Monthly Archives: March 2022

The impact of format on writing style

Working on the revisions of my first published book, Netwalk, has really slammed home the degree to which format has shaped changes in my writing style. When I wrote the original Netwalk, my reading experience was primarily hard copy works, not online, reading apps, phone, or tablet.

This wasn’t something I noticed as much when working on Life in the Shadows, in part because much of that work was composed after the first publication of Netwalk, after I had more experience and observation of electronic publication. But the process of revising Netwalk, especially going back to it after working on some Kindle Vella episodes, definitely shows an evolving difference in style, especially when it comes to paragraphing. Hard copy only Joyce wrote in big paragraphs, big blocks of sentences. Electronic Joyce breaks up the paragraphs and structures them so the shorter paragraph length flows better–which requires some work in the final edited versions.


A very simple reason. When reading ebooks–and that is my primary form of reading these days, ever since I acquired an iPad early in the pandemic and started reading library ebooks–I found that looking at a paragraph that filled the entire screen was daunting. Visually tiring. If I ran into several screens with no paragraphing, I groaned and flipped through them, thereby missing a lot of what was most likely juicy and good stuff.

It’s also pretty darn telling when I put the work into Vellum for final formatting and production. The acquisition of that piece of book production software really helped me see how things looked on ereaders, and brought the realization home to me that I need to do something different. So–modify my style.

This change required some thinking about sentence and paragraph structure and organization. Because I’m somewhat ADHD, I often tend to veer into a lot of parenthetical diversions within sentences and paragraphs. They can be fun, but they can also be confusing for a reader. When I did the first revision of Netwalk Author Preferred 2022 Version, before sending it off to the editor, I started the process of paragraph and sentence reorganization.

(Note: this parenthetical usage is an observed behavior amongst ADHD-er writers. This Reddit has some interesting observations. I–uh–feel VERY seen when I read it.)

Fixing this does require a bit more editing work, especially since I apparently was overambitious in cutting some things out. The Martiniere works are where I really started paying attention to the paragraph and sentence flow, looking for ways to modify the parentheticals into something that isn’t quite as clunky and chonky. It’s a lot easier to do in initial drafting than it is now, with that early first work. Part of that is because the new work is part of my current writing process, whereas I’m trying to update my old writing style as well as update the tech in that first work.

On the other hand, I can be dispassionate about revisions because of all the years between that original drafting and this version. Working on Life in the Shadows also helped me refine the central conflicts within the series arc. This time around, I know where I’m ending up. Where the character arcs need to go. This is also as much a series continuity edit and revision as it is anything else.

Some may grumble “why do you feel like you need to modify your style for electronic readership? I won’t do that and I don’t see why anyone else should. Be true to yourself!”

Because a writer’s style can and should evolve as they grow and expand as a writer. Because I want to remain relevant to my readers as long as I can. Because I see electronic publishing becoming more and more important as years go by, which means not only tweaking my style to fit these newer mediums, but learning more about them and trying them out. Sure, I may groan about trying to suss out still another platform, another way of doing things.

Being true to myself means a commitment to keep on learning and developing, until it is no longer possible. As long as what I write is still my voice, then as far as I’m concerned, it works. I’m here to tell stories and engage readers. Not clutch desperately to outmoded stylistic methodology. I just need to figure out how to make it work in this format.

After all, before Mary O’Hara wrote the My Friend Flicka trilogy, she was a script doctor for silent movies*. She had to think in concise, precise phrases in order to convey dialogue and exposition. But when you look at her novels, she composes sprawling, vast, lush prose with metaphysical digressions. She changed her style to fit her format.

Certainly I can do the same sort of thing.

*Source: Flicka’s Friend: The Autobiography of Mary O’Hara. I bought this book many years ago and don’t regret it one whit.

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Shadow Worlds and alternative histories

Well, after finishing up the edit for Shadows, I scampered right back to the Martinieres. Can’t help it, they’re a nice antidote to some of the foundational darkness of the Netwalk books, and allow me to explore some political themes without being painfully explicit. On the other hand, I like this version of Shadows much better than the original edition. I think it reflects the foundational premises of the Netwalk world much more clearly than the first version, and honestly deserves to be called the first book of the series.

I was on a Weeknight Writers panel about Civilizations and Conquest yesterday, and the discussion (and subsequent followup on Discord) stirred some thoughts about how I handle near-future writing. I realized that I’m not really projecting our current world in my near-future work (how can I, if I provide actual dates?) but am chronicling points of divergence. This holds true for all the Martiniere worlds as well as the Netwalk world (no alts want to pop up there. Not sure if I’m relieved or worried. On the other hand, the Martiniere worlds provide plenty of divergent points to keep me busy for a very long time. But! Things will not be all Martiniere, all the time. Besides the Netwalk releases, I have other short projects to get out, and then the new Goddess’s Vision series, which is simmering right along, thank you very much).

It’s safe to assume that every single one of my near-future science fiction stories is based on a point of divergence from our real world history, and go from there. Maybe I need to start putting disclaimers on those stories.

Martiniere divergences

In the mainline Martiniere Legacy series (call it Martiniere Prime), indentured servitude became a spoken and actual reality sometime in the mid-’00s. Not something you’ll find in any of the stories, because that’s just my headcanon. I might even mark the point of divergence of the main series from our world as happening sometime in the 1990s, about the time that the internal family battle between the eldest twin sons of the Martiniere at the time, Louis, became dangerous and destructive, both within the Martiniere Family and the Martiniere Group. Saul and Philip’s battle for dominance threatens to shatter the centuries-old structure of both Family and Group. It’s only somewhat settled by the births of Gabriel and Joseph in 2001, in that nasty little twist where Saul and Philip reluctantly agree to bring up each other’s firstborn sons, born to their respective wives–all done through IVF, thoroughly documented processes followed up by DNA tests of both boys at birth. Gabriel is the son of Philip and Angelica, Saul’s wife. Joseph is the son of Saul and Renate, Philip’s wife. The agreement is that both boys will be told about their true parentage at age sixteen. That doesn’t happen in the mainline Martiniere Legacy because Philip reneges on his agreement and brings about the death of Saul, Angelica, and their daughter Louisa through a plane crash, when Gabriel is twelve. He then–unsuccessfully–attempts to sway Gabriel to his way of thinking.

While climate change is an issue in the mainline Martiniere Legacy series, the Martiniere mind control programming, especially the versions forced upon Family members and unwilling indentured workers, is much more dominant. It eventually leads to the creation of digital clones capable of surviving after their originating personalities’ deaths, and there will probably be more stories further on about the chaos that results from that mess (consider Justine Fixes Everything: Reflections on Mortality, to be an introduction to those eventual stories–along with The Heritage of Michael Martiniere.)

The first alternative Martiniere series, A Different Life, was kicked off by speculations within the current Martiniere Prime work-in-progress, Repairing the Legacy. There’s going to be probably about three books in Martiniere-ADL, all based on a point of divergence where Gabe’s family was not killed in a plane crash in 2014. But Martiniere-ADL will have climate change as a stronger dominating theme, past the first book, A Different Life–What If? So far, I have two more, perhaps three more stories thought out in that world. What If? will release in April, and all those Martiniere-ADL books will be tagged with A Different Life in their titles. I’m currently working on a story about Ruby’s friend Linda, a peripheral character in What If?, and have a notion for a story about Gabe’s sister Louisa and her love Remy Trask, as well as a story about Justine and Donald’s daughter, Marguerite, who becomes the first female Martiniere. In the ADL world, that is.

Interestingly, Gabe-Prime is aware of events in Martiniere-ADL–primarily through dreams. Gabe-ADL is also somewhat aware of Gabe-Prime.

But there are more possible divergences in Martiniere Prime. What happens if Gabe tells Ruby who he really is before they marry? Or if he is killed in that fateful confrontation with Philip before the events leading to his and Ruby’s divorce? Or if he survives–but Ruby figures out who he is just before the meeting, and things blow up? I’m not sure about those stories, but I’m playing with the notion that Gabe-Prime becomes a dreamwalker in his last years, leading up to his becoming a digital clone. Martiniere-Dreamwalker stories may end up being those digital clone tales. Not sure about it yet. There’s also the faint possibility that these are just elder fantasies and wish-fulfillments on Gabe-Prime’s part as he ages. It’s something that’s simmering away. At the moment, though, the only definite alt series is A Different Life, with different branding. Here’s the cover for What If?

Netwalk divergences

Netwalk is much simpler. It branches off from our world in the 1990s, starting with the ascendance of a Trump-like political figure in the late ’90s who destabilizes the US at the same time that the USSR is falling apart. Corporate rule becomes much more explicit. Climate crisis is still happening but it’s an undercurrent. The political unrest is real, and there’s a lot more nation-state battling both internally and externally. Think the current state of affairs, moved forward about twenty years. There’s a sense that multinational corporations are the only somewhat stable political entity out there.

Netwalk world in 2022 is definitely darker, with a lot more going on. Somewhere in this time period, limited nuclear war happens. I projected the Saudis–later overthrown–as taking over the oil-producing parts of Southwestern Asia and North Africa, to the point where it has the label of the Petroleum Autonomous Zone after one heck of a bunch of fighting. Development of drones accelerates and is much further along in the world of Netwalk 2022. The US, China and Russia are fragmented entities, limping along and torn apart by internal struggles brought about by climate change, limited resources, and pandemics. This allows for corporations–multiple multinationals–to become more dominant. Corporate leaders frequently become corporate leaders. And then the arrival of the Disruption Machine stirs up even more chaos, as it circulates around the world randomly killing cities.

Shadows chronicles the prelude to the Disruption Machine’s arrival, followed by the aftereffects and the rise of Sarah Stephens to power. Sarah is an immortality seeker–somewhat like Philip Martiniere in the Martiniere books, only more rational–and figures out a way to continue her influence and power after her death. But while she starts out sane, her indiscriminate use of nanotechnology to maintain a youthful appearance and fight off the effects of aging backfires on her–big time.

One of the big differences between Netwalk and Martiniere worlds is that spaceflight happens in Netwalk. Never happens in the Martiniere worlds, in part because environmental catastrophe just makes it too much of a challenge.

But the other factor is that Netwalk was born of the late ’90s and early ’00s, and to some degree reflects the concerns of that era. The Martiniere worlds are a product of Covid and what we’re seeing right now.

We’ll see how it all turns out.


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Some thoughts about writing and organization systems

Illustration of office

Planning promotion; picture by author

There’s been a lot of talk recently about plotting vs pantsing (ie not-planning) on writer social media lately, including big publications like Literary Hub. The more literary venues tend to see discovery writing as a virtue–start with an idea and poke at it until a story emerges. Lots and lots of words getting put down and lots and lots of words getting discarded.

But pantsing/discovery isn’t limited to literary writing. I’ve encountered that notion amongst genre writers as well–perhaps not to the extreme of the lit crowd. Genre discovery tends to be more focused on “here’s a story I want to tell (often character-based), here’s the rough idea of where I want to go” rather than poking at a theme or an idea until a story emerges.

Well, that works for some people. But I’ve discovered over the years that I have achieved the most with my writing when I have some sort of organization or system to my writing. Part of this is due to the fact that I have unofficially diagnosed ADHD–that is, unless you consider a universal agreement by fellow special education professionals to the statement I once made to the effect that “I think I have ADHD” as a professional diagnosis. Several experienced sped pros with 10-30 years in the field, including a speech-language pathologist and an educational psychologist, snorted and all said “DUH.”

At sixty-four years old, I’m not about to start pursuing official diagnosis (though it would have been nice to have known this when I was much younger, then I wouldn’t have spent as much time running in circles trying to Do Stuff).

But I have noticed some common elements that seem to work for me in optimizing productivity.

First, I need to have dedicated computer space and an area where I can sit at a table or desk to do handwritten planning tasks. Both are absolutely necessary, and the photo above shows my current layout.

Second, I need to have a calendaring/to-do list system that allows me to plan daily tasks. This system needs to be relatively simple, portable, and, alas, on paper. I’ve not discovered an electronic system that works worth a hoot for me, and whiteboards? Hah! I find myself thoroughly capable of ignoring electronic organizers and whiteboards alike. A paper to-do list, however….

I base this assessment on past experience.

Back in the ’90s, I maintained a DayRunner. It had a monthly and weekly calendar, with a hole-punched tablet that allowed me to create daily lists. I could leave it open on the dining room table and check in with it regularly. I wasn’t writing fiction at that point in time, but I was ramping up a stone bead jewelry design business where I was selling online and through local bazaars, as well as placements in boutiques. At the same time, I was actively involved in school parent and extracurricular organizations with my son plus doing freelance clerical work. All of that included work on monthly newsletters (oh, Microsoft Publisher, how I loved you at the time), working from home creating invoices for a client, doing freelance bookkeeping for a couple of other clients, and coordinating a fundraising auction database. And other stuff.

I needed that calendar to track deadlines and appointments, including riding lessons at two different stables (which started in 1997 and went on for a few years).

Then I became a special education teacher and case manager. Lesson planners never really worked for me, except to note appointments for Individual Education Plan/special ed eligibility meetings. I resorted to plan binders–one for case management, so that I could track deadlines and schedules (special education case management operates under strict schedules–blow those off and your district is subject to Federal/State financial sanctions, and you’re likely to lose your job. Unless you’re white, male, and the coach of a winning team. I speak from experience). My case management binder also served as parent contact records, which proved to be useful when working with parents who weren’t inclined to cooperate with bureaucracy. Lesson planning usually worked best as an outline in Word–I tended to have general weekly/monthly plans, with adjustments based on student progress and interruptions ranging from sports to weather to high-stakes academic assessment. Most of my planning happened at the end of the week.

The year I started working part-time, on a three-day schedule with an actively hostile principal, those habits saved my butt. He wanted weekly reports, probably thinking I would find it to be a challenge.

Um. Not the kind of thing you do to a former paralegal accustomed to tracking time-on-task down to tenths of an hour (every six minutes). I was somewhat merciful, in that I resorted to quarterly hour tracking in my reports. But I gave him detailed reports, and copied them to my special ed director.

You want reports, buddy? Don’t mess with someone who is a.) a former paralegal, b.) has mild ADHD with hyperfocus capabilities, and c.) understands systems. I’ll give you reports, until you choke.

(Hint for someone facing this sort of situation–make time sheets and set a timer to record who you’re working for and what you’re doing every fifteen minutes or whatever time increment is required. Record in exquisite, excruciating detail, including the time spent tracking. Very few managers can handle that flood of detailed paperwork tracking)

More writing-specific, I got into the habit of at the very least working out loose chapter plans/synopses after my first series. Why? Oh dear God, the CONTINUITY PROBLEMS. I had to retcon the Netwalk Sequence series in several ways, and that’s one reason why I’m revising and reissuing the series, because things got too weird toward the end. Putting together the new version of Life in the Shadows has helped pull the series together big-time, in ways I didn’t expect when I was first planning the series reissue.

I half-assed it during my fantasy series, Goddess’s Honor. That one holds together much better, and while I’ll eventually redo it with new interiors, I am not planning an extensive revision.

The Martiniere Legacy benefited from my previous experience. There are still small continuity glitches, but the main trilogy–Inheritance, Ascendant, and Realization were planned as a whole and I didn’t release Inheritance until Realization was complete and I’d tweaked things. The later standalone books add pieces to the puzzle, but continuity differences can mostly be explained by different points-of-view on the events.

This year, I decided to embark on what looks like a lot of work–releasing several half-finished novella projects, revising The Netwalk Sequence, writing several alternative world Martiniere books, beginning a new Weird West multiverse project, and planning for the next series of fantasy novels, Goddess’s Vision. I had been muddling along but with the likelihood that Covid restrictions could mean more travel, I realized that I needed more planning and organization to keep things on an even keel.

Therefore, the organization as pictured above. Some serious thoughts about systems. Identifying and organizing long-term publication and promotion plans. Finding tools to make this work easier.

Will it make a difference?

I hope so.


Life in the Shadows, Book One of the 2022 Author Preferred Netwalk Sequence series, is now available for preorder. Official release date is March 17, 2022.

Find it here for Amazon and here for Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and more.

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Looking into the shadows

I’m on the homestretch of getting Life in the Shadows revised and through production–all that remains is to proofread the final version in Vellum (which means looking at it in ebook format because that helps identify errors). Proofing this book has been a challenge because it reflects different versions of Word, a dash of Corel WordPerfect, and then the odd formatting that arose from drafting on my old Android tablet.

Additionally, I ended up subscribing to Book Brush. The cover above is the final version, and oh my word is it ever easier to work with than any other graphic design program I’ve tried. I almost have the paperback version done. That’s a somewhat lower priority because of the current issues with paper shortages.

However, the book has transformed the series. After I added in new stories, both published and unpublished, I realized that this is really the first book of the Netwalk Sequence, not Netwalk. It chronicles the thirty-some years of the delicate dance between Sarah Stephens and her daughter Diana Landreth, as they collaborate and compete through their ultimately different visions of what the future should be. It lays the foundation for the rest of the series.

Sarah is a political animal and always has been. Politics has wrecked her life more than once, and just because it’s 2075 at the end of the book doesn’t mean that situation has changed, even though she has ascended to the highest pinnacle of power. She knows best, always has, and if people would only listen to her, then the world would be a better place. That includes her lovers Francis Stewart and Anne Whitman–relationships that ended disastrously for everyone involved. The relationship with her ex-husband Dan Andrews. And others, including her son Peter and grandson Andrew.

Diana, on the other hand, is a reluctant politician, unlike her mother. For years her primary focus has been research and development. Her relationship with Will Landreth isn’t exactly easy–Will has plenty of trauma, caused by his resistance to the desire of his father Parker Landreth to turn Will into Parker’s personal assassin, a tool to be used against Parker’s opponents. She loves their children, Andrew and Melanie, and mourns the estrangement from her son as he is drawn into Sarah’s orbit. She regrets the growing separation between herself and Sarah, but–Sarah disregards Diana’s warnings about the indiscriminate usage of nanos as a part of her beauty regime. Among other issues. But Diana doesn’t consider the long-range implications of choosing to develop increasingly intrusive wireless communication implants. She turns a blind eye toward Will’s increasing integration of the Landreth military technology with Do It Right’s bioremediation nanos and biobots.

All the same, the mother-daughter relationship would probably have lumbered along without anything further than occasional flare-ups between Sarah and Diana except for two things.

The chaos caused by the sudden appearance of the Disruption Machine, a war machine-like device that randomly destroys cities with no regard for ideology or political alignment.

The rise of the right-wing, cult-like Freedom Army and its shadowy co-opting of powerful, influential people.

While Sarah and Diana successfully contain the Disruption Machine and are instrumental in creating the protective structures to keep it from falling into the wrong hands (primarily those affiliated with the Freedom Army), the combination of the chaos caused by the Machine–later called Gizmo–and Freedom Army infiltration into power structures shreds the relationship between mother and daughter. That rupture is going to echo through the next two generations of women in the Stephens-Landreth-Fielding family, and the repercussions will be….

Well, the reissued books will be coming out once a month, from now through August.

And, as seems to be fitting for my early work, ten years after original publication, the tone of the damn thing appears to be eerily on point for the times.

Switching to the alternative Martiniere Legacy world and the mainstream Martiniere Legacy world is sweetness and light in comparison.


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Playing around with cover images and editing–Life in the Shadows


So I’ve been playing around with the Shadows cover, besides working on edits. Running the current cover through Mockup Shots revealed that the first two versions had text running too close to the edge.

Welp, back to the Power Point editing process. The first picture is the current cover, with the addition of “Book One.” I also decided to stick with lower case for my name, because it fits the whole thing.

Edits are progressing in the story, quite happily so. I pulled in snippets from some worldbuilding, unpublished vignettes I wrote before releasing Netwalk’s Children because I was doing a pivot with Sarah’s personality between Netwalk and Netwalker Uprising. Now I’m working on editing the whole thing in Shadows to reflect Sarah’s deterioration before her death, and hopefully foreshadow what happens to her daughter Diana in Netwalking Space. Sarah and Diana are meant to be warnings to their descendants Melanie and Bess. Plus I noticed some huge continuity bloopers in the side short stories–I’m using what I learned from the Martiniere Legacy to deal with those issues (though yes, there are still continuity errors in the Legacy, darn it. Nothing as huge as in the Sequence, however. And the Legacy is also spinning off its own separate worlds–A Different Life is going to be at least two stories of how the Legacy could have taken a different path, and I have notions for at least two other versions. Will I write them beyond the ADL stories? I don’t know).

I may still play around with this cover–it’s a “wait and see” thing. But the discovery that Mockup Shots works well for discovering–well–one little glitch in formatting–is very helpful.

However, I’ve made a major decision about series reordering. Life in the Shadows is now Book One of the Netwalk Sequence, not just a story collection. Because it incorporates the already-published, already-available Winter Shadows and Shadow Harvest (as well as already-published short pieces), I’m still calling it a collection. But there is going to be new material, doubling the book in size, starting from when Sarah issues the ultimatum to Diana to break it off with Will Landreth or else, proceeding right up to the opening of Netwalk (and a little beyond). It’s not the full sequence of events because that would be a much longer book (and it’s already pushing 105K, plus it covers about thirty years of events). However, we get to see snippets of the relationship between Sarah and Francis Stewart. We see Francis’s betrayal of Sarah. The capture of the Gizmo happens in Valentine Disruptions. A mirror version of Sarah’s ultimatum to Diana happens between Diana and Melanie–that’s in vignette form, though I may expand it.

Release date will be sometime between March 15 and 25, depending on editing processes, and it will be available wide. I will be taking down the current version very soon.

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