Jul 202016

Writing –

The last week has been a whirlwind of events and emotions around here. The first phase of editing on the first book of the Chucklers series is done. I’ll have to see where we go from here, but we’re getting closer to publication by the day. We’re still working on cover ideas, but that’s also progressing.

In the meantime, I’m back at work on the next Severed Press project, End Point Pangaea. As of this writing, I’m about 4000 words into it, and trying not to let the dark tone of Chucklers invade the new project too much. I had to completely delete a few scenes I had written when I decided they were simply too gruesome for EPP. But the project is ongoing, and I’ll be putting a new progress meter in the side column shortly.


Other stuff –

Back in March when all the nasty weather blew through here, our roof took some minor hail damage. We finally got around to getting someone out to give us an estimate, and now I’m in the middle of an argument between the roofer, who has an interest in getting the roof completely replaced (because, let’s face it, this is how roofers make money), and the insurance company, who has an interest in simply having it repaired (because, let’s face it, this is how the insurance company saves money).  So the insurance adjuster says the damage isn’t that bad, the roofer says it’s worse than the adjuster is admitting, and I’m standing between them, uncomfortably recalling little league baseball games where parents are yelling at the umpire (“What? Are you blind, ump?”).

And now, I have a check for what the insurance company says they’ll pay, and I’m waiting to see if the roofer can do the necessary repairs for that cost. And now that the deal has been done, they’re making me wish I’d never started the whole process.  Man, I hate dealing with stuff like this.   Struggle


Other other stuff –

Bella and Cricket

Bella and Cricket

You’ve seen me write about my dogs, Bella and Cricket, and you know how much I love them. A few years ago, the two of them got into their first fight. Cricket was clearly the instigator, evidently not realizing that she was only half the size of her pack mate. We broke them apart, and honestly, Bella seemed shocked that it had happened. She broke off as soon as MBH and I got involved, but Cricket kept re-engaging, going so far as to run all the way around a table to get back into the fray. She actually ended up biting me during the fight and I got a nasty infection on my arm. The final outcome was a few stitches for both of them, and a doctor’s visit and a vet bill for us.

Several months later, it happened again. Cricket triggered and attacked Bella, with even worse results. I suppose Bella, who had always been a marshmallow up to that point, realized that she had the upper hand in a fight, and she tore Cricket up pretty easily with very little damage to herself.

There were a few more fights over the next year, and things slowly shifted from Cricket being the aggressor, to Bella attacking instead.

We’ve tried repeatedly to figure out what causes the fights. For the longest time, we were convinced that it was simple jealousy over MBH’s affection. At first, it always seemed to happen when she was holding Cricket in her lap. Maybe that made Cricket feel especially brave or something, but after the first couple of times, we made it a point to make sure neither dog was allowed on the furniture.

Another time, it happened when I got down on the floor with them, between the couch and a pair of footstool/storage cubes we have. I don’t know if it was the enclosed area, or the fact that I was on the floor with them, but Bella went from happy and tail wagging to attack mode in less than a second. No growl or warning of any kind. Just a sudden attack.

Lately, it’s been happening more frequently. Last week, Bella was on her blanket behind my chair in the den. Cricket was laying in a little bed beside my chair. MBH and I were eating, and Bella got up, started to walk past Cricket, and next thing I knew, she was on Cricket, tearing into her for the fourth time in as many weeks.

At that point, I was becoming convinced there was something mentally wrong with Bella. The thought that she was becoming so dangerous that we were going to have to put her down was tearing me up, but I didn’t see anything else we could do. In my eyes, Bella had clearly become a loose cannon… a dangerously aggressive loose cannon.

Then MBH found some information on a website that described our situation perfectly. It was from an article on a book called “Dogs on the Couch” by Larry Lachman.  It said:

When it comes to fighting between dogs in the same household, there are four common characteristics:

* Dogs are of the same sex.
* Dogs fight only in the owner’s presence.
* Dogs are adult dogs, four years or older.
* Fights involve a struggle for which one will be the dominant dog in the family pack. And in these cases, the owners frequently choose to wrong dog as the dominant dog and begin treating him as such. Or the owners attempt to treat the dogs equally and democratically.

Well, that described our situation to a “T”. Both of our girls are… well, girls. The fights only happen around MBH or myself. Bella is seven years old, Cricket is five. And we’ve always tried to treat the girls as if they were equals.

I’m telling you, no matter how much Dog Whisperer you watch on TV, nothing prepares you for the fact that the reason your dogs are fighting… is you.   Frown

Dogs are not people, and have a hierarchical mentality. One dog MUST be superior to the other, or they will fight for dominance in the eyes of the human leaders of their pack. In trying to treat them equally, we had unwittingly created an unbalanced dynamic in our pack. We were basically telling the girls, “we don’t know which of you is dominant, so you have to figure it out.”

There were all sorts of recommendations as to how to “repair” our pack, but they are long-term solutions, involving weeks of training. And at the rate that they’ve been fighting, we don’t know if Cricket will survive long enough. As it is, she seems to be wondering why we’re suddenly showing preferential treatment to Bella. There’s no way she can understand that it’s pretty much to keep her from being killed. But she does seem to understand that she’s no longer being treated as the cute little girl who nudges our hands for affection. Now, instead of affection, she’s being corrected for horning in on Bella’s time.

So while we’re going through the exercises and adjustments, trying to correct the situation that we caused, we’re also trying to find Cricket a new home. She needs a home where she’s the only dog. Where she can get all the attention she craves, because she’s one that loves to cuddle up with her humans… loves to bump your hand with her nose so you’ll pet her. She really is a sweetie, and it’s not her fault that we didn’t create a proper pack environment.    Frown

I feel like such an idiot.

But an old friend from my old Woodlands Writers Guild days has said she might be able to take Cricket, if I can get her back down to the Houston area. And if that’s what it takes to ensure that Cricket doesn’t end up seriously injured or killed, then we’ll give her up. It will break our hearts, but we’ll do it.

Crap. It really hurts to say that.  Cry

We’ll see how it plays out, but it looks like there’s no happy ending. All we can do is try to avoid a bloody ending.

Stay safe, everyone. Bye

Jul 132016

WW47Hello everyone. I’m going to hit on some of that boring “writerly” stuff today… getting back to the whole “Learning to Write” roots of this blog for a minute. So if that’s the sort of thing that causes your eyes to glaze over, then you may want to stop reading here.

Still with me? Really? Okay, it’s on you then. Here we go.  Grin

If you aren’t a writer, then likely all your exposure to the “rules” of writing was probably drilled into you in school. Writing professionally though, you learn that there are other standards (or style guides) for writing, and that much of those standards were written by people who were concerned with how much space your words take up on a printed page. A few commas deleted at the right places can make the difference in a 300 page book, and a 295 page book. Five pages spread across a 10k book print run comes to 50k pages that a publisher doesn’t have to pay for.  Multiply that several times (since a publisher is going to have several authors in their stable) and all the paper and ink saved translates into money in the publisher’s pocket.

So various kinds of writing have developed “style guides”. If you’re a journalist, you may be required to write according to the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style). Or if you’re a college student, you may be required to conform to Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, or possibly one of the Modern Language Association (MLA) guides geared specifically to writing research papers or “Scholarly Publishing”. And medical publications have all sorts of publishing guides depending on the discipline you’re writing for.

For genre fiction writing though, most people in the business use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) as a guideline.  At least, most people I know in the business. And as such, I’ve gotten used to writing in a manner that more readily conforms to the CMOS rules. I’ve learned that if I write according to CMOS rules the first time, it minimizes the amount of time spent editing my manuscripts. So I minimize punctuation… fewer commas, hyphens, etc. And colons and semi-colons are avoided like the plague. Even then, I’m used to my editor going through my work and slashing even more “extraneous” punctuation.

I’ve been told in the past that I tend to get carried away with the comma, and I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to ellipses. Not this time, though. I’m working on the edits for Chucklers and I don’t know if the editor is using a different style manual, or if she just has a different style, personally. Whatever it is, my new editor has been plugging in extra commas, ellipses, and even hyphens like there’s no tomorrow. It’s taking a bit of getting used to.

I don’t suppose it really matters all that much.  As long as the book flows well and doesn’t pull the reader out of the story, then it shouldn’t matter whether the car is “well stocked” or “well-stocked”.  Right?   Struggle

And if all goes according to plan, I should be finished in the next few days.

Once I finish approving or rejecting the edits, the book goes back to the publisher and… and what?  I don’t honestly know. This is the first time I’ve worked with this publisher, so I don’t yet have a good feel for how they work. I don’t know if they give it another editing pass, or send it off to formatting, or what. I’m just trying not to be too big a pita for them while we work on getting this book out to you fine folks. I know I still have to get the dedication and author bio to them, and they will need to be worked into the formatting. And I don’t know how much their formatters will expect me to do, or if they would rather I just get out of the way and leave it all to them.

All the little things, like how many lines before and after a chapter heading, is there a particular symbol they want to use to denote scene changes, or simply divide with the old “triple asterisk”? There are a myriad of tiny little details involved where I typically know in advance who will be doing what. This is a new ballgame for me, and I’ll have to learn it the same way I learned when I published HPM.

But I do know that I’m moving forward, and that Chucklers is almost born.  I know that End Point Pangaea is moving forward, slowly at the moment, but that progress on it will be much faster once I’m finished with the Chucklers edits. And I know that I’m looking forward to getting some more titles out to you folks.

But in order to do so, I need to finish this blog post and get back to work. So here I go… writer at work.

Talk to you next time. Stay safe, everyone.  Bye

Jul 062016

What to write about?  There’s been quite a bit going on since I last posted…. what, two weeks ago?  WW46aThe dogs have been fighting again, resulting in a lot of anxiety in the Brackett household.  For some reason, this keeps happening, and we’re at our wits’ end as to why.  This time, Cricket got a good puncture on her flank and the vet put three staples in to hold the wound closed.  Cricket had two of them out within the hour.  The third one took her an extra day to get out.   Struggle

In other news, I recently got a reminder on Facebook that showed some of last year’s garden photos.  I was surprised to see that I’m actually doing better this year than I was at this time last year.  For instance, two days ago FB memories showed me a picture of the cantaloupe bed that I had posted exactly one year previously.  The vines were just getting started, just beginning to fill the bed.  This year, not only have the plants completely filled their bed, but we already have small cantaloupes growing.  Some are a bit larger than a grape, others are about the size of a baseball.

WW46bBetter yet, some of the Black Diamond watermelons are beginning to mature.  So all in all, I suppose I’ve learned a bit since last year’s gardening attempts.  I know I can grow the heck out of cantaloupe (and hopefully watermelon) plants.  We’re also doing better with the tomatoes, though still not as good as I would like.  I planted several varieties this year, but the only two that seem to be doing well are the San Marzanos and the Big Boy tomatoes.  The San Marzanos are putting out all kinds of fruits, (although they aren’t yet ripe), and the Big Boys have put out only a couple of maters, but the plants still look nice and healthy.  Some of the others may have put out one or two tomatoes, but the plants don’t look like they’re thriving.  I’ll see how they do over the rest of the season, but so far, it’s looking like I should concentrate on these two varieties next year.WW46d

But while I may be doing better this year than last, I definitely still have a lot to learn.  For instance, the garden tower that was such a huge success last year isn’t doing so well this year.  I think I mentioned that I had devised a little automated watering system for the tower.  I cobbled together some bits from the drip irrigation system repair kit I had, and was actually pretty proud of how it turned out.  Every morning at 5:30, the little sprinklers would kick on for fifteen minutes.  Then again at 8:30 at night, they would kick on for another fifteen.

Note to self – next year DON’T DO THIS!  I now have white mold in the potting soil, and something called fungus gnats.  On top of that, all my lettuce went straight to seed.  (sigh)  So this year the garden tower is pretty much a bust.

And the zucchini plants were doing great until a couple of days ago, producing a few zukes every day for us.  Two days ago I noticed that two of them were beginning to wilt.  Today, it’s four of them, and their productivity has almost completely halted.  At first I thought it had to do with the fact that I had turned off the irrigation system for a few days.  It had rained for a few days, and I didn’t see the need to keep irrigating them when Mother Nature was doing a much better job of it.  But when I saw that things were getting worse today, rather than better, I ran a quick online search for the most common causes… then did a face palm when I realized what it likely was.  Zucchini is a kind of squash, and squash plants are notoriously susceptible to squash bugs.  I looked up pictures of the little critters to see what they looked like, then went out to see if I could find them on the plants.

WW46eSure enough, I found what I was hoping NOT to see, but feared I would.  Squash bugs are killing my zucchini plants.  I can spray them with diatomaceous earth, but that will also kill any bees that come by as pollinators.  I suppose I can try only putting it on the lower parts of the plants, but that’s going to be difficult to do with the wind blowing the way it is.  I’ll have to think on it for a bit.   IDK

The rest of the garden is doing pretty well, with various bell peppers and jalapeños popping up.  The cucumbers got off to a bad start, and I don’t know that they’re going to do much this year.  But from what I recall from last year, my cukes didn’t really take off until much later in the season, so I won’t give up on them just yet.


Largest bocking #14

And a couple of the eggplants are looking like they’re going to put up fruit in a week or so.  The Anaheim peppers aren’t doing anything yet, but the plants still look healthy, so I’ll see if they’re just late bloomers.


A single comfrey leaf

And the comfrey!  It’s going to town! I now have four comfrey plants; two bocking #4, and two bocking #14.  I got the #4 plants last winter and overwintered them in buckets until early this spring and they’ve done well.  I got a couple of #14 plants from a friend on May 24 of this year.  That’s just six weeks ago.  When I planted the #14s, they had two or three small leaves on them, and were about six inches tall.  Today the one of them was a couple of feet tall (picture to the right), and I harvested leaves from it for the dehydrator.  The second one isn’t doing quite as well as this one, but it’s still doing all right.  I figure I’ll probably get another four or five harvests between the two of them before winter sets in.  Plus I’ll get about the same from my older #4 plants.  All in all, I figure I’ll be set for medicinal comfrey by winter.

And that’s about it for the Brackett Homestead Garden Report.   Grin


Now, on to writing news…

I got the manuscript back from the Severed Press editor, and edits are ongoing.  We’ve also been going back and forth on cover art.  So far, they haven’t sent me anything that really blows my socks off, but I don’t want to be a complete pita either.  The latest concept piece they sent me wasn’t bad.  I won’t say it’s amazing, but it’s not bad.  Maybe I just got spoiled working with Streetlight Graphics.  Unfortunately, going with a press means I don’t get to work as closely with the cover artist as I was used to with SLG, and I may have to compromise more than I’m used to.  The main thing is to get the book out, and get some sales rolling in – get my name back out there after a much too long hiatus.  And that’s what Severed is supposed to excel at. So I have to trust them with my baby at some point.  Right?

So with edits ongoing (I’m about halfway through), and the cover design in progress, I’m guessing that the first Chucklers book will likely be out in the next few months.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyway.

End Point Pangaea is on hold while I work on Chucklers edits, but it is going to be my main project as soon as edits are done.  My goal is to have at least the first draft done before the end of the year.

And that’s about it.  Time to get back to work.  So stay safe everyone.  I’ll see you next time.  Bye

Jun 222016

WW45About twenty years ago, we lived in a small house in Spring, Texas (a northern suburb of Houston). In front of that house were some huge pine trees that towered overhead like giants. These trees were so big that the lowest branch was a good thirty feet in the air, if not higher, and we didn’t have much of a front yard because the branches blocked out so much light that the grass had trouble growing there.

At that time, we also had a neighbor who worked for the city’s largest electrical provider, and he had some pretty awesome flat-woven nylon cordage that was soft and pliable like cloth, but had something like a 5000 lb. tensile rating. I remember tying hand tools to a length of that cable, and after many, MANY tries, getting a length of it over that lower-most branch so that I could hang a swing for the kids.

Imagine a swing that is connected to a thirty-something foot length of cordage. Imagine you are a child and can swing from one side of the yard to the other in one thrilling and terrifying go.

Imagine you are the parent of that child, watching those memories being made. That you are the one who lifts your little one up so she can hang onto the swing, clenching her eyes closed, partly in fear, partly in anticipation of the thrill to come.

I didn’t even know there was a picture of any of this. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember a time when there was only a little handle for them to grip. We had something called a “sky chair”WW45B (pictured on the right) that we hung from that nylon cord, and that’s what I recall being there. But knowing me and my impatience, I can easily see me hanging an improvised swing up there before I got around to hanging the sky chair.

Last week was a pretty eventful week, between my birthday, Father’s day, the Orlando shooting and the predictable ensuing political fallout. But we also had a more personal event here at the Brackett household.  Baby Bird came to visit for almost a week. And for my birthday she painted me a memory. Evidently she has a picture of a much younger me pushing a much younger her on that swing all those years ago, and she used it to paint one of the gouache pictures that she’s gotten so many requests for.

I have to admit, seeing that painting… well, I think there was some dust on it or some such, because I got something in my eyes when she gave it to me.

Yeah, MBH and I have some pretty amazing kids, and it’s things like this that constantly remind us of that little fact.


In other news…

Writing has been going well. I got some really positive comments from betas on the newest revisions to Chucklers. I was honestly beginning to worry about this one. Comments from the first round of betas were good, but not overly enthusiastic, and there were a few of them who had trouble with the complex timeline. This latest revision compresses the timeline, making it much easier to keep events together. And evidently it worked. I got a couple of those “I couldn’t put it down” comments that the writer always strives for, and have no complaints about following the sequence of events this time.

Also, I’ve had the first round of cover art from the publisher, but neither the editor I’m working with, nor I are really wild about the first attempts. That’s all right though.  After all I’ve been through in the past with cover art, and the lessons I’ve learned, I’m not going to stress over this first attempt at all.

The new project, “End Point Pangaea“, is now officially underway. This one is going to be different. In order to get to the main story, I have to build the back story for the reader. In doing so, I’m finding that the dark and macabre mood from Chucklers seems to be bleeding (no pun intended) over into this new project. It concerned me at first, but I decided it was too soon to worry about it for now. I’m going to write and see where it all takes me, and if the story ends up being too dark, I can make any necessary changes later.

And a final bit of writing news… Year 12 (the sequel to Half Past Midnight) has been languishing in a drawer as a stalled project for a few months now. I got most of the novel written, but was unhappy with where the story was taking me and had absolutely no clue as to how to resolve the problems. This morning I had a bit of a breakthrough with it, and I think I know how to fix the issues. Keep your fingers crossed for me.   Smile

So that’s it for now. Time for me to get back to work. Hope you all have a wonderful week, and stay safe!  Bye

Jun 092016

ww44Sorry I’m late with this post. There was a lot going on in the “Personal” sector of my life yesterday, and I was so preoccupied with it that I honestly went all day thinking it was Tuesday. It wasn’t until MBH and I were taking the girls for their evening walk that I realized it was Wednesday. By then it was too late to do much about it.  And as it turns out, it was probably kismet that things turned out that way.  Why?

As those of you who frequent Facebook know, after you’ve been there a while, you begin getting notifications about “memories” each day.  These are reminders of things you posted on the same date, in years past.  By interesting coincidence, it was exactly one year ago today that I committed here on the blog to be more regular on my blog posts, AND to making the writing more of a priority. I guess I can count myself at least partly successful.  And it somehow seems fitting that I start the next steps of the journey on the anniversary of that promise to myself.

Next steps?  Yep.   Grin

As I’ve been hinting at for the last two weeks, I’ve been in communication with a small press about working with them on some books. Well, it’s finally done!  Mostly, that is.  As of today, the contracts are signed, witnessed, scanned, and emailed.  I suppose it’s technically not a done deal until they send back the copies with their signatures as well, but at this stage, that’s mostly just a formality (I hope).  So I think it’s safe to announce now that I’m now part of the Severed Press stable of authors.  I’ve signed two contracts, for two series of books – the Chucklers trilogy (which I’ve been working on -off and on- for a couple of years), and another project that will likely turn into a series that I’m just going to call EPP for now.


So, status reports –

Writing –

Chucklers – rewrites are about done (hopefully by tomorrow), and I think I’ve fixed the timeline problems I was having. It will go back out to betas either this weekend, or early next week.  Looks like the current draft is going to come in at just a bit over 120k words.  This novel has been so much more complicated to put together than I ever imagined.  Two contiguous timelines that have to intertwine, showing events happening in three different locations with six main POV characters, and a host of secondary POVs. There have been times when I’ve had to put it in the drawer for months at a time just to get a fresh perspective on it.  Confused

EPP – New project – This is the first of at least two novels set in mid-Triassic Pangaea, about 240 million years in our past.  It’s going to be quite a departure from anything else I’ve written, and is going to take a LOT of research.  But I’m a glutton for punishment, and I’m actually looking forward to working on it.  So wish me luck.   Thinking

Miscellany – I’ve had a recent streak of winning things over the last several weeks.  Nothing huge, but a book here, a door prize there. Most recently, I won a free book cover from author/artist Denise Lhamon.  I need to figure out what to use it on.  Maybe the EPP project?  Hmmm….


Personal –

I just found out that our eldest had to put her pug down this morning.  He was very old (I think fourteen years), was listless, had stopped eating and drinking, and had lost a lot  of weight, so it was time.  But as anyone who has been through this can attest to, knowing it’s the right thing to do doesn’t make it any easier. MBH & I had to put one of our dogs to sleep several years ago after he had a stroke.  I walked out of the vets office with water running down my face, and that dog didn’t even like me!

But there’s an undeniable connection between the pet and the pet-owned.  And it hurts like hell when that connection is lost.   Big Frown

WW44BOn a brighter note, Baby Bird is supposed to come for a visit in a few days. Things can still change, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s going to work out.  If you’ve read my past posts, you know that she recently graduated with her BFA, and she’s making the transition from college life to working to pay the bills.  She put the word out this morning on FB that she’s now able to do some commissioned paintings.  Before now, almost all of her time was spent doing work that was assigned to her for her classes.  Now that she’s graduated, she wants to start by doing some 9×12 inch gouache (it’s a type of opaque watercolor – I had to look it up Wink  ) human/animal morphing paintings similar to the one here.  If you’re interested, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with her.

As of now (about six hours after she made the post), she has six inquiries, with at least two of them sounding pretty serious. I hope this works out for her.  I know I’m the proud parent, but she really is incredibly talented.


So that’s it.  Sorry again for the late post.  And as always, stay safe everyone!  Bye