Monday, March 23, 2015

100 words: Princes of Serendip

I wrote this last year for Spooky Halloween Drabbles (Indy Authors Press, 2014). Then Chuck Wendig called for 100 word flash fiction last Friday, and I thought I'd share it here, (and therefore there) as well.

     So I'm downtown, walking in Shadow having just dined, and this guy is slouching towards me out of Faerie. He’s ordinary, mostly: long hair, sharp features, a perilous look in slitted eyes. Too many teeth. I notice him, but I have places to be. Then soft on the air, I hear the liquid syllables of my name. I freeze, he laughs.
     “Remember the whale bao? The girls of Sang de Bayeaux?
     Now I have to look right at him, damn it.
     "No, sorry, I don’t.” 
     It’s not quite a lie. There are rules, and my hands are ringed in iron.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is That So Stories: How the Maggie Got Its Name

Once upon a time, a few years ago, the Word-PC email list had quite a few seriously heavy hitting power users, including two or three Word MVPs. I was not one of them. I’m just a user. Well, okay, a sophisticated user. I write for a living and Word is the principal tool of my trade. I pick things up, and I like to pass them on when I can. You don’t have to be an MVP to be of use on a busy mailing list.

Now in days even longer gone by, I was working on a huge, old fashioned software manual, intended for print. It ran to about 500 pages, with a graphic on almost every page. I was using a modified form of Information Mapping which, as you probably know, means a lot of tables. (We’ll skip over any question of why I wasn’t using a Master Document . Or Framemaker. I was, at least, keeping each chapter in its own file.)

Lots of graphics. Lots of tables. Well, you know where that can lead, and so it did, early and often. About the same time, I discovered a listserv called Techwr-L where, among many other things I learned that quite often the answer to a document that has gone wonky is to get rid of all the garbage that Word is keeping for you (god knoweth why) stashed in the final paragraph mark of the document. It quickly became a kind of mantra. Someone would explain their problem and someone else would ask: Have you tried this?

Turn on Show/Hide. Copy everything EXCEPT the last paragraph mark into a new document and save it with a new name. Do not just do Ctrl+A Ctrl+C Ctrl+Z, that won’t help. You’ll probably lose headers and footers, and some other details, depending on how fancy the document is, but that’s trivial compared to losing everything. If you’re using sections, do the same thing for each section, one at a time.

It worked! It’s brilliant! I loved it!

Skip ahead again to the Word-PC list and its many and delightful gurus, including the quirky Australian, Steve Hudson. Over a period of maybe a week, we had a whole lot of people come to the list with a variety of seemingly insoluble, I’ve-tried-everything problems. Clarifying questions were asked. Macros were invented or modified, some of them dizzying in their elegance and complexity. Numerous lines of VML were written. Variables got all sorts of clever names. Bickering was occasionally colorful. And yet, nothing seemed to do the trick.

And each time, in this brief period, I’d wait while the Wise did their stuff, feeling utterly outclassed, as you can imagine. And then in my meek, small voice (stop laughing!) I’d post:

“Have you tried copying everything EXCEPT the last paragraph mark into a new document and saving it with a new name?”

poof. Problem solved.

This kept happening, off and on, for days, until Steve Hudson started to say, by way of saving time: "Have you maggied the document?" Of course that didn’t mean anything to anyone, so he’d still have to explain it, but it sort of caught on. At least it became part of the Word-PC group’s internal jargon. Months later, Steve was speaking at a conference or two somewhere and introduced it to an even wider audience! It got into conversations on Techwr-L, Copyediting-L, and who knows where else. It still tickles me to see it used, and even more when someone says “Is that you?”

Yeah, she says humbly. That’s me. 

What can I say? I’ve never been a verb before.

See also:

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year's gift to The Mermaid Stair

This is a lovely review from Jake Viper at Here's a clip...

... There's something Huckleberry Finn-esque about the protagonist, Ben Harper. The first part of the book (which is about a 100-pages long) takes us to an adventurous path where Harper and Raven travel across treacherous waters. Secara's poetic prose and tantalizing imagery paint picturesque vistas that remind me of the gorgeous view of Rivendell from Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The descriptions of nature are magnificent, often personified to create a vivacious atmosphere. But the visuals of colorful tranquility aren't the only stimuli that make The Mermaid Stair a wonder, but also its music; the rhythm of Secara's writings flow poetically, setting its Shakesperean and Elizabethan tones and carry the narrative with music. Even the fragments of poetry, songs, and quotes charm. ...

For the whole thing, please go to the website

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Victorian Christmas

Christmas at Hollytree House

An excerpt from King’s Raven
by Maggie Secara

London 1854

For a loosely associated household such as Miss Pickering’s in Albany Road, Christmas might have been a melancholy season. The residents either had no families in easy reach of London, and no time off to visit them, or no family any longer to share the season with. But, they chose to hang up sorrow and care, and make each other very merry, instead. Much secrecy was involved in the matter of presents, and for days the house smelled of cinnamon and ginger.

The Saturday before Christmas, Mr Donovan having a rare free afternoon, had taken Peter, a long ladder, and his clasp knife into the wood to cut white-berried boughs of mistletoe from an oak tree. Miss Pickering graciously permitted a branch to be hung over the parlour door, and sprigs on every window sash. Peter had furthermore scoured the neighborhood for lengths of ivy, which now adorned the mantels; and by happy chance, the two thick holly hedges flanking the front walk, from which the house took its name, were bright with red berries. Judicious snips were made for the gentlemen’s buttonholes and hatbands.

The next day directly after church, Miss Pickering’s younger residents all went out to scour the wood for a suitable Christmas tree. Their bit of the ancient Norwood was not much of a place for fir trees, and it took some searching, and some throwing of snowballs, but at last a small stand of them was discovered, including one just exactly the size Miss Pickering had indicated. Mr Swindon held the little tree steady while Mr Horsley wielded the hatchet, and Miss Kennedy kissed each of them in the excitement, which made everyone just slightly uncomfortable, but they got over it.

They hauled it back in triumph singing Adeste Fideles at the tops of their lungs, unwittingly doing exactly what is required when taking a tree from a faerie-haunted wood. As they raised it on a table in the drawing room, Mr Horsley cheerfully noted that a very large one had been put up in the Great Transept of the Crystal Palace. The exhibitors had all contributed miniature toys and tinsel for its decoration. Mr Swindon, Mr Horsley, and Miss Kennedy were content to assemble paper chains and gilt paper stars. Ellen the maid found a box of old beads and paste jewelry in one of the closed up rooms to add to the spectacle. And Mrs Knox sent Daisy in with in hot punch and a basket of gingerbread men, sticky with molasses and almonds.

“Is it not wonderful,” said old Miss Dean, letting the seasonal cheer conquer her customary
disapproval. “Is it not wonderful,” she repeated over the hubbub, “how his Royal Highness Prince Albert introduced this tradition of his homeland only a few years ago and yet, thanks in part to Mr Dickens and his Christmas stories, it has quickly taken root in the hearts of all English men and women. Almost as if it were not foreign at all.”

Miss Kennedy, ever bubbly in bouncing black ringlets, gave a giddy laugh. “Oh, Miss Dean, will you ever play some carols for us?”

Though she suspected that no one was listening to her, as usual, Miss Dean nevertheless seated herself at the spinet and began a lugubrious O Come, O Come Immanuel.

Looking up from her sketchbook, Susan felt the smile bloom across her cheeks, warming to the energy and general gaiety in her house. There hadn’t been a proper Christmas in this house since her parents’ death. Her mourning period had forbidden it, and Uncle Lovejoy simply ignored it. After that… well, this one was nearly perfect… 

Yuletide drew on its finery, drawing in everyone at Hollytree House with the exception of  Professor Lovejoy and Ambrose Cray, who would never notice the lack. 

For more Victorian Christmas, check out the BBC's lovely page.