Procrastinating – Linklings

One of the great things about having a 3D printer is the ability to feel like you’re accomplishing something while you’re really just procrastinating. Load a file, hit print, and then you’re making something without actually doing anything. One of my favorite things to print are these linklings. They print well, print quickly, and you really can never have too many.

Another way to successfully procrastinate is to play around with the 15-or so linklings you’ve just printed. I kind of made it a challenge to see how many linklings I can balance on top of a single one. So far I’ve done a total of 16, in various poses. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve come up with when I should have been writing.

How do you prefer to procrastinate?

Fusion 360

In addition to being a writer, I’m also a designer. Most of my career has been spent around screen and digital printing so most of my design skills have developed around graphic design and color and material design. These skills have served me well, and I have successfully translated these skills into woodworking and other design applications but when it came to true 3D design, my skills and tools were sadly lacking.

In a previous position I designed and 3D printed some sample display assets, and last year my wife and son decided I needed a 3D printer of my own, so I have some CAD experience, but everything I’d done was with the free TinkerCAD software, which is extremely limited. But by designing some of the complex shapes in Illustrator and exporting as an svg file to be imported into TinkerCAD, I was able to get around a lot of the limitations. Eventually, though, those limitations became too much so I finally listened to the advice of others and signed up for the free Fusion 360 “startup” license.

For anyone interested in learning CAD, CAM & CAE software, I cannot recommend this highly enough. A design engineer I used to work with recommended it to me and I can only kick myself for waiting so long to download it.

Like most professional CAD/CAM software, there is a steep learning curve, but there are tons of tutorials online, through autodesk themselves as well as from other design professionals. It also really helps having a son who is somewhat experienced with solidworks to give me pointers, but there is plenty of information and helpful forums on line for those of you without engineering students to rely on.

My first Fusion 360 project from scratch was a speedloader/thumbsaver for a 9mm. It went through a couple iterations to get where I wanted it, but it turned out great and was an awesome learning experience. Now I just have to come up with my next project.

Looking for an Agent

I’ve independently published each of my books so far, and I love doing so, but with My Life As Death I’ve decided to try the traditional publishing route. There are a lot of benefits to indie publishing, and a lot of negative aspects of traditional publishing but I think it will be worth trying at least once.

To start down the traditional publishing route it’s usually recommended that you have an agent, so the first step for me was to research agents. Unfortunately there are a lot of them out there and I have no real connections to the literary world so it was a bit like trying to research insurance or real estate agents for the first time. But I found several agents that looked reputable and successful so I then started researching what I needed to do to query an agent. That’s where I got stuck.

Most of the agents I am interested in request a synopsis of your book. Since I’m writing MLAD without any sort of outline and it’s only a little over 1/2 way done , I can’t say exactly what’s going to happen in the rest of the book. And I get the impression most agents aren’t interested in half of a synopsis, so the agent search is temporarily on hold, and it sucks.

But that is very indicative of my biggest problem with traditional publishing – the waiting. I’m one of those people who likes to multitask and keep moving forward but everything in trad publishing seems to take forever. Complete the book, write query letters and a synopsis, then wait for an agent to agree to represent you. Then query publishers and wait for one to accept you. Then go through rounds of editing, cover design, layout etc…, then wait for it to finally be published. Just writing out the process depresses me because I can’t wait to get this story to the readers. But I’m going to attempt the trad route which means I’m going to have to learn to be comfortable with the slower process. And in the mean time, I still have a couple other nearly finished books that I’ll be able to independently publish.

Writing in my head instead of sleeping

I’ve had a few nights recently where I’ve laid in bed thinking about my books instead of sleeping. I know a lot of people suggest keeping a note book by the bed for just such an occasion but I’ve never felt a need to do so. If the thoughts are really good, and especially if they are about a current book I’m working on, then I have no trouble remembering.

The first night it happened I found myself thinking about “My Life As Death” and some of the interactions the main character had with secondary characters. The scenes were good, the interactions felt natural and everything moved the story forward so I had no idea why my mind was focused on them. But as I laid there, I realized that the secondary character was going to have a bigger part to play in the story a little later on. It was exciting to know a little of what was to come, but with that figured out I was able to sleep.

During the next night of sleeplessness I found myself thinking about the same book and the same secondary character so I was a little upset. I’d already spent some sleepless time dealing with them and I thought I had it all figured out so I didn’t want to spend more time thinking about them and not sleeping. But then my thoughts drifted to their back story. I’d hinted about their history a little, and dropped a few details to add some depth to their character, but I didn’t expect it to have a major influence on the overall plot. Then somehow, those little details that I’d sprinkled into the beginning of the story, began to make even more sense to the overall plot. I saw not only what was going to happen to this secondary character, but also why. And it all tied back to some of the earliest words I’d written about them even though I hadn’t planned it at all. Those details, which I’d considered to be a throw away character description, turned out to be part of one of the biggest twists I’ve written. I loved it and I loved the character even more because of it. Too bad they have to die.

Writing in the Rain

I don’t know what it is about the rain, but I love it. It doesn’t really make sense because I’m very active outside and rain usually stops me from doing most of the things I like to do outside, but I love a good storm. Even more so, I love writing on my back porch, under the steel roof during a good storm and this morning I got to do just that.

I haven’t been writing quite as much as I would like to recently but it’s been for the right reasons. And as I get used to the contract work I’m doing, and the kids and new grandkids get settled into their routines, I’m sure my writing time will increase. But even with the little time I’ve been allowing myself to write, I’ve been making great progress on My Life As Death. This morning I hit 30,000 words which is somewhere between 35% and 60% of where I expect it to end up. There’s a lot of discrepancy in what various people consider acceptable word count for novels but I like shorter books so I target 50,000-80,000 words, especially for a young adult book like this.

But even though the writing is going well, I thought I’d been hit with my first bout of writer’s block with this story just a couple days ago. I had a good writing session one day but when I sat down to continue the next day I realized the main character Nate had agreed to get together with one character (Shawna) but ended up doing something else with another (his best friend Weed). It was a silly mistake, so I decided to rewrite the scene having him get together with Shawna like he’d promised. Only, I struggled with that writing session. I had to work to get anything typed up and when I re-read what I wrote, it didn’t really seem to advance the story or any of the characters; It was just kind of a filler scene. I didn’t like it at all. The scene might have worked at a different point in the story, but not there.

The problem was that I knew exactly what the story needed (the scene with Weed) and I ‘d already written it, but only because I’d forgotten that Nate had made other plans. Then it dawned on me that since I’d forgotten Nate’s other plans so easily, he might have as well. I put the original scene back in, and had Nate realize too late that he’d forgotten his plans with Shawna. This took things in a whole different direction and compounded some already existing conflict between him and Shawna. So what I thought was writer’s block was just the story telling me to get out of the way because it knows what it’s doing.

So this morning, as I wrote in the rain, I got to continue on from that point in the story and I can honestly say that I didn’t see anything that I wrote coming. And because the story keeps surprising me and keeps drawing me further in, I hope it’ll do the same to you when you finally get to read it.

New Web Address

For those eagle eyed few who might have noticed, yes, the Keyboard Monkeys web address has changed. WordPress was having a flash deal so I went ahead and got the domain keyboardmonkeys.blog to make this site’s address easier to remember and to get rid of the annoying ads. Otherwise, the site should look the same, at least for now. I may eventually play around with site layout but for now I think it works well.

Writing Update 4/5/19

My recipe posts have been getting a lot of attention recently but I want to be clear that this will not be turning into a food site. This is a writing site and the recipe posts are practice for my eventual cook book, tentatively titled “Recipes to Make While Drinking a Beer”. I like the title, even though I haven’t actually been drinking any beer while cooking (or really while doing anything else) lately. I have an obstacle course race coming up in a couple months and I’m just now starting to prepare for it.

My fitness training has cut into my writing time a little, but I’m also spending a lot more time on contracted design work. That, plus a couple new grand kids being born and a wife recovery from surgery means that I’ve not gotten a whole lot of writing done the past couple weeks. But I’m getting a routine worked out, and have several hours dedicated to writing today, so I hope to get back on track. My Life As Death continues to surprise me every time I sit down to work on it so I can’t wait to see where it goes. And Zero Sum is so close to being done that I get antsy any time I think about it. I can’t wait to share these books with all of you, so continue to check back here for updates; I’ll be needing beta readers real soon.

Candied Bacon (and butter pecan ice cream)

So the other night I was fixing bacon for dinner, baking it in the oven, and I realized a few pieces would have to go on a separate cookie sheet. I figured that since they were on their own sheet I could do a little something different, so I decided to try my hand at candied bacon. Having never candied bacon before, I didn’t know what to expect, and though desecrating bacon is tantamount to sacrilege I decided to try it any ways and I’m glad I did.

This is just my first attempt and by no means a perfected recipe but it will give you an idea how simple it really is. I cannot recommend highly enough that you try it for yourself.

Ingredients

  • Bacon (I only used a few pieces)
  • Brown sugar (I used too much)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper
  3. Layout bacon on parchment paper with one hand and sprinkle brown sugar on it with the other, flipping to get a light dusting on both sides.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, being careful not to burn
  5. Let cool for 5-10 before serving

Additional Thought:

  • Again, this is just the initial recipe so changes will be coming, probably even to baking time and temp
  • A lot of recipes suggest using a combination of brown sugar, rice vinegar and maple syrup, but again I went simple the first time out
  • Other recipes also suggest adding salt, pepper (black or cayenne), cumin or even nuts. I might have to try some/all of these next time.

Chocolate Lava Cake

The way to my wife’s heart is easy – Chocolate. Because of this, and my own love of it, I have many recipes that involve chocolate. I will be posting all of them at some point, but the most recent recipe is also the one everyone seems to enjoy the most – Chocolate Lava Cake.

Guys, this recipe will score you major points with the ladies and is extremely easy to make. The only thing that might deter you from making it is the fact that you need to bake it in ramekins (basically a small ceramic bowl). I’ve heard of people making lava cakes in ceramic coffee mugs, and that might work for this recipe too, but I’ve not tried it. And to be honest, ramekins aren’t that expensive (especially on Amazon) and they’re great for other dishes, or even as bowls for dip, so get yourself some; you’ll use them. This recipe will make 4 small (~half filled), 3 good sized (~3/4 filled), or 2 “my” sized (full) servings.

Ingredients

  • butter (as needed) to coat the inside of the ramekins
  • 4 eggs (2 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate (chopped or chips)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Completely cover the inside of the desired (5 1/2 ounce) ramekins with butter. I keep these in the fridge while I mix the batter.
  2. Separate the two egg yolks first, in case you break the yolks you can still use it as one of the whole eggs.
  3. Blend together egg yolks, eggs, and sugar in a bowl, preferable with a hand mixer, but a whisk will work.
  4. Melt chocolate and 1/3 cup butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 1-2 minutes, checking every 15-20 seconds. Time required will vary depending on your microwave. Do not over-heat.
  5. Stir melted chocolate mixture into egg and sugar mixture until combined.
  6. Mix in cocoa powder.
  7. Add flour, salt and vanilla extract into the mixture and continue blending.
  8. Spoon or pour mixture evenly between the buttered ramekins. For the best presentation you can gently tap the ramekins on the counter to remove any air bubbles.
  9. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (but you can prepare even a day in advance and leave in the fridge over night).
  10. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  11. Place the ramekins in a casserole dish. I’ve found that 4-6 ramekins fit nicely in a 9″x13″ dish but I use a smaller 8″x8″ if I’m doing less. Pour enough hot tap water into the casserole dish (not into the ramekins) to reach halfway up however far you filled the ramekins.
  12. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes.
  13. Remove from oven and cool for at least 15 minutes.
  14. Dust with powdered sugar.

Additional Thoughts:

  • If you buttered the ramekins well you should be able to remove the cake by loosening the edges with a knife and inverting onto a plate before dusting with powdered sugar. This looks a little more fancy but also makes an extra dish so I usually just serve in the ramekins.
  • Separating eggs really isn’t that hard, just watch a few you tube videos and take your time.
  • Using this recipe to make 3 servings seems to be the best amount for most people
  • The inside is supposed to me gooey / runny, that’s what makes it lava cake. But you can adjust the cooking time to get your desired texture.
  • I suggest making this once or twice before you try to make it to impress anyone else. I’ve never had it come out bad but it’s best to know what to expect from your oven.

Just Write

My books haven’t been selling as well as I’d like recently so I’ve attended a couple webinars by extremely successful Indie and hybrid writers on how to improve this. Most of the advice and research would suggest that my biggest problem is not having enough reviews (so if you’ve read any of my books, please post a review on Amazon, Itunes, Kobo, Goodreads, wherever. Any honest review would be great!) but getting reviews is not something I can control. A great webinar yesterday with extremely successful Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson had some good tips on how to encourage reviews, but at the end of the day there’s nothing I can do (short of spending $425-$575 on a Kirkus review) to guarantee I get a single review. So rather than focus on this I’ve decided the best way to expand my readership and grow in my writing career is to “Just Write”.

The phrase “Just Write” has been in my head for a few weeks now though I don’t know why. And while I haven’t been spending as much time writing as I would like, every time I sit down to work on My Life As Death I end up averaging around 1,000 new words. This is unprecedented for me. In the past I’ve usually averaged 350 words, and considered 500 to be great. I don’t know if it’s the story, which is really flowing well, or the characters which surprise me every time I sit down, or even just that I’m getting better as a writer but whatever the reason, I’ll take it. But there are times that I get concerned that because I’m not really in control of the writing process that the creative energy will suddenly stop and I won’t be able to get it back. That bothers me a little but then I realize that I can’t control that either, and in the end the only thing I can do is “just Write”.

By the way – the “Just Write typewriter graphic will be making its way to some merchandise soon. Check back here or at the design shop for updated offerings.

UPDATE! “Just Write” T-shirts are now available! Check them out HERE