There are some interesting things going on at Literature & Latte. First, they’ve released a Windows Beta version of their unique and popular writing software Scrivener, which isn’t really news. However, what doesn’t seem well-known yet is that on their message boards, a group of folks are playing with an unofficial version for Linux.

If you’re really interested in using Scrivener, I urge you to sign up for the Windows Beta and try it out. Use Wine if you’re Linux only.Also, see the Linux user thread on L&L’s forum. Sign up; help out.Finally, be aware that I do not give any files directly in this post. I only link to files on L&L’s forums.

This’ll get you started, then once you’re up and running head back to L&L’s message board for updates.

Installation

I’m going to preface everything here with a quote from L&L’s Blog, 13 Sept. 2010:

​10. Syncing for iPad, iPhone and Working Externally

Theres been a minor furore over my announcement that we currently dont have any immediate plans for an iPad version, although an iPad version isnt ruled out altogether in the long-term (other platforms that Scrivener wont be coming to any time soon include Google Android,Linuxand Commodore 64). But even without a dedicated app, Scrivener 2.0 provides some great ways for you to take your Scrivener documents with you for editing on an iPad or iPhone.(Emphasis mine).

This is all very unofficial. I use Ubuntu 10.10, i386 on my laptop and AMD64 on my desktop, but this information should apply to other distros as well.

Manual (i386 & AMD64)

See the Announcements on the Windows Bug Hunt forum for the latest Beta release. As of this writing, it’s 1.3. Download the .zip file for Linux. I assume your download goes to ~/Download.

sudo unzip -d /tmp ~/Download/LinuxScrivenerBeta3.zip
sudo mv /tmp/LinuxScrivenerBeta3/LiteratureAndLatte /usr/local
sudo ldd /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/bin/Scrivener
sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/bin/Scrivener
sudo rm -r /tmp/LinuxScrivenerBeta3

Packages

randywallace has provided packages on the forum. The latest are available here. He provides deb, rpm, and tgz.

Spell Checking

Spell checking worked for some but not others.

i386

Make sure you have the libaspell and libaspell-devpackages installed. That’s it.

AMD64

Not so easy. It appearsthat Scrivener can’t use the 64-bit aspell libraries. But, it also seems that Opera had a similar issue on Ubuntu. Based on the Ubuntu help for Opera, I did the following:

Install libaspell and libaspell-dev from the repositories. This’ll put the AMD64 versions on your system.

Download the i386 versions of libaspell and libaspell-dev. If you’re not using Maverick, search for your release @ http://packages.ubuntu.com.Again, I assume you downloaded to ~/Downloads.

cd ~/Downloads
dpkg -x libaspell15_0.60.6-4ubuntu1_i386.deb ./libaspell
dpkg -x libaspell-dev_0.60.6-4ubuntu1_i386.deb ./libaspell-dev

You have a choice now. You can install to Scrivener’s lib directory:

sudo cp -d ./libaspell/usr/lib/libaspell* /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/lib/
sudo cp -d ./libaspell-dev/usr/lib/libaspell* /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/lib/

Or you can install to /usr/lib32 (which is what I did):

sudo cp -d ./libaspell/usr/lib/libaspell* /usr/lib32/
sudo cp -d ./libaspell-dev/usr/lib/libaspell* /usr/lib32/

In either /usr/lib32 or /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/lib, you should wind up with:

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 936 2010-11-24 16:19 /usr/lib32/libaspell.la
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 19 2010-11-24 16:19 /usr/lib32/libaspell.so -> libaspell.so.15.1.4
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 19 2010-11-24 16:18 /usr/lib32/libaspell.so.15 -> libaspell.so.15.1.4
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 603852 2010-11-24 16:18 /usr/lib32/libaspell.so.15.1.4

My original forum post is here.

Install the Tutorial

The Linux zip file is provided without the Tutorial project. Here’s how you can add it.This requires an install of the Windows Beta, either in Wine or on Windows box:

  1. In the Windows install, go to:C:\Program Files\Scrivener
  2. In that directory, you’ll find a folder called:Tutorial.scriv
  3. Copy that entire folder to the bin directory of your Linux Scrivener install. This might be /usr/local/LiteratureAndLatte/bin or /opt/scrivener_beta/bin depending on if you installed from scratch or used one of the packages from @randywallace.
  4. Make sure theTutorial.scrivdirectory and all its files/subdirectories are owned by root:
chown -R root:root Tutorial.scriv
  1. Start Scrivener, go toHelp -> Open Tutorial, and choose a place to save the Tutorial project.

Tutorial.scrivis not distributed in the Linux zip. I assume there’s a good reason, so do the above at your own risk.

Well, that’s it for now. Enjoy!

Most people should be familiar with Blatty’s The Exorcist by now. I mean, it’s a classic, right? The mere mention of the title suggests Linda Blair spewing ungodly amounts of pea soup. So no introduction is necessary. It is definitely a great horror novel that everyone with even a minor interest in horror should read. Go read it. Now. I mean it.

Okay, all due praise aside, there are two things about the novel that stood out for me as a writer.

The first is Blatty’s use of point of view (POV). The story is told in third-person, and there’s no surprise there, but Blatty often violates something I hear repeated in how-to books and workshops: stick to one POV as much as possible, and never switch POV in a scene, let alone within a paragraph. But Blatty does exactly this throughout. For example:

From the stoop, Karl watched, his features stolid and impassive as Kinderman opened the door of the squad car, reached inside to a box of Kleenex fixed to the dashboard, extracted a tissue and blew his nose while staring idly across the river as if considering where to have lunch. Then he entered the car without glancing back.

As the car pulled away and rounded the corner of Thirty-fifth, Karl looked at the hand that was not on the doorknob and saw it was trembling.

When she heard the front door being closed, Chris was brooding at the bar in the study, pouring out a vodka over ice. Footsteps. Karl going up the stairs. (p. 211)

There’s no break in the quote above, and this jumping from one POV to another without any visual cue takes place throughout the novel. I don’t point this out as a flaw; I think it works for this book. But, I don’t think it’s generally a good idea. As a reader, I had to adjust to the lack of transitions in POV switch, and while I got accustomed to it eventually I found it a chore at first. So I think the advice I keep hearing about sticking to a single POV is well-given, but I think that in part it’s because modern readers aren’t accustomed to such changes.

The second thing that sticks out is how Father Karras, who is also a psychologist, acts almost counter to how one might expect a priest to act in his situation (at least in 1971). Chris MacNeil asks for his help with Regan, certain that her daughter’spossessed, and what does Karras do? He tries to prove she’s not possessed. This seems less bizarre once the reader learns he’s following church procedure:

The exorcist will simply be careful that none of the patient’s manifestations are left unaccounted for… (p. 254)

So Karras sets out to give non-religious explanations for Regan’s behavior, going so far as to offer uppsychokinesisand otherpara-psychologicalreasons. Chris becomes upset with his approach, wanting for him to also believe Regan possessed, and Karras tries to put an end to one argument with:

“The best explanation for any phenomenon,” Karras overrode [Chris], “is always the simplest one available that accommodates all the facts.” (p. 239)

I’m reminded of an essay by Marion Zimmer Bradley I read earlier this year in How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction (Ed. J.N. Williamson)called “World Building in Horror, Occult, and Fantasy Writing”. I blogged about it back in March, and in that post I used the following quote from the essay:

The major choice, then, for the writer of horror, fiction or nonfiction, is to choose between limited and unlimited views of reality–the horrors of the tabloid writer, the true-crime addict, or the specialist in abnormal psychiatry, whether or not the unknown belongs to a different order of reality–to choose between the worlds, in fact, of the policeman, the priest, or the parapsychologist. (Williamson, p. 76)

What strikes me as unique about The Exorcist is how Blatty uses Father Karras more as a parapsychologist than a priest. What’s more, Blatty didn’t choose between the worlds, as Bradley suggests, but he incorporates all three worlds–policeman, priest, and parapsychologist–in a single work, giving the novel depth through multiple perspectives on a single situation. Thepolicemanis represented by Detective Kinderman, who spends the novel investigating the death of one of Chris’ associates, a man killed off-screen but who the reader comes to believe is killed by Regan while possessed. And the exorcist is also represented by a priest, Father Merrin, called in at the end once Karras is able put in a request for Exorcism.

Blatty does a wonderful job of blending the three worlds throughout, giving the reader a well-rounded picture exorcism in the modern age. And it is this well-rounded picture that puts this book at the top of my list of classics.

One of the most challenging things I struggle with as both a writer of fiction and a student of literature (yeah, they always go together) is which tool to use when. I believe that while reading and writing are intricately related–you must be well-read to be well-written–they don’t use the same mental tools.

The term plot (my archenemy when it comes to writing) appears in both toolkits, and I think that is terribly confusing.

I believe that good stories almost invariable need a good plot. But I also believe that there’s a difference between plot as used in literary analysis and plot as used by writers. Plot as a complex tool of literary analysis does me little good as a writer. I don’t want an analysis of an end product, I want guidelines for creating something new.

Ansen Dibell shows us in Plot that she understands the need for this distinction. She opens chapter one with:

The common definition of plot is that it’s whatever happens in a story. That’s useful when talking about completed stories, but when we’re considering stories being written, it’s about as useful as saying that a birthday cake is a large baked confection with frosting and candles. It doesn’t tell you how to make one. (pg 5)

What she does is offer a clear working definition of plot and supplies relevant material to help any writer in the struggle to develop and create plots that work. “Cause and effect: that’s what makes plot.” (pg. 6)

Dibell provides a breakdown of plot in terms of cause and effect, and leads up to a list of four questions a writer can use to test a story idea, which I’ve dutifully tacked up on my bulliten board:

  1. Is it your story to tell?
  2. Is it too personal for readers to become involved with?
  3. Is it going somewhere?
  4. What’s at stake?

The rest of the chapters address various elements a writer should pay attention to when working on a story to help craft the plot: openings, point-of-view (POV), exposition, middles, scene building, melodrama, patterns, pacing, and endings. In all of her discussions, she provides excellent supporting examples, some from the original Star Wars trilogy, which I think takes her advice from academic to practical. I recommend the book to anyone interested in writing. Here are a few ways she helped me.

The chapter on POV, titled “Would You Trust A Viewpoint with Shifty Eyes?”, is particularly relevant to me. My thesis novel has a problem here, and it happened because I wasn’t paying enough attention. I shift between the viewpoints of… crap, I just added it up: three major characters and six minor characters. That’s nine viewpoints across 400 pages.

Dibell suggests sticking with a single POV, and tells us that, “A story with too many focuses can become a story with no focus at all.” (pg 12) I panicked, but not for long. She concedes that a writer may choose to use multiple POVs and provides practical advice to reduce reader distraction, such as building in connections, keeping things simple at the beginning, and never switching in the middle of a scene. But above all, she reminds us that it is the writer’s eyes that matter the most, that the writer must have a coherent vision of the story. Whew. I think I’m okay then.

I also found the chapter on melodrama enlightening. It made me realize that I often avoid melodrama in my scenes, tending more towards understatement and subtlety. But she tells us that melodrama is critical to creating a good plot:

Melodrama is the technique of revealing reality by concentrating on the ends of the spectrum rather than the middle, the remarkable rather than the ordinary. (pg 81)

She calls it lightning, and she’s right. In fiction, particularly in genre fiction, readers look for the remarkable and a writer can’t fulfill that need by writing strictly in ordinary scenes. As writers we must break out from the ordinary and show the extraordinary, and what’s more, the writer must make it believable. Dibell provides guidance on tackling melodrama, which she embodies as a curse for example, and making it believable with two sets of techniques, the straightforward and the sleight-of-hand.

Straightforward (pg.84 - 89)

  1. Show that it works right away
  2. Show that the curse has worked in the recent past.
  3. Establish a reasonable character, and have him take the curse seriously.
  4. Surround your curse with tangible everyday objects and activities, described in detail.
  5. Use just one curse at a time (and don’t cross genres).
  6. Don’t undercut your curse.
  7. Especially at first, don’t talk about the curse yourself, in narrative summary.
  8. Don’t let the curse either take over, rendering the whole story weird and uninvolving, or become commonplace.

Sleight-of-hand (pg. 90 - 91)

  1. Introduce the melodramatic element by the back door in a scene ostensibly dealing with something else.
  2. Have one or two previews, or false alarms, before the real curse shows up.
  3. Have a character expecting something even more extraordinary, so that when the real curse comes, it’ll seem credible by comparison.
  4. Have a character expecting a smaller and more credible version of the thing you actually intend to spring on him.

She closes the chapter by suggesting that novel-length fiction should use multiple techniques throughout, which seems like a given to me. But she’s provided a practical list of tools that I can use to strengthen my current work, which deals with some pretty extraordinary events.

Other chapters  of note for me were on patterns, and of course, coming to the end. Ending a story is always a struggle for me, I think in part because I’m afraid I didn’t say enough–which is a very bad fear for a writer to have–or maybe because I’m just not sure when I got there. She emphasis that we must stop at the end, and provides two “shapes” for endings: circular and linear. I won’t go into details on each, the names are pretty self-evident, but I suggest that anyone who struggles with coming to a stop as I do will benefit from her guidance.

I think I stated in my last post on a how-to book that I hate them. That’s still true–mostly. Dibell’s work on plot has given me hope, however, that there’s more how-to literature on writing out there that isn’t just a rehashing of the same old advice. It’s practical and refreshing, and though I found myself reluctant to get engaged in her book, in the end I did just that, and I feel that my writer’s toolbox has grown considerably for it.

If you want to write, and the idea of plotting makes you cringe, give this book a read.

I just finished reading Nate Kenyon’s latest novel, Sparrow Rock, a story of a group of high school kids who find themselves trapped in a bomb shelter by accident just as the end of the world arrives. Read the official synopsis from Nate’s site.

The novel has received excellent reviews at multiple sites, and I think the praise is well-deserved. Kenyon has produced a fast-paced, engaging tale of survival. This is the second book I’ve read by Kenyon. I read Bloodstone some months back as a sample of a first novel, but have yet to get to a post on it. I thought it an excellent tale as well, and I will keep his work at the top of my list from here on out.

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book, you might want to read this later.

What I found most interesting about Sparrow Rock was Kenyon’s choice of point of view. The tale is told in first person, and while it’s not all that rare, I wondered immediately why Kenyon made that choice. And about half-way through, I reached an “ah-ha” moment.

Pete, the main and POV character, is trapped with his friends, but there’s one friend he’s particularly close to: Tessa. Pete killed his abuse father years earlier (yes, the guy deserved it) and Tessa helped him recover his sanity after the incident. Summing it up like that, I’m sure you can guess why Nate choose first-person. Tessa is a figment of Pete’s imagination, and to have told the story any other way would have ruined her part in the tale.

I’m not a big fan of alternate personalities in stories. It think it can and has been done well–King’s The Dark Half, where you know pretty much from the get-go. But I also think it’s an over-used device across the board–movies, TV, books. But here, Kenyon pulls it off and in such a way that it adds value to the story without feeling trite or cliché. A big part of my turn-off to the alternate personality is that too often the reader is kept in the dark until the end, where the big reveal relies on reader surprise to “It was me all along!” The story hinges on the fact that the reader doesn’t know until just the right moment, and if the reader knows too soon, the gig is up and the book gets put down or the TV gets turned off. Blech. Enough already.

However, Sparrow Rock doesn’t hinge on this. Tessa is an intricate part of how Pete behaves, but she is not a key part of why he survives. And she definitely played no part in the events that lead up to the apocalypse. She’s just an aspect of his character hewn from the trauma of killing his father. She’s a part of what makes him interesting, a key to his internal conflict.

I recall the exact moment I realized she was imaginary. The kids all vacate the shelter’s bedroom when they discover a huge mosquito that had been feeding on one of them (disgusting and awesome!). They run into the shelter’s dining area and lock the door, and Pete realizes that Tessa is missing. He busts back into the bedroom, kills the mosquito, only to see Tessa standing behind the other kids in the dining area. In that moment, I realized that only Pete ever spoke to Tessa. None of the other characters ever acknowledged her presence, but they did respond to Pete at times as if he’d lost his mind, usually just after he had spoken to Tessa.

Pete acknowledges later in the narrative that she’s imaginary, and part of his coming to grips with killing his father is to abandon her as a support system. She helps him survive, she’s harmless to the others (in fact, early on Pete talks about how she helped change bandages on one of the other kids), and she helps the reader understand just how broken he is. I think, in the end, Pete’s  survival is all the more merited because he’s not only fought the crazy, postapocalyptic bugs, but because he’s had to work though an issue he had resigned to living with long before the story starts.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for postapocalyptic horror. I can’t wait to read more of Kenyon’s work. He’s definitely earned my respect as a writer.

Bently Little’s The Town was published in 2000, and I think even 10 years later it holds up as a good story. I found Bently’s take on small-town horror refreshing in many ways, even though the idea of horror in a small town isn’t so unique by today’s standards. The story involves a family of six who move back to the father’s home town after winning the lottery to simplify their lives and exchange the dangers of LA for the assumed tranquility of McGuane, Arizona.

Once the family moves, a very serious and diverse set of circumstances occur. Several deaths take place, the town is slowly overrun by evil spirits, and some very bizarre possessions happen–one involving a Molokan church growing hair.

I really appreciate how Bently handled the characters. Winning the lottery is supposed to be a good thing–as is anything that brings a person into money–but in this case, Bently provides what feels like a more realistic take on the matter. The father, Gregory, finds himself at odds because he no longer has purpose. He doesn’t have to work for money and is no longer tightly connected with the town. He finds some pet projects, one of which is to help an old high school friend redevelop his café into a small entertainment venue, all of which wind up backfiring. Everything Gregory experiences in the book, the supernatural as well as his well-intentioned actions, drive him slowly insane. I cared about this man, and the rest of the family, because even though they had money their lives were tough. I was reminded of the main characters in Ed Lee’s The Golem–also rich–and the reason I didn’t care much for them was that they had options. I felt they could have walked away at any time and that their hardship was self-inflicted. In the case of The Town, the money won from the lottery was paid annually (I think @ 80K), the family spent most of the first check on the new house, and there was no walking away. They were stuck in their situation for at least a year, until the next check arrived. To make it even worse, the house they bought had a sordid history–unknown by Gregory at the time of purchase–and there was little to no chance of them reselling it.

Bently also tied the events in the story up very well in the end. So many strange things occur, that mid-way through I found myself thinking there was no way everything related. But through an interesting convergence of Molokan and Native American mythologies, Bently came up with a satisfying explanation that unified the deaths, possessions, and general craziness of the town. And to have the solution to the hauntings require the cooperation of the two cultures–through ritual and force–really reinforced the explanation of the hauntings.

I was unfamiliar with the term Molokan before reading this book, and while I didn’t read it for a cultural lesson I found myself reading up a little on the culture. They’re a fascinating sect of Christianity from Russia, and I think Bently’s use of Molokans instead of the more familiar Catholics gave the book an interesting take on christian spirituality and mythology.

If you like  small-town horror and supernatural horror, this book should be on your list. I’ll definitely pick up more of Bently’s work down the road.