To Dream The Impractical Dream

*And I’m sorry I’m late again.  Will probably be posting “latish” all week, since it’s the end of the year, which is when we have to do legal stuff for the business (writing IS a business) and adjust stuff for next year, etc.  It’s a massively busy time for us.*

Each writer comes into the field to write something.  Sometimes it’s a single story or series.  You can tell these writers, because they will stick doggedly to their series through thick and thin, gamble everything on it.

Life being what it is, and therefore a stone-b*tch, this means most of them never broke in, and continued to write their series, often less and less, until it suffocated in the drawer, unseen by human eyes.

I thought I was one of these writers, long before I broke in, until it became obvious even to myself that I would NEVER break in unless I wrote things that other people wanted to read – that is things that weren’t so intensely in my own head that no one else would have any interest.  Then I wrote the Shakespeare trilogy.  (I had, by that time, written he first draft of DST but I was told no one, ever, would buy science fiction, because “it just doesn’t sell.”)

And when that crashed and they told me they wanted historical mystery, I found my interest in writing SOEMTHING was greater than in writing one thing in particular.  I liked writing – it was the best way I knew to make a living, too – so I was going to jump through whatever hoops I had to.  There followed historical mystery, historical romance, contemporary craft mystery and – eventually – science fiction.  My fantasy too ranges from historical/literary to urban adventure.

Perhaps that means I’m a total sellout because I didn’t stick to my vision.  I don’t know. T o have a vision, it helps to have eaten three meals and have a roof over my head, so… it works for me.  Also, to an extent everything (okay, almost everything) I wrote was something I WANTED to write.  What I mean is, the thought of historical mysteries might never have occurred to me before, but the Three Musketeer mysteries gave me a chance to spend time with my four literary crushes.  And while I never thought of Fantasy, I like travel fantasy set in the nineteenth century.  And as proven by the fact I’m writing Witchfinder on my own, I rather like steam-punkish multi-universe settings.

Same with urban fantasy, which maybe DOITD is not at all, but anyway – I read everything and I can write everything.  And enjoy it.  IN fact now that the “I’d never do that” barrier is broken, I probably can’t help writing everything, just to see if I can.

BUT at the core of it, there is “what I thought I would write when I first thought I might like to be a writer and that was “SF like Heinlein” and “Mysteries like Agatha Christie.”  These last  were actually very specific and would now be “historic mysteries set in a certain social class, in Britain between the wars” – I was going to say I’m sorry I didn’t think to propose them as historical (part of the issue being I think of things less than 100 years old as current, not historical.)  I’m actually not sure I’m sorry.  Best case scenario, the series would be going on and paying me 5k or so per book.  Worst case scenario (and that house is capable of doing this) it would have tapered out and I would now be fighting for rights.

Well, the SF “like Heinlein” – though not, of course, because I’m me and not Heinlein (in case some of you weren’t sure) I’ll be doing, probably mostly for Baen.  I might or might not submit The Brave and the Free (which really will be done after I finish Noah’s Boy and Witchfinder and probably WHILE working on Through Fire (it’s a dark book.  I’ll need breaks)) to Baen depending on where I think my state of trying Toni’s patience is at the time (grin.)  But mostly – like 90% of my SF will go through Baen as long as they want it.  I’ll finish the ones they’ve already rejected (mostly because they are TRULY WEIRD) and the ones that will be episodic (nuns in spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace) and do those indie.

But the mysteries…  Yes, as soon as I get rights back I’ll do more refinishing mysteries.  And YES as soon as I get rights back, I’ll finish the musketeers (well, finish is a way of speaking, the planned series is twenty books long) at least as long as they sell indie (I still have that thing about meals and roof.)

I’m working on orphan kittens as we speak, just very slowly, since it ties in to the other Goldport stuff.

BUT – it occurred to me – why NOT do “Agatha Christie like historicals” updated for the current time, but not like the TV series (the new one) where apparently the solutions always hinge on EVERYONE being gay (shrugs.)  Just not quite SO immersed in the time – which also means not thinking well of socialists and communists, btw, where Agatha tended to be rather wobbly.

One of my friends has volunteered to beta (or alpha, he says, chapter by chapter) as I undertake these.  Now I need to find material to research.  As I said, I’d like to set them between the wars, or perhaps – just perhaps – starting when the main character (female, of course, think a young Miss Marple) is a young woman, just before the wars.  I’ll have to find novels (and movies/series/documentaries, for the touch/feel) set in that time period.  I’ll also have to look for books of recipes and clothes patterns, because that’s the daily details that trip you up.

Mind you, this will be very much backburnered until I deliver things that will bring in cash on the nose, and things that are already started, like Witchfinder.  Part of me is toying with the idea of doing these as a kickstarter, with a first delivery (first book) in a year – but it worries me a little because to do so I need a first chapter (I think) and I don’t have time to research enough to do that, just now.

Anyway – this is the advantage of indie.  I’d advise each of you to think deeply about what you wanted to do when you started writing.  Why not try it now?  Yeah, it might not sell enough to keep you in Purina’s Writer Chow, but if it doesn’t you can stop.  And you can at least say you tried.

And you CAN get it into readers’ hands.  No one can tell you “That just isn’t writing.  Write a book with lesbian lawyer penguins instead.”

I like that freedom.  And the dream?  It’s just over the rise.

151 responses to “To Dream The Impractical Dream

  1. The freedom indie provides undercuts all those who would rather tell you what your book should be about rather than write one themselves.

  2. “…now that the “I’d never do that” barrier is broken, I probably can’t help writing everything, just to see if I can.”

    Ah, yes. I know this feeling so well. My latest reading kick is m/m (gay) mystery, and although it’s nothing I’ve ever considered writing myself, part of me is thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to try…”

    That’s the thing about reading anything and everything. You get ideas for anything and everything too. Have fun with yours!

  3. > Perhaps that means I’m a total sellout because I didn’t stick to my vision.

    I think the word for someone who does the job that needs to get done in order to get a paycheck is “professional”.

    That being said, I’m personally one of those nuts with one story that’s stuck in my craw. Wish I could be a professional like you!

  4. I wanted to write Urban fantasy and Sci-fi– for some reason my mind defaults to horror even when I use the urban fantasy setting– :-) Anyway, I want to try a sci-fi mystery sometime– I’ll let it percolate though– as for gender challenges– I still have a challenge with m/f relationships– I can’t see myself trying other types– and now that I said it– I will have a m/m character waiting in the wings.. lol Flitting around singing some day my dreams come true– oh get that out of my head rofl

  5. Wayne Blackburn

    I know you’ve mentioned adding elements particular to various genres if you’re going to write in them, but I can’t remember, have you suggested any sources that would identify those kinds of things? Being soaked in it, I’m sure I would find SciFi easy enough, but what about mystery (The closest thing I have to having characters invading my brain is having a type of story rattling around all the time. And it would be a SciFi/Mystery crossbreed).

    • It would help to have the mystery element– before I crossbreed it to sci-fi, which is why I haven’t tried it yet– I have read a how-to-write sci-fi (which didn’t help much), but I haven’t found a how-to-write mystery– course I haven’t found a how-to that actually worked for me in the writing field except for a few about dialogue, etc.

    • When I got interested in trying my hand at a Gothic romance, I looked at Wiki (yes, I know, bad Red) for “what is a Gothic story” and for some sources and titles. I’ve read Gothic romances without knowing it, and Wiki provided some more very general info. From there I dug a little farther, and also asked my local librarian for some currently-popular Gothic romance titles, as well as the classics. My first attempt did not work out well, but I may try again in a completely different setting with different characters and see what turns up.

    • Sometimes SF is about the SF, and sometimes the SF is the setting, while the story is a mystery, a romance, a thriller, or a war story. As a reader, I like them all.

    • I would advise you read The Tough Guide To Fantasy Land before you try to write fantasy. It will warn you off the cliches.

      • Absolutely agreed. And it will leave you falling out of your chair with tears in your eyes if you have read Too Many Fantasies Written By People Who Just Wanted to Write One After They Read DragonLance.
        The definition of horses still has me snickering loudly. Diana Wynne Jones was brilliant at this, even though there was some stuff she wrote that had me truly peeved.

      • Susan Shepherd

        That book is responsible for more care taken in my writing than a dozen readers with whips could ever get from me. The sections on Horses, Castles, and Economy alone have resulted in a lot of research on my part. Here’s a sample from the Horses section:

        Horses are of a breed unique to Fantasyland. They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind. They never otherwise stumble. Nor do they ever make life difficult for Tourists by biding or kicking their riders or one another. They never resist being mounted or blow out so that their girths slip, or do any of the other things that make horses so chancy in this world. For instance, they never shy and seldom whinny or demand sugar at inopportune moments … (Skipping a bit about other unhorselike behaviors and the fact that they never actually go into season or show interest in mating) … It therefore seems probable that they breed by pollination. This theory … also explains why the Anglo-Saxon Cossacks and the Desert Nomads appear to have a monopoly on horsebreeding. They alone possess the secret of how to pollinate them.

        The author is Diana Wynne Jones, by the way, if this helps in the finding of the book.

        • I have heard from a writer who was looking to buy it. She looked at the description given, sent off for it, and before it arrived, went back to her manuscript to look at the stew she was serving right left and center.

          • ROFL. My first fantasy had soup all over. But the Micenean thing had stew… In my defense, though, my gay magicians tend to be SOBs from the nether regions of hell (particularly the ones on the side of good) NOT artistic types who ache with sensitivity. I think it’s the fault of my gay friends who tend to be take-no-prisoners libertarian/conservative.

      • I rather like cliches. Not in their pure forms, but when they are at least a little bit modified at some point of the story. Like when used humorously – doesn’t have to be underlined humor, mild is enough for me – or if the characters show at least some hints of being genre savvy. Maybe, if we are talking about horses, the one the hero is riding does seem completely indefatigable, and doesn’t seem to have any of the other normal problems you can have with horses, and the hero of course notices that and starts paying attention, perhaps gets suspicious but keep using it anyway. Then at some point we find out that the fairy godmother or whatever magical being he has on side had put a spell on it.

        Or even more mildly. The prince is handsome and/or the princess beautiful. Some characters joke about it a bit – of course he is handsome, he’s the prince – just enough to let me know that their world also has lots of stories where the prince is always handsome and the princess always beautiful. But other than that, well, maybe there is a reason this particular prince is handsome, a spell was put on his mother or something, or maybe this pair of royals just happen to good looking.

        Or let’s take that one about the soldier or mercenary who dies after he has told everybody how is about to retire, or get married, or is an expectant father. So he starts digging out the photo, his pals jump him and joke how that is the surefire way to get himself killed. Maybe he then dies anyway. Or maybe we get to know one of those pals well enough in that scene that he can serve as the ‘character you know well enough to care about him when he dies’ sacrifice. Okay, that specific example has been used, too, but it still works for me well, unlike the undiluted ‘the expectant father is the one who dies and everybody is sad’ one, which, admittedly, now mostly just makes me at least mildly pissed.

        Even a mild twist can make a cliche work just fine for me, and I tend to like them, as long that twist is there. Same enough to be something comfortable, just different enough not to be boringly same. Of course, when writing for an audience, the problem is that many of those twists have also been used often enough that they are starting to verge on cliches themselves, at least to those readers who read a lot.

        My main beef is that while newer written stories more often do twist the cliches when they are used movies still way too often seem to go for the pure versions, and treat them dead seriously too. One example, I used to like horror movies, but have mostly sworn off them during the last decade because nobody now seems to have the courage to make something where, for example, a group of likeable heroes defeats the monster and most of them don’t die, and the monster does not pop up again (boo, it didn’t die after all…) in the last scene in order to go after the Last Girl in the next movie. Come on, you could always make ‘The Son of the Monster – REVENGE’ or something if the first one does well enough (and then maybe kill just one of the group and then replace her with a new character or something… or even get totally radical and not kill any of them. Make us like them, and wonder, because in any new part of the franchise any of them might die – or none will, and you can’t tell beforehand which will happen).

        • Okay, a couple of more thoughts on that – I do realize that intentionally using cliches when writing can be risky, unless you are writing obvious comedy or the twist comes in the same scene where the cliche gets used. Use them in the beginning and the genre savvy reader may drop the story before he starts encountering the twists because he figures he knows exactly where it is going. Or you set up false expectations and some other reader drops the story when he does get to the twists because he is not getting the story he expected to get. But what the hell, I like them and I prefer to write what I like. Whether it ever starts selling or not – well, if something starts to sell I may write more of that, or at least in similar style, since money is, undoubtedly, something useful to have, but until or unless that happens I am going to aim to please myself first. Maybe I’ll just try to be a bit diverse there – slightly different styles, different types of stories, playing with the cliches in some, trying not use them at all in others…

        • Wayne Blackburn

          That would certainly be a breath of fresh air in the Horror movie genre – instead of almost everyone dying, have them generally have near misses, and maybe be left with trying to get a seriously injured person to the hospital.

          Then there’s the fact that being black in a horror movie is about as bad as being a red shirt in Star Trek. Unless they’re bucking the trend and the black guy is the hero, and he goes off with the white girl who is left. Gotta break those (once upon a time) taboos, you know.

          • Larry Correia has ably mined the horror genre cliches by putting competent fighters up against the monsters.

            • I very much like Correia because of that.

              Of course the current horror movie cliches came to be in order to break some of the older ones, there was a time when the hero and his girl and most of the sympathetic characters did always survive, so it was shocking the first times most of them were killed off (except for the fact that ‘sympathetic’ has been, from the start, very optional with that type of movie, the makers still seem scared about killing really likable characters so they use ones who are less so, often grading right into downright jerks and idiots). But now those movies have gotten really badly stuck in that latest groove. Nothing else is seen as edgy but nihilism, and horror HAS to be edgy? Oh well, movies, especially Hollywood ones – aimed at teens of all ages, made by adults most of whom seen to have gotten stuck in their teen stage. I love some aspects of that, big explosions and outrageous action are something I find enjoyable, but even that kind of stuff could be fitted into stories with a touch more mature, and life-affirming, worldviews that Hollywood seems capable of.

              Yep, cliches can be boring too, most of all when a whole genre seems to get stuck the way horror movies have. What I would prefer is variety – sometimes one type gets played straight or almost straight, sometimes some other type, other times you get surprises, big or small, including cliches with twists or used for misdirection.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Yes and No. IMO the “hall-mark” of horror is that the threat is something outside of the world-view of the character or characters. When Owen Pitt faces his first were-wolf, it’s horror because were-wolves are outside of his world-view. While he does deal with the problem competently, afterwards his world-view has changed. So IMO the rest of the story isn’t horror because to Monster Hunter International monsters are part of their world-view.

              In horror, part of the situation has the characters dealing with the “what the heck is happening” question. In Dark Fantasy/Fantasy Adventure (which is where the MHI books belong), the characters *know* that monsters are real and may only wonder “which monsters are we dealing with and/or what are the monsters up to”.

              Oh, I agree that plenty of horror movies have idiot characters/plots but that’s the fault of the writers not the genre. [Smile]

  6. Paula Handley (aka Mystik Waboose)

    You know, the Musketeers Mysteries were my introduction to your writing. And even if I don’t read everything, I do read enough varied stuff that I have books from several different genres. I think that there are enough folks like me that we can keep writers “writing what they love”.

  7. Wait. Does that mean I ought to publish my WWI-with-Shape-Changers-and-Space-Aliens novella? Is there a pen name obscure enough for that? Or . . . could it be _typical_ of my subjects? Now there’s a scary thought.

  8. The problem with “starving” as a necessary modifier of artist is that it modifies many other words as well and is thus no guarantee of artistry. As a modifier it is neither necessary nor sufficient. For example, you might be a starving student, starving streetsweeper or starving small business proprietor (likely an abundance of those, in fact, but few artists shed tears for such folk.) OTOH, there are few starving dishwashers or starving garbagemen.

    History is replete with well-fed artists and starving hacks. As a reader I do not usually judge the waistline of a writer before purchasing a book.

    • I read a few stories from those starving artists (English lit, ya know) and all I can say is that some of them were hallucinating from NOT eating. Doesn’t make the stories artistry though.

  9. Ms. Hoyt,
    There is Jewish SF out there. One collection is called, I think, Wandering Stars.

    • There is a series of collections called Wandering Stars. My all time favorite Jewish SF short story remains In Venus Do We Have A Rabbi by William Tenn. (Just like my all time favorite Catholic fantasy/horror remains the SHORT STORY (the novel is blah) Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson.)

      I was semi-joking about an historical I plan to write shortly/before after the birth of Christ which depending on you squint could be Christian or Jewish fiction. I read one like that a while back from a Christian house and it was quite excellent on all levels. (Something I’m not used to in the field.)

  10. If you’re going to go indie how do you get the best of what an editor and publisher provide especially if you are a new or wannabe writer? Very hard to tell what is good in what you write without either a second opinion or experience.

    • Acting as semi-editors is where honest alpha and beta readers come in, Raymond. My alpha readers help find the big holes and bad typos, as well as saying, “keep the first two scenes, the ending is OK, I love the scene with the dog and the alien, but that middle chunk just doesn’t fit.” Or they might tell me that the story just does not work, period. Beta readers help tighten and sometimes find smaller errors ( for one example, suggesting a different word emphasis in order to clarify whether a character was forgetful or if she’d just given someone a field promotion).

      • your readers are kind. Mine — I’m looking at you! — say stuff like “This is infodumpus, what were you thinking?”

        • If you want unkind, I’ll send you the reviewer’s comments on my most recent nonfiction. >:) I wrote the wrong book on a bad topic, used the wrong title, included the wrong details, and divided the chapters incorrectly. And then he/she/it went into detail. Oh, and the book is not negative enough and it needs more maps. *shakes head*

          • This sounds like “Maybe the reviewer should write the book he/she/it (or my preferred variant in this case – s/h/it) wanted and leave my book alone”

    • Uh… is this a joke comment?

      Sorry but with some exceptions for the last thirty years no one got the best of what an editor and publisher provide, but a very select few often picked on the basis of politics and/or nepotism. The rest of us were lucky if our entire book got read by ANYONE after being bought on proposal. I have horror stories, if you want them, and mine are mild compared tow hat I’ve heard from other pros.

      As for how do you know what’s good… HOW DO you know? No, seriously. If it’s competently written (i.e. can be read) the rest is personal preference. Do you trust someone else’s taste, or yours? For a long time NYC flat out refused space opera (baen is the exception, of course. Baen also reads what they buy.) As for mystery, they decided “no cozies” then had to capitulate with craft mysteries because people still wanted them.

      If you mean “How do you get the best of what an editor and publisher provide?” (and I’m exempting Baen because they’re such an oddity) I can answer: be young, leftist, preferably cute (though that’s optional) and willing to bleed the memes of the day all over the page. Write competently. If you’re picked up (knowing someone in publishing helps, or being cute and going to a lot of cons that editors attend) you’ll probably be slated for bestseller and pushed. A touch of explicit sex and feminism ranting helps.

      Other than that — go indie, do well. The traditionals will pick you up and actually give you some backing.

      If your comment was serious, for more information search my blog for “He beats me but he’s my publisher.”

    • Raymond,

      There are some things you’re going to need to do before you go any further. First, forget anything you ever heard about editors and publishers working with an author to bring out their best. That era is gone.

      With some very few exceptions (like at Baen), what editors do now is make sure novels and authors are ideologically correct. Publishers pick what they think is ideologically correct and “sexy” and market hell out of that (Da Vinci Code). Of course, what they think is “sexy” is what appeals to their prejudices which of course deepens the echo chamber even further.

      Indie authors are bit by bit building networks of friends who are really good at some aspect of editing, and doing what they can to improve that way.

      Next, forget about ever being able to tell what’s good. No writer can. Not in their work. We’re too close to it. The best we can do is figure out when it stinks. And sometimes (rather more often than most authors would like to admit, I suspect) we’ll think something stinks when it doesn’t.

      Do your best, get some people you trust to give you honest feedback, and listen to said feedback.

      • Yeah…..

        I wish this comment was a joke because I tried the indie route as a goof and the online feedback is basically I need an editor. I think indie is a much better outlet for non-fiction because you know what you know in terms of fact and all fields require communication skills to succeed. You’ll know when you’ve written something that has fair value. Fiction is at the whim of the reader.

        Sure you can look and say I can find people for help and feedback but to be honest the same leftist bias applies. Look on meetup.com for a group and check their interests and other groups and you still have pretty effective gatekeepers in place. Writer = Leftist-Vegan-Animal Rights Activist/Human Rights Activist who hates real people and any dog that dares sniff their leg and has a 6 figure salary from their trust fund.

        I have an idea for a book or a series of books that could be a lot of fun but in terms of research, writing it, etc. I’m over my head. That is a good thing in some sense because if it needs work it has some depth to the idea but where do you turn when you are stuck.

        • Raymond, the publishing world you are thinking of no longer exists, if it ever did. The main publishing houses have abandoned their only original raison d’etre, that of finding new talent, developing and marketing it. They abandoned all of those roles. For a brief period, literary agents started to pick up the role of finding new talent but blew that up with the application of their only real skills: incompetence, conflict of interest and alcoholism.
          In small part, this was not the publishing houses fault as the destruction of the small bookstore and the death and lingering near-death of all the bookstore chains confused them utterly. But now they can’t figure out who to sell to, and Amazon has redefined the world for them.

          It may be that out of the ashes that some new form of good, value adding publishing house arises. But no one yet knows what that would look like, if it did, and in the meantime, writers who want to eat need to find new paths to their readers. Hence, indie and other varients.

        • Raymond,
          Do you need an editor or a copy editor? Do you know the difference? Do I need to revisit that topic? Meetup is the wrong place to go. We have here a fairly good group of authors, and Kim — rubbing Kim’s lamp — uses a pro editor, too. I can recommend copy editors.
          There is also the point that my professionally published books get the same sort of comments. It might be marketing problem than anything else.
          If you are totally green, DO buy Dwight Swain’s books on writing: Techniques of the selling writer and (if needed) Characters, Building Story people (I THINK) also by Dwight Swain. They took me, my husband and then my older son from total amateurs to pro-writers. You can also buy Swain’s books on tape. If the problem is not knowing the craft, do start with those. If you want me to do an article on editing and copy editing, I can do that. I’ve done it before, but it was a while ago. If you want me to explain beta readers, and how to find them, I can do that too…
          Honestly — I THOUGHT you were joking, because publishers don’t do much of that at all anymore. (Except Baen, but Baen has a slush pile you could wade through in hip boots, so… it takes time.)

        • You can hire editors, on about any level you wish. Half the time, when a review says “needs an editor” all you really need is a Grammar Nazi. If you use any social media, like facebook, just ask. You might get a volunteer.Or two.

          But a sympathetic shoulder to unload your frustrations on and get encouragement in return is tough.

          Writers groups can be good or bad.

          Wrong time of year to be pushing it, but NaNoWriMo forms up a bunch of local groups for support. Go to a few meetings (My nearest met at a restaurant and did more writing than chatting, but we talked enough to know who was writing what genre and general attitudes. Think about that next year.

          Research . . . if you don’t enjoy the research, are you sure you want to write a story that requires it? Think about what you would enjoy researching, and start thinking about characters and a story that go with that. If it’s “just” the feeling of being in over your head that is the problem, cut back the project. Instead of envisioning a series of books, think about a single stand alone novel to test the water. Or a novella. Maybe several short sketches of characters or the world. Just . . . start writing.

          • Sometimes you have ideas that aren’t yours to write. I can write on that too, again… It’s been a while.

            And Pam is right. Nine times out of ten people mean copy-editor. There are two who read here and do reasonable rates, and I have the price of a third.

            • I can recommend a fourth copy-editor, if he’s not on your list.

            • Yeah, getting the name of a copy editor would work. Funny, the easiest time I had was with the formatting for the indie publishing. Hurricane Sandy destroyed my computer so I never was able to try it for Smashwords though. Just Amazon. I have a computer background so it came easy. Yes it is time consuming, frustrating and ultimately boring but so is a lot of computer work. Are there any places where services can be traded, ie….. book reviewing and/or copy editing in return for word processing….etc?.

          • My husband has been working to get a book up for sale on either Amazon or Smashwords. I have been listening to his frustration with the process for a few months now. He says that the folks who wrote the instructions at both places need to learn how to write!

            • I have a sneaking suspicion – not having investigated the process myself – that the instructions you’re talking about were written by geeks for geeks. Translating Geek to Human is its own art form.

            • For “When Fossils Meet,” ( the dinosaur story) I tried using Caliber to convert from .doc to MOBI. Something went wrong in the MOBI and Amazon couldn’t take it, so I ended up just uploading the .doc to Amazon. Then I needed six tries to get the spacing, pagination, et cetera corrected. And the cover art uploaded. It was an educational and frustrating experience.

              • Dan, who is a geek, had this issue uploading his stories. I’ve just had issues with all my paragraphs becoming triple spaced or random section breaks. And Smashwords is the pits. No, seriously.

              • Yep. The instructions that he’s trying to follow are supposed to fix the underlying formatting so that the upload goes smoothly. Of course, he keeps getting distracted by the story, as well as frustrated by the instructions.

            • Naleta– I am now a Smashwords / Amazon formatting wizard– ;-)
              To make Smashwords work, I start with a clean template and make sure that the settings show all formatting marks. Office likes to put a lot of junk in the document and you have to set it up that you are only seeing what you want (for instance make sure Normal is set up with the right typeface, font, and regular). Also make sure that you don’t have more two line spaces between objects. If you are using Office 2000 package, when you save for Smashwords you need to save it as Office 97. Smashwords won’t convert other packages–

              I type my manuscript in the new template so I don’t have to make any changes when I am ready to convert so it is easy peasy after the first time– More on kindle–

              • To prepare the same document for KDP, I can actually put page breaks for that format– so I go through it and make sure that my chapters start on new pages (note you can’t put page breaks in for Smashwords); then I save the template as web unfiltered.

                I have a free program called mobipocket creator– I use web unfiltered, save, add cover, save, convert, and then you are ready to upload to kindle–(it makes a prc file)

                The clue to a headache free conversion is to have that first document as clean as possible from the start–

                I use Smashwords for Barnes and Noble–so I don’t prepare the docs for Nook–

                • I think he tried mobipocket creator and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Right now he’s working with a HTML creator an is feeling guardedly optimistic.

                  • Kindle had a help page on how to use mobipocket creator. I don’t know if it is still up there– But if he has something that will work– good. It’s the product, not the process.

              • When I first started using Office, it would add “normal” and I would change it– and then it would add the old normal. I had to change Normal settings to show the font (Times Roman) and the size (12 point) — So even though it seemed easy, it was a mess to figure out–

              • Instead of retyping the entire thing, have you tried copy/pasting it into a “clean text” program such as Notepad? That should strip out all formatting and provide a clean text to copy/paste back into your template?

              • He has mentioned Normal. He has Word 2007. I’ll have to mention the Word97 issue to him.

                • On my saving it says Word 97-2003… just to let him know. Anything newer doesn’t work– (or at least didn’t work in March when I found this issue)

        • Meetup.com is – as others have said – not the best place you could look. You may just have stumbled into one of the best. Another place to check out is Kris Rusch’s The Business Rusch series – new post each Thursday – and her husband’s blog (blanking on the name, but it’s linked from Kris’s blog, which Google will find in no time flat). There’s a lot of advice there about going indie and a lot of insider information about the industry in general.

          May I ask what you’ve got and what kind of feedback you’re looking for? Non-fiction has its own specialty areas so it might be a bit easier to point you in the right direction with more information (and if I can’t I’d practically guarantee that someone here can or can point you to someone who can).

      • Not in their work. We’re too close to it. The best we can do is figure out when it stinks.

        In software development, we call this the “Second Set of Eyeballs” debugging tool, and it remains the most effective one known to man. Because after you’ve stared at the code long enough, you stop actually seeing it.

        • Oh, yes. As a software tester in my other life, I know exactly what you mean. The “mark 1 eyeball” is the best tool for debugging – particularly if it doesn’t belong to the person who wrote the code.

  11. How exciting! About the series, I mean. (And also I mean about intending to write more refinishing mysteries and musketeers. But since the “topic” is about the new series, I call that one out first.) I’m not even sure what “priority” I would arrange them if I had control over your schedule. So I’ll just be happy to read them whenever they’re meant to be. :3 I won’t even scold you about the new-series thing. ;)

  12. “Lesbian lawyer penguins”?
    Hubba hubba HUBBA!
    :-)

  13. Ok. Mysteries set in England between the wars. That sounds WONDERFUL!! I suggest, that for research, you read some of Chesterton’s Essays. Yes, he was emphatically Catholic at the time (fair warning). He gives a wonderful ground level view of politics and what people were talking about at the time. While he could be wobbly about capitalism, [read Wood's "Beyond Distributism" to clear your head] he at least was solid about human rights and dignity.

    There are a LOT of essays, I know. But there is one collection in particular that he admitted were merely timely for the date of print. These in particular give a good idea about what people were thinking at the time, and a particular glimpse of the intellectual atmosphere I haven’t seen before.
    If you’d like me to find which collection it is, just let me know!

    I kind of collect writers from this time period– if the atmosphere of Oxford amuses you, then Sayers’ “Gaudy Night” is awesome. Her sense of feminism is spot-on. I just mention it in case you didn’t know. (I was also lazy and did not read all the other comments… sorry!)

  14. I always seem to read an entry when the comments are past a hundred, so I’m sure you’ll never read this–but in case you do, the shortcut for any kind of historical research is e-bay. Type in 1942 magazines, clothing patterns, Bobbsey Twin books, cookware. You’ll get plenty of examples.

  15. If there are any dystopian writers reading Sarah’s blog, and you need ideas, read the history of the post-war years in England and Europe. Where the Americans helped, the nations began to prosper by 1950. Where there was no American help (England, France, most of Belgium), life became very dreary. Some forms of rationing continued in Britain until the mid-1950’s. This was known as the “dismal decade” in Britain and France. It was also the time that the British Empire morphed more into the British Commonwealth, and French possessions disappeared, one by one, until by 1965, few were left. BTW, the British, the French, and the Dutch still have overseas possessions, most of which are now known as French Departments or independent/semi-independent nations. Most of the British possessions are too small to be successfully independent, although a few try it. A number of them (as the Jamaican foreign minister stated outright) would be better off if they’d remained a part of Britain.

    • If you can find it, read the book / watch the movie “84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. The descriptions of food and other rationing are appalling.

      • R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days is an engaging picture of the inter-war period, set in an English boys’ school in Devonshire (think Goodbye Mr. Chips but less bathetic), covering the social changes and different academic focus coming into play. Enjoyable read, also available as a delightful BBC/Masterpiece Theatre six-parter which will forever make your eyes tear slightly on hearing “One Green Bottle” sung.

        I doubt Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster tales will help much in depicting the era, but they’re loads of fun all the same.

        Since commercial radio and talking movies were coming into existence in the late Twenties you might look into the history of the BBC (and possibly the debates over creating it) and British movie studios, especially their efforts to compete with foreign (i.e., American) competition.

    • I read a history of fashion book that mentioned that the British ration boards banned, or at least very highly restricted, pictures and magazines featuring Christian Dior’s “new look” styles after WWII. The Brits needed to export the top quality and high-end fabrics in order to earn money to pay off their war debts, and the ration boards did not want women wasting cloth in impractical things like Dior’s designs. The last rationing in Britain did not end until 1956.

      • Well, I want to start right after WWI when the character is in her twenties.

        • Having read Lord Darcy & Harry Dresden, I was wondering what would be the result if you took your 20’s Britain and moved it to the Courts of Faerie, making the MC the official Crown’s Investigator … or perhaps the significant other or Watson to the C.I. It would let you mine more genres and provide leeway for historical liberties.