Painting with Chickens

The little words in a sentence (articles, conjunctions, helper verbs and the like) make a huge difference in the meaning of the sentence.  To illustrate, I would like to tell you about a painting on my wall that I adore.  It’s a chicken painting. 

To clarify, it’s not a painting of chickens; it’s modern art, with bold colors and what look like random brushstrokes.   So why do I call it a chicken painting?

Easy.  It was painted by chickens.  Bantam Cochin chickens, to be exact, which have feathered feet.  These feathers made the “brushstrokes,” and each color required a different chicken.  Here’s how a chicken paints:  you dip the bird’s feet in the paint, put the chicken on the canvas, and hold it there while it walks and scratches. Wash off the chicken (and its feathers, as much as possible) and move on to the next color/chicken.

Maybe it’s really more painting with chickens, not by chickens.

Painting of chickens.  Painting by chickens.  Painting with chickens.  The only words that are different are the little ones, but the image you get is completely changed.

Pondering Self-Publishing

A writing friend Barb suggested publishing on Smashwords, a website that publishes ebooks by independent authors.  In reading the “about” section of the website, I got to thinking that self-publishing might not be a bad idea.  

It’s becoming less and less expensive to self-publish a novel.  There are even ways to get a self-published book up for sale on sites like Amazon.   My main concern is that I will not put in any effort to market it at all, and published or not it won’t get read.

I know that there is a mini-market for my book, since coworkers and friends keep requesting and recommending it.  I’m just not sure how well it will sell beyond that group.   I’d like to still explore the possibility of traditional publishing, but now I’m giving self-publishing more consideration.

My Second Job

I’ve been considering the idea of getting a second job.  I don’t need it, but some extra income would be nice.

This thought, however, made me realize that writing is supposed to be my second job.  It doesn’t bring in income, but if I want to be a serious author I should be committing the time to it that I would to a career.  I like this idea better than getting some unpleasant job selling clothes or flipping burgers, even if it does mean sticking a little more tightly to my budget.  As of right now I can’t say that I’ve been writing as a job – it’s been more of a hobby up to this point.

So, with this thought, I am drafting a work schedule for myself.  I will aim for about 8 hours a week to start; hopefully I can get into a routine and maybe add some more.  Will you (my wonderful readers) be my boss?  I’ll figure out a way for you to keep me on task, as part of my plan, and I’ll let you know what your committment will be in this process. 

And now, to work!

Making a Second Copy

In every office there are things that are the hot topic of conversation.  There are TV shows that everyone (or almost everyone) watches, so the day after the show airs you know what the talk will be about.  There are movies that coworkers go to see together or quote like crazy.  And there are also books that get passed around and recommended until everybody has read them.

Right now in my office, my manuscript is one of those books. 

Unfortunately there is currently only one copy of my manuscript printed, at least in my possession.  (I think my mom has a few copies of the first draft, and two friends have their own copies.)   As each person at work reads the manuscript, the list grows by two or three people.   After the current reader is finished and I have the copy back, I’ve decided it’s time to make the noted revisions and print another copy.

This would be so much easier if the book was published already.  🙂

Steps to a Story: Cliffhanger!

If you haven’t read today’s installment of With Honor, it ends with cliffhanger.  These are always interesting to write.

There are two approaches to dealing with writing action in two parts, and I have done both.  One is to write the entire sequence of events, then find a suspenseful moment within the whole to create a split.  This is good if you haven’t quite figured out the best place to stop for the break.  It also helps to foster continuity between the sections; you don’t have to pick up where you left off in your writing, because it’s already finished.

The other approach, which I took with this part of With Honor, is more useful if you already know where you want to end the first part.  I simply wrote the section, focusing on the action that led up to the moment where the story pauses.  For people who may not be good at splitting and tweaking once the whole section is done, this is a good technique.  It forces you to create the end of the first part and the introduction to the second part as you are writing, rather than adding it later.  This is also a good way to approach it if you want to change point of view or add background details at the beginning of the second part.  You just have to be careful when you write the second part, so you don’t create continuity problems.

With Honor, part 7

With Honor

by Leigh Townsend

Part 7

The chocolate gelding snuffled softly as Matthew stroked its nose.  He had paused in leading the horse on a slow walk in order to watch the last few soldiers arrive in their groups.  It was nearly time for their attack on the bandit camp.

Matthew’s group had been one of the first to make it to the gathering site, and their horses were becoming restive.  This part, when the small groups were collecting again north of the camp, was the most vulnerable moment of their plan.  If the bandits were going to spot them and realize what was happening, this would be the time.  All of the fighters were nervous.  Matthew was already feeling somewhat relieved by the arrival of the last of their soldiers, and he could tell the same was true of the other officers.

Quietly and quickly the company assembled at the southern edge of the meadow.  Lieutenant Lewis swung up and into his saddle, much like many of the other fighters who had dismounted during their wait.  At the silent signal of the captain, the mounted soldiers in the company began moving briskly toward the bandit camp.  They were still a fair distance away; they had gathered in a location far enough from the brigands to hopefully avoid detection.

Nearing the top of the hill at the very edge of the camp, Captain Harlan motioned for the company to slow.  The lines condensed behind the ridge, the front riders stopping completely.  Every soldier nocked an arrow or drew a sword.  After only two heartbeats, the captain dropped his fist and the riders silently boiled over the top of the hill.

As they came down the slope, horses gaining speed, there remained only one obstacle: a sparse stand of trees that bordered the north edge of the camp.  The trees forced the company to spread out slightly, horses leaping fallen logs and riders focused on their goal.

For a moment that stretched on to eternity, the only sounds that Matthew could hear were the creak of leather and the dull thud of horseshoes on the forest floor.  The sudden battle cry was so unexpected, several of the riders near him drew up to a stop.

From the trees all around them, bandits shrieked and yelled with ear-splitting power.  Many of the horses began to spook, while other fighters stopped their mounts and turned to face an as-yet invisible enemy.  Before anyone could speak, bandits materialized from pits beneath the leaf litter swinging thick branches while others dropped from the trees onto the backs of horses.

The company was swarmed by bandits from above and below.  Matthew ducked under one of the branches while his horse spun to avoid another man on the ground.  The sounds of battle filled the air; the army soldiers were being forced to spread out, each fighting two or three bandits.  Arrows were next to useless, since it was impossible to aim and hitting another soldier was likely.  Matthew slung his bow onto the pommel of his saddle and drew his sword.  A blow to an unprotected head felled one of the bandits near him; a sharp kick from the gelding’s hooves dropped the other.

Temporarily alone, Matthew turned to look for a retreat.  His mind panicked for a moment as he realized they had none.

The bandits had ambushed them, and now they were surrounded.

Writing Practice

She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a breath.  Patience, she told herself.  Patience.

The problem was that today patience was in short supply.

As if to start the day on a stressful note, her alarm had failed to sound.  Adrenaline may have gotten her ready and to work in record time, but the rush had worn off just as quickly, leaving her wrung out and tired.  Once at work, she encountered a series of little crises; each easy to handle but insidious at creating stress.  Coworkers flocked to her, each in a panic and needing her assistance.  Distress calls came from across the building, systems glitchy and problems to resolve over the phone and at a distance.  Customers arrived early, with no one ready for them, or late, causing additional angst.  An off-site call caused her to miss her lunch break; an unexpected hour standing in the sun reddened her skin.   

As the man on the other end of the phone repeated himself for the third time, she hastily stifled the scream that rose in her throat.  Her body ached to yell, to vent, to throw something; the stress had built to a breaking point.  Finally the man paused, and she seized her moment.

“I’m so glad I could resolve that for you today, sir, and thank you for calling.  Have a pleasant afternoon.”

She waited only a half second more as the man thanked her and said goodbye, then dropped the phone into its cradle a little harder than necessary.  Rubbing her forehead, she leaned onto her elbows.  A breath, and she gave in to the urges, yelling wordlessly at the top of her lungs.  Her assistant poked her head through the door.

“Are you okay?” the girl asked.

“I’m going home for the day,” was the only reply.

The Pile of Books is Growing…

Reading is one of the joys of my life.  I love books, which is probably why I love writing as well.

Unfortunately, I have not had (or made?) as much time for reading as I would prefer.  Part of that can be blamed on my more-active social life, some of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Netflix, and my writing must also take some responsibility.  There is only so much time in a day, after all.

To add to this difficulty, my friends and family have been loaning me books recently.  What started as one book has now grown to a stack of three, all patiently waiting for me to read them.  This count doesn’t even include the remainder of the Sword of Truth series (I’m on book 2 of 11).  I love reading, and the pile is calling to me.  I might need to carve some time out of my weekend for reading!!

Steps to a Story: When Life Gets in the Way

Even when you have the best of intentions about working on a story, you can get derailed when life has other plans.

Tonight I planned to sit down and work out the still-elusive details of the next two sections of With Honor.  (They are linked, cliffhanger-style.)  I do hope to have a section written for Sunday; once I get this part worked out, the writing should be downhill after that.  Even if I hadn’t gotten to the writing tonight I was at least going to hash out what happens.

Tonight life happened to get in the way.  A friend asked for help, and I gave it.  This help happened to require most of my evening, leaving little time to write and no time to engage my brain on the story.  Fortunately, I still have tomorrow night to work on the story, barring any further crises.

They’re, Their: A Brief Grammatical Lesson

As a person who likes to teach others as well as someone with grammatical pet peeves, I would like to take a brief detour from my usual blog to explain an easy way to remember the difference between the words there, their, and they’re.

THERE is the opposite of HERE, and it is HERE with a  T.  You can always replace it with HERE in a sentence.

THEY’RE is the contraction of THEY ARE and it looks the same except without the A.  You can always replace it with THEY ARE in a sentence.

THEIR is possessive.  It’s harder to remember, except to think this: if you can’t replace it with here or they are, then it should be THEIR. 

Here are all three used correctly in a sentence:

They’re over there chasing their dog.

Make sense?

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