Thursday, May 31, 2018

Why Having the Cloud or Other Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin
It's happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover that either part of it is gone, or it's missing altogether. Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they're black magic and voodoo, and sometimes I wonder if there could actually be some truth to this. Both times this happened was after I had saved the files and shut down my computer properly, which proves that files can still be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you've done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage, and why I so highly recommend having it to others, whether or not you're a writer.

Off site storage, sometimes called, the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server, and, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, and that's a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off site storage company will encrypt your files. 

I use Carbonite, but there are other back up services out there. Carbonite costs a little over $50 per year, and it's money well spent. It automatically backs up my files, and whenever I've had to use it I found it very easy to locate and download the needed files. The first time I used it was to recover a Word file, and I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an Adobe InDesign file that mysteriously vanished from my hard drive. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact. 

Some people tell me they don't need off site storage as they manually back up their files to a flash drive. That's fine as long as you remember to do it on a daily basis. However, Murphy's Laws being what they are, rest assured the day a file corrupts or disappears completely will be the same day you didn't do a back up.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end not once, but twice, so I'm now a customer for life.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Fan Fiction and Copyrighted Characters

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I once had an interesting chat with a fellow author at a writer's convention who mentioned something about another writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some "fan fiction" he'd written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The writer in question had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

Back when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and I seem to recall that one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or "Trekkies," as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fan fiction authors wrote with pen and paper and kept their stories in notebooks. Traditional book or magazine publishing would have been the only means to distribute their work, which meant permission would have had to have been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it's very tempting for the fan writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I'm not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it's pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Those of us who write fiction may model our characters after people we know, or perhaps base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should have plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. So while Captain Kirk could be your inspiration, your character will need a different name and should come from a different background, have a different physical description, or even be the opposite gender. However, if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, it might not be a bad idea to do some research to find out what, if any, guidelines that copyright holders, such as Paramount, may have for writing fan fiction. Even if you're not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Soap Opera Plots--Time Tested Reliable Storylines

© Can Stock Photo / ginosphoto
Once upon a time, my friends and I were all soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps, and I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. Now I don’t bother watching soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We all stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers were still watching their favorite soap operas when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that soap operas today are so poorly written. Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then the producers decided they wanted younger, “more hip,” audiences, so the writers began writing outrageous story lines about demonic possession, characters being buried alive, couples going back to the garden of Eden, and UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but definitely not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.

Those of us who are romantic fiction writers or storytellers know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict, and how the characters react to and resolve the conflict. For many, many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching. They were:

The Romantic Triangle. Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is also in love with the same boy, so she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.” Such was the Steve, Alice and Rachel triangle on Another World that kept viewers watching for years. It’s even written up in Wikipedia.

Extra-Marital Affairs and Illegitimate Children. The side effect of the romantic triangle. Days of our Lives kept their audience riveted for years, wondering when Mickey would find out that Mike was actually his brother Bill’s son.

Long Lost or Unknown Half Siblings. Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. But one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship, and she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom’s lover was the father of her child’s love interest, and they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated. A good plot twist is when later on, after they’ve both found other love interests, the other mother comes forward and says no, so and so was not the father of her child after all, so they were never half siblings in the first place. The fun never stops.

The Big Frame-Up. From time to time a villain has to be killed off, and what better way to do it than to have a favorite leading man or lady framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but never until after they’d gone to trial, been convicted, and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by simply having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.

Catastrophic Diseases or Injuries. Hodgkin’s Disease was common on soaps. So were brain tumors and comas. Pregnancies were, more often than not, high-risk. Miscarriages were frequent and could be caused by the strangest things, such as tripping over a wastepaper basket. And how many times did we see our favorite characters go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone always recovered–only to be struck down by another malady a few years later. The only disease that soap opera characters were ever immune to was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Amnesia. A rare medical condition in the real world, but at one time it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.

Returning From the Dead. This is oftentimes the end result of amnesia. A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or other catastrophic event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return sometime later. (Sometimes played by a different actor upon returning.) This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia, or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return, but oftentimes not until after experiencing another catastrophic event. The other scenario is when the character returns after having finally escaped from being held captive somewhere.  Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it back home until after their spouse or lover has moved on and found someone else. However, this plot can be overdone. Come on, Days of Our Lives. How many times can Stephano DeMira be brought back from the dead?

And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows that such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. Too bad that soap opera writers abandoned the basics in favor of the bizarre. Once they did, they lost touch with their loyal viewers, and once an audience is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Blogs vs Social Media

As authors we've all been told, dozens upon dozens of times, to use social media to promote our books. Good advice. Social media is an essential marketing tool. However, just like anything else, it can also be overrated, if not overused.

Some authors go on social media and post nothing but, “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!" To which I say, enough already! We all want people to buy our books, but social media was never intended to be a vehicle for free advertising.

So, how does an author use social media? Well, this author likes to use it to drive traffic to her blogs, but I post about other things too. You know. The weather. Pictures of my dog. That sort of thing. I actually have a life outside of writing, but I digress. 

Why I Think the Blog is Still King

No Trolls Allowed. There's been plenty of talk about trolls who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than to destroy an author's career. They've done some serious damage to Goodreads, and they can be a problem on other social media sites as well. However, with a blog, particularly when it's your blog, you can eliminate trolls completely. All you have to do is set up your comments so they cannot be posted without your prior approval, and bye-bye trolls. You've just created a place where people can feel safe engaging with you, and with each other.

You Can Engage One on One with Your Readers. A blog allows you to connect with your readers on a more personal level. You can share ideas, have contests and promotions, and build your following. And yes, a blog is a form of social media, as long as you allow comments. I can also do a lot more with a blog. Both Blogger and WordPress allow multiple pages, so one of my other blogs, Marina Martindale's Musings, uses those other pages for sample chapters. That's a whole lot more than I'm able to do with my Facebook fan page.

Not Everyone Uses Facebook and Twitter. Many people have either shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts due to privacy concerns and other issues, or have never signed up for them in the first place. However, anyone with an Internet connection can read your blog, and you have the option of allowing anyone to post a comment. This makes you more accessible to your readers, especially if you include your blog address in your books. 

So how do I use social media? Well, aside from the fact that I'm probably spending way too much time just hanging out on Facebook, (a topic for another blog post on another day), I can post links to my blogs there, as I also do on Twitter and other social media. My personal observation has been that Twitter seems to be the most effective for driving readers to my blogs.

So there you have it. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media, when used properly, can certainly help you publicize your books, but, in my opinion, there simply is no substitute for a blog.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Welcome to From the Writer’s Desk

There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and most offer great advice. However many, if not most, of the ones I've seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We're storytellers, and we write to entertain.

This blog is mostly about helping you write a better novel, as well as pass along what I've learned about this crazy business to other writers and authors. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment. Also please be sure to visit my other blogs, Rosies Riveting Recipes and Marina Martindale's Musings. (Yes, I do some of my writing under a pen name.)

Gayle Martin