Jun 062018
 

As you can see, I finally got the final monitor working.   The external graphic card adapter I bought worked like a charm.  As a matter of fact, if I ever decide to go crazy with them, this particular card is capable of concurrently synchronizing up to six monitors at once.  Of course, you have to buy a new adapter for each one, but it’s nice to have options, right?  LOL

And it seems to already be making a difference as far as the head- and neck aches are concerned, so it looks like this was definitely a good decision.  Thanks, Better Half.  

I have a new mystery.  Not a story I’m writing… a real life, honest to goodness, mystery.  You see, I had an outing last Saturday.  The outing itself isn’t really germane to the story.  But when I got home, there was a package from ‘Zon waiting on the porch.  I was a bit confused, since I didn’t recall ordering anything, but hey, my name was on it so maybe MBH had ordered something & I just hadn’t known it.  I brought it in and sat it on the desk without thinking too much of it for a few minutes.

But when I asked MBH about it, she was as much in the dark about it as I was.  So I opened it up, and found an item I had looked at on Amazon on more than one occasion.  You know, one of those, “if I only had money to spare” kind of things.  It was a Goal Zero portable solar charger and battery core with some USB attachable accessories.  Now, I’ve looked at various Goal Zero products in the past, so I had to make sure I hadn’t accidentally clicked something and ordered it without remembering. (Yes, I’ve done that in the past, so I had to be sure.)

Nope.  Then it occurred to MBH & I that maybe it was an early Father’s Day or birthday present from one or more of the kids.  But they didn’t know anything about it either.  I called my sister & brother-in-law, and they hadn’t done it.  And since my mom lives with them, I checked and she hadn’t bought it, either.

Like I said… mystery.  

The only other thing I can think of is I had just written up a bunch of product reviews for the monitors, graphics adapter, cables, and a bunch of other items I had purchased on Amazon.  I’ve heard that ‘Zon sometimes sends customers items to review.  But if that were the case, wouldn’t they at least send me an email letting me know they had done so?  At any rate, I’ve got a very nice little portable solar panel and charging setup that I’ll be playing with.  And yes, I’ll likely do a full review on it, too.

 

Writing news –

The latest Amber Payne story just keeps going and going.  I’ll probably break 70k by the end of the day, and the characters still don’t even know what the real problem is, let alone the solution.  I have a feeling this one is going to take some serious cutting to bring it down to size.  To give you a comparison, Streets of Payne was right at 90k.  That was my target goal for this one, too, but like I said, I think I’ll probably bust that limit by a considerable amount.

Guess I’ll just have to see where the story takes me.  For now though, it’s time to get back to writing.

Stay safe, and I’ll talk to you next time.  :bye:

May 302018
 

So last year the chiropractor said my x-rays showed the beginning stages of arthritis in my neck, and that this was likely the cause of my recurring head and neck aches.  They’ve been getting more frequent lately, so MBH suggested I order a dual monitor desk mount with the idea that I would get a couple of decent monitors and hang them in a more ergonomic position.

So we went to Best Buy to purchase a couple of monitors that were on sale.  Unfortunately, they were out of stock at the store we went to, but said they had them at another store, and would ship them to the house at no charge.  Yay!

But when they arrived, I realized they weren’t VESA compatible, so I wouldn’t be able to use them on the new mounting system.  Luckily, I realized this before I opened the boxes.  So we went back to BB for a simple and easy return.  Then I found a decent pair on Amazon and ordered them.

And you would think that the problem was solved at that point, right?

HAH!

My laptop is a 17″ Dell XPS laptop.  It’s a real workhorse that came with Win 7, and a GeForce M555 graphics card.  That card has mini-DP, and HDMI output ports and is capable of supporting the laptop monitor and two external monitors.  Now, the laptop came with a mini-DP to VGA adapter, so I’ve always run the laptop and one external monitor.  I’ve never been able to use two externals though, because all my monitors only had VGA and DVI input ports… and I just realized that the IT geek in me is starting to come out.  Suffice to say, the old monitors weren’t compatible with the remaining HDMI port.

But the new monitors both had HDMI ports.  The idea was to be able to close the laptop and run on the two externals, with them both moved into that more ergonomic position I spoke of.  Only when I plugged the HDMI cable into the second monitor, it didn’t work. (sigh)  

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the laptop to see that last monitor.  So I went online to see if anyone else had come across this issue.  Unfortunately, there were a LOT of people who had.  The problem is, some have the issue, some don’t.  Some claim it is cause by upgrading to Windows 10.  Others claim it’s the push for 3D optimization in Win 10.  Yet others claim the graphics card can only support the mini-DP OR the HDMI port, but not both at the same time.

And yet others have posted pictures showing that they have all three monitors working at the same time with no issues whatsoever.  Bottom line, no one seems to know what triggers the problem, or how to fix it when it presents itself.

So I’ve decided to bypass the graphics card issue altogether.  They sell external graphics card adapters that attach to your laptop via USB port, and they’re relatively inexpensive (about $30 for the one I ordered).  It should arrive in a few days and I’ll hopefully be able to get my writing setup optimized the way I want it.  For now, I still have the laptop monitor, and one of the new monitors that’s hung high enough that I’m able to look up when I’m writing.  I can already tell the difference in how it affects my neck.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the eventual change to properly placed screens will alleviate the majority of the neck aches.

Other news…

Baby Bird had some pain of her own last weekend.  I’ve mentioned before that she’s living in New Mexico now, working on her Masters in Art Therapy.  As such, she’s learning to adapt to a much different environment than she’s been used to in south central Texas.  There’s the temperature extremes and the thinner air at her altitude.  Recently though, she woke up at 2AM to a stinging on her back.  A bit of slapping and thrashing revealed the culprit to be Scolopendro heros, AKA the giant desert centipede.  If you don’t already know (and I didn’t until recently), these little suckers sting like wasps, injecting venom with their front legs.  Baby Bird said she just hopes it didn’t lay eggs in her ear.  LOL  Yep.  that’s definitely MY daughter.

Writing news –

Not a lot to write about here.  The new Amber Payne novel is really flowing now, with a current word count of a bit over 60k at the time of this writing.  I hope to have the first draft complete in the next few weeks.

Let’s see… what else?

Just got an email this morning from Corey Snow.  He says he hopes to have the last of the Year 12 audiobook recorded by the end of this week.  I’ll still have to go through and listen to it and give final approval, so it won’t actually be available for sale for a bit after that, but it’s great to see it in the final stages.

Oh!  guess who’s going to be a guest speaker at an upcoming seminar?  Yep, I was approached as a local writer to talk about my experiences in finding voice talent to convert my written titles into audio books.  It’s funny, when WB Ward (the main speaker for the seminar) approached me, he wanted to know if I thought I would be able to speak for about 20 minutes on the ins and outs of auditioning voice talent for audio books.  At the time, I thought “Twenty minutes?  Am I going to be able to fill twenty minutes?”  I was convinced I would have about ten minutes and then have to start taking questions to fill in the rest of the time.

Then I started taking notes on what I was going to say.  Now I realize why WB was so adamant that I had absolutely no more than twenty.  I’m working to thin it down, but it’s going to be close.  LOL.  Let’s just hope I don’t get up there and freeze.

All right, I’ve rambled long enough.  Amber Payne is calling, so I’d better get back after it.  You all take care, and I’ll talk to you next time.  :bye:

 Posted by at 11:20 am
May 092018
 

We finally got a storm shelter!  Ever since our tornado scare two years ago, MBH and I have been trying to figure out how to fit a storm shelter into our household budget.  Luckily, the Choctaw Nation has a grant program for tribal members that covers the majority of the cost.  And of course, yours truly is a member.

Yep, if you didn’t already know, I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation, and very proud of my heritage.  Even more so, now that I’ve seen first hand what they do to help their constituents.  Yes, there’s a bit of paperwork, and several months of wait time before approval.  And it took several more weeks for us to be able to get the actual shelter… ironically, because of the weather.

For those of you who might not know, storm shelters are typically pre-manufactured, then transported in pieces before being assembled at the installation site.  In our case, the installation site was our back yard, and intermittent rain over several weeks kept the ground pretty wet.  Much too wet to support a heavy truck with a mini-crane and a the shelter on it.  It turns out that such a load typically runs over fifteen tons.  And if you tell them to install and they get stuck, guess who’s responsible for getting a heavy-duty wrecker out to get them un-stuck?

So we had to wait until we had several consecutive days of dry, sunshiny weather before we were able to finally get it in the ground. And that didn’t happen until last week.  But it’s here now, and just in time for tornado season.

Such a huge relief!

Writing news – 

Payne and Suffering – I mentioned in my last post that I was having trouble tracking the plot and motivations in the latest Amber Payne novel.  The story was threatening to stall for me, and I was really beginning to worry that I was on the wrong track.  Then I had a dream about it.  I’ve mentioned before that I actively try to think about my stories as I go to sleep when I’m having trouble… sort of guiding my subconscious in an attempt to get it to work the problem as I sleep.

Sometimes it works, sometimes not.  To be perfectly honest, it usually doesn’t.  But if it doesn’t work one night, and I don’t solve the problem during the following day, I simply try again the next night.  This time, after several days of minimal progress, and nights of… well nothing, I had my eureka dream.

I realized that I was trying to force the wrong antagonist into a plot that didn’t fit them.  Not only that, but I realized who my antagonist really was, and what their motivations were.  Suddenly, the story is flowing again.  Woot!! 

 

IMR – The sekrit projekt I mentioned last month in WW105 looks like it’s going to really happen.  It’s still in the early stages, so of course I can’t really talk much about it other than to say I’m really, REALLY excited about this one.  We’ve had preliminary discussions, and the contract is being drawn up, so technically, it isn’t a reality quite yet.  But we have verbal agreements in place, and things are looking really good.  As for the story itself, the more we talked about it, the more convinced I was that this was going to be an incredibly fun project.  It’s going to be a lot of work, and will of course impact my writing schedule for the foreseeable future, but I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it.

Watch for the new meter, (IMR) to begin moving when the final details are hammered out and the projekt begins in earnest.

Fringe News – 

This one isn’t really related to my current projects, but rather to a past one.  Streets of Payne was (I think) the first book I had produced in audio format.  It’s available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes and was narrated by the magnificent Joy Nash.  At the time, Joy was a “struggling actress” in Hollywood, having been in a few shows.  At that point, her most notable role was Simone on The Mindy Project.  Since then, she has gotten several other roles and seems to have finally hit it big with a starring role in AMC’s new series, Dietland (co-starring Julianna Margulies and Adam Rothenberg).

So while I’m incredibly happy for Joy and her success, it looks like I’ll probably have to find a new narrator for the next Amber Payne novels.  

 

And that’s it for now.  Time to get back to writing.  Take care, everyone, and stay safe.  :bye:

Apr 252018
 

There’s been some recent grumbling about Amazon’s new review policies. It seems that you can no longer leave book reviews on the mighty ‘Zon, unless you have purchased at least $50 worth of goods on the site.  Not books mind you, just $50 worth of goods.

It’s apparently their attempt to address the mass scamming of reviews that some writers have been putting up for the last few years.  Yeah, you know when you find that new release that has tons of five-star reviews and you think, “this must be a good one. I’ll just drop my hard-earned cash here and see what all the fuss is about.”  Then you find that the book is little more than a nasty pile of something that came out of the south end of a north-bound bull.

That’s because unscrupulous authors have been scamming Amazon’s system by hiring click farms that (for the right price) create tons of fake Amazon accounts to write reviews on items they’ve never laid eyes on.  The bad thing is that, in their attempt to rectify the situation, Amazon keeps coming up with new ways to “fix” the problem.  And it’s like they almost always either get it wrong (like when they tried to say that your social media “friends” couldn’t write reviews, and ended up deleting reviews written by reviewers who happened to follow authors they liked on Facebook), or the scammers just change their game to get ahead of the new rules.

For instance, when the Kindle Unlimited program began, Amazon authors got paid a percentage of a multi-million dollar “pot” based on how many people read their books past the 20% mark.  There were authors who immediately began publishing short stories and serialized fiction.  Each title read gained the author the same percentage of the pot, so a ten page short story earned the same amount as a five hundred page epic fantasy. 

Needless to say, there were suddenly TONS of short stories being published.

After a couple of years, Amazon figured it out, and changed the KU payment system to a percentage based on pages read.  Each page read gained a percentage of the pot.  Scammers later learned to put links in their books that jumped the reader to the back of the book.  For instance, you might open a book that has a raffle for a $100 gift card.  The link to the offer is in the very beginning of the book.  The reader clicks to enter the drawing, and the link automatically takes them to the last page of the book, where they fill out the form, never realizing that they just gave the author full credit for reading a book that might never be completed.

To make matters worse, some scammers began simply filling manuscripts with all sorts of garbage they copied willy-nilly from the internet, pumping the page count up to tens of thousands of pages, then front loading the “book” with links that took the reader to the back.  So the reader downloads the book, opens it up, sees the click bait at the front, and clicks to the back.  They might then try to read the book and find that it’s nothing more than thousands of pages of absolute drek, so they either return the download, or simply delete it, not realizing that they have just given the author credit for having read however many thousands of pages.

So Amazon put out new terms to authors, making such actions illegal, and threatening to remove author profiles when someone was caught violating the new terms.  Unfortunately, until then, it was common practice for many authors to put their tables of contents in the back of the book.  Think about it.  An e-book is basically a web site, full of links that tie one part of the book to another.  A table of contents is a list of links that go from one part of the “book” to another.  And many authors considered it good business to load that table of contents in the back.

Why?  Because it allowed them to get more of the manuscript in front of the reader when they viewed the sample on Amazon’s web site.  You know the “Look Inside” link that lets you see the first 10% of the book?  Well how do you feel when you click the link, and then have to scroll through the cover, and the copyright page, then author notes, table of contents, and other forward matter, before you actually get to read any of the sample?

I know some legitimate authors who lost money because books that had been out for years were suddenly found to be in violation of the new terms.

And now we have this problem of fake reviews.  It’s been a recognized issue for a few years now, and Amazon has been floundering about, trying to figure out how to fix the problem.  For a while, they tried a tattletale system where people could report books that were suspected of scamming reviews.  That quickly became a fustercluck when legitimate authors found their accounts suspended.  Amazon never would state what the author had done, only giving out a generic, “you have been found in violation of terms and conditions…” but never stating what specific violations.

It was often suspected that the scammers were reporting legitimate authors in order to muddy the waters, but there is apparently no way to know for sure.  So this is Amazon’s latest attempt to stop scammers.  The idea is that, if only legitimate customers can leave reviews, then that should stop the click farms from being able to “sell” reviews.

But there are already people complaining about it.  There are concerns that reviewers who buy in the US will no longer be able to load their reviews on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, or any other country where they don’t normally shop.  So even though a book is available in countries all over the world, reviewers will only be able to post their reviews in the country in which they bought the requisite “$50” worth of goods, or its equivalent in whatever nation.  There are also concerns that reviewers won’t be able to write reviews early in the years.  For instance, a reviewer who begins buying books in January, before they have purchased their $50 of good for the year, might not be able to leave reviews until they’ve done so.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  I don’t think there are any easy answers.  I almost feel sorry for Amazon at times.  After all, it’s not them who are trying to scam the system.  They’re just stuck trying to get ahead of the latest scam du’ jour.  Unfortunately, their fixes often create as many problems as the scams, and it seems that there are too many honest people caught in the “fix”.  I sincerely hope that isn’t the case this time.

 

My writing –

Payne and Suffering has been moving in spits and spurts.  On days when I have a distinct scene in my head, I can fly through the writing.  The problem comes when I finish those scenes and have to move into the transitions. And I think the problem stems from the way I write… the fact that I’m “pantsing” my way through a story that I haven’t been able to fully see.

This usually doesn’t bother me, and it took me a while to figure out what’s different with this book.  In just about every other story I’ve written, whether it be novel, novella, or short story, I’ve had one of two things firmly in mind.  I’ve either got a pretty good idea of what the ending is going to be, or I have a good feel for my antagonist and/or their motives.  With P&S, I’ve been floundering with little more than a few key scenes in my mind, and a general idea of what the antagonist is trying to do, but little of the motivation behind it.  So I’ve woven this vast and intricate mystery in my mind (at times so complex that I lose track of who’s doing what), and I’ve not taken the time to really understand the why of most of it.

Today I was writing a scene in which Amber and Richard are starting the third day of their case.  The two of them are sitting at their desks, and Richard asks Amber “…what’s on the agenda…?”

And I realized I didn’t know.  I’m the one writing the freaking story, and I didn’t know what needed to be done next!

It wasn’t really that I didn’t know what leads they needed to follow, but rather that I didn’t know which one needed to be followed at that moment.  Because there are several leads in my mind, but some of them are dependent on others, so some things have to happen before others can be discovered, and I was trying to jump too far ahead in my mind.

Yeah, they need to go here to find this… but wait, they can’t do that until they know about such and such, and they can’t know that until they decrypt the files from that computer.  And they don’t have the computer yet because they don’t know it exists! 

When I realized just how complex things were getting, I knew I was going to have to do something I almost NEVER do.  I was going to have to create a cheat sheet for myself just to track events, leads, and solutions.  I’ve only had to do this once before, and that was on Chucklers, where I had six different point of view characters, in four different locations around the country, and had to synchronize their stories so that they would all come together at the right point in the book.

But I did it.  I made my cheat sheet.  I spent time writing about three pages of notes, and I actually feel better about where the story is going now.  Let’s hope this clears some of the fog out of my brain.

For now though, P&S has passed the 40k word count, and is still moving, and I hope to have the first draft done late May or early June.  Wish me luck.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe, everyone.  :bye:

 

Apr 112018
 

Remember back in January when I mentioned that Severed Press had contacted me to say that Pangaea: Exiles was going to be released as an audiobook on Audible in a few months?  Well, I emailed them to check status on it a few days ago.  After emailing them, I figured I might as well go check on Audible to see if maybe it had already come out and they just hadn’t let me know.

Guess what?  It was released two weeks ago (March 28).  I haven’t heard it yet myself, but if you’d like to check it out, you can find it here.

What else?  Hmmm….

Oh!  remember the picture I posted of the Stenonychosaurus in WW106?  It was the critter I was writing about in the anthology story for Severed.  Well, come to find out, the Stenonychosaurus ceased to exist as of 1987.  Turns out that some paleontologists figured out that the bones they were using to identify good old Steggy were actually the bones of juvenile Troodons.

So yeah, more rewrites.  But it’s finished.  Both story and contract are off to Severed.  Watch for the upcoming anthology “Prehistoric“.  It will still be a few months, I’m sure.  The deadline isn’t until the end of April, and I’m sure there will be some back and forth with the editor.   But for my part, most of the work is done.

You know what’s so strange on this one?  I think the thing that gave me the most anguish was trying to find a title that fit the story.  I never really found one that gave me that “aha!” moment.  There was no clever, cutesy, tie-in to some word or phrase or theme in the story.  But I was spending WAY too much time trying to find something that, in my mind at least, pulled the whole thing together.  In the end, I simply picked “Apex“, the best of several unsatisfying titles I had come up with, and decided that it was time to cut it loose.

There is a saying among artists of any sort.  “Art is never completed, only abandoned.”  If you aren’t familiar with it, it simply means that artists (whether it be painters, singers, writers, or any other type of artist) will often spend WAY too much time polishing their latest work, trying to make it “perfect”.

For a writer, it may be changing a scene here or there… or simply switching a few words in order to alter the mood or connotation.  And it’s something that is probably needed on the first draft or two.  We tend to obsess over tiny details, polishing and polishing, until we’re really doing little more than wasting time.

But eventually we have to let it go.  We have to abandon the work… release it into the wild, so to speak.  And that’s what I’ve done.  If I don’t, I’ll never get the next project done.

So I’m back on Payne and Suffering, and the numbers there should start climbing again significantly.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe.  :bye: