Personal Life, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 5/29/18

Out the window: Low, dense clouds that sometimes spit sprinkles of rain. The forecast calls for storms later this afternoon, and as it’s getting darker, it looks like the forecast may be right. Oops. There it is–heavy rain, hitting the metal roof hard enough to echo and reverberate in a mysterious, lovely way that makes me crave a good book, and a nap.

On the desktop: Not much, really. The usual odds and ends of notebooks waiting for words, my glasses case, Burt’s Bees lip balm, and a pack of gum.

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  Structural edit notes to my novel, Unspoken. I’ve gotten a printout of the novel and am marking it up by hand, so I can see at a glance the length of each scene, how many pages each one is, and how many slow or fast scenes are bunching up. I can flip pages to see how long the pace has been fast, or if it’s gone from “a breather” into “catatonic,” and make notes to fix this, as necessary.

Sometimes this is a faster process than writing, and other times, it’s far, far slower. Regardless, it’s a process that definitely needs to happen, and I’m learning much from it–about myself as “a writer” (vs as “an editor”),  about my craft and skill levels, about my protagonist, and about what the novel is really, really about.

And, while yes, I wrote these words, I’m reading them from enough distance now that they’re almost new to me. And this is a good thing. I’m not just slipping over them, but I’m reading them the way I’d read another’s novel, and seeing all those flaws (OMG, the flaws! There are so many!). I’m also seeing the things I did really quite well. Which is always a pleasant surprise.

And Another Thing: Oh my gosh, the plums! The little tree is just ripening those fruit so fast now that it’s a challenge to keep up with them all, and the rains keep knocking them off the tree to the ground… We’ve had plum jam, plum cake, and plum ice cream. Next up is a plum crumble, I think. And of course, more plum jam. I think I’m going plum crazy!

Today's Desk, Writing

Writers Desk 5/18/17

Hey! Lookit here–something new? Oh, what? No, it’s an old feature resurrected. Like a zombie, but with words.

Out the window: Heat and humidity have draped the sky in a colorless high overcast. Breezes gust occasionally, drying out the plants even more, and even the wind feels hot. Ugh. The newly planted gardenias are drooping terribly, and I’m really hoping the weekend brings ALL THE RAIN.

On the desktop: A cup of everyday green tea. Scads of notes and notebooks, both for this book and the next one, and the notes from my recent trip to Paradise Lost. 3 x 5 cards, some with writing, some still blank and waiting.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: Jessamin Stow, Book Three. Still.

I mean, yes, I love this. Honest, I do. but I’d hoped to be finished with it before Paradise Lost. Instead, due to so many things–Dasher and his ill health, my own ill health, home-life drama (let me tell you about the refrigerator dying suddenly, and the termites, and…)–well, I’m not done yet. And it’s making me crazy.

I’m kind of a stickler for making a schedule and sticking to it. None of this has gone to schedule, and it’s not a fun feeling. Which is only adding to my anxiety when it comes to sitting down to write, you know? (Ah, Impostor Syndrome, you know me so well.) The good news is that I’m so close to being done, I can practically taste it! Now to just do it.

And Another Thing: My next novel is all lined up and ready for me to get working on. I have a plot, and characters, and the basics of a world. I need to do more research on various things for world and culture building before I can get to writing the first draft, but OMG I am so excited at the prospect of this new novel!!!! It’s so shiny and fun and cool and I haven’t messed any of it up yet OH WOW!

But before that, I need to sip on some tea, calm down, and finish this novel before me. I got this.

Happy May, everyone.

Today's Desk

Writer’s Desk, 4/15

What’s happening at my computer desk? Glad you asked:

Out the window: Gray skies, gusting winds, rain and scudding clouds. Falling temperatures. A good day to stay inside. And write about stuff going on in a warm place.

On the desktop: Hold onto your chair, dear reader! The desktop is…relatively clean. (gasps of shock and wonder) Yes, I know–amazing. A couple notebooks hold…duh…notes. A pen and a few 3″ x 5″ cards are in a growing stack as I attempt to figure out the plotting/outline of the novel-in-progress. The computer, keyboard and mouse. And that’s it! Yay for clean!

Today’s Work-in-Progess: Make more 3″ x 5″ cards! I will transfer these to Scrivener when I’m done, but right now the thought of making them electronically and not being able to see them all at once just makes me antsy. That might make me a control-freak (or maybe not) but I’m not getting stopped by a lack of “visual stimulus” at this point, you know? Another good thing? They’re easy to move from the clean desk, to the living room floor, to the kitchen table. Well, so is the laptop, I guess–but that hardly seems like “vacation,” while this does, you know?

At this point, just getting ahead of “planning paralysis” is a step in the right direction. My cat vacuuming tendencies run rampant at this time; after all, I’m not involved in a daily word count kind of place, so who’s to say whether I met my daily goal or not. That’s how my wily procrastinator-brain likes to try derailing me. Watch me get those cards done today!

And Another Thing: Yesterday it was about 74°F, sweetly humid and breezy. I took a NJsnakewalk in that absolutely lovely weather, in the shady, boggy woods where I like to go. And I saw my first local snake! I can’t tell you how thrilled this made me. I’ve been missing snakes (yes, I’m strange, I know that and accept it), you see, so this felt like a little jolt of “home.” I didn’t get close enough to identify it (didn’t want to scare it away from good hunting grounds), and I’m unfamiliar with NJ snakes, so I don’t know what kind it was, but seeing this good-sized snake just made me smile.

research, science

All Excited About Worldbuilding Research

Yep, it’s true. Like so many other writers, I love me some good research. I did some yesterday on technology and such, and came away with some amazing bits of knowledge that I just have to share:

The word “Scientist” wasn’t coined until the 1840s.


  • 1801: first entire building is lit with gas
  • 1802: gas lighting is installed in a factory, letting it operate longer
  • 1807: first successful demo of street lighting, in Pall Mall in London, using coal gas
  • 1885: the incandescent gas mantle is invented. It becomes very popular and gives gas lighting an edge over the feeble illuminations of the electric light systems being introduced


  • 1826: First modern railway system (operated entirely by steam engine) in England
  • 1832: First modern streetcar is pulled by horses
  • 1852: “safety” elevator (with brakes in case of cable breakage) is introduced
  • 1895: First practical subway, in Boston, MA, is 1.5 miles long and uses trolley streetcars

In 1900:

  • Human speech was transmitted on radio waves for the first time
  • The Wright brothers are experimenting with unpiloted glider kites, as they’ve been doing since 1896
  • There are 470,000 miles of railway in the world
  • The first electric arc steelmaking furnace was used
  • Storage batteries were developed
  • An early version of a zeppelin airship is scrapped due to poor in-air controls
  • The first flashlights are created
  • Paper clips were invented

In 1901:

  • A multi-story car park eases parking problems in London.
  • The first ever trans-Atlantic wireless communication takes place–the letter “S” in Morse code! 6 years later, commercial radio telegraph service is established across the Atlantic.

Every time I look back at historic developments, I’m amazed by both how quickly some things developed, and how other things plodded along despite an “early” start. Also, how advanced our forebears really were–I mean, could you conceive of elevators before the US Civil War?

So, all this good stuff is going into the basic world building for my novel. Now that I’ve got an idea of tech development, I get to go destroy it all. More fun! 🙂 Wish me luck! And if you have any great technology dates from the mid-1800’s through 1900, feel free to share them.

Quote of the Week

Quote of the Week

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company. 
–Lord Byron

A Month of Letters has begun. So far, I’ve managed to keep up. (Considering that this is day three, that’s not such a big deal.) I didn’t log into the site last week or over the weekend to log in daily, and I’m not sure I will–for me, part of this ‘challenge’ is to unplug a bit, not to add more on my online to-do list. That list is full enough as it is:-)

Writing a Letter

I love sitting down to write a letter. I love pulling out nice stationery, maybe matching it to the recipient if I can in order to bring a smile to his or her face right away, before the reading is even begun. And the forums over at Lettermo (the Month of Letters website) have shown me that I’m far from alone in these likes.

Years ago, letter writing also taught me about character voice, in a round-about way. My family had a long history of writing letters to one another. Whether on vacation or from snowbird overwintering in Florida, my grandma, aunt, parents and various siblings all wrote letters home. Being the youngest, at home the longest, I got to read them all. It influenced how I wrote. My aunt wrote exactly how she spoke, using small jokes, funny words (she was an executive secretary in the day when that really meant something), and everyday events to paint a picture of her day. So did my grandma, my parents, etc. When I wrote my friends, I naturally did the same thing. My friend Amy commented to me, after I returned from one trip, that my letter to her sounded just like I was talking to her, not all stiff like most letters.

That comment resonated in my mind. All these years later it still does. It made me think. Specifically, it made me think about how what we say, and how we say it, reflect our personalities and how others view us. It was early training in writing in a character’s voice. It was also just nice to get letters that sounded like the people sending them to you, hearing them inside your head as you read the words scratched or scrawled or neatly scripted onto the page.

Looking for a writing exercise? Write a letter from your main character to someone. Use his or her voice, the words he/she would use, the tone. Make it a friend and include jokes or funny observations. Discover how he/she views the world, and more of his/her personal backstory.

Just looking for fun? Write a letter to a friend and drop it in the mail. Brighten someone’s day by letting them find something other than junk mail and bills in the mailbox. And enjoy some good company in your solitude.

Quote of the Week

Quote of the Week

It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
–Robert Southey

The exact description lodges in the brain, ineradicable, while the over-wrought, fluffy one is forgotten before it is understood, lost in the morass of so many words, struggling and failing under it’s own weight.

An exact description is precise, and carries with it images/scents/emotions that will arise in the reader’s mind of their own volition, nailing the place or person fully; any long-winded, generic description of topologic or meteorologic features will be less than the sum of the words, since many will skip over the ‘dull parts.’

Which do you want to write?

Magic of the Everyday, Writing

How and Why

So, I’m back at my everyday magic again, trying to spin gold out of words and phrases, to make a story out of thin air. Some days I wonder why I do it. But other people don’t ask me that. They usually ask: “How do you do it? How do you make up a story?”

Hmm. Good question. First (and probably last to come sit down at my table, at least), you have to Trust that you can do it. But until you’ve done it, how do you trust you can?

That’s where the magic comes in. Just go ahead and do it. Several dozen times. The first few will stink like rotting fish in August, like week-old baby’s diapers, like–you get the idea. Eventually, you’ll get better. And slowly, Trust will pop up its tiny little head.

Ignore it and keep going.

After all, Trust is frail, fragile. Determination will stay with you when trust dies, again and again, and when Hope flees, knowing better than to stick around. Pure Cussedness will keep you typing when even you know the words are stinking. And, eventually (like I said), you’ll get better. And yes, you’ll even learn to trust yourself to get better again when you do stink the room up.

“But, where do you get the idea?” is always the next question, if not the first. I didn’t believe it at first, but ideas are a dime a dozen. Really. Don’t believe me? OK, go search online for magazines printing modern versions of Fairy Tales. Penumbra just put one out. Cabinet des Fees is all about Fairy Tales.  Fairy tale anthologies come out often. Try Wicked East Press‘s Father Grimm’s Storybook, coming soon. Or just look at current movies and TV shows. Do you already know the story, the fairy tale each is based upon? Sure. But it’s how the writer looked at the angle that makes it interesting. A good writer could tell a great story about a brick and pot of honey, one that’d have us all oohing and aahing, wondering “How did she ever get that idea?” (and if you write it, link to it here. Please! I’d love to read it!)

So, find something you’re interested in, something you won’t mind living with for awhile. Horses, let’s say. And magic. Hmm, sounds like Caitlin Brennan’s series with Luna Books. OK, so make yours different. Maybe your horses make magic. How? Do they sing it? Well, then maybe…maybe it should be about hamsters and magic, since hamsters sing. And since they’re small creatures, the magics they make are small, easily overlooked by us big, clumsy humans.

To me, this sounds like a kids’ story, but with some interesting tweaks, you could make it for adults. Maybe the newly-made stay-at-home dad discovers the magic when his kids are at school. How? What does he do with this knowledge? That’s your story, the parts you fill in as you go along, as you discover them. (This is where Trust comes back in. You have to trust that you’ll stumble onto the story while figuring this stuff out. Or at least I do, being the pantster [seat-of-the-pants writer] that I am.)

So, there you have it. I haven’t written this. It just popped out now. Want to write about it? Go ahead. If you do, please link to it here, just so I (and anyone else out there reading this) can see all the variations that are possible.

Anyway, this is why themed anthologies are so fun. You’re given a starting point (often the hardest part, since as a writer, you can begin anywhere), and then anything goes. Stories diverge after the theme is met, and go dark or funny, sentimental or odd.

And that is why you should write. No one else could tell the story you would tell, in the way you would tell it. Your hamsters would be different from mine, and mine are different from, say, Cinda William Chima’s. Not better, not worse, just different.

And there is the magic, right there. In the words. In the telling. So stop reading this. Go write a bit of magic.


Byline Blues

When I started submitting work for publication, I had a dilemma to face, one that I’d never considered until that moment. There I was, final-checking my manuscript for proper formatting and double-checking the submission guidelines. The editors asked me to include in my email: my name (check), story title and genre (check), my email address (check), and my byline (?).

It dawned on me that I could be anyone I chose. Mildred Smith. Sanji Dalwallah. Chris Anygender. Chen Anyrace. I’ll admit my mind ran wild as I considered the possibilities. In the end, I wanted my name on my stories. Not in order to brag, but, well, to mark them as mine; my attempts, my failures and yes, my successes.

But what me?

My given name is Mary. I’ve never been fond of it, especially since I became an aunt at age three. In my mind, “Aunt Mary” is plump and wears red or blue gingham, has round cheeks, short gray hair of no style, and cools apple pies on her windowsill while a properly-attired scarecrow looks on from the meticulous vegetable garden, and warns away crows and larcenous cats. Ugh! That’s not me. (Well, other than loving pie-baking. And lusting after a proper vegetable garden.) “Mary Garber” as my byline was out.

I’ve never been a fan of folk using their first initial and middle name. It seems to contrived and mysterious to me. Add to that the facts that a) I don’t particularly care for my middle name much more than my first name, and b) I don’t identify with myself with my middle name.

Great. What’s left? My initials.

My oldest brother is named Mike. He’s M. Garber, too — as we both learned when we emailed one another the first time from out separate internet providers. We were both “m.garber@” which was a little creepy until we realized it was just us, not some strange ghost/other “me” in the machine.

So, that left M. E. It’s gender-neutral, but not really. I tend to see any author using two initials as a byline as female, harking back to “the good old days” when women had to hide their identities to write, since men knew they couldn’t. So I’m not trying to hide my gender, but I think gender is irrelevant, and hope most readers now do, too.

The cursor was blinking, waiting for my decision. I chose. M. E. Garber I am. Anything else seemed way too complicated.

Why did you choose your byline?