I Repeat, It’s Redundant

social-media-cube

Do We Need All This SM?

I’ve blogged about how I feel overwhelmed at times with Social Media (SM). I’ve also been thinking about how much of it is actually redundant. We build a nice website, maybe with an RSS feed or comment section on our blog page, and we add to that mix more SM than we have time for in our daily lives because we want everyone (or anyone) reading our books. If you can visit an author’s FB page and like it, do you also need to visit the website, or vice versa? Or the Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, or Twitter accounts? What’s different? What’s not?

I question the necessity of having more than a few good SM accounts. I understand we’re not all on the same SM so picking those that do the most good for you and your business (because writing is a business, if you’re selling your work) is smart. Which SM do you really need? Do you need to be on ALL of them? Only you can know the answer, after researching how you want to market yourself and your work. Factors in that decision might be age, gender, or cultural, for example; these are your target demographics and you need to know whom they are and where to find them on SM. Do you believe that all your fans (readers) are on the same SM as you?

How much of your SM is redundant and taking away from the quality of your life? Or more importantly, your writing time? (Really, how many pictures or videos of cute puppies or kitties can you get excited about?)

Marketing, Branding, Promotion, and SM

Marketing our work and our selves is important and necessary as authors. A SM-savvy person can utilize SM to its fullest capacity, if you do the homework. The rest live with a basic marketing plan and will (eventually) work their way up to the one that provides the most benefits (more sales, increased exposure, better branding, etc.). It all depends on what you want to achieve (fame, fortune, notoriety, bestseller lists, be besties with your readers, etc.) and the steps you must take to achieve it.

In a recent blog by USA Today bestselling author Kristen Lamb wrote “ads without an established relationship (platform and brand) don’t work.” She’s right. And neither does spamming everyone on your LI list (or any SM list) with a link to your book (like I did years ago; lesson learned). You need to establish yourself (brand) before readers begin lining up to buy your books; you have to build the excitement. Be selective about which SM works best for you (read: what is my target audience and where are they), build your platform on those SM and work from there. Are you on YouTube or other video sites? Or do you prefer sites where you communicate only via texting/comments? You need to know what you’re comfortable with; you also need to understand that you can’t spread yourself so thin (be everywhere on all SM) and expect to build trust in your brand (you) and your product (books) if you don’t offer something unique on each one.

Promotion is nice but it’s a long way from establishing and maintaining that critical relationship with your readers/fans. If you can tie your name (brand) with your book (marketing) with an emotional experience, then according to Kristen Lamb, you’ve got a winning combination. (Think Harley-Davidson or Geico) What emotional experience will readers gain from reading your work?  

Mix Up Your SM Options

Let’s do some math:

Website/blog + POD publishing site (Lulu, Ingram, Book Baby, etc.) + Facebook + Twitter + Instagram + LinkedIn + Snapchat + YouTube + Social Media2 = Redundant; same information in too many places; reduce the load unless you can offer something unique on each of them

Here’s my math:

Website/blog + Facebook + Lulu Press + radio interviews + car signage (I often drive to areas far from home; great advertising on the highway) = global distribution (includes Amazon, B&N, Ingram, and many others) = minimalist approach but smart, affordable, and a good start (last year I began earning royalties every month so now I can up my game a bit)

Here’s another option:

Website/blog + Lulu Press + Facebook groups (literary) + Twitter + Goodreads + guest blogging + radio interviews = easy to maintain, affordable approach

And another:

Website/blog + Ingram (this gets your book into physical locations) + Twitter + YouTube + Goodreads + author podcast = easy to maintain, offers fans text, video, and recorded/live access to you

Consolidate Your SM

How many author pages do you need (Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, B&N, etc.)? Too many ‘author pages’ can become difficult to keep track of (again, lesson learned), especially when you need to update personal or book information. Keep it simple and manageable.

Ask yourself: What do I want from SM? More book sales, people reading my blogs, connecting more with my fans? Do you want/need to be rich and famous or are you happy with the fact that some, but not all, folks are reading your works? Do the math; see what works, what’s in your budget.

Avoid redundancy; stay original.

Then repeat (for your next masterpiece).

A Writer’s Legacy Part 2

photofunia-last will

In November 2016, I posted a blog, A Writer’s Legacy in a Digital World, where I discussed the importance of planning for the future of your digital and intellectual property. I recently read two blog posts on the same subject but with a few more bits of information, like appointing a Literary Executor (separate from the Estate Attorney) to protect your intellectual property (IP).

To reiterate, it’s vital you prepare for the inevitable. You must decide what kind of legacy you wish to leave, if you wish to leave one at all. In this new digital world, our lives are complicated by our dependence on many devices, each with its own password and accessible only by you. The first step in the process is to take an inventory of your digital (online world) and intellectual properties:

  1. Do you have a Paypal, Google Pay, or any account, in addition to personal banking, with monetary value? Who will have access in case you’re incapacitated, or worse, if you die? What happens to the money? Whom will you designate as your beneficiary?
  2. What about personal and business email accounts, blogs, and podcasts? Personal and business websites? Do you want them up and running for people to read your when-you-were-a-breathing-starving-artist work?
  3. Do you keep a list of logins and passwords to all of your online accounts? I keep an updated copy in one of those many cloud accounts, just in case. Update it regularly and make sure your designated Estate attorney has the most recent copy on file.
  4. What electronic devices do you own that need a password for access? Do you have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, DVR/Tivo, Ring, or a home burglary system? How many apps do you access from your phone?
  5. Do you bank online? What about mortgage payments, investment banking, utilities, and airline (or other) memberships? Which memberships automatically renew online? You’ll need to spell out which to cancel and which to keep active for your heirs/estate.
  6. Do you have any online accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube? Any accounts to e-commerce sites (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Ebay, etc.)? Check the policies of these companies regarding access by another person. You’ll need to legally designate someone if you want that person to clean up your online life.
  7. How much of your work is unfinished? Do you want someone else to finish it? Or would you prefer your Executor/Executrix just heave every incomplete project, every potential novel/poetry book/best-selling short story into a shredder? What will you do with the work you have completed? Who gets the royalties?
  8. Do you have translations of your book? Movie deals? Audio books? Who will oversee these if they become options after your death? Who will make the decisions about maintaining and growing your work after you’re gone? (Think: Elvis Presley estate.)
  9. Will you leave the option to own, sell, or operate your business and control your intellectual property? Or will you decide so your heirs don’t have to? One option is to designate a micro-publisher to oversee your work so that royalties will be properly paid to your heirs.
  10. What about cleaning up your personal information collected by those data-mining companies? If you think it won’t matter once you’re gone, you’re wrong. Someone could use your identity and gain access to your intellectual property and online life, and then your hard-earned money. This can affect any heirs you designate and their ability to oversee your IP or pay any monies owed. One site, My Life, mines all sorts of personal information; you’ll need to sign up and join to have access to your personal information and request they delete all of it.
  11. You need to be concerned with writer scams popping up all over the web offering unauthorized copies of authors’ books or scamming writers out of money. Writer Beware is one of many sites that track predatory sites and unscrupulous people trying to steal our IP. Make sure all is good before passing it on to the heirs.

I don’t have children so I’ve been thinking about how to ensure my IP is safe so that whomever I designate as heirs (charities most likely), they will benefit properly. It’s mind-boggling for sure, but getting started is the hardest part. Start with making a list for numbers 1-4; those alone will take some time. Once that’s done, you’re more than halfway to protecting your IP. Nolo.com is a good site to find Estate and Literary attorney recommendations; you can also call or check online with the Bar Association in your state. You can find Last Will and Testament forms (as well as Healthy Proxy, Power of Attorney and other estate forms) online and at Nolo.

I’m not trying to be morose; this is a necessary part of owning a business (yourself) and smart business owners/independent contractors prepare for the worst. How many famous people left no Will for their estates, tying up legal proceedings for years in probate with family members each trying to get his share? Don’t let this happen to you – or your heirs.

Some links to good articles on this and other subjects:

Anne R. Allen on Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris
New Writing Scams to Look Out for in 2019
“As long as there are writers, there will be writing scams. Hungry predators will always be lying in wait, ready to pounce on any tender young scribe who strays from the safety of the mainstream herd.”

Maggie Lynch on Self Publishing Advice From The Alliance Of Independent Authors
Why Indie Authors Need Literary Executors & How to Appoint One
“Today I’m going to address how to make sure your heirs (whether that is family, friends, or a nonprofit) benefit from that and who makes the decisions about licensing future intellectual property rights (eg translations, movie or TV deals, audiobooks, etc.) that may not have been licensed at the time of your death.”

Chris Syme on Smart Marketing for Authors
Why Word of Mouth Marketing Will Sell More Books [Research]
“In this episode of the podcast, Chris reviews the 2018 Word of Mouth Marketing Report from Convince and Convert Consulting and how it can help authors sell more books.”

Does Reading Need to Be Saved?

Fahrenheit 451 image

Source: lithub.com

In our local News & Review paper, I read an article titled, “The Man Who Saved Reading.” Honestly, I didn’t know we were in danger of losing it, like an endangered animal teetering on the edge of extinction. The Great American Read, sponsored by PBS, had Americans reading by the thousands, perhaps millions. Local libraries throughout the U.S. are also responsible for keeping the literati alive in us. Series books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have excited the masses, of all ages, just to name two. But the article focused on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and all the political wrangling the director of the NEA had to deal with before leaving to return to his writing roots, and how he struggled against Republicans (who consider the NEA “purveyors of smut”, if you can believe it) determined to cut their budget down to almost nothing. It seems to me that the one of the reasons for this is we value success more as a measure of financial and material wealth rather than as knowledge and wisdom gained through the enlightenment found in books.

The author of the article, Scott Thomas Anderson, wrote: “In 1953, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 described a future where novels are relics and human thought is enslaved by interactive screens.” Talk about foresight – and forewarned. The NEA directed the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct a large survey on the participation in the arts. This was the shocking result:

With the rise of digital media, less than half of U.S. adults were now reading literature.

Ouch. To top it off, the survey showed a ten-percentage point decline over the last twenty years, a loss of twenty million potential readers. Ouch again. This drop, according to the survey, spread across every age group, every ethnic group, both genders, and all income levels. The steepest decline was among persons aged 18 – 34 (the Digital Generation). Yikes.

Anderson also wrote: “Other studies by the NEA also showed that people who didn’t read books were less likely to vote in elections, volunteer for charities, and support cultural institutions [and, I believe, be less informed about life and different cultures in general].” If you don’t read and activate your imagination, get outside of yourself and escape into a good book, how can you vote (awareness of the issues), be more open-minded, and be willing to serve others?

The results make sense to me, especially the forewarning by author Ray Bradbury. You see it everywhere: people plugged in to their earbuds or headphones and tuned out. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to walk around young people so deep into their phones they didn’t even see me. We use computers (phone, laptop, etc.) to look up words and they finish the spelling for us. How can we learn/grow if machines do all the work? While technology certainly has improved some aspects of our lives, I also believe they’ve made us lazy because they can do so much more, much faster than humanly possible. (I still prefer to look up words in a dictionary, it keeps my spelling skills fresh.)

As writers, we can’t let good literature go extinct; we must rail against the onslaught of technology by producing worthy work. Are we, the authors, writing good stories to enthrall the masses, to keep good literature from disappearing? We MUST. It’s one of the reasons I no longer publish in eBook format. I prefer the feel of the book in my lap, the smell of the pages (especially the older classics, they just smell better), the look of some fonts, the touch of a good leather binding. It’s all a part of the reading experience and we, the writers, must do what we can to ensure that book reading does not go the way of the dodo bird. We must create good literature, evoke wild imaginations; we must inform, teach, and tell the good story worth reading.

Where’d My Mojo Go?

Where did my mojo go_typewriter

Source: PhotoFunia

I’m not sure when it happened, or why. After my trip to Italy, I figured I’d get to writing, pick up where I left off with several projects piled near my desk. Not so. When I sat down at my computer the other day, determined to work on something, I couldn’t do it. I opened up several files, perused them, and then closed them. No writing juice, no aspiration to finish any of my open projects. Where’d my mojo go? When I quit my job in October, I was convinced I’d finish at least one in-the-works project, what with so much free time on my hands. I even blogged about it, telling you exactly what I’d do. Only I haven’t. And I’m not sure why. It doesn’t feel like writer’s block; it doesn’t feel like anything, to be honest. What’s wrong with me? Have any of you experienced this? Do I ride out the avoidance storm, hoping it will pass? Is writing something you really need to do daily to stay fresh? Have I become stale? Do I have anything more to write, any more stories to tell? Today, I’m not sure.

Writing books and selling them is a long-term commitment, whether you write one book or several or a whole bunch. You kinda have to be committed to your digital legacy. As I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps I’ve become bored with writing. That’s typical; I easily bore with the same ol’, same ol’ whether it’s a job, or a hobby, or whatever. Time for something new, something I haven’t done, to hopefully reignite my passion for writing and storytelling. I’ve been thinking about painting again. I like to mix mediums and it’s a good way to get the creative juices flowing in a different direction. I’ve mentioned this before, but maybe I need to start a new writing project. Do you find this helps you get the juices flowing again?

Then there’s that nagging voice in my head that says maybe I’m not much of a writer after all. It usually shows up after reading a well-written book that mesmerizes me from the first page to the last. The book I refer to is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It was, honestly, one of the best books I’ve ever read; captivating from beginning to end. He weaves a story with subplots that have subplots and you can’t put it down until you know how they’re all connected, and you can’t help but love every character, good or bad. I haven’t mesmerized anyone with my books and don’t think I ever will. Do you ever find yourself comparing your work/writing skills to someone like him? I have to dig deep within myself to find that speck of confidence about my writing to move forward. 

I’ve thought about trying my hand at short stories. They do seem harder to write, though. You have to introduce the characters, weave the story in with the characters, and finish the story in a much shorter time. It’s like moving from a normal-sized house to a tiny house; you have to decide what to keep and what to discard to make it complete. 

The moral of my blog? Write what you know, write what you live, write what you dream. But most of all, WRITE. Life is full of hills (highs) and valleys (lows); be gentle with yourself as you muddle your way through a valley (as I am now), because you can only go up from there.

=> => =>

Oh, and here’s a neat tip: have you heard of PhotoFunia? It’s an awesome FREE site where you can plug a picture or text into their existing pictures to create a whole new poster, card, graphic logo, etc. It’s free all the time and really neat to use. See the typewriter graphic up top? Did that on their site. So many options to choose from, check it out. As far as I understand, they’re copyright free, too.

 

Read Different: Go Native

Native storytellers

As the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” This applies to our reading choices, too. As a writer, I love to read – that goes without saying for most writers. But the hardest part can be finding something new and unusual; finding stories written from a different perspective, as long as it’s not considered “mainstream”. If you’re looking to support writers who share stories different from yours, I recommend you try Native American authors.

I’ve been reading fiction and nonfiction from several prolific Native authors for over twenty years. I discovered them on treasure hunts through the fiction aisles of libraries (and from there I found their nonfiction works as well). You don’t have to be an Indian to enjoy a culturally specific story; the details are rich and paint a story not unlike your own, just with a different brush. We’re far more alike than we sometimes care to admit and it’s good to learn from others’ experiences and unfamiliar settings.

The following is a short list of some of my personal favorites. Some of them, like Kent Nerburn, Joseph Marshall, and Priscilla Cogan, I go back and read at least once a year because they teach me life lessons that remind me of what’s important.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (nonfiction)

This is a true story of how Osage Indians, after discovering oil on their lands and becoming rich, were systematically murdered. It was the first major homicide case for the FBI; together with the Osage, the FBI managed to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies of murder in America.  “It is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long.” A can’t-put-it-down kind of book.

Kent Nerburn

These books tell a story of a white man’s physical and spiritual adventures with a Lakota elder. A humorous, touching, and eye/spirit-opening adventure that spans three books. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

  1. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder
  2. The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
  3. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder, and the Light from an Ancient Sky

Priscilla Cogan

These are a fictional trilogy of spiritual adventure. Maggie, a white woman, meets Winona Pathfinder and her spiritual journey begins; a mix of Lakota and Christian beliefs. I loved all three books; I read them again and again.

  1. Winona’s Web
  2. Compass of the Heart
  3. Crack at Dusk Crook of Dawn

Lakota Westerns by Joseph M. Marshall III (Lakota) – I love westerns and these are my favorite fiction works by Joseph Marshall. He is a prolific writer and the scenes he paints with his pen have you right there with Cloud and his people, in their struggles to survive as whites encroach on their lands.

  1. Hundred in the Hand – a fictional account of the Battle of the Hundred in the Hand (the Fetterman Massacre) as seen through the eyes of Cloud, a warrior fighting alongside Crazy Horse (whose younger brother, Little Wolf, was actually killed in this battle at the ripe old age of 19, ten years prior to the death of Crazy Horse).
  2. The Long Knives are Crying – the second in the series, picks up around 1875 as the Lakota face the inevitable arrival of whites, still through the eyes of Cloud, now much older and the last generation of “free” Indians.

Here is one of his fabulous nonfictions:

The Journey of Crazy Horse – drawn on oral stories from elders, Joseph paints a picture of Crazy Horse the man, not the legend. A beautiful read.

James Welch (Blackfeet)

  1. Fools Crow – first published in 1986, it’s a fictional account of Blackfeet life in 1870, through the eyes of Fools Crow, a young warrior and medicine man. A gorgeous story.
  2. The Heartsong of Charging Elk – this is a true story. Charging Elk, Oglala Sioux, joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but is left behind in a hospital in Marseille, France after a serious injury. He is forced to remake his life alone in a strange land. Sadly, the book ends when Charging Elk is only thirty-three; James died in 2000 while working on the second half of Charging Elk’s story (marriage and descendants).

The Last Algonquian by Ted Kazimiroff – This is the true story of (Joe) Two Trees, the last of his people, living alone in Pelham Bay, New York (up to 1924). He befriends a young boy scout (the author’s father) and recounts his sad story in great detail. (Graves of his parents and dog are located in Long Island City, NY.)

The Heart of Everything That Is by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin – an unusual and factual account of Red Cloud, Lakota chief; rich in historically accurate information, thanks to the discovery of Red Cloud’s lost autobiography. Good if you like historical works.

And last, but certainly not least:

Black Elk Speaks as told through John G. Neihardt – the meeting of a white man in 1932 with the great medicine man Black Elk (Lakota), who told John his life story (through a translator). A beautiful, sad telling of the tragedies that befell the Lakota in the latter part of the 19th century. Black Elk takes you back in time to his life, his people, including his first cousin, Crazy Horse.

A Dose of Reality

I blame it on author Frances Mayes. Her dreamy, flowery, prosaic descriptions of Tuscany won me over from the first time I saw the movie (based on her book) Under the Tuscan Sun. Once I’d made the decision to vacation in Italy, her books on life in Tuscany were all I could think about, so I grabbed copies from our local library and voraciously devoured her version of a Tuscan life (she lives there with her husband eight months of the year), including her mouth-watering cookbook (Recipes From Our Italian Kitchen: The Tuscan Sun Cookbook) based on the local cuisine of Cortona and the surrounding region of Arezzo. My idea of Italy was more of an ideal, it turns out. Then again, I didn’t get to visit Cortona or the Arezzo region (inclement weather kept me in Siena) so it’s hard to compare. Life in the Tuscan countryside, I’m sure, is a step up from life in the city – any city.

view from Relais Villa Olma_Tuscany.jpg

Since I was flying into Rome, I decided to stay a few days and check it out. Yes, it has an ancient history famous around the globe and it smacks you in the face wherever you go. In other words, Rome is still ancient in many ways: stone buildings, stone streets, stone sidewalks (need seriously good shoes for walking them). Nothing but stone. But plenty of places to eat: on every block, there are ristorantes, osterias, trattorias, and gelaterias. You can’t go three feet without coming up on another place to eat. Lots of goodies to choose from but after a while I noticed the menus were awfully similar. Not a lot of variety in Roman cuisine. I did manage to score some good meals at small, local restaurants and their house wines were some of the best I’ve had (and the cheapest). Even the coffee was smoother and tastier and there isn’t a Starbucks anywhere (I doubt it would be welcome anyway since Italians are as fanatic about their coffee as they are about fresh cheese/meat).

Vatican and St Peter square.jpg

I did the touristy tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the famous Borghese Gallery museum (think Bernini’s statues). They were gorgeous sites (the Colosseum was my personal favorite in spite of the freezing weather and pouring rain) but what struck me about Rome is how dirty it is. Trash lines the streets (loose and bagged); cigarette butts pepper every block, every inch of curb, and the stench of cigarette smoke is everywhere – Italians, it turns out, are big smokers. Nausea was my constant companion and a real appetite-buster.

Colosseo tour3.jpg

Most folks were friendly and had at least a basic grasp of English; I have a basic grasp of Italian, so I found my way around just fine. The food was fresh; cheeses and meats weren’t salty and had a flavor I’ve not tasted before and would like to again. None of the food was salty; they tend not to use it in their cooking, so at first food tasted a bit bland until you get used to all the fresh flavors in the dish.

At this point, the only sunny day I’d had was my last day in Rome so I took advantage and climbed to the observation deck of Castel Santangelo (the same deck Julia Roberts climbed in Eat Pray Love) for a full circular view of Rome and beyond. A most delightful experience, to see the Seven Hills of Rome, the Appenines (mountain range), and much more.

Tiber river.jpg

Next stop was Siena, about ninety minutes west of Cortona and south of the Chianti region. It’s a small hilltop village, also lined with stone streets and sidewalks. The tall buildings and narrow streets, while charming, made it difficult to see any sun unless you walked to Il Campo, located at the north end of the city, where a wide piazza invites visitors and residents to open air and multiple eateries. It continued to rain and the temperature dropped so I decided to go shopping. With some Black Week sales (they stretch out Black Friday to increase sales during a slower tourist season), I scored a nice pair of leather boots and cashmere-lined leather gloves, both at 50% off. Who can say no to Italian leather?

leather shop_Siena.jpg

I topped off the trip in Florence, where I stayed the longest. Once again, rain and cold weather followed me. Once in Florence, I settled into my new room (they were all A+ in service and style) and planned my adventures. Florence is home to Michelangelo’s David, of course, so that was the main event, the main reason for a visit to Florence. I’m not much of a church person; one gothic church looks like another to me so I skipped the Duomo and other famous churches. I perused my travel guide and chose other sites to visit. Luckily, all were within walking distance of my centrally-located hotel.

In a previous blog, I wrote about needing to marvel at something…and David is certainly something to marvel at, a colossus. I spent an hour with him, among other marvelers, unable to leave the room. He is a sight to behold. Nothing else I saw in Florence matched up, not even close.

David_LaAccademia Florence13.jpg

Exploring Florence was an adventure; since I didn’t have an international package for my phone, I had to rely on my map reading skills to find my way around. It took a bit of adjusting; it was a strange feeling to rely on my gray cells instead of Google Maps but old habits settled back in and I wandered without getting lost. I loved the food here more than Rome or Siena. My favorite item, one that Frances Mayes got me excited about in her books, was cinghiale, or wild boar. It’s hunting season so restaurants get fresh meat from locals who hunt the boar. It’s basically wild pork, but with a much better texture and flavor. One of the ways it’s served in Florence is with roasted potatoes in a robust tomato (pomodoro) sauce. Scrumptious. It was one of the best meals I had on my whole trip.

Cinghiale stew_Florence.jpg

Then I discovered a little local place, La Capennina, up the block from the famous Mercato Centrale – a food market to end all other food markets – and ate there more than once. I stayed away from tourist traps because the prices were too high for lower quality food and service. Once again, the house wines were beyond compare; if we order the cheapest wine on the menu here in the states, we get something we need to spit out.

I ventured into wine country on a day trip/excursion with a group; we headed to the northern part of the Chianti region. Vineyards and olive farms dotted the lush fall landscape and we sampled (wine, oil) our way through the day, ending with a most delicious three-course meal at a vineyard/B&B that also included drinking some very fine Chianti wines. We learned about stone-pressed olive oil versus the more modern style that uses a centrifuge. I bought some of both for myself and for gifts, eager to crack open a bottle once I arrived home (I wasn’t disappointed).

lunch at Relais Villa Olma_Tuscany2

All in all, I enjoyed the trip. Honestly, one of my favorite and  most surprising aspects was how quiet it was at night; sleep came easily. No booming car stereos, no loud residents drunkenly cavorting by my window late at night, no sounds of street traffic. A very different way of life there, for sure. Will I go again? If I do, it will be to the countryside, to the place where Frances Mayes has made a home (or something like it). Cities are a nice place to visit but the countryside is where I’ll find more to marvel at: the friendships, the food, the community of residents, the landscape; this is what draws one in and makes one stay.

That’s marvelous.

Post Script: I mustn’t forget to mention Da Vinci, my personal favorite. Plenty of his work in Florence as well. He inspires me to be more: curious, thinker, creator, writer, etc.

DaVinci exhibit Uffizi_Florence

 

Jolt of Inspiration

the world is my canvas

It all started out as a nice dinner and conversation between friends. Actually, we’ve been work associates for the past two years and found we have some common interests. I had a spur-of-the-moment idea during one of my store visits, so I invited him to have dinner with me to celebrate my recent good fortune (see Quit It! blog). Turns out my friend is what I call a ‘costumer’; he makes amazing costumes (Halloween, Sci-fi conventions, etc.) by hand when he’s not working his day job. He brought along some pictures and I was in awe of his talent – and the pricing he gets for each commission (but if you think about all the planning and work that actually goes into each commission, it makes sense he should earn well). He pays great attention to detail, which is probably why his finished pieces and whole outfits are so outstanding.

I told him of my creative endeavors: writing, sketching, painting, working with multiple mediums (ink, watercolor, Sumi-e, & origami, for example) and that I’m tired of living the ‘square-peg-in-round-hole’ life, and how I desire to touch base again with the artist in me. He listened with enthusiasm and support, and told me of his circle of artist friends that he’d like me to meet. I gave him a free bookmark for this website and said I would forward some samples of my art. He then expressed interest in me helping him part-time with his costume work. While I’m not the stitcher my mother was, I told him, I was certainly interested in the painting, coloring, and working with fabric options. He has multiple commissions going at any given time (up to five or more) and has reached the point where he needs people to assist him with his projects (he’s already training a roommate, who is catching on quickly).

I can’t help but feel a jolt of excitement and inspiration; the anticipation alone will drive me crazy, since we won’t make any decisions about my coming on board until after I’ve returned from my extended vacation to Italy (pasta! art! wine!). Regardless of the outcome, it felt so good to talk with someone who understands that need to CREATE, no matter what. Do you feel this way? Do you see colors and shapes everywhere in your world? Are clouds more than billowy weather formations for you? Do you hear stories in mundane conversations at work, in a cafe, or at the laundromat? This is the hallmark of a ‘creative’ – someone who MUST create SOMETHING, simply for the sake of the creating itself, as an outlet for all of your mind’s meanderings around the universe. I get that many of us can’t quit our day jobs but if you can find a way to include creating in your daily life, you may get there just yet. (Starving artist, my ass.)

Let your motto be:

I CREATE. 

[It’s mine. :)]

Quit It!

I Quit

Exciting news…I finally quit my contract J-O-B. Recent events have afforded me an opportunity to rest, reflect, renew, and best of all, write. Been a long time coming. I plan to take full advantage of this wondrous extended vacation (at least to the end of this year), including a real vacation, as in get my ass on a plane and go somewhere (making plans to visit Rome and Tuscany; lots of inspiration there, I’m sure). I’ve made a list of projects needing completion, editing, or launching; tasks around the house to complete; day trips to places I’ve not yet been – it’s prime hiking season here right now. I’ll also have free time to interview some experts on aspects of my current in-the-works fiction novel.

I feel like Julia Roberts’ character in the movie, Eat Pray Love, where she tells her best friend that she has no passion and wants to marvel at something. This is exactly where I am in my life and work. Food tastes blasé; I can’t even feel excitement for the new car I spent months looking for, or the fact that I found the strength to walk away from my  contract job. I’ve gone numb and am in deep need of serious eye- and mind-opening experiences. (Okay, and gastronomic, too, since I’m going to Italy!)

On the topic of quitting: I’m also quitting LinkedIn, Mind Body Network, and a couple writer blogs I follow. I’m cleaning house, as it were. After some deliberation, I admitted to myself that I’m not getting anything from some of the SM except an overload of junk news. LinkedIn, for example, has become too much of a social platform like Facebook, though I realize that was not the intention of the LI creators. Give people a yard, they take a mile. Everyone wants to put in his or her two cents. Information overload!

As I sit back and view the bigger picture with all this SM technology, I can’t help but both marvel and cringe at the same time. Sure, it has opened up the world to everyone in it, but is that necessary for daily life? Some days I feel left out because I’m not participating in posts, tweets, and uploads. Other days I’m grateful because it frees up my precious private time to actually go live my life. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least. 

I also plan to spend some money and time (now that I have a bit of both) on marketing my current works. Sure, putting more books out there is a great way to draw attention to earlier work (hence the projects), but some type of marketing is always necessary, no matter how long ago you published and I’ve been negligent.

With opportunity comes ideas and I’m filling my new writer’s notebook with plenty. It feels good to actively be creating instead of stagnating. I look forward to some quiet time, as that is just as necessary (and often as inspirational) to move forward with my writing and life.

Where are you in your writing and life? Can you take a break? If only for a week or two? Rest and renewal are crucial to unclutter your mind, give you a new perspective, perhaps a new direction. Is it worth the risk? Possibly. Only one way to find out… 

 

A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

Responsibility

crowdfunding1

Something has been nagging at me since I watched the news the other night – the concept of crowdfunding. It’s strange to me that it has become acceptable for so many people, including writers and authors-to-be, to ask for free money from strangers to help with a book/situation/health condition. (I get asking for help with disaster relief.) But is that money truly free? No. You have a responsibility to spend that money on what you campaigned for and nothing else (or you might end up in legal trouble). I don’t understand how people  can ask for money to help publish a book, then ask them to spend more money to buy the book. 

There are so many affordable and even free options out there; you just have to do the research: Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, Lightning Source (Ingram), just to name a few; these are great options. Check their criteria to see which one fits your needs best. I’ve always used Lulu Press and have had good results. They pay me on time every month, without a hitch. To get your book into bookstores, libraries  and other public venues, Ingram Spark is the way to go. There are a few up front expenses that you must budget for: book cover (eBook or hard copy), editing (developmental or finishing touches), and layout. And there are so many options out there for these, you certainly can find what you need to fit your budget.

On the news the other evening, there was a blurb about a new website, GoFraudMe. Its purpose is to expose fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns, mainly on GoFundMe. I searched through the site and read about several campaigns where people have fraudulently collected a lot of money (one was for over $400K for a homeless guy who never saw the money) and spent it NOT on the issue of the campaign or just plain faked the health issue or situation. Luckily, the folks at GoFraudMe are bringing these cases to law enforcement and many are or have been charged with the crime of fraud, some as felonies. So be careful where you donate your money. 

That said,  if you have a campaign to help with publishing your book, make sure that money only goes towards publishing and keep receipts/details of your expenses. I’m thinking that because others have paid for the publishing and other miscellaneous expenses (editing, layout, etc.), that you cannot claim them on your federal taxes, as these were not paid for with your money. Might want to check with a tax specialist to be sure, or call the IRS, to be safe. 

I did read about a new crowdfunding option to publish one’s books on one of the author blogs I follow. A new site where crowdfunding campaigns can lead to a publishing contract is Inkshares. This is a legitimate site where, if you navigate their process successfully, you can land a publishing contract. After a quick read, I surmised that this might be a more plausible option; they will offer a publishing contract if you can secure a pre-order of 750 books. According to their FAQs page, they write: “We publish any work that successfully hits a pre-order threshold on our platform.” Sounds like a good deal if you’re on SM and have 750 friends who might be willing to ante up. Certainly is worth looking into, don’t you think? 

Inkshares appears to be a safer, smarter crowdfunding option for those who choose this road. I still question the integrity of asking the public to pay for both the process and the finished product. When it comes down to it, as writers, we have a responsibility to be both self-sufficient (to earn a living this way) and to provide work that is worthy of the price we charge. That, in my opinion,  is our responsibility. 

Tinker, Tailor, Oyster Pirate, Writer

JackLondonCredo500_theartofmanliness

In a recent blog I wrote about my visit to author Jack London’s Napa, CA home, now a state park. I’ve been a JL fan since I was a kid, when I read White Fang in grade school as required reading. He quickly became one of my favorite storytellers with that book. I think it’s because he lived what he wrote, which made his stories all that much richer.

Sci-fi novels are experiencing a resurgence, along with romance novels. I can’t help but wonder: how much of these stories were lived by the authors? My guess? Few to none. We live in a world where fantasy is favored over real life, where digital relationships (texting, sexting, selfies, vlogging, etc.) and its inevitable voyeurism have replaced the human experience. The richness, depth, and complexity of our existence are slowly disappearing as machines distract us from our lives and connections.

Jack had been a sailor, a fish and game warden, an oyster pirate, a gold prospector, a war correspondent, a rancher, and a farmer (the first in America to utilize terraced farming that he learned of in Asia), just to name a few. He was a busy man, experiencing life in the deepest possible way – by living it, then writing about it. How many writers can claim that today? And does writing solely from imagination make one a good writer? Is it possible to become a superior storyteller without living any part of the story? I’ve blogged about how bad decisions make good stories (sometimes the best ones) so I guess I’m old school in the idea that at least some part of the story should come from personal experience.

Maybe that’s what happens as we shape the characters in our stories; we pepper in a bit of ourselves, friends, family members, coworkers. The unusual color of the protagonist’s eyes, the wry smile of your antagonist belonged to a previous lover, the righteous anger of a scorned relative showing up in a minor character. Your pool of character quirks and physical/mental traits can be endless. Dig from your life to build your stories; no one has experienced your life but you, so no one else enrich your readers the way you can.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs/experiences I’ve had that flavor my writing:

  • Waitress/bartender (upscale restaurants, nightclubs, etc.) – met many interesting characters 
  • Private investigator – some good cases where I found antagonists 
  • Tennis player/state champion
  • Lecturer/public speaker
  • Behavioral/psychiatric technician
  • Doctor/clinician (including time on a cruise ship in the Caribbean)
  • Drug/alcohol counselor
  • Criminal justice system – lots of characters here!
  • Homelessness (personal experience that I did write about)
  • 4 cross country trips –  where I met some great & some odd personalities, and experienced multiple landscapes

Wanna write? Get your ass off the couch. Seek out adventures. Make some bad decisions. Then make a similar list. They’ll make your stories feel more real, even if they aren’t.

Scribbling

Clothesline Notes in Jack London's Country Cottage

Courtesy Jack London State Park, Google Images

Here in Northern California, we’ve been experiencing a spate of wildfires (15 statewide total) that have all but drained our firefighting resources. A local news station did a Special Report on the damage inflicted by these wildfires, including land, homes and lives lost. Terrible. As they looked back over the past seven years to show how fires have increased in frequency and size, they focused on the 2017 Tubbs fire, the most disastrous fire in California history. They talked about how it nearly decimated the Jack London State Park in Napa County. For those of you who grew up reading great classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, etc., Jack London was a prolific writer and adventurer who settled here in the Napa/Sonoma region in the early 1900s. In fact, it was much of his worldwide adventuring that lead to the writing of some of the best works of the 20th century, including my personal favorites, White Fang and The Call of the Wild. 

The newscasters shared details on how State rangers packed up his personal belongings in order to save them in case the fire reached his home and property (it came close, but thankfully missed), storing them all the way out here in Sacramento for safekeeping. Now returned to its former glory, his writing room still contains all of his writing instruments and materials, his desk, and other accouterments: the twine strung across a closed-in porch, with a multitude of little notes clothes-pinned to the line. Jack scribbled these notes on small square pieces of white paper whenever something came to him (which was daily, evidently). He pinned them to the line for later use in his books. And did you know that Jack London wrote ONE THOUSAND words EVERY DAY, BY LUNCHTIME

The closest I come is a notebook marked “Write What You Know” on the front and it’s where I scribble when I need to unload. It’s not a journal; it’s simply a place to jot down whatever is rumbling around in my mind at a certain moment in time instead of pinning them around my house and looking like a crazy person. It’s where I scribbled the first chapter of my novel (I mentioned this in an older post), a dark short story, and some senseless meanderings I tore out. But I have never come close to a thousand words a day and likely never will. I’m not that motivated, even in a good month.

Out there on the world wide web you’ll find a plethora of expert advice by professional writers telling you to write daily. That’s nice if you’re fortunate to be earning a living from your writing, but what if you aren’t? And does it really matter if you write daily? I think not. I think we each should adhere to whatever writing principles fits our lifestyles, since one size surely does not fit all. Jack, like many famous writers, wrote daily (what else was there to do in the middle of a jungle at night?); I think it’s because he had so many stories in him to share it was the only way he could get to the next book. Do we have any less stories? Perhaps, perhaps not. Some of us don’t travel or adventure as much as folks did back then, when it was easier and more affordable; you didn’t need a passport (until WWI), so moving between countries was much easier. And we’re busy working full-time jobs, part-time jobs, raising families, caring for parents, finishing a college education, etc. We have (modern) lives to live! Which brings me back to the point of the title – those lives give us fodder for our stories. So if you’re not scribbling daily, that’s okay; but it’s probably a good idea to at least have a place (notebook, clothesline, etc.) for you to scribble your ideas – the good, the bad, and the ugly, so at some point you, too, can turn them into a cohesive work. Like Jack.

Scribble on!

 

Creating Movement in an Action Novel

wildfire

Source: WSET, Virginia

I don’t know why, but I’ve been fascinated with fire since childhood. The duality of its beauty and danger captivate me; flames licking, eating, destroying; yet warming, inviting, even trance inducing. Many years ago, as the first chapters of Rescue on White Thunder formed in my mind, it was very different from the end result. I suppose that’s where the creativity and individuality of the writer comes in to play. Fire has become a running theme in my books and it is once again a large part of the next installation in what has become a series because I so enjoy the characters I’ve created. (And I’ve already got ideas and a premise for a third.)

For a writer who prefers to write a good action story, movement is crucial and including fire made it easy. Fire provides good movement in a story, whether it’s the fire itself or the characters involved with the fire and what they’re doing with it or to it.

In this excerpt, you can see how the characters move into action as a result of fire:

Braddock was already well above the rest of his crew on the fire line when Jim suddenly yelled, “Wind change!” 

The crew immediately stopped what they were doing and ran downhill. When Braddock and Smoke turned to do the same, a flare-up stopped them in their tracks. It was an unexpected blowup – the southeasterly winds, with pressure from the storm overhead, shifted north and caused crown fires to increase rapidly. Flames raged high and hot and separated Braddock and Smoke from the rest of the team. Braddock turned in every direction, trying to find a way out as the flames shot through the loose underbrush, creating a wall of fire around them. Branches burned off trees fell to the forest floor, spitting burning embers everywhere.

In this portion, the fire itself is the action, providing rich imagery as well:

Fires spread quickly over a fresh, loose layer of humus covering the solid ground. Tree trunks caught fire one after the other as flames overran the surrounding brush and now-dead timbers toppled from last year’s big storm. The crackling roar of the fire amplified and they had to shout to hear each other. Braddock knew they would soon be forced to move to higher ground. Some of the firebreaks held but winds were increasing in strength and velocity, propelling fresh embers to other areas. More trees and small brush ignited, creating walls of flames that nearly licked the upper branches of the tall pines.

You can also have both the characters and the fire creating action where one influences the other:

6:30 am: The explosion reverberated throughout the house. Braddock flew out of his chair at the breakfast table and Jim sprung to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor, both of them spilling their mugs of coffee.

Quite a distance away, they could barely make out a thin grey line of smoke over the trees southwest of White Thunder Mountain. Minutes later, the wail of police sirens pierced the air; honks like foghorns from multiple fire engines interrupted the morning’s serenity.

When it comes to action, you have multiple opportunities to create movement in your story when you include an active subject matter like fire or other extreme forms of weather. Track whether the story flows or if it skips; too many changes between scenes may break up the story’s rhythm. Use whatever tools work best for you; have friends/family read portions for feedback, build a story board on a wall in your home office (or where in the house you write), even sketch out the physical layout of the story’s location (this works for me) to keep timelines and movement in sync.

Remember, movement is life in a good action story.