Goals and Other Miscellany

50,000 Word Mark

I finally pushed past the 50,000 word mark on Gliese 581: The Departure. I’ll admit, it had me a little concerned. I consider a typical novel to be between 80,000-110,000 words and so far, at worst, I’ve ended up on the 80k side of things. My longest book was around 105,000.

Now don’t get me wrong, content is what matters most, but to properly tell a story, you really need to hit those marks if you are producing a book for people to read.

At least, in my mind, those are the rules!

In the industry, anything below 60,000 words is considered a novella. So I still have another 10k to go.

As Far As Content Goes

A habit I have fallen into is, once a story has progressed to a certain point, I begin putting in placeholders for the different details of the storyline. I know where its going and don’t want to lose the rhythm or the thought behind it, so I will create a chapter, title it, and then post a small summary of what is supposed to happen in the chapter. Then I go back to whatever I happened to be writing before the plot twist/inspiration struck.

So when you hear me say that I have “X chapters to go” – it simply is that. I’ve identified what needs to happen in the chapter, usually titled it and included a quote at the top, and all I need to do is write it all out. This often leads to more chapters being created, sometimes they don’t work or don’t fit and I delete them.

As I am heading into the final third or even the last quarter of the book, I do something else with regularity. I print off the Table of Contents and check off the chapters one by one.

  • Are they complete? Checkmark them.
  • Do they need a little/more/lot? Note that.

So I did that this morning. To date, I have:

  • Written 22 chapters that do not need anything additional
  • Written 10 more chapters that need a little additional detail to flesh them out
  • Written two more chapters that need more detail before they are complete
  • Started two chapters that need a lot of work to be complete
  • Identified four more chapters that I need to still write

So 40 chapters in all and from what I can tell I’ll come in at around 80k, maybe a little less.

I hope to be completely done with the first draft by mid-to-late September.



Grammar Be Damned…Sometimes

I have always been rather obsessive about spelling, and grammar to a far less degree.

I was so turned off by diagramming sentences in high school, so alienated by all of these technical terms they wanted me to learn…gerund (sounded like a rare species of squirrel), conjunctive phrase (conjunctivitis, anyone?), run-on sentences (run, sentences, RUN!)…I simply could not bring myself to give a damn.

As a writer, I know how important it is to have both excellent spelling AND grammar, which has left me in a bit of a conundrum. I even purchased the complete high school series of Warriner’s English Composition to try to compensate. I made it in a couple of pages and had that instant visceral reaction I had in high school – “Screw this!”

The four books sit on a shelf directly to my right, along with all of my other writing-esque books. In total, I have three of my smallish shelves in my library filled with books on writing, or on the business of writing.

I tried mucking my way through Eats, Shoots and Leaves and couldn’t even manage that.

I guess you could say I’m grammar-conflicted.

However, it was quite nice to see the following response from one of my former high school teachers as I relayed an adventure I had yesterday.

I wrote on Facebook…

Such a colorful area I live in. A couple of hours ago I was heading out to go buy an Eastlake chair in Overland Park. I didn’t get far, just two blocks away, as I was about to turn right onto 12th and head towards 70, I saw a woman laying in the middle of the street.

So I put my blinkers on, got out, and another guy stopped too. Together we helped her up and got her to the side of the road. I was back in my car and getting ready to get back on my way when she came to my side of the car and asked for a ride.

What was I going to do? I’d just picked the lady up out of the street, after all. So I gave her a ride to 17th and Hardesty. She told me her life story along the way, told me she was very blessed, and said thank you about a dozen times. As she got out, I squeezed her hand and told her to take care, and to avoid laying down in streets for a while.

Afterwards I suspected I had used the wrong form of lay and asked in a comment after the post what the correct form was. My former high school teacher wrote this…

She was lying in the street, but it doesn’t matter that you’re not sure of the correct form, what matters is that you helped her.

Thank you Rachel.

I will continue to hone those little grammar rules so that, hopefully, my books are as free of them as possible so that my readers can instead focus on the story in front of them. I’ll do that and keep in mind that, whether they are or not is less important than the fact that we all need a little help sometimes. Whether we are lying in the street or just asking for a small favor like a ride a few blocks away!

Social Media is the Bomb

I have to say…social media…specifically Facebook, has really paid off for me lately.

As I have been slogging my way through this sci-fi behemoth I’ve asked any number of odd questions of my friends and connections on Facebook.


  • trying to understand warp speed travel (someone kindly directed me to the Alcubierre warp drive)
  • finding an ACTUAL VIRUS that could make the leap from pig to human, have a really long incubation rate, and cause excessive hunger (big thanks to a high school teacher of mine for directing me to her brother, who happens to be a virologist)
  • needing medical terminology for a trauma situation (thank you Nicole!) so that the written conversation didn’t sound completely stupid to someone versed in medical knowledge
  • getting a lead on a medical examiner that I could contact and ask questions about autopsies from (again, thank you Nicole!)

And the other day, when wondering what the common flooring in most houses built in the late 1800s was, I headed back to Facebook and posted on a site dedicated to folks living in my specific area of town – Real Northeast.

As an introvert, it is not my first “go to” thought to ask someone else. So I often flounder about, wondering how in the world one learns about such things before epiphany strikes (or maybe that’s just plain old logic) and I realize I don’t have to know the answer myself, I just need someone who can give me a succinct answer.



It’s rather an awesome experience if I do say so myself.

Why I Write Cross-Genres

Most authors tend to be single genre. If you write horror, then you are known for horror and that is what you write. Sci-Fi? Fiction? Fantasy? TEOTWAWKI (The end of the world as we know it)?

Stick to your genre.

I do not do that.

That might cause problems for me in the future. But for the life of me, I simply cannot summon up a single damn to give over the thought of folks being reticent to read cross-genre. And here is why…

Life Isn’t Just One Genre

Our lives are filled with humor, horror, drama, and the obscure and unexpected. We have moments/experiences we simply cannot explain (supernatural), flashes of what a world would be without structure or society or rule of law (apocalyptic), love (romance), horror, and more.

We all need moments of assistance or advice (self help) or to lose ourselves in someone else’s story (biography, memoir).

Restricting one’s reading habits (or one’s writing habits) to just one genre seems rather…limited.

And I don’t do limited.

One Unifying Factor

In the end, just about anything you read has one unifying factor to it.

Our humanity.

Even if we talk about aliens, we give them human emotions and attributes – folly, greed, love, hate, fear.

To write, or to read, is to explore or try to understand better, our humanity. Your humanity. My humanity.

It helps us understand others.

We are born egotistical and self-centered. The world revolves around us. As we grow, we learn more and more about our world, society, the emotions of others. And in most cases, when we learn to read, we are reading stories about other people. It helps us understand each other, empathize, and more.

And that, my dear reader, is cross-genre.

It is also all a blatant attempt to entice you to read cross-genre. Preferably my cross-genre stuff.


So, uh, get to it. And report back on what you learned.

That is all.

p.s. I wrote 1, 799 words Monday in Gliese 581. Now that’s progress!

A Pause in Station Programming for…Traffic Court

Every time I deal with bureaucracy, the city, or the legal side of our “justice” system (there hasn’t been any real justice in a very long time, folks), I walk away disgusted or bemused. Sometimes both.

So you may remember a few months ago (if you haunt my other blog The Deadly Nightshade, which you totally SHOULD), that I mentioned I had gotten some traffic tickets thanks to my neighbor Crazy Dale, otherwise known as Asshat. I had reversed my car, pointed the wrong way on the side of the street in front of my house (some half block away from Asshat), and was a few inches into the No Parking zone on the street.

This sour-faced woman pulled up, said nothing, and simply handed me two tickets totaling $135 in fines with a court day of today.

I was so stinkin’ mad I said some rather choice things to Asshat, including the suggestion that we would all throw a party when he dropped dead and couldn’t he please just do it soon because everyone else on the block was a reasonable human being.

I sometimes let my tongue get the best of me.

Not that I particularly regret saying it…but…still.

In any case, I went to court today.

I had never been to traffic court.

I’ve been to chicken court…twice…but never traffic court.

I learned a couple of important lessons.

#1 – Always Challenge a Ticket

They are so overwhelmed, SO OVERWHELMED, in traffic court that they drop the price down to nothing just to get you the heck out of there. On the 1:30 docket were no less than 50 people. That’s a heck of a lot, folks. I stated that I was pleading not-guilty to the clerk and then waited for my turn to speak with the prosecutor.

She was piling through folks. Basically, everyone got their fines knocked down to $5 plus court fees.

So here I was, facing two tickets, which totaled $135, and madder than hell at Asshat for being such a complete douchebag. But I sat quietly, working on my artwork until it was my turn.

One citation was thrown out, the other was knocked down to $5 plus court fees of $22.50. That plus the parking fee of $3 put me at $30.50.

It’s still $30.50 that I shouldn’t have had to pay. I wasn’t in anyone’s way, I hadn’t hurt anyone or blocked the street in any way. I did it so that I would stay safe and not be in the street when Zentangling the driver’s side of my van. But Asshat would rather see me hanging out in the street so I could get hit by a car.

And no, I don’t have a driveway unfortunately.

In any case, $30.50, not bad, when it is compared to $135…right?

Oh wait, it also cost me a pair of fingernail clippers…

Lesson #2 – Fingernail Clippers are Lethal but Rocks are A-Okay!

I was in a hurry, running late, when I hustled into the court building. As I was going through security, where they scanned me and also my purse, I was stopped by security. “Ma’am, you need to show me your fingernail clippers.” the woman said.

I handed them over and she pointed to the swivel pointy thing (sorry, I’ve got nothing more technical than that to describe it) and said, “You can have the clippers, but not with that part on them. You can either break it off or throw them away or take them back to your car.”

I was late, so I sure as hell wasn’t walking the 1 1/2 blocks back to the car, and I happen to USE the swively pointy thing, so I told her to just toss them since they wouldn’t be much good to me without it.

Meanwhile…THIS…was sitting in the bottom of my bag.


And I couldn’t help but test it out a little more. I sat in the courthouse, in the second row, and drew on it for upwards of 45 minutes, in plain sight of all of the officers in the court, until my name was called.

Personally, I’d think the rock could do a lot more damage than the little swively pointy thing could. I am an avid Walking Dead fan, I’ve taken notes on apocalyptic hand-to-hand combat and I think I could have beat the living crap out of someone with this rock. It weighs nearly a pound and is solid river rock.

You could bash a zombie’s skull in with this thing (although I doubt using one of my hand-decorated ones would be my first choice).

I love visiting courts…I walk away feeling like a mental giant in comparison to some of the folks that work there. Speaking of which, the sour-faced woman was there, I curled my lip at her as I left and murmured sweet nothings under my breath as I walked past her out of court. I reminded myself that at least she was gainfully employed…sort of.

I had politely waited for her to talk to me once I noticed she was parked there in front of my house back in April. She could have stuck her head out of the window of her car and said “move your car” – I would have done it if I had known it was a crime to park the wrong way on one side of a two-way street.

So there you have it, two lessons learned.



And I behaved myself. I didn’t bash anyone’s skull in with a rock.

That’s got to be progress.

Progress Is…GOOD


A week ago I decided to get cracking on the writing (and the marketing of said writing) side of things. And I have to say it has been going pretty well.

Probably the biggest take aways I have for this week are that, writing takes…writing.

Just like organizing, or working at a job, or driving a car, it takes time and energy and constant exercising of those writing muscles.

So in case I hadn’t mentioned it, my goals for my writing were to:

  • Write six blog posts per week in my three blogs/websites (The Deadly Nightshade, Homeschool Advocate and here)
  • Write daily in one of my personal journals (I have over 20 and I just randomly write in them, crazy but true).
  • Write 500-1000 words on Gliese 581 every day

Have I met all three goals every day of the week?


Most of the time I have not. Other times, I’ve exceeded them.

Take Wednesday, for example. I set myself the goal of 1,000 words and ended up writing around 1,750. And the next day? Around 1,000 again before I packed it in for the night..

I need to keep this pace going. If I do, I’ll be done with the first draft of Gliese 581: Departure in about two weeks. Prior to this week I had been hovering at just under 41,000 words. Last night? 45,400. Hooray!

Hand Slaps

And I am definitely smarting from a sharp hand slap from Mail Chimp. Not that I didn’t have it coming, but still.

It all unfolded kind of like this…

Reading Tim Grahl’s Your First 1,000 Copies I latched onto the first goal, get a subscriber mail list.

And I cheated, I’ll admit it. While Grahl was reminding me to ask permission, and start with getting subscribers the good old-fashioned way, I decided to jumpstart the list by importing my Gmail contacts, which apparently included every person I had ever emailed for pretty much anything. That meant that I was looking at a list of about 875 subscribers, which I then whittled down to around 490 subscribers. Unwilling, willing, whatever.

I sent out the first newsletter on Sunday, 8/16. By the end of the day I had an email warning from Mail Chimp over the number of unsubscribes I had received. It threatened that if my unsubscribe rate rose, my list might be in jeopardy and my account would be suspended.

There was pretty much nothing I could do except wait it out. And last night, I received another email from Mail Chimp. At that point, they suspended the entire list, which included the 30+ folks who had voluntarily signed up on their own in the past week. [sigh]

I was allowed to send out an email through Mail Chimp requesting all folks double-opt in again. At that point, late last night, my email subscriber list had been reduced to a total of THREE subscribers by Mail Chimp.


So if you have gotten the email, and DO NOT want these weekly emails, then do nothing. However, if you DO want to be on the weekly list (which has giveaways to my books and other benefits) then you will need to either respond to that email or fill in the form below to subscribe…


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Contemplating a Pop-Up

An author website is primarily for…what?

I’m sure there are ‘rules’ on this somewhere.

I’ve never been one for rules anyway. As we like to say around the Shuck household, “I do what I want, I eat at Red Lobster!”

So I’m reading further in this book by Tim Grahl, Your First 1000 Copies, in which he is now discussing pop-ups. You know what I mean, those boxes that pop up on damn near every website you go to.

I’m struggling with this idea, I’ll admit. Grahl writes about his client Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human and Drive,…

How much hate mail did Daniel get for installing the popup? None. How much did his website traffic go down? None. Did Daniel see any negative results whatsoever. No.

Basically the pop-up would invite readers to join my mailing list – which, in case you didn’t know, means receiving a weekly email that includes:

  • Links to all blog posts for that week
  • Any upcoming classes by date
  • News and information on my published books and writing projects underway
  • Tip of the week (gardening, recipes, organized living and more)

Now as I said, I’m struggling with this because I kind of hate pop-ups. Grahl goes on to advise that the following rules still apply…

  1. Be specific with your offer. Make it compelling, and consider giving something away for free.
  2. Put it on a delay. Wait at least 20 seconds before you show the popup.
  3. Only show it once. Don’t have it pop up repeatedly.

So I’m considering doing this on my websites and seeing how it goes. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter. How badly do you hate pop-ups?

The Learning Curve…My Brain is Crying “Uncle”

I started reading Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl in order to better understand HOW to market myself and my writing more effectively.

It’s all part of the big plan…you know, the one that includes becoming a bestselling author?

I would settle for even a middle-selling author…

Or just a selling author…

Okay, well that last one’s not really fair. After all, I earn around $5 – $21 per month on my writing per month. [cue sarcasm’]. You know, enough to retire and eat bonbons by the poolside.

So I’m selling books…just not quite at the pace that I would prefer!

So I’m reading about marketing and Grahl suggests that an email distribution list is still the most effective. I like him, because he stresses that you must offer quality and NOT just be “sellsellsell.” Which I cannot and will never be. I’d starve to death if I were a saleswoman, I really would.

He suggests a regular email, sent to folks with their permission, that provides them with information and benefits them in some way.

I know I can do that. After all, I teach classes on a wide variety of subjects, I think I can manage adding tips and tricks to my emails, along with summarizing all of my blog posts, promoting my upcoming classes, and giving folks updates/excerpts on my books – all on a once a week basis.

So I envision this yesterday, sign up for Mail Chimp, and start working on a basic email distribution list while continuing to ruminate over how my first email will look. I was struggling a bit, thinking, “Well, WHO do I really have to send emails to? HOW am I going to grow this list?”

And really, this is why writing in a journal, in ADDITION to writing here in these blogs, or writing my manuscripts, is so important. This morning, as I was writing in my journal, it hit me like a brick.

Duh…I’m teaching a class tonight to 26 people. I think I can manage to get at least SOME of them to sign up for the email list. They kind of like me. I say this with certainty, since I see them showing up again and again to my classes!

Marketing is…it’s difficult for me. But you know what? I’m an auto-didact. I WILL figure this out.

Best-selling…middle-selling…selling more than I currently am…here I come.

Back to Center

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a one-trick pony.

Life would be so much easier if I were, believe me.

Instead, I get comments like “So…do you ever sleep?”

The answer is “Yes, at least seven hours a night!”

My goals are constantly in flux, and I am constantly struggling for balance. Enter in eldest daughter, stage right, and my life turned upside down for a while. But in a good way, because it is amazing and wonderful having her back.

So now that we have had time to ease our way into a routine of sorts, it also seems to coincide with my cyclical “How the heck do I get balance back in my life, do the things I need to do, pay the bills and still get my writing done?” stress out.

I’m challenging to live with…just ask my family.

And after a few days of thought, and endless lists, I’m getting there…somewhat.

First and foremost? More writing. Daily. Here, there, everywhere.

The first tenet of being a successful writer is a very simple one: You must write. Every. Day.

So in respect to that first tenet. I hope to, effective today, write daily in a journal (I have so many journals it is obscene) and do a daily blog post. I’ll probably take one day a week off – but hopefully from here on out you will get one blog post, from one of my three blogs, each day.

I also need to try, TRY, to get 1,000 words written each day in my book projects. For now, I’m going to cut that in half and say…500 words.

I don’t think that is too bad of a start.

I’ve got money troubles a ‘worryin’ me, so that is a lot of writing in and of itself which takes away from the cleaning biz and teaching biz that continue to occupy my time.

Meanwhile, I’m going to ask you for something that would really mean a lot to me. Click ‘Share’ on Facebook and share my blog entries with your friends.

Along with that whole “gotta write to get published” thing, I also need to increase my readership. Your kindness in sharing my blog posts with others means that my writing, books, and more get out to more folks. And I promise I’ll make it all quite interesting. No matter your taste in genre.

Thanks in advance for your support!