Category Archives: Product Reviews

Go Indie Now Book Box (July Unboxing)

I’ve never been really into subscription boxes. I mean, they look great, but they tend to be expensive, and I’d rather spend the money just buying what I want. Cheap make-up sample bags were nice for a while, but even that got old and too expensive to be a regular thing.

BUT.

Once in a while I like to treat myself and try something new, and when I saw the Go Indie Now book box on Instagram, it looked like a good option. Indie books, handmade stuff, and a multi-sensory reading experience? Definitely worth a second look. So I went ahead and ordered when a box theme came up that I really liked the look of.

So yeah, I skipped the Historical genre box and waited for fairy tales.

Here’s the unboxing video. I was really happy with this box. Based on this one experience, I’d recommend it for people who love indie/handmade stuff and getting creative care packages in the mail. If you like polished and mass-produced, this may not be the box for you; while there are professional-looking materials in here and the products and books are great quality, the box definitely has a personal feel with hand-written notes in cute, quick handwriting from the person who puts the box together. I’d say this one overall looks more professional than the pictures I saw of earlier boxes, but it still has that personal feel.

Getting two books/bibliotherapy sessions was a really nice treat, especially since I got one in a preferred genre and one that’s a bit of a stretch for me. And the fact that they’re carefully curated makes me feel confident that I’ll get a good reading experience.

Check out the video, and if you’d like to take a closer look at the box, visit http://www.goindienow.cratejoy.com

Note: Yes, I paid for my own box and shipping. No, I did not receive anything in exchange for this unboxing/review, and my books are not scheduled to appear in the box. I just like indie books and authors and want to share. 🙂

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N is for Notebooks (and Not)

Confession: I’m a sucker for a new notebook, especially if it’s a good price. Our dollar store gets a lot of the spiral-bound kind I like and sells them for $2, so I have way too many.

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(the baby dragon one is not from the dollar store)

I mean, I adore $40 leather-bound notebooks, too, but can’t afford them and would never be able to actually write in them, so they’re kind of out.

The point is, I have a LOT of notebooks.

They’re great. Portable, pleasant to write in if you can find one that lies flat, great for journaling or brainstorming. The thing is… I’m starting to realize how limited their usefulness is.

Much as I love being able to write things out in pen or pencil, I have a hard time keeping notebooks organized. Even if I use one per project, it’s impossible to rearrange notes to put scenes in order, or to put more pages in where I need them later. Binders are better for this, but aren’t as portable as a notebook. And the other problem is that space is limited– I either spill over into another notebook (rare) or have a whole lot of wasted pages (frequent).

So though I love buying notebooks, I find myself shifting to other options. TECHNOLOGICAL options. I struggle with technology, but I can’t deny that some programs/apps have distinct advantages over paper.

EVERNOTE is a great program. There are a few like it out there, and everyone has their favourite, but I have no complaints with this one so far. I like that I can organize my notes into “notebooks” (hey!) to keep them organized, and can always add more as I need to, without worrying about space or leaving enough pages for future notes. I can access it from anywhere if I have my phone on me, so it’s perfect for those random moments when inspiration strikes while I’m out walking, or at the grocery store… or at church (sorry, pastor!).

Oh, and it’s free, unless you spring for the premium version. I don’t even know what that entails– I’ve been happy with the basic service.

They have other products, too. Skritch lets you write/draw/make notes on photos, there’s one that does digital handwriting, something with food, yadda yadda. I’m not so fancy with my computery things, but they’d be worth looking into if you like this program.

Moving on.

You’ve all heard me rave about Scrivener before, but let me tell you something: I had NO idea how much I was missing out on until I took Gwen Hernandez’s course. She’s the author of Scrivener for Dummies, and what I learned has me thinking that I might only be using notebooks for brainstorming in the future, because this program does everything else that I need.

Those index cards I’ve been using to organize scenes during revisions? It’s got ’em. I can colour code them, mark what stage of writing they’re at (notes, draft, revised, whatever), add keywords to track characters, show locations for each scene… whatever floats your boat, really. And it’s easy to move them around on-screen if I need to shake things up, stick a new scene in, or take one out.

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Sayonara, paper.

The info panel lets me make notes for the scene or the whole project without interfering with the manuscript, play with those keywords, keep research and resources handy, add inspiration photos, and a lot more that I can’t do in a paper binder.

As for the writing itself, we’ve covered this before. Each scene is its own file in the binder, so I can move them around, jump to a different scene in one click if I need to fix something or find a reference, group them by chapter, find scenes by keyword (for, say, working on a single POV character’s chapters).

I can’t even begin to tell you all how much I miss just this one feature now that I’m editing in Word.

Scrolling sucks, is what I’m saying.

Scrivener’s not for everyone. Some people find it confusing, or just don’t like using it. Some are perfectly happy in Word, and that’s fantastic. I don’t understand it, but I fully support everyone in their software choices. But for someone who’s looking for an alternative to the frustrations of notebooks and binders (and scrolling, oy), it’s been the best tool I’ve found.

And… that’s it. That’s the only two tools I need to work toward replacing notebooks. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when it would happen, but then, I thought I’d hate e-books, too.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!

I’ll keep using binders for things like worldbuilding and series bibles, and I’ll keep a little sketch pad on-hand for doodling and drawing. But it sure looks like I’m going all computery for everything else.

For more A-Z challenge, click here

 

 


Sunday ROW80 Update (and also Socks)

When I was a kid, socks were the worst Christmas gift ever, except for maybe underwear, especially when opened in front of OTHER PEOPLE OMG THE HORROR. But really, socks were pretty low on the list of Things That Make Great Gifts for Me.

Now? I got seven pair of socks from my husband for Christmas, and it was fan-frigging-tastic.

Of course, we’re not talking white tube socks. Oh no. We’re talking Cats.

sockcats

We’re talking beautiful koi:

sockkoi

Guys… we’re talking DRAGONS. Red ones, too, which is kind of perfect for me.

Grrrrr.

Grrrrr.

These are all from Sock Dreams, by the way, which is a fantastic website to waste hours on if you’re like me and think fancy socks are just the bee’s knees (or the dragon’s Volkswagen, as the case may be). You can make a wish list while you’re there, too. Mine just got a bit shorter when I ordered four more pair (don’t judge me, it’s an investment to make the ones I have last longer), but it’s still pretty great. I really need those whale and ship ones…

I’ve been informed that I can’t buy the BITCH socks. I say that I need to be able to say “Watch out people, I’ve got my bitch socks on today!” and mean it, but I suppose that’s a bad idea now that the kids can read.

Dangit.

Anyway, I owe an update. I missed Wednesday, but not because I wasn’t working. Things are actually going really well– or they were when the kids were in school, anyway.

EDITING: I did a little restructuring that cut some words and made the story a bit tighter. Didn’t remove as many words as I’d like, but we’ll see how that looks when I read over it. Only one more big thing to fix (involving gender-flipping a character, which I think will be fun). Otherwise, there’s just regular old editing and hunting for pesky over-used and unnecessary words. I got the ms under 110,000 words. We’ll see how much more I can do. Also, Project Semicolon Elimination was a near-complete success. I think there are four left in the entire book, down from… well, hundreds. I lost count.

READING: So, I read that ARC I said I’d read. I’ve been a little nervous about promising reviews on books, because I’m an honest reviewer and I’ve been disappointed in the past (not by any of my readers here, though, just so’s you know). No worries with this one! I’ll review here on the blog next month. Super good book, I’m so glad I did this.

OTHER STUFF: I’m the best wife ever today. I’ve got a pot roast in the slow cooker (thanks to the meal planning I did last weekend), I made chicken salad for AJ’s lunch tomorrow, the kitchen is clean, laundry’s in… lots of good stuff. I still wasn’t able to exercise much this week, but I got Jack out for a walk the other day. Yaaaaaay… Hey, it’s something. And I’m seeing a chiropractor on Tuesday. I’m just a little excited about that, let me tell you.

So there you go, another update. I know, the blog is all updates and Engrish right now. Things will get more content-y soon, I promise.

So, what’s new with you?


Product Review: What the…

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So here’s the story: I was at my grandparents’ house, and there was a HUGE bag of this stuff on a shelf. My aunt told me that it’s AMAZING, that a friend of hers claims to have gained 10 lbs just because of this sweet and salty snack.

Perhaps not the sort of endorsement they’d prefer, but impressive, nonetheless.

Fast-forward to the day after we got home from our vacation. I was in Gander for much-needed groceries (after 2 weeks away, the perishables had pretty much perished), but it was a holiday. The grocery store was closed. Freaking WALMART was closed. Shoppers Drug Mart was the only place open that sold milk, eggs, bread, and hot dogs. Those are the four food groups, right? Well, they also happen to sell this stuff, so I grabbed a smaller bag, excited to see what all the fuss was about.

In case you can’t see the picture clearly, this is G.H. Cretors “Chicago Mix” popcorn. That is, caramel corn and cheddar cheese corn, all mixed together in one bag. To be honest, the thought made me a little ill, but come on. 10 lbs!

So how was it?

I don’t want to insult anyone from Chicago, but you people are NUTS.

Remember that episode of FRIENDS when Rachel made trifle with sauteed beef and peas? In the words of Ross Gellar:

That may be a slight exaggeration. If you get a strict 1:1 cheese-to-caramel ratio, it’s palatable. If you separate the popcorns, neither is horrible (though I’ve had others of each that I’ve liked more). But yeah, most of the bag ended up in the garbage.

Hey, I get the sweet-and-salty thing; this is why they invented chocolate-covered pretzels, which I heartily endorse as a concept. I eat poutine, for crying out loud. French fries with gravy and cheese curds. I know this sounds gross to many people who haven’t tried it, but SO GOOD. Also, the Pulled Pork Poutine at New York Fries (pulled pork in BBQ sauce over fries and cheese curds) is to DIE for. So it’s not that I’m opposed to weird flavour combinations.

This one just did NOT do it for me.

*Goes back to dipping Wendy’s fries in a chocolate Frosty*

Oh, yeeeeah.


Scrivener vs Yarny: Battle of the Writing Thingamajiggers

Remember when my computer died? That was sad. I do have a working replacement, but I’ve run into a problem:

It won’t run Scrivener for shit.

Not familiar with Scrivener? It’s a “non-linear” writing program originally developed for Mac (and which still has more features for Mac), but that was beta testing in 2010, just when I was doing my first NaNoWriMo. We’ll talk about features and stuff later. For now, I’ll just say that it’s been a life-saver for me, and works SO much better than Word/OpenOffice for working on a novel.

It worked fine on my old netbook. Occasionally it would go all (not responding) when I first started it up, but it always got over that pretty quickly, and everything was smooth sailing from there on in.

Now, not so much. On the “new” netbook, I can’t type ten words without it going (not responding), and half the time I’ll lose whatever I typed during the time it took for the program to come back. This leads to some odd, disjointed sentences, not to mention a lot of tooth-grinding, hair-pulling, “why am I even bothering” frustration.

It sucks, is what I’m saying.

I don’t know what the problem is. There’s a ton of memory space on the computer, and everything else runs fine. Would reinstalling the program help? I have no fecking clue. Tell me, please. (UPDATE: reinstalled, improved somewhat, still want a better computer)

Until I get it figured out, I have a few options: I can use OpenOffice, which doesn’t work for me until I get to the final editing stage, and even then I find it very frustrating not being able to just jump to whatever chapter and scene I want. Or there’s Yarny, which has many of the features I like from Scrivener, is online, and is free.

Hmm.

I’ve used Yarny for short stories before just to try it out, and I like it. Not as much as Scrivener, but… well, you know where we are with that. And it has some distinct advantages.

I don’t have a choice about what I’m using right now, but for anyone who’s curious about these programs, I thought I’d outline the features I use in each, the benefits as I see them, and the disadvantages. Because why not?

Click on the names for some far more professional information!

SCRIVENER:

I don’t know how I wrote anything before I tried this program (which offers a free 1 month trial and a huge purchase discount for NaNoWriMo winners). Oh, wait… I didn’t. Nothing that got long enough to be unmanageable in OO, anyway.

It’s a brilliant program, and I don’t even use half of the available features. Here’s how it works: You open a new project, and select what you’re writing: a novel, a screenplay, whatever. There’s a template for that! Let’s go with novel, shall we? Lovely. Here’s where it blows regular word programs out of the water: Each chapter is its own little folder, and they’re all lined up on the left side. Each scene can be written separately, as text within the folder. What’s the advantage of that? Two things: one, they’re all right there, and you can click on whatever scene you want to work on. Also, you can move them around! It’s fantastic. Drag and drop a scene to a different chapter, move it outside of the manuscript so it’s handy if you don’t want it right now but might need it later, rearrange scenes within a chapter to see how that looks, move them back. No highlighting, no cutting and pasting, no “where the heck did I put that?”

See?

See?

If this was the only feature worth mentioning, I’d still say the program was brilliant and worth what I paid for it.

But there’s more, and you can take a tour on their site here. If you like organizing scenes, etc. on index cards so you can storyboard before you write, they’ve got those. Make notes on them, move them around, color-code them, note what stage of writing each scene is in. Like to make a ton of character notes, or have outside reference materials you’d like to keep handy? There’s a place for those. Bring ’em on in!

scrivener index

^Index cards on corkboard. Isn’t that adorable?

And then at the end, you hit compile, choose your format (.doc, .rtf, .whatever), and there’s a professional-looking manuscript all prepped for you. Everything’s in the order you chose, nothing is included that you don’t want (like all of those character notes. Nobody wants to see that).

It’s professional-looking and easy on the eyes, and once you get the basic idea of what’s happening, it’s easy to use. There are advanced features that might be tougher; I don’t use ’em. They’re there if I need them, and there are lots of online tutorials.

EDITED TO ADD: I can’t believe I forgot this! Scrivener saves automatically every time you stop typing for a few seconds. This means that if, say, your 7-year old son (not looking at anyone specific right now) closes the program while you’re letting him use your computer, you won’t lose your work. Gotta love that.

Purchase price: $45 for PC, $56 for Mac (CDN)

http://literatureandlatte.com/

YARNY:

Yarny looks very different from Scrivener. It’s bright, it’s simple, it’s in your web browser. It offers the same basic feature I gushed about in Scrivener: you organize your project in “groups” (in a novel, these would likely be your chapters) and “snippets” (your scenes), and these can be moved around as you see fit. It also offers a space to put the extra stuff that’s not part of your document; it’s not as multimedia-compatible as Scrivener is, but there’s room for character sketches and world-building notes.

This was a short story, so there were no groups, only "snippets"

This was a short story, so there were no groups, only “snippets”

It is lacking in a lot of the features Scrivener offers: no index cards, none of the features I don’t use anyway (seriously, watch the scrivener video if you’re curious). I can’t say how it works for compiling projects, but it does connect to “publification,” whatever the heck that is**. Formatting is a bit of a problem, too; you can italicize *like this,* but if you then copy to another program, you’re screwed.***

There are advantages, though. For one thing, it’s free. You can upgrade to a paid version, but I don’t think the added features are worth the cost yet. Even better is the fact that it’s online. You’re “writing in the cloud,” and it saves your work automatically. No more paranoia about what happens if your computer crashes or your house burns down and takes everything with it, no more e-mailing chapters to yourself just to be sure. I’m not the only one who does that, am I?  I do wish they had an option to work offline, though. Not everywhere I work has internet access.

Another good feature is the part where you start typing away, and everything except for your work disappears until you need it again. All of those groups and snippets are gone. It’s just you and your page and your words.

One word of caution: If you somehow get signed out during a session, you will lose what you write when you’re not signed in. It’s only happened to me once, but it ticked me off.

EDIT: I didn’t even get signed out and it just lost a few hours’ work. Not impressed.

See all of the features here

cost: free ($36 to upgrade)

http://www.yarny.me

So what does this all mean? For me, there are advantages and disadvantages to both programs. Generally, I prefer Scrivener. It has more weight to it, I’ve used it successfully in the past, I like the bells and whistles, and it’s never lost 2 hours’ work (well, not since beta testing updates). But if it’s not working for me right now, I’ll give Yarny a shot.

If you’re writing and think the features of either sound nifty (and I really haven’t taken enough time to do them justice today), I recommend giving them a shot. Neither costs anything to try. Of course, neither will bake you a better writer, but they might help you be a more efficient and organized one, and that can’t be a bad thing.

**So, Publification. It’s all about the e-publishing. That’s all I know, but there’s more info here

*** Scrivener’s formatting doesn’t transfer, either, but you don’t have *these* to deal with. And it all comes out properly when you compile, just not if you copy and paste.


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