Tuesday, May 9, 2023

I Was Obsessed with Peter


 That wasn’t always his actual name, of course, except that it was.  When I was in college in Scotland, I picked up my novel The Fifth Tunnel and was deeply disturbed to find that Peter was called Jason.  When had I changed his name to Jason?  I knew, absolutely knew, his name was Peter.  I considered emailing, but I couldn’t wait.  So I called home to Montana (paying $1.50 a minute for the international call) and had a family member search through my original handwritten notebooks and verify what I knew for absolutely certain, that his name should have been and originally was Peter.

 It wasn’t.  I had named him Jason in the earliest drafts, and Jason his name remained.

 I wrote The Fifth Tunnel when I was seventeen.  Peter appeared again in the book I wrote at nineteen, Swallowgate, except this time he was half of Lloyd and a bit of Greg and something of Flynn, and maybe a slice of Calder, as if I’d split one character into four in a strange attempt to deny that he was, at heart, a Peter.

 A year later, I wrote him a third time --

(except I wrote him more times than this, in unpublished novels: a college-aged version of him is the protagonist of the never-written The Art of Subliminal Messaging; he appears in halfway form in the written but unpublished (and since cannibalized) The Nightmare Children of Faerie, and in one of his truest forms (i.e., very similar to Jason) in partially written iterations of Protector by the Green Light)

-- But I digress.  He appeared one last final time in Logic’s Emporium of Stolen Memories, and this time he is actually named Peter.  He is a little older than in The Fifth Tunnel and Protector by the Green Light, but still extremely Peter-like.  And something about me actually, finally calling him Peter brought peace to me about the character, and I was able to let him go: I have never written him since.  I think.

 So who is Peter? 

 Peter is a couple of years older than our protagonist.  He is intelligent, proud, lean, and rather tall.  He can act or speak pompously, but he is not inherently pompous.  He thinks well of himself, and likes to enforce his superior age—in part because he has issues with jealousy and brittle self-esteem, including of the protagonist.  He wants to think himself superior, so it is hard for him when the protagonist has importance or abilities that he does not.  He has white skin and brown hair and a few freckles but not many, and he tends to wear glasses and dress very properly and neatly.  He prefers to respect authority and rules but has enough determination to break free of them and leave to go elsewhere if he feels doing so is the best decision -- though wherever he goes, he will then learn the new rules of and obey them.

 I have no idea where Peter came from.  I do not have brothers, and I did not know anyone like him.  More exaggerated versions of him exist in movies and books, sure—but he is unique from all of them.  He has his own developed character, for someone who generally has middling-to-minor roles (since I never actually wrote The Art of Subliminal Messaging).  But I could not rest until I gave him his proper name in a book.

 I wonder if he will ever return to another book of mine.  And when he does, how long it will take me to realize it's him.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

I Love Good Notebooks

 I love good notebooks, and I’m very picky about them.  They need high-quality paper that even liquid ink won’t show through and hard covers that can survive being packed about.  They need to lie completely flat when open, and they need to be beautiful.  For thermal bound, they need to have a notebook and something to hold them closed.  At the moment, I have:


33 completely filled

27 not filled (but about half of them have some writing in them.

1 in progress (about 80% full)


So here are my recommendations, at a variety of price points!  I’ve listed them from cheapest to most expensive . . . but please note that that doesn’t reflect price efficiency. 


Picadilly.  I’ve traditionally bought these from Barnes and Noble for around $7.  There are many available at places like thriftbooks.com and ebay.  Decent quality for a low price point!


 Peter Pauper Press.  If you prefer thermal binding to spiral or wire-o but want to keep your price point low, this is a wonderful option.  They have many wonderful artists on their team, including some of my favorites.  Peter Pauper competes with much higher-end notebooks despite their price point being only about $8-$12.  I wrote The Land of the Purple Ring in Peter Pauper notebooks.

 My favorite, the Timeless Tree Journal

C.R. Gibson.   I’ve only gotten their spiral-bound notebooks, but they have a huge variety of stationery.  I like the fact that many of their notebooks have designs on the pages themselves.  And often a tint (rather than plain white).  They’re priced at about $7-15, which is pretty cheap for a high-quality notebook.


 Paperblanks.  Here our price-point jumps dramatically—for Paperblanks, you’re looking at $22-$35 per notebook.  However, the quality is also markedly higher.  For many years, Paperblanks was the standard against which I held outer notebooks.  They have designs on the edges, superb paper, and sturdy covers.  I own more Paperblanks notebooks than any other brand.


Official photo, so you can see a notebook similar to one I have with professional lighting:

 Notebook Therapy.  For smaller handwriting only!  Although these are the most expensive per notebook ($30-$40), they’re actually a better deal than most, because there are so many lines on each page and so many pages!  For example, you can see the one I’m currently writing in.  I get about 400 words per page, double what I get in most other notebooks.  By the time I’ve finished this one, I’ll have written almost 70,000 words in it over the course of more than half a year.  The paper is white with bullet dots, which took some adjusting to, but the quality is fabulous and the edges colored.  Each notebook also comes in a beautiful box (I display them) with a matching paperclip.  Every notebook is limited-time only.  Really, the only possible downside to these is that dog hair sticks to the linen ones.


My photo doesn’t do justice to their beauty, so I’m also including this stock picture of the notebook I’m currently writing in (the one that’s open):





Pilot Fude-Makase

Pilot Varsity


Staedtler triplus fineliner

Uniball Vision Elite



Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Where's the Sequel to Bargaining Power?

It has been about three-and-a-half years since my book Bargaining Power was published, and not only is the sequel not out, it is not written; and I have in the meantime published The Land of the Purple Ring and a season and a half of The Midnight Files.  So what gives?

You see, due to a number of factors, I strongly associate Bargaining Power with severe disappointment, despair, and betrayal from three separate sources.  Worse, two of those betrayals were predicted almost verbatim (seriously almost verbatim, without exaggeration: the people used almost identical phrases and fundamental outlooks, though the setups were different.  They were similar to the extent that I suspect my subconscious was preparing me for the inevitable) in Power Trips, one in Bargaining Power and one in the sequel.

The betrayal I inadvertently predicted in book 1 was bad; the one I predicted in book 2 was much, much worse, and I refuse to tell the story of it.  The person in question doesn’t deserve the attention.  Besides, I’m the sort of writer who writes out of love for a story, not one who throws all her dirty laundry at it, and I never write real people.**  Most importantly, I refuse to let the filth of ugly behavior influence the books I write to bring joy to others!  That was the heart of The Land of the Purple Ring and one of my greatest victories.  Not one of the painful, ugly, traumatizing things that happened to me in the months leading up to and overlapping the writing of it touched that book.  It remains unsullied.  Triumph!

Anyway, this philosophy of not writing real people and not bathing in filth leaves a problem, which is that the story of that second betrayal was fundamental to the structure of book 2.  That means that when I write book 2, I will have to start from scratch (other than the first two chapters, which will remain intact.  You can find them here).

Now, don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t like book 2 was finished; at most, it was a third done.  I had severe writer’s block and structural issues, which the intervening years have helped clear up.  I will definitely finish writing Power Trips eventually, probably as a duology.  But I cannot face it yet.  Even writing this brief post was painful.  And I know it is a mess, but I also figure that anyone reading it deserves an explanation for what is sure to be a long delay between books.


**Note: I never, ever base any characters off real people.  It is only afterwards that I sometimes notice the similarities of certain characters to certain people in my life.  But isn’t how that always is?  We none of us write in a void.

Second Note: ugly, traumatizing things are rare in my life, and betrayal rarer still.  I have many wonderful people in my life and am generally very happy.  It was just that for about two years there, things kept going horribly wrong.  But I got The Land of the Purple Ring out of it, so it was worth it in the end!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

I'd rather do it myself than let you cheat me

About two weeks ago, I took my car in for an oil change.  While there, the technician told me that it looked like I had a leak.  When pressed, she said it looked like it might be from the engine, but said she couldn't diagnose it.

Like a responsible car owner, I took my car into the mechanic.  Now, I don't think well of our local mechanic.  Last winter, I took my car in for a checkup and asked him to fix my AC.  "There was physical damage to the bumper that broke it," I said, "but the bumper has been fixed, so now the AC can be too."  When I got the car back, he told me that I'd been "out of AC fluid" and he'd "put more in so my AC would work."

Of course, it didn't work.  But I didn't press the issue; I just decided to go somewhere else next time.  I know of a good and honest mechanic about half an hour from where I live.  The problem is, I work Monday through Friday, my job is too far to walk during my lunch break, and I have a dog to care for.  I therefore reluctantly took my car back to the local mechanic.

"The oil engine pan is cracked," he said.  "There's another crack deeper, but that'd be really expensive to fix, and it's not bad yet.  So let's just replace the engine oil pan.  It'll be about $450.  You'll need to make an appointment."

I made an appointment for the following week and, in between that first visit and taking my car back, I found my windshield wiper fluid didn't work.*  I tried pouring more in, only for it to end up on my garage floor.  Now, I don't know anything about cars, but I'm perfectly capable of finding information online, and I watched a short YouTube video on diagnosing wiper fluid problems.  Conclusion: my washer fluid reservoir was cracked.  

I told the mechanic I thought so, when I brought my car back, and he confirmed it.  He also gave me my bill for the engine oil pan replacement: $500.  $50 more than the verbal quote.  That . . . didn't sit well.  For the work he did, $500 isn't unreasonable; it's about middle of the road.  But even if it was a verbal quote, I thought it very unprofessional to tack on 10%.

Still, I had to have washer fluid, as a safety measure, so I looked at the quote he gave me.  He told me, "It's going to be pricey, because Honda no longer makes your part, so I had to go for an aftermarket one."  And he quoted me $450 again.

$450.  For reference, the national average price to replace a washer fluid reservoir, including parts, is $145.  I looked it up, because $450 struck me as really, really high for what I thought must be a simple job.  And I already knew I couldn't trust him to stick to his quotes, it'd probably be even more.  Here is the breakdown he gave me (yes, I got it on paper this time):

Labor: $175
Reservoir: $189
Washer pump: $39
Freight: $35
Shop supplies: $14

Clearly, this absurd list called for more research.  First, I looked up how much time it would take him to do the job.  The answer is that the job is in fact extremely easy, and he could almost certainly finish in under 45 minutes.  Even if it took him an hour, that's $175/hour!  Mechanics, on average, charge $75-$130 an hour, and we've already established that he isn't that good at his job.

Second, the parts.  I found many places where I could order a reservoir and pump set that fit my car for under $40.  However, out of curiosity, I looked up the ones he said he was going to order.  He said on his quote he was getting them from Napa, so I looked up the actual cost on that website.  Here's what I found:

Reservoir: $115
+ Washer pump: $21
+ Freight: $0
- 15% for purchases over $100
TOTAL: $115.60
Mechanic's quote for the same supplies from the same supplier: $263

. . . 

Well, then.  Fine.  Be that way.  

I ordered the reservoir/pump set myself, for $32.  I don't think I can install it as quickly as he could, and it's horribly cold out, but I have a friend who's good at this sort of thing and says she'll help.

It's not that I couldn't take my car elsewhere.  It's that the mechanic tried to cheat me, presumably because he thought that my general ignorance of cars (and femininity) meant universal foolishness and incompetence, and that it was therefore acceptable to treat me in this fashion.  I can think of no better comeback than doing the repair myself.


* It's unlikely though not impossible that the mechanic broke it while doing his inspection.  Once you've demonstrated dishonesty, it's hard to trust you about anything.  If he didn't break it, that means that, while looking for a leak, he didn't bother to check the washer fluid reservoir.  Regarding this, he is therefore dishonest, incompetent, or both: he cannot be neither unless the reservoir broke during the week in between.  Which is even more improbable.

UPDATE: I installed the new reservoir and pump together with a friend.  When we took the bumper off, we found a) it hadn't been removed in years, and b) the reservoir itself (which the mechanic had told me was "completely shattered" was undamaged.  It was the hose which had broken, taking a tiny piece of the motor with it.  So the reservoir/motor/hose still needed to be replaced, and the parts I had bought were correct, but the mechanic flat-out lied to me.  Charming.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Absurd (and thus effective) mnemonics

 I’ve been learning a bit about pharmacology.  And, since rout memorization really isn’t my thing, I thought I’d share a few of my mnemonics!  As with any device for memory, the more vivid and striking, the better.  And I’ve created quite the crew here.  For reference, I’ll put brand names in bold and generic names in italics.



Aka, beta-blockers, which lower blood pressure.  Now, “beta” is another word for a critiquer/proofreader, so you know anyone who blocks them is a villain.  Besides, their names end in -lol, so you just know they’re laughing at you!  We have . . .

 Tenormin.  A villainous name, if ever I’ve heard one!  Probably because it’s almost like Norman.  That means he must be first alphabetically: Atenolol.

 Metoprolol, the robotic villain who can only mechanically repeat what he’s good for: Lopressor.  He’s also called Toprol, because he’s pretty uncreative.

 Coreg, the ex-carnie turned inquisitor: Carvedilol, who will coreg [correct] you.

 Zebeta, the dark business lady Bisoprolol.


All will cackle loudly -- -lol! – as they decrease your blood pressure.




We also have heroes  These noble meds stop the firehose (aka proton pump) squirting acid into your stomach, protecting you from ulcers and acid reflux.  They are our proton pump inhibitors.  We have . . .

 The rabbit (Rabeprazole) with a hiccup who throws hexes – AcipHex

 The heavy with the huge proton gun he’s named Protonix.  He wears nothing but pants, so we know him as Pantoprazole.

 Esomeprazole (like Esme, Granny Weatherwax, the witch from Discworld).  She uses magic threads (a la Dealing With Dragons), so we call her Nexium.

 Lansoprazole, who is clearly Lancelot.  He prevaricates but also heroically prevents acid—Prevacid.

 Prilosec, the pinstriped-suit-wearing tall, thin, narrow one who looks like a secretary but is actually the omniscient (Omeprazole) leader.


Go -prazole razzle team!




 Yes, this really, really helps me remember.



Sunday, November 20, 2022

NaNoWriMo 2022

 I haven't posted much lately, but I have been working hard.  Promise.

Friday, July 8, 2022

The TWO MILLION word serial novel that stayed good

My House of Horror by I Fix Air-Conditioner is a Chinese web novel.  I read a fan translation that was 2.07 million words long (that .07 represents 70,000 words -- a novel length!) or 6,892 pages on my Nook e-reader.  It took me 3-1/2 weeks to complete.  And I had that time off work, so I was reading 30+ hours a week.

Previously, I've never lasted over about 1,500 pages on a serial novel or anything in serial novel form (like light novels that were originally web novels).  I find that authors have this great idea, write it, and then . . . run out but keep writing anyway so that even the best book becomes, frankly, bad.

But that didn't happen here.  Now, the novel isn't perfect; part of it is bloated and the writing disintegrates somewhat.  But it never becomes bad and it always picks up again.  Considering the utter fatigue of writing at the pace the author did, this is a truly stupendous feat.  So I'd like to tell you about it.


The Story

Chen Ge owns a haunted house at an amusement park after his parents mysterious disappeared six months ago. They left him nothing except a rag doll and a black phone. Then one day the black phone vibrates and gives him the option to accept missions. Some of these missions are mundane things to improve the quality of his haunted house, like to install more security cameras. But other missions warn him that they are dangerous and will interact with REAL ghosts.

There may be things living in his room, in his mirror, behind the door of his bathroom. The bigger the danger, the bigger the reward. And then there's the biggest reward of all . . . because maybe, just maybe, by taking on these dangerous missions, Chen Ge might unravel the mystery behind his parents' disappearance.

The story is a times funny, creepy, and action-packed.  The best part of the book is probably the fact that the way in which some of the scenarios unravel is genuinely creepy in the best way.  By which I mean: I'm not a horror person.  I like a bit of thrill, but I don't want to be actually horrified.  Playing creepy horror games that turn out to be real, exploring abandoned mental asylums . . . this hit a real sweet spot for me.


Why It Worked

The book had a very effective formula.  It went like this:

Chen Ge has problems: his parents disappeared and the haunted house they left him is small, falling apart, and on the edge of bankruptcy--as is the theme park it exists within.  He's friends with his sole employee and the theme park director.

The black phone gives him a mission to do something creepy and dangerous but with rewards.  Chen Ge does the mission (and these can get very long indeed, the further we get into the book) and gets the reward.  Along the way, he meets dangerous ghosts, most of whom have dangerous follow-up missions he'd better fulfil or they'll kill him.  The mission reward in some way changes his skillset or the haunted house itself, and we have a sequence (sometimes tens of thousands of words long) showing this change to the audience.  At the same time, he deals with the reactions of customers/ competitors/ online critics.

The essential points of this pattern are: 

- Everything is related.

- Everything has consequences.

- Everything drags Chen Ge deeper into the world of real ghosts and horrors.

Chen Ge is an extraordinarily active protagonist.  Near the beginning especially, he could've just said "No."  He could've never done the black phone's dangerous missions.  He could've sold the haunted house.  He could've rested on his laurels.  But he doesn't.   He continually presses forward until he can no longer draw back, because he's made enemies and they're coming for him.

This pattern sustains Chen Ge's story for 2.07 million words.  The full pattern wouldn't suit a single novel, but the essential points would.  I've learned a lot and enjoyed myself in the process.  If you've ever considered writing a serial novel and want to see a good example of how to sustain them (or just want a good book to read), I'd recommend this one.