Thursday, April 14, 2016

Small Victories

I have a piece of flash fiction being published in a cool little fledgling press called Donut Factory. It's an 800+ word piece called "Grandpa's House" and it's the first story I've ever had accepted for publication. Donut Factory is available in printed format on Amazon and is nearly 100 pages of flash fiction and poetry by a fair number of talented writers that I'm honored to be included among. Be sure to check it out and pick up a copy!

 Donut Factory Press

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Looking For Hoof&Hide?

I moved my Gene Wolfe blog back to it's old Wordpress space. It just works better as its own entity rather than as a part of this personal blog. All of the Gene Wolfe posts have been transferred but also still remain here for reference. I know it's moved around a lot over the years as I've tried to figure out how to maintain it, and I appreciate that it still gets as much traffic as it does.

It's weird to think Hoof & Hide is nine years old now. It's been my most successful blogging venture so far. Mostly due to it having way more interesting content than my own writing or artwork. I've enjoyed running it and have been able to connect with some interesting people through its existence. I look forwarding to it turning 10 years old next year.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Using Grammarly

One of the biggest benefits of writing in our modern times is the automatic editing features we have at our immediate disposal. Spelling and grammar checks can happen in the moment instead of through revisions, which can save time and- depending on your opinion on the matter- can teach us while we write. Despite there being a great sense of nostalgia when writing with pen and paper or (sorry Harlen Ellison) a typewriter, I can't help but prefer my Macbook and it's wide array of tools.

One tool in particular that I've recently employed is called Grammarly. Grammarly is the spelling and grammar check tool whose free version follows you anywhere on the web. Now, spell check is a pretty standard tool these days. It's included with every operating system on the planet and every man, woman, child, and dog are use to seeing a little red line under their misspelled words and most likely utilize it daily. It's normal. So why add to it? Simply put- Grammarly doesn't just correct your spelling, it teaches you how to write. Bold claim? Yes. Maybe too bold. To say that it teaches writing is a bit exaggerated, but it does help you learn proper grammar as you go. Commas are a big deal for me. I've read a lot about where and how to use them. I still get it wrong. It's a curse (for now at least) that I've found Grammarly takes care of for me. But it doesn't leave me not thinking about my commas, quite the opposite. Grammarly tells me what I'm doing wrong. It tells me the why in a very unobtrusive way. Its minimal interface sits even now below this blog post blinking to let me know I've gone and done something ridiculous with my words. And when I hover over the underlined word it doesn't just offer me the corrected version but instead poses a question to me (in a neat little box) that asks me why I did what I did, and then suggests other available options that are grammatically correct. And I learn from this.

The best part is that it not only has its own word processor available on its website, but it follows me around to my online email, my Draft account, and even into Evernote. Correcting me as I go. It's my new little friend via a simple Chrome extension (please build a Safari one!). I've added a couple screenshots below for your viewing pleasure. One of the Grammarly editor with its corrections listed off to the side and one from my Draft account where you can see the little ball indicator at the bottom of the screen. The story is old and riddled with errors. Perfect.

Grammarly.com editor with corrections.

Utilizing Grammarly at Draft.

It's worth mentioning there is also a paid version of this software- I've only been using and describing the free features in this post- that includes: Style and sentence structure checks, 24/7 email and phone support, support for MS Word, and a plagiarism check. They even tout a money back guarantee which is nice should you sign up and not feel it's really doing what you want.

I should end this post by saying that I'm a firm believer that tools do not make an artist. Should nothing be available to you but a gnawed up pencil and some toilet paper then you can still write. You can still create. But it is really nice to have tools that assist you and not just correct mistakes for you but get you involved in the correction process as well. I'd recommend Grammarly to any who writes and is looking for a bit of enhancement to their writing experience.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Short Story or Novel?

I'm currently reading Gene Wolfe's "Castle of Days" and came across this quote last night about the difference between an idea for a short story and one for a novel.

"If what interests you most is what's going to happen, that's a short story. If it's the people or the scene, that's a novel." 

This is one of those neatly packaged clarifications that really help me sort out my own ideas. Thank you, Gene!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Few Thoughts On World Building

I've been reading a new book lately that may quite literally be the most difficult to follow piece of fiction I've ever read. Not because it's poorly written from a technical stand point. Quite the opposite. The author is a great writer. The problem is the setting in which it all takes place, and how the elements of the world in which the characters operate are overwhelming and confusing. I've been trudging through it in hopes that it will all eventually make some kind of sense, but it's also been making me think a lot about world building.

World building is a big thing these days. There is even a reddit thread dedicated to it. Personally, I think it's fairly easy to draw up a map, name a few societies and countries, and call it a world. Writers and dungeon masters do this every day. It's like creating a stage or game board for our characters to move about on and act out their little stories. It's also a lot of fun to do. But there is so much more to world building than just naming (or renaming) everyday nouns. There is a balance that must be attained between the new and the familiar, and an attention given to the simplest of details that can turn a fictional society into a living and breathing culture.

I think many writers make the assumption that learning all the new names and places within their fictional world is exploratory and therefore fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there are those who perhaps take a great deal of pleasure in being experts of such things as fake languages and realms, but on a whole, when the majority of readers sit down to enjoy a book they do not want to muddle through a history or anthropology lesson. In particularly one that has no bearing on reality. It's a chore and it steals from the enjoyment of a good story.

Discovery, however, is entirely different from exploration. A good book keeps a reader exploring without them really noticing they are. They shouldn't realize they're absorbing information until it's too late and they've discovered something fun and fascinating within the story. Discovery feels good and makes the reader feel smart or awed or any number of emotions. A story's world should reveal itself effortlessly as the plot unfolds and as the characters move through it. We should see it revealed in ways that feel both familiar and foreign through the characters. It's not a barrage of unknown words in the first chapter where names and places mix together in a fashion that would make J.R.R. Tolkien spew from disgust, but the careful placement of the unknown within the known so that through association with the familiar the reader can discover something new and exciting without any effort at all.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Alternote for Evernote

I've been an Evernote user for many years now, and I can still remember that it was the simple interface of it's original app that really drew me to the service. Over the years, however, the official Evernote apps have grown to hog a lot more screen real estate than before, and now that my main machine is a 13" MacBook Air I really don't have the space to spare. Enter Alternote.

Evernote for Mac next to Alternote for Mac
Alternote cleans up all of that excess user interface and tucks it away nicely so you can fit more of your notes on your screen. The side-by-side comparison in the image I've posted to this article shows just how much more of your content you can view with Alternote in comparison to the native Evernote app. For me that was enough to drop the $7 on it, but be sure to check out Alternote's website for more of it's features.  It can do nearly everything the Evernote app can do, but without getting in your way. It also includes a night mode and font settings so you can control the look and feel of the app. The only thing it cannot do is permanently delete your notes. Which is only because the creators of Evernote do not allow this feature for third party developers. However, a quick log into your Evernote account and you can delete anything you like.

Alternote is available on the Mac App Store for only $6.99. If you're a big Evernote user looking for a slicker interface and a more distraction free writing experience then it's well worth the tiny investment. I know it most certainly was for me.