Scrivener: A Fabulous Writing Program
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Scrivener: A Fabulous Writing Program

A glowing review of writing software Scrivener, sold by Literature & Latte.

What took me so long? Lo, the years I have wasted, toiling in Microsoft Word…

I’ve been drinking the Microsoft Word Kool Aid. A gazillion years ago, when my pet Brontosaurus would give me a ride across Central Park to the East Side, I used a program called Word Perfect. I preferred it to Word. Word Perfect just worked better, more nimbly. But no, Word was the standard in publishing, so I switched to Word. Reluctantly, yes. But still, citing the demands of my profession, I made the transition. Womanfully, I learned the program and grew adept at it.

Some years later, I made the opposite switch, from absurdly complicated to unbelievably easy: I left behind my Windows PC and bought an iMac. I’ve never looked back. The Mac computer was blissfully, stupefyingly easy to use. It just worked right out of the box. With this experience in my wheelhouse, why didn’t I realize sooner that writing a 60,000+ word novel could be so much easier than the way Word makes the task?

A month ago, I was scrolling through Cult of Mac Deals and spied Scrivener on sale for a little under $20.

The low price piqued my interest, and since I was 15,000 words into a new novel–which is about where the sheer ponderous drudgery of Microsoft Word kicks in–and man oh man was I tired of pushing that rock up the hill–I risked the $20. I bought Scrivener.

That may have been the best $20 I ever spent. There are so many wonderful aspects to writing with Scrivener that I can’t name them all. I’ll just say, if you write long documents, novels, non-fiction texts, or a PhD dissertation, BUY SCRIVENER!! You’ll thank me.

Once I opened Scrivener, I was immediately taken by the binder, which groups all kinds of files together for easy reference. It means I can work horizontally and vertically, which lubricates and enhances my writing life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Chapter 22 and had to remember a detail from Chapter 11, or was it Chapter 13? I’d have to search and scroll to figure it out.

In Scrivener, the binder holds the Manuscript, which is broken into Folders, which are my chapters, and inside the folders are Text files, which are scenes within the chapter. The folders and text files can be moved around with drag and drop. Files inside folders can also be moved around.

Best of all, there are different ways of viewing your folders and files. You can work within an individual file, just typing into the page. I like to write in Scrivenings mode, which shows all the files within a folder (or all the files in the manuscript) vertically. Here’s a screenshot from the extensive tutorial that comes with the program:

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The Binder is visible on the left hand side of the screenshot. Notice it has three primary folders: Draft, Research, and Characters. The “Draft” is the manuscript with all its parts and steps, and only the files in it are compiled and then output into PDF’s or Word Documents or just about whatever form you want it in.

In my projects, I rename Draft to the name of the Novel. Instead of Parts, I have Chapters. And within each chapter I have a scene which I don’t number, I name with a tag for what’s happening in the scene: “Sarah argues with Scott”, “Babysitting”, “To the doctor’s office,” etc.

Naming my scenes this way makes it fast and easy to look up details when I need them, because I’m working both horizontally and vertically.

Notice in the screenshot above that Step 16 and Step 17, which are separate text files, are both visible and separated by a gray line. That’s because I took the screenshot in Scrivenings mode. Scrivenings combines individual documents into a single text for viewing and editing. You can work with the text files in a single folder, or you can group together a bunch of text files from several folders to work with–perhaps because those are all the scenes from one character’s p.o.v. or because those are the scenes in which a particular character shows up.

Here’s another screenshot in Corkboard mode:

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In this screenshot of Corkboard mode, all the text files in the folder named Part 1: Basics are shown as index cards on a corkboard.

It just boggles my mind to be able to switch back and forth between Scrivenings and Corkboard! Can you imagine how delightful it makes plotting a novel????

There are a million wonderful features to this program, but I’ll just mention one more: the Research folder is facile and will accept just about any old thing you drag into it. So far, I’ve dragged in Mail messages, PDF’s, and Word documents. There’s a way to drag in Web pages but I haven’t used that yet because it hasn’t been necessary. But how sweet it is to have all my references grouped together in the Research folder for easy access…

One Caveat: this is a feature rich program and there is a learning curve. I spent the first few days watching Youtube video tutorials. Literature & Latte has some good ones. My favorite is called “Scrivener Bootcamp” by Jason Hough. I recommend that tutorial because it got me up to speed pretty quickly. I recommend investing the time in learning the program because you will reap vast rewards for doing so.

I’ve been able to write better, more easily and more cleanly, since acquiring and learning Scrivener. I also know, to the word, how many words I’ve written at a session, because there is a Target feature that allows me to set my target number of words for the day, and for the entire novel, and track the progress. Now I know for sure when I’ve written 383 words or 1672!

Scrivener is a terrific tool for writers. I give it 5 Traci Stars*****!

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Finding myself in Wikipedia
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Finding myself in Wikipedia

I was googling around on myself, keeping abreast of the scuttlebutt on my books, when I found a reference to one of my books in Wikipedia.

It was an article on the Bonfire of the Vanities, about the burning of books, art, and beautiful objects, especially as brought to us by Savonarola.

The event has been represented or mentioned in varying degrees of detail in a number of works of historical fiction, including… The Botticelli Affair by Traci L. Slatton (2013)….” 

While it was gratifying to find one of my books referenced on the Free Encyclopedia, why The Botticelli Affair, which I don’t feel is my strongest novel? A bonfire of the vanities plays a pivotal role in Immortal, which is a far more complex and better written tale.

Still, I shouldn’t quibble. Years ago, as part of promoting Immortal, I tried to include an article about myself in Wikipedia. The article was soon yanked, and showed up for a while as a ghost in Deletionpedia. There’s a dismal kind of fun in that, too….



Reading Other People’s Blogs
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Reading Other People’s Blogs

I have a lovely friend Lori who keeps a blog. I subscribe to her blog via bloglovin, so her enchanting essays regularly land in my inbox. Her posts are richly textured and full of color, they’re sad and despairing and happy and reflective and sweet and charming and inspiring and courageous and heartfelt. I stop work to read them when they come in. I get a little buzz of expansive feeling-thought, rather like eating a sugary square of lush dark chocolate with hazelnuts when I know I shouldn’t.

Lori’s blogs keep me connected to her and her life and they bubble up emotions within me. People use Facebook for that, too, I guess, though I’m not a fan of that particular forum. I forget to go on Facebook for weeks at a time, and then when I do, I try to “like” everything and everyone on my timeline. That ought to tame the beast, right?

I read the blogs of strangers, too, when I come upon them after googling something. I’m looking for information and sometimes I get that. Other times it’s a voyeuristic peek into an unknown life, as if I were riding in a hot air balloon and was floating past, staring down at the scenery. Sometimes it’s both. During the writing of my novel COLD LIGHT, I needed details about a certain Canadian park, and I stumbled upon a family’s blog about their vacation to that park, complete with an extensive photo album. I will never meet that family, but I am grateful to them for recording their trip with such meticulous care. I like to get the details right when I’m building a world inside a story, and I need to get as exhaustively detailed a mental picture as possible to that end. Their chronicles helped me.

I suspect that a lot of authors keep blogs for the same reasons I do: one, to promote their books; two, to keep fresh content trickling into the vast, libidinous ocean of the Internet, where content is king; and three, to rant about life and thus exorcise demons. The urge to autobiography is hard to extinguish.

So, promotional things, like eBook sales: COLD LIGHT will be on sale for $1.99 from Feb 18 to Feb 27; THE BOTTICELLI AFFAIR will be on sale for $.99 from Feb 10-18.

And check out this gorgeous oil painting: LIBERACI DAL MALE, by the outrageously talented Italian painter Roberto Ferri. Ferri’s work is insanely beautiful; he knows his way around a figure like no other painter alive right now. Sabin and I are both fans, and Sabin, who is perfectly fluent in Italian, has Skyped with Roberto. Roberto has graciously given permission for me to use LIBERACI DAL MALE as the cover for my novel BROKEN, the WW2 story on which I am currently working. The novel is wrestling me to the ground every day–if I see one more image of a Nazi atrocity, I will not be able to contain the tears–but this image helps. Other people’s work, in image and word, strengthens my own.


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Review of the Samsung Galaxy S4, by an iPhone User

Review of the Samsung Galaxy S4

I am an admitted Apple fangurl. I was an early, enthralled iPhone adopter. I went to the Apple Store within the first week of the iPhone’s introduction, stood in line, and lovingly brought home the wondrous creature.

But of late, all these years later, I found myself increasingly interested in the flexibility of the Android ecosystem. One of my friends has a Galaxy S3 and I had serious screen envy–my goodness, that screen is luscious!

I also haven’t been wowed by the latest iPhone offerings. Yawn.

So last week, when my iPhone 4 was taken over by aliens and the iPod app wouldn’t let me dial out, I went to AT&T and cashed in my upgrade for a Samsung Galaxy S4. I’ve been playing with it for almost a week, so here’s the review, and my thoughts on it from negative to positive.

The really awful: There are two really terrible qualities. I mean, really awful.

One, the mail client is god-awful bad horrible. I guess this is android-wide and not specific to the Galaxy. But after the iOs mail client, the android mail client is clunky, unreadable, and confusing. It’s not just bad, it’s terrible–I can’t emphasize this strongly enough. It doesn’t sync often enough and the UI is impenetrable. I tried downloading another android mail client called K9 and I’m not impressed with it, either.

Any iPhone user will miss the ease and simplicity–both visual and intuitive–of the iOs mail client. This, in fact, may send me back to exchange the Galaxy for an iPhone 5. I check my email via my phone all the time.

Two, the Samsung OS takes up 8 gigabytes of space. Yes, 8. EIGHT. I purchased a 16 gig phone thinking I had 13 gigs of space, and to my surprise, NOPE. Only 8.

The bad: Three more issues.

One, there is too much stuff on the Galaxy. Too much software doing too many things. Hello, Samsung: SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE! Sheesh, you guys. Strip down this OS and your customers will be happier. It took me two days to figure out what I was going to use and what I wouldn’t. Then another day to get rid of or hide the bloatware.

Two, the plastic casing feels cheap and flimsy in the hand. It just doesn’t feel solid, and an iPhone user will miss the sturdy feeling in the hand. I walked by another AT&T store the other day so I checked out the HTC One, which has a really respectable aluminum casing.

Three, the settings are insanely disorganized. You will figure them out. It just won’t be easy or intuitive. I am guessing that someone without the capacity for executive functioning in their brain designed the settings menus.

Here’s what is neither positive or negative: so far I haven’t noticed any extra flexibility from being in the android environment. It’s just different.

Now, the good. There are a lot of good features.

One, the camera is fantastic. Awesome, actually–dazzling. Wish I used it more!

Two, customizing ringtones is easy and built-in. This is a great feature for me, because I like to customize ringtones. I like to know who is calling me so I can decide whether or not to pick up. I am actually trying to train people to text me as a first contact. At least 50% of all phone conversations can be conducted more efficiently via text. So I want to know who’s calling, and for that I need specific ringtones. I always pick-up for my daughter’s school, for example.

Three, customizing the lock and home screens is easy and fun. But you do have to get rid of some of that terrible bloatware that Samsung features–like Flipboard.

Four, air wave is kinda cool. I do like being able to wave my hand over the phone and see the time, date, and my unread email count. Nice feature.

The great.

One, the screen is fantastic. You have to see it to believe it. That big, bright screen makes reading texts easy. It makes looking at anything easy.

Two, I like the bigger size of the phone. I would have liked Apple to make an iPhone that was the same size. Really, I would have.

I have a few more days left to exchange the phone for a $35 restocking fee. In the end, it may just come down to that terrible android email interface–I don’t know if I can live with it.

But the Samsung Galaxy S4 does feature many cool, worthwhile features.

My New Post on the HuffPo: The Bleak Necessity of the Dachau Tour
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My New Post on the HuffPo: The Bleak Necessity of the Dachau Tour

Business in Milan with my Italian publisher, Marco Tropea Editore, afforded me a timely opportunity to take a train into Bavaria.

I’m working on a new novel set in Munich and Berlin during the Second World War. For detail and realism, I need to experience a place. Reading books, listening to on-line lectures, and watching videos are no substitute for trudging through a city, absorbing through my pores the buildings and people and language, the smell of wurst and rich taste of Augustiner beer and slant of light through chestnut trees.

Munich is a lovely city in which to practice the writerly art of osmosis. Its buildings rollick through the ages, from the Romanesque Peterskirche to the neo-Baroque Justizpalast to the modern skyscraper Hypo-Haus. In the center of town, the Marienplatz bustles with a heterogeneous mix of people. It’s easy to get around because of the dazzling array of public transportation choices: the bus, the tram, the S-bahn, and the U-bahn–all very efficient.

In this world of dialectic, dichotomy, and duality, where there is beauty, there is found ugliness, and where there is light, comes the darkness. Lovely Munich’s history harbors astonishing cruelty. Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp and the deadly prototype for all others, lies twenty kilometers outside of town.

A story set in Germany during this time necessarily references concentration camps. Germans seem to agree. When I joined a tour to Dachau, which had been a munitions factory during the First World War, Tom the Welsh tour guide commented, “Germans study what happened here, they face it honestly. I regularly see school classes.”

Indeed, I spied a group of young people who looked like high school students. They listened carefully to their teacher, a bespectacled woman who spoke with a fierce thoughtfulness that elicited from them a corresponding intensity of focus.

Read the rest of my post here on the Huffington Post.


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We MUST distrust the FDA, the medical establishment, and Big Pharma

Scientists leave Monsanto to work at the FDA during the approval process for the use of Bovine Growth Hormone in dairy cows. The FDA allows milk to be substantially more adulterated for consumer use. After bovine growth hormone is approved, the scientists return to their original jobs at Monsanto. See: NEXUS Magazine, several articles including June/July 2001, vol. 8 #4, “Milking the Truth with GE Hormones” by Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, also Aug/Sept 1998, vol. 5 #5, “The Health Dangers of Dairy Products,” by Robert Cohen, regarding scientist Dr. Margaret Miller

“Ironically, Merck holds the patent on combining the natural substance coenzyme Q10 with statin to prevent a lot of the statin side effects, but none of their patent-medicine statins have coenzyme Q10…. This patent prevents some of the side effects from their patent statin, so it’s possible they are not using the combination of coenzyme Q10 and their statin because doing so might admit liability. If they release this information, everyone will know, and they may have to admit that their drug was harmful.” Dr. Jonathan Wright, in Suzanne Somers BREAKTHROUGH: Life Altering Secrets from Today’s Cutting-Edge Doctors (New York: Crown Publishers) p. 52-53.
Big Pharma Scores Big Win: Medicine Herbs will disappear in Europe

It’s almost a done deal. We are about to see herbal preparations disappear, and the ability of herbalists to prescribe them will also be lost.

by Heidi Stevenson


12 September 2010

Big Pharma has almost reached the finish line of its decades-long battle to wipe out all competition. As of 1 April 2011—less than eight months from now—virtually all medicinal herbs will become illegal in the European Union. The approach in the United States is a bit different, but it’s having the same devastating effect. The people have become nothing more than sinks for whatever swill Big Pharma and Agribusiness choose to send our way, and we have no option but to pay whatever rates they want.

Big Pharma and Agribusiness have almost completed their march to take over every aspect of health, from the food we eat to the way we care for ourselves when we’re ill. Have no doubt about it: this takeover will steal what health remains to us.


Princeton Researchers find that High Fructose Corn Syrup prompts Considerably More Weight Gain
A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board.”


Child diabetes blamed on food sweetener

by Lois Rogers

Scientists have proved for the first time that a cheap form of sugar used in thousands of food products and soft drinks can damage human metabolism and is fuelling the obesity crisis.Fructose, a sweetener derived from corn, can cause dangerous growths of fat cells around vital organs and is able to trigger the early stages of diabetes and heart disease.It has increasingly been used as a substitute for more expensive types of sugar in yoghurts, cakes, salad dressing and cereals. Even some fruit drinks that sound healthy contain fructose.Experts believe that the sweetener — which is found naturally in small quantities in fruit — could be a factor in the emergence of diabetes among children. This week, a new report is expected to claim that about one in 10 children in England will be obese by 2015.




The Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms that make the syrup, has been trying to improve the image of the much maligned sweetener with ad campaigns promoting it as a natural ingredient made from corn. Now, the group has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to start calling the ingredient “corn sugar,” arguing that a name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion about the product.”

see: The New York Times, Sept. 14, 2010, article by Tara Parker-Pope


NOTE: In my opinion, high fructose corn syrup is almost as dangerous as cigarettes, and all foods with this toxic substance as an ingredient MUST be labelled as dangerous and obesity causing. If the FDA were truly an organization for serving consumers, they would require this kind of labelling. However, the FDA is merely a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, bio-tech, Big Agra and Big Pharma companies.

There is a pattern at work in the world. The pattern is the slow but steady erosion of civil liberties and individual rights. These are handed over to Big Business so that the few can make money at the expense of the many. BEWARE.