Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tools of the Trade, Part 1 of 3

The next time you see a carpenter working you may notice there isn't a single all-in-one wonder tool but rather a wide collection of tools to choose from; and like carpentry, writing has many tools as well. What is in your toolbox? Do you use just one tool? Is that good enough? To illustrate my point, I'll use my own workflow as an example: 
  • Chicken scratch in journals, notebooks, and at 750words.com
  • Sublime Text 2 for "special" formatting and some other crazy stuff
  • Trello to organize ideas
  • Open Office to share chunks of words for critique groups (.doc files)
  • OmmWriter when I need to shut out the world and just write
  • Scrivener to bring it all together
For me, it is a hodgepodge of places where I find time to write: lunch breaks, coffee shops, heavy traffic. A lot of stuff gets scratched into small journals and notepads. The fun comes later when I try to decipher what I wrote.

Over the next 3 blog posts I am going to cover the above list in detail, starting here with the first two:
  1. Pen and paper. As easy as this sounds, it's not. For me, the pen has to be "just right" and the paper nice and thick. I was working through some Bic 537R's and moved on to a couple of Wexford .7mm's, which is a size I prefer. I'm always open to suggestions on finding the right mix here.
  2. Sublime Text 2.  This is a wonderfully simple yet powerful editor. I do a lot of web development programming in my non-fictional world and this is the tool of trade for developing code. You may never have heard of it, or if you have, you may be thinking I'm a nut job for offering this as a writing tool, but hear me out. This does what none of the others do. Multiple Cursor Control. Sublime Text may not be a good fit for every writer, but for those of you looking to work more effectively with plain text that will translate more cleanly to html, it may be just what you were looking for. It's the bee's knees. Check it out:

edit jan31
I wanted to provide several resources for Sublime Text:

       Next week I will cover how I use Open Office and Trello.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dreamleaks 1: Let's Play Hockey

This is the first of a series of stories I call Dreamleaks. A dreamleak comes, appropriately enough, from a dream I recently had, one memorable and weird enough to justify recording. I then attempt to make a semi-coherent narrative out of the dream logic at play. In this case, the originating dream came just last week and demanded my attention. I could even see a video game around the concept, but for now, it will have to to this tale, a little something I call Let's Play Hockey.

Aaron Jacobksy knew he should be excited. After all, this was the moment he dreamed of all his life. The years in high school and the minor league, the countless hours spent practicing or recovering from injuries instead of spending time with his friends, and most importantly, the absolute obsession with learning even the tiniest details about the sport. All of it would be worth it, because now, he was in the big leagues. In just a few minutes, he would be starting the first game of the first season of the 2006 season.

But despite all this, he mostly felt scared. What if he really wasn't good enough to play at this level? What if he made an ass of himself, humiliating his family and even worse, letting down the fellow players he once idolized. His peers now, he realized.

Coach Roberts looked back at his newest rookie and seemed to understand. “Kid, I know what you're going through. I've seen it a thousand times. Hell, I felt the same way when I started. But you're gonna do great, kid. Nothing can really prepare you for the big leagues. If you have the heart to get here, then you've got all you need. Now, I won't say it won't leave you with a few scars,” he pointed at the gash across his face, one that left his eye permanently blind, “But the good will make up for the bad.

“Besides, kid, if you ever need me, any time at all, you just call, and I'll be there to help you out. We're in this together kid, as a team. You me, Erik, all the boys, and everything else besides. Now get out there and make me proud.”

As he spoke, the opening buzzer rang, and Aaron joined his teammates on the ice. The rink looked so different from this perspective, he thought. He watched it on TV and even as a spectator feet away, but neither truly captured the experience in its entirety, the sheer weight of the building itself. It almost felt mythic, its presence so overwhelming that Aaron nearly missed the start of the game.

But as the puck dropped, Aaron's hesitation vanished, replaced with the energy of the game. Aaron felt himself as a part of something bigger, his instincts override any doubt he had, and he had become one with the game – for about three minutes. Then he got his first trip to the penalty box. Aaron didn't even know why; nothing serious, like getting into a fight. Probably just some technical rule he briefly forgot.

Except as he left the ice, he wasn't directed to the penalty box. No, he was sent out of the arena entirely. Instead, he found himself in a perfectly normal bar. Formally dressed men and woman flirted and drank, oblivious or indifferent to the man in full hockey gear standing there with a confused look on his face. If these people were aware of the hockey game, they didn't show it. Light music played in the background, and for lack of anything better to do, Aaron took a seat. “Coach?” he mused to himself. “What just happened?”

Suddenly, the phone rang, catching Aaron by surprise, especially since he didn't even notice the bar had a phone until now. “You doing okay down there, kid?” Coach's raspy voice asked Aaron.

“I guess so, Coach, but what am I doing here?” Aaron asked. “And what's happening in the game?” It suddenly dawned on him that he didn't even know what the score was.

“It's close, kid, but don't you worry about that now. You got to just ride out this penalty,” Coach explained, or rather failed to explain.

“Okay, but why aren't I in the penalty box?” Aaron asked. “I never saw someone just go to the bar before.”

“It's like I said, kid, nothing can prepare you for the real thing,” Coach said. “Once you're playing, it's a whole different game.”

“So when can I get back in?” Aaron asked. He also realized he had no idea how long he was down here, or the time in general.

“Sorry, but we're not putting you back in right away. We need you to go to the dungeon first.”

The dungeon! Wow, they really must be cracking down on players this season. “What dungeon, Coach?”

“It's just to the right of the bar,” Coach explained. “And watch out down there, kid. The monsters are fresh at the start of the season, and they added damage squares this year. So make sure you watch your step, and for God's sake, kid, take off the skates first.”

Monsters? DAMAGE SQUARES. “Coach, this doesn't sound like hockey to me,” Aaron admitted. “I don't think the NHL rules ever mentioned any of this.”

“Of course not, kid, who said anything about the NHL? You're in the big leagues now, the secret games. And we've got more than winning a cup here, believe me. Now, don't worry kid, I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't think you could handle it. Now, here's what you're gonna do. Once you're in the dungeon, look to see if any of the monsters can be tamed. We can really use an electric type in this match, and maybe a few ghost monsters. Once you defeat and tame them, bring them back here, and we can enchant the puck with them. It always helps to have a few monsters ready to summon when you get the last quarter.”

There can only be one explanation, Aaron reasoned. Coach Roberts had gone completely insane. That scar must have brought about some brain damage. Aaron grabbed the phone and took off, looking for some proper authorities to call, or at the very least a bathroom. As he took a right out of the bar, he opened the door – to find a stone labyrinth waiting for him. Strange figures lurked in the shadow, and as he cautiously made his way inside, Aaron narrowly avoided stepping into a pool of some sizzling gray fluid. Ah, right. Damage squares.

“Hey, Coach, can I talk to you?” Aaron heard one of his players on the phone.

“Can it wait, Erik?” Coach asked. “I'm guiding Aaron through his first trip through the Nether-rink.”

“It's kind of important, Coach,” Erik insisted. “You see, I had a confession to make. Between seasons, I sort of – became a wizard.”

A long silence passed, before Coach got back on the line. “I gotta let you go, Aaron. It turns out that Erik's a wizard now. Don't worry, that's probably good news. A lot of All-Stars were wizards. Hell, Gretzky could turn somebody into a newt like you wouldn't believe. But it's got its risks, too. And frankly, I can't afford to lose another eye.” Just as the phone went dead, a horror loomed over Aaron, black lightning crackling about it. Aaron sighed, raised his stick, and kicked off his skates. This was going to be a long season.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dracula's Bloodlust

I read Dracula by Bram Stoker which I downloaded free from Amazon for Kindle. To be honest, I never had any interest in this novel because I didn’t know anything about Bram Stoker. If I wanted to read a nineteenth century novel, I preferred the usual Dickens, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne or Melville. Stoker didn’t make the list. However, I became curious about Dracula because I have seen it frequently on Amazon’s list of top giveaway novels.

I figured Stoker must have something going for him if his novel is in the Top 5 while I have to hustle the social network to make Top 50 in the giveaway world (Top 10 in Denmark -- go Danish).

Okay, so I broke down and downloaded a free copy just to check if the novel was as good as the old Dracula movies based on the Stoker novel. And to learn any tricks to up my position on Amazon. Afterall, Stoker did something right.

I enjoyed reading Dracula. It has the same kind of appeal to romance readers as the old Dark Shadows TV soap. You know the kind of story that involves the usual “boy meets girl” mixed in with a lot of blood sucking? Lesson 1: Problem Jane Austen never had to deal with: It‘s easy to love your girlfriend while she’s alive but it’s a lot tougher once she’s undead.

Stoker used a first person narration that I like. The entire novel consists of a series of papers supposedly collected by the author from diaries, letters, medical reports and such. The plot is the one you may be familiar with if you’ve watched the old Bela Lagosi vampire movies or any of the more recent remakes such as Francis Ford Coppala’s 1992 version. Other versions you may be familiar with include the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu and Christopher Lee’s 1970 version. There are many others, of course. You can check one list of the top 10 Dracula movies by clicking here.

I write novels with a focus on the strangers and monsters among us. Dracula fits the bill for me. I recommend reading it because it is the classic horror novel of the vampire sub-genre that defines the vampire character in a way that worked for authors and movie makers until a certain romantic glittery teenage vampire moved to Forks, Washington.

Don’t let the nineteenth century publication date fool you. Dracula by Bram Stoker has a delightfully modern feel that touches on a full range of emotions. It’s a must read for those who love a little romance mixed in with their well-sucked neck. To find the novel, do a search on Amazon for it because there are so many versions to choose from.

Speaking of well-sucked necks, well, not exactly, but on the topic of strangers and monsters among us, you may want to visit my writer’s blog for the latest fiction post. You can jump there by clicking here.

Don't forget to click the social share buttons below. Spread the good word.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Date Is In Past

This is a short story I came up with after one too many customers at work gave me a delivery date for 2013.

Date is in Past

Sandra awakened to the dulcet sounds of someone pounding on her door. Not the best way to start a Saturday, she thought to herself as she struggled into consciousness. She had no idea who could possibly want to bother her this early on the weekend, and her imagination went to all sorts of bad places before a chipper voice behind the door announced, “Package for Ms. Drescoe!”

“A package,” Sandra moaned. “I didn't order anything.” She certain didn't order anything to be delivered on a Saturday, nor would she unless, say, a life was a stake. A life she happened to be fond of. Still, she reasoned, deliveryfolks are paid not to look mortified at a grown woman wearing pajamas and bunny slippers, so she might as well get it over with.

“Tachyon Shipping!” the eager young man, who clearly somehow missed out on the memo that people should be sleeping at this hour, said as she opened the door. “Here you are, ma'am!”

Sandra took the package and peered at it suspiciously. “Tachyon shipping?” she said. “I never heard of you.”

“Nor would you, ma'am,” the deliveryman said. “We haven't been created yet.”

“I'm sorry, what?” Sandra asked. She was tired, but not that tired. “That doesn't make any sense. How could you deliver a package if your company doesn't exist?”

“Doesn't exist YET, ma'am,” he clarified. “We are around when you placed this order. In fact, we were the only company able to place your order on the requested date.” At this, he handed Sandra the order sheet.

After looking it over, Sandra recognized her signature, but the dates seemed odd. “Delivery date: January 11th, 2014. Order placed, January 7, 2015. Huh?”

“That's correct, ma'am. About a year from now, you will place this order to deliver to your past self. Or your present self, as you understand it,” he explained. “Don't worry, a lot of our customers are confused about this, what with them not having placed their orders yet.”

“But why ...” Sandra began, before it dawned on her. Oh, of course. Her future self (she was still way too tired to question that statement,) must have meant to place it for January 11th, 2015. Sandra did this all the time. Every time a new year came along, it would take her at least a month before she remembered to fix that on dates. “Come on, surely you must have thought it was a typo.”

The deliveryman shook his head. “Ma'am, we don't ask questions, we just deliver the orders,” he said.

Sandra gave up on arguing. Reason should never be applied on the weekend before noon, anyway. She opened the package to reveal a copy of a movie. One that wouldn't come out for another ten months.

Now, Sandra's mind got coffeed up. “Do you realize the possibilities I could do with this?” she asked herself. “I could send myself winning lottery numbers, stock tips, anything. Or at least bootleg a copy of this movie before it even comes out.”

The deliveryman took a few cautious steps back. “I wouldn't recommend it, ma'am,” he insisted. “Profit-based time travel is made illegal in 2085, and the time regulators have been given retroactive authority. Besides, most people find it difficult to pay the delivery fees and still come out ahead.”

“What delivery fees?” Sandra asked, but he just held up a bill. One with more zeroes than Sandra had ever seen in life. To be paid upon delivery. Not even seeing her (she assumed) new favorite movie a year in advance would be worth that. She tossed the package back at the deliveryman, slammed the door shut, and immediately made two new years resolutions. First, she would be much more careful when ordering packages from now on. Secondly, she would somehow find a way to punch her future self in the face.

Meanwhile, the deliveryman sighed. Yet another deadbeat. Eh, well. They always paid eventually, or at least their great to the nth power descendents did, though by then, inflation made the bill little more than pocket change. But that would be a problem for the billing department. He had to worry about his next delivery.

“Let's see, deliver to Mr. Chester Jenkins, or his closest previous of kin, January 11th, 15.” 15? Maybe the customer just shortened the date, but as an employee of Tachyon Shipping, he couldn't take that chance. Great. The ancient Romans made for the most demanding customers. And they were really lousy tippers.