NaNoWriMo 2019: The Aftermath

It’s pretty clear that, under the proper circumstances, I don’t need anything like 30 days to write 30 words. Having an idea that pleases me makes a big difference, and having a story outline has been shown to make a difference in the past. In any case, I wrote for far fewer than 30 days this month, and even finished a day early.

That’s just as well, since I leave the country tomorrow. I have completed NaNoWriMo in South Africa before, but in this case I’ll be in the air the bulk of the day, and arrive in Johannesburg too late.

The story that really took off was Homer’s epic, and while it really needs some cleanup, I think it has a certain charm, and puts a new twist on a lot of D&D tropes. I suspect my daughter will not be entirely satisfied with the ending, but as we say, that’s what January is for.

It was fun to write a bit in Jack’s Jentusi universe. I don’t remember if it was he or Kimia who commented that I’ve now written two pieces of “fan fiction” from an antagonist’s point of view. (The other is Brown and Red, which you can also find in this blog.) It was also fun to write a “gangland” scene for the White Mesa universe — I did do some editing (shhh, don’t tell anyone) for the blog since both kids were confused about the names because of the creative spelling. If you read it earlier, Syn is now Sign, and Nyf is now Knife.

One fun part of writing from an alien viewpoint, or from a post-apocalyptic viewpoint, is to examine how many assumptions go into each imagined scene. And then to describe something that would be familiar to the readers but not to the characters — well that’s a real challenge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the verbal vomit of this year’s NaNo. If you really liked it, you are encouraged to buy and review a copy of my book, Eris: A Tale of the Nether. It was actually edited, and should be better than these scribblings.

NaNoWriMo, Linux, and Scrivener

Well, it’s that time of year again. My son is the most excited about National Novel Writing Month, but Kimia and I are also participating in the competition to write 50,000 words in a month.

I opted out last year, and the year before that I was mostly working in Mac OS, so I did all of my writing in Scrivener. There are lots of apps out there to help you write: most of them seem to focus on helping you focus (by covering up your screen except for where you’re typing), while a few also work on helping you to organize your writing project.

While Kimia (and Jack) continue to use StoryMill on the Mac, I switched over to Scrivener a few years back, and I believe it’s the king of this software category. Available on Mac and Windows, they even have a synced iPad app, which was nice at the time. NaNo without Scrivener was a daunting prospect.

I realized that there might be some similar software, so I started looking. The early favorite was Manuskript. The interface was a little kludgy in comparison to Scrivener (perhaps a tablet inspired look?) but the main pieces seemed to be there. Alas, using it was somewhat painful, and I couldn’t find the most important feature of a NaNo writing tool — the word count target bell!

I moved on to oStorybook, CherryTree notes, Joplin, Draftman, etc. I even tried just using SimpleNote (which is somewhat compatible with the back end of Scrivener). I couldn’t even find a non-organizing text editor with a word count target bell.

Finally, I returned to an old project. I had dug up an old Scrivener for Linux beta, several years ago. You can download it, yourself, from Literature and Latte’s site. Unfortunately, it depends upon some old libraries that are not in the “software store” for Linux Mint 19.2. What to do? What to do?

Well, one of the nice things about Linux is the error messages. Trying to run Scrivener (installation was without error) it told me precisely which libraries were missing. Thus, the first time I tried to run it, I was told that I was missing A little bit of searching allowed me to download it from the repos for an earlier version of Ubuntu:

(Note that the above is the 64-bit version — if you need the 32-bit version, you’ll have to do your own searching.)

curl -O
sudo dpkg -i libpng12-0_1.2.54-1ubuntu1.1_amd64.deb

The first line above (which wraps to two lines on my blog) downloads the file to your computer. If you just click the link to download, you don’t need to do that part. The second line (that starts with sudo) tells the package manager (dpkg) to install (-i) the file you downloaded. Now, we try to start Scrivener again.

This time we’re told we’re missing (It should go without saying that you probably already have both of these libraries installed, but in later versions.) I found and resolved that dependency, and Scrivener fired up as intended.

There are a couple of interesting lessons from this long pilgrimage. One, never let your old versions of software disappear. If I hadn’t been able to find the older versions of those libraries, I wouldn’t have been able to twist Scrivener’s arm into running on my system.

A larger lesson might be this: if you wait long enough, someone is likely to do the work for you. Yes, not only are you, dear reader, able to learn from my work and easily download the needed libraries (as well as the 1.9.01 beta itself), since you have read to the bottom of this post, you will now learn that there is another, easier way. The Way of Linux has a post about this same issue, with the good news that someone who calls himself Erkus the Damned has made an AppImage version of Scrivener that includes the needed libraries. Download, double-click, and voilà!

A final lesson is this: you found this page, and you might just have been looking for a solution to this problem. I looked for and solved it in my way, and The Way of Linux and their friend Erkus solved it in theirs. Linux is a bigger pie than it was in 2015 (when the last beta was released), and there just might be a market for a Scrivener competitor in Linux. Ideally, it would be compatible with Scrivener’s data structures so as to be a complete drop-in replacement, but even a version of Manuskript that was a little less clunky and implemented some of the missing features found in Scrivener might fit the bill.

One can always hope.

Help for Authors

Authors need help. Goodness, me, but we need help. We need help, because we think we have stories that other people will pay money to read! We need help because we spend precious hours of our lives researching things that virtually no one else cares about, so that we don’t mess up that particular detail of our story. (We’ll mess up numerous other details, but that one will be fine!) I’m pretty good with numbers, but I don’t think I can count all of the ways in which writers need help.

That said, there are a couple of ways in which we can actually get help. (I’m not talking about paying a psychiatrist — that would be a very different sort of post.) The DW (or, as Rumpole would refer to her, “She who must be obeyed”) decided that it would be fun for us to have a reading challenge this year. There were people at her work who were talking about being in a Century club, where the goal was to read 100 books in 2018. She decided that 100 might be a bit of a challenge for our first attempt, so she gave us each a goal of 50 books to read before 2018 dissolves in ashes some twelve months hence.
Now, initially, I wondered where I would be able to find the time to read 50 books (almost 1 per week) in 2018, and I thought how difficult it would be to get Acerrimus and Nether Master published with that kind of a workload imposed. However, I used to read quite a lot, and this is a good excuse to (eventually) buy a bunch of books, so I plunged in, reading a classic (in the sense of being an old book), The Book of Were-wolves. I won’t trouble you with the entire litany of books I read (if you’re interested in the details you can follow me on GoodReads) but I realized that reading books is a good way to reflect upon my own writing. Yes, I’ve read many books, many of which were terrific, and I’ve internalized a lot of their lessons in my own writing over the many years of my life. However, I’ve also forgotten a lot of lessons over those same many years, and it does a lot of good to scour the rust off of the old brain-case periodically and take a fresh look at the work of other authors. (It may also be an encouragement in another way. While I greatly enjoyed the story of the Chronicles of Amber, Zelazney’s terrible writing encouraged me with the thought that if he could get published, then certainly I could, too!) One book I’ve read that reminded me to look at my descriptive text and try to amp up the immersion through clear description is Death Be Not Proud. It’s a fun retelling of a classic fairytale (with enough obfuscation that my initial report on it guessed the wrong two) and Suzannah Rountree has that eye for descriptive detail that got my own juices flowing again.
Another book I read is K. M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out. I really don’t like to be told how to write, and I’m terribly suspicious of people who try to make an art into a science, but Weiland has some good insights (largely gleaned from the writing of other writers’ aids) and I have decided to apply them to the two drafts currently awaiting polishing in my dungeon. While my flesh crawls at the idea of measuring and cutting my story according to these patterns, it certainly can’t hurt to evaluate it by the pattern, can it? And, if it would take only a bit of tweaking to get it to align with the approved story structure, it could be an entertaining experiment. I could see if my beta readers like it better, or if I get more reviews on Amazon when using this technique.
So, I guess I’ll have to think of some way to thank the DW, as this exercise is already starting to bear fruit, and we haven’t gotten half-way through January, yet. Perhaps I’ll wash the dishes.


A New Author and Smashwords

So, here I am, new published author, Follis Wood. My print book is en route from Amazon (published using Createspace  and all is well with the world. In the past, when I helped my daughter start publishing, I put her ebook up using Amazon’s services as well, using Kindle Direct Publishing  My daughter, the incomparable Kimia Wood, has since chafed at some of the restrictions on KDP, so she made her second major novel available through Smashwords. Eager for new experiences, I submitted my novel to Smashwords, sifting through their style guide as quickly as I could, only to have my archaic .DOC-formatted manuscript flung back in my virtual face.

Undeterred, I tweaked the already-functioning table of contents to meet Smashwords’ discriminating standards, but to no avail! This time, I was confronted with a quandary. The review at Smashwords told me that I had used mixed formatting for my “Normal” paragraph style, and it was causing some text to overlap or get crunched. Now, I don’t want to imply that the esteemed reviewer didn’t see some sort of text artifact, but there was no such faulty formatting in my document.

I considered my options. I have loathed Microsoft for decades, more because of working with their shoddy products than in spite of it. I do not own Microsoft Word, and I will not if I can at all help it. However, it’s possible that LibreOffice formats .DOC files differently than the dinosaur of Redmond does. I began consulting DuckDuckGo for answers and I found that the Smashwords approval process is referred to as the Meatgrinder. Great! My next search was for “alternative to Smashwords”.

And so, in the words of the Teacher, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (ESV) I found that Lulu has ebook distribution.

Lulu takes me back to that time before Createspace when my daughter and I tried to publish the novel that shall not be named. We submitted our PDF to Lulu and received an entertaining collection of copies filled with what my wife termed “Chinese”. It was gibberish characters from some flaw in the Lulu PDF engine, and resulted in several useless copies of the book. Combined with Lulu’s lack of free shipping (whereas, with Amazon and Prime we could get free shipping) I turned my back on Lulu, and seldom thought of it again.

Now, in my need for a digital publishing solution, I approached Lulu again. I found that I could submit my ebook in DOC, docx, ePub, and ODT(!). Wow, a modern file format!

To be fair, Lulu doesn’t have as wide a distribution as Smashwords does, but it does seem to get to the big retailers. I can’t comment on how many sales I might miss out on due to not using Smashwords’ distribution to some websites I haven’t heard of before.

I went ahead and modified my DOC that I had uploaded to Smashwords (changed `Smashwords Edition` to `Lulu Edition` and uploaded it to Lulu. To my disappointment, it was rejected. To my great glee, Lulu notified me within minutes, and gave clear instructions as to how to fix it. I ended up moving to an ODT and uploaded again. Again within minutes, I had the go-ahead, although now, I found a problem with the converted file. Back I went to LibreOffice and touched it up, uploading and getting feedback from Lulu within minutes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have immediate publishing joy with Lulu, either. Even after uploading a complete ePub I got some cryptic errors (although more complete information than what I was getting from Smashwords.) Dutiful searching through similar issues was unable to resolve the problem. I decided I would submit a docx instead. I went around this mulberry bush more than a few times, and finally decided that I would take my now “nuked” DOC back to Smashwords.

While it wasn’t as quick as my feedback from Lulu, the “nuked” DOC passed the Meatgrinder, and my ebook is now available through their Premium service.

What’s my lesson in all of this? I think, firstly, that competition is good for competitors and for consumers. Smashwords and Lulu do things differently, and although I eventually published with Smashwords, Lulu’s process was very attractive. It may also teach me to be a little more humble about my computer knowledge, since, apparently, there was something wrong with the DOC when I first submitted it to Smashwords. While it would be nice if they accepted more modern formats, it eventually worked. Finally, it’s a shame that none of these options fully accounts for the metadata possibilities of ebooks. Editing the ebook version in Calibre and Sigil was a lot of fun, but it was frustrating that even Lulu didn’t accept their output. (In the midst of all of this, I also created an account with Draft2Digital, and I may have to try them out further for my next book.)

Oh, there is one more lesson. It’s not always wise to start a rant before the end of the story. You can buy my ebook on Smashwords here:

(Oh, but don’t buy it there if you bought the paperback. I’m working with Amazon Matchbook to give you the ebook for free if you buy the paperback!)