How to Read eBooks on Your PC – A Friendly Guide

After coming out with my eBook, I discovered that a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors don’t have an eReader and don’t know how to read eBooks on their PCs. This didn’t surprise me, since, up until 3 weeks ago, I didn’t either.

Buying an eReader is WAY too expensive for me. I just can’t justify it. But once I had my own eBook, I needed a way to read it, to proof the design — and once I started buying eBooks, I realized how cool it is and how great the experience can be. There are so many books out there for a dollar (or even free) that I can’t even begin to guess at a total of them. And some of them are downright cool.

This gave me a brilliant idea — why not write a quick guide for those slow adopters, just in case they want to catch up but don’t know how.

What follows is that guide:

1) For Amazon eBooks (.mobi format — Amazon has their own format because they are special):

a) If you use Chrome or Safari as a web browser, instead of IE? If so, you can use Amazon’s Cloud Reader — a web app that accesses any ebooks you’ve ever bought from Amazon, anywhere — here:

Note: Safari is the Mac browser, this is the best way to read Amazon ebooks on Mac.

b) If you use a PC but don’t use Chrome for some reason (you madman!), you can download and install Amazon’s Kindle for PC right here:

2) If you prefer standard .epub eBook format, such as found on a Nook or an iPhone or a Sony eReader (basically everyone except Amazon), you can download and install Adobe Digital Editions on your computer for free — it’s quite a nice tool, zehr modisch.

If you enjoyed this post, you can give eReading a shot via my eBook “Teddy Bears and Tea Parties: A Horror Story”, available AT B&N or AT AMAZON.

Paul Jessup’s Weekend Novel-A-Thon

Ever wondered how the words get written, the magic gets summoned, the real heart of a book gets made? Here’s your chance.

One of my favorite writers of the strange and surreal, Paul Jessup, is going to a weekend-novel-a-thon. This weekend (and the two days prior), he will crank out a whole novel — that’s 40-50 THOUSAND words. That’s a LOT, ladies and gentlemen.

…But wait, there’s more.

He will also blog about it as he writes it! You will be able to follow along, near-live, as he spins a novel whole-cloth from his head. And, better yet, you can vote on the title.

More info, here:

Go Jessup go!

What to do when you’re tired and discouraged

So maybe you’ve been plugging away at short stories for a while and nothing seems to work. Or maybe you’ve got a novel that never seems to end. Or maybe you’ve got something done, but you just can’t seem to sell it. Maybe you’ve got several novels sold, but you’re starting to hate what you write.

What do you do when you’re starting to give up hope, when th e world and deadlines and everything else starts crowding in?

There’re three major options:

1) Keep on plugging away, with bloody minded determination. This is the standard solution if you want to be published, and I highly recommend you try it sometime if you haven’t. Sometimes putting your blinders on and doing what has to be done is the only way to get where you want to go.

2) Give up. This is the most common response. There’s no shame to it — “Writing ain’t for everyone,” as the saying goes here in Texas. (But giving up is not what this journal is about!)

3) The middle road: Retreat to your sacred space. Take the pressure off. Let your bliss return, so it feels less like a job. The danger here is that you’ll never come back, but to lessen that danger, lay some ground rules — you don’t have to write in your sacred space, but you can’t go internet surfing either. Make a short list of acceptable behaviors (reading certain books, studying certain subjects, writing poetry, staring insensate at the wall/plants/traffic, meditation, taking a nap/sleeping). You’ll probably find that you resort to a lot of staring — this is because a lot of burnout comes from stress and exhaustion. Your mind probably just needs to rest and heal.

Whatever you choose to do, make peace with yourself. You’ve chosen that option, and you’re going to give a shot no matter what. Promise yourself 10 days of trying before you move on to something else.

What to do when you get lost

What happens when you’re chugging right along in a story and suddenly you’re lost? You don’t know what’s going to happen next, or –worse in some ways– you know what needs to happen but you have no idea how to get there.

Here are a few tried-and-tested solutions, some of them may work in your situation, some will not, and I definitely do not recommend any specific order-of-use:

A) Write a synopsis/summary of your idea

Often this will shake something loose. It doesn’t have to be a long synopsis — a few paragraphs, a couple of pages — the important thing is to think critically about the idea. Find out what’s going right, what isn’t. Often times a synopsis will show you flaws in your story you didn’t even know were there.

This technique is especially effective for novels, and is sometimes overkill for a short story — although you might be surprised.

B) Do a scene-by-scene outline and projection

Outline your current work scene by scene (or if it’s all one scene, plot point by plot point), and project forward to the scenes you haven’t done yet.

Often times if I can’t get a synopsis to work, this technique works instead. I think the smaller, bite-sized chunks of plotpoints and scenes can be a lot less scary when boiled down this way.

C) Read a book on plots, or a novel/nonfiction book/philosophical treatise on themes similar to the ones in your story.

Figure out where your story fits in the scheme of things. Which plot type applies to which character? What are the critical elements? Do you have them all? Maybe you’ve forgotten, say, a convincing villain. Now you know what you need to work on to fix things.

D) Brainstorm

Make lists of images, words, concrete objects, adjectives, places, faces, names, phiosophical ideas — anything that has to do with your story.

Draw sketches, collect pictures, whatever — then try to arrange all of the ideas in a logical structure. Think about them. Most of them are junk, others may be your new beacon in the dark.

The idea behind this technique is to simply try and “shake something loose” — the danger of it is that you may get obsessed with a completely new story idea and abandon the current one.

E) Take time off

I hate to recommend this approach, especially for novels, but it has worked for me at least twice. I’ve gone away from novels after getting lost, chewed on it a while, had a major insight (preceded by several false insights that lead to dead ends), come back, and the story flows.

Usually when you come back, you realize there were SEVERAL problems. No major villain, no convincing threat, a wrong turn several scenes/chapters back which renders all work after it mere junk, etc.

This is my last-ditch response, and if I come back and the idea is junk — after a break I can tell. And I can let go and move to another project. The major danger of this technique is that most people DON’T come back.

That’s why I don’t recommend it unless you have already exhausted every other technique.

Writing in the spare moments

This is the secret to fitting writing in: Write in your spare moments, especially if you have “spare” moments that occur the same time every day — a smoke break, lunch, etc. Some folks even write during their 2-5 mins in the restroom each day (I don’t do this, and nor do I particularly recommend it — this is just an example of how far you can go).

Make space for writing in your life, and keep going to that space every day. Joseph Campbell called this your “sacred space”. I use it for writing, but he meant it to be your personal time for anything — your withdrawing from the world time, where the world cannot touch you.

He also said that at first it may not seem like much is happening, but if you build your sacred space — and you keep going there — eventually something will happen. You will find your center, and from there, your bliss.

In my opinion, if writing is your bliss, you will write.

Not setting yourself up for failure

You know, a lot of us have a goal to write at least once a day. Some of us even have wordage targets. But sometimes you have to have a reality check:

I did not write today at lunch. Instead, I drafted a cover letter for the complete novel and got it reviewed by a writing buddy. Crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s. But, to me, this counts as “writing” — it’s all part of the same thing: getting the work published.

I used to feel guilty in situations like this. In fact, that sense of guilt might even make me stop writing a for a few days as I stewed over my failure and wondered what went wrong.

But now I have come to realize there are only so many words in me per day, and work takes most of them, and blogging takes more. Until my writing muscles, build, it’s more important to not get discouraged. And besides… So what if I didn’t move forward on the current work? I did something critical for the overall goal.

I count today as a win.

Building up wordage

I recently had a bit of an insight about writing productivity/wordage…

So as part of the rehab for my knee, I’ve been riding stationary bikes at the gym 3 times a week, and I’ve started going to Tai Chi again — and simultaneously I’ve been writing again.

The thing with the bike and the Tai Chi is that I used to do them a lot, I used to be good at them and be able to just go and go, but now I’ve been injured for a while and out of the game, I have to build back up. Endurance and power are earned through hard and deliberate work.

And writing is the same way. I know this is the cliche of the decade, but your brain is a muscle — just like your quads and calves and abs — and writing novels is like running a marathon. If you want to do it, it takes a lot of hard work and A LOT of dedication.

Keep at it and the muscles and endurance will build up. Keep at it and you will cross the finish line.

Just don’t sprain anything or give up before you get there.

On Writing #15: Adjectives, Adverbs, and The Quest for the Perfect Word

This came up today when I was on the phone with a friend — when to use adjectives and “-ly” adverbs and when not to. Since I’ve spent many years writing both fiction and technical/process/procedure documentation, I’ve run into this issue over and over.

In brief, the best solution is to cut the adjective or adverb *if you can*. If the meaning doesn’t change, the emotional content doesn’t change, then you don’t need the adjective/adverb.

Example: Pick up the silver spoon with your right hand and the plastic fork with your left.

If there is only one spoon and one fork, the adjectives mean little. If there are several forks and spoons of different types, then the information is critical. In addition, if you are writing a story that is about wealth (silver spoon) vs poverty (plastic fork), the information may also provide an emotional shading to the story that justifies keeping it.

I feel the same way about “-ly” adverbs (unusually, whitely, etc etc.) For many years I violently hated them, and I believed they were lazy and a “short cut”. As with many writers, I thought anything you were trying to say with the -ly adverb, you could say it better and more precisely by describing it.

But now age and time and KAVALIER AND KLAY have seasoned me. Sometimes — rarely — -ly adjectives are the perfect tool. When? Think in terms of rhythm, rhyme, emotional timing and pacing inside of scenes, and the risk of pulling a short story off track and focusing too much on something. In those instances, and several others, that oft-cursed, oft-derided “-ly” adverb may be your best friends.

That said, it doesn’t happen often. As I would say to a farmboy in Mos Eisly, “Best watch yourself.”

The Way Plots Work for Me

1 ) Write some good stuff
2 ) Write some more good stuff
3 ) Fall in love, but realize it needs some work
4 ) Put everything in order
5 ) Try to write some more, fail, repeat, fail, repeat. A lot of it is good, but where is it going?
6 ) Sit down and do a plot — either with index cards or a chapter-by-chapter or some other method
7 ) Begin writing again with confidence, finish one or two scenes.
8 ) Plot begins to change
9 ) Try to project forward
10 ) Plot continues to change, get more and more nervous, go to step 9, until…
11 ) I get lost. Backtrack a little bit, turn left at Albuquerque, proceed.
12 ) Repeat 9&10, perhaps 11, until…
13 ) First draft done

Then edit the hell out of it.

See, that’s all there is to it. Easy as pie 🙂

[Greatest Hits] On Writing #8: Drafting Cover Letter Blurbs and Synopses, Or How to Realize You Can’t Really Write

Ever wondered why writers complain endlessly about writing that novel blurb on the cover letter, or writing the synopsis that every agent says are standard for the industry, but every agent also says must be a different length? (C’mon guys! Are they supposed to be 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 or 8 or 10 pages, anyway?)

Well, since I’ve been diving head-first into both of these problems — and I think I’ve recently whipped the Cover Letter Problem(TM) — I’ll tell you. It’s not that you don’t know how to write anymore. It’s not even that your novel is too complicated to compress into a blurb/XY-page synopsis.

The real problem is that you are practicing a new skill, one you may not have used very much:

The skill of summarizing.

You may have last encountered this in 10th grade as an English assignment — summarizing (perhaps) MOBY DICK or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I bet it wasn’t easy, was it? All the class snickering. Half of them copying off of each other. None of you even partly interested in the assignment. If you are very lucky you may have even had to summarize a book more recently, say in English 101 or History of English Literature. You probably tried harder then, banging your skull against the dogeared copy of ABSALOM ABSALOM or TAMBURLANE until Athena tried to climb out of your forehead. You may have even got an A.

But one day you start writing a novel and thinking about selling it or getting an agent, and you sense this “Cover Letter” demon and “Synopsis” monster lurking in the dark and unknown future, and you wonder, “How do I tame them? How do they not just eat me? Where do I even start?” But you’ve still got a long road ahead, so you put it off.

Then one day the novel is done. You’ve patched all the plot holes, polished the prose, charisma’ed-up the characters, eliminated the loose ends. “Well,” you decide, “I can’t wait any longer — I have to have a cover letter and a synopsis.” So you dive in. First things first, start at the BEGINNING. And when you come up for air, you read the thing and you’re pretty damn sure IT SUCKS.

What’s going on, anyway? You know how to write. Everyone’s impressed with the novel (or at least they’re pretending to be.) Maybe you’ve even sold a couple of short stories by now, possibly been nominated or even won an award. But still You. Can’t. Get. This. Damned. Thing. To. Work.

Yeah, I couldn’t either.

But then I realized: my novel, with its unusual setting, four different factions, and shifting alliances (eventually culminating in one glorious conflagration where everyone tries to kill everyone else) — well, it just doesn’t fit the coverletter format. Or the synopsis format, either. At least… not the way I’m using them.

You see, I was lost in the detail. I was trying to recreate by intercut book, in order, sometimes scene by scene. But these formats don’t easily support that sort of summarization.

I realized at last that I only have to convey the spirit of the story, not every twist and turn of the plot. To summarize, indeed, I was forced SIMPLIFY the plot.

The only way to condense this book, make it fit into the space needed, and still be entertaining was to cut out seemingly-pivotal characters, entire story arcs, perhaps even important factions. Cut, cut, cut away the fat until only the skeleton remains.

The cover letter was finished first, a couple of days ago. And when I read it, it feels pretty damn good — and I’ve never been able to say that about a cover letter before. As for the synopsis, I’m still hack-hack-hacking away.

But at least I think I know what shape the corpse should be before I pour the lightning in… Here, hold a tendon.

[Update since the original post: The synopsis feels pretty darn good when I read it, too. It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE! *mad laughter*]