Life in the cloud is great until the cloud stops working

The internet was down yesterday.

Outside on the street I could see four massive cherry-pickers, at least twenty workers and one new power pole. I’m not sure why the internet was off and the power was on when they were working on the electricity but it was.

You would think that time off the internet would give you time to write without distractions.

It’s good if you are writing your first draft. It’s not so good when you’re in the middle of edits. Especially if you are using the cloud to share files.

Nowadays if you want to share edits and you’re both working on those edits at the same time, it will probably be via some form of server connection. For most of us, that means the internet.

If the cloud worked the way spin doctors told us it would, being off-line shouldn’t matter. I would make my edits on my version, Sherylyn would make hers on her version and when the internet came back up the two files would synchronise and all would be fine.

Except as anyone who’s tried to sync files will tell you, it doesn’t work like that. File synchronisation is an inexact science at best. It’s still very buggy. Sometimes it seems that the moons have to be aligned, you’ve touched your lucky rabbit’s foot, and prayed to all the gods you can think of just to make it work properly, and woe betide if you do these things in the wrong order.

Be paranoid. Be very paranoid. Back. Up. Everything. Every day. Twice a day if you feel more comfortable.

Check before you start working on a document, just to be sure that you have synched, because sometimes the synchronisation gets out of order and an old version overwrites a newer one.

The internet came back up at 4pm. I have to say, the editing went much faster after that.

Posted in Writing general

Obtaining an ITIN, part 2

Obtaining an ITIN, part 2

A couple of months back we posted about obtaining an ITIN (international tax identification number).

Our ITINs came through today. As you can imagine, we are happy. It was relatively painless, which we didn’t expect, given that so many people posting on the internet seemed to have issues.

In part 1 we talked about why we needed it and how to get one.

This is what we needed:

  • A certified copy of our passport
  • The tax treaty paragraph number
  • An exception letter
  • W-7 form to fill out

A certified copy of our passport

We knew we needed an apostille, which is a specially certified copy of our passport. These are provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

We took our passports in to the closest passport office, queued up to organise the request, paid our money (A$60 each) and went back two days later to collect them.

Very easy, and painless.

The tax treaty paragraph number

This actually caused the biggest problem, and it was totally our own misunderstanding.

When you fill out the W7 form, and give the reason for applying for ITIN, you are asked to provide the treaty country and the treaty article number. For some reason we read that as being the ID of the treaty itself, and there are around three different document numbers quoted depending whether you go to the US site, Australia or other places on the internet. So we spent some time trying to work this out, and eventually even called the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to see if they could help us with what to put there. ATO called us back and walked us through the context of the question. Thanks ATO. :)

You are not looking for the treaty, you looking for the paragraph number inside the treaty that refers specifically to why you are requesting an ITIN. For us, that was paragraph 12, the paragraph that referred to copyrights.

Exception letter

We thought this would be the hardest, but it was actually the easiest. We asked the people at our agency about this, they asked Penguin and Penguin supplied a letter which had everything we needed.

Penguin was great, they supplied more than just the letter. They supplied instructions and links for the W-7 form, plus instructions and links for the W8-BEN. We could have worked out everything we needed to do from their email. No research required.

W-7 form

As I said, Penguin supplied a link to the latest form. All we had to do was fill it in.

Based on other people’s experiences, we were careful to:

  • Fill in every field we could, putting N/A where a question was not applicable
  • Not use abbreviations

And of course, the easiest mistake for anyone who normally writes their dates dd/mm/yyyy

  • Made sure we wrote the dates in mm/dd/yyyy format.

In the reason for submitting form W-7 we ticked reason a) and reason h).

Filling out the reason you're applying

The trickiest part on the W-7 form

 How long did it take?

The IRS said it would take 8-10 weeks to get the ITIN, and that was spot on. We sent our request mid-May, received it mid-July.

Where to from here

Now we have our ITIN, we can fill in the W-8-BEN.

Obtaining an ITIN, part 1

Posted in Business

Library reserve system helps me keep up with new authors

Once upon a time our library used to charge for reserving books. I can’t remember how much it cost. Around a dollar, I think. I can’t even remember when the library stopped charging. It’s a long time ago now.

What I do know is that the ability to reserve books at no cost has changed my reading habits and introduced me to a lot of authors I might otherwise have missed.

Before they changed the system I’d go to the library and pick out the books I wanted to read. I’d browse along the shelves and find books by authors I knew. I also picked up a few lucky-dip books where the cover or first page looked interesting.

Occasionally I’d search for a specific book. One that a friend had recommended, or that I was particularly looking forward to.

The books I missed, however, were the new releases that I had read about when newly published but had forgotten about by the time the book arrived in the library as it was usually months afterwards, and the books where I read a review that made me think, “Oh, I might like that,” but which didn’t have the personal recommendation.

I’m on the computer all the time. It doesn’t take much to log on to our local library. If I’m reading about a book I think I’ll like, I can go into the reservation system and order it. If it’s not in their catalogue and I really want to read it I can even recommend that the library purchase it.

Then, months after I’ve ordered it, an email arrives telling me that a book I had totally forgotten about is ready to collect.

I still browse at the library, but the no-charge reservations system has allowed me to read books that in the past I would have missed. In particular I read more new authors, and I have gained lots of new favourites out of it.

Posted in Resources

Problems in the cloud

Microsoft, Microsoft, what have you done to us?

I add comments to a document on my local (c:) drive. The comments are fine, attributed to me. I add comments to a document on my One Drive. The comments are fine, attributed to me.

Sherylyn adds comments to a document on her local drive. The comments are fine, attributed to her. She adds comments to a document on her One Drive. The comments are fine, attributed to her.

Then she adds comment to a document on my One Drive. Those comments are attributed to me. Even though she’s done them from her PC, under her user name, and she’s just added comments to other documents where it recognises who she is.

It seems that Microsoft still has a few bugs to iron out in the cloud.

Posted in Microsoft Office

Edge of Tomorrow is a movie worth seeing

The golden age of science fiction seems to have been replaced by the golden age of science fiction movies lately. Gravity, Hunger Games, Iron Man, Pacific Rim, Edge of Tomorrow, Transformers: Age of Extinction, more Star Wars, more Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and seemingly on and on.

If, like me, you like sci-fi movies, this is a good time to be going to the cinema.

Last week we went and saw Edge of Tomorrow. I enjoyed this movie. A lot.

Before I went I wondered how they’d do the continual repeats of the same day, and whether it would get boring after a while, but it didn’t. It was done well.

This week we saw Transformers: Age of Extinction. While not in the class of Edge of Tomorrow it’s a Transformers movie. What more can I say about it. If you liked the earlier Transformers movies (I did), you should like this one too.

You’ll already know if you’re going to see the Transformers movie. If you’re not sure about Edge of Tomorrow, I recommend it.

Posted in Science fiction

A tip for aspiring science fiction writers — read Locus Magazine

June 2014 Locus magazine

June 2014 Locus magazine

Back when there was all that controversy about the SFWA Bulletin, when people were discussing what an industry magazine for the science fiction community should be, I remember that one of the commenters said,

“Science fiction already has an industry magazine. It’s called Locus.”

It’s true.

Locus is not part of the SFWA.

It started out as a newszine and while it has become easier on the eyes, it hasn’t changed much since I started reading it back when I was a lot, lot younger. It still contains the same rich information, details of upcoming books, along with a whole lot of other industry information.

Its editorial profile describes it thus:

LOCUS is a monthly trade journal, founded in 1968, whose readership consists of chain and independent book buyers, librarians, publishers, bookstore owners and managers, and other science fiction professionals, as well as dedicated SF readers. It has won the Hugo Award, science fiction’s highest honor, 30 times.

LOCUS is famous for its book reviews and author interviews, recommended titles lists and analysis of the SF field, monthly bestseller lists, monthly listings of all SF books published, and its up-to-date coverage of newsworthy events.

If you read a lot of science fiction you have probably heard of the magazine. It’s the place to get a complete list of new books coming.

If you write science fiction you should definitely have heard of it. If you haven’t, I recommend you do.

If you’re looking for an agent, Locus magazine and the Absolute Write Water Cooler Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check thread should be must-haves in your agent search.

Because not only does it list books coming out, it also lists books sold. It says which publisher bought them and which agent sold them. If you are serious looking for an agent for your science fiction novel, these are the people who are actively selling science fiction right now.

These are the agents you should be targeting your queries for.

There is a website but this is one case where you absolutely should have the magazine itself. It comes in paper version and digital. You can order it direct from Locus or from a supplier in your home country.  Slow Glass Books here in Australia. I get my (digital) copy from Weightless Books and I’m happy with the way it pops into my mailbox each month.

Posted in Queries, Science fiction

Some techniques to help you show, don’t tell

One of the most common pieces of writing advice around is “show, don’t tell”, yet it’s hard to explain the concept sometimes. It’s one of those thinks you know when you see.

Writers, especially beginning writers struggle, struggle with the concept. It’s all very well to give examples like:

Don’t say the man was old and fat, show him getting up out of his chair with difficulty, his bones aching, his back bent, using his walking stick to push himself up.

It sort of works, but it sort of doesn’t too. If you try that too often without really knowing what you’re doing you end up with description soup, your story lost under the weight of your attempt to ‘show’.

You need concrete things you can do to fix your story.

Our first drafts are full of telling. Here are two techniques we use to change some of this telling to showing in the second draft.

Don’t have your characters ‘think’

Look for places in your story where your character ‘thinks’ and replace them with what he thinks about.

Chuck Palahniuk says it a lot better than us in his essay about this on Lit Reactor, Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs. He explains that if you get rid of the thought verbs: thinks, knows, understands, realizes, believes, wants, remembers, imagines, desire your writing will be much stronger. He shows some good examples too.

Try to make the story active

It’s easier to pick where a story is passive than where a story is showing rather than telling. Not only that, there are grammar rules you can apply to pick where a story is passive and change it around.

Minion Fogarty, Grammar Girl, gives a good example in Active Voice Versus Passive Voice. I’ll quote her verbatim here.

In an active voice the subject is doing the action. For example

Steve loves Amy.

Steve is the subject, loves is the action.

In a passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position.

Amy is loved by Steve.

Another way to look for passive prose is to look for words like has, was, and were.

Let’s try a really quick example of a first draft, written passively.

There was banging on the door. It was so hard the door shuddered on its hinges. Alistair wondered if he should run or face Bo’s anger. He opened the door. Standing in the doorway was a ghost. The ghost booed at him.

Okay, so we’re not looking at award winning writing here. It’s bad, and we know it, but bear with me. It’s got all the passivity we want. ‘There was’ banging on the door. ‘It was’ so hard … and so on.

Let’s make it more active.

Someone banged on the door, so hard the door jumped in its frame.

Should he run? No. Best to face Bo now.

Alistair opened the door. A ghost stood in the doorway.

“Boo,” said the ghost.

Notice another thing. Passive text is a monologue. This happened, then that happened, then something else happened. It’s bland. As you start changing the passive text to active, you realise just how bland it is. Now that you’ve made it more active, it’s easier to see places to tweak, which helps with the show/tell.

Someone banged on the door. Hard and loud.

Should he run? No. Best to face Bo now, in the safety of his own home.

Alistair opened the door.

One of the ghosts from the waterfront stood there. The big bruiser with the red hair and the shoulders twice as wide as Alistair’s and the axe in his head. The one who’d been half-transparent the other night. He didn’t look transparent now.

He didn’t sound it either, if that had been him banging.

“Boo,” said the ghost.

The story is starting to sound different to the bland telling we started out with, and as an added bonus, we’ve doubled our word count too.

Posted in Technique

How techical writing resumes are a lot like query letters

Although my work title is still officially, ‘Technical Writer’, that’s only because no-one has yet come back to me and said, “Hey, when was the last time you did any technical writing?”

“Um, about five years ago.”

Nowadays I’m more of a cross between a developer—back to my roots—and a user interface person. I work in a graphic design team. I’m not necessarily the person you’d choose to design your website, but I’m a good person to build a site someone else has designed, and in my team we have three good designers so I get to dabble in the fun, back-end technical stuff which I enjoy.

Last night, though, I was thinking about query letters, and about my time as the team leader of a technical writing team.

One of my jobs in that role was to go through the resumes and select people we’d interview for any technical writing jobs.

[Note: Yes, I have deliberately left the acute accents off the e's on résumé (é). It is, technically, a typo, but getting them to display properly on everyone's browser is a pain, so I have left it as resume.]

Most of the applicants came through agencies.

I don’t know if you’ve had anything to do with job applications from agencies, but the first thing the agency normally does is rewrite the applicant’s resume to fit their own standards, which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to assess a technical writer’s suitability for a position. So much so that I always asked to see the applicant’s original resume as well as the agency version.


Because the resume tells you a lot about the person writing it. Does it look clean and tidy? Is it spaced out well or crammed together on the first half of one page? Is the spelling and grammar correct? You’d be surprised how many spelling and grammar issues were introduced when the agency rewrites someone’s resume. (Or maybe you wouldn’t.)

More importantly, did the applicant use styles in Word or did they manually style every heading? Have they used styles consistently? These things may sound trivial, but if the writer does it wrong, it doubles the rework and makes documentation much harder to manage.

Is it easy to read?

Can they actually write?

It’s a lot like querying really. If you don’t write your own query letter to a prospective agent/publisher, how are they to assess what your writing is really like?

Yes, most of us write terrible query letters. But it’s still your own writing, and it says a lot about you.

Posted in Writing general

This week’s writing has been a write-off

So far we have both missed four writing days each this week due to work commitments and travel.  Not the same four days either.

It’s the first time since we started this initial stretch target (1st draft of this book by 30 June) that we haven’t made our word count.


But we got close, even with four days out.  It just means we work a little harder next week.


Posted in Writing

John Connolly

John Connolly's new book

John Connolly’s new book

On Wednesday night we went to a Dymocks Camberwell dinner talk featuring John Connolly.

Connolly is here in Australia for the Sydney Writers’ Festival and to promote his latest book, The Wolf in Winter.  This is the second time I have heard him speak. He’s an entertaining speaker, and very generous with his time in talking to fans. It was an enjoyable night.

If you get a chance to hear him, I recommend you take it.


Posted in Writing
July 2014
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