Friday, April 28, 2006

Calming Calendar Chaos

One of the things that Stephanie and I spoke about earlier this week was the need for me to jump back into the "swing of things" with Dr. Warson's Back Book as soon as the Emergency Edit for He Who Will Not Call was finished.

Well, the edit is finished, and it's time to get back to writing work.

Stephanie wanted me to write out a realistic Project Map for May that would enable me to finish the project by the end of the month. I spent a little time doing that yesterday. I then went one step further, and wrote in ALL of my daily and weekly time and work commitments. I also wrote in time commitments that I'm aware of that will necessitate being away from the project (driving to the airport, entertaining house guests...).

It seems like such a simple, obvious solution to getting a handle on the project -- and it is, in a way. I told Stephanie that I'd done a sort of similar map for March, and another one for April. In both cases, Emergency Projects arose that necessitated a restructuring of my time commitments.

Knowledge of past shortcomings, however, should not be allowed to stunt future successes. It was a good exercise to do the Map (again). It reminded me that the project still need shepherding, that there is less margin for error now than in March, that my "schedule" is fluid, and extremely difficult to plan in advance, and that I have a heck of a lot to do in a short time.

If you're looking at the backside of a big project, I would encourage you to do the same sort of exercise. Mentally determine how many hours you need to Get It Done. Then take the month of May (starting Monday, at a theater near you -- ready or not!) and make a plan. Be realistic. Allot a certain number of hours a day to work on the project. See what it's going to take to either finish the thing, or at least make a sizeable dent in it.

Then, stick with it. Past unforseen emergencies, past scheduling difficulties, current social and professional stresses should not color the Map. Start afresh, with a clean calendar slate, and make a Plan.

Recent Entertainment Rundown

* Aeon Flux -- Nearly unwatchable. Style over substance all over the place. A movie made without a screenplay. Beyond awful (which is unfortunate, because it could have been cool).

* Tristan & Isolde -- Better than I expected. Didn't think I'd be able to buy James Franco as anything but a two-dimensional character. Pleasantly surprised. Also glad to see Rufus Sewell as someone other than The Bad Guy.

* Casanova -- It's difficult to be objective about any movie with Heath Ledger in it, 'cause I'm a fan. But 4 of us watched this the other night and we all enjoyed it enormously. One of the most fun movies I've seen in awhile. The "R" rating is inexplicable. "Tristan & Isolde," at PG-13, had much more of what makes for an "R." I'll watch it again and again, but since Mr. Ledger's in it, that goes without saying...

* Stay -- I saw this in the theater, and don't mind admitting that I didn't "get it." I liked it, but didn't get it. Robert and I discussed it and, after much conversation, he hit on a Theory. Watched the DVD recently with Karen, who hadn't seen it, and realized that Robert had hit upon the Key to the film. Makes much more sense the second time through. Interesting direction and a freaky, non-linear story line make it worthwhile, regardless of whether the plot is accessible or not.

* Take the Lead -- Fun to watch, but impossible not to view it as a "Dirty Dancing" remake. Inspired by a real person, but I'm sure so much license was taken with the story that the real Pierre Dulaine (the ballroom teacher who taught dancing to inner-urban kids) wouldn't recognize himself. Still, the theatergoers laughed at all the right parts. And the dancing really is cool.

* Lucky Number Slevin -- Skewered in some reviews as uninspired, unimaginative, and a rip-off of 10 year old films like "Pulp Fiction" and "the Usual Suspects." Made me wonder if the reviewers saw the same movie I did. Extremely entertaining. Josh Hartnett (another one who usually makes 2-dimensional character choices) does a very good job. A stellar cast, crazy story line, interesting visual composition, and creative direction make this my favorite current release. I'd see it again.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

It's Outta Here (For Now)

Yes, Dear Reader, the Awful Edit has, indeed, come to an end. Our photographer has a list of outstanding illustrations. The publisher has the draft of the new (and, hopefully much improved) manuscript. The Happy Dance commenced at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and continued for quite some time. My toes are still tapping...

I don't believe that's the last I'll see of the project. But I must believe that when I see it again, it won't be a bad thing.

I'm actually quite pleased with how it has turned out. Since HWWNC has gone underground and has, essentially, signed off on the project, there is no need to worry about keeping the book in his voice. So I took the liberty to clean it up considerably. The information it contains is good (for all his idiosyncrasies, HWWNC does know what he's talking about), and I think it's presented in a cogent, easy-to-understand format. We'll see what the publisher says.

After successfully avoiding being called for jury duty once again, I'm redoubling my efforts on Dr. Warson's Back Book, hoping to make up for lost time. With any luck, I'll have the next chapter -- that's been on hiatus for the past month -- finished by Friday.

I had my first session with Stephanie, my new Life Coach, on Tuesday. One of my homework assignments is to map out a plan to finish writing a draft of the Back Book by the end of May. I told her that I had such a mapped out plan for March, and another one for April. Perhaps, however, the third time's a charm.

There's other homework, too. It's not done yet. I'll post my thoughts on it when it's finished. Suffice to say that I think Stephanie knows her stuff. I told her I wanted her to help me find more hours in my day. I believe she may be able to do it.

In any case, the Emergency Edit is officially over. We now return to our normally scheduled lives...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Driver's Safety

This past weekend, I took Nehi, my 20 year old Perfect Section C Welsh Cob out for our first Spring drive. My friend Karen and Cassandra went along for the ride. We went for a good 7 miles or so before coming home. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Nehi loves to drive. I bought him as a two year old. Back then, I was newly married, unemployed, and had a lot of free time on my hands. Nehi and I spent a lot of time together. I wanted to work him, but knew he wasn't ready to ride yet, so we spent an entire season driving. It's the first thing he learned to do, and he does it with gusto.

A few years ago, my friend, Denise, had a harness for sale that I thought might be a good replacement for my elderly, unsafe, cobbled-together, much patched piece of equipment. I took the new harness into the barn one January day and spent the better part of an hour fitting it to Nehi.

When I has ascertained that the new harness could, indeed, be adjusted to fit him, I started to take it off. Nehi, who until this point had been waiting with barely contained glee, was palpably disappointed. He pegged me with "The Look" that clearly said, "What do you mean, we're not going anywhere?" When the harness was off, he deliberately turned his back on me (something he is not in the habit of doing) and sulked in a corner of his stall.

As I said, he loves to drive. He has from day one. We drive primarily on the road, rather than in fields or in a ring. This is not without its share of risks (as my mother regularly points out). So this week, I thought a few thoughts on "Driver's Safety" tips might be in order:

* Don't go out without a good brake. The first thing Nehi learned to do with regards to the cart was "whoa." Whoa means "Stop. Now." It does not mean, "Stand still as long as I'm hauling on the reins." I know a lot of people preach "forward first." I am not one of them. I want to know that I don't have to worry about my horse running through a stop sign as we approach a busy intersection.

* On a related note, don't forget the parking brake. In addition to "whoa," Nehi also knows the word "cart." "Cart" means "Stand still, without moving a muscle, until I ask you to do something else." I usually hitch him by myself. I need to be able to have him stand quietly while I'm fiddling with the tugs and the breeching. I also need him to stand quietly while people are getting in and out of the cart, while little kids are running up to pet him, and while I'm hooking him up to things like trees and stumps that need dragging.

* When driving a cart, you are in a wheeled vehicle. That means that you drive with traffic. (As opposed to riding a horse, which makes you a pedestrian, and necessitates you riding against traffic.) In America, we drive on the right hand side of the road, and ride on the left.

* Clearly mark your driving vehicle for visibility. An orange hazard triangle and reflectors on the the back of the cart are absolutely essential. If driving on busy roads, brake lights and hazard lights are advised.

* Wear your riding helmet or a bike helmet while driving. You just NEVER KNOW what's going to happen.

* Make sure your driving horse can handle "yahoos" who find it amusing to blare their horn as they pass, who follow too closely, or who allow their barking dogs and / or screaming children to hang out the passenger side window and erupt in a frenzy within inches from your horse's face. Never understimate the value of desensitizing a driving horse to scary and distracting objects before you head out on the road.

* I loathe overchecks and sidechecks on horses that are working on the road. My feeling is, if the horse needs his head cranked up to be safe, he shouldn't be charged with my safety just yet. A tight overcheck forces the horse to hollow his back. It makes it impossible for him to use his hindquarters correctly for power or for braking. It never allows him to relax and work. As a result, the more he drives in that position, the more he becomes accustomed to moving incorrectly.

* Maintain lightness. I also find no need for constant pressure on the reins. A part of the horse knowing his job, involves knowing how to go straight, unless told otherwise. If the horse acts as if he's going to bolt and run off all the time, necessitating heavy rein contact -- again -- I don't want to be in the cart. I certainly don't want to trust my lift to him on the road. I drive with both reins in one hand about 90 percent of the time. I want my driving time to be relaxing. It wouldn't be if I were constantly worried that my horse might get away from me!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Poking the "I" Out

And the Interminable Edit continues... Every day, I swear it will all be over. The holes -- serious gaps in information -- I mentioned earlier riddle the entire project. Writing the text to fill them is not a horrible undertaking. It just makes it impossible to accurately gauge how long the edit will take. Some days I'll finish 90 pages. Other days, I'm lucky to get through 20 -- because all 20 have to be written from scratch.

Holes aside, one part of the edit that I am perversely enjoying is poking the "I's" out of it. Though the information in it is good, reputable, and actionable, the manuscript suffers greatly from "I" trouble.

Modesty is not a defining characteristic of HWWNC. The manuscript is rife with "I's," "me's," and "my's." They're everywhere. They distract from the information presented, because they constantly push the author in front of the content.

Too much first person writing -- especially in a how-to project -- can cause your audience to distance themselves from your content. I'll be the first to agree that relating first person experiences can help illustrate key concepts in the real world, and make the writer more accessible to the readers. But if your project is primarily in the first person, then chances are you are focusing too much on yourself and not enough on your reader.

Remember: your reader is the only reason you exist as a writer.

A good exercise is to go over a manuscript in the editing phase, and change every "I" and "me" to "you." Change every "my" to "your." Every "mine" becomes "yours." You get the point.

You will find that some "I's" must remain. The personal anecdotes, the introspective musings, and the telling vignettes are generally most effective when told in first person.

But you will also find that most "I's" can (and should) go. Write to the reader rather than about yourself and you'll rarely go wrong.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Add a Letter

Word in the world has it that the Swedish Academy (which counts giving out the Nobel Prize for literature among its duties) has decided that "W" is a bona-fide letter, and should be officially recognized, embraced, utilized, and allowed into both the alphabet and the dictionary.

Wordsmiths and writers will whole-heartedly welcome the news with wanton whistles and wild whirling, while worriers, whiners, and windbags will woefully, wrathfully -- wretchedly -- weep watching their wishes for a W-free world waft away.

I find it fascinating that much of the world cannot even spell Sweden without a "W."

The addition brings the total number of letters in the Swedish alphabet to 29. Imagine the havoc that adding a letter to the language wreaks. For one thing, someone has to come up with a new Alphabet Song. One with a catchy tune. That little children can sing. The English Alphabet Song uses the same tune as "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." There's no room in the melody, however, to add a three-syllable whopper like "W" to it. The world will watch with wide-eyed well-wishers to see how the Swedish Academy handles the Song issue.

A new letter will necessitate the standardization of using it when spelling words. One wonders if the Academy will be so open-minded with the new addition as to include it as the second letter in the official name for the country. Or will "W" become the ugly, red-haired step-child of the alphabet, used only in imports and cheap knock-off words ("world wide web," "Wednesday," ""watermelon," "Gone With the Wind," "WMD's," "War of the Worlds...")?

Lobbyists for the dictionary industry -- an economic indicator, if ever there was one -- must be thrilled. Imagine the party atmosphere that must currently permeate the publishing houses. Entire new volumes to be compiled! Whole new words to be included! They hold, within their grasp, the opportunity to tell people what to say!

You can bet the Powers That Be are revelling in their new-found power, and are already plotting What Letter To Add Next...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program...

The very longsuffering Dr. Warson sent me an e-mail today reminding me that we have only 5 months left to do the book and I haven't sent him any more drafts since going to Equine Affaire.

I told him that things are indeed coming along, though I realize I've been out of touch for a bit. I was very disappointed that I didn't get a draft of the next chapter finished before heading to Columbus. I told him that an emergency (and highly unusual) ghostwriting & editing request had arisen on a project that was being quickly shepherded into production.

This has cut into the immediate work on our book, but our editors -- and bosses -- are aware of that. They offered an extension, but I told them I didn't think there'd be a need for that. This book is writing well and going smoothly, when not bumped by other projects. We should be fine.

I mentioned a few areas within the project that could use his input now, even before I finish a draft of the next chapter. For instance, something that would be quite useful is a "Back Health Assessment" questionnaire or checklist -- a sort of do-it-yourself, general analysis tool that readers can use to help identify strengths, weaknesses, potential problem areas, unsafe habits, and unhealthy practices. (Some days I wish I had such an assessment tool for my own selfish reasons...)

I also told him that the silver lining, if there is one, to this project that has taken precedence over all else is that -- in addition to a ghostwriter and editor -- It also needed a pinch-hitter photographer for 2 full chapters, and for a few holes in the rest of the book. I'm hoping that the photographer has reasonable rates, and would be willing to give us an estimate for shooting Dr. Warson's project later this summer.

Everything happens for a reason. Still searching dilligently for the raison d'etre of He Who Will Not Call.

In any case, I assured Dr. Warson that we would soon be back to our regularly scheduled show. Here's hoping he doesn't hold the break in programming against me...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Deadlines, Destruction, and My Daughter's Duck

For years, when people asked my mother what her daughter did, she'd say, "She lives on a farm in Michigan. She trains horses and gives riding lessons, and she's married to a wonderful guy."

"Mom," I would say, "didn't you mention that I was a writer?"

"Well... No."

I actually got to the point where I said, "Repeat after me: My daughter is a writer. Go on... I'll wait." (No lie.)

Now that actual books bear my name in one capacity or another, my mother is quite pleased to tell people what her daughter does -- which is very gratifying, I'll admit. But now we face a new hurdle: this blog.

"I read your blog," Mom said recently.

"Good. What'd you think?"

"It's all about writing. There's some horse stuff, too, but it's mostly about writing."

"True," said I. "That's the point. I'm pretty clear about that up front, right from the start, on the header page."

"Well I don't care about writing," she countered. "I want to hear about what's going on in your life. I want to read about my granddaughter."

Mom -- this one's for you:

Much happened yesterday. I made a preliminary bid on a new project and followed up on two others in various stages of completion.

I also discovered that a sizeable area of the glazing on our beautiful, antique, cast iron, clawfoot bathtub has been compromised. I called our contractor about it, only to discover that the firm who initially refinished the tub 10 years ago has gone out of business. Getting a new bathtub may actually be less expensive that refinishing the one we have. Neither option will be cheap, I'm sure. He's going to come by early this morning and survey the damage.

Most of my workday consisted of wrestling with the edit of He Who Will Not Call's manuscript. To me has fallen the unenviable task of beating the thing into publishable shape.

I'd actually done a pretty thorough initial edit of the original draft last fall, before HWWNC went incommunicado (a fancy word for "petulantly unreachable"). But there were several instances of gaps or holes in the manuscript that could have benefited from his expertise. Since he's giving us the silent treatment, it has become my joyful duty to write the text that fills the holes.

I finished drafts to plug two of the biggest holes -- two full, missing chapters -- last week. In fact, on Tuesday, I sent those chapters, along with suggested photos, to the photographer who has been hired to illustrate them, so he can get started on the stuff we know is missing from the text.

But as I work my way through the "for publication" edit, I'm running across numerous, nasty little smaller holes. HWWNC could rattle off words to fill the holes without even thinking. But this topic is FAR from my field of expertise.

Filling the holes first requires no small amount of research. Then it requires synthesizing the information in an appropriate way. Finally, it requires that I write the text so that it sounds something like HWWNC's voice. It takes a bit of time. Half the manuscript is edited. Hope to finish the edit and send it to the publisher by the end of the week.

While I worked, Robert finished clearing brush, rocks, snow fence, moderate-sized trees, and other debris from the concrete slab that lies outside along the length of our barn. We don't know if it's salvageable or not. Perhaps some concentrated work and a significant amount of concrete will render it useable for parking farm implements. Or maybe we'd be further ahead to just chop it up and haul it away. Time (and my father) will tell. The first step, however, was to get the thing cleared.

During Robert's one-man slab-clearing party, Cassandra kept herself occupied making mudpies and sand castles at the entrance to the barn.

Later in the afternoon, while I wrestled with unfamiliar terms and tried to become comfortable enough with them to present them in a competent way, Robert and Cassandra carried on in the hallway. A not-so-subtle hint from me that my concentration could use a boost, and they were soon headed to the little lake nearby, where they stayed until it was time to start supper.

After supper, Robert listened to a teleseminar, while my neighbor, Sheila, and I headed out to do some errands. First, we moved a crumby old mattress from one of her neighbor's rental houses onto a trailer filled with treasures headed for the dump (free dump passes start tomorrow). Then we went to Whistler Farm , and picked up an extra water tank that my friend Denise no longer needed. (One can never have too many, I say.)

While we were there, we also got a duck for Cassandra, thanks to Denise's son, Caleb, who is the local poultry expert. Cassandra is terribly excited. As of yet, however, the duck remains unnamed. Further bulletins as events warrant on that front.

On the way home, Sheila helped me pick up an old telephone pole that had been removed from service and discarded near a new house being built just down the road. I stopped there on Monday and asked if they had plans for the thing. They didn't, and assured me that I was welcome to take it. It will make a great addition to the obstacle course I'm building for the horses. More on that later, as the obstacles take shape.

We came home, unloaded the pole, and were all set to get on with our evening... Until Sheila forgot that the door to her truck cap was up, and caught it in the cable run strung for our dalmatian. With a startlingly loud BAM! the window of the cap door shattered in 10 million pieces.

Glass shot everywhere -- forming a circle of shards approximately 40 feet in diameter right in the center of the dog run. Some glass pieces made it all the way to the chicken fence. Others covered the top of the truck, fell in front of the truck, and littered the truck bed. I'm not talking safety glass, here. I'm talking about little black splinters of death raining down from above.

We picked up as much of the glass as we could (shop vacs are lifesavers), until the sun set and we could no longer see. The dog run is still unusable.

Of course I felt terrible. Sheila borrowed our digital camera and took pictures of the damage before we started to clean any of it up. What a mess. When it got too dark to keep picking up shards, she went home.

Cassandra was tired anyway, and the glass explosion scared her. She then proceeded to pitch a full-scale Drama Queen fit about not being able to be outside with us, to pick up glass and play with her duck. Fit-pitchers, she discovered, get put straight to bed without having a book read or a song sung to them. Extended fit-pitchers also receive parental cautions about "sending the duck back."

Just before I put Cassandra to bed, I heard from a Centaur fence dealer, returning my call requesting more information. He was very nice. What's more, he was quite knowledgeable. He asked about the new pasture I want to put in, got some specs from me, and should provide us with a quote later this week.

While a pot of tea was brewing, and Robert was fiddling with his new electronic toy (more on that soon), Karen and I sat down to review the events of the evening... when there was a knock at the door.

It was Sheila, wondering if I'd picked up my camera before she left.

I hadn't.

She had set it down on the side of the trailer while we picked up the glass. Extensive searching proved futile until we meticulously retraced every step since the explosion.

We finally discovered the camera -- a quarter of a mile down the road by my neighbor's. Yes, it was destroyed... but the memory card with the insurance pictures (and photos of Cassandra looking for Easter eggs last Sunday) was intact.

What a day!

Robert, meanwhile, was installing, updating, charging, and initializing our new VOIP phones. It's new technology. He's beyond thrilled. I'm one of those people who would love to just keep our rotary dial phone forever, because it has great sound quality and doesn't require electricity to work.

Getting the VOIP up and working is Part I of the new Grand Phone Plan. Our current number--which is on my business cards, and other professional printouts--will be transferred to the VOIP phone (featuring Caller ID and other nifties) and will become the work / business number. A second, unlisted, number will be used for our private line. I'm all for progress. But really, I meant it about the rotary phone.

I called the jury hotline to discover that the courts of Berrien County have no need of my services, so Denise and I are headed to the Carriage Auction in Topeka, IN. It's an annual spring event. After Wednesday, I think I need a day away.

Denise wants some heavy bobsled bobs. My neighbor Rhonda wants me to look for some lighter sleigh runners. I'd like to find a decent work harness and a singletree for Nehi, my Welsh Cob. (I've misplaced or loaned out my singletree, and can't remember where it is, or who might have it... Not so bright on my part.)

And that, dear Reader, brings you up to date. Now do you see why I prefer to blog about writing stuff?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Judges for the Rest of Us

Or, An "L" of a Judge

The world of horse show judging has many levels. "R" judges evaluate the riders at top, A-rated shows. But there are many, many stairs to climb before one reaches the "R" Penthouse Suite. Lesser judges working their way up the ladder may be rated "r" or "S." Until recently, I was unaware of another level: "L."

As I understand it, "L" judges exist only in Dressage. They are certified as competent to evaluate dressage performance at Training through Second Level. Gaits, paces, movements, figures, collective marks, and the basics of judging methodology are covered in their training process.

Getting your "L" qualifies you to judge the lowest common denominator within the dressage world. Very few people will ever ride at the Grand Prix Level. Anyone with a year or two of competent instruction and a forgiving horse should be able to complete a Training Level test. But getting your "L" is not simply a matter of writing out a check to the USDF and waiting for your credentials to arrive.

The process involves multiple phases of instruction, hands-on learning, and formal testing. It requires over 72 hours of continuing education!

According to the USDF:

The final exam takes place at a USDF/USEF recognized dressage competition. The duration of the examination is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 days. Two examiners conduct the exam -- one of whom must have been an instructor for an earlier education session.

The examination will include a written test, and a practical judging test with some oral questioning. Candidates may be required to judge orally.

The written test is a closed book exam which includes true/false & multiple choice questions. There are no short answers or essay questions. The questions are compiled primarily from the general and dressage section of the United States Equestrian Federation Rule Book, the USDF Glossary of Judging terms and from the teaching material of the “L” Program.

I was impressed. That's a considerable outlay of time, energy, intelligence, and -- no doubt -- money, to be officially qualified to sit for hours on end in the sweltering sun at a local show and evaluate 114 riders as they ride the same walk, trot Training Level test one at a time.

Judging, like teaching, is an often thankless task. People do it for the inner satisfaction it brings, and for the sense of contribution to something they hold near and dear to their hearts. In the entire recorded history of horse shows, I doubt that there has been a single one where every competitor agreed with the judge's marks, and felt that the placings were just, right, fair, and well-deserved.

I grew up showing on several Class A Hunter circuits. Now, if I show, it's at the local or regional level. It's gratifying to know that (at least in Dressage) even at the less prestigious shows, the judges have had extensive training, and have shown a real committment to the sport. Not every ride requires an "R" judge's opinion. Here's to the judges for the rest of us!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Shared Secrets

As you may remember, April is National Poetry Month. I heard a wonderful snippet of the following poem on the radio yesterday:

Two teenage girls
Discover the secret
To the meaning of life
From a single line of poetry.

I, who wrote the poem,
Do not know the secret...

(Unfortunately, the radio show did not credit the author. I have no idea who wrote it. Any help would be appreciated.)

I spent some time yesterday talking with a friend who had a secret that needed sharing. It wasn't shocking. It wasn't scandalous. It was simply long overdue.

Everyone has secrets. Often, though, the things we think are secrets are actually common knowledge. They rarely surprise the people who know us. Since we're too afraid, reticent, or guilt-ridden to tell anyone, however, our "secret" remains locked within us. We build walls around portions of our lives in order to better keep our secrets guarded. As a result, more and more of what makes us unique is cordoned off, closed in, or shut down.

Refusing to acknowledge a secret gives it the power to blackmail our psyche. It colors our relationships with those who love us. It leeches our self-confidence and self-sufficiency. It forces us to live in the past and to fear the inevitable future. But when secrets are spoken -- even in whispers -- their ability to insulate, isolate, dominate, and manipulate us vanishes.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Crimes of Chronology

Keeping a consistent chronology is one of the easiest mistakes to make in any narrative work.

Oddly, it is also one of the easiest mistakes to avoid, if taken into account from the beginning. And it can create no end of headaches if discrepancies go unnoticed until the work is completed.

Chronology issues crop up from the most innocuous of sentences. Take, for instance, this dialogue from a current project in the Commentary Phase:

"Today is Tuesday. The meeting is Friday. Let’s review what we have on Thursday morning.”

Aside from the minor flaw of having a character tell another character something he already knows ("Today is Tuesday"), this semingly straightforward series of statements unleashes a Sam's Club-sized can of chronological worms.

"Today" can’t be Tuesday. It’s Tuesday 40 pages earlier, when certain events are set in motion.

Ten pages later, we learn what happens “the next day” -- which would be Wednesday.

Another ten pages go by before “the next day." This brings us to Thursday, and a LOT happens within the story.

Another 10 pages brings us to "the next day" which, according to any current calendar, has to be Friday.

Now, I realize that seeing things spelled out like this makes it appear as if the writer was inexcusably sloppy. Not so. In fact, the manuscript is actually cleaner and more polished than most. Furthermore, several knowledgeable people have read it and commented on it. Evidently, no one caught the impossible chronology.

Time frame mistakes are so easy to make because so much can happen between one day and the next in a narrative. As you get caught up in the plot of a project, sometimes all you want to do is find out What Happens Next. Since the work takes place in a world of your creation, and since it can literally take days (or weeks) to write out what happens in a 24-hour time period, it is easy to forget what day it is within the work.

Once the work is finished, fixing chronology mistakes can be tricky. In the current project, for instance, the writer continues on under the impression that her characters have 3 more days of the work week ahead of them. Instead, the weekend is upon them. This literally changes everything, and will necessitate significant reworking of several portions of the manuscript.

But keeping chronology straight is actually quite easy, if done from the beginning of the project. I use a calendar -- one of those little pocket planner things. It doesn't have to be current. Outdated ones work just fine. I write out the events that have to happen within the calendar blocks. As the work progresses, I'll also write in the page numbers that correspond to those events to help me keep things straight.

It sounds simple, and it is... it's MUCH simpler than trying to turn back time once you thought the project was finished.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Crash Course in Commas...

The comma -- that tiny little backwards "C" that means "brief pause here" -- is one of the most easily understood and most misused elements of punctuation in the English language. If a mistake surfaces in an otherwise perfect manuscript, chances are that it's comma-related.

This is unfortunate, because using commas is not all that difficult. In all honesty, if you simply read the manuscript aloud and place commas everwhere you naturally pause, their placement and usage will generally be correct.

The comma separates clauses. It keeps every time frame and sub-topic within a sentence neatly corralled and contained:

Suddenly, I noticed that the room, which was decorated in execrable shades of lime, was intolerably warm.

Commas surround names when making introductions:

My assistant, Igor, entered the lab.

They separate the various elements of days and dates:

It all began on Thursday, January 9, 1969.

And they separate the elements of a series:

I wish the contents of my estate to be divided equally among Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Writers often drop the comma before the last element of a series. They will write that the flag is "red, white and blue," rather than "red, white, and blue." Ah, but legally, this can cause no end of consternation.

If a person's will states:

I wish the contents of my estate to be divided equally among Tom, Dick and Harry,

Tom will then get half of everything. Dick and Harry (poor saps) will split what's left between them. Dick and Harry, therefore, will each get a quarter of the whole.

If commas fall after "Tom" and "Dick," then the estate will be divided into thirds, and none of the boys will receive more than the others.

The lawyers have figured out the importance of using commas correctly. It behooves us as writers to do the same.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Non-Slip Spurs

I recently received this e-mail from a friend who has participated in the last clinic Clinton Anderson gave in the area:

I didn't know if you knew much about Clinton's spurs or not. They say that they do not move on the boot. That is the main issue I have with my spurs, and the rubber spur straps don't work. When I apply pressure, especially rolling the spur like Clinton showed me for bending, they move up then I have no leverage.

Anyways, I was wondering if his were worth the money... If I don't have to go through 101 different rubber things and stop training to keep adjusting them it might be worth it. What is your opinion?

I've never been a huge spur fan, but have nothing against them if they're used correctly. Clinton advocates rolling the spur against the horse's ribcage rather than stabbing the horse in the sides. Spurs are to be used to teach the horse to differentiate between body parts, and move his hindquarters, barrel, and front end independently of one another.

I agree that the rubber heel straps that are supposed to keep your spurs from sliding around on the boot don't work. They'll break just from walking around, as often as not -- and then they're useless.

Clinton's spurs have a metal flange that extends a short distance up and down the back of the boot. This extends the surface area of the spur on the heel and makes it much less likely to move. I've seen the spurs in action, and they work. I've never worn them, though, and don't own them.

If I were doing a lot of training, riding a lot of horses, and wearing spurs all day, however, they would be my first choice. They're not fancy. The shanks are short, and they are available in both rowelled and unrowelled options. These spurs aren't for punishment or for show -- they're training aids that consistently stay where they're supposed to so you can concentrate on your horse.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Critiques, Commentaries, and Proof Edits

I spent the better part of the day doing a detailed commentary on a book project. The manuscript has been through several drafts and revisions and is this close to being ready for print.

The nuts and bolts of the writing is not bad. The author knows how to put sentences together, and generally only makes common, minor grammatical mistakes. When editing a major project for someone else, however, I like to do it in two stages: "Commentary" and "Proof Edit."

Most writers think their work is polished enough to skip the "Commentary" part of the edit (which, generally takes three times as long as a Proof Edit and is, therefore, significantly more expensive). Most writers are wrong.

The commentary stage is not a critique. Critiques, as far as I'm concerned, deal with whether a piece is "good" or not. They identify flaws or weaknesses in a work. Ideally, they also pinpoint strengths.

In my experience, critiques are most useful in the early phases of a project. They can help the writer recognize and avoid cliche-ridden writing, predictable plotting, and cardboard characters. Critiques tend to work best when a project is still fluid -- when it's still young enough, fresh enough, and incomplete enough to tolerate major revisions.

In contrast, a commentary accepts that the piece has started to set -- like newly poured concrete. Changes and revisions may still take place, but they should happen only if necessary. The time for playing with the concept, the topic, and the plot is past. A commentary is concerned with a project's execution.

Not all writers understand the purpose or the value of a commentary. That's why, when bidding out a job for a new client, I usually take a look at the first 3 to 5 pages gratis. I want prospective clients to see what they can reasonably expect to gain from the commentary phase.

The commentary includes observations about text inaccuracies, awkward construction, non-sequiturs, redundancies, clarity problems, formatting, and overall execution. I look at chapter titles, headings, and sub-headings, evaluating them for purpose, accuracy, and formatting consistency. I assess consistency of voice and vision. I also do a general evaluation of things like consistent tense usage, agreement, parallelism, sentence and paragraph construction, and spelling ability. At this phase, it's too early to do what I call a "proofing edit," but I like to get an idea of what proofing the project would entail.

The Proof Edit occurs after the writer has had the opportunity to review the notes from the commentary and act on them. When a manuscript is sent for a Proof Edit, I know I am the only thing that stands between it and the publisher. Now is no time for a commentary. Now is the time to get nit-picky and have a flashback to 10th grade English class.

The Proof Edit is concerned primarily with the manuscript's adherence to Proper English Usage. If a glaring error in logic, a series of un-understandable directions, or a poorly presented plot point shows up, it should be duly noted, but the Proof Edit is really all about making sure all i's are dotted, t's crossed, and things like periods, commas, and apostrophe S's are used correctly.

Critiques, commentaries, and proof edits. Each one has its place in the creative cycle. For the next few days, I'll be working on this commentary. I think, of the three, the commentary is my favorite. It takes place when the project is very nearly finished. It doesn't just say, "this doesn't work." Instead, it offers a series of suggestions for fixing or strengthening any weakness in the writing. Ultimately, however, the decision of how to improve the work lies with the author.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Marketing Meetings

Got back yesterday evening from a weekend spent in Columbus, Ohio, attending Equine Affaire. Several authors with books or DVD's that I've been hired to promote were featured presenters, and I wanted the opportunity to meet with them, get to know them a bit, and see what I could do to help them spread the word about their projects.

The range of responses I received was very interesting.

Five experts with projects I am helping to market were booked as lecturers, clinicians, or speakers. Of those, I had been given e-mail contact information for two of them several weeks ago. I'd connected with both, and we'd made plans to meet at the event.

One of them made my trip completely and totally worthwhile. We had a wonderful brainstorming session that lasted for over 2 hours. She's not very comfortable blowing her own horn, but the books she's written -- especially her newest one -- speak for themselves. They merit some horn-blowing. So we talked about ways that she can help me help her (Shades of "Jerry Macguire!").

We also discussed avenues for promoting her work that don't involve the traditional venues such as bookstores and book clubs. She was very forthcoming about what she wanted to do, and that gave me a lot of direction as to what sorts of marketing campaigns might work best for her. Spending two hours with her was more productive than a week of e-mailing back and forth.

The other expert that I'd contacted earlier and made plans to meet up with never showed. She was a scheduled presenter... and she never went to the event. A personal emergency may have arisen. Sometimes life throws curve balls.

A third expert with several books to her credit had been a confirmed lecturer too late for me to contact her before the event. I met up with her on Friday right after we arrived -- about half an hour before she was scheduled to leave for home.

When I introduced myself and explained my capacity as "new venues" marketing consultant for her books, she immediately grasped the concept. We chatted for about ten minutes, and in that time, she mentioned two completely new, untapped markets for her work. (Even better, I have good, solid contacts in one of the two markets, which are familiar with her work, which love what she has to say, and which are more than happy to connect me with others who would be interested in considering it.)

The fourth expert has several projects that are not yet released, but which will be shortly. When I introduced myself and explained that I would like to talk with her about marketing her stuff, she was very interested... But she wanted me to come back on Sunday.

I considered it, but once driving time, gas, parking, and admission fees were taken into account, it didn't make sense for me to go back for the sole purpose of seeing her. That's ok. We'll connect via e-mail...

The fifth expert also has a project that is not yet released. She had her own booth, but nowhere in it did she mention her up and coming releases, or mention her publisher / producer. It was as if she was responsible for the project herself.

I never did connect with her. E-mail will have to suffice in this case, too.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Traffic Training

For the past several days, I've been working with my three-year old Percheron and getting him used to being around moving vehicles.

The horses are pastured along a moderately busy road, so they're pretty used to seeing cars and trucks go by. But I like to do some concentrated work on getting a horse used to being in close proximity to vehicles before I take my life in my hands, climb aboard, and ride on the side of the road.

The best way I know of to get a horse used to traffic is to play "chase" with a vehicle. I've been having my friend and neighbor, Bridgette, come over on her 4-wheeler and drive slowly around the pasture while Theo and I follow. As long as the vehicle in question is moving away from the horse, he generally makes a fairly quick transition from "Aaaaah! What is THAT!?" to "Hurry up, it's getting away."

We practice following until I can sit on the tailgate and lead him behind the vehicle. We also practice lungeing around the vehicle from all angles, with it sitting still and with it moving.

Sometimes I stand on it and practice bringing the horse close enough to be rubbed on, and then back him away from me to start all over again.

Once the horse is comfortable following the vehicle and working around it while it's sitting still, then we practice walking calmly while the vehicle makes runs up and down beside us -- getting him used to seeing things come up from behind him and come straight at him. I also like to practice having him stand or work quietly while the vehicle runs circles around us.

It generally only takes a few sessions before the horse could care less about most vehicles. But in my experience, traffic training is an important part of every horse's schooling.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Little Things

Yesterday was spent taking care of "little things." And -- irritatingly enough -- not all of the little things I had to do got crossed off my list.

I wrote a few thank you notes... but have more to do.

I sent out a demo DVD and CD with high-res .jpgs of the illustrations for a quote for designing and printing "Carol of the Horse"... but need to find the funds to do the job.

I finalized some marketing materials for another book that will be promoted at the Columbus Equine Affaire this coming weekend... but still have to print them out.

I answered a few e-mails and put out a few fires... but there's always more of that sort of thing to be done.

And I braved the horrible, windy weather to drive into town and get horse feed... which meant I was away from the office and not being productive.

See? Lots of little things got done. But that just leaves the big ones still on my plate for today. Today's task for tackling: write a significant portion of the next chapter of Dr. Warson's book. Onward and upward!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Generous Expertise

Attending the Hoosier Horse Fair & Expo on Friday was just the ticket -- a day away from the office, catching up with my good friend Chari, surrounded by horse people and horses.

We met up with Dr. Langhofer, who was a featured clinician there speaking and doing demos on equine dentistry. He introduced me to Dr. Mark Russell, of Purdue, who sat and talked with me for nearly an hour about two of Trafalgar Square's books that I'm working on marketing.

What a nice man. He took time out of his busy schedule to give his considered, professional opinion on the books, and to offer several solid leads -- complete with names, titles, and contact information -- for promoting them.

He also brought a colleague of his, who also teaches ar Purdue, and who is an Extension specialist, heavily involved with 4-H, to weigh in with her opinion.

I was very impressed with the reception I received from both of them. I want to remember this for when I become famous and my expertise could be of use to someone.

I never got the feeling that I was putting them out, or putting them on the spot. They never acted as if the whole meeting was beneath them, or that they were just doing it as a favor to a friend (Which is true -- Dr. Russell is a good personal friend of Dr. Langhofer's. I'm sure he agreed to meet with me primarily on the merits of Dr. Langhofer's recommendation.).

They both spent quite a bit of time analyzing the books and offering their opinions on the merits of the books for various uses. They were willing to help me do my job -- though I had little to nothing to offer them in return.

As I said, I want to remember this. Sometimes it seems like such a drain to talk with people who want something from you -- even if that "something" is just your opinion. But it is so refreshing when people do take the time to speak with you. I'm very grateful for Dr. Russell's generosity. He made my trip to Indianapolis worthwhile -- and he didn't have to.