Archive for May, 2012

Scrivener and the MFA

I may have mentioned it before, but if not here’s a catch-up. I’m starting to use Scrivener for my writing projects. I first found out about it from a post by Charles Stross some time ago, and I began experimenting with it just after I completed my MA – downloaded the application in January of 2011, I think.

I tinkered with it and loaded some existing projects into it and like the gifted writer procrastinator that I am, let it all si, going back occasionally to fiddle with some of the views and oooh and ah over the workspace, but never did much actual, you know, work. To many options, and while the very basic operations are intuitive, getting some of the other settings positioned for how I might want to work wasn’t (entirely).

Then, I finally decided to commit to actually start using the software, got the “My-Tips-For-Using-Scrivener” ebook by David Hewson and really started to fiddle with some of the settings – realizing that some of what I was trying to do was really a lot easier than I thought – and have gotten to the point where I have a general template for my (intended) longer projects.

The only catch is going to come with the sharing of material for workshopping. The preferred format is a Word file (for adding comments electronically), which an export to Word is entirely feasible option (both will just involve a quick learning curve – how to export and how to insert comments in Word).

Over the last couple of weeks, with a template in place, I’ve been starting to integrate a couple of the older projects I’ve been sitting on into a proper Scrivener set-up (read – break apart into component scenes/moments) – which is really the part I was dreading the entire time.

In all, I can’t help but recommend the software… it might take a little bit to get used to it, but it really does help with many aspects of managing a writing project.

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What are Fictional Echoes?

[Originally written 5/2007]
Welcome to the “new” home…. a pseudo-temporarily-permanent location for writing projects, doodles and “stuff”. When I started “Echoes Americana” – in concept, then in reality, years ago… part of the plan was for it to be a place where I could throw out some “literary doodles”, as a means to track my growth and refinement as a writer. The original “Echoes” is, has been, and will continue to be a “daily posting” of sorts… a writer’s diary and general “updates” on things life in general (an online journal, of sorts).

 Here, however, will be where I experiment. First and foremost, unless I specifically state something to the contrary, anything that is stated in a post should be taken with a grain of salt… Just because something may say “I” did something, it could be in context of character. When in doubt, check how the post is labeled… “Fiction” should be in most of the ones that will pop up… or, when in doubt, ask.

 The other major disclaimer: I cannot and will not guarantee a “PC” or child friendly site… In the context of writing, or maintining character, language may be used or scenes may eventually develop that may not be “happy” reads or clean reads… (I’m not saying that there WILL be a lot of those styles of scenes, either, but well…. this IS the disclaimer!! :o)

 Periodically, I may also open up the floor for ideas to be submitted (a sort of “Whose Line…” style) to create something else… we shall see…

 For now, however, welcome to my tangents, twists and tumultuously timed tinkerings… (blessed be the alliteration :o) Just make sure you turn the lights out and lock up when you’re done.

[Updated 5/31/2012]
“Fictional Echoes” will be going live, again (for the first time here), starting tomorrow (1 June). For now, it will be a bi-weekly Friday thing with some of the older entries coming back to life first, then new pieces to follow. Any previous entry will be listed (much like this one) “Originally Written on <date>”. For those that may have seen them before, here’s your chance to read them again and easily access them in the future. For those that may be finding these for the first time, enjoy!

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Book Pimping…

Not mine, not yet, but here’s a couple of books I’m looking forward to over the next couple of months.

Redshirts, by John Scalzi (image from [Out 5 June]

Something that confused me when I first heard the subtitle (“A Novel with Three Codas“) was,”What the hell is a coda in fiction?” My musical experience, rusty as it is, knew it would suggest more stuff at the end, but I was confused as to the implementation in fiction, not (knowingly) experienceing it before.

With the release date less than a week away, Scalzi explains the structure here, with the key takeaway information being this:

The “codas” in this case are three short stories presented after the novel, which offer some additional perspective on the events of the novel. The novel itself is a complete story — you can read just the novel part and have a complete narrative arc, plot and character resolution and so on. But the complete experience of Redshirts, the book, includes the three stories at the end. The three stories at the end aren’t throwaway bits; the three stories at the end matter.

The Apocalypse Codex, Charles Stross (image from Ace/Penguin) [Due 3 July]

It’s too early for Charlie to have started driving the pre-release bandwagon, so the only real notes for it are here.

My thoughts: It’s the 4th book in the Laundry series, which is a type of Bond-meets-Lovecraft, where the role of Bond is played by an IT Specialist. I enjoyed the first two in the series (after I was introduced to them by a friend), and have had a signed copy of Book 3 (The Fuller Memorandum) sitting on my stack to read since shortly after it was released a couple of years ago.

Incentive to finally read book 3? Coming in July.



Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross (image from Tor/MacMillen) [Due 4 Sept]

Again with the “too early for pre-sale bandwagon”, so you’ll have to settle for the blurb here.

Why I am interested: Besides the two authors? I read their collaborative story Unwirer and thought it worked well. I first heard of the project at a signing Cory did a couple of years ago (promoting For the Win). It turns out this is a compilation of two previous, related, collaborative shorts written by Doctorow & Stross with a third one written to finish the story arc. The first two had previously been published online at SyFy (or SciFi) years ago, but I was unable to track them down after first hearing of the project.

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In Which A(nother) Decision Is Made….

Sort of…

The dilemma is this: I’ve always wanted to do a study abroad, and with the acceptance to Glasgow I would get not just a semester but a full degree… from the UK! And a top 100 school in the WORLD! But at what cost? (Literally – the financial angle is the key item here.)

So here’s the decision that MC and I have talked about and finally came down to.

Defer, for a year, then reassess.

In other words, spend the next year-ish trying to flush out as many scholarship options as possible – anything that could help take the edge off of the anticipated financial outlay for the time over there. At the same time, try to track down  information on Graduate Assistantships and how getting one might impact the cost of attendance (I’ve heard that there is an application process when rising to the 2nd year, but the true concern is, if selected, is there a tuition brake or waiver, and what the pay is like (roughly)).

I emailed the university earlier in the week about a possible deferral and they are willing, but onlyup to one academic year (start in Sept 2013, or I would have to reapply). I have also been using the power of the internet to start looking up other sources of information so MC and I can have as accurate and well-rounded a picture of what we would be facing and how we might need to (psychologically) prepare for a move, if the financial side pans out.

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A Little Two-Stepping on MVM

Here’s another round of Dave & Tim, acoustic…

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Noveling 101

I’ve mentioned before that I’m starting a residency for an MFA program in about a month. The end goal of this program isto have a (potentially) salable novel. Key word, that. Novel. When I completed my MA, that was my original thought and plan, to have a novel for my thesis. I was advised against it because (to paraphrase), “If there’ are problems with the manuscript, it could impact the overall decision. With a collection of stories, if there’s a problem with an issue in a story, it can easily be offset based on the overall strength of the collection.” In other words, clunky elements from a story can be overlooked as an anomaly in a collection, but could sink a novel.

I accepted it, which wasn’t a bad thing. At the time, trying to get a novel out of me would have probably meant not graduating when I did.

But novels are still one of the end goals for me. We learn by writing them, but it helps to have someone who’s gone down the path before that can offer advice and (hopefully) help us work through or see bigger pictures than what we may be getting while working in the trenches. The fact that I want to write “genre” stuff didn’t really help my cause… I’ve mentioned before that some of my instructors could help with some of the mechanical issues, but just didn’t know how to handle some of the bigger stories I was starting to scratch out.

So, for some other folks that may stumble across this entry interested in eaking out a novel (or more) and are just getting started, here’s a Noveling 101 post from the Magical Words site, written by Kalayna Price (with four novels out and a fifth soon to be released, she’s got a pretty good handle on what it means to get a novel done).

Technically, the concepts she’s listing aren’t explicitly “novel-only” – they can be found in any story if you know what to look for, but she presents a good overview, with notes that she will plan on expounding on some of the items in the future.

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The Dilemma I’ve Been Sitting On…

I mentioned something a little over a week ago, about a possible “What if…?” scenario since I was still waiting on a response from one more school.

Then, last week, I logged into the school’s application system, and saw this:

Which, for those as unfamiliar with the UK system as I was when I started, “Unconditional” translates into “Accepted with no restrictions.” I logged out and back in to the system another half dozen times, with no change. It still took another couple of hours before it really started sinking in..

I. Got. In. To. Glasgow!

Which prompted my dilemma… Accept with a request for deferment, or let it go? If I accept, what do I do about Seton Hill? Do I try to juggle demands for both an MFA and a PhD (since, with the deferment, I would be about half-way through the MFA program by the time I would go to Scotland)? Slide to part-time at Seton Hill for the last few sessions?

That’s been a major part of my silence for the past week, a mix of squee at getting in and sucking on a salt block while weighing the options. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I really, really, really would like to take the offer – both MC and I think it would be a great opportunity & experience for us and for the baby – but the more I looked at the numbers, the more salt I had to swallow.

To make it work, I would need to get financial aid… no problems with that. However, assuming max disbursement per year (covering tuition & cost of living allowance), we would be staring at roughly $45k after allowing for the exchange rate. Per year. That’s right, year. At full tuition rate, the entire cost of the (3-year) MFA program at Seton Hill sits just under what it would cost for one year in Scotland.

We could make it work, I’m sure we could. But… I find it extremely hard to swallow the idea of setting us up for a student loan payment that would rival a mortgage payment (and, if we were to sell everything off – cars included – to offset some of the cost, we would then have to incur car payments upon our return). That would just be based on the cost for Glasgow, not even including the cost of trying to double with Seton Hill.

I’m not entirely counting it out… I haven’t yet gotten any kind of official notification (remember, it took two emails to finally get to this point), so there’s a chance for some kind of windfall or special “sorry we took so long, here’s some money” award, or I could opt to request the deferment and spend a good chunk over the next couple of months beating the bushes for possible scholarship options (there’s one that would reduce tuition from the “International” to “UK Resident” rate)… but I’m not sure how feasible it would be to go that route, between having a 3-month old at home and about to start another program.

Looking at the bigger picture, though… as excited as I am about the acceptance, I think the dilemma has found it’s own answer, and I will end up letting Glasgow go. Like all nominees for major awards, it is truly an honor to get the acceptance. MC and I are already talking about planning a trip for when I finish my run at Seton Hill to hang out in Scotland, and the Glasgow campus is definitely on my short list of places to visit (and get a few souveniers from).

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Two Weeks Left…

Unitil the new Rush album, Clockwork Angels, drops… 12 June… just in time for me to spin the hell out of it on a 9-ish hour drive to my MFA residency a few days later.

Not loking forward to either of them, am I?

While I have moved to getting most of my music digitally now, Rush is one of the few that I still like getting the tangible disc version. Just sayin’, I know where I’ll be heading to after work on the 12th.

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One Thing I’m Looking Forward To…

My first residency in the Seton Hill MFA program is next month, and one of the things I’m looking forward to (besides the fact that it’s a week of focused writing immersion), is the featured speaker for the residency.

Donald Maass.

I’m excited, not from a fanboy position, but just from an industry angle. I’ve seen his books around for a couple of years, but used this as an excuse to finally break down and buy most of them… if nothing else, there’s a “How-To” reading component for the “Term Writing” plans that we’ll have to prep, so now I’ll have some new books to read (instead of pulling an old one from the shelf for a reread).

The first books arrived yesterday, and the rest are due at the house today… things look interesting, so far.

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Gaiman’s Commencement Address

Neil Gaiman recently gave the commencement address at The University of the Arts.

(Listening to it is much better than reading the transcript, but maybe that’s just me.)

The moral of the address, which is still one I’m struggling with, is to go out, make mistakes, and make good art along the way. It’s something that MC has been trying to hammer home for the last couple of years, with mixed effectiveness, but it’s still good information to hear… often the more it’s heard the more likely it will sink in, eh? To that end, I’m thinking of streaming/capturing the audio to be able to listen through it more often or if no internet is available.

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