A3Writer: 2011
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Friday, December 30, 2011

F3 The Plans

     Marc Flynn twisted the ring around his right thumb. In a world where quantum crystals and tesseract wafers were the norm for storing data, Marc secured his information with obsolete technology. Unfortunately, finding the right tech to retrieve that data proved to be more and more difficult. Finally, though, he found what he needed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dragon in Distress

     All I wanted was a quiet day on the lake with a cold one. Well, a semi-lake-chilled one, anyway. The fish didn't cooperate. They insisted on biting constantly, interrupting my nap. I did my best to ignore the clattering pole while I dozed under the shade of my hat when the wind gusted. I caught the hat, squinting up.
     A dragon, half as big as the Chrysler Building, but with red-bronze scales instead of deco steel, sank into the lake next to my boat. Those eyes stared at me, and I could see myself reflected in their black depths. "You are the one they call the detective." Its voice at a reasonable volume for its size. "The outsider."
     It wasn't a question. I nodded anyway.
     "I wish for you to help me."
     "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

F3 A Night Off

     "So, what shall we do with the rest of our evening?"
     A chess game sounded good. A nice flick sounded better. Dinner was always an option, too. "Dinner and a movie," I pitched.
     "No doubt some black and white noir film festival."
     "You know me pretty well, but I was actually thinking a really bad B vampire movie we can make fun of."
     Nikki laughed so hard she snorted,

Friday, October 28, 2011

F3 Sunrise

     Dawn.
     Philosophers and scientists discuss its cosmic significance and place in the heavens.
     Poets and artists try and capture its beauty.
     Millions of people watch every morning as that first glimmer of light finally crests the horizon.
     I'm not usually one of those people

Friday, October 14, 2011

F3 A Day Gone Wrong

     The explosion still rang in my ears, and my vision wavered somewhere between double and infinite. I closed them, hoping the images would go away. It mostly worked. My vision wavered into double, but finally resolved into reality. A haze of dust and smoke hung in the air. The wall with the chalkboard held a hole the size of a truck. A . . . thing, stood silhouetted in the dust. Its proportions were all wrong for a regular human being. It was taller, and one arm was longer than the other. Not much, but enough. It hunched over and craned its head sniffing at the air.

Friday, October 7, 2011

F3 The Arcade

     Ciro and I loved the arcade. Most of us kids did. We'd pick up pennies shining shoes for people or selling papers on the corner just so we could rush into the arcade to drop our pennies into the mutoscopes. I liked the ones that showed magic tricks, even though Ciro and Tommy thought they were fake.
     One day Mr. Arnold added in new machines. These were taller than the rest, and had names above like

Friday, September 30, 2011

F3 Lightning Relay

     "We're here," Jake had undisguised joy on his face as we floated down from the high cirrus clouds down to the fluffy grey cumulus.
     "Where?" I looked down in disgust at a dusty town. It looked like those old Westerns where a tumbleweed would roll across the main street, proclaiming it a ghost town. Not quite so deserted as that, I saw a few cars going up and down the street. We were too high up to really see people.
     "Welcome to the most awesome place on Earth," he spread his arms in proclamation. "Welcome to Tornado Alley."

Friday, September 23, 2011

F3 The Stash

     The room felt like that warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. This room was nowhere near as big, perhaps eight feet by six feet, and instead of wooden crates stacked upon one another, metal shelves stacked to the ceiling. The shelves weren't even close to full, either. Yet there were quite a number of items on those shelves, covered in a layer of dust that could only come from a decade of neglect. Dozens of them. I swallowed hard, and rolled the floppy composition book into a tube. The faded red cover bore Max's scrawl in black magic marker: "Inventory of Artifacts". Not archaeological artifacts, though I knew many of the items would be old. Magic. Sorcery. Enchantments. Every item in this room except the notebook I found held some kind of mystic mojo.

Friday, September 16, 2011

F3 Thunderer

     Breathing. Breathing came first. Heavy breaths that went all the way down to the stomach, pushing it out as far as it could go. Each breath in gathered strength into me. Not physical strength, the strength of the storm, the strength of the cloud around me. I was going to do this.
     My fist opened and closed in time with

Thursday, September 8, 2011

F3 One Too Many

     Shots of pixie nectar tasted like honeyed rose water, and had absolutely no kick. No burn, no taste whatsoever of alcohol because, well, there wasn't any. It intoxicated worse than absinthe. Most people were off to lala land after two shots. Hardcore could go as high as four. I wasn't hardcore. I was six shots in.
     "Y'know what's wrong with this place?" I told a dwarf who wanted to sip his beer. He didn't look happy that I was still talking to him. Why was that? "It's the damn forests. They're everywhere. And there's two kinds, y'know?" I held up a shot in my left hand. "The good kind, and the bad kind." I lifted another shot in my right. I slugged them both.
     My vision swam, and I could swear I saw actual pixies fluttering around for a moment. They wanted to braid the dwarf's hair. I was fine with that. Maybe it would improve his mood.
     "But, see, it's not just good forest and bad forest. They gotta go and call 'em separate names. Y'know, the Forbidden Forest, Darken Wood, Forest of Despair, Nightmare Wood, Forest of Shadows, Murky Woods, and too many to fucking count. 'S not like the good is any better with the Golden Wood, The Sunshine flying out of my ass Forest, and the Fucking Elven Glade!
     I slammed a hand on the bar. "Another round. The shock went up my arm and through my entire body. My ears rang, tongue suddenly tasted cherries, and ears heard pipes and chittering laughter.
     The pixies rimmed the dwarf's beer, one of them actually dove in, swimming around and spraying beer out of her mouth. The dwarf brought the beer up for another drink. He was going to swallow one of the pixies!
     "Buddy, wait! There are pixies!" I grabbed for the beer, but somehow missed. Instead the mug upended, spilling the beer. Sorry, bud—"
     Dwarves have small fists, but they still hit hard.
     The world faded into black as I stared at the ceiling.
     Pixies flew everywhere.

Friday, September 2, 2011

F3 Gone Fishing

     In the Catskills there's a small lake at the head of a stream. The lake didn't have a name as far as I knew. It was perfect for fishing. It didn't have many fish, which made it all the better for drinking a nice, cold beer.
     Fishing in the Fairy Tale Realms wasn't as peaceful. The fish insisted on biting entirely too much. Why couldn't they understand I wanted a nice nap along with my cold beer. If I actually had a cold beer. Igloo coolers didn't exist in the Realms, so I took my beer coolish after sinking bottles into the water around my little rowboat.

Friday, August 26, 2011

F3 Nimble Fingers

     "So, you want into the racket, eh. Live life out here on the streets, huh?" I put a fresh toothpick between my teeth.
     The kid in front of me nodded vigorously. "Yeah. I'm tough. I can do this. I get right in people's faces. I got no problem staring a guy down with a gun or a knife."

Friday, August 12, 2011

F3 Part of The Plan

     Dying was always part of the plan. Not the smartest part, mind, but necessary. It was one of those things that I would leave out of the plan if I could. Unfortunately I just couldn't make the math work out without dying. I didn't get to go out easy, either. No clever drugs to simulate death. No magic spells that eased my passage. No gently falling asleep and then waking up in the everafter. No, this was going to hurt.

Friday, August 5, 2011

F3 Touch of Magic

     Card tricks. Illusions. Sleight of hand. Daring escapes. Misdirection. Trapdoors. Custom-engineered rigs. All tools of the trade for a magician. So as I made the ball disappear up a sleeve, coins appear out of ears, swap places with an assistant through a door, and even more elaborate, spectacular tricks, I did nothing that a well-practiced magician on Vegas couldn't do. This was not real magic, though many claimed to have that ability.
     Magic was real, though. I never used much, and almost always on a trick most thought they could explain, or at least one that was so ordinary as to not be worth real magic. But the most ordinary circumstances required real magic.

Friday, July 22, 2011

F3 Riding the Lightning

     "You never forget your first time," Jack shouted above the wind.
     Rain soaked and plastered clothing against skin. Trees bowed in obeisance to the storm's fury. The two of us stood waiting at the edge of clouds.
     "There. Aim for that bank." He pointed to another set of grey-black clouds limned with pulses of lightning.
     I poised, ready, feeling the cloud beneath my feet become electric. I reached a hand back, like a runner prepared to receive a baton. Fingers tingled as I flexed them, the energy gathering. I stretched out my other hand aimed directly at the bank Jack had pointed at, creating a channel with my arms. I glanced out the corner of my eye to see Jack doing the same, but he looked more practiced.
     "Ready?" He grinned.
     I swallowed. "Ready."

Friday, July 15, 2011

F3 Famous Face

     "I like it not!" The prince shouted.
     There was a surprise. The plain, brown cloak I held out to him might as well have been plague and lice-riddled rags for the way he looked at it.
     "Listen," the patience in my voice was thin after four times of explaining this, "you want to rescue Princess . . ." my mind fuzzed on the name. There were too many royals in the Realms. "Cleo."
     "The Fair Princess Chloe." The perturbed handsome prince tossed his head back in the way that made his golden hair fly up, but curl back down exactly where it had started.
     "Right. My mistake. The thing is, we don't know where she is."
     "She was taken by a vile—"

Friday, July 8, 2011

F3 In the Shade

     The shade of the pear tree felt wonderful to Arcus. The time for the blossoms perfuming the autumn breeze had long passed, but fruit plump from the ample rain and sun bowed the smaller branches down. Arcus had liberated some of those pears, two cores lay on his right while half a dozen fruit nestled in an open burlap bag on his left. I might just stay here tonight. I can unroll my blanket, and enjoy the pears for breakfast, too.
     "Are you Arcus of Thallory?" Stewards protect me. Not again.
     Arcus pushed up

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Horror of Revision

     I love writing. I love the creative process, and how satisfying it is to look back and say "I wrote that." I feel productive after having done it. It's something measurable and achievable. I can set a goal to write X number of words per day, session, week, whatever. It all adds up in the long run, too.
     Revision is not so fun. It takes a different part of the brain, and is a different skill altogether. I have to somehow merge

Friday, July 1, 2011

F3 Discord

     Chaos. Dissent. Anarchy. Discord. The goddess Eris would sow discord purely for her own pleasure. However, discord is a far more potent weapon to be wasted purely on entertainment. The wise conqueror did not use strength of arms to force his foes into submission. Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin, Khan, and Alexander were inelegant bludgeons. For all their efforts, they have become nothing more than names in a book of history.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

F3 The Road

     One more mile.
     One more mile behind, one more mile to go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writing Tools: OED

     A post on Query Shark by Janet Reid (with an update on her other blog here) got me thinking. She's talking about vocabulary and voice. People have different vocabularies. There's all the words we know, and then there's our working vocabulary, which is all the words we use regularly. Obviously the working vocabulary is smaller than all of the ones our noggins can hold.
     The post made me think of just how much we rely on certain vocabularies to establish voice. Characters have their own way of saying things. Speech patterns and words establish character and narrative voice, so the usage of words is absolutely essential.
     As writers, we need to know words. Lots of words. Huge Mack truckloads of words, but that's not all. We need to know the permutations and histories. The meanings of words changes over time. Yes, a simple online dictionary can give a list of current definitions, maybe even suggest slang usage, but most of those won't tell the etymology of the word. There are a couple of online etymology sources, but none of those compare to the definitive source for the English language: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
     There is only one OED. Oxford University Press puts out many dictionaries, but only one of which is the OED. Nothing compares to how thorough the OED is in chronicling the language. In print form it is over 20 volumes, and it does much much more than simply give definitions. This is a resource which peels back the layers of the language to show off its roots. It is now available online, so writers need not devote shelf space (or backpack space) to the 20+ volume set. It is accessible anywhere in the world.
     Now, it's not free. In fact, its cost is prohibitive for most writers to purchase on their own. However, most university and public libraries purchase access to the OED, so it may be freely available via library web portal. Go forth and explore the wonderful language. Bonus points for those who knew the picture was of a noggin.

Friday, June 10, 2011

F3 Unrestrained Power

     Power. Unyielding, wild power crackled the air around him. Through gritted teeth and clench fists he tried to wrestle the power to his will. The effort appeared to shrink the crackling aura some, but tendrils still flailed about. Like an oiled eel the power writhed and slipped away from his will.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Standing Out

     Agents get a lot of queries, on the order of Douglas Adams's description of how big space is. Agents report on inboxes stuffed with hundreds of emails every week, and often get over ten thousand queries a year.
     Agent Jessica Faust recently posted about her conference swag. Before going to my first writers' conference, I did some preliminary research, and came to similar conclusions. There are too many bookmarks, postcards, fliers, and business cards overstuffed with information. The glossy, graphic-laden, quote-filled, testimonial-by-friend-filled swag is simply too much. They're everywhere. They're all the same. I remember the amount of swag I got just in the bag at registration, and immediately had to winnow it out. I dumped most of the cards and bookmarks right away, barely sparing them a glance.
     With all the various queries, with all the bookmarks, cards, pens, etc. out there, how does a writer stand out of the background? I'm not entirely sure, (as I'm still pounding the pavement) but it's an opportunity for creativity. It needs to be outside the box, though (the trash can, I suppose) in order to get the requisite attention. My gut tells me that less is more. To do something simply will yield more results than filling every nook and cranny with graphics and information. Something o think about, at least.

Friday, June 3, 2011

F3 Forest of Dread

     On most days, I didn't go anywhere near the Forbidden Forest, but a Good witch wanted a special mushroom from the forest. Knights thought the task beneath them, and peasants were scared of the forest's reputation. I didn't mind. It was something to do, and gave me a change of scenery.
     I came to a clearing,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writing Tools: Em dashes and Quotation marks

      After last week's writing tools, I played around with em dashes a little more, and one of the odd behaviors I've noticed with word processors is they have a block when it comes to making the dash play along nicely with smart quotation marks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

F3 Divine Instruction

     "So, class, in the Iliad, we see the hero Diomedes, with Athena's help, is able to actually injure Ares. What conclusions can we draw from this passage?"
     Clearly, Ares is less of a man than he thinks himself to be. Athena said from off to my right, her Aegis shining too brightly in the fluorescent lighting of the classroom.
     Woman! You dare insult me? I will crush you!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Tools: Making em dashes

     I love the em dash. It's one of my favorite punctuation marks. It's also not the easiest one to break out at a moment's notice, and the usage is a little non-standard. I'll leave the usage up to you as googling it and finding out the various arguments for its use as dictated by the Chicago Manual of Style is out there in bulk. And it's on Wikipedia.
     For this post, I'll just go over how various word processors make the durned thing. I have no illusions about Word's dominance, so it's up first.
     In Word, there are a couple of ways to form the em dash. First, assuming that the autoformating is enabled (which, by default, it is), type a word followed by two hyphens (--) followed by the second word. As soon as you hit the space bar after the second word, the word processor will automatically replace it with an em dash. An alternate method is to press CTRL + ALT + Num -. This is the minus sign on the number pad, which is different from the hyphen and underscore key. Laptop users without a number pad will have to first turn on their num lock key, then find the minus sign on their regular keyboard (on my Thinkpad, it's the ; key). Obviously, having the autoformat is a much quicker way to form this punctuation. You can also go the insert symbol route, where it appears at the top of the special characters list (you can also specify a new shortcut here).
     WordPerfect has something similar to Word, but instead of two hyphens, it's three (---), and it replaces themas soon as the first letter after the hyphens is typed. I find this more useful as it allows me to put a dash at the end of a line of dialogue followed by a closing quotation mark to indicate a speaker has been cut off or interrupted.
     For the GoogleDocs users, there's no easy shortcut. You need to go into it from the menus: Insert > Special Characters. Left drop down select Punctuation. Right drop down select Dash/Connector. Em Dash is dead center (not the Horizontal Bar as they're typographically different).
     Last there are the ASCII, Unicode, and html methods, which are summarized in Wikipedia's Common Dashes
     Remember that the em dash is your friend. Use it wisely; use it correctly; it will never let you down.

Friday, May 20, 2011

F3 New Officers

     "A ship," Captain Avery began, "is alive."
     "Sir? Do you mean the A.I.s?" the fresh ensign pushed the round glasses to the top of his nose.
     "No. I don't mean an A.I. Though, obviously those ships are alive, too, and in a much more tangible way. Even without artificial intelligence,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing Tools: Disable Autocorrect

     An urgent twitter went out from an author one night about Word's proclivities for crashing. She went to the web. She got suggestions from Twitter, and I even tossed a couple of ideas her way. Fortunately, she resolved the problem. For now. It's a problem I have seen and heard complaints about for far too long. MS Word, despite being an industry standard, is not the most reliable performer.
     I'm not out to blame Microsoft or its programmers; however, I'm sure everyone out there has had headaches when it has come to trying to get Word to behave, and as per Murphy, it generally chooses the worst possible time to act up.
     I've talked about automatic file backup here, but there are other things to look at. Word has autocorrect and automatic spell and grammar check options that tend to slow things down. Honestly, I had forgotten about these features because I disable them as soon as I install the software. I have found that there are too many rules in both spelling and grammar that Word just doesn't know, so I don't want the program to break my writing flow by alerting me to a misspelled word.
     But I do recall, in the distant past of my memory and youth, that these features can cause problems for Word. They slow the software down, increasing its CPU and memory footprint. This can be compounded if you are in spell-check or track changes mode as the computer must redraw the entire screen every time you move on to another error. Re-drawn complete with all the arrows, comments, highlights, and red and green squigglies.
     Why does it bog down? Well, mostly my theory is that Word was not designed for writers. Word was designed for business writing, by and large, and while it can handle business and school reports just fine, it doesn't do so well at 100,000+ word novels. Spell and grammar checking all of those words just causes a memory drain on the system. So at least experiment with disabling these autocorrect features to see if it works for you. For those with Word 2007 and newer, go to:

Office button (file in 2010) > Word Options > Proofing. Uncheck "Check spelling as you type" and "Mark grammar errors as you type"

     Older than 2007, go to:

Tools > Options > Autocorrect.

     I hope to, in future posts, tackle some of the other common difficulties writers have with Word, and how to correct them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

F3 Justice

     Jennings smiled.
     No one else did. It was not the type of occasion where people smiled. The small group of people in the "theater" really had nothing to be happy about. Today was not fun, happy, or celebratory. This was a day of justice, a day of closer. Yet Jennings sat there, happy about the crimes that he had committed. Happy about the ones we didn't know about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Tools: Write then Research

     Butt in chair, hands on keyboard is hard to pull off as every writer knows. If we complicate that with the added temptation of social media, internet, and everything else, it becomes nigh impossible.
     I've never been overly tempted by the allure of social media, so I don't know how to address that one, but I do know that the internet's siren lure of reference material calls to me whenever I write. I've lost myself in hours of research when all I intended to do was look up a quick geographic fact to insert into my WIP. I was led on a merry romp through various cultural and historical facts about the location that, while enlightening, distracted me.
     Writers obviously need to do research (my students could stand to do a little more), but it's important not to let the research overtake the writing itself. I've learned to incorporate a little journalistic shortcut into my writing by inserting TK (short for "To Come" [don't ask me about the spelling etymology]) as a placeholder for whatever fact I need to insert. Sometimes I'll add in parentheses the specific bit of information I need to look up.
     This works not only for odd bits of reference, but for odd things about the story line or characters I may have forgotten. Yes, I should have a series bible (we all should) but that may not take into account what a character said three chapters ago, or was wearing the day before yesterday. I find TK a quick and dirty way to both remind me and to keep me writing instead of breaking up the creative flow with a trip searching through the internet or the book so far.

Friday, May 6, 2011

F3 The Rider

     The Rider, as villagers whispered his name, slumped in his saddle as his horse plodded along the dirt road. Both man and horse bore the signs of heavy travel. The horse's hair, once a pristine white, lay matted with caked mud, his eyes and walk a reflection of the man he bore. The rider wore a tattered cloak, and patch-work armor that a blacksmith might have said had been fine work if not for the years of mis-care represented by rust, dents, and

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Tools: Grammar Handbooks

     I suppose I'm on something of a grammar kick with the end of the teaching semester here. Grammar is one of those subjects that writers at almost every level hates or dreads. Whether your particular bane is the apostrophe, the 14 (or is 15 now?) comma rules, when to capitalize certain titles, or any of the other seemingly endless arbitrary rules, it's the author's job to get good at grammar.
     It's not just for the sake of your agent or editor, either. Yes, they will certainly feel like executing you if you continue to make the same error throughout your manuscript, but more importantly you need to know how to craft sentences in an effective way. The very structure of a sentence can convey as much as the words in a sentence.
     To that end, every author should invest in a solid writing or grammar handbook. There's plenty of them on the market, many with tabs for ease of reference. Browse them on Amazon or pop over to a local college bookstore where you'll find many of them. They can run anywhere between $20-$65, and are worth every penny. Well, there is one catch. It doesn't do anything if it sits on your shelf or desk collecting dust. Get in the habit of using it when you revise and edit. Yes, it'll slow you down as you edit, but there is a trade-off. 1. Agents and editors will love you for it. 2. Your writing will improve at the composition stage so you will make fewer initial mistakes.
     Now if only I can get my students to do this.

Friday, April 29, 2011

F3 Tough Guy

     Any moron can get himself a gat. Toting about a gun doesn't make someone tough. It certainly doesn't make someone smart. More often than not,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writing Tools: Macros--replace periods

     One of the pet peeves of copyeditors is the dreaded double space after a period, or other sentence ending punctuation. And for authors preparing a manuscript, it becomes tedious to find and replace all these instances, even using the word processors feature. So here is a quick little macro for Word that does just that. Assign the macro to a button, and when it's time for the tediousness, simply click it.
     This macro can also be modified to accommodate exclamation points and question marks by replacing the period in the find and replace lines, then the whole thing could be run at once to replace all the spaces after end punctuation.

Here's the macro in its entirety:

Sub periodspace()
'
' periodspace Macro
'
'
Selection.HomeKey Unit:=wdStory
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
With Selection.Find
.Text = ". "
.Replacement.Text = ". "
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
End Sub

Friday, April 22, 2011

F3 Hired by a Squirrel

     "You're the Shamus," a voice two registers above my normal headache threshold piped. Seeing as I had once again taken in too much pixie nectar, my headache threshold had already been shattered. The voice drilled in through my ear, stabbed into my brain, and caused unfocused eyes to pop open in pain, which redoubled upon seeing

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Writing Tools: Normal.dot continued

     A few weeks back I talked about the infamous normal.dot in general terms, and what can be done with it. Now I've got a couple of websites that go into a little more information.
     The first is a guide on how to change the normal.dot found here: Change normal.dot. Now, a simple way to create a backup of the file is to

Friday, April 15, 2011

F3 A Different Title

     "Samuel Faraday," the King intoned. I'd never heard someone intone before, but the way his voice lingered in the Great Hall, well, that was intoning. "For your services to the Crown, you shall be made a Knight—"
     "Um!" I began "begging your pardon, Majesty?"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing Tools: Emergency computer plan

     Not long ago, agent extraordinaire and shark Janet Reid experienced some computer difficulties. While she was able to resolve the dilemma (without much expense or cost in time), it got me thinking about the tech dilemma.

Friday, April 8, 2011

F3 Dealing with Damsels

     "Oh, cripes. You're a D.I.D."
     "A what?"
     "Damsel in Distress. You need rescuing or something, don't you?"
     "A wicked troll captured me. I fled from the forest, and came here. Please help me."
     Yep. Definitely a D.I.D. Unfortunately, that meant a troll would be coming this way right quick. I wasn't equipped to fight

Friday, April 1, 2011

F3 Missing: Prince Charming

     The knock on my door eventually cut through the haze of my pixie nectar hangover. No one ever mentions the after kick that stuff packs. I staggered to the source of the knock, a response less conscious than necessary response to the pain the knocking caused.
     I pulled the rough wooden door open, and squinted at the too cheerful sunlight, wanting to recoil back into the darkness of my bed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing Tools: Macros

     Ah, Macros, one of my favorite little tricks to use in word processing and in Excel. Macros are little bits of computer code in an office program that do something. They're usually used to automate some kind of process that is usually repetitive such as preparing a document in manuscript format or

Friday, March 25, 2011

F3 Watching the Master

     I had moved to Frisco to start over, to leave the crimes of my past behind me. The only problem was I didn't have much idea what to do. I was just plain good at what I had been doing, and it was hard to find something else. My money had been easy back home, and working the docks in Frisco was back-breaking work. Honest, sure, but not a day went by that I didn't collapse in the shabby bed I rented.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing Tools: Text Editors

     I'm a nerd, and proud of it. Yep, I said it. I've been tinkering and toiling away since high school with my 286 with its whopping 256kb ram and a 40mb hard drive. I had a vga monitor (there is a large difference between the vga of then and the super vga often delineated as simply vga today). I even added in a sound card, and managed to get it to work by finagling the IRQs. I started out with DOS 5, in the era before Windows.
     Back in the day the word processor wars waged a bitter battle. I won't discuss the outcome of the war, as it's largely immaterial. Today I want to talk about a new, emerging trend of softwares: the stripped down novelty text editor.
     It seems hardly a week goes by where some new plain text editor is hawked as the thing in writing, now. The idea behind them is to distill the writing environment down to its most fundamental: a screen, and a cursor. By ridding the real estate of everything else, it's believed to eliminate distractions. I can't say I've ever been distracted by the various menus and toolbar buttons of my word processor, so I don't get the appeal.
     Others add in gimmicks to ease the burden of writing such as a concept that if the writer doesn't keep writing, the word processor will slowly begin to sound an annoying tone or even erase what was written. Another seeks to transform writing into a zen-like experience with pleasant sounds, soft backgrounds, and customizable clacking sounds of the keyboard. Some take the other route, and while providing a simple editor, offer extensive organizational tools that cross link, allow for pictures, sound files, notecards, and the like.
     I've played around with them, and can't say that I prefer any of them over my word processor, and I've got reasons for them.
     1. Text editors, while some of them support file formats other than plain text, do not allow for formatting inputs. If I need to add in italics, underlines or any other non-standard formatting, the text editors can't handle it. Yes, I could come back later and put them in, but what's the point? It makes more sense to add it right away instead of making a notation to do it later. Text editors also cannot handle headers, page numbers, indentations, or page breaks. The WYSIWYG interface of a word processor is also very nice to have.
     2. Automatic backup and save options are limited. With my word processor I can tell it where I want to save backups, and how often, minimizing the chance of something going wrong.
     3. A word processor is highly customizable. If you really want a stripped down appearance, you can do it! Take down all the toolbars, rulers, buttons, and what have you for a clean, no frills appearance. My beloved WordPerfect even allows for a fully retro appearance with a blue screen and a cursor (ahhh, memories).
     4. Writers are required to know how to perform some more advanced functions on word processors. Aside from knowing how to properly format a manuscript (and that means not inserting headers and page numbers manually or hitting enter several times to get to a new page. More on manuscript formatting here) there are the tools of editing, such as Track Changes, which Rachelle Gardner posted about some time back found here.
     5. Distractions come in many shapes and sizes. I don't believe that a plain text editor really is a solution. The various menus of word processors really aren't the distraction. Internet, TV, other people, and cats are distractions (even now my cat has decided that my keyboard is an excellent place for her tail to rest). And, let's face it, distractions happen no matter where you're at or what program you're running.
     I think it's far less complicated to eliminate extra software. The time it takes to learn these new text editors (despite having minimal features) could be better spent writing, or even getting to know your word processor under the hood. Make it fit your needs instead of going for gimmicks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Showdown at Club 42: Part V

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Showdown at Club 42

V Propositions

I noticed the card when I pulled out the keys to my car. It was the same business card I had slipped to Laura in the pack of cigarettes. It had a slight smell of tobacco on it, but also bore "Liberty and 8th the alley, 3am" in a fluid, feminine hand. Which is why I

Showdown at Club 42: Part IV

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Showdown at Club 42

IV Old Times

     "Ciro! I—" Joey stammered.
     Ciro Rosetti sauntered in without a care in the world. He looked good. He topped me by an inch or so, and had the extra weight to prove it, only some of it muscle. Most had likely come from too many home-cooked meals. He had a trusting kind of face with soft lines and no hard edges. The hardness came from within. Dark eyes and dark hair, going a little grey at his temples, peeked out from under his white fedora. A bright red feather peeked out of the black ribbon around it. It looked exotic and expensive. Ciro had

Showdown at Club 42: Part III

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Showdown at Club 42

III Card Sharks

     Laura let the cards sail. She didn't bother to deal Danny in. Joey frowned momentarily at that, but then shrugged. Everyone knew that the game rode on my performance, not Danny's. Danny took a nervous drink at some whiskey, his hand jangling the ice in the glass. The stakes had made themselves known to him, but he didn't know

Showdown at Club 42: Part II

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Showdown at Club 42

II High Stakes

     I approached the gatekeeper again, but this time with my best insolent grin along with the preferred invitation. He gave it a once over, glared at me hard and with the puzzled expression of trying to do an incredibly difficult arithmetic problem in his head, which meant two plus two for him. He growled once, evidently coming up with three for the answer, and let me pass.
     The table was in a recessed alcove, and pretty well shielded from prying eyes and the sounds of the club. Five people sat at the table, including the dealer, a wiry man with a visor. A man stood near the dealer. He had an average face with brown hair and brown eyes. He had a neat suit, grey hat, and a red carnation

Showdown at Club 42: Part I

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Showdown at Club 42

I Getting a Seat at the Table

     It was a funny thing about speakeasies. Everyone dressed up, men and women alike, but there was more in the way of under attire than was appropriate for decent company. More than a few of the gals toted roscoes in their purses or tucked into a garter, though I preferred when the lump was a flask. Men were the same, with the gat tucked into the waistband or a holster under the coat. I could spot the people who

Friday, March 18, 2011

F3 Irish Heritage

     "I thought that you had agreed to leave me alone." I closed the door to my office, and scowled at the little man sitting in front of my desk. His legs dangled far from the floor, and he had pulled the coffee table from in front of the couch and spread various tools and implements on it. He hammered away at a shoe.
     "Don't be like that, Matt'ew. An' I never agreed to an'thing like that."

Friday, March 11, 2011

F3 Choosing out the Mark

     They always says to me to go after the weak guy. The nervous guy who doesn't belong. You know the type, the real fish out of water. And there he is sittin' off by his lonesome. It's clear he don't really belong. He's sittin' straight, dressed nice, glasses. Looks like a real poindexter. Chances are I could lift him nice and easy, probably get a good bit, too, for my trouble.

Friday, March 4, 2011

F3 Last Resort

     The slow, steady hiss of the respirator made for percussion to accompany the steady beeps of the heat monitor. I continued to look at his face, hoping for something beyond the rise and fall of his chest. He lay there with tubes and wires sticking out of him, so reminiscent of the process used to create Frankenstein's monster. It was atrocious, an abomination to dignity to keep him trapped thus.

Friday, February 25, 2011

F3 A Bit of Magic

     "Left palm," I said to the guy next to me.
     The magician had made the ball disappear, and flourished an open hand to the audience, then the other.
     "Slipped it inside the waist just behind the jacket while flourishing with the right."
     "How do you see all this?" My client asked.

Friday, February 18, 2011

F3 Max's Musings on Knowledge

Some of the many musings of Max Stein, Matt Allen's former mentor and partner.

     Listen, rookie, you need to know certain things about what's out there. No denying that. 'Cause if you don't know, you die. Period. Like you need to know bargaining with one of the Fae is a bad idea. They take things real literal, you understand me. If you only imply something, that ain't good enough. The Fae will wriggle out of it, and set a hook in your mouth. That you need to know.
     Now, there's the flip side. There's the stuff you don't need to know. I don't mean that it's okay if you know it, but it's not that useful. I mean there's stuff you need to
not know anything about. There's things out there, really dark things that can do awful things to a soul, and if you start looking in their direction, they look back. Once you've been seen, that's it. They start knowing about you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Cycle anew

     This is the way it always happens. Once the semester gets into swing, the first to suffer is the blog, then my writing tapers down. Well not this time! At least I'm going to make more of an effort to keep the blog more updated, and to keep my writing at full strength. I've been furiously rewriting the opening chapters to Blood and Stones since gaining a great beta reader to point out how much I suck. It's working as the opening chapters are much stronger, now. I hope to be ready for another round of queries, soon.
     I plan on bringing F3 back, but probably without the pictures. I may even venture into the microfiction format as an experiment. Well, back to it, but I'll be back like a bad penny.

Friday, January 7, 2011

F3 The Way It Should Work

     The bell rang, and Will Stevens sat down at his desk. All the other students did the same, but Will watched Sally Jenkins especially closely. She looked at him, and he quickly turned his head back to his desk, staring at the doodle he had penciled onto the desk.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Writing Tools: Accents

     Accent marks are cool looking, give an exotic feel to writing, and are downright necessary for certain words and sounds, but they're also a royal pain to try and use with a word processor. There are some bizarre shortcut keys you can attempt to memorize, or you can use the character mapper or the insert symbol menu to scroll through and find the exact mark in the exact font, but that is very time consuming.
     Fortunately, there is a nice easy solution
by way of Autohotkey and a gentleman by the name of Skrommel. With a little piece of software, all you need to do is press a key 3+ times to insert the accent you need. Multiple presses cycles the letter through the various accents that you might use, and then it's done. It only takes a few keystrokes to insert the accent you need.
     Skrommel has made an .exe file out of the script as well as the regular .ahk file. You can find both here: http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Skrommel/index.html#Accents. For the more paranoid among you about viruses and the like, you can see the .ahk file completely written out here: http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Skrommel/Accents/Accents.ahk