Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Great WordPress Experiment

Blogger annoyed me today. Which is not a rare thing. But finally the Blogger-annoyance made me decide to start a blog on WordPress to see how the other half blogs.

I started a new blog called Nissa Annakindt: My Antimatter Life. It might end up being a replacement for The Lina Lamont Fan Club on Blogger, or it might not. It depends on how it goes, how long it takes me to learn how to blog on WordPress, how long it is before WordPress starts annoying me the way Blogger does….

Anyway, I’d like some feedback: is blogging on Blogger better than blogging on WordPress? What do you think of the new blog, Nissa Annakindt: My Antimatter Life? What do you think of The Lina Lamont Fan Club?

My current intent is to keep both blogs going for a while, just to see how it goes, and then when I know what’s what, discontinuing one blog or the other. If I keep the new blog, I’ll lose all the history of the old one. But if I keep the old, that history may end up being a burden.

If you visit the new blog, I have a poll there where you can express your opinion on which is better, Blogger or Wordpress.

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Have You Used Beta Readers?

Have you ever tried using a beta reader to get reactions to your writing? I haven't yet, though it seems like it might be something to try.

You see, I am NOT a believer in critique groups. I'm already hypercritical of my own work, and I KNOW what's wrong with it--- everything. And since I'm a person with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) and seem to radiate a 'vulnerable person' vibe, I'm afraid I might end up being the target of the über-negative critique group members (and every group has a few).

A number of people have written blog posts on beta readers. Here are a couple:
Beta Readers: The Magic Elves of the Publishing World
Ask Jami: Where to Find Beta Readers

I think one has to be very selective about a beta reader. They need to know and enjoy the genre, and they have to be OK with you and your personal style and, well, everything about you that might affect your story. For example, if you write faith-based fiction from an LDS church or Catholic point of view, you don't want an Evangelical beta reader who insists on correcting your 'wrong' theology--- even on points of your story that you didn't think HAD a theology. Or if you write a lot of sports activity into your story, you don't want a sports-hater who can't enjoy that aspect of your work.

There are two extremes people go in to when asked to read someone's unpublished work: the cheerleader and the critiquer. The cheerleader lavishes insincere praise on almost everything, the critiquer comes up with laundry lists of things allegedly wrong with your story. Both extremes are unhelpful.

What I think a writer needs from a beta reader is REACTIONS. Good or bad reactions. They don't have to come from an expert writer or editor, either. An ordinary unsophisticated reader can tell you whether your story was something they couldn't put down or something they couldn't manage to finish. They can tell you it was boring for the first 30 pages and then got exciting. They can tell you they identified with THAT character but found THIS character unbelievable and boring.

The writer using beta readers needs to be clear to them about what he wants from them. Some writers use beta readers to check out a specialty subject they don't know much about: a hunter or gun owner to make sure they didn't make any firearm mistakes, or a cop to catch police procedure mistakes. From these beta readers, you don't need or expect any remarks about plots or characters, and you ought to make it clear that this is what you are looking for.

For the general beta reader, specify what you in particular are interested in knowing. For example, if you have a tendency to write un-compelling characters, you might ask for reactions to the characters--- which ones they liked or disliked, which ones they would liked to have seen more of, which ones they would have liked to have seen less of.... If you write great characters but dull plots, ask plot questions.

When you receive your responses, you must remember that you aren't a schoolchild and your beta readers aren't your English teacher. You need not 'correct' everything they see to be a flaw. You need not 'correct' anything! It's still YOUR book. You should feel free to ignore anything you don't think is valid, and also anything that may well be valid but you can't do anything about. For example, if a beta reader didn't like your 'voice' or your 'style'.

How do you go about finding a beta reader? I haven't a clue. I'd use my writing friends, but as a not-untypical person with Asperger Syndrome, I don't have writing friends that think of me as 'friends'--- more like 'that annoying gal I once interacted with online'. I suppose when the time comes I might put out a call on this blog and on the Facebook groups I founded and take part in.

One suggestion that I haven't yet read elsewhere: why not ask for beta readers for your first chapter only to start with, or for a short story? It's less of a commitment for them. And if they beta read chapter one and didn't find it utterly awful, they might be willing to read more.

In fact, for short first chapters and sections of longer first chapters, you might post it on your blog and ask for beta-reader reactions there, and offer the rest to anyone who liked it enough to read on.

How about you: have you used beta readers? Did it work out well, or not so well? Do you have any ideas to make the beta reader process go better? Or on how to find good beta readers?

My Facebook writing page:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Support the #MarchforLife, turn Facebook Blue!

Today is the 41st March for Life in Washington DC, USA. If you can't be there, as I can't, you can stay home, watch the March for Life on television (EWTN), and be an internet activist.

Besides retweeting and Facebook-sharing appropriate items, you can also show your support by changing your Facebook profile picture to a prolife image. The image above is the one I'm using, on my personal Facebook page, my author page, and my 'controversial' pro-marriage page.

If your native language is not English, don't despair. The web site that provided the English graphic also provides other languages on this web page:

I'm old enough to remember when abortion through all nine months of pregnancy was legalized by the Roe v Wade/Doe v Bolton decisions. (Both 'Roe' and 'Doe' are now actively prolife.)

The idea was that once the old people had all died off, everyone would accept that abortion was OK. The older generation did indeed die off. But the majority of young people today are prolife. Looks like the issue isn't going away any time soon.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

CSFF Blog Tour Day 1: Outcasts vs The Hunger Games

It was about two years ago that I discovered The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I devoured the books and have reread them many times since.

I had a similar feeling when I discovered Captives, the first book in Jill Williamson's The Safe Lands series. The book was temporarily free on Kindle and I snapped it up, just because I wanted something new to read.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the book. I loved it in pretty much the same way that I loved The Hunger Games. And I was very impatient for the release of Outcasts, and the day I downloaded the book to my Kindle I got absolutely nothing done around the house until the book was finished.

Now, I'm not saying that The Safe Lands series is 'just like' The Hunger Games. There are major differences. And for all I know author Jill Williamson hasn't even read The Hunger Games--- The Safe Lands series is by no means a 'copycat' effort.

But there are some similarities that I think will make the books popular with those who enjoyed The Hunger Games. They are:

1. Both books are set in the future, after apocalyptic events. In The Safe Lands, the apocalypse is caused by a plague.

2. Both books contrast an evil and decadent power against less-powerful and more down-to-earth people. In The Hunger Games it's the Capitol vs. the Districts, in The Safe Lands the decadent power is the Safe Lands, while the people living outside the Safe Lands are the more down-to-earth people.

3. In both books, young people must struggle to survive the outrages perpetrated on them by the decadent power. In The Hunger Games, it's Katniss and Peeta trying to survive the Games, in The Safe Lands it's Omar, Mason, Levi, Shaylinn and others trying to survive their kidnapping by the Safe Lands authorities, who mean to use them to produce healthy children as they are uninfected with the plague.

There are some major differences in the books as well. They are:

1. In The Hunger Games, the very concept of religious faith is not mentioned, even in passing. In The Safe Lands series, the major characters come from a Christian community, and the non-Christian beliefs of the Safe Lands are also mentioned.

2. The Hunger Games is very bloodily, explicitly violent, and much of the violence affects young people. In The Safe Lands series, there is some bloodshed but it doesn't dominate the story.

3. In The Hunger Games, the subject of temptation doesn't seem to exist. We never see Katniss or Peeta expressing a desire to live in the Capitol and enjoy the decadent lifestyle there. In The Safe Lands, we see that some of the young people are very tempted by the lifestyle of the Safe Lands, and a few go out to experience the decadence for themselves.

4. The Hunger Games is centered on Katniss, in The Safe Lands series there are a number of different viewpoint characters the reader can identify with, including some strong male characters (guys need that the way girls need strong female characters.)

I feel that both Outcasts and the first book in the series, Captives, are very powerful fictional works that will appeal to a great many readers--- both fans of The Hunger Games and critics of it. And although it's Christian fiction, I don't think non-Christian readers should rule it out. It's a great series.

Author Website

Red Bissell
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Julie Bihn
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa Annakindt
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Chawna Schroeder
Jacque Stengl
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson

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Writers' Village: Why men don’t like women authors, and vice versa

Why men don’t like women authors, and vice versa

The link above leads to an article that discusses the scientific reason behind the different reading preferences of men and women.

In brief, women live in a world of relationships and men don't. This gives men and women different perspectives on life and affect the way men and women choose their fiction.

It also explains the difference between men and women writers working in the same genre. I've noticed that already, that in the work of women writers the character's relationships with one another take on a more prominent role.

Of course, not all men and women are typical of their sex. I've read in a psychology textbook about studies of the brains of homosexual men which showed their brains worked more like the brains of women. I'm sure there are many other individuals who have traits of the opposite gender in their brains.

In addition, women are under pressure from the feminist movement to be more like men. So women writers might censor out their 'girly' writing tendencies out of concern they are not defying 'sexist stereotypes' enough.

I think the important thing for writers is to be true to yourself. If you are a women who writes like a woman or a man who writes like a man, don't try to change it. And if you are atypical, write the way you feel. You only have one brain in your lifetime. Don't try to write like someone whose brain is wired differently from yours.

How about you? Do you like writers of your own sex better than those of the opposite sex? Do you think you write more like a man or like a woman? Does that bother you?

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sumi-E: First You Prepare the Ink

Writers, as creative people, often need multiple outlets for their creativity. In my own case over the years my outlets have ranged from musical instruments (balalaika and tenor and soprano recorder) to embroidery to rosary-making to various sorts of drawing and painting.

My first Asian-style painting kick was when I was attending Concordia College in River Forest, IL. There was an art supply shop within walking distance of the campus (if you liked long-distance walking) and I bought supplies for a number of art projects.

The thing I remember liking about the Asian-style painting was that you practiced the individual strokes--- much as a child learning to write practices individual letters.

Recently I got a kit for sumi-e (Japanese ink painting). It wasn't the world's best kit so I'm not sure I recommend it. But it included 4 brushes, an ink stick, and a small suzuri in which to mix the ink. Which is important because the first step in sumi-e is to mix your ink.

Mixing sumi-e ink takes a long time--- 20-30 minutes of rubbing the ink stick against the suzuri. Experts in sumi-e say artists use the time to get in a meditative mood and think about the painting they are about to do.

So today I am learning to mix sumi-e ink. I didn't do it long enough the first two times and so the ink came out light gray. But since I'm only beginning to learn how to paint the first stroke--- the bamboo leaf--- I'm not sure how much it matters what color the ink is.

The importance behind such creative pursuits like sumi-e for the writer is not to become expert in all these things. It's to try things, to have new experiences, to explore a new little bit of the world around you. And being creative in new ways is nearly always good for your writing.

How about you? What other forms of creativity do you practice? Have you tried any new ones lately? Do you think you can learn even from practicing creative forms you are not very good at?

Here is an instructive video on making sumi-e ink:

Sumi-e picture at the top of blog post was taken from the Kosher Samurai blog.

My Sumi-e Supplies:
Chinese calligraphy writing and brush painting / sumi set  
 The Sumi-E Book
Japanese Ink Painting: The Art of Sumi-e  

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Keeping Your Writer's Secrets

While reading a recently purchased book, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick, I came across a section called 'A Writer's Secrets'. And while I hadn't heard that term before I recognized it as an issue that I, and perhaps other writers, have dealt with.

Namely, how much, if any, of your current Work In Progress should you share with others--- ANY others? The concept of keeping your writer's secrets implies that there is a lot that you SHOULD be keeping secret, including your plot outlines, major plot points, your first draft and perhaps your second....

Why? Because at a delicate point in the alchemy of writing, the reaction of others can kill the spark, crush the dream, turn a Work In Progress into yet another abandoned novel idea.

And it's not just harsh criticism that can do this. Praise that wholly misses the point of what you are trying to write can be just as discouraging as a 'this whole plot is utter dreck' criticism. And even fulsome praise can crush a writing project under the weight of your friends' expectations.

I remember reading one of Lawrence Block's many how-to-write books. He mentioned having an idea for his next Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery--- and then he said he wouldn't say any more about it, he didn't want to leave his fight in the gym.

I think what he meant was that if you talk about your work with enough people, you dampen your drive to actually write the darn thing. You've told the story, after all, you've gotten reactions to it--- part of your mind is likely to conclude that the work is done.

Keeping your writing secret in the early phases can be scary. Anyone who has been subjected to the typical school training knows that anything you do secretly and on your own is NOT good--- it's goofing off at best. REAL schoolwork is done in a group setting with everyone doing the same thing in pretty much the same way.

So when we begin serious writing, there's a nervous part of us that has the need to check with others on each and every plot point to ensure that we are doing things 'right', in just the way everyone else does them.

But sharing your work in the early stages can lead to a sort of 'writing by committee' work habit. Many of the original and interesting things about your novel won't even make it into the first draft because your friend or your mother or your hairdresser didn't like it. What will come out is a group-written novel that is as dull and conventional as can be--- and the bewildered writer can't understand why everyone doesn't like it the way the 'co-writers' did.

But if you determine to keep your writer's secrets, to not discuss or share from your WIP until it's not only first-draft-finished, but in a polished version ready to be seen be a critical world, you are flying in the face of the way critique-group advocates say a writer should operate.

In critique groups, and even more in creative writing classes, you are expected to expose your first draft naked before the whole world. Not only that, the criticisms you will reap from that random group of people are expected to be taken to heart, and you are expected to change your work in accordance with their decrees, at least some of the time.

The answer, if you believe that not keeping your writer's secrets has harmed your writing and caused potentially-good projects to get dropped, is to stay out of critique groups and classes that work that way. If you want to be in a group, find one or found one in which only polished work is shared.

For many of us that may mean that we will end up being 'a writer alone'. But that's good. Writing is a lonely game, and it's meant to be. It's your name (or pen name) that will go on the finished product. You need to be bold enough to make your work your own, without feeling the need for constant reassurance from others during the writing process that you are doing things the way other people think is right.

How much do you share about a current WIP? Do you share too much or too little? 

Featured Kitties: Katniss, the orange-y one, is sitting and letting Myfanwy (Other Myfanwy) use her as a pillow. 

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Should Fiction Have Content Warnings or Worldview Warnings?

An Amusing Warning graphic from a blog

Have you ever wished that books had ratings the way movies and, these days, television programs do? I would have liked a warning that time I purchased a fantasy book that had very porny sex-scenes. I wouldn't have paid good money for it if I'd known.

But what kind of warning would we want, if there were warnings? Back when television had very explicitly spelled-out warnings of what was permitted, the rules were obeyed. But the people who put together television programs didn't believe in the rules. In fact, in their world-view it was considered daring to find ways to introduce 'forbidden' topics/content without blatantly violating the rules.

Content warnings--- counting up the swears, sex scenes and the like--- might be somewhat helpful, but it is not enough. I think it's more important to consider the worldview behind the bothersome content than to just tally up how many 'damn and hell' swears and how many effword-level swears you found.

For example--- imagine a book has the effword in it. That word may be in there once, twice, five times or twenty times. But in addition to the number question there is the question of what was meant by it. And that is likely to lead to the author's worldview.

Imagine a book with four instances of effword use. And then imagine 2 possible authors for that book.

Author A has the worldview that swearing is a bad thing, unkind to those who have to hear it, and likely to end up being 'fighting words'. He puts bad words in the mouths of bad guys, or of regular guys with a bad habit. He often depicts the likely reaction to effword use--- people taking offense at the language and therefore not listening to what the swearing speaker was trying to say.

Author B is a Stephen-King level defender of foul language in fiction. In his work, characters who don't swear and express their disapproval of those that do tend to be like Stephen King's Annie Wilkes--- evil serial killers. The only reason he managed to include only 4 effwords in the current book is because said book is people by characters who likely wouldn't swear at all--- nuns, elderly respectable ladies, preachers, and young kids from good homes.

I think most of us who don't care for swearing in fiction would accept the 4F book from author A, but not from author B. Because when someone shares our worldview on an issue we are willing to grant him a little leeway. And also because the common-worldview author is less likely to offend on other points not involving issues such as swearing.

No one proposes worldview warnings. But I have noticed that if you buy books from most large mainstream publishers, they will either fully express 'Worldview B' or express no opinion at all. Because advocates of 'Worldview B' are increasingly interpreting any sign of having 'Worldview A' as 'being a hater'.

'Worldview A' books these days mostly tend to publishers and lines that specialize in that alternate worldview, such as the Christian publishers for those 'Worldview A' books with Christian content. 'Worldview A' people may not commonly think of people as haters for expressing a 'Worldview B' opinion, but they are likely to declare them 'part of the problem'.

I've sometimes thought that some big New York City publisher might get wise to the divided times we live in and come up with worldview-marked lines of fiction, clearly color coded. Perhaps borrowing colors from the world of politics, they could have 'Worldview A' books marked in red and 'Worldview B' books marked in blue. Perhaps a neutral line marked in purple as well.

But the problem with a system of markings like that is we'd be dependent on those in charge of making the marking rules. We'd have a few years of peace while the system was established. But then the 'blue' people that dominate the publishing company might decide to make the purple line much more blue, and the red line much more purple. While the original red writers would be left without a publisher.

An entirely identical thing would happen, of course, if it were the red-opinion people who dominated the decision-making process. Because of the darker side of human nature, we all want to get things all our own way and we aren't always aware of when we are using unfair means to achieve that.

Official worldview warnings, like content warnings on TV and movies, are unlikely to have the effect many of us desire, which is to make acceptable books, TV and movies more available and easier to locate. Look at how the 'PG' movie rating has shifted from something not OK for young kids, to the common rating for kids' cartoon movies. Official warnings and ratings seem not to be all that reliable.

We will in future have to depend on the alternate methods to achieve that goal--- we will have to look for signs that authors of books we might choose share our values--- or at the least, are not outspokenly opposed to people with our values.

And, no matter what our values and worldview happen to be, it is up to us to ensure that there is a market for books from that point of view, by buying, reading and spreading the word about the best books out there for people of our worldview.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Decluttering Day an Essential Task for the Asperger/ADHD Writer

My cluttered stacking trays
A cluttered environment isn't essential to being a creative person--- in fact, excess clutter makes it take longer to get things done. In fact, the worst results of clutter can put writing to a halt--- perhaps a permanently-lost notebook of story notes will put a story forever on hold when the writer can't recreate it from memory. Or the lost-and-unpaid bill will result in the power or the internet access being shut off when it is needed.

For the person with Asperger Syndrome, or autism spectrum disorders, or ADHD, it is doubly hard. For people like us, we are coping with brains that work differently. And most books on how-to-organize are written for the neurotypical person, not for us.

For example, neurotypical people can store important papers in file cabinets with good results. For the Aspie or ADHD person, putting an important paper in a file cabinet feels like making it disappear forever. And so we accumulate paper stacks full of important papers and tell everyone not to touch them.

My paper stack, this morning
 A solution for the paper stack problem is to use stacking trays, as shown in the first photo. But over time the stacking trays can get all cluttered up with old projects and things that belong elsewhere. It's time to declutter.

Decluttering can be tough, though. There are several old/suspended/abandoned projects resting in my paper stack and stacking trays that will have to be rehomed into the Dreaded File Cabinet. To make room it's likely that some of the contents of the DFC will have to be discarded. And it's hard to let go of things--- papers that represent happier times of the past. Objects that were once of value may also have to get tossed during decluttering, and when you've suffered a reduction in income it's hard to let stuff like that go since if you want to replace it you won't be able to afford it.

Right now, I feel like my current clutter-level is holding me back from doing some of the writing-related things I want to do. I haven't written any poems in a while because the legal pad I write poetic first drafts on has disappeared in the clutter-piles. So today, I declutter. Maybe not a complete declutter leaving my writing area neat as a pin, but enough decluttering that I can hope to write with renewed enthusiasm and purpose tomorrow.

Recommended Book: Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition-Revised and Updated

How about you? Is your writing area cluttered right now? Do you feel the clutter is holding you back? What have you done to combat clutter, and did it help?

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Indie Life Blog Hop: Lawrence Block's Gone Indie!!!

Written for the Indie Life blog hop. Visit the link if you'd like to participate in this monthly blog event.

Being an indie writer has been making great strides in respectability lately. Especially now that famed mystery author Lawrence Block has gone indie for some of his books.

  He'd done an indie book before, Write for your Life, to go with some seminars he was then conducting. But he also decided to go the indie route for a collection of Matt Scudder short stories. (Link: Anne R. Allen's Blog: Lawrence Block talks self-publishing.)

And now, he's self-published a Bernie Rhodenbarr novel--- the first since 2004. I didn't know it was self-published until my own copy arrived. (Links: Lawrence Block: Look Who's Back, Mystery Fanfare: A dialogue between Bernie and Larry on Self-Publishing.)

Lawrence Block, I would say, is doing indie right. He has his credentials as a writer well-established through years of traditionally publishing his books. He has a reader base for both the Matt Scudder series and the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, both of which have fans looking for more.

Sometimes the new indie author forgets that the first thing he has to do is establish those writing credentials--- to prove to the world that he really can write. There are too many books and ebooks out there written as a get-rich-scheme or by a tag-along NaNoWriMo writer, that show no skill at all as a writer. Readers who pick up such books come away with the conclusion that the indie writer, like the old-style vanity press writer, is someone who just cannot write well enough to do the job.

Traditional publishing--- somewhere, somehow, in a forum with a gatekeeper that doesn't publish dreck, establishes those writing credentials. So would a well-written blog that has sufficient traffic to make it authoritative. Or being invited to post articles on a well-regarded website.

Without these credentials, most indie authors don't sell well. By continuing to write well and publishing many novels and short stories, eventually the good indie writer will pick up fans.  In time, success at the level enjoyed by Hugh Howey may come along.

Lawrence Block's indie books:
The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (Bernie Rhodenbarr) (Volume 11)

The Night and The Music: The Matthew Scudder Stories

Has your initial opinion about indie (self-published) fiction changed recently? In which direction? What factors led to the change?

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

IWSG: Writing While Depressed

This post is for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop.

Recently my therapist told me I'm depressed. Don't know why he thinks THAT--- maybe it's that during that session I was talking about death all the time? But anyway, I've come to agree with him on the depression thing and so lately I've been coping with Writing While Depressed.

Now, my writing life is pretty messed up already--- first, because of my Asperger Syndrome, and second because of my ongoing struggles with writer's block. In observing myself and my writing process, I think clinical depression adds something to the mix.

In non-depressed times, when starting a writing project, I usually have a few really good, upbeat days when I very much believe in my project and don't have any particular doubts about it. When Writing While Depressed, I have ideas for writing projects that I believe are objectively as good as any others I've had, yet on the very day the ideas occur to me I begin to have 'this idea is dreck' self-talk flitting around my head.

I try to tell myself that this is just the depression talking. And my depression really has got to stop swearing in Yiddish. So far this has helped me to hold on to the writing project in question in spite of the doubts.

Because this writing project is my first attempt at the mystery genre, I'm following the exercises in Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction by Lesley Grant Adamson in order to get the outlining/plotting done. I think of it kind of like an experienced writer is taking my hand and leading me through the world of building a mystery story.

Instead of working out this preliminary stuff on my computer, I'm using a composition book and writing with my lucky purple-ink gel pens. This seems to be a good way of doing it, except that Ender the kitten keeps jumping in my lap and wanting to sit on the composition book.

I'm also fighting the depression's effects with by starting the writing day with exercise. Due to the current Wind Chill Apocalypse I can't go outside and walk, but I put on loud music and the house and pace briskly for a half-hour.

I'm also thinking of breaking out my Lawrence Block 'Affirmations for Writers' audio and playing it. It's a bit on the New-Agey side but there is nothing that really goes off the deep end in it, and I think it does make me feel more confident about my writing.

In a number of how-to-write books I've read that when suffering writer's block one must always remember that it ends. Which doesn't feel all that true in my case, but this depression-induced supercharged writer's block will certainly end, as the depression will end (and come back--- did I mention I'm depressed?)

One thing that HAS perked me up is that since I'm writing a novel centered around a crime, it gives me a great excuse to wallow in all the true-crime books and television programs I like--- because it's research, you see. True stories of murder have been one of my Special Interests since I was a kid and sneaked a peek into some old books about Leopold and Loeb, and the Boston Strangler. Reviving this Special Interest helps me to have a more positive attitude toward my writing project, as anything strongly connected to a Special Interest is something I can feel positive about.

A final factor in Writing While Depressed is that I am far more conscious of being an isolated writer. In fact, depression makes me a more isolated writer than usual since I'm less likely to seek out some semblance of contact with other writers on Facebook and such. In me depression generates a lot of self-talk about how other people don't care for me and never will, and if people don't like me in person why would I expect them to like my writing? I also tend to isolate myself from God, avoiding prayer and even thinking about prayer, though I have forced myself to watch the daily Mass on EWTN a few times (a great 'pill' for depression).

Well, this has turned into a depressing post, hasn't it? But the upbeat part of it that I cling to is that depression isn't forever, even when it feels that way. Even in the worst part of a depression you can always be surprised by a fleeting moment of optimism or good cheer. Cherish those moments. And know that things will get better.

Unless there's a zombie apocalypse. I hate it when there's a zombie apocalypse.

Are you undergoing any special writing challenges right now? How do you cope? Or not cope?

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Creating Characters for an Open-Ended Fiction Series

Senior citizen cat Niki is quite a character.

An open-ended fiction series--- unlike a trilogy which is essentially one long novel--- requires characters which are suited to the form--- characters which can reasonably be expected to come back in book after book.

By contrast, a character in a single novel or a closed series such as a trilogy (or the Harry Potter series) is facing a unique challenge in his life. Bringing that character back can be anti-climactic, although some writers have fallen in love with a great character and managed to turn him into a series character.

A good series character is the sort of person who can come back and have many more adventures after the first book. Think Conan the Barbarian, or Sookie Stackhouse, or Sherlock Holmes, or the Stainless Steel Rat, or Bernie Rhodenbarr.... Mystery/crime fiction is a genre that lends itself to the open-ended series centered around a central character.

A series character that's successful must be launched in a powerful Book One (or short-story one), but unlike in a stand-alone novel, you must not utterly blow up a character's life in that first novel. Imagine Sherlock Holmes if his first adventure had ended in the burning-down of 221B Baker Street and the killing of Doctor Watson, with Holmes having to slink off to Australia to start over. There probably wouldn't have been a second story. (Though if there was, the author would have had to establish a new stability for Holmes.)

A series character must have a motivation for continuing to participate in the new adventures. In series centered around a cop or private eye or a barbarian warrior, they have to participate because it is their job. In other series, it's because the character is an adventurer or adrenaline junkie.

But what about the ordinary-citizen character? In mysteries, it's believable for an ordinary person to be caught up in one murder and solve the crime. But when it happens again and again the reader may start to wonder why he doesn't just stay safe and leave the investigating to the police. And when bodies turn up whenever this ordinary-citizen is around, you might think they'd be suspected of somehow being an uncaught serial killer. (I always suspected Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote--- she lived in a small town and murdered corpses kept turning up. They should have locked her up just as a precaution.)

In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block, Bernie starts off as an ordinary burglar who happened to burgle a place with a corpse in it. Ray, the local crooked cop, is certain that Bernie did it, and so Bernie must solve the case to keep his freedom. In later books, Ray's telling Bernie that he's sure Bernie didn't do it, but because of the evidence he has to take Bernie in. Finally, in the most recent book, Ray actually takes Bernie to the scene of an unsolved murder because Bernie's so good at finding solutions to such things. At this point, solving crimes becomes something Bernie does, like burglary.

The series hero needs a group of friends and associates. In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, besides Bernie we have Ray, the crooked cop, Carolyn, Bernie's gay friend and sidekick, and usually Mrs. Hersh, Bernie's neighbor who doesn't mind Bernie being a burglar since he confines his burgling to the rich side of town where the momzers deserve it.

You may see that each of these characters serves a function. Since Bernie is dealing with crimes, he needs a link to law enforcement. For a burglar like Bernie, Ray is ideal since he's not entirely law-abiding but still a cop in good standing. Carolyn plays the sidekick role, which often involves just being someone that Bernie can confide in about the case. At other times she can go out and do things for Bernie that he can't go out and do for himself. As for Mrs. Hersh, she's a very minor character who serves to provide a bit of local color, and sometimes proves useful when there is action happening at Bernie's apartment building.

One factor you might consider when designing your series character--- how comfortable is it for you to write him? You don't want to sentence yourself to time inside the head of a series character that you see as nothing but creepy and evil. You must find something you can like about your character. After all, even Dexter, the serial killer in Jeff Lindsay's series, has endearing traits like confining his serial-killing to other serial killers, and being kind, loyal to, and protective of his sister Deb, brother Brian, wife Rita, and his stepkids and baby.

Also, don't give your character too many characteristics and traits that will involve you in constant research. Don't make your series character have growing orchids as his hobby/obsession when you don't know anything about growing any sort of plant and don't want to. Save those sort of things for your stand-alone novel's characters. If you like baseball well enough, and have a brother who's obsessed with the game, you probably won't have any difficulty writing a character with an intense interest in baseball--- even if you keep that character going for twenty books or more.

A final suggestion: you might want to 'road-test' your series characters by sketching out a number of potential adventures for them, just to see how well they work in a series. You don't need to write all the sketched-out adventures. Use them to see if your characters are likely to be suitable for a series.

Right now, I'm at the early stages of creating some series characters. So far, I've come out with some rather firm ideas for two stories--- one to become a novel, and one a short story. And I have some tentative ideas about other stories and story fragments. I think this work will help me create characters that I can use.

Have you ever tried to create a series character? How well did that work out for you? What series characters do you most like to read about? 

How to Create a Series Character in Fiction  
5 Tips for Creating a Must-Read Fiction Series

Cat Notes: Niki the cat, along with her nearly identical sister Viki, was born in a barn. She gave birth to a litter of kittens in the flowerbed, but she was OK with it when I moved her and her babies into the barn. One of those kittens was a white male with a neurological disability. I named him Claudius. In the early years I could only tell Niki and Viki apart because Niki was the friendly one. Later I discovered that their tabby patterns differed a little and Niki had a black spot on the back of her head that Viki didn't have. So when Viki disappeared, I knew Niki was the one I had left. 

When Niki grew older, she decided she didn't like the other barn cats, and ran away. While walking the dog, Niki came out of the woods--- she still liked the dog. I carried her home and let her into the house. I allowed two of the kittens born in 2012 to stay to keep her company, and she liked that pretty much. She also likes the newer kittens including our new disabled kitten Therese. But she was REALLY upset last spring when I let barncat Gwen into the house and she promptly had 5 kittens. Niki hissed and growled for months over that.

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