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The Beta Reader Road

If you've ventured to read this blog, you'll notice my postings have become rather sparse lately. There's several reasons for this. Not enough time, no ideas, no motivation, etc. But the biggest reason was the best: it was time to FINISH THE DAMN NOVEL.

That meant plotting, planning, and writing nothing but THE DAMN NOVEL, not to mention taking time off from my side jobs of singing in the choir and playing in the band.

But guess what? It worked.

Oh sure, I finished it once. If you scroll down, you'll find that post. But that was the vomit draft. 155,000 words of mostly good stuff, fattened up with plenty of icky lard.  Unlike the two tries before that (one as a Star Wars story and the second as a non-Star Wars story that spun off into such a mess it taught me that I am NOT a good pantser), I actually made it to "The End".

But that end was only the beginning. Another year went by before that wordy quagmire was whittled down to an agreeable 119,000 words that actually told a decent enough story to finally let it be alpha beta-read by someone I trusted to tell me the truth.

Upon getting a critique that advised me of some changes that I completely agreed with (except for the use of the word "churned" in a way that has nothing to do with butter) I tweaked it some more and ended up with approximately 118,700 words of a story that not only was I NOT sick of reading, but also one that I could not STOP reading. I still have a problem with this, and whenever I venture into the manuscript for snippets in order to participate in such Twitter writer hashtags as #1lineWed, #2bitTues, #WIPjoy, and the many other opportunities to showcase my writing on Twitter, that I have to force myself to stop reading and to stop the compulsive editing. Because now comes the big time: putting it out there onto the Beta Reader Road.

Beta readers. Yes. People who have never laid eyes on these words that I've been slaving over for some long, hard years. People who are going to take a ride on those words into the universe I created for my protagnist and villian, and the story they are going to tell. People who are going to get to know my beloved characters Nala, Rey, Jaiynder, Vaim, Callos, and The Mar'quem as well as I do. People who are going to tell me whether or not I've succeeded in bringing this story to life in a way that entertains them as much as it does me.

And I've already done it. Sent it out. It's in their hands now.

Oh. My. God.

Oh noes... beta readers!!!


In the meantime and to keep from chewing my fingers off while I wait for the verdict, I now have to brainstorm book covers (yeah, I thought I had one but let's not get crazy) and find a competent artist to create it (that would not be me), look for a copy editor, because I sure as hell am not sending this labor of love out with typos and missing quotation marks, AND go pull up all those bookmarks of web sites and blogs about self-publishing that I've hoarded to read later when the time came. *whew*

That time is now. The time is close. Publishing can actually become a reality in 2017.

Oh. My. God!

Fallen Heroes: My Uncle Gary

It's Memorial Day, a day that for most of my life simply meant "hooray school/work vacation!" because my family was fortunate that not very many of us not only didn't fight in wars, but didn't die in them either. Of course, we should be thankful for all who did, but it's not as immediate if it didn't hit home.

Gary L. HeemanMy uncle Gary L. Heeman was an exception. He served, and fell, in service to his country. He's being honored this week along with other fallen heroes with a banner in my hometown of Sayre, Pennsylvania. I thought it was time to honor this young, brave man whose grave I often visit when I return to my roots.

I was only four years old when he died, the victim of a sniper in the Vietnam War, for which he enlisted in the Marines to fight. But I still remember him: his handsome smile, goofy sense of humor, and the horsey-rides he gave me on his knees at Grandma's house. I also remember his funeral, where I learned for the first time what the death of a human being was. Wondering why he was sleeping with so many people around. Why he wouldn't sit up and smile at me. Why he looked so... still. I remember on the ride home, my little kid self trying to make sense of what I'd seen and heard, and asking out of morbid curiosity "But where was he shot? Oh, In the neck? like this?" My dad patiently explained as I banged my fist against the right side of my neck, wondering what that would feel like. I still wonder.

Uncle Gary died a proud Marine, doing what he believed was right for his country and for innocents abroad. But I'm sure that had he lived to hear it, he would've agreed with the words of the song we put as a soundtrack to the 8mm film snippets of his marriage to my aunt Shirley, fun and frolic in the cabin in Canada, and ultimately his funeral, the classic song 'Imagine' by John Lennon: "Imagine all the people, living life in peace." RIP uncle Gary. I still miss you.

A Day at the Races

In the rewrites for the 2nd draft of my scifi/adventure/romance "Fate's Apology", I had to back up and give the reader time to learn about the characters in their normal world before all hell breaks loose. This gave me an opportunity to see my male protagonist, Rey, getting together with his old academy buddy, Jaiynder. Today's snippet is an expansion of one of my #1lineWed lines from this week's topic of "last line of a chapter", in which my two guys are taking a breather between races at the Zaraxen Trophy Run-Offs in Sepherra City, an outing that Jaiynder has invited Rey to for more than just a chance to re-live the good old days. (What's a zaraxen, you ask? Not a horse, that's what.)


            Rey took his turn with the pay-out attendant then secured the purse full of shiny plastisheen sheets and square, gray coins in his leather shoulder bag. On the way back to their seats, they stopped at a small bar filled with racing patrons from across the sector and ordered two drinks of dragonspit. Rey removed the gray, fleece poncho he'd brought to keep out the chill of the late-season weather and tied it around his waist, then took a seat at a tiny table near the entrance.
            "So enough about me and my work," he said. "What about you? You look fed."
            Jaiynder slurped his drink and smacked his lips. "Yeah. I'm freelancing."
            "Ah. Talent on the heizeko finally paying off? You were quite the virtuoso. Didn't know you were still playing."
            "I'm not. I'm freelancing keeping peoples' debts paid, hunting down property on the lam, that sort of thing."
            Rey blinked. "You're a mercenary?" He laughed then took a sip of his drink.
            Jaiynder flicked a hank of hair from his eyes. "What's so funny about that?"
            "Nothing. It makes sense. You never did play well with others."
            Jaiynder grinned. "Guess I was always meant to be a 'solo artist'." He took another slug, waving at a passing waitress. "It'll all be changing soon though."
            The waitress took Jaiynder's glass. Rey held his hand over his own, not yet finished.
            "Yeah. Got a deal in the works. Can't really share the specs, as it's not all fleshed out yet—you know, 'don't speak of fortune and tempt fate to steal it'."
            "Well, that's good. Maybe then you can afford a personal skipcraft and come visit."
            Jaiynder laughed. "You remember."
            "How could I forget?" He took another sip. "Only man I know who can't take a back seat on a skipgate jump. Thought you were going to get us kicked off right in the middle of the Sonic that day."
            "What can I say? I gotta be in control. Always."
            The waitress returned with another dragonspit, took the currency off the table, and waited.
            "You looking for a tip?" Jaiynder pointed to her chest. "Lose the top button. Best tip you'll get all day."
            Rey huffed and reached into his bag. "You'll have to excuse my vulgar friend. He doesn't get out much." He dropped some coins into the woman's hand. She flashed him a fake smile, narrowed her eyes at Jaiynder, then stalked off.
            Rey swallowed his drink. "Valosh on a heggamog, you haven't changed a bit."
            "Good. I like the old me. Why change a perfectly good me if I don't have to?" Jaiynder downed his drink, slammed the glass on the table, and stood. "C'mon. Birdies are waiting."

One Line Wednesday Excerpts

Here's two excerpts from my scifi/adventure/romance mash-up, Fate's Apology, currently enjoying a very productive round of re-writes. Some of my #1lineWed tweets today were taken from these scenes. Enjoy the somwhwat expanded versions!

Scene one: Seeds of Discontent
"Why do you not rest, Nala? Ar-dek is not here, and your arms are shaking from the effort."

Nala threaded a tiny, white quartz bead onto the sheet she was creating then picked up another and shook her head. "I cannot, Sula. The deal was, if I finish this in time, Callos will excuse me from the next soirée."

"He will do no such thing. You will leap, as you always leap."

Nala glanced up at the older woman, her burgundy tendrils meticulously braided into a traditional hethfa, her salmon-colored flesh scrubbed clean. Like Nala, she wore a coarsely-woven, dress of drab color. Unlike Nala, she had slept at some point in the past day, her emerald-green eyes clear and bright.

"That is fine," Nala said, continuing her work. "It is not the leaping I dread."

Sula's hand caressed. Nala closed her eyes as the woman's fingers threaded through her own, unbraided tendrils.

"It is only because it is so uncommon for you that it is so awful," Sula said.

"It would be awful no matter what."

"Because they feel they must put on a show for Callos's sake. I was his favorite once too, and it is far different in the harem rooms than behind the anonymity screen."

Nala shrugged Sula's hand away. "You have lectured me on this before. It does nothing to change my mind."

"I am not trying to change your mind. I am trying to help you deal with it better."

"If you want to help me deal with it, then help me find a way out of this dreadful place."

"Again with the escape fantasy?"

"It was not a fantasy the last time."

"It was a death wish. You are lucky you did not freeze solid in the exposure cage."

Nala tied off a bead then snapped the heavy sheet open, examining her handiwork. "It takes little to thaw someone in this place. I will risk it again, when the time is right."

Scene two: A Killer in Training

Nala eyed a variety of clubs and poles, then spied a small object in the corner that didn't seem to fit in with any of the other items. Protruding from an oval holster was a golden handle with a button on one side.

"What about this weapon?" she asked. "What is it?"

Rey leaned closer. "It's perfect, that's what it is."

He removed the oddity, pulled it from the holster, and showed it to her. It consisted of round, metal claspers about the size of her palm, attached to a handle. There was a wide slit in the bottom. She tipped the end up and saw glints of metal inside.

"It looks like teeth inside," she said.

"They are. This is a Helvarik pogari. A whipsaw."

"Pogari. Whipsaw," she repeated. "How does it work?"

He handed her the holster. "Well, remember how you used the chain on your shackles?"

She nodded as she fastened the holster around her hips.

"Think of it as a chain. A retractable one that bites."

He moved to the middle of the room, took a defensive stance against an invisible enemy, and gave the device an overhand swing. At the peak of the arc, he pressed the button, and a silver whirling object spun from the clasp, extending outward about the length of her leg as it sliced the air with a hiss. Before hitting the ground on the downswing, it whizzed back into the clasp.

"I like it," she said.

"I thought you might." He flipped open a shallow compartment on the side of the clasp and pulled out two circular plastisheen sheaths. He positioned them over the twin saws' razor-sharp teeth. "Now for some lessons."

It's Not a Robot, and It's Not a Spider! What Could it Possibly Be?

First, I have to give credit to paranormal writer and terrific Twitter acquaintance Belinda Burke for showing me the idea of blogging an excerpt of one's work-in-progress from which one's #1lineWed tweets are harvested. I love #1lineWed, but often I find I can't tell enough at a time to make the line as enjoyable or even as clear as it should be. And while I don't want to tell too much or give away important details of the story, I think posting a bit of a scene from which a line is pulled can help pique readers' curiosity. So here is a bit of a favorite scene from which a line I used today for the theme of "Sound" was pulled. This is from act III, draft one of Fate's Apology. Enjoy!...if you dare. Mwa-ha-ha-ha.


At the far end of the room, the anonymity screen slid aside and Callos approached, the spherniture vibrating the hollow floor. Nala lifted her chin. She was forgotten, but not gone.

"Greetings," Callos said. "It is my understanding, Mr. Omadn, that you have requested the services of my favorite bodslav. May I ask why, when you had the opportunity, you did not do with her as you wish?"

Omadn stepped forward and bowed his gill-feathered head. "I wished'n not to raise the ire of her master, nor to influence her in any way. Besides, what better time to make such a request than when she believes she is free of me? It retains the element of surprise."

"Well said, my Idnardn friend. You have been advised of the rules, I trust?"

"Yes. All must take place in your presence. I have no issue with these rules."

"Good!" Callos slapped the arms of the spherniture. "Now then, what is it you require from my bodslav?"

"I want her to undress me."

Nala's pulse fluttered. This could not be happening.

"And'n then I want her to touch me."

Nala gulped. "No." She turned to Omadn. "No! He's going to—"

"Silence!" Callos bellowed, as he flung his arm at her.

A small, white object bounced at her feet. As it came to rest, spindly legs unfolded. It leapt onto the hem of her dress and skittered up the skirt, making staccato clicking noises. Nala gasped, backing away in instinctive horror at the crablike creature climbing through the material. She swatted it and was rewarded with a stinging nip from its pincers. It sprang from her breast to her chin, then clamped onto her mouth. Needle-like legs pierced, and a slippery protrusion pushed its way between her lips. Her teeth parted in a terrified scream, and the protrusion entered her mouth and embedded itself beneath her tongue. She clawed at the beast, ignoring its painful bites. The creature merely tightened its grip, pressing her lips together in an airtight seal. Nala's throat ached with her muffled cries, over which the sound of Callos's deep laughter penetrated her ears.

"I don't know of what use mutemites are to the Idnardn, but they certainly come in handy here," Callos said. "Now, begin!"

Nala's breath came in short bursts through flared nostrils as she stared in disbelief at the waiting salaphib.

Callos leaned forward, brandishing a riplash, a multi-thong whip edged with razor-wire. "Must I resort to painful means of persuasion?"

Before she could move, he lashed it across her back, slicing dress and flesh alike. She staggered against Omadn.

The salaphib grabbed her arms. "Do it!" he ordered.

With trembling hands she picked at the intricate fastenings of his moisture suit. Perhaps she should just press her face to him, forcing the muzzle-creature to its painful defenses. But the sound of the riplash slinking across the thin carpet as Callos withdrew it told her resistance would be in vain. He would protect his guest, her 'claimancer', and there was nothing she could do about it. At least the traitorous Idnardn was going to fail at his quest as well. At least some justice would prevail.

She tugged down the sleeves of the suit, the material making a sucking sound as it peeled from his glistening skin. An intricate lacework of tiny hosing lined the interior, allowing the fluids to flow and flesh to breathe. She pulled it open, exposing a creamy white torso, then moved behind him and pulled the entire outfit away from his body and down his legs, and she gaped at the vibrant purple and orange horizontal striping decorating his back. It wrapped around solidly-muscled, hairless arms and legs that sported not one shred of fat beneath the taut skin. He was a beautiful creature, and she wondered in passing if all were so brightly endowed.

The suit terminated in a pair of waterproof, form-fitted boots, and she pulled them off to expose large, striped feet with toes that spread outward, displaying the webbing between. Omadn flexed his right knee, and to her surprise a thick length of flesh separated from the back of his leg. It arched upward and a crescent of white, horizontal fin snapped open. He stood tall and spread his arms, stretching in the hot, dry air. Lowering his arms, he clenched and unclenched his fists, displaying more webbing between his long fingers. The heavy, golden ring restraining his finscythe glinted in the torchlight.

"Continue!" Callos barked.

Nala glared up at the naked salaphib. He gave a slight nod of his head, his gill-feathers bobbing. Something in his eyes…

The riplash rustled as Callos readied it for another blow. She reached up and fondled the fleshy feathers, then let her fingers caress his short, thick neck and sloping shoulders. A pungent, fishy scent penetrated her nostrils, and she pressed her hands to his rounded, ridged chest, fighting with her desire to push him away.

"L'wer," he mouthed, the word not even a whisper.

She cocked her head.

He turned his to the side, his mouth facing away from Callos, and repeated.  "Lower."

She glanced down. A vertical groove ran the length of his torso, terminating in a large slit at the apex of where his legs met. It twitched. She fought back a gag, the mutemite pulling tight as her lips reflexively tried to part, and she shook her head.

He grabbed her wrist. Blood pulsed in her eardrums and her muffled cries escaped through her nose as she struggled, trying to twist it out of his grasp. Callos's laughter prodded her panic as the incredibly strong salaphib forced her hand downward and plunged it into the cavity. Hot wetness engulfed her wrist, and she cringed as her knuckles pressed against something hard.

Red Pen Ready

It's finally here. That joyous time when I can say "I finished it". The first, complete draft of Fate's Apology is done. Does it seem like it's taken a long time? Yes, because it has. Don't ask how long. It started out just as a fun fanfic and stayed there for thousands of words. Then it got serious. Then I got serious. In reality, I cut my  writing teeth on this story, learning as I went, which made for a couple of false starts and periods of downtime where I had to figure out exactly what it was I was trying to do. Nevertheless, I persevered and was able to take a picture of that momentous moment when I could finally, FINALLY type those important two little words.

The End


Yup. It says THE END!

Now for the fun part! I hope... Oy.

I've already set it aside for a month, using the time to get caught up on other projects, or just wasting it and relaxing for a change. But the story's been percolating up there, in the back of my  mind, brewing in all its flaws, big and small as I gear up to begin the revisions and rewrites. I already know it begins 'in medias res', with the inciting event practically masquerading as the opening scene, and the last 25% takes up closer to 35% of the story. This means my plot points are out of place, a new beginning must be written, and because I couldn't make his arc work, a supporting character's story will be drastically changed.
Fortunately I think these problems can be corrected fairly easily without wreaking havoc on the story or my nerves. It's just a matter of outlining a beginning that better shows the two protagonists in their normal world while laying the foundation for the coming storm, and revising and/or eliminating scenes toward the end, mostly due to the character arc change. I've already started making notes of things I know need to be done, as well as words and names that need a 'copy/replace' done on them to create consistency (funny how the name of that person/people/planet seemed ok at first, but later on, um…no). I knew these things were happening even as I went, but by the time I got into the home stretch I refused to backtrack. Never mind, just keep going, I kept telling myself. It can all be fixed later.
And so it will be. I don't imagine it's going to happen overnight, but I'm sure the 2nd draft won't take but a fraction of the time the first one took. I already have a story, and that's ninety percent of the work, right? Now, I just have to make it better. And what better time to start than this upcoming three-day weekend, when I can finally sit down and begin reading the monstrosity from beginning to end! Now, hand me that red pen.

2015: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I normally don't enjoy revisiting my New Year blogs of the ambitious list of "what I'm going to accomplish in these next twelve months". This year, I especially don't like it. Why? Well, let's review. My list for 2014 was:
1) Finish Fate's Apology and find beta readers.
I wish I could say I did both of these, but no matter how I wrangled it, there just wasn't enough hours in the day. On many weekdays, I literally have no more time beyond my thirty-minute lunch break to spend writing, and about the time I'm comfortably in the headspace where my story lives, *blink* the break's over. I did, however, complete nearly the last third of this draft, mainly due to taking a week's writing vacation in July. Geez, if only I could do that more often, right? Well, currently, the goal stands at completing it by the time the choir returns from winter break at the end of March. That gives me six hours on Saturday mornings I normally spend singing and I plan to guard them with, as K.M. Weiland once said "a machete and a flame-thrower". As for beta readers, I have five people so far who'll make for a nice, varied audience. One of the three women is a writer, and having two men will help me know if the story will appeal to a male audience.
2) Write new piano compositions.
I had said last year that completing Fate's Apology would trump all other goals. This is one it trumped. Additionally, I did not take the planned sabbatical from the Shaare Zion Choir that would've give me six extra months of Saturday mornings. Paying musical jobs are hard to come by, and losing it would've been a step backward in that area of my life. So the piano didn't get the time it needed.
I did, however, come up with about four ideas which I recorded for further work when I'm ready to take that afternoon and turn my back to the WIP. Right now, I'm too close to the end to stop, so the only composing I'll be doing in the near future is on my bass for any new songs I need to learn for the band, which is fortunately still getting regular paying gigs. Hooray!
3) Review books I've read.
I did. Yay! Now to make it a continuing habit.
3) Get a web site up on my domain.
Not yet. I have the ideas. What I don't have is the artwork that my mind sees heading and decorating the page (although I do have a rough draft a friend made for me). This is important to me, and it's not something I can do myself because although I'm an artist, I'm not a cartoonist. How am I going to fix that problem? I'm going to either work with what I've got or pay someone to do it for me. And I can do that because when I decided not to quit the choir, I also made a second decision: all the money I earn as a musician is going to go towards my writing. Well, a blog is writing, so problem solved. Win-win.Wash, rinse, repeat.
Now, what's on the menu for 2015? I'm going to keep it real simple this year:
1) Finish Fate's Apology.
2) Write new piano compositions.
3) Make Rascalbear's Red-Point Siamese Round-up a reality.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
See you in 2016! (Okay, sooner, but you know what I mean...)

Hitting the Wall.

If you've ever been a long-distance runner, and probably even if you haven't, I'm sure you've heard of this phenomenon called 'hitting the wall'. It's where you've depleted the glycogen in your body and have no energy to continue. While I've never physically had this happen to me, either as a runner or, now, a spinner, I've experienced the feeling of hitting walls in other areas of my life. Times when, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get better at something, or move past some emotional trauma in order to get on with life. Today, however, I'm using it to refer to what's been going on with my WIP, Fate's Apology.

It's a little different here though. I have all the stamina and desire in the world to continue, to finish, and to excel. But each time I try to break through to the end of the story's climax, I bash my face on this giant wall that's blocking my way. I feel like one of those little battery-operated plush penned pigs-n-puppies that you see outside toy stores or souvenir shops in airports, bumping again and again into the barrier that keeps them from tumbling off the table and onto the floor of freedom. The difference is that I can see why the toys can't escape. With myself, not so much.
I've read that if you become stuck in your story, it's likely because something is wrong with it. You've written yourself into a corner, or maybe a giant plot hole you didn't see coming has opened up ahead of you with no way around it. Planning is supposed to help prevent this from happening. Well, I planned, but still…here I am, same place in the story I've been at for the past month, with lots of writing being done but no progress being made. Instead, it's more like *type type type* "Wait, no, that sucks. *type type type*  "No, that's stupid." *type type type* Oh, come on, that character would never do that." *type type type* "Again with the guards blocking the way? It's ok for my characters to think that, but I shouldn't be. Booorrring!"

Uh-oh...WATCH OUT!!

Quick stop ahead!

So I went back to the basics of just outlining the scene. What's the end goal here? How do I reach that? How many people are involved? What are each of them doing along the way? Who lives? Who dies? Who kills? Who saves? It took an entire two days. Ugh.
With my re-outline in hand, I tried again. I had a running tally on how many people I was dealing with, where everyone was at any given time, and a change in decision of required vehicle. It was going well. And then it started all over again. *type type type* "Yes, that trick needs to be pulled out of the hat, but don't waste it on a lackey" *type type type* "You're going to strip the guy naked now? How is that going to help him get out of this mess?" *type type type* "Ok, I'm all for characters surprising me, but no way can he have LET all this happen. Gah!"
Oh no...WATCH OUT!!

Careful, it's going to hurt!

What the frak was wrong? Why, for the love of Valosh, could I not get my protagonist through the climax without her turning into a dopey dullard running around in clichéd circles?
Then it hit me. She's had to face down every obstacle but one: herself. She hasn't had to do the one thing that rips her heart to shreds, but is the only thing that will save it in the end. And the reason I didn't know that is because she never had the chance to tell me, because it happens in the beginning of the story, which I still need to add on the re-write. You see, I swore once I realized the book begins too late in the story that I wasn't going to stop, go back, and add all the beginning stuff until I get to the end. But I can't get to the end without it. It's not that the story sucks, it's that not enough of it has been told in order to finish.
Hey, look!

I'll get past this, even if I have to crawl!

*Snoopy dance*
With this knowledge in hand, I did NOT stop and write the beginning. I placed in my mind what that beginning is, then I re-outlined the climax. It took one twenty-minute lunch break to get the basics, and a second to fill in some details. All that's left is the position-mapping and body count, which I've learned isn't what makes this scene important. Sure, I need to know those details, but more importantly I need to know exactly what it is my characters are overcoming in order to win. It's not just the bad guys. It's themselves.

*whew* NOW I can see the end again. Outta my way, walls. I have a story to finish!

Fall Back

It's here, it's here! It's finally here! That weekend when those of us who live where we still practice 'daylight saving time' regain that long-lost hour! And everywhere I turn, I hear the same thing. "Yay, we get an extra hour of sleep this weekend!"

Sleep? Really? That's what you're going to do with that sixty minute time-treat?


Aside from the fact that you'll lose it again tonight if you go to bed at your usual bedtime according to the clock, for the chronically sleep-starved, a single hour won't make a bit of difference. So why bother? This year, I decided to do something different. This year, I'm going to actually use that hour for something visible, measurable, and necessary.

This year, I'm going to do chores.

Messy dresser.Yes, you read that right: chores. Specifically, all the little odds-n-ends "to-dos" that have piled up since, oh, about the end of August when the swimming pool closed and the bi-weekly choir rehearsals commenced along with hours of band practice for three gigs with a new violinist, topped off by a surge in business at work that led to regular overtime. Oh, let's not forget my WIP, moving toward the words "the end" slowly but surely. In the meantime, needless to say, I've barely had time to shower, much less stay organized. Now mind you, these piles are nothing huge or unsightly, really, but they're there, mocking me every time I enter the bedroom or sit down at my desk, saying "Haha, you said last weekend you were going take care of me, but here I am, still here! Neener-neener-neener!"

Oh, shut up.

Messy desk.Being a tad on the compulsive side, I can't let this continue any longer. While I don't think my entire world has to be in order before I can move on to more important things, the background mess and the feeling of unease and failure it creates can get distracting. Indeed, without my morning routine of putting away the clean dishes and feeding/cleaning up after the cats while the coffee water heats, I don't feel ready to start the day. Even when I visit my parents, I must start the day by cleaning the kitchen of the previous evening's activities. So being organized is important to me, even if it's a superficial and short-lived organized. My desk and my dresser haven't been clean and organized for months. That's going to end today.

Messy shelf.So I'm setting a timer, and during that hour I'm going to tackle these little chore piles and get them done once and for all. Then, I'm going to set the clocks back and bask in what is left of my Fall Back Sunday, feeling truly like I gained some extra free time, as well as some uncluttered space and peace of mind.


Star-Speak: What Those Amazon Stars Mean To Me

At long last, I finally got around to reviewing a few of the many books on Amazon that various writers I follow on Twitter have written. For some, I know why I bought the book. For others it was just a whim. They cover a variety of genres, from chick-lit to fantasy, from scifi to how-to's, and even some true-story-based fiction. Some are books I never would have read because of their genre but enjoyed anyway, and some were of the genres I adore most and, well, I didn't enjoy. Writing what I thought about the books was fairly easy. What wasn't easy was choosing the all-important star-rating I was required to give them.
I really don't like what those stars are supposed to mean in Amazon-speak. I mean, I guess I see what they tried to do. I would sum up "how I felt about this widget" with only five choices rather like schooling grades:

1 = fail     2 = poor     3 = average     4 = good     5 = great

But Amazon, at least when it comes to books (I've never bought anything else from them to review) has for their meanings of the stars the following:

1 = I hate it     2 = I don't like it     3 = It's okay     4 = I like it     5 = I love it

For books, these just don't work for me.
Gold starFirst of all, "hate" is a pretty powerful word that is difficult not to take personally. I don't think I've ever hated a book in my life. What did it ever do to me? I may not have enjoyed the story, but there are very few books I disliked so much that I never even finished reading them. (Oddly, they tend to be either great classics or otherwise traditionally admired stories by famous authors, for which many others might be dropping their jaws in amazement at my lack of recognition of their prowess.) Second of all, just because I love a book doesn't mean it's good. I've loved some terribly flawed books in my past, and was surprised to discover just how flawed they were once I started writing.
So I came up with my own star-system. Here is how I break down what those five all-important stars mean to me. Because this is my own system, I'll have to start noting these explanations in my reviews.
1 - It was so awful, I finished it just to see how bad it was.
2 - I tried but just couldn't finish it because I didn't care for the characters.
3 - I enjoyed it enough to get through it, but won't read anything else by this author.
4 - I enjoyed it and will buy other books by this author.
5 - I couldn't put it down, would read it again, and will definitely read other books by this author.
I know, having the "I couldn't finish it" rating more stars than "it was so awful" seems backwards, but as a writer I try to make every reading experience a learning experience as well. My 'one star' review is rather equal to watching a train wreck in slow motion. I'm afraid, but I just can't look away!
Do you like the system Amazon uses to explain what the stars mean? If not, how would you break them down?

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