized Birdman sighting!

If you’ve never been to a Comic Con before, you might wonder what goes on at such a place. Basically, it’s a venue to meet and greet people of similar ilk, people who have a shared admiration for any of the following: anime, comics/graphic novels, novels, superheroes, sci-fi fantasy, new gamer tech, Cosplay, board games… People whom, if you asked, “what sort of bender is Aang?” would say, “air bender” without hesitation… from behind a rubber face mask.

(left to right) Katara, Aang, and Toph.

Different comic cons specialize in different stuff. There are Sci-fi specific cons (short for conventions), boardgame-specific cons, anime cons, graphic novel cons, mystery cons, but the big cons try to showcase actors from attendees’ favorite shows.

A member of the rebel forces chats up a fairy selling swag.

Characters from the Harry Potter series, Bonnie Wright (Jenny Weasley) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) were at the Montreal Comic Con. You typically have to pay extra to snap their photos. I did not, and having arrived late, did not catch a glimpse, although I did see Bruce Boxleitner (Tron, Scarecrow and Mrs. King) across a crowded room of Orks, fairies, and furries. No matter. I had a wonderful time admiring the creativity of other attendees who are very accommodating in having their own photos snapped.

Some furries… some taking a break from being furries.

It was weird. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but I think… yeah, I’m pretty sure if I had to choose who I’d want at my side during the apocalypse, I think I’d take a room full of people in odd costumes who believe in the Prime Directive, who have taken to heart a code of honor, who believe in defending the underdog. I think I found my peeps at Comic Con.

A Sims Family at Comic Con!
Captain British-America? Not sure, but she’s bad-ass.

Writer’s Block? Ask the “Write” Questions

There are a lot of posts on strategies to move around “Writer’s Block”. Some even suggest it’s not a thing.

Writer’s Block

Well, I’m here to tell you, it is a thing, but I’ve come up with a list of strategies you may want to try to move past the block.

  1. Stop. Yep. I said that. The smart money says, keep writing. Just choke it down, show up every day, and write even if you don’t feel like it…but I would like to give another suggestion – that you stop writing. Not forever, but take a short break. (Really short.) I’ve tried the “choke it down” suggestion, and usually, what I have on the other side is a lot of garbage words and I’m no closer to the solution. But when I walk away from the WIP (work-in-progress) I give my brain space to be creative. Writing, more of the same drek expecting a different outcome? Well, you know what they say about that. Writing a lot of what I would consider garbage rarely gets me back to what I want – quality writing. Gardening, walking, drawing… that’s usually my ticket home.
  2. Ask the right questions. While you’re on that break, you’re not really leaving off on the writing. (#1 suggestion was a trick.) I usually take a break by doing something completely different, but while I’m doing it, I’m still processing the writing… and I’m asking some questions of myself and my characters. Those questions are usually these: Who are your protagonists/antagonists? (descriptions) What do they want (internal and external goals) Why do they want it? (motivation) Why can’t they get it? (obstacles) Thank you, Deb Dixon.
  3. Check your motivation. Nine times out of ten, the thing that’s causing the block for me is failure to identify either the protagonist or antagonists motivation… or my own motivation! So I ask myself, a) What is their motivation. (see suggestion #2) or What is your motivation? Did you forget your brand? Are you outside your genre? Are you writing for the wrong reasons, thus becoming sloppy in your work or your work habits? Am I writing for a pay check or because I love it? Not loving it? Why not? Pay Check? Is that an empirical goal over which I have control? Nope. I can control producing quality words, I can write quantity over quality, I can enter contests, I can query people. I can’t control their answers, but I can be a receptive listener to their advice and learn from it to write better tomorrow.
  4. Read someone else’s words.  Often times, if I pick up another book, same genre, same sub-genre, that which is missing it hits me like a ton of bricks. For example, recently, I’ve been finishing up a mystery. Something was nagging me, but I couldn’t place it. Finally, the words just dried up, because I knew what I was writing was not what I wanted to write, (i.e., see #3, motivation). Why? (#2 – ask the right questions) then I realized, I loved the book I was reading, because it was funny. Oh yeah. My mystery was becoming way too heavy, too dark. My character’s motivation was dark. He needed some levity. I found the levity in his situation, and then the words flowed for the rest of the day.
  5. Watch something. Like pausing to read something by someone else, the same can be true of watching something in the same sub-genre. Take notes. Can you identify each characters goal, motivation, and conflict – external and internal? No? That’s a problem. Do some research until you understand GMC backward and forward. Or maybe it’s your tone that’s off. What is it you love about the movie that your words lack?
  6. Meditate. This is different from reading or watching a movie. Meditation is living in the moment, turning your attention within, connecting to the whatever on a larger scale. When it’s time, you may find a new perspective when you return to your desk.
  7. Change location. Did you know we learn differently based on our place in the world? I’m not advocating remote viewing or astral jumping. I mean, just shifting your body position sometimes has the power to shift your perspective in other areas of your life. For example, the experience of reading is vastly different if you read a book, turning pages, scroll on a tablet, or listen to the audio of a book. Learning your multiplication tables by repeating them over and over on a piece of paper is different than standing in front of a dry erase board, or in a Montessori classroom where you memorize them by counting different colored beads. I know a bevy of writers who work at standing desktops. Some take their laptops outside for a change of pace. For me, I change my location by cleaning. Yep. I keep a can of furniture polish on my desk. When the mind gets cluttered, I break out the dust cloth and clear the clutter – on my desk and in my brain.
My very messy, cluttered desk…
My slightly more organized desk… to match my brain (I wish)…

Okay, it might be argued that that’s what I’ve been doing today. There’s something wrong with the “first draft” of the WIP. And yes, I think it’s my antagonist’s motivation. So what did I do today (besides writing my Friday Blog post?) I picked up a pen and paper and began work on what I hope will be a stop-action animation book trailer for this series. Here’s a glimpse of some of the opening artwork.

Yes, it is absolutely haunted…
The Terminal Hotel, West Point, VA., Lost in a fire in 1926.

Basically, it’s also how I end most of my blog posts, by sending you on your way with a hope that you…

Make some art! Read a book!

Sofie

Electric: It’s not the future. It’s the Present!

(Affiliate links follow, which basically means, if you click on them, I may be compensated – at no additional cost to you – if clicking turns to purchasing, so without further delay…)

Okay, at the risk of sounding like a smug so-and-so, the times, they are a changing, and it’s time I proselytize to all my friends, family, strangers, because friends don’t let friends drive ICE (Internal Combustion Engines).

2015 Fiat 500 e

Trust me, I’ve heard your arguments before, so let me recap:

  1. “It’s no cheaper to drive electric.” Not true. Electric is CHEAP!!! I keep reading articles that talk about the expense of driving electric. Of course, there is the outlay for a car. I’m not insensitive to the idea that not everyone can go out and buy a brand-new car! I get it. I hadn’t purchased a new car since 1996, but I promised myself, the next “new” car I purchased was going to be electric, or I wouldn’t buy a car. It will be several years before you begin to see a nice stock of used electric cars. Our first electric car was a used 2015 Fiat 500 e, purchased in 2018 for $10K. The second, was a new 2019 Kia Niro, purchased toward the end of 2020 three states away. It was around $25K after tax rebates. We sold our last internal combustion engine car for $5k and plunked it toward the cost of the Niro. It didn’t hurt that we were also mid-pandemic, so cars were not moving well.
  2. “It costs as much to ‘pump up’ an electric car as a gas powered one.” Er, nope. Not even close. I just watched my daughter plunk down $80 at the pump to fill up her hybrid after one week of commuter driving emptied her tank. We just made a round-trip from Virginia to Pennsylvania for about $25. That was the cost to charge, twice a day, at high-speed chargers. The rest of the time, we charge at home for pennies. PENNIES!!! We figured we’ve added about $25/month to our electric bill to charge both cars. At least one of us puts regular commuter miles on our car. Mine, well, it used to pull a lot of hours just sitting in the driveway, but since, we’ve loaned it to our daughter. She uses it for her 40 mile round trip daily commute which she now charges on a 110 outlet at her home. Those same articles with cautionary tales about the price of charging vs. pumping, (and there are multiple articles – some I can trace to their biased source, so I’m not going to repeat that which simply is not true) talk about the cost of electricity, figuring in the cost of driving to a charging station across town and paying top dollar. Unless you live in an apartment and cannot install a second-tier charger at home, (which cost us about $300 to install) then okay, you may have to drive to a charger. Our town still offers multiple free second-tier chargers. That could be a pain until apartment complexes begin offering that amenity. The first year I owned the Fiat, I ran the charging cord across the deck to the outdoor 110 plugs. It worked fine. I’d get a full charge over night. Later, I purchased a 230 cord and ran it through the window to an old AC plug, and that worked GREAT, charging in less than half the time. I live just 8 miles from the nearest city. I can get all my running around town on, usually, a half charge. Just like any other vehicle, they’re not all made the same. Some hold more charge and some dispense it at a faster rate. The Fiat eats up charge with climate control engaged. The Niro, not so much.
  3. “But aren’t you afraid of getting stranded somewhere?” No. We have apps on our phones to help us find fast-speed chargers along our route. This will be the way of it until charging stations become ubiquitous. My Fiat has a very short range of only about 80 miles. I can drive to Richmond, 60 miles away, but I’ll have to charge at a second-tier charger for about 90 minutes, (and yes, I’ve found the free chargers for that too.) In the Niro, a fast charge takes about 30-45 minutes and is good for about 280 miles – that’s halfway between central Virginia and central Pennsylvania. Last year, we took the electric car to Maine from Virginia, and this year, we plan to drive to Canada. You might think that’s a lot of time to sit at a charger – two forty-five-minute sessions per day, but consider, we’re old and decrepit. I have to stop for a potty break every 2-3 hours. So that’s just about my speed.
  4. “Well, you haven’t figured in the cost of oil changes.” That’s because electric cars do not require oil changes, and the last time I took my son-in-law’s car in for an oil change, they wanted $65 for “the cheap stuff”!!! What the whoo-ha!?
  5. “But electric cars are too slow.” Again, nope. Electric cars are seriously FAAAAST. In the case of my little Fiat 500e, that thing will actually go faster – top speed and pick-up – than its little lightweight body can safely handle. There was a bit of a learning curve when I first got the Fiat, because I kept squealing out. Not my intention. I had to replace all four tires after the first year of owning it, but now, when I drive it like the respectable old fuddy-duddy that I am, it’s smooth as butter. Still, if some jacked-up pick-up or some little sporty thing with tiny tires and a loud muffler flashes their stuff at a stop light, I’m not above a “gentle”, but safe, peel out that leaves them in the dust. As my grandaddy would have said, “that car can git.”

A little clarification on charging:

A friend suggested I go into a little more detail on this. I preface it with “not all EVs are created equally.” Some have “fast charge capability” while others, (my Fiat) can only manage a reasonably slow charge with limited range. The Fiat can go 80 miles on a charge… without climate control. With Climate control, I’m not sure I would put it to the 80 mile test. It will take about 8 hours to re-charge it on a standard house plug. The Niro can go 280 miles on a single charge. It would probably take an hour to charge it with a fast charger. It is fast charge capable whereas the Fiat is not.

Regarding the different types of chargers, there is your basic household plug, a 110 outlet. That’s the slowest rate of charge, or first tier charging. The next, second tier charging is a 230 outlet – the sort you use for a heavy duty window air conditioner. That requires a different plug, about $250 on Amazon. Both of our cars are amenable to both of these types of charging, but only the Niro has fast charge capability. Fast chargers (which are FAR more expensive to install in your home or garage – thousands more) can spit it out as fast as your car can take it. Again, not all EVs are created equal. Parked next to a Hyundai Ioniq at a fast charger, that EV was able to charge at almost double the rate as our Kia Niro.

Not all chargers cost you. That’s right. Some businesses are beginning to relish a new business model with “charge while you shop” offerings. It’s really smart business. Think about it. For pennies on the hour, they get a shopper who is basically stranded while charging. As mentioned before, my Fiat, with only 25% charge remaining, takes about 90 minutes at a second tier charger to re-charge. That’s an hour and a half at a free charger at Short Pump, VA, next to a Lidl’s, Mellow Mushroom, and a variety of salons and other businesses. (Guess which ones I frequent?) The chargers are located in the shopping center parking lot, in a remote corner. The location isn’t wildly convenient, but the cost sure is… until you figure in the amount of cash I part with while shopping there. 🙂 Smart business.

Disadvantages:

I’ve been reiterative, harping on the same points in different scenarios. Trust me, I’ve looked for the disadvantages to owning electric. I just cannot find them. Okay, okay, if the east coast was being evacuated because of a giant carnivorous Kraken on the loose, okay. I’m going to be Kraken fodder. That is a valid consideration. While everyone in a gas powered car can stop to pump up in minutes, I’m gonna be there for 45 minutes to an hour. But consider this: because my car is so much faster, I’ve already left you in the dust, so the Kraken gets you, and while he is sated, sleeping off his food coma, I’ve had time to charge, and “beep, beep, zip, bang” – git. outta there. I hope we never have to test that scenario.

It is a scary shift, so while I am adamant… now… it was not always so. I came into EVs slowly. Toward my goal of being all electric, we replaced our mowers over the past 8+/- years with EGO electric mowers. The zero-turn mower is a dream! There was a two week learning curve, but I own that puppy now. Our 1 acre yard takes about 45 minutes to mow, and about as long to charge the zero-turn mower that runs on four portable batteries. (Those bad-boys constitute half of the purchase price.) It’s joined by an EGO push mower, an electric chainsaw, electric hedge trimmer, electric weeder, and a GreenWorx corded electric chipper. (That one is a bit of a pain as you have to be tethered to an outdoor outlet, and that might not be where you mean to dump all those chips. I’m just waiting for a larger battery powered one before I replace it.) Today, I ordered my first weed trimmer/edger on wheels! Can’t wait to try it out. I’ll let you know if it’s all that, so no affiliate link for that one yet. (Update: it’s not “all that.” The cutting capacity was too wimpy, and the metal blade attachments, while sufficiently deadly, are really inefficient for cutting either tough weeds or soft grass. Limb lobbers work better on the tough briers and a string trimmer is better at cutting the soft grass. I’ll stick to my hand-held weed trimmer, but I will consider trying to install a couple of wheels on it. I liked that component of the new electric trimmer.)

Glossary of terms:

ICE – internal combustion engine

To be iced – to come to a charger, only to find it’s been blocked by someone parking their ICE car/truck/trailer.

Second tier chargers – those that charge at twice the rate of a regular household outlet. Instead of taking twelve hours to charge my tiny Fiat on a regular household 110 plug, a second tier charger, 230 plug, takes less than half that time. A fast charger is one that can charge a fast-charge capable electric car in under an hour.

110 plug – your average ordinary household plug.

PlugShare – an app that identifies the location and condition of different chargers. Check it out! You’ll be surprised to see how many chargers there are out there, with more being installed daily!

A New Business Model

This is one that I’m already beginning to see. While traveling, we’ve been fortunate to find several SHEETZ gas stations that offer clean restrooms and a variety of snacks while we charge-up! The cost of those chargers can vary. Some chargers have their own apps that you are encouraged to use by offering huge discounts. (For example, on our last out-of-state trip, one charger was free, and the next one cost us about $4.25 for a full charge.)

We usually choose hotels that offer a free charger on-site, and we are always careful to move our car as soon as it is fully charged to allow someone else the use of it. (Travelers especially are still at the mercy of finding a charging station, so every plug counts.)

At our own business, I have installed a second tier charging outlet – not the cord, but the outlet. We travel with cords in our car for each tier of charger just in case. I suspect the next upgrades for charging stations will be to provide awnings for cover. (It’s not fun to fumble with plugging up your car in the middle of a thunderstorm and downpour.) Also, an internet cafe, a movie theater, or any other business that provides something experiential while you charge would be very welcome…

… at least until we can fully incorporate solar panels on our cars to charge while driving! I can’t wait!

The Great Apology/Summation/Denouement…

(Affiliate Links likely…. bwahahahaha.)

That’s where I am right now in the writing process. I love a cast of 1,000 characters, multiple sub-plots, unrelated stories that tie up in the end. The denouement!

The term, denouement, comes from French,18th century, outcome, but some define it as “un-knot”. Seems fitting.

And that’s what I’ve got here, a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated threads, all knotted together, but now it’s my job to show how all of these threads come out of the knot on the other side in a commonsensical communion with one another.

Nowhere is the denouement more pristine than in Louis Sachar’s HOLES. I bow to the maestro! Three tales – the arrest and punishment of a kid wrongly accused, an historical romance between star-crossed lovers, Sam the Onion Picker, and Kate Barlow, school teacher turned outlaw, and the third sub-plot of Stanley Yelnats’s Dirty-Rotten-Pig-Stealin’-Great-Great-Grandfather. How does one tie those three stories with such beautiful intricacy? He does it. Beautifully.

HOLES, by Louis Sachar. Brilliant denouement.

In mystery, especially who-dunnits, it is referred to as the summation – that scene in which Hercule Poirot identifies each character, their flaws (to their great embarrassment) then finally identifies the killer(s). In MONK, it’s when he explains to the audience HOW they dunnit. There’s usually an audience in the book as well as the audience reading or viewing the story.

MONK, starring Tony Shalhoub.

That audience sweetens the pot, especially, in romance, there’s the “big apology”. This usually follows the BBM (big black moment) when the hero/heroine makes some sacrifice of their core goal for the sake of the object of their limerence. In NOTTING HILL, !!!!Spoiler alert!!!! it’s the scene in a crowded room full of reporters when Hugh Grant risks humiliation to win back Julia Roberts. For Julia Roberts, the BBM was asking Hugh Grant to be her boyfriend, and Hugh rejecting her offer. The apology scene was Hugh Grant’s. (Only fair, considering it’s his story.)

I think I’ve figured out how I can have my cake and eat it too, i.e., how I can incorporate both a summation and a “big apology” scene. Maybe.

I’m off to do some more untangling.

Scout, the muse, untangling my knots.

In the meantime, make some art. Read a book! And if you’re looking for a fabulous book with a killer denouement, check out Gordon Korman’s SCHOOLED. It’s YA, but any adult will enjoy that ending.

SCHOOLED, by Gordon Korman.

Sofie.

Clean Up On Aisle Twelve: A final draft editing checklist

In the writing studio, things are getting exciting! I’m nearing the end of the first-ish draft of a novel. Honestly, it should have been finished months ago, but yeah, things like a wedding, back strain, home and garden, etc. got in the way. Plus, when is a novel really finished?

Wrapping up another novel in the Word Crone Studio…

So this next phase of the process got me thinking about all of the bits and bobs that go into the final round of edits. I recall when I wrote my first book, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and one of the things I didn’t know, was what to look for in the final edits of a book. At the risk of dating myself, there was no internet, no search engines to make researching a topic quick and relatively painless. I had to make this up on my own, and the hardest part was the uncertainty of it all. So here, for your use, is my final draft editing checklist.

[Side note: the one thing you won’t see on my list is, “hand it off to a friend.” Please, friends don’t ask friends to do their work for them. Most of this stuff, you can catch on your own. Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it’s mind and ass numbingly dull. So why would you ask a friend to do it for you? It’s your job. And there are people called editors who do this for a living, and they are worth their weight in gold. It’s your job to make the copy as clean as possible before you pass it along to an editor.]

So without further delay…

My Non-Exhaustive Final Edits Check-List:

  • Spelling and grammar, of course. I use Grammarly and it is truly necessary. I am forever mixing up words that are hyphenated with non-hyphenated words, repeated words, passive words. And I consistently misspell words that I have had corrected for me by editing software over the course of the past dozen books. Still! Also, spell-check does not catch my consistent misspelling of “to the” which I type as “tot he”, every time! So I have to do a search/replace of some repeat offenders.
  • Make a list of all of your characters, their names, ages, and distinguishing features… then make sure you were consistent. Names should begin with different letters of the alphabet just to help your reader. (In this instance, listen to what I say, not what I do. I’m talking about you, KEEPING UP WITH MR. JONES. I thought I could give background characters similar names to show they were background. I get more complaints about the Marions, Marilyns, Marthas… They are truly unimportant individually, interchangeable as characters, but yeah, I get it now. Next time…)
The one with all of the “M” names…
  • Check the scene calendar for consistency. (Scene one, weather is X, day of the month is Y, time is Z.)
  • Did you head hop? That’s when a scene begins in one person’s head – the reader knows what that character knows – then the reader is thrown into a different person’s head, privy to what that character knows.
  • Do your characters behave in a manner consistent with their personalities? i.e., a photographer sees the world through a different lens, so to speak – lights and shadows, foreground and background, those things frame their world. An evangelical sees the world through scripture. A vivisectionist… well, they like their food cut into tiny morsels. Eww.
  • POV – point-of-view. Are you in third person? First? Are you consistent? Is your verb tense consistent? In the WIP (work-in-progress), I’m writing in first person and my character refers to the events they are relaying to the reader in past tense, (It is very recent past, but past.) However, some things are perpetual, thus in present tense. For example, “Don’t get me wrong. I like gardening, (present tense, because the verb occurs in perpetuity, in the past and the present and presumably, in the future) but while I picked up (past) those sticks that were scattered (past) all over the yard, I felt (past) every twinge in my lower back. I guess I am (present) just prone to lower back issues, but it makes (present) gardening a chore.” (Autobiographical. We just had a massive storm.)
The Big Bird’s Nest (storm stick pile) grows…
  • Which brings me to passive voice. “She had been…” Make your words matter by avoiding passive tense (she said, not practicing what she had preached.)
  • Overuse of certain words. I have some that I just use all the time. Just, like, I don’t know, I write like I talk, with just a proliferation of certain words that just get really annoying to a person who doesn’t just throw those same words into their own speech just all the time! (Sorry.)
  • Read it aloud. Yes, the whole freakin’ thing. Close yourself off in the bathroom if you don’t have a door on your office and… Read. It. Out. Loud. You’ll be amazed at what you catch in your own writing, even after staring at those words for the past couple of months.
  • Check your chapter numeration. (I ALWAYS end up with two repeated chapter numbers, usually early on in the manuscript that throws every other chapter number off. Often, I do this several times over the course of the book.
  • Show. Don’t tell.” You can show emotion in the weather, in the character’s stance, and through their actions. You have to be something of a movie director in your writing, able to see the scene, then duplicate it in images. “A picture is worth 10,000 words.”
“The day I died was like any other… except that day, I drank my wife’s disgusting, green, health juice, and fifteen minutes later, my heart seized up, never to start again.” – opening line: FLIPPIN’ THE BYRD, the W-I-P.
  • And my personal biggie: Remove all formatting. In other words, don’t use fancy fonts, nested first letters, fancy little wing-ding page breaks, etc. The copy-editor will thank you. It takes several hours to format a manuscript to make it print-ready. It can take days to make corrections and remove formatting after the fact. Having your manuscript look “print-ready” won’t make your work stand out from that of others. Clean editing will.

I’m sure you’ve got some final edit items I’ve left off of this non-exhaustive little list. Feel free to share those in the comments section, and with your permission, I’ll update the list as it grows.

In the meantime, make some art. Read a book!

Sofie.

Pomodoro!

(This post may include affiliate links.)

Recently, I’ve been trying to synthesize my writing routine. Last week, I blogged about the rituals that get my engine revving. But what comes after the “start rituals”? I mean, novel writing is a big task and I’m more of a “tiny steps” kinda gal, so obvs, I break everything down into small, manageable steps. As a result of my need to be more efficient, constraints of the pandemic, and the need for space, organization, and increasing my word county, I’ve been timing my writing sessions.

pomodoro – it’s “tomato” in Italian

Turns out, there’s a whole trend on this called Pomodoro.

Named after the Italian word for tomato, it harkens to the little tomato-shaped kitchen timers. Of course, any timer will do the trick, or you can plug “Pomodoro technique” into youtube and you’ll get a nifty little timer pre-set for twenty-five minutes. And that’s it. You write for twenty-five minutes, then take a five-minute break. Of course, you can set a timer for longer periods. Work for an hour and take a 10-15 minute break, but my physical therapist told me I should get up and move more often, so 25 minutes it is. And, in all honesty, my 5-minute break often expands to 10-15. I use my break to take a walk around the yard.

So for me, it’s 25 minutes of writing, 5-15 minutes of walking that has evolved into gardening/landscaping, one little corner of the yard at a time, and wouldn’t you know it, it has had a positive impact on my yard as well.

So today, I bring you my relaxation project – the pathway that I’ve carved around the perimeter of the yard. It’s easier to show that than it is to show the writing which, honestly, is just 145 pages of type, much like this, only without the pictures.

On top of the walk-about every 25 minutes, yesterday began the launch of the house renovations. There’s nothing grand going on there and honestly, it doesn’t photograph well, but as it comes to fruition, I’ll start sharing the reno project that takes place in the late afternoon, when the writing sparks are all petered out.

Until then, I hope you find some benefit from Pomodoro, whatever your big project may be, and enjoy the pictures of my writing downtime. In the meantime, I hope you make some art, read a book!

Sofie.