Distractions and a Quick Snippet

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I’ve been working on Partners and Crime lately, trying to expand it to a longer, single piece of, oh, perhaps 8000 words or so when done (for comparison, the three parts already posted here came to a total of about 3300 words combined). I have actually found it a little bit slow going, partly because I’m still figuring out where this story is supposed to end up (remember, it started as flash fiction and was never supposed to be more than a thousand words or so), and partly because I originally intended it for posting only to the blog, which I generally keep at no more than, um, somewhere between PG-13 and R rated, perhaps, and yes, it has now definitely crossed that border firmly into R territory, maybe even a little NC-17 in there.

Which is odd, because it’s not as if I haven’t written some very explicit scenes in other stories before (Switch). Why is this one different? Perhaps it’s because I’m actually thinking about how this one could appear as a short novelette on Amazon? Because I’m already thinking about potential beta readers and their reactions? Because when I first started writing Switch (which, so far, is much more explicit) a year ago, I didn’t ever expect to show it to anyone?

Or perhaps I’m just massively overthinking it.

Or spending too much time on social media. Yeah, there’s always that. Having trouble wordsmithing the next sentence? No problem! After all, someone just favorited my latest rambling tweet, and I need to go check that out. Oh, and look, someone just posted a very interesting article on — wait for it — social media strategy for authors; I’d definitely better read that. And hey, some of my favorite authors just got published in a new anthology; mmm, reading that sounds like much greater fun.

(On a side note, Chemical [se]X, edited by Oleander Plume, really is great fun to read.)

The blog could use an overhaul, too — really, I should put my excerpts together on an actual page — and gosh, I haven’t posted anything in a long time, and… well, I’m taking care of that problem right now, aren’t I? And distracting myself from finishing up a measly few thousand more words in Partners and Crime.

Ok, though, seriously, where do you think the story should go? When last we left them, Eileen McConnell and Daryl Travers had to dash into a shower stall in the women’s locker room at the police department where they both work because two other officers had just come in to the room. Oh, and Travers had been wearing Eileen’s handcuffs for most of the action up to this point, though she has just taken them off him (though that story point could change — what do you think?). Now, if you aren’t exactly clear on how these two ended up in this predicament, this would be an excellent time to go back and read the three installments I posted to the blog.

On another side note, Jade, I really did not have you in mind when I named one of the two officers entering the room Waters — the name just appeared from thin air as I wrote — but, hey, what would you do if you were in your namesake’s position? And yes, I know you aren’t nearly as crude and crass as the Waters in the story. You’re far too nice, and she’s… well, she’s not. At least, not yet.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a very brief snippet from the continuing story:

He tugged, and with a wiggle of my hips my panties slipped down my thighs. I tried to kick them away, but only succeeded in tangling them about my ankles. If Travers noticed, he gave no sign, and very quickly I forgot all about them too when…

When what? Ah, I’ll leave that to your imagination… for now.

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Coffee Romance

I’m considering an entry for Frisky Feminist‘s Erotic Romance Anthology Love in the Time of Coffee. I mean, I love erotic romance, and I love coffee, so what’s not to like here? Of course, some seriously good writers that I know of are also considering entries, so competition might be… ahem… stiff. But, one has to start somewhere!

It’s not clear if the deadline for submissions is October 1 or December 1, so on the assumption it’s the former, I (and maybe you, too?) have to decide quickly. As in, very soon.

Here’s a snippet from the blurb at friskyfeminist.com:

Got a story about that sexy barista who keeps putting hearts on your cup? What about the brooding person in the corner that you just know is writing love poetry you’re dying to read?

We want to read it!

This comes right on the heels of Sheri Savill tweeting about coffee porn, which just got us all steaming and frothing for more, so the time must be right! At least right to ponder it over a cup of coffee.

What do you think?

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Battle Over the Two Spaces

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By now you’ve all seen one or another of these posts, which seem to be going viral even though they are actually a few years old. The question raised seems to engender strong reactions and strong opinions, and, being a writerly and grammarly crowd, I’d expect it to be no different with any of you.

Should you use two spaces after a period ending a sentence, or not?

From what I can glean, the question first came up (on the web) in 2009 and was addressed by Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, in her podcast How Many Spaces After a Period? By the way, if you aren’t already familiar with the Grammar Girl series, you should be, as the posts are delightful, informative, and well-presented.

Two years later Farhad Manjoo jumped into the fray with an article in Slate entitled Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After a Period. This is the piece that apparently went viral, having to date been shared on Facebook 673,000 times, another nearly 11,000 times on Twitter, and receiving almost 600 comments on the original publication. It is still receiving comments and being shared today, although the article is approaching four years in age.

Both Fogarty and Manjoo assert that a single space after ending a sentence is correct, and the habit of using two spaces is a short-lived quirk of history that came in with the typewriter and its monospaced fonts. Now that we all use computers, they assert, we should relegate this archaic practice to the dustbin of history, alongside the Olivettis and IBM Selectrics that ushered it in.

I read these articles with a distinct sense of unease, as their assertions about how this all came about and what is actually correct did not gibe at all with how I was taught or my recollection of the whys and wherefores of both practices. Could it be that I’ve been wrong all these years?

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Then I was introduced to this long and well-researched piece by “Heraclitus”: Why Two Spaces After a Period Isn’t Wrong (or, The Lies Typographers Tell About History).

Suddenly, all was right with the world again. The horizon was once more level. My memory was not suspect, and I was not slowly (or rapidly) losing my mind.

Well, I might still be losing my mind, so perhaps that is a different question for a different day.

You see, without wishing to date myself too much, I learned to type in high school on a typewriter. In those days the class was actually called Typing (nowadays I believe it’s referred to as Keyboarding). At least it was an electric typewriter; I’m not that ancient! I was indeed, like perhaps many of you, very specifically taught to use two spaces after a period, exclamation point, or question mark at the end of a sentence. Furthermore, I was also taught to use two spaces after a colon, and then to capitalize the first letter of the first word after the colon. Nobody said anything about monospaced fonts. Unless you were a typographer, there really was only one font: Courier. Proportional fonts, like right-margin justification, was something typesetters worried about.

So, I guess I did just date myself. Sigh.

My understanding of the history of the two spaces was that before the age of electric typewriters, periods were chancy things. They might print nice and neat and bold, they might come out small and faint and nearly impossible to see, or they might actually punch right through the page and into the platen, or roller, behind the paper. Thus we were told not to strike the period key too hard on a manual typewriter, which meant they would tend to faintness.

(Electric typewriters were expensive, and heavy, beasts. We may have used them in class, and later in the office, but the device I first owned for myself was decidedly unpowered.)

The point (see what I did there?) was that you couldn’t be too sure that the period would be easily visible and obvious to someone reading quickly, so by adding extra space after the period you provided a definitive visual cue that the sentence had indeed ended and another one, wholly separate, was about to begin. You were aiding the cause of speed reading.

At some point someone would inevitably point out that in newspapers only a single space appeared after a period and before the next sentence. Why would these bastions of language — and typography — commit this cardinal sin?

Because space in newsprint is expensive, my dear, the teacher would reply, and therefore a convention has arisen that it is acceptable in journalism to eliminate the second space. So, now we have one rule for journalism, and another rule for all other writing.

In the early days of my career when I worked as an executive secretary (using a word processor, thank you very much, but I still had to take a typing test on a Selectric to get the job), no one, not once, ever said I was doing it wrong by using two spaces. Business grammar and journalism grammar apparently really were two different things.

Well, that part about the cheapness of news editors may or may not have been true (probably not), but nevertheless Heraclitus had restored order to the world by setting the record straight. Two spaces is correct, and furthermore it has been correct for long ages of history. We could all breathe easy.

Or not. You see, I had noticed some time ago that when I typed my posts in WordPress, sometimes the left margin would not justify properly. I was mystified as to why this was happening, and it gave my posts a decidedly unprofessional look, all sort of raggedy and uneven.

Then it dawned on me. Every time a line was out of alignment with the left margin, it was a new sentence beginning at that margin. Something was up with the way WordPress was inserting line breaks between sentences, and of course what was up was that WordPress was assuming there would be only one space after the period. Therefore, the second space was apparently assumed to be part of the new sentence, and thus the line should begin with that space.

Not at all what I intended.

Some of you old-time bloggers may have a trick up your sleeve to trick WordPress into treating the two spaces correctly (Heraclitus manages to do it on his non-WordPress blog), but otherwise it seems that WordPress indeed forces us to use a single space.

It’s not just WordPress, either. HTML, the “language” upon which much of the World Wide Web depends, eliminates extra spaces between words by design. There are ways to trick HTML code to retain spaces, but the upshot is that a space has a specific purpose in HTML, and having more than one in a row is… wasted space.

It would seem that we double-spacers are losing this battle, or at least we must go to much more extreme efforts if we wish to hold onto our ways. Is it worth it? Indeed, you will of course notice that I am not double-spacing in this post, nor (intentionally) in any of my posts on this blog. I like my left margins to line up, after all. I am even starting to train myself in the habit of using a single space elsewhere, but I admit it is hard. Long decades of habit are working against me on this one. I must very deliberately think about not double-tapping the space bar.

So, what do you do? What are your thoughts on this essential, and burning, question? Do you think a single space is better, or two spaces? Or do you not care?


Romantic Conflict

I think it may have been Tolkien who wrote “Adventure is something nasty happening to someone else far away,” though admittedly I am having trouble sourcing this quote today.

As an aside, I did find a similar quote attributed to David Niven: “Adventure. Ah yes. That’s someone else having a very rough go of it very far away. My idea of adventure is carrying a pint of bitters from one smoke-filled room to the next.” (http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/0743498747/0743498747___6.htm)

Of course, what either of these quotes implies is that while we enjoy reading about adventure (or watching it on film), it may not be something we necessarily want to have happen to us. For all the interest in adventure tourism, or active sports and pastimes, true adventure implies an element of peril not sought for its own sake, but rather risked or endured, perhaps unwillingly, on the way to something else far more desirable.

In other words, adventure is conflict. Most of us seek to reduce conflict in our own lives, but in fiction, without conflict there isn’t much of a story. A group of characters sitting around having the time of their lives may sound like a lot of fun, but it isn’t very interesting to read about.

That means our protagonist is that someone else, and for the story to be interesting, she must have a very rough go of it. Nasty things must befall her, and then she must overcome them, gain strength through adversity, and return to her ordinary world wiser than before, having won the grand prize.

Herein lies the author’s conflict. We spend so much time with our protagonists, our main or lead characters, our heroes and heroines, that it is easy to identify with them. They are the children of our imagination. We grow to love them as we love ourselves, or as we love our best friends, and who would wish nastiness upon their best friend?

Yet we must, for the sake of the other children of our imagination, the stories themselves. We must array armies of conflict against our heroine, in all their serried ranks, and she must lose at least a few battles — though she can win one now and then, too — before ultimately emerging victorious. It’s painful to do, but our heroine must suffer — for the sake of art, of course.

So what does conflict look like in a romance, then? No one is swinging swords at our heroine (unless, perhaps, we are writing a paranormal fantasy romance), nor shooting bullets at her (or are we writing romantic suspense?). The grand prize she seeks, though she may not know it at first, is love. The barriers she must overcome on her quest for this prize are emotional more than physical.

There will be external conflict. She is not the only one seeking the hero’s heart.  She has a rival, one who may stop at nothing to steal the hero away from her. Perhaps her family, or the hero’s family, or workplace rules or societal politics, dictate that they should not be together. Perhaps the hero is, at first, simply uninterested, or he lives in a different world, moves in different circles, such that their paths would not cross in the normal state of affairs.

There will also be internal conflict. The heroine, or hero, or both, may have been hurt before, such that they now avoid entanglements, or they may inwardly consider themselves somehow unworthy of love, or of each other, not realizing at first how far from the truth this sentiment may be. The heroine will harbor some dark secret, some shadow from her past that she has struggled — and failed — to overcome, and just when things finally seem to be on a perfect trajectory, it will rear its ugly head to dash all hopes.

Naturally, she will ultimately triumph, defeating her inner demons and outer rivals, and win the hero’s heart for all eternity, as classic romantic tropes dictate, living happily ever after.

Or will she?

Romance is full of conflict, and in this we find a truth for both fiction and reality.

And So It Begins

Thus is our heroine launched into her journey of self-discovery, unsure of what she is looking for, only knowing that she hasn’t been finding it. Yesterday’s post shows the opening lines of the first draft, a novel with a working title of Switch. That title is certain to change at this point, so we may just as well call it Olivia’s Story. Olivia burst onto the scene, nearly fully formed like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, at the start of NaNoWriMo last year.

You do know what NaNoWriMo is, don’t you? Ok, I suspect most of those interested in reading a blog like this have some idea, perhaps even have tried their hand at it, but for those who have not yet suffered the agony… er, I mean enjoyed the pleasure, NaNoWriMo is an annual month-long writing marathon which attracts participants from all over the world. The name is short-hand for National Novel Writing Month, and the idea is to write 50,000 words — or more — of original fiction in 30 days. It’s a contest of sorts, occurring every November, except you aren’t competing against anyone else, as everyone who achieves the goal is a winner. The intent is to encourage not just creativity but also persistence. It is hard work to churn out 50,000 words in a month while also balancing the needs of a day job, a family, and perhaps some pretense at a social life. It’s much harder to do this and turn out anything that isn’t utter muck, but that’s not quite the point of the exercise.

The point of the exercise is to develop the habit of writing every day, no matter what else happens. NaNoWriMo encourages traits such as sticktoitiveness and getitdoneiveness (can I trademark that one?) more than actually writing well. After all, writing well is the point of second drafts, isn’t it?

Ah, except my inner editor always gets in the way and wants to compose, edit, and refine as we go. This tends to make better first drafts, such that come revision time wholesale chopping of the text is less necessary, but it also tends to make it easier to get bogged down, miss deadlines (deadlines? What deadlines? It’s not as if I have a publisher or editor breathing down my neck, after all. That would be a nice problem to have), or even lose steam in the project.

So this is where NaNoWriMo (gosh, I get tired of that odd capitalization) comes in for me. I find that balance between revising as I go and getting it done — hopefully — and thus actually complete projects.

The first time I tried my hand at Nano (let’s just agree to the short form, shall we?), I did not win. At the end of thirty days I had a beautifully crafted beginning and beginning of a middle of a story, lyrical prose that leapt off the page to paint sunsets at sea in the mind’s eye, complete with the cries of seagulls and the briny aroma of the surf crashing against rocks. I had two amazing lead characters, a precocious twelve-year-old immigrant who refused to be bound by the customs of her day and the gruff and grizzled bo’sun of the 19th-century clipper ship she sailed on, whose heart she charmed with her innocent curiosity about all things nautical. There were storms and drunken captains and getting lost at sea. It was beautiful.

What it wasn’t was 50,000 words. At the end of the month I had about 25,000, but if I may say so, they were 25,000 beautifully crafted no-revision-required words. Over the next few months I added about 10,000 words more, then the story just… petered out. I realized I didn’t know how to navigate a path to an ending. The ship may have just sailed on forever.

So the next year I tried again. I had a concept for a character, though not much in the way of a plot, but this character was ready to burst onto the page, any page, and thus Olivia was born. At the start of November Olivia was a fare-paying passenger on… an airship. Yes, I was going to write a steampunk romance! Dastardly air pirates and dashing heroes, and in the midst of it all one plucky heroine who finally finds her way in the struggle against adversity. It was a great concept. Some day I may even take it up again, although not with Olivia.

You see, about five days into the month Olivia let me know that this really wasn’t her story. She didn’t really want to be kidnapped by pirates and rescued by swashbuckling heroes. She preferred a different role. She’s really quite bossy at times, and that’s because Olivia likes to get her way, even if she doesn’t always quite yet know what her way is.

So we started a new story, Olivia and I, and twenty-five days later (because we were already five days into the month, after all) we had 50,101 words.

Alas, however, not all the prose was as lyrical as that of Maria’s story (on the clipper). Don’t get me wrong, my inner editor didn’t completely go on vacation, and I believe I wrote some fine passages. However, as this time the story was completely pantsed (as in, not plotted), not all the scenes necessarily hung together very well. Olivia’s story had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and even a fairly logical plot progression to get from one to the other, but there were definite holes. A few among the supporting cast turned out brilliantly, while a few others needed a little work.

I put the story down for several months and worked on a different project for Olivia, having told myself that the earlier draft was just a practice run. I thought I would use one or two scenes from it in the new storyline, but otherwise it was a completely different plot. This time there would be no pantsing, every detail would be carefully planned in advance, making a story so well-crafted and tight that all would be forced to admit its brilliance. Except, however, it was so tight that Olivia began to complain she couldn’t breathe. She rather likes breathing, as it turns out. Then some of her friends from the earlier story (you haven’t met them yet, but their names are Ashley and Melody, and I think they’ll grow on you just as they did on me) knocked on the door and wanted to know what their part in all of this would be.

Ashley in particular was a little sad that she wouldn’t get to do the original story with Olivia, which kicked in Olivia’s protective instincts. She gave me that look, and with a sigh I agreed, oh, all right, we’ll finish the original story.

So Olivia invites you to come along and meet her good friends Ashley and Melody, and her new friends Nicholas, Walter, and of course Catherine. It wouldn’t do to forget Catherine. As you will discover, Catherine is not to be denied. Paul will have another appearance or two as well. Poor Paul. Things just don’t seem to be going his way at the moment.

But that could change. All you need do is just…

…turn the page.