Tag Archives: Annoyance

Inspiration comes from odd times and places #WritersBlock

What do you call it when you know where a story has to go, but aren’t quite sure how to get there? My Timelines are great at framing the content of a narrative, but quite often I get stuck on the details.

For example; in ‘A falling of Angels’ my lead character gets tied up rescuing a couple of half wild children while trying to solve a gangland crime no one else seems bothered about. Evidence is in short supply, and even his special abilities are no help. To simply dismiss it and move on leaves a stray storyline. I hate unresolved plot details, and couldn’t leave the loose end hanging. Loose ends annoy me.

Unfortunately at these times, inspiration is so often in short supply, and I end up mooning about trying to prise the narrative loose by force, which rarely works. Nothing shifts the logjam. Weeks go by without significant progress. I find myself rewriting whole sections prior to the story blockage, tidying up sentences, chopping paragraphs and doing general housekeeping on the narrative. It’s like a wall you can peer over and see the end of your tale, but can’t see the vital literary devices in between. The angles are all wrong. Like a map of your destination which doesn’t include directions from the town you’re starting at, it frustrates.

Books on writing style don’t help; they’re too general. Research and experience can only take you so far. The song has stopped, the choir has faltered to an embarrassed silence, and no-one seems sure where to pick up the chorus.

At times like these I usually dig out the cook books, do the chores, walk the dog, stare at the horizon, bake bread (Always a good one), but this time round the break came on Monday when Angie was reading me a piece on story telling and the importance of narrative from one of Daniel H Pinks self help series “Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future”. I don’t generally read self help books myself, they’re too full of stuff I already seem to know. However, Angie likes them. So for the sake of a quiet life I do the old nod and smile. She even let me stop her and illustrate the technique she was telling me about, and how widespread its use is in advertising and marketing. While I was doing this, a stray thought kicked off about how to bodge two plot lines into a seamless whole. Completely out of context, off the wall, but I suddenly had a vision of how difficult it would be to beat up someone who knows exactly where the punch is coming from, and is quick enough to dodge. From there the idea branched back to a couple of other odd story items, and all of a sudden the choir has found the page, and there’s the door in the wall I was looking for. Wide open. Bing! Just like magic.

Now the way is clear, all I have to do is write it.

Publishing, formatting and metadata headaches

Head of the Beast, the Manuscript of the first of the Paul Calvin novels, is almost about as ready as I can make it. Nothing from Harper Vector since acknowledgement of receipt 2nd October 2012, so I’m assuming they don’t want to know. Had they been interested I’d have expected them to be in touch long before now. Quite frankly that nails the lid on mainstream publishers as far as I’m concerned. They’re too rude or ignorant to send out a polite or timely emailed notice of (dis)interest, so I’m no longer interested in them. I will submit no more work to mainstream publishers and agents. Three months per submission? I don’t think so. Are they expecting prospective authors to die of old age before they even look at their work? Not playing that game. I’ve played it for too long with very little to show. No more slush pile. No more hanging around, wasting my hope and effort. Back to the self publishing grindstone. At least I only have myself to blame if my business model falls flat or royalties don’t arrive on time.

There are two remaining major manuscript headaches, formatting and metadata. The formatting, because when an error occurs, I can’t strip out all the unwanted codes, which in turn screw up the formatting; I can’t seem to reformat the page to the correct paper size for publishing, and I’ve read the goddamned Openoffice help file and manual back to front, searching for an answer. Chapter headings won’t stay put. OpenOffice 3.3 is just as bad as Microsoft Word in all its appalling iterations. I may have to cut and paste the raw text into a fresh template and go through the tedious business of inserting new headings, italics, paragraph formats. It’s all so Byzantine and unnecessary. A 70,500 word document is a lot of work to reformat. All over one unassailable code error.

I used to be a confirmed WordPerfect fan for one reason; Reveal Codes. That Alt-F3 hotkey was an absolute lifesaver on long, complicated technical documents when one specific piece of code buried in the text was mucking up the format of a manual or report. Especially when other people had been making their own untracked revisions. These untouchable codes can completely screw up your day and important, time sensitive documentation. Specifically when you’re racing deadlines and need stuff ready for meetings. WordPerfect used to make my working life so simple. Search and replace used to be so easy. When formatting is critical, particularly in OpenOffice 3.3 and Microsoft Word (All versions) one hidden code can ruin a weeks work of crucical revisions. As for Macs, I’ve heard the same things about them, too. That and I’m like most relatively unknown writers – broke. So no money for new software. I’d love a copy, but I don’t have the three hundred dollars after my day job pays the bills.

Have finally cracked the metadata issue, so there is going to be a proper eBook release via Barnes and Noble, iTunes etc. with decent heading and document structure to make navigation an absolute snip for the reader. Also I won’t end up tearing my remaining hair out over multiple distribution rejections. So long as I follow the instructions properly. There’s even a handy dandy little video explaining Metadata.

Update: Have had to reformat a whole new document. All twenty five chapter headings are now firmly ensconced in the headers and footers. Just the italicisation to do tomorrow. Late shift on day job tonight, so I’m going to pack in now, grab a snack and see what tomorrow brings.

Who is opening my post?

A letter from my Mother arrived yesterday. A Christmas card. It had been opened. This is not the first time, and has been going on for the last twelve months. Every letter or birthday card from my Mother in Claverdon, England, has arrived with seals peeled back, envelope flaps torn and marks on the contents. No other post from the UK arrives in this condition. I have spoken to my Mother about this matter on the phone, and last year forbade her to send anything of any importance of value, like documents or birthday money. I’ve even lodged formal complaint.

Despite the fact that my writings contain accounts of how the future EU morphs into a hideously theocratic regime that can only exist by murdering millions of dissidents and converting them into foodstuffs, or how said regime murders the British Royal family, I do not think that I’m on any kind of security ‘watch list’. Instead I prefer to think that one of the Postal employees covering the Claverdon area in Warwickshire is a light fingered tea leaf looking for easy pickings from old ladies sending letters to their sons in far off lands.

Newsflash; there are no pickings, all funds transfers are electronic, and all important documents get hand delivered by friends and family coming to and from Canada, because we don’t trust the UK Post Office any more.

Is creativity a symptom of madness?

According to a newly published study, it is mooted that being creative is symptomatic of insanity. So, by this line of reasoning, we can derive the conclusion that being above average at problem solving, lateral thinking, and seeking new and better ways of doing anything marks a person out for starters under sedation, with a main course of a spell in the rubber room, straitjacket on the side, with electroshock for dessert.

Media commentators on the report cite various creative folk who went off the rails like Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and others. Some say that being creative is ‘closely intertwined’ with insanity.

As a writer, and by association a creative, therefore (According to media commentaries of the reports findings) more likely to be unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy, I’d like to look at it via another perspective. What if being a creative person can drive you crazy? Driven nuts by all the non creatives who want to mess around with the original concept to the point where the creator is literally tearing his or her hair out and screaming at them to stop. All because they are the ones who think they know what is more likely to sell. Anyone who has had work published generally finds a perfectly acceptable piece of prose perverted by a busybody who thinks they know better.

Taking the last short story I had published in a magazine back in 2006 as an example, I remember being asked for multiple rewrites to hit the constantly shifting wordage limit because someone had done a ‘really nice picture’ to go with the story. Of course, said rewrites (All four of them) had to be done within a Seventy two hour period when the story editor already had taken two months beforehand to faff around with my stuttering prose. I was really ticked off when I saw the size of the cheque. Seventy five pounds for thirteen hundred and forty two (After four rewrites) words. I did the sums afterwards and reckoned I’d worked for twenty five pence an hour. All for what I thought was a fairly workmanlike and unremarkable ghost story. If that experience is indicative of what happens to authors, is it any wonder so many end up candidates for psychiatric treatment?

I think being creative doesn’t mean you are nuts, my experience would indicate you’re more likely to get driven round the twist by efforts to get your work into the public marketplace. The whole process can be so Byzantine it makes Quantum theory look like childs play.

On the other hand, why pay any attention to my point of view? Being a creative, I’m probably a complete barmcake anyway, so why bother listening to anything I have to say?

Can’t win really. Might as well just kick back and enjoy the ride. Pass me a flapjack, I’m flying down to Rio for the Winter.

Scam calls

About twice a week I get a phone call from an out of Canada number, and a heavily accented voice tells me they are calling “About your Windows Computer”. These calls annoy me because they are made by confidence tricksters, scam artists and liars who want to invade my writing time with their falsehoods.

At first I used to simply shut the call off with a snarled “Fuck off” but now I’m becoming more nuanced in my response.

One of my favourite tricks is to put the cordless handset back on its charging station and wander off to make a cup of tea, stare out at the weather, switch on the TV while the poor drone on the other end of the line witters on and on. I reason thus; if I can waste enough of their time, it will give the scam artists less time to find more gullible people, and thence I perform a valuable social service. Fewer people get conned because there are only so many hours in the phoning day. Unfortunately, the more savvy realise I’ve disappeared, and close the call to dial the next number, who may not be as cynical as myself.

My next line of response is more sophisticated, and relies on the ignorance of the phone drone making the scam call. “My Windows Computer? Oh, the thing I use for word processing?” Is my response. Let them witter on having placed the phone back on its cradle in hands free mode, and tell them I have an Imperial Safari word processor with manual keyboard and real time printer array. An old fashioned manual typewriter. Pre 1980. Having had one of the aforementioned back in the 1980’s, I’m qualified to do what my wife calls ‘going into full bullshit mode’ on this topic. You needed to hit the keys with some vigour to make an imprint of a carbon flimsy, but it was robust, and I must have rattled off over 100,000 words on it until it was passed on within the family, and I moved on to working with a word processor.

Regardless, next time one of these scammers calls, they might not be dazzled by my brilliance or lack thereof, but I’ll sure as hell baffle them with bullshit. I will waste their time and phone bill, which may be the only justice one can ever get when dealing with these bastards.

Highlight of this morning was getting namechecked by Wattsupwiththat.com for tipping them off about this story.

Spam, Twitter and spam

This whole social media thing can get a little intrusive as far as the writing process is concerned, and I’m currently tempted to direct all Twitter messages directly into a special mailbox. This is because I’m currently under siege, getting dozens of messages inviting me to join some club for Internet sex dating. Really? Why in the name of Satan’s right nipple would I be interested in that? Maybe if I were still the testosterone driven 23 I once was I might, but now? My interests have always been a little more cerebral, but nowadays I am even more interested in a broader range of experiences than mere sex.

No doubt the transmitted link also leads into a repository for malware, trojans, and all the other little ‘ickys’ that swim around the Internet, looking for PC’s to infest. So the link will go forlornly unclicked, and those who send these kind of messages via Twitter will automatically get ‘unfollowed’.


One of the things that is an annoying distraction in this life is software updates. Particularly software updates that should not have come out of beta. At the moment I’m reserving some significant bile for Firefox 14.0.1 and more particularly Adobe Flash 11.3. The trouble started about three weeks ago when Angie updated her copy of Firefox, and then upgraded Flash. Normally there isn’t an issue with Firefox and Flash, but Angie seemed to have uploaded the 64 bit as opposed to the 32 bit version of Flash. Videos would not play. Youtube became a closed book, and trying to do any video conversion on her eighteen month old Windows & laptop became impossible. Being the households tech support, I fixed the problem by uninstalling the 64 bit and installing the 32. Functionality was restored; videos would play in Firefox again, and I thought I was off the hook and could get back to work.

In all innocence I then upgraded my own Firefox Browser and Adobe Flash to the ‘recommended’ Adobe Flash 11.3 and Firefox 14.0.1 releases. Videos stopped playing in every browser. The only solution was to uninstall all four of my browsers and reinstall earlier versions. These are now working fine. Videos play, hyperlinks link, and all I seem to lose in some of the functions from, excuse my pun, the flashier advertisements.

Overall, this has cost me an equivalent of four writing days, because I’ve been too occupied or annoyed to focus on my work. As far as browsers go, I happen to like Mozilla based products, but not ones that shouldn’t have been released on an unwitting public.

I suppose you could say I’ve been firefoxed, and I’m not very happy about it.

Post gone

My wife has asked me to take down my post about our little Vancouver break. It is gone. Under protest.

Apparently our youngest daughter objected to my comment about her grandmothers impending visit and its potential effect upon my relationship with my wife. Personally I thought the way I aired my thoughts was circumspect, and dare I say it, rather innocuous.

As next to no-one reads this blog anyway, I fail to see the problem.

The Facebook page will have to go too, I think.

Abuse of language

My wife Angela, is a Learning Consultant who is, in my estimation, one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen for the age group she covers. When she worked in the UK education system, she often brought children from being barely literate to over three reading grades forward. For this alone she has my total awestruck respect and admiration. In her field I consider her an unsung genius.

Sometimes though, I have to raise my hand and say “No.” This should not detract from who she is or what she does, more to some in her profession who should be taken back to Junior High to learn the proper use of language. Failing that, beaten soundly with a copy of the OED, all twenty plus volumes, including the appendices until some sort of vocabulary sinks in.

Today’s foul neologism is ‘Languaging’. A war crime of a word if ever one was uttered. Essentially it’s an invented adverb, a polysyllabic nonsense to describe how language is used and perceived emotionally to convey ideas to children. In my English literature classes of long ago, we were taught to use the terms ‘context’ and ‘subtext’ to describe such usage. Inventing a term like this speaks to me of someone who can’t be bothered to pick up a dictionary.

My complaint stems not from the invention of the offending collection of semi-random syllables, but the $60 dollar a ticket price tag for a seminar to learn how to use ‘soft’ language and concepts to convey ideas to children. Angie was trying to persuade me to go to a seminar in Vancouver to see what the inventor of this bastardisation was saying. I declined. Sixty bucks is a lot of royalties right at this moment.

In addition my initial reaction to the word, which almost had me roaring with laughter, might have been a marital mistake. Angie became quite defensive and went into intellectual counter-attack mode. We occasionally fence with words and ideas, just for the fun of it, but this little bout had a different tone, like I had challenged something she valued and cherished.

In the end I conceded that this might be the vocabulary of the online world she inhabits, but with the rider that whilst English as a language evolves, that particular term should be buried in a deep Thesaurus at midnight with a figurative stake through its suffix.

Inventing terms for things which do not currently exist is for the creators of fictional worlds, and certainly not in the purview of educators. Language is a toolkit to give ideas shape and form, not for blurring the edges to create some pink fluffy la-la version of real life, then present an infantile world view as factual. Such usage only cheats the children it is used to teach because they are not being properly equipped to deal with the world.

My own point of view is that children will read what stimulates their imagination. Sometimes what children need to get them reading is perhaps not what their educators desire. Dressing it up with terms like ‘Languaging’ doesn’t help.

Writing one off

Looks like I’m going to have to give up on getting ‘The Odd Machine‘ into iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. I’ve done everything the publishers asked, and the bloody thing still keeps on getting chucked back at me for the same reasons.

‘Change your metadata’ is all I could get out of support, which is about as much help as a slap in the face with a rotten Sardine. Even after asking “How is the metadata accessed?” Because I made all the requested changes where I could, and still my eBook kept getting rejected for the same ‘reasons’.

Well I’m writing ‘The Odd Machine’ off as far as iBookstore and Barnes & Noble are concerned. You can get to the point where something wastes so much of your time it gets in the way of new projects. I’ll just have to chalk this one up to experience and hope that particular eBook gets noticed via the blog.

To be honest it’s left me a little disenchanted and annoyed. I hate people who won’t give you a straight answer to a simple question, instead beating around the bush and hiding their response with jargon they won’t explain, and probably don’t understand themselves. Bloody hell, it’s like trying to get network support to perform a simple task. For the moment I’m going to stop beating my figurative head against the metaphorical wall and go and enjoy Christmas.

I’ll try my luck with the first of the Cerberus eBooks in the new year, and if I get the same problem, change publishers.