Southeast of Disorder

Protected: Hard Eights: Graduate HtTS WIP
February 13, 2009, 11:55 am
Filed under: Hard Eights

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The Illinois Connection
November 5, 2008, 12:11 am
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Two tall, thin men of extraordinary intelligence and uncommon perspective emerged from Illinois to lead the United States at critical moments in its history.

The first was Abraham Lincoln.

Barack Obama became the second Tuesday night.

The two men share some similarities. Lincoln was an attorney; so is Obama. Lincoln married a strong, steadfast, intelligent woman; so did Obama. Both men overcame a number of obstacles in order to rise above mediocrity. Both were remarkably dedicated to easing the plight of the common man. Both faced public excoriation by their political enemies. Both persevered.

My heartiest congratulations go to President-elect Obama, along with my most heartfelt wishes for his continued success. He will prove himself the man we the people intended to elect if he remains true to the goals, hopes and dreams he shares with us.

And, as history indicates Lincoln did, he must remain dedicated to easing the plight of the common man and to making America a better place for all of us.


Thinking Sideways
November 4, 2008, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: ,

A quick update for those who have asked: Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course now accepts new students 24/7/365. Originally limited to one new class twice a year, Holly has redefined how she teaches and encourages students to interact, so the class has become a work-at-your-own-pace kind of thing.

Payments may be made monthly for six or 12 months. (For the very flush among us starving artists, Holly also will accept lump sums.)

I heartily recommend the course. Holly’s style is cheerful and witty, and the lessons are quite accessible, even for stubborn types like me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my writing, as well as how to overcome some particularly obstinate writerly challenges. About the best thing I can say about Holly and her course is that they encourage writers to find paths that work for them, to uncover potential writers never knew they had and to have fun along the rocky road to publication.

Making dynamite
November 4, 2008, 11:42 am
Filed under: Politics, religion | Tags: , ,

It has been said that religion and politics are two topics people should not discuss in mixed company. Both are polarizing subjects: Few people can agree to disagree about something so personal and self-affirming, so there’s huge potential for vicious, recriminatory arguments to erupt.

Like the one I got into yesterday.

I make no excuses for my behavior, and I probably should apologize for getting involved in the first place, but in my defense I have to say I didn’t mix the explosive ingredients. I just lit the fuse.

This election, more than any other I can remember, has distressed me. Now that it’s almost over, I feel emotionally drained. I’m beyond tired of the endless backbiting and mudslinging. I’ve become exhausted by the sleazy innuendo. If I could, I would slap upside the head both presidential candidates, both vice-presidential candidates and most other candidates, and I’d tell them all to get a grip. “It’s the negative campaigning, stupid!” I’d be tempted to yell mid-slap.

(By the way, what is it that makes political candidates believe lying or truth-stretching during a campaign indicates trustworthiness?)

One of the things I find most frstrating about modern campaigns is the number of people who seem much too willing to cast aspersions on those who don’t share their religious convictions. The amount of religiously motivated campaign literature to which I’ve been subjected in the past few months is mind-boggling. I probably should ignore it, but I’m intensely curious about why people behave as they do, so usually I read the material and then engage in a “hm” moment, a “huh?” moment, a “you idiot” moment or a brief bout of hysterical laughter before I go on about my business.

Yesterday was different, though, and I haven’t been able to define why. Perhaps I lost my own grip because the religio-political message came through at an early, not-yet-fully-caffeinated hour. Perhaps my fed-up gene was working overtime that day. Whatever caused the unfortunate series of events, it began when a member of a Yahoo! hobby group to which I belong forwarded a religious message about voting.

I stared at the message in disbelief for a good long while before taking action, distraught to realize the last bastion of politics- and religion-free space to which I could retreat had been breached.

I responded with “[Our beloved hobby] is apolitical. It has no cultural, social, religious or political agendas. Please, let’s keep it that way.”

The other member apologized and explained she accidentally had forwarded the message to the wrong group. The mistake was understandable and all was forgiven, at least on my end. We’ve all been in that uncomfortable position, after all.

Unfortunately, while the message misdirector was composing her apology, other members who, like me, were offended by the original post also were composing their own messages about the religious voting screed’s inappropriateness. All of them crossed in cyberspace, resulting in a veritable puddle of terse-but-polite condemnation of the original poster’s unfortunate mistake.

That offended her, and she resigned from the group in a huff.

I felt badly, not least because although I read almost every message delivered to the group, I don’t often post. My first post in months resulted in a skirmish, illustrating why it’s usually best for me to eschew posting. Much like Typoid Mary spread the dreaded disease everywhere she went, I seem to precipitate ruckuses without even trying.

It’s a gift.

It’s official: I’ve lost my mind
November 2, 2008, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: ,

I wasn’t going to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. For months leading up to the Nov. 1 launch of the 10th annual 50,000-words-in-30-days challenge, I told myself “You have too much to do this year. Just let it go.” I told all my writing buddies I was going to spend November hacking and slashing at the 100,000-plus-word manuscript I’d dearly love to submit to a publisher before year’s end (if I can get it below 100,000 words without cutting my heart out or “offing” any more characters). I told my professional pals I’d be glad to embed myself in some new startup projects that look promising, even in a hibernating economy. I accepted a couple of big feature-writing assignments because, after all, I gotta eat even if the economy is hibernating.

And then Nov. 1 rolled around, and Muse leapt upon me like I was her best friend in the world and she’d missed me excruciatingly while she was vacationing for the past several months. (Yes, this is the same muse who ran off with God knows who to God knows where while her brain-dead writer pal muddled along solo with a manuscript badly in need of a Frankenstein-like jolt.)

To make a long story short, by the end of Saturday I had an outline and several scenes planned out. By Sunday evening I’d written 3,719 words.

It’s entirely possible those 3,719 words are all I’ll get written this month. Looking at my schedule, I’ve already determined that if I write any more, I’ll have to pen them in my sleep.

Now I understand why so many literary giants were alcoholics or drug abusers. They weren’t feeding their muses. They were trying to shut them up.

I wish I had been kinder to my mind while I had it. I miss it sometimes.

Freeware Review: Text Block Writer
October 16, 2008, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: ,

I’m still bumping up against some creative roadblocks with my current work in progress, but thanks to a couple of freeware tools with which I’ve been experimenting, those annoying little disruptions are fewer and farther between. (I’ll never again complain about my muse’s hyperactivity, because when she decides to take a vacation, she doesn’t leave a number where she can be reached in case of emergency.)

So, while I’m sitting around hoping some stupendous solution to writer’s block will land upon me with an unmistakable thud, I thought I’d give other writers a heads-up about one of the tools I’ve found helpful. Maybe someone else will find it helpful too. (In the interest of full disclosure, I receive nothing for reviewing, endorsing or linking to this product.)

Understand that I didn’t pull this nifty freebie out of a hat. I spent far too many hours surfing the Web, reading product descriptions and reviews, and downloading and playing with demo packages that ranged in price from free to about $50. In addition, I’ve been a technology journalist for about ten years, so I feel at least marginally qualified to comment on software. Still, all of what follows comes with the caveat that it’s nothing more than my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

The program I’m using most often these days is Text Block Writer, a sort of virtual note card organizer and manager. Many writers prefer to use physical index cards to jot down scene ideas, because the tactile experience of arranging the cards into a workable pattern is important to them. I’m not a fan of physical note cards, primarily because not even I can read my handwriting when I become frenzied during particularly inspired moments, but also because I find thinking easier in front of a computer screen. (We all have our little peccadillos.)

Here’s a screen grab (click to enlarge):

Text Block Writer desktop

Text Block Writer desktop

Text Block Writer is quick to download, easy to install and the learning curve is quite shallow. File size is virtually unlimited, so each project can include as many or as few virtual cards as one desires. In addition, the desktop interface can include as many columns as the user wants to define. For my purposes, I defined five six-column pages upon which each column represents one chapter. (I could as easily have defined one 30-column page, but scrolling sideways makes me cranky.)

Each virtual card represents one scene, and it can hold as much or as little information as one wants to include. (Yes, each card will hold an entire scene as it appears in the WIP, but I use them to jot down just the classic “essential details” like point of view, conflict, characters and basic action.)  Scenes can be arranged within columns in whatever order the user desires. They can be moved around. They can be deleted, although that’s never really necessary because the “Block Shelf” space near the lower right-hand corner serves as a repository for unused scenes until you find a place to put them. The Block Shelf also will hold cards for scenes that pop into your head unbidden, just in case you want to add them somewhere later.

Cards also can be color-coded to indicate anything your little heart desires. I color-coded the ones in the example to indicate character POV at a glance.

Along the right-hand side of the page are a number of tabs that offer quick access to an overview of the cards included in the project, a card index, grouping options and the ability to change certain aspects of the project’s layout if you decide you’d like to try another way of looking at the desktop. The program is capable of printing everything in hard-copy form.

On the negative side, people who are accustomed to working with physical index cards will have to adjust their eyes to an altered reality. The virtual cards in Text Block Writer look nothing like the real thing. However, for the money (Did I mention the software is free?), this is a killer app for writers who use Windows-based computers. Sadly, it’s not available for other platforms.

The developer also offers a sort of big brother to Text Block Writer: Text Block Author. It has a few additional bells and whistles and only costs $19.95, but I didn’t find enough important bells and whistles to convince me to buy it. Author also doesn’t seem to be in active development right now; the most recent update was released in 2007.

Arts and Letters
October 1, 2008, 6:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I really should be engaging my work in progress, but I keep getting sidetracked by online diversions that are just too cool for words. Take this one, for example: Wordle. (Thanks to Authoress for the heads-up about it. While you’re at her site, check out the velvet-lined dungeon devoted to masochistic wordsmiths who willingly throw themselves under busses in pursuit of literary perfection.)

I’m thoroughly enthralled by the Wordle concept, which appears to be a distant visual and conceptual cousin to mind-mapping (one of my all-time favorite tools).

Here’s my first Wordle, based on a scene from the WIP over which I should be slaving at this very moment:

The full-size version is in the online gallery here.

Is that nifty, or what?