July 2014 archive

Thank you, Edgar

My stepfather Ed Barnett passed peacefully away at home a few hours ago. He was a good and honorable man and the only father I ever had. This is what I hope he took with him from me.


Dear Edgar,

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell you what you mean to me, how to express my gratitude for everything you’ve done for me, how to convey the impact you’ve had on my life, but words just don’t seem sufficient. So I’ve reflected about our actions over the years—yours and mine.

You are the only person I’ve ever had that I could honor on Father’s Day, and I hope you’ve felt my love for you each year.

You are the only man who has been there for me every single time I needed you, and if I haven’t said it plainly enough, thank you for each of countless instances.

You have made my mother very happy, and I am grateful for that.

You are the only man who has consistently believed in me despite all the reasons I’ve given you not to.

You have generously and freely given me opportunities I never would have had without you that have changed the course of my life and enriched it beyond measure.

More than anyone else, I sought to make you proud of me. I believe there have been occasions when I have, and they gave me tremendous joy and satisfaction.

I have known since I started writing my book that I would dedicate it to you. This is what it will say.

To Edgar,

for never once failing to offer me the tools I needed to make my dreams come true,
even when you didn’t agree with them.

Thank you for being my father.

You love me, and I love you, and these states of being speak for themselves.

Goodbye, Edgar. Thank you for coming into my life.

Scribe and Scrivener

I hope y’all had a fun and safe holiday weekend. I’m excited to get back to writing after the break, and I’ve still got some posting to do before I catch you up to my current point in the process of writing and publishing my first novel. I’ve fielded lots of questions about the software I used to write The Achievers, so I thought we could pick it up there.

I admit it; I have wholly bought into the iParadigm. My computers, tablets, phones and TV and music delivery systems were conceived of, designed by and built for Apple. Like many people, I’ve spent my career working on PCs in a Microsoft environment, but I’m a complete convert in my personal life. I am totally connected at all times, in all places. I even accessed drafts of my book with my iPad in Amsterdam! I am a true believer.

Over the weekend in May that I spent thinking about how and where I wanted to write, I decided I didn’t want to be chained to my desk with my iMac. I thought that I may want to work by the pool or in bed or at my parents’ house. My iPad wouldn’t cut it; it’s an extraordinary tool, but word processing isn’t really its forte. I would need a laptop, and to close my technological circle, it would have to be a Mac. I decided on a MacBookAir, but that left the question of software unresolved.

My iMac is fully loaded with Microsoft Office’s usual suspects, but I imagined that there would be a better way. I considered using the Mac interpretation of Word called Pages. Documents could be stored on the cloud, keeping them safe from a spontaneously combusting computer or other localized mishap and allowing me to access them from my computers, my iPad or even my iPhone. I’d never really used Pages before, but Apple software has always been intuitive so I knew there wouldn’t be too much of a learning curve. Just to satisfy my curiosity, though, I ran a quick search for software created for writers. I am very glad I did.

Scrivener caught my attention. It performs the obligatory word processing tasks, but it also does so much more. The software was designed by an author for use on a Mac although it is available for PCs, too. I studied its features and downloaded the free trial. After a short tutorial and an assurance that one license would provide copies for both my iMac and my MacBookAir (the good people at Scrivener are true believers, too, so they understand the “need” for multiple devices), I bought in.

I love, love, love Scrivener!

As a novice, I was thrilled that the app provided templates for character and setting sketches. Completing those forced me to articulate my vision so that I could easily draw on character backgrounds and reference their profiles when the story became more complex. Next, I set up the chapters and scenes I had already mapped. As I wrote, I provided a one-liner synopsis of each scene so that I could quickly navigate between passages. I never had any trouble finding what I was looking for in my 183 page manuscript. One of Scrivener’s most versatile attributes is that with a push of a single button, it would turn my manuscript into either a set of color-coded index cards or an outline!  Authors who work from full outlines can set them up in Scrivener and switch back to their manuscripts just as painlessly.  The software keeps track of everything and does all the work.

Once I’d completed my first chapter, I started sending drafts to a select group of people for feedback. Scrivener compiles a scene, chapter or the entire manuscript into any format–pdf, Word, Pages, ebook, etc. It’s a simple matter to change the font or other formatting, and it embeds the author’s name, the title, word count and page numbers as well as other personal information an author may want to include. One of my favorite features is that Scrivener automatically saves (I never lost so much as a comma!) to my Dropbox account and automatically opens on either of my computers where I left off. I was concerned that I would run out of space on Dropbox, but the completed manuscript with all of my notes, research and edits only takes up 2.5 MB. To put that into perspective, the dozen or so photos from my Amsterdam trip occupied 48 MB.

Now that I’ve entered the editing phase, I take a “snapshot” of a scene before I make any changes. If I decide that I don’t like my edits, I can revert to the original, or I can compare the original to my edited version(s) side by side. It’s a relief not to manage multiple drafts. I wish I’d had this software when I was working on the Texas Energy Assurance Plan over a three-year period!  For that major undertaking, we had to save yet another copy of the entire document for even the most minimal edits.  We must have ended up with hundreds of versions to wade through by the end of the project.

I realize that I haven’t used all of Scrivener’s components, but I look forward to further exploring them as I finish my edits and dive into the next two books of the trilogy.  The best way I know to learn a software’s capabilities is to use it, after all.

I hope I’ve answered everyone’s questions about Scrivener. If you have others, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Happy birthday, America!

I’m veering slightly off topic in this post because of what today is–the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence–although the subject is really all about words and their power. It’s easy to gloss over why we celebrate a holiday, especially when it has been hundreds of years since the last person involved in the originating event has died. For us, Independence Day is an almost guaranteed day off with barbecues, family and friends, fireworks and lots of red, white and blue. I’d like to ask you to take a momentary break from all of that to think about why you are doing it.

We grumble about how messed up our government is, but we have the opportunity to change it every single year through free local, state and federal elections. You can thank for that a group of visionaries who, 238 years ago today, stated the reasons why they would no longer be governed by men they had no voice in choosing. Really consider their words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States…

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

That is truly heady stuff. Those guys went on to fight the most powerful military force the world had ever known to secure for you and me the right not only to complain about our government but also to change it regularly and without bloodshed. Every fourth of July, I reread these words because I take them for granted on the other 364 days. The sentiments seem so obvious–almost trite–to us, but that is because they forever altered the world 238 years ago.

On this and every Independence Day, I wish for you and yours well-grilled meat, cherished company and a pause to remember why you are so fortunate to be an American. Thanks for reading!


All-encompassing trip

My Pearl Jam tour buddies will recognize the title of this post as lyrics from Present Tense. The song is about putting away regrets about the past, forgiving yourself and living for now. That’s something I try to do, but it can be difficult to maintain on a regular basis when routine life events can lead me back to familiar patterns. On my trip to Amsterdam, I experienced a karmic incident that taught me the lesson all over again, and it relates to my book.

Mike in Dallas, November 15, 2013

Mike in Vancouver, December 4, 2013

I’ve written before about how Pearl Jam’s example inspired me to follow my dream. What you don’t know is that the guys inspired characters in my book as well. The Achievers is set in 2029 Seattle. My heroine is the 16-year-old daughter of a famous musician who plays a role in the book along with his bandmates. The fictional band’s name is Analog Stain, and one of its guitarists is Mark Murray, an important figure in the trilogy. “Uncle Mark” looks like Mike McCready, guitarist for Pearl Jam, in my mind’s eye. I don’t know Mike personally, of course, and I don’t know any more about him than the average fan. I wasn’t trying to recreate him, I was merely paying homage (and it worked really well for my premise). Many readers will have no idea that Mike was a sort of template for Uncle Mark and probably won’t even think of him, but I know.

At 12:30 on our last night (we never adjusted to local time), I had just showered in the hope that I could relax and sleep soon as we had an early flight the next morning. Shannon was about to shower so I went down to the deserted courtyard of our lovely hotel to breathe in the cold Dutch night air before returning to the oppressive heat of the Texas summer. As I stood there, two vans pulled up to the hotel’s front door, and a bunch of kids poured out. I thought it was odd to see so many young children at that time of night so they caught my attention. I was ready to go back to the room anyway so I walked toward the door. The group of people was organizing itself on the front steps, and I was surprised to see that Mike McCready was the adult in the crowd. He was looking at me so I smiled and waved. I wasn’t going to bother him, and I was shocked when he came over to chat with me.

One of my favorite photos: Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (right) in Seattle December 6, 2013

One of my favorite photos: Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready (right) in Seattle December 6, 2013

I will admit that before the trip, I had thought about what I would say to these guys if I were actually confronted with one or more of them. I was so surprised in that moment, however, that none of it came to mind. I thanked him (twice, I think) for what his music has meant to me. He noted that I was obviously from the States, and we talked about Austin for a few moments. He was very nice and cool. We shook hands (again, twice, I think), and if I remember correctly, I walked away from him. I bolted back to the room and told Shannon everything, but it was starting to slip away. I was already regretting that I had missed my opportunity to tell him about the very real impact he and his colleagues so recently had on my life, that their example had inspired me to chase my dream and that the inspiration had manifested in the pages of my book. I couldn’t sleep, and the regret wouldn’t stop nagging at me, even after returning home.

As I recovered from my jet lag, I sat down to compose a letter to Mike to tell him all the things I’d wished I had told him that night. I had family coming in and out, so I worked on it over a few days and finally mailed it (yes, snail mail–how quaint!). I don’t know if he will ever see the letter, but it helped me get past the regret. And who knows? Maybe this will open a dialog that a late night conversation on another continent wouldn’t have. Maybe it will end up being better this way. In my mind, Pearl Jam plays the soundtrack to my novel, and the lyrics to songs I’ve only mentioned so far will become very important in the next book of the trilogy. A girl can dream about the possibilities, and I’ve recently committed to pursuing those dreams.

Writing the letter was what I had to do stop the regrets, and it let me move on. The lesson here was to do what I had to do to let go of it, stop berating myself for not perfectly and completely articulating myself when faced with one of my heroes and realign my mindset to genuinely be OK with it now. And the happy result is that I can look back on the encounter and smile at the unknowable way the universe works.

Here we go…

If you read “About Me,” you know that one of my favorite bands recently inspired me to change my life in a very tangible way. A reminder of the perpetual dedication of the guys in Pearl Jam to working their craft lit a fire under me to get up and pursue my dream. I took a risk similar to theirs (of many years ago). I decided to write a novel and quit my job to devote my full attention to it.

I had no idea what to expect. You hear stories about it taking authors years to write a book, so I set a reasonable goal. I thought, if I’ve got a couple of chapters by the time I leave for my long-planned trip to Amsterdam to see Pearl Jam with my best friend Shannon, I will reevaluate but keep moving forward. If I don’t get that far (my fear was that I would procrastinate and accomplish nothing), then I will probably start thinking about another job.

I resigned my position working on law and policy for a Texas government agency on May 2. Over that weekend, I researched writing software, thought about where and how I’d like to write, performed some genre research and made a plan. I already had the general framework for my trilogy in mind, but I mind-mapped the plot of the first book as well as the first four chapters. I had intended to outline the entire book, but I later decided to let it develop after the first chapters organically. About a week after I quit my job, I sat down to write.

The words poured from me. I had to force myself to stop writing to sleep or do something else. I didn’t want to burn out so I set up breaks every day. Often, I’d write a scene or two then go sit by the pool for an hour or run some errands. On my breaks, I would think about the next few scenes, running them in my mind like a movie. Then I’d return and write a few more scenes until the chapter was complete. I generally wrote a chapter a day although I didn’t write when I visited my parents in Houston (my father is ill). After particularly draining chapters, I would sometimes question what I was doing. My friend Christine would talk me down and convince me to take a day off. After I did, I was always ready to dive in again with a fresh perspective.

I knew where I was headed, I just wasn’t certain how I would get there. That worked well for me. The characters’ words and actions would sometimes surprise me in the thick of things, and I was glad that I hadn’t tried to limit their options by shoving them into a preconceived box.

I’ve read about varying approaches to soliciting feedback throughout the writing process. I needed the support and encouragement of friends and family, so I had a select group to whom I’d send my chapters as soon as I finished them. Mom, Christine and Correy–thanks so much for never making me wait to hear what you thought! You’ll never know just how important that was to me. Others saw drafts at different stages, but it wasn’t until the draft was complete that I received substantive feedback. That was probably a good thing. I was so scared of getting derailed somehow that positive reinforcement was what I really needed. I was confident in my ability and in my story, but the doubts that surfaced when I was burning out were stressful. I learned that when I started feeling stressed, it was time to take the rest of the day off.

When I realized just how quickly the process was moving, I resolved to finish the first draft by the time I left for my Amsterdam trip on June 13. I finished on June 9! I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe it took only a month to write my novel. And it’s good. I’m very proud of it.

So that’s the beginning of my story. In future posts, I’ll talk about the really karmic thing that happened in Amsterdam and about the writers’ conference I attended soon thereafter.  Thanks for reading!