Those Little Formatting Oddities

I love books. I love libraries. I love bookstores. That beautiful paper fragrance in a second-hand bookstore is a wonderful thing. When I was a kid, in addition to visiting our local library, my family would occasionally drive to downtown San Diego to visit the huge public library. It was (and still is) an amazing place.

Emerald Cove released its first two anthologies (Kidnapped! and Stolen!) solely as ebooks. They were never intended to be paperbacks. The text size and other formatting in an ebook can change depending on the preference of the reader and the type of e-reader used. As an ebook author, you can’t stress too much about formatting, because you really don’t control it.

However, when John and I published 60th Hour, in addition to ebook format, we decided to publish a paperback version as well. (Did I mention that I love books?) The ebook came out first, and then I spent time formatting the paperback. Despite my appalling lack of technical competency, it was fun to play with the text and try different formats: “Oh look, John! You can make the first letter of the first paragraph of each chapter large and bold, like they do in real books!”

Until the print version went live and I got my author’s copy in the mail, I did not realize two things. First: all the little formatting oddities that I saw on the screen would still be there in the paperback. For example, when I added those large first letters, the paragraph text around them condensed in a weird way compared to the other paragraphs. I naively thought that issue was just a problem with the computer screen and would correct itself in the print version. Likewise, I assumed the extra spaces that appeared between some of the paragraphs for no reason I could fathom would undoubtedly be gone later. (Haha! Silly me.)

Second: I didn’t realize that all those formatting oddities looked better on a large computer screen than they did in a printed book. That sentence hanging at the end of Chapter One seemed like no big deal when I was reviewing digital pages side-by-side. When I flipped through the paperback, however, the hanging sentence made me wince.

There are even a couple of typos in the text. *cringe* Question: How many proofreaders does it take to catch a typo? Answer: At least one more than you used to review your manuscript.

At some point in the near future, there will be a second edition paperback version of 60th Hour to correct those formatting errors and typos. I’m not exactly sure when that will happen, but it will certainly be before Emerald Cove publishes Haunted!

Hah! Maybe I should use the weird formatting as a marketing tool: Hey all you book collectors, buy your first edition paperback with all those formatting oddities now, before the corrected version is released!

Or maybe not.

-Susan 8/21/20

Critiques During a Lockdown – Part 2

As I discussed in a prior blog post, writing during this current pandemic should be easy. We’ve all got so much extra time at home now. For someone of my…ahem…mature age, the “shelter-at-home” lifestyle means that I am pretty much in front of a screen all week. Loads of time for me to write.

However, instead of making optimal use of that time, I found myself in a pandemic malaise, unmotivated to write anything. When I emailed the other members of the Emerald Cove writer’s critique group, I discovered that they were in much the same motivational slump. We could no longer hold our monthly critique group meeting at Denny’s because the restaurants were closed, but we all needed the encouragement that our fellow authors provided during those meetings.

And we definitely needed the monthly writing deadline!

So we decided to try critique meetings via Zoom. We held our first Zoom meeting last month and our second one this past Wednesday. We spent a lot of the first meeting in a discussion of logistics. We used to distribute physical copies of our manuscripts during our meetings for each other to read, take them home for review, and then comment on them at the next monthly meeting. That practice worked pretty well, and we wanted to approximate it as best we could using technology.

I am happy to report that after two months of meetings, we finally have…a system. A Great System. Well, all right, maybe not great, but it has already prodded most of us back into writing again, so even if we have to tweak the system later, it is working.

In case it will benefit any other writing critique groups out there, let me pass along how our current system works.

During the Zoom meetings, we still discuss each other’s manuscripts from the prior month. We also talk about what is going on with our individual writing and how our shared projects are coming along.

In place of the written comments we used to write on the hardcopies of the manuscripts, we are now using the “review/comment” function in Word. It takes a little longer to type all our comments and corrections than it did when we could scribble in the margins, but it has the advantage of being easier to read than handwriting.

To exchange those reviewed copies, we use OneDrive. One of our members created a shared OneDrive folder for the critique group. Each month, she creates a subfolder with the meeting date on it. The manuscripts we “bring” to that meeting go into the folder with that meeting date.

During the meeting, we decide on the next meeting date. Our computer expert then creates a subfolder with that new date. Within that subfolder, she creates sub-sub folders with each of our names on them for comments. (“Comments to Susan”, “Comments to Danny”, etc.)

The reviewers “pull” the manuscripts, use the “save as” function to add their initials to the title, and make changes and comments with the review/comment function in Word. When the review is done, the new document is placed in the author’s subfolder for the next month’s meeting. So, if Danny reviews my story, he saves it with a title that includes “DA comments” and places it in the “Comments to Susan” folder for next month’s meeting.

I hope that explanation makes sense. If it sounds confusing, my apologies. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy: “I’m a novelist, not a technical writer, dammit!”

By the way, I should mention that one of our authors prefers to exchange reviewed copies by email, so we have a slight modification of the system for that individual.

-Susan 8/14/20

Our Next Exclamation Mark Anthology

When Emerald Cove decided to try its first themed anthology (Kidnapped!), I expected all our stories to be similar. After all, we were writing on the same theme. To my mind, kidnapping stories followed a standard structure: a person is abducted, often for ransom, and the story revolves around what happens after that. Furthermore, we were all science-fiction/fantasy fans, so it was likely (although not required) that our stories would fall somewhere within that genre.

The stories did indeed fall within the realm of speculative fiction, but beyond that, all similarities ended. Danny opted for modern day superheroes. Sue Dawe, who is one of the kindest and most joyful people I know, surprised us all by writing a frightening, alien-abduction story. Stephanie gave us an amusing look at the twisted psychology of an author. John and I came up with a light-hearted take on medieval highwaymen (and yes, John was involved — see my earlier blog post about what is missing from Lord Larrin’s Daughter.) Jefferson…well, there is only one Jefferson Putnam Swycaffer in the entire universe, and his stories are as unique and interesting as he is. (Just teasing, Jefferson! He and I have been friends for over 40 years, and he is a great guy and an amazing writer.)

Emerald Cove’s second exclamation mark anthology was Stolen!

In case you are wondering, we don’t really call them that. “Exclamation mark anthology” is way too long to say in casual conversation. We originally added the exclamation mark to the end of Kidnapped! because we hoped it would differentiate the book from other works with that same name. We foolishly forgot that internet search engines ignore punctuation. By the time Stolen! came out, the exclamation mark had become our “thing” so we decided to keep using it.

When we started working on Stolen!, I was expecting variation in our stories, and that was exactly what happened. Not only were there stylistic differences within the science-fiction/fantasy genre, but there were also variations on the types of things that could be stolen. The stories involved the theft of things as diverse as gender identity, artistic creativity, and souls.

And a fish. One mustn’t forget the pilfered fish.

So now Emerald Cove is working on its third exclamation mark anthology: Haunted! As I mentioned in a prior blog post, all of us at the Cove had been in a writing slump since the pandemic’s shelter-in-place started. Now, thanks to the wonders of Zoom critique meetings, we are back to writing. In anticipation of our next Zoom critique meeting on August 12, we are already starting to place full and partial manuscripts into OneDrive for review. I can’t wait to see what variations on the theme we all come up with this time.

Susan 7/31/20

Writing Critiques During a Lockdown

What do you get when you put five authors and the latest drafts of their fiction works in their local Denny’s restaurant?

Nothing. Denny’s is closed for dine-in service in Southern California due to the pandemic.

What you used to get was the monthly Emerald Cove writer’s critique group meeting. Every month we would have dinner, exchange manuscripts, and comment on each other’s writing from the month before. We tended to be a little loud, so we always asked for a back corner booth. I admit that Denny’s is not exactly as close and personal as meeting in your local pub, but then we’re not exactly the Inklings either. Denny’s worked perfectly for us, and most of the evening staff who worked there recognized us, even if they didn’t know us by name.

Then came March 2020. Although we could no longer meet, we suddenly had tons of time for writing. Writing is solo activity, both easy and safe to do during a pandemic. In the middle of April, about a month after the lockdowns started, we all exchanged emails about our writing and discovered that our intrepid band of eclectic authors had one thing in common: Not one of us was writing anything.

The reasons for the lack of productivity differed from person to person, but the result was the same. Writing may be a solo activity, but we needed those group meetings, the critiques and encouragement they provided, and the deadlines they imposed, in order to write. It’s hard to look your fellow authors in the face and say, “I didn’t get any writing done last month.” It’s a lot easier to say that in email.

I’ve fared a bit better with my writing since I started this blog in May. Writing about writing has made me want to write. (Who would have guessed?) And having actual people read my posts, follow my blog, and “like” the things I write each week, is really encouraging. All you readers out there are my heroes! I am now 10,000 words into the short story for the Haunted! anthology because of all of you. Thank you!

But I digress. About a week ago, Emerald Cove decided to try Zoom critique meetings. We’re still working out the details for how and when to exchange manuscripts, but our first Zoom meeting is set for next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

-Susan 7/10/20

p.s. I think Denny’s may have reopened for dine-in service, but I’m not sure. Circumstances in Southern California keep changing day-to-day. However, even if it has, it is highly unlikely that Emerald Cove will be meeting in person any time soon. Several of our members are either in the age-range danger zone for COVID or are closely connected with people in that age-range. We’re not taking any chances.

Can a Book be too Timely?

My new novel is a problem. It’s a fantasy novel. The first draft was pretty much finished by March, but it needs a major rewrite before it can see the light of day. I also need to do some historical research because one of the characters has a connection to the real world.

All of that should not be a problem, right? That’s what authors do all the time. A few months of solid work should do the trick.

So why is it a problem?

The story involves a plague. Blargh!! Could my timing be any worse?? I just spent three years writing a novel that no one will want to read. Even I don’t want to read it — the last thing I want to read right now is a fantasy novel about a pandemic.

And frankly, it’s also the last thing I want to write at the moment. I read and write fantasy to escape, but the novel hits too close to home. Just rereading it feels like a burden.

For now, I’ll stick with writing the Haunted anthology short story. Once John and I finish that…well, to quote Professor Tolkien, “Then we shall see what we shall see.” If this year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me not to get too locked into my future plans.

Talk to you next Friday. -Susan 6/26/20

When Lario Met Martha

Lord Larrin’s Daughter was originally intended as a one-shot story, a light-hearted piece about medieval highwaymen kidnapping the wrong girl: Robinhood meets The Ransom of Red Chief with a little twist at the end. Even though John and I are primarily fantasy authors, it was not really a fantasy story. It contains no magic or monsters, and the setting was a generic forest.

Then along came the Stolen! anthology. From the beginning, I knew the fish story would be light-hearted. How can you write a solemn story about a stolen fish? Given the similar tone of both anthology stories, I thought it would be fun to connect them. That, however, required an actual fantasy setting. An author can get away with a generic setting once, but not in a sequel.

But guess what? I already had a ready-made fantasy setting. Many years ago…many, many years ago…back in the early 1990’s, I wrote a fantasy novel called the “Feast of Five Crowns.” No, you’ve never heard of it, and don’t bother Googling it. You won’t find it. (At least I hope not!) After polite rejection letters from various publishers, I moved on to other writing projects. At the moment, it exists nowhere except my computer and a few paper copies.

I realized that Lord Larrin’s Daughter could take place within the Kingdom of Leathen, one of the five lands of the novel. (Five Crowns = five lands.) From there, it was easy to set the fish story in Marris, the seacoast land bordering Leathen. So the second story became Lord Larrin’s Trophy.

Then I got a really wild idea. What if I dusted off the old manuscript for Feast of Five Crowns and plugged in Lario and Martha from the Lord Larrin stories? Viola! Instant new novel.

So I trotted out the prologue and the first few chapters of Feast for my friends at Emerald Cove to review…and got soundly (but politely) trashed. Apparently my writing has improved considerably over the past 25 years. Who knew? I didn’t.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with Feast of Five Crowns at this point. Emerald Cove is planning a third themed anthology called Haunted! to come out sometime later this year or next year (after the shared-world anthology I mentioned last week). John and I have already started writing our new short story for Haunted! Like the two Lord Larrin stories, it will be light-hearted in tone and set in the Feast of Five Crowns universe.

It seems a shame to write all those short stories and never publish the novel. Perhaps I can work with John to revise the plot for Feast and rewrite it in the same light-hearted tone as the short stories. At the time I originally wrote the novel, I was young and serious and it was a serious fantasy story because I wanted to be a serious fantasy author. Now I am old and frivolous, so maybe a little whimsy wouldn’t hurt.

Susan – 6/5/2020

What’s Next?

It’s traditional for authors to blog about upcoming projects, so here’s the latest news. After publishing two themed anthologies (Kidnapped! and Stolen!), Emerald Cove decided to try something more ambitious: a shared universe anthology.

What happens when you ask an eclectic group of writers to come up with a premise for a shared universe? Well, first you get an argument. And then later you get another argument. (We are, in addition to being creative and diverse, rather opinionated authors.) But once the dust settles, you end up with a group of short stories set in modern day San Diego with a fantasy twist. Each story is unique, but will feature some recurring background characters and a shared underlying premise. I’ll blog more about that premise once the book gets closer to publication.

As I write this, most of the stories are complete or being finalized, and Sue Dawe is preparing some great artwork for the cover. The book’s release is set for…drum roll…

Comicon 2020!

Hmmm, yeah, there’s a problem with that, isn’t there? No Comicon this year. Remember that old saying? “Hindsight is always 20-20.” For me, 2020 is definitely the Year of Hindsight. (If only I had known then, what I know now…)

Anyway, Emerald Cove is muddling through this time of pandemic, just like everyone else. There is talk of a video Comicon this summer, but it won’t be the same as having 100,000+ fans walk through Artist’s Alley to view Sue Dawe’s magnificent cover art. So, at this point, the book’s release date is uncertain, but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I hear anything definite.

And, by the way, John and I are currently writing the short story for Emerald Cove’s third themed anthology, but more on that in a future blog. Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 5/29/2020