Vacation Suspense – Part 1

Blog 13 01

One of the biggest challenges writers seem to face is finding the time to write. If you don’t have the privilege of writing for a living, one must contend with a day job, spouses, kids, pets, or any number of things higher on the priority list than putting word to paper.  This month held an extra challenge for me in that I dared to take a vacation.  Oh the horror!  The blog deadline!  The explosion of submissions for critiquing!  The book study!  Blog editing!  Would I ever be able to keep up?  The answer, in a word: no.

On the first day of vacation, I let my Twitter followers know that I would try to answer the question: Will a writer write while on vacation? After that, I kept them updated with daily statuses on how things were going telling them each time to ‘Stay tuned.’  Did I write anything?  Yes, on the third day I penned a paragraph while sitting on the beach.  Yea!  On the fifth day I caught up with email, sent out some tweets, and wondered if that counted as writing.

In the end, my writing mind rode the vacation trail and did not create a blog post or anything more than that paragraph on the beach. As I read that sentence, I realize I’m falling into a trap many writers set up for themselves which is to think you are only succeeding if you achieve some arbitrary amount of specific work.  The truth is that I did compose something.  I also thought about what I might write which is an important part of the process.  So, despite being on vacation, I produced this piece on my first day back.

It is, however, two days late to my editor. Will she forgive me and find a way to help me polish it in time for posting on the 24th?  Will Part 2 offer interesting and helpful insight on suspense?

Stay tuned…

Slogging Through the Jungle with a Hatchet

You may have heard something about the ongoing fight between Amazon and Hachette Book Group. It started in the boardrooms of both companies over the new contracts that, effectively, allow Amazon to set the prices for Hachette’s and eventually all publishers products.

But that’s not all. It also says the publisher, by a certain future date, must submit “electronic versions” of their books – and covers – with shipments, and to allow Amazon to print-on-demand (POD) any orders the publishers cannot fulfill within a specified amount of time. I haven’t seen the contract, but enough people have to warrant over 1000 authors signing a letter and buying a two-page ad in the New York Times Sunday Edition to protest the contract’s language. It’s getting nasty, just the kind of stuff that good, suspense novels are made of!

Diana Hirsch got this topic started back in August with her Amazon, Hachette and the wretched $9.99 price point, but I saw a sidebar there that warrants a bit more discussion. I wear both hats in this fight. My first novel, The Freya Project, was published by Countinghouse Press. I self-published my second book, Seoul Legacy, the Orphan’s Flu, with aid of the University of Michigan Library’s Espresso Book Machine. Anyone can use their million-dollar “book” printer. My per-unit cost in each case (tradition vs. POD) was about the same. The difference was that I could have printed just one POD book if I wanted instead of hundreds or thousands, so the overall publishing cost difference was huge and that’s what drove my decision to POD for my second book.

You can bet Amazon has a few Espresso Book Machines at the ready, and what’s really at stake here are jobs. Thousands of workers bees throughout the book distribution channel are about to be handed pink slips. Traditional printing houses will fall if they don’t get onboard the e-train, and the biggest ones will fall the hardest. Publishing is going to bleed all the way back to the pulp forests. This contract, this new business model, if it comes to fruition, will literally rewrite the definition of the word “print” in all dictionaries by the year 2050. I alluded to this in my blog back in March, And now, the 2050 POE prize winner for…. Amazon has already captured the prize – the consumer.

Don’t blame Jeff Bezos and his Amazon.com; he just expanded the vision. Blame Johannes Gutenberg; he started it when he put all the first scribes out of business! By 1460 – a mere 21 years after he invented it – Gutenberg’s moveable type presses were operating all over Europe. What happened next changed the course of history. Over the next 500 years, print would evolve into the worldwide format for all sciences, medicines, religions, and all other forms of education. It allowed us to record history and for the masses to learn. Jeff is merely taking over where Johannes left off.

I don’t care how they define “print” in 2050, so long I’m still able to read it. That’s the consumer’s hat I wear in this fight, and it’s the hat I care about the most. I don’t care what price point publishers put on e-books, either, so long as Mr. Bezos & Co. keep their long-standing consumer protection clause; Amazon’s seven-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee. If you don’t like an e-book, return it for a full refund within a week. I have both bought and sold eBooks this way on Amazon.com for years, and have yet to experience a refund from under either hat.

Amazon’s consumer protection clause is the rising tide that lifts all boats. If the author or publishing house insists on staying anchored to their price-point, then let them, just as long as the consumer can get a refund if they don’t like the book for whatever reason. Frankly, Amazon’s seven-day policy should be thirty-days, to encourage bulk purchases.

The main reason new authors have such a hard time breaking into the industry has been the same for hundreds of years; they are just not-quite-good-enough to warrant the all expenses required to “launch” a new author. Amazon’s proposed business model finally buries that hatchet. It allows a publisher to take a chance with someone or something new without the fear of going broke. It allows the author to take a chance without the fear of losing audience. It also allows the reader to take a chance without wasting a lot of time, or money.

Too many good voices are going unheard. For every one David Baldacci there are fifty Bonnie Virag’s. I dare you to put down her The Stovepipe, a true story about growing up in the Canadian Children’s Aid Society. Hers is the most gripping novel I’ve read since Frank McCort’s Angela’s Ashes. Virag only has 29 five-star reviews on Amazon.com, compared to McCort’s 2,400, but download The Stovepipe and I guarantee you will want to be number 30.

As I see it, new authors are the only authors who will need an agent – a megaphone, if you will – in the Amazon business model. Word-of-mouth has always been the best form of advertising. If readers like what you write they will tell two friends who will tell two friends, etc. They always have and they always will, especially where reading material is concerned. The internet only amplifies today’s voice, but it does so on the same scale that moveable type amplified reading almost 500 years ago.

Right now, Hachette & Co. should be driving fast and taking chances instead of slogging along in the fast lane and holding up traffic. Think of the internet as the carpool lane in rush hour, Mr. Hachette – give someone else a lift and you’ll both get there faster.  Smaller advances, say, a tenth of the size of Baldacci’s, could be paid to new promising authors. All publishers should be trying to find –and fund – new voices like Ms. Virag’s. If only one turned out to be as successful as David Baldacci or Frank McCort have they’d be in the money. Two or more and they’d be fat cats with cigars. Again.

 

Next Month. A look at what the future holds for pulp.

I have no doubt someone will print a 600th Anniversary edition of the Gutenberg Bible. I suspect all religious material will still be in “print” by 2055, but what chance do newspapers have? Or magazines? Or books? And, what does history hold for all the printed matter in existence now? Is a first edition of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire treasure or trash? Those questions answered, and more, in November. Thanks for dropping by!

A Glass of Water

Finding something to write about is never easy for me. I get one idea and then another. But, when I actually sit down to write, the ideas no longer seem terribly interesting. So I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I saw Fareed Zakaria on CNN. The program was interesting and when I sat down to write I had lots of ideas.

Fareed’s program is called the Global Public Square. It comes on every Sunday morning and repeats in the afternoon. I like it because Fareed doesn’t invite on his show the usual talking heads who don’t seem very knowledgeable about what they are discussing. Instead, he invites people who are considered experts in their fields or are high up in government or the head of the country under discussion.

On September 7, this year, he had a very interesting program, part of which was about the brain and water. His guest was Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent.

Sanjay was saying how, when he first got up in the morning, and while he was dressing, he drank eight to sixteen ounces of water. He does this every day and has been doing it for awhile. He is very pleased with the result: He’s fully awake, energized and focused by the time he leaves for work.

Our brains are 75% water. We sleep all night, hopefully for six, seven or eight hours. During that time we don’t have anything to drink. When we wake up in the morning, we need to hydrate our brain as soon as possible. If we don’t give it water first thing in the morning, it’s impossible to catch up during the day.

I’ve read a number of articles that essentially say: What you don’t use, you lose and that’s certainly true of your brain.

Everyone I know wants to keep their brain as sharp as possible. They don’t want to slow down and lose their “edge”.

Drinking a glass or two of water first thing in the morning sounded to me like an easy thing to do and it certainly was safe. So I decided to experiment. Starting on September 8th, that Monday, I began drinking a glass or more of water each morning while I was getting dressed. And I’m still doing it.

I’ve found that by the time I come into breakfast, I’m more awake, alert, and focused. I don’t have that sleepy “trying to wake up” feeling I used to have. I feel energized. I can’t wait to get started with my day. Best of all, with this water start, I keep my energy longer and seem to have more throughout the day.

So, if you’re looking to give yourself an extra boost in the morning, drink a glass or two of water first thing. You’ll thank yourself all day!

 

If you’d like to see Gupta’s interview in its entirety and the portion that inspired me to write this blog, follow this link: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/09/10/why-sugar-is-worse-than-fat/

You can write and publish your story in 10 hours

I dare you.

Do you remember when writing was fun and carefree? I do. As a kid, I would pull out a notepad and write stories just because that’s how I chose to pass the time. I mostly wrote fantasy stories, some science fiction without all that technical mumbo-jumbo. My dragons had their own rules of behavior and almost every character had an apostrophe in their name.

I created bizarre plot twists. I didn’t fuss with grammar or sentence structure. I didn’t care if the stories were proper writing; I just wrote a rough draft that I always thought was complete. I had fun.

Somewhere along the way, writing became structured and proper. Because of that formal format reality, I look at those drafts now and I think, “What silly little creations.” Why did I bother? Why did anyone or I care?

I expect that if you’re reading this blog, you remember that feeling, or you know someone who has. You, as a reader, can tell when the writer was having a good time and when it was an assignment. I invite you to rediscover that freedom and write with abandon. No doubt, you still have one of those stories down on paper or in your head. This month, I dare you to complete it and publish.

I talk a lot about self-publishing as if it’s gospel. The fact that I’ve done it twice–soon to be three times–does not make me an expert, but I feel confident in it. I know the powerful feeling of control, a feeling that comes from writing, editing and finishing a piece of work. Hitting the Publish button on Amazon is a daring and satisfying moment. I want you to experience that feeling.

Why should you?

Even if you don’t dream of publishing, I challenge you to do this. It’s a sense of accomplishment to write a draft, to edit that draft and by publishing it that means you finish something that you’ve started. Maybe you just have a story to tell, say it’s a letter to your parents, and wouldn’t it be cool to download it onto their Kindle for Christmas? Maybe you have a story about you and your friend. How cool would that be?

When you were in school and had an essay exam, the class eventually ended and you handed in your work as-is. At that moment, you were done. It was a relief, wasn’t it?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming up in November. The concept behind NaNoWriMo is to kickstart you into completing a full-length first draft, but writing 50,000 words in 30 days can be intimidating. Even though that breaks down to 1667 words a day, or 69 words an hour, that finite number may be too large to be comforting. I suggest something doable.

My idea is a spin off from JA Konrath’s blogpost back in August 22, 2013.  The idea mingled fun with structure. Pretend writing is your business. Sit down at the beginning of your 8-hour business workday and write a story, edit it and publish it online. It can be that easy.

My two published short stories have been a result of that challenge. My approach was to start at 8am with a cup of coffee and an open Word document. I write one sentence so the screen is no longer blank. Then I just write, completing my first, rough draft by 12noon. I take a typical hour lunch break. From 1-5pm, I rewrite and edit my text. You can format and upload your text in that timespan as well, but consider taking a dinner break, and then work an hour or two of overtime creating an account, formatting the text, uploading it to the site, and adding cover art.

True, each time I began with a vague story idea and direction, but that was it. There was no outline, no structure, and no definitive plan. I could just as easily have pulled out one of my silly little fantasy stories and see what I can do with it now.

My first e-Book experience was my memoir about a trip my mom and I took. The book–Mom, Star Trek and Las Vegas: A Grand Adventure required research because Trekkies or Trekkers will know if a name is incorrect or a date is wrong. I thought I could sit down in one eight-hour stretch, but I did not. I wrote an hour here, two hours there, made 20 minutes for research here and so on. I was committed to finishing it, whatever the timeframe.

Writers who took the 8-hour challenge, published by August 30. That was eight days after the issued challenge. I’ve read some of the published work and some of them read as if written in 8 hours. But so what? The author wrote, edited, and completed the work. That was the fun of it.

On October 6, after 18 hours and 45 minutes, give or take, I was an officially published author. That was 45 days after the initial post. Final word count: 5657 words, about 22 pages.

My mom memoir e-Book won a national award: third place in the NFPW 2014 Communications Contest.

My second eBook–Lessons from Dad: A Letter to You–was a prelude to my upcoming novel memoir. I released it on June 14, 2014: Father’s Day. I counted it by the number of edits–four, including initial draft–rather than hours, which I estimate took 12 hours. That book is 5111 words, or 21 pages. For 99cents, both books are a bargain read.

What’s the number one reason people don’t do this? Without conducting scientific research, my personal experience is “I don’t have the time.” Wrong. You don’t make the time.

You say you’re too busy, that there are too many other tasks distracting you? You have dinner to cook. Your kids have after-school activities and you’re the driver. You volunteer at the library. You work a 9-to-5 job and commute an hour each way. You have a report to write. There are weekly soccer matches to attend, so you wake up at 6:45am every Saturday. You go to church. You have a monthly date night with your spouse. Your favorite TV show has begun a new season. Repeat week.

Excuses. All excuses. They are reasons, but they are also excuses.

I will attempt this by my next blog post. So, what does my life look like? I don’t have kids to factor in, but I picked up about five extra shifts at my part time job between now and then. I’m traveling out-of-state, teaching Zentangle classes, co-hosting a monthly art group, having a Halloween scrapbook crop at my house, celebrating my 11th wedding anniversary, and raising funds to dance in February’s THON.

I am madly editing my dad memoir novel for ePublication on November 20, my father’s birthday. I’m promoting that book on Twitter, Instagram and my Facebook Author page. Let’s not forget that I have my own blog to maintain, including my annual Halloween blog hop post.  There are articles to write for Michigan Scrapbooker Magazine. I’m editing posts for this blog, critiquing submissions for this writers group, and writing the follow-up November post of this challenge. In utter madness, I also signed up for NaNoWriMo this year.

And there are the daily mundane To-Do items: doctor appointments, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, mailing birthday cards. Did I mention I was married and have a husband to not ignore?

If I can find time in that, then you can make time in your schedule.

This is not a setup. I don’t have a finished work sitting in the wings planned for this blog challenge. I have ignored my Jimmy the Burglar story for way too long. I mentioned it first back on this blog in March and haven’t touched it since. That’s seven months. I’ve written segments in my head but nothing on paper.

Do you feel that if you don’t write for X-minutes at a time then you’ll lose your flow, and focus and might as well not even start? If you choose to accept this challenge, make it work for you. Don’t have a whole day? I bet you can find an hour a day for 8 days. Maybe 30 minutes for 16 days. Does it take longer than 10 hours? So what? Don’t let the timeframe freeze you, but use it as a guideline, an incentive, a strong deadline.

Don’t be embarrassed by it. Don’t expect best-selling material, although you might surprise yourself. It’s most likely a short story, and there is nothing wrong with that. My books are the length of approximately three of this 1650-word blog post.

What’s in it for you is a sense of accomplishment and completion. As writers, we are always in the middle of something. Or, we write that first draft and never go back to it. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for three years, and I have yet to continue one of those 50K drafts. Unfinished work is a plague on would-be writers.

Stop whining.

You raise kids and release them into the world after 18 years. You write that college essay in 50 minutes and then submit it for a grade. You plan a wedding and eventually the bride walks down the aisle. At some point, there’s that moment of letting go. Stop the mindless edits and let your writing be that free.

As an incentive, I promise to download your book and read it and review it, even if it takes me a few months to get through them. Add your link to the comments section in my November 18 post, or share your thoughts about the overall experience.

Discover what kind of book you can to write in 10 hours!

Writing Spaces

Armed with an iPad and wireless keyboard, I have the ability to write just about anywhere. On a late September day, I drove north in the hope of seeing the first sign of fall displayed in the color of the trees. With the tools of my trade in tow, I stopped to do a little creative work in the library of a small town, Bad Axe, located smack dab in the middle of the thumb of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. About two and a half hours and 125 miles from home, I stood in the foyer and read through local advertisements, tourist pamphlets, and notices of community events that were tucked along a wall. Intrigued by the pioneer log cabins just across the street, I picked up literature about them in the pamphlet, “Museums of Huron County, Michigan.” Appreciating the vast acres of farmland all around, I also grabbed information on the “Huron County Nature Center.” One unexpected but pleasant surprise (please don’t think I’m as geeky as I appear right now) was the last copy of the “Michigan Antiquarian Book Dealers & Book Binders Directory.” I anticipated that a friend’s name, Phil Rosette, would be somewhere within its pages, so I had to take it. As soon as I found his and his wife’s business listing, I realized the distance from home just didn’t seem all that far away.

I looked forward to the inspiration I might find in this new writing venue. A sign in the foyer requested that cell phone discussions only take place here, a space separated from the rest of the library by glass doors, so I silenced my phone as requested, before going into the computer area. Inside, there were eight computers, three of which were being used by patrons checking e-mail, playing games, and searching the Internet.

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Bad Axe Area District Library

I set up my equipment at a long, unoccupied table and began typing. I made progress on an article until one well-dressed, sport-coat clad gentleman came in. His smile made him look friendly, and I actually thought maybe he was the mayor just stopping by to say hello to friends and neighbors. He sat down at one of the computers and began typing. I didn’t find the clickity-clack of his keyboard to be distracting. Muffled conversations with his constituents were tolerable. But this man’s chomping gum…it was loud, endless, and just as aggravating as fingernails running down a chalkboard. Ugh! I frantically reached for my ear buds, crammed the plug into the jack of my cell phone, and turned up the volume on my music selection. The pop-country music group Rascal Flatts drowned out this professional-looking man’s annoying habit and calmed my nerves. However, I could no longer focus on my writing.

Evidently, I have lost my youthful ability to tune out the world around me in order to concentrate and get my work done. Having grown up in a 900 square-foot home with one sister, two brothers, my parents and a dog, I used to sit at our family’s kitchen table to do my school homework. The TV or radio served as my background noise. Neither kicked out neutral, white noise, but both helped me control the sounds of a busy household environment.

Now a mother to four nearly-independent children, I have the luxury to pursue a lifelong dream: writing my first book. In the past year, I’ve tried writing on airplanes, but I don’t like the thought of anyone peering from behind to read my work-in-progress before it’s been revised and polished. Local coffee shops are out of the question; I might run into someone I know and neglect my work. Libraries would seem to make perfect sense, but here I was failing to appreciate the ambiance.

Immediately, I missed the solitude of my home office, the comfort of my own chair, and a self-indulgent cup of cream-and-sugar-laden coffee. I wondered how other writers could get anything done in public places like airports, coffee shops, and not-so-quiet libraries. I realized that the spaces we choose to write in often reflect our personalities.

My favorite writing space certainly says a lot about me. The office itself is mostly mine. Shelves holding my reference guides, journals, and a voice recorder share space with my husband’s golf and sports memorabilia. Filing cabinets hide my projects, mementos, and ideas squeezed tightly between the kids’ school papers and activity schedules. But it’s the desk that gives away the most telling signs of who I am.

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In the center of the desk is a lamp I purchased because it reminded me of my former pastor, Janet Noble-Richardson. She annually took teenagers who were involved in our church’s youth group from our city of Livonia, Michigan to New Wilmington Mission Conference at Westminster College in Pennsylvania. One year when Janet couldn’t be there, another friend, Linda, and I substituted as chaperones to continue the tradition for the children a little while longer. I spotted the stone lamp during an excursion from the conference to The Silk Road Fair Trade Market.  I was drawn to the piece because it had been made in Pakistan, the place where Janet had spent the first eleven years of her life living with her missionary parents and siblings. I could offer you a hokey explanation that she was like a “light unto the world,” which in fact she was, but that connection never entered my mind until now. Simply, the lamp reminded me of her because it came from the earth where she grew up. I missed her. She died in a car accident in 2006, the year before this trip. Linda still grieved for Janet too. She bought a matching lamp.

As I look at the other items on my desk, I know most of them hold special interest for me. Black and white pictures of my children, dressed in fancy clothes for my brother’s wedding, lie on either side of the lamp. Mr. Bill—yes, the one from Saturday Night Live of long ago—is a gift from my son. An “Angel of Friendship” figurine is from a best friend. My favorite Christmas photo sits out all year long and reminds me of my family’s playful side: that time we were wrapped in ribbons and bows. A bud vase holds pretty, girly, crystal-adorned pencils and pens that contrast with the most recent desktop accessory: one old, ugly, tattered Stieff puppet that I bought at an estate sale. What could have easily ended up in someone else’s trash became a treasure to me when it helped me get to know a friend’s shy five-year-old son. The boy at first thought the monkey was creepy (it is), but after a fun guessing game of I Spy, he affectionately named it “Chocolate.” It now sits over a plastic water bottle and remains one of the best memories I’ve ever bought, and it cost me merely 50 cents.

Besides the personal items, there are almost always piles of papers, the most ominous of which is the stack of “to-dos.” When I get overwhelmed, or take a picture for a blog post, I hide these piles from view and enjoy the multi-faceted illusion of having nothing to do and looking more organized than I am. At ease and surrounded by feelings of love, I leave the TV and radio off, sit down at my computer, and crack open the blinds of my window to the natural beauty outside. Noise can’t compete with my inner thoughts. Aah. This is my favorite writing space.

I’d love to know where your favorite writing space and/or your dream place is.

(One day, I hope to be writing in a beachfront condo overlooking the cool, white, crushed quartz sand that lines the shore in a certain place along the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe it won’t be completely quiet, but it will be peaceful.)