Book Reports IV: Watchin’ the Detectives

This is my favorite reading category, and through friends’ recommendations and the wonderful AlsoBot, I discovered some new writers that I’ve been exploring. Here’s the last of my winter book reports.

My favorite new mystery author: Olen Steinhauer.
_Steinhauer
I started with his Milo Weaver series:
The Tourist (Book 1)
The Nearest Exit (Book 2)
An American Spy (Book 3)
… and I’m now am exploring his backlist.
A lot of reviewers will compare him to John le Carré, because of the emotional depth and turmoil of his professional spies, the details about trade craft, and the convoluted plotting. But Steinhauer’s voice is of the next generation. (I’m not dinging le Carré on anything; he’s set a standard almost no one can reach.)
The lead character is captivating, and the criss-cross nature of the stories kept me would up to the very end of the series. Continue reading

Book Reports III: Historical Fiction

Another installment, reporting on my winter’s reading adventures. I write historical fiction (as E.A. Stewart), but I didn’t do a very good job this winter of reading deeply in the genre. Instead, I got hooked on a few series and read compulsively.    

__ChisolmP.F. Chisolm’s Sir Robert Carey Mystery series:
I didn’t stop to breathe while consuming these Elizabethan period mysteries—and generally I loathe reading anything in that period.
A Famine of Horses (Book 1)
A Season of Knives (Book 2)
A Surfeit of Guns (Book 3)
A Plague of Angels (Book 4)
A Murder of Crows (Book 5)
An Air of Treason (Book 6)

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Book Reports II: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Another chapter in my winter’s book-reading adventure. Neither SF nor fantasy are categories I read widely in any more. But here are some titles I sampled in the recent reading binge:

__MurderOfClonesA Murder of Clones: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novel: Book 3 of the Anniversary Day Saga (Retrieval Artist series 10) – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I’ve read the previous books in the Retrieval Artist series, and am excited that Kris Rusch is publishing a book a month right now, having completed the Anniversary Day Saga. The most intriguing aspect of the world in this series is how clones are dealt with—or rather, the difficulty in a civilization to recognize the humanity in specific life forms.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic series:
__KaySailing to Sarantium (Book One)
Lord of Emperors (Book Two)
In many of Kay’s stories, he takes an historical world, and then twists the world by introducing fantasy elements. In the Sarantine Mosaic takes the basic history of the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople, focusing on the clash of classical and “barbarian” civilizations. The world has two moons, but otherwise seems to have Mediterranean geography like that on Terra. Good characters, a symphony of conspiracy and artistic insights—the main character is a mosaic artist who becomes enmeshed in the politics of a world that is not his own. Continue reading

My Book Reports: Coming of Age Stories

This winter, due to certain complications in my life, I had more time to read than I usually allow. Since early December, I’ve been drowning in other writers’ stories. I’m sharing links to the better stories that I read. Subsequent posts will cover books in other genre categories.

In my reading odyssey this winter, I managed to include some literary fiction amid the deluge of genre fiction I read. (Note that I share the viewpoint that “literary” is just another genre category.) For the purpose of these reviews, I’m labeling these books “coming of age” stories. Continue reading

I’d write less, but there wasn’t time in the schedule

This month’s Managing Up post “You Want How Much Done? By When?” introduces scheduling fundamentals for contract #tech-communications workers.

Work Breakdown SchedulePatty at Steyer Associates reported that their research showed that ~300 words was the right size for a blog post. So I had to pare from the 950 words I’d already drafted. I’m providing the whole article here—since scheduling for a program manager is a whole discipline. A 300-word peek won’t give you much insight into a manager’s compulsive, continuous thinking about schedules.

This topic is of interest if you are anywhere in your technical communications career where you need a deeper understanding of the scheduling processes. Continue reading

Shout-out for a quiet novel: A Summer in Peach Creek

A Summer in Peach CreekSeattle writer Michele Malo’s first novel, A Summer in Peach Creek, came out in December and is just starting to get attention.

Inspired by her mother’s adolescent journals, Malo crafted a coming-of-age story set in the Thirties, featuring a Seattle girl, Faith, visiting relatives in West Virginia. Each page is drenched in the color and detail of daily life in a small mining town, deep in the grips of Depression.

Faith’s focus is on the details of daily life: understanding her cousins’ culture and social life, perceiving a disturbance in her parents’ marriage, learning how to flirt. The peaceful hot summer days for both the cousins and the adults are disturbed by a murder among the town’s leading socialites, fraught with the possibility of false accusations.

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Making Lists that Matter – Intro to PM

ThinkingMy latest Managing Up post for Steyer Associates — Program Management 101 – Session #1  — takes a peek at how techcomms managers tackle program management, especially for content projects in the tech sector.

Part 1 focuses on getting agreement (and documenting it) with cross-team stakeholders.

I’m writing this series for Steyer with a focus on providing insights for contract workers into how and why techcomms managers do what they do. The next article in the series is “Drafting and Refining Work Packages and Setting Schedules,” so please leave comments or write to me if you have specific questions about that aspect of planning.

I try to provide parallel insights between the Steyer posts for technical communicators and similar activities for fiction professionals. The related posts for writers and editors are:

Checklist for Writer/Editor Collaborations [PDF]

Notes for Indie Publishers [PDF]

Ebook and Print Production from Word

ProductionGuide-Cover_811All that advice to “just use Word”? Then the results leave something to be desired?

Here’s a step-by-step guide for converting a Microsoft Word file to a cleanly formatted, easily updated MOBI file and a POD-ready PDF.

Get a FREE PDF download:
Ebook and Print Production from Word Production Guide 

Download related files here: Sample Files – OPF, NCX, CSS
POD-template for Word
See also FAQ for Production from Word Guide

In this step-by-step guide:
– Word-to-POD-ready Print File
– Word-to-MOBI Production
– Managing Styles in Microsoft Word

For creating print-on-demand (POD) PDF files:

  • How to get headers, page numbers, front matter, and back matter to look professional, quickly.
  • How to get justified text that doesn’t look like it was done by a space alien who’s heard of “rules of written language” but doesn’t realy grok what it means.

For creating ebook files:

  • How to quickly convert from Word and get the results you intend.
  • Make chapter breaks, the Table of Contents, and navigation controls work right, quickly.
  • Control art, chapter and page decorations, and internal hyperlinks.
  • Avoid wonky line spacing and bad indents.

These notes assume that your working environment is Windows and Microsoft Word. The ebook production steps focus on creating a MOBI file (Amazon format). You can find other guides and tools for creating an ePub for other eBook retailers, using the same source files as described in this guide.

No One Else Remembers

Too many stars in the Interlochen winter sky, too bright, the sky so heavy with them, many were bound to fall.

David Lloyd WhitedJust small-town Northwesterners in someone else’s town, we ate deep-fried mushrooms in a log-cabin bar, watched the multitude of animated beer signs, chatted with the outlaw snowmobilers in leather and denim, who laughed at a friend’s latest drunken escapade, racing a snowmobile off the bank into the lake. An off-duty sheriff harrumphed, complained about having to go out in the cold all the time for fools.

“It’s just what happens here,” one guy shrugs, and breaks a rack at the pool table.

The next day on the road home, the ’42 Plymouth goes into multiple 360-degree spins on the icy highway.

“Sit on the floor,” you say, calm as we silently spin down the roadside.

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Stage Fright: Your Sample & Your Back Cover Text

My blog post for Steyer Associates — Stage Fright Part II: Your Writing Sample — examines how a tech-comms manager reviews writing samples when hiring a tech-communications professional. I discuss solutions for common problems, like when your current work sample is still under non-disclosure agreement.

FacePunchI like to describe a parallel effort here on my blog for fiction writers, but the cases differ significantly:

  • Your writing sample online is the first 10% of your ebook on Amazon. 
    Tip: Did you move the front matter to the back of your fiction ebook, so that a significant portion of that 10% is not copyright, dedication, and table of contents?Your “sample” should start as close to “a name=start” as possible.
  • Your description / back cover text is what lures your reader.
    Did you write a Fourth Grade book report or a marketing enticement that will help you “close” a sale with browsing readers?Most writers I’m met hate writing the back-cover text. It calls for an entirely different view of the story than what you just spend hundreds of hours writing. I’ve struggled with this 250 words more than any other text  I’ve drafted, and don’t feel anything like a journeyman, must less an expert. Yet it’s not something that DIY writers can readily outsource.Here’s the most succinct guidance I’ve found, for staying on track in back-cover descriptions:

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