Rental House Redux

This past week, my husband, brother, and I stopped over to check on the rental house–the first time the three of us had been there together since the place caught on fire.

The contractor’s work seems to be moving along well–they have drywall up everywhere, and of course, rough-in plumbing and electric. It was encouraging to see. And better yet? Not one whiff of smoke.

One thing I can tell my writer friends is that there is nothing like the smell of burnt house. I went over there the day after the fire and, holy cow, the smoke smell was overpowering! As a writer, I’m supposed to be able to describe sensory details, but the pervasiveness of the smoke smell in that house almost defies description. It was so thick I could almost see the carbon molecules in the air I was breathing. And all I could think of was how fast I wanted to get out of there.

A couple months ago, I read a novel in which a character entered a recently-burned building. I could tell this author had not had that experience, as she barely even mentioned the smoke, much less how cloying and sickening it is (especially when there are emotions attached to it, as there should have been in the story). (Otherwise, the book was very good.) It wouldn’t have taken much, aside from how strong a smell it is. It mostly smells like a bonfire, but has an underlying, sickening chemical smell. It’s close enough that for the next few months, whenever one of my neighbors had a fire in their backyard, I was taken back to the rental house. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for someone who’d lost their home to a fire.

One of our friends had, in an apartment fire around twenty years ago. We took her inside the house a couple days after the fire, and she said it smelled exactly like the burnt apartment building. And yes, she had to get out quickly.

Now, I don’t mind being there once again. There is a new furnace in the rental house, so when we went inside it was comfortable (though we kept our coats on, because the contractors had the heat turned down–thank you!). They are getting ready to finish the drywall next.

Some of the fixtures going into the upstairs bathroom

We had a progress meeting with them this Friday. While progress is good, that’s where the good news ended: we are going to be over-budget, unless we take on some of the work. As in, the estimates for all the work done so far plus what’s still to come exceeded the insurance estimate by about $15,000. Apparently, the savings found in drywall and OSB roofing were not enough to offset the new bathroom, and siding the detached garage so it would match the house (insurance wouldn’t cover the garage, as it was not affected by the fire). So  I spent all day yesterday poring over their 42-page detailed estimate, and pulling out line items we could cover. Most of this was purchasing materials, as they put an “overhead and profit” markup on everything. Others were things like installing towel bars and TP holders – they charge over $13 to do one. I don’t have a problem with that as it’s simply paying for their time, but they’re willing to let us do that and save some $$, so we definitely will. My husband may wind up refinishing the hardwood floors again, too, as that would save over $6,000.

What I’ve been Reading: This week, it’s been mostly my own WIP. But I’ve also continued to binge on a blog I found a couple weeks ago. Over this past year, I’ve discovered blogs outside of the writing community, mostly focused on 1) DIY, 2) Homesteading (I’m not interested in doing so, but I find it fascinating), 3) home building (surprise) and 4) Financial Independence. This week’s blog binges have fallen into category 4. One is www.1500days.com, in which the author describes his march to financial independence, with a goal of reaching it within 1500 days of when he started the blog in 2013 (spoiler: he succeeded). He has a really funny, engaging writing voice, plus there are sometimes plastic dinosaurs and fart jokes (check out the dinos drinking beer  at the top of the screenshot). I’ve become fascinated with FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early), and will probably blog about it more in the future.

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What I’ve been Writing: Still not much–actually, nothing besides this blog post. I probably spent too much time reading 1500days.com and not enough reading my WIP, as I did not complete reading it yet. I’m close, though, so this week’s goal is to finish what I have, and begin writing the next scene.

What about you–have you ever been inside a burnt building? What have you been reading lately? What are some of your favorite blogs? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Tale of Two Houses, Part 2

Last week, I blogged about part of my seemingly-uneventful, but actually eventful 2017. Much of what went on was house-related, although not about the new house we hope to begin building this year. Rather, much of our focus was on the rental house we bought in March.

Buying another rental property in this area, when we’re planning to move within the next two years, was not part of our plan. But when my husband’s cousin’s widow posted on Facebook that she wanted to sell her house, my husband was intrigued. His cousin had passed away in 2011, and she was engaged, and ready to move on. He asked how much she wanted for her house, and the figure she named was too good to pass up.

We took a look through the house, a little Cape Cod built in 1945. Luckily it had a mostly-unfinished basement, so it was easy to see electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, all of which had been recently updated. The foundation, basement, floor joists, and so on were really solid and in great shape. The roof was also fairly new, and she’d had the place painted a couple years before. It needed work, but it was all cosmetic–paint, new flooring, new kitchen and bath. We’ve done that sort of work before, so no problem.

The only problem was we didn’t want to take out a loan, and we’d spent most of our ready cash on our land in Tennessee. That turned out not to be too much of a problem, since my brother was looking for a good investment opportunity. So we partnered with him, the deal being that he paid for the house, and we paid for the rehab, with my husband doing most of the work. Our cousins’ new house wasn’t quite done, so we rented the place back to her for a couple months.

My husband did a fantastic job on the hardwood floors

When they moved out in May, the work began. My husband tiled the screen porch, with tile the seller had left just sitting in boxes. He pulled up the carpet–and found lovely, original hardwood floors beneath it. They did need some patching (from registers that were larger than the ones now in the house), and refinishing. YouTube, Pinterest, and blogs are a great resource, and in about three weeks, he learned how to do it all, and did a fantastic job! He also installed new light fixtures, and a ceiling fan that looked great.

I spent most of my summer weekends there, helping with the flooring–wiping, staining, wiping some more, and applying polyurethane. I also helped paint, and finished out the walk-in pantry by building custom shelves and painting the whole thing. It was originally a coat closet, as it had a single, high shelf and a bar, but the former owner had used it as a pantry, with shelf units sitting on the floor. Much more useful, and an unusual feature in a house this age/size.

Our daughter helped in the kitchen – not in the way she usually does

We put new cabinets in the kitchen, granite countertops, and added a subway tile backsplash. Through it all, we had help from our daughter and several friends (of ours, and hers). My brother worked on a few electrical upgrades, such as adding light switches in the basement, rather than pull chains. He’s an electrical engineer and has done commercial wiring before, so he knows what he’s doing.

We took an afternoon off to move our daughter to Columbus, where she got a job. After we got home and had dinner, my husband and brother met up back at the house. We still needed to figure out what we were doing with the upstairs, which was two small bedrooms, so they went up there to talk about it. It was hot (this was the end of July) so they turned on the whole house fan, then went back downstairs to finish installing light fixtures in the kitchen.

A couple minutes later, my husband smelled smoke. My brother went upstairs to check it out. He made it halfway up before he ran back down. “FIRE!”

The whole back part of the attic was ablaze. My husband says he could’ve beat any Olympic runner getting out of that house!

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Luckily, the fire department was literally around the corner, and they arrived quickly. My husband came home at 4 AM to get our insurance information. The best thing was, no one was hurt, and the fire didn’t spread to any neighbors’ houses (which were only 15-20 feet away).

The fire was pretty much confined to the second floor, and the ceiling in the kitchen and one bedroom. But the whole place was pretty much trashed from the smoke and water damage. In short, a whole summer up in smoke.

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Fortunately, we have very good insurance. They quickly determined that the fire was definitely accidental–after all, who’d set a house on fire after doing all that work on it–and leaving $4000 worth of tools inside? It was clearly some bad wiring–and investigators found tons of just that in the upstairs walls, and around the whole house fan, where the fire started–places no one could see with the walls and ceiling intact. They referred us to a restoration contractor, who got to work on it the following week. My husband’s tools were replaced. Insurance paid for three months of lost rent. Even better–these old houses were built to last. The roof wasn’t OSB or even plywood, it was made of 1 x 6’s –and our insurance paid for it to be rebuilt that way, and with plaster walls. We had it rebuilt with OSB, and with drywall, and saved enough money to make the upstairs into a wonderful master suite with a fantastic bathroom. Since there was no one living there, we told them to take their time. We’re expecting it to be done by March–a year after we bought the place.

Since the contractor took over, there hasn’t been much to do other than provide them with details about what we want for the renovation. But it was still discouraging after all the work we’d put into it, especially for my husband. It’s in the contractor’s hands now (and so far, looks great!). But at this point, we just don’t have the heart to rent it, so we’re planning to sell. Hopefully, the second bathroom and the walk-in pantry (that they’re rebuilding just like I’d done) will be big draws to buyers.

The other house

We went back to Tennessee in November, mainly to look at some apartments. We want to sell the ones we own here, and buy one there by the time we move. If we find a good deal, we can do this sooner rather than later. We connected with a great broker, and when she found out we were building, referred us to a couple of builders.

My husband called them to set up appointments in advance of our trip.  The conversation with one was pretty amusing:

DH: I know I’m from Ohio, and I’m 300 miles away. I know about how much this house should cost to build, and I know a lot of you guys are busy doing insurance work in Gatlinburg. So let’s just cut to the chase, and you tell me, how bad are you going to screw me?

(I am not making this up, that’s really what he said!)

The builder’s response: “Can I at least see how cute you are first?”

They both met us out at the property. The other guy was okay, but this one really had some good ideas about the placement of the house, and had even taken the time to come out on his birthday.

We got the other guy’s estimate a couple weeks later. It was still over our budget, but by much less than the three builders we’d talked to earlier in the year.

Then the joker’s bid came back… less than 10% over our budget, and totally workable!

So now all we have to do is sell a couple of apartment buildings for our down payment (of the three we own). We have a broker ready to list them, so now we’re in wait and see mode…

 What I’ve Been Reading

The past couple of weeks on the treadmill (too cold to walk outside, that’s for sure) has been The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley, part of my ongoing effort to read more nonfiction. This is one of the classics of personal finance books, and people rave about it. Honestly, I’m not sure why, as the principles are really simple: most millionaires live a simple life, in modest homes, and driving modest cars. Spending less than they make and investing is how most of them became millionaires. It’s also very outdated–it was published in 1996, and this is very clear in the salaries and home prices quoted, as well as things like the lack of references to smartphones, the Internet, etc. (For example, travel agent is a good job??? How many are still in business with the Internet?) Still, it’s not a bad book, and if one adjusts the monetary amounts and a few details to take technology into account, the principals are still valid.

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What I’ve Been Writing

This week, NOTHING! But that was the plan–In an effort to get back into my book, I wanted to go back and read what I have so far. I got about halfway through–that book is long. Too long! I am seeing lots of places I can cut, though it will still end up being a pretty long book (as most of mine are). So this week’s goal is simple: finish reading the book. Any writing will be a bonus.

So, did our rental house saga turn out how you expected? What do you think of it? Have you read (or heard of) The Millionaire Next Door? How are you doing with whatever goals you may have so far, whether writing-related or not? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Tale of Two Houses, Part 1

2017 has been a long and busy year. A lot has happened, but not much writing. Probably the biggest event was my daughter’s graduation from college, and subsequent moving out on her own. She has a job she loves in higher education administration, and though we miss having her around (she lives about an hour’s drive away), we couldn’t be happier for her.

I got out of the habit of blogging, and one thing that kept me from getting back to it was feeling like I had to write a long, comprehensive post, and make it good. I realized that yesterday, and it’s kind of silly. Just like housework done incorrectly or incompletely is still better than not done at all, a short blog is better than none. So here goes…

A New House

Our house will be similar to this, only with an attached garage

Some of you might remember that my husband and I are planning a move from Ohio to Tennessee, with building a new house. You might have guessed that I’ve been away because of that. But (sigh), that’s not the case. I’m still in Ohio, and still haven’t started building. And that’s OK.

So to catch up on that, we got a few quotes from builders last spring, around the time I last posted here. Three builders gave us ballpark estimates that were pretty close to our budget, so all looked so far so good. Then they got back to us with detailed estimates. All were 50 -60% higher! We figured out that 1) the economy is good, so there’s plenty of work and 2) many of them are doing insurance rebuilds in Gatlinburg, so they’re extra busy. However, they’re happy to take on another project for the right money. That kind of money is not in our budget. So back to the drawing board there.

We considered downsizing the house by making the garage in the lower level–not really what we wanted. We considered being our own general contractors–we’ve done so on some pretty large remodeling projects, and my parents built two new houses years ago being their own contractors. But they built locally–we’re 300 miles away, so being our own GC would mean having to stay down there during construction. Also not what we wanted.

Our new rental house – isn’t it cute?

An Old House

The new house kind of got put on the back burner when we had an opportunity to buy another house–a rental, here in Ohio. It needed a lot of work, but that was all cosmetic, and the deal was too good to pass up, so we snagged it. (As a side note, we’ve owned rental property for many years, so this is not new to us.) That turned out to be an interesting ride…

Reading

I fell off the wagon keeping track, but I continue to read every day. I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction, too. Most of it is either personal finance or business-related, or is about home building. I finished a novel and a non-fiction book on New Year’s Eve.

For fiction, I read Pure Sacrifice by Jami Gold. I enjoyed her free short story in this paranormal romance series, so I bought book 1 earlier this year. I liked it, and a couple weeks ago I needed something to read and nothing on my Kindle jumped out at me, so I bought book 2. This series (the Mythos Legacy) has all the ingredients to a satisfying paranormal romance, but isn’t the same ol’ same ol’. In book 1, it was the heroine who was the paranormal character (usually, it’s the guy). In this book, it was the guy, but he was a shapeshifting unicorn–pretty different! The worldbuilding was nicely in-depth but not intrusive or info-dumpy, and the characters were engaging. I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series.

In non-fiction, I read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. For those not in the know, they are the hosts of HGTV’s Fixer+Upper, which is probably the most popular reality home show right now. I love their show, and really enjoyed reading about how they got their start in their various businesses to how they wound up with a their own TV show. This book pulled me in right away and kept me interested throughout, and I was sorry to see it end. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys Fixer+Upper!

Writing

While I did make progress on my next Saturn Society time travel novel, writing just wasn’t on my brain for most of the year. I did not complete any projects, and did not have any new releases. I want that to change this year. I figured out what happens next in the novel, and I’m excited to get back to it. Hence, I’m participating in ROW80 to keep accountable.

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ROW80, or A Round of Words in 80 Days, is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” We can set whatever goals we want for the challenge. Mine will be a stretch for the first quarter, which will end in late March: I want to finish the novel. It probably needs 20,000 more words. When I take the time and know where I’m going, I can write 1000 words in about an hour or so. The catch here is that I don’t completely know where I’m going with this book, so that’s going to be a stretch. I used to outline, but that grew to be less helpful as I progressed as a writer, as I believe one should always feel free to deviate from the outline when a better idea comes along for a story–and for me, it always does. Also, I need to get a newsletter out this quarter, as it’s been way too long since I’ve done that, too.

This week’s goal: I haven’t written since early November, so I’m going to do a full cycle-back and read the book from the beginning. It’s around 100,000 words at the moment (yes, I write long books). If I do that, hopefully other good ideas to wrap it up will come in the process.

This post is already getting long (so much for keeping it short) and I have a lot to do today, so I’ll continue with the house sagas next week, and post an update on my goals.

How was 2017 for you? It was mostly good for me! If you watch TV, do you like Fixer + Upper? (One thing I found interesting is Chip and Jo have not had a TV since they got married–no wonder they have time to do so much!). If you’re a writer, what kind of goals do you have for this year? How are you doing so far, one week in? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

It’s Official

Last week, we closed on our property in Tennessee. It’s now ours! Part of me still can’t believe it, especially when we went there the following day and it’s even more beautiful than I remembered (that photo does not even come close to doing it justice). We met with our builder the afternoon we closed. He’s a friend of a friend, and we really liked him. He gave us a tour through his current WIP, a 12,000-foot monstrosity being built for a fraction-of-a-1%er who’s moving there from California. Amazing! And a major testament to our builder’s (and his trades peoples’) work. He wants to start on our house when he’s done with the current project, probably in April or May. Things are moving along!

What I’ve been reading: Not going to name the book today, because I don’t have much good to say about it. I picked it up because it’s based on a computer game I recently got sucked into, and it was free. The only reason I finished it was because it was short (a novella), and there were just enough references from the game to keep it mildly interesting. Otherwise, the poorly-developed characters and lack of depth would have had me putting the book down a couple chapters in. There was also an amateurish feel to the writing. I don’t expect a literary masterpiece–I read mostly genre fiction, and simple, workmanship writing is normally fine with me, but this was lacking something more that I can’t quite put my finger on. Most of the reviews mentioned things like this, so it wasn’t just me. On to better things!

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Writing/ROW80 update: As you might guess from my first paragraph, my mind has not been on the writing. Also, we’ve been a bit under the weather here–between our closing, meeting with the builder, and a little walking over the land in Tennessee, we spent most of our weekend there taking it easy at the hotel. Nothing major, just a bad cold/mild flu that took a while to let up. We’re better now, but it’s been slow going. So no, not much has happened on the writing front, other than me working through a couple more sections of The Story Toolkit. I’m not expecting much more this week, as I have to collect all our tax stuff for the accountant, whom I have an appointment with next weekend. But I’ll do my best to spend a little time on The Story Toolkit each day, and see how that works.

What about you–read any stinkers lately? Or how about good books? Have you and your family managed to keep healthy? Seems like everyone I know has had that cold going around here! What else has been going on with you, and how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Priorities, and First Quarter Wrap-up

I’ve been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks, but I have a good reason: my family. While I like writing my blog and chatting with those of you who comment, my family is my priority.

Nothing bad happened–I just had opportunities to spend time with family I don’t see often, so that was more important. Two weeks ago, my daughter arrived home for Spring Break. She had a lot to talk about, so I wanted to spend that time with her, and the blog never got written. I thought about posting it on Monday, when she was off visiting friends, but got busy with typical Monday things. I could have pushed, but being kind to myself is best for my health, so I let it go.

Then last week was Easter, and I hosted the family gathering. My family is small, and Mom and I are old hands at planning ahead for these (we do the same thing every year, food-wise), so it’s not a big stressor. We had the added blessing of hosting my mom’s cousin, who lives on Vancouver Island and was here for the holiday. He’s extensively well-traveled and well-read, and is a fascinating and fun person to talk to, and it was also fun to catch up on what’s going on with his family. So, not a stressful day, but a busy one, between cooking, spending time with my family while they were here, and then cleanup. My mom and daughter help with that, but it’s still a big job. So I decided to let the blog go once again.

Wreck of HeavenGods Old and DarkWhat I’ve been reading: I always make sure to take time to read, and I finished Holly Lisle’s World Gates Series, which I binge-read. Book Two is The Wreck of Heaven, and Book Three is Gods Old and Dark. (Book One is Memory of Fire, mentioned in my last post.) This was one of those series that’s so mind-blowingly awesome it could be depressing for a writer in an “I could never write something this good” sort of way. Luckily, I enjoyed it too much to think much about that. But wow, enormous stakes, heart-rending emotion, and one of the freakin’ best villains I have ever read. You know, one of those that’s horrendously evil, yet so well-developed we can still feel a twinge of sympathy and understanding of how he became that way. And an immensely satisfying ending that didn’t tie up everything neatly into a bow, but where we knew the characters were on their way, with plenty of hope. Flipping AWESOME. If you like epic and/or contemporary fantasy, this series is a MUST read!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: ROW80 Round One ended last week, and I didn’t even realize it at first, LOL! I met some of my goals. I finished the first draft of Time’s Dilemma, and got it to my beta readers. However, I did not finish the revision, because the beta readers found a lot more work it needed than I expected. So I am still working on that. Still working on the cover for it, too. Round 2 of ROW80 starts tomorrow, so my goals for that are to finish Time’s Dilemma and get it to my publisher, hopefully in time for it to be released this quarter. I would like that to happen in time for me to get a start on the next long Saturn Society novel.

What about you–how are you doing on your goals so far this year? Do you sometimes have to shelve one thing you like to do for another priority? How has the weather been in your area, now that it’s officially Spring? (Ours has been all over the place!) Have you read anything awesome lately? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Binge that’s Good for You

I’m talking about reading–but of course!

It doesn’t make you gain weight. It isn’t mindless. It can even encourage physical activity–for example, I stay on the treadmill longer if my book is really good.

For the most part, this week’s been uneventful, and that’s fine with me. I had a chance to read a lot while waiting for a doctor’s appointment (a doctor I’m not planning to go back to, because of that). I didn’t get as much writing done as I wanted, though I can’t really blame the reading for that. My fatigue’s been acting up a bit, so I did more lying around watching TV than I’d have liked.

Critter Update: On the good news front, I have not had to go back to the vet’s office–so far, my gerbil Spaz has not resumed chewing his foot, and it’s finally starting to heal.

memoryoffireWhat I’ve Been Reading: Memory of Fire, by Holly Lisle. This is the book I happily devoured last week. It’s the first in her World Gates series, a blend of contemporary and epic fantasy. And it’s so awesome, I decided to do something I can’t remember ever doing before: I immediately bought the next book in the series. Usually, I read a few other books before going back to a series, but I know a lot of people binge-read, so I figured this was the series to try it out on. These books feature likeable, relateable main characters, and they’re massive in scope and stakes: not only one world’s fate hangs in the balance, but many. These are richly-developed worlds where everyone, including the bad guys, is fascinating and even they draw sympathy. I fully expect to pick up with the third as soon as I finish with the second, The Wreck of Heaven, which I’m reading now.

Something else interesting to note: I picked up Fire for $.99, on sale. It’s not an indie book, but was published by a Big 5 company: HarperCollins. The big publishers get a lot of criticism for overpricing ebooks, and while they do run sales like this, they tend to price other ebooks at $9.99 or more–higher than the paperback version. I fully expected to find that with Wreck, and figured I’d get it from the library, as I don’t like to pay that much to greedy publishers. I was pleasantly surprised: books 2 and 3 are $4.99 and $5.99, right in line with indie fantasy novel prices. So it’s good to see that someone at a Big 5 publisher has their head out of their posterior region, and I have no problem supporting that. 😀

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I did finish the scene started last week, but instead of revising the next two, wrote another (short) new one. So… a semi-win, I suppose. For this week, a third (very short) one is next up, then finally I plan to get back to revising the existing material. I have my writers group meeting coming up next weekend, and some other stuff going on, so I’m going to shoot for just one edited scene.

What about you–do you binge-read? Or binge-watch TV series? (I’ve never done that, either). Have you read any good books lately? And how are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether writing or otherwise? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Pet-pourri

One thing that’s taken some of my time lately has been our pets. Now, I love animals, especially mine, so this isn’t really a problem. I got a new tank for my goldfish a couple weeks ago, and while that took some time to set up, it’s so much easier to clean than the old one–and the goldfish loves it.

Birthday girl is worn out!

Birthday girl is worn out!

Isis had a birthday, too–she’s now officially a terrible two. Well, not really too terrible, as long as we’re throwing the ball to her. For her birthday, a trip to Pet Supplies Plus was in order, where she picked out not one, but three new toys. Now I’m waiting for her to chew the squeaker out of them. After that, we went to the ice cream shop, even though it wasn’t Dogs Nite Out, and got her a doggie cup (and treats for DH and me, too).

But what’s taken more time is one of my gerbils.

It all started back in November, when my dad stopped by after visiting a rental property that was infested with fleas. He didn’t come into the house, but Isis was in the yard, and she brought them in. A trip to Wash Your Dog took care of her, and we thought, the fleas too.

Then I saw fleas in my gerbils’ tanks. I immediately cleaned the tanks, then brought them (and the turtle) to the dining room, and bombed their room. One of the gerbils was fine. But the other one, Spaz continued to scratch like crazy, because hey, freak out and get stressed is what he does, hence his name. A few days later, he’d scratched himself bloody.

So I took him to the vet, who found Spaz had mites (carried by fleas) and mange (carried by mites). He also had an ear infection, and had chewed the toenails off of one foot. Some gerbils do that when they’re stressed, but the problem with Spaz is, even after the mites and mange were cured, he kept going.

This is one ticked-off gerbil

This is one ticked-off gerbil

Now Spaz has no toes on one foot, though a month ago, it looked like he’d finally stopped.

Until I took him to the vet for a follow-up. Right after that, he started back into chewing, and this time, the vet went to what he said was the last resort, short of amputation: an Elizabethan collar.

As pitiful as Spaz was, the vet assistants and I couldn’t help laughing at his antics trying to dislodge the thing. It did its job in that he has not chewed his foot since then, even after he finally got the collar off about ten hours later (by doing somersaults!). Now to see if he continues to leave his foot alone.

What I’ve been reading: This vet is very good–he treats my turtle, too–but the wait times are way too long. Usually it’s an hour. Yesterday was two hours. I actually didn’t mind for once, because I had nowhere else I needed to be, and it was an excuse to read the really good book I’m working on right now. I’m not going to share about it just yet because I’m not finished, but I will next week. I know I’ll finish soon, because this is one of those I can’t wait to get back to–as in, it’s done a great job getting me to the treadmill, but it’s also one I have to fight the temptation to read, rather than do my own writing.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: It took until yesterday, but I finally did get started on my revisions. Still not sure about the new scene I’m writing, but at least I’m having fun again. What I finally figured out: even though revision uses the critical part of the mind, I couldn’t get myself to focus on it at my Internet computer. Only when I went into the critter room and sat at my writing computer did the resistance fade. So I guess that computer is not just for new writing. I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked, but I did get through one revised scene, plus part of a new one done. For this week, I’m going to shoot for finishing this new scene, and revising the next two.

What about you–what has kept you from reaching your goals lately (or what has tempted you)? Do you ever have to fight the urge to read, rather than write? Do you have pets? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Distractions

I got pretty much nothing done on the writing this week, mostly because my focus has been elsewhere. Fortunately, it’s because of something good–my husband and I, after living in this house for 23 years, decided it’s time to remodel the kitchen. This kitchen was the worst part of the house when we bought it way back when, and aside from some new appliances early on, it’s only gotten worse since. It’s very small, and it’s arranged haphazardly, with useless, inaccessible corner cabinets and wasted space. Not only that, the cabinets were not in great shape when we bought the house, much less after 23 more years of use. We can’t change how much space there is, as knocking out exterior walls and adding on is not in our budget, but we can  fix the layout woes and make better use of what space we have. Therefore, much of my week has been taken up in planning, getting ideas, researching, and then creating a fun 3-D diagram in Lowe’s Virtual Designer (don’t know if we’ll buy cabinets there or not, but the software is cool). Even when not actively working on it, that’s what my mind has been on, rather than book cover design and description.

What I’ve been reading: I did find time to read, of course. I even finished the book I mentioned last week. Since I’ve been critical of it, I’m not going to mention the author, title or even genre. It never did get any “deeper” with good setting and description, but the storytelling got better as it went, and was enough to keep me reading. However, I don’t plan to continue with the author’s next book. Too many better stories to read. But it does go to show that depth in setting and character building is important, but good storytelling can make up for a lot.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: Nothing to report here. I’d like to keep the same goal this week (book description and cover design), but that could be stretching it, since I see some shopping in my near future, and I also have my monthly writing group meeting next Saturday. Plus, I have a print book to layout to do for Mythical Press, and also a wraparound cover to design, as the book currently has only an ebook cover (i.e., front only). So with that, anything I get done on my book will be a bonus.

What about you–ever have one of those weeks where your focus was completely elsewhere than where you’d expected? Any suggestions for cool stuff for my small kitchen? And have you read any good books lately–or bad ones? (Please don’t share identifying details on the latter, but do tell us what you learned!) Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Depth in Fiction: Why I (almost) Put the Book Down

This was one of those weeks where I didn’t do a whole lot besides the usual go to work, write, and of course, read. I finished last week’s book early in the week, so picked up another. This book was a type of story I love, so I expected to really enjoy it.

Despite its interesting story and premise, I kept finding myself distracted by all kind of other thoughts, and frequently putting the book down to think about something I’m working on instead. I couldn’t figure out why–it didn’t have any of the typical things that make me put books down, like excessive background information, repetition, or just nothing happening. Then I remembered the online writing workshop I recently completed.

Depth-Workshop-Cover2-e1402637242834Like Stacy commented on last week’s postsometimes we learn the most from the books we don’t enjoy. When I put a book down–or am tempted to, I always try to figure out why. The workshop I took last month was Dean Wesley Smith’s Depth in Writing (highly recommended if you’re a writer, btw). In it, he discussed how the bestsellers–and all good fiction–pull readers down deep into the story, quickly. This is something vital to keep readers reading, and to make them want the next book.

One part of accomplishing this is to draw the reader into the setting through vivid details, using all five senses–yep, even taste. (I’m not giving away any of the workshop either–he’s mentioned this on his blog before.) I skimmed the openings of the book’s prior chapters, and sure enough, this was what was missing. I couldn’t find any descriptions of smells or tastes, which are strongly connected to emotion, and only in a couple places could I find sounds or touch/temperature.

Now, I have never been overly fond of a lot of description in my reading, and it’s something I have had to work on in my own writing. But done right, it’s not a big chunk of bore, and won’t even be noticeable to the reader. This book was a perfect example of how important that is.

Sometimes, lack of depth can be compensated for with good storytelling, and that’s why I haven’t put the book down yet. It’s an engaging and interesting plot, and I want to find out what happens next just enough to keep on.

smithsmonthly15What I’ve been reading: I definitely enjoyed the book I finished early last week. That was Smith’s Monthly #15, by Dean Wesley Smith. The full novel therein was Cold Call, a really twisted murder mystery featuring retired cops who get together to play poker and solve cold cases.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: last week, my goal was to complete my first draft revision, and get the novella off to the beta readers. That is DONE. I contacted my publisher, and they already have my final editor lined up, and expect to have the book out by mid-March, barring anything unforeseen. Since I do cover design for Mythical Press, I also design my own covers, so that’s what’s up for this week–the cover design, and a short blurb suitable for back cover copy, something else the publisher needs. As a bonus goal, I need to collect all the front- and back-matter for the book, which I’ll need to supply to them as well.

What about you—have you put down a book lately, or considered doing so? Do you know why? How do you feel about description in fiction, whether you’re a writer or from a reader’s perspective? And how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Just Do It

No, this is not an athletic shoes commercial. This is what I had to tell myself yesterday to get the job done, the “job” being the scene that’s hung over me for the past three weeks.

Sometimes the hardest part of getting the writing done is just getting started, going to the computer, and overcoming inertia. But lately, my main problem has been staying focused once I’m there. I did some more experimenting with mynoise.net, having decided that Brain.fm was not working well enough to be worth spending $6.99 for a one-month subscription.

My conclusion? Sometimes/it depends. Which soundscape I chose definitely made a difference; some were too bland to aid in focus, as they were mostly intended to be noise-masking. Others sounded great, but made me sleepy (one use for these sounds is in hypnotherapy practice). I might try listening as I’m reading before bed to help me go to sleep. But that’s not what I want to do at the writing computer. I really like the Ice World sound, but this is one of those. However, My Noise lets you combine sounds, and combining it with Ethereal Choir is great, and did seem to help with focus.

I met with three of my writer friends yesterday, and one of them was having focus trouble, too. We talked about what we do when we come to a scene we don’t want to write yet, whether because of mood or something else. “Toss it out” wasn’t discussed, although that’s a perfectly viable option when the scene isn’t really needed for the book. We were talking about those that were definitely needed.

I just skip the scene and move on to the next, as I mentioned in last week’s ROW80 update. One of my friends writes out of order, so that’s a no-brainer for her. It’s easy enough for me to do, as my sketch/outline tells me what happens in the next scene. But one of my other friends does the same thing, and she uses absolutely no outline. She and I both write our scenes in order otherwise. But my third friend said he absolutely can’t write out of order. Lucky for him, he doesn’t come upon this situation very often.

Yesterday, I still had not finished either of the two scenes I’d wanted to for today’s ROW80 update. But meeting with my writing friends is always fun and energizing (at least creatively), and I came home ready to tackle those scenes. I hit the later one first, and finished it without a problem. Then I played computer games for about an hour, procrastinating on that scene I didn’t want to write, until I finally realized I was not going to hit that goal for the third week in a row if I didn’t Just Do It.

So I went back to the writing room, fed the critters, and fired up mynoise.net with a combo of Ice World, Ethereal Choir, and Coastline. I don’t know whether it was the music/sounds, or my determination to just get it written, but it worked. Took about three hours, and 2500 words, but it’s done! 🙂

GodsSwindlersWhat I’ve been reading: I finished Gods and Swindlers by Laura Kirwan last Sunday or Monday. I love, love, love this series, about a fifty-something, non-magical lawyer who lives in a magical town and is the only thing standing between it and magical baddies. This one was a little slow at first, but still kept my interest, and only got better and better as it went (much like the previous two books in the series). I hope the next one is out soon, though I’m willing to wait.

One thing I’ve noticed as a reader is that I can’t tell if something was written fast or slow, in order or not, outlined or written into the dark. Nor can I tell whether the author revised and fixed as s/he went, or did a big revision (or multiple) afterward. A lot of people have strong opinions on these, particularly the speed and revisions, but IMO none of them matter. What’s important is that we do what works for us for that book, at that point in our knowledge of craft. And it can change. (FWIW, I am a nominal outliner, I mostly write in order, my speed varies greatly even within one book, and I am working toward fixing more as I write, and revising less because I don’t enjoy it.)

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: As noted above, I made my goal to finish both the scenes I was working on (barely)! So this week’s goal is to write the last scene (yes!), and then go back and fix the things I know are missing. As a bonus, I’d like to do the read-through and proofread, to get it ready for the beta readers.

What about you–when you read, can you tell anything about how the book was written? What do you do to get yourself to Just Do It when “it” is something you keep stalling on? If you’re a writer, do you ever write out of order, and how do you handle scenes you don’t feel like writing? How are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether or not you’re a writer? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.