Ain’t nothing easy

Formatting is such a frightening word. When I hear it, I think of some guy in his room, window shades down, typing away on his computer and generating strings of mysterious code.

I recently formated Riverbend for submission to Smashwords. In case you don’t know it, Smashwords sells books in every available format so readers can download their purchased book on a Kindle, iPad, Nook, telephone, or even, I suppose, their watch if they like to read books on their wrist. Moreover, Smashwords uploads your book to other outlets such as Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Overdrive, and I don’t know where else, saving the author the trouble of individually uploading each book in a different format.  You only have to do it once and they do the rest.Image result for hacker images

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. I spent two entire days formatting my book. But, and here is the kicker, all I had to do was follow the instructions in Mark Coker’s guidebook. And the book is free and very user-friendly. If you follow it precisely, your book will be readable with no deep paragraph indents or inches of white space. I’ve read other books with a table of contents and buy links at the back and wondered how they did it. Now I know! Never too old to learn new tricks.

The other thing I’ve been working  on is converting Riverbend to Audible. I put up the info and a script, but so far no one has auditioned. I’m not very hopeful as an experienced reader can charge up to $500 an hour to read a book and ACX calculated it wold take 7.9 hours to read my book. That isn’t just reading, but editing. I can’t afford that, so I went the second route, which is to share royalties 50-50 with the reader.  Because I don’t have a large “platform” or following, I really can’t expect anyone to take the chance that their hours of work will pay off.

I thought of reading it aloud myself and making a file to upload. I like reading aloud and am told I have a pleasant, if soft, voice. That might be just right for Riverbend, whose main character is a genteel Southern woman. But where would I go to record? I’m afraid any recording I made would be interrupted by barking dogs, meowing cats, cars honking, birdsong, and me coughing when my throat gets dry. The birdsong might be a nice touch if I knew how to edit everything else out.

So that’s what I worked on this week. And you thought writing was only about thinking up a plot and inventing characters to act out the story.

I did too, once upon a time.

Commercial: If you want to read an excerpt from Riverbend, here’s the link: www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

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The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.

 

 

A short essay about a short story

I had clear schedule of things to do written on my dry-erase board. I needed to prepare for a week away from home due to a family emergency that required two days of travel both to and from my destination. So, I had to get a cat-sitter, pack, pick up my meds from the drugstore, and do all the other things necessary for the trip. I planned to tackle that list as soon as I woke up Monday morning.

Instead, I headed for my computer and brought up a blank Word document. Before going to sleep the night before, a story had crept into my brain and wouldn’t let go. I went over it several times in my head before I finally fell asleep, and went over it again before I got out of bed. I knew I would get no peace until I wrote it down.

It didn’t take long. The words were already there.

This has happened a few times before. I have learned from bitter experience not to delay in transferring thoughts to paper (or to a Word document). Only a day or two can erase it from my mind as if it had never been.

I am not a short-story writer. I’ve never published any short stories (except for two in a women’s magazine some 20 years ago), although I’ve won or placed in a few local contests. I find them harder to writer than a 90,000-word novel. Yet once in a blue moon,  as on this occasion, one begs to be written. No, it demands and threatens until it has its way with me.

I have two novels I am working on right now. I could say I don’t have time for such nonsense. Nobody reads short stories any more. There is no market.

But I would be wrong. I am reading Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, (Yes, that Tom Hanks) and he is as accomplished in story-telling as he is acting. Maybe his collection of short stories is what inspired my midnight visitation. But it has happened before and Mr Hanks was not involved then.

I guess we just take what the fates hand us and try to justify the gift. I don’t know what I will do with this story yet. I need to let it ripen, add a little polish — or maybe I’ll do nothing at all because it seems already finished; finished as soon as I typed the last word.

I don’t understand why this happens every so often because it defies explanation. I share this because people ask where my ideas come from and this is the best answer I can give: Out of nowhere.

 

 

 

 

Nothing new under the sun

Every writer likes to think her ideas are unique. We try to come up with plots that are original, or at least a new twist on old ones.

I was reading a book yesterday and the heroine, orphaned and on her way to live with an aunt she barely knows, stops at an inn. She decides to go no farther, but to marry the older, dour innkeeper in order to gain a home of her own.

Well, deja vu all over again. My latest release, Riverbend, has an orphaned heroine who  marries an older dour man in order to escape having to throw herself on the mercies of a distant relative. And both heroines fall in love with their husbands.

There is also a witch who has all the other slaves terrified of her. I have a witch who terrifies all the other slaves.  In the book, the witch is old and ugly, while mine is young and beautiful, so there the similarities diverge.

I haven’t finished the book I am reading to see if it parallels mine in any other ways, but I’ve read enough to realize my idea wasn’t so original after all.

Then I was watching the TV show, The Good Doctor, and in the story, conjoined twins are separated, but one’s heart was working for both her and her twin, unknown to the doctors until they were separated.

Umm … yeah. In my as-yet unpublished book, there is a scene where conjoined twins are in danger because, you guessed it, one’s heart was working for the other unknown to the doctors until they get too far into the operation to stop.

It just goes to prove that there are no plots that haven’t been written over and over again. The trick is to give them a fresh look.  I once had an acquisition editor send me a scathing reply to a query because I used the old “secret baby” plot line. Overdone! She was tired of  this stale and unbelievable story. And yet I read books with this very same, or variation of, the secret baby.  It works for some because they know how to give it that original twist (while I obviously did not).

So, don’t worry if you find yourself reading a book with an uncanny resemblance to your own. Just figure out what they did that was different.

As a footnote, Frenchy is much recovered. So much so that I am having a hard time catching her to give her her twice-daily dose of antibiotic in her ears. And she has gained at least a pound because she is eating like a little gray pig.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for joy

This little visitor to my deck brought me joy this morning.

 

It’s easy to be pessimistic about life. Sad things happen. We lose family members and friends. Our jobs have gradually ceased to bring us satisfaction, but have become a chore. Children grow up and move away, leaving us more alone that we ever imagined. Our bodies age and we reluctantly agree there are some things that we just can’t do any more, much as we want to.

Sometimes our minds get set on our losses and sorrows, and we can’t seem to find our way out.

But there is a way to change that mindset. It really is simple. Bear me out.

In our NETworX program, as we support people overcoming generation poverty we ask that each participant tell us something good that happened to them that week.

In our monthly church leadership team meetings, we ask people to share “glory sightings”–something that brought them joy and gratitude.

We don’t have to wait until someone prods us during a meeting to come up with something positive in our lives. We can look for it every day.  I wake in the morning and remind myself that today  I am going to find something that makes me happy.

It doesn’t have to be a winning lottery ticket. Once I went to pay my check for lunch, only to be told someone had already paid it.  That was huge! Another time, I found a flower blooming in a spot no plant could possibly grow–yet it did. And one day I went to the library and found not one, but three books by three of my favorite authors! What a dilemma to decide which one to read first!

Sometime it’s an unexpected call from a friend, just when I need it, or maybe turning on the radio and hearing a song I love and haven’t heard in many years.

As you look for these “glory sightings” or “joys” or whatever you choose to call them, they will appear more and more frequently. And you begin to realize that your outlook on life has slowly changed.

At this point, you will start to wonder how you can bring joy to someone else.  Maybe you pay the charge at the fast-food drive-in for the family behind you. Or ease up on the gas pedal to let that person trying to merge get off the ramp and onto the highway. Smile and thank the cashier at the grocery story or the teller at the bank. Swallow that snarky remark that may seem funny to you, but may be hurtful to the recipient.

As you look for ways to spread joy as well as finding it, I think your life will be better … both for you  and for your loved ones.

I read in a newspaper column that the writer’s one resolution for 2018 was to be kinder.

If all of us made that resolution, wouldn’t it truly be a wonderful world!

Best wishes for you and yours in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day in the life

I’ve had my rear end planted firmly in my chair this past week, facing my computer. My fingers have been busy, my mind more so.

Yes, I’ve been writing. More than I have all summer. There are two incentives: one, yard work has slowed down and two, I have novels to finish.

I’d planned on revising a story I started a couple of years ago. My beta readers liked it, but I wasn’t satisfied. Nor could I get even a nibble from publishers. I decided I needed to twist the basic plot. I think it’s stronger, more believable, but I need some feedback before I publish. (For many reasons, I decided to self-publish this one.)

Second, I sent out a query for another book and got the response that if I made the last chapters stronger the editor was willing to take another look. This is a reversal of my first submissions where I was told the throw out the first chapters and start in the middle of the story (which was where it really began). So I’ve been working on that, too.

And,  my friends/fans have asked for a sequel to “Riverbend.” I have an idea in the back of my head, but that means writing two books, not one, to make the sequel(s) work. It looks like a busy winter.

And, it’s more than writing. If I self-publish, I need to create my own cover. I’ve been going through sites like Flickr Commons, Dreamstime, Free Range Stock, etc., to find a picture that matched the idea in my head. I found the perfect one, but it was copyrighted, and there was no contact information so I could ask the artist for permission, or to pay, to use it. Sigh. I will keep looking or I may have to find a commercial cover artist to do it, which is expensive. However, I’m told the cover makes the book, even though we are warned not to judge a book by its cover. The world is filled with conflicting advice.

Oh, and a title. That’s another hurdle, trying to think of a few words that instantly let the reader know what the book is about. I’ve been playing with that, too. Sometimes titles come instantly, ready to go, and sometimes, as with this book, it’s elusive and needs to be teased into being.

And so it goes. As any writer will tell you, it’s more than putting words on paper. I won’t even get into the submission process, editing, and promotion.

And meanwhile, I will need to rake leaves pretty soon. That’s all right, I do my best thinking while working on a physical task. There must be a relationship between muscle and brain. Exercise one and you stimulate the other.

So, right now I’m getting ready to attend a workshop on writing the short story. I don’t write short stories often, but I’m sure I”ll learn more about writing in general.

And that, my friends, is the writing life. Filled with ups and downs, rejections and offers of a contract, decisions, details, and all the other mundane activities that in no way decrease the joy of seeing your story come to life.

 

 

 

I finally completed a tablecloth I started embroidering 60 years ago. It is a stamped cross-stitch. Counted cross-stitch didn’t become a “thing” until much later.

I forget now why I bought the cloth and embroidery silk. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted something for my “hope chest.” I do remember Mom buying it for me and I lugged it off to college. And forgot about it.

Then I graduated and got married. I dug it out and worked on it a little, but then the babies came and I put it up again.

It survived several moves. Every few years I’d “discover” it and add a few more stitches until something more interesting came up.

And so it went. Until I cleaned closets last Spring and found it again. I’d used some of the thread for other projects and almost threw it away. But then I searched online for thread and found the very same company I’d bought from all those decades ago and the colors still matched. So I ordered the skeins I needed. When I received my little package, I sat down and started embroidering. (And binge-watching “Ozark”.)

This week I tied off the last stitch.

 

Yes,  I hear you saying, “What has this to do with writing?”

The answer is: Perseverance.

Do you have a story you started years ago and stuck in the back of a desk drawer or in a box under your bed? Do you bring it out every once in awhile and decide it’s too much trouble, it will take too long to finish, you’ve run out of words? And put it back again?

Maybe it needs revision. (I had to pick out some areas and start again because I’d used the wrong color.) Maybe the pattern isn’t clear and you don’t know what it’s going to look like at the end. Maybe you’re just too busy living life to sit down and pick up the needle–I mean, pen.

But it nags at you and you can’t quite let it go. So you work on it for awhile and then you put it away.

And then one day you decide to just finish the d**n thing. And when you do…you’ve become a writer. You persevered.

Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

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