Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014: Maybe This Will Work?



Chapter One: Ramaeumptom

The little boy ran out of the twilight, stomping clouds of dust from the road.

“Scoot ‘em, Pa!” he yelled as he ran. “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”

He ran it seemed at random, weaving, bouncing from one side of the street to the other, here turning a block, there returning, darting down a side street, reappearing on the main, darting again, all the time calling “Scoot ‘em, Pa!” he shouted into cellars, through open kitchen windows, through the half-moon on the privies.

And where he shouted, where he had been, men slipped from shadow to shadow, hastily donning hats, hastily shucking shirts on over their nightgowns.

The sunset, a smear of light behind the hills, brighter at the end of the long valley.

Other small boys – and even small girls, tucking their hair into caps borrowed from older brothers, took up the call, running through town until from above it appeared as if the crickets were invading, little bodies darting all over town, shouting into every barn and rain barrel.

More footfalls, more explosions of dust. Quieter, heavier footfalls. Men. Men with bundles, leaving homes, latching gates catching eyes, speaking in nods and shrugs and feet.

Men with dark lanterns, some running, some walking swiftly; walking, running from the town, up to the canyon, up to the canyon called Skutumpah.

From the direction the first boy came, two men rode into the town.

“You hear it, Thomas?” one asked the other.

At the other end of the tiny town, voices still shrilled in the darkness: “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”

“Damn,” the other said. A badge on his lapel caught a bit of moonlight.

“They run like rats,” the first said. “Ever chased them?”

“Yeah,” the other said. “Doesn’t do much good. They know the land. Chased one up the canyon a few weeks ago. Was on horseback and lost him in a stand of brush you couldn’t hide your mustache in.”

I leaned against the side of the Fort, in shadow provided by the roof and rain barrels. The two men sat on their horses not thirty feet from me. From where I stood I could see two, no, three, men of the order also hiding in shadows. Priddy Meeks hunched on the porch of the Big House. President Chamberlain watched the Big House – his house, home to his five wives – from the Relief Society Hall. Why he had not fled I could not know – but he’d been giving Harlow Wilcox a blessing and said even the devil himself couldn’t stop a man performing God’s will. And Alma Porter lay in the shadows near his forge. From the smell of it, his leather apron was beginning to char.

“Ready here, Amos.”

That was HK – H. Kimball Leithead, my best friend in the priesthood and in devilry. We blessed the Sacrament on Sundays and the rest of the week, well, did things. That tonight’s thing should involve white robes we made from linen we stole from the laundry and a few pounds of gunpowder probably should tell you something about the things we did.

I pulled the robe from my vest, put it on. The men on horseback moved to the far end of the square, chasing shadows. From other odd corners I could hear the flap of linen and a few immature bits of stifled laughter.

Then I heard the snap of a crackling fuse. HK, of course. No one else would handle the gunpowder. No one else had eyes like his that caught the spark of the fuse.

I clambered to the top of a barrel of flour HK and I had moved to the square. The marshal with the mustache must have heard my feet scrape the barrel as I climbed it, because he turned to look at me about half a second before HK set off the first pile of gunpowder. They turned their horses.

“Holy, holy God,” I shouted – it would have been better had my voice not cracked, but the marshals didn’t seem to notice – “we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy!”

The burst of gunpowder rattled the glass in the Big House windows, and I could feel the heat of the fireball on my hands and arms, raised to the sky.

“Holy God, we believe that thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by the wrath down to hell; for which holiness, O God, we thank thee!” I shouted.

More gunpowder. More balls of red and black fire. The marshals’ horses were jumping in panic. They tried to rein them.

“Hell’s bells!” the marshal with the mustache shouted as his horse whinnied and pranced, backing slowly out of the square. “Thomas, we –“

Marshal Thomas’ horse had already bolted. The marshal with the mustache wheeled his horse around and they pounded out of the square.

The air was full of smoke, and there were smaller explosions still going off.

“Amos,” HK said.

“Wait, HK, wait until we know they’re gone!”

“Amos!”

“Shut up, HK!”

Someone pushed me violently from behind. Rough arms grabbed me by the armpits and dragged me across the square.

An explosion that would have woken Alma the Younger a day early blew the three of us off our feet. Bits of charred wood rained from the sky.

I turned to look.

The barrel I had been standing on was shattered in pieces, most of them burning.

“Sorry, Amos,” HK said. “That last bit of gunpowder caught the barrel on fire. Flour inside it blew up.”

“Fire! Fire!”

President Chamberlain and Priddy Meeks appeared in the square with buckets. They doused some flames, calling “fire!” all the while, and soon others came with buckets, forming a line from the well to the square, dousing flames. A few of those with buckets, I noticed, had white robes stuffed into the backs of their trousers.

I still had my white robe on when President Chamberlain stomped up and ducked me with a bucket of water.

“Amos Cox,” he said, “That was a foolish thing to do. And nigh on blasphemous! The Rameumptom speech! Amos, if those marshals knew the rest of it, why, they’d think we’re more devils than they think already!”

I smiled despite his anger, despite the water dripping from my hair.

“They’ll tale more wild tales, down in Kanab!” he shouted, angered a bit by my smile.  “‘Those wild Mormons in Orderville, they’re the worst of the bunch! Polygamists and devil-worshippers besides!’”

“Don’t they say that already?” I asked.

President Chamberlain sucked in a great breath of air and his face grew even redder. Then he expelled his breath and a smile cracked the corners of his round face. “I suppose they do,” he said. Then laughed, slapping me on the back. “Yes, I suppose they do.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do Typos Really Matter?



cringe face photo: cringe engcringe.gif

I have, on top of my filing cabinet at work, a sheet of paper printed from a page of a hazard assessment document.

One it, towards the bottom, is an asterisk next to a bullet point that has a red ring around one word: “Hoise”. The E is crossed out, rather savagely, with a T written, rather legibly, above it.

It should be “hoist”. But it’s not.

This is a published document. It’s been out there for about a year and a half. With this rather embarrassing typo in it.

I could fix it. I could fix it in about fifteen minutes, if the document owner were handy. Fixing an editorial mistake like this is easy, per our process.

But I don’t bother. The error, pointed out by a fire protection technician, isn’t significant enough to warrant the $2.60 it would cost the company to fix it – if only my “labor” were factored in.
So I have to wonder: Do typographical errors matter?

Yes, this is coming from the Grammar Nazi, at least of this blog’s fame. And yes, this blog post is prompted by two rather silly homonymerrors I encountered in a post (the “10 Bad Apples of Digital Media” at digiday.com.

Read the article. The errors – substituting queue for cue and wreaks for reeks – would make any copy editor squirm.

But the article has been up since June 25, 2012. More than two years. And has been shared, if I’m reading things correctly, more than 3,600 times.

I thought briefly about emailing the author to point out the errors. But then I’d be That Guy, pointing out homonym confusion on a two-year-old throwaway listie blog post.

And I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first. I’m sure the author has received numerous emails pointing out the errors. I HOPE the author has received numerous emails pointing out the errors.

But the errors remain.

It’s not worth the author’s or digiday.com’s time to go back to fix these two words, these two errors that make the copy editor in me cringe.

So back to my original query: Do typographical errors matter?

I’m not talking about errors in fact. I lost a job in journalism due to those, and the thought of those errors comes to me often – my shower this morning was a rather harrowing experience in which my brain, between half-hearted brushed with my loofah, replayed the emotions and potential consequences and what-ifs of those errors NINE AND A HALF YEARS after the fact. I felt so ill at ease I almost missed my bus and expressed, not for the first time and not for the last, that I must be a worthless human being for having made those mistakes.

Those are the kinds of errors that matter.

Typographical errors make one look sloppy, but they’re the common cold of the woes that plague the recorded word: Everyone gets them and no matter what kinds of defenses are put up, they’re going to get through to print (thanks to Yzma and Kronk for yet another illustration; your typical error-elimination plan).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Specific



NOTE: Another little something for my BYU-Idaho students.

Be specific.

Let me be more specific than that: Go microscopic. Show us why you believe as you do, and you’ll be a better writer because you’ll connect on a deeper level with your readers.

Let me provide an example:

I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through a warm feeling in our hearts after a conference talk. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through the intervention of others at a time we needed help or comfort. The Holy Ghost may speak to us directly, letting us know when we’re in a situation we need to get out of fast.

That’s pretty specific, right? I’ve offered three examples of how the Holy Ghost might speak to us. So it’s clear I believe listening to the Holy Ghost is important, right?

Try this on for size:

“Stop.”

That’s what the voice said. Distinctly. But also, distinctly in my head.

There was no one around at this hour to tell me to stop. I was alone. I left friends at the LDS Institute of Religion on the campus of the University of Idaho to go home to the dormitories to sleep. There were no friends to tell me to stop. The only other humans nearby were in that car, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing.

But the voice said stop. So I stopped.

A whoosh. A whoosh and the brush of something on the front of my jacket. A streak of silver. I stood frozen in the crosswalk. Blue and red lights flashed, followed by the chirp of a police siren. They were off after the silver car. That silver car that was only a smear of headlights, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing. That silver car that ran the stop sign and clipped the front of my jacket with its side-view mirror.

One step further and that speeding car would have hit me. One step further, but that voice said stop.
I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost.

The last sentence helps the reader know where I’ll go with the rest of this essay – but it’s almost unnecessary. It’s only there to clarify what I have just shown: That the Holy Ghost told me to stop before I became a pedestrian accident statistic.

Using a specific example or story to show why your thesis deserves support is the strongest way to connect to your readers. They may recall instances when they heard the Holy Ghost speaking to them. By evoking those memories, you strengthen your connection with your readers. The stronger that connection, the more they want to finish reading what you’re offering them.

That’s the dot I hope we connect this week. Get specific. Really specific. Find a story that shows, rather than tells, what you’re hoping to prove, and you’ll connect with your readers.

It sounds crass, but look at it this way: Here in the US, it’s election season. Our airwaves are full of political ads. In these ads, the politicians never mince words. It’s always a very specific message: Vote for me because of X, or Don’t vote for my opponent because of Y. The X and the Y are always very specific. Like this:




If that’s too crass, listen to this talk LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson gives on the subject of Scouting. Listen, in particular, for the story he tells of the belt buckle. He uses this specific story to great effect to support his message that Scouting=Good.


Merse Your MERSE!




Just in case you thought we needed another book-centric social network, Squirl is here to answer your needs.

Or, in other words, if you’ve written a novel that uses a real-world location, pester anyone with a smartphone and the right user analytics to read your book when they happen to walk by that location in real life. Then shout at them as they keep on walking. (Coming in a later iteration: The ability to pester space- and time-travelers with booky locations NOT ON THIS PLANET or NEAREST CONVENIENT PARALLEL DIMENSION.

Yes, I know this is all part of the Millennial digital native wave that’s going to take over the world and, yeah, well, you get the picture. Get ready to merse your merse, with Squirl!

Yes, I’m being overly sarcastic, and a bit hard on the founders of Squirl. But I have to wonder what they’re going to do when they’ve got users strolling through areas where not much in the literary sense has happened.

This isn’t going to turn into one of those “who would use this” rants. Just because I wouldn’t use it doesn’t mean there aren’t many people out there who will. I don’t walk around with a smart phone constantly in my hands, but many, many others do, and they apparently don’t have enough to do with them.

I guess it’s just a contrast to how I discover new books to read: Using the highly scientific method of browsing through the racks at the thrift store. If I connect with a story or characters, I connect with them – chatting away with fellow travelers and the author isn’t going to enhance that situation for me. And if I don’t – as in the case of John Crowley’s Little, Big – I may coast along to continue reading the shipwreck, but I don’t need to merse myself in the merse-y universe. Either the magic is there in the book or it isn’t.

And I’ve been to places. I lived in Tours, France, home to Honore Balzac, fils; been to Amboise to see the home of Leonardo da Vinci, and expressly visited the Lake District and Watership Down (not to forget Stratford-on-Avon) while in England. But being there didn’t enhance my enjoyment of these books. The books did it on their own. I don't need to justify the expense of a device that always knows where I am (so the government can track me too, whoopee!) to inform me if I happen to wander past some random corner of minor literary significance.

But some will think it's neat. And that's fine. Just don't hold your breath waiting for me to sign up.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Listening to Beta Readers -- Not Bucky Katt



I announce, with trembling pleasure, the results of the first complete beta read of Doleful Creatures.

Verdict: It needs work. Which I knew it did.

I’ll present what my reviewer says, unvarnished:

I still stand by my suggestions in prior emails. A pruning of characters and a merciless cutting of the first 23 chapters seems like a good start. Putting a much more narrow focus on your main plot for the story I think, in the end, will leave you with a much better story. This will showcase the beautiful prose you intermingle in the story. As it stands now, you have a messy glass display case and it's tough to pick out the treasure. You need to tease the treasure from the distractions by getting rid of some of the subplots, side stories, and extraneous characters that are cluttering up the treasured main plot (as painful as that may be).

I’m not complaining about anything she said – not one bit. I asked for an honest opinion, and I got it. I want Doleful Creatures to be a good book, not a mediocre one, and I believe following my reader’s advice will be good for the book.

And, frankly, I’ve had the time since this last revision was completed in June to let this book simmer on the back burner, as all should simmer, and I know it’s got its flaws. I even did a spreadsheet to help me visualize its flaws. And the results of my spreadsheet aren’t all that far off from what my beta reader is telling me, so I have to take what she says as truth since I see it myself.

Calling Doleful Creatures now a messy glass display case is an apt metaphor, and I know why:
This book started out as one thing – a relatively simple animal tale – and morphed into something else – a more metaphysical tale featuring animals – between revisions. I’ve never successfully melded the two. And perhaps melding isn’t the answer. I’ve got to pick one route or the other, and purge what isn’t fitting any more. I’ve already got an idea of what subplots and what characters are going to go – because there’s at least one subplot and two characters linked to that plot that I never felt worked in the first place. Whenever I had to go back to that plot and those characters, I stumbled in the writing. I now know why. They don’t belong in this book.

That being said, the next revision to Doleful Creatures will be a challenge – but thanks to her I have a clear road map on where that revision needs to take me.

I’m working on what Stephen King says: [W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

I’m no genius. But I can be a good writer. Listening to beta readers will help me on that journey.


And avoiding the example of Bucky Katt will help me as well.