The time between

I sold two books Friday morning. Not a big deal, but I love delivering a book to someone who really wants to read it. So far the feedback has been very favorable. Of course, no one is going to tell me to my face they hated the story, but you can tell if the response is lukewarm.

After dropping off the books, I went to our local library, which has finally opened. Masks are required, and someone is at the door to write down your name (I’m guessing for tracking purposes), and there is a screen between you and the check-out person. I  was told no new books had been ordered during the shut-down, so I donated a copy each of Morven and Bethann to the library. I figured I could at least help them out with a new book or two.

So, the book is written, published, and available. I mailed copies to my beta readers as a thank-you for their help. I submitted a copy for review. I know better than to keep checking the sales records as that leads to thoughts of “why do I bother!”

Yes, I know the next step is marketing. In fact, marketing should have been on the agenda all along. Alas, although I have read all the articles and books on the subject, I just don’t have the energy it requires. But I will keep on dropping hints on Instagram and Facebook. I should Tweet more often but I have never gotten the hang of it.

Instead of tending to business, I have been working outside. Both the front and back decks received a new coat of paint. I had to throw away the shirt I wore during this project as I am a very sloppy painter. But the job is done, checked off my list of home improvements I mean to do this summer.

Miss Daisy waiting for the early bird breakfast. Luckily for the wrens, I chased her inside.

And, I have been relaxing on said back deck, which I have adorned with flowers and plants. The wrens are raising a family in the birdhouse I tacked on the post where I put my hanging baskets. It was supposed to be decorative, but hey … I watched the male wren try to entice his lady love into taking up housekeeping there, but she inspected the premises and refused. Either he got another mate (but someone said they mate for life) or another pair decided to move in. The cats, naturally, are mesmerized by the activity and I have had the dickens of a time keeping them indoors.

And so it goes until that old devil gets in my mind and tells me I have to write another book. I have no plans at present, and could be content just to market the ones I have written, but once that idea gets in your head, writing it down is the only way to get rid of it. I don’t know when or if this will happen, but meanwhile I am content.

If you are curious about my books, please visit my website http://www.sandrazbruney.com for descriptions and excerpts. And if you’d like a signed copy of any book (except the three paranormals, which are ebooks only) just put it in a comment or message me on Facebook.

There. I’ve done my marketing for today, and I can go back to my reading with a clear conscience.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

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!

 

 

In praise of beta readers

A few weeks ago, I put out a request for beta readers. I had “finished” my latest novel and needed some feedback. I explained that I had an editor working away on the manuscript and that I didn’t need them to search for typos or grammar errors. What I wanted them to concentrate on was readability, flow, world building, dialogue, and character development.

I put the word “finished” in quotes above because when I got the results, I discovered I was far from done.

One reader pointed out a comment  made by a main character and said it was uncharacteristically cruel. My thought was that we all say things in anger or fear that are uncharacteristic, but her feeling was that the comment showed a meanness in him that had come to the fore.

I deleted it.

Another reader questioned words or phrases they didn’t understand. I felt the words reflected the period (early 19th century). This reader does not normally read regency or historical novels, but I decided those who did would recognize the words. I let them stay.

However, this same reader caught a grave mistake on my part. I had totally overestimated what a horse cost in 1820. When he asked if the price was realistic, I did some fact checking and saw that where I had priced the horse at a thousand dollars, the actual cost for a horse with impeccable bloodlines was about two hundred dollars. An average horse went for about twenty-five dollars. I priced “my” horse at a hundred and had another character exclaim it was surely too much! So thanks to that reader for bringing this to my attention.

Still another pointed out that I had one poor woman pregnant for almost a year. A farmer, he said the gestation period seemed long to him. I agreed, and changed the dates.

Some beta readers responded with only a few spot-on comments; others made detailed comments in red ink that took me back to my school days.

I have yet to hear from a few who are either busy, slow readers, or are making line-by-line edits. But I do have enough feedback to prove to me that beta readers are necessary to any author. They know the characters and swiftly react when something seems wrong. They check facts. They question timelines. All things that the writer, caught up in the story, may miss.

This is entirely different from editing. I expect to hear from my editor soon and will go through another round of corrections. These will be the details that trip us all up.

After that, formatting and back cover blurb. I had hoped for a March release date, but that isn’t going to happen. Still, I had rather my novel be as good as it can be before putting it before the public.

Beta readers help me do this.

 

 

My Life’s Bat Tornado

Last weekend, we sat at my mother-in-law’s table and my husband looked up from his phone bewildered and announced: “A town in Australia is being plagued by a ‘bat tornado’ – and it’s growing!”

©2020 cjgasser

I mean, really –how appropriate –this is our world now, with environmental and cataclysmic activity served up hourly on our handhelds. But, a bat tornado suited me perfectly. With a poet’s frugal love of the perfect word or phrase, Bat Tornado fit the bill. I’d been struggling to find a way to describe the last two years of my life. It’s been tragic, awe-inspiring, stumbling, terrifying and magical in its bits and pieces, with moments of calm creativity.

Two years ago, during January of 2018, I put together ‘the plan’ for the rest of the year, –five years, in fact. I started the editing of my book with forensic delight. Like an autopsy, I cut open my WIP and dissected it’s form and structure -I laid out a path with sticky notes. I outlined and highlighted where I’d gone astray. A few vital stickies alerted me to important fixes and additions, new scenes to add or cut, characters to develop, birth or die. I studied the valuable notes a friend (thank you, Ashantay) shared after reading my rough draft. I struggled over the parts I loved but needed surgical removal. How does one love a WIP tumor? More

And now … drum roll, please

Almost there! Well, not quite, but close.

I did my revisions, then my self-edits. Now the manuscript is in the hands of my very able editor, who will find every typo and grammatical error I missed. I think he has the original fine-toothed comb.

Then I sent out a request for beta readers. To my amazement, I had six offers in as many minutes. I sent them all a copy (with fingers crossed). Some are friends, some are members of my writer’s club, and some are members of a professional writers’ group I have never met. So it should be a good mix. I have no fear my friends will be biased, I asked them because I know they will read with an open mind. They are avid readers and know what they like and don’t like and they won’t be afraid to tell me.

I still need to work on the title and the blurb. I do believe those two chores are more difficult than writing the story. The title should hint at what the story is about, right?  This book is the third in my historical series, and the first two have one-word titles. I should do the same for this one, but I am having a hard time coming up with one.

As for blurbs … how do you condense a book into a couple paragraphs meant to entice someone into buying it? You can’t tell too much and give it all away or why would anyone bother buying the book? Yet too little and the prospective reader won’t know what the story is about. It gives me a headache just contemplating it.

And, I  need to do more about publicizing the first two books, something that I have sadly neglected. Maybe now I will have time to do that. My Facebook feed is inundated with ads telling me how if I take this course or sign up for that service, my sales will skyrocket. I’m wondering what is the biggest bang for my buck — I mean, return on investment.

All this with an author appearance coming up. I had hoped to have the book ready to offer but better it be delayed and done right than to put a sloppily-done book in my readers’ hands. So I will do some reading from the book and take orders. I had another offer to do a book-signing this morning, so it may be ready by the time that is finalized. Who knows?

This all takes time. Honestly, if I had known how much work was involved after writing “The End” I might never have started writing.

Now I will share some good news. I compared my tax forms from my publishers from last year to this year’s, and was pleasantly surprised to see my royalties had gone up by a considerable percentage.  They won’t put me in another tax bracket, but it is nice to see that there have been steadily increasing sales. I guess the old adage is right: don’t worry about publicity as word of mouth is still the best advertisement. And a second piece of advice I have read: just keep writing and as your book numbers increase, so will your readership. I hope that is happening in my case.

No matter where you are in your writing career, I wish you the best. It’s a long and rocky road, but worth all the pain and yes, the disappointments, when someone comes up to you and says, “I loved your book.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

My life as a contortionist

Last week I did something incredibly foolish and potentially dangerous.

No, I did not run off with some random guy I met online. What I did was nearly trap myself in my basement crawl space.

To go back a little further, I knew I had a landline connection in the den at one time. What with one thing and another, the cord had slipped down the little hole drilled in the floor and landed below in the part of the house where I have never, never gone because it is dark and creepy and has spiders and possibly snakes.

More than that, it is only accessible through a jagged opening knocked in the brick wall when they were putting in the ducts for the A/C. The opening is about the size of a large TV set and is roughly two feet above the basement floor.

Nevertheless, as my family can tell you, when I get an idea in my head it is difficult to dissuade me. So I put on some old clothes, grabbed a flashlight, and managed to wriggle into the opening and down into the crawl space and proceeded on my hands and knees, inching over rocks or bricks or something hard and sharp hidden under the plastic liner. When I found the line, I realized I couldn’t get it through the little hole by myself. Someone would have to be in the den above to pull it through.

So I crawled back, only to discover that I couldn’t get out. My body is not as lithe and agile as it once was. (Okay I am kidding myself. I was never lithe and agile). I tried putting one leg through, then the other. I tried going through backwards.

I have a cellphone and one of those panic alarms you wear around your neck so you can summon help if you fall and can’t get up. I had neither of these devices with me. I decided I would probably have to stay there until my son arrived the following evening to get me out. There was no use in crying for help because my neighbors were not home.

Just the thought of spending a night in sub-freezing temperatures gave me enough impetus to bend my body into a pretzel and get through the opening.

So two days later, I told my son what I needed and yes, dear reader, I went through the hole again because he is too big and my granddaughter too averse to dark spaces, spiders, and snakes. I told her to wait in the den until I got the line, whereupon she would pull it through the hole. At least, that was the plan.

We discovered that the little plastic thingie on the end of the line wouldn’t fit through the hole above, never mind that it had slipped through it at some time. so my son had to get out his drill and enlarge the hole while I hunkered, cramped and cold, below. Mission accomplished, I crawled back, ready to get out of there before my body morphed into Quasimodo. I started through the opening, wincing as the sharp bricks attacked my knees and elbows.

It was a repeat of my earlier efforts. I sat half in and half out of the opening, declaring, “I did it once, I can do it again–if I can remember how I did it.”

I tried every contortion known to woman, and still couldn’t get my body through the hole. Finally, I said, “We may have to call the fire department.”

He looked like he was going to whip out his phone right then, so I said, “Wait, wait. Let me try one more time.”

And I did it.

We hooked the phone up to the line only to discover it was dead. Yes, all that for nothing, except for some rather large bruises and some aches and pains the next day.

Did I learn my lesson? Probably not.

Don’t we do the same thing with our writing? We take a wrong turn and plunge through the rabbit hole, only to discover we have wasted our time and must go back and start over. And it hurts, and we curse ourselves for our stupidity and the waste of time and effort, and then go on.

But that probably never happened to you.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it happens to you

When I saw the message in my inbox, I was excited. I had been waiting for this issue of a well-known magazine that caters to indie writers. Three months earlier, I had submitted “Morven” for a review and now, here it was.

I was devastated when I read it.

Yes, I had expected better. “A Question of Time” received 4.5 stars; “Riverbend,” 5.0.”  But “Morven” received a mediocre 3.0.

I had never received any  review less than a 4.0.  How had this happened? All my readers had told me this was my best book ever. I suppose the praise went to my head, making this review that much more of a bitter pill. How could the reviewer have so misinterpreted the scene she damned with faint praise?

I have blithely written before in this and other places that a writer should not take a bad review to heart. The reviewer may have had a bad day. She may not really like the genre she was critiquing.  And so on.

Yet I know this reviewer had plenty of time to read the story, so one bad day would not have influenced her. And the magazine carefully pairs the story to reviewers in that genre. So those excuses were empty.

Is it a poorly-constructed story? Were my readers and friends attempting to spare my feelings? Should I send it out for another impartial review? Should I even care?

I am nearly finished with the sequel and the first thought I had after reading the review was, “I should just quit now.”

But after two days of moping, I decided I would not stop so near the finish line. I will complete the novel and then go over it to make it the best writing possible. Beta readers will be asked to give their honest opinion. I will make changes even if they hurt.

Looking back, it wasn’t a bad review. It just wasn’t a good one. I can take it in stride and let it encourage me to do better.

And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What rules do you follow?

Here are four things writers should do:

  • Read outside your genre
  • Study your craft
  • Write every day
  • Set goals

There are many more you can add, but these are what popped into my head. Do I do them?

Surely, you jest (makes frowny face).

But I do read every day, and I enjoy many different genres: historical, biography, science fiction, fantasy (no, they are not the same), thrillers , and mystery.  I read books from the library and books on my Kindle app. I read magazines and newspapers and cereal boxes and directions on detergent bottles. I am one of those people who panic when there isn’t a book in the house I haven’t read and the library is closed.

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and study the articles, even if they don’t apply to me. Last weekend, I attended a workshop on writing narrative poetry with former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. I don’t intend to write a narrative poem, but there was so much more I learned that I can use.

Do I write every day? I know this is the rule that sets professionals apart from wannabes, but truthfully, it just isn’t possible. Life gets in the way. This week, I had meetings six of seven days. But I did manage to write most of those days. I believe setting up a goal to write every single day without fail is  setting yourself up to fail. Sometimes we need a breather.

Conversely, writing every day is like going to church. You miss one Sunday, then another, and pretty soon you aren’t going at all.

You see where I am heading with this.

Goals are good, though. I made my goal of writing 30 pages before our next writers’ club meeting. Then, since we don’t meet in December, I vowed I would finish my first draft before the January 26 meeting.

I think I will make it. I am near enough the end that I am eager to get it all put together. Today I wrote a crucial scene. It needs tweaking, but the bones are there.

I also did something I have never done before. I am a straight-line writer. I start at point A and end at point Z. But the ending of the story was so strong in my head that I went bravely forward and wrote it down before the impetus and excitement faded. Yes, excitement. I feel exhilarated when I can literally feel the story come alive.

So I guess thing number five would be, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and don’t forget to skip that second helping of candied yams to leave room for the pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

 

 

When yours is the book under discussion

I belong to two book clubs. They are polar opposites.

One is serious about discussion and books are chosen by recommendation — that is, if someone has read a book and think it worthy of discussion, it goes on the list. Not all of us like every book. I have struggled through some, and been blown away by others. It’s a way of getting us out of our comfort zone to consider genres we might not read otherwise. This group meets at different homes for a pot-luck lunch and  little wine may occasionally be served.

All right, wine is always served. And, we can get a little bawdy. We laugh a lot. Sometimes if a member is going through a hard time, we call an emergency meeting and offer sympathy, tea, and hugs.

The other is African-American and accepted me as a member after inviting me to talk about one of my books. This group is spiritually-based and even if we don’t get around to talking about the assigned book, I come home feeling uplifted and at peace. They share amazing stories themselves — we don’t need a book to get the conversation started! We meet for breakfast at a restaurant and while people may stare and wonder what this disparate group of women is doing at that back table, it doesn’t stop us from laughing and interrupting each other, everyone as eager to be heard as to listen.

This week, the latter group decided to read my latest novel, “Morven.” I was a little apprehensive, since it is set in the South on a large plantation. I wrote about slavery and its evils, and how the protagonist’s life is changed when she sees a slave being abused. How would these women, descendants of slaves, see this book? Was I being presumptuous?

They discussed the first few chapters, and I was amazed at their insight. They saw things in the characters that I hadn’t seen. They searched for motivation. Was the main character really guilty of murder by failure to act? The question became: What would you have done? Then they began to defend their positions.

As I listened, I realized how powerful a story can be. I explained why I wrote a certain passage, admitted I wish I had not written some things, and explained things that I perhaps had not made clear in the narrative.

I did not feel that I was on trial. Loving friends can point out flaws without making you weep with shame. It’s called constructive criticism.

Although they had nothing but praise for “Morven,” because of them, my next book will be better because I will keep their comments in mind.

Two groups, different as night and day, but alike in their love of books.

And their love for each other.

 

 

I

 

 

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

 

 

 

Pratfalls and pitfalls

For the past two Friday mornings, I have joined a group of like-minded crafters in a local coffee shop to work on pine needle baskets. I had the idea of extending my skill by adding beads to my basket. I thought I had it all figured out.

When I finished the round, I discovered that my beads were on in inside of the basket, not the outside where they belonged.

My companions assured me that they thought it looked fine. I did not agree.

When I got home, I ripped out three rounds of weaving. This was not easy, as I had to pick out every loop. The whole, knotty business reminded me of the Gordian Knot. I wished I could just cut all the threads, but I was just mad enough and determined enough that I sought to save the thread and pine needles and re-use them. (That’s a Great Depression lesson learned at my mother’s knee.)

I then re-did the whole thing. This time the pesky beads stayed where I meant them to stay.

Gordian Knot

Why I’m telling you this is because I ran across the same thing in my story. For reasons I can’t (or won’t) disclose, one of my characters has to have her baby due in July. I counted on my fingers, the time-honored way to check the length of a pregnancy, and discovered that she would in fact be due sometime in March. That wouldn’t work.

I back-tracked and moved the scene where she announces her pregnancy further long in the book. This had the domino effect of making every previous and subsequent scene out of kilter.

I was so upset when I discovered this that I quit and spent way too much time tracking long-dead relatives on ancestry.com.

So now I have to cut each scene, place it in a separate file, and then replace it in the correct order in my timeline.

Even the thought makes my head ache. But it has to be done before I can move forward.

Sorta like my basket. I could ignore the mistake, continue on, and make an even worse muddle, or grit my teeth and do the unraveling called for.

This is what it’s like to be a writer. No one in their right mind would choose such a frustrating career. Frankly, it chooses them.

On the other hand, you don’t see a lot of people deciding to make baskets of pine needles and raffia, either.

 

 

Squirrels, Mark Twain, and pelisses

Well, that was fast!

One day I am sweating like a sumo wrestler just by walking to the mailbox, and the next I am rummaging through the closet for my sweater.

One thing about the cooler weather, I don’t have as much yard work to do. The grass  isn’t growing as fast, and the hedges and shrubs have slowed down in their efforts to add new little green leaves. So I have had time to get back to my book.

I feel pretty good about my writing this week. I’ve added pages and I can see where I am heading. I’ve gone over the last scene in the book so often that I’m now eager to get there.

The abrupt change in the weather reminded me of something, though. No, not Twain’s comment that everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. (Fact check: It might not be Twain who said it, but Charles Dudley Warner, who was an editor at the Hartford Courant in the late 1800s. There, now we’ve both learned something new.)

Image result for pelisse

A reader asked me what a pelisse was. It’s outerwear, essentially a long cape with sleeves.

I  try to be cognizant of the passage of time in my stories, noting the passing of one season and the advent of another by describing the weather as sit affects the protagonist. She might be glad for her straw bonnet on a hot day, or the the warmth of her wool pelisse on a cold one.  Candles must be brought out in the long, dark evenings while a rooster’s crow might wake her early on a summer morning.

If a story takes place in a short period of time, such as a few months or a year, it’s pretty easy. It’s more difficult if it spans a decade or more, which happens in the first two books of my historical series. In “Riverbend” and “Morven,” I solved it by jumping ahead a few years, hoping my readers would catch on without my explaining, “Now, 10 years have passed …”

I must get my present protagonist from seventeen to her mid-twenties without dragging the story out by describing each birthday. I don’t want to make a sudden leap, but had the idea of showing the passage of time by the dates on her correspondence. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I have a little success to report. I have complained about the squirrels eating the bird feed, no matter where I place the feeders. When one dragged a songbird feeder from the deck to where I found it in the yard, empty, I had had enough. I rigged a line from the persimmon tree to the post that holds the sun-flower feeder (that particular feeder is squirrel-proof, by the way) and hung my finch and chickadee feeders from it. It’s too high for the squirrels to jump up, and the line is too thin for them to crawl along it.

I thought I had the last laugh when I saw a squirrel attempt to reach the finch feeder. He made it, but the tube is glass, and he slid down it like a fireman on a pole, and fell to the ground. Several times.

Or has he simply figured out a way to spill the seed to the ground where he can eat it as his leisure?

You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Little Side Trip

Me at Churchill Downs

Like the rest of you, I can’t believe summer is flying by so quickly. I had so many plans!

Three weeks ago, my sister came down from Pennsylvania for a visit. Sister time is so special, and we made the most of it, including a “side trip” to Kentucky.

We both had complete sets of china that needed a new home, so we  asked our grown children if they wanted the dishes before taking them to a thrift store or trying to sell them  on eBay. Nancy had Mom’s good company china, and I had my kids’ great-grandma’s set. (My ex-husband’s grandmother, not mine.) One of my sons asked for both sets. He and his wife run an air B&B in California, so they would be used and not stuck in a closet. None of our other offspring showed any interest, so he got them.

So, how do we get all those dishes to California from Pennsylvania and North Carolina?

Nancy brought hers with her, and we loaded her boxes and mine into the trunk of my car and set out for Louisville, where my ex-sister-in-law lives.  We often joke that I divorced her brother, but not her, and we have remained good friends. Meanwhile, my son flew into Louisville to meet us. Obviously, he  could not fly back with various-sized boxes of two sets of antique china, but his plan was to take them to his mother-in-law’s house until she and her husband drove to California some time this fall.

A round-about answer to the problem …

We had a lovely time in Kentucky, including a tour of downtown Louisville and Churchill Downs. I was amazed at the display of Derby hats, including one worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We also toured a couple wineries. I tried Java Vino, a coffee-flavored wine. It was so good I bought a bottle. I may wish I had bought more.

Meanwhile, I plan to fly to California some time this fall. I have never been, so I am excited. It will be a way to celebrate the release of my latest historical novel, “Morven.”

 

 

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

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