Simply Writing Simple Words

I was elated yesterday to look in on my books at Amazon, and see that a 5-star review showed up for one of the books. It really helped to allay my fears that maybe I should quit writing.

I used to conduct training classes and write training manuals for a weight loss company. I never perceived the manuals to be creative writing, because I was simply writing down everything I said during the classes.

The people attending were from all walks of life – people with high school diplomas to franchise owners with college degrees. I remember my boss telling me that the manuals should be written at about a fifth- to seventh- grade level. He said it was simply for clarity of understanding, and the classes would move along more quickly. Information could be found and taken from the manuals more easily as well.

One of my trainers was trying to improve her vocabulary. It was fine when we were together, and we would laugh at how silly she sounded at times, but I told her she wasn’t to practice her newfound vocabulary words in the classroom. It had to be kept simple.

I’m not the best when it comes to vocabulary, but I’m not ignorant either. Two years of Latin helped me tremendously with the English language. I do get frustrated when I’m reading something (usually nonfiction), and I find myself reading a paragraph(s) over and over again until I understand what I just read. Sometimes the author is kind enough to say, “Simply put …” What was the point of the bloated paragraph full of five dollar words when the simply put version would have sufficed?

I guess that’s how I approach my writing. I don’t need to use a huge vocabulary or five dollar words for the type of book I’m writing. I don’t want to stop the flow of my reader by using a word or words that might cause them to wonder about the context of what they just read.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading the work of someone else that goes beyond the simplistic. My thoughts about word choices and writing style helped to put things into perspective for me today. The writing I’m doing is working for me because it’s a style I used years ago.

After I read the positive review, it lit a fire under me, and I was able to write yesterday and add another 3,000 words to my current book. I’m planning to self-publish it in July.

Blogging Freaks Me Out

In a few days, I’ll have been blogging for a month. I think I like it. There are some things that freak me out though.

I liked it when there were less than twenty visitors to my blog each day. Just a few people peeking in to see what I was doing while I try to write and publish a few books. I sort of panicked when 52 people showed up one day this week. Yikes! Where did they come from? And why?

My mind went on a freak out thinking that the new visitors were other authors shaking their heads. Who in their right mind would write three books in two months and then think they were good enough to publish? … Well, I guess I did.

People spend years honing their craft and agonizing over their words wanting to put out the very best work possible. I understand that, but when I found the Smashwords site, something went off inside me, and it just came out – three books in two months. I had to do it, and I had to publish them. When I look at my books on my Nook, it delights me to no end. And the fact that the few people I know who have read the books liked them; well, it’s just that much nicer.

I’ve been visiting other blogs and enjoying the time spent blog-hopping. I love fashion, photography, music, books, poetry, and so much other stuff. I find myself following people as they lose weight. I’m sad for people who share their struggles and wish I could hug them. I love the humorous blogs. This is a wonderful new world. I’ve purchased two books from indie writers. I want to put my money where my mouth is and help others who are finding their way as well. I won’t really stop following authors; there’s a lot to learn from them.

I was nominated for an award by lightningpen. I was kind of embarrassed, and didn’t really know what to think about it. I didn’t mean to ignore you, kind blogger, but I was so new to blogging and didn’t have a clue who else to nominate. I don’t understand everything about the blogging community yet, and I may revisit that nomination one day (unless it has an expiration date).

So, even though I’m not really comfortable yet with blogging, and there are days when it freaks me out, I’m pretty sure I like it and will keep plodding on for a while.

Creating Characters

Image Image

I feel so silly sometimes because I find myself smiling or even laughing at some of the things I have my characters say or do.

Many of the characters are cobbled together from people I’ve known in my life.  My parents were a lot of fun when we were kids, and it was easy to portray Susan’s mom and dad as fun-loving and to have her mother laugh so much. Some of Susan’s friends mirror the best qualities of some of my friends over the years.

I intend to create a character with some of my father-in-law’s characteristics and personality. That’s him in the picture above. June 11, 1947 was the day he was discharged from the service. He had been stationed in Germany, and this picture of him is from the day he returned to the States.

I love this picture. He’s not really smiling, but his face conveys joy, and I see the twinkle in his eye. That is one good-looking man. I find it humorous that my husband has been a natural blonde his entire life, yet our nephew is the spitting image of this picture.

My father-in-law was the postmaster in a small town for most of his adult life. He enjoyed life and was a kind and generous man. After he died, my husband had the portrait tattoo of him placed on his arm. I think the artist did a wonderful job matching the picture.

My husband memorialized his dad on his arm. I’m going to put him in one of my books.  

Sweating the Small Stuff

Self-publishing takes time. Time that could be spent writing is taken up with other details and even nagging worries.

For a month, I’ve been waiting patiently for my books to show up at Barnes & Noble. The books didn’t come up in a search by title, author, or ISBN. After a quick inquiry, I was told the books should be indexed just a few days after Smashwords ships, so I knew something was wrong.

Yesterday, a helpful customer service rep at Smashwords sent an email to me with the B&N links to all three books. I was a little flabbergasted, and I still don’t have a clue how she found them. Even after she sent the links, I still couldn’t bring up the books or my name through the B&N search feature. When I checked the links she provided, I saw that two of the books didn’t even show descriptions. I had a feeling I’d probably done something wrong, and it threw a damper on my morning.

Of course, I had to start searching to find out why the search didn’t work and what I could do about it. I read message boards and finally found where others from as far back as 2010 had the same problems – books not indexed in search with no description and/or cover image. I finally gave up and decided it would be more productive to update my website to reflect the new links.

Errands had to be run in the afternoon, and there were a few unexpected interruptions. By the time I sat down to write in the evening, I’d lost my writing mojo. I spent most of my time reading what was already written and doing some proofreading. Still productive, but not what I wanted to do.

Have you ever been expecting a package, and it doesn’t come, and it doesn’t come, and you finally write and say, “Where’s my package?” Then it usually shows up in the mail that day or the next, and you wasted your time and the sender’s. Before heading up to bed, I searched my name again. All three books showed up, all were searchable, and all had descriptions.

I simply have to ignore some of this stuff, or I’ll never get any writing done.

Grandma Would Have Been a Blogger

My grandmother was always smiling, and she was fun. My mother said that she and Grandma acted silly quite often, and her older sister thought they should act more mature. I remember she laughed a lot. She was born in 1897, and lived to be 88 years old. After her death, pages of some of her childhood memories were found. Some of them were typed; some were handwritten. She seemed to write something down when she remembered it. I thought I’d share some of her memories today.

~ I can recall so clearly it seems like only yesterday that I was a little girl wearing braids, pinafores, and in my bare feet with mud slushing up through my toes, making “mud pies.”

~ We lived up on a hill and when I’d bring the cows to the bottom of the hill, I’d grab on to one of the cow’s tails and away we would go … her pulling me up the hill. Oh, I had fun, but in a funny sort of way.

~ We had a big grape arbor just back of our house; it was like a fairy land. You could hardly see out, the vines were so thick. We would go in the house and beg for biscuits. Then we would split them open and put currants from the bushes on them and call them pies.

~ I don’t ever recall my father whipping me, but my mother made up for it, God rest her soul.

~ We had a big log barn … one of my sisters, older than I, got her finger cut off on one of those old logs when she was five years of age. My brother started to cut with the ax, as boys will do. She laid her hand on the log as he brought the ax down, so off went her finger. He went and hid. When they found him, he said, “I wouldn’t have done it for a ‘minion’ dollars.”

~ My brothers tormented me a lot, since I was the baby of the family. I took it very serious, and I didn’t think it was a bit nice.

~ We lived in the south, and those days we ate only corn bread and biscuits, and sometimes homemade bread. It was a task to get the corn to the grist mill to get it ground for corn meal. My brother and I would each have to tote a sack of corn slung over our shoulders. We had to climb a hill and go down the other side to get to the mill. But I liked the job mostly.

~ I liked coffee so well and drank it when I was a child at home. Now it seems odd that my mother let me drink it. My brother used to tell me that I drank so much coffee one could see the grounds in my forehead. Oh! That would make me furious!

~ My mother had twelve children. Three died in infancy. One died when she was five years old.

~ My great uncle used to come and spend the night with us. The adults would sit and tell ghost stories until bedtime. Then I’d be afraid to go upstairs to bed. My uncle told about someone having dogs that “treed” something in a brush pile and this man jumped up and down on the brush to chase it out. Supposedly a small coffin ran out of the brush pile and disappeared into the night. The dogs gave chase, but to no avail. I could never forget that ghost tale.

~ They used to carry mail by horseback, only ours (postman) rode a mule. He had to be different! I used to feel sorry for him when I’d see him at the post office, because he was so homely. In my childish mind, I thought he looked just like a small dried and wrinkled apple. He was little and short, and he had no teeth.

~ Our family was fairly lucky, just a few bad things happened. My other sister fell and broke her leg, my youngest brother shot his toe off while hunting with a shot gun, my other brother broke his arm and cut his leg real bad once while cutting timber. I had Typhoid fever. Mother had her hands full looking after us.

~ We kids very seldom got new shoes and when we did, we were crazy with joy. And if they squeaked when we walked that pleased us very much, because people would know they were new.

~ My mother fed all the tramps that came along if she had a thing to give them. She never let them leave hungry, and plenty of them came to our door.

~ When we would get company, my father would make me come and play the organ and sing, “Gentle Annie.” I would be as proud as punch. I can’t recall the words now. Father thought I was good and that made me think that I could perform real well, too.

~ Mother did her washings on a scrub board. We had no water in the house. No electric. She made her own soap, and we always butchered beef and hogs, dried lots of apples and green beans, peaches, etc.

~ My mother did all the sewing for us. I can remember she made outing flannel union suits for my younger brother, and they were pink. She knitted our stockings and socks for us. Oh, how they would itch! When I got old enough to wear black cotton stockings, I was tickled to death and so proud of them.

~ My grandfather would come to visit us (I adored him). He had a pear tree in his back yard, and we didn’t have any. He would bring us kids each a pear. Oh, how pleased we would be. He had a well, which had a bucket to let down with a rope to get the water. I sure liked to do that job.

~ My mother always used home remedies as much as possible. When the terrible flu epidemic came in 1918, mother treated everyone with peach tree bark and leaves made into a tea. We had no casualties in our family, but others were dying like flies. Four and five died in one family in different places.

~ My mother wore big long aprons tied around the waist. She carried things in her apron. In the spring, she would go to the woods and fields and gather wild greens and bring in her apron as full as it could be. How good those greens tasted to us!

~ All of us had a good sense of humor. We would laugh at everything and anything that was funny at all. I still am that way. They say laughter is one good medicine.

~ I wonder if people are as happy as we were then nowadays. They seem to be searching for something and can’t find it. I wouldn’t trade my childhood to anyone for anything. Even as poor as we were.

~ My father and mother died just two weeks apart. As I see it, this world is full of sadness and sorrow, yet there is plenty to enjoy. Like the blessed sunshine, beautiful flowers, nice trees, lovely birds to sing, little babies to play with and enjoy, beautiful scenery everywhere you look … that God put here for us to enjoy. My life has not been what you would call the happiest, but I’m looking forward to a happier life beyond these earthly scenes. My childhood memories pass through my mind most every day. They are gone beyond recall, but not forgotten.

Whining, Cutting Back, Cranky Pants … and finally, A Smile

I admit it – I’m spoiled. I’m not used to not getting my way or having what I want. But we ride a financial roller coaster, and this year the train is on the way down of the biggest hill. Sometimes I scream just for the fun of it.

We’re trying to make huge cutbacks. We unloaded the upright freezer and unplugged it. We only heated three rooms of our house over the winter. I don’t run the dishwasher as often or do small loads of laundry. When our son made some noises that he was thinking about moving out, we immediately backed the truck up to the door and started loading his stuff. The water and food bill have been cut dramatically.

It’s hot today. 86 degrees. I wouldn’t normally care, but we’ve stopped using the central air unless the humidity makes it feel like it’s raining in here. I don’t mind most of the cutbacks, but the loss of the air conditioning puts the cranky pants on me. It didn’t help that I finally did some laundry today and then ironed in the heat. Does anybody still iron?

I spent a huge chunk of yesterday writing. I made a lot of progress – another 7100 words. I love where the next book is going, and I wanted to write again today but haven’t been able to get there yet. Maybe in a couple of hours when it’s not so hot.

But the reason to sit down and blog about my whiny day is because something really cool happened just before I ran out to the grocery store. (I only went to the store so I could ride around in the truck with the air on. Kind of defeats the purpose of cutting back.)

I received an email through my website. The person said they read all three of my books this weekend and wanted to know if there were any more. She said they were great books, and she had a hard time putting them down. Isn’t that awesome?!

Ok, it was my niece.

But still, I almost never see her, and when we were at my sister’s birthday dinner last week, I told her that she could Amazon one-click my books and read them on her tablet. Obviously she did. She’s busy with two young children, so I’m delighted that she not only took the time to read the first book, but blazed through the other two as well. If she wouldn’t have liked the first one, she surely wouldn’t have bought the other two – and then write to tell me that she liked them.

My cranky pants aren’t bothering me quite so much now.

Surprise! You Can Buy a Review!

Writing a book, doing your own editing, self-publishing, and finally marketing isn’t a difficult task in some respects, but leaves me terrified in others.

Marketing is most definitely a downfall. I’ve already accepted my failure in social media, although I may revisit that later. I’m not good at asking family and friends to buy my books. I don’t post notices about my books on other sites or use a signature line for promotion. I guess this is where some of the satisfaction factor comes in. It will be nice if the books sell, but I’m really just so tickled (as my grandmother would say) to have written and published a few books with the hope of a few more to come. I realize there’s a fair amount of hubris in this self-publishing thing we do, and I find myself laughing quite a bit at my own folly.

Reviews are where the real terror comes in. I read reviews where the reviewer has used phrases such as “compelling characters” and “unforgettable read” or “page turner” and “extraordinary achievement.” Ha! I’m terrified for the day when one of those reviewers will stumble upon one of my books. I know what my books are, and I don’t present them as anything other than a light mystery, with a little humor, and a little romance. So how do you find the right people to guide them to your books? The people who will enjoy an easy, breezy read that will entertain them?

Last night I was perusing blogs. There is some fun stuff out there. Most people probably know that, but this is all pretty new to me. I actually love the voyeuristic quality of blogs. People from all over the world share and show us aspects of their lives, and it’s easy to get lost for hours jumping from one blog to another.

I happened onto another indie publisher’s blog. I don’t know enough blog protocol to know if it’s acceptable to mention another’s name in a blog post, so let me just say when I read these words in respect to publishing a second book, “Maybe I’ll be able to move on then… maybe not. Jeez, this sounds pitiful,” I knew I liked this person right away. It’s hard sometimes to move forward and sounding pitiful works itself in there, too. I clicked on the link for their book, and read the description. I was intrigued. But then I noticed the reviews! Professional reviews. One 4-star and two 5-star. I looked at the site for the reviews and was amazed. When you jump headlong into this like I did, it doesn’t take long to realize how much there is to learn.

The site gives free reviews. You only pay for them if you want them expedited. They publish 3-stars and up. If your review is one or two stars, they offer constructive criticism. The best part is the person who will read and review your book already likes the genre you submit. I wouldn’t have to worry that a person who prefers to read a vampire thriller will get stuck reading and reviewing my blonde-run-amuck story.

I’m going to try to carve out a bit of every day so I can blog-hop. I know there is more yet to find that will help me. Has my writing taken a hit since I starting blogging? You bet. But I am still writing, so I’m not too worried about it yet.

Oh, about the book from the writer I stumbled upon yesterday … I bought it a short while ago. Not only will I enjoy reading it, but it’s a small way to say thank you for pointing me in a direction that might help me in my self-publishing efforts.

Good Dog, Joe

We didn’t have pets when I was growing up. I brought a free dog home once. My dad took one look at the puppy’s gigantic paws and made me take him back. I don’t remember what type of dog he was, but Dad said he would be too big. I remember being sad.

When our son was ten, he and I were at our local flea market. He was looking around at everything, and I was digging through books. He tried to get me to come with him to see a dog. I put him off a couple of times, but he seemed so upset over the dog, I finally went to look. It was a German Shepherd puppy. He sat away from the other puppies in the corner of the pen. The dog looked so sad, I could see why our son’s heart went out to him.

A few hours later, we were the owners of our first dog, and two days later, we found out why he looked so sad. He was on death’s doorstep, and only a very large vet bill saved his life. He ended up being a very sweet, gentle dog and definitely a member of the family.

He was such a joy, we wanted him to have a brother. That hound dog over there to the right? That’s Joe, and he was the best dog ever. Both of those dogs were like children, but Joe was practically human. He knew exactly how to tell you what he wanted, he was always cheerful, and when I cried, he cried. I never knew how much joy two dogs could bring.

We got a little carried away and later added a beagle to the mix. A second beagle was rescued, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to tell family that we had four dogs in the house! Crazy dog people.

I’ll spare you the sad details, but many years later, we are down to one beagle – the first one that we brought home. He’s just a dog. Where the two big dogs had such huge personalities and were like children, the beagle is happy to see you for a minute, and then he’s off looking for something to get into.

I miss the other dogs, but especially Joe. I think about him every day. The two older dogs died within 30 days of each other, and it was a very hard time. Last December, I had several dreams where it seemed the two dogs came to me. I didn’t dream about them, they came to me to see me. It was so distressing, it reduced me to tears. I had to search online to see if it happened to other people, too. It did.

What better way to immortalize that wonderful hound dog, Joe, than to put him in my upcoming book. I talked with my niece yesterday, and she’ll start working on the cover soon. I gave Joe’s picture to her so he can share the spotlight on the cover. I’ve already written him in as a focal point in two chapters, and he’s going to accomplish some heroic feats as well.

Good dog, Joe.

Flitting Around

There are days when I flit from one thing to another. Even when I’m on a roll writing my book, I sometimes stop and start writing something else that popped into my head.

Yesterday, I was side-tracked by a 3,000 word short story. My mind wouldn’t let it go until it was fully typed. Only then could I go back to working on my book.

Occasionally something will flash across my mind, and I’m off and running across the internet as I search and read – whether it be a recipe, a blog, a news item, or shopping for books. I suppose something in my writing triggered the thought, shades of ADHD take over, and I have to run after it.

I found myself searching writing contests one day and came across The First Line contest. The next submissions are due by August 1, 2012, and the first line of your short story must be:

“A light snow was falling as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street.”

I love the story-starter idea and already have a general idea for this story in my mind. It will probably come together in the middle of a chapter in my book, and I’ll have to drop everything to start writing for the contest.

Sometimes I concentrate on what I’m currently writing just before going to sleep, and when I wake up – whether in the middle of the night or in the morning – the answer, the solution, or the continuation is just there. My mind works it out in my sleep. I suppose that’s considered an old mind trick I learned years ago from brainstorming sessions at work. If you’ve never tried it, give it a go, and see how it works for you.

The First Line Contest:
Fiction is to be between 300 and 3,000 words. All submission guidelines can be read here:

Tune Out the Noise

Yesterday, my husband and I took a two-hour ride through Amish country on the motorcycle. The day was sunny and 86 degrees; the route was full of sweeping curves and rolling hills. We left during the hottest part of the afternoon. It’s my favorite time to ride.

I listen to my mp3 player on the loudest setting. I tend to listen to top 40 with a little hip-hop thrown in. Before we left, I added Rita Ora’s new song, How We Do (Party), to my list.  Wild Ones by Flo Rida is another recent addition, and a ride isn’t complete without playing Uprising by Muse as we head back into town.

I don’t know what it is about listening to loud music on the motorcycle, but I think about my writing at the same time and ideas just keep coming. Yesterday, I worked out a short story from beginning to end. I don’t have time to write it yet, so I jotted down notes for later.

I know I’m a Type A personality, and I’ve always been a little hyper. When I worked in an office setting, I worked best under pressure. I tend to do everything a bit like a whirlwind. It’s not uncommon for my husband to find me at my desk with music blaring while I’m working on my book. But then, I grew up with four siblings. There was a lot of noise in our household. If you wanted to read or do homework, you learned to tune out the noise.

I can’t write when it’s quiet. The silence is deafening.

Social Media Made Me Crazy

At least it did for a week.

I never had time for Facebook or Twitter. I was busy from morning ‘til night, and although I did my fair share of surfing and reading random things online, to actually devote time to something that might require minute by minute attention was too much for me.

Then I became an author. The general consensus for marketing your book online is social media. I set up a Twitter account and started searching hashtags for like-minded people who might be interested in reading something considered a beach read – a book you take to the beach for an easy, breezy, read.

I was quickly overwhelmed. I saw authors who seemed to tweet for hours at a time, readers who couldn’t possibly have time to read because they were tweeting all day, and massive amounts of people creating a cacophony of words across the tweetscape. It was like going down the rabbit hole.

I still haven’t made a single tweet. I did learn something new while I was hanging around there. I ran into an editor who tweeted about words that drive editors batty. “That” being one of them. It made me laugh – really laugh. When I thought I needed extra word count, “that” was one of the words I thought would work well for filler. We use it so often in our own speech, so I thought it would sound natural. Now that I know, I’ve tried to use it more judiciously.

Some of the other words she shared were: just, really, very, so, immediately, suddenly, oh, anyway, little, bit, then, only, and look.  This may be writing 101 to many people, but since I’ve never taken that course, it was good to know.

Facebook was next on the list. I set up my page, but really didn’t know what to do with it. I made a few likes here and there, added information about my books, and tried to think of something to say. This was going nowhere fast. I realized I’m a dolt when it comes to social media.

So many of my writing ideas pop into my head at the most absurd times of day, and that’s how my blog came to be. I didn’t want to blog. I’m actually a private person, and I don’t want people to know about my personal life, but the idea showed up one day, and it was kind of a loud thought. I searched for reviews on blog sites, and WordPress came up often. I put it off for a couple of days, but the noise was still in my head. Being an author is new to me, and I really did want to chronicle the adventure, so I gave in and joined the WordPress community.

I told my family I was blogging because it was all the social media I could manage at this time. It brought laughter and more head shaking. Will I be embarrassing them? You bet I will.

Erotica (Blush)

I’ve been living in the world of children’s books far too long. When I do read a book for an adult, it’s usually a foodie mystery, a cozy, or someone like Vince Flynn or Brad Thor. Occasionally, I read a biography.

Time constraints have kept me from reading very much over the years, but since my husband dragged me kicking and screaming into the digital age, and I now own a Nook Tablet, I’ve found myself reading again. I thought I would never give up hardcover books with dustjackets. I love everything about them – the weight, the smell, and even turning the pages. Who knew I would also love tapping a little digital device and reading in bed, in the car, in waiting rooms, etc.

My sister-in-law owns a Kindle. We talked one day about the different types of books we read, and I told her I had seen a free Harlequin that morning as she likes to read those. She asked if I had ever read any of the Harlequin Blaze books, and then she sort of fanned herself, and said “Phew!” Well, I assumed she meant the sexual tension was heavy, but when I finally looked at one, I think I sat with my mouth hanging open.  This was today’s romance book? I told my husband it felt like reading porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was just taken aback and didn’t realize that such descriptive writing was typical these days.

Since then, I’ve seen where erotica is a huge market, and some of the authors who self-publish in this genre are doing very well financially.

I couldn’t work on my book for a few days after this new knowledge because graphic scenes of Susan Hunter doing all manner of sexual things with the characters in the book starting flowing through my mind. That could be one naughty girl.

I finally managed to get my mind wrapped back around how I really want my books to be, and I was able to put her clothes back on.

I started writing again.

Walking the Streets of New York City

Shortly before I finished my first book, the story for the second book started rolling around in my head. While I waited on others to read and proofread, I started writing again. The first book took my main character to Florida; this time I wanted her to go to New York.

I’ve been to New York City twice by myself. The first time, my boss asked me to fly up on a Friday afternoon to deliver his passport to him at the airport. Instead of turning around and flying right back home as he expected, I took a cab to the St. Moritz Hotel and stayed the weekend. The second time, I won a contest at work. The prize was a trip for two to Disneyworld. Disneyworld? I traded my tickets in at the travel agency for a weekend in New York City with a girlfriend. A few days before we were to leave, she had to cancel, so I went by myself. I had a blast on both trips.

As I’m writing my book, I know I want Susan to walk around the city, but I don’t remember enough details to write from memory. I will never again complain about the slow-moving Google car that comes through town and takes pictures. I toggled back and forth between the Google map of the city and the street view. The street view is amazing, and I spent a couple of days with it walking around New York City reliving memories and plotting Susan’s route. I have a healthy respect for writers before the internet age. Research for everything must have been so much more difficult then.

I currently have Susan in New Orleans. I’ve been there before, too. I’ve already spent a few hours walking around the city via Google Street View. I don’t need to do it for this book, but I can’t make myself stop as I look back over fond memories.

Recalculating … Republish!

After I found the Smashwords site, I downloaded Mark Coker’s Style Guide. The book “offers simple step-by-step instructions to create, format and publish an ebook.” I took the time to read it front to back.

The night I decided to do the formatting, I sat with the guide opened in my Nook and went page by page until I came to sections that pertained to me. I took their advice and changed the style to first-line indents. I turned on the show/hide for paragraphs and formatting and made a fast pass through the book. I was surprised to see that I had several forced page returns rather than a simple return indicating the end of a paragraph.

It wasn’t noted in the style guide, but after perusing sites regarding formatting, I happened upon a discussion of one space or two after a sentence. The resounding opinion, especially from editors, was one space. My default has always been two, and it’s going to take a long time to break that habit, so I had to do a find/replace on two spaces to one space.

There was one section where it very clearly stated DO NOT USE both first line indents and the block style. It was even repeated and noted as one of the most common errors made. I was good there because I had already set up the first-line indents.

The step-by-step guide to building the linked Table of Contents was great. Even though a bit time-consuming, it was easy and turned out right the first time. After that, it was simple to add the front matter, information about upcoming books at the end, and embed a cover picture at the beginning.

It was time. I was going to publish my first eBook. I filled out all the necessary information, held my breath, and pushed the button. I could see it going through the Smashwords meatgrinder. Everything was great and all conversions made, but the AutoVetter had a problem. My heart sank.

The notice said I used both first-line indents and the block style. If Microsoft Word wasn’t so foreign to me, maybe it would have been easier, but I finally found that I hadn’t changed the after (paragraph) spacing to 0. I made the changes and hit REPUBLISH. Everything was fine now.

Until my husband looked at the sample a few days later and found an error just a few pages in! The word “looked” should have been “look.” A spell-checker wouldn’t have found it, and proofreaders glossed over it as well. REPUBLISH! A week later I found an error in the description for the book. A word in the title was changed, and I forgot to change it in the description. REPUBLISH!

Sunshine Hunter was republished four times before I left the poor thing alone. It finally made its way into the Smashwords premium catalog and is slowly being distributed to their outlets.

Formatting was easier than I thought it would be. I’m grateful Mark Coker put a book out there to assist authors, and I’m especially grateful for the link that reads: Upload New Version.

When Everything Lines Up In the Universe … And the Lottery

I wrote last time that my brother-in-law did the artwork for the cover of my cookbook. Sadly, he died much too young just over a year ago. I couldn’t think of anyone else who could help me with a cover for my Susan Hunter book.

I tried cobbling my own cover together with my desktop publisher by using stock photos and good-looking fonts, but nothing looked right or conveyed the light, breezy theme of the book. I finally asked my sister if she would ask her daughter to give me a hand.

In the meantime, I thought I should see about getting a website for the book. I was ready to call our internet provider and request a domain in my name when it dawned on me that I already had a website I wasn’t using, and OH.MY.GOSH, I had named it Breezy Books when I set it up six years ago. It wasn’t my main website and it’s been dormant for several years. My nickname when I played racquetball was Breezy (dumb blonde act, not quite pumped up full air – or so they said), and who knew all these years later that goofy nickname would still serve me well.

My sister told me that my niece would be happy to design a cover for me. She takes after her father and is quite artistic herself. I was ready to have her start the work, but I didn’t have the extra money to pay her, so I was going to have to wait a while. I would never take her for granted and ask her to do it for free even though that’s what I did to her dad. 🙂

I’m not averse to playing the lottery. You have to be brave though to spend $20 on a scratch-off ticket, and I did just that a few days later. Woo-hoo! It was a $500 winner. I paid a few bills with the money and then set some back for three covers because I was pretty sure I could write three books for the series. My niece started right away on the first one.

I’m delighted with her work. She captured the fun, girlie – and pink – atmosphere of the story. When I sent a check to her, I included the copy of my cookbook that I found at the used book sale. She was surprised and said she had obviously seen the cookbook in her mom’s cupboard for years, but she never knew her dad had done the artwork. I know he would be proud of the work she has done for me. I think it’s pretty neat that two generations of one family have helped me with my self-publishing efforts.

The perfect website already in my possession. The perfect book cover. Priceless.

A Self-Published Cookbook

I loved working at the racquetball club. There were a lot of cute guys, fun girls, and getting paid to have a good time was pretty great.  There were occasions when I would pull a cleaning detail, and I wanted to file a complaint when I chipped a brand new French manicure on a urinal in the men’s locker room, but mostly, it was a blast.

I loved to cook as well, and my collection of over 100 cookbooks had yielded some delicious recipes. One year for Christmas, I decided to make recipes cards of some of my favorites and put them in recipe boxes to give as gifts. What a lot of handwriting, and it soon became tiring, but I’m not a quitter.

One quiet Sunday afternoon at the racquetball club, I worked on the cards. One of the guys came down from the locker room, handed his yucky, wet towel to me, and asked what I was doing. When I told him, he said, “Maddie, you know how to type. Why don’t you make your own cookbook?”

Well, duh! You know those cookbooks you get from women’s groups and churches? They all seem to be the same size and have those punch-and-bind combs down the side. Yep. That’s what I did. I worked at the weight loss center during the day, worked and played racquetball at night, and typed a cookbook in the middle of the night.

That poor family of mine I keep talking about … well, they spent an entire weekend walking around a huge conference table, manually collating pages, and using a punch-and-bind machine to put the darn things together. I not only had Christmas presents, but I also had books for consignment shops. I’ve used my own copy so much it has become worn and tattered. I was delighted to find a like-new copy at a used library book sale a few years ago, and I set it aside.

It still feels good to see the finished product. It was especially neat because my brother-in-law, who was quite artistic, did some really good artwork for the cover.

It was my first publishing attempt. It was 500 copies.

First Reviews

March 1, 2012. My book was finally done. Now what?

I needed to find out if it was good enough to publish on Smashwords. Those tough critics who call themselves my family would be the first place to start.

My sister doesn’t have an eReader or read online, so I had to print a hard copy for her. I asked her to look for typos and obvious errors as well as anything that was clunky when she read it – or if something simply didn’t make sense. I told her I trusted her to tell me if it wasn’t any good and to stop me if I was embarrassing myself.

She called a couple days later and said, “I loved it!” Well, she is my sister after all. But she was off work recovering from a surgery for all of January, and she had a stack of books from the library. She said no matter how hard she tried, none of them held her interest. She assured me that my book was an easy read, and when she put it down, she couldn’t wait to get back to it to find out what happened next.

My mother was so cranky about my writing a book, I really didn’t want her to read it. But after getting positive feedback from my sister, I thought I’d give the copy to Mom and let the chips fall where they may.

She read it in a day and called that evening. She was quite prim as she said, “Maddie, I’m calling to tell you what I thought about your book.” Then she hesitated.

Crikey, Mom, just spit it out.

She finally said, “I liked it.”

Well, knock me over with a feather! She told me that she’d take a break from my book and try to watch something on television, but she kept thinking about the book and had to go back to reading. She, too, thought it was an easy read, and she enjoyed it.

Awesome. Now I had to figure out how to get a cover.

50,000 Words

How many words should my book be? I struggled with this for a while. I’ve read that traditional publishers want a first novel to be at least 60,000 words. 75,000-80,000 is the norm for a mystery.

Thank goodness I’m publishing my own books and don’t have to hit those numbers. I knew I didn’t want my books to be considered novellas, so I hoped to at least hit the 50,000 word mark. Smashwords considers a book to be a full novel at that number of words.

When I finished the first book, it was just under where I wanted it to be.  A first rewrite added enough words to push it over 50,000 words. I read where an editor commented that a 50,000 word book would easily turn into 65,000 words or more on a rewrite and edit. Ha! There was no way I was adding another 15,000 words of filler to the book.

I suppose I’m somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to description. Some people write wonderful descriptions and paint fabulous images across your mind of every little thing that is happening in a story. I don’t always think to tell you that someone was picking at a napkin or brushing toast crumbs off of their shirt while they were speaking. I sort of don’t care either. It doesn’t take away or add to a story for me. My mother admits to skipping entire pages in a book just to get past descriptive writing of locales and history. It just confirms for me the beauty of writing is that you don’t have to please everyone.

Besides, I’m writing something breezy. My market is a niche. My intent is to provide a few hours of entertainment. Three of the books in the series are finished, and all three have naturally fallen into the 51,000 – 56,000 word range. It seems to be the right spot for me.

Write About What You Know

It was Stephen King’s fault that I slept with the lights on for weeks at a time.

We live in a 107-year-old house with two staircases and a creepy basement. I try not to watch horror flicks or read anything that will send my imagination into overdrive and cause our creaky old house to scare me in the middle of the night. Now that vampires, zombies, and paranormal activity are all the rage in fiction, I realize Stephen King and our house have kept me from capitalizing on the movement.

I thought about writing a foodie mystery. I love to cook, and books that tie into cooking or the food industry are also big in the mystery genre. I tried to come up with a culinary idea but to no avail.

I read somewhere that you should write about what you know. That finally sent me in the right direction. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen a book yet where the main character worked in a weight loss center by day and a racquetball club by night. I did both, and both were a hoot – especially since there was a lot of drinking at the latter.

I’ve read a few book reviews where someone will complain that a book was too silly and some of the things that happened weren’t believable. People can’t argue with your own experiences. Writing from experience and writing about what you know have kept me from going too far into the realm of silly. If someone would write to me and say there’s no such thing as a disappearing bathing suit, I could write back with confidence and say, “Just ask my family. I held my head up high as I came out of the pool at that lovely hotel in Florida. They were embarrassed when they had to tell me that my suit was see-through when it was wet.”

Write about what you know.

Where Does This Stuff Come From?

Writing has surprised me.

Once I had Susan’s story in mind, the words came easily. What I wasn’t prepared for were the unexpected twists and turns. When Susan was stopped outside her apartment door by a neighbor who lived across the hall, I not only didn’t know he lived there, but I was surprised to find out he was her best friend! I didn’t intend to write him into the story, but he has been one of my favorite characters, and I can’t imagine the books without him. Where did he come from?

Sometimes I’ll write a scene and several chapters later another event happens that perfectly ties in with the previous event. It wasn’t predetermined, and I have to sit and giggle for a few minutes. Characters show up and things happen that take me completely by surprise. I had no idea writing was like this and would be so entertaining.

Every day I can’t wait to start writing again so I can find out what happens next.

Family Matters

After writing several chapters, I knew I was turning out something I could publish on Smashwords, and it was time to tell my family.

My husband and our son were talking in the kitchen; I joined them. I’m sure the grin on my face made them think I had done something to embarrass them yet again. My husband looked at me and asked a simple, “What now?”

When I announced I was writing a book, our son’s reaction was to bend over at the waist with laughter. My husband starting laughing, too, then wanted to know what it was about.

I told them it was a mystery with a little romance and a little humor. That brought more laughter, and our son walked away shaking his head. I filled my husband in on this fantastic place called Smashwords. I told him he could write a story about anything, publish it there, and then sell it. I told him that my book wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be entertaining.

My sister reads a lot of books from the library. When I told her I was writing a book, she laughed. Obviously, my reputation precedes me.

My mother has always been an avid reader. My colorful life has given her many headaches. When I told her I was writing a book, she frowned. When I told her what the book was about, she was irritated. I know she was thinking I would write something that would embarrass her.

Family. They can be tough critics.

Hey, Universe. Where’s My Book?

I once read that J. K. Rowling had the idea for Harry Potter just pop into her head out of nowhere. She said the story was just there for her to discover.

Well, how fair is that?

My mind is vacant enough at times that I would think the universe could plop a good story into my head. I fiddled around for years trying to write children’s picture books, but after seeing so many interesting short stories at Smashwords, I realized I was in the wrong genre.

I’ve lived a colorful life so far. People who know me really do shake their heads, laugh, and say, “You should write a book.” I know no one wants to read about my life, and I don’t want to read about my neighbor’s life. But I could weave some of my experiences into Susan Hunter’s life.

Once I had that realization, the first book was just there, and I couldn’t write it down fast enough.

Blogging and Library Book Sales

I’m a little late to the blogging scene. It dawned on me about a week ago that I should start a blog and chronicle some of this excursion into the world of writing and self-publishing.

Have you ever been to a book sale at your local library? Tireless workers, many of them volunteer senior citizens, organize the discarded and donated books in a room set aside specifically for the sale. If you were a diehard buyer like I was, you’d show up on the preview night, pay a premium to get in the door, and then run with the stampede to try and see the best and most valuable books first – all for 25 cents to a dollar each.

I wish I had blogged those years of traipsing to sales all over the state. That would have been some fun reading. I saw some pretty intense fights over books as well as some all-around nastiness. But I met wonderful people, too. Standing in line for up to three hours before a sale provided a lot of time for us regulars to get to know each other – and tell some pretty crazy stories. Schmoozing in a book sale line was always entertaining and usually the best part of the sale. Our son complains on occasion that he needs therapy because he spent his childhood under tables guarding our book picks at library book sales. It truly was an adventure.

I’m expecting this foray into self-publishing will be an adventure, too, and I want to put this one into words.

Bushes and Smashwords

About that children’s book I shopped around …

Stuck in the Bushes is a repetitive picture book that elicits giggles from children as the Stuck family cries from the bushes for an entire night. I decided to look around for a place to self-publish it as an ebook and stumbled upon Smashwords.

I think I spent a couple of days poring over that site. I downloaded books for my Nook, but I was mostly fascinated by the variety of self-published items. They ranged from stories of only a few hundred words to epic novels.

As I looked deeper into formatting a children’s book, I realized there would be quite a few hurdles, especially with the artwork. I put the story back in the drawer, but I visited Smashwords every day. I read samples and appreciated that people were so brave to just put their work out there.

I read once that if you wanted to be a writer, you should just write. Write something every day even if it’s only a paragraph. It was 11:00 one evening, and a thought popped into my head. I opened a blank page in Word, and one paragraph came out:

My perfectly restored ‘67 Chevy Chevelle careened around the corner at Walsh and Park, the tires squealing in an effort to get my attention. I was angry, and my mind was reeling. I was thinking of all the ways I wanted to kill him. People on the sidewalk were staring at me as I flew by, and I knew I had to get a grip on more than just the steering wheel. Carbide City was known for speed traps, and I didn’t need another ticket. Why are restored muscle cars magnets for cops and tickets anyway?

I was on my way.

My Cluttered Desk

My desk is always cluttered. Books are stacked to my right, a mountain of paper needing a home or the trash bin is to my left. Pieces of mail are scattered in the open areas as are pens, canceled checks, receipts, and sticky notes. I even see hair bands and my mp3 player from the last ride on the motorcycle with my husband.

Clearing the desk is a chore, so I don’t do it very often. The last time I filed papers, I couldn’t help myself and pulled out my rejection notices for my children’s book. Two of them had handwritten notes on them.  “Please try again!” was on one rejection, “Cute idea” was on the other. A writer friend told me that it was unusual to receive handwritten notes on rejection letters, and I shouldn’t give up.

I did give up – on children’s books. At least for now. Susan Hunter showed up.