Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: The Rook

The RookThe Rook by Daniel O'Malley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's refreshing to find a book that takes familiar tropes like super secret government agencies and the supernatural, and makes them its own. The Rook is one of those. But while just that might appeal to urban fantasy fans and thriller fans alike, the best part about this book is the character Rook Myfawny Thomas.

The book opens with a letter written by Myfawny for Myfawny because she has lost her memories. This set up gives the reader the unique opportunity of getting to know pre-memory wipe Myfawny (Myfawny 1.0) and post-memory wipe Myfawny (Myfawny 2.0) since the rest of the book is littered with letters that Rook Thomas has written to her new self.

Myfawny 1.0 is a mousy woman. Physically she is nothing special with average looks and a petite build. Despite the power to control the nervous system of living things, she prefers administrative work over anything else. In essence, she is the head paper pusher of a secret organization called the Checquy who will cry if you speak to her too loud. O'Malley does a fascinating job with Myfawny 1.0. The reader never meets her, yet knows all her insecurities and fears while reading the letters of a highly intelligent person who never quite lived up to her full potential. I found myself feeling bad for her and regretting her inevitable fate. It's even sadder knowing that it couldn't be prevented because then we wouldn't be reading this fabulous book.

But what opens her eyes in the rain is amazing.

Myfawny 2.0 possesses all the strengths of version 1, but lacks all the fears and insecurities that held her back. She is resilient and capable from the moment she makes her first memories. Version 2 is very much her own character. She likes her coffee different and dislikes the dour wardrobe left behind for her. She's assertive and just as intelligent. O'Malley makes this paper pusher a certifiable bad ass. She might not be able to handle a gun, but she knows everyones secrets. The best part, she felt real. Myfawny is multifaceted coming across as both a woman and a professional without having to tower over people in heels or manipulate them with words. Her greatest asset is her brain and she uses it. This is an urban fantasy character that was very much needed.

The rest of O'Malley's world is just as well developed. I don't want to give too much of it away here because that would ruin the learning curve that both the reader and Myfawny 2.0 must develop. I'll say that the supernatural feel in the book is closer to that of X-Men due to the major variance in the characters' powers.

As for the Checquy, O'Malley has done a thorough job creating an organization to help quell supernatural threats with a rich history and a straightforward hierarchy. While it might have been tempting to show the organization from the combat perspective, the reader sees it from the view of a quiet bureaucrat. Don't let that disparage you, there is plenty of action.

The reason why I give it four stars is that I feel the ending was a bit rushed. Either than that, this book was handled nicely. I highly recommend and look forward to reading whatever else this writer produces.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Critical Incident

Critical IncidentCritical Incident by Troy Blackford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I paid nothing for Blackford's wacky little novella, and I wouldn't be ashamed if I had. Critical Incident is just flat-out enjoyable. I grinned like I was watching a goofy action comedy. I should have known what I was in for when the book starts out with homeless people vandalizing public property with grease pencils.

What I must praise Blackford for is pacing. In such short time he manages to write an open and shut (okay, almost shut) little mystery that involves drugs, murdering robots, corrupt civil servants, and brain washing without falling into bad spy movie territory. This fun little story is one of those rare self-published gems floating around on the internet.

Now, there are a few issues with the book. Since Blackford did the cover, editing, even his book trailer by himself, he missed some things. There is a part where his three male leads (Warren, Bentley, and Hurdy) all swap names for a couple of paragraphs. I was able to figure out who was who by the scenario they were all involved in, but it could be confusing for some. Other than a few other typos, Blackford did a decent job ironing out the wrinkles.

I recommend this book as a fun afternoon read for those who want to zone out and be entertained. I look forward for reading more from him.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: It Began With Ashes

It Began With Ashes (Wroge Elements, #1)It Began With Ashes by D.E.M. Emrys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do not often read fantasy written in an Iron Age setting, but I've been following this emerging writer for quite some time, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? I enjoyed it.

It Began With Ashes is Emrys' novel debut. He succeeds in where most fantasies fail by avoiding passages of exposition in favor of action and character development. And when I mean action, I mean lots of action. At lest fifty percent of the book has the characters fighting for their lives, and there are a lot of characters.

The book opens up with Astartes, the 12 year old son of the Tax Collector Nicholas. Then it introduces Kale, the twelve year old son of Draven and Morganna Reinhardt, ex-mercenaries and also characters that get their own time in the sun. While the two boys and the sword wielding married couple are the ones who lend the reader their eyes, there is a whole cast to support each of them. There is Deule and Damian, two more 12 year old boys. McGowan, Draven's employer. Ivebian, Draven's friend and skull-crusher cohort. Not to mention a handful of red shirts that shall not be mentioned for spoiler sakes.

For a short novel, I couldn't help but think, "This is a lot of people, but who's the main character?" That's one of the weak points of this novel. I want to say it's Astartes and Kale over any of the adults because they undergo the greatest character development and ask the heavy questions like, "Why is all this blood and killing not affecting anyone else?" If that is the case, this novel is less about the veteran soldiers and more about the children trying to cope with death dumping its bowels all over them through the adults' sword work.

Emrys' world building is effective without slapping the read upside the head with a history text. Most of it is conveyed through character interaction with the world and their thoughts. It's based in an environment much like Roman occupied England with Viking's beating down on the heads of the poor villagers while their occupiers tax them to death. The names are easy to pronounce, especially if you've played Skyrim. Emrys has a glossary at the end of the book, but it really isn't needed unless you're into that kind of thing. His writing is clear and straight forward enough that the context tells the reader everything.

His pacing is good. It gallops along at a steady speed with only a few pot holes. The village raid foes on a bit too long and the book ends to soon. Yes, way too soon. While It Began With Ashes does have a plot from the beginning that is achieved by the end (Get to the Mercenary Guild.) and follows the story rule of rising action, climax, and falling action; it felt like it needed more. The ending is like the horse smashed into a garbage truck going 60 in the opposite direction. It could have been longer and I wouldn't have cared.

So why 4 stars?

It's a well structured story with an easily understood but complex world. The characters are distinct with their own problems and thoughts that develop over time. And he can write.

Looking forward to the sequel.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 12, 2012

Typewriter Text to Your Computer: The Best Results

In may I did a couple posts for typewriter users on OCR programs for free. Then I made a discovery that I'm mad at myself for not noticing sooner. My HP Photosmart Premium C410 had an OCR function after a document was scanned. I used it, and got the best results I've ever had. It even sent it right into a Word document.

Then I acquired a Smith and Corona Electra 120 from an elderly gentleman who didn't want it anymore. Due to alignment issues with my Skyriter, I switched to the Electra for the final chapters of my novel. And guess what. Near perfect results. There were only about 3 issues per page for ten pages. The perfect 11.5 font translated amazingly well.

The Electra 120. It will get it's own post one day.

So if you're ever in the position for new home office equipment, look for something that comes with OCR software. And as stated in my previous posts about OCR, use a typewriter that gives you the best mark you can.

Previous OCR Posts:
Typewriter Text to Your Computer
Typewriter Text to Your Computer: How to Get Good Results

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Zoo City

Zoo CityZoo City by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zoo City by South African writer Lauren Beukes is a must read for anyone looking for capable, resourceful female characters or a damn good urban fantasy mystery.

Zinzi December is and ex-reporter, ex-junkie with and unusual companion in Sloth. Sloth is an Animal, a familiar that the guilty are cursed with it. When a person receives and Animal, they are instantly known as a criminal, an outcast. Animals are a powerful magic, tying their person to a black hole called the Undertow and bestowing them with a special ability. Zinzi's ability is that of finding lost things.

At it's heart, Zoo City is a good mystery novel surrounding a missing person, something that Zinzi usually refuses to do. By taking the case, she must call on favors from those of her pre-jail, junkie life. Her pre-Sloth life. This is where Beukes shows her skill by weaving information from past and present together to create a draw that sucks the reader in. Beukes never gives the reader everything at once, forcing them to put the pieces together. All the threads are there, another sign of Beukes skill.

The book is written in first person present tense adding to the intensity. The point of view is even more effective given that Zinzi's old skill set is journalism. I can her her voice in every word, every sentence. She reeks of the intelligent person who made very, very bad decisions, but is much tougher for her ordeal. I love Zinzi. She's well rounded and whip smart.

Beukes also immerses the reader in a very well-built world set in Johannesburg, South Africa. From Zinzi's dank apartment in a condemned building to the the music scene she's forced to investigate, all of it is tangible and real. You can see the textures and hear the sounds. Beukes even includes little bits from fictional documentaries, thesis papers, and newspaper clippings.

For fantasy junkies, the magic system is simple but complete. All the rules are there for the reader to understand.

As if you need another reason to read this book, Zoo City is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

So, take my word for it.
  Read this book.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Update On This Thing Called Life

It's been exactly twelve days since my last blog post. What have I been doing? Writing and reading.

I recently finished the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I'm not doing a formal review because it really isn't needed. I'll just say I enjoyed reading it until the end. Why? Because I felt cheated. I wasn't properly distraught enough with the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth. I should have been crying harder than I was during the dog fight scene in Bait Dog. Instead, I felt disconnected. A lot of her decisions seem to be shooting for the dramatic more than the story called for. Oh well. I would still recommend it as a YA novel for young women over anything involving vampires or werewolves. The Hunger Games is a solid sci-fi dystopia.

As for my novel, I'm chugging along. I'm currently working on chapter 32, which leaves me with three more chapters to crank out when I'm finally finished with it. I'm enjoying writing them because they're so exciting. My little Skyriter is getting a serious work out, but I need to take a gum eraser to the typeface again. Smacking into an ink covered ribbon has a tendency to get them all clogged up. Go figure.

By the way. When the end our your first novel is in sight, it teases you. This is the second time I felt this. The first time I thought I was done, and then had to add fifteen more chapters to round it out. It's a much better novel now, but I'm going to have to do some serious word chopping at the front end. Cutting out all "had" and "that" should cover a good couple thousand.

I also had the luck of recently reading a self-published short story by and internet acquaintance of mine. It's a genuinely good story with good writing. I can't wait for the his first novel. Check out the link:

For those who wonder if I have any other kind of life outside of the Word World, I have taken up bowling. I guess it was only natural since I work in a bowling alley, but I've joined the league team. I suck, but I'm getting better through practice, a concept that is not foreign to me. (See writing.)

I have also discovered that my dog is terrified of the rain. Not thunder storms. The rain. I know there has to be a story in their somewhere. Too bad Dan isn't a girl dog, or I would name her Wicked, short for Wicked Witch of the West. It's the water thing. You would think he was freaking out because he's melting. My dog is special.

Enough rambling. Time for me to go back to Typo. I think my cramp is gone for now.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Typewriter: Sears Corrector I

When I was back home about the third week of September, my grandma asked me if I wanted her typewriter. Now, I was a bit confused since I learned to type on a white and blue Smith & Corona Corsair she gave to my mom. As it turns out, she had this electric sitting around.

It's in excellent shape but needs to be cleaned out with some canned air since the white tape on the dried out ribbon flaked off under the platen and ribbon feed.

That brings me to my next problem: the ribbon. You see, the ribbon is one of those cartridge drop-in types. (Sorry I don't have a picture of the funny little ribbon doors open.) I've searched high and low for the ribbon I need for this typewriter, but it appears that it isn't made anymore. I might have to get creative and spool my own ribbon around the spools on the inside of the cartridge.

This is the cartridge with the backs pulled off. Lovely bit of luck it is. It'll take some work, but I probably can manage it.

For those typospherians who come across this blog and want to help, here is a picture of the top:

This cartridge is made by Brother. I've searched high and low short of traveling down to Berkley and checking out the much recommended typewriter repair men.

Any help is much appreciated.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: Mockingbird

Mockingbird (Miriam Black, #2)Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It all starts with a gun shot. Well, sort of. It starts with the vision of a gunshot.

Chuck Wendig's Mockingbird takes place a year after Miriam's introduction in the novel Blackbird. She's working a crappy job scanning groceries for tourists and living in an Airstream surrounded by meth addicts. Her off/on/it's-effing-complicated paramour Louis is constantly on the road. In other words, Miriam isn't happy. Then she gets fired and touches her boss's hand. Enter fate's worse enemy.

Wendig's second novel featuring Miriam is better than his second, a considerable feat considering how much I enjoyed the last one. This time around he focuses the story on her new found talent at changing lives by taking lives. While the main story arc starts in the typical, "This person contacted me for help," fashion, it doesn't take anything away. In fact, the main plot adds to Miriam's characterization exponentially.

While she's still the foul mouthed highway rat that we all know and love, she's matured. Miriam tries really hard at certain points to be less abrasive than she usually is, but fails when she gets irritated or under duress. Wendig has balanced her growth out nicely because she's recognizable as the character that the reader has fallen in love with but has "matured" past scavenging off others. (It's hard to use the words "mature" and "Miriam" in the same sentence.)

This second installment also has stronger paranormal qualities than the first novel. Since Miriam's power has developed, so has her connection with those that seemingly fuel her ability. Miriam has dubbed this twisted little clue giver as The Trespasser, and "it" fits well into the world that Wendig has developed for the reader.

Like the first book, this one is written in third person present, which lends an effective urgency to the language. The shortness of his sentences and brevity of the scenes give it an almost running cadence that is engrossing yet comfortable to read. If you can stand abrasive, volatile language and truly disturbing "images," than check out this book and the first.

In the words of the layman: "This book is freaking awesome! You have to read it!"

View all my reviews

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Bait Dog

Bait DogBait Dog by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wendig has done it again. This book is just as fast and emotionally evoking as strapping a rocket between your legs and zipping down a test track at spine snapping speeds.

Atlanta Burns is a high school student with a reputation for shooting the balls off a grabby boyfriend of her mother's. Her mother is unemployed, she lives in a house with a drunken lean, and has very few friends. One of them has just committed suicide. Atlanta must deal with grief while investigation a string of dog kidnappings.

The two plots are woven together with a deft hand. They don't drag at any point, galloping along and drawing the reader in. Just the dog plot alone had me hugging my dog with a tightness that he didn't appreciate. It is potent and evoking, but can be difficult to read since it focuses on the topic of dog fighting. (I cried, a lot.)

Atlanta herself is a shotgun toting badass despite her vulnerabilities. What makes her a strong female protagonist is that she fights through her weaknesses no matter how much she wants to run. She tackles her fears to defend those that are preyed upon by others. Atlanta burns takes no shit. Every young woman could learn a thing or two from her.

Unlike Wendig's Miriam Black novels, his Atlanta Burns stories are more young adult friendly. I won't say they are young adult because he still deals with some adult themes. Anyone who worries about what they put in front of their high school aged girl (or boy), rest assured. I wouldn't mind my kid reading this, if I had kids. I've read more disturbing things in my high school classes. Like I said, young women should be exposed to a protagonist like Atlanta.

Before reading, catch the novella Shotgun Gravy. My e-book of Bait Dog came with it's own copy before the sequel.

I can't wait for more Atlanta Burns!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Blackbirds

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this in one sitting.

Blackbirds is the kind of book I was looking for. It had been so long since I found a good read that had me on the edge of my seat screaming at the pages like I do the TV screen. This book was it. I wanted to super glue it to my hands because I didn't want to put it down. That is how hooked I was.


Because of Miriam Black. She's the kind of female protagonist I was looking for. I was tired of the GI Janes and Princess Peaches that were so common in genre works. What Wendig gives you is a young woman who is unashamed of who she is while struggling on the inside with how much she should care about the people she sees die. She's not a softy, not by a mile. She'll kick you in the teeth while she screams slurred profanities with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other.

Yet, even with her hardened highway rat exterior, she's torn about whether she should save a genuinely nice guy. Especially since this nice guy called out her name in her vision. Miriam is a fully developed female antihero who calls her own shots if fate allows. She's exactly what the story needs.

What Wendig creates is simple, yet causes so much conflict for Miriam. Save him, or not. Regardless of what she decides, fate drags her to the end scene anyway. It is there where she is to make her final decision. The reader can believe they might know the outcome all they want, but Wendig plays it so close to the vest that you really don't. That is what I loved about it. I was so dragged in that I sat there with that little paper back clutched in my hand hoping.

The book is written in third, present tense which helps to carry along the pace at a galloping speed. It's Farrari fast and whip smart. I love this book.

Now, I will say this isn't for the faint of heart. Miriam's language is harsh and obscene, so don't read it if you get offended easily by hard language. Their is gore, so also not for the squeamish.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I was looking for an interesting read in a genre I hadn't read much of before. I figured that a steampunk, zombie hybrid would at the very least be harmless fun. I'm glad that my expectations weren't all that high, because that is all this was; harmless fun.

Priest sets up a world in which Seattle has been overrun by a poisonous gas that can kill you and turn you into a grey skinned, decomposing "rotter." Enclosed in towering walls, the denizens of zombie infested Seattle live underground in a desperate, dark world that is run by a mysterious doctor. There are dirigible flying pirates, Civil War deserters (because the damn thing has been going on for a decade), one-armed bar keeps, and lots and lots of gas masks. Probably more gas masks than a WWI trench.

So, how does she manage to make it unexciting?

One reason could be that she tells everything rather than shows. I couldn't get interested in how her characters felt, or might feel since she never gave me a clear idea. I got frustrated with trying to figure out how her protagonists Briar and Zeke (a mother and son) really felt about the horrible situation they managed to stumble into. The worst part was that I couldn't connect with them, at all. I found myself liking and preferring the secondary characters over the protagonists of the story because they were more interesting and likable.

Second, the book takes forever to get off the ground like a damaged air-ship, and then stumbles around in the moist, claustrophobic dark. Don't get me wrong, Priest is a clear writer with straight forward prose, but I wish the main characters spent less time trying to get places they didn't know they were headed and achieved some goals along the way. There were moments where Briar could have been looking for a lost set of keys instead of her son, and it wouldn't have made a lick of difference.

Third, well, the prose is dry. In other words, it wasn't interesting to read. I felt myself nodding off or having to walk away because I simply lost interest. This most likely is due to her inability to connect me to the characters or environment that they act in.

Despite my words, don't let them turn you away from this book if you want some fluffy popcorn for desert. It's fun, but it just couldn't grab my attention for very long. She has a very fun concept; it just seems that she didn't quite manage to electrify it to its full extent. I might read another one of these Clockwork Century books. I'm just going to need a little space first.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shopping Alone

I know that I use this blog mostly for talking about my writing, but now it is time for me to bring in my life as a military wife again.

I am currently going through what almost all military wives will eventually struggle with, deployment. I have been through the literature and that fun advice that everyone gives you. While nice and all, it doesn't really prepare you for being alone with only a dog. It would be lovely if there was information targeted towards childless wives, but alas there is not. They just kind of lump you in with those that have one to twenty screaming brats. I don't have any yet. Like I said, it's just me and the dog.

I've summed it up to being much like this: It's like living single, but with none of the benefits. I shop alone, make my own messes, clean up just such messes and the dog's, sleep alone, and sit in one super unsettling silence. The worst part is that the housing gave us a four bedroom place (I won't call it a house since it's part of a duplex) that once seemed so wonderful, but is now too big for just me. It's lonely.

Despite what I said above, I have been handling it well until I undertook my first big deployed spouse task, grocery shopping. For one. The routine I once had was blown out of the water in my new need for single portions. I spent a good part of an hour staring at shelves and glass-faced coolers trying to figure out what to get without killing myself with sodium.

I will let you know how cooking single portions goes, because that is certainly going to be a fun challenge.

Aside from the food selection issue, a thought smacked into me with the force of a truck. Shopping for one person, when it should be two, is depressing. I knew that as I pushed my cart around the commissary people could tell I was shopping for one person. It saddened me. It should be two, two people, not one.

Living by yourself when there used to always be another person around is a shock. There really aren't any other words for it. Even if you have a job or a hobby to fill your time, in between there are still the quiet spaces. It's those spaces in which you can hear the air conditioner, the fridge, and the noises  your dog makes when he's sleeping. That's when I realize it's time to go bang on some pots because my husband isn't here to do it for me.

This is certainly going to be an interesting ride.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sketching Again: Shaking Off the Rust

I know, it's been two months since I blogged, but here I am.

Okay, I'm going to brave for a few seconds and post up the first sketches I've done in... well... forever.  I haven't drawn anything since I moved out to California over a year ago. While I was smashing out Chapter 29 I got the hankering to sketch, and I mean serious sketch. Not sit down with mechanical pencil and doodle something. I got my art box out and dug a drawing pad from the depth of my office closet. The end result is a graphite stained right hand, and these:


I know they aren't the greatest. Like I said, it's been a while. I was mostly trying to work on my values. I really need work. If I behave myself, I'll work on my drawing everyday along with my writing, but that'll be a long shot. Everyone I know wants me to do artwork again, so I'm going to try.

In case you were wondering who they are, the girl on the left is Exorcist Tao foul mouthed chain smoker from my novel Hands of Ash, and the girl on the right is my main character Melody. I placed thim in the order that I drew them. Feel free to leave comments below.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Typewriter Text to Your Computer: How to Get Good Results

Now that I've told you all where you can go to use decent OCR software, I will now cover how you can get good results with this software. These methods were discovered when cleaning up my own OCRed (look Mom, a made up word) chapters that I had written on my little S&C Skyriter. I wrote some of them while I was still trying to keep the spools from sticking when I first got it, so the text was a tad iffy. My later drafts look much better since my spools no longer stuck and I had gotten much better at typing on my machine. So here are a few things that you can try while writing with your own machines that can help you get good results when using OCR software.

  • Keep the draft clean. Since the OCR software reads the shape that it can see on the paper, it's best to try not and screw up and then fix it by backing over the word to cross it out. When in the flow, it's tempting to just hit the backspace or move the carriage so you can cross out the words with a handy ///, XXX, or even a horizontal line. This can be read in many strange ways, by the software, and it becomes tedious to go through and get rid of all the funny combinations. I suggest using white out tape to go over  your mistakes. I find it quite handy, and it keeps my manuscript clean for the software. Make sure you cover all of the mistake, or you may get the odd colon and period in the middle of a word.
  • Have crisp, clean letters. This is a little harder to achieve with a typewriter, so I suggest using any means necessary. You want the crispest, cleanest letters you can manage or you might get words that come out like this: ducL:. It was supposed to be duck,but the software didn't read it that way. My periods are also often mistaken for commas and my Is for ones. This is why I find it best to make sure that my letters come out as sharp as possible. Currently my letters are a tad gummed up, so I might get better results when I clean them. Using a typeface that is easy to read might help too. The g on my machine is a bit funny, so I get a lot of words that look like this: hugGed
  • Use a good quality scanner. This will also maintain the sharpness of your letters. I have a good one, so I don't have this problem. If you have an old one, invest in a new one, or borrow a friends. Many printers do double, triple, or quadruple duty these days, so a good scanner shouldn't be hard to come by.
  • If converting to a Word doc, try to spell everything right. I know that as writers we should try and do this anyway, but it doesn't always happen. By having good spelling, the amount of red and green squiggly lines should be reduced which makes fixing and finding the OCR errors much easier. 
I hope this helps for any writer who is crazy enough to write on a typewriter. I find that preventative measures make everything easier in life. 

For my first blog on using OCR software: Typewriter Text to Your Computer

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Typewriter Text to Your Computer

Hi, there. I know that it's been a while. It appears that I've been writing these things monthly. I guess my writing has kept me busier than I thought.

On that note, since I've been using a typewriter to do my rewrites, I've been looking for a way to convert scanned PDFs of my chapters into text. I noticed that Adobe had that option for roughly $20 a year and looked into it. Well, according to reviews that I searched for because I needed to know if they could convert text that had been typed out with a typewriter, I found that their PDF to Word conversions couldn't handle it. Why? Apparently their OCR software couldn't read the inconsistencies that come with typewriter text.

For those who don't know, OCR is the alphabet soup term for optical character recognition software. It's a program that reads the characters of a text and tries to turn it into the closest representation possible. From my research I discovered that most versions of the software aren't good enough to handle inconsistent characters well. None of them can handle handwriting. It was frustrating. Then I found this article that listed 10 softwares that have free options, five for online and five for desktop. It pretty much did the work for me.

I experimented a bit with the Google Docs option, but my PDF files were all too big. So decided to try the one that the article recommended: OnlineOCR. To say that this was a god send would be a little over the top because the free service can be a little limited. It only does 5 pages an hour for guest users. So, I suggest registering if you're going to use this service. They give you 20 credits (a credit per page) to start out and you can do PDF files, an option you don't have when a guest user. Additional credits can be purchased, or earned through their Bonus Program.

I took advantage of the 20 credits, and had one of my PDFs converted. It took a minute for the file to upload to the site, but then the conversion was relatively quick. (Although, this could depend on your internet speed, and your computer.) Even though it wasn't entirely accurate, OnlineOCR did a pretty good job. I'll still have to go through and fix the little problems like wrong letters, missing words, and formatting, but it beats transcribing my work. While not perfect, the service saved me quite a bit of time and effort that I can put back into my writing. (And gave me a good laugh. It's like reading auto-correct texts.)

So there you are. My first advice blog to the people who can't afford one of those fancy USB Typewriters or have the skills to do their own soldering. Or for those who have a monster collection of those clack-clack machines and still transcribe their own writing. I'm sure many of you have looked into such software, and been unhappy. So far, I have not been disappointed.

Now back to my novel.

Update: If you are a blogger, and are happy about the service that Online OCR provides, they will reward you credits for a blog review written by you. Just make sure you send them an email with the link, something not posted on the site that I had to discover by myself. It's worth it if you have a mound of pages. (Added 5/21/12)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spring, The Anathema of the Vampire: Me and EPP

It's that time of year again when temperatures start to rise and people begin to put away their winter gear. The showers go away and the flowers bloom revealing vibrant blossoms of crimson, pink, sunshine yellow, virgin whites, deep violets, and soft lavender. Spring is a glorious time when the temperature is not too hot or cold. It is the expectation before summer days laying by the pool. For everyone spring is wonderful.

Except me.

I know I said I would use this blog to talk about not only writing, but my life. It is time for me to relate a very important piece of this to those who read these words. I have a disease that dictates many aspects of my life. It is called erythropoietic protoporphyria, or EPP for short. With that giant question mark that just popped above your head, I now will attempt to explain what that is.

According to the American Porphyria Foundation's website:
Erythropoietic Protoporphyria is characterized by abnormally elevated levels of protoporphyrin IX in erythrocytes (red blood cells) and plasma (the fluid portion of circulating blood), and by sensitivity to visible light that is usually noticed in early childhood and occurs throughout life.
If you just made a face to go with that question mark, let me clarify. The protoporphyrin that has accumulated in every portion of my body that blood flows through is irradiated by long wave UV rays resulting in photosensitivity. This photosensitivity does not feel like a normal sunburn when you have been out swimming too long. It's more like holding your hand directly over the flame of a campfire, but not being able to pull it away. Or like getting hit with hot grease when cooking bacon. Or like a steam burn. Repeatedly stabbed by tiny needles works too. I've even heard the pain being compared to putting your hand on a hot stove and cuts filled with salt. To sum it up, the sunlight hurts.

Now, before any of you feel bad for me, I will come right out and say that I've been lucky. My case remained relatively mild until my sophomore year of college. I was able to wear tank tops and go swimming in my childhood and teen years unlike some children who have more severe cases of EPP. I've always known that I had it because I was diagnosed by my father, another with EPP, but I was formally diagnosed in June of last year. I was able to have a "normal" life, but perhaps that is why it is so hard for me now.

With the onset of spring this year in a new region of the US called central Cali, it has been especially difficult. Where before all I had to do was cover my arms and hands when outside, now I must cover my head and face. If I am "burned", light from my computer screen and those nifty florescent light bars they use in commercial buildings irritate the damage. Now I must wear gloves and sleeves when just getting online, and I can't take off my cardigan that I wear over my work shirt when it gets too warm at work because I am surrounded by brand, spanking new lights.

The ordeal has been frustrating with such gorgeous days. I am relegated to closed windows to limit the amount of exposure, something that is surprisingly hard on me. I never thought I would ever get this bad or feel this amount of pain. I never dreamed that I would have to plan my day around how much exposure I would get. I heard it said by a man with EPP in a video posted by the FDA that it was more like, "how much pain do you want to deal with that day." I think that is about as accurate as a person could get. When burned, I am tired and in pain. I feel the strong desire to tear off my skin, if it's especially bad, and often suffer from bouts of irritability. I feel like a wounded animal who just wants to limp away and find a  cool, dark place to recover. The one thing that doesn't happen to me is the outward signs of scabbing or discoloration. I swell a bit, but stay pale.

So, how do I deal? I suck it up. I use my weekends to stay inside and recover from any exposure that I've gotten. To limit my exposure to strong light, I have lowered the brightness on my computer. My typewriter is also getting a pretty good work out lately since I can't spend too long in front of the screen. I also keep my house cool to lessen the pain, much to the chagrin of my husband, but he deals with his favorite snuggie. (He wears it like a robe.)

As you can see, I'm managing but the mental implications have been more difficult to overcome. I know I'm trying to relay my experience, but there are some things that are still too personal for the internet. Besides, I'll feel like I'm whining if I haven't been already. My father has probably had it a lot harder than me, so I feel like I'm putting my foot in my mouth, but I do have one more thing to say:

Being in public is a strange experience when you're all covered up. People look at you with concern and skepticism. It's almost like they think I'm going to rob them, even if I'm driving in my own car sitting at a stop light. Once a lady gave me the most terrified look I have ever seen before she took a right. This is where I voice my confusion on societies fascination with vampires and the romanticism associated with them, and yet very little know about people with photosensitive disorders. When I tell people what I have, they look like they have found  Bigfoot. If they have already heard of or known someone with a porphyria, they often ask very polite questions about how I'm doing and are generally pleasant to talk to. Yet, I still have a conflict with what I like to call Vamp-fans. The popularity vampires have in our culture makes it easier to explain what I might be going through, but at the same time certain aspects of it baffle me to no end. To sum up this conflict, I shall relay a conversation I once had with my mom in a chinese restaurant. I believe it was triggered by a girl wearing a Team Edward shirt. (The following conversation may be paraphrased.)

Mom: I can understand why younger girls might like vampires, but I don't get the women who are in their thirties, or even my age, who are into it. I mean, I watch those things, Buffy and Angel, but I don't understand how obsessed they are with it.
Me: Mom, you married a vampire.
Mom: You're right, I did.

A fun revelation it was, but the best thing ever said was my husband: "Who ever thought being married to a vampire was romantic must have been on something."

There you have it, my short, half-assed explanation of what it's like for me these days with EPP. I could get more in depth, but I think I'll let the pros do it for me. Visit The American Porphyria Foundation for more on EPP, the innovations to treat it, and other forms of porphyria. For the best stories on the experience of living with it, the FDA interviews with two well spoken gentlemen and a doctor are worth viewing. They won't take much of your time and will help you fill your quota for Porphyria Awareness Week (April 22-28). I see that question mark again, so yes, that is a thing.

I'm going to go work on my book now.

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's Amazing How Much Time A Novel Sucks Up

For those of you who are kind enough to read my blog, I apologize for the lack of posts lately. I've been trying to get my novel extended before I go into major edits. My whole goal is to have it ready to be published by the end of the year due to pressure from family members and a couple friends.

To update: The beta response to my novel has been overall good. The major complaints mostly focus on a few story snags and grammar issues like comma placement. Apparently, I am not lacking in the creativity department. I have actually been complimented on my limited use of stereotypes. Most people give me thumbs up on character development and pacing despite a slow start.

As for the extensions, I have written chapters 21 through 23, and am currently working on my normal three rounds of edits before I submit them for critical eyes. I want to make sure that my additions are going to round out the story like my beta testers want or I may have to reassess my story. I doubt that will happen, but I like to plan for my worse case scenario. (For those who aren't familiar, I'm tacking on another 12 chapters to the original 20.)

And my typewriter purchase. So far I can get it to function pretty well. I probably needs cleaned. I'm happy with my baby. I would post up an example of what I've typed out with it, but I'm having troubles getting my computer to recognize that my printer also has a scan function. For know I only have pictures of what it looks like. I introduce my new Smith & Corona Skyriter.

Such a nice little machine. It's only about the size of a 2 inch binder.

The guts. For now I'm trying to fix all the sticking issues the left spool has. 

So, as those who are nice enough to read this can see, it's a nice little machine with only a few problems. I'm glad I fought that other bidder on ebay for it. Paid more than I wanted to, but probably better than some of the others people wanted more for.

Now back to my edits.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Bind Your Own Book

This project came into mind when my mom kept nagging me that she wanted to read my own work. So, not knowing what I was getting into, I decided to bind a copy of my work together, by hand, to give to her as a gift  for Christmas after I had finished writing my book. As I worked on this project, I chronicled my adventure because it would make an awesome blog entry. After much lip flapping, here it is:

First, I had to collect all of the separate Word documents into a single one, and then put it into book format with five pages to a booklet. To say this was the most difficult part of the project would be a lie, but it did induce much screaming and banging on things. After fixing multiple formating errors, and after checking to see that I had sufficient ink and paper stock, I was ready to begin. 

I should note that a printer that prints double sided is a must. I have a nifty HP Photosmart Premium C410 series that does the job nicely. (Here is where I thank my parents for the pricy not-so-little machine that made my desk wobble every time it spat out my work like it was about to take off for space. [It has since been moved.] It is my favorite little office assistant even though it is expensive to feed.)

Here is the finished product:

My stack of freshly printed pages. What a pain to sort.
After printing I double checked for errors. The only problem is that you have to print off the whole batch. You can't go back and reprint single pages if something flubbed. It did pretty good, except the page numbers were on the inside margin of the page and not the outside. Oh well. Word didn't exactly let me see what the whole format for a book page would look like, a flaw they should fix. (As another note, I have Office 2010, so I'm not going to give directions since I don't know how earlier versions set up this format.)

Since the batch prints out at once, I had to go through and divide out the 5 page booklets and fold them.

The first five pages folded and ready for reading. 13 more to go.

This is why you need page numbers. Without them,  you're screwed.

Done. That was that was the easy part.
Now it was time for me to gather the rest of the supplies.

My folded pages, ruler, scissors, box cutter, pencil, packing tape, needle, thread, cardboard from my garage, and paper bags from the grocery store.

The only purchase I made. The whole thing cost me $1.99.
Once I had done that, I could get started on the assembly of the actual book. The first step: sew together each booklet so the pages don't come apart. (I know it seems like common sense, but I can see people forgetting this.)

This is where I discovered that I had to loop the thread around the end of the page and tie it to itself so it didn't slip through. I was impressed at how straight I could make it.
First booklet done. Now 13 more to do.

Back view, and I tell you, this was not coming apart no matter how hard I pulled.
The finished product, so far. My stitches were so neat I almost didn't want to cover them up.
This work was tedious. I ended up with a finger and thumb so sore using the remote control hurt. I had to stop every few booklets to recover. It was moments like this I wished I had a thimble, or a sewing machine. The worst part, tying 28 little knots. (To think I might do this again after the work I'm doing on Hands of Ash now.)

I did notice a slight problem after I had sewn all the pages together. The margins didn't look right. It was time for some trimming.

Cut on cardboard or you'll screw up your table. We wouldn't want that now, would we?

I used a box cutter to trim off half an inch because I was too broke to afford an exacto-knife. It looks so much better now.

Cover time. Using the cardboard I didn't trim my pages on, I measured out a 1 x 9 in spine, and two 5 x 9 inch covers.

Wha-la! Aren't they lovely.
After cutting out the pieces, I tested to make sure that my pages fit. The edge of the cardboard should hang over all the edges of the paper when moved in about a fourth of an inch from the fold. Then I laid them out and used the packing tape to tape them together, leaving about a fourth of an inch between the pieces. Use the tape only on the inside. (I tried doing the outside too, it didn't really work.)

Those spaces are important. I swear.
See, I said they were important.
Here is where my $1.99 came in. (All purpose white glue is perfect for the rest of this project.) I glued down one of the covers to one side of the grocery bag that I cut away from the rest of the panels to get one smooth piece of paper. Then I trimmed the bag so that it would fit around the edges of the cover.

Make sure the sections to be folded over are big enough to do so. Too small, and everything will just peel apart.
I had to improvise for the spine to make sure that everything was covered. A lot of this was guess work. Successful guess work.
Now you see everything take shape.
Remember those little spaces? Make sure to tuck the bag into them to make a little indentation. This will help strengthen the fold. Let the cover dry before you move on to the spine and so forth or else the book will fall apart and you'll have to start all over again.

After everything had dried, I added those colorful pages that line the book covers on the inside. The problem I had was that I had left all my scrapbook paper that I use for origami at my previous residency, and so used some pretty underwater paper with whales that had nothing to do with my story in anyway.

I folded it over to see how much I had to trim off, leaving the spine exposed.
Then I glued it down. See how good that looks.
Both sides done.
I don't have pictures for the next part, bear with me. It had to be done pretty fast.

I took the glue and put it all over the inside of the spine. Holding my pages together so that they were even, I pressed the folds down onto the spine and lifted the covers up to sandwich the pages in. I evened out any pages that had gone rebellious on me as I applied pressure to the spine and cover to make sure that the glue set. After making sure that everything was straight, I dug around for 3 rubber bands while I clutched my fragile project.

I left it this way for a few hours. Better safe than sorry.
After wrapping the rubber bands around the book, I added some glue on the spine at the edge of the pages. When done, it turned out this way:

Those lovely stitches.
Power outage = no title on the cover.
So glad the spine held together.
This is were I gloat and say what a damn good job I did. I didn't use a youtube video, or another person's blog. I did this all from memory. I cannot say how happy I was to do such an awesome job on this project, especially with the power outage that happened around the same time. My mother loved it. She even made me sign it.

I know that this blog probably isn't as helpful about binding your own book as another source, but whatever. Don't kill my happy.