I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It’s been a very busy week

Technorati Tags: ,


Maybe I’m finally getting old. I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember is shifting boxes, rearranging my room to fit more stuff into it, building tables and assembling chairs, shifting more boxes, working out an events calendar for book signings during the Fall months and scraping together the cash to cover the expenses involved.

I hate moving. I love travelling, but I purely hate moving.

On the publishing front, I did receive the proofs for the interior design layout and the book cover for “Hog Valley”. The interior proof was right on the money, but there were a few issues with the cover design. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did get in touch with the artist and requested another round of photography to get a 300 dpi image I could pass on to the design team. With any luck I’ll have that early next week.


So here’s the Events Calendar:

Book Signing Events

September 11     Historic Grounds Bookstore, Green Cove Springs
            4 - 7 PM

September 25    Florida Heritage Book Festival, St. Augustine
            7 AM - 5 PM

October 9        Fall Festival - Calvary United  Methodist Church, Orange Park
            10 AM – 2PM

October 16 & 17 Orange Park Festival
            7:30 AM - 6:30 PM (2 days)

November 13    Historic Grounds Bookstore, Green Cove Springs
            5PM - 9PM

November 20    Andrea's Bookstore, Palatka
            12 Noon - 3PM


If you’re in the north Florida area, I hope to see you at one of these locations.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Well, one of my editors is very happy. the other is on vacation…

I got an email from Eve Bell yesterday. She said she was taking the rewritten portion of “Twisted Key” to the library with her. I’d sent her my rewrites about a week ago, before we started to move into the new apartment.

This evening she sent me a reply. She is now a very happy editor, indeed. Lots and lots of happy words in her email about the marked increase in clarity and exposition of the plot, and she was really happy about the character development.

My other editor, Mickey Summers, who also does the cover art, is supposed to be back from vacation soon. He’s got the rewrites, too. I also need to see if he can send me new photography of the painting for the cover.

We’re shifting a lot of boxes into the new apartment this week, and with Richard (my brother-in-law) off work this weekend, I hope to have most of the boxes here by the time we quit lugging stuff on Sunday.

Because the movers are supposed to load up the furniture on Monday and bring it over.

Maybe I’ll be able to get back to work on “Twisted Key” some time next week.

Hope you’re having a more productive week than I am.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Late To Bed And Early To Rise


We’ve been moving boxes between apartments the last several days, working hard to get all of the small stuff out of the old apartment and into the new before the movers arrive to shift the furniture over for us. I don’t think we’re gonna make it, but that’s just my opinion.

Actually, it’s my back, and my legs and feet saying that. My sister isn’t big on lifting heavy stuff, and my brother-in-law is still tied down to a full-time job. So I’m doing most of the heavy lifting, and glad that my body can still handle it.

I haven’t treated it as well as I should have over the years, and it gets a bit cranky when I put more demands on it than it considers right and proper. It thinks it should be babied more. Personally, I think it could lose about twenty (okay, thirty) pounds or so, and it really should quit smoking, too.

But we still get along, my body and I, event though we do have our arguments over what’s right and proper. It gives a little, I give a little. That’s the secret behind any good, long-lasting relationship.

But my feet hurt, and my legs. We’re moving from a two-bedroom townhouse apartment to a three-bedroom flat. My sister and her husband have the master bedroom, I’ve got on of the smaller bedrooms and the third is going to be used as a library/office for my brother-in-law.

Right now (well, not right now) I’m sleeping in the new apartment while we move boxes in. I had to have my bedroom set up with my new bed and get my computer hooked back up. All of that had to be done before the weekend, which meant a lot of upping and downing on the staircase at the old apartment. I can now state flatly that I will never live in another house that has a staircase. I have had it with moving boxes and furniture up and/or down staircases. It’s dangerous, and it hurts.

I had all of my books and clothes stored in sealable plastic containers. ‘Stored’ is the operative word. ‘Stored’ means you don’t have access to what’s in those sealable containers, and you don’t move the damn things around will he-nill he. ‘Stored’ does not mean you haul them up a flight of stairs one month and then a few months later move them back down, stuff them into a car and then move them into another room. ‘Stored’ means you put those damn containers someplace and leave them be.

Well, Life will play its little games. I have another six containers filled with around eighty pounds of books in each, and four others packed with clothes, towels, bed linens, computer gear, letters, photos and nick-knacks I haven’t seen in years. And a large mahogany folding table that I write on (type on, as on a keyboard). And they all got moved into the new apartment, right along with a lot of other stuff. There is still a large amount of stuff to be moved, but I am living here, now. My sister and her husband will be moving in once we have all of the furniture shifted over.

I damn near killed myself moving all of that stuff in two days. Not to mention dealing with the service tech getting the cable internet and TV hooked up, setting up my bedroom and actually getting back to work on “Twisted Key”.

Which I haven't actually done yet, but I will, soon. I promise.

And I got a new bed. My sister and I went bed shopping on Wednesday, last week. There’s just me sleeping on it, so I was looking for a twin bed, or at most what’s called a double bed. I was sort of looking forward to it, because I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress since April. Several air mattress, actually. They seem to develop weak seams if you keep them in use for a month or so.

It’s not a large bedroom, unfortunately. Only about thirteen feet on a side, so a twin or double made a lot of sense. But this queen size mattress/box spring unit was only another twenty dollars and I damn near fell asleep testing it, so we bought it.

I’ve been getting into my new bed around ten or eleven the last several nights, and waking up between two-thirty or three in the morning, full of piss and vinegar.

Which is why I’m writing this blog entry well before six AM on a Monday morning. I started it around four AM, in case you’re interested.

I had a phone conversation with my publisher recently. I should have proofs of the interior and cover for “Hog Valley” some time late next week or the first of the week after. Which means “Hog Valley” just might be available in early September, as opposed to the end of the month.

And that would be a very good thing, indeed.

I hope you have a good week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Update between Downtimes


Tuesday of last week we were warming up to the task of moving to another apartment. We were in touch with our cable service provider, the electric company, my publisher, the new apartment complex manager and anyone else we could think of to keep everything on track.

Well, I was in the middle of uploading the last material to the publisher when the wheels came off. The service provider chose that day to cut off the entire town of Orange Park while they carried out some “Scheduled Maintenance”. For the entire day. Without telling anyone.

After several frantic calls we learned two important things. First, my Belkin wireless router/receiver should never have been able to handle any traffic between the cable modem and my computer, and the estimated time to complete the scheduled maintenance was unknown. And I couldn’t contact my publisher, since my email was down, right along with the rest of my life.

The service provider did say they would send out a NetGear wireless router that was compatible. It arrived two days later. Without a wireless receiver, which they said would arrive some time in the middle of the next week. Which brings us up to today, which really is the middle of the next week.

The publisher now has all of my files and production work on “Hog Valley” is continuing apace. The folks working up the book cover are concerned about pixilation on the cover art. I am hoping to hear from the artist some time soon to get better digital photographs to send to them.

Today, as we know, is Wednesday. I will be breaking down and packing up my computer, along with everything else, to move into a larger apartment Starting Friday. The service provider will meet me at the new apartment Friday afternoon, so this next round of downtime should only be a day, as opposed to a week. Since I am only moving myself and my gear into the new apartment on Friday, the technician may want to connect their modem directly to my computer to verify the data stream. I’m not at all sure what that is going to do to my current setup, since my computer is normally the Client and my brother-in-law’s computer is the Host.

That has the potential to become a real fur-ball.

Never mind moving boxes, clothes, plants and whatever for the next ten days until all three of us are living there.

We’ll see.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Short Version

Technorati Tags: ,,


Back in March of this year, I was living in Silver Springs, Florida. I’d moved there in April of 2008 to do research on my second novel “Hog Valley”. Much of the story takes place in and around the Ocala National Forest, so that seemed to be a real smart move.

But that March the vision in my left eye started to go all wonky. It started out with a lot of ‘floaters’ in the eye and in a matter of a few days it just started raining floaters in what seemed to be several depths. Some seemed to be real close and others further out. I got scared when my vision became completely blocked and went to the emergency room. They sent me to Shands in Gainesville.

I love Shands. The initial surgery took place at the end of march. If you need a retinal repair, go to Shands. I’ll not afflict you with the gory details of the surgery itself, but I will say those were ninety very interesting minutes. I did try to get up and leave a few times, but the docs managed to talk me out of it. After draining the viscous fluid out of the back of the eye, the doctor cranked up the laser and stitched the torn retina. Then he filled the cavity with a silicon-based fluid.

Two months later I went back for what was to be the final operation to have the silicon extracted and the cavity filled saline solution. But there was a problem. When I went to the docs office the day after for the post-op visit we found that a large glob of silicon oil remained in the back of the eye.

So a month later I went back for another procedure to remove the oil, flush the cavity and fill it again with saline. At the post-op the next day I found that the vision in the center of my left eye was clouded. Somehow the cones in the center of the eye are ‘grayed out’. At first the doc thought it might be due to ‘photo toxicity’, or light poisoning due the the very bright lights they need to see what they’re doing way back there, but now the most likely culprit might be the silicon oil itself. Nobody knows why, or how, or even if for sure it is the oil. But they will figure it out.

So today I went back for another visit with the eye doc. I’m back on eye drops and I’ll go back to visit him in another two months. It seems that out of the thousands of surgical procedures he’s done, five patients, all in the last year, are reporting the same problem. The docs are working on it, and I have no doubt they will figure it out.

These folks are good, and dedicated. I have vision back in my left eye, and I am a happy camper. With both eyes working I do not notice any loss of vision due to the grayed out area. I am a happy camper.

But all of this to-ing and fro-ing to Gainesville, and the loss of the use of my left eye for extensive periods of time, and the resulting eye strain in my right eye have conspired to keep me away from my computer and my writing.

I am sorry for that, because if I don’t write you can’t enjoy my novels.

“Hog Valley” is in production now. It should be available near the end of September (in spite of health issues). I am back at work on “Twisted Key” now that “Hog Valley” is all grown up and out of the house, both of my eyes are working properly, and I am writing new material at a decent rate.

All may not be well with the world, but on the whole I’ve got no real complaints.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I’m running out of options

I almost put pen to paper this morning. I was standing in the living room, alone, looking at the television (which was turned off at the time), thinking about flipping through the desert of morning TV channels, thinking about picking up a book to read, thinking about defragging my computer (again), thinking about installing some new software to test, thinking about damn near anything but writing new material in “Twisted Key”.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to write new material for the novel. I just don’t want to do it right now. Because before I can do that I have to re-read what I’ve already got and lay out two or three new scenes and figure out where I ant to go with the story, and so on.

That’s what I’m putting off. It’s like cleaning up the kitchen before you can start to cook another meal. It’s like weeding the garden before you can stick new bedding plants into the ground. It’s prep work. It’s drudgery, and I just don’t want to start in on it.

Not right now, anyway.

But I’m getting there. I know how good that story is going to be. To tell the truth, it’s always like this for me when I haven’t been writing new material for a while. I have to work my way back into that place called ‘Zone’, where all I think about is what I’m writing and what I’m going to be writing, about what the characters are up to in their lives.

And where I can – no, where I have a legitimate reason to – ignore the world around for for a month or two. It’s where I can ignore the foul politics of today, where I can forget about the great sucking sound our economy is making as it goes down the tubes.

There isn’t much I can do about the politics of today, and I certainly can’t fix our morbid economy. But I can write a very interesting story in spite of it all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

“Hog Valley” & “Twisted Key”


I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. “Hog Valley”, two years in the writing and preparation, will be going to the publisher at the end of this week. I cannot begin to tell you how very good that feels.

My novels run from 104,000 to 109,000 words. They feature good character development, complex plotting lots of tension and mystery and bits of humor to change the pace of the narrative. Read through the Reader’s Comments page on the web site to see what real people have to say about “The Big Bend”: www.garyshowalter.com.

“Twisted Key”, my third novel, is once again on the front burner of my life. All of the housekeeping is done, all of the recent rounds of edits have been read through, considered or rejected and all of the changes made to the first hundred or so pages. Once the file was saved, I copied out the first three chapters and saved them as a separate file. I replaced the file I had on the web site with the new material and made up a new PDF file of the chapters and uploaded it to the web site. Then I sent out notification emails about the availability of the new material.

I’ve added a third even to my calendar for the fall. the event is a ‘Fall Festival’, oddly enough right around Halloween, at one of the churches here in Orange Park. I participated in their Spring Festival and sold half-a dozen copies of “The Big Bend” before the blazing hot sun threatened to broil my brain. The vendors were all sitting in the middle of an asphalt parking lot. I, of course, did not have a tent…

But this Fall I will be back, with copies of both “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley”. I hope to sell large numbers of both, to repeat and new buyers, what with Christmas being right around the corner. I’m also looking at dropping the price, but I can’t say much more than that right now.

But I can say that folks who buy more than one book will see a further price break, ‘L’ encourage autre’, or however they say it in France…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

“Twisted Key”


I am back to work on “Twisted Key”, the latest installment of the life and times of Terrance Charles Rankin of Leakey, Texas. Actually, I am about half-way through the recent round of edits. I hope to be writing original material near the end of this week. I have a few days of field research scheduled for the end of next week, but there are a lot of pages I can write before I need the material from the research.

Once I have all of the current crop of edits done, I will post the first three chapters on my web site and create a new *.PDF for the Free Downloads page. There are some changes in the text, of course, but they are all to eliminate confusion and impart clarity, not to mention a touch of absolute brilliance, to my writing. Unh-huh. I wrote that. Didn’t mean to. Guess it just slipped out.

Actually, I don’t expect there will be any major changes to the first three chapters after this last round of editing, so what you’ll read in the posted chapters will be pretty much what you’ll read in the published version when it comes out next year.

By the way - my editors are brilliant. Not me. They see right through my puny efforts, polish it up and make me do it right. Editing is a drag. It takes a long time, a lot of thought, a lot of attention to the nitty-gritty, and a lot of patience. I’m not sure the Good Lord likes editors, since He didn’t make many of them. But I have two of the best, so I’m not complaining.

Good writing is re-writing. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. If you don’t have the self-discipline and intestinal fortitude to re-write your material, don’t bother to write anything down, ever. Good writing is re-writing. It bears repeating.

About a week ago I received an offer to purchase a copy of Serif’s brand new photo editing software, “PhotoPlus x4”, for a bit less than half the retail price. I’ve used the trial version of their DTP software, PagePlus, earlier this year and liked it. Since the price for PagePlus x4 was so very tempting, I went for it. I should receive the installation CD some time this week, so I’ll give you a blow-by-blow of the installation and my first impressions as I install it.

This is really a great opportunity, since I am fresh from using Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 8 for the last month or so. I am excited at the opportunity to do a real side-by-side comparison of these two products!

I was at a group book signing event last Friday night. One of the visitors stopped by to visit while his wife browsed through the books on another author’s table. This visitor was in his mid-thirties, I guess. He bought a copy of “The Big Bend” after speaking with me for a few moments. Then he asked the oddest question – one I never heard before - “What’s it like to write a novel?”

I’ve been asked ‘Why’ do you write, and ‘How’ do you write, but no one ever asked me ‘What’s it like?’

I had to sit and think about that one, with my face all scrunched up, an embarrassed – flummoxed, actually – look on my face.

He didn’t want to know if I wrote in my underwear, or if I used a pencil and paper or a computer. He wanted to know – well, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t the mechanics he was interested in. I think he wanted to know how I thought my way through a novel.

This is going to sound dumb, if not insultingly dumb, but the only valid answer I could think of that would explain the process I go through to develop my plots and scenes is that it’s sort of like herding cats.

You’ve got to gather the cats together, get them all moving in the same direction and keep them from turning on you. You’re almost certainly doomed to failure, but when you do succeed, it’s always worth the effort.

He laughed and thanked me, gathered up his spouse and left. He forgot to ask me to sign the book he bought.

Monday, August 2, 2010

For sale: New week, slightly used

Here’s a final bit of information about Abode’s Photoshop Elements 8. Over the weekend I put together a bookmark file for my first novel, “The Big Bend”. I’m a new hand at the business of writing – bookmarks, business cards, tax filings and so on, and from what little I know about printing, I’m a bit put off at the expense of ordering a few thousand bookmarks from a printer just to get the cost per bookmark down to where I can afford to give them away (don’t you worry, the customer pays for everything in the end).

So I called up Photoshop and built a bookmark:


It’s 2” wide by 7” tall. I kept the font styles and colors to a minimum to prevent any  eye strain or confusion, and copy/pasted three images from the cover art for the novel. It has all the information I want or a reader might need: The title of the novel, my Tag line, “Murder and Mayhem in Florida”, a photo of the cover art, two quotes from happy readers, the Kindle option, my email address and my web site address.

Altogether, getting the images placed correctly took about an hour, since each one had to be copied out of the cover art and then resized to fit the restrictions of the bookmark, and placed into its own Layer to make it easy to move it around independent of the other elements on the canvas.

The text actually took a bit longer than the images, since you have to provide a hard carriage return BEFORE you type off the edge of the canvas. Selecting fonts and colors was a snap.

Then with the bookmark completed and saved as a *.PSD, *.PNG and *.JPG, I trotted down to the local big box office supply store and ordered a bunch of bookmarks (well, 50, just to see what it looked like). That cost me $30.00. I darn near wet my pants. I paid it, but I was no longer a happy patron of that store. I’ll buy supplies there, but I’ll never order any printing done there.

I know they have expenses to cover, but that’s a bit ridiculous. I’m not going to charge anyone for a bookmark, but I can’t afford to give them away. Not at those prices.

So, I made up a sheet of bookmarks:

BookmarkSheet02Aug It’s not as easy as you might think. Set up the canvas size to match the photo paper, in my case 8.5” x 11”. That becomes your Base Layer. Then in the View menu in Photoshop select to show the gridlines. Create a new Layer and title it Layer 1 (that’s pretty clever, huh?). Save the project with a unique name. Then open the bookmark project. Make sure the image is properly oriented to match the canvas orientation in your new project. Select the bookmark image and copy/paste it into the new layer on the canvas.

Photoshop has a “Snap to Grid” option in the View menu. Use it to make sure each image you paste in is correctly aligned on the grid. Zoom in with ‘CTRL + =’ keys to verify that each of your images is correctly positioned on the grid lines before you past in the next image, and be sure to give yourself sufficient room between each image on the canvas so you can separate them after printing. If you fail to do that you will hate yourself later when you try to cut the bookmarks out of the printed page…

The biggest problem I had with this project was with my printer. The leading edge of the photo paper never entered the printer infeed rollers at the same point, so the first bookmark image was a waste of ink on three of the five sheets I printed out.

Once you have the project complete and you’ve done all of your fine-tuning by printing a few test pages and making your corrections, be sure to save the project in at least two places OFF your hard drive…

I’ll be back at work on my third novel, “Twisted Key” in just a little bit. I have about 100 pages written and the last edits from my editors to go over. Then I get to go back to the fun part of this job – actually writing new stuff. Well, research is the real fun part of this job. Writing is fun too, I guess, at least until my editors ask me what idiot wrote the crap I just emailed him…