Friday, May 22, 2009

Note Cards

While doing the revisions to Black Earth, like any novel, eventually I get to the part where I have to figure out the order and pacing of the scenes in the book. When I wrote the Expired Reality books it was a little bit easier because I didn't have too many chapters or scenes spread out too bad. Once I came around to the 2nd Expired Reality novel, Lost Birth, I had almost doubled the amount of chapters that the first book had, yet the book was shorter and more fast paced, so it was a little more challenging trying to figure out the pacing and order of some of the scenes.

I'm sure the severity and challenge of this issue can also be attributed to the fact that the Expired Reality novels take place over a period of 24 hours each book, making each scene more intense and more directly connected to the ones before and after it. Black Earth: End of the Innocence takes place over a roughly 12 hour period and feels like it has more characters involved in it than the Expired Reality novels have so far, even though that may not be technically true.

I found the easiest way to deal with figuring out how to arrange scenes in my novels is to use a deck of note cards. See, I am a very visual individual, so I do much better seeing the bigger picture when trying to sort things out. So I take a note card and write down the scene it represents, doing that for every scene in the book, and then I lay them all out and rearrange them accordingly. Then I go back and rearrange the actual scenes in the novel according to the order of the note cards. If there are a set of characters that don't have any scenes for 8-10 chapters, then those scenes need to be rearranged for better balance, instead of having the novel too focuses on on set of characters for too long.

Originally, I was using colored Post-It Note's. I used the colors to represent whose scenes were being written down for easy visual reference. But this time around, for Black Earth, I am using regular note cards and I use colored ink to write the scene out depending on where the scene is taking place, this way I have at a glance how often certain scenes pop up and if the flow of the story is even. The final and most reliable way to check the flow of a story is to read through it completely in a few shots, but note cards help get things on the right track! :D

Friday, May 8, 2009

Leading the Way

I think nowadays too many people fall into a little niche called a ‘comfort zone’. We go on with our lives, day after day, falling into the same routines and the same habits and consciously fight to keep those routines and habits intact. I feel we do this for many different reasons, one of which is so we’ll know what to expect every day so we can feel ‘safe’. Another reason is so we can ‘control’ our situation. If there’s nothing new coming at us, nothing that we didn’t already expect or plan for, then we can breeze through the day quiet easily and not have to deal with confrontation/challenges that we may otherwise have had to face.

Lately, I have been challenged with a crossroads in my own life. I have been challenged with the opportunity to stand up for myself, for what I believe in, at the possible sacrifice of one of life’s necessities. I believe we come across these crossroads at different times in our lives. It is a point where we are forced to make a decision to either continue in the same routine, our ‘comfort zone’, or break out of the mundane into something new, something extraordinary. Sometimes these crossroads are created when our ethics or morals are challenged, sometimes they are created when we are faced with several different roads to take in our life and we are forced to pick one. I believe in picking the one less traveled. Far too often we want to continue down the familiar, down the road where we know every nook and cranny of the path and there is nothing to excite, scare or challenge us.

When our ethics, our morals, whatever it is that we believe in, are threatened or challenged, do we try to work AROUND the situation so we can continue on with life but not face the threat? Or do we stand up, face the threat, and stand our ground with what we believe in? Do we speak out against evil or injustice, or do we wait in the sidelines, hoping for someone else to speak up so we can grab onto their coattails? When you are faced with an almost impossible decision, do you allow your circumstances or those around you to determine your position on a matter? Because your life is in a tough spot, or because your friends won’t be your ‘friends’ any longer because you won’t fall into their habits of self-depreciation, do you go along for the ride to fit in, or do you take that moment in time as an opportunity to stand up and say no? Sometimes this is simply a matter of confidence, but other times it is simply a matter of fear that prevents us from acting the way we should act, the way we were made to act.

What I have learned in the last couple weeks, is that sometimes you are put in a situation, or allowed to go through a particular situation, specifically so that you can lead the way for others who are intimidated or fearful of the situation itself. Sometimes you may be at school or work, and others believe what you believe, but won’t stand up for their beliefs because they are afraid what others may think or how they may be treated because of it. Nobody wakes up in the morning and wishes for confrontation that day, but sometimes confrontation and challenges are inevitable if we want to succeed in life. Sometimes we simply need to stand our ground, and the path that God has wanted for us the whole time opens up and allows us passage. A bible verse that comes to mind is Esther 4:14 "If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” This verse was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine and it explains my point so well. God can always find someone to stand up for the good in this world, but what if he’s picked you or I? Do I want to be one of the one’s that simply waits for someone else to stand up, or do I want to follow my calling to take a stand against injustice wherever it may crop up?

This isn’t to say that standing up for what you believe in is easy or fun. Sometimes it can come at a great sacrifice, as martyrdom does, and sometimes it can leave you lonely and wondering if you even did the right thing. Standing up for ethics, morals and principles that this world can too easily neglect or pretend don’t exist, is the right thing. Sometimes we may feel that it’s just us and God that are standing up in the storm, and that’s okay. Sometimes, that has to be enough. Sometimes standing up for your principles will show who your true friends are, and even reveal who your enemies are. And that needs to happen. Too often, we surround ourselves with people that tell us what we want to hear. We surround ourselves with others who accept us because we don’t stand up for what we believe in, and we trade that defining attribute for the sense of security, the sense of acceptance. We should be fulfilled knowing that we are accepted by God and secure in knowing that whatever we may face, if we follow Him, we will come through to the other side. We may not be unscathed, though, and I think that a perception that many have is that leading the Christian life will keep us safe from harm and safe from turmoil. That’s not always true, though. Sometimes we will be hurt, by those we thought were friends, by those we find are enemies. But God has us in His hands and will carry us through to our destiny, and we will find healing along the way.

The very idea of standing up for oneself isn’t all that easy to accept sometimes, but I strongly feel it is what we need to do a lot more of. There is a line, of being humble and serving others in a Christ-like manner, but that line can be crossed and when it is, it is our responsibility to stand up for our beliefs, to protect the boundaries God has sought for us to set up. Sometimes standing up for those beliefs will cause us to lose jobs, friends, money, opportunities, but what is gained is greater than all of those things. Some people call this a revolution, some call it rebellion. I simply ask, what do you believe in and are you living your life in such a way that it sets an example of that belief for others to see, even if that ‘other’ is just God Himself?

Friday, May 1, 2009

GraphicMail and Benchmark Email

Recently I ended up switching the service I use to create and send my monthly email newsletters. Previously, I had been using a service called GraphicMail. A decent website that incorporates pre-made templates, a half-decent pricing system, and easy-to-run reports on your sent emails, the service was doing well for me until I, through researching other services, found one that works twice as good for me.

Benchmark Email is an email newsletter service that scores high in my book for a couple of reasons:

First, the price:

GraphicMail, at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, offers 2000 send credits (emails) per month for a consistent price of $9.95 per month. Those credits DO NOT rollover to the next month, meaning you lose them and the 2000 start over the next month. GraphicMail does however have a pay-as-you-go plan that is $49.95 for 2000 credits that DO rollover month to month.

Benchmark Email, at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, offers 600 emails a month for $9.95, none of which rollover to the next month. However, I spoke with Benchmark Email support and they stated they have initiated a new pricing system that can be used if you want to pay according to the size of your email list, starting at 1000 emails for $18.95/month.

Second, the newsletter editor:

GraphicMail allows you to choose from over 100 templates that can be customized by you or they offer to create a template that is tailored to your business for an additional charge of $350. The editor they have to customize the templates is Microsoft Word based…horrible for graphic applications in my own opinion. Using rows and columns, you can update the content of the newsletter, the colors and the overall look, but I don’t find it to be very user-friendly.

Benchmark Email uses a drag and drop editor that is a lot easier to use and customize. You can customize just about every color scheme in the newsletter using pre-made templates from their website. You can incorporate videos, your own personal logo and any links you have. It’s just easy and made creating an email newsletter a faster, simpler process.

Third, reporting:

Both sites have a decent report feature, but I happen to like the appearance and simplicity of Benchmark Email’s better. A bit more clean cut, as is their site and layout as a whole. They give you a pie chart that shows how many emails were opened, not opened yet, or bounced because of bad address, including a click rate of the links included in your newsletter…everything in a quick glance.

All, which for me, as busy as I can get, made Benchmark the easy choice.

You can check out Benchmark at