A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Manly Art of Ironing

Has a small decision in your life ever been a real Eureka moment? Say, instead of doing something the usual way you decided to do it another. And then, seeing that the new way was better, you saw a slew of other things that called for changing too. Not just new ways of doing things, new styles of inner architecture.


My adventure started with a lovely pre-loved flannel shirt with two pockets whose flaps needed pressing. I'd acquired so many shirts that I'd already started to dread future cleaning bills. Now and then, I'd think wistfully of buying an iron and ironing board--but I was a man. Men don't iron. Yesterday, though, on my way to the dry cleaners, I stopped. How hard could it be to learn the fundamentals of ironing shirts? And what would the cost be, compared to dry cleaning some 65 shirts every year?

I decided to test my ingenuity and skill, starting off with a visit to Target. I found a dozen-odd irons to choose from and an array of ironing boards. My determining factors:  studio-friendly size...a brand name that I trusted...cost.

I left with a small Sunbeam steam iron:

And, to go with it, a countertop ironing board:

                                Standard Ironing Board Light Gray Metal - Made By Designâ„¢

My total cost was less than that of dry cleaning just 30 shirts. But I still didn't know how to iron!

Thumbs up to Sunbeam for clear instructions on the use of and care for the iron. And the ironing board mounted flat on the kitchen countertop. I'd learned I could use the steam function with tap water--not distilled, as I'd guessed. Or I could dry iron if I pleased. I pleased, for my initial run at least. And I'd start with the flap-wild shirt pockets and collar.

It sounds silly to make a big deal of this, yes. But as an exercise in mastery, there's nothing silly about it. Next: what were my options for ironing a full shirt? I could fine-tune, as I pleased, but were there agreed-upon basics? Did I need a book to learn this or should I ask everybody I knew? No, I'd learn this privately, with a little help online.

The online friend I've learned to trust for all masculine matters is The Art of Manliness. And there I found just what I needed:


Now the great ripple effect was in motion. I began to think of other ways and modes of thought that needed changing.

1) To gain speed, I don't necessarily need to compose more quickly. I do need, though, to dictate my handwritten drafts into Dragon Naturally Speaking regularly as I go.
2) I need to make better use of the promoting services Amazon offers now that I have a modest hit in The Big Bopper. (50-plus 4 and 5-star reviews.)
3) I should look into approaching Kirkus for a review of my WIP, which is strong and offbeat.

Job search:
1) I need to follow my original plan to sit tight until mid-March when I've made full use of my medical/dental benefits. But instead of doing nothing, I need to prepare.
2) Preparation includes touting the certificate I've received from an online course in medical terminology.
3) I should also buff my resume to justify the higher salary I'm worth.

And so on. You catch my drift. Your own adventure can begin with anything...including a neatly pressed shirt.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Let Your Writer's Bible Save You

Let's begin with the moral, up front: a mountain of knowledge and research are worth no more than a pile of beans if you can't retrieve what you need in a blink. If you've found yourself wondering 'I know I read about this somewhere...but where?', then you know what I mean. You try Googling the subject, finding thousands of related entries...but not the one you want. Then you look at the shelves of books you read for research...but where in those thousands of pages is the one nugget you need? Or--here's something for all series writers--what are the ages/heights/weights/histories of your characters?

Years ago, I'd tried mastering this challenge by using index cards. But a pair of problems bested me:
1) I had to write my entries in longhand, an arduous process often yielding illegible results.
2) The eventual bulk became daunting as the card numbers swelled to a thousand, then five...I'd have needed a team of monks for updating and cataloging. 

Through the years I tried other strategies, none of them truly successful. But last year, when I published the first of the Seattle BOP mysteries, I knew that I needed a Bible. If I intended to write convincing mysteries about insurance fraud, I'd damned well better know my stuff. I faced the same problems I outlined above after reading a shelf filled with pricey, first-class texts over the course of a year.

Here's the strategy I followed as a writer requiring hard vs. digital records:
1) I flipped through every text, tagging with Post-It Notes the passages I'd already checked.
2) I bought a new 5x8 ringed ARC notebook with detachable pages. As time passed, I knew, I'd be adding more pages or shifting some about. I paid more a handsome notebook that I'd take pride in keeping.
3) I put Dragon Naturally Speaking to work.

After selecting the double-page format, I dictated all the passages I'd tagged, careful to list author, book, and page. I dictated in full for three reasons: I couldn't be sure, in advance, how much or how little I'd use. I wanted protection against accidental plagiarising. And I wanted to be able to cite my resources if anyone questioned my research.
4) When I'd finished--at this first edition of my Bible--I had about 10,000 words. I took the flash drive to FedEx/Kino and had them copy and cut the pages for my ARC.
5) After hole-lunching the pages--one page at a time, alas--I mounted them with clear section dividers between. Once again, I needed speed!

Results of my first trial run:
In the third draft of the new series' second entry,  I needed to find two things quickly: information I'd gleaned about 'medical mills', just enough to make my hero seem to know more than he does. And I needed a cool trick I'd gleaned, something or other about office phones. I found my two answers in twenty seconds, total.

What's up next?
I need to add a section for the main series characters.  Luckily, this is a new series, so there's no need to go back through all the Boss MacTacin mysteries. At least not yet. But I do need to re-read The Big Bopper, making notes of all the key characters' data. Readers are right to raise hell over inconsistencies from book to book. (Hey, what about X's green eyes? You said Y was 29!)

The first edition of my personal Good Book has already saved my bacon twice. From here on, the key for me is keep researching--setting my series apart from the pack--then dictating and printing my quotes as I go.

I plan to sin no further now that I've seen the light. Write your own, or keep yours digitally, and I'm certain you'll soon say the same.