Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Few, Free, Nifty Programs

I tend to do all of my work on the computer, from brainstorming to the first draft to the outline, my correspondence, my research. True, I don't limit myself to Google (or Bing) since I have access to a number of academic databases.

I know, I know. I'm spoiled.

To tell the truth, sometimes I do need to get off my chair and reach for an actual book and leaf through the pages, either in a concerted search or at random, just to jump-start my muse.

But otherwise, I rely on free (freeware and opensource) software to do my work.

For word processing and other office-like work, I rely on OpenOffice.Org
Open Office. I can save documents in Word format and open them on just about any computer anywhere I need. From their website: 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.
I add to that a little dictionary and thesaurus that works from inside most word processing programs. On my computer, I can highlight a word in my OpenOffice document, click on the WordWeb icon in the taskbar, and get an instant definition and extensive synonym screen for that word.

Word Web

Word Web is also available in a for-pay, "Pro" version.

From their website:
WordWeb is a comprehensive one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows. It can be used to look up words from almost any program, showing definitions, synonyms and related words. It includes pronunciations and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.

Next, I like to keep track of word count, chapters, scenes per chapter, POV characters, and other structural elements with yWriter from SpaceJock Software. The creator of the program is a writer himself and yWriter continues to evolve as the creator refines it for his own needs. Big thanks for sharing it with us. Check out his sci-fi comedies while you visit his site!


From the website:
What is yWriter?
First, and most important, yWriter is FREE to download and use!

Second, and still rather important, it's a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

For Web browsing, I use Firefox

Is my browser of choice. For the occasional site that doesn't work in FF, I don't switch to Internet Explorer, but instead, I use a Firefox add-on that allows me to run pages in FF as it was Internet Explorer: IE Tab.

For my email needs, I use Thunderbird
I receive all my mail from my AoL account and from my web host in one place and I can keep track of my correspondence. The only thing I find awkward and haven't been able to solve so far is the interface with Yahoo! web mail. But since most of what goes to Yahoo is also forwarded to one of my other mail accounts, I'm OK.

One final cool thing to subscribe to: something I learned about from fellow writer Delilah Devlin. It's a site that will send you a "Giveaway of the Day", a program to download and install within a given period of time. Those are NOT freeware programs. They're full-featured, for-pay programs available to you for a short period. You get to read about them, and make up your mind whether you want to try them. Check it out here: Giveaway of the Day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Welcome to Sandy Lender

Today, let's welcome Sandy Lender to Alien Places.

Creating a story-world isn't easy, even when you research real places in today's world. Even when you've been to those places and can still walk those streets in your memory.

But what happens when you have to build an entire universe from scratch, invent its rules and rulers, its positive aspects and its dangers?

Let's hear from Sandy Lender how she does it. And don't forget to leave a comment! Sandy will be giving away a signed copy of her hard cover book to a lucky winner!

Sandy Lender!

Researching an Alien Place

By Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

I don’t get to do this for a living yet, but, for my second career, I build alien worlds in my imagination. I use research skills honed by 21 years of writing research papers and magazine articles to borrow from the Anglo-Saxon past of our real world, keep track of the legends, lands, and characters I create, and double-check the traditional elements of fantasy literature against the pros who’ve come before me. I’m a fantasy author who loves to put medieval symbolism in her work.

It’s difficult to explain why. Maybe I lived (for a really short time) in Anglo-Saxon England in a past life and I still carry part of the romance inside me. Or maybe I just enjoyed my Old English literature classes in college too much. Or maybe the year I lived in Mallorca, Spain, impressed upon me a yearning for old buildings alongside cliffs that overlook the spray of crashing ocean waves. Of course, in Anglo-Saxon times, those old buildings were quite drafty and cold…and I don’t do well with the cold.

So I made some changes to the OE themes that I admired so much in my research when I plugged them into my made-up world in CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. First of all, I’ve brought everyone’s lodgings “forward” a bit in technology. No drafty, cold castles. Also, the “hero” of CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS is a lady. It’s all girl power with Amanda Chariss as far as I’m concerned! A writer also has to tone down the OE propensity for mead-drinking and boasting in our modern book marketplace. While the folks sitting around listening to a scop tell the tale of BEOWULF would have loved all that, readers today think it’s kind of annoying for a hero to go about bragging on himself. So, of course, my hot and handsome Nigel Taiman sits in the shadows that blanket him like comfortable clothes and doesn’t tell a soul how he protects his family from his father’s rages.

Mostly, the elements I put in my fantasy novels don’t come from the real world. You can’t pick up an encyclopedia and find the origination of The Ungol race. I made it up for my fantasy world of Onweald. In my early scribbled notebooks, you’ll see them called Lognu, but I thought that sounded strange when I read it aloud. The Ungol are a peaceful, artistic race of beings that live in the underground network of sapedrels known as Tiurlang. (And then, just recently, I found a reference to ungol in a Tolkien book and, once again, cursed Tolkien for being a literary god. I was already upset with him for using the ultimately perfect name Smaug for a dragon.)

Be that as it may, the names of gods, goddesses, villages, and rivers in the alien land of Onweald are reminiscent of OE words and people. Symbols all over the series hearken back to OE themes of exile, ring-giving, serfdom, and loyalty to one’s leader that send me to the research books from time to time. The problem with checking on something in, say, ELENE or THE BATTLE OF MALDON, is that I get sucked in and end up reading the whole thing. The next thing I know, I’ve used up my writing time for that evening…Bummer!

Other than that, it all comes from my slightly off-kilter imagination. My research books for Onweald and the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series currently consist of tons of spiral notebooks, file folders full of stories and legends and character descriptions on the computer, a recipe box full of vocabulary words, and a bunch of other papers and notes and napkins with scribblings. My research includes a huge desk calendar with the phases of the moons of Onweald mapped out so I know exactly when both are full and when both are waning. It’s important when you’ve got an announcement to make by their light, you know. To a new reader, it’s only an alien place for a little while. I welcome you all to travel there with me!

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”