Special Offer for “How It Ends”

I’m off for a little bit of R&R with the fam, so you won’t see any new posts for a bit.

But, in the meantime, to help you fill your summer reading gaps, I’ve got How It Ends on special this week. You can pick it up for $1.99 this week, which is 50% off the regular price. Pick it up today and enjoy!

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Excel Geeking: Using VBA And ADO To Change Data to SharePoint Lists

I don’t get a ton of hits on this blog. But for the hits I do get, most them are focused on the Excel stuff. And of the Excel stuff, one of the most popular is Using VBA and ADO To Pull Data From SharePoint Lists. Because of this, I felt the need for a follow-up post, a sequel as it were. In the first post, I laid out the basic code to pull data from SharePoint using VBA. Could I do the same this to push data to SharePoint?

The short answer is no.

This proved to be an interesting topic to research. There actually isn’t a lot of material written on how to use SQL, ADO, and VBA to change data in a SharePoint list. Plenty of posts on pulling data, it’s a pretty basic SELECT statement. Fair less on things like INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE.

I started off taking the VBA from the previous post and modifying it so that it would become one of the other three. As a matter of public disclosure, I should note that I only tried this with INSERT and DELETE. I didn’t try it with UPDATE, largely because I’ve never been a big fan of UDPATE. I find it less troublesome to use DELETE/INSERT with databases, with the DELETE containing criteria managed by a WHERE clause, than I do trying to find the right keys to isolate the correct record and then fire off an UPDATE query. This probably makes me a lazy coder, but given that I’m not a DBA, when it comes to databases I’m usually flying by the seat of my pants and using Google as my flight instruction manual.

Okay, so here is the code I tried:

 


Public Const sDEMAND_ROLE_GUID As String = "InsertYourGuidHere"

Public Const sSHAREPOINT_SITE As String = "https://yoursharepointsite.sharepoint.com/agsinwhateveryoursiteis/"


Sub TestDeleteFromSharepoint()


Dim cn As ADODB.Connection

Dim sConn As String

Dim sSQL As String


sConn = "Provider=Microsoft.ACE.OLEDB.12.0;WSS;IMEX=1;RetrieveIds=Yes;" & _

" DATABASE=" & sSHAREPOINT_SITE & ";" & _

"LIST=" & sDEMAND_ROLE_GUID & " ;"


Set cn = New ADODB.Connection


sSQL = "DELETE * FROM [Demand Role] as tbl WHERE tbl.[Role]='BA';"

 

With cn

.ConnectionString = sConn

.Open

.Execute sSQL, , adCmdText

.Close

End With

Set cn = Nothing

End Sub

And the result:

could not delete

What about INSERT INTO?

Sub TestInsetIntoSharepoint()

 

Dim cn As ADODB.Connection

Dim sConn As String

Dim sSQL As String


sConn = "Provider=Microsoft.ACE.OLEDB.12.0;WSS;IMEX=1;RetrieveIds=Yes;" & _

" DATABASE=" & sSHAREPOINT_SITE & ";" & _

"LIST=" & sDEMAND_ROLE_GUID & " ;"

Set cn = New ADODB.Connection


sSQL = "INSERT INTO [Demand Role] ([Role]) VALUES ('BA');"


With cn

.ConnectionString = sConn

.Open

.Execute sSQL, , adCmdText

.Close

End With

Set cn = Nothing

End Sub

 

And the result:

opertation must be

Based on the results above, you would think the long answer to this is idea of changing SharePoint data using VBA would be a flat no as well, right? Well, it’s kind of no. But kind of yes.

Here’s the thing with SharePoint lists: you link them to Access as tables. It’s incredibly simple to do. In Access, you go to External Data, use the drop down to choose SharePoint Lists, plug in your SharePoint site and click Next. Access will go out to SharePoint, get the available lists, and present them to you in a dialog box where you can choose whichever table you want. Once you choose the table and finish out the connection, you have a linked table in Access from SharePoint in which you can update data.

I’ll say that again. You can update your data in Access, and it updates in the SharePoint list.

Which makes the long answer less yes and no and more “kinda”. Because, while you can’t update the SharePoint list in SharePoint directly with VBA, you can certainly update the linked table in Access using VBA. But this begs the question: why? Why would you have your data resident in a SharePoint list and linked into an Access database? Why not just have it in Access? This is a question I can’t answer, maybe somebody out there wiser than I can. But for now, without going into all the nitty-gritty details about how to do it, this is the setup you need to have in order to update a SharePoint list using Excel VBA and ADO.

 

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 7 – What’s Next

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It EndsI talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It EndsI talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It EndsI talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It EndsI talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

In Part 5 of the History of How It EndsI talked about how I finally got over my fear and procrastination and made the decision to self-publish.

In Part 6 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about the mechanics of self-publishing.

This is the final installment in the History of How It Ends posts. For me, it’s been an interesting exercise in revisiting all of the effort that went into a single book. I imagine it’s both harder and easier for other writers, given that everyone’s process is different. I used to think that process was the magic skeleton key, that if I found the right one, I’d suddenly be able to churn out high-quality story after story with the greatest of ease. The truth of the matter is that, for the majority of writers, high-quality stories don’t just appear, they have to be crafted, and that takes consistent work. I say “consistent” because that’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome, namely my ability to “grasshopper” the work.

This ability to put off until tomorrow what I should be doing today is one of the primary reasons How It Ends took me six or seven years to write, edit, and publish. Editing alone became such an onerous task that I couldn’t stand to look at the manuscript anymore, and it was only in the moments when I felt a more compulsive need than desire to edit did I pick up the red pen.

This ability is also why the work on How It Ends isn’t done yet.

What’s Next

swlogoThe next thing that I have to do is to get How It Ends out there in ALL formats. Right now, I’ve only got it on Amazon, available for Kindle. What I really need to do is to put it on Smashwords, which will make it available to be pushed to B&N, iTunes, I can even output it as a PDF and have it available for purchase on this blog. Smashwords calls the process the “meat grinder”, which feels about right. The story goes in, preferably as a Word doc, and out come all the different ebook formats. Plus, by putting it on Smashwords, I can control the price point better on Amazon. How? Read my musings on this topic here.

What’s kept me from really getting going with Smashwords is their, if not insistence, then at least strong recommendation that you read through their style guide first so that your book doesn’t get rejected. Their 110 page style guide. Here’s where Amazon does a lot better than Smashword. Amazon, as I outlined yesterday, is two step process. Smashword requires me to pick through their style guide, large chunks of which don’t apply to me because the guide covers Word documents and EPUB formats, before I really get going. Again, it’s not a requirement, but by circumventing the process you risk looking like a newb.

So Smashwords is next. This will be in two parts. The first is to get the How It Ends omnibus up there and out to the other venues. The second will be to get Part One of How It Ends up there and priced to zero. Once priced to zero, my hope is that readers will find it and keep finding it because it’s a zero cost that floats to the top, and after reading Part One, will buy the remainder of the book.

This would wrap up the ebook side of things. But what of the physical book?

logo-csp-no-tmAmazon has a program now that allows you to take your finished work and create it as a physical book. It’s called CreateSpace. I haven’t spent too much time researching this yet, but it’s on my list of things to do. One of the things I have seen and that appeals to me is that indie publishing on CreateSpace gives you the opportunity to push your book out to other venues, like funneling it out through Baker & Taylor’s catalogues to libraries. It increases the “discoverability” of your book.

CreateSpace also lets you buy your own book at a pretty good discount. So if I were to put my salesman hat on, I could buy 50 copies of my own book and haul them around to places asking people if they wanted to buy them. Who knows who might pick up a copy and discover it? Mayby Stephen Spielberg will be filming his next movie in my town. You never know.

The last thing I need to do is get the word out more about the book. This is also something on which I’ve dragged my feet. I’m not a terribly good self-promoter. It makes me uncomfortable. It feels like bragging, and that’s so not my style. I’m an introvert at heart, so to have to shout about my accomplishments to total strangers–heck, even friends–is not in my wheelhouse. But there again, if I don’t take charge of it, no one will. So I need to get the word out more.

How will I do this? I’ll start with reviews. There are a number of blogs and websites that review sci-fi books and ebooks. Some of them get a lot of readership, and some of them push their reviews to Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N. There’s a danger in that, of course. I’ve done the best I could with How It Ends, which doesn’t mean somebody else will like it. A negative review can certainly happen.

In addition to online websites and blogs, Kirkus Review offers to review books. It’s a total cash cow for them, because you have to pay for the review, but you’re guaranteed a review. Again, you’re not guaranteed a good review, but if you pay them they will review it. Once they finish, you get to review their review and decide if you really want them to publish it. It’s not cheap, running something like $425, but it can be another great way to get your book (and your name) out there.

That’s about it. That’s the story of How It Ends, from concept to published ebook. I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts. I’ve certainly enjoyed the trop down memory lane. Off to finish editing my next book, which might be out by this fall, if I focus.

Hope you’re in the mood for hard-boiled crime fiction!

nameless-detective

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 6 – The Mechanics of Self-Publishing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

In Part 5 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I finally got over my fear and procrastination and made the decision to self-publish.

This post is all about the mechanics of publishing a book on Amazon. It probably won’t be that interesting, but it’s all part and parcel of the process.

Formatting the File

Once the file was done, I had to prep it for being in a Kindle-readable format. There are several different ways you can do this. I choose the lazy way: I saved a copy of the file as an HTML file and used that. But it was only part laziness. Some of it frustration with with my computer.

CaptureThere is a program out there that converts files to Kindle-ready formats such as MOBI. It’s called Calibre. All you need to do is to take your Word document and save it as an HTML file. Then you add it to your e-book collection in Calibre. Once it’s in Calibre, you can select the file you added and convert it. You have a lot of options to choose from. Kindle, Sony ereader, etc. I had used it to convert the HTML file for The Girl In The Red Hoodie.

Why didn’t I use Calibre for Part One of How It Ends? That’s where the frustration kicked in. I didn’t use it because it stopped working. I tried to convert the HTML file to a MOBI file and Calibre coughed. I don’t think this was due to the program being a bad program, I think it had everything to do with the fact that my laptop is a piece of dog-poo that runs erratically and often shuts down in the middle of whatever I’m doing. So for the serialized pieces, I used the straight HTML file. (I’ve since installed the newer version of Calibre and it’s back in action again.)

Why didn’t I just take the time to reinstall Calibre when I first ran into the problem? Momentum. I did all of the publishing work at night after the kids went to bed. Took me a couple of hours to get it all set. If I had stopped or slowed down, all the momentum I had from making the final decision to self-publish would have been lost, and I would have walked away.

Using the straight HTML file worked just as well, but with the html file, you can’t really embed your own set of tags in the file. When you convert it from HTML to MOBI using Calibre, you have the option to give it an unlimited number of tags. This is one of the recommendations Abby got from the course she took on self-publishing. Use the tags as often as you can. Because they help drive people to your book, even if you can’t see the tags in the final product. That, and the fact that when you’re giving your book official tags during the publishing process, Amazon limits you to seven.

The Cover

Outside of the editing, putting together the cover might have been the biggest challenge. It takes so much thought given that it is the face of your book. If it looks like crap, no one will be interested, and therefor no one will buy it. Moreover, if it looks like crap, you look like crap, like you shortcut the process.

I spent a lot of time looking at science fiction covers, and book covers in general. I wanted to get a feel for how covers had been treated in the past and try to get mine at least in the ballpark of how they look. The big challenge with covers is that anything you pick up I a store has a cover done by a professional cover or graphic designer, someone who knows the tools of the trade and (in theory) the reasons why covers work or don’t work. People go to school for this stuff.

51dxvm+yc2LGiven that I did not go to design school, I had to make it up as I went. I also spent time looking at the covers of books I know were self-published. Some of them are terrible. You can tell that the author was doing it on their own. Some were really good. One set of covers that struck me as solid were the covers for the Blood and Absinthe series my friend Abby writes as Chloe Hart. It’s a pretty solid set of covers with just a single image on a plain gray background and the author and title in a font you can read. That’s what I wanted mine to look like. Except, you know, not vampires.

I bought the images I used for the covers from one of two sites, iStockphoto and Shutterstock. Depending on what was happening in that particular part of the serial I was about to publish, a photo from one or the other of these two sites usually fit the bill.

The next was to find a font that worked. This also proved to be a huge challenge. You can go to free font sites like dafont and browse literally hundreds of individual fonts. The real trick is whether they work for the cover. Even if it looks cool on the site, and even if you test it out on the site (there’s usually a text field where you can type in test text to see what it will look like rendered in that font), you just never know how it will look when you have it splashed across the cover of your book. I went through at least ten different font s before settling on one. And I do mean settling. None of them, as I was publishing the serial, really did the trick for me.

I should mention here that, during the publishing process, Amazon offers a free “Cover Creator.” This is a wep app that let’s you choose from a couple of preset templates. I looked at all if them and found they just didn’t got the tone.

Once I had the image and the font, I had to put them together. I used an old copy of PhotoShop to put them together. I know just enough PhotoShop to be dangerous, and with the first pass of the covers, I think it probably shows.

For the final omnibus edition, I took an idea I’d had for years and put it together. The idea was to have a close up of a robot’s face and a girl reflected in his eye. It was in the final minus edition that the cover came together the way I wanted it to. It looks like it was (might have been) designed by a professional. I’m finally pleased with one of them.

The Upload

Once I had the format done and the cover ready, it was time to upload.

The process for publishing your book on Amazon is actually a pretty straightforward process. Yes, you may hit a snag when you try to price something at $0.25, or when you have your heart set on eight tags and you realize you only get seven. But outside of that, it’s pretty easy.

There are two sections. The first is where you enter all of the attribute information about your book and upload the book file and cover image. The second is the pricing page. That’s it. Set it all up and press Publish. Then spend the next day checking Amazon every fifteen minutes to see if the book is available yet (it can take up to 24 hours for your book to appear.). That’s all there is to it.

Tomorrow: The final post in this series. What’s next after publication.

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 5 – The Decision to Self-Publish

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_Cover

In Part 1 of the History of How It EndsI talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It EndsI talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

In Part 3 of the History of How It EndsI talked about the onerous task of editing the beast.

In Part 4 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about how I procrastinated about which direction I should go in trying to get the novel published.

It was a long a difficult decision to self-publish How It Ends on my own.  I found myself so terrified of making a mistake when I published it that I didn’t do anything at all. If I had to describe this, I’d called it “self-publication constipation”. I felt like the quality of the publishing would be a direct reflection on the book, and eventually on me, and if I produced something that was total crap, then I’d never get a second look by anybody.

So I decided to test the waters a bit. I took a short story (like, really short. Like fourteen pages short.) and put it on Amazon. I created a cover in an old version of PhotoShop and packaged the whole thing up. I posted it online. That was when I hit the first reality check. Price point.

For fourteen pages, I wanted to charge a quarter. After all, it’s only fourteen pages, and it’s the kind of material that doesn’t appeal to everyone, sort of a slasher short, so I had planned to charge twenty-five cents. I was a little dismayed to find out that I couldn’t. The best I could to was to charge $.99 for the story. I couldn’t go lower than that. Already, out of the gate, I was running into trouble. But I had to continue with this first effort. I had to get a sense of how it all worked, because I figured once I pulled the trigger, I was stuck.

519FXNQgakLI finally got the short story, The Girl In The Red Hoodie, published. It was a pretty proud moment. I’d finally really put my writing self out there. I was ready to go forth and conquer with How It Ends.

Except I wasn’t.

I spent the next year hemming and hawing. Like my editing, I found excuses not to sit down and go through the process of publishing How It Ends. I couldn’t afford a cover image (you can get two images on stockphoto websites for about $20), I didn’t have a final edited version (all I was doing was moving words around at this point, shuffling between thirteen different ways to say “love”), I wanted an agent (I sent out zero submissions to agents during this time frame). Lots of excuses, none of them good.

I reached back out to Paul, asking him if he’d be willing to print How It Ends, while I retained digital ownership. His answer, rightfully so, was no. Why would he waste money on a print edition when he couldn’t get any decent sales on them without having the digital edition as well? Print had become a loss leader for him, as I expect it will become for many small indie publishers in the near future.

I waited some more.

91qqolPllyL__SL1500_I don’t remember exactly when I made the decision to finally publish it, but I do know it was related to my discovery of Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey, for those who don’t know the name, made a name for himself serializing his now best selling Wool series. The series didn’t start as a series, but rather as a long short story. After having two books published by small presses, he decided to put the first story in the Wool series on Amazon himself. A few months later, there was a clamor for more. He began writing more and suddenly he had a phenomenon on his hands. And that was the point where I said “A-ha! I’ll serialize it!”. I’ve written before about how Hugh Howey is to blame for the reason I serialized How It Ends.

Before jumping forward, I ran the idea past my friend Russell. He’d been my editor for How It Ends and a sounding board for some of my ideas for years. His first question was whether I thought there were logical breaks in the story. I told him I thought there were and explained where each one would be. He considered this and replied that the breaks I had in mind would work pretty well. And, of course, since I was embarking on this self-publishing trek before he was, he was dying to know how it went.

I broke How It Ends into four distinct parts, each where I thought the most logical break would be. I reached out to Paul to let him know what I had decided. He congratulated me on the bold move and praised the decision. Turns out he had started to steer a lot of writers toward self-publishing as well, given that this seemed to be the direction the wind was blowing.

So here I was, self-publishing How It Ends, as a serial, yet again. I revved up the ol’ self-motivation engine, striped part one of How It Ends out of the main work, slapped a cover on that bad boy, and clicked Publish. Scariest damn thing I’d done all year…

Tomorrow: The mechanics of self-publishing.

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 3 – The Editing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverIn Part 1 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about where the idea for the novel came from.

In Part 2 of the History of How It Ends, I talked about what drove the writing forward and the genesis of some of the character names.

Part 3 is all about the editing. This will likely be the longest and most difficult part to write about, since this was the toughest part of putting How It Ends together.

When the final chapter of How It Ends was written, polished, and published on Silverthought, I took a big deep breath. It was more a sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe that I had actually completed what I’d set out to do, which was write a full length novel. But that relief was short lived, because I knew, written and published as is, the novel was a clunker.

kingHow It Ends needed major work. I had characters I didn’t need, scenes that didn’t belong, an internal time frame that had continuity problems, the list (in my head) ran on and on. In short, the final first finished product of How It Ends needed editing. Stephen King talks about this process in his really great book about the craft of writing, appropriately titled On Writing. It’s one of my favorite books because it has such a conversational approach to the craft, and whether you like him or hate him, he knows how to tell a story. King will be the first person to call himself “America’s Schlockmeister”, a name he once claimed he loved. I don’t know if he still does. Regardless of his “titles”, his advice on writing and editing is fantastic, partially because he gives the first draft of your novel permission to suck. He says that once you sit down with it and begin to go through it, you’ll find all kind of things wrong with it, including continuity holes “large enough to drive a truck through.” This was the case with How It Ends.

While the keyboard was still cooling, I discussed the idea of having Silverthought’s print division publish the finished novel when it was complete. Paul, owner of Silverthought, and I talked about it several times, and I was on my way toward doing that, but eventually changed my mind. More on that in a later post. Before it got to the point of printing, however, it needed to be edited.

Mark Brand, who was then even more deeply involved in the day to day operations at Silverthought, was the first editor. I spent some time cleaning up the novel, moving pieces around, patching holes. I sent this revised version to him. He went through the first compiled version and came away with a lot of notes. I took these and started to execute on them, but stopped. It just wasn’t working. I tried to get the novel into a shape I liked and kept failing. I couldn’t get basic things like plot and character to work correctly. I was writing more and more connective tissue to band-aid over the problems. It wasn’t that Mark’s direction was bad or that he offered poor guidance. He went through the novel and offered a lot of great advice, provided a ton (literally hundreds) of notes with in Word document. But it still wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t able to pull the damn thing together in a way that satisfied me.

51tfbb9lImLAt some point, and I can’t remember how the transition happened, my good friend Russell took over the editing. I think part of this was due to the heavy time commitment Mark had to devote to Thank You, Death Robot, the second Silverthought anthology, and the first for which he was entrusted as the primary editor. Russell had become an associate editor for Silverthought, so it was still being managed “in-house”. Plus, Russell had read so much of my prior material that he knew my writing style and what I was (and was not) capable of very well by that point. It also didn’t hurt that he was one of the most widely read science fiction fans I’ve ever met.

The-roadThis transition should have gone smoother. But it didn’t. Because in the middle of my current iteration of rewrite, I changed styles. Nothing makes an editor work harder than when you hand the a revised version of what they’ve already read and it’s nothing like what they’ve already read. The blame for this style change can rest squarely on the shoulder of Cormac McCarthy. I finished reading The Road that fall and the way I wrote suffered as a result. Suddenly everything had to be McCarthy-ized. I stripped sentences down. I made the book meaner. I removed nearly all the punctuation, including of course the quotation marks. It was a fire-sale on my previous style and everything had to go. Though he never complained about it, I imagine Russell probably took a look at the new version of the manuscript and thought “What the f—?”

These changes were completely unnecessary and totally my fault. I lacked any kind of confidence in my own style. I wanted to make How It Ends a Novel, not just a novel. All this change totally stalled me. I couldn’t get past them. Every time I touched How It Ends I felt like I was breaking it a little more. I questioned everything in the book and every change I made. I rewrote the beginning I don’t know how many times. It got more and more frustrating and I grew to hate the book. I couldn’t even look at it.

My frustration over the editing of what I now saw as a steaming pile reached a point one particular evening. I had finished the latest rewrite of the first few chapters and had fired it off to Russell. It was about seven in the evening. He was supposed to call me the evening and discuss it. But I was done. I hated everything I wrote, wanted nothing to do with it, and was ready to move on. I had a paper copy I’d printed out they I was red-penning, and the soft copy on the computer. I made a decision. By about seven-thirty, if I hadn’t heard from Russell, I was going to throw the paper copy in the trash and delete the file from my machine.

Russell ended up calling me around seven-fifteen. We talked a little bit about how it was going and I told him I hated everything I wrote and was ready to call it quits. It was at that moment that Russell saved How It Ends from execution. As I finished stating emphatically that I hated the latest rewrite, he said something along the lines of, “That’s funny, because as I was reading it I was thinking to myself ‘This is the best stuff Scott has ever written.'”.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked. I was. Russell went on to explain what he liked about it, which was largely in the characterization. I can’t remember how he described it. It was something about them being vividly drawn, or something like that. I do remember one of his descriptions. He said of the character of Brain Coleman, the smarmy college professor that Anita is dating, that he wasn’t drawn as a villain, because he definitely isn’t in the story, but he’s also not supposed to be a terribly likeable character without the reader flatout hating him. Rather, he’s “drawn as a douche-bag, and you let us revel in his douchey-ness without us hating the guy.” I think that might be a direct quote.

That evening was both the lowest and highest point in the process of editing How It Ends. It still took me another couple of years to get it done and completed. I work slowly, am prone to distraction, and often times can’t get over the mental hump of having to open the file and work on it some more. But if Russell had not called when he did, when I was feeling like an absolute failure as a writer, and had he not said what he said, How It Ends would never have happened. Editing was still an uphill process after that, as it took several more years to complete. But that evening phone conversation gave me enough power to pedal up the hill.

Tomorrow: Finally done! And now what?

The History of “How It Ends”: Part 2 – The Writing

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_CoverYesterday I began a series of posts around the history of writing and self-publishing How It Ends. You can read Part One of this series here.

Today’s post is all about the writing of How It Ends, and the first time I serialized it.

Once I had the basics down for the plot for How It Ends, I set about the sometimes onerous task of writing it. It was an incredibly difficult piece right. I had to construct new characters, an entire plot around those characters, and motivations for each one. I ended up with a college kid, her lovestruck boyfriend, a ruthless executive that would stop at nothing to succeed, and a brand-new robot I chose to name Gammons.

docAn interesting (and kind of lengthy) aside is how the names of these characters came into being. The original robot in “End Of Life”, Kilgore, was named in a provocative way on purpose. I remember my mother telling me that she had had a crush on Richard Chamberlain back when he was on TV as Dr. Kildare. I really like the idea of having some form of the word to kill in a doctor’s name. So in an effort to be provocative I removed the Dare and added the Gore. Thus Kilgore was born. The ruthless executive I named Eric. He was named for a manager I knew at a place I had worked before. This manager, while not willing to kill to get ahead, was still driven to succeed in away I found unhealthy. And so I named my ruthless executive character after him. The college kid I chose to name Anita. I had really no other reason for naming her Anita other than the fact that, at that time, I knew someone named Anita at a client from whom I was doing some consulting. Seemed as good a name as any.

Peter GammonsThe most unusual name I came up with was for the new robot. I struggled to come up with a name that I liked. I didn’t want something as provocative as Kilgore, but I did want something that stood out. I had nothing that worked, until one day when I looked up at the TV while I was jotting notes. Baseball Tonight was on ESPN. The sports pundit of the moment was Peter Gammons. I thought to myself, “Gammons, that’s an interesting name. I’ll use that for the time being until I can find a better one.” I never did find a better name. One of the reasons I kept it was because it sounded science fiction-y to me. It felt like a bit of a throwback to a time when everyone was afraid of gamma rays from another planet. So I kept it to keep myself grounded in science fiction, especially since How It Ends is essentially a love story with some science fiction thrown in. I still think it’s an incredibly clunky name for a character, but the character took it and made it his own and now I can’t think of ever calling him something different.

Once I had the loose structure of the plot in my head, and had written down on a couple notes on Post-It notes, I set about the task of writing. Writing has never come easy to me. I find that I have to slog my way through it. It may seem strange for a writer to say that writing doesn’t come naturally, but it simply doesn’t for me, even when I’ve been doing it regularly. I want to tell stories, but often times I don’t know if I have the energy to tell the full story before I run out of steam. In an effort to keep myself motivated, I had to come up with some method to keep myself on a deadline. Which is how I ended up serializing the novel first time.

I reached out to Paul at Silverthought and asked him what he thought about the idea of serializing this newly burgeoning novel. He answer was far more generous than it needed to be. He had had other writers start serials before, only to have them taper off unfinished. He didn’t want another instance like that, so if I was willing to agree to finish it, he’d be happy to serialize it. We came to what amounted to a gentleman’s agreement: there was no contract, no money changing hands, no consequence of me not finishing other than my having broken my word. That was enough for him, and it was enough for me. I plowed ahead with essentially my honor at stake.

The mechanics of writing the work itself were basic and fundamental. Move the characters along toward the completion of the plot without having them do something woefully out of character. Sounds easy. Except the each chapter ended up being a major effort, like a long short story each time, some beating ten thousand words. I had to write it, proof it, edit it, and present it all within a time-frame. The time-frame Paul and I agreed to was a chapter per month. That created a furious drive in me that I haven’t had since. It also cause lots of writing headaches.

Some of the challenges are the typical challenges of writing fiction. Did I screw up any of the characters? Are their motivations still clear? Are the sentences well-constructed? Are there any clunkers? Does the dialogue work, or is it written like someone who has a tin ear? These were and are the normal challenges that occur in any writing effort, but which seemed magnified when up against a deadline. But these were minor compared to my biggest problem.

You see, when writing a serial, it’s good to have a clear sense of the overall plot all the way down to the particulars. Because without it, you have to do what I did: write myself out of corners. I would write myself into corners in one chapter, only to have to try and recover it in the next. And it was not uncommon for me to write myself out of one corner, only to find I had boxed myself into a different corner. It was crazy, and it contributed to a general swelling of the novel size. I was writing on the road and in the office, anywhere I could grab some extra time. I write directly on the computer, which certainly made it faster. I can’t write anything longhand. I’ve tried. I aj ways fail at it.

By the time I had submitted the concluding piece of the serial to Paul, the overall size of the novel was near 110k words. Which could mean only one thing: editing.

Tomorrow: Editing How It Ends, and how I nearly deleted the entire story.

 

“How It Ends” – The Omnibus Edition

HIE_Serial_Omnibus_Cover

Last weekend I quietly published the omnibus e-edition of “How It Ends“. This compiles all four parts into a single edition. I’m not sure why I choose not to announce it until now. I have been updating the covers of the individual “parts” over the last week and half, maybe that’s the reason why.

Head on over to Amazon to check it out. Pick it up now for $3.95 for your Kindle, or, if you have Amazon Prime, you should be able to read it for free.

I’ll have more in the coming weeks about my experiment at serially publishing this novel. Until then, I hope you enjoy it.

The Maffetone Method – Month 8

May sucked.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way let’s take a look at the artwork:

maffetone_pace_month8

maffetone_avg_month8

As you can see, my average pace climbed way back up from where it was in April. There’s a pretty simple explanation for that: I had a lousy time running.

If you read Phil Maffetone’s “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing“, then you know that proper endurance training is comprised of three different pieces: the structural (training) part, the chemical (eating) part, and the mental part. My biggest problem wasn’t the structural part, although that wasn’t stellar. I only went on seven runs in a 31 day month. My total mileage for the month was all of 26 miles. Structurally, this wasn’t very sound.

Pace was way up whenever I went out for a run. And by up I mean down. Or however you might say it. You know what I mean. The pace that I set in April as an average was lower than the piece that I sent May. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be up or down but you get the drift. A large contributor to this slower pace was the chemical part. I ate like crap last month. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Our admin assistant at work has giant bags of candy lying around. Anybody’s welcome to them. Oh, and I did help myself. My weight was up 5 pounds, my sleep was way way off, and I generally felt like crap.

But while chemical was certainly part of the problem, it was what drove the chemical that was the real problem. Maffetone explains that the triangle that makes up endurance training is comprised of these three things equally. And under the mental side of the triangle exists stress. How stressed you are and how well you manage it is a huge contributor to whether your training well. I cannot tell a lie, work has been very stressful recently. Lot of changes, lot of things up in the air, ergo a lot of stress. With the stress, which has led to lousy nights’ sleep, and with the mental side of that triangle being so weak recently, I just haven’t had the interest in running.

I knew I was having trouble with running recently. I mentioned it previously here, as well as what I was most concerned about: loss of conditioning. I think, in reviewing May’s numbers, and in seeing how June has started out, a loss of conditioning has definitely happened. But the truth is, I just haven’t had the drive, the desire to go out and run. The alarm clock goes off and I think “Sleep. Sleep is way better than running right now.” And with that, I slap the snooze button and roll over. What’s interesting is I’m not the only one. I good friend of mine who is also a runner, a really serious runner, said to me just yesterday “I’ve lost interest.” He’s still running, but he’s got to push himself to do it.

So what to do and where to go with this? In my mind, there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but to keep pushing forward. I view this training program of Phil Maffetone’s as a grand experiment, a chance to see if, by applying his principles, I can make myself go faster and faster still while avoiding injury and keeping my stamina up and my heart rate down. Can I become a competitive runner? So onward I go. The Maffetone Method is not a quick method. It’s not a two month training program that gets you to the result you want. It’s not Couch to 5K app on your iPhone that gets you to run a 5K in eight weeks. It’s a serious training program that can take a few years for the results to be truly remarkable. And you have to apply all the principles, not just the ones you want. So in addition to actually running, I have to eat better and learn how to manage stressful situations better. The eating better has already started, and since the beginning of this past week, I’ve lost the extra five pounds I’d gained, plus one more for good measure. I’m trying to learn to manage the stress side of things, and trying to keep my head in the game, even when I have to talk myself into strapping on the shoes and getting out the door.

So what to do? Keep running.

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