February in Review

Even though I only posted my 2015 goals last week, they were goals I came up with back in December of last year. I’ll be honest, some of them were just an extension of time for missed 2014 goals. I wanted to get them out there because I had realized I’m doing well compared to my expectation, and I wanted a way to share.

I have

  • Joined SFWA as an Associate Member.
  • Submitted three stories and two poems to various magazines. I hope to have one more story out in six weeks or so and another before the end of the year.
  • Planned a novel using Dan Wells’ 7 Point Story Structure and started on a draft of a novel.
  • Finished a Save The Cat style beat sheet and started scene beats for a screenplay.

I’m literally more than 50% of the way through what I wanted to accomplish for the year, with the possibility of finishing everything before May.  February ranks now as my second most productive writing month, and most productive since I took a writing break to do my Masters. If I can continue this forward motion, I may have the option of trying to accomplish my 2016 goals this year. I’m not ready to move up my goals yet, but there may be such a post at the end of March if things keep going well.

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2014 In Review

I know this is a little late, but it was a good year in many ways.

  • My story, “Journeyer,” was published in the July-August double-issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. This is, in fact, the only story I have put out on submission, and it was picked up very quickly.
  • I took part in the Stanislaus Community Novel project, and authored Chapter 4 of Ashes in a Teardrop.
  • Because of the Stanislaus Community Novel project, I meet Doug C. Souza (who was published in Asimov’s within a month of my Analog story), and we started a writing group. He introduced me to a handful of great Science Fiction and Fantasy writers in the area.
  • I submitted flash fiction for two contests, which it had been a while since I had done that. While I didn’t win one, the other has, at the time of this post, yet to decide on its winners.
  • I either finished or am in the editing phase for seven short stories – I’m using that term loosely because one is ultra flash fiction and one is a novella and I have everything in-between – and started researching magazine markets for them. The ultra flash fiction is the contest piece still out.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate Trevor Quachri and the whole staff of Analog Science Fiction and Fact for accepting my story and working with me. It was a visit to Astounding Science Fiction (a previous name from Analog SF&F) that inspired Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, and Steven Gould all began their careers with stories in Analog SF&F. And now my first professionally published work is with Analog SF&F. I hope there will be more, much more.

My goals for this year are simple:

  • Join SFWA
  • Get at least five of my stories out on submission in the first half of the year.
  • Enter another writing contest
  • Make substantial progress on drafting a novel
  • Start working on a script

So I had a good year last year and it is looking like this year has potential.


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Expository Lumps

Today, I’m going to steal from three sites who explain Expository Lumps very well: Gary Corby’s A dead man fell from the sky…cochisewriters, and everything2.  After the line, there is nothing original of mine.  Please visit the sites if you would like to learn more.

You know what the expository lump is, of course: that paragraph or page—or worse yet, pages—in which the author stops the story to tell you everything he knows about a particular character, setting, situation, etc. His intent is good—there are things the reader needs to know—but not all of them, not right now. And not all at once.

Expository Lumps are a (relatively) benign cancer which must be excised for the good of the book. One character goes on and on telling another character something they probably should already know. The real target is the reader, who certainly doesn’t know whatever is being explained. This is the author’s dodgy way of delivering information direct into the reader’s brain.

Expository Lump is a particular disease in science fiction. “As you know, Captain, the hyperdrive works by folding space into tiny packets of…” followed by two pages of exposition.

The expository lump has been identified as appearing in two distinct forms; the dialog lump and the narrative lump.

The dialog lump is perhaps the standard form in which the expository lump used to (and still does) appear in science fiction; otherwise known as the “As You Know, George, the Space Station’s Orbit Is Degrading Rapidly, and We’re Running out of Air” moment. In its classic form this where a character begins a sentence with the phrase “As you all know”, and then proceeds to spew out a lump of background information which everybody already knows, except of course the reader. Thus whilst it appears as if there are two characters having a conversation, it is really the case of the author having a one-sided conversation with the reader.

The narrative lump is where the reader is suddenly confronted with a page or two of text that appears to have been randomly inserted from an encyclopedia the author had conveniently to hand. … in which the author unloads a few hundred words of undiluted research upon the bewildered reader.

What both forms have in common is the desire by the author to suddenly deliver a “brutal overload of information” to the reader in order to establish the credibility of the unfolding tale.

Unfortunately, this lump… isn’t the exclusive province of the novice writer. We all risk writing it. As we get better, perhaps our lumps and dumps are shorter and a little less obvious: a sentence or two, rather than a paragraph or three.

New writers make two mistakes. First, they haven’t learned to trust the reader to figure things out. Second, they haven’t learned that the reader is their partner in creating the story, filling in what the writer leaves out. As a result, the new writer takes it upon himself to describe and explain everything.

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Potentially Useful Tip #2 – Macro for William Shunn’s Formatting

I like to write/edit with single line spacing, an extra line between paragraphs, and no indention on paragraphs.  I don’t really care what font I use.  However, I have to submit with different settings. This used to mean time taking transformations, but now I can reformat my piece from any format settings to William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format – http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html – with the click of a button. The way I do this is through the use of a macro.

NOTE: I am using Microsoft Word 2007 for this demonstration.  Other version of Word are capable of macros with very minor changes to the steps listed.  If you are using a different word processor, you will need to check your documentation.

Macro Menu on Developer Tab

For these instructions, we need the Developer tab in the ribbon.  Enable the Developer tab by clicking the Microsoft Office Button in the upper left of the screen and selecting “Word Options” on the bottom right. Then, from the “Popular” tab, select “Show Developer tab in the Ribbon.” Click the “OK” button, and you should now see a “Developer” tab in the ribbon.

Record Macro Dialog Box

First, setup and start the macro:

  • From the “Developer” tab
  • Click “Record Macro”
  • Give the macro a name and description
  • Assign the macro to a button or keyboard shortcut
  • I have chosen the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-F1
  • Press the “Close” button to close the “Customize Keyboard” dialog box

At this point, you are recording a macro. Every command you do will be saved in the macro.  We want to get set up for all the changes, and I do that in two steps:

  • Click on the “Home” tab of the ribbon
  • Ctrl-A to select all

Paragraph Dialog Box

Now we are going to set the paragraph settings for indention, paragraph spacing, and line spacing:

  • Open the “Paragraph” dialog box by clicking on the icon to the right of “Paragraph”
  • In the “Indentation” section, set “Special” to First line and “By” to 0.5"
  • In the “Spacing” section, set “Before” and “After” to 0 pt and “Line Spacing” to Double
  • Click the “OK” button to close the Paragraph dialog box



Font Settings from Ribbon

We also need to set the font settings, which can be done from the ribbon itself:

  • Set the font to Courier New
  • Set the font size to 12

Find and Replace Dialog Box

Because of years of MLA and APA telling me to double space between sentence, I need to remove extra spaces:

  • Press Ctrl-H to open the “Find and Replace” dialog box
  • Put two spaces in the “Find what” box
  • Put one space in the “Replace with” box
  • Click the “Replace All” button
  • Click the “OK” button to close the popup dialog
  • Click the “Close” button to close the Find and Replace dialog box

Find and Replace Dialog Box with Formatting

Now that we have done all these changes globally to the work, we need to fix scene breaks:

NOTE: I mark my scene breaks with ### so not to confuse it with other characters within my text during a search and replace step of the macro.  You will need to do something similar.

  • Press Ctrl-H to open the “Find and Replace” dialog box
  • Put ### in the “Find what” box
  • Put # or whatever mark you want to use for a scene break in the “Replace with” box
  • While the cursor is in the “Replace with” box, click the “More>>” button
  • In the “Replace” section, click the “Format” button and select “Paragraph…”
  • The “Replace Paragraph” dialog box should open
  • In the “General” section, set “Alignment” to Centered
  • In the “Indention section, set “Inside” and “Outside” to 0" and “Special” to (none)
  • Remove any mark in the “Mirror indents” checkbox
  • In the “Spacing” section, set “Before” and “After” to 0 pt and “Line Spacing” to Double
  • Remove any mark in the “Don’t add space between paragraphs…” checkbox
  • Click the “OK” button to close the “Replace Paragraph” dialog
  • At this point, there should be text under the “Replace with” box after the word “Format”
  • Click the “Replace All” button
  • Click the “OK” button to close the popup dialog
  • Click the “Close” button to close the Find and Replace dialog box

Stop Recording the Macro

This should put most of your manuscript into William Shunn’s format.  We just need to stop recording and that is done in two steps:

  • Click the “Developer” tab of the ribbon
  • Click on “Stop Recording”

To verify that you have saved the macro, click on “Macros” and examine the list (which probably only has your new macro).

To run the macro, press the shortcut or button you have created (Ctrl-Shift-F1 in my case). You now just have to reformat your title page and add your page numbers.

Anytime you want to reformat to Shunn’s, you just have to run the macro.

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New Goals

I took a break from writing while completing my Masters.  I took a further break for about six months after I graduated.  I have, however, been writing actively again for about four months and am now in a writing group again.  Now I’m setting goals, and I thought I would share:

  • Become an Associate Member of SFWA
  • Submit six short stories / novelettes to magazines before the end of the year
  • Finish and submit four more short stories / novelettes plus one poem next year
  • Continue writing four to six pieces a year until I meet SFWA full membership requirements
  • Convert back to novel writing, and get something ready for submission within one year of becoming an SFWA member
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Archetype Among Us

I saw the beginning of a zombie apocalypse near my work today. I’m a big fan of zombie movies (Resident Evil, Shaun of the Dead, and Warm Bodies are some of my favs), but I had never really thought about where the concept of zombies originated. Now I know; I saw it.

There were four zombies crossing the street (not together in a group, but individually at various places), and six people avoiding them. The zombies were slow moving, often stiff at various joints, hunched over holding their stomachs (hunger pain?), and generally filthy. The zombies didn’t work together, but they didn’t work against each other either – it was as if the other zombies were non-entities. I recognized two of them immediately. The people were everyday type people who quickly hopped into their cars or walked into businesses. The people didn’t run like in movies, but tried to disappear without being noticed into some relatively safe place. There wasn’t one person who didn’t notice the zombies. Once a person hid, the zombies just moved on like there was never a person there, like they had no memory of the person once they were out of sight.

I only witnessed the event for 20-25 seconds because the light turned green. I feel bad for the zombies, because as I said, I recognized them. They are not actors, and this wasn’t a show – it was just a glimpse into part of their lives. I wonder how I will feel the next time I watch a zombie movie knowing there really is a part of our society who are walking dead. I also wonder what other story characters are walking among us.

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Potentially Useful Tip #1 – Custom Dictionaries

Note: This is geared for MS Word, but there might be similar tools in other word processors

For those of you who don’t know, I write a lot of SciFi, some fantasy, and a little general fiction.  In SciFi especially, there are a lot of weird names (just to name a few, I have a place in one story called the Falls of Aqwu-la, a species in a novel called Chimree, and a family in another novel called Drayr).  I’ve been having problems keeping the spellings of my characters and places straight.  The spell check never catches anything because it marks the proper names all the time.  I don’t like using Ignore All, because by chapter 20 I might not remember if the name had come up with a different spelling before or not.  I also don’t like adding words to my main dictionary because then the names are there for everything.

I don’t know how many of you use Word or already know how to do this, but I just learned how to create custom dictionaries for Word.  This is different from just using Ignore All or adding words to your standard dictionary.  I can create a different dictionary for each story, and then just select the proper dictionary when I start writing and/or editing, or deselect them all when working on something different.

I am in the process of creating a dictionary each for my different series: Chimree Republic, Passages of Consequence, Plague World, Armies of Atheious, etc.  I have already found this to be a wonderful tool, and I hope you will too.  For information on how to accomplish this, check out the following sites:

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Your Write to Health

“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” — Robert Heinlein, science fiction writer

Pennsylvania State University’s newsletter, LIVE, ran an article today about writing and health titled Writing your way to better health.  Apparently, writing is a good habit after all, even if you should do it in private and wash your hands afterward.  It basically says this: if you write about past trauma, you will be healthier for it.

The reason I brought this up is because there was a link to a blog of writing prompts (you probably know that I believe in story starters and writing prompts).  These aren’t like mine – the story is secondary.  The focus of Your Write to Health  is on your mental health.  Check it out.

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The Return of Dreams

I wanted to write something really special for my Eleventy-First post, something on the order of how I don’t like half of you half as much as you deserve, but I have had neither the wit nor the time to put together something like that.  Actually, I’ve been in a bad place lately. 

A lot of my inspiration comes from dreams.  Not your typical dreams, mind you.  I don’t do much in the normal fashion.  I’m not just a lucid dreamer (someone who is aware that they are dreaming while they are dreaming); I’m the Freddy Krueger of my own dreams – more on this in a minute.  I, however, haven’t been dreaming lately. 

My lack of dreams is something I blame on school.  Classes where I have to read a lot of technical material (I’m a graduate student studying Software Engineering) seem to have a negative impact on the amount of dreaming I do.  For the last two semesters, I haven’t dreamt but maybe one dream that I could remember, and it wasn’t lucid.  However, I dreamt last night.

I can’t quite do what they do in the movie Inception, but I’m pretty close to doing the stuff you see in Nightmare on Elm Street.  It’s not the same every night, but my level of control increases the longer the dream lasts.  I can add monsters at will, introduce plagues that can infect everyone, change the scenery to just about anything, and put danger everywhere.  I can also do nice things, like replay good scenes from my life or fix bad ones, go to places I’ve only seen in pictures of movies, or come up with solutions to my problems or the world’s. 

I start out wherever my subconscious puts me as I’m a Dream-Induced Lucid Dreamer – everything starts as a normal dream, and then I become aware it’s a dream and start to take over.  I don’t have enough control to make an entire city or to have thousands of people like Inception, but five to fifteen is pretty doable.  It seems that when I add too many people or monsters, some of the people or monsters just disappear, and I don’t even notice until I’m reflecting on the dream after I wake up.

This most recent dream, I was on a road trip with my son.  We were on some bizarre route from the New England area to the South, and we were pulling into a restaurant in the mountains.  I was trying to order a burger I had seen on a billboard (which was really a $6 burger from a Carl’s Jr. commercial I just saw) plus some yellow, green, and black bananas (my son is picky about his bananas – some days he wants yellow, rare days he eats green, and some days he likes black).  My alarm woke me up before I really got rolling, but I had started to take control of the dream. 

Since one source of my creativity is my dreams, it was wonderful to see that inspiration and imagination back in my life.  I still don’t have time to write much as I’m a fulltime worker, student, commuter, husband, and father, but I’ll take any reminder of who I was before I started this school program.

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Pitch Contest @ Beyond Words

Sorry I’ve been away for so long.  The disadvantage of toddler, working, commuting, and a class with way tooooooo much reading of not-very-fun technical books. 

Anyhow, I saw a post from Janet Sumner Johnson about a pitch contest with Victoria Marini over at Chanelle’s Beyond Words.  I told my friend, C. Michael Fontes about it, who entered and then encouraged me to enter.  So, if I got all my links right, you should be able to figure out the history of how this post came to be.

If you want to get in on this, you need to get over to Beyond Words before the end of today.

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