Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Plotting--mapped, not outlined

Some writers outline their books before they start to write. That's fine if it works for them, but it's not my way of doing it. I like to start with a vague idea and work my way through it one chapter at a time.

Today I found myself in a little bit of a lull in my day, wondering how to get to the dramatic ending of Sexton Sand, the 4th book in the Sexton Chronicles. I'm not stuck--I've been busy for the past several months trying to promote the other books in the series, my collection of short stories, and tinkering with my book about the 9 weeks I spent in Peru in 1987.

Step one: Stop playing around with the other stuff for the moment and finish this book. (It's one of my favorites.)

Step two: On a scrap piece of paper, I wrote the names of the 3 groups of main characters and their locations, with one group in the upper right corner, one in the middle left side, and one on the bottom.

Step three: In the lower right corner I wrote the whereabouts of each of the main characters at the end of the book. (I know the end, remember. It's the here to there I needed to work out.)

Step four: Drew arrows between where the characters are now and where the characters are at the end of the book.

Step five: On the lines between the arrowheads, I wrote a sentence summarizing the action that must occur in order to get them from where they are now to where they will be at the end of the book.

And now it's time to do Step six.

What's "Step Six?" Thanks for asking. Step Six is when I shut the hell up and get busy before I forget how to interpret this drawing...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

I see the ending now. Sexton Sand Update

I'm starting to get pressure to finish Sexton Sand, and I like that. I pointed out to someone that as much as I would like to force the ending to appear, and thus rush my finish of the book...I can't. I mean I literally can not. I kid about Ralph the Muse, but there is no muse per se

I've mentioned before that I don't outline my books. One chapter leads to the next and if I write one that doesn't fit, I kill it. It's a gift--not for greatness (judgement of that is up to the reader), but because it's something I didn't ask for but that I treasure.

I am now very happy to report that I know how Sexton Sand is going to end. Don't worry--I'm not going to tell you. You'll have to read it yourself. I promise you it'll be a cliffhanger. Now I know who will do what to whom and writing it will go quickly.

My plan is to have it ready for you to order from Lulu by April 1st, and Kindle and Nook by April 9. The delay between print and ebook has to do with the nitty-gritty formatting differences I have to do by hand.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My books honored 3 ways! (Author's pride)

The first honor: my college friend Phil Stiles purchased copies of Sexton, Sexton Spice, and Storm Clouds Over Sexton for the Melick Library at my alma mater, Eureka College.

The second honor was the letter I received today from Anthony R. Glass, the Director of the Melick Library. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"Your work, volumes 1-3 of the Sexton Chronicles, now shares the same shelves as EC graduates as Benjamin Johnson Radford, Emory Ross, and of course, Ronald Reagan... I also wanted to let you know that these works are kept in our Archives and Special Collections...which in addition to continuing its role as college archives and special collections, will soon feature a nearly complete collection of the works by and about President Reagan."

The third, and in my opinion greatest honor, came from a good friend after I (with shameless pride) sent him a copy of the full letter from the college. He congratulated me for the honor of having my books placed with such good company, but really wants to know when I'm finally going go finish Sexton Sand!

Soon, John. I'll finish it soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"QWERTY" --why the keys are in that order

Have you ever wondered why the keys are in such a strange order on keyboards? I have. I've known this answer for years, but taking a break from writing Sexton Sand, I thought I'd share it with you.

"QWERTY" (pronounced Kwert-ee) is named for the order of the letters of the first row of letters on standard keyboards. It wasn't always that way. Initially, the keys were in alphabetical order.

The first typewriters (and they were made this way for many years) were mechanical devices. When the typist pushed a key, the key lifted a little hammer-like arm that smacked the letter against a ribbon that smacked against the paper and made a mark. Each key had it's own hammer-like arm.

If the typist went too fast, the little hammer-like arms made a metallic "clang" and stuck together. They had to be pushed back manually and resulted in ink smeared fingers and ink smeared pages.In 1878, a couple of smart guys (smartasses, too in my opinion) by the names of Christopher Sholes and Amos Densmore decided to slow typists down.

They slowed them down by arranging the letters on the keyboard so the important ones (like "a" and "s", etc.) were on the left side of the keyboard, and other important keys (like "m" for example) were on the lower right. The theory was that typists would have to hunt and peck and therefore would go slowly enough that jamming the machine would be the least of their worries.

Two things make this story a little humorous: 1) Typists in those days typed full-time. It didn't take them long to learn the new keyboard and start jamming keys all over again. 2) The other thing is human nature: if you make a major change like that--re-arranging a keyboard--the change will stick once the grousing stops and people get used to it.

As proof of #2, I submit the following: Take a look at your keyboard. Odds are very great it's a QWERTY keyboard.