Saturday, December 21, 2013

We Three Cats - A Cat-mas Carol

Long ago I wrote songs for my cats' website. I haven't done it in quite a while, but this is one of the more popular tunes.

At the time I had three Siamese cats (you know "cats of Orient"?) whom I nicknamed "The Good, The Bad and The Fluffy." They had a three-way pecking order going, but they all knew how to cooperate at Christmas....

We Three Cats
(sung to the tune of "We Three Kings")

We three cats of Orient do
help our mom wrap presents for you.
Paper crinkles oh so beautifully.
Give us some stuff to chew.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your nose.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your toes.

We three cats just love to explore
right where mommy's doing her chores.
Lay right there and shred the paper.
Knock presents on the floor.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your nose.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your toes.

We three cats shut out of the room,
howling like we're meeting our doom.
Mommy scorns our help, what's wrong with her?
Guess we'll just sit and fume.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your nose.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your toes.

Happy holidays, everyone.  May your catnip be strong, and your door latches weak, and may you have plenty of time to play in the cardboard boxes before they get recycled....

* This silliness was brought to you by...*

You can find wonderful organizations like Mid-Michigan Cat Rescue at PetFinders on the web. Don't forget to help the needy pets in this cold holiday season!

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Update and Fun With Pictures at the Library of Congress

My goodness, I guess I'm already in  holiday mode.  I forgot my update.

Things have been busy chez Camille this week.  The usual kerfuffle in friends and family and cats and traffic and weather.....  But also I've been busy doing some cover work, in particular subcontracting a back cover and spine.  (I enjoy this very much and it brings in cash!)

Plus a month or so ago I was arguing with people who were wrong on the internet. Someone scoffed at this photo posted by @History_Pics and swore that the picture was too high quality to have been photographed in 1922.  I tried to explain to him that photos back then were MUCH higher rez than now, especially when it's a glass negative.  Film negatives never caught up to that quality and digital has only just barely got to that state. (Astronomers were still using glass plates up until ten years or so ago -- because they needed the high-resolution and sensitivity.)

The fellow who was wrong on the internet, though, declared (and I'm paraphrasing): "That picture was never taken in 1922, and too bad neither of us can prove it!"

So I proved it.

(The picture had a Shorpy water mark, and Shropy always names the source of their images.   Library of Congress.  "Taken between 1921 and 1923.")

It took very little time or effort to find it.  Unfortunately, escaping the LOC collections will take a lifetime.  Oh, I love archives.

That particular picture came from the Harris and Ewing Collection, high end art and photojournalism photographers, and the whole collection is on glass negatives -- basically top of the line stuff.  So all the photos are spiffy, and I've been browsing them for a while now.

However, just this week I found what I consider my pot of gold: the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection.  Yeah, those pictures taken by photographers hired by government agencies to document life in the U.S. in the 1930s and  1940s.  They're mostly on film, not glass,  and in many cases damaged film.  It looks to me like the original editor used a hole punch on a lot of the negative to indicate which ones not to print.  (Sometimes to really funny effect.)

Oy, vey, it's fun to hang out on this site.  Even with the damaged pix, there are lots of great images for reference drawings. 

Also, it's almost all in the public domain (because they are government photographs), however some rights are still in question because if the people depicted are still alive, they have "life rights" to the image.  You can still used people pictures editorially (i.e. as in this blog post about the LOC collection -- news stories) but not commercially, say, for a book cover or t-shirt.

However, if there is no person in it, there are "no known restrictions." (Here is the link to the Rights and Restrictions for the FSA Collection in general - however, you should check the Rights Advisory for each image, in the "about this item" page.)

Also note that the Library of Congress has a lot of material that ISN'T in the public domain. Always check the Rights Advisory.  Always.

And aside from the art factor.... History!  The collection is just so cool to browse through.  There are photos documenting slum conditions, and also places people are relocated to.

And lots of people just doing stuff.  Like this young lady showing us her bloomers?  That's from the 1930s.  She's in costume, and clearly thinks the costume is quaint. I believe these were taken at a fair in Vermont.  There are lots of images of folks in costume, and this girl appears a couple of times... always flashing her pantaloons at us.  (For shame, young hussy!)

So that is just cool.

In the meantime....

Ideas have been flowing like wine at a Bacchanalia (or like whine in a writer's forum.)  Winter is a very productive time for me, if I don't give myself typing injuries or catch cold.

I am pulling together the updated game materials for those who want to test out the story game.  I hope to send them out Monday or Tuesday.  (Anyone who wants to play around with this early version of the game, email my cat at maudecat at with "Game Tester" in the subject line. )

In the meantime, I will post a little holiday fluffery sometime this week, and then not until Jan 3, when we get back to the game and a fuller posting schedule again.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Story Game - Having Fun, Looking for Game Testers

I have been rolling a story a day since I posted the "Let's Play" post.  As of this writing, that's 21 story situations, including the one I rolled for that post.

I haven't been playing full out and writing stories from them (yet), just rolling numbers, filling out the forms and doing enough brainstorming to test whether I can come up with a viable idea that interests me.

The goal here was to:

  • Test the game, see what needs adjusting.  (And nearly all of it does need adjusting.)
  • See how much fun I can have with it.  (Which is "lots.")

But the surprise is how well it has been working as a creativity tool.  It's actually working.  For work.

This game has been great in helping me come up with viable, robust ideas that excite me -- and this even though this is not really my main genre.  If I needed to become a pulp writer who turned out a novelette or novella a week, this game certainly does give me the material.  At least half of these stories excite me.  All of them, so far, are something I could write with reasonable interest. (They are books I would be interested in reading, anyway.)

The game really wasn't intended to be that kind of production tool, though, and I have no idea if this flavor of Romantic Suspense is of any commercial value.  But you know, there are two parts to productivity.  One is marketability, but the other is enjoying what you are doing enough to keep doing it.

I still have two big questions:

Will it work for other genres and types of stories?

What I have found so far is that the stories it generates vary.  Some of them really seem more suited to Romantic Comedy (no mystery or suspense) and others seem especially suited to Mystery Suspense with a romantic subplot.

Also, a big part of the Woman in Jeopardy suspsense story has to do with where the plot goes.  And if you choose not to head for a Happily Ever After ending, you could have an outright thriller on your hands. (And sometimes even with an HEA ending.)

So even though I think this Situation/Character Structure part of the game should be changed for other genres and types of story.... I also think that it's easy enough to simply do that in the plotting end.

The biggest problem, though, is that this game really is suited for stand alone stories.  Not for series.  That is, I can't use it to come up with a murder plot for George and Karla or even Mick and Casey.  (At least, not yet.  I've got ideas I'm working on for that....)

This makes it great for short stories, though.  And it also is surprisingly good for coming up with... the first book in a series.  I have learned this the hard way.  As I write In Flight, I find myself thinking "Oh, that would be a fun continuing character.... Oh, and that would work for a series...."  (Like I need yet another series.  I don't think so...)

Will it work for other people?

If other people do as I do and adjust the game to suit their tastes and needs, sure, it could work for them.  But could this be a package?  An actual game or workbook that people could use to have fun, develop skills and develop stories?  I mean, would the game I'm writing work for people who don't want to write their own game?

I honestly don't know yet.  I would like to publish it.  I think it could at least be fun.  In the meantime, I'm still testing.

I would like to find some people who would be interested in playing with it.  I'd send a pdf (and maybe an ebook version) of the updated forms and wheels/lists.  I wouldn't require anybody to do anything in particular with it -- just play with it and let me know what parts are fun or productive, and which parts are frustrating (or which you simply ignore).

If you're interested, email my cat, maudecat at, with a header that says Game Tester, and when things are ready, I'll send the materials out.

In the meantime, I will likely post an update on Sunday (the 15th) but then not again until January 3 -- when I'll begin a the Plotting section of the game.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Book - A Free Holiday Short Story

I just published a new ebook today -- currently only available at Smashwords (see below).

"Midwinter Freedom" is a short story in my Mary Alwyn series.

This series takes place in one of my dream story worlds: in this case a world a little bit like Revolutionary America.  And as with all my dream stories, it isn't about history so much as about our popular culture views of history.

The main series is really a melodrama, (albeit a very anarchist melodrama, where the heroes are puritans and atheists and one feral woman trying to find her own way).

But this story is really just a simple little holiday romance.  I think it stands alone, but it's especially for those fans of Wife of Freedom:

Jackie and Mary have settled down again -- still wild and troublesome, but not suffering troubles at the moment.  It's winter, and time for warm fires and mulled flip, and gifts ... and gossip.

However, this time the gossip is about Jackie.  Jackie is a man who can't keep secrets, but apparently this time he has one.  So what's he been up to with that strange woman?

Midwinter Freedom is currently available only as an eBook and only from Smashwords.  But it's FREE.

UPDATE: this book is now free at most major vendors (at least in the U.S.):

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel

Smashwords carries most formats, and also will distribute the book to most other ebook vendors, including Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Diesel and others.

It will be available at Amazon next week (though you can get a mobi file for you Kindle from Smashwords now).

I am delaying the upload to Amazon, because Amazon seems to have stopped matching the free price on books.  I am hoping that if the book is free everywhere when it is first uploaded there, Amazon may still match the price and  offer it free.  If not, the book will be 99 cents, and you can still get the book at Smashwords.

(Once again, here's the link:  Midwinter Freedom at Smashwords. )

UPDATE: this book is now free at most major vendors (at least in the U.S.):
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Update, and 33 Years Ago Today

I may be coming down with a cold.  (A friend of mine has a bad cold right now.)

Or it may be just too freaking cold outside.

Or it may be the effects of biological change on women of a certain age.

But that short story I was hoping to have uploaded by now really hasn't even been edited yet. And the cover I did... I need to revise that too.  I think you'll enjoy it when I get all formatted and ready to read.  If that happens to be too late to get Amazon to treat it as a freebie for the holiday, I will have free versions on Smashwords and maybe a file on my website. (It's too long for a blog story -- about 5k.)

I'm thinking I'd kind of like to have a new holiday story every year.  I didn't get Six-Gun Santa sorted out in time, and I realize that I'd like to submit that to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine first, anyway.  If EQ doesn't take it, that will be next year's holiday story.

Thirty-Three Years Ago Today

It was a Monday night.  Everybody else in the house was asleep.  I was watching Johnny Carson, when a news crawl started across the bottom of the screen.  I didn't quite catch it.  Or maybe I just didn't quite believe what it said.  Somebody had been shot.   The name had scrolled out of sight, but ... did that say John Lennon?

This was in the days before cable and the 24-hour breaking news cycle.  Long before Twitter.

I flipped on the radio.

They were playing The Ballad of John and Yoko.

If I remember right, every station was playing it.  Twist the dial, and there it was again on the next station up.

And that said it all. It confirmed what happened, and also commented on it. The life (and likely/inevitable death) of a superstar in the modern world.

"Last night the wife said 'oh, boy when you're dead, you don't take nothing with you but your soul. Think!'"

So I am torn at the moment. I was going to embed a video of Imagine, a great atheist's message in the spirit of the holiday season.

But I think there is also a seasonally appropriate message underneath the anger in Ballad.  I mean, what is The Ballad of John and Yoko about? It's about the media circus surrounding their marriage and their decision to turn it into a message for Peace.  How, no matter how high your celebrity takes you, you still don't leave life with anything but your soul, so live with that in mind.

Since I can't make up my mind, I guess I'll give you both, and you can choose what you want to listen to.

The Ballad of John and Yoko (looks like fan edited video from the news events behind the song):

And a very nice version of Imagine (an HD version of the official music video):

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Story Game: A Preview on Plotting

I lost the post I wrote about what I've learned messing around with the game this week. Maybe I'll post that next week.  In the meantime, here is an off-the-cuff post about plotting, which can serve as a teaser for what we'll be talking about here in January:

I'll let you in on a little secret:

The reason I started writing mysteries with a western twist wasn't because I used to watch that many westerns.  It was because I happened to be watching a particular western which was in reruns on TV Land, when I finally figured out how to plot a mystery.

The problem I'd had up to that point is that I tried to write mysteries the way I read them:  You just start telling this story and let all these mysterious clues mount up and.... uh, then you get stuck.

I was pondering Agatha Christie and couldn't quite figure out how she managed to turn the story upside down with a revelation, and then flip it around with another, and then send it spinning off into space at the end.  And I got the idea of the revelations. What I didn't get was how to handle the front story -- that is, how they worked together.

And what was playing on my TV in the background but... Maverick.  You know that old slightly silly western staring James Garner (and sometimes Jack Kelly and/or James Bond... I mean Roger Moore).  It pushed it's way into my consciousness, and I realized. OMG!  That holds all the answers!

You see Maverick had a kind of pattern to the plot -- at least the ones with James Garner.

Act 1: Maverick would ride into town with a purpose.  He'd be looking for an old friend who owed him money which he needed to get into a high-stakes poker game, or something like that.  And there would be stuff going on, but he didn't give a rip, because he was James Garner.  Eye rolling was sufficient reaction to even the worst disaster that might happen to somebody else.

But something would prevent him from doing what he wanted.  So he'd work out a deal with someone who could help him, and.... just before the ad break he'd discover that someone had lied to him, and he'd find himself with a handful of trouble instead of the money he was owed.

Ad Break.

Act 2: So, Maverick would change his course to suit what he now knew was the truth, and he'd go after his money/friend/whatever with renewed vigor.  He'd overcome some obstacles and usually ignore a few weird things going on (because he didn't care), but by golly, by the end of the second act, he'd find out he'd been told another lie. A bigger lie!  And he'd find he was in trouble.

Ad Break

Act 3:  Okay, now Maverick is pissed off.  He breaks some noses, cuts through some crap, and stomps his way to the truth, just in time to find out.... yep. There was yet another layer of lies, and now, all of a sudden, he was in really Deep Doo Doo.  I mean, no-water-in-the-desert-while-a-lynch-mob-hunts-you deep trouble.

Ad Break

Act 4: And now, knowing the truth, Maverick is able to put his disinterested but really quite agile brain to good use, and also really kick some ass of the people who pulled the wool over his eyes, and resolve both the mystery and his own problem.

What I've just described is a pretty standard pulp formula - only here played for laughs most of the time.  As a matter of fact, recently I was reading through Lester Dent's famous Master Plot for pulp short stories.

Dent's formula starts thusly: "...introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble...the hero pitches in to cope with this fistful of trouble... near the end of the (first act) there is a complete surprise twist...."  Next act is to shovel more grief on the hero, he struggles, another surprising twist, and this happens again, until the hero "really gets it in the neck bad" and is buried in trouble... and he digs himself out.

I laughed when I first read this, because it is so much like the pattern I noticed in Maverick.   And for that matter the part about the twists at the end of every act is a lot like Christie.

But this isn't a mystery plot, it's an adventure plot -- specifically a men's pulp adventure plot.  Nothing to do with little old lady detectives and clues left among the daisies and lying butlers (well, except for the lying part.)

So how did this help me with mystery plotting?

It told me what the front story is.  It told me how you handle what's going on when you are hiding what's really going on.

The front story is that the protagonist thinks he knows what's going on, and he is acting on that.

It is not a case of the protagonist knowing nothing and then slowly and gradually gathering evidence until he knows everything.  No.

A mystery -- and any kind of story based on investigation (even historian stories) -- is about theories.  The character believes something, and he acts on his beliefs.  When obstacles are thrown in his path, he may dodge, but he doesn't actually change course until something big at the end of each act  proves to him that his basic theory is wrong.

Yes, sure, he's learning stuff all along between those big revelations, but everything he learns he fits into his existing theory.  He believes the pretty lady is in distress.  All the clues seem to be about who is menacing her. Then Maverick learns that the pretty lady actually isn't in distress at all, she's a thief.  Then all of a sudden, all the clues have a different meaning.  He moves into the second act with a whole different understanding of what's going on.

So now, when I sit down and try to figure out a plot, the question I ask myself is not "what's the truth behind these lies?" but "where is the protagonist going, and what will be the big thing that changes that direction?"

The Graceful Arc of the Story

In spite of what I learned from Maverick and Lester Dent, however, I really think that stories have a natural progression that is more than just "it gets worse" or "the protag changes direction."

I love the four-act plot structure.  I really think it follows a psychological pattern, where each act has a flavor all it's own. It progresses like a human progresses through the psychological stages of grief.

But that I will leave until January, when I'll start in on a series of posts and games related to plotting.  I don't know exactly how many posts -- probably an introduction, and a separate post about each of the four acts and their special character.  I don't know if I'm going to do separate posts for playing plotting games. We'll see when we get there.

In the meantime, I'll do a few sporatic posts during December, but we won't get back to anything major until January.

(Oh, and watch Sunday for a book announcement. I found a romantic little holiday short story in my files about Jackie and Mary Alwyn -- of The Wife of Freedom.  It's a lot of fun and I hope to have it polished and uploaded before the weekend is done.)

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Update - Games and Sprints

I am actually writing a lot right now.

I'm writing so much I hurt myself. (Well, technically, it wasn't the writing that did it -- it was a combination of an old shoulder injury, freaky weather, not keeping up on exercise, AND writing too much.)

Therefore I don't really want to work on anything else right now -- in particular, not blogging.  So.. no posting this week other than today, and the Friday Story Game post.

What I've been doing:

Rolling Game Stories

Every day since I posted the previous Friday's game post (the "Let's Play" post), I've been rolling a story with the game.  I haven't gone further than minimal brainstorming on each one -- but I have gone far enough to tweak the game a little.  I will likely post this Friday on the things I've learned.

However, I'm also figuring out ways to adapt the game (or create a new game) for other genres and types of stories.  If I'm far enough along on one of those, I'll talk about that.

I have a nice stack of story ideas that intrigue me.  And I'm considering using these "situations" to brainstorm different kinds of stories. That is, I created this with the idea that they would be right for novellas or novels.  However, I'm wondering if they could be inspiration for short stories. Could I do even flash or micro-fiction riffing of these elaborate situations?

Furthermore.... could they inspire, say, a mystery story for Mick and Casey to solve?

#Writeclub's Friday Night Writes

The other thing I've been doing is writing sprints.  I've mentioned before how I sometimes work with a timer to keep me concentrated on what I'm doing. This may be anything from cleaning the bathroom to writing.

There are groups on Twitter who do something like this as a group activiity.  They announce a start time, and how long, and people join in.  They may or may not announce how many words they wrote during the session.

It's kind of like an instant writing dare.  The point is not really productivity, but concentration.

I usually do 15 minutes, but the Friday Night Writes group does 30 minutes on and 10 minutes off. (They go from like 2pm EST to 2am on Fridays -- look for the #writeclub hashtag.)

I decided on Monday I wanted to do some sprints, so I announced 20-on/10-off bouts.  Shorter works better for me.

And boy did it work better!  I usually, when working in longer increments, write about 700 words an hour.  With these, I was writing about 1100 an hour. I did about 2600 words in a three hour period with a 40 minute break in the middle (and ten minute breaks between bouts).

Part of this speed was do to the method, but part of it was because I was working on Game stories.

Unfortunately, the next day my shoulder gave out.  This was only partly due to the rapid typing.  (I normally type a lot every day.)

So even though I've learned a lot from this, and I'd like to tell you about it, I have to save my typing time.  I hope to tell you about it next week.

In the meantime, see you in the funny papers.