Summer is for reading

I just spent 3 hours this morning in a Zoom meeting for the Democratic District Convention. It was great to hear from all the candidates, but I confess I felt myself nodding off about halfway through. I don’t know how you feel about attending large meetings in person, but I was happy to attend virtually — especially since it was set up so that no one could see me unless I asked to speak. Which I didn’t.

I also spent some time last night with my oldest son in a virtual meeting so he could help me with some computer problems. His Internet server kept dropping him, so we gave up.

Ah, technology. Wonderful when it works, right?

All last week I struggled to get my manuscript loaded in KDP. My goal was to have it ready by yesterday, but obviously that didn’t happen. My first proof copy had the font size and spacing wrong. I am not clear how that happened. I know it comes back to me doing something wrong. Formatting a book is definitely harder than writing it! Or at least, much  less enjoyable.

Second proof had the right font, margins, etc., but my little picture that divided scenes kept moving around. I finally got that fixed, saw a few other bloopers and fixed them. But when I uploaded, there was a blank page right between pages 9 and 10. So I do what I do best, I consulted Google. After a full day of trying every suggested remedy, I finally eliminated the extra page.

Another upload. This time things look good, so I am going to release “Bethann” on Amazon and the e-book on Smashwords  (which will distribute it to other markets) on Memorial Day. Because you have been following my journey on writing this book, I hope you take a look.

Speaking of Smashwords, their Authors Give Back sale is still going on. It has been extended to the eSmashwordsnd of the month. Have you checked www.smashwords.com for free and discounted books for your Kindle or iPad?

I was delighted many people took advantage of my free books. I hope they enjoy them and will be ready to purchase “Bethann” when it is available.

And, now that I have time to read, I plan on going there right now and load up. It looks like it is going to be a long summer.

Stay safe!

 

 

Cover reveal and other accomplishments

During this period of social distancing I have accomplished several things. One is that my kitchen cupboards and drawers are much cleaner and neater.

I could not believe the things I found while organizing. For example, a perfectly good coffee grinder. I purchased one not so long ago after receiving a bag of coffee beans.  I mused that this is what I got for not checking to see if I already had one.

I also found a waffle maker I didn’t know I had. I cleaned it up and bought some waffle mix and syrup. I am looking forward to a Sunday morning treat.

Along with the usual housework (and I am still ignoring that full ironing basket), yard work, and crafts  — why, oh why, did I think it would be fun to do a cross stitch of a black cat? — I finished my book!

Yes, it was written, edited, and critiqued. But then there was the formatting to do, and then uploading the cover. For some reason, KDP kept telling me it didn’t meet their criteria. It seems the cover width was  — picture me pinching my thumb and forefinger together — this much too short.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was using their template, so shouldn’t it be the proper width? After several unsuccessful attempts, I took the darn template itself and changed its dimensions by the veriest smidgen.

Yep, that worked. So I ordered a proof copy, and if all looks good, I may have the book for sale by May 15.

I am happy that is something I can check off my list.

Now, let’s see if I can complete that cross stitch cat!

 

 

Interrupted by nature

The weather forecast said it would be warm Saturday, so I planned on doing yard work. A LOT of yard work. I had bulbs to replant, bushes to trim, limbs to pick up in the back yard …

I wanted to transplant some Easter lily bulbs to a better  location, but not until much later in the year.  To my surprise, they were already popping up, thus they were on my to-do list. I dug new homes for them and only managed to kill half of them. Ugh. those bulbs are deep and the little new growth is fragile. Still, I have enough re-homed to make up for my mass destruction.

Then I found a trespasser in my potted hyacinth that I had taken inside for the winter. I pulled it out and discovered that some squirrel had planted a pecan and it had take root. So I decided to plant it where the pear tree once stood. While doing that, I saw that the Japanese lilies I had planted out back a year ago had suddenly come up — not only where I planted them, but pretty much all over the yard. I had thought they were dead as they did not come up last fall when they were supposed to. Anyway, while planting the pecan seedling, I saw my preferred site was taken over by fire ants, so I had to treat the mound.

On to chore number two. I clipped about a fourth of the growth and was growing an impressive pile of branches. My goal is to be able to reach the privet that has taken root  in the very center of the quince bush. A quince bush is very spiky, so I couldn’t just reach in with the clippers because i would have had my arms torn to pieces even with gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.  It started to rain and I worked on, thinking a little sprinkle wouldn’t hurt me, but then it came down harder and I had to abandon my plans and come inside to change clothes.

The fallen limbs remain in place, as well as the hundreds of sweet gum balls that the last wind tossed down. I could almost hear the trees snickering.

I can see how this year is shaping up. I will be outside more than inside, raking and weeding and pruning more than I am reading or writing.

The good news is, I am this far from completing my third historical novel. I need to write a bridge scene, then go over it and make any changes and go over it again and again until I feel ready to send it to my favorite editor and beg a few people to be beta readers.

I know I need to balance my time. Sunny days for yard work, rainy days for writing.

Housework? Forget about it. That is for the day before company is expected.

What positively, necessary chore keeps you from tackling your work in progress? What can you safely ignore while listening to your muse?

I’m just wondering if I am a “normal” writer — if there is such a  person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No NaNoWriMo — this year

So it is here: National Novel Writing Month. And for the upteenth time in as many years, I am not joining in.

I have the same, well-worn excuse: I am already in the middle of writing a novel and refuse to drop it to start another, no matter how tempting the challenge. Maybe some year I will be in between novels and will welcome the chance to jump-start a new one. But not this year.

Still, writers often need such a challenge to keep them on course. I admit I have been goofing off this past week. The weather has been too beautiful to ignore, and it is pruning season.

Image result for drawing a name from a hat

At our writers’ club, we also have a little challenge going on. Nothing as ambitious as churning out an entire novel in a month. We set a monthly goal and at the next meeting are forced to admit, not unlike Weight Watchers, if we have met our goal or not. It could be completing a poem you have worked on for weeks (or years), a page count on that ongoing short story, bravely submitting a piece to a magazine or contest, or whatever.

Winners occasionally net the lump sum of $7 or $8, because we only put a quarter in the pot. But as you have surmised, it isn’t the monetary goal that is — well, the goal — but the satisfaction of knowing you accomplished something you set out to do.

That, and the applause and congratulations from fellow members.

So at the last meeting I set a goal to move on with my manuscript. I tried to pick a number of pages that would be doable, but not too easy. It’s not a challenge if you set a goal you know you can reach without much effort. On the other hand, setting a goal too high results in burnout and giving up, with the subsequent feelings of failure and inadequacy.

Achieving my goal doesn’t mean I will win. My name will be put in a pot along with all the other members, whether they reached their goal or not, and someone will draw out a slip of paper and read a name. If that person didn’t make their goal, or is absent, the pot is moved on to another month, with the addition of several more quarters. Exciting times! We may never get to Las Vegas, but we do know how to gamble … on ourselves.

I guess we could call our challenge JuWriMoMo.*

So I need to get busy, ignore the enticing outdoors or the dusty furniture or the laundry piled up and start writing.

*Just Write More Month

 

 

 

Counting down

It seems I cannot stop making errors. I printed out out some bookmarks to bring to the book signing Sunday. Only after they were all printed and trimmed did I discover that somehow the most important information had been cut off at the margin.

The bookmarks are to advertise a promotion my publisher, Cleanreads, is doing starting Monday. My paranormal alternate history is going to be offered free in the coming weeks!

Maybe FREE is the most important part?

A Question of Boundaries September 9-13.

A Question of Loyalty September 16-20.

A Question of Time September 23-27.

Here’s what got cut off: Free e-book @ amazon.com

I do hope you will take advantage of this and get the books. Did I add, free?

Meanwhile, although I said I was through traveling for a while, I am going on another trip. In 2003 I wrote a book called “I’d Rather Go to California.” My doctor had calculated that it would be as many miles to drive to California as it would to drive to my radiation treatments 33 times. Hence the title. A few years ago my middle son and his wife moved out there, and they have invited me several times to visit. I finally said yes, and booked a flight.

Any burglars reading this, please note I have three attack cats and they are not declawed.

I am excited about finally seeing the Pacific Ocean among other sights. So, I am counting down the days until I arrive on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Dorian came and went and I am happy to say my Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina families are all safe. Please say a prayer for those in the Bahamas, though. My heart breaks for the people there and the devastation they are going through. If you want to donate to help out, prayerfully consider the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Every penny goes to relief and none to administrative costs.

Chapter headings and other catastrophes

I was determined not to let this week get away from me as last week did. Yet here we are at the weekend already.

I did get some yard work done, thanks to the cooler and less humid weather. I finally raked up all the pine straw in the corner of the yard between the fig tree and the creek–a project I would usually have accomplished by mid-May at the latest. Surprised a little toad that, instead of hopping away, sat there and watched. I guess I was his equivalent of a hurricane, destroying his habitat. I told him there was lots more pine straw on the slope to the creek that I won’t touch. because the last thing I want to do is fall in.

My writing is a lot like yard work. I plan to do so much, yet accomplish so little. I don’t know how other authors churn out three or four books a year. I only finish  book because people keep asking when the next one is coming out, and I have to say something. I prefer to work on the story in my head, not put it down on paper. Or keyboard, actually.

My upcoming book signing (2-4 p.m. on Sept. 8 at the Drake Gallery in Wadesboro, N.C.) spurred me on to get the book finished. I ordered a proof copy, made corrections. and uploaded the corrected version. Then I started on the electronic format, using Smashword’s guide. It wasn’t until I was linking the chapter headings to the index that I realized that in eliminating some nonessential parts of the story I had forgotten to change the chapter numbers. The book went from chapter 17 to chapter 20. People would think I had cut two chapters and wonder what they had missed. They would be right: I had cut two chapters, but they weren’t missing anything important. The story itself was intact.

I quickly made the correction to the print version, thankful I had not yet mentioned anywhere that it was available. I wanted the release date to be September 8, but Amazon insisted on releasing it a day after I uploaded Morven.doc. They don’t give you a choice, which I should have realized and held off until my preferred date. But what if it hadn’t been approved and wasn’t available on my target date?

That was the least of my worries. I had to fix those chapter headings fast because I had already ordered copies for the book signing! I admit it, I prayed over it. I had always laughed at people who prayed for things like an open parking place near the store. Surely God could not be bothered with such trivial requests.

But this wasn’t trivial to me. I asked God/Universe: Please let them not start printing the books until after the change was made. I had a two-day margin.

When the box of books arrived, I tore open the carton, opened a book, and flipped to the last chapters.

The book was the corrected version and the chapter headings were what they should be.

I did a happy dance and said another prayer of thanks.

So I am ready for the book signing. And this time a little ahead of the game as I am half-way through the next one. And with summer winding to an end, maybe I will have time to sit down and finish it.

 

What century is it?

I had a phone call this morning. It took me a minute to understand what the caller wanted.

“I’m sorry,” I said contritely. “I had to get my head out of the 19th century.” I’m not sure she knew what I meant, but if you’ve ever been reading an engrossing story, only to jerked back to the real world by an interruption such as a phone call or a child crying, you will understand the disconnect. It’s the same with writing.

I had been working on my novel, which takes place in 1820, and at the moment the phone rang I was wondering just what a person back then would put on a bruise and a nasty gash. After I answered the caller’s question, I went back to work.

Unfortunately, Google could not solve my problem. I’m sure people without access to the Mayo Clinic or its 200-year-old equivalent had plenty of home remedies, but it will take more research to find out.

I think some writers do all the research they will need before beginning their novel. Others may do research when and as they need it. I like to finish the story and then go back and fill in the gaps if I can’t find what I need right away. Stopping to look up a cure or a fashion detail can lead to hours spent musing over different websites, each one leading me down another path until I realize I’ve wasted hours reading information that, while fascinating, will never find a place in my story.

Distractions such as phone calls or enticing detours are the pitfalls of writing from home. I could take the phone off the hook (at least my landline, which most of my friends use). But then they would simply call my cell phone. If I managed to ignore that, they would worry and come knocking on the door to see if I was all right, so that wouldn’t work.

As for getting lost in research, that is my own fault and I know I need to be more disciplined. It’s too easy to type in a few words and see the wealth of information that pops up.  Back when the world and I were younger, finding out an elusive fact meant getting into the car and going to the library, filling out a slip of paper to hand to the librarian, waiting for her to bring you a book, taking the volume to a table, and then copying what you needed into a notebook.

There are days when I think I need to rent a cabin for a week and take with me only a couple of pens and some paper. No phone, no Internet, no books or television. I’d be forced to write without interruption.

But honestly, I don’t think I’d last a day.  There are only so many hours you can spend in a book whether you are reading it or writing it.  You have to come back to the real world eventually.

We just want our return to be on our terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress of sorts

As I said last week, I am participating in a program for Black History Month that recognizes  the contributions of all people regardless of ethnicity toward the cause of equality.

I pulled together a costume that might be worn by a rather fierce mid-19th century abolitionist lady: long skirt, high-necked, long-sleeved pleated blouse, high black boots. I tried on a shawl, but it didn’t look right. Nor could I find a hat that looked right, so I opted to believe the lady was speaking indoors and wouldn’t necessarily be wearing a hat. With totally opposite reasoning, I tried to find a pair of gloves. I did find a pair in the back of one of my dresser drawers. I used to have many women’s gloves, but had donated all but this pretty pair to costumes for our outdoor drama. Alas, these are stained and I have been trying every remedy I can think of to remove the blotches.

Elizabeth B. Chace

The hardest part was my hair. I wear it short, so I parted it in the middle and combed the sides straight back. It makes a severe look, which I thought appropriate. I’m sure my character, Mrs. Chace, was kind to her charges, but I imagine her strong in her beliefs.

We had dress rehearsal and although I’d been practicing my little piece, it flew out of my mind when I realized there would be actual people there. I recovered quickly and spoke my lines with only a few minor lapses.

My friend Beverley and I decided to get a quick supper after rehearsal and went to a local pizzeria in our costumes. We raised nary an eyebrow. I may be getting a local reputation for eccentricity. As Eleanor Roosevelt, Beverley simply looked stylish.

I  haven’t been neglecting my writing. I sent out another query, and have written more pages.  Whether or not they are any good remains to be seen. Here is where I will rely on beta readers.

All this takes time. Time is something you squander when you are young, and try to hang onto when you are old. Alas, it slips through your fingers either way. I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency, which may be why I am sticking to my writing schedule more rigidly than I have previously.

So I am working and having fun in equal parts, which is not to say having fun isn’t work at times (memorizing lines) and working isn’t having fun (looking up from writing to discover an hour has flown by).

The program will be behind me in a few days. Hopefully, I can say the same about this book in a few months!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good advice/bad advice

 

Image result for tooting own horn gif

 

Our local writers’ club is again sponsoring an event. We held a writers conference for several years, but lately we are focusing on more intimate workshops. BUT we are still sponsoring a story-telling event. This will be our sixth year for that.

So I find myself once again doing the publicity: designing fliers and posters, writing articles for the newspapers, posting on websites and social media, sending out email messages …

I don’t mind. It’s what I do. The question is: Why don’t I do the same for my books?

Good question.

I know once a book is published, the author cannot write “The End” and relax, waiting for royalties to roll in. No one will buy a book if they don’t know about it.

I guess it comes from not wanting to be “pushy.” You know, that writer that posts “Buy my book” a zillion times a day on every outlet known to the Internet. Mom always cautioned me not to be a showoff or smart a$$. Well, she didn’t say a$$ but she meant it. We were told to be modest and unassuming. In other words, hide your light under a basket. Don’t bring attention to yourself.

Good advice then when I was a mouthy, attention-seeking preteen. Bad advice now when I really want to gather new readers.

I know I need to toot my own horn and at the same time, not be so annoying people hit “block” on my posts. It’s a fine line and I haven’t found a way to walk it yet.

I really need to sit down and plan a campaign just like I do for our writers club events. It isn’t that difficult.

I just need to  convince myself it’s okay.

 

If not now, when?

Do you read about authors who write for eight to twelve hours straight or until they produce  certain number of pages or word count, and decide that if that is what it takes, you will never accomplish your goal of writing a book because you can’t carve out that block of time in your day?

Just remember that these people are the ones who made it to the goal of being a full-time writer. It is their profession, so spending eight hours or more working on their next book is not so unreasonable.

Jack is wondering why you haven’t worked on your manuscript lately.

But for each member of this elite group, there are hundreds more who haven’t yet attained that elusive goal. They don’t have the luxury of an eight-hour block of time with no interruptions. They are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, enjoying hobbies such as painting landscapes, sky diving, or Tai Chi. They are active in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They take time to participate in community events. Yet they still manage to publish their books.

I’m not saying full-time authors don’t also do all of these things ( except the full-time job, because writing is their full-time job) that give them inspiration and satisfaction. After hours of doing research that may yield one paragraph in their story, they also need to take a break and … bake cookies. Time out refreshes the brain, body, and soul.

My point is, most of these full-time writers started out like the hundreds of aspiring writers who look up to them and envy their position. They, too, just managed to fit writing into all their daily tasks and obligations. Maybe it was after the kids were asleep. They bypassed Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and went directly to their writing spot, be it a well-equipped office or a corner of the kitchen. Maybe they got up an hour early in the morning, before they went to work. They didn’t whine that they couldn’t find the time. They found the time. And it paid off.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many big-name writers also hold down jobs in universities, or hospitals, or other professions along with their writing career. Have you ever noticed how many doctors have written books? Where on Earth do they find the time?

And if they can, why can’t you?

So don’t tell me  you haven’t time to write that masterpiece you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  I know I’ve written on this theme before, but it’s worth saying again. To borrow a phrase, Just Do It!

And if you still can’t get started, join a writing group near you or join one on line. Being around other writers can give you the push you need to begin.

After all, if the assignment is to bring in three pages of your manuscript, what better incentive is there to write them? No one wants to be the only kid in class who didn’t do their homework. Especially if that kid is you.

Those three pages can lead to 300 pages, and then to publication if you are determined enough to follow through with the query letters, revisions, and all the rest.

Not everyone who writes a book will be discovered and land on the NY Times best-seller list. You may never achieve that enviable position of being a full-time writer because publishers are demanding more books from you. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your dream of being an author.

 

 

Book talks and things that go boom!

Lately, I feel as if I am being pulled in several different directions. I’m not complaining because I love to be busy. I love company. I love going places.

I was relieved when a health scare turned out to be nothing (but a week of anxiety) and was happy when I learned of back-to-back family visits. Truly a time for celebration. But I forgot that my family were coming to see me and not my house, so I spent a week cleaning and scouring and mopping which wore me out. The good thing is that my fall housecleaning is now accomplished!

All of you know that when family comes, you drop everything going on in your life to be with them. But sometimes this can’t be done. I had an obligation at the church on Sunday: lay reader and assistant to the pastor for communion. I told my kids I had to be at church and invited them to come. They did, and I had the very great and meaningful pleasure of serving the communion cup to my two sons and daughter-in-law.

They left and I had one day to wash sheets and towels and re-make the beds before another branch of the family arrived.  Again, I had an obligation I couldn’t back out of. I had promised a book club in another town that I would come and talk. I called and asked if I could bring my two guests along, and the hostess graciously said “Yes.”

There are all kinds of book clubs and I thought I knew how they worked, but this club was different. They each buy one book, and at their meeting they put the books on a table and the members choose one to read during the next month.

“Don’t you discuss them?” I asked.

“No, we never talk about the books,” was the answer.

Well, I talked about MY books and my road to publication, which is what they wanted to hear. My guests said they enjoyed it as they hadn’t realized how I got started writing or how many books I had written.

Which reminds me, one of the questions I was asked was about my schedule. I think they were disappointed when I said I didn’t have one. Anything, I said, from a load of laundry to a dirty floor, can keep me from writing. They were surprised that I had to make myself sit down and write. I keep vowing to write first, then do my chores, but like all good intentions I gradually slip back into old habits. This past week has shown me how far down I have slipped.

Another question was if I ever worked on more than one book at a time. I said yes, I’m currently revising one and re-writing the end of another. When I get tired of one project I switch to the other. It’s a race to see which gets finished first!

Am I going to get back on schedule now that my visitors have headed home? I hope so, but I do have plans for the rest of the month. One item on my list is to see the Georgia Dome get blown up on Nov. 20. We’ll have to get up early in the morning to see that, but who would miss a big explosion? Not me.

Maybe I can somehow work it into one of my books.

And if I get pictures I will share!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

The rocky road

No, I’m not talking about ice cream, although I love ice cream as well as anybody I know.  Since this is a blog about writing, you’ve probably guessed I’m talking about the rocky road to publication.

I’ve been fortunate to find a publisher who believed in my work, and disappointed when, due to financial difficulties,  that publisher went out of business. I found another, but they only do e-books. Correction, they will do a print version when your sales reach X number of dollars. Alas, mine have not attained that pinnacle.

So I decided to self-publish my latest book, Riverbend,  in both print and Kindle. I say Kindle and not e-book because I am trying another experiment, and that is listing the e-book version on KDP Select. Some authors say it has worked well for them, and others maybe not so much. We’ll see how that works out and I promise I’ll get back to you with the results.

Like you, I attend workshops and conferences and try to figure out what gives a writer the most exposure, or should I say return on investment? Do  you cajole, threaten and blackmail friends and relations to post reviews so you will be eligible to submit to the giant among e-book promoters, Book Bub? And then pay hundreds of dollars for an ad IF you are accepted?

Do you find sites that post banner ads for a sum of money and pray that someone sees them?  Or do you pursue book reviewers and hope their influence will increase your sales?

I’ve tried all of these (well not, Book Bub because no matter what I do, I can’t get to that magic number of reviews.) I’ve spent money and time, only to be disappointed. People say they like the book, the reviews that are posted are good to excellent, but sales are dismal.

This time I’m trying a new feature introduced by Amazon. For a fee (of course) they will place strategic ads on their pages advertising your book. You can pay as much or as little as you want, and run your campaign for one day or to  infinity. I thought I’d get on board because isn’t it in Amazon’s best interest to sell books?

I’ll let  you know how that works out, also.

Meanwhile, keeping my fingers crossed and working on my next book.

 

 

 

 

Claiming your title

I attended a library event last week and a woman came up to me and asked “Is your new book out? I can’t wait to read it.”

Pretty heady stuff! I’d like to say I ran home and finished the book, but alas, I am not one who can write 40,000 words in one day. Not even in a month with my 1,000 words a day schedule.

The important thing I took from this encounter was that someone recognized me as an author. When I first started writing, I didn’t admit to anyone that I was writing a book. I didn’t even talk about it with my family. Oh sure, my husband knew because I had to explain why I was huddled over the typewriter for hours at a time.

Yes, you read that right. Typewriter. Later on, a word processor, and finally a clunky takes-all-the-room-on-your-desk computer. But I still didn’t tell anyone. And when the book was published I announced the news to my family and close friends. I didn’t know a thing about marketing, blog tours, reviewers, or any of that. I did do a book signing at the local arts council and thought that was the height of public relations.

I got a little more aware of how things worked with my next book. But still, when asked what I did, I’d say “I’m retired” or “volunteer work.” I did not say,”I write books.”

When friends called and asked if I were busy, I’d answer “no” even though I was deep in edits. “Just puttering,” I’d say.

Why is it so many of us are hesitant to admit we are writers? How many of you say “I am an author” with confidence?

It was only this past summer that I had the courage to walk up to complete strangers and hand them a bookmark and say, “I’m a writer and I’d love you to take a look at my books.” Some looked a little taken aback, but all were friendly and a few promised to check out my website. I don’t know if it made me any new fans, but what it did was validate, at least in my own mind, that I am an author.

acac_08-12-12

Me at a book signing for my second published book. I still didn’t think of myself as an “author.”

I wish I had thought of myself as a professional from the minute I wrote “Chapter One.” Or after my first sale. But I didn’t. It took me a long time for my inner self to claim that title.

I think it comes from fear. Fear that the announcement will be met with looks of incredulity from our friends, snickers from our relatives, disbelief from acquaintances. Fear that when you mention your book title they’ll say, “How many books have you sold?” Or worse, “Never heard of it.”

I don’t think selling million books or having your name on the New York Times Best Sellers list is the benchmark. Does a baseball player get to say he’s a professional only after he’s made so many home runs? Or a lawyer after he’s won X number of cases?

I haven’t yet come to the point where I will let the phone ring when I am working. But when I’m asked if I am busy, I will say, “Hey, I’m writing right now and I’ll call you back.” Or, when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can answer, “Working on my book” without fearing ridicule.

It doesn’t sound like a big step, but to me it’s enormous.

If you have written a book–actually sat down and typed 80,000 or so words–you are an author. It doesn’t matter if it is published or not. From the moment you wrote “The End” you can claim your worth.

Yes, you need to have it edited, proofed, find a few beta readers to give you some feedback. This is because you are a professional.

You may never get it published. Or you may decide to self-publish. That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you wrote a book and you are an author.

 

 

 

 

 

The cat ate my homework

I don’t have a dog. I’d like to have one, but I travel too much. You can leave a cat alone for a few days, but not a dog.  And cats don’t demand to be taken for a walk when you are deep into your story and your head is in another world and the words are coming together…

Your cat may try to tromp across your keyboard while you are working, but after being put down firmly ten or fifteen times they will give up and go off to do what cats do best: take a nap. And you can get back to your story.

I have been sticking to my plan and doing my daily word count, modest as it is. The story is coming together according the my “beat sheet.” I even politely told a caller during my work time that this was my writing time and I couldn’t do whatever it was they wanted me to do. First time ever I drew a boundary line.

Then came the cat. Or rather, cats. I volunteer at the animal shelter one morning a week. A friend and I clean the cat cages. It’s a  nasty and paradoxically rewarding job. We pet and talk to the cats and reassure them. Someone once asked if we got paid and I said, “In purrs.”

Last week I talked with the director, complaining that my two cats don’t get along. Both are rescues, but they are equally ungrateful. Then came Sydney, a cat I  fostered until I could take her to her forever home. Jack played with Sydney and seemed to miss her after she was gone. He tries to play with Spooky, who will have none of it. Huge fights involving spitting and growling ensue (no one actually gets hurt).

She suggested I replace Sydney with another cat. I demurred, but then she said I could take one home on a trial basis. If it didn’t work out, I could bring it back. So I chose a kitten that was playful and friendly.

I thought I would have it back in a few days. Both Jack and Spooky were terrified of the little gray ball of fluff. I don’t think she weighs a pound, but she might have been a lion for the terror she instilled.

Now for a backstory. The  week before, I got a call from a friend who had adopted one of Spooky’s kittens (she was pregnant when we adopted her, unknown to us). The woman was moving to a senior facility and couldn’t take the cat. Did I want him back?

I had to say no. But I did, with the help of my son and daughter-in-law, find him a home. It came time to transport him to his new owner and I had to leave my three cats alone.

I drove the two and a half hours, stayed overnight, and set out the next morning, all the while worrying about what I might find when I got home.

I needn’t have fretted a minute. I was entertained that afternoon by watching Jack and Frenchy play together. ( I didn’t name her, but if you don’t recognize the name it is from a character in Grease.) Jack, three times her size, was so gentle and sweet that I almost cried.

Spooky, of course, was hiding under the bed. But at least Jack wasn’t tormenting her. I really think she needs a little Xanax.

So no writing got done for three days. I will get back on schedule. These things happen and we learn to roll with them.

Oh, and I guess Frenchy isn’t going back to the shelter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, the giddy excitement

After procrastinating all summer, making excuse after whining excuse, I have done what I  promised my friends, family, and all five of my fans what I would do. I sat down at my computer, opened a blank Word document, and wrote:

Work in Progress

by Sandy Bruney

Chapter One

And I kept on writing for a couple of hours. Moreover, I have sat down every single day and written something, even if it was only a correction or adjustment to what I had written the day before.

And I’m excited. I’m not sure if this story is any good (I think it is) or if I will be able to maintain the pace. (I hope I can). The point is, I am writing again after a long dry spell. I feel like someone who has given up chocolate for some obscure reason and decided to try it once more, only to be reminded at the first taste how good it is, even better than she remembered. And savors the melting sweetness on her tongue, wondering why she ever gave it up in the first place.

Yep, that’s how I feel. I’m excited and energized. I’m falling in love with my characters. I’m at the point where I need to create a cheat sheet so I can keep them straight. I’ve already called one character by two different names, but I caught it before I went too far.

I am not a writer who sits down and draws up a list of characters and their descriptions, personality quirks and so on; My characters wander into the story and tell me who they are.  Sometimes they arrive fully fleshed out. Other times, I have to wait while they reveal themselves piece by piece. It’s always fun, either way.

As for the plot, I have a good idea where it’s going, but I love being surprised by the little twists and turns that pop up while I’m thinking about something else.

There’s a little added quirk to this story. I made myself a promise that I would not get sidetracked and I would not tell myself I can write as soon as I complete this or that chore around the house and yard. I know from experience that once I start raking or cleaning or whatever, I will be too exhausted to write. So my new order of business is write first and then I give myself permission to haul out the rake or dust mop.

To my  amazement, it doesn’t work in reverse order. Instead of feeling too tired to tackle the waiting chores, I finish writing and am eager to do something physical. I’ve written a couple thousand words this week and also trimmed the hedge, scrubbed the bedroom carpet, and washed the hall and kitchen floors–all chores I have been putting off for lack of energy.

I don’t know why this works, but I’m really happy it does. Moreover, my mood is better because–ta da–my guilty conscience has slunk away.

I’m not saying what the new book is about yet, but I met a woman in the library today who, being told I was a writer, asked if I wrote romance.

“There’s romance in every story,” I told her. “What’s life without it?”

Procrastination

As I write this, it is raining outside. A lot.

Jim would be checking the rain gauge every five minutes, and spending the rest of his time watching the weather channel. He loved weather.

I can take it or leave it.  Rainy days, when they are not actual hurricanes, can be restful. Notice I did not say productive.

It is a perfect time to settle down and start that new novel I promised my half dozen fans I was going to write. But, over the summer, I have learned to procrastinate. Yes, I finished my edits. Yes, I have begun sending out queries. But when anyone asked if I am writing something new, I am forced to say “No.”

The characters are in my head clamoring to be set free. I have a glimmering sense of a possible plot.

My excuse is that what with all my gadding about this summer I haven’t had a solid block of time in which to write and that I don’t want to start something only to be interrupted just when the juices are starting to flow.

Yeah, I know BS when I hear it, too.

I think I am procrastinating because I know once I start, it is going to be a long, tough road until I write “The End.” And as I once said, “the end” is really the beginning. Rewrites, edits, submissions, more edits, promoting…

I get tired just thinking about it.

To quote Cheryl Strayed, “Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Neil Gaiman’s rule #2 for writers is “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

Yep. One word after another. One sentence after another; one page…

It’s the first word, not the last, that’s so darn difficult.

 

 

 

 

Feeding the birds

I have a whiteboard calendar on my refrigerator to remind me of appointments coming up during the week. Sometimes it is empty and sometimes there are two or three things listed for the same day.calendar

Three chores stay there permanently: Wednesday, volunteer at the animal shelter; Thursday, water the plants; and Friday, clean the hummingbird feeders.

It’s not that I would forget these things, but this way I keep on schedule.

My list of chores, written or unwritten, has grown during the past year. Little by little, I took over some of the heavier duties as Jim’s strength failed. So it wasn’t too much of a change to keep on after he passed. One thing I do now that he did up until he was hospitalized is feed the birds. This was more of a joy for him than a chore. He loved watching them and never let the feeders get empty.

So I added this to my list, and every time I lift the heavy feeders down, drag out the 25-pound bag of bird seed and fill them, then stand on my tiptoes to replace them, I think of him. I wonder if he is watching and giving his little nod of approval.

I’m happy to say the squirrels have disappeared and the birds have had free access to the suet feeders. And, I haven’t had to refill them every other day due to the little thieves making off with the suet, cage and all. I have had to search the yard for the cage more than once. Which isn’t as bad as my sister has it, what with raccoons stealing her bird feeders, never to be seen again. The feeders, I mean. The raccoons keep coming back.

But where the squirrels have gone, I haven’t a clue. Maybe because the they ate every one of my crop of figs, they are too ashamed to show their greedy faces. But I’d keep feeding the birds even if the squirrels did keep stealing the suet cages and tipping the feeders, spilling the seeds on the ground.

I feel Jim’s presence when I feed the birds, and when I sit on the deck and watch them in the evening. If I keep my head still, I can imagine him on my right, watching their fluttering and listening to their songs. I can hear him laugh as the hummingbirds wage war, zooming over our heads.

I don’t need to write anything on  my whiteboard to remind myself to feed the birds. It’s too much a part of me.

Of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting my money’s worth

Like Christmas, after a period of frenzied preparation the day of our writers’ club’s annual conference has come and gone. Some of us counted success in the number of attendees, others in the  comments of those who came away with renewed purpose and a clearer goal.

I sat in on Robert Macomber’s workshop on “Planning Your Writing Career.”  I, like many others, went into writing with high hopes and little knowledge of the real work behind the books I love to read. Among those books are Macomber’s “Honor” series, richly detailed and meticulously researched novels about a fictional officer in the U.S. Navy from the Civil War through the early 2oth century. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Think of yourself as a professional writer, even if you are not yet published. Attitude is everything. Be positive minded and professional at all times.
  • Understand your story and understand your genre. Tell your story in a different way. Pick a niche that hasn’t been done.
  • Know your audience.
  • Learn, learn, learn. Know the rules and when to break them. Be an expert in your subject. Learn your competition: read their books. Talk to libraries, booksellers, editors to learn what readers want. Learn about the business of writing.
  • Bring your family on board. Have one area of the home that is your oasis and find a minimum of three hours a day when they know you are not to be disturbed. They need to know this is your second job. (Your first job earns the money so you can do the second.)
  • Decide before you start on point of view, past or present tense, and your title. A title should be concise, vivid, evocative, and memorable. Plan a storyboard or visual road map. (And here’s a kicker) write your synopsis first to keep your story on track. Decide the size of your chapters up front. Chapter titles and sub-titles intrigue the reader and help pacing.
  • Set a daily goal of draft words or finished words. Read your work aloud. The reader “hears” the words he reads inside his brain.
  • Consider the visual aspect of your words on the page, i.e., white space.
  • Set reasonable dates for interim goals to be met. Have your family celebrate these goals with you.
  •  Invite people to help you with research and be sure to name them in your acknowledgements.
  • Your first three pages are the most important in engaging the reader. The end of your story should leave the reader with a feeling of accomplishment and wondering what comes next.
  • Everybody needs one to three critical reader and an editor. Critical readers are friends who are widely read, who know grammar, can give you advice, and keep their mouth shut.
  • Your readers should learn something, be entertained, and not feel they have wasted their money.

Some of these things I knew before. Some I knew but hadn’t put into practice. And some are things I had never thought of, so of Macomber’s workshop I can say I learned something, was entertained (Macomber is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer), and I certainly didn’t feel I wasted my money. His workshop alone was worth the registration fee.

Next week I’ll share what I learned in the other workshops I attended.

You are welcome.

 

Pacing isn’t just for plots

One life lesson I have had to learn over and over again is to pace myself. The reason I am such a slow learner is because my mind is half as young as my body, so my mind says “Do it” and my body replies “Not so fast.”

I thought I had learned my lesson for the umpteenth time last week when I vacuumed, washed the car, and then mowed the back yard. My mind was triumphant. “Look what all we accomplished today!”

My body refused to let my back straighten up for three days.

So I had to tell them at the animal shelter my days of shoveling dog poop and scrubbing down the pens were over. My back just won’t take it any more. However, I am up for cleaning the cat cages, which involves less scrubbing and bending.

Today was the big fundraiser for the shelter so I got up and drove out there, ready to volunteer where needed. My job, as it turned out, was to sell cupcakes. As a job, it was a piece of cake (pun intended) as the cupcakes were so delectable and beautiful that they sold themselves. I just took the money.

It was a nice change of pace from cleaning litter boxes.

As writers, we all need to learn to pace ourselves. We study the craft and understand what pacing means in a novel or short story, but do we apply that to our lives as well? I worry about my friends who crow that they spent fourteen hours in front of their computer. To me, that is like vacuuming, washing the car, and mowing the lawn all in one day. I haven’t checked, but I bet they probably couldn’t write another word for a week.

I should have taken those three tasks and parceled them out over three days. That way I could have spent some time on other less strenuous activities such as reading or watching movies (I call this “research”).

Yes, I understand the desire to write for hours at a time when the words and ideas are coming so fast your fingers can’t keep up. And I understand the giddy feeling of accomplishment when you check all those chores of the to-do list.

But either way, we are courting mental burnout or a very sore back.

It’s a good thing to know just how much we can accomplish before either the mind or the body calls quits.

And to  know when to stop and move on to something else.

 

 

 

 

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