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Snowflake Pro Outlining Software: A Review

I fully admit that I hate outlining. It rarely feel as satisfying as actually writing the novel I’ve cooked up in my head. Often, I end up with a jumbled mess of scene and chapter breakdowns that don’t serve me well in the first or subsequent drafts.

That’s why I decided to try Snowflake Pro. I was hesitant because I’ve had experience with screenplay outlining software that was either too complex or tried to put my script into a formulaic, three-act box. Thankfully, while author and software developer Randy Ingermanson talks about three acts and other structural tools, he doesn’t push them hard, so I felt comfortable only using what I needed to help me write my outline.

The snowflake method isn’t new. The idea is to start with a simple pattern and make it increasingly elaborate until you end up with a beautifully designed snowflake or, in this case, a novel.

Snowflake Pro retails for $100, but discount codes are easy to find. I paid $50. It’s easy to install. The only issue I had was that it’s not yet compatible with Mac OS Sierra, but a quick email to Snowflake’s support staff told me that all I needed was to download an earlier version of Flash. I did and was quickly up and running.

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Snowflake first asks you to choose a number 1 through 6 for how much detail you want in your outline. It didn’t give any direction as to what those levels meant, so I chose 4, which felt about right.

After entering some author information, step 1 asks you to write a one-sentence summary of your story. I think this is a vital step in any story development process, and one that was very familiar to me through my years of writing screenplays.

In subsequent steps, Snowflake has you expand that one sentence, first to a paragraph, then to longer synopses. It alternates this with steps where you develop your characters in more detail. At each step, Ingermanson offers a short audio lecture to guide you. I found these useful to get my bearings. Less useful are the examples offered from other books. There are only five available: Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter, Book 1, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. I would like to see a wider variety of well-known classic and genre novels, and isn’t Pirates a movie, not a novel?

I appreciated the systematic way the software helped me expand my novel. When new ideas or changes popped into my head, it was easy to backtrack and add them in at earlier steps. In fact, Ingermanson encourages this.

Not as useful to me was the step where you add various details to your character profiles: what color are their eyes, what kind of clothes do they wear, what books do they read, etc. I know some writers like to consider these things, but I find it useful only when it comes up in my narrative.

While I loved the step where you make a list of your scenes (Though I know they’re going to change as I write.), it wasn’t useful to think about the typical pages per scene and the ideal pages per chapter. If that’s what your focus is on at this point, you’d better get your head back in your story.

The other step I found kind of strange was the final one, where you take what you’ve outlined and turn it into a proposal, adding marketing details, endorsements, etc. I know it’s useful to consider some of these things before writing a novel, but what are you going to do with a formal proposal? Unless you’re an established writer with an agent and publisher, who’s going to even read it?

I also missed having spell check and drag-and-drop editing. I’m so used to those conveniences in Word and other software that it made Snowflake Pro feel a little underdeveloped.

Overall though, I would highly recommend Snowflake to any writer who wants to improve his or her outlines. While you could create something like this on your own, it’s great to have it in a neat package. In my humble opinion, it was well worth a $50 investment in your writing.

Kelee

 

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A Quiet Blog Means Hard Work is Afoot

I haven’t shared much recently because I’ve been so busy with my writing (as well as the rest of my life). While waiting to get comments back from my beta readers on Goddess, Book 2, I’ve been hard at work outlining a new novel. Don’t you love that feeling of possibility when you’re starting a new work? I know I’ll eventually run into roadblocks and frustrations. But right now, the world feels ripe with excitement and inspiration, like starting a new relationship.

I’ve been using Snowflake Pro to outline the new book. I’ll post a review of the software soon. Meanwhile, back to work!

Happy writing and reading!

Kelee

Questions I’ve been asked …

For those writers who might be considering looking for a “real” job…

Hey Hey Julia

…during a job interview.

It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m looking for a job. You know, preferably one that pays me what I’m worth, has benefits, is interesting and employs other smart folks.

What has not been fun are the interviews. Fretting about wearing the right outfit, if my makeup is too heavy and if I’m showing too much cleavage is enough to turn me into a day drinker.

However, the superficial concerns are nothing like wondering how the interview will go. I always do research on the company that’s considering me. I take copious amounts of notes, tirelessly search the Internet for information on who’s who at the company and by the time I arrive at the front desk, I can name the CEO’s college roommate’s cat.

What always sends me into a tizzy are the possible questions I could be asked. Some are sane and…

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Where Do You Get Your Book Ideas?

I’m sometimes asked where I got the idea for a book. The answer is, my ideas can come from anywhere: an article I read, an overheard conversation, an interesting person I meet on the El. The important thing is that the idea sticks in my gut, not just my head. Ideas that only exist in my head are usually influenced more by marketing than passion.

Some of my best ideas come when I’m about to fall asleep. A story pops into my head and then, every night, my barely awake conscious adds to it. Sometimes the story dies on the vine, sometimes in flourishes. Either way, my muse rocks me to sleep.

After the election in November, I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie awake every night roiling in fear of what the future held. I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian fiction. Now I was facing dystopian reality. I was exhausted. I had to do something.

I decided to make up a dystopian novel in my head. Thinking about fiction was safer than thinking about reality. I didn’t have any ideas at first, but I trusted my subconscious. It only took a night for a premise, and then a main character to appear. Every night, I developed them. The setting and story grew. I didn’t write my story down. I didn’t want anything concrete to limit my creativity.

It worked. I was able to sleep again. And now, while I’m waiting for my beta readers to ctitique Goddess, Book 2, I’m further developing the story on paper. My plan is to turn it into a YA novel. I know I’ll return to romance (After all, I have Goddess, Book 3 to write.), but I want to run with my muse for awhile and see where she takes me.

Happy writing,

Kelee

 

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And… First Draft Finished

It’s been a longer road than I imagined, but I’ve finished the first draft of Goddess, Book 2 and sent it to my first round beta readers. Technically, it’s refined enough to be called a second draft. I wouldn’t share my real first draft with my own mother.

I’m sure all authors experience what I’m feeling now – euphoria at reaching a milestone, optimism that what I’ve written is good, and fear that I’m misleading myself and what I’ve written isn’t good. I’ve gone through these same emotions with every screenplay and book I’ve written. A draft is never as good as I think it is, but I can’t see its flaws until someone points them out to me. That’s why we ask for critiques.

I want to give a shoutout to my fabulous fellow romance writers who are kind enough to read a manuscript that I know isn’t yet ready for publication: Jess Moore, who allowed me to critique her upcoming novel, Fierce Grace; Elodie Colt, who will be releasing her debut novel In Blood We Trust in April; and Danielle Lori, author of A Girl Named Calamity. Thanks, ladies!

Happy reading and writing,

Kelee

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New Year, New Book

It’s been much too long, but I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the second part of Goddess, my erotic romance trilogy. I’ve just printed out the manuscript and will do one final read-through before I send it to my first round beta readers.

I’m so excited and relieved that I’d like to share the first chapter with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I promise not to make my readers wait as long for part 3!

Kelee

GODDESS ASCENDENT (GODDESS, BOOK 2)

CHAPTER 1

I ran my palm along the hard, smooth edge of the lectern. Its dark, masculine finish was worn to a dull white by the countless hands that had rested here before me. Some of the most renowned names in archeology had stood here, confident in their grasp of the past and their ability to convey it to their young disciples.

He had stood here.

I imagined him gazing out at the throng of students lined up in expansive rows of vintage wooden chairs. Even his early Monday morning classes were full. His resonate voice and deep blue eyes commanded the room. His lectures held students spellbound, especially the young women who jockeyed for a seat in the front row.

But he was gone, on the other side of the world, out of touch, if not out of mind. I was the one standing here in his shoes.

Technically, I was standing in Dr. Chang’s shoes, until he returned from his daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong. I was just the lowly teaching assistant. It was highly irregular for me to even be in that position, as Marilyn, our department secretary, liked to remind me. Every other TA in the archeology department was at least a second year PhD student. But Dr. Chang, a visiting professor from Beijing University, either didn’t know or didn’t care about protocol. I had been part of the team that brought the ancient matriarchal civilization of Magoa to the world. Dr. Stewart should be teaching this class, he wrote in an email to me. You’re close to him, so you’re the next best thing.

Dr. Chang didn’t know how close.

“Professor Nelson?” Zoe Glassman waved her hand from the middle of the cavernous auditorium. I had recognized her on the first day of class. She was the redhead I encountered many months ago, telling her friend about a “gentleman caller.” She turned out to be a whip-smart sophomore who changed her major to archeology after reading about Magoa.

“Just Julia,” I corrected her. “It’s going to be a long time before you can call me professor.”

“Sorry.”

“When you’re a middle-aged grad student, it comes with the territory.”

“How did a matriarchal society like Magoa thrive for so long?” Zoe went on. “They weren’t the typical male warrior society that survives by conquering its neighbors.”

“You make it sound like there weren’t any men in Magoa,” a young man with carefully tousled hair interjected. “Somebody had to supply the sperm to make the babies.”

“That’s what it always comes down to,” said a young African woman with fiery eyes and natural curls. “Men and their penises.”

‘Maybe the women were the warriors,” another young woman spoke up, “It’s not just men who can kick ass.”

“Or they were just smarter than the men,” another young woman said. “They knew how to keep them in line.”

“That’s no big challenge,” Zoe said.

I smiled patiently. I’d been getting emails along this line from feminists, wiccans, and pagan worshipers, as well as misogynistic trolls, since Magoa was unveiled. “Dr. Stewart hasn’t found any evidence of weapons or city defenses,” I said, “and he hasn’t learned anything about the role of men in their society. There’s still a lot of research to be done.”

“What if their goddess was so powerful she was able to hold off invaders?” Zoe asked. “She was the reason Magoa was so successful.”

“What, like she shot lightening bolts out of her tits… I mean breasts?” another male student said.

A clamor of female voices immediately rebuked the young man. He slunk down in his seat.

Zoe raised her voice above the clamor. “People don’t laugh at Christians because they think their god is real and all-powerful. Why shouldn’t the Magoans be given the same respect?”

I picked up my phone to check the time and noticed a text from Lily. “I do think we should keep an open mind,” I said, “but you’ll have to continue this discussion in religion class because we are out of time.”

As students gathered up books and papers, the room was still alive with heated discussions. It was an exciting time in archeology and made me feel good about my decision to pursue an academic career.

I read my oldest daughter’s text. Bring chocolate ice cream and green olives! I smiled to myself as I typed out an answer: OK, but no cocktails.

I scanned my email and gathered up my materials as the room emptied out. When I looked up, I was surprised to see one seat still occupied.

He was sitting in the back row. He wore dark, fashionable sunglasses and a ridiculous floppy hat pulled down so tightly over his head that most of his face was obscured. The Chevron mustache under his nose looked like it was pasted on. He had no books or backpack. I didn’t recognize him, and he appeared older than my undergraduates. I’d heard about several campus rapes in the years since we moved here. I gripped my phone tightly, ready to call 911, and stood as tall as my 5’ 6” frame would allow. I tried to sound calm and authoritative. “Class is over.”

“And an excellent class it was.” The man’s deep, polished voice resonated in the empty space. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before.

“This is a private university. If you’d like a tour, you should go to the visitors center.”

He tilted his head forward to observe me over the top of his sunglasses. His eyes were hazel and seemed to dance in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the tall auditorium windows. “But you’re the reason I’m here and I had no trouble finding you.”

I sensed he enjoyed unsettling me. “But I don’t know who you are, which is why I’m calling the campus police.”

I started to dial. He languidly peeled off his hat and glasses and flashed a charismatic smile women would immediately recognize. Certainly, Lily would. She must have watched The Burning Heart dozens of times, mooning over its drop-dead gorgeous star. “You’re Harlan Cassidy,” I said.

“I see you’re talented at uncovering more than ancient civilizations.”

I was so disconcerted by the sudden appearance of a man who inhabited a world I’d only seen on Entertainment Tonight that it took me a moment to respond. “Dr. Stewart deserves all the credit there.”

Feeling safer, I stepped down from the auditorium stage. “What are you doing here?”

Harlan stood and moved slowly down the empty row. His eyes met mine. “You should be asking why I wasn’t here sooner.”

I swung my bag over my shoulder and approached him. Up close, he was just as dazzling as his screen image. He was probably in his late 20s. His face was tanned and perfectly proportioned. A blonde tress hung sexily across his forehead. He was the quintessential, sun-drenched California heartthrob. “I know you quit acting and opened a spiritual retreat center, so my guess is you’re interested in Magoa like everyone else.”

We met in the aisle. He wasn’t as tall as Ashland. In fact, he was only a few inches taller than me. But he exuded self-assurance. “I don’t believe in guesses,” Harlan said. “I believe in intuition. I use my inner light to guide me.”

“Your inner light needs to read the news more often. You would have found out Dr. Stewart is still in North Korea. I’m afraid you’ve wasting your time coming here.”

He unexpectedly reached out and took my hands in his. I wanted to pull away, but his touch was magnetic, his palms pleasantly cool and smooth. I immediately relaxed, though I didn’t know why. “There was no logic involved in my decision to come. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you.”

Now I was even more confused. “Me? Why me? I’m just a grad student.”

He offered a radiant smile. It was difficult not to be charmed by Harlan Cassidy, and I suspected he knew that. “I don’t believe that. I knew you were something much deeper and radiant the moment I laid eyes on you.”

###

In my dream, I was a teenager bagger at the IGA, back in my hometown of Bicknell, Indiana. But instead of standing at the end of the conveyor belt, sorting iceberg lettuce from Coco Krispies and Tampex, I was relaxing in a director’s chair next to my station while Cliff, our balding assistant manager, hustled groceries into paper bags. “Ready for your close-up?” Harlan Cassidy called from behind an antique, hand-cranked camera. Wearing a seersucker suit and bowler cap, he was Jay Gatsby without the ennui. A makeup woman hurried forward to pound a voluminous cloud of powder on my nose. Through the white haze, I could see Susan, my childhood best friend, making out in the chips and soda aisle with the boyfriend who eventually got her pregnant.

A cell phone played Beyoncé. A butler in coat and tails brought it to me, offering it up on a silver platter.

I woke with a start to realize that my phone was really ringing. Anna had changed my ringtone last week and I still didn’t recognize it. I fumbled for the device in the dark on the bedside table. There was no number on the screen. “Hello?” I mumbled, still half asleep.

“Sorry to wake you.” The voice was crackly, with an annoying echo.

“Ashland.” I caught myself. “Dr. Stewart. I wasn’t expecting your call.”

“And I wasn’t expecting to be in Pyongyang. We’ve had a lot of rain at the dig, so I decided to come here to chat with some government officials.”

Even the distant sound of his voice was enough to fire an erotic pulse down in my pleasure center. I longed to tell him how much I missed him, how much I wanted him. But I knew the North Koreans were probably listening to every word we said. “How’s it going?” I asked, trying keeping my arousal in check.

“We’ve made some amazing discoveries in the last few weeks. So far, they’ve confirmed all our theories.”

“That’s wonderful.” I pushed away the covers—the steam radiators in my depression-era apartment building always seemed to be going full blast. With no kids around, I had gotten lazy about putting on pajamas, preferring to drop my clothes in a pile on the floor and flop into bed wearing nothing but panties. “You know that all your colleagues here are thinking about you.”

“I hope so,” He shifted his voice subtly to a more intimate timbre. “Please let them know that I’ve been thinking of them too.”

I touched one of my nipples. It was already erect. My index finger circled it slowly. It was a poor substitute for Ashland’s tongue, but it would have to do. “We’ve all missed how long and hard you worked when you were here,” I said.

Over the last five months, we’d learned to disguise our lust for one another behind an elaborate verbal subterfuge. It was too risky to let the North Koreans guess our relationship. They might find a way to use it against Ashland.

My hand moved downward until it rested on the soft curve of my stomach. “It’s been difficult, not being able to assist you with whatever you need,” he said. “I know how gratifying that is for all of us.” Of course, I couldn’t see him, but I could imagine what he might be doing, alone in his hotel room. That is, if he felt certain hidden cameras weren’t observing him.

My fingertips grazed the elastic on my panties. “I feel the same way. I can imagine the enormous work you have in your hands.”

“What about you?” Ashland asked. “Are you still working hard on your own?”

“Definitely,” I murmured. “In fact, I’m in the midst of some hands-on research right now.” I slipped my hand inside my underwear and caressed the soft mound of pubic hair. My fingertip grazed my erect clitoris, sending an amatory wave to the tips of my curled toes. “I’m so sorry it’s been rainy there. It’s turned very wet here too,” I managed to say as I moved a finger slowly down my saturated vulva.

“That’s wonderful. I know from experience how wet weather makes things grow.” I could hear the growl in the back of his throat.

I returned to my clitoris and moved two fingers rapidly across it. My pleasure increased exponentially. “I just read about a strange botanical phenomenon,” I said. “When it’s wet in Chicago, there’s a species of tree in Asia that grows a very large appendage, even though it’s on the other side of the world.”

I smiled at what the North Koreans must be thinking if they were listening to our conversation. “I’ve witnessed that first-hand,” Ashland said. “It grows a broad, firm branch that curves slightly upward, and if you caress it, a thick, milky substance emerges from the tip.” From the clipped intonation in his voice, I knew he was doing just that. Picturing him stroking his member released an uninvited moan from my lips.

I was so in tune with Ashland’s sexual signals that I could hear the subtle shift in his breathing on the other side of the world. I imagined his hand slipping up his hard shaft. He would pause at the top to caress the soft, round head, before letting it travel back down to the base. I pictured myself there, stretched out next to him, our naked bodies pressed together. I was the one pleasuring him with my hand, enjoying the ecstasy on his face.

I spread my legs wider. I could feel my juices drip between my thighs. If I were to look down, I knew my fingers would be a blur. Instead, I closed my eyes as I imagined Ashland’s talented fingers bringing me to climax. “I had no idea you had such intimate knowledge of conifers,” I said, no longer able to keep the heat burning in my groin from affecting my voice.

“When I’m alone on a mountain top, I spend a great deal of time contemplating the wonders of nature.”

I couldn’t keep jealous thoughts from disrupting my desire. “Does Elena share your interest in botany?”

Ashland’s breathing halted. I could almost hear him frowning across 6,500 miles. “Elena and I don’t discuss the local plant life. We’re completely focused on archeology.”

My hand stopped moving. I didn’t want to lose this moment. It had been too long since Ashland and I shared our hunger for one another. But I hated the thought of them together, every day and every night. “If I could see your face,” I said, “I’d know for sure.”

“Then I have good news for you. Elena and I are returning early. In a few weeks.”

I immediately forgot about my imminent orgasm. I sat up in shock. “Why?”

“The first snows will probably cover the mountain in a month or so. There’s a lot of cataloging and research I can do in Chicago.”

“But I thought you were going to stay until the weather got too bad to continue.”

“I’ve decided to change plans. As long as international relations remain reasonably stable, I can return next summer.”

I should have been overjoyed, but Ashland’s news troubled me. “That’s taking a big risk. What if you can’t get back?”

He was silent for a moment, as if gathering his words. “It’s been difficult being away so long, Julia.” His voice betrayed no emotion but I sensed it was there, hidden behind his even tone. “I’ve missed my colleagues. I miss the collaboration we’ve had. I need that to continue my work.”

“Ashland… Dr. Stewart,” I quickly corrected, “this is too important to make any compromises.”

“I thought you’d be pleased by my news.” I could clearly hear the disappointment in his voice.

“I am,” I said quickly, “but Magoa is important to me too.”

“Magoa has been here two thousands years. It will be here when I return.”

“Dr. Stewart, I…” A blaring tone jarred me. We’d been cut off, either accidently, or because the North Koreans thought we’d talked enough.

I set my phone on my nightstand and lay on my back, staring at the white ceiling above me. My clit still throbbed with desire. I wanted him so much. I reached down again. My index and middle finger manipulated my nob, working feverishly. But the orgasm that was once inevitable now seemed as distant as the Korean peninsula. I focused on vivid sensory memories—the warmth of his breath against my neck, his lips caressing my skin, his tongue dancing across my clit, the incredible rush when he entered me.

It was no use. I couldn’t recapture the charge I’d felt just minutes before.

What was wrong with me?

I lay quietly and slowly collected my thoughts.

Ashland was coming home.

Why wasn’t I thrilled?

I tried to wrap my mind around my contradictory feelings. I still loved him. I still wanted to be with him. I also wanted him away from Elena’s constant presence. But in the five months since he’d left, I’d discovered I was still happy. I had come through one of the most difficult periods of my life and had emerged stronger and more confident. Yes, Matt and I were still going through a divorce, and it was difficult spending half my time living separately from my children. But I loved graduate school. I loved getting the chance to TA a class. I loved my colleagues and new friends.

I loved my new life.

But something more was bothering me—my encounter with Harlan Cassidy. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you. Magoa changed my entire life, but there was an important connection to it that I had never fully explored. I gazed downwards. In the darkness, I could barely discern the tattoo on my ankle, but its outline was as familiar to me as my daughters’ faces.

The Magoan goddess symbol.

Why had it appeared in a dream so many years ago? Why had it led me to Ashland? My own spirit wanted desperately to know.

My eyes drifted back to the ceiling. I imagined the spider I had first seen the night before this adventure began. It was waiting quietly in the corner. I watched for a telltale movement of whispery thread that signaled a change in its static life.

Was my life about to change again too?


 

 

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A New Year’s Resolution for Writers: Chuck Your Computer

Thanksgiving was a delicious, inspiring holiday this year. My family attended a potluck heavily populated with writers and artists. Even more memorable than the vegan stuffing were the evening’s conversation.

At one point, we were discussing our writing regimens. A fellow author at the dinner table just received a rave review of his latest book in the New York Times. (I’ll let him remain anonymous because I haven’t asked permission to share his writing discipline.)

He lives with his husband in a large, rambling old farmhouse in upstate New York. They have three empty bedrooms, any one of which could be turned into an office. Instead, he decided to build his own, Henry David Thoreau-like cottage at the back of their property. It’s far enough away from the house that he can’t pick up the wifi. Not that he could use it. He doesn’t bring his laptop or phone to his writing sanctuary. Instead, he uses composition books and a favorite pen to write the first draft of his books.

According to my dinner companion, he found his writing became more emotional and unfettered when he worked this way. Plus, writing by hand made it difficult to edit what was already on the page, so he just kept moving forward forward. The technique was liberating for him, and he never looked back.

He still uses a computer, but not until the second draft. The process of typing his hand-written draft into his laptop forces him to consider every page, every paragraph, every word. It’s obligatory deep editing.

My New Year’s resolution is to use this technique to write my next novel. I don’t have a shack in the woods, so I hope I’m disciplined enough to stay away from my phone and other distractions while I write. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kelee