Using Styles to Solve eBook Formatting Woes

If you hang around people who author eBooks you’ll find grumbling about the compilers that turn Word documents into eBooks.  Most of the grumbling reflects their use of a modern word processor as a typewriter, as they insert tabs, multiple carriage returns (enter key) and hard page breaks to format their books.  They imbed all sorts of format characters and then don’t understand why the compilers don’t like this stuff.

At the same time, anyone who has been in the publishing business knows that the proper way to format documents is without tabs and multiple carriage returns.  Microsoft Word revolutionized desktop publishing when it brought styles and stylesheets to the desktop.  Most editors don’t write a word until they have styles created to format them.  Apparently most of the world didn’t get the memo on this as few seem to use styles or stylesheets.

To the rescue, however, is Heather Marie Adkins, woman extraordinaire, the same woman whose The Temple I just discussed just yesterday.  This morning she released a five-part series on using styles to properly format a document.  It might be the most important blog post you ever read.  Find it here:

All Paragraphs Are Not Created Equal by Heather Marie Adkins

Book Highlight: The Temple by Heather Marie Adkins

This is the original cover of Heather Marie Adkins’ paranormal romance novel.  I first saw it discussed on Facebook, checked out the description and decided to give it a try.

Adkin’s Description

Vale Avari has a mysterious past and a laundry list of super-powers, but that’s nothing compared to what she finds upon moving from small town U.S.A to jolly-good England.

A chance dart throw lands her in Quicksilver, an off-the-map place with a big problem – people are dying, and word is, it’s supernatural.

At her new place of employment, a temple dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess, Vale learns something even more shocking – women guards are disappearing at an alarmingly patterned rate; women who possess special gifts like her own.

Supernatural powers aside, Vale isn’t ready to believe in the Wild Hunt as the culprit, and she’s determined to prove the deaths are acts of human violence.

Plagued by a brute with a history of domestic violence and lusting after a dark-eyed man with a secret, Vale has a limited amount of time to discover the killer before he strikes again. In the process, she’ll learn things aren’t always what they seem and the supernatural might not be so extraordinary after all.

The Hunt could ride for her.

*************

This is the current cover of The Temple, drawn by Heather Adkins’ little sister, Sheridan.  What caught my eye in the description was that her main character, Vale, had super-powers.  In spite of my guy genes, (translation: I don’t read romances of any kind), I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  While there is some romance it definitely leans more towards a paranormal mystery.

I don’t know what Ms. Adkin’s plans are but this book could serve as the beginning of a series featuring Vale and some of her friends.  In any case, here’s the short review I wrote and posted on Amazon and GoodReads.

My Review

I don’t read romance novels. It’s a guy thing. But I picked up The Temple because of a discussion of the book elsewhere. The author’s imagination and ability to write wonderful descriptions combine to produce a story that, while there is romance, there is also adventure, a dose of fantasy and a splash of humor. I really enjoyed it.

 

Getting A Writing Fix – What’s The Big Deal?

It’s said that writers don’t just want to write.  Rather, they need to write.  I’m always skeptical of this sort of stuff as, to me, writing is like any endeavour.  You do it or you don’t.  It’s likely that you procrastinate over it, look forward to it, and enjoy or hate it, all at different times.  At least that’s what I’d like to believe.

But I have to confess that I feel soooooo much better this afternoon than I have for the past couple weeks.  We’re in the middle of renovations that I’ve talked about here in the context of said renovations getting in the way of my writing.  Sunday, though, we got to a stage where we could actually start storing our sofas and TV in the living room rather than having them fill the kitchen.  I literally danced around the kitchen floor when it became available again.  Eating nuked frozen meals, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs is not my style so getting the telephone and coffee maker off the stove top was a watershed moment.

So, what does this have to do with writing?  Absolutely nothing, which is the point.  All this has kept me from writing except for a couple of short blog posts – until today.  We decided to ‘take the day off’ which manifest itself in my wife and daughter going to a strawberry farm to pick strawberries, one of the pleasures of living in Quebec.

I stayed home, all alone, well almost.  I had my laptop and Scrivener, so I did some outlining and some WRITING!!!  It felt soooooo good.  I wrote only a couple thousand words but the spring is back in my step and maybe, just maybe, there’s something to that ‘writers need to write’ stuff.

 

What Drywalling Says About Novel Writing

I wrote earlier about the best writer procrastination tool in the world: remodeling.  It’s occurred to me, however, that lessons from our remodeling project say much about a wannabe novelist approaching their first novel.  So, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.  Besides, I needed a break and felt compelled to write some words. I hope I don’t get too much drywall dust on my computer as I type. Oops…too late.

My wife and I decided to replace our living room carpets with wood flooring. Then we decided that this would be a good time to paint as well. Then we decided that we should do some remodeling, creating an arched exit into an adjacent hallway and, while we were at it, some other structural changes. And since we were doing all that, I decided that I should do some electrical work too. In the software biz we used to call this “feature creep.”

In many ways this is what a wannabe writer does when he/she decides to write a novel. They get an idea, then realize they need some characters, a location, and some way to develop the idea into a story. They’re not sure how it all works, often will say things like “I’m not so good with grammar” as they launch themselves into the project but, undaunted, they proceed.

We were that way with our remodeling project but said, “How hard could it be?”

Simple tools are deceptive

Beyond the sawzall, hammer, and belt sander required for the structural changes, drywalling amounts to mounting sheets of paper-covered plaster, covering the seams with tape, and then plastering the surface smooth. Easy peasy. How hard could it be?

The tools required are few. A knife is required to cut the drywall and a screwdriver is used to attach it to the wall. Then, simple trowels and sanding materials are required to create a smooth wall surface. Heck the tools just get rubbed on the wall until you’re done. How hard could it be?

Writing a novel is the same way, requiring only a laptop or pen and paper. You just write a bunch of sentences, run a spell check and you’ve got a novel. The budding novelist has already done the hard part – they have an idea. How hard could it be?

In both cases the simplicity of the tool set, however, is deceptive and fools the gullible remodeler/writer into a false sense of security. As it turns out, tools have nothing to do the creative process. It’s true that War and Peace would be shorter if Tolstoy had to write it on stone tablets but otherwise, tools don’t matter.

Jump right in

We took to the task like ducks to water. I am somewhat skilled in woodworking so cutting and mounting drywall was easy for me. Neither my wife or I knew much about drywall “mudding” but she had done some before so she was the expert, until she wasn’t. So we had to stop and read about how to do it. The reading helped considerably but there was still the problem of execution. First we had to undo all the wrong that we’d done. If not for the resultant aching muscles from the work, I’d chalk this up to practice. Then we had to try to do it properly but found that our skills were lacking. It’s hard to understand how it can be hard to make plaster smooth with a trowel but I can’t do it. I need a lot more practice.

This is the same problem a budding novelist faces. It seems like it should be simple enough. Other people do it. You just write a sequence of 50 or so scenes and you’re done. You write the proverbial beginning, middle and end of the novel. That’s all there is too it. But, just like drywalling, developing skills on the fly sounds easier than it is and results are often less than stellar, which leads to…

Fixing the errors

We found that fixing our screw ups took far longer than anything else. We also learned that the last 10% of the job required 50% of the time. We learned that getting the little details right was the hardest and that unless we got them right, nothing looked good.

And sadly, this is the hardest thing for a wannabe novel writer to realize. So many poor stories could be great ones if new writers would simply understand that the details are the most important part of writing. Getting down the bones, as some describe writing a first draft, is a breeze relative to the work involved to get the details right, having characters to come alive, and writing descriptions that stimulate a reader’s imagination. Putting the polish on the execution is the most time-consuming part of novel writing. And just like drywalling, these stages require the greatest skill and knowledge.

Damn, this is taking forever

We learned that because our drywalling skills were limited and because we were constantly repairing mistakes, this job took us twice as long as we thought it would. A professional could have done the job in one long day, maybe two if he took long lunches. It has taken the two of us a week to accomplish. Our lack of skill has been the single cause for our slow progress. Still, we did accomplish it. Next time it’ll be easier.

If one reads what writers write to other writers, one sees this same thing in their words. Seasoned writers talk of being fast, efficient, and writing thousands of words a day. New writers struggle to generate a few hundred. They claim they’re ‘blocked’ and attribute this to some ethereal being rather than the grim reality that they’re bumping up against their skill limitations. These new writers haven’t yet learned the skills that permit their ideas to flow smoothly from brain to paper. But with practice, just like creating smooth walls, a novel will come together with a healthy dose of perseverance. You just might have to read a bit and practice your skills to make it happen

Why we do it

As we stood in the room, looking at our smooth walls and crisp, plastered edges, we could have hurt ourselves trying to pat ourselves on the back, but we were simply too tired to do so. Instead we just smiled at each other and thought about our initial thought. “How hard can it be?”

And this is true for novel writing as well. When you hold your novel in your hand, or load it up on your Kindle, the feeling is awesome. And when you get to that point you’ll also know just how hard it can be.

What’s the Ultimate Writer Procrastination Tool?

I’ve found it…I’ve found it!!!  If you’re one of those writers who decides to wax the floor before they write, or if you are the sort needs to count the forks and knives before they write, I’ve got a better tool to assist you in your procrastination.  It’s guaranteed to help you avoid writing for days at a time.

What is this magical tool?  I’m glad you asked.  Home renovation, my friends.  It’s the ultimate procrastination tool.  You’ll get so caught up in it that you’ll forget the book you’re supposed to be writing.

I’m sitting in my living room, or what used to be my living room.  It contains but one piece of furniture – a sofa that is covered with a large drop cloth.  Everything else is stacked in our library and kitchen.  The living room looks as though a bomb went off in it and I feel as though I was in the room at the time.  We’re renovating.

We’ve spent the last two days ripping all the moldings off the wall, removing the flooring, and using a mean ugly tool called a sawz-all to remove part of a wall.  This was followed by a trip ‘to the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump dump’ (say it fast and you’ll get the proper cadence).  Then it was off to the big-box store, twice, to give them all our money and to make promises about giving up one of my kidneys and possibly a lung to pay for everything.

Since then we’ve been installing drywall, sanding, filling, rewiring, and rebuilding.  And, as I said, the room and adjacent hallway still looks like a bomb went off in them.  But, as they say, we’re making progress, and in another day or so we may even be able to start painting.  I think our daughter is searching for a new set of parents.  She’s not comfortable in the role of indentured servant.

I’ve given up all thoughts of writing and I think my hands are too sore to do it anyway.  So, if you’re looking for that ideal procrastination tool, renovation is just what you need.  Me, I sit, in my living room, on the sofa with the drop cloth, and I just felt the need to write.

Baseball – Quebec Style

One of my favorite things about living in Quebec City are the Quebec Capitales games I attend.  Baseball and Quebec don’t seem natural, though when I looked into it there is a long history of Quebec baseball teams.  But kids here play soccer more than baseball.  And, for goodness sake, hockey is front page news, and followed with a passion that borders on the fanatical.  The provincial Premier has a hard time getting a word in edgewise during hockey season.

Nevertheless, Quebec has a thriving team – part of a CAN/AM pro baseball league.  While it may be a step down from the Toronto Blue Jays, the game experience is just as satisfying, maybe even more so.  The team ownership understands well that it is providing entertainment and it treats ticket buyers as though we are all friends and most certainly that we are valued.  Humor plays a big part and so foul balls that leave the stadium are followed by sound effects of glass breaking as though some car in the parking lot was taking part in the proceedings.

Kids are also a big deal to the Capitales and every game I’ve attended have short events for the kids between innings.  They also honor kids who are part of the small contingent of young baseball players in Quebec City.

For me, as an American living in this French-speaking city, there are special feelings.  I sit, with 4000+ other people.  They all speak French, though crys of “bad call, ref” do crack the air on occasion.  The umpire calls balles and prises.  Home runs cause the announcer to yell a drawn out “CIRCUIT.” Vendors sell biere froide and players don’t have RBIs, they have PPs.  I still don’t know what PP stands for but does it really matter?

The French creates a different ambiance, though the rhythms of baseball seem the same the world over.  But the most striking thing comes during the 7th inning stretch, when all of these French souls stand, and reading from the big screen behind the right-field wall, they raise their voices in unison and sing “Take me out to the ball game…Take me out to the crowd…Buy me some peanuts….”  It’s AMAZING!!

Oh…one last thing.  The Quebec Capitales, MY team, is in first place by a considerable margin.  At 26 and 18, they’re 5 games ahead of their nearest rival.  And that’s better than the Blue Jays.

 

Canada Post Strike Over – Author Happy

While I wasn’t happy with the way the Canadian government dealt with the Canada Post strike, it has come to an end.  This is significant to me as just before it happened, Amazon’s CreateSpace had shipped me a box of books…my book, Her Book of Shadows .

This is important because I have people waiting for these books, and they’ve had to be very patient as the books have been sitting in a Canada Post warehouse for several weeks.  But they’re here now and I can start sending them out.

Her Book of Shadows – Canada Day Sale

Canada Day Sale  

 

I’ve decided to have a ‘summer’ sales of my eBook, Her Book of Shadows . I’m doing this to formally launch the book now that it’s hit most of the distribution points.  For a limited time, it will be available for 99 cents here..

If you like to read mysteries without serial killers, sex and lots of violence, you’ll like Her Book of Shadows .  This is a mystery that will let you get to know some great characters, let you visit Quebec City, and, it will make you feel good.

 

Review comments:

“This is such a well written mystery, and full of make you laugh out loud lines. I loved the setting of Quebec City, and the snippets of the French language scattered throughout made it so authentic.” — esldonna

“How refreshing to find that Larry Marshall’s first is a who-dunnit in the best tradition of well crafted stories of crime solving.” — Polystamper

“This is a beautifully crafted book, full of interesting convincing detail and engaging characters.” — Janet Guerrin


Book Description:

In Her Book of Shadows, retired cop, Scott Riker, lives with his wife and daughter in Quebec City where he heads a group of interventionists. Directed by Quebec business mogul and philanthropist, Luc Duchesne, the group uses their talents and resources to stand between people in trouble and the criminal elements who would do them harm.

Riker agrees to find Jodie Burke, a teenage girl whose parents say ran away. But when Jodie’s friend turns up murdered on the Plains of Abraham, it becomes clear that Riker faces something more than just a runaway girl. Time is running out and he must find Jodie and prevent whoever is trying to kill her from succeeding.

Riker struggles with his emotional involvement in the case, caused by the similarities between his daughter and Jodie Burke. This, and his attempts to reconcile his risky business with his role as father and husband add to his internal conflicts but maybe the two roles can be compatible.

 

Super-charge Your Imagination: Turn Off Your iPod

It’s well-established that the human brain works best when it’s not distracted. In spite of that “sure, everyone knows that” statement, most of us constantly bombard our brains with twitter feeds, Facebook, and email. And when we’re on the move, we’ve got earbuds in our ears, as we travel to be the beat of our favorite drums.

Right now I am brainstorming my next novel and it occurred to me that one of my methods may be worthy of description.  I walk a lot, or at least as often as I can. When I walk I usually listen to an audiobook which helps me with my to-be-read pile. But when I need to figure out some twists and turns in my writing, or when I’m developing characters, I will often walk, and walk. This works for be and the ‘trick’ is to leave the iPod at home. It makes me smarter… every time.

Well, maybe not smarter but if I my brain has nothing to do but think, it thinks and it I pose questions to my thinking brain during a long walk, my brain responds. Instead of the iPod I take a notebook and pen with me to capture the thoughts.

I’ll think and walk, think and walk. And when something comes to mind, I’ll stop and write it down. Then I’ll think and walk some more. Today I went with a goal of figuring out what my antagonists were doing and what their relationships would be to one another. It’s a plot involving collusion and bribery and I needed to figure out the interconnectivity of the pieces. Not exactly, of course, but enough that I know where to put the pieces on the chessboard.  Heck I needed to know what pieces there would be.

After a two hour walk I had a diagram that showed those relationships and some brief notes about what sorts of characters I needed and how they are associated with each corporate entity.  The walk also spawned notes for three scenes that just came to mind.  One will show something about the theme of the book. Another illustrates the relationship between two of the principle characters. And the third is a humorous scene and, to be honest I have no idea how it will fit, if at all. Not a bad result for a couple hours of clear thought, all because I turned my iPod off.Oh, and as I did this “writing session” I burned some calories, worked on my tan, and I got to see a mother mallard duck with her newly-hatched brood of ducklings.

Cheers — Larry

 

Why Do We Set Goals And What Should They Be?

If you spend time in online writer forums you hear writers talk about their goals.  They also talk about all the reasons they didn’t achieve them.  And they will tell you what their new goal is and how it’s better.  Other writers do what we do; we offer up lots of ‘good luck’ and ‘you go girl’ responses.

Why do we set goals anyway?  Every year people set New Year’s resolutions, often with the full knowledge that the goal will never be achieved and often jokes about this fact are told while proclaiming the goal.  Why?  Clearly, one function of goal setting is to make us feel good – make us feel like we’re making plans, moving forward and trying to accomplish something.

Feeling good is… well… good, but I don’t think this is the best use of goal-setting.  A better reason to set goals is to actually motivate us and cause us to achieve something.  To do that a true goal must meet four criteria.  It must:

1) Be something you can control.

Setting a goal to sell 30 books a month is not a goal.  It may be a dream if you’re only selling 10/mo, but it’s not a goal that you can control.  Yes, you may be able to improve your marketing and thus sales but you need goals like “Do three guest blogs this month,” something over which you do have some control.

2) Be quantifiable.

To say, I’m going to improve my use of dialog sounds admirable but it will not lead anywhere without an additional clause that starts with “by….”  Add “by reading Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue and doing all of the exercises,” you produce a goal such that your action or inaction can be measured.

3) Be short-term enough to be actionable

Some say “goals must have time elements” and while I don’t disagree, I think this aspect of goal-setting needs more precision than “set a deadline.”  Here’s why.  To often I see people making goals like “I want to finish my book by the end of the year.”  That’s a fine goal if it’s said over Christmas dinner.  It’s a lousy goal if it’s spring.

The difference is that humans procrastinate, and/or set other, more short-term goals ahead of any long-term goals.  Thus, if you say “I want to finish my book by the end of the year” at the spring picnic, it’s likely that you’ll be saying “I’m so far behind on my book that I’ll never get it done by the end of the year” when Christmas dinner rolls around.  Short-term deadlines motivate; long-term deadlines do not.

4) Be attainable without super-powers.

This, by far, is the biggest problem I see with most goals that writers set for themselves.  The most common is “I’m going to write 1000 words a day, every day.”  If you have lots of free time this may well be a reasonable goal but there’s a real Catch-22 here.  If you have lots of free time for your writing you’re probably no more likely to set this sort of goal for yourself than a skinny person is to say “I’m going to eat 500 fewer calories every day.”

Instead, writers with full-time jobs, 2 kids and a husband they have to baby-sit set an unreasonable word count goal for themselves and then beat themselves up for not being up to the challenge.  “Stephen King writes 1500 words per day, why can’t I?”  It’s because Stephen King has all day to do it, that’s why.

In the end, goals are not only valuable motivation tools, they are probably necessary for those of us doing things without someone looking over our shoulders.  But just as they can motivate, poorly chosen or defined goals can sabotage your writing, even to the point of convincing you that you’re unworthy of the label “writer.”   Chose your goals wisely.  Make them work for you, not against you.