A-to-Z Challenge: Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway

Just in case you missed it, I’m headed to the Pike’s Peak Writers’ conference in a little over a week. So, my mind is already out in Colorado, and look at this, I’ve found a railway just for you to look at.

Remember that hiking path that ends in a parking lot out in California? Well, this is the slightly more historically face-palm version, with trains. Pike’s Peak is named after a man called Zebulon Pike (Imagine having to scream “Zebulon” in bed! His poor wife.) Zebulon never made it to the summit, but they named the mountain after him, and at some point, they named this particular railway after the mountain.

Guess where the railway goes?

Yup. Straight to the summit. Six to Eight times a day.

Poor Zebby.

So, on to the details everybody’s been waiting for. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway runs 8.9 miles, between Manitou Springs, and the summit of Pike’s Peak. It is a standard gauge railroad with tracks 4 feet 8 and a half inches wide (as the Great Architect of the Universe intended.) (because narrow gauge is creepy.) It is a cog railway, which means that it has a third track with little teeth, to pull the train up steep places (like, say, a mountain.)

The older engines are on display at Manitou Springs and several museums through Colorado, and some of the historic (but still conveniently functional) engines and cars are dragged out and actually used from time to time.

I’d tell you how perfect and beautiful the scenery is, but I already said it was in Colorado.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Safety, Common Sense, and Selling Books

So, you already know I was on a mini-vacay last week. I needed that. The stress of stress would have eaten me alive, if I hadn’t gotten out. Nothing quite like grabbing a friend, ditching real life, and hitting a neighboring state.

And, as it turns out, there was another writer in the motel.

It wasn’t me that ran into her.

“There’s one of your people in the elevator.”

My people, by the way, can mean anything from my close friends to whole groups of people I happen to belong to. And, let’s be honest, my mind shot straight to dancers, because they’re easier to pick out of a crowd, and because I actually do know dancers in KC.

My friend was a little wigged out, though, so my mind skipped from dancers to band members, and maybe a few specific individuals she might be able to recognize as “my” people. Mutual acquaintance type “my” people.

I asked.

“One of your book people.”

Okay. So, I’m lost. How could she possibly know that someone she met on an elevator was a book person? I mean, we’re pretty mellow, compared to some of my acquaintances.

Turns out the woman had gone all Bookseller of Prey on her.

She was pretty shaken, after an elevator pitch that had gone from small talk, to buy my book, to let’s-trade-room-numbers-you’re-my-new-bestie all in the course of three floors. I don’t blame her. My head was spinning, just thinking about it.

But, I was also thinking about the other woman. Was she someone I do know? Someone I will know in the future?

I’m not sure freaking out strangers on an elevator (in a motel!) is the best way of selling books. The thing about an elevator pitch is… well, at the other end of the elevator, your target winds up in an office, full of his or her trusted co-workers. You aren’t necessarily alone in the elevator, either.

And I’m pretty sure that inviting strangers back to your hotel room to get the books that you don’t have with you isn’t the safest idea, either. Remember that old joke your granny used to tell? The one where she slapped a guy because he invited her up to his room to see his etchings? (And it turned out there really were etchings?)

I don’t really care what risks you choose to take in bookselling… but make sure they are a choice. Make sure they’re a sensible choice, and make sure they’re an effective choice.

This one happens to be an unnecessary and ineffective risk. You’re taking all the risks your mother warned you about in luring strangers back to your motel room–I won’t get into those–and you’re also scaring off your risk conscious customers.

Most women–and probably most men, too– are NOT going to go knocking on motel room doors to buy a book.

Get a tote bag and carry a couple of books with you. That way, you aren’t taking a risk, and you’re not asking your customers to take that risk, either.

IWSG: The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!

April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

Last year was my first year doing the A-to-Z Challenge, and it was the first time that I had managed to blog on any kind of a regular basis. 2016 was a hell of a year for me, and blogging gave it structure, and a “thing to do” because “that’s what we do” that I desperately needed. Maybe you know what I mean. That moment when nothing else holds, and… there you go. A thing to do.

In a more general sense, last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was just the kick in the pants I needed to get started.  I’d done some blogging, mostly just storytelling for some friends from other writers’ sites, and my routine was spotty, at best. I was going to blog a novel (which turned out to be both a good thing, and a bad thing, and an unmitigated disaster) but, as it turns out, getting things ready to post–really, edited, didn’t misspell anything, didn’t use the same word six times ready–meant I only posted a couple of times–if that–per month.

I managed to post every day last April–or close to it–and I started to see traffic. And wow, was there a lot of it! Well, I thought there was, anyway. It was something. I don’t know if I handled it as well as I could have. To be honest, I was mostly in shock that people were reading my blog, at all.

The month of April was the best one I’d had at that point (although I’ve passed it a couple of times since then.) I had views and comments, and gained followers, and yes… I’m doing it again, this year.

My insecurity of the month: Getting ready to go to the writers’ conference: the clothes, the travel, the reservations… and most of all that damn revision. I’m so insecure right now, I forgot to be Insecure. Time for me to track down the next must-have scene in my revision and either write it or revise it. See you all next month.

A-to-Z Challenge: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Building Characters

For those of you who don’t know, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the most recent version being 5) is the great holy hand grenade of the psi-chiatric profession. In its most recent incarnation, it’s a riot-worthy brick of a book, suitable for hurling through plate glass windows and beating unarmed civilians.

Over the years, the DSM has grown from basically a pamphlet focused on a few major disorders to the fine, equal-opportunity diagnostic tool that it is today. And seriously, folks, with a code for caffeine withdrawl, we have a diagnosis for everybody. Stick around after the show and get yours.

I happen to own a copy of version 4 (left behind by an old friend who was studying social work) and it also has some nifty applications in Character development.

It doesn’t have slots for magical abilities, like a Warcraft character sheet, but it is pretty straight forward, and much more fun in fiction than in real life, where you have to write “Caffeine withdrawl” over and over and over… (I have a cure for that, by the way.)

There are 5 axes in the current version. Number five is level of function, ranging from “Respected psychiatrist” all the way down to “Bit someone’s ear off this morning.” If your character is Hannibal Lecter, this will require advanced math. In fiction, it just doesn’t deserve a square of it’s own.

So, divide a piece of paper into 4 quadrants.

Square number 1–Axis I if you want to get all fancy–is what’s going on, right now that needs (but will not get, because that’s the story problem) immediate attention. The DSM lists several examples, but they’re all relatively boring. This is fiction, so we’ll say “Brain invaded by sentient parasites from Mars.” Much more interesting than the day-to-day stuff, isn’t it?

Square number 2–is all the permanent stuff that’s going to impact the response to square number One. Personality disorders, developmental disorders… Not every character get a square number two. But if your character was a somewhat slow janitor who has parasites that can do theoretical physics, that’s here.

Square Number 3–oh, goody. Medical disorders. So, if the sentient parasites go unnoticed for a while because your character has already been diagnosed with brain cancer, this is the square where they run amuck.

Square Number 4–is all the other stuff that just makes the whole thing more difficult. Wife trying to get pregnant? Right here. Spaceship hurtling toward an exploding red giant? Yup. Crew trying to kill you because you have alien worms in your head? Here. Unless that’s all in your head, too, in which case, back to square #2.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Here’s to Discipline… And Coffee.

I have a day off from the A-to-Z Challenge, and I’m sitting back and thinking what a good B word would be. I’m not really ahead enough to have my short story for the StoryTime Blog Hop written, or any of the letters for the time I’m in Colorado. I’ll have to get on that. You know… right along with working out the draft of my novel and the day job and the… and the…

I can’t really be sure if I’m going to make it all the way to the end of the Challenge, this year. There are a lot of things going on, and the priority at the moment has to be getting that novel revised.

I’m developing quite a backlog of handwritten pages that need to be typed into my revision.

I hate typing.

But handwriting is good for me. It keeps everything in line, and coherent, and typing it in is a little bit of a mini-revision in itself, so I’ll keep going this way. The handwritten chunks are a lot smoother than the pieces that were mostly typed.

If I stayed ahead of the typing, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Back to work, then.

The Same Thing Twice

I started writing another missing scene for my revision, yesterday. It was… well, pretty damn similar to the scene I wrote the day before. Not identical, but very, very close. Close enough that I wound up stopping to write a blog post about Deja Vu, voice, and the difference between parallels and repetitions.

So, I guess we’ll find out just how much of this I understand, and how much I can make myself understand.

My characters are psychic–or something like that. There are details–and in both scenes, the psychic bond is being broken. One scene is a death, and in the second, a character has voluntarily given up that connection. Her sacrifice will be permanent.

The lead up to the bond being broken is okay. It’s different; the circumstances are different. But then… well, as I’m writing the break, itself, I happen to have the distinct feeling that I’m writing something basically identical to the last one I wrote.

Feeling? No. I know. It’s the same.

I’m trying to figure out what’s broken that makes the two scenes so similar. They really shouldn’t be the same thing twice, but somehow… well, they are. And until I figure out how they should be different, I can’t fix it.

I think I’ll work on something else, today.

Doing My Homework

I’m still working my way through that revision list, one scene at a time, and the good news is that–in the theory–it could actually be finished by the 27th of April. I have fewer than twenty scenes left… that’s about one scene every two days… it’s not even particularly faster than I’ve been going.

That’s optimism, of course. It is faster, but it’s not impossibly faster.

I don’t usually write like this–I’m not sure I could, if it were a first draft–but it does give me a solid sense of “Here’s the Finish Line.”

I’ve been focusing on one of the subplots, at least in part because it has more scenes that are completely missing from the manuscript. I may be reaching the end of “missing” and moving on to the horribly broken and damaged things that I’m still at least a little attached to. I hope that’s less time consuming, but it might wind up being more.

We’ll see if I can manage something that’s vaguely in the right word count range this time. I haven’t used up all my ‘safe’ index cards yet, so right now, I’m worried about being too short. In a couple weeks, I’ll be worried about being too long. I promise.

Attack of the Mile-High Writers’ Conference

I finally registered for the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference in April. I managed to get time off from work to actually go, and if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So, I filled out forms, and pressed send, and now, I’m going.

So, clearly, the first problem is underwear–

No, wait. That’s packing for a dance competition.

Fair enough. I won’t be spending all that much time upside-down at Pikes Peak. This is so complicated!

Aside from figuring out exactly what I’m going to wear, and exactly the right memorable, but non-freakish haircut, I’m working my way through the scenes I need to add to my novel revision. I have a neat, tidy checklist of the things my novel can’t live without. I’m typing in a couple of them, today, and I’m working on more, after I get done with that.

Odds of novel being actually, legitimately ready to go by the end of April?

Probably right around zero.

But I am getting closer. I have… a plan!

Naturally, I’m falling into that phase of revision where I’m sure that my novel sucks, and the best thing I could possibly do for it involves an acetylene torch and some marshmallows. Big marshmallows.

I’m hoping to slip back into the This is the greatest thing the human mind has ever conceived! stage before the conference. We’ll see.

So, my general game plan is to track down a few friends I know will be there, and then figure out the rest of my schedule.

Any other suggestions for me?

 

Books From Beyond The Grave

One of the bargains in my newsletter of the day was a Boxcar Children Book–Legend of the Irish Castle, and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. (Apparently, if you’re a minor, you celebrate by reading. Who knew?) I was just intrigued enough to go look the book up, since I read a lot of Boxcar Children books when I was a kid, and I don’t remember any Irish Castle.

Turns out that Legend of the Irish Castle is book #142 of a series the original author only wrote 19 books of. It was released last year, which is pretty good, considering that Gertrude Chandler Warner has been dead since 1979.

I’m going to say that as a personal “thing” I’m not all that crazy about the idea of having other people keep on writing my characters, after I’m dead.

Part of that is just… I don’t want to be dead. And part of it is that I spend so much time getting my characters to be the way I want them. I don’t want them shipped to places and plots I never intended them to go. I mean, come on! They’re mine!

And while we’re at it, let’s pretend that I’m very deep and philosophical, and say that there’s something bordering on Hubris about the idea of my characters being so spectacular that someone else should be writing them, instead of their own.

I’m not sure what Gertrude Chandler Warner thought. She was a first grade teacher, which may actually mean that she’s happy just as long as the kiddies are reading. I tend to think of grade school as dear, saintly creatures who really might be that unselfish.

Then, I saw all the common core, ATOS, and Accelerated Reader bullshit **ahem** foo-fer-alls and thought again. I don’t know what Gertrude’s opinions on each and every individual one of those would be, but you can bet she’d have opinions. And I don’t think they’d support micromanaging children’s reading.

So, now, I’m thinking about what a writer’s educational philosophy–or their politics, or their personal beliefs– should mean for their books, and the way those books are managed after their death. For instance, is it really fair to use Sherlock Holmes to sell fried chicken? Or should you really add Zombies to Pride and Prejudice?

I’m bordering on an intellectual property rant, now, but the general question… if I have one… is how do you feel about your characters having adventures without you?

StoryTime Blog Hop: An Invitation

The StoryTime Blog Hop is a hop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative fiction writers to show off their short stories. While it’s not specifically aimed at children, we do avoid adult content for this one. The amazing Juneta Key has been suckered into hosting graciously volunteered to host this month’s hop yet again, and she’s inviting anyone who has a short story that fits the bill to join in.

If you are interested in participating, the rules and deadlines are here: http://www.junetakey.com/posts/rules-guidelines-storytime-blog-hop/

If you’re still not sure what this is all about, I have links to some of the past stories, including my own StoryTime contributions here: StoryTime links so you’ll be able to read what people have done in the past. (It’s possible that needs updating. I’ll look into it.)

We’re also looking into a stand-alone StoryTime website, and some great ideas for promoting and growing the blog hop, so be sure you join in the conversation.