Thursday, April 6, 2017

Search and Replace: John's Pet Peeves Number 8

It's been a while since I've written a pet peeve. This one is aimed at the guy in the mirror because it's my own writing that sometimes annoys me. Over time I've discovered a list of things I can search for after a draft is complete. The more I write, the less I have to rely on this list, but it still saves me and my editors a lot of time by finding problems early.

Also, I keep seeing social media posts on self-editing and words to avoid while writing. I'm going to share my current Search and Replace (or Search and Destroy) list and just point people here as needed. Some of these came from lists, but many are things I've discovered in my own writing.

The Search part is mandatory. The Destroy part is optional since every one of these may be not only valid but the best choice in some circumstance.

I've used these to fix over two hundred instances of passive voice in a manuscript in one evening before. That's a huge time savings on hunting down and fixing things.

Here's a post at the Writer's Circle of the sort of thing I've keep an eye out for so I can add to my list.


Adverbs can often be replaced with stronger phrasing. The easiest way is to look for the most common adverb ending followed by a space. The space is important. This will be a long slog of a search so you may want to delay it until after you've done the easier ones.
  • "ly "

Bad Starts

The following entries are usually a bad way to start a sentence. Turn on the flag to match capitalization in the advanced search settings for these. These starts set might work well for folk tales or other special cases so your mileage may vary.
  • There is
  • There was
  • There are
  • There were

Weak Words

Weak or overused words to remove or replace in most cases.
  • just
  • very
  • really
  • suddenly
  • amazing
  • awesome
  • that
  • already
  • look
  • there
  • over
  • try
  • so

Passive Voice

Passive voice flags, which could also indicate weak words as shown above.
  • started
  • began
  • were
  • is
  • are
  • have been
  • had been
  • would be
  • would have
  • to be
  • could still

Senses and Emotion

Sensory or emotional crutches can be replaced with showing a scene instead of shortcutting it by telling us the emotions and senses involved. Show the scene that generates the input or thought.
  • felt
  • realized
  • saw
  • heard
  • smelled
  • seemed
  • decided

More Passive Voice

Passive voice with wildcards is a great timesaver in Word. Open the advanced search dialog and turn on wildcards. Then you can search for these passive voice hunters. Again, they're not all bad. Just mostly bad. The idea is to replace things like "was jumping" with "jumped."
  • [Ww]as [A-z]@ed
  • [Ww]as [A-z]@ing
  • [Hh]ad [A-z]@ed
  • [Hh]ave [A-z]@ed
  • [Bb]een [A-z]@ing

Obscure Stuff

Past perfect tense. This is a bit obscure, but it introduces hesitation.
  • had always

Checking Dialog Tags

You can also find lots of dialog tags that could be bad, confusing, or in need of clarification with these wildcards. It finds lots of false positives, so it's not always useful. You can find stuff like "He barked" with this.
  • [Hh]e [A-z]@ed
  • [Ss]he [A-z]@ed


Simple search and replace can fix lots of things. Word uses ^p as a paragraph marker when not in wildcard mode. You can get rid of spaces at the start and end of paragraphs with two simple searches, and then nuke all accidental double spaces. You're not one of those types who LIKES double spaces after a period, are you? ;)
  • Replace " ^p" with "^p"
  • Replace "^p " with "^p"
  • Replace two spaces with one.

And there you have it. That's the current state of my Search and Destroy list. Have fun!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

League of Utah Writers Spring Conference

I'll join thirty-some-odd presenters at this year's spring conference this coming Saturday. I'm looking forward to this conference both because there will be a lot of great content, and because I'm giving "Why Write Short Stories" presentation.

This is an annual one-day event, where the fall conference is two days and is scaled up. We're also branching out to have a smaller conference in Logan and St. George if I recall correctly. One of the major goals of the league is literacy, and helping authors to write books that people want to read falls directly under that umbrella.

You can find a lot more about the League of Utah Writers here. I'm currently one of the chapter presidents in the Salt Lake Valley where most of our chapters live.

I'll also have some anthologies containing my stories there at a vendor table. Stop by to say hi to me or to my wife Kelly!

Monday, February 20, 2017

LTUE 2017 report

Another conference has come to a close. Life, the Universe, and Everything was held last Thursday through Saturday, and I had the pleasure of attending all three days. (Thanks for the two days of vacation, day job!)

I had the wonderful opportunity to help as a panelist to talk about hacking late on Thursday. We covered good examples and bad examples of hacking in media, whether it be books or movies. Some get it close, while others sacrifice any sense of reality in order to get the right sense of tension. Technical people get annoyed if they're picky, but solving a password one character at a time gives a (hideously fake) visual sense of time constraints.

And never put two people on one keyboard to better fight against a hacker. Keyboards don't work that way.

One odd thing happened with the Apocalypse Utah anthology I mentioned in my last post. The publisher ordered copies the same day I did, but theirs came from the east coast instead of the west coast like mine. I got my books almost a full week before the conference, but the publisher's copies (including a copy for each author) didn't arrive until the Friday of the conference.

That wouldn't be so bad except that we had our release party Thursday night. The only copies of the book in the whole building were the ones I had ordered. I brought them along with me to the release party and had them available for purchase. We lined up all the authors in attendance to sign them. Luckily I had enough for all those who wanted to buy a copy at the event.

We also had some authors read their stories. Due to tight time limits, I had to skim over the middle of my story a bit, but it was a lot of fun. My story has a strong Twilight Zone vibe.

Friday morning I realized in the rush of the evening I never got a copy signed for myself at the party, so I tracked everyone down through the day Friday to get their signatures in my personal copy. It now sits on my shelf with the other anthologies containing my stories.

Saturday night we shut down the booth in the vendor room at closing time, so I packed up my books and headed out with the first load to the car. I tossed boxes into the trunk and figured it was warm enough I didn't need my coat, a 2002 Winter Olympics black leather jacket with lots of insulation I didn't need. Into the trunk with it.

The wife and I finished packing and took the rest of the load out to the car. I reached for the keys. Yup. In the coat pocket. Inside the trunk. With the banquet starting in about ten minutes.

The Mariott Hotel folks stepped up in a big way. They called around, but the local police who have tools to do that sort of car unlock were not on duty. I could call a tow truck and spend $20-50, but we decided to try our niece who lives with us to see if she could bring a spare key. She was at a movie but would call when she got home.

She called, found the key, and was on her way as we finished dinner. The tension level dropped all the way to DEFCON 5. The entertainment was great, with M. Todd Gallowglas telling stories, and Larry Correia talking about his fondness for the LTUE symposium and the authors, artists, and volunteers who make it great. It's not out on video yet, but you can probably search for Larry's talk if you want to hear Larry talk about Dave Butler's sandwiches.

Long story short, my niece drove 45 minutes to deliver the spare key, and she was able to meet an old family friend who had hung around after the conference to talk to people.

All's well that ends well, and the conference ended well.

You can find my pictures from the conference here on facebook. I got a shot of just about every panel I went to.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Apocalypse Utah

I was inspired by Caryn Larrinaga's blog post to share my own account on getting another short story released into the wild.

The "Apocalypse Utah" anthology was announced by the Utah Horror Writers Association in early 2016, with submissions due on October 31st (of course). I have a story in the previous year's anthology "It Came From the Great Salt Lake" so I figured I'd give it a shot. Here's last year's effort:

Then I wondered what sort of apocalypse to write about. I got most of a draft done about a supernatural tornado tied to an actual tornado that hit downtown Salt Lake City on August 11, 1999. I tossed it because the story was broken beyond repair. My hopes of getting a story done a few months early went down the drain.

I thought about it off and on. Should I submit? What would I write? A couple of months before the deadline, I came up with an idea. Less horror, more Twilight Zone. A scientific experiment on thought acceleration in Research Park near the University of Utah gone horribly wrong. Being a software engineer and naturally analytical gearhead, the story was a great fit for me.

I wrote it, then bounced it off some friends who gave me feedback to polish it up. I ran through my "search and destroy" list of mistakes I make when writing, such as using too much passive voice. I fixed a few things and gave it a bit more polish. I even got it turned in a few days early, on October 25th.

On November 29th, I got the acceptance email from Griffin Publishers, the company used to publish the anthology. Woot! Great rejoicing!

Then came the edits. Callie Stoker beat my story into the ground for me, and we had a couple of rounds of edits that brought it into focus. It can be discouraging to have someone point out the weaknesses in your story, but Callie knows her stuff. We banged things back and forth until I understood her concerns, and she understood where I wanted things to go. In the end, more of the story made it from my head to the paper. A good editor can make all the difference. Don't expect to agree on everything with your editor, but pay attention and find the reason behind everything they send you.

At this point, announcements started to pour out. There was the cover release, showing off Carter Reid's work. He did the cover for "It Came From the Great Salt Lake" as well. If (WHEN!) you get a copy of either book (BOTH!) and have a chance to meet Carter, ask him to sign it for you. You won't regret it. Cover pictures flooded Facebook, and several of the authors reposted and liked them in a social media frenzy.

Then came the proofs. I read through the proof and found a couple problems that had sneaked in with the final edits. Luckily, there was time for feedback to get some small things fixed. The funny part is that I had worked out the timing of events down to the second in my story, and that's where some of the details failed to match up. Always read your galley proofs.

Since I hang out at local symposiums and conventions like Salt Lake Comic Con, LTUE, and Winterfaire selling books, I ordered a box. They arrived in time for this week's release at LTUE. The smell of fresh books wafted out as I opened the box. If you don't know that smell, visit more bookstores.

If you get a chance to stop by, join us in Provo this Thursday evening for the official release party! It will be a lot of fun. If you can't get there, look me up at a Utah con, or hit Amazon through the pictures above to get your hands on a copy. And as always, post a review to say what you liked most about the anthology.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Writing Year in Review

There’s a saying that measuring performance increases performance. With that in mind, I’ve measured my short story submissions and rejections for quite some time, and now I’ll share my 2016 data in all its glory and compare it to 2015. To scale expectations, this is an evenings-and-weekends thing for me.

If the numbers don’t seem to match up quite right, some submissions and their acceptance or rejection span a year-end, so the numbers don’t really add up as a self-contained block of 2016-related work.


Short Story Statistics 2015 2016
Submissions 13 30
Acceptances 3 2
Rejections 6 21
Pending 4 7
Max submissions per story 3 6

Rejections included two honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. While this is a promising sign, it’s still a very polite rejection that comes with a nice certificate. Honorable mention there means you’re roughly in the top 10% of a pool of non-professionals.

One of my pending entries is a finalist in a contest, so we’ll see how that goes in February. It will become either a new anthology publication or a new rejection. Last year I was a runner-up in the same contest and was still included in that year’s anthology as one of my 2015 acceptances.

In the novel category, I have one submission titled “Crystal King” in editing at Immortal Works. The sequel “Crystal Queen” first draft is 30% done. Technically, I have two submissions and two offers but ended up passing on the first.

Analysis of submission info

While at first blush it looks like I worked harder and saw less success, that’s not really the way it happened. So much of this is subjective that the hard numbers need a whole stack of footnotes to make sense. Several things went very well.
  • I wrote more, improving my skills as an author.
  • I submitted more, getting my work in front of more people. Some of my older stories should likely be retired instead of continuing to make the rounds.
  • I networked more, and have a lot more contacts and friends in the business.
  • I attended several conferences and conventions. This served three purposes.
    • Listen to presentations to improve my skill.
    • I gave presentations and sat on panels to share what I know.
    • I sold books at a table or booth with author friends to pool our efforts.
  • I’ve been president of a chapter of the League of Utah Writers for almost a year, and I’ve had the privilege of bringing in a monthly presenter from the local writing community.

2016 Goals

I set some goals last year and did fairly well, but didn’t hit everything.
  • 😀I attended four conferences as networking opportunities.
  • 😟I recruited new beta readers but didn’t get four specific new readers like I had specified in my goal.
  • 😀I have a publishing deal with Immortal Works for my novel “Crystal King.”
  • 😀I submitted several more than four short stories to publishers.
  • 😟I did not get invited to an anthology.

2017 Goals

New Year’s Day is coming, so I’ll take the opportunity to set more goals. These may not look like much, but there are reasons behind each goal.
  • Finish and publish “Crystal Queen” with Immortal Works. They have dibs on sequels.
  • Speak at three conferences (panelist, presenter or moderator). Most likely are LUW spring and fall conferences, LTUE, Salt Lake Comic Con, and FanX. I’m likely to attend all five either way.
  • $200 in face-to-face book sales at conventions and conferences.
  • Publish four short stories. (stepping things up from the 3 and 2).
I’m still a shy and often reclusive person, but I’ve built up a tolerance for exposure to social situations by sticking my neck out and leaving my comfort zone behind. I can do a passable impression of an extrovert, so long as I don’t have to go for too long at a single stretch.  These goals and my interactions with both new friends and strangers push me in a good direction.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Homophones: John's Pet Peeves Number 7

I haven't done a Pet Peeves post in nearly a year. Have I been on a path of inner Zen, full of peaceful meditation? No, I've been just as annoyed at things, but haven't shared my annoyance. You're welcome. But thanks to this facebook post, I have a topic. In case that link doesn't work for you, it started out with a complaint about people using grizzly when they mean grisly, and people chimed in with their favorite homophone errors. (Words that sound alike, but with different meanings and spellings.)

One of the biggest problems is that these beasties hide from spell checkers. You need a tool that's context-sensitive to find them. Take for instance my parenthetical statement above. I accidentally wrote "a like" instead of "alike" before I fixed it. Some tools will catch that. Others won't. That leaves us needing to know the difference on our own if we want to write clearly and correctly. Never trust your tools blindly, because they can be wrong. I once sent out a resume with the word "internet" replaced with "interment." The spell checker thought it looked just fine. The funny part is that I got that job anyway.

Writing English can be a big challenge for some, and these beasties are one of the big reasons why it can be hard to write the right word.

So in the interest of enlightenment (and giving me a chance to vent about a pet peeve), I've gathered a few homophone errors for your perusal.

Not a word: (I'll avoid most non-words since spell checkers will find these for you. Only one really bugs me a lot.)

  • "alot": Not a word. "a lot": Many things, or a grouping of things, or an area. "allot": To distribute or assign. You wouldn't write "alittle", so don't write "alot". You can allot a lot of little lots lots of times.
Wrong word: (in random-ish order)
  • "grisly": Gory. "grizzly": a kind of bear. I included this one because it was what started the whole discussion on facebook. That headless fish is a grisly  prize in the grizzly's maw.
  • "awhile": An adverb. "a while": A noun phrase. If it doesn't work replacing it with "for a short time", then use "a while." In a while, stand there awhile. Sometimes they're interchangeable, but it may change what the sentence means in subtle ways.
  • "aloud": The process of not being done quietly. "a loud": An adjective describing the state of something. A loudspeaker reproduced a noise that a loud speaker at the microphone didn't intend to make aloud.
  • "board": A piece of wood. Usually. "bored": Nothing to do. I'm so bored I'll board this door up. Yeah, I cheated and verbed the noun because it's allowed in this case.
  • "brake": Something used to stop movement. "break": to come apart, or a time to rest. If the brakes fail during your break, the car will roll away and break that wall.
  • "led": To be taken somewhere. "lead": Present tense of "led," or to be in charge, or a metal on the periodic table, or the first of something, or a clue. He led me to the lead paint as the lead item on his lead list.
  • "lose": To not win, or to misplace. "loose": not held in place. Don't lose loose buttons.
  • "than": A comparison. "then": used to order in time. He was taller than her, then he grew.
  • "write": To put words on paper. "right": To be correct. "rite": A ceremony. Write the right rite. (Put the correct ceremony on paper.) -or- Write the rite right. (Put the ceremony on paper without errors.)
  • "baited": To have bait on it. "bated": stopped or reduced. I waited with bated breath as he baited the hook with a worm. Baited breath makes me think of eating worms.
  • "peek": To look surreptitiously. "peak": a high point. "pique": To irritate, or stimulate curiosity. I peeked at the peak of his head to pique his interest.
  • "stationary": Not moving. "stationery": Writing paper. The stationery was stationary until I moved it, but it was still stationery as it moved.
  • "there": A place. "their": Denotes ownership. "they're": a contraction of "they are." Their friends are over there where they're arguing over homophones.

One fun thing about homophones is that they can work merry mischief when a book goes to audio. Something that's perfectly clear in print may be a jumbled mass of identically sounding words, as you can see by some of my contrived and convoluted examples. Be careful out there if you think your writing might ever be read aloud.

I found some of my favorites on other lists like this and this. There are more tickling the back of my mind, so I may add others when they rear their ugly heads.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When it Rains, it Pours

Some weeks are like that, both metaphorically and physically. It's rained a lot today and caused flooding through quite a bit of Utah, which matches the rest of my week.

Monday to Thursday I spent 42 hours at work. we've got a project underway that needs extra attention, so it's eating a lot of my time. I'm several hours behind a coworker for the week. This is what software people refer to as crunch time.

Michael Darling

Tonight, I got to introduce Michael Darling who came to tell our Herriman chapter of the League of Utah Writers all about "Top Ten Cliches, Mistakes, and Shortcuts to Make You a Better Writer!" It was a tongue-in-cheek list of things to (NOT) do to be successful. We had a great Q&A session after, and then spent 40 minutes or so in critique groups to review writing from some of our attendees. The writing ranged from story to back cover teaser to song lyrics. It's fun to pick out the principles that apply universally across such wildly different material.

Michael is the author of several short stories (and is in the anthology It Came from the Great Salt Lake with me) as well as the new novel Got Luck. I have a signed copy from this spring's FanX con in Salt Lake City.

Friday and Saturday, I'll be at the League of Utah Writers fall conference where I have a presentation "Analysis of Writing: Numbers can Tell You Cool Stuff About Words" and a panel "Do's and Dont's of Presenting Yourself as an Author" to help with, and a bunch of sessions to attend. There's a writer's gathering Friday night at a nearby pizza joint, and there's an awards banquet Saturday night where I find out if my poetry, novel chapter 1, and flash fiction were good enough for a mention on the League contests.

There's a good chance I'll do a post-conference post on the panels I attended.

Add to that the real estate company my wife works with having an open house on Saturday, and yeah, my week's a bit full. It's good to have weeks like this from time to time, but I look forward to taking a little down time to just hang with the family for a while. Sunday has regular church meetings and nothing else planned. Yet.