Dragon Naturally Speaking

I just purchased the new software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. I have been working with it for just a short while. Actually, only about an hour. This blog post is the first sizable bit of writing that I have done with it.

I decided to purchase the software mostly because I broke my arm last weekend. Typing with one hand is quite slow and rather annoying. I had been thinking about purchasing Dragon Naturally Speaking in order to increase my output as a writer because I felt like my hands kept getting in the way of my thought processes when I’m writing. Then I broke my arm.

It is quite awkward to talk and try to keep track of where my punctuation goes. I am getting the hang of it pretty quick and things seem to be slowly coming together. I will say that this program is quite accurate so far. I haven’t really come across anything that is not working very well. I do go back and double check spelling and punctuation, and things like that, just because I’m not saying them correctly yet. For the most part I’m pretty impressed.

I have the premium version that I purchased on Amazon for about $75. The only drawback was the headset that came with the software didn’t work, and I had to purchase a separate headset with a USB connection.

Since breaking my arm I have a whole new appreciation for anyone who has limited use of a hand. This limitation really brings challenges that you never would think about on a day-to-day basis. Things such as opening a bottle, or putting on your pants, or tying your shoes. I also found that typing is extremely challenging, and things that took me just a few minutes to type now take me twenty. Finding this software has made my life simpler. So, I’m looking forward to continuing the test on this software. I let you know how it all works out.

Leap

During the month of February I joined a group of writers in a writing challenge. The gist of it was to write everyday for the month of February with the end result being that good habits will continue through the rest of the year. Today is the final day of that challenge and for this last day I set a challenge for everyone to write a flash fiction or a short short story using the following 8 words:

  • Leap
  • Jump
  • Fly
  • Year
  • Day
  • Crazy
  • Fun
  • Write

Without further adieu…

Come to the Beach

The breeze off the ocean pulls my hair back out of my eyes. Trying to write on the beach is not always easy, but today I think it’s in my favor. My papers jump and, chased by the gust, I watch a leaf fly across the sand . This year has been much like the leaf. What was it like before? I try to recall. I think I was fun at one time, maybe even a little bit crazy, but those days are past.

I close my binder and take one last look before I leave. The salt fills my nose with a chill and my hair tangles on the buckle of my bag. It is happening again, I can feel it crawl up my spine. I’m going to change someone’s life today. I never know who, nor how, but whenever I get that itchy feeling I know it’s coming.

Once I gave my lottery numbers to someone and they won. I read about a mugging the next day. Another time I stopped to pet a cat along side a road, then it took a leap over the curb. One day I left my shoes at the top of the stairs. He never saw the bottom. Those are the ones that get me. Those are the ones that make this all so unbearable.

Today I will change someone’s life. I have been warned, and so have you. Tomorrow I’ll return to this spot to see the wind chase a new leaf across the sand. Would you like to join me?

Opinion – Harper Lee

With Harper Lee’s death there is already speculation about her writing and if it should have been (or should be) published. There are discussions about the publishing houses and if they preyed on an elderly woman with dementia. Was her state of mind lucid enough to suddenly publish Go Set a Watchman? I do not have an answer to this question, but I do know a little bit about the elderly.

Over the past 5 years I watched my father slowly lose his mental faculties to age related dementia. There were days he was his old self, full of jokes and laughter. Then there were the days he thought he was at his childhood summer home wondering where his brother and sister were. It was his good days that threw me off balance, so much so that I thought he was back and we didn’t have to worry anymore. It was his good days that made all the rest bearable. It was his good days that gave me a false sense of “normal.”

If I had to guess, it may have been during one of those good days (sometimes they last for days and weeks at a time) that Harper Lee was cleverly duped into signing the rights over. Maybe it was a series of good days. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

One thing I feel is true, as a writer, if there is anything I never want published – I’ll destroy any and all copies, forms, ideas, and outlines of said story while I have the mind to do it. “Horrors!” You might say, “What if you change your mind?” If, what I wrote before (and deleted) is good enough, or fills my heart enough to finish, I will find the words again. I will find the story again. Plus, it will probably be much better the second time around.

Harper Lee should have destroyed any manuscripts she really didn’t want published. If she disliked Go Set a Watchman so much, she should have burned it. Why? Ultimately, it is our responsibility as writers to protect our work, because those that prey on the weak and debilitated will pounce the moment we can’t stop them. It is our work and our choice about publication. Period.

Welcome 2016

We just crossed into a new year…are you excited? If you said, “YES!” then I’m with you. I am really looking forward to this year and what secrets it holds.The future is never certain, but I will make the best of it. My plan for 2016 is pretty simple; publish my debut novel The Manx. This book has been in the works for a few years and kept on the back burner while I dug down into the craft of writing. Developing character and story arcs, along with structure and plot are all necessary for developing a good book, but when I started The Manx I knew nothing about writing a book and soon discovered that it needed a little work.

Since its inception (around 2013), I have kept it safely on the shelf just waiting for the day I had enough confidence (and know-how) to pull it back out and dive in. The Manx is coming out to play and its going to be awesome! If you like fairy tales this will be your kind of read. I won’t reveal any more right now, but look to future posts as I introduce you to the Isle of Man and its people, the Manx.

Until then, enjoy the beginnings of this new year. Make your resolutions. Keep them or not. No matter what, make the best of everything that happens this year. It will be the one, and only, time you get to live 2016.

99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

When a Character Dies

A few weeks ago my husband and I watched Guardians of the Galaxy which is a slap stick sort of movie about a man who is determined to be a hero and save the universe, no matter what. The movie itself was light, and between fights, explosions, and narrow escapes the hero, Peter Quill, struggles with his past. (**WARNING** there are spoilers in this post).

In the opening scene, Peter Quill is a young boy in a hospital room with his dying mother. It is his birthday. She beckons him to come closer to give him his gift. Through his father’s encouragement he does take it but cannot open it before she dies. He runs from the hospital distraught. In the next scene he is a grown man fighting the evil forces of the universe still carrying his unopened birthday gift in his go-bag.

What is it about this opening scene that has me in a bit of a twist? The dying mother. Why? As writers, some of us feel this need to have a person die in our stories and, in general, that is ok. It adds tension, emotion, action, a plot twist, but as writers are we all thinking about how this could effect our readers? Do we write in a death without considering what that death might mean to someone outside of the characters in the story?

Early in November I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It hit me like a blizzard of boulders. Every emotion, thought, and feeling about cancer lead me to death’s door. The inner anxiety was deeply palatable. “Will I see my children grow? Will I see my son become a renowned musician? Will I read my daughter’s first published book? I’m going to die! No, I’m not going to die! I can’t die! I’m not ready to die!” On and on this inner dialog went, unrelentingly frightening. Now, it is March and I am more than half way through chemo treatments, awaiting surgery and radiation therapy, yet the inner voices have calmed down and I know I will remain among the living for many years to come.

In the opening scene of the dying mother in Guardians of the Galaxy she has cancer. She bore the ultimate symbol of a cancer patient, baldness. This scene was so quick, yet it hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. That could be me.  I have cancer and seeing a scene of someone dying from cancer was very unsettling. All of those emotions came rolling over me again and I asked myself, “Why couldn’t she have died in a car accident instead?” Yet, if she had died in a car accident, wouldn’t it hit someone else the same way and then they would have asked, “Why couldn’t she have died from cancer?”

My point is to ask you, the writer, to be aware of your reader and what tragedies may have touched their lives. When you add a scene of a dying mother, father, son, or best friend, be sure to consider the scene carefully. Think of your reader who may have stood by as their father tragically slipped away from Alzheimer’s, or a mother who lost the battle with breast cancer as her children helplessly watched. Bear in mind the pain and suffering that a loss brings in the real world, then when a character dies in your story give consideration to that death. Recognize that your character may have had a family, and give homage to their loss in some way. Peter Quill came to grips with his mother’s death and finally, after many years, opened his birthday present from her. By doing this the screen, the writers brought his mother’s death to a gentle and loving close. They honored not only the character, but the audience as well.

Crossing the Yampa

Since November I have not written one word. It has been a dry spell to say the least. Then I received an email  from Chuck Wendig’s blog with a flash fiction challenge. Just the kick in the pants I needed to write something….anything.

Finding a subject was a simple matter of choosing two arbitrary numbers from 1 to 20 and use those two numbers to match to two subject lists then write a flash fiction piece of less than 2,000 words. So, from the two lists I got Extraterrestrial and Wild West.

____________________ Crossing the Yampa _________________

The wagon train had left her station hours ago. She had worked through the rest of the day cleaning the horse dung and the human stench from the walls. Once a month they came through, sometimes twice in a month, and Margo never got used to it. The humans had a smell about them that reminded her of the dead rats she found in the barn sometimes.

Satisfied, she went back upstairs then out the window to sit on the roof. This is where she spent most of her time staring into the sky wishing for home. In the years spent in the southern hemisphere she could see her home cluster in the night sky, but here in the north she could only see the local sun. Only ten more years and she could go back south. Ten more years of being in this dust bowl serving the wagon trains that kept pushing to the west carrying those petty humans into the frontier.

Stirring out of her own mind she turned to go back inside. Mid-stride Margo met the blunt end of a shotgun in the gut. “Hello Margo. Been a long time wouldn’t you say?”

“Kate. What in tarnation are you doing here? How did you find me?”

“You are a slippery one Margo. I’ve been hunting you for the past couple of centuries. I have to admit you found yourself one hell of a place to hide. How did you find this dump anyway?”

Pushing past her, Margo went back through the window. “Believe it or not, I crashed here. Been stranded for at least a couple hundred years.”

“Come on Margo. You can’t expect me to believe that you, our top pilot, crashed on this rock. You’ll need a better excuse than that.”

“You know me Kate. Weird shit happens.”

“Weird shit my ass. Is that your excuse for the string of dead bodies you left all over the home cluster? Is that your excuse for decimating Corkerelle? Give me a break.”

Margo couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. “You have no idea do you Kate? You have spent all this time looking for me and never stopped to wonder if it was really me? Wake up Kate. Look around you. What do you see?”

“What are you talking about Margo?”

“I’ve been here for eons watching these humans scrape across their globe. They drag their sorry souls over the land and darken every corner of it. Right now, they drive their wagon trains out west in a thirst for riches and in their wake; they leave only a stench and rot. Did you smell the trash heap on your way in? Did you see what they do? Doesn’t it look even a little familiar? How long ago did Corkerelle happen? Think about it Kate, could I, one solitary being really destroy an entire planet? Think back, Kate. Remember what it smelled like?”

The shotgun began to weigh more than Kate remembered when she first pointed it at Margo. “They came here, didn’t they? They came here to do it all over again didn’t they?”

“Oh, they’ll try alright, but there will be bloody hell to pay before they can cross the Yampa.”

*****

The humans had celebrated that night once they arrived at the edge of the Yampa. It had been a long trek across the eastern plains and everyone was ready for fresh water and time to dance. They had made it. Living to see the Yampa River was all they had prayed for and here they were. Couples clapped and danced to the fiddler’s tune late into the night.

The warmth of the rising sun pushed the gentle breeze through the camp. The air licked at the canvas capes that draped each wagon ruffling the bare threads. The horses had long left the area along with the cattle. A few stray dogs were all that remained behind. A breeze carried the echoes from the night’s celebration leaving silence in its place.

Iron from the wagons took the longest to disassemble, after the humans. It was in their coding to tend to the biomasses first then the iron and other non-living items brought by the humans. The bots did their job then marched back into the water and waited. The next wagon train was due in just a week. They needed time to recharge.