Writing for the heart.

Dear reader,

I agree this is a rather unusual title. I’m good at coming up with unusual things but that’s not the point of this post.  Read on and find out…

Writing for the heart.

red heartThe writing for the heart that I mean is not for my heart. It’s for the heart of the people who read what I’ve put to electronic paper. Let me tell you the story of one of those people. I’ll not mention her name. She will be MC.

Writing for the heart of MC.

One day, several years ago, I received an e-mail from someone who had read the entire series of my wicked witch. MC told me she used to be an artist, a painter, who then was in hospital because of many ailments. Since a few years (!) she was in an oxygen tent and reading books was impossible for her; her eyes had been affected by all the medication. A few good friends had bought her an e-reader (adjustable font size, you know) and on that she could read again. On that e-reader they’d installed the first few books of Hilda.

After reading them, MC asked a friend to write me that e-mail. In it she told me how much good my stories had done for her. And… then she asked: “If ever I am well enough again to paint, would you allow me to paint a few scenes from your stories?”

Bam

That is how that question hit me. Something I had written and put out into the world had such a profound impact on that person, profound enough for her to get that e-mail to me, with her story and her request.

You cannot imagine how that affected me. I hadn’t even ever dared to dream of anything like that to happen.

MC was not the only person who wrote to me about how my stories helped her along and made her happy. I’m not going to list all of them but there have been many. E-mails that touched me, made me smile, made me cry.

E-mails that made me happy, proud and humble. Humble because of the awe that I can do something like that for people I’ve never seen, that I’ll never meet. And they take the time to write to me. To tell me what my stories mean to them.

That is what I mean when I say writing for the heart. Maybe there are more hearts that my stories have touched, hearts that don’t want or dare to write to me. That’s okay. As long as the magic of words does magic to people’s hearts, that’s what counts.

MC, so I’ve learnt, has left this Earthly plane several years ago. An end to her pains and sickness. But knowing how books with stories have made a difference for her… touches my heart…

 

Magic, witches, Hilda.

Dear reader,

It is time again for an update since the last update was updated quite a while ago. Let’s talk witches. And wizards. And cats. My cats, who incidentally (cough, cough) have the same names as those of Hilda and William, who incidentally (cough, cough) are the witch and wizard I would like to talk about.

Hilda. 20.

Original HildaYes. Hilda 20. Book twenty in the continuing saga about the wicked witch.

We’re going strong, my editor Carol and I. Most chapters have been ‘processed’ already and it looks as if we can keep this up.

I know all Hilda fans are waiting desperately for more news and adventures. Trust me, we’re doing what we can but there are only so many candles in a box. I mean feathers on a bird. Ehm… hours in a day perhaps? That sounds more likely.

Since there is not a real, clear publication date for this book, I decided to show you a little part of the cover image. I understand that this is not what you’re waiting for but I promise you that this bit is better than the backside of it (which is basically a white square and for that kind of boring).

So here is a small part of the cover image. Tada. (Imagine a beautiful trumpet sound, unless you prefer a bugle sound, in that case you can imagine a beautiful bugle sound.)

Part Cover Hilda 20

How would you like it if a book was looking at you?

Hilda. 21.

Yes. This book also exists in a raw form. I’m currently reworking the text and at this moment of writing I have finished 4 chapters of it.

There’s not much I can show you of this book unfortunately. Perhaps this is exciting:

Chapters Hilda 21

Hmm. I guess not. At least you can see there are 33 chapters in this book. (Hilda 20 ‘only’ has 27.) I’m not done pondering the cover for this book but there’s still time (and a lot of work to be done). Let’s first get book 20 out there!

Hilda. 22.

Yikes. But yes. I’m working on this one also since the witch won’t leave me alone. As I may have said before, Hilda 22 will bring a dramatic change. I went out on a limb trying this. I’m a few chapters into the story now and I have a trusted alpha-reader (someone who gets the chapters as they’re produced). She told me this is very, very beautiful.

So there you have it. I’m working on 3 Hilda books at the same time. Who’d have thought that when I wrote that first short story about a witch with a big mouth…

Surprised? Me? Hell yeah…

Writing is time travelling.

Yes, dear reader, this is a truth. Writing is time travelling. I just got back from such a trip.

time tunnel logoWhat happened?

Why did you go? And why did you come back? Was it not fun in the future? Or in the past? Or in the wherever the hell you’ve been?

Let me start at the beginning.

In the beginning there was nothing.

Oh. Wait. That’s a bit far back. Sorry, sometimes even my memory slips a few billion years. Where were we…

I am writing one of my many stories – because that’s what I do when I write: I write many stories at the almost same time – when I decided I got stuck. A man comes into the kitchen, his wife gets a scare, relaxes when it’s ‘only’ him, and he asks what her problem is. (Do note that this is part of the story I was referring to, not some random bit of coconut that goes on a journey to Jamaica. That’s another story.)

Man and woman in kitchenOkay, so these two, like the ones on your right, are in the kitchen. She’s hiding something. How does she react to his question?

The answer: I had no idea at all.

But you are the writer! You have all the answers!

I do, of course, but only after a bit of time travelling. So I got into my time machine. It looks like a bicycle. Don’t let that fool you. It’s cunning. Clever. Well disguised. Dr Who phone boxAnd the phone box was already taken by Dr. Who, so that kind of limited my options. Anyway, onwards: I left man and woman in their kitchen and fast-forwarded to where the woman tells him what actually happened.

I’ve discovered that it’s nice to know that ahead of time so I can justify her odd, scared, shocked behaviour which rouses suspicion with the husband.

The bike ride time travelling proved to be a good idea. I was there, saw what happened while the husband wasn’t conscious (he was actually sleeping off his night shift, so he was there but didn’t know what happened).

And that is how and why I made my trip back to the future.

Hmm… Maybe a Delorean isn’t a bad idea. Looks spiffier than a bike, huh?

The magic of doing nothing

Yes, dear reader.

Sometimes (apparently) doing nothing can do a lot of things. As usual I’m working on a lot of stories at once (which has the added disadvantage that some books take very long, I’m sorry). For a few stories I was trying to figure out how to make them proceed.

The privilege of a writer is that you can put your characters in peril. The disadvantage of that is that sometimes the characters aren’t up to the task of getting out so you have to help them. A few of my characters had dug themselves in so deep that it was hard even for me to come up with a solution. The answer to this had a strange shape:

Grimalkin, one of my two cats.

She enjoys sitting on top of my while I sit on the couch. As I wasn’t getting anywhere with the stories I sat on the couch and she lay in my lap, purring away as if it was crucial to survival.

As we sat there, my mind started drifting along with the stories in my mind. I saw the spot where the problem occurred, a few other points in time where the stories had to go and just kept looking at those things, those occasions.

Suddenly something became clear. There was water in the spot where my characters got stuck and there will be water in a place where other characters have to do something. Water was therefore the connecting element. I kept thinking, following the course of events as they might happen. And suddenly I saw it. I had the solution to at least one of the tight spots I had moved a few people in.

My advice for if you have a problem: get your cat and grab a good purr.

From all of us (Obsidian, Grimalkin and me) to all of you:

Plotting and planning and Hilda

Yes, dear reader,

I’m still here. And let me explain about the title of this post.

Plotting

plottingI’ve taken up this ‘plotting’ thing many writers are dedicated to. It means you sit down and first work out how a story will go before you get it going. I’ve found there are advantages to it. It takes the surprises and blind spots out of many parts of a story. That may sound brilliant but having the surprises taken out of a story isn’t so good. I like my surprises. They’re part of the fun, the shock and the journey I take together with the victims I write about. Of course I didn’t mean that; they’re my valued characters who unfortunately end up in places and situations of ‘interest’.

Planning

BoringNow this is something I might need to look into. I’m always working on a bunch of stories. At the moment I think it’s 5 or 6. Planning might actually help to get some insight on where I am and what I should do.

Planning however is boring and takes time. Time I can use better, like for writing. Or perhaps plotting, which also eats up quite some time. I have yet to find a convincing argument for planning, so let’s leave it at that and move on to the most interesting part of this post.

Hilda

Hilda The Wicked WitchThe Hilda stories are those that will never be planned or plotted.  N-E-V-E-R, do you hear me?

Hilda’s adventures are, in a way, my own adventures. The best kind, where magic, life and fairy tales come together. Is there a better combination?

I love this witch and her circle of family, friends, acquaintances and other people who hang around for some reason or other. I’m proud of her. I have a large canvas picture of her hanging from my wall.

There has to be a benefit to plotting and planning because so many people do it. Some stories however aren’t meant to be plotted. They are travels to uncharted lands, over trails so far undiscovered.

In a few days I’ll find out if the plotting business will work for me. Then Nanowrimo starts, and I’ve done a lot of figuring out for that. Plotting. And planning, if you will, although that’s just minimal.

We’ll see how it works. Or not.

 

A shift in the way I write

Yes, dear reader,

I am aware that this post might not be as intriguing as one about a new book but this is something so different and new I want to tell ‘the world’ about it. This is about writing. Yes, I needed to add that, didn’t I?

Writer’s Café

Writer’s Café used to be my ultimate writing tool. It runs on every PC platform, Mac also. I wrote a lot using that program and I’ll defend it until the very end. But at times something comes along that just stuns the words and paragraphs out of me. And one of those times happened last week. It’s called

pandoc markdown

Right, what is markdown? Markdown is a way to ‘format’ flat text. In formatted text one uses italics, bold text, and even underlined text. With a plain text file like you make in Notepad or vi that’s not possible. Unless you use markdown. Markdown comes in several flavours, LaTeX is a famous one. I use pandoc. It’s less versatile than LaTeX but that makes it much easier to learn and use. How does markdown stuff work?

Suppose you want to write something in italics in this text way. You simply put asterisks around the text. So *italics* becomes italics. This also works with bold, you just add 2 asterisks: **bold** becomes bold.

You can also add a code for e.g. a chapter header. Simply put # in front of it. E.g. #Chapter 1.

Advantages

The main reason for this is the ability to write anywhere, on anything. If I am on a PC I can use a plain text editor to write. When I have my Android tablet with me I can write the same stories without having to worry about converting it to some other system and lose something in formatting. Even if I copy a text file to my office iphone I can simply carry on with the story.

But what about creating real files for books?

That is where the real power is hidden. It requires a lack of fear from the dos prompt (or x-terminal in Linux) but making a Word .docx file from all the chapter text files is simple (note that I saved all the text files with an .md extension, for clarity):

pandoc *.md -o story.docx

That will collect all the *.md (md stands for MarkDown) files in alphabetical order and create a Word document called story.docx.

This is how that looks on my Linux machine:

Create it:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.docx
Show it’s there:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.docx
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 50908 aug 4 16:55 story.docx

Even more magic is there: you can create an epub from those files the same way:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.epub
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.epub
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 55257 aug 4 16:58 story.epub

Do you need a webpage that shows the first 2 chapters? Just feed pandoc the names of the first 2 chapters and let it do the legwork:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc DeJongeHeks01.md DeJongeHeks02.md -o story.html
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *html
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 22509 aug 4 16:59 story.html

There we are. No problem. Creating a PDF, a Kindle file, all that works with pandoc.

Maybe all this looks complicated and scary for those who are used to using nothing but Scrivener or Word, but I thought it worthwhile to show you there’s more out in the world than those programs. If you like to be versatile then this is worth looking into.

Sometimes I don’t write.

Yes, that’s right, dear reader.

There are times I don’t write. This doesn’t mean writing isn’t on my mind though. Last Sunday afternoon I discovered a problem in a story. Something crucial was missing and I had no idea what the crucial part was. Staring at the screen did nothing crucial for me or the story so I decided to do something drastic. I went outside for a walk.

treesThis is not a hazardous thing because I live in a nice area. These trees for instance are between the front door and the spot where I usually park my car.

I picked a good moment of the summer Sunday too because it wasn’t raining at that moment, and even many clouds had better places to go so I found myself facing sunshine. Very uncommon in these areas lately although I am not complaining.

After about 15 minutes I was wandering through my favourite forest (because it’s so close to home that I can walk there easily) and at a certain point I had the choice to go left (where I had never gone) or right (where I usually go). I went left.

To my surprise I came upon a small lake. I had never seen that before! Amazing how lakes suddenly appear when you turn left. The soil around the lake had suffered from the rainfall. The sound of my shoes was interesting, to say the least. The water that seeped into my shoes was less interesting but colder, probably to make up for the difference.

BerenklauwOn the way back home I came across this fellow.

It’s a Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as hogweed or cow parsnip, and a big one. It was as tall as I am!

I left it there as it looked happy where it was.

Incidentally in Dutch this plant is called a Bear claw.

The last special thing I encountered was this colourful bench in a park. Whoever the artist (or artists) was or were did a great job on creating something joyful! 

bench

Scifi, fantasy and portals

Food for happy thoughts.

Recently I read a post online that made me happy. The post dealt with things that are often seen as bad things in scifi and fantasy writing. One of the ‘bad’ things discussed was portals.

Why are portals considered bad?

Probably because they are easy. Portals can just be there without any further explanation. No one knows how it got there, nor who built it. The fun is to figure out if it still works, how it works, and how to get yourself out of the mess once you went through it.

Why do certain critics insist that writers should come up with other, more credible bits of equipment to get their characters into trouble? It will only add to the size of the book because the whole thing needs to be explained, invented, put into place, made credible. All that will draw the attention away from the actual story.

Of course, at times coming up with a new way to go from one place to another can be bunches of fun, but then that whole experience should be part of the story.  No such thing needed with a portal. Bam. It’s there. We’re in trouble Now what?

 

My own portals.

Seriously, I love portals. I’ve used one in Francis and Frankie for instance. And the times that Hilda and William travelled from Fairyland to ours and back, for instance in The Wytches Roone, that didn’t happen because of well-defined physics and other particle storm entities. Portal. Get them there and make the story happen. The titles I mentioned up here were fantasy stories. My Scifi story “Wanted: hero” also uses a portal to get to another planet. No space ships, no FTL-drives (Faster Than Light, another thing mentioned on the article I referred to). Without portals many stories would not have happened, and I’m not just referring to my own stories here.

A famous portal.

Sg1 stargate frontDo you remember the first Stargate film? What else is that star gate but a big, old portal? An entire network of them even!

As the series went on, the origin of the star gate was divulged, little by little. A great way to do this because it gave the people writing the series time to come up with credible parts to make this sound plausible. For me they did a great job with that.

(And since I’m a book lover: did you know that there are books published about the Stargate universe? Really! Follow the link and be surprised if you’re a fan and didn’t know about this yet!)

Gimme my portal and no one gets hurt.

Portals. I love them. Because they’re so convenient and versatile. How do you feel about portals in fiction (and film) to move to other places, other times, other worlds? Heck, maybe I’ll write a book called Portal World some day. I can see interesting things happening in such a place…

Did I stop writing books?

Absolutely not, dear reader.

My bookmaking adventures are not on hold, not have they stopped in any other way. The reason for my silence on this site is that I’m working on a Dutch book, and for Dutch news I have my Dutch site. Which, when you think of it, makes sense.

Over on Facebook I am slowly revealing the cover of this Dutch book. Each day I post a new picture of it, in which more and more of the cover is shown. Yesterday’s version looks like this:

puzzel11

If you want to keep up with the revelation, you can follow me on Facebook if you want. I usually post the image to Google+ as well if you feel better there.

The image over the book cover is my cat Grimalkin. Her name might sound familiar, because she and her brother are named after the cats who live with Hilda the Wicked Witch and her partner William. (I’ve added this tidbit for your convenience.)

The book is about my home town Cuijk which everyone has heard of, of course. Everyone living near here, that is.

lilyMarin
This however does not mean that I am not doing anything in the English book arena. I’m working on Hilda 18 and 19, and also I am adding words to the new Lily Marin novel which is going as slowly as the first one.

Lily keeps surprising me with her complexity. It’s great to write about her and to go on adventures with the Masked Woman, but for some reason she doesn’t make all this very easy. Things with her and Billy go well though, and this book also will come to a good end.

The last project I would like to mention here is the sequel to Wanted Hero. I’m currently reworking that and at the same time writing it in Dutch. This has proven to be a good way to do this kind of work as I think about the text. Many original English parts are replaced by much better English parts.

That is the news from me for now, and I will definitely report back in soon. The gaps between me checking in have gotten too large, for which I apologize.

Wishing you a wonderful day,

Paul

 

Language battle.

Dear reader,

english nederlandseAs you may know I write in two languages. English and Dutch. Usually not at the same time, but sometimes it happens. Now (not as in at this very moment, but lately and still) I do that. I write in Dutch and English at the same time. This is because of the sequel to ‘Wanted: hero‘. Yes. There will be a sequel. I wrote most of the draft text during last year’s Nanowrimo. In English. And now I am writing the text again, in Dutch. No, that’s not merely translating, it’s literally writing it because of the many difference between the two languages.

Word play, double meanings, expressions, those are language items you don’t simply translate. You write them again. This in turn means that I rewrite much of the English text again as well though.

Question from a fictitious reader: how does that happen? Didn’t you already write the English version?

Answer from the writer: yes, I did. I wrote the English first. I write the same sentence or paragraph in Dutch, which makes me think about the sentence and remodel it to Dutch style, grammar and spelling. Occasionally the sentence will come out much better in Dutch than in English which in turn makes me adjust the English sentence so it’s more like the Dutch one. And voila (which is French and means look there, since we’re on the subject of languages anyway), the English is rewritten.

I have found this a fabulous way to duplicate a story into Dutch. It makes me reconsider the English original, which in turn can make me change both English and Dutch a few times before it’s just right. Things like that take time. Lots of time. But in the end they’re worth it.

This post appeared on my Dutch blog earlier. In Dutch. Click here if you’re interested to see it. 🙂