Clutter vs. Chaos: Stories Filing System

Clutter vs Chaos

When you’re hours away from a submission deadline and can’t find the file meant to be submitted (as happened to me this week), a filing system can become a crisis verging on disaster.

t find anything. I thought I had deleted the correct file by mistake, and spent the day banging my head against the wall in regret, only to later discover it had been there all along, just filed under a different name.

While it made sense at the time to delete a few files to clean up the drive, in retrospect, it just created a lot of unnecessary chaos and wasted time that would have been better spent writing. All of it was unnecessary; all of it was a waste of time; all of it could easily have been avoided with a better electronic filing system.

Here is how I resolve to sort my story files moving forward:

Top Folder

First rule: One folder per story

Name=StoryHandle

Story Handle vs. Story Title: Titles can be problematic, and can even change when submitted to different markets. What’s the one word that describes the story, the one word that comes to mind when thinking of the story? I will pick one and stick to it for filing purposes.

Subfolders

This is where it all goes haywire. No order, different file names, senseless version numbering (v1, v91, 140730A, etc.). And when I work from a memory stick or copy a file from a cloud-based folder, I can’t even rely on the dates to help sort it out.

My solution: filename=StoryHandle-v#. (e.g. Elysium-v7). Simple, to the point, and the files will display chronologically.

It’s not an all-new format to me as I have used version numbers in the past, and move up versions only during a significant rewrite. So whether it’s Thirty-One’s Elysium, or Helix of Elysium, Elysium’s Web, or Theo’s Way, it’s all going to be Elysium-v# until submission time.

And yes, second-level subfolders (research, backgrounders, etc.) do come into play, but I somehow have not encountered problems with those as they are standard subfolders for each writing project. The stories themselves, which are constantly worked on and edited, are the misfiling culprits and I hope this simple system will help resolve any further issues.

If you know of a better system, I am all ears (eyes?). Feel free to share better solutions by posting on this page. I would love to know what others are using.

The next serious issue I need to address, much sooner than later, is backup systems. I hate working from cloud-based files because they have to be downloaded first so it seems pointless to go through the trouble every time, so I tend to do periodic backups instead (I know, bad, bad, Jenner). It’s a hassle but I need to figure it out to prevent further head banging sessions before I end up giving myself a concussion.

Summer Project Update: A few stories were submitted this week, meaning they are now off the pile (at least until they get rejected). They include the aforementioned Elysium’s Web, and it is yet another post-apocalyptic plague story. This story is one I especially like, and for which I rose from bed at four a.m. to get down on paper before it escaped me. By five am, I had a dozen pages written longhand, something quite unusual for me. I had intended for those pages to be used as the basis of a novel (and it still may become one), but many tangential stories have sprouted from this story idea. While what came out of those pages serves as the general background and setting for Elysium’s Web, little more than the main character’s name directly made it into it. Theo may yet come back from the dead to make it through another story inspired by those handwritten pages.

Up next: As no anthologies with an August deadline have caught my eye, I may turn my focus to stories I could submit to “big” markets (Tor.com being one of them). Since this summer project started, it’s the first time I feel the pressure has eased up and I must admit it’s nice not to feel so under the gun to produce and finalize work, even if all of it is self-imposed.

I will nonetheless continue to forge ahead and keep writing, lest I fall off the wagon and dare enjoy a day of summer before it’s gone.

WWR#1431

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Story Titles: Titling Titillating Tales

Insert Title HereFinding the perfect story title can be challenging. I struggle for days, weeks, or sometimes months, before settling on The One. I’m not sure if it’s because my stack of written stories is constantly growing higher, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find fully satisfying titles, ones that don’t keep me up at night as I strive to find something better.

I was asked this week how I came up with the title for “All of a Heap”, which was published a few days ago in Plague: Aftermath. It is a title I am proud of because as you read the story, it can be interpreted in more than one way, which is always a thrilling accomplishment.

The story had gone untitled, referenced as “the ebola story” from its origins and was still unnamed as the submission deadline loomed. I didn’t want to make the title obvious by using ebola or plague, or something relating to the missing daughter. I wanted something that represented the story well, but wrapped in subtlety.

Despite the almost deserted part of the town used as the setting (most everyone has fled to escape the deadly plague), I kept returning to the idea of a crowd because the crux of the story revolves around a collection of victims piled high on the street.

I read and re-read the story without coming up with anything satisfactory so a word association and brainstorming session followed beginning with the word “crowd”. Mob. Congregation. Herd. Confluence.

Nothing felt right so I entered the results in turn in Thesaurus.com. Rable. Posse. Great unwashed. Rank and file. Not necessarily off from what I was looking for but none of the results were le mot juste.

Then I thought of a gathering crowd. Not right, but definitely heading in the right direction. “Gathering” yielded many duplicate results from the previous searches but lower on the page there is a section on related adjectives. Most of the results posted seemed like made-up words (allemang, agminate, coacervate) but one idiom stood out from the group in all its glory as if surrounded by glowing neon arrows: all of a heap.

So thank you for your help, Thesaurus.com. “The ebola project” became “All of a Heap” and was accepted within two days of submission. I like to think the title helped propel it to the top of the…heap.

In future, when I am really at a loss for naming a story, perhaps I should consider turning to Metallica for inspiration. Their song titles are more than fitting when not in the lyrics. Enter Sandman. Welcome Home. Fade to Black. No Leaf Clover (okay, though one of my favourites, I still haven’t figured out this one yet but…“then it comes to be, yeah” so it all works out in the end).

Summer Project Update: I am hoping to submit at least two stories in the coming week, three if I can swing it by the Wednesday and Thursday deadlines, but I have a feeling the titles for those stories might not be settled yet.

WWR#1430

My story "All of a Heap" appears in the anthology Plague: Aftermath

My story “All of a Heap” appears in the anthology Plague: Aftermath

I am thrilled to report that my story “All of a Heap” is now available in the anthology Plague: Aftermath. All available formats (paperback and e-versions), as well as a preview of Aftermath, can be found through this link. In Canada, Plague: Aftermath is available through Amazon.ca.

Overview: Airborne Ebola has found a foothold in many large cities around the world, causing mass panic and mob mentality as people attempt to escape the circumstances they’re thrown into. Here are a few stories of bravery, viciousness, and survival from those trying to escape the next Plague.

Thank you to Jeremiah Donaldson at Ephiroll Productions for putting this project together and for the great collaboration. Plague: Original Cut by Jeremiah is free all week on Kindle in celebration of the Plague: Aftermath release.

I have already been approached to do a reading from “All of a Heap” at a writers’ event in Ottawa in September and will share more details when available.

 

Getting Away with Murder

Presentation by Dr. Debra Komar, forensic anthropologist and historical crime author.

I attended a presentation this week by renowned forensic anthropologist and historical crime author, Dr. Debra Komar, called “Getting Away with Murder”. Her talk focused on how cutting-edge investigative methods are rewriting legal history, and how she’s using her modern forensic skills to right the wrongs on some of Canada’s most notorious historical crimes. (Her presentation was of great interest to me because even though I didn’t know what it was called then, growing up I dreamed of being a forensic anthropologist, though no one believes me since the explosion of all the CSI tv shows.)

Her presentation included a reference to universal lethality, a somewhat controversial theory (and one used in serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s defence), meaning everyone has the potential to kill and, under the right circumstances, will act upon that innate impulse. The writer in me couldn’t help but speculate what story could be created from such a world. If this theory holds true, it means everyone would likely kill at least once in their lifetime. What if a world existed where everyone had one-time free pass to kill because of it? Who would they kill, and would the act be premeditated or impulsive? Would there be age restrictions, either for the killer or the victim? Allowed only on strangers or relatives? Specific locations only? Any exceptions? Thoughts on universal lethality are going into my story idea file for future consideration – feel free to share any thoughts on this theory on this page.

2014 Summer Project update:

  • Still Daughter, my story about a very different and creepy little girl facing the major life challenge of being dead, was completed and submitted. The 8 to 12 weeks waiting period for a response begins;
  • I completed a rewrite of Arctic Marauder (formerly titled Frozen in Time) and submitted it for online critique. The story is about a modern polar research expedition finding a downed aircraft and a lone survivor, some seventy years younger than he should be. The mysterious cargo aboard the 1943 B-26 Marauder may have something to do with the surviving soldier’s youthfulness and murderous disposition;
  • I did some research this week of potential markets and found a handful of interesting anthologies coming up, three of them with deadlines by the end of July. I’m now shifting my focus to the stories Walker Watcher (an alternate Hell story), Thirty One’s Elysium (a post-apocalyptic tale), and Ringleader (a retelling of The Three Little Pigs fairy tale). Ringleader will be the most challenging because it is probably not twisted enough for the anthology call but hey, that’s just the kind of challenge I’m up for.

Happy writing.

WWR#1429

Ideas Galore

Ideas Galore

Ideas Galore

I participated in a workshop for speculative fiction writers this week called “Getting the Science Right”. It was a very science-oriented talk (DNA, mutation, genetic drift, evolution, speciation, etc.) that expanded my horizons about what to consider when world-building in science fiction and fantasy, as well as how to set up new life forms in a believable way. I especially enjoyed the part of the discussion on the immune system, symbiosis, parasitism and fungi (parasites and fungi can be awesomely creepy). One of the workshop’s goals was to show how to “turn speculative ideas into metaphors that enrich stories”. After the workshop’s exercises and discussion, I left with no less than 14 new story ideas. I’m not sure if I can wrap my brain around any of them just yet but a few of the ideas will be very interesting to explore.

The Summer Project is progressing well, though not as fast as I would have hoped. One story – Still Daughter, I’m still tinkering with the name – will be submitted within the next few days to meet a market’s deadline. I’ve added several scenes to flesh out the plot and character motivation. I have to write out one more scene (the inciting incident) and tweak the rewritten ending before it’s good to go.

I have also been receiving critiques all week on Fossil Lake, an 8,500-word story. The feedback has been very positive overall and more than half of the readers have suggested that I expand it into a longer work or even a novel(!) While that’s not out of the realm of possibility, I won’t make it longer than it needs to be. I could easily see it double it in size but markets for close to 20k words are few. When I revise it, I intend to focus on develop it in a way that serves the story and not worry too much about the word count.

The third story seeing action this week is called Frozen in Time, which I’m revising based on feedback I received quite a while back. Since some of the changes are quite extensive, my plan is to submit it for online feedback before sending it out to a market. I’m not addicted to critiques but getting fresh eyes on a story is always good. The feedback I received on Fossil Lake this week was quite stellar, offering very detailed and pointed commentary that will help bring that story to the next level. You only get one shot when submitting a story to a market so it’s best to make sure it’s fully ready, even if it takes a little longer. I don’t have a deadline on this one so I will take advantage of another round of feedback, this time with online strangers who are blunter than any others.

With all that, I still managed to critique three stories this week (the stories totalled close to 20k words).

I also finished reading Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. I read just about anything I can get my hands on relating to the Arctic and Antarctic and this thriller is set in an atomic submarine under the North-polar ice cap so I could not pass it up. The book was first published in 1963 but its age did not prevent me from finding it wildly entertaining. I loved this Scottish writer’s laconic style and really appreciated wording like “He had the grace to colour slightly” instead of “He reddened in embarrassment”. Great stuff and look forward to reading more of his work.

Happy writing.

WWR#1428

Tennis Ball

I’m an avid tennis fan and with the Wimbledon tournament currently underway, I couldn’t help but wonder about the tournament some thirty years from now as it seems to me players are continually improving fitness levels and matches last ever longer.

The end result is the creative fiction piece that follows. John McEnroe will, of course, still be commentating in 2047 (Let’s be honest, no one does it better!)

I offer you my imagined coverage of the men’s singles final @Wimbledon, 2047:

 

 Wimbledon, 2047

“Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Wimbledon 2047, coming to you live from the All-England Lawn Tennis Club. For those of you just joining us, we are now in day four of the Gentlemen’s Singles Championship. Just a reminder that Peeters broke Artz’ last service game and has taken the lead in the fifth and final set. He will serve 865 to 864 following a quick intervention by the tournament referee.”

“Let’s be honest: it had to be done. When the chair umpire falls asleep, there’s no question it’s time for him to go.”

“I hope the players can shake off that incident and quickly focus back into the match. Peeters is up a break and is serving for the championship.”

“There is no room for mistakes, that’s for sure. This fifth set has been so intense from the first point they played three days ago. I don’t know how much longer they can keep it going. Not only is it physically draining but it takes a toll emotionally.”

“Peeters throws his first serve into the net.”

“It’s a bad time for him to tighten up. You get the sense he’s rushing.”

“Another double fault by Peeters. That’s sixty-two for him in this set.”

“He’s going to have to dig deep and find another gear or this opportunity will just be a bad memory.”

“Looking at them now, with Peeters’ showing a lot of tightness in his shoulders and Artz barely able to drag himself around the court to return the ball, do you think they’re regretting turning down the break offered a few hours ago?”

“They want to avoid anything that will prolong this match any longer than it has to. They have to keep moving. Let’s face it, not only do they not want to lose the match, they both want to win the Championship. If they stopped play for any length of time at this stage, they may not be able to start again. They’ve got to be cramping something fierce.”

“Physical fitness is key more than ever.”

“Let’s be honest, these players today are definitely a new generation of athletes like no other before them. Even at his healthiest, a great champion like Nadal would never have stood a chance; Federer at the top of his game never would have stood a chance. Sampras, Borg. All of them would have been crushed.”

“You as well, John?”

“After four days of such intense play, I would have turned into fertilizer for the grass courts.”

“Peeters gets an ace. Maybe he can dig himself out of trouble.”

“It’s the only ball that’s made it past the net so far in this game. Artz should have attacked it. He’s standing there like his feet are stuck in cement.”

“Peeters double-faults again. One more and he will be giving the game away.”

“It’s almost irrelevant that Artz is on the other side of the net.”

“There is the break. The fifth set is tied at 865 games each.”

“At this point, I don’t know if Peeters can recover from this. He knows he would have won the game – and the Championship – if he had been able to get the ball over the net because Artz can barely move. Maybe Artz can build some momentum on the break and capitalize on it. He at the very least needs to hold serve.”

“The women’s final took an unexpected turn and Simpson was unable to recover. It ended in a crushing defeat for the young American this past weekend.”

“Her service arm falling off was unfortunate, to put it mildly.”

“Reports are that it was successfully reattached but she may not make it to the US Open next month.”

“She wants to defend her title in New York so I wouldn’t count her out yet. She is extremely fit and I think will recover quickly.”

“We of course wish her well.”

“Artz needs to speed up his play here. The last thing he needs is to be called on a time violation.”

“Peeters’ swing completely misses the ball, giving the German an ace.”

“The court’s condition was the cause of that odd bounce. I’m not sure we can even call it grass anymore.”

“Artz just double-faulted, bringing the score to 15-all.”

“He can’t even hide how much he’s cramping and can barely move as it is. Slow play just spells disaster for him.”

“It feels like there are so many missed opportunities on both sides.”

“Especially since Artz is obviously struggling so much right now. Determination is all that is keeping him going. Peeters appears to be the fresher of the two but his spirit seems broken after squandering his last service game. Whoever snaps out of it first will likely win this within the next few games.”

“Another ball served off court by Artz.”

“You’ve got to give it to Artz. The guy is not giving up even if he just double-faulted again in this game. He looks like Frankenstein dragging himself to the other side of the court but at least he’s keeping at it.”

“The end of this match feels closer than it has since yesterday morning.”

“It’s painful to watch but it’s the opening Peeters has been waiting for. He himself recovered from serious lead feet some hundred games ago.”

“Let’s keep in mind these players have been playing this match for just over eighty one hours.”

“And neither of these guys has taken a bathroom break in almost eight hours. They are both seriously dehydrated and the cramps must be unbearable. I’m hurting just watching them.”

“It may be a matter of who wants it more.”

“Artz has never won this tournament and wants it bad. Peeters has won it four times before but this is his first slam final in three years. Neither wants to give the match away. Let’s hope Artz recovers quickly or it will be all over for him in the next few minutes.”

“He looks completely disoriented. He just served into the Royal Box.”

“It would be such a shame for it to end this way after such spectacular play throughout the Championship.”

“Hang on, John. Peeters is on the ground.”

“Is he still conscious?”

“The crowd is rising to its feet, chanting for Peeters to resume play.”

“Artz is stumbling towards the net. Those cramps are really working him.”

“The medical team is on the court. They’re grabbing Peeters’ wrist.”

“Are they looking for a pulse? Anybody know?”

“The umpire is out of his chair, heading towards Peeters’ trainers.”

“Now Artz has dropped to the ground. He’s thrashing around like he’s having some kind of seizure.”

“Let’s hope he recovers so we can have the trophy ceremony. It would be a shame to prevent the loyal fans from seeing the winner crowned.”

“We don’t have a winner yet. Looks like Artz has passed out. Why is the medical team not helping him yet?”

“They’re busy pumping Peeters’ chest.”

“What’s the ball boy yelling? Anybody know?”

“I think he’s saying Artz is not breathing.”

“You cannot be serious!”

“Lots of excitement on court today, John. Can a winner be declared?”

“There’s no precedent. I mean, there is no confirmation but if both players are dead, I’m not sure they can. Peeters dropped first but they both were out within a minute of each other. Even if the match is over, a winner may not be decided today.”

“What an extraordinary Wimbledon this year, John. The record books have been rewritten.”

“You can say that again. And you get the sense next year will be even better, that’s for sure.”

END

 Copyright © Jenner Michaud, 2014

WWR#1427 – 2014 Summer Project: The Starting Line

Cluttered EnvAs mentioned last week, my summer project is to finalize and submit as many of my stories as I can for publishing consideration. Before doing the actual count of stories in my pile, I had estimated the number of stories at about a dozen. That number was significant but the plan was to finalize at least ten of those and get them out the door by the end September, which would be a great accomplishment.

The actual count came to an astonishing thirty-four projects, and that’s after discarding—for now—about a half dozen short stories too early in the process to be included in the summer project. Two of those thirty-four stories are novels, which leaves 32 short stories. They are of a variety of genres, including horror, science fiction, action-adventure post-apocalyptic, and a few I can’t even begin to categorize (anyone up for a story about a collection of active brains stored in a fishbowl the size of an Olympic pool during a body shortage?)

In an ideal world, those thirty-two short stories would be submitted by the end of September, which averages out to close to three submissions a week. Considering I’m also working on new stories and will likely lose my mind if I set new work completely aside, I feel like the odds of finalizing all 32 short stories in three months are about as good as me summiting Mount Everest this weekend.

At least I know where I stand and all I can do is pick one and start.

The first story from the summer project pile is Still Daughter, for which I have found a great market. As that anthology’s submission deadline is fast approaching, I’m trying to make good use of the feedback I received to make it all come together within the next few weeks. I’m confident I can get it done by the July 15 deadline (I need to), even if the story essentially needed an entire rewrite when I first dusted it off. I think I have resolved all but one of the major issues and it’s now mostly a matter of fine tuning.

Happy writing!