Sunday Update

Isn’t that a creative title?  They tell me I need creative titles to attract people to my webpage.  If you’re here, I assume it is because you like to follow my writing adventure, which you probably didn’t find on google.  So I’m not going to sweat the title.

Last week, I did a short road trip to see Matthew Kelly speak with my sister.  He is funny and engaging, and we had a good time.  This did prevent me from my weekly blog update though, so here we go!

It is still slow going here at Julie’s apartment.  I’m quite happy with how the novel is turning out, but it can sometimes be challenging to avoid frustration.  Patience isn’t something I’m good with most of the time.

This week I read two books which I found helpful for this frustration.  I didn’t expect One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler to be so motivating, but there are so many good ideas in the book.  Also, if a woman with six kids can write two books with her crazy-awesome mom life, I can finish my novel.  Look for a review on this one sometime soon.

She recommended The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  He writes the idea of Resistance or the force that stops us from taking that next step.  It keeps writers out of their chairs as we find ways to avoid our work.  Resistance also battles everyone else, of course, but I see it most in my writing.  I highlighted this passage, which speaks of patience.

The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art (pp. 75-76). Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

I don’t agree with everything he says regarding muses, but the short book was an excellent reminder of the struggle we all face to achieve, and how to overcome it.

 

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View on my Nature Center walk

 

As for education this week, I headed out to a friend’s property to learn more about trees.  I’m told some people enjoy more specificity when reading than simply “trees,” and so I’ve been learning about the oaks of Missouri.  We also looked at cedars, blackberry bushes, and moss.  Walking around in the woods was a good reminder my heroes will not have an easy time tromping about unless they find a trail!

I also spent some time at a local nature center, watching the squirrels and listening to the birds and breeze.  There are a lot of noises in the woods we don’t think about in the city.  It was incredibly peaceful and helped fight any frustration I might have over my writing speed. Even if you’re not writing a novel, you should go sometime.

Lady Assassin

I entered a short story contest last month.  They’ve announced the finalists, and I’m not one of them, so I’ve decided to put the story here for your enjoyment.  Or at least for you to read; as it didn’t get very far I have no idea if it is enjoyable!  I had fun writing it though.

The rules were the story must be less than 750 words and include the prompt of “Was I ever embarrassed.”  My comments follow the story below.

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Lady Assassin

Robin smiled when Valinda glanced at her, as did the other ladies the higher ranking woman had managed to attract. She could have snuck into the king’s castle, but attending the party proved more efficient. The daintily clad nobles annoyed her, but etiquette demanded she remain until Valinda finished. Making a scene would impact her mission to the stables.

“I had assumed the servants put the forks in the right order.” Valinda’s voice reminded Robin of an excited child spying a dragon egg for the first time, only less adorable. “Was I ever embarrassed! Jared didn’t notice, thankfully.”

The other women nodded their heads, but gasped as the first dragon thundered past the massive open windows lining one side of the hall. Glassware rattled, and at least one goblet crashed to the floor as a second dragon’s flight path sent a gush of air into the room.

Valinda caught her gloved hands to her chest before she moved toward the viewing windows. “Oh, they’ve started!”

Robin waited as the others scurried away to watch the first of the demonstrations. A bead of sweat rolled down her head under her dark hair, wrapped tightly in a bun. The ankle length ice blue dress had enough volume to hide her vials just under her waist, but didn’t impede movement. The hair and the dress were both too warm though, and she ached to go outside into the breeze.

She pulled the skirt up slightly and turned to the back of the room. The dragon display meant the stables were empty.

Servants attended the grand hall through several discreet hallways and doors. She kept her eyes straight ahead as she walked into one of the service halls and left the roars of the dragons and crowd behind.

“My lady?” A servant in black paused when he saw her.

“I’m looking for my mother’s attendant,” she said. “Have you seen Solea?”

“I’m sorry but I haven’t. I’ll send him to you if I find him.”

“Thank you. I’ll continue myself.”

She strode away without glancing back. You can go almost anywhere if you look like you know what you’re doing, the prioress always said.

The prioress had many sayings. The Order overlooked her odd mumblings due to her skill in alchemy. You can get away with annoying quips if you can make a poison absorbed through the skin, Robin thought.

Torches lit the first set of stairs down, throwing light on the immaculate steps and highlighting their wear from over a century of use. At the bottom she headed right and ducked into a room as she heard two voices from the hall.

“I don’t understand why he didn’t hire more staff,” a passing woman said. “With all the houses here, we need hands.”

After the servants passed, memory directed her through another hall and down another set of stairs. Maps rarely changed for a stone building, and the Order had several. She lifted her skirt further to avoid the increasing grime.

The stench rising in the stairwell confirmed her path. She sped down the final few steps, excited to find her target.

“Can I help you, my lady?” A dragonhand leaned against the stone wall next to the stairwell opening.

She lifted her skirts up higher and scrunched her nose at the hay below as she turned. Robin attempted to emulate Valinda’s high pitched speech. “I’m looking for Lord Jared. I’d hoped to wish him luck before take-off.”

The dragonhand paused, but young noblewomen did ridiculous things to catch their men. “I’m sorry, he’s already left.”

She huffed and stared out the stable doors.

“You could wait for him. Fourth one from the back, third row.”

“I will.” Robin blessed the gods for her luck. Jared’s stall was only one row from Lord Barry’s.

Lord Barry’s dragon, Taston, whirled above the King and nobles outside. His stall remained empty except for hay and the buckets of water dragonhands would use to wash the beast down after his flight.

Robin pulled a hidden vial sewn into her dress waistline and poured the contents into the largest bucket. Once on Taston’s skin, it would seep into the dragon’s blood. He’d cramp on his next flight, sending him and his rider to the ground.

Enemies of the Order ought to be careful, the prioress also said. She replaced the vial in her dress and smiled; another job complete.

 

Thoughts

I did not expect to win the contest.  This was the first contest I remember entering.  It may also be my first attempt at a short story since college when I wrote some terrible fanfiction.  I don’t read much short fiction, so have even less knowledge than I do about longer stories.  750 words were probably too few for this plot.  I had not yet learned all the fancy comma rules I’d forgotten since school.  In short, I didn’t know what I was doing.  Additionally, I knew the judges (members of the writing group) aren’t normally fantasy readers.  This story was the wrong genre for the audience.

The best way to improve my writing is to actually write, so regardless of the story’s standing in the contest, this exercise was productive.  It was also a lot of fun, as my work in progress doesn’t include dragons.  Who doesn’t like dragons?  Productive + fun = success.

I also learned I have no idea how to paste in a story to WordPress and retain all the formatting.  This seems a good topic to Google for next time.

Let me know what you think down in the comments.  Have a wonderful week, readers!

Sit. Stand. Cat.

Another non-book review on “Stuff I Like!” This is for my desk, which goes from sitting to standing in a matter of seconds via a crank on the side. I have the 48″ model for home and the 60″ model for work.

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60″ desk at work

Sitting all the time is bad for our health, so adding the ability to stand is an excellent option. Most of us don’t want to stand the whole day though, and that has its concerns as well, so it is nice to crank it back down and sit.

Another great feature is the different levels for the keyboard and monitors. We want to make sure both our hands and our heads are in the right position for typing. This will help avoid neck and arm problems. The desk came with caster wheels, but I left them off so the unit is the right height for me, both sitting and standing.

I’ve had the desk at work for several years and it still holds up well. It seems very sturdy construction once built, and I expect to use both desks for many more years.

The only downside to this desk model is the instructions. There’s a very good risk of punching a bolt through the desk surface if you’re not careful, and the directions for attaching the legs are confusing enough I put them on backward. This may sound like a deal-killer, but now that you’re aware of the problems you can look for them. Also, the customer service was excellent and they replaced the desk surface immediately when called.

When upgrading to the standing desk, I also purchased a mat for standing. This helped reduce joint issues when spending more time upright. It is more comfortable. This model also comes with the most hilarious request for feedback I’ve ever seen.

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48″ model at home.  Mat also shown.  Cat not included.

Do you sit at a desk all day? What do you to avoid the health issues associated with prolonged sitting?

Zelda Makes Me Faster

If you’re wondering where my post was on Thursday, fear not.  User error is the cause.  I failed to actually click “post.”  Look for it this week!

Progress
Progress remains slow on the plan, but with the adjusted schedule in mine, I’m a lot happier this week than I was last week.  I have almost 20,000 words of the third draft complete.  Scrivener tells me that is 53 pages, for those of you who have asked.

I’ve sped up some since I purchased a Nintendo Switch.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m more productive now that I have some quality bait.  The key is to set a goal for writing and play Zelda only after that goal is accomplished.  I’m writing this blog entry after a 45 minute foray into the game, which followed 45 minutes on the novel.

Commas
This week in Julie’s glamorous writing adventures: the comma.  I had no idea how many rules existed for commas, and might never have known if not for Grammarly.  The tool continually found errors in my comma placement.  I’d put a comma in a sentence, and it would tell me to remove it.  Or I wouldn’t have a comma, and it would want me to add it.  The commas in this paragraph are brought to you by Grammarly.

I knew of the Oxford comma debate.  I knew I needed commas.  The only rule I followed was to put them where I paused in a sentence, though, and apparently, that isn’t sufficient.   I’m sure somebody told me the rules earlier in my life, but that was at least twenty years ago.  As an engineer, putting commas in the pauses has worked out just fine.  Yet here I am, looking up comma rules.

Grammarly wanted me to know that “glamorous” and “comma” in the first sentence of the paragraph above is an “unusual word pair.”  Thanks, Grammarly.

Some Comma Resources
Grammarly – Commas in Complex Sentences
St Petersburg College Libraries – Compound Sentences
The Punctuation Guide – Comma

I’ve been home from the Writing Enchanting Prose class for a month now, and I’ve been busily working on my third draft. The goal was to have it finished sometime in May to send out to some readers at the end of May or in June. That timeline isn’t working. Of the seven scenes I’ve worked on, four have labels of “NOT WORKING” or “BORING,” meaning I did all that work and don’t intend to keep them. At my present rate of revision, I’ll be done with this draft in October. That’s quite a change!

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On the one hand, since I don’t really know what I’m doing, it shouldn’t be a surprise my plan was wrong. I plan every day at work and it is all based on what has happened before. Novel writing is a new adventure for me, so I don’t have any information to go on for my prediction. The story is much better for my efforts though, and I’m still having fun.

On the other hand, this is hard. I like my book, and I like writing, but I also want to put it aside at some point to move on to the next project. I was moving along at such good speed that this has been somewhat depressing. If I step up my rate quite a bit, I can still aim for July. Hopefully, things speed up as I progress. I hope?

My friend left me this on Twitter at a low moment this week.  It explains a lot.

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The internets tell me this should be attributed to this artist.  I know nothing about art, but they have some pretty things there.  You should go look.

I did receive some positive news this week.  The writing group reviewed the revised first chapter of the third draft, and they labelled it a significant improvement.  That’s four people who think I write gooder! 😉

Off to write, my friends.  Have a fantastic week!

Bacon and Reading

WoF

No post on Easter Sunday as I was far too busy enjoying family time as we ate our way through a brunch buffet of epic proportions.  To (loosely) quote my nephew: “Jesus didn’t just die on the Cross so we could go to Heaven, He also made it okay to eat bacon.”  Amen to both, Jacob.

My epic adventure to Dallas last month left me with more than some new writer friends and some new writer skills – it also gave me some new ideas on books to read.  David Farland, the instructor of the Dallas class, is the Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future contest.  I’d heard of the contest but hadn’t given it much thought, but upon my return home I downloaded two of the anthologies.  I just finished Volume 32.

The 32nd edition of Writers of the Future may be the best new book yet! Brand-new adventure through space, time and possibility.

Along the way these new authors will introduce you to fascinating characters such as Nate, a very loyal companion—like most werewolves would be. Keanie has a parasite that lets her morph and so transform into anyone. Liz owns a dinosaur maker, but raw ingredients can be a problem. Anna slaves away in a factory but her magic leaves her unfulfilled. These authors take creative writing to a whole new level!

The answers, the stories, the visions, and the mind-stretching possibilities are all waiting inside.

Welcome to the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It gets better every year. These are the award winning short stories of the international contest that have launched the writing careers of some of the best new books!

BONUS stories and articles on how to write by New York Times best sellers Tim Powers, Sean Williams, Brandon Sanderson, Sergey Poyarkov & L. Ron Hubbard.

This is a little harder to review since it consisted of several shorter stories instead of one long novel.  I’ve not read a lot of short stories, so I didn’t know what to expect.  There were a few I didn’t like, but I enjoyed most of the stories and found a few to be excellent.

My favorite was probably “Swords Like Lightning, Hooves Like Thunder,” written by K.D. Julicher.  I thought one of the major reveals was a bit too obvious, but I was having so much fun I didn’t care.  It was a fun little adventure with romance and a world and characters I wanted to learn more about before it finished.

I also enjoyed “The Sun Falls Apart” by J.W. Alden.  This was a different type of “enjoyment,” as I couldn’t put it down before I found out what happened, and then I was too terrified to sleep.  I woke up thinking about it the next morning.  In other words, it was well written!

The anthology includes the winners of the Illustrators of the Future contest, hosted by the same organization.  I don’t normally go for art, but these went with the stories and were so good it made me wish I’d purchased the hard copy instead of going with the Kindle version.

You can find Volumes 32 and 33 on Kindle Unlimited.  If you’ve never tried short fiction, this seems a fine way to start!

Coloring and Counting

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Revising

Remember how I went on that epic trip and learned all that stuff?  I’ve been applying it this week on my third draft.  I spent a long time on the prologue, writing it from two different point of view characters.  Then I gave up on that and moved on to the first chapter.  I rewrote, revised, and added.  Then I color coded sections, looking for kinetic, audio, and visual parts.  It was informative!

I did not realize that as I write a scene, I start dropping the visual details as I approach the end and get more and more excited.  The highlighting colors are very even at the beginning and then the blue for visual drops off entirely with a few hundred words remaining.

This is where all that reading comes in handy – I realized that’s how I read books too!  I’m sure the author has visual details sprinkled everywhere, but if I am excited about the characters and what they’re doing I stop reading all the explanation of what it looks like.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re all standing in this ten-foot circle right in front of me.

I’ll be reading along, enjoying the scenery, pondering the worldbuilding, and placing each character in their proper spot.  Maybe there will be a conversation that reveals more details.  Then something interesting will happen; perhaps a battle.  And I’ll start off with the same enjoyment of more information, but it quickly descends to chaos, and I skim over everything not related to if my favorite character is going to die.  Or is someone else going to die?  Will they do the right thing?  What will happen?  I MUST KNOW.

When I write, this shouldn’t happen as I already know how it will end.  I know what happens to the characters all throughout the book and after the last page ends.  There shouldn’t be any surprise I need to rush to when writing, yet I tend to focus only on the kinetic as the scene ramps up. I’ll add audio, but only if someone is speaking.

What to do?  Color code.  I wasn’t sure I’d highlight each scene this way, but now I realize I need to to see where I’ve failed to describe what’s happening.

Here’s more about Appealing to the Senses by David Farland.  I suspect he doesn’t need to color code anymore.

Rules

As a new writer, I have been inundated with people, web pages, and even software telling me the “rules” of writing.  Recently I had the experience of a group of writers telling another writer to take out most of the things I found compelling in her story because of rules.  I thought I’d do a little study on two of t.

“Don’t end anything with an -ly.”  Slowly.  Quickly.  Happily.  These are all apparently, er… These are all bad.  There are better ways to write whatever sentence has prompted you to bust out these terrible words.

“Don’t end anything with an -ing.”  Walking.  Talking.  Eating.  Loving.  Existing.  Again, there are more powerful ways we can write a sentence.  All the time.

Should I retitle this entry as “Colored and Counted.”  No, that has a totally different meaning, doesn’t it?  What about “Color and Count?”

I have six books from the library and two books I own on my desk.  All of them are by bestselling authors.  Most are fantasy but one is just a standard political thriller.  One is YA.  They come from different years.  I opened each and counted how many “-ly” and “-ing” words occur on just the first page of each.  On average, these published and high performing books contain 2.14 “-ly” words and 8.71 “ing” words.  On the first page!  That isn’t even a full page of words.

It seems these words aren’t quite as terrible as I’ve been told.  Writing “rules” aren’t like speed limit signs.  There’s no police officer around the bend to pull you over if you swing around them every once in awhile.  I think it must be wise to look at words with these endings and see if there is a way to write the sentence in a way that makes it stronger, but if not, leave it and move on.  But what do I know – I’m not a published writer.  Maybe I need to add more “-ing” words to my first page.

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Crazy Week after Vacation!

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March is only halfway complete and it has already been quite eventful. I took a week of vacation and headed to Dallas for a Writing Enchanting Prose class with David Farland. It was educational, fantastic, fun, and a little terrifying. I met many excellent people and can’t wait to see them again at some future writing event. You can read all about my trip here. Better yet, you can attend a class yourself and enjoy your own little epic trip!

Where does this put me on The Plan? Oddly, still on schedule. I still don’t know what I’m doing but it seems to be chugging along anyway. I’m working on my third draft and am applying all the lessons learned last week. Hopefully, it makes for a better story; I know it makes for more words!

I am pleased with my story overall, even if I do want to work on the prose. I think there’s a good plot, interesting setting elements, and fun characters. That doesn’t mean any of those things are true, but I think them anyway. We’ll have to see when the novel is finished and I try to find an agent or editor.

Regardless, my second novel idea is building momentum in my head. When my ideas ran dry at the end of the writing class, I set aside my current project and wrote the first several pages of that novel. It seemed to get better feedback than my current novel’s scenes I read aloud, but that could be because I wrote it at the end of the week after all the instruction! I’m still having fun thinking about both stories and enjoy revising my current draft.

I do wish I could go faster. There’s this thing I have and I want to share, but I know it isn’t ripe yet. Patience is difficult.

Just for fun, I wrote a short story for the local writing guild’s competition this month. I don’t know if I’ve ever written a short story, so we’ll add it to the list of things I don’t know how to do. My writing group thought it was decent though so I’ve sent it in this weekend. I’ll post it here once the contest is done.

Even with the travel and all the writing, I’m ahead of the target for my 2018 reading challenge of 60 books. This week, I read The Armored Saint by Myke Cole and The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, which puts me up to 14. Though some apparently want to label the latter Young Adult, I didn’t find it in that section and I wouldn’t identify either for a YA audience. I’m not sure I would have picked it up if it had been in YA as I’ve been disappointed in the YA fantasy I’ve tried lately. Any recommendations for YA fantasy, readers?

Epic Trip Report

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When I said I was prepared to leave my comfort zone, I had not anticipated Dallas traffic.  I headed there last Sunday for a week-long class on  Writing Enchanting Prose with David Farland.  The long drive was uneventful until that last hour, and then I thought I might die.  Though I personally almost caused two accidents, nobody honked, so I guess that’s a plus?  Exciting times.

Two things I’m relatively good at are setting goals and solving problems.  My goal is to write a novel, and at least one problem is my prose.   This course was an excellent start on the solution.  We started Monday morning bright and early with everyone wearing clean clothes, energetic, and on their best behavior.  The clean clothes probably repeated until the end of the week.

Monday morning was difficult.  One of the first exercises involved comparing a sample of our work with the start of one of our favorite books.  I selected Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.  I love the prologue and I thought it was a safe bet with other fantasy writers.  It was not surprising to find he can write better than me, but I was surprised I could not pronounce the word “obligator” when we also read the first two pages of our selection out loud.

It went downhill from there, at least internally.  My classmates all use much prettier language than I do, which isn’t hard considering my idea of poetry at the day job consists of using correlation and causation in the same sentence.  (They aren’t the same thing FYI.)

Our next exercise involved writing at least three paragraphs, moving from kinetic to audio to visual descriptions.  This should not have been difficult.  I rewrote an existing scene so the hour could have been filled with frantic typing.  Instead, there was a lot of frantic staring at a blinking cursor and blank screen before finally banging out 185 words.  Then, just for fun, we read those out loud.

Two summers ago, I went on a guided backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains.  The rest of my small group was very fit, and we set a blistering pace the first day.  I fell down, ran out of breath while walking, and thought I was going to freeze to death when I went to sleep that night.  If it hadn’t been six miles back down with nowhere to go once there, I might have quit.  Monday felt a lot like that first day of the backpacking trip.

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Here’s the awesome thing about heading outside your comfort zone though – I knew what was happening.  The friends I sent frantic texts to knew what was happening.  We knew what came next.  Change the goal to a less aggressive timeline if you must, but put one foot in front of the other until the end.  There’s no turning around so sometimes you just drop your head and charge forward, figuring if you fall down some more it’ll at least make for an epic story.

The shift in perspective made the homework slightly more manageable, and by Tuesday I was cruising along with almost 600 words in our in-class exercise.  They were a significant improvement over the words in a similar scene I’d written in my second draft.

My classmates and instructor were amazing and supportive in addition to being excellent, making the rest of the week far less stressful than that first day.  It was fantastic to find like-minded people, full of ideas and resources I’d never considered.

Reading out loud remained stressful.  I’ve been on a stage in front of dozens of members of the executive leadership in my company, and I was not half as terrified as I was reading my work aloud in class.  After reading on Thursday, I was so cold I shivered like I was sitting under an air conditioning vent.  We took a break right after, and I chatted with another student in the (also too cold) bathroom.  I couldn’t recall if she’d read, or what she’d read, that morning.  I didn’t know who had read at all.  My mind was empty.  The adrenaline dump was real.

The week chugged along with lecture, one or two exercises each day, and homework each night.  We learned about hooks, setting, dialogue, and narrative along with unexpected topics like hypnosis.  If you’re on the fence about attending one of David’s classes, consider this a strong recommendation to attend.  You’ll get over reading out loud and learn a lot in the process.

We put all we learned into our final homework exercise last night, a combination of all of the earlier lessons.  We headed to dinner early so we’d have the whole night to write.  I returned to my room, settled in, and then had to leave.  Bugs had made it through the window during the day and while it wasn’t that big of a deal and the hotel staff was fantastic, they still gave me a new room.  An hour later, I settled down again.  And stared at the blinking cursor and blank page for several hours before giving up and heading to bed.

Writers will tell you inspiration strikes at the oddest times, like when you’re drifting off and suddenly decide to add a dragon to a story you’re not even working on yet.  I emailed myself the plan and then woke early to try again.  I even had time to eat breakfast.

Friday was another outstanding day, and I can’t wait to read my classmates’ finished products.  They were all truly excellent and enjoyable to hear. I’ve linked to one of the authors below as she has some work published. Go give her books a look!

Exhausted, I spent the evening staring at YouTube videos and then ate all the food with friends on Saturday.  Revisions for my third draft/revision start this week, so I need to make sure I’m well fueled.  It is time.

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This is an experience I’d repeat in a heartbeat.  Consider taking a writing class with David if you’ve also forgotten what a classroom looks like.  But perhaps avoid driving in Dallas.  They have a lot of people!

Other Resources
David Farland’s site
David Farland on Goodreads
Amity Green’s site
Amity Green on Goodreads

Easy Sunday

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Great news!  This week I completed the second(ish) draft of my novel!  There’s a scene I want to add and all sorts of things I’ll fix in the third draft, but for now, I can put this one aside for a bit.

What am I doing in that break, you ask?  I’m going to be doing some thinking on the next novel.  It already has a file in Scrivener and in Aeon Timeline, though I haven’t named it yet.

I’m also going to work on my two short stories for the local writer’s guild.  Maybe I’ll post those for you to see.

But the big news for the day was driving to KC for a surprise lunch with my Dad!

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