Emacs

photo credit: mrbill via photopin cc

photo credit: mrbill via photopin cc

Everyone has their favorite editor. Some use pen and paper. Many use Word, or a text editor like Notepad or Notepad++. Others use online tools like Google Docs. I have tried all of the above and finally settled on Emacs. For those who haven’t heard of Emacs, it’s a highly customizable editor that is used for a variety of tasks from writing text to writing code and everything in between. As the late Billy Mays used to say, “But wait! There’s more!” You can use Emacs to read, write and send your Email. You can use it as a calendar, a journal, a planner, a debugger and even a news reader. And it is open source. Completely, 100%, free!

But this flexibility comes at a price. It is not as simple as opening up a Word document and typing away. Well, you could, but to get the full benefit of Emacs, you should customize it and that takes some tinkering. I’m not going to go into detail about how to use Emacs, at least in this post, but there are lots of tutorials out there if anyone is feeling adventurous. What I’m going to do instead is talk about a few of the features that I like about Emacs.

Emacs uses the term buffers to areas of the screen. So if you writing a document, it will be in a buffer. You can have a single buffer in a Emacs window (called a frame), or split the window (vertically or horizontally) into two buffers. And you can keep splitting till you have a patchwork of buffers each showing a different document. It’s kinda like opening up multiple documents in Word and lining them up side-by-side but way easier to do. Anyway, Emacs buffers also have modes associated with them. A mode affects the buffers behavior (whether it is wrapping words or highlighting/coloring parts of the text). I write in Org mode. Org mode is great for (straight from the horse’s mouth) “keeping notes, maintaining TODO lists, planning projects, and authoring documents with a fast and effective plain-text system.” In short, it’s great for writing. The best part is that you can expand and collapse your TODO lists and notes by pressing the TAB button. I keep all of character sketches, timeline, plot ideas, chapter breakdowns as these expandable lists right in my document so I can refer to it when I write. If I need to keep referring back to something while I’m writing, I can simply create a new buffer next to my document and load the information up there.

You can also customize Emacs to include version control. You know that thing you do when you save your drafts as “Draft-1.doc”, “Draft-2.doc”, “Draft-2-newchapter3.doc”, “Draft-3-stellagetskilled.doc”, and so on. Except with version control you can do it a whole lot better and without cluttering up your hard disk. Caveat: some expertise required.

The one drawback with Emacs compared to something like Google Docs is that your data is not automatically backed up. I use Dropbox and that takes care of that.

If you are feeling adventurous, or you are a technophile, or you are familiar with Emacs but never thought about using it for writing, check it out.

Now, what editor do you use to write your books?

K is for Kidnapping

photo credit: Eastlaketimes via photopin cc

photo credit: Eastlaketimes via photopin cc

I had to take a sabbatical from the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme but I’m back this week. If you are unfamiliar with CFA, it is a challenge run by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise, so head on there and sign up, or click on some links and read what others have to say. This is my second time at this Karnival (I had to begin with a K!)  and I have chosen to focus on topics related to crime fiction rather than books and/or authors.

K is for Kidnapping

Really, there isn’t much I can add to kidnapping but here are some things to keep in mind when you have a kidnapping in your story

  • Kidnapping is a federal crime so make sure the FBI is involved (if the novel is set in the USA)
  • Kidnapping came under federal jurisdiction after the highly publicized and ultimately tragic Lindbergh Kidnapping.
  • There are many different kinds of kidnapping. Here’s a list that details some of them and the differences between them.
  • Consequently, there are also different charges for kidnapping from First Degree Felony to False Imprisonment  depending on the circumstances, so make sure your court scene reflects that.

And a final bit of trivia: In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the victim is also an alleged kidnapper and murderer himself.

Google Reader Alternatives

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

If you haven’t heard already, Google Reader is going offline at the end of June. I have been looking at a few alternatives and here’s what I found:

Feedly – Probably the most popular of the lot. It is very slick but I didn’t like it because it just throws too much stuff at you. I don’t want fancy gadgets and animations and three hundred buttons (Get off my lawn!). That said, Feedly has everything covered, including apps for iOS and Android and all that jazz. However, I read all my feeds on my computer so these aren’t a selling point.Feedly is also “social” and lets you share your stories with friends, kinda like your Facebook Wall. Finally Feedly needs to be installed as an in-browser app.

NewsBlur – The other big player in the market. A lot like Feedly. Has apps for iOS, Android and even Nokia MeeGo. Also Social. Also has too much stuff for me. NewsBlur is only free for upto 64 sites. Any more and you have to pay for it, but they charge you only $2/month. Well worth paying if you enjoy using NewsBlur.

NetVibes – NetVibes is browser based like Google Reader, doesn’t seem to have the extra shiny stuff. It also has an iGoogle like homepage that you may like if you ever used iGoogle (remember that?). I haven’t used NetVibes but I have heard good things about them.

theoldreader – This is what I use currently. It preserves a lot of the look and feel of Google Reader. Simple and straightforward. Perfect for an old fart like me.

If you want to learn more or figure out how to migrate your feeds over from Google Reader, there is a LifeHacker article that can help you out.

Mirror, Mirror

Today I’m starting on my next book tentatively titled Mirror, Mirror. This will be book 2 in the Dieter Fox series. Right now I’ll still revising the plot but I hope to start writing early next week. I’m hoping for a full length novel (~60,000 words) and a November release. We’ll see how that works out.

As far as updates about the book, there is now a brand new progress bar on the right of the blog that I’ll keep updated (hopefully).

 

New Cover for The Natural Victim

natural-victim-v2 (1)New cover for the book. I love the brighter colors, the new font and the series title on the toe tag. Let me know what you think by voting on the poll below.

Reviews of The Natural Victim

photo credit: thebarrowboy via photopin cc

photo credit: thebarrowboy via photopin cc

The Natural Victim now has a review each on Goodreads and Amazon, and since these are my first reviews ever, I’m going to post them on here. A huge thanks to both my reviewers. It’s often a gamble reading a book with no reviews especially one written by a new author. I’m thankful these folks did it and, more importantly, stuck around to write a review.

Goodreads (4/5 stars)

The only reason I picked up this book was because of the Agatha-Christie like vibe. Call me old-fashioned, but the new age murder-mysteries have all been revolutionized by the leaps and bounds taken in science. While it’s all very well to see on TV –who doesn’t like glowing, spinning, green images of a reconstructed bullet?– I prefer my crime books to be about people: detective, victims, suspects and their motivations.

The author, Peter Reynard, spins a compelling mystery which does exactly that. Sure his detective isn’t a groundbreaking fellow, with groundbreaking ideas, and sure the sidekick follows the cliche to fault, but the story is interesting enough to bring out the best in them and put aside all worries of being a rehash of famous works.

Besides, there’s a reason a formula became a formula in the first place.

A quick read, The Natural Victim, ticks all the check boxes for me. I had a lot of fun reading this book, (did it one sitting in fact) and even tried my hand at solving the case. The clues are all there, the puzzles sufficiently puzzling, and the characters ask the right questions without feeling too scripted.

This reads like an honest man’s account of following a realistic murder and is keeps you hooked all the way. It’s simple but not boring, formulaic, but not predictable. This is a murder mystery through and through – nothing more, nothing less. Don’t go into it expecting epiphanies about the human psyche, or social commentary on violence, because you’re not going to get that.

You’ll get a lovely story, and really, sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

Amazon (5/5 stars)

This effort pretty easily stacks against some of the mainstream mystery novels, except for the length. I read it in one sitting, and I imagine it could be read in an hour or two. However, the nice thing is that I didn’t want to put it down at all, for that entire 2 hours. Really entertaining, and a fresh take on the whole Sherlock type of character without making him out like a super genius. It’s refreshing to read a mystery that you can actually put the pieces together on your own.

 

 

Writing “The Natural Victim” by the numbers (in pictures and words)

When I started working on The Natural Victim I decided to keep a record of the dates and times I worked, as well as the overall word count. Now that the book is out, I had some time to go back and use that record to get a better idea of what it takes to write a novella. I’ve put the numbers into a few graphs. Hopefully, this might help a wannabe author get a better idea of what to expect when working on a book. Here then is a behind the scenes look at the writing of The Natural Victim in pictures and numbers (and words).

Number of days worked on the book – 90. I set out to write the book in 90 days and I did it! Of course, towards the end, I wasn’t even paying attention to this goal, and I’m pretty sure I missed recording a day or two in between, but according to the record I worked exactly 90 days.

Number of hours worked total – ~92.
Number of minutes worked per day –  ~62. 

date-vs-minutes

Minutes worked per day

I rounded both stats to the nearest whole number. The figure on the right shows the minutes per day in pretty picture form. You can tell by the rises and dips where I started and finished my various drafts. I was pretty consistent with my first draft, working about an hour each day. An hour is about what it took me to write a 1000 words and that was my goal. The large spike towards the end is the first day I spent on formatting the book, and it took me a while to get set up and get everything going.

Word count over time

Word count over time

Word count over time. You can see where my first draft ends (after that steep climb), and then the slow increase till about the fourth edit when the word count starts to slowly decline again. Many people write a lot and then cut. I found myself not writing enough and having to add stuff.

Change in word count over time.

Change in word count over time.

Change in word count over time. During my first draft, I was consistently writing 1000 words/day and then it dropped when editing started. The bump in the middle was during my third edit (fourth draft) I believe, when I realized I really needed to have more words when setting a scene instead of jumping in immediately.

Breakdown of time spent

Breakdown of time spent

Breakdown of time spent. The single largest chunk of time was spent on the first draft. But when compared to overall time spent, that first draft only took about 37% of the total time I spent on the book. The chart does not show the time spent on the book by my awesome editor who also happens to be my beautiful wife. Without her the book would have degenerated quickly into a menagerie of orphaned oxford commas, typos, flowery language, and even a plot-hole or two.

Number of edits – 6. I combined a couple of them into a single edit in the breakdown. I also did two proofreading sessions that I combined into a single pie slice. Again, these do not include the edits by my editor.

 Miscellany. Editing took way more time than I had imagined or really set aside for initially. In a way it was good that I wrote a novella instead of a novel. I don’t think I would have finished it in 90 days otherwise. As a rough estimate, I think a time breakdown of 1/3rd for the first draft and 2/3rd for the editing is a good plan.

I hope to blog more about this in the next week or two including the results of putting my book up on Kindle Select and making it free for 5 days, an awesome review that was sent to me, and a list of what I learned doing this book.

One final plug/reminder. The book is free for another day (till June 7, 2013) on Amazon, so if you haven’t picked it up yet, this is your chance. For those of you who have downloaded the book already, a big thank you, and when you are done, please send me your thoughts via email or put it up on Amazon or Goodreads. I would love to know what I got right and what I can improve on.