The Artist in the Arena

I love Lindsey Stirling’s “The Arena.”

It’s so beautiful, so powerful. And, because I’m an artist myself, its message expresses something deep within my own heart.

Every artist who shares her work with others must brave the indifference or contempt of her audience. Every artist who creates must confront her own implacable inner judge.
 


 

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

– Theodore Roosevelt,
“Citizenship in a Republic”

 

Sunlight Through Leaves

sunny-tree-300-pxWhenever I see sunlight shining through tree leaves or blades of grass, it seems magical: Nature’s stained glass windows.

As the year winds into autumn, I’ve been getting my morning sunlight on my front porch. The back deck, on the west side of my home, is perfect for the warm weather of summer. It’s shady and catches the least hint of breeze. In cool weather, that hint of breeze turns into gusts of wind, and the shadows chill. Thus my change of venue. πŸ˜€

The front yard is sheltered and sunny. On mild days – like today – the pocket of warmth means I can doff my hat and gloves! (I’ve been wearing a fingerless glove on my right hand, so that I can write in my journal while I’m outside.)

sunny-tree-2-300-pxThe trees across the street have been particularly beautiful, with the rising sun shining through them.

 

New Cover for Skies of Navarys

Every reader is different. Some passionately love short stories. Some wish there were more novellas being written. Others enjoy the full immersion that a novel provides.

Trad pub long ago abandoned the novella length, but it’s coming back with indies and ebooks.

I like all three lengths, both reading them and writing them.

Be that as it may, the varying lengths of story don’t sell at the same rate.

Short stories sell the fewest number of copies, novellas next, and novels best of all. My own books follow this curve fairly closely, with a few exceptions.

old Navarys web cover 200 pxCrossing the Naiad (a short story) sells like a novella, while Sarvet’s Wanderyar (a novella) sells like a novel.

Naturally I’m not complaining when a book sells better than one would expect! But I don’t like it when a novella sells like a short story, and that is what has been happening with Skies of Navarys.

The readers who read Navarys seem to really enjoy it. But too many are clicking away from its web page on Amazon, probably without even “looking inside.”

Why?

My theory is that it’s the cover.

Now I liked the original cover, and still do. It was a painterly rendition of three airships over a rural landscape. But I’ve had potential readers say that it looked military to them. Additionally, it’s the only one of my books with a cover that didn’t include a person in the image. I believe that cover was giving readers a false impression.

So I’ve created a new one! Check it out.

navarys-2ed-cov-450-px

How does that strike you?

The ebook with the new cover is available at all the usual places. Or it will be shortly! I’ve uploaded it to Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. (Smashwords distributes my books to Apple and B&N.)

Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

The paperback with the new cover is in progress, but not quite finished yet. Soon! πŸ˜€

 

Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn

When I’m world building for a fantasy novel, I do a lot of research. I’m sure some writers are able to create cultures and hierarchies and organizational trees straight from their heads that are as detailed and irregular as the real thing. But when I do that, my creations are a little too neat and tidy, a little too logical, to have the feel of reality.

Roman army and chariot

So I choose a period of history and a place in our world that has a lot of the right features for my purposes, research it, and then map it onto my world, tweaking the details as needed to make it fit.

When I was creating the society for Belzetarn, the citadel in which The Tally Master takes place, I researched the kitchens of Hampton Court during the reign of King Henry VIII, because they provided a good model for Belzetarn’s kitchens.

Of course, the time period of Henry VIII was much later than my own Bronze Age setting. Which meant that I eliminated such places as the wafery (which relied heavily on sugar and grains), the confectionery, and the pastry yard. But the complexity of Hampton Court was perfect.

I modeled the military hierarchy of Belzetarn after the armies of ancient Rome. Rome was an Iron Age civilization, but the effectiveness of its legions was matched by my warlord’s effectiveness.

The main reason humans switched from bronze weapons to iron weapons was because tin was so darn rare. And one needs tin in order to combine it with copper to make bronze. There just wasn’t enough tin, with deposits close at hand, to outfit hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The early iron weapons were inferior to the late bronze ones, because bronze metallurgy had been honed over millennia to produce superb results, while no one knew the best techniques for iron. But there was a lot more iron, with more convenient locations. So the switch was made.

Roman scale armour detail

By the time the Romans came along, iron metallurgy was well developed. But imagine a world in which tin was more prevalent. In such a world, the Romans might have been just as dominant with bronze weapons.

Belzetarn is not Rome. It’s not even a North-lands analog to Rome. It’s a lone outpost of desperate men – trolls – commanded by an exceptionally able warlord, Carbraes. But it’s large enough to field two legions, roughly 10,000 men. And the hierarchy of Rome’s military could be mapped nicely onto Belzetarn’s military.

I knew that ancient Rome had legions, cohorts, and centuries. I knew that within those units were legates and tribunes and centurions. But I needed a lot more detail than that. So I went researching.

I learned that a legion was composed of ten cohorts, that a cohort was composed of six centuries (except the first, which had only five), that a century possessed only eighty men, and that they were divided into 8-man squads.

Roman HierarchyActually, in the early days, a century had one-hundred men, but that number dwindled as the years rolled past. Then it increased to one-hundred-twenty men when the time of foreign conquest arrived. And then dwindled again. But never mind that. I was going to show Belzetarn at one instance in time, not write its history through the ages.

Information on legions and cohorts and centuries was fairly easy to find. What I really needed, however, was a listing of the ranks within them. A detailed listing.

I was delighted to find it on a site called HorridHistory.

The High Command

Legatus Propraetor (Imperial Legate) – commander of two or more legions; in modern terms, a general
Legatus Legionis (Legion Legate) – commander of one legion
Tribunus Laticlavius (Broad Band Tribune) – second in command of the legion, although not during battles, because the men holding this post were young and inexperienced, new senators at the start of their political careers
Praefectus Castrorum (Camp Prefect) – second in command of the legion during battles; the men of this rank were chosen for their experience
Tribuni Angusticlavii (Narrow Band Tribunes) – five per legion; serve as administrative officers; in modern terms, majors
Tribunus Cohortis – commander of an entire cohort (6 centuries in a cohort, 10 cohorts in a legion)

The Centurions

Centurio Hastatus Prior (centurion of theΒ firstΒ spear) or theΒ Primus Pilus (first file) – commander of the first century of the first cohort
Pilus Prior – commander of the first century in any of the second through tenth cohorts
Princeps Prior – commander of the second century
Hastatus Prior – commander of the third century
Pilus Posterior – commander of the fourth century
Princeps Posterior – commander of the fifth century
Hastatus Posterior – commander of the sixth century
OptioΒ Centuriae – second in command of the century
Tesserarius (Guard Commander) – second in command to the optio

Where the Real Work Gets Done

Decanus – commanded an octet, or a eight-man squad
Miles Gregarius – title given to a legionary who performed exceptionally well in battle
Miles – a normal legionary

roman-legionary-re-enactors

So far, so good. But I could not simply borrow all the Roman terms. If I did that, Belzetarn would feel like an outpost in ancient Rome. And it’s not!

So I started mapping our world onto my North-lands, adjusting structures and creating my own terms. I kept a few of the Roman terms, just enough of them to orient the reader.

Troll hierarchy in BelzetarnI worried that I might need a terms for the equivalent of the Roman Tribunus Laticlavius, the second in command of a legion, or the Tribunus Angusticlavius, who seemed sort of like British aides-de-camp during the regency period.

So I came up with Magno and Agusten, respectively.

I tried to carry on with filling out the hierarchy of seconds in command and thirds, but I was running out of inspiration. Plus, I figured that while The Tally Master takes place in a military citadel, its protagonist is not one of the warriors or their officers. He controls the flow of metal from the mines through the forges and into the armories as weapons. The focus of the story is on his tally room and the smithies. I could develop more military titles when and if I needed them!

Last weekend The Tally Master came back to me from my first reader, and she’s given me awesome feedback. As usual! I’m currently doing a little more research – needed for the fixes I envision – and then I’ll start revising.

I’m excited! This is going to be one of my best books ever! πŸ˜€

 

Mantra for Success

I first heard the middle school mantra for success in either the spring or summer of 2014. My twins were headed for 7th grade in the fall, and we were attending an orientation at Buford Middle School.

Be in the right place,
at the right time,
with the right tools
and the right attitude,
doing the right thing.

I’ll admit I wrote it off as simplistic and a blatant control move by authority. Admittedly, getting 500 students and 50 teachers and staff all pointed in roughly the right direction must be challenging. The administrative staff has their work cut out for them, and every bit of leverage helps.

But I didn’t pay much attention to the Buford mantra until today, more than 2 years after I heard it, and with my children now in 9th grade and attending high school.

So why did I think about it this morning? And why did I suddenly realize it possessed some useful ideas?

Confession time.

I love writing, but you already knew that. I love world building. I love making up characters. I love getting to know those characters and following them through their adventures. I love the hard work that a novel requires and the feeling of satisfaction that comes when I complete one.

But I have one guilty secret about writing that hides in the thicket of all of the above.

I like the way writing tends to automatically organize and prioritize my day. Because here’s the thing: when I’m not writing, I often have an uncomfortable, nagging feeling that I’m not doing the right thing, whatever the right thing might be. And I don’t know what the right thing actually is.

Oh, sometimes I know what the right thing is. But often, I don’t. And I hate that feeling. Hate it!

I’ve always tackled quelling the feeling that I’ve chosen the wrong thing with a straight attack, using logic as my tool. What should I be doing right now? Sometimes that works.

Voice of Reason:“I should be emptying the clean dishwasher, filling it with dirty dishes, and running it again.”

JM:“Uh. Okay.”

:: goes and does the dishes chore ::

loading the dishwasher

More often, that doesn’t work. At least, not for me.

Voice of Reason: “I should revise the cover copy for Livli’s Gift.

JM: “I’m brain dead right now. No can do.”

Voice of Reason: “Okay. How about KonMari-ing that cabinet in the bathroom?”

JM: “I could. And it does need to be done. But I’ve got a lot of more important things on my plate right now.”

Voice of Reason: “Okay. How about working on the new cover for Skies of Navarys?”

JM: “Fine. It doesn’t feel like the right thing, but it does need doing, I do have the mental wherewithal to do it, and it is important.”

:: goes to work on that cover, feeling all the while that something is not quite right ::

Three airships over landscape, feature size

Since I sent my current novel off to my first reader on October 4, I’ve been having conversations much like that second one for the last twenty-six days, and very uncomfortable has it been.

I’ve done a little writing on a short story. But, really, the weeks when I’ve finished the first draft of one novel and haven’t yet started the next one are the ideal time for me to get caught up (or at least make progress on) other priorities in my life. Because I definitely get behind on them when I’m writing.

When I’m writing, the conversation goes like this:

JM: “What should I do today?”

Voice of Reason: “Write the next scene of the novel. Then go to the gym and swim. Then help your son with that big school project. And then you’ll be tired. So read, if you’re in the mood. Or do some drawing.”

JM: “Great!”

:: pulls out computer and starts writing ::

laptop silhouette

So the bathroom cabinet does not get organized via the KonMari technique. I don’t develop a new dinner menu to add to the roster. I don’t mend the tear in that sundress. I don’t write a new “blurb” for Livli’s Gift. The garden does not get weeded. And many other tasks go undone.

But I feel like I am doing the right thing. Writing and going to the gym always feel like right things. Which is a relief.

Last week I tried talking with a friend about my problem of feeling like I’m doing the wrong thing. I was not very articulate about my problem. And I ended up sounding like I was a workaholic. But I’m not really.

Just yesterday I found myself roped into helping my daughter figure out a costume for a Halloween party she was invited to. I ended up pulling out some dresses of mine that I’d saved for her: a pink-flowered prom dress that my grandmother originally sewed for my my mother, and that I wore to go swing dancing in the 1980s; a teal velvet gown that my mother sewed for me and that I wore at feasts for the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was in college; a yellow chiffon gown that my father and I sewed together when he realized that all our father-daughter projects had been “boy things” (model railroads, model rockets) and none of them “girl things.”

(My dad is cool! What can I say?!) πŸ˜€

My daughter and I had a blast as she tried on all those special garments. And I had no desire to be working or doing anything other than what I was doing that afternoon. It was perfect. And it felt right.

So has lying in the hammock on a beautiful summer morning felt right. Or re-reading a favorite novel by Georgette Heyer.

backyard hammock

I have no problem enjoying non-work activities, and engage in them fairly frequently. That’s not my problem.

My problem is that I have difficulty consistently identifying what activity will feel right for any given interval of time. And, more often than not, I don’t succeed in identifying the right activity. So I do something else. And the nagging sense of “something wrong” drags at me, and dilutes any enjoyment I might feel.

I get things done. But I’m not getting as much done as I would if I weren’t continuously fighting the “something wrong” feeling. And I’m not enjoying living as much as I might be.

I’ve thought about this problem ever since I was old enough to make choices about how I spent my time and energy. I’ve journaled about it. I’ve tried to talk about it with friends and mentors, but I’ve never felt like I was able to communicate about it very adequately.

I’ve tried various organizational systems: Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, simple to-do lists, and lately my bullet journal. I’m still loving my bullet journal, but organizational systems don’t really address an immediate feeling of meaning.

When I sent my current novel off to my first reader, I tried to plan a way that I could occupy myself meaningfully while I awaited her feedback. The best thing I could come up with was that I would start the short story I had in mind. I did start it, and I’m excited about it. But writing more doesn’t really solve the problem of choosing meaningful activities when I’m not writing.

beautiful morning

So, this morning, while I got my morning sun on the front porch, I wrote about my difficulty in my journal. And while I wrote about it, that middle school mantra for success came to mind.

What if it did have something to offer me? What might I learn if I reconsidered it?

One thing I grew very aware of while I journaled was that I often don’t have the resources I need for the task I contemplate tackling. The most typical resources lacking are mental alertness and oomph or physical energy. But there are other resources missing at times: know-how and helpers are others that appear regularly.

What might I see if I took a prospective task through the mantra, instead of going straight to the knockout-punch question: Is this the right task?

The Right Place

For a lot of living, identifying the right place is very straight forward. If you are in school, are you in the right classroom? If you are working for an employer, are you in the right office or the right meeting room or the right site for a site visit?

If you have more control over your location, the answer to “am I in the right place?” can grow more complex.

If I’m cooking, clearly I need to be in the kitchen. If I’m doing laundry, I need to be in the corner of the basement that holds the washer, the dryer, and the drying racks.

But I have plenty of memories of doing something in the wrong place: trying to draw a plan for a work table while lying on my bed; using an x-acto blade to cut paper for a photo album while sitting on the bed; doing sit-ups in the narrow bit of floor between the bed and the bureau; spinning lettuce in the salad spinner on the dining room table, instead of the kitchen counter. I could go on.

I managed to accomplish all those activities in the less-than-ideal place. And hald the time, there was a good reason for the non-standard location. But have the time, I just dove in where I was on whatever. And once I was well started, it seemed silly to stop while I relocated.

The question of the what the right place is may need only brief consideration, but skipping it altogether is unwise. For me, at least. And it’s not just because I might end up doing something inefficiently.

Skipping consideration of the right place means that I might miss the first clue that whatever I’m considering isn’t the right thing for me at this time.

For example, the times I’ve spun the lettuce in the salad spinner on the dining room table have been times when the kitchen counter is too full of dirty dishes. Sometimes, that location is the best one. If I’m in a hurry to throw together a salad and don’t have time to clear the kitchen counter and eat the the salad, then yes: table. If I’m too tired, and don’t have sufficient energy for both, then yes: table.

But I might also be better served to change my schedule and rest for 10 minutes. Or eat carrots and dip plus ham rolls, instead of salad, if I’m that rushed. Feeling the pull of a non-standard place or an inconvenient place is something to notice, not something to ignore.

The Right Time

Really structured environments tend to provided automatic answers to: “Is this the right time?” But my environment is highly unstructured. I must structure it. And this is an area where I go astray often.

It’s the morning, and I would feel good if I were writing. But instead I’m checking email.

It’s the morning, and I will be most comfortable if I eat breakfast before going on with my day. But I had a great idea for the next scene in my novel, and I wanted to get it written down before it eluded me. So I jumped on the computer and got lost in the writing, only emerging at 11:30 am, long after I needed breakfast.

It’s 12:30 pm, and the best window at the pool for swimming is from 12:45 pm to 2:00 pm, so I would be well-served to be getting ready to swim and then hopping in the car to drive to the gym. But I never did get breakfast, so now I’m starving and must eat before I do anything else.

It’s 3:30 pm and the kids will be arriving home from school in 45 minutes. I would do well to wrap up the scene I’m writing and rest a little before they get here. But I was late to the gym and didn’t get home until 2:30 pm, so I’ve only done an hour of writing in the afternoon, and I don’t want to stop.

Now, I’m not always doing the right thing at the wrong time, but often I am.

For me, the solution is not get rigid with my schedule. For one thing, it doesn’t work. I feel rebellious and rebel, with the result that my schedule is more disorganized, not less. Or else it does work, and I’m being marvelously efficient, but I’m not generating that good feeling of doing the right thing.

But I think that asking myself the question: “Is this the right time for this?” will heighten my awareness and improve my decision making, with the result that I feel good about my choice of activity, whatever it is.

The Right Resources

Okay, this one is huge for me. At least, I think it is.

Being able to do something without the right resources is a useful skill. It’s not always possible to gather those resources, and if the task is important… well, flexibility and ingenuity are your friends! πŸ˜€

But somethings just cannot be accomplished without the right resources. Or can only be accomplished so poorly, that it would be better to shift the activity from doing the thing to seeking the resources that will make it possible.

Currently, I see five categories of resources worth considering.

β€’ tools
β€’ know-how
β€’ energy
β€’ interval of time available
β€’ helpers

I could discuss each of those categories and why they are important. But as I’ve been typing this blog post, I am seeing more clearly what first came to light when I was journaling this morning. These questions I’ve borrowed from the middle school mantra could be used for basic organization. But – for me – their utility is in raising my awareness.

If I lack the size of screws needed to attach the bar of hooks to my son’s door, then should I really be tackling the hook project right now? Maybe I would feel better if I shopped for the screws, scheduled the actual project for a different day, and then went on to get my swimming in.

If I am feeling lonely, but can’t watch a movie with my spouse that evening, because he must attend a soccer orientation with our daughter, then I lack a helper. So maybe I should call a friend and talk on the phone instead. Or maybe I should go with spouse and daughter, even though I neither play nor coach soccer! πŸ˜€

If I lack a resource, I would do well to consider either acquiring it or doing a different activity that does not require that missing resource.

The Right Attitude

Do I really want to do whatever it is that I am considering? Can I commit to it? And if I cannot, why can I not?

I suspect that if I ask myself these questions in order – Is this the right place? Is this the right time? Do I have the necessary resources for this? – I will reach clarity before I arrive at the question: “Do I have the right attitude?”

But if I answered, “Yes, yes, and yes,” to the first three questions and then find I do not have the right attitude, the attitude question will halt me before I head off in the wrong direction.

Maybe I don’t actually have the resources I need. In which case… back up and reconsider.

Or maybe there is something else that is a higher priority than what I am considering, and I know it in my heart of hearts, but have refused to consider that more important something. “Do I have the right attitude?” will alert me when I’m considering the wrong activity for me.

The Right Thing

Is this activity the right one? That’s the question that I very much want to be able to answer. And my hope is that by asking myself about the right place, the right time, the right resources, and the right attitude I will tease out what really is the right thing for me at a given moment.

the end of the day

Will it work?

Why am I even telling you about all this before I’ve truly tried it?

I think it is worth trying. I used it a little bit today, and I’m pleased with how the day went. My bio-rhythms are a little off. I read a really good book several days ago, and it was so good that I stayed up until 3:00 am to finish it. So I allowed myself to sleep in the following morning. Which meant is was hard to go to sleep the next night. I’m getting back to the sleep-wake times that work best for me, but I’m not there quite yet.

So I got up at later today than usual. I went outside for my half hour of morning sun and wrote in my journal about wanting to be able to choose the “right thing” more reliably and about the middle school mantra for success.

And when I’d done that, I asked myself: “Is this the right time for more journaling?” And it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. But the greater awareness produced by the question made me very willing to move on to the thing that was right: cooking a late breakfast for everyone.

It felt good. It felt right. And that right feeling is what I am seeking.

Thoroughly tidying up the kitchen after eating breakfast felt right also, so I did that. And then I thought about what would feel right next. I became aware that if I wanted to swim, I’d best do it soon. I’d lose the opportunity if I waited.

my son in the cherry treeBut the pause for mindful consideration using the mantra bought me something I might not have realized otherwise. Instead of just diving into swimming (my apologies for the bad pun) – or insisting that my son and I start work on his project right now – I would feel better if I consulted my son.

“I want to swim, and I want to help you with your project. I’d prefer to rest for thirty minutes ” – the kitchen work had tired me – “then swim, and then help you with your project. But will that work for you?”

He liked that schedule, so that’s what we did. And it felt good to me. It felt right.

So the mantra-generated questions worked well today. Much better than simply asking myself, “Is this the right task for right now?” Whether the mantra will work well over weeks and months remains to be seen. But I’ve learned that the time for telling others about something new that I’m trying is when it is new. I’m excited about it. I want to tell others.

If I wait until after I’ve thoroughly road-tested it, the communication becomes a chore. I still want to share, but I don’t have as much energy for it. Best to share while it’s fresh. I can always write another blog post later to report on how it’s working over time. And add an ETA (edited to add) to this post, along with a link to subsequent posts, to communicate the additional info.

Is this the right place?
Is this the right time?
Do I have the right resources?
Do I have the right attitude?
Is this the right thing?

I suspect not many people are so troubled by the sense of “doing the right thing at the wrong time” or “doing the wrong thing at the right time” as I am. I wouldn’t have gotten so many blank looks over the years when I tried to talk about this, if that were the case. But if you happen to be someone who has wrestled with this, I’d love to hear your experiences. What has worked for you? What hasn’t? And, if you give this middle school mantra a try… how do you feel?

ETA 11/10/2016

I’ve been working with all of the above for roughly ten days, and I’v discovered something really interesting to me. The very first question – without any of the follow-ups – is often sufficiently illuminating all on its own.

I’ll ask myself, “Am I in the right place?”

And then I’ll just know that I’m not. And I’ll know where I need to be and why.

A typical example:

I continue to love sitting outside in the morning for half an hour. It’s beautiful, and I just feel good. So good that I tend to linger a little too long. It’s okay to linger an extra ten minutes. Heck, sometimes even a full extra half hour is okay. But much more than that isn’t.

What I find is that I start getting an uneasy feeling after I’ve lingered for a bit. And when I use that feeling to prompt myself with the first question – “Am I in the right place?” – I raise my awareness sufficiently to know what would feel right for my next step.

I see now that when I planned my day in the past, I tended to think I’d done all the planning necessary. And when I went through that day, I could make the obvious adjustments (obvious to me), but I wasn’t making the less obvious adjustments. With the result that I would realize I’d gone wrong only after I’d been going wrong for quite some time. It’s a lot harder to fix that all-wrong feeling after it’s been building a head of steam.

“Am I in the right place?” helps me catch myself much sooner, with the result that I’m feeling a lot more satisfied with each day.

I’m going to keep working with this and see where it leads me. But I’m excited about the results thus far.

 

How to Create a Progress Bar

I remember the first time I encountered a progress bar on a writer’s website. I thought, “Oh, cool!”

sample progress barI’m visually oriented, so that visual representation of the writer’s progress on his or her current work gave me a much better feel for how near (or far away) the point of completion stood.

I wondered if I would ever add a progress bar to my website, but not seriously, more as a piece of fiction about myself. πŸ˜€

Most writers didn’t (and don’t) have such bars on their websites, but every now and then I would see another. I assumed there was a “widget” or a plug-in that produced the bar, but I didn’t think about it too hard.

And then I realized last April that I wanted a progress bar for my work in progress.

I thought about searching among the WordPress plug-ins for one that creates a progress bar, but…

I feel a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve forgotten how one does this! The last time I was mucking about with plug-ins was when I set up this website in February 2012, more than 4 years ago. I remember none of the details. I’m sure I could figure it out again. At some point, I’ll probably have to. There will be something I decide I want for my site that cannot be done in any other way.

But I decided to try Google first for the progress bar.

Almost immediately, the results turned up someone’s blog post with the HTML code that would do the job. It seemed very straight forward, so I dove in.

The blogger’s example progress bar was orange on black, and the code looked like –

Before I show you, let me say, “Don’t panic!” I’m going to explain each piece. And the HTML is quite a short string. πŸ˜€
 
 

The HTML

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#000000;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>
<div style=”background-color:#f96604;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>
</div></div>

This is the visual that the HTML produces:

 
Now, you’ll notice that this black and orange bar is a lot longer than the blue bar in my sidebar. That’s because the HTML code does not specify the length, so it simply extends to the edges of the text window.

The text window for the blog post is much wider than the text window for the sidebar, so we get a longer bar.

I don’t like the l-o-n-g progress bar, so if I had been planning to use it in a blog post pinned to the top of my blog, I would have searched for a way to control the length of the progress bar. Because I was planning on putting it in the sidebar, I didn’t need that. So I didn’t go searching. πŸ˜€

Now, let’s look at the different pieces of that HTML string.
 
 

Two Pieces of HTML

It is basically two pieces. The beginning of the first piece is <div. The beginning of the second piece is indicated by that same little bit: <div.

In HTML, every piece has to have the beginning indicated and the end indicated.

So the end of each of these pieces is indicated as </div>

Here’s the code with those beginnings and endings highlighted.

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#000000;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>
<div style=”background-color:#f96604;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>
</div></div>

So what about those two pieces? What’s in them?
 
 

THE FIRST PIECE

This is the first piece:

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#000000;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>

The first piece gives the black background for the progress bar.

Now I am notnot – well versed in using HTML. I’ve picked up what I need to know by looking at the HTML windows of my blog posts. And that’s it. I’ve never taken a class. I’ve never even read a book on the subject!

Which means I won’t be able to explain the way a more informed HTML-user would. But I can explain enough so that you should be able to get your own progress bar in your own sidebar to look the way you want it to.
 
 

The Identifier

So, in the first piece, the id=”progressbar” is probably simply an identifier, telling the computer, “Hey! This piece here is the progress bar.” Or, it might also tell the computer something about the basic shape of the element – long and thin and straight.

Those of you who do understand HTML are probably laughing right now and thinking, “Does she really think that? Could anybody possibly be so ignorant?”

Well, yes. Someone could, and I am. But, never mind. πŸ˜€
 
 

The Color

Next comes style=”background-color:#000000;

Now I do know what this does. It controls the color of the the background of the bar. #000000 is black.

Next bit, please!
 
 

The Shape of the Corners

border-radius:6px;

This controls the corners of the bar. My bar has rounded corners. But if you wanted square corners, you get them by changing 6px (6 pixels) to 0px (0 pixels).

Let’s see what that looks like.

 
Here it is with 3 pixel corners.

 
And with 6 pixel corners:

 
 
 

The Thickness

padding:3px; controls how much of the background shows around the edges of the ever-changing orange part of the progress bar. Change that 3px (3 pixels) to 0px (0 pixels) and the border goes away altogether.

 
Change the 3px to 6px (6 pixels), and the border gets very thick.

 
I like the 3 pixel border.

 

That’s the whole of the first piece.
 
 

A List of the Code

Indicator of the beginning <div
Identifier id=”progressbar”
Background color style=”background-color:#000000;
Corner shape border-radius:6px;
Border thickness padding:3px;
The end of the beginning (a greater-than sign) >

A space separates the beginning indicator <div and the identifier id=”progressbar”

Semi-colons ; separate the three pieces of the “style”: color, corner shape, and border thickness.

And a greater-than sign > caps off the whole description.

I always reproduce those separators exactly! If you accidentally omit one, the HTML won’t work the way it is supposed to, and the image on your website won’t be what you intend.

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#000000;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>

There’s the first piece as a whole.
 
 

THE SECOND PIECE

Now let’s look at the second piece.

The second piece is the ever-changing orange that grows longer as you write more words or shorter when you cut a few out.

<div style=”background-color:#f96604;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>

<div indicates the beginning. Or more accurately, the beginning of the beginning!
 
 

Color, Take 2

Next!

style=”background-color:#f96604;

That’s the color. #f96604 is orange.

And next!
 
 

The Width

width:75%;

Ah! That’s the bit that controls how much of the black background is covered by the orange. Each time I updated my progress bar, I had to do a bit of math.

When I first put up the bar, I’d written 4,000 words. And I estimated that the book would be 160,000 words long.

4,000 Γ· 160,000 = .025

.025 x 100 = 2.5%

So, instead of width:75%; I needed width:2.5%;

 
It was exciting when I changed that width:2.5%; to width:5%; at the end of the week!

 
 
 

The Height

Next bit!

height:10px;

It controls how thick the overall progress bar is. If you change height:10px; to height:4px;, it gets very thin.

 

If you change height:10px; to height:20px;, it gets very thick.

 

I like height:10px; (10 pixels) best.

 
 
 

The Shape of the Corners, Take 2

Next bit!

border-radius:4px;

This controls the shape of the corners of the orange bar.

Change border-radius:4px; to border-radius:0px; and the corners become square.

 
Let’s try border-radius:3px;

 

Hmm. I think I like 3 pixels better than 4 pixels. I didn’t tinker this much with the code when I was setting up my own progress bar. I’m going to try 3 pixels when I finish writing this blog post. πŸ˜€

And that was the last bit of the second piece.
 
 

A List of the Code, Take 2

Here are all the bits that make up the second piece.

Indicator of the beginning of the second piece <div
Background color style=”background-color:#f96604;
Width width:75%;
Corner shape border-radius:4px;
The end of the beginning of the second piece (a greater-than sign) >

However, it’s not quite the end of the HTML code.
 
 

Putting It All Together

We have the first piece.

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#000000;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>

We have the second piece.

<div style=”background-color:#f96604;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>

But each of those only just describes the start of each piece. We must also tell the computer, “Okay, that’s enough. End it here.

And each piece needs its very own “End it here.” They can’t and won’t share! πŸ˜€

</div></div>

That gives us the whole thing, if we’re okay with orange on black. I wasn’t.

I wanted something that would blend better with the other colors on my website. I liked the idea of dark blue on pale blue. Since #000000 was black, and #f96604 was orange, what numbers would yield the blues that I wanted?
 
 

CONTROLLING THE COLORS

I did some searching and discovered that the whole rainbow of web colors is described by numbers called “color hex codes.” Each is composed of a combination or letters and numbers, six of them. And there are web sites were you can match up the color and the number.

I googled and found one of these sites: http://www.color-hex.com/.

Navigation bar for color-hex.com
 
 

The Color Picker

The top navigation bar at http://www.color-hex.com has something labeled “get info.” I clicked the triangle next to that label, and a color picker appeared.

color picker at color-hex.com
 
 

Choosing a Pale Blue

I clicked around on it until I arrived at a light blue that looked good. The hex code for it #dff0fd appeared in the little info box. I copied it and pasted it into the HTML piece that controlled the background of my own progress bar.

Light blue on the color picker

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#dff0fd;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>

 

The orange on the light blue background does not look good to my eye! Of course, we’re only halfway to what I want.
 
 

Choosing a Darker Blue

I clicked around on the color picker some more, until I arrived at a darker blue that looked good. Then I copied and pasted that number #1b8be0 into the HTML piece that controlled the “orange” part of my progress bar.

Dark blue on the color picker

<div style=”background-color::#f96604;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>

 
 

YIPPEE!

I finished the first draft of my WIP and sent it off to my first reader this week!

I feel a little lost. It’s time to start work on the cover – and I’ve been searching for the right images for it – but I’m already missing the writing.

I think I’m going to treat myself to writing the short story that’s tugging at my inner artist while I work on the cover.

Let’s see that progress bar with 100%.

140,712 of 140,712 words

And there you have it! More than you ever wanted to know about HTML and progress bars! πŸ˜€
 
 

HTML to Copy and Paste

On the chance that you want a blue-on-blue progress bar for your website, here’s the complete HTML. Feel free to copy and paste. Remember to change the 75% to the percentage for your WIP!

<div id=”progressbar” style=”background-color:#dff0fd;
border-radius:6px;padding:3px;”>
<div style=”background-color:#1b8be0;width:75%;height:10px;
border-radius:4px;”>
</div></div>

For more about blogging:
Why I Wanted a Progress Bar
Why Create a Site Map?
Slow Blogging and Other Variations
SPAM Deluge

 

A Beautiful Morning

So many of the early mornings this summer were beautiful. That of September 5th charmed me so utterly that I wrote about it in my journal. Since I am head down in the exciting final scenes of my current novel – and prefer not to take sufficient time away from it to write a blog post – I’m going to share that morning with you. πŸ˜€

September 5, 2016

Clear sky this morning, deep blue to the south, paler hue overhead, shading down to a soft warm white above the mountains to the west.

Crickets sing in the grass, their droning music punctuated by small tuneful chirps, crows in the distance, melodic twitters from songbirds nearer by. Sun brightens the trees of the slope across the way. Magical.

Sunlit weedsThe back yard is still in shadow, muted greens; golden light hits the upper branches of the holly, so tall it rises above the ridge.

The inner reaches of the maples are quite lovely, a mosaic of shadowed leaves and sunlit ones with pieces of sky showing through.

. . . “the same summer will never be coming twice.” Never quite the same.

quote from
Anne of Ingleside,
L.M. Montgomery

 

Copyright Statement for My Website

United States ConstitutionFrom the moment I click the “publish” button, the posts and pages on this website are protected by copyright law. Which means that limited excerpts of the contents may be quoted by others under the fair use doctrine. But any more extensive reproduction of my words, and any use at all of my photos or drawings, may only occur when my permission is sought and granted.

However, many blog owners put a copyright statement on their websites. It serves as a reminder that the content of the site does belong to the site owner, a fact that is sometimes forgotten online.

The crafting of a copyright statement has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Today, I finally tackled the task.

Many sites have only the most basic of statements.

Copyright Β© Siteowner.

There were two reasons that would not not work for me.

The most obvious one is that my site contains some content that does not belong to me. I love old paintings and old book illustrations, and many of them are in the public domain. Which means I am permitted to place images of these old works on my website.

I also include images that their creators allow to be used under Creative Commons licenses.

So a blanket statement of copyright would be grossly inaccurate. Most of the contents of my website belong to me, but not all of it.

The other reason I prefer not to use a blanket statement, is that I want to encourage people who like my books to tell others. While one friend talking to another has no need any special permissions, a blogger – writing a blog post about one of my books – who wants to use my cover images or marketing copy, does need permission. A very limited copyright statement might discourage these folks!

With all these parameters to keep in mind, developing my copyright statement took some thought.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution

This is what I came up with:

You have my permission and encouragement
to reproduce my book covers and cover copy
for the purpose of telling others about my books.
Please do!

(That purpose only, of course.)
Β 
Public domain images that appear on this website,
images used under a Creative Commons license,
and excerpts from book reviews
possess links to their sources and credit to their creators.
Β 
All other content,
images, and text
copyright Β© 2011-2016
J.M. Ney-Grimm.

The first paragraph lets bloggers, reviewers, and others who want to talk up my books know that it’s fine for them to copy my book cover images and my cover copy on their own websites. I retain my copyright to those things, but I grant permission for them to be used.

The parenthetical remark that follows is probably not necessary, but I wanted to be clear, lest an ill-informed or muddled hobbyist think it would be okay to simply “borrow” one of my book covers to slap onto one of their own books. It wouldn’t! πŸ˜€

Next comes the statement about the elements appearing on my site that do not belong to me.

If you hover your cursor over the image of a public domain painting or a photo used under a Creative Commons license, you’ll see a little text box that displays the title its creator gave it (if it has one; not all do), the creator’s name, whether the image is in the public domain or is being used under a Creative Commons license, and the website where I found the image – usually Wikipedia, Wikimedia, or Flickr.

If you click on the image, a new tab will open on the page of the website where the original image rests.

When I quote from a review of one of my books, I include the name of the reviewer, and I link to the website where the review originally appeared.

Excerpt of a review by James J. Parsons of Perilous Chance

The final paragraph of my copyright statement is where I state my ownership. I created this website in early 2012, so you would think that the years specified would include 2012 – 2016. But I published The Troll’s Belt and Troll-magic in December 2011.

The marketing copy for those two books has changed many times, and the covers have been revised, too. However, the old covers and the old copy appear in some of my posts about cover design and copy writing. Therefore, I use the time span of 2011 – 2016. Of course, I’ll have to update that interval every year on January 1.

I placed my statement in both the sidebar and the footer of my site, because I want it easily found. If I put it in the footer only – well, I allow seven posts to appear on my blog page. It’s a l-o-o-o-n-g way down to that footer. Might as well be hidden behind blackout curtains! The statement in the sidebar is much more accessible.

But if you click on an individual post, the sidebar disappears. And the footer at the bottom of that one post (or the bottom of a page lacking a sidebar) is not far away at all.

So I’ve got both bases covered.

I am not a lawyer, so none of the above is legal advice. But I thought my thinking and my process might be of interest to some of you! πŸ˜€

For more about blogging:
Why Create a Site Map?
Slow Blogging and Other Variations
SPAM Deluge
New Home Page

 

A Story for My Coloring Book

Three weeks ago, when I asked folks to print out a sample page from my upcoming coloring book and give it a try, one commenter made a remark that really interested me.

I like pure abstract, but fairly soon after I settled in with pencils and coloured sharpies I found myself wanting the image to tell a story. Widdershins

Being a teller of tales, I liked the idea of finding a way to blend story with my drawings. But how could I manage it? The drawings I intend to collect in the coloring book are very much abstracts. I think of them as “modern mandalas.” The pairing I wanted between story and image did not immediately present itself to me.

But there was something tickling at my back brain. If I just let it percolate for an unspecified time…maybe I would get an idea.

Well! That idea arrived yesterday, and I’m really excited about it.

If I weren’t in the middle of writing the intense conclusion to my current novel, I’d be writing the start to a new short story. I love my idea, though, and once I send my novel off to my first reader, I know what I’ll be working on while I await her feedback.

I’ll probably publish the envisioned short as a standalone ebook, as well as in the pages of my coloring book. I took a bunch of notes. It’s hard to wait to start! But I’m not a writer who can concentrate on two stories at the same time. And my novel will be complete soon.

In the meantime, I’ll share another design intended for my coloring book. πŸ˜€

coloring book, sample page 2

For more about my upcoming coloring book:
Page for a Coloring Book
Drawing for Fun and Relaxation

 

WIP, Utterly Engrossing

Maple TreeI remember so clearly setting up the progress bar for Tally the Betrayals. I’d already written 4,000 words, and I’d been reporting my word-count-per-day all through those 4,000 words to a writer friend.

Me: “I think I’ve done most of the research and world building I need in order to start writing. I think I’ll start next week!”

Friend: “Start tomorrow!”

Me: “Huh. I suppose I could.”

That was a Wednesday. I did, indeed, start Thursday, and it felt great. I’d been focused on publishing tasks (covers, blurbs, etc.) for many months. Then I went through the medical emergency of a retinal tear. And then I had a troll citadel to design. πŸ˜€

It had been 5 months since I’d done any writing. I missed it. But I felt wobbly. What if I’d forgotten how?

I hadn’t forgotten how, of course. I think writing is a bit like bicycle riding. Once you know how, you don’t forget.

But I felt like I needed training wheels! So I reported to my writer friend that first week.

“Only 300 words today, but I started.”

“Better today: 800 words.”

“Now I’m getting into the rhythm: 1,200 words.”

When I reached 4,000 words, I realized that I shouldn’t lean on my friend through the entire 120,000 to 160,000 words that my novel would require. (Tally felt like a longish book to me.)

And, really, I didn’t need that much propping up. But I’d really liked reporting my word count to someone. I found it motivating and encouraging.

Just saying, “I wrote 1,600 words today,” to someone other than myself felt like getting a treat.

So I decided to set up a public progress bar on my website.

I worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do so. (Google is your friend.)

I worried that I wouldn’t like it once I’d set it up. (“You can always take it down again, J.M.”)

I worried I would disappoint those of my blog readers who watched that progress bar, when there were days that I didn’t make much progress.

Holly TreeBut I wanted to do it. So I did!

And you know what? It worked beautifully for me.

I did figure out how to create a progress bar. I plan to blog about that process soon.

And I love updating my progress bar each day. “See, I did write 1,200 words today! Really!”

I’ve also enjoyed seeing the darker blue color that indicates words written slide farther and farther to the right. It was a very tangible marker, more so – for me – than seeing the page count grow in my manuscript file.

Now, as I look at the 113,000+ word count and the 94% slider bar visual, I feel amazed that I am almost finished.

“How can this be? It feels like just yesterday that I was putting up that progress bar with 4,000 words!”

But I am close to the finish. And, as is usual for me, I’m finding my story to be intense, engrossing, and hard-to-put-down. If only my brain didn’t become soggy with fatigue, I’d write far into the night, saying, “Just one more page,” the way a reader does when reading a good book.

But my brain ceases to hold the necessary edge around 5 PM or so. Sometimes I’m so beguiled by the events in my story that I push until 7 PM, but that’s rare. Better to get a good evening’s rest and a good night’s sleep, and start fresh in the morning.

Deck View

As I write this blog post, it is 7:15 AM, and I am sitting out on my back deck – as I do each morning to keep my circadian rhythm in sync with the sun. But now it’s been half an hour.

I’m going to go in, eat breakfast, and get started writing Tally for the day!

I can’t wait! Gael – accountant to the “dark lord” in my “dark tower” – is going to make a crushing discovery in this scene! πŸ˜€

(No, Tally does not really have a “dark lord.” It has someone much more interesting!)

The links from this post:
5 New Books!
My Torn Retina
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep