Ode to the Reader

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No two persons ever read the same book.  Edmund Wilson – critic – May 8th, 1895-1972.

Edmund Wilson - critic - wikipedia

Any author who has received reviews of their work will tell you the truth of Wilson’s quote. Writers write and readers interpret.

As Anna sings in the hit Disney classic, FrozenLet it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.

As a writer, I fling my words out into the world and I let the readers do their job. Each person who opens one of my novels will bring to the book a unique set of life experiences, attitudes, values and expectations. Each will read a different book out of the very words available to all. And so it should be!

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Brushing Up and Reinventing–It’s All Good

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Home from my travels in the frigid lands of Southern Alberta. All I can say is that not everyone can live in the paradise that is the West Coast with wind, rain and stunning bursts of sun – all within the space of one rambling walk! Such is the diversity of Canadian weather. My first week of being home usually entails a process of orientation. I am not the best at moving seamlessly from one environment to another. It takes time for me to settle. I’m like an old dog that must circle and circle her bed before she can lay down.

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Back to solitary walks watching for bears. It is that time of year. Back to stationary bike rides while the rain pounds down beyond the covered deck. Back to thinking about where to go with my next book. I made a choice in January not to plunge into the writing of book five in the Crater Lake series. I have scads of starting notes and a gripping story board. I was perched on the edge when planning becomes doing. But I stepped back.

Naturally, I now question that decision. Such is life. There is an alchemy to the process of writing that is slippery to explain. I’ve always known when the moment is right, and it wasn’t. As lame as that sounds even to my own ears, I know it to be true.

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But I’m missing the Crater Lake setting, the characters and their conversations. I need a way back into that world. I read a great post the other day on Writers Helping Writers that suggested authors of books in sequence would be wise to have a series bible to help them avoid making errors. No one wants a reader noticing glaring inconsistencies. Like character A having a peanut butter allergy in book two and then gladly chowing down on a PB and J sandwich in book three. Things that simple and things more complex. Character sketches, important dates, timelines and storylines, setting details – they all need to be consistent across books.

So – here is my plan. I’ll create such a bible for the Crater Lake series. Most of this stuff is already written. I will pull all the stands together into a single document that I can reference and add to as I move forward.

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My second way back to Crater Lake is my intention to move all the softcover books from CreateSpace to the Kindle Direct platform. When I first contemplated this shift, it seemed like a wise move. The process of transfer looked easy and the benefit of having all sale information in one place appealed to me. Real life is seldom as smooth as one hopes.

I ran into a snag with Disappearing in Plain Sight. Kindle Direct rejected the book saying my author name disappears into the black on the front cover. Ironic – right? My name disappearing on the cover of Disappearing in Plain Sight. Oh well. In 2015 when I took the book back from Friesen Press, they provided me with the cover jpeg. When I reissued the book under my own imprint of Huckleberry Haven Publishing, I made use of the original cover with a major tweak – removing the Friesen Press logo and inserting my own. But it seems Kindle Direct has different standards than CreateSpace.

While my husband Bruce works out the glitches with the cover, I have decided – with the cooperation of my wonderful editor – to do a fresh grammatical edit on Disappearing in Plain Sight. The manuscript has gone through a number of revisions since our original editing work and now seems like a good time to shake it out like a crumbled quilt. Soon I must replenish my bulk supply of the softcover and it will be great to have pristine, updated copies to put on display. I’m also hoping for a BookBub feature sometime in the coming months and I want my flagship ebook to shine.

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So, there you have it – at Crater Lake but not quite onto new material. A few quick questions: Series authors – do you keep a series bible? How did you go about creating this resource? Waste of time (get writing!) or good idea? Is anyone else moving softcover books from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct? Have you run into any glitches with the process?

Marketing Your Self-Published Book

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The year 2018 is my sixth year of marketing my novels through my self-publishing imprint – Huckleberry Haven Publishing. I’ve wandered down many a marketing road over that time. Without fail, each new road was promoted as the one and only route to success. Most turned out to be nothing more than the flavour of the month. These roads led to wash outs or curves I did not anticipate. And don’t get me started on the tollbooth roundabouts with no way out of the circle.

On the up side, some meandering trails came out on my version of the superhighway of success.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Write a Good Book

It does make sense that you would want something worth marketing. But remember, the quality of any book is decided on a highly subjective basis. I read a lot and many books that I would classify as pure crap are doing well on Amazon. There is no accounting for personal taste when it comes to reading. If your book is something you would want to read, no doubt there are others out there who will also want to read it. No one is an island when it comes to reading preferences.

Assisted Self-Publishing – not all it’s cracked up to be.

Do you have unlimited cash? Are you content to let someone else control your book sales? Are you okay with giving up access to most promotional opportunities?

I tried an assisted self-publishing company for my first book and I was not satisfied.

Most will promise the moon and deliver a mere sprinkle of star dust. You can format and publish your own books for a fraction of the cost while retaining control of important sales data. If you aren’t up to creating a book cover you can find someone who is. Contract with them and pay them once only for the service. The same can be said for editing and formatting. Or you can DIY the whole process. It all depends on your existing skills and how much time you are willing to invest in learning new ones.

Our Trouble-making Marten

Ignore the Pseudo-Gatekeepers.

For me, the whole point of self-publishing was to let readers decide if they liked my work. I wasn’t willing to jump through time-consuming hoops and be rejected at the end of the process because the agents or the traditional publishers didn’t think anyone would want to read my books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that gatekeepers are not restricted only to traditional publishing.

There are many pseudo-gatekeepers in the self-publishing world who make their money by preying on an author’s insecurities. They deal in the sale of approval – admittance to a special group, a pre-screening of your work, the opportunity to win a contest that will provide a shiny sticker for your book cover.

If you choose self-publishing, I would advise you to overcome the need for approval from anyone other than your readers.

Social Media – much ado about nothing?

I know you’ve heard the cast-in-stone rules about social media. The more places you are the better. You must be active on your Facebook author page, tweet everyday, write blog posts, get photos out on Instagram and Pinterest. 

I know a highly successful self-published author who does nothing on social media but her Facebook author page. She keeps her posts and updates on that page interesting and current. Her followers engage with her and are committed to her success. Her sales tell me that more and more social media is not necessarily better.

Here is what I suggest: find one or two platforms you really enjoy and stick to those. Stake out a little bit of real estate in cyberspace where you can post about your work and your life with creativity and ingenuity. People who show up to visit won’t mind if you promote the occasional special offer for one of your books. They will appreciate your effort.

At all costs, avoid papering the social media world with advertisements for your work. This is crass – period. And it won’t sell a single book. Enough said.

Create a Huge Email List

The self-published author’s email list is an imperative that is currently sacrosanct. We are urged to go down any and every road imaginable to gather email addresses then keep all of these people updated with news about our work and promotions. Well, guess what? Our well-crafted emails end up in the same spot as junk mail in the post office – the trash bin.

I’m not saying don’t gather email addresses. At the end of your e-book, provide your email and ask readers to contact you with their thoughts. Offer them a gift. I send an e-book copy of my short stories to anyone who emails me. Gather the email addresses of the readers who respond. These are the people who really like your work and want to hear when your next book is coming out. Using such a method, the email list you come up with is pure gold. It won’t be huge but then again, your emails won’t immediately hit the trash bin either.

Watch for Part 2 of this post. I’ll share my thoughts on the dilemma faced by self-published authors when it comes to getting book reviews.

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A Time for Reflection

Planets and the sun

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday kicked off the forty days of Lent. For those who follow church time, Lent is traditionally a period to clear out the excess that clutters our days to make room for the new life that will come with Easter. It is true that the new will have a hard time finding a spot to settle in with us if all the available real estate is taken.

Without a doubt, our lives get cluttered. Objects, behaviours, ideas, activities – you name it – somehow, these things start to take up way more time, energy and space that we ever thought they would. In the best sense, Lent can be the broom that sweeps clear and helps us get back to the basics. Lent can be a time when we hone in on what really matters to us and how we might find our way to doing what we can to enact change.

Peace Crane Project, Lindale park Gardens, Minneapolis MN

Here is a list of ways to make change this Lent (by no means exhaustive and only meant to prime the pump of your own imagination):

  • Spend at least an hour outdoors every day for the next forty days – fresh air and glimpses of nature (even in the city these do abound!) are restorative.
  • Look into a micro-lending agency like Kiva. Giving a hand up is a great way to make change.
  • Resolve to grow something – anything will do. Start some seeds. Nurture a house plant. Pop the end of a green onion in a glass of water. Simply pay attention to the process and enjoy the miracle of growth.
  • How about this … don’t buy anything you don’t really need for the next forty days.
  • Tackle a de-cluttering task – break it down into small pieces and resolve to finish the job before Easter. Less stuff hanging around is always conducive to a better outlook on life. And you may just find a few things to give away.
  • Heal a broken relationship even if all it involves is letting go and forgiving yourself.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose – any of the R’s will do.

“Everything in life has its own time. There is time to celebrate and there is time to mourn. This is the time for reflection and transformation. Let us look within and change into what we ought to be.” (Aaron Saul)

An angel sitting with the Buddha in our garden - photo by Bruce Witzel

Rusty Beginnings

An era gone-by

Taking a dive back into the 5th book of the Crater Lake series has me reeling with how rusty I become when away from this work for a few months. My current notes show no measure of finesse. Everything is overwrought and jagged. Trying to sort out all the threads of this upcoming novel is akin to plunging into a knitting basket of yarn after a group of rambunctious kittens have had a romp.

I’m thankful that I’m not starting from scratch. The file folder for the upcoming novel already holds several documents – detailed sketches of all my new characters, research notes on bullying programs and Afghanistan vets, list of storylines, a master table of characters and a table for this book. I have some notes on dogs that baffle me. This information must have been something I thought would be useful. I’ve created a rudimentary storyboard – sparse with post-it-notes, a few tentative lines and connections. Much work remains to be done on this valuable visual aid.

The story is a mess in my head. At this point, there is a tendency to overreact to this chaos. I have tagged one new character for possible elimination from book five. Her story may be of more use in book six. But I’ll keep her in the notes for now. We’ll see. No need to be too hasty.

Simply begin. It’s the only way I know to proceed with the task of creating a novel. My method is to write my way into the story. The more words I throw on the page, the more organized and clear the ultimate story becomes. I’ve been here before. When I begin to glimpse the contours of the whole thing through the mist, that will be the point when I know I am close to tipping from note taking to actual writing.

The promise of that moment keeps me going through the difficulty of these early days. It allows me to bear my stuttering first attempts to unravel this mess of knotted yarn before me. Damn those kittens!

Where do you begin on the journey of creating a novel? How do you manoeuvre the first faltering stages? And what if your ideas are not even at the knotted yarn stage? I came across a post on Writers Helping Writers the other day that listed some great ways to generate ideas – Ten Ways to Goose the Muse. Check it out!

I’ll leave you today with a photo of my latest garden statue acquisition. We purchased ‘Edgar’ at the Millerville Christmas Market on our recent trip to High River, Alberta. He’s a mischievous gargoyle who looks as though he just dropped in for a bit of fun. Edgar may or may not be up to no good. I suspect he may show up in my upcoming book as a new addition to Izzy’s garden. She might see him from her kitchen window and experience the same delight I feel every time I see him. Edgar was created by Castaway – an artist out of Okotoks. I am sorry to say, I gave the business card away to someone who admired Edgar and now I can’t find a link to their work. All I can say is that they create lovely stuff at a reasonable price and if you’re ever in Okotoks, Alberta looking for a statue, look them up!

Edgar has found his forever home

Are You a Fan of Serialized Fiction?

Game of Thrones

Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!

Star Wars

As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing. 

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To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:

Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!

Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Conn Iggulden War of the Roses

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.

I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.

Jack Reacher

I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.

Heartland

Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.

Groot

How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.

What’s Over the Top Great About Fall on the North Island

Blue fall skies

When it comes to the words – there’s no place like home – climate is definitely on my agenda. I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago and the temperature was in the mid-30’s. Wow! Not what I was expecting. I returned to High River, Alberta, in time to get my sweaters out and got home only just in front of the snow flying. So – what’s so great about fall on the North Island? Where do I start? How about with blue skies and great views.

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Fall colours and the flowers in the garden are still going strong.

Fall colours - Gold's Nine Bark

Fall flowers

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Pink Hydreangea

Our garden is still producing and now that I’ve caught up with pounds of tomatoes sitting everywhere, I can enjoy planning meals around all the wonderful fresh food we are picking daily.

Blackberries

Fall lettuce

Fall carrots

Today's produce pickings

And speaking of meal planning – solar cooking chicken thighs in homemade salsa today!

Salsa chicken thighs

Sun Oven

Best of all – no bugs to speak of, pleasant t-shirt weather and I can still dry clothes on the line. It’s all good.

Laundry on the line in Oct.