Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Proper Use of Punctuation

A writing acquaintance asked me to read an excerpt from her newly published book yesterday, and of course, because I whole-heartedly support fellow indie writers, I agreed. I made it to the second sentence. What made me stop reading?

The first two sentences, which merely set the scene, both ended in exclamation points. If that's how it started, I don't want to read the rest because, to use one my son's favorite lines, ain't nobody got time for that.

Now, maybe it's the editor in me, but I have absolutely no tolerance for punctuation misuse. If you want to be a writer, punctuation is part of your tool bag. Therefore, you have an obligation to learn to use it correctly. And don't give us that crap about being a maverick and breaking the rules. In order to successfully break the rules, you have to first know what they are. Believe it or not, those of us who know them can tell the difference.

This used to drive me crazy when I was editing proposals because proposal writers seem to think everything should either be bold or encased in quotation marks. Argh! (BTW - the exclamation point there DOES denote excitement, and not in a good way.)

I went to school when they still required you to diagram sentences in English class. I had a mentor in college who was an absolute taskmaster when it came to correct grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank the powers that be for sending her my way because it made all of that become second nature to me. I have only to read a lot of written work now to realize schools don't teach that any more.

Even the newspapers are guilty. If I see the Tampa Tribune write SOCOM (the acronym for Special Operations Command) as Socom in the paper one more time, I'm going to scream. You're a newspaper in the business of conveying accurate information. You'd think you could get a name right.

Okay, with the rant accomplished, here's a quick primer on punctuation:

Exclamation points - used to convey excitement, mainly in dialog. NOT to show emphasis in sentences. See what I did there? To emphasize that sentence, I capitalized not. I didn't say: Not to emphasize sentences! I see a blue butterfly! We went to dinner! I woke up and went to work! Remember this--if you use something enough, it no longer has the same effect.

Semi-colon: think of it as a yield sign. Used to separate a sentence fragment that can't stand alone as a sentence. NOT used to separate items in a list, i.e., apples; oranges; butter. For those we use a...

Comma - I used to work with an editor who called most writers Comma Shakers. A comma indicates a natural pause. Here's a good rule to follow - before you use a comma in a sentence, say the sentence aloud. If you naturally pause there, use a comma. If you don't, don't stick one there. I see sentences with commas in the weirdest places and it just makes me want to yank my hair out.

Quotation marks - The word quotation should give you a hint at its use. A quotation is a piece of dialog. He said, she said stuff. Quotation marks are NOT used to set off words or phrases in normal narrative. Correct:  "This is dumb," she said. Incorrect: The "dumb" girl said something.

Apostrophes - used to a) denote possessive, or b) to separate parts of a contraction. Which leads me to another pet peeve. The English language is full of little idiosyncracies. As a writer, you should make it your business--if you write in English--to learn them. For instance, the words it's and its. It's is a contraction of the words it is. Its (without an apostrophe) is the possessive of it. Another one, They're and their, and let's throw in there while we're at it. Look them up in a DICTIONARY (what a concept) and learn to use them correctly.

So there you have it. If you think it's not important, that no one else in this texting-crazy world really cares if you use exclamation points at the end of every sentence and semi-colons after every other word and tell us all that their all going to the movies, think again.

Writing is hard work. Writing a book is even harder. Selling said book is harder still. Do you really want to turn off a potential reader/sale by looking ignorant of your craft? I wouldn't take my car to a mechanic who clearly didn't know what the engine does. This is no different. You say you want to be a writer? Then learn HOW to write.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Return of the Light Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of Return of the Light, I'm offering a free copy to the first 3 people who respond with I Want the Return of the Light.

Your free copy will be emailed directly to your device or personal email address in either Kindle, ePub (Nook), or PDF formats.

Return of the Light Now Available!

Bad choices--even for the wrong reasons--can still kill you.

Return of the Light, the first book of The 'Ru Lexicon trilogy, is now available on Kindle. Awaiting word on the publication date for Nook and paperback.

Return of the Light is Raphael's story. A little background on the character:

Born in fifteenth century Venice, Raphael was the son of a minor nobelman. Like most young nobelmen of that period, he received his schooling from tutors and masters, including training in the art of fencing and swordplay. Street fights and tavern brawls provided him ample opportunity to practice his mastery of the sword, but it was at the hands of a notorious courtesan that he acquired his most dangerous skill: the art of seduction.

As a result, he became an incurable womanizer. Rich, poor, young, old—Raphael never met a woman he didn’t want to bed, and he never let propriety get in the way of accomplishing that. With his charm and good looks, he had no problem attracting potential conquests—as well as their husbands, fathers, and lovers—and more than enough opportunities to practice his swordplay and quick wit.

Monday, June 24, 2013

From Writing to Publishing...the DIY Process

For those of you who don't do your own publishing, be that ebook or print, you may return to your regularly scheduled activity.

For those writers who, like myself, do it all--write the book, design the cover, and format it for all the various publication outlets--let's all share a drink and commiserate each other on the often frustrating and always time-consuming process of getting your manuscript from that lone file on your computer to the masses who (you hope) will buy it.

For my first ebook, Being John Bland, I went the totally manual route. I converted the entire manuscript to html and inserted all the formatting tags to make it play nice with Kindle (I didn't bother with ePub for that one). Then I let Amazon do its thing with the file. The Kindle version of that book is, to this day, kind of a hit or miss affair. I know I should go in and fix it, but to be honest, I just don't have the energy. Plus, I can't for the life of me find the original html file (that was two computers ago) and I have no desire to re-convert it again. Maybe someday...

For Lucid, I still hand-coded the manuscript to html manually, but I pulled it into Calibre for conversion to ePub and Kindle. While easier, there is still a learning curve involved, and getting everything to look just the way you want is a sometimes hair-pulling endeavor. Either way, it took me a good two weeks to get everything set up for publication, including the wait times while your files are being approved after upload.

And that's not even taking into account the print version. Yes, I know the paperback will never sell. For one thing, I use CreateSpace and their pricing structure is such that I have to charge $12.00 for a book just to meet their costs. The only reason I do it is for myself--I want to have a print version of my book on my shelf, as well as a few extra copies to give to friends and family.

Fast forward to now. For Return of the Light, I decided to get cute and use InDesign  for formatting both the print and ePub versions. Now, let me just stop here and inform you that I still write in  WordPerfect. While I recognize that the world-wide standard for wordprocessing is Word, I personally hate it and only voluntarily use it for business and work-related documents. However, since the rest of the world has been bought off by Bill Gates & Co., Word is a necessary evil, so when the book is done, the WordPerfect files get converted to Word, and, in this case, those files are converted to .rtf  so I can use them in InDesign. Blah...what a process, and we haven't even really started yet.

I've had three versions of InDesign (my current is CS6, which came bundled in my Adobe Web and Design Professional Suite, which I use in my web design business), but I haven't used it since it was Pagemaker back in the day. Which meant that while some things were familiar, most were not. However, I had heard rumors that InDesign converts to ePub seamlessly (hahahaha!!), so I gave it a go.

I spent more time reading tutorials and Googling answers than actually working on files, but the process has so far taken me two weeks. First, in order to get ePub files that correctly started chapters on a new page, I had to break each chapter of the book into separate files. That meant first converting all special characters (em dashes, ellipses, quotation marks and apostrophes) in my manuscript to the correct symbol, then breaking out each chapter into a separate .rtf file (InDesign imports directly from .rtf.). Then through trial and error, I hit upon the correct format for setting up those files in InDesign. I created a book, then created documents for each chapter, all the front matter, the TOC, the title page, etc.,and added all of them to the book. Styles had to be synchronized across all chapters so the ePub book's CSS file could be compiled. Then, after much searching for the correct way to do it, all that was bundled and wrapped into a single ePub file, which I then pulled into Sigil.

Phew! If you think I was done, you're wrong. I did learn something, however. An ePub file is just a zip file. If you change the extension of an ePub file from .epub to .zip, you can then unzip it and access all the files inside. (Mac users have a few more hoops to jump through since IOS doesn't like the zip format.)  Once unzipped, you can edit all the html files for the separate chapters and front matter, as well as the styles (CSS), the opf file, and the meta files. When you're done, just change the extension of the unzipped folder back to epub and it zips it all back together again.

Or, you can just open the file in Sigil and do all your editing there. So, two weeks and I finally had an ePub file I was satisfied with (with the exception of that damned "start" reference line in the Guides section of the opf file, which by the way, DOES NOT WORK). Now comes the fun part--converting the ePub to mobi for Kindle.

Because Sigil doesn't do that, I pulled the ePub into Calibre and did my conversion there. And for those of you counting, I've now used five different software applications to get this book written and published. Fun.

Now, let me just say, if you are converting a Word file to ePub, Calibre is great. Lots of helpful options to get you where you're going. Sort of like the GPS function on my phone that NEVER SHUTS UP when I'm trying to navigate. But when you start out with an ePub file, there should be an option that tells Calibre, "Hey, been there, done all of this, just make with the conversion already!"

There isn't. Anyway, that was a waste of an entire morning, and I never did figure out the difference between old Kindle, new Kindle, both (and don't even get me started on .azw3), and why it matters because Amazon is going to reconvert your files anyway for all their devices. So word of advice--just select "old" and let Amazon do the work.

So...Kindle version uploaded. I need a breather before attacking B&N, and the jury is still out on whether or not I'm attempting Apple. From what I hear, like everything else Apple-related, that's an exclusive, members-only, good ol' boy network that's almost impossible to crack. Not sure I care that much yet. We'll see.

The print version took three days to format using InDesign to get the layout just right (all the styles, margins, headers, page numbers, blank pages backing up standalone pages, etc.), then another afternoon of farting around how to convert an .indd file to .pdf for print  that isn't "export to interactive digital" (the only export option it insisted on giving me despite all of Adobe's so-called Help). Turns out, you have to select Print to PDF. Then lo and behold, Acrobat takes all the blank pages out. Grr!!! And it doesn't offer a way to insert blank pages either. You can only insert pages from a file, so I had to create a new page in Word, put a couple of letters on it, make the font white (so it doesn't show) then save it as a .pdf so I could insert the blank pages back into the master .pdf file. Listen up, Adobe--user-friendly isn't just a catch phrase. Do you people actually USE the stuff you make?

With the content all wrapped up in a .pdf, I now had to get my cover ready. I had the separate parts--front, back, spine--but I couldn't do the final layout until I knew how wide the spine was going to be, and I didn't know that until I got the book converted to .pdf and uploaded to CreateSpace. Once that was done, I was able to download a cover template from CreateSpace, drop all my files onto it, then save it as a new .pdf for my cover.

So, anyway, all files are now with their respective publishers awaiting approval. I seriously believe writing the book was easier than getting it published. I'm thinking that publishing is a lot like giving birth--painful and time-consuming, but hopefully we forget all that with time, because otherwise I would never attempt to publish again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

9 Days to go for Return of the Light!!

Just nine more days till my scheduled Kindle release date for Return of the Light, the first book in The 'Ru Lexicon trilogy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why I Write Urban Fantasy

Like most people who write about the paranormal, I have people ask me why I write about "weird things" instead of so-called normal stuff. The standard answer–the answer most of us who write about "weird things" give people when we’re asked that question–is that I write the kind of stuff I like to read. Which usually leads to "Why do you like to read that?" I suppose I could be flip and respond by asking why some people like to wear shoes that look like torture devices or let a stranger with a needle engrave pictures on their skin. It all comes down to personal preference. Tomato, tomahto.

The truth is, most writers are dreamers; we live in a world of our own imagination. We create it, we populate it, we control it. We are, in essence, its god. And when we’re writing, we immerse ourselves in that world–the way it looks, smells, and feels. We can hear its heartbeat, we can feel our characters’ failures and triumphs. And we can make that world as normal or abnormal as our imaginations allow.

As an urban fantasy writer, I liken the things I write about–monsters, demons, vampires, etc.–to a metaphor for the struggles many people face in their own lives. No, we don’t actually battle monsters and demons in the real world (at least, I don’t think so)–but we all live with inner monsters and demons, things that haunt, control, or threaten to destroy us, whether they be thoughts, deeds, or decisions. Skeletons rattling around in our closets, both physical and emotional, that can at times make our lives a living nightmare.

For instance, I recently dealt with the death of both my parents within six months of each other. I tried to power through the grief, figuring if I just ignored the pain, it would eventually go away, but grief isn’t a kind roommate. Like most emotional trauma, grief waits for you in the dark, a greedy demon that demands its pound of flesh. You either face it head on and conquer it, or ignore it and let it slowly tear your soul apart.

That’s how trauma affects us. At some point in our lives, we will all face gut-wrenching, life altering experiences. And regardless of where it comes from or how it happens, we have to find a way to either best it or live with it. It’s something we have in common with every other person on the planet; an archetype of the human condition.

The ancient Greeks knew that. They wrote morality plays that, on the surface, told the stories of gods and monsters, but on a deeper level, their plays were metaphors for aspects of the human condition. And just like them, the stories we write today, regardless of the medium or genre, are the same stories that all writers have been writing since pen was first put to paper. As they say, there are no new stories, just new ways to tell them. When you look past the messenger, you see that the message itself is universal.

I may write urban fantasy because my devious little imagination is populated by paranormal characters living in fantastical worlds, but the things they do–the demons they fight–are as common to us all as a bad dream.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cover for Return of the Light Done!

I finally got the cover done for Return of the Light. Starting to get excited about publication time!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Finished! Return of the Light

Finally, after five long years, the final edits for Return of the Light, the first book of the 'Ru Lexicon trilogy, are complete. Formatting for print and eBook forms are on the horizon, then hopefully by the end of the month, publication. I've lived with these characters for so long they're like old friends. I can't wait to introduce them to the world!