My Foot Hurts

And I’m very unhappy about.

I went out for a run on Friday, trying to run off the seventy pounds of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc. that I mainlined on Thanksgiving. It was a good run, six miles, which ended up being one mile more than I had initially planned. Once I was out there, I realized I would let the road just sort of lead me, which is exactly what it did.

First time I’d run six miles on a few months. Around the beginning of September my knee started to bother me, and then my heel, then my whole foot. I did some reading and was starting to panic that I was developing the dreaded plantar facisitis. Which is exactly the time I discovered the Maffetone Method.

I’ve been trying the Maffetone Method for about two and a half months. I’ve got another update coming in a few days about how it went in month two. But for now, I’ll simply say that I went for a nice slow aerobic base building run.

Until yesterday all of my runs have been three miles, with a few at five. This was the first time I’d run six. And when I came back in, I felt great. Legs were good, I felt like I could’ve run another six.

An hour later, my foot hurt so badly I was limping.

Dammit.

I’ve been reading Born To Run. Riveting. I’m completely digging this book. And it makes a good case for barefoot running. Now, I’m not crazy enough to go completely barefoot. Not yet, anyway. Especially not heading into a New England winter. Aside from potential stress fractures, I’m not big into frostbite. So I’ve decided I’ve got to try a minimalist shoe. Because my foot shouldn’t hurt like this.

So I’ve ordered this little beauty.

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This shoe should be in by Wednesday, which means trying it out in the cold dark of Thursday morning.

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Shout Out to Contextures

I have to give a quick shout out to Contextures. This is an Excel blog run by Debra Dalgleish. She’s an a Excel MVP (read more about MVPs here) and her site is one of three sites I regularly frequent if I’m looking for Excel info. (The other two are Chip Pearson’s Excel site and Dick Kusleika’s Daily Dose of Excel.)

On Monday I started to see the traffic on my blog really jump up. One of the things I like about WordPress is their site stats, which, in part, show you what the referring site was to your site. (I’m sure other blogging sites do this too, but honestly I’m too lazy to check.)

Checking the referring sites showed me that the site sending me the most tragic was Debra’s blog at Contextures. Seems she liked my post on creating a back door into your workbooks enough to add it to her weekly roundup post. Suddenly I have more than two readers!

So here’s a shout out to Debra! Thanks for the props!

Formatting Dialogue

One of the blogs I follow is Read To Write Stories, by Michael Noll. It’s a blog dedicated to delivering ideas about how to write, and offering writing prompts and exercises to get the creative juices flowing.

Today’s post was all about dialogue, and how to make dialogue in your fiction move faster. As an example, he offers a story called Paper Tiger, by Liz Warren-Pederson. The way Warren-Pederson structures her dialogue is by having large blocks of it in a single paragraph. Take the following opening paragraph as an example:

“I want to invite the kids for Thanksgiving this year,” Cynthia said, and I said, “What the fuck? Where will I eat,” and she said, “I was hoping you’d eat with me, next to me,” and I said, “What a fucking misery,” and she said, “That’s not what you said last night,” and I said, “Well, we weren’t under a microscope then,” and she said, “You worry too much,” which was so off-base that I didn’t bother to respond.

Given how the author has set up the voice of the narrator, this works pretty well. And yes, it moves along at a zippy pace.

But does it move too fast?

Micheal Noll’s post it made me think about was the structure of dialogue in my own writing, and that of other writers whose narrator’s are telling the story. The book I’m currently writing is a first person narrative in the hard-boiled crime fiction genre. Given how fond I’m an of Robert B Parker’s Spencer series, my choice of subject matter is probably not surprising. Yet even as a write my novel, I’m trying to avoid a certain pitfall Parker often fell into. Take the following excerpt from Hugger Mugger:

Good morning,” I said, to let them know there were no hard feelings about them interrupting me.

“Spenser?” the man said.

“That’s me,” I said.

“I’m Walter Clive,” he said. “This is my daughter Penny.”

“Sit down,” I said. “I have coffee made.”

“That would be nice.”

I went to the Mr. Coffee on the filing cabinet and poured us some coffee, took milk and sugar instructions, and passed the coffee around.

When we were settled in with our coffee, Clive said, “Do you follow horse racing, sir?”

“No.”

“Have you ever heard of a horse named Hugger Mugger?”

“No.”

“He’s still a baby,” Clive said, “but there are people who will tell you that he’s going to be the next Secretariat.”

“I’ve heard of Secretariat,” I said.

“Good.”

“I was at Claiborne Farms once and actually met Secretariat,” I said. “He gave a large lap.”

In fourteen lines of dialogue, there are nine what I would call “he saids”, where the author inserts a “he said” or “she said” or “I said” to anchor you to who is speaking. This is a lot. It didn’t occur to me just how many this really was until I was talking to my mother about Spenser books. She likes to listen to the audio version, but she couldn’t do it with Spenser books because of all the “he saids”. Whereas, as a reader, I think we have a tendency to pass right over then, registering them in the barest way possible so that they don’t slow down the dialogue.

Now compare this to a book I just finished rereading this morning, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway:

“Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together?”

“I don’t think so. I’d just tromper you with everybody. You couldn’t stand it.”

“I stand it now.”

“That would be different. It’s my fault, Jake. It’s the way I’m made.”

“Couldn’t we go off in the country for a while?”

“It wouldn’t be any good. I’ll go if you like. But I couldn’t live quietly in the country. Not with my own true.”

“I know.”

“Isn’t it rotten?” There isn’t any use my telling you I love you.”

“You know I love you.”

“Let’s not talk. Talking’s all bilge. I’m going away from you and then Michael’s coming back.”

“Why are you going away?”

“Better for you. Better for me.”

“When are you going?”

“Soon as I can.”

“Where?”

“San Sebastian.”

“Can’t we go together?”

“No. That would be a hell of an idea after we’d just talked it out.”

“We never agreed.”

“Oh, you know as well as I do. Don’t be obstinate, darling.”

“Oh, sure,’ I said. ‘I know you’re right. I’m just low, and when I’m low I talk like a fool.”

I sat up, leaned over, found my shoes beside the bed and put them on. I stood up.

“Don’t look like that darling?”

“How do you want me to look?”

“How do you want me to look?”

“Oh, don’t be a fool. I’m going away to-morrow.”

“To-morrow?”

“Yes. Didn’t I say so? I am.”

“Let’s have a drink, then. The count will be back.”

Did you count them? That’s twenty-eight lines of dialogue, and only one “he said”. And while the structure is completely different then Warren-Pederson’s story, I find this dialogue moves just as quickly.

So which is the right one? I suppose that depends on personal preference. My gut tells me that Warren-Pederson’s structure would be simply exhausting for anything longer than a short story. Reading a novel in that format would leave me panting. Plus, in a structure such as this, the writer must absolutely include on a 1:1 ration a “he said” for each line of dialogue. One the other hand, Hemingway’s structure left me panting as mush as “Paper Tiger”, where I found myself grateful for the blocks of descriptive text at the end of each dialogue jag so that I could catch my breath. And Parker’s copious inclusion of all the “he saids” borders on distracting the reader and throwing them out of the story.

I feel that, for my own writing, there is a happy medium to be found in the number of “he saids” included in the story. Somewhere between one and nine…

Social Media Ads: File Under “Huh?”

This popped up in my Facebook feed the other day:

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Admittedly, I watch “The Walking Dead”. I used to enjoy it more than I do now, but that’s a different post for a different time. But the real question is, how does Facebook know I like/watch “The Walking Dead”?

There is an interesting and quick breakdown of how Facebook ads work, and a bit of how and why they show up in your timeline at Social Ads Tool. And, yes, in the past, I have Liked things related to “The Walking Dead”.

But “The Walking Dead” in German? That perplexes me a bit.

Perhaps Facebook has only so many “The Walking Dead” pages for me to Like, therefore it’s presenting all of them. Perhaps Facebook somehow knows that I follow NeinQuarterly on Twitter, and that I have retweeted and favorited several of NeinQuarterly’s tweets. (Side note: NeinQuarterly is a twitter account posting things that have a specifc German humor to them, which I find hilarious and to which my wife went “Oh, that explains so many things” when I told her about it.)

Or perhaps, and the scariest thought of all, Facebook knows of my secret German past, in which I took German in college, four semesters of it, four straight Ds. Yet I was determined to learn it so that I could understand what the hell Hans Gruber, et al, were saying in “Die Hard”. Oh yeah, that’s not a joke. That’s the reason I took German.

No matter the reason, it vaguely creeps me out that I’m being stalking by a German “The Walking Dead” Facebook page.

“Billy”: A Short Story

This is a story I wrote back in 2006 and that was published online by a webzine called Dark Fire Fiction. The goal I was trying to achieve was to completely creepy the reader out in under 1000 words. I don’t know if I succeeded in creeping out any readers, but I certainly creeped out myself.

I hope you enjoy it and are as creeped out reading it as I was writing it.

 

Billy

By Scott Lyerly

© 2006

The old house gently sloped up the hill away from the road. Full, blossoming pear trees lined the driveway like benevolent centurions keeping guard. The prospective couple tried vainly to hide smiles of anticipation as the real estate agent showed them the property, with the aging oak floorboards squeaking underfoot. The historic colonial was exactly what they had been hoping to find.

Moving day went well, save the minor scratches on a dresser and a single broken teacup. The moving company worked quickly and efficiently, loading and unloading everything with half a day’s time. The happy new homeowners understood perfectly and did everything they could to help, which meant staying out of the way.

As the new family began to settle in, they noticed a few odd things that had not come up during the pre-purchase inspection. At certain times during the day, a noticeable draft moved freely and quickly through the house, causing the chills even in the heat of the summer. Despite exhaustive searching, the father could not find the cause.

Then little things began disappearing. A pair of scissors here. A teacup there. A shoe. One sock. Eyeglasses. Nuisances, really, and nothing more. But slowly and surely, the new family began to wonder if their house might be haunted.

The youngest son was only five years old. A rambunctious child, he made it his mission to terrorize his older brothers and sisters by scaring them from dark closets, stealing their toys, or kicking at them from behind. He would pounce upon his unsuspecting victims, wreak havoc, then run away, his high-pitched giggles echoing through the house. He feared nothing.

Early one morning, six months after the move, the father came shuffling down the hallway, destined for a cup of coffee, when he spotted his youngest son asleep in the hallway by the door to his bedroom. Surprised, but not really, he knelt down and shook his son gently.

“What are you doing out here, kiddo?”

The youngest son rubbed his sandy eyes.

“Billy told me to sleep out here.”

“Who?”

“Billy.”

The father looked at his son quizzically, assuming some kind of game or make-believe friend, and brushed it off.

“Okay,” he said and continued toward the kitchen.

The next morning, his slippers softly zipping along the wooden floor, he once again found his son sleeping by the doorway outside of his room. He stopped short, feeling the first pang of fear.

Once again, the boy answered: “Billy.”

“Who’s Billy?” asked the father, but the youngest son refused to say anything.

After a third morning of finding his son asleep in the hallway, the father decided it was time to put an end to the issue. The boy had become quiet and mellow, much to the relief of his mother, but the father remained concerned. That night, he slept in the boy’s bedroom instead of the boy.

In the morning, the mother, less graceful when sleepy, stumbled down the hallway using the walls for support. She yawned and stretched and stopped short when she saw her husband asleep in the hallway.

He started awake at her touch and refused to discuss what had happened, except to say, “Billy told me to sleep in the hallway. It’s his room.”

They stopped using the room that day.

Many years later, when the father was old and gray and the youngest son was now a father twice, the family gathered together for a large reunion. The father approached eighty-five and the party had been planned for some time. The invitations mailed out to the neighborhood and most showed up with past memories or old pictures and tokens from bygone days.

Historic photos of the town and the houses and families made their way through many hands, greasy from the hamburgers. People gathered around the pictures, impressed by how far the town had come and amused at the old-fashioned styles. The father was having a wonderful time until one particular picture fell into his hands.

He cried out and the guests came running.

With a shaky hand he gave the picture to the youngest son, who looked at it and went ashen.

The picture revealed a family gathered together in front of the foundation of what would become their new house. It held all the accoutrements: stern-looking father; prim, proper looking mother; three children, the youngest of which was a boy. He wore an impish grin that seemed to grow wider, the teeth sharper as they stared at him.

“Oh,” said a neighbor. “The O’Connell family. Suffered a terrible loss. Youngest boy died from polio, right here in this house. Tragic, really. Can’t remember his name, though.”

“Billy,” the father whispered hoarsely, watching the eyes of the boy in the picture, as they grew narrow, making him look, with his wide mouth and sharp teeth, like an animal.

Excel Geeking: Backdoor Into Your Excel Files

When I’m building a spreadsheet application, invariably I have to have a routine that initializes the application. Often times I have sheets I need to hide from the end user. These are usually sheets full of configuration settings or system tables, things like that. I might also have toolbars that call certain functions or routines. I might have password protection on some of the sheets. You get the idea.

What I usually do is to add a small function that allows me to crack open the full workbook without having to go into the code itself to open everything up.

I start by putting an empty file of some sort in the same directory location as the application workbook. I’ll call it something like “debug.ini” or “password.txt” or “backdoor.ini” or something similar. It can actually be anything really. The file won’t hold anything, it just needs to be present.

debug_ini

Once the file is in place, you can add the code below as a function in a module. If you’re following any of the practices from “Professional Excel Development” by Bullen, Bovey, and Green, then you’d probably stick this in a module called MSystemCode. But it’s totally up to you.

Function bDebugMode() As Boolean
' Description: This checks the whether the application should be opened in debug mode.
'
' Author: Scott Lyerly
' Contact: scott.c.lyerly@gmail.com
'
' Name: Date: Init: Modification:
' bDebugMode 21-Nov-2013 SCL Original development
'
' Arguments: None
'
' Returns: Boolean TRUE = success, FALSE = failure
'

' Review the length of the path and file name of the debug file using Dir.
If Len(Dir(ThisWorkbook.Path & "\debug.ini")) = 0 Then
' The the lenght is zero (0), the file does not exist and
' we are not in debug mode.
bDebugMode = False
Else
' If the length is greater than zero (0), we are in debug mode.
bDebugMode = True
End If

End Function

I’ve got plenty of comments in the code, so I don’t think I need to break it down further here.

Once this function is in place, add the code below to the Workbook_Open event so that it fires whenever the file is opened.

Private Sub Workbook_Open()

' Check if the application is in debug mode.
' If it is not, initialize the application for the user.
If Not bDebugMode Then
InitializeApplication
Else
' If we are in debug mode, open the file up and unprotect the Demand tab.
OpenFileForDevelopment
End If

End Sub

You can see that I have two branches this application can go down. One is to proceed as normal, with the application not opening in debug mode. I typically call the routine for that branch something like “InitializeApplication”. It’s where I store all the code I want to run before the user can use the file.

The second branch might be called “OpenFileForDeveloment”. This is the branch to go down when I want to unhide everything, unprotect everything, and prevent user interface items like toolbars from being created.

Using this practice, I can open the file in a user mode or a debug/development mode without touching a single line of code.

Weird Tales Is Opening Its Doors

Ever wanted to appear in a magazine along side names like Peter S Beagle, Brian Lumley, or even possibly Stephen King?

Well now is your chance!

weirdtales

Weird Tales is opening itself up to submissions this Friday (11/22/2013). And it looks like it might stay open for a while.

A new submissions editor has taken the reigns and is looking for your weirdest short stories.

And while they’ll consider any weird short story you’ve got, they have a couple of themes in mind:

  1. Tesla. Yeah, that’s right, the guy who invented the radio. (Okay, maybe not invented the radio, but had a strong part to play in the development of wireless transmission). Stories with him as a central character, or at least a focus.
  2. Ice. If it’s frozen, they want it. Whether it’s a Hoth-like planet or a Hoth-like meat locker.

Check out the link for more info: http://weirdtalesmagazine.com/2013/11/19/opening-to-fiction-sub/

Sum Assemblee Rekwired

My mom was up for a visit this past weekend. It was good to see her, and she always enjoys seeing the kids. We did an early Christmas gift exchange while she was here so that she could see the kids open their gifts. And of course, she may have brought an item or two up for the whole family.

One of the things she brought was a solar powered snowman globe. It’s an outdoor decoration, the kind you stick on a pole in your garden, let the sun power it up, and it glows different colors at night.

It’s a nice holiday decoration and the kids in particular love it. It changes color every two or three seconds or so.

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Confession time: what I loved most about it were the instructions. Cause I laughed. Out loud.

As I started to read through them, I stated to notice an error or two. I thought, well, not terribly well proofread, but whatever. Except the errors didn’t stop. They kept coming. To the point where I had to get my red pen out and have some fun.

For a one page sheet of instructions, I counted ten errors. I may have missed some. Below is a picture. Have a look and see if there was anything else I missed.

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Versioning Your Ebooks

While reading a Robert B Parker ebook last year, I noticed this in the front matter:

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“V3.0_r2”. To my systems eye, this means version 3, release 2.

It struck me as a little odd to have a version/release number at first. But then I thought of it like a printing history rather than something more traditionally associated with version history. Something like software perhaps. Or Star Wars movies.

(I got a whole post somewhere in my head about how Lucas didn’t treat his movies like movies, but more like software releases. Maybe someday it will get out of my head and onto the page.)

I’m not sure yet that adding version numbering to your ebooks matters. For example, if I learned that this particular book was now in release 3, or version 4, what would I do with that info? Would I email or call the publisher, angrily demanding the latest version?

Probably not.

So what does this mean to you (or at least, to me) as a self-publisher? I think for now it means take it or leave it. In my books, I chose to add it. Again, not sure what I’ll do with it. I suppose if I decided that there was some major textual screw-up that needed fixing, I might increment the version and off those who purchased the faulty previous version an upgrade.

Except, how would I confirm their purchase?

Plus, of you’re putting out a new revision of a self-published ebook, Amazon lets you label something as edition 1 or edition 2. It’s right there in the “wizard” Amazon uses to guide you through the publishing process.

Like I said above, I can’t see how this matters to anyone but the person putting the ebook together. In my case, that’s me. So at least I’ll always know which version I’ve released online.

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