Keeping Up with the Digital Joneses

book meme

In one of her recent blogs, author Lee Foster offered some good suggestions regarding traditional vs. self/independent publishing, formats and whether to license your work.

Sadly, traditional publishing continues to deteriorate with the uptick of digital media and independent publishing, whether the medium is books, magazines, or newspapers. Independent publishers are gaining more of an edge over traditional routes but it’s important to maintain any existing relationships you might have with a traditional publishing house to ensure continued publication of your book. According to Lee, physical books still account for about 70% of the market; eBooks, about 17%, and audio books about 6%. These stats will likely change as the demand for digital media surges, especially with the 18-49 age group. It’s vital for writers to stay current with what’s in vogue so their work isn’t passed over because the format’s not popular.

If you’re an independent publisher, check Meetup.com in your area for meetups. They’re a great place to network, share your work, and get/provide feedback about the writing process. Who knows, you just might get some great ideas for that unfinished scene that’s been nagging at you for weeks or months.

The format you choose for your book can vary; publishing in all formats increases your exposure and ups the odds that more readers in your target market will find you. How many of these options are you using or are yet to use?

  • Print book – Ingram, Lulu Press, Amazon KDP, etc.
  • eBook – Lulu Press, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.
  • Audio book – Audible, etc.
  • Translations of your book – the language/s you choose should be based on your target market and perhaps the setting/location or cultural aspects; if you can’t afford a translator, try Bing Translator or Google Translator. They can be time-consuming to use (one paragraph or so at a time) but if budget is limited, it’s a good place to start. You also may want to come up with additional title options, as not all titles will translate well. Do some research.
  • A “website” book, where your work is available online in a website

copyright clearance ctr author options

Something else to think about is licensing your content. Do you write nonfiction, books for academia or business? Then you might consider the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center, where you can set up an account to collect fees from people who use quotes from your works with your permission. These are a few of the options from their site:

  • RightsLink for Permissions – automates permissions and reprints from your website; “facilitate permissions and reprints requests for copyrighted articles, images, mobile and new media content right from their websites.”
  • Republication Service – allows you to secure republication permissions for others’ works, as well as subsidiary rights
  • RightsCentral – where publishers, authors, and agents manage their account; from this option you can also download title usage reports; view and manage your participation in CCC services; review your permissions and fees; and set your fees within each service

Here Are Some Easy, Not-So-Easy, Free, Low-Tech & Low-Budget Marketing Options for the Budget-Minded, Techie-Challenged, or Self-Publishing Newbies

MB window sign-new

Okay, it’s official; I’m now on Instagram (dthunderhawk325). Serendipity played a role in this decision, as I believe there are no accidents. Last week I was at my local Office Max getting some photos enlarged to sell in various home and personal forms (pillows, t-shirts, mugs, etc.) on Redbubble, when I learned of the positive effect Instagram can have on one’s business since it’s a visual-based app. A woman named Kat came to the Print/Copy center shortly after I did and I noticed what she was printing. The fonts on the cards were gorgeous; they referred to a healing crystals class she teaches. When I asked how she got started (after telling me she now did this full-time), she said she trained in architecture but due to some health issues she began using healing crystals, which lead her down this path.

Funny how that works, eh?

 She also does calligraphy, which explains the gorgeous script on the cards, all done by (her) hand, not computer fonts. She built this part-time hobby into a full-time business in less than a year, with her products (healing crystals kits and handmade calligraphy information cards) for sale online and in physical stores. Talk about the power of positive intent: Zulilly and a company called Fare contacted her directly; they buy wholesale from her and now she’s all over the place! She explained that she did a clearing with her crystals and set her intention and, lo and behold, it all fell into place.

So I got to thinking: Instagram is FREE and a great way to share your products with potential customers if you use it strictly for business (means: focus your business intent here). If you want to post to Instagram from your home computer, Bluestacks is a new app designed so you can upload photos to Instagram from your Mac or PC. Just download from their site, Bluestacks.com, for FREE and they instruct you on how to post from your computer. Nice if you’re home and want to spend some time away from your phone or if your work product is mainly on your computer (better security, I think).

Fivver is a decent (read: hit or miss) place to get some LOW-COST marketing: 1) pay five dollars for someone to tweet about your website, books, art work, etc. and you write the copy; 2) pay five dollars for someone to send a blurb (you write the copy) out to all their LinkedIn connections; I tried this avenue, with little success; probably has more to do with who their connections are and if any are within your target market; 3) pay a few dollars more for someone to create a mini-commercial that you can post on SM or your website. There are multiple options on Fivver and it won’t hurt to check out what might or might not work for you, since the initial investment can fit into a LOW-BUDGET (and tax deductible, by the way, so keep all receipts!). Also a good avenue for SELF-PUBLISHING NEWBIES to get their marketing feet wet.

MB bookmark-new

Handing out FREE bookmarks with your logo, website, etc. is a good LOW-TECH way to market yourself. I keep a supply in my purse and my wallet, just in case, and I hand them out everywhere – cafés, post office, local coffee shop – wherever I’m talking with people. They’re inexpensive to buy in bulk and easily fit into carry bags/purses. Vistaprint is one good source and they provide good quality products. I also designed a business card with the book cover of my nutrition book as the whole card; the colors are bright and eye-catching and always get a positive response when I hand it out. With a good promo, you can get 250-500 business cards for free or less than $20 on Vistaprint, a good option for LOW-BUDGETS and SELF-PUBLISHING NEWBIES.

MB nutrition book-cardCar signs (window) and magnets (door) are affordable LOW-TECH options, especially if you do a decent amount of driving around where you live (and a good motivator to go out for a drive so everyone can see your signs). It’s also a good way to get folks directly to your website instead of Amazon or Ingram (where they can often buy it cheaper, which means less commission for you); they can then see what else you may have to offer. Plus: If you have to park on the street as I do, everyone who walks by or drives by sees your car signs. Win-win!

If you have more than one business or money-earning hobby, building a landing page (GoDaddy and Wix have nice options) lets you keep all of your work in one location, giving potential customers more options to shop with you. However, no matter how much they advertise easy it’s to build one of their sites in “less than an hour,” it can take more than the hour they claim if you’re TECH-CHALLENGED, also making this a NOT-SO-EASY option for some folks.

Which easy, not-so-easy, free, low-tech or low-budget options have you tried? Were you successful? If not, why not? I’d love to hear what worked for you, what avenues you took to bring even the smallest success. Feel free to comment so we can all learn from your business acumen!

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb (I’m paraphrasing) that says a smart man learns from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

Let’s learn from each other!

 

 

More of the Same

All I Hear Is Blah Blah Blah

Source: PhotoFunia

My literary Inbox today: “Same old, same old” advice on writing books, marketing books, building a fan base, following the blogs of award-winning authors, blah blah blah. Today is my Groundhog Day for unoriginal blog articles on writing, selling and marketing books. I’ve heard it all before. Where are the fresh ideas? How many times can they recycle the same **it over and over again? I get it; they’re the constant nudge, the ever-present voice in your head, urging you in that direction where you actually reach a publishing, marketing or sales goal, small or large. Maybe if we hear it enough, we’ll begin to believe it, like subliminal messages: You are a marketing guru; you will sell more books; more readers will follow your blog, listen to my voice…

What if writing is a hobby for you? What if you’re not earning anything close to a full-time paycheck with your book sales? Lots of expert advice available online about marketing, hiring people (virtual or in-person) or companies to do it. Do bloggers assume that many writers have the available cash to spend on these “necessary evils?” Book experts touting the latest, the greatest, the essentials for winning more fans, earning more, being more, doing more, in an ever-growing competitive field where it’s getting harder and harder to find your niche. It’s the never-ending game of “let’s see how many people will buy my advice on [some] new marketing avenue.” Talk about even more responsibility, more time spent trying to get your books into the hands of millions of readers. Okay, maybe not millions, unless you’re a bestselling author and your books are available in multiple languages.

When do you work your “real” job (if you have to have one, as many writers do)? When do you spend time with family and friends? When do you make time to write? Only so many hours in a day, a week, a month, this thing called time. Yes, it’s essential to prioritize, to make room for each aspect of the writing/marketing/selling process but have we sacrificed other areas of our lives (read: time) for this?

If I sound exasperated, it’s because I am but I continue to rebel, to question, to be the “devil’s advocate” in the room (and on the blog).

Caveat:

“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” From the movie The Imitation Game

Tie It Up With a Bow

tie a bow1

I’ve blogged about creating multiple income streams (MIS) as a way for writers to increase exposure and income. We are naturally curious and creative and the world around us is our canvas, from which we create sensational stories, paintings, photos, and more. Art is no longer an exclusive community available only to those with connections in the art world. Thanks to social media, digital art software and internet commerce sites, more of us can participate and contribute our creations, whatever they may be.

Utilizing the concept of MIS in conjunction with my other creative endeavors, I’m in the process of putting the pieces together “under one roof.” Writer/photographer Lee Foster, in her article, “Could You Make (And Even Sell) Your Own Pictures?” (February 7, 2019), posits that since we use photos in our blogs, on our SM sites, and perhaps even in our books, we can create some of those photos ourselves. There are multiple sites online where we can access copyright-free photos (Pixabay, Pexels, etc.); they offer many options to create new photos or works of art via digital enhancement. She then suggests that we sell those photos as a way of earning extra income. This could apply to your paintings (and/or digital prints of them) as well.

Pictures are visual stimuli used extensively in marketing campaigns, on websites and in magazines, to name a few. Selling your pictures can be profitable but in this highly competitive market you need to research where you can optimize your sales. The size of the photo and pixels are also important; make sure you know what size requirements are for each sales venue. Will you digitally enhance the photos? There are plenty of websites for that, too (I like LunaPics for basic digital effects).

In the same vein as knowing your target market, knowing which SM to use and which forms of art (e.g., acrylic painting, digital photography, poetry, etc.) to share, it’s important to decide how to create your multiple income streams, no matter how large or small, with each of your creative talents. Once they are up and running independently, you can tie them all together in one place – such as a landing page or on your existing website – that will allow customers and fans to access all of your works from one location.

Have you set up multiple income streams? What advice do you have for the rest of us? Please share your expertise in setting up and operating multiple income streams and how you manage them. Let’s all work together to make online and physical marketplaces a reachable goal for all artists.

Are You Stylin’? Ten Tips to Writing in AP Style

ap style2

Since Saturday I’ve been preoccupied with finding a topic for this week’s blog. Then I discovered two articles on AP style I’d saved. I’m trained to write in APA (American Psychological Association) style, which I learned while earning my BA in Psychology. There are some notable differences between them; a major difference is there are no in-text citations or reference lists in AP style. In AP style there are smaller paragraphs of 1-2 sentences; writing is clear and concise; wordiness, long sentences and jargon are used in APA style but not AP style.

The AP Stylebook, used by professional journalists, is a good referral source to improve and correct your writing. It’s a good idea to keep a copy on hand. While some rules have been abandoned in this digital age of abbreviated language, these are still important. I hope they help your technical writing skills.

  1. Use more than when you’re referring to numbers; ex: more than 10 miles, not over 10 miles.
  2. Paraphrasing – when paraphrasing a source, attribute it to the source at the beginning or end of the sentence: “Several factors could determine how quickly a fire engulfs a resident’s room, Frederick said.”Always use said, not pointed out or claimed, which can be perceived as bias. The person’s name or a pronoun always precedes ‘said.’
  3. Commas – in AP style, the comma before the conjunction is deleted: He used a hammer, some nails and a long board.
  4. Trademarked words should be capitalized but avoid if possible and use generic words: Kitty Litter vs. cat box filler, Dumpster vs. trash receptacle.
  5. Composition titles: AP style requires quotation marks around titles, not italics or underlining; however, the Bible, reference books and software do not need quotations.
  6. Most abbreviations are spelled out on the first reference and abbreviated on the second: American Psychological Association (APA); some abbreviations are acceptable in every reference: FBI, CIA, ATF
  7. Dates: abbreviate dates (Jan., Feb., etc.) with a specific date; spell out months when used alone or with a year only.
  8. State abbreviations (I always get these wrong) – spell them out when they stand alone but abbreviate when with a city, town, etc., or with datelines or text:
    1. Never abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah
    2. The rest can have two or three letter abbreviations (I cheat and use the two-letter style: CT, CA, NY, etc.); see the AP Stylebook for the complete list.
  9. Prefixes – Use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel (re-entry, anti-inflammatory). Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized (the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney).
  10. Money – use a $ sign and numerals for an exact figure
    1. For amounts less than a dollar, use numerals (99 cents)
    2. Use a $ sign and numerals to two decimal points for amounts of $1 million and up.
    3. Spell out special cases (She loaned me five dollars).

As writers it’s vital we not let our guard down; we cannot contribute to the “dumbing down” of American reading and writing skills. Stay the course, refuse to take the low (grammar) road and, just maybe, we can maintain a level of literature (and journalism) undaunted by those who choose another, less intellectual path.

Write on!

 

Sources:

11 AP Style Guide Rules That Are Easy to Mess Up by Melanie Brooks, March 2012.

Writing in AP Style by Sarah Bennett, Bear Claw Center for Learning and Writing

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.

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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. :)]