Freehold Friday: Sometimes you just need to step back and think.

Okay, I had to post something different this week.  Getting kind of tired writing about…well…writing…I guess.  I’m in the home stretch now editing AJE2 (once I’m finished revising the last few chapters, I’ll send the manuscript to Kinkos and get a hard copy, then read through it one last time before publishing) and I can totally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

That said, I’m finding it increasingly hard to focus on a particular chapter.  I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it to make it…flow…with the story.  It’s been giving me a headache for a week now and really slowing down my progress.  It’s like the reverse of writer’s block.  Editor’s block?  Is that even real?  I don’t know.  All I know is it’s frustrating as all get out.  I’ve re-written this one chapter maybe 4 times now.

So I decided to try a tactic that worked for writer’s block the one and only time I suffered from it–do something else.  Anything else that is meditative and let my subconscious shift gears out of the write (or in this case edit) 24/7 mode.  Before, it was a day of woodworking (back when we had a heat wave in January and the temps outside hit the teens!).  I stepped away from the computer during my valuable 2-hour nap-time/writing time window and locked myself in the garage (not really, the door remained unlocked at all times–I had a sleeping baby in the house, remember?).  No computer, no cell phone, no digital recorder, no notes, no writing.

At first I felt incredibly guilty.  After I picked up my favorite Japanese saw and smelled that first whiff of freshly cut wood, the tension melted away, the frustration vanished and I lost myself in the rhythm of the woodworking.  Two hours later, my project was complete (I can’t even remember what the hell I was doing out there now, but it worked!) and I had the solution to my writing problem.  I cranked out 40,000 words over the next 3 days.

This time, I decided to pick up my paintbrush.  Among the things I enjoy doing, I count art near the top.  Definitely top 3.  During the course of my renovation of the hobby area in the basement a few weeks ago, when I transformed it from a storage dumping ground into my subterranean office, I discovered this:

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It’s a simple watercolor painting I created in 2009 when we lived in Texas.  I was bored one day, home from work (I worked at a big box craft store at the time) and dreaming of vacations.  Next thing I knew, I had an old photo albulm of the time my dad and I made a wild-ass trip through Arizona and New Mexico.  One of the pictures was of Bell Rock, Arizona.  On a whim I decided to try and paint it with the crude watercolor set I had–hell, I ran an arts and crafts store and had seen people give demonstrations on how to paint I don’t know how many times.  How hard could it be?

Four sheets of watercolor paper later, I found it it’s a lot harder than it looks.  And this thing that I created didn’t look…well, it wasn’t bad…but it certainly wasn’t all that good either.  But it was the first time I’d seriously tried my hand at watercolor and I was happy with it.  Just looking at it brought back memories that made me smile.

And then it got tossed in a box and lost to me for six years.  Until two weeks ago.  Digging through everything in the basement to clear space for my office, I found it, framed it and hung it on the wall to give my writing space a splash of color.

So by now you’re asking yourself, what the hell does this have to do with anything?  Right?  Well, plenty.  As my editing progressed in the last two weeks and I crashed headlong into the aforementioned chapter-from-hell, I found myself staring at that painting trying to muddle my way around the problem in the story.  Finally it hit me–I need to step away, unplug, recharge and come at this from a new angle.

I closed the laptop, dug out my paints and paper and headed topside to the kitchen table.  A few hours later, I had this:

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This is my crude attempt to recreate a photograph I took when my wife and I toured Scotland in 2008 on our long-delayed honeymoon.  One of our favorite castles was Dunottar, south of Aberdeen.  It’s out on the rocky crag that juts into the ocean off Scotland’s east coast, accessibly only by what looked like a goat path from the mainland across some steep, rocky ground.  And there were no hand rails or warning signs.  We’re talking hundred foot cliffs, stiff winds and failing light.

Awesome!

We arrived at 5:15pm local time and struggled to make our way through the buffeting wind down the path (passing motorcyclists wearing neon racing gear emblazoned with BMW over every square inch of their bodies) and finally clawed our way to the castle gate (or what was left of it–it’s a ruin, you know).  The curator was just locking up.  We were free to climb around on the outside, but sadly we could venture “nay further”.

Fine by us.  We were happy to clamber around on the rocks and take pictures of the lonely ruins from a distance.  One of those pictures I decided to paint this week.

And you know what?  The moment I was finished and stepped back to admire my work, a light bulb turned on above my head and the solution to my editing impasse presented itself.  That opened the floodgates and here I sit with only 7 chapters left to edit!

So there you have it, how a watercolor painting helped put AJE2 back on track.  Kinda weird, but not really.  No one can focus on one thing 24/7 waking and sleeping and not burn out.  I think writer’s/editor’s block is just the mind’s way of putting on the breaks and making you take a step back to recharge before complete burnout sets in.  Too bad my oven can’t do that…but that’s a different story.

Now I can feel the excitement building, just like when I wrote the very first words of this book.  I can see the goal, it’s in sight.  Time to hunker down and grind this sucker out!

Freehold Friday: A new office!

Has it been two weeks already? I’ve been so deep into editing Alea Jacta Est 2 that the passage of these frozen days seems to be a blur. I am currently 2/3 of the way through the book and have finished the design on the cover as well. Progress! I don’t have a definitive time when the book will be 100% ready, but I am hopeful that it will be soon. We’re talking weeks now.

At the same time, I’m dictating chapters of the sequel to Apache Dawn in my down time during the day. For example, at 10:30am, my one-year-old son goes down for his midday nap. At that point, I take our five-month-old puppy — a vizsla named Princess Trinity — out for a brief walk in the sub-Arctic weather and back inside for some ball throwing and tug-of-war. She is finally reaching the point where I’m able to sit and throw ball across the room and she will run and fetch it, then chew on the ball for a few minutes before bringing it back to me. I repeat the process again, and in this way I can have a couple hours to myself to write. At the moment, Trinny is content chewing on one of her toys next to my chair. Luckily, I dictate most of my writing now and Dragon has progressed in its capabilities to the point where the loud obnoxious squeaking from her toys are no longer registered on the microphone. I don’t know if it’s something I did or something the software did or if she’s just far enough away that it can’t be detected, but thankfully the squeaking is not transcribed.

Sometimes though, if she’s in an especially calm mood — which seems to be about every other day or so — I’ll actually be able to sit with my laptop and edit AJE2. I’m noticing as I progressed through the story that the later chapters are much quicker to edit — these were the chapters that I started writing using DNS. The earlier chapters, have taken me much longer because of the multitude of spelling mistakes mostly. Dragon does not misspell. Ever. It sure does give me some amusing occurrences of improper words, but they are never misspelled.

As far as the sequel to Apache Dawn is concerned, I get the bulk of my writing accomplished while waiting in line at my daughter’s school. I learned that a certain grandmother shows up approximately 15 minutes before the kids get out. I have an understanding with the teachers that my daughter will be the first one out so that I can race across town to pick up my son at 3:30. Of course, this understanding came about back before my son started riding the bus. However, since the teachers have been so accommodating with me, I haven’t had the heart to tell them that she no longer needs to be the very first child ready to go. In order for me to be the first car in line to pick up my child, I therefore have to have a daily race with the unknown grandmother and get to school approximately 15 to 20 minutes before she comes out. The bad news, is that I also have to get my one-year-old son ready to go 15 minutes earlier than normal. The good news, is that the 15 minutes that I now have sitting in my car can be used to dictate the sequel to Apache Dawn! It’s fantastically efficient and so far the combination seems to really work.

I tested this process throughout the month of January and was able to bring home an impressive 72,000 words. Now keep in mind the 72,000 words written in January includes approximately 65,000 words to wrap up AJE2. Last 7000 words I wrote in January went towards the sequel to Apache Dawn. And the 20,000 or so words that I’ve written so far in February are all in Apache Dawn 2.

Which leads me to the next topic of this blog post. I was averaging something along the lines of 15 to 20,000 words a week in January. Why the disparity with February? For starters I ended the month of January with a nasty intestinal bug, that quickly rate made its way through the entire family. Then we had the baby’s first birthday party at the end of January, followed by visits from relatives and friends and family. Then we had preparations for my daughter’s 4th birthday, this week. I can give you a whole host of excuses as to why I didn’t get as much done as I needed to or wanted to, but other main factor was that the space that I have to work with in my house has been completely lacking. And so I have been focusing the last couple of weeks on cleaning out an area in the basement and carving out an office just for myself.

When we moved into this house my wife commandeered the dining room as her home office. I had no objections over this, as she is the sole breadwinner. However, the room that we then established as our dining room (after laying down hardwood flooring and ripping up the nasty old carpeting) became my office. We purchased a small desk some time ago that I made my writing workspace. Trying to work in the middle of the dining room, which is in itself near the middle of the house and in the main walkway between the garage in the kitchen and the back deck, proved to be nerve-racking to say the least. Interruptions were almost by the minute. With 3 small children and be in the house I got almost no peace. When I started dictating in the car in my daughter’s school, and editing in the basement with the puppy in the mornings before everyone got up, I saw my productivity skyrocket. That led me to the conclusion that if I wanted to get some work done, I need to stay in the basement.

As luck would have it, we had an area of the basement — two thirds of which is finished — that we simply called the hobby area. In this room, I had grand plans of setting up my studio/home office/model workshop, to satisfy my various and sundry hobbies and pursuits of downtime. Ah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it? Within a month of us moving into this house — now for almost 3 years ago — my hobby area quickly became the storage something ground. Anything that we brought into the house, or discovered in storage that we just simply could not find an immediate use for or place for, was dumped unceremoniously into my hobby area. This included my stuff of course, the kids schoolwork that was brought home (we had grand plans to sort all of their stuff get rid of the busywork and keep things with memories attached or things that were uniquely theirs because oh my goodness, the schools send home a ton of stuff with our kids!), Sets of weights unused picture frames, piles and piles and piles of family pictures are growing collection of wine, and the wine fridge. Keep in mind this is on top of all of my astronomy gear, my genealogy research and family history trunk, some exercise equipment like the treadmill, etc., etc., etc.

2 weeks ago, I decided I had had enough. This was supposed to be MySpace, my man cave, my personal retreat in the house. And it had become a disaster area. I decided to draw line in the sand, and reclaim what was supposed to be mine. So for the past 2 weeks, instead of writing and editing is much as I possibly have done, I decided to spend what little free time I could scrape together between feedings and dog walking’s, diaper changes, and shuttling kids back and forth to school, and clean out the hobby area once and for all. It took an entire week just to sort through all of the kids schoolwork! I ended up throwing away almost 3 garbage bags full of stuff, and kept the best for posterity. That said, I still had to sort through everything else. Well, I can tell you now with some satisfaction that I am finally finished! I have taken back what is mine!

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in this blog entry is being dictated sitting at my brand-new unfinished desk, in my still somewhat cluttered, but well on its way to being perfected writing space!

One thing that I’m especially proud of — you can tell I don’t get out much — is the conversion of a scrapbooking storage/filing system into a writing filing system. The bars on this metal cage — acquired when I worked for a major big-box arts and craft store — were perfect for hanging file folders. However it was designed to hold 12 x 12 scrapbook sheets and it was definitely too large to suit my purposes and hold my files and research notes. So what I did was rated the old toolbox grabbed some bull Connors remove the offending bar, slid it a little bit closer and reattached it just this morning with some steel epoxy. 60 minutes later, and I have a perfectly usable and clearly solid regular sized hanging file system! Yeah I know, it’s not very much, but it completely made my week!

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So, now that I’ve probably given you too much insight into my personal life, I’m going to wrap up this post and get back to editing!

Remember, if you want to know before anyone else when AJE2 is finally ready, sign up for my mailing list here.

Until next time, muchachos…

Freehold Friday: I love Photoshop, or, see the new AJE cover!

Since I am closing in on the half-way mark with editing Sic Semper Tyrannis (AJE2), I figured it’s time to update the cover for Alea Jacta Est.  I was never really happy with it, other than the simplistic design:

AJE cover

I mean, that pretty much sums up the story right there, doesn’t it?  America on fire, burning from within.

Anyway.

That cover took me all of 15 minutes to throw together back in the day.  I found some stock imagery of a ring of fire and a flag and boom, black background, some text, and Richard’s your uncle.  Or is it Bob’s your uncle?  Whatever.  You’ve got an uncle, ok?  And I had a decent, if stark cover design.

This time around, after doing some actual research on cover design for False Prey, the theories I’ve read and studied finally clicked.  Here is the result, a more movie-like poster for AJE:

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What do you think?  I’d say it’s a step up from the original cover.  And I’ve got a real doozie of a cover worked up for the sequel.  One less thing to distract me from editing.  I won’t give it away yet–I’ll let you all be the first to see it, don’t worry, but that won’t happen until it’s done editing and about ready to publish.  But I’m not cruel, I’ll give you a teaser: there’s blood, shadows, and a knife.  Nice.

Anyway–seriously–let me know what you think of the new cover.  It’s going to go live soon in preparation for the launch of the sequel, to be titled Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Speaking of the new book, if you’re interested in getting your hands on it faster than everyone else, sign up for the Freeholder Update, where I announce the release dates of all my books in advance and even gave away copies of False Prey to celebrate its release.  Who knows, maybe the Freeholders will be getting more stuff?  Hmmm?  Only one way to find out, muchacho.  Man up, sign up.  Here.

Okay, enough procrastination.  Back to editing before I start sniffing around for more free fonts to use in my covers.  I love fonts.  Fonts, fonts, fonts…