Monday, April 30, 2012

This month: Story A Day!

Ugh. Trying to find my way around the new Blogger layout. Blogger doesn't go through drastic changes very often, so I can forgive them. Facebook, on the other hand, is a constant source of frustration. It seems like they change the site layout and function at least weekly!

Enough griping. On with the update!

Story A Day starts tomorrow and I can't wait. I love the idea of writing a short story a day.

I completed the challenge successfully last year, loved every minute of it, and even had one of the stories published: "Amazing, Incredible Sea Mongrels." I wrote a very rough draft during last year's Story A Day and then set it aside for several months. After I picked it back up and turned it into a decent first draft, I heard about the call for submissions for the upcoming Penumbra "Animals" issue. So I did a few rewrites, polished it up, and sent it off.

This year I will be following the same plan as last year: write one story a day, Monday through Friday. That means at the end of the month I will have twenty-three short story drafts (if I'm successful).

In June, I'll look over what I have (as well as revisit last year's stories), and see if I've got anything I want to work into a finished, polished story. I hate to admit it, but (except for "Sea Mongrels") I've neglected last year's stories. This year I plan to do better and try to get at least two or three of them finished and (knock on wood) published.

I'll be posting updates here on the blog to let you know how it's going.

Currently reading:

Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne

Badass Zombie Road Trip, by Tonia Brown

Monday, April 16, 2012

Great tool for revison: WordTalk

Almost every bit of revision/editing advice you see will include: read your story out loud. It definitely helps, but I still miss stuff when I read my own stories out loud. The best solution is to find some nice volunteer to read your story out loud to you, but nice volunteers aren't always available when you need them.

The solution?

The WordTalk program. It's a free Microsoft Word text-to-speech plugin that reads your story to you. As soon as I heard about it, I had to check it out (I need all the help I can get with the revision process).

Like all the best laid plans, though, getting to use the program took a little blood, sweat, and tears (most of which was my own fault, of course).

I knew right from the start that it wouldn't work on my "main" computer (the computer I use for the Internet) because it doesn't work with Microsoft Word 2010 if your operating system is Windows XP (but it will with Vista and Windows 7).

So I planned to install it on the old computer I use as a "server" for all my writing files. However, I forgot that the computer has no speakers because I had given them to my daughter (after all, why would my server need speakers?) Of course, I didn't remember until I had already installed the program on the server and was attempting to test it out (and wailed, quite embarrassingly: "Why doesn't this program work?" Um. Duh, the program works fine on computers that HAVE speakers). Let's just keep this part of the whole episode our little secret, shall we?

I moved the program onto my memory pen and installed it on my laptop (where I actually do my writing). Then I got the error message: program needs a Microsoft NET framework. What is that? I have no idea. But I know it's an update that was auto-installed on the computers that are hooked up to the Internet. However, my laptop has never connected to the Internet because I wanted it to be absolutely secure. It doesn't even have antivirus on it because why would a computer that's never going on the Internet need antivirus? It definitely doesn't have any wireless capabilities (it's older than dirt) and I don't think I even ordered a modem for it when I ordered it!


So I had to install it on my daughter's computer to try it out. Hey, it's only fair: she has my server's speakers, after all.

The program is pretty simple and clear cut. You pick from the three available voices and click a button to have it start reading the story. The robotic "Emergency Broadcast System" voices are distracting, but you do get used to it. And it really does help to have "someone else" reading your story to you, even if it's in a robotic voice.

For me, the biggest advantage it has is that it makes my "flotsam" problem jump out. When I edit, I sometimes leave part of an old sentence behind when I cut. When I read the story, my eye skims right over that extra word; when robotic voice reads the story, that extra word jumps out and hits me over the head.

For example, I might have a sentence like: "She turned the corner and but ran into him." My original sentence read, "She turned the corner but didn't slow down," and I decided to change it to, "She turned the corner and ran into him," but I left an extra word (or sometimes two) from the original sentence in there. This program helps you catch those extra words.

I also sometimes forget to change my verbs and do silly things like leave an "ing": "He smiling the whole time." My original sentence was: "he was smiling the whole time," and I wanted to edit it to, "he smiled the whole time," but I dropped the "was" and forgot to change the verb. This program helps you catch those inconsistencies, too.

Other times, I stutter and write a word twice. I can't tell you how many times I've come across sentences like this in editing: "He ran into the the house and slammed the door." I don't know how it manages to happen so often, but it does. And the spelling/grammar checker underlines it, but I still miss it. My eyes just skim right over it. This program helps you catch those, too.

I've already used it on a couple of stories, and I think it really does help make the revision process easier. And you can't beat the price: FREE! I've now made it a part of my regular revision process. I'd recommend you give it a try and see if it works for you.

Download WordTalk here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

March wrap-up

Time for a monthly update!

  • The April issue of Penumbra is out! It includes my story, "Incredible Sea Mongrels." And yes, my name is spelled wrong, lol. It happens, especially with a name like Kezar. I've seen it spelled Keyzer, Keiser, and Kaiser, but this is the first time I've seen it as Kazar. The fearless leader of my local writing group faces a similar problem, but for her, it's her unusual first name that causes confusion. Anyway, go buy a copy of the issue! You can get it in pdf format, Kindle, ePub, or Mobi.

  • I attended a writer's workshop given by Linda Lein last weekend. It was so awesome that I now want to enroll in the college where she teaches so that I can take more of her classes.

  • I attended a writer's workshop given by the local college this past weekend. It didn't quite turn out as planned, as we had some . . . uh, boisterous attendees who loved to talk and discuss each and every point, comment, or topic for ten minutes or more. We had a packet of materials we were supposed to get through, but we only finished two pages in the hour-and-a-half that had been reserved for the workshop. I felt bad for the nice gentleman running the workshop, because you know he probably feels things got out of hand and off course, but he did a great job of trying to wrangle things back on topic. They just had him outnumbered. :)

  • I finished up my alternate-history-with-zombies story by the deadline and am very pleased with the way the story turned out. Hopefully I'll be telling you where you can pick up a copy to read very soon.

  • The first "heads-up" emails went out for Story-A-Day-May. This is one of my favorite challenges because it focuses on short stories: write one short story a day for the whole month of May. I, of course, will be signing up again this year.

That's all the latest news. I find myself in the very strange predicament of not having a single story in the works right now, so it's time to sit down and face that blank page and figure out what's next!