2017-07-23

Progress report

After being stuck in writer's limbo for a couple of weeks, Collision Course is now once again growing in size. Fighting off a touch of the flu certainly did not help but things are now moving along. The word count now stands at 21,629 putting it at about the 25% mark. I will be getting back to working on it as soon as this is posted.

My studies into how to author a website are moving along. I now have a fairly good skeleton of my new author site up and running on my new host. I'm continuing to learn. Unfortunately, the more I learn, the more I discover that I have more to learn. There are so many different web technologies out there that keeping up with them (much less learning them) is quite a challenge.

My approach to this entire project has been to start with the basics (HTML and CSS) and work up from there. Others, anxious to begin, might have started with a website builder such as Adobe's Creative Cloud and just used the application's GUI to build a site. But doing that does not provide any insight into the underlying code. I don't want to just build a website, I want to know how it works.

After I have a firm grasp on HTML and CSS (within another week or so I believe), I will start learning JavaScript. Following that, comes PHP, Java, and then maybe Sass and Less. In between, I might take a closer look at Modernizr. Who knows, I might even decide to learn Python and Ruby as well! Okay, maybe that's pulling off more than I can chew because while learning all the above, I still need (and want) to write. There isn't enough time in the day for me to learn all this. It's frustrating and fun all rolled up into a slippery vibrating package that's hard to get a grip on.

Being a self-published author is not easy because the author has so many additional duties beyond just writing. It takes a lot of time and often a lot of sacrifices. I watch very little TV and when I do it's done at 1.5x or 2x speed. I've gotten very used to watching an entire movie at 2x normal speed. Reading for pleasure is a rarity these days.

Because I have so much to do, I'm keeping this post and future posts short. I might even drop back to a single post every couple of weeks instead of weekly. Time to get some writing done!

2017-07-16

Trying on a new hat

Not much progress has been made on Collision Course since last week. I seem to be stuck in a loop trying to decide which path to take at this point in the new novel. Until that's resolved, I'll most likely work on assembling a new hat to wear--that of website author.

I have been building my new author website on a free hosting platform and so far the results are okay. Last week, I finally got the formatting to look like I wanted--on Chrome. But Chrome is not the only browser out there so I decided to test it out on my phone. It looked great. Next came Internet Explorer. Not so good. Using caniuse, I learned there was a bug in Explorer on how it behaved regarding one of the tags I was using. Back to the drawing board.

I should point out that I started off using NotePad++ as my editor just so I could become used to entering the tags correctly. During the hours long trial and error to fix my code so it would display properly on both Chrome and Explorer, I switched to CodeWriter. This still required me to do the endless edit, save, switch to browser, refresh, cycle and it quickly became a pain in the neck. I did solve the problem and things are working much better on multiple browsers.

Thinking there must be a better way, I began my search for a better HTML editor. I eventually found Brackets. This editor seemed to have everything I dreamed of. A quick internet search, however, found nothing in the way of a user guide. How the hell am I supposed to learn a powerful program if there's no user guide? I wanted this editor but nowhere could I find a manual explaining what it is capable of and how to do it. I was about to give up when I found a series of videos explaining how to use Brackets. Lisa Catalano has not only put together a fantastic series of videos, she's also one hell of a web designer and I learned plenty while also learning how to use Brackets.

Being a self-published author means wearing many hats: Writer, editor, business manager, accountant, sales manager, promotion manager, document formatter, and observer just to name a few. If you want a website, you most likely need to fashion a website author hat as well. Like many authors I know, I'm also a software developer. I use my writing skills every day during my day job to maintain the User Guide and the Technical Reference Manual for every application I write. It's common sense. Brackets is a fantastic product. It's lack of a manual almost caused me to pass it by.

Now I have to go fix another problem before I can get back to work on Collision Course. I use Microsoft Media Center as my DVR. Two weeks ago, the guide began showing "No Data Available" for all channels. This meant our shows would no longer be recorded. I eventually managed to coax the system into doing a partial download of the guide and we had information on the lower channels. A few days ago, that information became unreliable and only went out about 7 days. Nothing available on the upper channels still.

I called the cable company--not their problem. I called Microsoft--Media Center is no longer supported--not their problem. Finally, I found a drastic solution. After I post this, I will be replacing my guide with one developed by the loyal community of Media Center users. I hope it works.

2017-07-09

Characters

Collision Course -- the final title of my current novel -- now stands at 20,763 words. That count will most likely not change for a few weeks as I shift my focus from writing to finishing my website. Even though I've had a three-day weekend, I didn't get much writing done. When writing becomes too high of a priority, other projects begin to slip and all of a sudden you have so much to do besides writing that it's overwhelming. There are only so many hours available in a day.

This post will not be accompanied by my standard email. I've decided that if people want to read my blog, they will subscribe to it or see the post on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. I am reserving the emails for important announcements only. In last week's email, I asked people for their opinion on this and received only one feedback. I can only conclude that people really don't read the emails because they are sent out every single week. That changes effective today.

Yesterday's author meeting was interesting even though we only had a group of four. I missed last month's meeting because I was at Launch Pad and I guess they had 16 people show up. I read a chapter from Collision Course and everyone asked if I planned on bringing back one of the characters in the chapter. I had not originally planned on doing so but after hearing the positive feedback on that particular character, I will be changing my mind. A good character, even a minor one, makes a story interesting.

The characters in a story should reflect the fact that society is not made up of people that are all alike. Even in a futuristic science fiction story like mine, people will be different. We all have varied personalities and each character in a story should be designed as a separate person different from all the others. Creating such characters is difficult because authors will be tempted to model many of their characters after themselves. Become an observer of people. Pick a public spot and just sit, watch, and listen to how the people around you behave. When you create a new character in your story, try to imagine how that character is different than all the others.

Collision Course is set in a future several decades from now. Humanity is actively interacting with several different species from multiple worlds. The character described above, is a Native American who is the captain of a starship. Even in the future, humans will remain a diverse people with many sub-cultures. Not everyone will be a white American. Your stories should include a diversity of characters from many cultures. But be careful! Don't rely on your culturally defined belief as to how a person from another culture would act. Seek out someone from that culture and talk to them. Open your mind to the fact that not everyone on this planet is like you.

2017-07-02

Progress

Course Correction (still the temporary title) now stands at 17.879 words. I'm still in the process of fixing the story line. If all goes well, things will be back on track by the end of next week.

Progress has been made with my website upgrade project. Yesterday, I opened up an account with X10 Hosting to build a test site. After a few false starts, the new author website is up and running. Now that it's on an actual server, I can open it with my cell phone, tablet, and other machines and browsers. So far, it looks okay but there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made. I have a new book to read (Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3) that should help. I'm using a free account and this is just a test site. Once I'm happy with how it looks, I have several options. I can transfer my domain name to X10 Hosting and continue to use the free site or I can copy all the files to a paid host and run the official site from there. So far, I'm leaning towards the first option but we shall see.

I was unable to get Filezilla to work on my Windows 10 machine so I'm looking for an FTP program that's free and works on Windows 10. There's quite a selection so I'll be spending some time today looking over reviews and such.

In the non-writing world. I saved myself about $200.00 last week by doing my own repair/modification of our relatively new dishwasher. About a year after we got it, we started getting an error display and the dishwasher would stop. The machine was still under warranty so we called and someone came out to fix it. The problem turned out to be very common--a fan unit in the top with a solenoid-operated valve that does not properly close. A year after it was replaced under warranty, the same thing happened.

I took the fan module out and took it apart. Turns out, the tiny spring that holds the rubber valve closed is far too wimpy. I used a pen spring to give it some more strength, reassembled the unit and reinstalled it in the machine. It's run for three complete cycles now without an error. Fixed!

Finally, if you happen to be a developer who produces Microsoft Access, Excel, Word, or PowerPoint applications, it might not be in your best interest to upgrade to the latest version every time a new version comes out. If a client has an older version, the application will most likely fail especially if you do any VBA coding. Microsoft versions are always backward compatible meaning if a client has the newest version they can still run your application. The reverse, however, is not always true. The major problem is with the Office applications library. If this happens, you will have to change the references by running the source code on your client's machine and then recompile.

2017-06-25

Restart

Sometimes, a writer must scrap large swaths of work to put the story back on the right track. I just had to do this for my current work in progress. I never outline. I've tried doing it but it's just not my gig. A few days ago, I realized that the way I got my characters into the situation they needed to be in was not really something that could happen. It was also quite boring and boring is not what a reader wants to read. So, I inserted a blank chapter and began to write.

The new storyline reads much better. I am now in the process of adjusting the remaining chapters to conform to the new series of events. I think I can reuse quite a bit of what I'd written earlier but I'm going to have to make some changes to keep things consistent. The good thing is that I caught it early and not much later.

This isn't the first time I've written myself into a corner. Even authors who outline get themselves stuck in unworkable situations from time to time. Stories often tend to take on a life of their own especially when the writer is totally immersed in the work being created. I would say that out of the 11 books I've published, I knew how four of them would end before I started writing them. One of the joys of writing my own stories is not that I control everything in my universe, it's the surprise I get as the story reveals itself as I write.

Course Adjustment (not firm on that title yet) currently stands at 15,834 words with 1,889 words in my holding bin. Those are the words I chopped out so I could reset the storyline.

My efforts to learn HTML 5 and CSS 3 have been paying off. I have a preliminary new author website up and running on my local PC. I have a book on the way that's filled with information on how to build a responsive website. This is a design that uses the power of HTML 5 and CSS 3 to allow a single website to look good on any device without having to write a bunch of complex code. I'm still learning and experimenting (which is how I learn a new programming language).

My current contract with Webs.com does not run out until May of 2018. Early next year, I will be opening an account with a new host and building a test site under their sub-domain. After making sure it displays properly on as many devices and browsers as I can find, I will transfer my domain name to the new host and build my new author site there. Why am I moving from Webs.com? Because I am stuck using their proprietary website builder instead of being able to build my own site by hand using HTML.

Another reason is that I have an Excel spreadsheet I use to verify the math in my science fiction stories. I hope to put that on my website for anyone to use. That will require either JavaScript or server-side Java to run and Webs.com does not support those goals.

If you're looking to build a simple website, Webs.com offers an inexpensive alternative. If it's small enough, the cost is free except for the cost of obtaining and holding onto your exclusive domain name. It was a good choice back when I was just starting but it's time I moved up to a different level.