mathematical gymnastics and book hooky

Things here at Casa Crisis have begun to settle down a little. Some good progress is being made in those areas which were most worrisome. Long way to go, but we have a solid and promising start.

So the Mathematician went skiing. Right now he’s at Whistler in British Columbia, where he goes every year for a long weekend with a group of friends. In the evenings they play poker and eat and drink a lot of beer, and in the day they ski. He hesitated about going; I tried not to push him out the door too roughly.

I like having the house to myself now and then. Okay, I like it a lot. What would a writer be without a lot of conflicts in her nature? Love the family, glad to be alone.

However. I am just alone enough to feel overwhelmed by the long list of things waiting to be done. A backlog of things, most of them not especially fun. Like: getting the tax stuff ready to send to the accountant. Not only our personal tax stuff, but the Saralaughs corporate tax stuff. This always makes me nervous. You know if you look in your rearview mirror and there’s a cop following you, you get a flush of adrenaline? Thinking: shit. Thinking: what did I do? Did I cut that light too short? Are my tags out of date? Where’s my insurance card? What’s the speed limit here? Are my brake lights working? Did I pay that parking ticket? I can work myself into a sweat in a situation like this, and then the cop pulls out and passes me and I collapse into a twitching lump of adrenaline-saturated self mockery. That’s how I feel about doing the corporate taxes. I am very scrupulous about making sure that business expenses are really business expenses, that I can justify and document everything, that I’m well within the letter and the spirit of the law. Every year I say the same thing to the accountant: no numerical gymnastics, no loopholes. I want to pay what I owe.

All of this so that if dear old Saralaughs ever does get audited, I don’t faint dead away. So I can walk, angst-riddled, into the audit knowing that I am in the clear with at least a chance of not having a full blown panic attack.

What can I say? I was brought up Catholic.

Have I ever mentioned that the Mathematician collects graduate degrees? He’s got an undergraduate degree and a Master’s from Trinity Cambridge, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate from Princeton, and then for fun he went and got an MBA at the University of Michigan while I was on the faculty there.

He’s the Mathematician with an MBA, and I’m doing the taxes. And you know why? Because we’ll end up divorced if he does them. A typical exchange would go like this:

Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for server space?
Me: We’re not paying anything. Sara is paying. Saralaughs is paying.
Him: With our money.
Me: With her money.
Him: Debatable.
Me: You promised not to use that word.
Him: I have told you before, I could set up a server of our own, right here from the house–
Me: Can we move to the next item?
Him: It’s ridiculous what they charge.
Me: Granted. Can we move on to the next item?
Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for software updates?

You see that it’s easier, in the long run, to do it myself.

So the taxes need to be sorted out, and various animals need to go to the vet, and I have to call the attorney about something really irritating but necessary, and there are three boxes of things I need to pack and take to the post office, letters to write, email to answer, the forum to check, and I have a doctor’s appointment and oh by the way, this book that is stuck in my craw. More than one book.

I have such an urge to play book hooky. Not work on the book I have to work on, but on the book that appeals to me most at the moment. The one I don’t have a contract for. The fun one.

So that is where I am at this moment. You know what? I’ve been up two and a half hours, and I feel the need to take a nap.

wordprocessing software

I’ve had a whole slew of intresting questions come my way, some in the comments and some by email. So I’ll be answering them one at a time, in no particular order.

Do you use a novel-writing software? (Or something like Final Draft, which has a novel-writing component.)

To start with a bit of trivia which still amuses me: I wrote my doctoral dissertation with WordPerfect 1.0. So I’ve been fooling around with word processing software since the beginning.

When WordPerfect gave up on the Mac platform, I had to switch to Word, which I did with a heavy heart. I use Word everyday for various things, and all of the novels were written with Word. On a Mac.

However. I have been trying to find a good alternate for novel writing. What I want, ideally, is a solid word processor, a way to organize notes into categories (and to overlap categories — a venn diagram kind of thing would be perfect), the ability to see multiple things at once (two different chapters with the relevant notes, images, lists, etc); the ability to see the document in an outline form and to drag elements from one spot to another. I also want some kind of user forum so I can get quick answers to things that mystify me, and there has to be reliable customer service.

I try just about everything that comes along, but mostly the programs I’ve tried have some big flaw, or just aren’t fine tuned enough. A partial list:

From the Mac people, the iWork package has a word processor called Pages. I had high hopes for Pages, but there are some seriously shortcomings. Like, no auto-save. I keep an eye on updates, but I think it will be a long time before Pages is a viable alternative to Word, for my purposes at least.

CopyWrite is another newer program that advertises itself as a project manager first and a word processor second. I tried it, I bought it, I found problems with the category setup that may have been my lack of insight, but there’s no forum and emails to the developers went unanswered. So, into the storage closet.

I own a (quite pricey) Tinderbox license, but I use that exclusively for mapping ideas and concepts. It’s something like a Venn diagram on steroids, but it doesn’t work for me as a word processor.

FinalDraft is really good for writing any kind of a script, and I have used it for that and liked it. The novel-writing part? Meh.

I’ve been using Scrivener for about a week and it’s very promising. It does pretty much everything I need. I’ll let you know how that works out. If Scrivener doesn’t pan out, I’ll be going back to Word, and watching the horizon for the perfect combination of features.

If you’re as much of a technogeek as I am, you might be interested in a list of all the software I use. Here’s the link to my page at iusethis.

a question for you

Here’s the thing. I’m getting a lot of comment spam lately. It’s depressing, because for a good four or five months, I had none at all. Those slee sneeky spammers have obviously found a way around the safeguards currently in place.

/aside/ This is the kind of thing I obsess about when I’m procrasting about writing. I tell you this is the spirit of full disclosure. /aside/

So I have been thinking about solutions.

The most drastic choice would be to dump Movable Type for software that has got the spam thing more under control. It would be tremendously time consuming to export everything here, learn the new software, set that up, and import things. Not to mention the long list of glitches that would almost certainly ensue.

The easiest thing would be to find a plugin for MT 3.2 that puts one of those funny little boxes on the comment page that you have to interpret so your comment will be posted. Except, no such plugin exists (or at least, I haven’t been able to find one that I can have even a hope of installing).

So an experiment. I set up a month long trial at Type Pad (which is really Movable Type for dummies — everything set up already, pretty easy to make changes to design and import everything from here). I imported everything. You want to see it? Here.

Good things: all the infelicities that have snuck into the guts of this weblog over three years are gone. Everything clean and tidy. They have one of those boxes on the comment page, which should take care of 95% of comment spam. I never have to worry about software upgrades again.

Bad things: Lots of my bells and whistles would have to go. Maybe some of them are retrievable if I want to invest the time in figuring out how to make “posted last year on this date” work over at Type Pad. Which right now, I don’t. The categories list is not nested, which bugs me. There’s no search function. It’s quite pricey. And worst of all, I’ll have to fiddle with domain mapping or change the url of the weblog, which always brings along a huge number of problems. Now, on that last point, I am probably going to have to change the url anyway, so that’s nosobad.

I’m sure I lost most of you three paragraphs ago, but if you’re still here and you have an opinion, would you share it?

Yours in procrastination
the management

NEW CONTEST: signed first edition of Fire Along the Sky


I’m moving the contest entry up front as there are only three days until the drawing on August 15, at which point I should have already received a few copies; if I haven’t, I’ll still hold the drawing and pick the winner, and the book will go into the mail as soon as I receive it.

If you’ve tried and failed to enter in the last week, it should work now.

The rules are simple: by entering a comment here, you have entered this contest and you acknowledge and agree to the following:

  • the author (me) is not responsible for technical difficulties arising from the software or hardware running this contest, and reserves the right to cancel without awarding the signed first edition if such difficulties make continuing impossible.
  • the author (me) reserves the right to delete entries that (a) are duplicates [though if you make a mistake by clicking twice, send an email and it will be fixed]; (b) contain objectionable material such as spam, advertising or anything else that the author (me) deems contrary to the spirit of the whole undertaking.
  • The winning entry will be drawn out of a hat, by the author (me), the one and only judge, and notified by email. If the winning party does not respond to email notification within one week, a second drawing will be held.
  • All of the author’s (mine) decisions regarding this contest are final.

No information provided will be sold or used in any way beyond required to carry out this contest, just so everybody’s clear on that. The signed first edition will be sent to the winner wherever he or she lives in the world, by airmail.

In your comment/contest entry you need to do the following:

1. State your first name and the first letter of your last name.

2. Provide a valid email address.

3. Reproduce this statement (you can copy and paste): I’ve read the rules for this contest and I agree to them.

4. You can add a comment if you like (for example, let me know what you would like me to discuss here on the blog, or what you like about the books). However, please be aware that while I really, really like comments, a particularly complimentary comment won’t help your chances at all one way or the other and conversely, no comment at all won’t hurt you, either.

One last thing: if you have difficulties with the contest or questions about it, please get those to me by email. The only comment you should post right here is your contest entry.
Good luck to all.