Colorado Bound—The Great Road Trip Post-Mortem

We spent the first three weeks of April in a Great Road Trip of the Southwest, in hopes of finding a place wherein Hubby, Younger Son, and I would all agree on settling after Hubby’s retirement.

Flag of Colorado

This was our itinerary:

City State # of Nights Cities Checked
Santa Fe NM 1 None
Pueblo CO 4 Pueblo, Cañon City
Lubbock TX 1 None
Canyon Lake TX 6 Austin, San Antonio, Seguin, New Braunfels, San Marcos
Houston TX 2 Houston, Galveston
El Paso TX 2 Las Cruces, NM
Prescott AZ 2 Prescott and nearby

As you can see, we devoted a great deal of time to central and southern Texas. We were all convinced that it was the most likely place: Hubby’s relations have moved there. It has a warm climate. Cost of living is low. I’m Texan.

Wrong.

I could have been happy on the Texas Gulf Coast, and Younger Son agreed; yet I vetoed it myself. Why? Global warming. Those beautiful cities are under siege, and I don’t want to spend the next twenty years fighting off the Gulf of Mexico with a beach pail.

It nearly broke my heart.

As for central Texas—we might as well move to Palmdale, California and set up a massive outdoor humidifier. The climate is horrid, the suburban sprawl breathtaking in its contempt for the land.

Besides, Austin is filled with immigrants who are desperately trying to pretend they’re not in Texas. The rest of the area is filled with…Texans.

I’m more or less cool with Texans—I am one, though forty-five years away have given me a certain perspective that folks who never moved away often lack. But…well, let’s just say the indications were that culture shock would hit Hubby hard.

Not for us.

As for the rest, New Mexico had its charm, but Las Cruces, at least, has a very strange development pattern—and the real estate is comparatively expensive. Prescott, Arizona’s population is 60% over retirement age and getting older—what would Younger Son do for company? Real estate is expensive there, too.

But Colorado…

Pueblo and Cañon City have beautiful old Edwardian houses in good repair for cheap. The climate is not too hot, nor too cold, nor too wet. Pueblo, despite its (to Angelenos) small population, has excellent city services. Both communities are thriving. We really liked what we saw of them. They may have low rainfall, but both are on the banks of the Arkansas River, so it’s unlikely that municipal water supplies will dry up. If we’d like to build instead, there are custom home sites with views of the Rockies…

So yeah. If and when we leave California (may it not be for a few more years!) Colorado looks like our destination.

In the meantime, I have a lot of beaches to visit.

Advertisements

Choosing The Perfect Writing Font? #amwriting

Not too long ago, iA Writer added a new font to its app, iA Writer Duospace font. Their introduction post is here, In Search of the Perfect Writing Font. Is Duospace perfect?

The grandmother of all computer input & display devices, the Teletype A33. (By Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) – Scan of the original photograph (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)
I suggest that there is no such thing as a perfect writing font. I find iA’s “Papa knows best” attitude towards writing fonts…irritating. For my own purposes, I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best (free) writing font available. But let’s examine iA’s claims.

iA’s arguments are first, that a monospaced (or nearly monospaced) writing font says that “this text is work in progress,” as opposed to a proportional font, which says “this is almost done.” Second, they argue that their new Duospace font (which has 1.5 times the monospaced width for the characters “m”, “M”, “w”, and “W”) maintains that “raw text feel” while avoiding the “artificial mechanical constraints” of the old typewriters. They further argue that a monospaced(ish) font slows down reading speed thus forcing a more appropriate writing speed. Finally, they bring up the fact that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious.

First, I absolutely agree that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious, and this is important to me.

Further, I agree that a monospaced font communicates “work in progress”—but then, I grew up with typewriters. I suspect that to younger people a monospaced font just says “old-fashioned.”

The Duospace font isn’t as aesthetically pleasing to me as iA suggest—I find it mildly annoying that letters don’t line up as in a true monospaced font. It also suffers from indistinct typographic quotes—though it manages to do dashes well. (More on this later.)

As for slowing down reading to a “writing pace”…this is a point I’m unwilling to stipulate. Do monospaced fonts slow reading speed? Are there studies? If so, is this really a good thing for writing? Again, are there studies?

I have questions other than the subjective “raw text feel” or the possible “writing pace” issues that are more important to me. Does the font I’m using for writing do everything possible to make errors stand out? Do I have to squint to see errors? Are errors obvious when the print is on the page or the spell checker is off? Since I’m my own publisher, the answers to these have to be “yes,” “no,” and “hell yes,” respectively.

This is why I use Teletype-derived writing fonts—of which I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best.

Not every monospaced font traces its lineage back to typewriters. The programmer’s (or code) fonts (Monaco, Source Code Pro, even Duospace, et. al.) trace their lineage back to the Teletype A33.

Cheap typewriters had as few separate characters as possible. Many didn’t have a separate key for zero, for numeral one, or even for an equals symbol. Instead, you used a capital oh, a lowercase el, and backspaced to put an underscore beneath your hyphen to fake an equals symbol. If you succeeded in selling your work, people called “type setters” would retype it, making it look beautiful with distinct characters for typographic quotes and other glyphs that a typewriter couldn’t produce. That’s why typewriter-derived fonts often have hard-to-distinguish glyphs. In the bad old days, they were faked, so why distinguish them now?

Teletypes, on the other hand, were the first devices that gave humans the ability to interact directly with computers. There were no lowercase letters on the early models (part of why many programming languages are case-insensitive.) But you bet there were distinct numerals versus letters. You would never mistake a Teletype zero for a capital oh. You wouldn’t catch it expecting you to back up and underline your hyphen to fake an equals symbol.

Modern code fonts are derived from Teletypes. Zeros are slashed or dotted. Numeral ones and capital eyes are distinct. Lowercase el can’t be mistaken for anything else.

Sadly, typographic quotes (English “smart” or “curly” quotes) and dashes (en dash and em dash) are afterthoughts in most monospaced fonts, whatever their derivation. They weren’t on Teletypes; they weren’t on typewriters; they were added for the first graphical computer UIs in the early 1980s. It shows. I usually can’t tell whether a quote in a monospaced font is an open or a close quote. Often the dashes and hyphens are identical or one pixel different.

Ubuntu Mono is an exception. It’s easy to distinguish English typographic quotes from each other in Ubuntu. It’s obvious whether you’ve used a hyphen or a dash, and if a dash, which. And it retains all the letter v. numeral v. symbol distinguishability of a proper code font.

Therefore, for me, by my own priorities, Ubuntu Mono is the best free writing font available.

But all this is aside from questions such as: what font would be best for a dyslexic writer? A partially sighted writer? A writer with any of many other challenges that mean the iA paradigm or mine must yield to other considerations? A writer who simply finds monospaced fonts irritating?

A font that looks handwritten might convey that “not done yet” feel even better than monospaced. A dyslexic writer would choose that font which triggers her disability the least. I suggest that “best” is dependent on individual priorities. Mine aren’t yours.

So I believe the “perfect” writing font is a myth. I hope this article helps you on your way to choosing a writing font that helps you write more easily.

Camp NaNoWriMo Post-Mortem and Writing Update #amwriting

Stuffing more description into my story…
I didn’t make my goal of 30,000 words added to my novel-in-progress—but that’s because halfway through April I switched my focus to responding to LA NaNo’s editorial changes for my short story. That goal I did reach. It is totally okay with me. I’ve learned a lot about working with professional publishers and editors. I’ve learned that once again, my main fault as a writer is that I leave needed exposition out. (Non-fiction pro editors have told me this before. I’m one of the few authors whom editors insist add words… “But, isn’t it obvious to the most casual observer?” “No, Dragon. No, it’s not.” “But it’s redundant! The reader should have inferred it from this information back here on page 3…” “Put it in anyway.”)

So, words added. Story fixed except for (minor, I hope) final polishing. I hope I’ll be able to announce the anthology release date here and on my book blog Real Soon Now.

As for the novel-in-progress, the short story experience did help. And I got the first four chapters solid—I’m very pleased. Now I’m circling around, once again getting a feel for the novel (takes a few days after putting it aside) and polishing some details that came from the short story (which takes place before the novel’s start.) I hope to get a bunch more done in the remaining days of May, in June, and in July Camp NaNoWriMo.

Onward.

Texas Is Forever… #amwriting

… or at least it seems that way when you’re driving across it.

On the road and determined to win Camp NaNoWriMo as a rediscovered Texan

I’m not too grossly behind on my Camp NaNoWriMo word count. In fact I’ve managed to get the first four chapters of the novel I’m a year behind on whipped into shape. I feel comfortable with my set up for the first time; I’m confident that at last I’ve introduced all the ingredients of the hypergolic mixture that will blow up in my protagonist’s face after four more chapters…

As for the purposes of this trip, one at least is accomplished. My niece got married to the man of her dreams last night in Houston and all the California contingent of the family—including me—were privileged to attend! Congratulations Amy and Carlos!

Texas is forever in another sense, too. I’ve gotten back in touch with my inner Texan. I lived from age 5 to age 12 in Corpus Christi. Now, Texas is so vast that much of it doesn’t feel like home to me. But as I got closer to Houston, I began to feel more comfortable. And when I stepped onto the beach at Galveston, I was home. I am a Gulf Coast girl.

I like mountains. Colorado was very nice. I loathe the Plains, whether Texan or points north; they’re depressing. The Texas “Hill Country” does nothing for me. But no place feels more like home to me than the Gulf Coast, or California.

The primary purpose of this road trip is to find a place that is cheaper than California in which Hubby, Younger Son, and I all want to live. (Otherwise we’d have flown.) We’ve checked out several cities (results are not yet in) in the areas I’ve mentioned. When the three of us sit down to talk it out, who knows what we’ll decide?

But at least I had a chance to walk the sands of home.

Short Story Accepted! #amwriting

Yes! Squee! My short story was accepted by the Los Angeles NaNo 2018 Anthology! Now I must do all those conventionally published sort of things like working with editors, rewriting to editorial request, etc.

Not that I’ll get paid—the writers who are accepted get a credit and the warm knowledge that their work has enabled LA NaNo to make a little money to defray the costs of write-ins, pre-November “How to outline a novel” handouts, as well as pre- and post-NaNoWriMo parties.

But do I mind? Heck, no! I’m doing a happy dance! I never, never thought I could successfully stuff a story with as much background info as a Victorian urban fantasy into 4000 words and have anyone else even comprehend it, much less accept it for (unpaid) publication!!!

When in future I complain about my editors, please remind me of this post.

April Camp NaNoWriMo Progress

30000 / 30000 (100%)

(Last Update: 11 May 2018)

It’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and you folks don’t want me to be posting all the time, right? Right! It’s time to put my words into my novel. So, while I will stop by and update the meter above occasionally (I can’t automate it, which is infinitely annoying) and drop in a (very) short post or three, mostly I’ll be focusing on word count. See y’all in May!

(Word count meter courtesy http://honorless.net/progressbar.htm)

I Met the Short Story Deadline #amwriting

I did it! I managed to get an entire Fraser and Spencer story into 4000 words, and submit it by Los Angeles NaNo’s deadline.

After I turned it in, I slept for about 2 days.

I learned a lot about how my own creativity works, and what it takes—for me—to get a well-structured story out fast.

Now I hope that what I learned scales up to novels.

I also have a decision to make: I’m going on a Road Trip. Yes, I’ll be spending three weeks bopping around the US Southwest in a car with Hubby and Number Two Son. Should I even bother with April Camp NaNoWriMo? I’m going to be busy: driving, checking out communities as possible retirement destinations, and attending a niece’s wedding.

…Yes, I think I should. I’ve always had more success with April and June Camps NaNoWriMo than with the big November push. It won’t hurt me to sign up. I might even finish my novel! And I certainly should take advantage of the upside of my SAD (seasonal affective disorder.)

Nostalgia, Real or Imagined #amwriting

“Is it real, or is it Memorex?”

Do people really want to bring back this? (Image courtesy of Just2shutter at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

So ran an advertisement for blank magnetic tape cassettes a few decades back (and now even mag tapes are a memory.) What’s prompted my bemusement is a recent [thread on the Mac Scrivener forum] asking for Scrivener to, of all things, provide a realistic typewriter key strike sound when a letter is added to a Scrivener document—the loud mechanical thunk of a typebar or type wheel hitting paper over rubber platen. One poster has already bought a utility that can cause their Mac to do this. All. The. Time.

I have to ask, do these people even know what that sounds like for real? When there is no volume control? No soundproofing? (At least one of them does. I can’t imagine why he wants to revisit it, but de gustibus non est disputandem. But even he admits to wanting to turn it off after a while.)

I spent my early working life in a huge partition-less office, with typewriters, phones with real bells, keypunch machines making those old computer punch cards, printing calculators, and people shouting to converse over the din. I was under constant auditory assault.

I’m grateful every day for non-impact printers, silent keyboards, and phones that can be set to vibrate. It’s no longer necessary to work in a painfully loud and distracting environment. Even when I choose to do so (coffee shop) it’s now socially acceptable to use serious hearing protection (my gaming headset.) I’m certainly not going to bring the old noisy environment back on purpose.

I’ve seen an argument (on the key strike utility website) that says that the old key strike sounds can make faster typing possible. Auditory feedback, slightly different sounds for different keys, etc. can make a positive difference in a touch typist’s speed. Maybe so, but I’m not a fast enough typist for it to be worth the noise. If you are, enjoy—but please put your headphones on when you’re in a shared office.

Some things used to be better than they are now. Hearing a loud noise whenever a character is added to a document is not one of them.

The Short Story Rolls Forward! #amwriting

The words are rolling.

I’d forgotten how good it feels to have the words flowing.

Oh, not fast enough to suit me. Never that! but a heck of a lot faster than they have been in the recent past. The short story I’ll be submitting for that anthology (positive! Think positive!) has a title now, “Fire Prevention” (which may change; who knows?) and the beginnings of a discernible structure—faint, but definite.

And I’d like to give some credit to Brandon Sanderson. Not that I’ve had the privilege of meeting the man, nor have I read his “How to Write a Good Book” tome—because he hasn’t written one. No, I’ve been slogging though the videos of his novel writing course at BYU.

Anyone who knows me face-to-face knows how much I loathe trying to learn from videos. It’s worse than having to sit through lectures. No lecture has ever gone fast enough for me, not even at MIT. No more does any video. My attitude is, “Just write it down, dude, and print your #$%^# lecture notes.” But I’ve gotten enough gems from the seven (of twelve) Sanderson lectures I’ve listened to so far that I (almost) don’t mind having to sit still for an hour and (try to) listen. At least I can rewind if (when) my ADHD kicks in. Problem is, it doesn’t go any faster on the second hearing…

But still. The most valuable stuff I’ve gotten from Sanderson’s lectures are a) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of outlining, b) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of “discovery writing” (AKA “pantsing”), and c) specific strategies to compensate for discovery writing weaknesses.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am such a hard-core discovery writer that for formal technical writing I discovery-wrote and created the outline after. It’s part of the ADHD thing, I suspect, and attempts to force outlining upon my workflow have not worked to date. The dead bodies of numerous “How to Outline for Hard-Core Pantser” books litter my e-reader app, and various portions of outline anatomy likewise litter my Scrivener projects. (This is not to put down those outlining book authors. I’m sure it works for them, and seems to work for others.) Really, it doesn’t take much outline at all for my brain to start saying, “Wow, this is boring. I already wrote this story/technical paper/blog article; why do I have to write it again?”

But thanks to Sanderson’s lectures, I’m not saying that about “Fire Prevention.” I highly recommend them.

February Blues Update #amwriting

The February blues are getting better, slowly.

Sunrise image courtesy of Teerapun at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, I am getting better. I’m even getting work done. Getting outside really helps with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and days when I don’t—well, it hits me the next day, really. I find myself trying to hibernate—sitting on the couch, falling asleep with or without television, and eating far too much high-carbohydrate food. Gotta store up that fat against winter! Jeez.

But I’m trying not to blame myself, and Just Get Out the next day.

I’ve started a new short story that I would like to submit to an anthology—submission deadline is March 23. I’ll keep you posted.