Keeping It Normal – Publishing in Covid

I have been using this summer to write pretty intensively. Normally I would have book #4 of my Wise Ones series out and I would be preparing to sell it actively at the state fair. Not this year. Like many things, Covid-19 has thrown everything into a maelstrom. My sister Paula couldn’t finish the illustration soon enough. Then the publishing company, with everyone in lockdown, became delayed. Believe it or not, the toilet paper issues the US had impacted the paper printing industry such that they aren’t taking orders for books, but refitting for TP production. 
With that said, we’re now on the way. The manuscript has been sent to my publisher and in the editing process. I managed to get the cover image (a very large file) sent to Next Chapter. They’ve now sent it back with the font applied. I’m attaching it here, but I have one concern. In all the other books, my name is at the top and the title is on the bottom. Paula even made the skyline very pretty for that purpose. However, Next Chapter disagrees and sent me this. I’d like to know your thoughts. Should the author’s name be separated from the title or placed where it is in this cover?

By the way, I still don’t have a publication date. It usually has taken three months after I turn it over to them. As we know, however, nothing this year is going as expected. I’m just looking forward to trying to make normal things happen no matter the obstacles.

Head Bobbing – How to Add Confusion

Head-bobbing or Bobble-heading?

I spend a lot of time writing during the summer, especially one like 2020. I need to write just to stay sane and avoid watching the news or drowning in social media. However, I can only write so much before I need a break. So I read a great deal as well. Right now, I’m reading book #9 of my Wise Ones, and I have some severe problems. The main one jumping out right now is head-bobbling!

What’s that? Head-bobbing happens when an author jumps from one person’s perspective to another in a third-person point of view narrative. Well, doesn’t that have to occur if you’re going to hear what another character says to a question, or within a conversation in general? Yes, and that is fine. You have to hear both sides of a conversation. You don’t have to hear what’s going on in both their heads.

When you write character A, “Lovely day we’re having,” she said wearily, wishing that the heat would let up just a bit so she could go on a walk.

Character B says, “Yes, I agree, want to go for a walk?” he replied with an eye to throwing her in the river and drowning her. 

That’s where the problem resides. You can’t read the thoughts of both characters. That’s head-bobbing and it’s a big no-no that I did repeatedly early in my writing career…like in book #9.

Now, no one taught me this little gem until I was ready to publish for the first time, Head-bobbing is a fairly easy thing to do, but only agents, editors, and publishers know about this rule. I would guess half of the authors on the planet have done this and only found out it was against the rules when they tried to publish their book. It took an agent telling me about it, and I’m an English teacher. You’d think I would have known. No, just those few who got their degrees in publishing or editing. Maybe a few creative writing majors out there. Certainly, no one who writes as a hobby and life-line has heard it. 

Well, now you have. Quit doing it. Often, if you remove the thoughts of character B and do some foreshadowing of the imminent drowning, the writing will be more concise, include more tensity, and won’t lose you in the transitions. Now you know.

Beta Readers – Not Just Pretty Fish

Pretty but vicious

The beautiful azure blue fish with its feathery tail twists among the reeds. Its fins flare out larger than the fish itself like an angel’s wings. Yet this glorious fish hides something vicious. It is a betta fish and protects its territory against all comers. This devilish fish has a great deal in common with the other territorial beauty, the beta reader.

First, a beta reader, the person you ask (yes and sometimes pay) to read your book before you are ready to send it to an editor, is just as territorial as the fish. I have several I have asked to read. All of them are friends, but not ones who would feel awkward about telling me that something stinks. One person has six kids and is careful about what they read, so she looks with a careful eye to appropriateness. She’s the one who told me you couldn’t feel a newborn baby on cow’s milk. I had to rework a scene to bring in goat’s milk just for her. Another beta read groused about the fact that I had bales of hay in a culture incapable of using equipment beyond a scythe. Like I said, territorial.

Beta readers also can be vicious. I invite them to make my writing bleed like a horror show. What words should I use? I don’t hire professional readers or people with English degrees because grammar isn’t the issue. I want them to tell me to my face when they got lost or confused. Gee, this part is really slow. Is there something you can do to jazz it up there? As a writer, I know exactly what is going on in my story, but we don’t often see when someone else can’t read my mind. It’s my job to make it clear and a beta reader’s job to be sure I know it isn’t clear.

The hardest part of using a beta reader is finding one. Right now I am beta reading for the daughter of my colleague and frankly, I’m not liking it. It’s not my genre, and I hate to tell her that her flashpoint (where the crisis is revealed) is way too late in the story. As a beta reader, I’ll tell her it’s too boring for me to finish, but will she take my advice? Does she expect me to fix it? I hope not. That’s like having two betta fish in a bowl. It ain’t pretty.

Sequels – Write On Or Not

I fit none of the above

Sequels are a strange thing for many people. Why wouldn’t you write a sequel if the book is good? Movies do it all the time. What’s the big deal? Well, that depends on how you work as an author, and if it’s a wise thing to try.

First, you need to consider if you can do it. If you plot out your novel beforehand and can have an adequate cliffhanger or some kind of unfinished tension to build on, maybe you can do that. Remember, a reader is going to expect a climax at the end that is somewhat resolved and yet makes them want to continue on.  For writers like me who plot as they go, this can be problematic. I stop writing when I run out of ideas and am ready for the prepped resolution, not when the story ends.

Another thing to consider is the genre of the work. We put so much into the setting, the magic, the creatures, and physics of the world in a fantasy novel. It seems a shame to throw it away on just one book. Such a genre begs for sequels, which is why three at the minimum usually gets done. However, if you write romance novels, you don’t dare make a sequel unless it follows a completely different set of characters. If Lizzy doesn’t get Mr. Darcy, no one would read it. If you left it on a cliffhanger, the readers would protest. The best you can do is find Mary a guy. Now there’s a challenge.

Then you have to deal with your fan base. They expect you to continue if you’re any good, but do you want to keep going. Are you bored with the characters? Can they continue to grow? Has it gone on too long, and is each sequel getting worse? I had that problem with the Wise One series. My writing improved as I went, but at a certain point, I had ‘painted myself into a corner’ as it were. The books were all finished, but did I sustain the quality throughout? Is there enough variety between each of the storylines? Is the style consistent? What about continuity within the entire arc and is there an arc that sustains it all? As a result, you cannot publish any of them until you are satisfied with all of them. 

We’ve all wanted to see what happened to a character we have loved. How did Minas Tirith and Gondor do under Aragon’s rule? Did all the elves leave Middle Earth? How was Harry’s life after school and working at the ministry? Did Mary Bennett ever find someone to love? But you have to remember, an author is a real person and the people we love are fictional. The show may go on, but the lives of characters do not, sadly.

Save Me From Myself – Write a Review

Once, on one crazed train ride in 1993, I calculated how many hours I had into the first book I wrote to completion.  Sea Queen, book #9 of the Wise Ones series is about 80,000 words.  These are the very sad results of my dance with a calculator.

Please be aware that I spent a good ten years, most of my adolescence not officially writing.  Instead, I gathered ideas, doodling maps, making character sketches, and daydreaming, which I do not count. I’m just focusing on the actual hours spent in front of a computer with a cursor moving across the page. I average about 2,000 words a day, which takes about six hours. Forty days of just writing to make an 80,000-word book.  Then you throw in at least that many days to revise and then forty more to edit.  That ends up as 720 hours of work just to get it ready for printing.

It sounds pathetic, like very little work, although I assure you I rarely wrote for six hours every day and I often took breaks of several hours for sleeping and eating. I even made a living during that time.

So if I were to ignore the time finding and working with my publisher, and they are selling my book for $10.00, of which I get $2.50, how much am I making an hour? I am making $.0003 an hour for the book.  How is that?  I’d have to sell over 1000 books before I made $1.00 an hour. I’d have to sell millions of copies if I were going to make a living. And I don’t sell that many, trust me.

Good thing I don’t need to sell any books to feel fulfilled. I want to write even if I never make a cent.  However, it would be nice to make something. So how can my dear readers help this author make money if you only buy a book?  If you really want to ‘pay’ an author, more than the $.0003 an hour, I make one request.  Write a review.

Amazon, BookBub, Goodreads, or any other online format is great for a review, and you can use the same review in all these places. The more reviews I have, the higher my book displays in searches. If I display higher, I sell more books. Word of mouth is the best way to sell books. My readers (teens and twenty-somethings) are more likely to buy books they hear about from others than if they see advertisements. Most of my reviews are good, but I know that there could be more of them. If even half of my readers wrote reviews I’d be far better off. 

Did I tell you how much I detest numbers? That’s what this whole blog post is about.  Petting a scorpion, like my picture.  It certainly would be much more entertaining.

Outsiders – A Case for Literature

Escape with me

As another school year staggers and stumbles to a close, one of my English students asked me, ‘Why do we have to read a whole book?’  Such a question pains me. He’s not a great reader and finds an entire novel a burden. I find short stories as annoying as he does reading an entire 185-page copy of The Outsiders. Yet his question has merit.  Why do we bother studying literature in our modern age? 

First, be aware, I gathered this list, for there are many greater and deeper thinkers on this topic than I.  However, my initial thought was imagination. I find that my students, especially those who dread reading, have no imagination. They cannot think for themselves and invariably assume there’s a right answer and they just need to find it in one specific paragraph. Literature requires an imagination, which then launches to other skills like curiosity, exploration, and a flexible mind. A video screen can never provide vivid and wide-ranging thoughts that words invoke.

Next, literature provides an escape, especially in this day and age. I want to walk the streets of ancient Troy, tread in the Sea of Tranquility or overlook Dune, and none of that is possible even if travel bans were lifted. Going down a rabbit hole or rocketing to a galaxy far, far away requires words written by someone else, and I will take it from there.

There are studies that demonstrate that avid readers are more empathetic, kind to others, and have a more resilient and flexible mind. Mark Twain once wrote, “Travel (even if that travel is in your book) is fatal to prejudice, narrowmindedness, and bigotry.” Isn’t that something we need right now?

Another aspect of literature is its ability to connect us to our culture and past. If I reference a trojan horse, another circle of hell, a white whale, or a grinch, I’ve dipped into what it means to be a well-read person in America. Others around me know what these images mean and do not expect me to say it in boring language. Shakespeare created many of these great cultural links over four hundred years ago and we still ask ‘to be or not to be’.  We need them to tie us to what we used to know.

And even if you cannot endure the thought of a great piece of literature taking you to uncomfortable places, it still allows you the quiet contemplation and self-examination needed to strengthen yourself. You can be reverent and entertain yourself without imposing on others or adding to the noise and confusion of the day. We need that literature if only to remind ourselves that we can be still and not so frantic.

So, to my reluctant student, yes, we need to read literature because it helps us be humans. Ponyboy knew it and shared it with Johnny and Cherry and the rest of humanity. You can become one with the gang and maybe you too can learn how to navigate a difficult world.

Copy Cat – Is It Plagiarism?

Revealed: The Full Endpapers From Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer ...
I follow the masters – Brandon Sanderson’s Endpages

This past week has been wondrous for my writing. First, school is out so my subconscious mind can dwell on something other than my students where it typically lights. More interesting is the freedom I now have to plot out a book. Also helping me is the almost rabid desire to tune out the world right now. I’ve sworn off checking the news, social media, and even emails to leave behind the ridiculous social upheaval and destruction there.
Usually, my routine is fairly rigid, with pills and bathroom duties set at a precise time. However, recently I’ve been able to get up, do those duties, and then go back to bed. I don’t truly sleep at that time.
Instead, I plot. I mentioned before that I consider myself a hybrid pantser. I do not plot out each event in my story, but instead, I get to know my setting, conflict and main characters before I launch them into adventures I will discover as they come. I have been using that hour or so drifting to craft the characters and world of my next novel. At this point, I’m entitling it Exchanged.
About three months ago I wondered what would happen if you were a queen or princess in a somewhat fantasy world (there is very little magic at this point). To stop a war, you sacrifice yourself to go live and marry the king of the enemy state. He would have to give up his daughter or sister in the same situation. The goal would be to put a halt to the generational war. That is what I’ve been dreaming about every morning for the last week.
I am so grateful for the impressions and revelations I get during this time. One of the most fruitful fields to wander in for this is authors that have gone before. Brandon Sanderson often writes little prologues at the beginning of each of his chapters. They seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with the story and the reader thinks they can ignore them, except they can’t. These prologues reveal the antagonist like clues in a mystery novel. I’m copying that idea of using chapter-opening snippets to reveal the past and not connecting it until the very end.
Another person I find myself imitating is Winston Graham, the author of the Poldark series. We’ve been binge-watching the BBC series and I love the interplay of the characters. I want to make my two queens like Demelza and Elizabeth. They will become the powers behind the thrones and make the men in their lives into better versions of themselves. They will change, adapt, and perhaps even fall (I haven’t found out yet) along the way.
The final author I am copying is Patricia McKillip in her Riddle-Master of Hed series. She used scars or marks to indicate who had mastered certain skills. I intend for everyone in my story to have a natural-born tattoo that does much the same thing, only their marks show their true calling. My two queens are both going to acquire new tattoos when their status changes. That mark will eventually be something more for all the people in my world.
Is this plagiarism? I don’t think so. This isn’t the plot at all, just the world I am creating. Reflecting the masters and those that have gone before is a form of flattery, isn’t it? I do not intend for any of these elements to be obvious in its usage. You could probably read all three of these authors and not recognize them as an influence, but it does give me a sense of ease to know I am following after those that are worthy of emulation. I copy, but hopefully, I expand as well.

On Traveling Near a Semi-Truck

Do you know how you’re bound to die? I’ve always feared driving near a semi-truck. It will shoot up a rock chip to shatter my windshield and I crash.  Maybe I’m going to be sucked under in my little car while passing one.  Perhaps I nod off one night and plow head-first into it. And I had these shivers long before it happened to my grandmother. One winter on the way home from college, at four in the morning just outside of Boise Idaho, my window shattered just as we were passing a semi. He lost a tire and it hit my window. I managed to stay on the road long enough to pull over, but I thought we would at least die of hypothermia first. It’s a legitimate concern of mine.

However, when I was learning to drive and I expressed my fear, to the point I actually pulled over on the side of the road to avoid facing the oncoming semi, my mother/copilot had some sage advice.  “Relax and stay in your own lane. It’s not going to hit you if you don’t panic.”

For some reason at this point in our history, this advice keeps coming to mind. Relax and stay in your own lane.  You’ll only make things worse if you panic and do something out of fear. You can’t control the path of a disease or who might cross your path.  You can work hard at keeping your job and not getting sidetracked, depressed, or frantic.  You can turn off the news and not melt-down with all the riots, animosity and hatred there. Stay in your own lane and control the things you can control. 

David A. Bednar told a story of a man who bought a 4-wheel drive truck, despite his wife’s misgivings. To prove to her it would help, he went up into the mountains to get a load of wood. Of course, he got stuck just as he turned off the main road. All four wheels were spinning. In frustration, he went out and cut the wood he intended to get and threw it in the back of his stuck vehicle. Then he tried once again to get out. Amazingly, he managed to free himself this time.  The moral of the story is sometimes it’s the load on us that helps us get out.

Yes, at this time your load is larger than you can carry. That semi-truck appears too large and fast to avoid. Please don’t panic. That only makes things worse. Our normal may never be what it once was, but you will also never make it home if you don’t allow the Lord to load you down, lift the yoke with you, and keep you in your lane.

Write On! – The Mental Health of an Author

Stressed Out Stock Photos And Images - 123RF

At this time in our world, our personal mental health is vital to our survival, almost as much as washing our hands or social distancing. For writers (most of us are introverts), the social distancing is relatively easy, but staying mentally healthy at the same time may be a more difficult task, so here is my advice.

Know how you write. Just because people on your social media feed do it one way does not mean you generate ideas, develop plots and craft your sentences the same way. Yes, Stephen King advises not to use adverbs, but JK Rowling unabashedly fills her work with them. And if you read King, so does he. Every single piece of advice you find in books and blogs is going to be contradicted somewhere else by a bestselling author. So, know how you write and follow that muse.

With that said, here’s a blogger helping you do what she recommends. Keep a notebook by your bed so if ideas come in the middle of the night (mine often do) you can write something down and be able to fall back to sleep, assured you will remember it in the morning. There’s nothing more irritating than feeling you’ve had inspiration and now cannot retrieve it. I did this at first and then fussed about if I could read my handwriting in the dark.  However, over the years I’ve gotten better at writing in the dark as well as trusting God that the inspiration will be recalled if it is that important.

Don’t expect or require yourself to get it down all at once. When I’m manic in my writing, churning it out for hours on end in frantic spurts, the result is garbage. I do better thinking through a scene while washing dishes and then sitting down to get that one scene laid out perfectly rather than pushing through, or worse, staring at the curser with writer’s block weighing me down. I write in 20-minute chunks at best and never spend more than two hours a day actually writing.

Another thing I do to keep my mental health is drink water. It means I have to run to the restroom regularly, making me move. When I move, I remember the laundry needs rotated, I have a husband to talk to, a floor that needs swept, plants that need watered and a dog that wants to be walked. It is not natural for a human being to sit at a computer. You need to self-care, family-care and home-care or guilt about what you’re leaving undone will destroy you.  Besides, water is good for you and reminds me of that  far better than any other substance.

Some of us are planners and others are not. Both are good ways of being a writer, and if you know this, you won’t be so stressed and uptight. I’ve never met 99% of the stressed-out writers I see posting on social-media, and I wonder if they won’t all die of heart-attacks, aneurisms and ulcers. They need to all relax. A bout of writer’s block is not going to kill you, but sitting there stewing about it just might. If you cannot write for some reason, that too will pass. Don’t let it stress you. That’s why I never write on commission unless I get to set the due date. Writing for a deadline never works for me.

Please, my fellow readers and writers, take care of yourself.  This too shall pass.  Enjoy the beauty of the world and write on.

Change – The Only Constant

This was about where I stopped and realized the whole chapter needed reworked.

During Covid lockdown, I find it difficult to write any new material. Oh, the ideas are there, but I realize stories that I write during times of stress usually need to go in the circular file. They’re awful. So, I don’t write new stories. However, I still need to write just for my sanity’s sake.

Instead, I revise. There’s a vast canyon between the word ‘revise’ and the word ‘edit’. Revision means to see again in a new way. Revising is vital to anyone who wants to be an author, and is probably more important than the story itself. Characters, plot, setting, and everything else you imagine in fiction writing simply fade into the background. In lock-down I have been reading my past works aloud to my husband (he can no longer read for himself) and he has been giving me insight into the revision I must make on these completed, but not finished stories.

One thing I’m seeing in this re-vision is the need to be willing to change things drastically, no matter the cost in time or damage to the story. It takes some humility. I have seen that one of my main characters must be someone else completely. She will go from being the Queen of Wind to the Queen of Harmony. This means all of the description and much of the foreshadowing I put into her five years ago now must also alter. If I were to look at this as a burden instead of an opportunity to refine my craft, I would lose the love for writing. You must be humble to see this.

Another thing revision allows is for you to deliberately craft sentences. When I’m in the throws of getting the original story down, my sentences are convoluted and burdensome (kind of like this one). In revision I pare them down. I strip the wordiness and uncover the gems. Yes, all the thought is there. However, I never manage to hone sentences in the first writing. It bogs me down. Later, taking the time to truly attack each sentence in a round of revision, livens my writing.

Yes, it takes longer to get a novel finished. Of course I end up second-guessing most of what I do. However, I see writing like raising my children. Am I ever done? To this day, I cannot look at even my published work without thinking ‘I should have done that’ or ‘what was I thinking when I wrote…’. An author is never satisfied. However, that does not mean they can just skip over the most important step in writing at all; seeing it again.