Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goals and Deadlines

A quick reflection or two, here on New Year's Eve:

I want to get my debut novel, The Single Eye, published as soon as possible. Yes, I need to finish my current edits. Yes, I ought to and shall let it rest for a month or two before I go over it one last time and then launch it out into the fearsome sea of readership. But I've decided that late March to mid-April is my farthest-out deadline for publication. 

Why? Because I'm an egomaniac. 

*Pauses while she hits herself upside the head and calls herself a silly goose*

Sorry. Correction: I need to get it published by then so I can take advantage of a sure-fire opportunity to do some face-to-face marketing. I've won a free ride to the annual Pennwriters' conference the third weekend in May, and I'd be an idiot not to have my book there ready to show my colleagues. Heck, maybe I could even get a little space at the Saturday afternoon authors' fair (though that may be open only to those who are trad published). Imagine it: Me handing out swag and selling (I hope!) my very own book!

So how much more pre-letting-it-rest editing will I do? First, I'll finishing evaluating my beta readers' comments and incorporating their perspectives as appropriate. Second, I'll finish redoing the places I myself know need redoing, whether anyone else has told me so or not. Third, I'll get rid of those passages where up to now I've told myself, "Yeah, that's a little cheesy and even kind of narrator-intrudery, but I'll leave it in because Ms. X the Famous Writer gets away with prose like that, and besides, I'm a first-time author and no one expects me to be that good." No. If I find myself looking around guiltily hoping nobody will notice What I Did There, the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, whatever, needs to be excised and sent to the Outtakes File.

I'm setting the end of January to complete all that. Or the third week in, preferably.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Not as Bad as I Used to Be

Is it obnoxious to claim you're a better writer than you were two years ago?

The question arises because this morning I got to thinking, "Maybe I'm using the wrong scene(s) from my heroine's past as my prologue." So, despite my mortal need of sleep, I've just opened an earlier version of my novel and read over the incident I had in mind.

Oh, dear, no. That version was too early.

Hmm.  Let me try again with a rendition dated maybe nine months later, just before I cut that scene and the extensive flashback before and after it.

. . . Sorry, no. Though somewhat improved, it's nowhere close to usable. It would need so much labor to lick into shape; it wouldn't be worth it.

How can this be? I've always liked those chapters detailing my FMC's backstory! I'd even considered releasing them all as bonus material with the ebook. But now I'd just as soon parade around outside in my underwear. In the dead of winter. No, no, nodiddy-no-no-no!

I'm nothing to brag about as a writer, but at least I'm not as bad as I used to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Note to Myself

Putting myself on notice:

It's good to pay attention to critique and feedback. But I have to watch out against changing my characters and their reactions according to some generic concept of "what people do." More than once in this editing process I've nearly tumbled into the pit of gutting my characters of their individuality, just to satisfy typical expectations. Yes, in a perfect, logical world people would do or not do certain things. But my world is not perfect, and my characters are not always logical, nor sensible, nor are they omniscient, nor do they always do what's in their best interests.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Slaughter in a Good Cause

I'm almost done with my rewrite of the scene where my antagonist/villain meets with my male protagonist and tries to hook him in.  I'm fighting a cold and the revision isn't going as fast as I'd like. But it's getting there.

In this the principle of "killing your darlings" is really coming into play. Now that I've made my villain less obvious, my female MC can no longer lash out with some zingers she used against him in the previous version. Those lines I've had to delete, or rather, I've sent them into cyber exile. In fact, now she doesn't have any one thing she can put her finger on when trying to convince the hero not to accept the antagonist's business proposition; it's more a lot of different things put together. It's hard work replacing those chunks of dialogue while maintaining the arc of the scene. Which is why I'm fooling around here instead of pushing through and getting the rewrite done.

I think it's helped believability, putting part of the chapter in the male protag's point of view. But it has sure increased the word count. Bleh.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

In the Villain's Head

I'm not happy with my rewrite of the scene where my antagonist tries to get my male protag to work for him (in more ways than he realizes).

I made an attempt to improve the scene and got some feedback. Ack, it still wasn't working. Try again.

Best approach? Redraft the middle of the scene to be from the male protag's point of view. This way, the reader can witness how he rationalizes away the odd things the villain is proposing, and, I hope, agree that he isn't being gullible, he's just going on the information and experience he has. Getting inside his head at the time will make it easier for the reader than waiting to hear him tell the female protag all about it.

But this requires that I do something I've said categorically that I don't want to do: Get inside the villain's head as well. Too bad, gotta do it. How can I show how my hero normalizes the bad guy's demands, unless I know how the villain works to make his demands seem normal?

What's more, I have to tone the villain down and stop making him so obviously villainous.  For why would he be, at this stage?  He'd want to lure the hero in step by step by enticements that sound innocent at first.  He'd reveal how dangerous they are only when his victim is entangled and it's too late.

I'm not giving the villain a point of view. It'd make the book too much longer and too much more complicated and it'd spoil the suspense if the reader knows for sure what he's up to. But for awhile I'll have to climb into my antagonist's devious little psyche. My hero must have something "real" to react against.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


This afternoon I walked into town to check out my county's annual BookFest. The goofy thing is that I totally forgot it was this weekend until yesterday evening when, as I was driving to work, I spied the writers' pavilion being set up in the middle of the street that bisects the park in the town center. 

This year I remembered to bring a tote bag for all the bookmarks, postcards, pens, candy, and other swag my fellow authors were handing out. What I forgot to do, way last winter, was to start a book-buying fund. So frustrating and embarrassing to have all these local writers making their books available for purchase at a discount, and I couldn't afford a single one. 

I collected a lot of author business cards and passed out a few of my own. One writer was kind enough to say she'd be willing to read over my manuscript of The Single Eye once I incorporate the last of my beta readers' suggestions, and she suggested I attend the monthly lectures sponsored by the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, which meets in a town not overly far from me. And on a Saturday, too, so my work schedule wouldn't get in the way.

And, what fun, I got to talk to an ATF agent who'd written a nonfiction book about his career. He had a lot of interesting things to say about the Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs and about the Atlanta Olympics and Oklahoma City bombings, and he was able to assure me that I'd gotten the events surrounding the explosions, etc., at the end of my novel right. (There's one place where I'm probably stretching reality, but I didn't ask him about that. Sorry, I need it for the plot.)

Unlike last year's BookFest, it did not pour down rain; instead, it was bloody hot and more than once I thought I was going to keel over from heatstroke. Never mind, it's a great event and maybe next year I'll have the funds to take better advantage of it.

Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward Equals Progress

Thinking how I wanted to get The Single Eye published last winter.  Then by the end of August.  You mind if I fall over myself laughing?

Boy, do I have a lot of rewriting left to do. As much as some of my latest beta reader's comments bug me, three or four of them make me go, "Hmmm, what about it?" Does my villain come on too strong at the beginning? Given that he behaves like a consistent jerk from the get-go, isn't my male protagonist sliding into Too-Stupid-to-Live territory by not immediately seeing through him?  I've gone through a period of insisting that I can't make him more than minimally proactive, given his position in life. But is that really true? Aren't there things he would do to deal with the trash the villain is throwing at him? Then at the end, after the female protag saves the day with her "heroics," would she still feel like an idiot after law enforcement praised her for her bravery?

I've come to the conclusion that all these things call for revision, not because I want the approval of my latest beta reader or because I feel I have to change my work to fit her views, but because I believe that once rewritten, my characters will be more true to who I already claim them to be.

I'm starting at the beginning and working my way through. This past Wednesday I got to the point in Chapter 5 (now Chapter 4) just short of the scene when the antagonist (soon to be villain) makes his pitch. This is progress.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

“But That's the Point!" She Exclaimed.

Having received certain feedback on my writing this summer, I was moved to pen the following scenario:

Critic:  I see you have quite a few exclamation points in your work.  For instance, this line here:  "'I didn't hear that!'"

Author:  Oh, yes.  That's the male main character fighting with the female main character over the antagonist's intentions.  I put that exclamation point there to show how upset and annoyed and disbelieving he is.

Critic:  Well, you can't have it.  It's lazy.  Show his mood some other way.

Author:  Oh.  (Thinks).  How about, "'I didn't hear that,' he fulminated"?

Critic:  You can't do that, either.  "Fulminated" is what's known as a "said-bookism."  They're always bad.

Author:  "Shouted"?  "Exclaimed"?  "Scoffed"?

Critic:  No.  Stick with "said" and maybe "asked."  Otherwise the speech tag draws too much attention to itself.

Author:  Really?  Well, okay.  I'll try again.  "'I didn't hear that,' he said defiantly."

Critic:  (Holding head in hands)  Oh, no, no . . .  You just used an adverb.  They're even worse than exclamation points.

Author:  (Nonplussed)  Could I say something like "'I didn't hear that,' he said, his spluttering voice and red face betraying his angry mood"?

Critic:  No way.  You've got adjectives in there.  Three of them.  They're lazy, too.  And three nouns.  Didn't you read that article that said nouns don't do anything?

Author:  I guess I missed it.  And that's too long anyway, especially if I have to do it every time.  I'm way over the word count for my genre as it is.  (Considers.)  So what's left, verbs?  That gets me back to something like, "'I didn't hear that,' he spluttered."

Critic:  (Sighing prodigiously.)  Didn't you hear me?  No said-bookisms!

Author:  But then--- oh, I have an idea!  Oh gosh, sorry, I used an exclamation point there, didn't I?  Anyway, maybe I could get the meaning across by inner monologue?  Like this:  "I didn't hear that.'  How dare she imply I wasn't paying attention?"

Critic:  Oh, my goodness.  Inner monologue is Telling, not Showing.  And I heard those italics in there.  Whatever shall I do with you?

Author:  I'm sorry.  It wouldn't work anyway--- this scene isn't from his point of view.  (Looks frustrated.)  But--- but--- if I can't use exclamation points, or adverbs, or adjectives, or nouns, or inner monologue, or any speech tags but "said" or "asked," how am supposed to communicate how he's saying this?

Critic:  Why do you need to communicate how he's saying it?

Author:  Because if I don't, the reader might think he's admitting he wasn't listening.

Critic:  What's wrong with that?  Don't you want to let the reader bring his own interpretation to the work?  It's the modern thing to do.

Author:  The Post-Modern thing, you mean.  To heck with it!  I'm leaving it with an exclamation point.  It's clean, it's efficient, it does the job I want it to do.

Critic:  (Robotically) You can not do that.  It is bad, lazy writing.  It is immature.  I will have the Writing Police on you, just see if I do not.

Author:  Not very passionate about it, are you?  So why should I be?  See you around!

Critic:  Aaaaaaahhhhgggggghhhhh.

Monday, August 22, 2016

On the Other Hand

I've had time to think, and I've remembered that I can't make my hero too proactive. There must be a time in the middle when he decides things have gone back to normal, even though the reader can pick up evidence that the villain is still active behind the scenes. Why? Because the hero's single-minded focus on his work, in this plot, will be his potential ruin. It has to end up putting him and those he most cares about in danger, because, as he admits at the end, "I just didn't want to know."

Actually, my heroine is the more proactive of the pair. So proactive, in fact, that my latest beta reader accused her of superheroics at the story's point of crisis. No, sorry, that's staying in. Her issue is wanting to be in control and thinking everything is up to her. Yeah, she'd do what I have her do . . . but it worries me that that beta didn't see it that way.

More rethinking, more rewriting!

All Those ISBNs

And something else. Am I trying to do too much in this novel? There's a lot in there about my male protag's resentment against his missionary father . . . and his brother's confronting him about how he's living out the same pattern in his own work . . . Are those really necessary to what's supposed to be a romantic suspense novel?

But wait a minute. Didn't I put those scenes in there to show (not tell) how he came to be prejudiced against a certain ethnicity? That flaw is key to the villain's obsession with him. And didn't his brother's words give him a big push towards being willing to love the heroine and let her into his personal life?

The novella this book grew from was about 40,000 words. It trotted along right smartly and the thriller plot was pretty exciting. But it was full of holes and the love story was a wet wish-fulfillment mess. Do I really want to go back to that? No . . . not really. But . . .

Do you get the feeling I'm having serious doubts about whether I can pull this off? Yeah. Well, too bad. I can't give up now: I have all those ISBNs to use.


I really hoped and planned to get this novel onto Kindle and CreateSpace by the end of this month. It isn't going to happen, and not just because I've been too busy renovating my front room to design my cover and format my text.

It's not even that I've heard back from another beta reader, and it's clear that I'll have to make my main characters' basic motivations more convincing. And clean up some typos. And decide how much internal dialogue to put into third person indirect speech, or to cut altogether.

It's rather that, having allowed the manuscript to sit for several weeks, I'm seeing that the first part drags for sure and for real. My hero, especially, needs to be more proactive. It's true that at that stage his primary motivation is not to Defeat the Villain and Bring Down His Evil Plot for National Domination; he doesn't even know the villain has a plot for national domination.  He just wants the creep to go away and let him do his work (architecture) in peace. But as I've written him now, too many times he deliberately ignores acts that all my betas saw as the villain's dirty deeds, regarding them instead as accident or coincidence. I thought this was signalling how dedicated he is to his work. "See what he'll put up with if he can just go on designing!" But it's only making him look like a thickheaded fool.

I've been wrestling with this problem for awhile, and to some extent, this "Hear no evil, see no evil" attitude truly reflects who my MMC is.  For example, he'd definitely go out of his way to convince himself that the threatening note he receives isn't from the villain because he doesn't have time to deal with it. But after his apartment is burned out . . . is he really going to believe it was just a faulty space heater?  All logic dictates that he'll decide the bad guy is behind it after all, and he'll have to try to do something about it and fail.

This will mean some major rewriting in some places. I think I can do it without messing up my story's timeline or major plot points. But it will take more than the next nine days.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

An Announcement: I Am Now a Publisher

Last January, I made a resolution to post at least once a week on this blog.  I have no shame about failing to do so during the school year: with three or four jobs demanding my time, I was lucky to get three or four hours of sleep per night, let alone do any blogging.

But now it's summer, and here's what I've accomplished:

No, my novel The Single Eye is not quite ready for publication.  I'm still waiting on my final two beta readers, and I have a one last editing pass to make, myself.

I also need to learn GIMP, so I can put together a cover.  Yes, it would be better if I could hire someone to design it.  But financially, that's out of the question.  I'm going to draw on my graphic arts background and do it myself, and if the cover's no good, that's my fault.

So the book itself is on a kind of tremulous hold.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy otherwise.  After months of research and consideration, I've decided to self-publish under my own imprint.  As of this past Thursday the 14th, when I heard from my state's Secretary of State's office, I am in business as a publisher under the name HENDRICK HILL BOOKS.

I'll only be doing my own work, of course.  But I've got my first block of ten ISBNs from Bowker, I've obtained my Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the federal government, I've purchased domain names associated with Hendrick Hill Books and with my pen name, Catrin Lewis, and--- well, it looks like I'm serious about this.

I''m planning to release The Single Eye for Kindle and as an POD paperback by the end of August.  At least, I was.  But I'm hearing that it's never good for a new self-publisher to put out only one book at a time.  Should I hurry up and finish the psychological horror novel I have half-done?  Ought I to make an effort and crank out a sequel to The Single Eye (I have an idea for one, but haven't yet found the key to make the plot work)?

We'll see.  Hendrick Hill Books exists, it's not going away, and I have plenty to do before school starts again.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Adrift in the Ocean of ISBN

Trying to pull things together towards publication of The Single Eye. I've been researching the whole matter of ISBNs and whether it's the best idea to own your own or if it's no big deal to take what CreateSpace or whoever assigns you. And even after a week of hitting expert websites I still feel like I'm drowning in a sea of murky gray sludge.

One thing has come clear: Turns out that Bowker, who has the American monopoly on ISBNs (how is that even legal?) makes whoever purchases the numbers put down their name or company name as the publisher, even when the purchaser is an ISBN reselling outfit like Publisher Services or ISBN Agency. The name attached to the number doesn't change, even after the buyer sells it to a third party. (And apparently, not just anyone is permitted to do that.)  Ergo, the original ISBN purchaser is the publisher of the work that has the number on it, period. Some ISBN resellers will allow you to put your own imprint name on your work, but the ultimate, official publisher is still the reseller.

The web authorities I've been reading are most of them adamant that it's best for indie authors to own their own ISBNs, because . . . because . . . well, of all sorts of reasons. But they assume you know why those reasons are a big deal. They say a lot about distribution, and availability, and record-keeping, and tracking, and readers' ability to find your book in search engines.  But they don't give examples of what that all means on the ground. Putting it bluntly, how will owning my ISBNs enhance the income from my books? Exactly how does it lead to fame and fortune? The discussion is over my head and I can't get my mind around it.

At the moment my desire to Own My Own is more a gut feeling than anything else. Life is so messy, it's nice to have things tidy when I can. I'd like to have my own little private DBA publishing concern and put out all my books under that name from the beginning, maybe with different imprints depending on if the book is romantic suspense or horror or whatever. I'd like to start as I mean to go on.

The immediate question is, if I stretch my already-tight budget to cover an ISBN purchase, will it be a Prudent Move or a Wicked Waste?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Don't Want to Think Like My Villain

My erstwhile beta reader told me that for my novel properly to fit the Suspense genre, I need to have scenes from the villain’s point of view, so the reader can worry about the awful things he has in mind for the protags and feel all the delicious frustration of not being able to warn them against it. ("Delicious frustration" is how I sum it up, BTW.)

I don’t dispute that this can be a good way to proceed. But for this novel, it ain’t happening. A) Because the book’s too long as it is, b) because I don’t want to get my mind too deep and dirty into that racist SOB’s plans and schemes, and c) because said plans and schemes involve way more people than just my protags, and it’d really get off topic if I showed him masterminding the whole nefarious plot. Besides, I don’t want to reveal the scope of the whole nefarious plot to the reader until the last part of the book. I want him or her to be uneasy . . . even though he’s not sure what he's uneasy about.

However, I definitely want to keep the reader aware that the villain is still working away against the protags, even after they’ve come more or less safely through his initial campaign against them. To that end, I’ve added a few lines to a couple of otherwise-innocent scenes, that will make it obvious to the reader that the male protag, at least, is being watched, tracked, followed, and cased out— even if at this point he’s not actually being harmed. Hopefully that will keep the ominous note going underneath, even when the main theme of a scene may be cheerful.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Late last night I got first comments back from my newest beta reader, and the long and the short of it is, she doesn't like my novel and won't be reading it for me any more.

The most demoralizing thing about it?  She objects most to elements that are, from my perspective, essential to the plot. She refuses to believe that my characters would react to pivotal events as I have them do. So it's not like I can say, "Oops, you're right, I slipped up on POV there," or "Oh-oh, I took my MC out of character there," and fix it. For this beta, the flaws are structural.

Then there's the fact that certain aspects of my main characters' pasts influence how they're caught up in the central conflict of the plot, and I've shown some of that instead of merely mentioning it in the narrative. And my ex-beta is right--- if this is supposed to be a romantic suspense novel, all that slows it down. But do I just want to produce a "good read," to be consumed in a summer's afternoon? What if I want to say something more?

I'm trying to remind myself that previous betas have liked the story a lot. That even the other current beta who's charged me with using too advanced a vocabulary likes my characters very much and misses them when events in her own life keep her from reading. Still I worry, what if this latest beta is right? What if I've pushed the genre so much it's distorted out of recognition and no one will want to read the novel at all?

What I need is a good editor who will read the whole manuscript with an open, objective mind, then tell me what I can take out without watering down the plot or the character development. But in that case, what I would want is nearly another month's worth of income. That's what it would cost to hire a self-respecting editor to tackle this thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

It Has to End

I've spent the last month and a half editing the dickens out of this thing. Or maybe I've been editing the Dickens into it, considering that it's getting longer, not shorter. I've done my best to eliminate typographical errors and inconsistent and excessive uses of em-dashes and ellipses. I've searched through the document to make sure my curly quotation marks close the right way, and expunged the extra spaces I keep tapping in after the last sentences of paragraphs. Then there's all the words and phrasings I've changed along the way, just because the new word or phrase is better.
And you know what? It's time to stop. I've got to send this latest, final version to my beta reader, and unless she comes up with some valid reason the text has to change, I have to say it's DONE.

Not that I can't improve it. Of course I can. But I have at least three other book projects to tackle. At my age I don't have the luxury of spending three or four years on a single novel, polishing it to death.

Monday, February 8, 2016

In Which I Sing the Poor Girl’s E-Book Formatting Blues

Here’s the good news: My novel, The Single Eye, is almost ready for publication.  The plot holes are all plugged (I hope!), the themes are all resolved, the content is (fingers crossed!) set.  True,  my current beta reader is still picking up typos and extra spaces here and there.  But she’s got time to get back to me even if it’s not until the beginning of next month, because before I can publish the thing, I have to learn some whole new skills.

Skills involving computers, and software, and programming code.  All the techie stuff that’ll let me come up with a gripping cover and help me format the text so it’ll look good not only on e-book readers but also— God willing the demand is there!— when it’s printed out in paperback.  This book has got to be a specimen of good design.  It’s about a pair of highly-skilled architects, after all.  I want tasteful, appropriate, and distinctive chapter titles, drop caps, and scene-separating fleurons, and I want to insert them so they a) don’t morph into something else, and b) stay put when the e-book reader jiggers around with the body font.

In general, I’m good at learning new computer programs.  I taught myself InDesign from scratch ten years ago when I had to turn out a fundraising catalogue in less than a week.  If I owned a copy of it I’d use it to crank out the cover and the formatting, both.

But which one to learn?  I don’t own InDesign, or Adobe PhotoShop, or CorelDraw, nor am I likely to unless I make decent money off the sales of this book.  Right now I have to make do with what I’ve got, or with what I can get on line.  The problem is figuring out what I do have, and avoiding any problems using it.

But wait a minute.  Didn’t I buy the professional version of WordPerfect X6 back in 2014 precisely because it came with an e-book publishing template?

I’ve been experimenting with it today, and it looks promising.  But will it do all I need it to?  What about the extra features I want?  The advice I read online is all over the place.  “Don’t use tabs in your copy; use Word’s paragraph styles thinga-ma-jig!” “Avoid special fonts, headers, and footers, which do not translate into Kindle format”!   “Use CSS with HTML to delineate what your chapter headings look like”!  It doesn’t seem to agree, and it may conflict with what I’m doing in WPX6.  What am I supposed to believe?

I’m not saying I can’t figure all this out.  But I wish I could learn it cleanly and efficiently and all from one place, instead of blowing my very limited free time looking all over creation for it.