New cool stuff!

Posted on May 29, 2019 By

Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Where to start? The new novel is just about finished. I’ll be announcing a preorder on the “New Releases” list–but don’t sign up there yet! I mean, you can if you want to.

But. I’ve recently seen hundreds of “new subscribers” to that list. I don’t know why, and I don’t quite buy the idea that all those people just recently got around to reading my books. So…I think it’s some sort of scam. I’m not sure who benefits, but I’m leery.

Simultaneously, MailChimp (responsible for delivering this very message) has recently changed their policies and pricing in a way I really don’t like. Which is sort of convenient: I’ve been concerned that sending anything at all to that list might cause a problem with my account. But now, I don’t care a whole lot. Sometime in the next few days, I’m going to send out an email blast to a whole bunch of addresses…and see what happens. For those who get the email, I’ll be asking that they re-subscribe to a separate list if they actually want more email from me. I’m kind of done with MailChimp, and with letting other people manage email in general. So things will proceed via my Cabin Fever Press web server and Mailgun, if you’re the sort of geek who cares. Anyway. Moving on.

Next cool thing: free story every month! It’ll be available to read on the website. Subscribers to new releases will get links to download an ebook in their preferred format. Some work to do on that front, too, to make it easier on you guys. I’ll keep you posted.

More stuff coming, too. I just don’t want to talk about it. I’ve gotta tell you, though…sure, I have a bunch of stories I’m not using for anything else, and I could just use them for the monthly freebie…but I’m looking forward to writing more short fiction. I really, really enjoy that.

This blog? It seems to be about random thoughts. Aimed more at myself than anyone else. Sometimes–get this–I write posts, then hide them rather than publish them. Just to get my thoughts out where I can see them. So if you guys want to keep riding along, great! Subscribers (at least of the email variety) will also transition away from MailChimp soon. But the ride might be gentler. We’ll see.

Have fun out there!

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Something I Happened to Notice

Posted on May 23, 2019 By

This here is a fairly random observation–but I’m hoping somebody out there can explain things to me. What I did:

  • I forwarded all calls for my cell phone to a different number, purchased for one dollar/month from an online service.
  • I set up a phone book with that service, with numbers divided into various categories (always ring through, sometimes ring through, send to voicemail, always reject, and everybody else).
  • For the “always reject” group (a.k.a. scammers), and at least at the moment for the “everybody else” group as well, I have the service play these callers a “this number has been disconnected” message.

Why did I do this? It was either that or get rid of the damned phone. I don’t like being on call. Simultaneously, I have an autoresponder set up to reply to texts with a message that says I won’t see them. Because I won’t.

So far, this is just me being an introvert. Maybe a pushy introvert. I noticed two things.

  • First, my battery life was drastically extended on my phone.
  • Second, and far more interesting, prior to making this change I used to get a metric shit-ton of scam calls from caller ID fakers pretending to be in my local area code. ALL of these calls immediately stopped.

So okay, it turns out that SMS (text messages) use a different channel from voice callsthe same channel the phone uses to make sure the phone company always knows your physical location, about which I might say more if I hadn’t already written that book–so maybe that first part makes sense. Or maybe there’s something else involved. If you know, please tell me. In case this wasn’t clear, I use some form of data connection (often from my laptop actually) to receive calls via a SIP client (Linphone, generally). But I don’t receive standard calls via my cell phone’s normal network at all. And battery life is better? Hmm.

But as for that second point…I can still see all of the numbers that have tried to call me. If I see a number I recognize, and realize I accidentally gave someone a “disconnected” message, I can add that person to the phone book. And even call back to explain. But I have no good explanation for the lack of pseudo-local calls from scammers.

Of course these people are spoofing caller ID. But why aren’t the calls being forwarded?

I am reminded of my experience in Las Vegas nearly 30 years ago. I got a phone, a landline of course because it was 30 years ago, and I paid extra for an “unlisted” number. The next day, I started getting sales calls to that number from people who knew my name. So “unlisted” meant that people couldn’t find my name in a phone book, for which service the phone company charged me extra, but they nonetheless sold my information immediately. (I had given the number out to precisely no one, and ended up just turning off the ringer–at which point the phone worked perfectly for me.)

So I wonder: how do scammers know that the phone is being forwarded? Or do they? Is there something about the method of caller ID spoofing they are using that doesn’t work on a forwarded call? Or does the fact that these calls stopped mean that someone has access to the phone company’s data? But even if that last is true, why would the scammers care that the number was forwarded?

A minor curiosity here. Obviously I got what I wanted out of this setup. But there’s something I don’t know, and it’s bugging me a bit. One further thought: I remember there used to be an app you could use to unmask Caller ID. The trick was to forward calls to an 800 number, then forward them back to your own line. Apparently the phone folks figure the paying customer at an 800-type number is the one who gets to decide whether Caller ID info is displayed. So if you ever thought you were successfully blocking Caller ID while calling one of those...you weren’t. Maybe this is relevant? Maybe the “real” Caller ID would be unmasked via forwarding, at least sometimes? And scammers don’t like that idea, and have some neato spiffy kewl way to prevent following call forwarding? I dunno. It’s interesting, though. To me, yeah, but. This is my blog!

Meanwhile? There ought to be some new stuff coming out, strangely enough via the “New Releases” email list, but not today–and I’ll talk about that elsewhere anyway. So, I hope this was at least somewhat interesting, and I also hope somebody out there can enlighten me. Thanks in advance?

Have fun out there!

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Series woes? Not really.

Posted on March 6, 2019 By

Here’s what I did a while back: I wrote a book with two viewpoint characters, that was supposed to be the first in a series.

Then the story went in a different direction. It was a fun direction, but either it needed a completely different ending or it needed to be a standalone novel.

So I finally figured out I needed to cut it down to a single viewpoint.

So half the book went away.

And it was really not fun to go back and recreate the missing scenes/events, because I knew how it ended & the whole process felt artificial.

Then (yesterday!) I thought of a fun twist & it started to be exciting to work on the book again. So the first half or so is done, and I have roughly half of the remaining story written. I can probably use most of that. The short version of all this is that I think I’ll finish it up in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, I could be wrong about that. Sometimes things take longer than I expect. Fairly often, actually. We’ll see how it goes.

Equally of course, there were other ways I could have gone with all this. Probably the best would have been to simply publish the standalone version (though it did need some work), and write some other book to be the first in a series. Chances are, I’d have spent less time on that overall.

But I really, really wanted to write a series. For silly reasons having to do with getting paid. And I didn’t realize (though in hindsight it’s fairly obvious) how little fun I would have trying to make that novel fit into the pattern I was after.

Anyway.

I’m back to having fun. And I have some time to do this–time not obligated in a bunch of other directions. I kind of made that time, and it involves both getting up early and closing the door (or going elsewhere) to cut myself off from my family, two things of which I’m not especially fond. But: fun! Really. It’s nice. I hope it continues.

Because that’s a thing for me. Writing is supposed to be fun. I need to get better at remembering that. When it’s not fun, it flat doesn’t work.

For me, anyway. Maybe for readers too? I couldn’t say. If the words don’t come, readers are most unlikely to show up. What would they read? Something else. Right.

So…

Have fun out there!

Coming SoonRandom Rants


The Perfect Writing Environment

Posted on March 4, 2019 By

An impossible goal? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I mean, what’s involved here?

  • It should be distraction-free.
  • It should provide potentially inspiring distractions.
  • Writing equipment (phone, laptop, voice recorder, whatever) should be well-suited to the space.

Right. No problem. What I’m getting at: for me at least, everything needs to be portable. And swappable! There are times when working on my laptop in my office makes sense. There are times, such as next week when I’ll be on a road trip, when I’d really like to get some writing done in the car. I also like coffee shops. And I don’t like carrying my laptop everywhere I go.

No problem. If I write in text files, they can be edited on any device. And if I use Markdown as a text format, the files can include such things as italics. (Otherwise, once I import the file into a word processor capable of italics, I can no longer edit them as plaintext, which restricts the devices/apps I can use thereafter.)

What I’ve been doing until very recently is using Scrivener to synchronize projects with text files. That’s worked pretty well, but then I’ve moved everything into Jutoh to create ebooks. (Yes, Scrivener can create ebooks directly, but I strongly prefer Jutoh’s vastly increased scope for fiddling with the resulting document.) I’ve never liked Scrivener for writing fiction–too heavy for me, with lots of features that just get in the way–but it’s been working.

The problem? Once I’ve moved the text into Jutoh, editing it has only happened in Jutoh. After all, it’s clearly better to have a single always-preferred location for editing. And I’ve had no desire to re-create all of my Jutoh-specific formatting once I’ve done it the first time.

But I’ve been emailing with Julian Smart, technical director of Anthemion Software Ltd., and he’s solved that issue for me! Well, probably not just for me. Probably he thinks there are multiple users who will benefit. I’m not sure he’s right about that, but here’s hoping.

Jutoh is now capable of exporting and importing to and from Markdown. There are still a couple of glitches in the process (including losing quotation marks upon import), but I’ve figured out some workarounds and I expect the problems to go away very soon.

[UPDATE: Yes, very soon. I got an email about an hour after I typed the above. The latest beta release of Jutoh has solved the issues with quotation marks. Awesome!]

I could always have worked this out for myself, exporting from Markdown to HTML prior to importing into Jutoh, and exporting from Jutoh to HTML followed by conversion to Markdown, but frankly I didn’t think of it. Also that sounds like a pain in the ass.

What does this mean? It means I can edit anywhere, on any device. And my work is saved in Dropbox. So even borrowing a computer or phone would work, with very little setup delay.

Rather than carry a full laptop, I can carry my phone, a folding stand, a folding keyboard, and a Bluetooth finger-mouse if I happen to feel like it. In addition, I can carry a voice recorder. All of that fits into a very manly pouch-dingus, by the way.

As far as that voice recorder goes…I could record directly into my phone, and sometimes I do. Mostly I don’t, because I like the microphones of the recorder better. Either way, I can upload files to Dropbox and have my laptop (which is still sitting at the house in this scenario, and connected to Dropbox) auto-transcribe them via Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The transcriptions are then uploaded to Dropbox, and available on any device I happen to want to use within a few minutes (depending on the length of the recording).

Another option is to use an app called Dragon Anywhere for dictation on my phone. But the profile I have on my laptop is much more configurable than the online version. It also doesn’t cost a goofy amount of money every month. It also doesn’t turn itself off every time I pause for 20 seconds.

We’re pretty deep into the weeds here. But just in case any of you think this sounds like fun, or even useful, I’ll give you a bit more information.

  • I use WriteMonkey 2.7 on Windows when I want to dictate in real time. WriteMonkey “natively” uses Markdown, so something like CTRL-I will italicize via Markdown (*example* yields example) and prevent me from having to explicitly voice asterisks and such. Or type them either. I have to use this older version of the program, because Dragon’s “Full Text Control” doesn’t work in the latest version.
  • I use JotterPad on Android for pretty much the same reason. It works very well with an external keyboard, and the usual shortcut keys work as expected.
  • There is also a program called Jarte which works with Dragon. Jarte is built upon WordPad, so Full Text Control works very well. Or anyway it works after you apply the fix found on the following page: http://www.jarte.com/dragon_naturally_speaking.html. Jarte does not understand Markdown, so it’s not ideal for me, but WriteMonkey creates additional files in your working folder that are sort of annoying, so if you’re not interested in the Markdown piece of this it’s a great choice.
  • FWIW, I strongly recommend not dictating into DragonPad, the text editor that comes with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. It crashes, taking Dragon with it, and losing your work. It’s much better to avoid this scenario.
  • I really, really like using Typora to edit text (and Markdown) files when I’m not going to be dictating and when I’m using my laptop. It works identically under Windows and Linux, as far as I can tell. There’s a beta version for Mac, but I haven’t tried that.

Things can get even more ridiculous, of course.

  • I can put my laptop into a backpack, connect a microphone, and walk around dictating.
  • I can use my phone as a monitor for the laptop using an app called aRDP to see what I’m doing as I wander, and vastly improve on the dictation experience I would have using Dragon Anywhere. This works via sharing my phone’s internet connection via a Hotspot, or if I want to avoid any interruptions I can conversely create a Wi-Fi network on the laptop, put the phone into Airplane mode, turn on Wi-Fi on the phone, and connect it to the laptop.
  • I can use an app called WO Mic to redirect the microphone from my phone to the laptop over Wi-Fi, and wander around the house or backyard, phone in hand, sans backpack, also using aRDP as above.
  • I can simultaneously use a headset microphone connected to my phone and carry the voice recorder in my hand, reassuring myself that one or the other will actually work. This is probably just me, but dictation works better for me if I don’t look at the words being generated…but if I don’t see them I’m constantly concerned that speaking into the air won’t really work. Have I lost a lot of work that way? Nope. But redundancy makes me feel better.
  • Since my voice recorder includes a jack for audio output, through which I can listen to my voice as I record (nice in a headset scenario when the recorder is in a pocket and I want to be sure it’s actually still working), I can get creative and run an aux cable from the recorder to a USB sound card dongle plugged into my laptop: this way I get both a recording (for backup purposes & training Dragon’s accuracy) AND real-time transcription. This is actually my favorite scenario, because I’m trying to train myself to use (and trust) the recorder by itself. Of course there are lots of other ways to get simultaneous recording and transcription. But I like this one.

So maybe this will help somebody. Or not. As for me, I have recently begun writing again. There’s a lot to say about that, and potentially also about my use of a pen name, but maybe I’ll get to it another day.

Have fun out there!

My FictionNonfictionPublishingRandom Rants


Lessons learned? Hard to say.

Posted on February 28, 2018 By

Okay, I’ve been going about this in a less-than-useful fashion. Or at least I’ve changed my targets…both in the past, and today.

At first I wanted to track and post words per day. Then, I realized that doing so meant all my dictation had to be transcribed, daily, and that doesn’t seem to be very helpful when my goal is (or after it became) to proceed until the end of the first draft (which is finally complete, by the way!). (Also by the way, I now have a fairly major subplot to add. Fun, maybe!)

Then I moved on to posting the number and length of dictation sessions. More useful, maybe. But maybe not. Doing that moved my focus from working on whatever seemed logical to trying to force dictation sessions. Now, I do want dictation sessions to happen. But I don’t want them to seem to be chores. Nor do I want to build them up into something that’s more important than it needs to be–that way lies blockage, and perhaps madness.

Neither metric is at all useful when editing. Doesn’t that count? I guess it might be handy to de-emphasize editing in favor of creating new fiction, if I were actually worried about endless cycles of rewriting or some such. I’m not, though.

What I really need to track–no, that’s not the right word–what I really need to focus on is publishing novels.

Worse yet, the amount of time I dictate tells me very little about the amount of progress I’ve made given my available opportunities. My word count has ranged from just under 2000 up to about 3400 per hour. But some sections need more editing than others. Or at any rate, sometimes the editing takes longer than it does other times. For instance yesterday I went to fix a chapter I thought was fairly horrible, and ended up liking it so much that I changed almost nothing.

Sometimes I’m going to feel like dictating. Others, like editing. Others, like taking care of various publishing-related tasks. Some days it will make sense to wander around outside, dictating new fiction. Other days it will rain. Is it okay to type on those days? Maybe not if I’m trying to switch to dictation, to learn how to dictate. But after? I think it has to be okay. Otherwise, if I’m in a situation where dictation doesn’t make sense, I can’t write new fiction even if I want to. Am I a bit worried that my authorial “voice” (and didn’t I feel oh-so-pompous just writing that) will change as I switch between the two? Yeah. I guess I am. So I’ve dictated nearly all of the first draft. But the hell with it. I’m going to try to ignore that kind of thing, and just produce what/where/when I can, however that works out.

I don’t think focusing on trying to speak faster, or even setting goals related to word count or time spent in one activity versus another, is (currently) turning out to be useful for me. Mostly I just need to focus on doing something writing-related during the hours I have set aside for that–now that I have hours set aside for writing, and have minimized-to-annihilated most forms of interruption.

This doesn’t mean that I will never return to trying to track something like words per hour, or total words written (and edited?) in some timeframe, at some future point. Doing that stuff may even have been helpful for me to get to this point: where I really just want to work, and not be bothered by goals external to the specific project I’m working on.

What does that mean for the blog posts? Beats me. I guess I’ll be letting you know.

There are some other things. It’s definitely the case that dictation and transcription don’t go well with editing on the fly. This means that regardless of whether I’m dictating or typing, I really do need to go back to that “rough first draft” idea, at least for dictation sessions but probably also for all new-fiction-generation sessions. I’ve been moving away from it, but…too bad. It is what it is. Otherwise, I find myself wanting to transcribe a bunch of audio files prior to writing new fiction. When instead I could just type (or dictate), right in the manuscript, a couple of notes to myself about anything I want to either change or check, and move on. Which is better. And there will be opportunities to deal with all those notes later on, so I don’t lose a whole lot here. (Except that the editing process is usually less fun than writing new stuff, so I have this resistance to building up too much of it for myself…I’d rather do it piecemeal.)

This also affects my toolset a bit. It’s tempting, now that edits “always” happen after the fact, to put my work into Scrivener (or Writers Café, which I like a lot) for editing purposes. But that would mean I’d need to have my laptop with me to edit, since there’s no Android app for either. So I’m going to stick to individual text files. I can work on those on my phone (though also on the laptop, yes, and allowing myself to do that again…because I’ve been forcing myself to use the phone for everything…is probably a good idea going forward). From there I can put the text into Jutoh, which I use for e-book formatting, and from there it can flow into Adobe InDesign, which I use for formatting print books.

At some point I may get into a discussion of the apps I use to edit text files, and how/why I selected them. If I convince myself, possibly over a beer or three, that anyone will care about the specifics. For the moment I’m using JotterPad on my phone, and WriteMonkey on the laptop. Different versions of WriteMonkey according to whether I’m working in Windows or Linux, because Dragon’s “full text control” only works in an earlier version under Windows, and Linux will only run a later version, but it may be that I’m the only person anywhere who will ever care about that. I’ve dropped Nuance’s Dragon Anywhere entirely, in favor of transcription (that way I don’t watch words appear on the screen, and so I also don’t stop to edit/correct them–I felt I had to watch, with Dragon Anywhere, because it didn’t save the recording as an audio file separately for me to check later…errors were thus semi-permanent, and sometimes large). I have also dropped using Dragon to interactively display my words as I dictate entirely, except for blog posts like this one. Even then, most get their start from a transcribed recording.

I am a bit frustrated that the Linux version of WriteMonkey won’t indent or put visual spaces between paragraphs, but then neither does JotterPad. And Dragon doesn’t understand paragraphs without line breaks anyway…so what the hell. I just have extra line breaks between paragraphs, everywhere, and will auto-remove them somehow, at some later point. Even though I think they look sort of silly and I sometimes roll my eyes at them. And oh yeah: I do use markdown syntax in the text files, for italics and so forth. Rarely, but it’s there…and WriteMonkey is very easy to use that way, so it’s handy for text-file edits. JotterPad isn’t as cool, but it does semi-understand what I need with markdown, so that’s good enough. I’m looking forward to doing edits with WriteMonkey and Dragon, by the way…will it be worthwhile? Or should I just type? Beats me.

Too much detail? Already? Yeah, I kind of knew that. So…I’ll bet you know this next part.

Have fun out there!

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Access revoked! Or, the why/how of my planning day.

Posted on February 26, 2018 By

The week before last, I had my phone set to Airplane Mode for a couple of days. That worked nicely–the sense of freedom it gave me was, well, freeing. Then last week happened.

There was a lot going on all week, and I kept thinking Airplane Mode would happen again the following day, but that never seemed to work out–and it came to a head on Friday. I had texts from a kid, texts from people wanting to ask questions about the kids, something like 30 texts (to make it more difficult) to schedule visits between the kids we have here and their siblings who live elsewhere, calls about a vehicle in the shop for repairs, and in the midst of all this…I also texted and called to coordinate things like my mom’s birthday party, meeting for lunch to pre-celebrate said birthday, and arranging to borrow a vehicle for the weekend. And driving to borrow said vehicle.

I got nothing done. Well, a lot of things were managed, but it was a completely unproductive day for writing. This is not okay.

So that was frustrating. My wife and I ended up having a late-night conversation yesterday, which was obviously not going to help today’s productivity a whole lot but was nevertheless overdue and necessary. We agreed that I’m simply going to be unavailable, to anybody, until 2:30 PM on weekdays. My phone no longer displays any notifications of text messages, and all calls are forwarded to another number, which goes straight to voicemail and records whatever people want to say, then forwards that to my email address. I took email off my phone too. I’m no longer allowed to call my wife to ask questions, or to plan things, or for any reason other than an actual emergency. (Turns out she, too, has things to do that aren’t aided by interruptions…weird!)

Nope. None of that.

My wife and I also agreed to go back to having scheduled meetings every week…sounds odd, I’m sure, but they used to work pretty well. We have a shared Evernote folder, and what we did before was create a note with an “agenda” tag for non-emergencies that we felt we needed to talk about. So then we’d set aside time to do all that talking, and deal with whatever we’d put in there. As long as we kept having the meetings, that worked. When we let life and a desire to do deep dives into projects prevent the meetings from happening, it meant there was little point in using the agenda-setting system, so we didn’t do that, and we would either interrupt each other or drop the ball or try to manage it all via email or…well, who cares what else? That didn’t work very well. So, we’re going back to a system that used to work.

As for Airplane Mode? I’m also using that. I don’t really need it to stop myself from browsing the Internet, or using social media (I actively dislike social media). It’s there to keep me from being interrupted. So, with the changes to my phone’s setup, it’s less necessary–but it still saves battery life, and I might as well turn it on.

All that said? Since, today, I’ve had a chance to stop and think a bit? I’ve spent my time thinking, and making both notes and plans. I need to make decisions about my previously-published novels and pen names. I need to work on new covers, new titles, and scheduling time to edit/rewrite each of them before re-publishing. New print editions, too. Audiobooks? Maybe. Someday. Not now.

I figured some–but by no means all–of that out, maybe. I’ve also worked out some details of the next two books I’m planning to write. I’ve downloaded a bunch of cover images. I’ve written no new fiction today. That’s…going to have to be okay.

I would write more here–for values of “write” that mean “dictate”–but this post has been long enough. I still have things to do. Back tomorrow.

Have fun out there!

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