It Had to Happen Sooner or Later

I finally broke down and bought a laptop.  Years of working as a transcriptionist has damaged my hands, making my usual writing in longhand slow and uncomfortable; and trying to write in the same space I use for the day job was getting me down.

I know, it’s an extravagant thing to buy when I have a perfectly good desktop in the house, but I’m in a screw-it-I-work-my-ass-off-and-deserve-a-break kind of mood.

I’m not one to plot or brainstorm on the computer.  I still like to sit with a pen and paper on the front porch and scribble down notes about characters and plots.  I use the computer once I’ve roughed out the story and want to give it some shape.  Yesterday, new laptop charged and ready to go, I sat on the couch and typed the opening scenes of the sequel to Winthrop Risk, Detective–The Mystery of the Missing Hamster, with a DVD of Salem’s Lot (the David Soul version) playing in the background.  It was glorious.  By saving the draft to One Cloud, I’m able to easily access it from the desktop when I want to print it out for revisions.

I bought a nifty backpack to carry the laptop in, with plenty of space for my notepad and the reference material I need.  My own portable office.  I suddenly feel wonderfully free.

Now to find a suitable coffee shop to haunt.

 

Advertisements

When It’s Been Too Long

I haven’t done a great deal of writing over the past year.  I’ve worked a lot of hours at the hated day job, just trying to keep the roof over our heads.  I’ve battled some health issues and I’ve been neck-deep in ongoing family crises.

I’m tired.

Now that my husband is back to work after a very long layoff, I’m hoping to get my Sunday writing schedule back on track.  I have the bare bones of the next installment of Winthrop Risk, Detective, but I haven’t figured out the opening line.  Once I get that down, the actual writing of the story will be easier.  I’ve written some of Winthrop’s snappy dialogue and I know what his new case involves.  I have three solid suspects and have worked in a bit of a surprise about the identity of one of them.  My Winthrop character will be more “fleshed out” in this installment.  He’s turning into quite the guy.

I’m excited about it.  I’m also paralyzed.  How is that possible?

I think my enthusiasm for the characters and the story have set my own expectations far too high.  In short, I’m afraid of screwing it up.

Of all the forms of writer’s block, this is the one I dread the most.  If I don’t have a story idea, I know how to trick my brain into coming up with one.  It usually involves doing anything BUT trying to write.  I observe the world without trying to figure it out.  Look and listen without comment.  Jot down interesting names or phrases that I hear or that just pop into my head.  I use the same technique when I don’t know where the plot should go.  No big deal.

Someone once said (Anne Lamott?) that Fear was an especially vicious monster that smiles and wears lace gloves and says things like, “I just don’t want you to look foolish, dear.”

It will do no good to tell her she’s not invited.  Fear is also a narcissistic bitch if ever there was one.  She’ll show up, convinced of her own importance; but today I’ll resist the impulse to let her take a seat.

Today, I’ll gently court the Muse.  I’ll invite her over for a long-overdue visit.  We’ll sit on the porch and read a little bit.  We’ll read about writers and writing.  Then we’ll go over the story notes and I’ll tell her, “See, this isn’t bad.  We have something here.”  If she agrees, she’ll whisper that opening line and the floodgates will open.

I’ll make some tea.  She likes that.

 

A New Venture with a Grey Wolfe

When I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective, it wasn’t meant to be a picture book.  It’s what I call a transitional book.

Let me explain.

When my younger son was a child, he struggled to read because of his dyslexia.  He loved stories but just couldn’t read them by himself.  After much time and struggle (thank you, Hooked on Phonics!), he began to get the hang of it.  Still, moving him from picture books to chapter books was proving to be impossible.  I managed to find a couple of books that had short, easy chapters and only a few pencil illustrations.  Each chapter he read on his own gave him the confidence to try another one.  Eventually, he was able to move on to full-length books.  At 27, he still struggles with words; but he loves to read and has even started to write a book of his own.  Helping children like him gently transition from picture books to chapter books was what I had in mind when I wrote Winthrop Risk, Detective.

I believe kids who have reading problems (especially boys) lose their interest in stories because they can’t make the move from books where the pictures tell the story to chapter books where there are only words to tell the story.  I wanted to write a few books that would serve as a transition between those two worlds.  Sadly, my attempts at illustration have been, well, unfortunate; and hiring an artist was financially out of the question.  I forged ahead and self-published the book as a simple 32-page, 4-chapter book.

The result was a book with a good story but an amateurish appearance.  I’ve sold about a half-dozen copies on Amazon and Kindle.

A couple of weeks ago, I came upon a TV interview with a local author and he mentioned a place called the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium (http://www.GreyWolfePublishing.com).  It’s an indie bookstore and publisher housed in a strip mall not too far from here.  They emphasize local Michigan authors in their store, offer publishing advice and services (including providing illustrators who work at an affordable price), and host a variety of writing events.  I contacted them and they graciously accepted a few copies of my book for their local authors’ section.

Sometime this summer, they’ll arrange for me to do a reading in the store.  They’ll also spotlight the book on their Facebook page.  I’ve been invited to sit in on their monthly meetings of authors, illustrators, and others in the book industry to swap ideas and get advice.  They’re also going to help me set up a website.  They love books and they respect the people who create them.  Amazon is simply too monolithic an entity for all that.  In fact, from what I hear, not even big traditional publishers put that kind of effort into their authors.

I don’t regret making the move to self-publish on Amazon.  If I didn’t have the book out there, I wouldn’t have something to put on the shelf at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium.  I know other indie authors are doing well with Amazon, but it just doesn’t seem to be working for me the way I have it set up.  I’ll take the lion’s share of the blame for that; but let’s face it, Amazon simply prints on demand whatever people write, and a lot of that is garbage.  They profit when a book sells, regardless of its quality, so it makes no business sense for them to put any effort into promotion.  You have to pay to promote your book with them in the hope it will be noticed among the thousands of other titles Amazon carries.  More money for them.  It’s basic capitalism–they provide a service and we pay for that service.  Nobody holds a gun to our head.  We agree to the terms, but the odds definitely favor the house.

My plan, if the folks at Grey Wolfe agree, is to eventually pull my book from Amazon, have an illustrator do some simple drawings for each chapter, and republish the book through their indie publishing group, Write Duck Press.  The Winthrop Risk sequels I’m planning would go there, as well.  Eventually, I’ll save up enough money to pay an illustrator so I can start publishing the picture book manuscripts I’ve been sitting on.  And I’ll have the backup of experienced people who actually care whether or not my stories are purchased and read.

I wish I had known about Grey Wolfe Publishing/Write Duck Press/The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium a couple of years ago.  If you live in Michigan, check out their store in Clawson, Michigan.  They carry more than 100 titles by local authors.  Buy a book!  Wherever you live, look for an indie bookstore in your area.  They may have services available to you as an author that you’ll never get from the big boys in the publishing world.

Publishing doesn’t have to be the demoralizing experience it has become for so many writers.  There are still people out there who appreciate and respect the storytellers in the world.  Let the big publishing houses continue to crank out formulaic, trendy, market-driven, plotless titles featuring TV cartoon characters.  Thank goodness, today’s writers have other options.

Thank you, Grey Wolfe Scriptorium!

 

Bezos’ book graveyard

Author Jack Eason’s thoughts on publishing with Amazon. A must read.

Have We Had Help?

Dave_McKean-4227

Ever wondered how to remove a book from the reading public’s gaze? Simple. Publish it exclusively on Amazon!

The company’s CEO Jeff Bezos only cares about profit. When he realised he was losing money by paying royalties to each and every author who make their book available only through his company, he put a stop to the time-honoured practice.

From the readers point of view Amazon’s all you can read for X dollars/pounds per month makes sense. The problem is that because of the way it is set up, the author gets next to nothing. Why? Because no copy of the book is actually bought, only ever borrowed and read. All the author receives is less than $0.0003 of a cent per page read!

Even if you are foolish enough to spend money in an attempt to promote your book. If it is only on Amazon, after a few days…

View original post 271 more words

Now THAT’s a Playground

Another oldie for your entertainment.

Storyteller

76991_1569513552407_5558354_n

That, boys and girls, is the courtyard of the apartment building in which I grew up.  Second story on the right. The current occupant has an air conditioner in the kitchen window, which I find puzzling. My cousin Irene took this picture a few years ago.  When I first saw it, I thought something was missing but couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it came to me.  No clotheslines!  When I was a kid, the entire courtyard was crisscrossed with clotheslines running between the two buildings. I guess everyone has a dryer now.  No more pulling frozen blue jeans off the line and standing them in a corner to thaw out.

When we were very small, the landlady would attach a hose to her kitchen sink and feed it out of the ground floor window, second down on the right, so we could cool off in the summer.  We put on our…

View original post 508 more words

What’s This Word Doing in My Head and How’d Russell Crowe Get in My Bedroom?

Here’s an oldie I wrote about where story ideas come from.

Storyteller

I was battling my nightly insomnia (the kind where I fall asleep fast enough but wake up around 1:00 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours) and a word popped into my head. Honk. That’s it. Just “honk”.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with that, but it won’t go away. I wrote the word down on an index card and placed it in my trusty purple box. If there’s a story attached to it, I don’t want to forget the word. I mean, a word of that magnitude…

I have other words and lines that have been kicking around in my head or hibernating in the purple box for years. One line in particular has been there since about 1987. No kidding. It’s a great line. Full of promise. But I can’t settle on a story to put it in. You wouldn’t believe…

View original post 298 more words

Winthrop Risk, Detective

266f0r

Image

Winthrop Risk, Detective

266fbl

Image

If you’re a lousy writer…

…what do you do?

A young woman recently posted on a Facebook page for self-published authors how painful it was for her to read the cruel reviews of her book on Amazon.  I read through the comments, and our fellow authors tried very hard to explain to her why the book was tanking.  They were amazingly kind and diplomatic about it.  Several went through the trouble of reading an excerpt and then offering a critique.

The young lady had apparently been through some traumatic experiences and wanted to share her fight with the world.  Her intentions were good.  She hoped reading her story would help someone in a similar situation.

The problem was, she couldn’t write her way out of the proverbial paper bag.  Her spelling was awful, and she didn’t seem to know the basic rules of grammar.  The spellcheck and grammar check functions on her computer were either ignored or disabled.  Her thoughts, according to other writers, were scattered and rambling.  The manuscript read like a very rough first draft.

They all gave what amounted to the same pieces of advice.  She had to pull the book.  She needed a professional editor.  She needed to revise, revise, revise.

To that I added that she should take a refresher course in basic grammar.  Yes, I said it nicely and encouraged her to continue to hone her craft.

I don’t know if she has it in her to become a good writer.  It isn’t enough to have a compelling tale to tell–you have to know how to tell it.

Look, we’re writers and we want to be published.  There’s no shame in that.  The shame lies in manuscripts that are clicked into existence before they’ve been properly bled over.

So, what’s a lousy writer to do?  Well, if you aren’t willing to do the work, stop.  You aren’t a writer.  You’re a wannabe with romantic notions about walnut-paneled offices, tweed jackets, and brandy snifters.  This is real life, not a Hallmark movie.  Get a grip.

Read.  Familiarize yourself with words and how other writers string them like lovely pearls across the page.

Reeducate.  Take a grammar course at your local adult education center or on-line.  All that sentence structure stuff Sister Margaret Mary tried to pound into your skull really does matter.

Read about writing.  I was having trouble getting started because I was trying to write straight through from beginning to end and knew nothing about plotting a story.  I found it helpful to read a couple of books about writing in my genre and figured out where I was going wrong.  But be careful not to let reading about writing take the place of actual writing.  That’s an easy trap to fall into.

Revise your manuscript again and again until you’re satisfied with it, and then give it to an impartial reader for a critique.  Writing groups are excellent for this purpose.

There is a certain wonderful drudgery to writing.  It’s exhausting.  It’s exhilarating.  It’s the most intense love/hate relationship you’ll ever have.  There are days you give up and swear you’ll never go back to it.  But a few days or weeks later, the Muse returns with flowers and chocolates and apologizes for being such a jerk, and off you go.

Finish the sentence for me:  Any job worth doing is worth doing __________.

 

I’m Not My Mother

I recently celebrated my birthday, which reminded me that I need to send for a copy of my birth certificate. Somewhere among Fort Dix, West Germany, and Michigan it was lost.

My birth certificate is something of a puzzle to me. I have five siblings, all with a first and middle name. My first name is Mary Jane but I have no middle name. My parents told me it was because my first name was a double name and a middle name wasn’t necessary. When you’re different from your siblings, you’re simultaneously proud of the distinction and hurt by it.

I accepted their explanation until I was about 17 and signing up for driver’s training at school. I had to produce my birth certificate and asked my mother to give it to me. I took it out of the envelope and read the details of my arrival, noting that I was born in the morning. But looking at it a second time, I noticed that it listed my first name as Mary and my middle name as Jane. Middle name? I don’t have a middle name. I’m Mary Jane, or “MJ” to family and friends. I’m not Mary. My mother’s name was Mary.

Surely, the folks who printed the birth certificate had misunderstood and listed my name incorrectly. A typo, that’s all. I would have to correct it. We were living in a different state at the time and this was long before the age of the internet, so I had to write a letter explaining my problem and send it via snail mail. A few weeks later, I received the necessary form and filled it out. My mother seemed a bit miffed when I asked her to sign it, though I didn’t understand why and knew better than to ask. I then had to mail it to my father for his signature, as my parents were long since divorced. I have no idea what his reaction might have been.

A few more weeks, and I received a corrected birth certificate. I had them list my first name as “Mary-Jane”, adding the hyphen to prevent confusion in the future. It never occurred to me to give myself a middle name. I was just MJ, as I had always been.

Had my mother not reacted the way she did when I asked her to sign the form to correct my birth certificate, I might have forgotten all about it. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you’ll know my mother and I had a very bad relationship. It didn’t start when I was a teenager. She just didn’t like me, let alone love me, and I knew that from the time I was a very small girl. Why, then, would she give me her name? I have two older sisters, one of whom was her favorite. Why didn’t she name her Mary? I find myself wondering about it. By the time I came along, my parents’ marriage was falling apart; and by falling apart, I mean they were openly hostile to one another. Did she name me Mary just to piss off my father? Did he then insist everyone call me Mary Jane instead of Mary, just to piss off my mother?

I can only speculate about my mother’s hatred for me, since it was always present. Her first child was a boy, followed by my two older sisters. Was she hoping that her next baby would be another boy? Did she think that would make things better with her husband? It was the early sixties after all, so that sort of thinking wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Her sister had given birth to a boy just a month earlier.

The funny thing is that my father doted on me when I was very small. He said I was a beautiful baby who was born with a head full of dark brown hair. I used to sit in his lap. There’s an old home movie of him feeding me ice cream when I was about two years old. We used to take naps in his rocking chair. I wonder if my mother was angry because he didn’t hate me, because he wasn’t upset that I wasn’t a boy, and yet her marriage was still a disaster.

I’ll never get any answers, as both of my parents are dead now. By the time I was five, our apartment had become an emotional minefield. My parents never spoke and my father began to disconnect himself from his children. At least I know that he loved me for a few years.

To this day, it irks me when someone calls me “Mary” (no offense to all you Marys out there), and I’m lightning-quick to correct them. I’m MJ. I am not Mary. I am not my mother.

Previous Older Entries