30 June 2010

Tools: Bento and GoodReads

Being the tech geek that I am, I've used Bento to track the books I read during the year. The database program, which seems more like a simple spreadsheet program than a database, allows me to type in my notes ...  what I liked about the book, what I didn't, character lists, synposis (which I tend to pilfer from Wikipedia), book art, and my rating. It is completely customizable, in that I can use what ever fields I want to record my experience of the books I read. Below is a screen shot of my library in Bento.

But I've been using GoodReads.com lately to keep track of the books I read.

The service allows me to connect with other readers and see what they are reading, see their reviews, write my own review of a book, and participate in online reading groups, i.e. the Sword and Laser podcast has a group discussion that I follow. The service is a double-edged sword ...  the plus -- lots of cool bits to follow and read, the negative -- I could easily waste hours on the site checking things out.

As a writer, I miss writing down the bits about what I liked about a book and what I didn't, sorta helping me assess my own writing skill and think about techniques I might like to try. So, I'm contemplating a return to Bento while continuing to use GoodReads.com. Seems like double duty, but I enjoy "connecting," even if it is mostly lurking, with others and finding other books to read, but want the explore the detail I enter into Bento to help me grow as a reader and writer. I will just cut and paste from Bento into GoodReads if I feel the need to write a full review in GoodReads.

Just an example to two tools that overlap in their use, but I how make them work for me.

Bento would also be good to track character, stories, plots and other story bits. I've set up templates for some of these, but haven't used them. Yet. (I use it to track the recipes I download from the internet - useful for searching.)

And if you are interested in checking out my list on GoodReads, you can find me here. Feel free to friend me.

24 June 2010

Sideways Thinking at Work - Lightning Strikes

Recently, I was performing some much-delayed-research for my first story. I'd put off finding names for the houses for over a year and a half. (Yes, the houses have names. My story takes place in a time where large estates and castles are named. I suppose people may still give their houses names, but I don't know of anyone that does.)

Anyways ...

While looking up plant and tree names that grow in the Scottish Highlands, I came across a post about regions of the Highlands that are being re-tree'd, hopefully reestablishing native plants and animals. Made me wonder if they would decide to re-introduce wolves to Scotland, a politically charged topic there as it was/is here in the States.

Then literally, in my mind, I heard a voice. And no, I'm not crazy. I immediately took a sticky note and wrote down what I heard. I'd really like to share what the voice said, but it feels like a story seed. Something that would be fun to flesh out ... Scotland and wolves.


In the first writing online course I took, HTTS, Holly Lisle talks about how ideas come from lightning and from sideways thinking. I've mentioned it before here and here.

Lightning. Without even me calling for it. For a newish writer such as myself, this event is way cool. So now, my two sentence note is hanging in from my desk shelf, waiting for me to finish with these other two manuscripts.

Just had to share.

And for those interested in the house names so far ... The first house is named Faradach den Beithe, translated from Gaelic to English is the dwelling in the birch. The second residence is based on the Rose Clan Castle in the Highlands near Nairn, so I've used one of its historical names: Cill Rathaig, translated to mean the church at the small circular.

15 June 2010

Big Picture

I did it -- I printed it. You know the big picture that I said I didn't need.

Couldn't help it. The map sits above my little white board, and I can glance at it anytime I want or need to.

Just because I could.

09 June 2010

Today, I Love ....

... Adobe Photoshop Elements!

Why? Well, last night I stitched together a panorama of a recent sunset, which helped me to think of it as a solution for a problem in my writing today.

See, my story borrows lots of facts from our own world, one of those is the Scottish Clan system. And there is a cool map of the Highland Clans. While this is just a snapshot of the clan system, it really helps me in my planning and plotting. I wanted to be able to look at the map while not at my desk along with a Scottish clan book (while waiting for tonight's dinner was grilling, should the truth be known). But it is a pain to print out the map from the website.

In comes Elements.

I took several screen shots, then used Elements' cool panorama function to stitch together one file of the map. The finished map, were I to print it out at full size, is something like 20" x 20". However, I just needed one letter-sized map and a zoomed in version of Nairn and Inverness. After changing the print settings, voila, I have what I wanted.

Another smile worthy moment.

That is why today I love Photoshop Elements.