Friday, March 29, 2013

It's What I Didn't Do That Was Stupid

I can only blame myself.

When I wrote Thimble Fingers I created an entire village. Well really, it's an outdoor mall made up of cottages, each one a specialty shop. I named streets, I described the stores. I described the owners and other people attached to the stores. I made up this little universe.

And I didn't keep notes.

I guess you can't keep notes if you don't make them.

This is not a problem if it were one book. But this book is the first in a series. Each book focuses in on the life of a shop owner. They walk the same streets and meet the same people as my protagonist in Thimble Fingers did.

Which means I have to be careful about where I put the shops in relation to the mall, what the stores look like, who runs them, the names of the shops, the spellings of the people and so on and so on and so on.

I was fine until I sat down to write the second in the series and I had my characters walking along one of the streets and I couldn't remember the name of a shop.

Now mind you, I had only mentioned the name of the shop once and it was just glossed over, but now I wanted to visit that shop, but I couldn't.

So what this means is that I'm doing what I should have done all along. I've created a spreadsheet with all this information. Well I've created the spreadsheet, now I have to put in all the information.

Which means going over my already published book line by line to find the info.

This is taking forever. How could I have possibly had all this in my head at one point? There's like a million characters and a few thousand stores and - okay not really, but there is an awful lot. And I managed to keep all the characters relationships straight and it's really a wonder that I could do all that.

For the most part I still can, although it was a bit of a wake up call when someone on Shelfari made a list of characters - quite nice of them and very impressive - and I didn't remember the names of some of them.

So now I am making lists of all these things because even if I remember it now, I won't remember it when I get to book five and I'll want to visit a character that was mentioned in passing or a store that was talked about off hand.

And while I'm making this spreadsheet I'm realizing that I'm going to have to have a page of notes for each character and each store.

I thought it was good enough to have a rough map and a list of the stores, but when I went to my original notes I discovered that some of the names of stores and streets had been changed.

My thirteen year -old daughter is shaking her head at me. "Why didn't you do this before?" she asked.

Well, who wants to stop and make spreadsheets when the characters are doing such crazy things? I had to find out what was going to happen next.

I keep telling myself that this is indeed part of the writing process even though it sure doesn't feel like it and even though it's taking a long time it will save me time in the long run.

I have to tell myself that a lot. It's hard to remember to tell myself that when I keep banging my head repeatedly against my desk.

There is going to be a lot of chocolate eaten around here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Socialist Experiment that Wasn't Socialist - Or a Real Experiment

There’s this story going around the internet – what story isn’t – about a professor who is teaching his students about socialism. Although, he’s not really teaching them socialism because this is not what socialism is. Anyway, it’s passed around by people who don’t believe in welfare programs and figure that it’s okay to let children starve. Here it is and the problems with this experiment, which by the way, never actually happened. It’s just a made up story. You can also check it out at snopes.

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said ok, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism. All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too; so tey studied little ...

The second Test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else. All failed to their great surprise and the professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder to succeed the greater the reward but when a government takes all the reward away; no one will try or succeed.

Okay, sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it. If there’s no reward then no one does the work. I can’t argue with that. I know that people need rewards. 

But the experiment isn’t based on reality.  You have a group of students who all have several things in common. They all are there because they believe in some form of education. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there. They all have the same chance at success. There’s no barriers to any of them. Sure, a couple of them may have a learning disability which they’ve learned to cope with, a couple more may have kids that make it harder to do the work, and quite a few of them have jobs, and one has an insane school workload and another  is serving on various school committees which limits their time, but overall, these students are all equal and have roughly the same chance.

Now if you want to make this experiment more like life, then the professor would have to divide the students up into groups. Group A has no limitations. Group B can only use research found within the college itself. Group C isn’t allowed to use the school library. Group D can’t talk to any one about their research, so no interviews or outside help.  Group E  can’t use computers at all but they are still expected to hand in a type written assignment. Group F can’t use their hands.  Group G can’t start work on their papers until the day before it’s due.  Group H will not get an A or a B no matter what they do.

Unfair? Yep. That’s life. Obviously those that are in limited groups are going to have far more obstacles than those who have less limitations and certainly Group A has the best chance of success.

What is often seen in life, is that Group A will be very critical of Group H for not getting an A and naturally Group H is resentful of Group A’s success and if they can’t succeed it would be equally natural for them to give up trying.

In the above scenario, if everyone is graded together then naturally they will not succeed.

Unless they help each other.

That does not mean that those who have plenty do the work of those who don’t, but it does mean that they offer help and try and bridge the gaps that exist.

The truth is, that we expect so much more from people who have little than we do from people that have a lot. Why is that?

Baby A (lets call him Rich) is born to parents who come from a long line of wealth. Dad went to Harvard, Mom went to Columbia. There are servants, private schools, trips to Europe and lessons in horseback riding, tennis, and foreign languages.

Baby B, Tom, is born to a single mom (recently divorced) who works making minimum wage. He goes to the local school and when he comes home there really isn’t any place to do his homework because there’s too much noise and distraction in the small apartment which he shares with his Mom and sisters. 

When Rich graduates from high school he gets into Harvard because his dad went there. Rich struggled in school, but his parents were able to hire a private tutor to help him through it. Rich parties and at one point he gets arrested but charges are dropped because of connections that his dad has. Eventually Rich graduates and instantly gets a job in his Dad’s company which he doesn’t have to apply for. When Rich decides he doesn’t want to work there, his Dad calls up one of his Harvard Frat friends and finds Rich a job in a company that’s better suited to Rich. When Rich gets married Mom and Dad present Rich and his new wife with a brand new house as a wedding present. 

Tom manages to get through high school as well, even though he also works at a part time job to help support the family. His grades suffer because of his outside job that takes up so much of his time and he doesn’t have many options as far as college. He can’t afford college anyway and he doesn’t dare take out a loan. Mom taught him not to get into debt.  It would just be another bill to pay. When the store that he works at closes down, he can’t find another job. He goes from place to place but his clothes are a little rough, or he doesn’t have the skills, or he doesn’t have enough education.  Tom doesn`t have connections to get a job. No one wants to give him a chance because there are shinier kids out there with better prospects.  Tom decides to go to a different city for a chance so he hitchhikes to a different town, but things aren`t better for him there, and he ends up sleeping on park benches asking for hand outs. Meanwhile, his mom has lost her job and can`t help him. 

Sure these stories are cliché, but that`s because they happen.

And yet people will criticize Tom for not doing better and admire Rich for succeeding. Rich would have had to screw up badly to not succeed and Tom would have had to be an extraordinary individual with a lot of luck to achieve a fraction of what was handed to Rich. 

So back to the experiment. Without help everyone in that class will fail, not because there`s no reward to those who have no limitations, but because it`s impossible to succeed when you don`t have the tools of success. The only way for the class to succeed is to ditch the "every man for himself” mentality and work together. Will there be slackers? Of course. There’s always slackers. But there are enough people who will work so that the slackers don’t heavily influence the outcome.

And the reward for the stars? Well, certainly they don’t get any better grade than anyone else in this class, but if any of them need a letter of recommendation, who is the teacher going to give it to? The ones who earned the A’s because he knows who they are. In fact if there’s anything those A students need from that teacher, they will be likely to get it. The work and study skills carry over to other classes as well where they will be rewarded for their efforts. And let’s not forget the lessons they will have learned by helping others.

In the end, we all get rewarded for our efforts even if it isn’t immediate, because the one that passes out the rewards, does know us best.

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Old Book!

Roses and Daisies was first published a few years ago by Millennial Press. It was traditionally published, meaning that it went through the process of being sent out and rejected until it was finally accepted, edited and printed at the expense of the publisher. Which I am grateful for. It's nice to say you are a traditionally published writer and I'm blessed that Millennial Press was willing to do it and believed in the book.

It tells the story of a tragedy in a Mormon family. Many people came up to me and told me how it affected them, made them cry and caused them to think. I had one interesting conversation where a reader who loved the book saw something in it that I hadn't thought of, but I decided that she was right. See, I'm brilliant. I even write things that I didn't know I was writing.  It received good reviews.. It also caused some controversy because I had a non-Mormon character drink a glass of wine and she didn't get hit by a car or have some other catastrophe happen because of it. It was subsequently pulled from shelves because unlike the rest of the book world where controversy can make you millions, controversy does not sell books in the LDS world.

Of course when I wrote it, I had no idea I was writing something so controversial. Sadly, saying that it's controversial keeps many people away and the ones that would be interested because it's controversial will be SO disappointed.

I have since received the publishing rights back and with a new cover (that my thirteen year old daughter designed with my tweaks), and a few minor changes (more poetry at the beginning of chapters which had been initially cut), and the wine drinking still in the book, it is now published as a kindle ebook. I am also looking into print on demand for my books.

I still have paperback copies of the original which are for sale but if you want it on your ereader you can find it at Amazon.

And if you want to read reviews and the first chapter you can do it here.

See, I`ve never been afraid of a little controversy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Confessions of a Non-Outliner (Because Confessions of a Pantser Just Sounds Wrong)

I like to make lists.

I like making grocery lists, book lists, to-do lists, and lists about the books I'm going to write.

I also like maps. Especially road maps that guide me in the direction that I need to go.

You would think then that I would be one of those writers who make up outlines.

I've tried. There's all kinds of different ways of doing it. There's an entire blog devoted to this called Paperback Writer which is not about channeling the Beatles. There's an outline that embraces the snowflake, which is not a good thing for a writer trapped in Alberta winters. Phyllis A. Whitney, who wrote over a hundred books in her over one hundred years on earth (not an exaggeration)  wrote a book called Guide to Fiction Writing where she goes step by step through the process of outlining so that when you sit down to write you only have to connect the dots. Agatha Christie wrote her books backwards. I read a story about climbing mountains and how outliners get to the top in record time while those who don't outline get completely lost and get eaten by wolverines or sasquatches.

Writers swear by outlining. Remember in school when you were told to write an outline before writing the story? I wrote the story first and then wrote the outline. How could I write the outline when I didn't know what the story was? It's like telling someone all about your trip before you go on the journey.

And there's my shame. I am a seat-of-the-pantser, and yes that is a phrase that outliners use for people like me. Or worse - pantser.

I've tried outlining. I stare at blank screens and blank paper and have no idea where to begin. On the other hand, first sentences, first paragraphs, first pages, first chapters are no problem for me.

After all I can't tell a story I haven't lived yet.

I write like I read. I start at the beginning and go step by step through the story. I don't jump ahead. I hate that. I belonged to a round robin group once. Each person would write a small section and then the next person would pick it up where it left off. It worked fine until someone decided they didn't like where it left off so decided to write something at some point in the future. The whole thing started falling apart at that point because other writers started doing that and then pieces wouldn't fit.

I was feeling kind of bad about being a seat-of-the-pantser because real writers write outlines. Until I read an article in Writers Digest about it and then another from a writer friend.

I am not alone!

I love cross stitch. (Notice the smooth segue).  Usually I work other people's patterns but a few years ago I tried my hand at designing. Turned out once I had designed it, I didn't want to stitch it. It felt like I had already done it.

And maybe that's what outlining would feel like to me.

Not only that, but I would probably feel like I had to stick to the outline. After all outlines are supposed to keep you on the path and not send you off on treacherous and winding roads that could lead you to the wolverines and sasquatches.

But it's the path that the wolverines and sasquatches are on that have the adventures and give new dimensions that make the writing exciting.

When I wrote Thimble Fingers a character appeared that I hadn't known would. He didn't take over the story, but he added an element that I hadn't forseen and made the story richer.

I rarely know what my characters are going to say and have found myself laughing over dialogue, or even stranger, made me stop and say "I didn't know that." Now THERE'S a surreal experience when you start writing things that you didn't know, but your characters do.

I often have no idea how a character is going to react to a situation, which leads to other situations.

If I don't know that, how can I possibly outline it?

Interestingly, I have come to conclusions, or solved a mystery and found that I did indeed already foreshadow it, or left the clues without even realizing it.

Now that's weird too. How did I do that? And even if I hadn't, that's what rewrites are for.

Now I'm not saying that I will never outline. I can see the use for them and they are very helpful for many writiers. I just don't know if I can. It seems to me like a way of delaying the actual writing while still saying that you're writing.

Besides, I don't want to spoil the book by knowing the ending.