About mestengobooks

Welcome to Mestengo Books, a gathering place for my work. I wracked my brain for hours to come up with a designation that represents both me and my work. With so many blogs and websites already out there, it was a challenge to come up with something original. Mustang is a popular online moniker because it speaks to strength and endurance. The horse has been a totem animal since I was a child, so I knew it would be a good symbol for me because it represented much of my character: freedom, travel, strength, endurance. Mustangs have survived the wilds of the Americas since the Spanish first brought them here, making them, by nature, most durable. The word mestengo has a neat history; its origin is from 16th century Spanish that translates to wild, stray, ownerless. I knew the moment I saw it I’d found the right name. And anyone who knows me can certainly attest to the fact that I am, without a doubt, una mestenga. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. Regards, Denise Thunderhawk Denise was a second prize winner of the Southwest Literary Center’s 2006 New Mexico Discovery Awards for her nonfiction, A Bump in the Road.

The Viral Effect

Chinese herbs

A Shift in Focus

Okay, so this is going to be one of those occasional, off-topic blog posts I mentioned in my previous post. You know, the one where I discuss something other than writing.

Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is making its way around the globe. In the wake of this pandemic (per the CDC), irrational fears about this virus are just as prevalent. So I wanted to take this opportunity to help ‘clear the air’ on some fears that have gone ‘viral’, especially regarding certain items coming from China – Chinese herbal medicines.

A Long History

Chinese herbs are the most studied herbs on the planet. There exists over 2500 years of empirical evidence (patient-centered treatments and responses) and Western evidence-based trials, though inherently flawed, are increasingly showing the efficacy of many herbs in our pharmacopoeia. Outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 were successfully treated with herbs in some Chinese/TCM hospitals. Chapter 2 of a popular medical text (that got me through four years of herb classes and clinics), Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen, 2001), is Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs. Subsections of this chapter contain many herbs that have either antiviral or antibacterial properties, or both. Several have been tested and show effects stronger than some pharmaceuticals (and without side effects).

There is an irrational fear that anything coming out of China, especially medicinal herbs, is contaminated with the virus. Let me clarify: 1) these herbs must pass muster at customs when arriving in the U.S.; 2) once they arrive at either a manufacturing facility or a large retail operation (in both cases, Kamwo Herbs, located in NYC’s Chinatown, and one of my finest herb sources), the herbs go through a rigorous testing process required by the FDA. These companies are in regular contact with either the CDC and WHO to continue providing safe, efficacious medicines.

Extra Precautions

According to several emails I’ve received from some of my professional accounts, herb companies are currently taking extra precautions when it comes to testing. They’re also reassuring customers that there are no health concerns at this time for the transmission of COVID-19 on packaged goods (traveling far, changes in temperature, etc.). Even the CDC advises that because of poor survivability on hard surfaces there’s a low risk of the virus spreading from packages shipped over days or weeks due to ambient temperatures. 

Seek Out a Professional

One of my concerns is people rushing to order herbs online to treat this virus without first consulting a TCM physician. Another is if you don’t know what you’re ordering or aren’t familiar with the company you’re ordering from, my recommendation is don’t do it. In school, we’re taught to look for specific certifications, such as GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Process) and other certifications. Certain companies (like MinShan) follow GMP standards, while some in China do not (and their formulas may contain questionable substances, including Western meds). It’s important to know the difference.

Also, if you’re not familiar with medicinal herbs, you may inadvertently buy herbs or a formula that is incorrect for your symptoms. This may lead to unnecessary side effects (i.e., loose bowels due to Cold nature of antiviral herbs), no effect (because they’re not the herbs you need), or an interaction (positive/potentiate or negative/inhibit) with other medicines you’re taking, whether plant-based or pharmaceutical.

If you’re interested in going the holistic/plant-based route, seek out a licensed, trained professional. Individual diagnosis is paramount to prescribing the correct herbs in the correct dosages, all in one formula. This will save you money and give you peace of mind, knowing that the herbs you’re taking are safe.

Be careful, and be well.

 

 

Expert Advice

expert advice

Source: Google Images/amazon.com

Listen to The Expert

My professional Inbox contained an interesting article this morning from The Book Designer blog. Written by author and former marketing consultant Brandon Cornett, his article made some good points. While I’ve read most of his how-to advice in other articles, one in particular stuck with me:

“Blog about your genre or niche. If you want to attract the kinds of readers who will buy your books, you should be blogging about those topics.”

Hmmm….

When I started this blog, I figured the focus had to be on writing (genre, research, editing, books, etc.), from an author’s perspective. It didn’t occur to me that I could write posts on a topic in my expertise (which is not necessarily writing). For example, posts regarding my nonfiction book on Chinese nutrition therapy, which I have reserved for my professional FB page (that I’ve ignored much in the past two years). I feel Mestengo Books is not the place to post alternative medicine articles but I certainly can provide some information on where Chinese nutrition therapy is now and where it’s going in the future. After all, I’m an expert (of sorts), right?

“In either scenario, fiction or nonfiction, you’re basically funneling your passion and knowledge into website content that will attract like-minded readers.” 

“But the bulk of your posts should be related to the genre or topic you write about. This will help you boost your book sales over time.” – Brandon Cornett

Some “Experts” are Clueless

In another article, author Anne R. Allen, a satirical writer, posted a vent about “clueless advice givers” – you know, the folks who think they’re experts but aren’t – and who talk like they know when they don’t (and scoff at you when you try to clue them in) . This has always been one of my pet peeves (I’m up against it far too often in any discussion about herbal medicines). I refer to those people as “armchair experts.” It’s a lack of knowledge in a particular area (but a desire to have that knowledge) combined with ignorance, giving the person a false sense of power. There’s actually a name for this: The Dunning-Kruger Effect (1999). (You can look it up but I think it’s ironic that it took so long for two college kids to name a behavior that’s been around for as long as we humans have, probably.)

How Do Others See You?

My business coach routinely refers to me as an expert (in Chinese medicine) though I am hesitant to wear that moniker. A point in my favor is that I have climbed that mountain (five years of didactic and clinical training plus years of clinical work) to reach the top, to become the expert. Many folks dream about being at the top of the mountain without having to first climb, an obviously impossible feat (and looks spectacularly similar to that Dunning-Kruger Effect).

So now I’m thinking about posting an article from time to time that has more to do with nutrition therapy itself and/or the writing of a nonfiction book. Maybe I can write about the research process and how to put it together in a chapter or book. Brandon’s expert advice on blogging about my genre or niche opened my eyes.

Every now and then, everyone needs an expert to do just that.

Fun with Fonts: How Readable is Your Book?

fonts3
Source: Google Images/wpstic.com

An Eye for Fonts?

I admit I know little about fonts in the technical sense. As a creative, I’ve always chosen fonts for their look and feel. It’s why I chose the font Candara for my nutrition book. It’s a serif font with delicate strokes reminiscent of an Asian font, which made sense to me since the book is about Chinese nutrition therapy.

But I did notice after publishing the book (and re-reading it for errors) that Candara, while pleasant to read, is not as crisp on the page as I would like. I thought perhaps it was the printing process, that the quality wasn’t there. Not true. I’ve had other books printed with different fonts by the same company and I didn’t ‘see’ a font issue. Looking at other documents where I’ve used Candara, I now understand it was not the best choice, leaving me to wonder how it affects a customer’s reading (and retention).

Technical Readability

Do the fonts in your books offer readability? Are the letters distinguishable from each other? Do the readers’ eyes flow through the text without any visual discomfort? For me, large round letters like Arial give me an eyeball  headache when used for lengthy articles or books.

And yet I find it ironic that a good online article on fonts and readability of books is written in a pale gray Arial font on a stark white background. Talk about a hard read…

pale gray font
Source: https://www.ingramspark.com/blog/best-fonts-for-books

Serif, Not Sans is Best

According to the article, serif fonts give a book more readability. Think of those fine strokes at the end of each letter. That’s a serif font. Serif fonts pull words together, making them easier to read (and less likely to cause eyeball headache or lost interest in what you’re reading). Sans serif fonts like Arial are more difficult to read in body text so reserve them for headings and titles (see example above).

The font you choose can also send a message to the reader; hence, my choice of Candara for an Asian-themed book. Editors will read a manuscript and decide the best font for both look and feel. Again, because it’s something I always looked at from an artistic perspective, I never considered the technical side. Just another of many lessons learned in the self-publishing process.

How To Choose?

So how do you decide which fonts to use if you’re a self-publisher? Do the research. A good place to start is The Book Designer website. Joel Friedman has been designing books and working with typesetting for decades. His website offers much useful information and some free downloads, too. If you have a good editor, ask for font recommendations. Play with different serif fonts, see how it makes the story feel as you read it. You can even print sections in different serif fonts and have family or friends read the passages and report back on the readability.

In the Ingram Spark article, these were the top serif fonts for books: 

  1. Caslon – preferred by book designers
  2. Garamond – originated in France; a popular font for books
  3. Jenson – designed for Adobe systems
  4. Minion – designed for Adobe systems
  5. Palatino – originally intended for headings and smaller sections, it was later tweaked for use in book texts

The Sky’s the Limit… Sort Of

For chapter titles, book designers generally advise staying away from over-used  fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus; decorative fonts like script fonts are best avoided as well. In my first fiction novel, I was feeling adventurous (especially since I was writing an adventure novel) and used an unusual font called Yanks Hand for the chapter titles. Gave the book a slightly quirky look and feel, which worked with the unique genre/story line (Native American spirits/religion).

But what do you do if you don’t have/use Adobe systems? Well, for starters you can go to the website MyFonts.com to test fonts before purchasing them. Once you find a font you like, make sure to purchase the entire family of that font (regular, bold, italic, etc.). In Adobe systems, each version of a font is unique and if you don’t purchase the whole family, you won’t legally be able to use italics, for example, if you didn’t buy it.

Remember, what’s most important is your book’s readability. Get that right from the beginning and your readers will ‘see’ your story in a better light. And font!

P.S. I’m trying new fonts on my blogs. This one is Libre Baskerville. I found the last serif too small. Might go back to the sans serif, Alegreya Sans. Do you find this new font more readable? Less?

Are You a Copycat or Trailblazer?

trailblazer1

Source: pixabay.com

Which One Are You?

The topic for this blog hit me as I perused the same ol’ same ol’ of “how to” articles/posts: how to make an infographic for your website, how to not suck at marketing, how to earn more with CPC (click to pay ads) on FB or Amazon, etc. There’s a proliferation of knowledgeable (and not-so-much-so) bloggers and authors out there in digital space eager to share what they’ve learned from their successes and mistakes.

But at what point can I/you turn away from all the “do-this-if-you-want-this-result” advice and blaze my/your own trail in the world of writing/self-publishing? Looking back over the last thirteen years (I self-published my first book in ’07), I have learned more on my own.

Considering that one of my books (published in ’16) still sells monthly, I’d say that makes me a trailblazer

In reading some of these articles/posts, it struck me that one writer’s path to success is not necessarily another’s. Just because Joe Author found a way to get a gazillion hits on his website and Jane Writer discovered the “secret” to successfully marketing her book doesn’t mean we have to follow in their paths (copycat).

Yet there is validity in much of the shared successes by authors online. It’s always been a good idea to learn from others’ experiences, both successes and mistakes. What’s vital is knowing when that information will benefit you and your writing business.

Good But Not How-to Advice

Take, for example, George R. R. Martin, famous for his Game of Thrones series/movies. Instead of providing a bunch of ‘how-to’s’ he offers up his personal approach to writing/telling stories. This personalizes the writing experience. Many writers can identify with what George experiences when he writes. This kind of ‘experiential’ advice seems more powerful, more useful, to me. And perhaps to you, as well.  These are some of my faves, as I can identify with what he’s talking about: 

“I end each chapter with a cliffhanger, resolution, a turn, a reveal, a new wrinkle … something that will make you want to read the next chapter of that character.”


“I want a story to take me to a place that I’ve never been to before and make it come vividly alive for me.”


“It doesn’t matter what the scene is. You can see it and you can hear it, but you’re still staring at a blank screen. That’s the nuts and bolts of writing.”


“I’ve never been a fast writer, and I’ve never been good with deadlines.”


“One of the big things that distinguishes the strongest fiction from writing that’s perhaps without depth is a real understanding of what real human beings are like.”

In the end, what it comes down to is doing what’s best for you and your stories. Follow someone else’s lead if it will bring you somewhere you need to go. Otherwise, blazing your own trail in the writing/publishing world, while it may prove daunting, will most certainly bring you to triumph albeit via a bumpier road. The bumps and bruises I gained along the way are mine and mine alone; better for me to trip up myself than for someone else to do it. That’s what makes me a trailblazer.

#GeorgeRRMartin #GameofThrones #howtobeabetterwriter #writing #storytelling #fictionwriting #marketingyourbooks #authorblog #mestengobooks 

Writers, What Do You Read?

books and coffee
Source: pexels.com

It’s known in the world of writing that all good writers make time to read. Some voraciously, some in between their own works or when taking a break from their writing. Do you read in the same genre as what you write? Or do you step outside of your knowledge or comfort zone to expand your mind and imagination?

Find Your Faves

Late last year I got hooked on novels by bestselling author Daniel Silva (along with David Baldacci & Carlos Ruiz Zafón). To sum it up, he’s absolutely brilliant. Doesn’t hurt that he has a background in journalism and international relations (talk about ‘write what you know’). He writes the most powerful spy/action novels; better than any Tom Clancy novel, in my opinion (and not the least bit dry as John Le Carré). Last year, I picked up a copy of The English Girl in the “New” section of the local library; ironically, I didn’t feel strongly about the protagonist or the story line. Yet something drew me back. I read a few more of his novels and now I’m hooked. I just finished Prince of Fire and will request another of his books soon. Luckily, there are still at least a half dozen of his books to read. I also just finished the latest by Craig Johnson (famous for the former Netflix show Longmire), Land of Wolves, another can’t-put-it-down kind of book. I’m about to read (again) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón; you simply MUST read it, as it’s unlike any book I’ve read before (and don’t forget to read the other three books in this series!).

Gaining Perspective

Reading these books are mainly for my entertainment (and escape) but somewhere along the way I began looking at them from a writer’s perspective. Then an editor’s. And back to a writer’s. This process has melded with my love of reading and helped me to better understand how to build scenes, create dialogue, and craft suspense in a way that keeps one turning the pages (compelling). I make mental notes of words I’d like to use in my writing, including some I have to look up because either I haven’t used them in a long time or I don’t know what they mean.

Yet all this reading has not affected what I write. What I mean by that is I haven’t changed style or genre simply because I enjoy reading mostly crime novels. I enjoy a variety in my reading; the same goes for my writing. Which probably explains my affinity for both fiction and nonfiction writing, even though I do not tend toward more than the very occasional nonfiction read (I think it’s because I’m reminded of much-despised homework assignments.)

Does what you read affect what or how you write? Have you thought about the relationship between the two, if there is one? Does reading for entertainment enlighten you as a storyteller? Does writing open your reading options? As writers, we can appreciate a good book – whether we’ve written it or read it. So for the sake of  good stories, let’s keep writing and reading.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Feng Shui Bagua Map

Happy New Year!

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again – Chinese Lunar New Year. The post title, gung hay fat choy, is Cantonese (Mandarin: Gong xi fat cai) for “congratulations on prospering in money.” It is a popular saying you’ll hear frequently during Chinese New Year. Unlike Americans, this Chinese congratulatory greeting is not based on something already achieved but instead is a wish or hope that you will achieve what you desire, hence the congratulations in the phrase. It’s a blessing of good fortune and prosperity (it’s not always money, as many Chinese believed that enough food to eat also represented abundance in one’s life). So for the first blog of this new year of 2020, I want to revisit a post I wrote back in ’17 on making sure the energies of good fortune, abundance, and prosperity will flow not only through your life but through your writing, including  your desk/office.

Remember, Qi must flow positively for prosperity to appear.

I wrote:

“As a writer, it’s important to set the tone of one’s working space; how well you organize and arrange your home office (or wherever you write) is vital to the writing process and outcome. By making a few adjustments (some more so than others, depending on your needs), you may get to experience the shifts in energy flow that can occur relatively quickly (I’m talking within a week).”

I’m also starting 2020 in a new living space where my bedroom (and desk, since I now share a house) is in the Water/Wood bagua areas (NE/E). While my best direction for success is south (that whole wall is closet), I have to place my desk facing west (my worst direction for health or success. Ugh.). So I’ve laid out my work area as best as I can according to feng shui principles: clean, uncluttered desk top, Fire element in upper left hand corner of desk (for success and getting my name out there), a ceramic turtle in Water element. The desk is solid wood with metal trim and sturdy; this makes for a good professional place to write. 

5 Feng Shui Tips for Your Writing Space

The following tips are from http://www.fengshuiforreallife.com, by Carol Olmstead. She is a certified Feng Shui practitioner and has a successful practice, books, and website. 

This is important: “If you work from home, the first Feng Shui consideration is which room or area of your home to use. If at all possible, avoid locating your office in the kitchen, where it could symbolically interfere your health, or in the bedroom, which could interfere with your love and relationships.” Carol Olmstead, http://www.fengshuiforreallife.com.

“Here are five quick fixes you can make in your workspace to give your office a Feng Shui makeover. 
Problem #1: Your desk is in the wrong location.
Quick Fix: The most auspicious location for a desk is positioned diagonally across from the door. The worst place is with your back to the door. When you sit with your back to the entrance of a room you can’t see what’s going on behind you, making you vulnerable to being “caught off guard” by your competitors, clients, or colleagues.

Things literally and figuratively go on “behind your back.” If you can’t relocate your desk, hang a mirror in front of you or place a reflective object on your desk so you can see behind you.

Problem #2: Your desk is the wrong size.
Quick Fix: A desk that is too small for the work to be done makes you feel that your ambitions and aspirations are restricted. On the other hand, a desk that is too large makes you feel that you are not up to the challenge of the work. Choose the appropriate size work surface for the job you have to do. And make sure you have enough room to spread out, create, and expand in your career.

Problem #3: There are sharp corners pointed at you.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, the edges of walls pointing at you are called “poison arrows.” These sharp edges send harsh energy toward you, making you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or insecure. The best way to cure or fix this problem is to place something between you and the sharp edge to block its negative energy. Good things to use include furniture, a healthy plant, soft fabric draped over the edge of the wall, or molding. 

Problem #4: You are surrounded by overhead fluorescent lights.
Quick Fix: Fluorescent lights represent the Metal Element that can be too hard and cutting when it comes at you from overhead. Plus this kind of lighting can cause headaches, eyestrain, and a whole lot of stress. Whenever you can, turn off overhead fluorescent lights and take advantage of natural daylight, or use desk and floor lamps. If you can’t turn off overhead fluorescents, try to have them replaced with full spectrum light bulbs. These simulate daylight and make you feel more comfortable.

Problem #5: Your office is cluttered.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, clutter represents postponed decisions and the inability to move forward. When you have so many files and piles of papers that can’t even see your desktop, it’s hard to concentrate on your work. Clear as much as you can off your desk, then use colorful folders and wicker baskets to contain the rest of your paperwork. Here is one way to jump start your office clutter clearing — Set a timer for 10 minutes, take a large plastic bag, and thrown 27 thing into the bag – things you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t need in your office. You’ll be amazed as how much more space you have opened up in your office to allow new opportunities for success to reach you.”

Resource: http://fengshuiforreallife.com/Detailed/222.html

Here’s to a prosperous, abundant 2020 for all!

2019, Remembered

farewell 2019.2

Source: Google Images

Once again, another year has passed (happens this time every year!)…

Did you accomplish your writing goals? I didn’t. Due to both welcome and unwelcome changes (it’s called life), writing more than this blog has been put on a back burner. And I’m once again considering whether to continue working on current projects (have I been away too long?) or to consider them practice for something new. How does one decide whether to publish or keep the work hidden away, a precursor for something better? Always a work in progress, I suppose.

But I digress …

2019 was a year of changes in the writing and publishing worlds. I posted about new laws effecting freelance writers in CA (and on the horizon in other states as I write this). I blogged of the import of online safety and preparing your Digital Legacy and, more than once, I discussed a variety of self-publishing options for practiced writers and proletarians. I even waxed philosophically as the mood struck me (as it so often does these days; elder wisdom, I suppose). After much deliberation (and discussion on my blog), I left certain SM sites and I don’t miss them. I blogged on writing skills and perfecting scenes and I discussed the value of proper grammar for writers who want to be taken seriously.

In short, I covered the basics and then some. Now I have to come up with all new topics in the coming year. I welcome the challenge.

It Was A Good Year

All in all, it was a good year where writing was concerned. I was consistent with blog posts, for the most part. A few of you have taken the ride with me – thanks so much, by the way, for your online support. Some of you have had the good fortune to have your book on a bestseller list; others have completed their it-took-me-a-year-to-write-it novel. Congrats. Kudos. The new year will obviously bring some much-deserved accolades to some very deserving people.

Yet my work – and yours – is not done. A new year dawns; take it as an opportunity to renew your commitment to writing your stories, publishing them to the world and then moving on to the next one. It’s how life works. We must remain in motion, always moving forward, as idleness rusts us (and our stories) from the inside out.

~ Peace to All in the New Year ~

Update: Writers in CA Losing Contracts & Jobs to New IC Law

breaking news

Oh, man, this was all over Twitter this morning… California writers, PAY ATTENTION!

Big Job Losses

On January 1st, the new Independent Contractor law goes into effect here in CA. Originally designed to improve working conditions for contractors that were actually employees, it’s having a ripple effect in the world of content creators. According to posts by Writer Beware, California writers’ contracts will be cancelled as companies (like Vox Media) look elsewhere for their freelance work. 

See previous article on this subject

See “Vox Media Ends Work With California Freelance Writers Ahead of Gig Economy Law” at hollywoodreporter.com

See “Publishers Brace for California Labor Law Changes” at  Publishers Weekly

This is gonna put a LOT of people out of work. Maybe force them back into the labor force. Sadly, in CA right now the only plentiful jobs are in service-related industries that pay about $12-14/hr. This is not looking good. At first I thought maybe things would not go this badly once the new IC law goes into effect but I was WRONG. I never expected that freelancers in CA would lose their contracts or that companies would decide to cancel all work going forward.

CNBC reported that other media sites like Eater and Curbed are also changing their business relationships with CA freelancers, resulting in HUNDREDS of lost gigs. The big issue is the cap on writing 35 articles per year, written in the law’s language as “submissions.” What’s worse is CA freelancers won’t even be considered for company job notices like transcription and SEO writing because of the new IC law. Others are outright BLACKLISTING CA freelancers from applying. ?????!!!!!!

And that’s not all… now NY and NJ are considering similar legislation… don’t let them take away your ability to earn a living as a freelancer!

A Light on the Horizon?

A new FB group, California Freelance Writers United has banded together and met with legislators regarding a proposed amendment. If you live in CA, please join this group and stand up for your work! Let’s stand up for our bread and butter!

Writers: Let’s Be Safe and Secure in 2020

breaking news 2020 security (2)

Late fall and early winter have finally melded here in NorCal. We’ve had two very wet weeks but somewhat warm (low 60s) that has now given way to early winter weather (sunny and crispy, mid to low 50s) with some bone-chilling overnight temps (low 30s… brrrr). I’ve been battling what was likely a mild case of food poisoning (it didn’t feel mild when I was in the midst of heaving everything out of my body with gale force) so I’ve been neglectful of any and all writing. You just can’t concentrate when you feel like you’re on a roller coaster for four days straight. Now that my stomach (and bowels, sorry) are finally clear, I sit at my laptop racking my brain for a topic for this blog post.

Protect Yourself and Your Work

What comes to mind, as happens this time of year, is what to do come 2020 to protect our work and ourselves in this global digital world. I wrote a blog post on the Digital Legacy of writers and the importance of preparing your legacy (a part 2 post). What I’m thinking is, it’s even more important to be safe and secure in the digital world, which seems to be getting more difficult all the time as hackers and other ne’er-do-wells invade our privacy, our accounts, our lives. 

“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.” A Writer’s Legacy, Part 2

In my calendar for December 26th, I have a reminder to update my logins and passwords. I try to do this at the end of each year or by the end of January of the new year. Better to be safe than sorry, eh? Yeah, it’s a time-consuming pain, I won’t lie… but I do feel better once it’s complete. I feel like maybe I outsmarted the smart guys – at least for another year.

Kiss Gmail and Chrome Goodbye?

You also might want to consider new email accounts despite the obvious challenge to transferring all your saved emails. Google has a hold on me, granted, but I hope to wean myself of their grip little by little (and maybe for good, we’ll see). And I recently began using DuckDuckGo to reduce my online search transparency. They don’t keep a log of sites you visit because they figure it’s your business, not theirs.

Clean out unused apps, apps that track you wherever you are, apps that don’t serve the greater good in your life. Do you really NEED that word game app? Or that app that turns your face into something other than your face? Think about it; our connectivity, while convenient along with the ability to create a whole lot of goodness in the world, also enslaves us at a level unseen by previous generations. Be careful, is all I’m asking.

Storage Safety

Do you keep copies of your manuscripts/poems/works only on your computer? Not the safest option. Keep hard copies or a thumb drive stashed where only you can find them. Do you use cloud accounts? While I’m not 100% convinced they’re completely secure (seems nothing is, these days), it’s a good way to access your work from anywhere. Use strong passwords to better ensure their safety.

The Upsell – Never Fully Secure?

As I write this post, my AVG software pops up to tell me I’m being tracked, that companies are getting my personal information. Talk about timing. But just how much money do we need to spend to be safe? I’ve got a secure program but it’s always popping up to tell me I need more and more to keep my information safe. Beginning to sound like a snake oil salesman, if you ask me. When is enough actually enough for these data protection services?

My advice?

Keep it simple and safe in 2020.

True Crime: Just the Facts, Ma’am

true crime1

Source: Google Images/kfgo.com

Once again, while perusing notes for a topic for this week’s blog, I came across some interesting information – on writing True Crime novels. As a fan of crime/suspense novels in general – usually fiction but also good nonfiction – I’m curious about what it takes to write a novel about a crime, usually a homicide.

One of my all-time favorite true crime novels is The Stranger Beside Me, the fascinating story of how True Crime author Ann Rule became friends with Ted Bundy, one of the twentieth century’s most prolific serial killers (they met at a suicide hotline office). I read the book while working on my BA in Psychology and Criminal Justice. My focus was the psychopathology and crime scenes of serial killers. I was fascinated by both the why and the how of these killers, which fit in with my major and minor. So I read just about every book there was to read on famous serial killers throughout the twentieth century (Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Randy Kraft, Billy Bonin, etc.) and the definitive book written by Patricia Cornwell on solving the Jack the Ripper cases (with mitochondrial DNA).

9 Tips for Writing True Crime

So how does one get started writing such a story? The late great Ann Rule, known as the queen of True Crime, grew up around it as her grandfather was a sheriff; she frequently visited him at the local jail and became fascinated with the why. Here are nine tips she recommends, in addition to going to the trial, if it’s a current crime you’re researching:

  1. You can usually get a press pass, but there’s often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Rule calls the prosecutor’s assistant.
  2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience.
  3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.
  4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they’re doing.
  5. If you’re sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don’t ask them about anything. You can comment on the weather or the courtroom benches being hard, but “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth pretty shut.”
  6. Don’t take newspapers into the courtroom.
  7. Know what you’re getting yourself into. “You don’t want to start a nonfiction unless you’re really in love with it, and usually you want a go-ahead from an editor.”
  8. Absorb detail. “When I’m writing a true-crime book I want the reader to walk along with me.” Rule describes the temperature, how the air feels—“I think it’s very important to set the scene.” As far as the writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.
  9. Don’t use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing. (Though Rule has written about a few who have asked to have their names included.) As Rule said of her subjects at large, “I always care about my people. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

Finding the Right Case, Doing the Research

Since not just any case will work out as a good read, it’s important to find a cast of characters that will engage and enthrall your readers. Research is paramount; it can possibly take a year or more of interviews (witnesses, law enforcement, prosecutors, etc.), researching paper and online records, and reviewing forensic evidence, police reports and other facets of evidence that’s public (not all evidence will be made public due to certain restrictions such as classified information, trade secrets, etc.). Access to trial evidence can also be costly, maybe $3-6/page for a 2400 page manuscript! (Check your local courts for printing fees.) And, a current crime may necessitate you attend court; getting a press pass is the surer way to reserve a seat.

Conducting interviews are time-consuming but vital to the storyline. As a way to protect yourself from legal liabilities, it’s best to have the interviewees sign an Interview Release form. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to lawsuits claiming defamation of character or invasion of privacy. Record the interview to ensure you properly quote the person.

FOIA: A Necessary Tool

When you need information that can’t be readily obtained, the next step is to write a Freedom of Information (FOIA) letter. These letters can be sent to any agency to request records but not all records are public. Check your state laws on which records are public. With police records, for example, much of the information is public: cleared suspects, witness interviews, crime scene photos, 911 tapes, and maybe even warrants. You can request paper or digital format (they may or may not comply) but remember there are always fees (find out just how much the records cost up front) and turn around time depends on the length and/or quantity of documents you’re requesting. 

Protect Yourself From Copyright Issues

Copyright issues may collide with your FOIA requests, so be aware. Certain records, like evidence not used at trial (i.e., email or text messages) may have copyright protection. The best way to avoid copyright and other legal issues is to have a lawyer review your manuscript before you submit it to any agency. 

Want to get started writing true crime? Try your hand at true crime articles first; submit to true detective magazines, get a feel for writing nonfiction. Like in the 1950s show, Dragnet, it’s all about “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” 

New CA Labor Law Affects How Writers and Other Content Creators Earn Their Money

 

write for money1_pickthebraindotcom

Source: Google Images/ pickthebrain.com

Just a quick note, this one is IMPORTANT. I’ll give you the gist but it would be best for you to click on the article link below, especially if you live in California and are a writer or some type of content creator (journalist, editor, photographer, etc.).

Dynamex Ruling

In April 2018, the California Supreme Court made a ruling (Dynamex Operations W., Inc. v. Super. Ct., No. S222732 [Cal. Apr. 30, 2018]) that changed the rules for freelancers – including writers and other content creators – here in California. Many earn their bread and butter as freelancers – aka independent contractors (IC) instead of as employees. According to the new ruling, people must be classified as employees, not IC, if the following criteria are not met.

A person is an IC/freelancer if s/he:

  • Is free to set his/her own hours, rates, and not subject to the control of the employer
  • Performs work that is outside the employer’s core business
  • Regularly engages in an independently established trade, occupation, or business

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the decision “When a worker has not independently decided to engage in an independently established business but instead is simply designated an independent contractor … there is a substantial risk that the hiring business is attempting to evade the demands of an applicable wage order through misclassification.”

The End of Gig Work

I had a professional experience with this new ruling. While it ended in my favor, for many it has not. The new ruling basically ended gig work in California. I saw an almost immediate disappearance of gig jobs from the Internet. The positive is it forced those companies who were taking advantage of cheap labor to rectify their misclassification. The negative is it folded all content creators in with everyone else.

How does that affect writers? Read on…

In response to the ruling, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 5 to amend this new law in consideration of all content creators. According to the article, others in freelance professions gathered together and “convinced lawmakers to carve out a partial exemption for writers, editors, journalists, and photographers.” Whew. That was close!

There’s more to this issue so read the full article to understand what limitations (albeit loose ones, I admit) are included in that partial exemption. Still, it’s a move toward the positive. Freelancers freelance so they don’t have to keep a J-O-B. Let’s hope California wises up and continues to update this new ruling to stay flexible in what defines an independent contractor versus an employee, for the sake of all content creators.

And spread the word!

https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/authors-for-hire-what-the-new-california-labor-law-means-for-freelance-writers-journalists/

#CaliforniaSupremeCourt #independentcontractors #freelancewriters #journalists #editors #photographers

Picture Perfect Opportunities

overcast sky3-hiveminerdotcom

Source: Google Images/hiveminer.com; photo from Norfolk County, MA

Autumn is finally upon us here in NorCal. The sweet smell of decaying leaves is everywhere, as are the crisper days and cooler nights. Only thing missing is the flat gray cloud cover back home that I aptly call a “November sky,” as it is a regular weather pattern seen in a mid-season New England autumn. I find myself pining for that back lit cloud cover; for any clouds at all. California has nice weather – perhaps too nice, as in too much sun and not enough clouds. Growing up in New England, I learned to appreciate the overcast autumn days as a signal to spend more time indoors with a cup of hot cider or chocolate, hard at work at whatever hobby/task needed attending. Like spending more time writing and editing. Sunshine beckons me outside, leaving my writing and other hobbies for the all-too-rare-in-NorCal cloudy days.

Speaking of Spending Time Inside…

It’s NaNoWriMo time! How many of you are partaking this year? It’s the perfect opportunity to “get your write on”. Sadly, I’m working a new gig that keeps me out late every evening so I’m not working on anything other than an occasional blog post… deep sigh… I think if that overcast sky would show up, I’d find a way to hunker down and write. Or edit. Or both… sigh…

Test yourself; see how much you can complete before Dec. 1 gets here. Maybe I’ll make a half-hearted attempt if some cloudy weather shows up!

A New Marketing Angle That May Be Picture-Perfect

I purposely don’t spend much time online. Life is short and I’d rather be experiencing something like nature instead of staring at a computer for hours on end. But this was an interesting article I came across from a book marketing site I used to follow.

There’s an online business called Cameo Marketplace – perhaps you’ve heard of it? I haven’t so I’m sharing it with you. Ever dream of some famous person talking up your book? Do you fantasize that you’ll sell a gazillion copies on the word of that famous person? Well, here’s your chance – kind of.

Cameo Marketplace (cameo.com) offers a personalized shout-out from your choice of their famous clientele in a ‘cameo’ video. Yep. For a fee, you can have, say, Charlize Theron plug your book. (I don’t know if she’s actually a client.) Or Tom Hanks. (Not sure if he is, either.) Point is, you can find a well-known (or quasi-famous) personality, one that fits your book’s style and image, to say something positive about it in a short video. The actor earns money and you get more sales, so you earn money. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?

Unless you pick someone who won’t exactly influence the right people – your target audience. You need to know who they are before choosing your celebrity. Prices range from $5 to about $150 for a personalized video and promotional videos cost more. Probably not a good idea to invest in the prettiest face. Make sure the actor you do choose can have a positive effect on your book marketing and sales; otherwise, it’s wasted money.

So there it is, my advice for the week. It’s not much but who knows, it may help you find the perfect face to sell your book.

 

Post Script: I only just realized that I didn’t title this post and put too much space above the pic… oops. And wouldn’t you know, that November sky I referenced is here today, on my day off! Yippee!

 

Pre-Black Friday Sale is On!

MB List price Nov sale

EARLY BLACK FRIDAY SALE!

Now 30% off! Order now for Holiday gifts! Get your health on!
 
That’s right, folks… I’ve got an early sale just for those pre-Black Friday shoppers. Want to get a headstart on getting and staying healthy through the holidays? Here’s your chance!
 
Visit my Lulu page today and get your copy while supplies last! Tell your friends all about it!
3D softcover JPEG

Smart Tips to Create a Self-Publishing Imprint

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Source: Google Images

For those who may not know, an imprint is defined as, per Wikipedia“An imprint of a publisher is a trade name under which it publishes a work.” As a writer, if you self-publish, then you are technically a business owner so it’s a good idea to have an imprint or trade name under which you bundle your works. You might even use different names “as brands to market works to various demographic consumer segments.” (Wikipedia) You must be a jack-of-many-trades as you take on the roles of writer, editor, publisher, project manager, funding specialist (if you’re looking into crowdfunding your publication), and more. It’s a huge undertaking and there are pros and cons to be weighed before making the commitment.

The following tips are from an article written by Amy Collins for the November/December 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest:

NO SHORTCUTS

Remember, there are NO SHORTCUTS in self-publishing. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. Unless you want to put out a poorly written and edited manuscript with a cheesy book cover that doesn’t sell well …if at all. Self-publishers may have a smaller budget so they will want to skimp on the important parts: editing, layout, proofreading, cover design, etc. My advice is DON’T SKIMP. Nothing wrong with looking for affordable options – just know that you WILL get what you pay for, which may or may not end well for you and your book. Remember that this part of the process is for your readers, not you (your part was writing the story, whatever your inspiration), so do your best to put out a worthwhile product. And this step is vital if you want bookstores and libraries to consider purchasing copies of your book. It needs to look and read as professional as possible. Do your research and do your best to choose wisely.

Amy’s Pro Tip: “Budget for every element of book publishing: development editing, copy editing, layout of the interior, cover design, marketing, sales, distribution, and printing as well as every element of starting a small business.” (My tip: include accounting and taxes in this list, since this is a business and will likely be separate from your other work.)

“While self-publishing is a viable option if done well, the marketplace is flooded with sub-par, poorly written, self-edited, book-shaped objects that have not gone through the proper care every book needs before being published.” ~ Amy Collins

Caveat Emptor: WATCH OUT for Those Vanity Publishers!

I wrote on this very topic in a previous post. Luckily, our watchdogs at Writer Beware® keep the writing community up-to-date with the who’s who of fraudulent or questionable “publishing houses.” (And if you’re not subscribed to that blog, accrispin.blogspot.com, shame on you.) There have been and continue to be issues with royalty payments, fees padding, and unscrupulous owners offering restrictive contracts that may or may not take away your copyrights. READ every line of every contract and don’t be afraid to ask QUESTIONS. 

Amy’s Pro Tip: How do you know whom to trust if you want to avoid a nightmare situation in partnering with a self-publishing company? Sites such as Writer Beware highlight offending companies. Other resources that offer a guide to the hundreds of author services out there include The Alliance of Independent Authors self-publishing service guide and the Independent Book Publishers Association Advocacy Committee’s list of nine criteria on what it means to be a professional hybrid publisher.

CREDIBILITY ISSUES?

Even though self-publishing has been around for more than ten years, indie publishers continue to have difficulty building their reputations, thereby making it harder to garner attention from readers and retailers (not Amazon but the brick-and-mortar businesses). There can be issues with accepting returns (for example, do you have a way for retailers to return unwanted books?) and a lack of trust in the quality of your product (so go back to Tip #1).

Amy’s Pro Tip: “Build your credibility and reader base with consistent outreach. Approach established book reviewers, but don’t forget to keep asking for reviews from your readers as well. Researching book reviewers and requesting reader reviews is a practice that should continue for the life of a book.”

Fellow Authors are Your Friends, Not Your Enemies

I admit to feeling a bit competitive and unwilling to read some books in the same genre (Chinese medicine) as my nutrition book. Somehow, I believed, my information was superior. That is just not true. There are so many wonderful options out there; it would actually behoove you to read a few books within your genre. Get to know the authors who write stories like yours; connect with them on FB and other SM; see who’s following them and leave comments. Who knows where these connections could lead you (and your stories).

Amy’s Pro Tip: “Find the bestselling authors in your genre and follow them on social media. Read their books and help where you can. Enjoy getting to know their readers. Authors can do so much for each other if they put aside the crazy idea that “it’s either them or me.

Write reviews and post in your author newsletter about the authors you truly admire; start building friendships. Soon, you will have a large, supportive group of authors ready to do the same for you because they genuinely want to help a fellow author. Offer to be a beta reader and cross-post for your favorite authors on their launch days.”

In the end, how our books do out there in the digital world/global community depends solely on our commitment to their success. There are many steps to take in publishing your own works but the rewards are greater if you adhere to the above advice. Like any other business, it’s best to have a plan so you can leave your imprint on the world. 

Grammar Rules! Or At Least It Used To…

which v that

Source: Writersdigest.com

Here are some great tips from Writers Digest blogger, Brian Klems. He certainly cleared up a few grammatical confusions for me. It’s been a lot of years since those Catholic grammar school English classes. Honestly, as much of a ‘grammar Nazi’ as I can be, there are times when even I can’t figure it out. Brian clears it all up succinctly and in an easily comprehensible way.

These tidbits are nice refreshers of some of the issues many people have when writing/speaking:

Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid)

Thank god, cuz this one always has me topsy-turvy, never quite getting it right.

Here’s the difference between lay vs. lie, along with ‘lay lie’ examples and a simple chart that breaks it all down. (PLUS: laying vs. lying)

Source: Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid) – Grammar Rules

Who vs. Whom

This one’s the easiest for me but I see their misuse all over the place.

Source: Who vs. Whom

Which vs. That

Oh, I know I get this one wrong a lot, as do many people.

Source: Which vs. That

If you like these, check out his other posts: Since vs. Because; Snuck vs. Sneaked (hint: one of them is a made-up word now a part of our American lexicon); and Leaped vs. Leapt (I never figure this one out).

For writers, grammar rules can make or break our work. We don’t have to have a Masters in Fine Arts or English. It makes sense to have a good grasp of the basic rules of grammar; then our stories will be better off and our readers will be, too. Oddly, I’m the first one to break most rules (I prefer to think they’re for other people) but, for some reason, grammar rules are the ones I choose to follow (probably because I want people to actually read and like my books and not think I’m a complete idiot). When grammar rules, stories shine. So do the writers.