Friday, May 31, 2013

KNIT A STORY

                                



Periodically, I take up knitting.   I learned to knit many years ago in Brownies, the prequel to Girl Guides.   Due to budget constraints, no doubt, we learned on chopsticks but I do not in any way attribute my subsequent experiences to this introduction.

I admire knitters and I wish I could be good at it.   Next to perusing fabric, I like looking at yarns.   In a yarn store--and there aren't too many of those around any more--I can spend a long time fingering the different skeins, looking at the patterns and colours.   I've found an on-line yarn shop which doesn't provide quite the same tactile pleasure but can still suffice.   I enjoy filling up an on-line shopping cart with delicious balls of yarns with names like Ornaghi Filati Peluche and Manos de Uruguay and Jo Joland Rhythm, not to mention yarn colours like burnished tangerine, ballet pink, moss garden, violet forest and oasis.



I think a job just thinking up yarn names would be a creative form of writing.  No plot, just the delicious sounds of alliteration, hyperbole and onomatopoeia with some foreign enunciations thrown in.   I like to buy the yarn, after lengthy consideration, and the pattern--there are thousands to choose from.   I enjoy anticipating the delivery of said yarn and pattern and picking up the box from the post office and slitting the packing tape and opening the box and . . . usually the pleasure stops there.


Now I have to look at the pattern directions which seem exceedingly complicated, checking the abbreviations which vary from pattern to pattern, country to country.   CO, DEC, YO, BO  -- you get the idea.   Then I start, full of hope.


The thing about knitting is that, ideally, you can get into a certain peaceful state of restful semi-somnolence.   Your fingers move of their own accord, hypothetically producing beautiful patterns and woollen fabric beneath the knitting needles.  You get into a kind of 'zone'.   I've read that knitting helps reduce blood pressure and has a generally calming meditative effect.   I can believe that.   I think they're talking about other people, though. 

 What happens to me, inevitably, is that things go awry.   I lose track, I lose count, I forget which row I'm on.   I consult scraps of paper where I have made tally marks to try to keep my place in the pattern.   A hole develops in a row --Why?  I quaver; is it very bad?   Can I keep going?   Would it be noticed?   Is it in an inconspicuous spot?   Curses, no.   Once you give in and accept imperfection, it's downhill from there.   That happens often.   Today, I decide to follow what you are supposed to do and unravel the row.   Alas, I'm weak at that skill as well.   I lose a stitch and don't realize it.   I put the remaining stitches back on the knitting needle but facing the wrong direction.   When I start up again, it hasn't helped.   


I take a few deep breaths.   I put my knitting and remaining balls in a bag by my chair, waiting for a time when inspiration--and a solution--comes.   A week later I put the bag in a closet.   Out of sight . . . you know the rest.    Guilt descends.   Feelings of incompetence.   I go back to writing and start to feel much better.   I tell myself I should think of knitting like taking a walk in nature--it's the journey not the destination.   It's the process not the product.    Sigh.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ON THE ROAD TO PUBLISHING



                                                          

Writing has been described as a lonely profession but in this new publishing era there are many opportunities to interact with fellow writers.  Amazon has made something called Kindle Forums available for authors.   You might describe it as a virtual coffee shop.   It's a place to read posts from other writers, write your comments or pose questions and generally connect with writers whom you may or may not have something in common with.  There are some trolls there who amuse themselves by causing havoc.   I make sure to be anonymous when I post.


It is interesting that new writers often post announcements about the release of their new book which seems counter-intuitive.   Although most writers are readers, the Kindle forum is not a venue for advertising and Amazon's stated policy opposes soliciting customers there.   Nevertheless, it seems to be tolerated although there is a some chastisement from time to time.  Mostly those posts are just ignored.



Some writers ask for help with evaluating their cover or their 'blurb'--the description  that goes on their book's page on Amazon's website.  There are some more experienced authors who offer their advice, even if it is not always what the questioner wants to hear.



There are regular discussions on the merits of the KDP Select program.   This is a program that allows authors to make their book an Amazon exclusive e-book for a renewable 90 days.   It is then available to be borrowed by Amazon Prime members and the author can make their book free to all for five days out of the 90 days.   Again, this seems counter-intuitive to me, but some authors assure others that it has been a valuable form of promotion.



I recently read a thread on the forum about returns.   Amazon very generously allows e-book purchasers to return them up to seven days after purchase.   More than enough time to read them and still claim a refund.   Rinse and repeat . . .    After a certain number of times down this path Amazon steps in and refuses the refund but no one is certain what is required to trigger this action.   Meanwhile, authors gnash their teeth and some rail against those who believe anything digital should be free.




Saturday, May 25, 2013

CLEAN OR SWEET BUT NOT YOUR SOCKS OR FLOORS!

One of the complaints readers make is that a particular book wasn't what they expected.    Some will go as far as to vent their disappointment with a bad review.     I suppose it's a little like on-line purchases that don't measure up to your expectations.   Of course, you're annoyed.   Hopefully, you can return without charge.   There's no doubt it is frustrating to realize an item is never going to work for you and then face paying half the cost of it in return shipping costs.   Many of us have been there.

No, as writers we have an obligation to let our readers know that to expect when they purchase one of our books.   We don't want to give away the plot or ending but especially with on-line purchases,  we don't want to lure in readers with false expectations.

I was reading recently that, where in the past readers felt obliged to keep going with a book they weren't finding enjoyable, today there seems to be less hesitation in hitting the 'delete' button.   Our time has become more valuable to us, perhaps.   In some reviews, readers  will make clear their frustration with comments like 'that's three hours I'll never get back' or 'even if it was free, it wasn't worth it' and even 'I'd return it if it wasn't free.'   Since I don't make my books free, at least I won't receive the latter two comments!

It can be difficult to be objective when reviewing books that one hasn't liked.   Often it comes down to disappointed expectations.   I read about half of a post-apocalyptic book until it turned into what I would call 'horror' and I had to stop.   Someone else may have found that an interesting part of the book.   No judgment where books . . . and music . . . are concerned.



                                                                          


But to get back to the title of this post.   I've sometimes wondered how to give potential readers sufficient information as to that 'what they see, is what they get.'   There is, of course, the Read Inside feature on Amazon that allows for the first couple of chapters to be previewed.   Perhaps that's enough.   In the two romance novellas I wrote recently, I used the tags 'sweet romance' and 'clean romance' to indicate that they were definitely not 50 Shades of Grey.   But when I checked out these tags in the Amazon search box, I came up with books about compulsive cleaning women, clean jokes for kids, addicts who are looking to come clean from drugs and even the Smelly Sock Shop, a book for children.   

I didn't fare much better with Sweet Romance which is the other tag given to books that leave sex to the imagination.  This includes a Short and Sweet Erotic Romance, and another graphic novel which has Sweet Temptation in the title.   

Perhaps what is needed is a glossary!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

THOSE SPECIAL MOMENTS IN TIME


In a brief conversation with a colleague at the end of the day the topic of kayak trips came up in regards to her weekend plans.   I think I can easily say that she is more athletic than I am, but nevertheless I have kayaked on occasion and I have one particular kayaking experience which reposes in my collection of special moments in time.   I was in Milford Sound in New Zealand which you can read about here.   It is considered one of the Wonders of the Natural World.   I was on an overnight boat trip and kayaks were launched after dark with only some lanterns from the ship and the multitude of stars overhead for light.   The silence was so profound that my breathing seemed too loud.   It was then that I held my breath long enough to freeze that moment in time somewhere in the file in my mind that has the same title as this post. 

I think many others have adopted a similar practice, although the moments that merit inclusion no doubt vary.   Those instances when time seems to stop progressing and a deep sense of awe or wonder  at the specialness of the time, the instant, the event or activity.   We've accomplished something that took a lot of work and effort, we did something we were afraid to do.   Perhaps we find ourselves in a location so amazing  that we feel privileged to exist in the same space, if only temporarily.

I never seem to have a camera handy at these moments and I'm also convinced that trying to capture the moment on film would diminish the experience.   I might notice instead that my hair is messy.   So, the photograph below is not Milford Sound but rather the Bay of Islands in New Zealand's North Island.   But I can still close my eyes and be inspired by Milford Sound in all its majesty.

                                                               

Saturday, May 18, 2013

AND YOU CAN'T PUT A PRICE ON THAT



                                              



If you're a parent, providing your children with the opportunity for a happy and modestly prosperous future is a common goal.  In addition to giving love and attention, being a good role model and a enforcing reasonable rules, helping your children to do as  well in school  as they are able is part of the means to that end.

I'm going to stick my neck out and postulate that regular readers are better students, and you can't put a price on that.  By readers I mean children who choose to read, who read for pleasure and who read regularly.  Readers are better at spelling, grammar, comprehension, inferential understanding, writing, oral speaking and debating not to mention a host of incidental knowledge that is picked up by osmosis.

There are many distractions for children today and more than a few didn't exist a generation ago.   It probably takes more effort to make your children into readers.   But, it's worth it!

Here are some tips:

1.   Personal choice.   Let children choose from a large selection (you probably will need to provide some slight oversight to keep the wildly inappropriate off their radar) and let them pick the book themselves.  I read comics, Nancy Drew, Hardy boys--I even read the backs of cereal boxes.

2.   The selection should be books/text at the child's reading level.   That means about ninety-eight percent accuracy.  Ask your child's teacher about their reading level.   If the average page in a chapter book has 100 words, then not more than 2 words that need to be sounded out or are otherwise difficult.

3.  Have your child talk to peers, siblings or to you about what they have read.  Not just recalling or retelling but analysis, comment and comparison.  Why did the character do that, how does that character compare to the character in a similar book, recently read, would you do what the character did in their place.  You get the idea.

4.  Children should listen to a fluent adult read aloud.   Pick a book a couple or more reading levels higher than the child's.    This helps increase the child's vocabulary and comprehension, sense of story, awareness of genre and
text structure.   Plus it's a rewarding thing to do with your child.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SHIRTLESS MEN


                               




What's with all the shirtless men?   Not just any old, out of shape, sweaty, shirtless men, mowing the lawn in the heat of summer, but men with visible six packs and other assorted muscles.   Hairless-chested men.   Men with pained, longing expressions on their perfectly featured faces, the wind riffling slightly through their hair.  We see them in profile, in full face, without a head and even only their, still muscular, backs.   Talk about objectifying someone.  

I've been looking at book covers.  I've recently ventured into writing a couple of novellas in the 'sweet romance' or 'clean romance' genre.   In an attempt to be a little bit entrepreneurial I decided to scope out the competition on Amazon.   That's when I realized that romance involves no shirt--at least for the men, although a few of them have merely unbuttoned their shirts and flung them open to the camera.   

I was going to add a few cover shots but I don't want to appear to be criticizing any particular author or book.   In a way, it is poetic justice that all these hairless men with sculpted muscles occupy the same position that the Size 0, airbrushed to perfection, models on women's magazines do.   Something to make the average guy feel he's just not measuring up.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Whatever you're fishing for!



                                                                           
     
One of my two cats



I had time to waste on the internet on a recent weekend and decided to read some other author blogs.   I've realized that I started this blog a year ago next month and I've been posting twice a week ever since.  Some writers have been blogging a lot longer.  So far I haven't run out of things to write about.

I visited about  eighteen author blogs and came to realize with a small amount of chagrin, that I have been doing this all wrong.   Many authors write about their books: their covers, their editing, their agents, their release dates.   I do a little of that in that I write if a new book is available.   But since I have the handy Shelfari bookshelf to the right which leads to my books, or most of them, I've decided that's almost enough.  (Since I drafted this, I wrote the previous post which does give more detail.)

It was also confirmed to me, which I have pondered on previously,  that some authors haven't posted for a long time--months or even years.   Perhaps blogging took away too much of their writing time.

Some authors put pictures of their pets on their blogs.  Since I have four adorable pets--two dogs and two cats--I've been depriving my blog readers of the opportunity to see them in all their magnificence.  I also noticed photographs of baking efforts and renovations.

Some blog posters are quite political, scorning this or that politician and particular laws or bills.   Since I'm Canadian, I try to avoid commenting on American politics.    I suppose the closest I come to political comment is some observations I've made in my travels in regards to the poverty that exists in some countries.  

Some sites have contests, freebies, pre-orders and book signing details, advice about dogs, recipes . . .   I could do that.   Maybe.

The conclusion:   Author blogs are diverse and varied and there should be something for everyone.   Kind of like books!  Whatever you're fishing for!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

GETTING YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW



                                                                               



I read this on The Passive Voice today (a post by May from Smexy Books:)

"So as a consumer, I do like to know what I’m getting into. If I’m thinking about starting a series, trying a new book, or especially when I read a book I really like, I immediately visit the author’s website. I want to know if they have books I’m not aware of, what they’ll work on next, and generally any information I need to make note of for future reading goodness.
. . . .
This could be done by having an “about” page for the series, a FAQ page, or just a “thanks for visiting my site, here’s what I’m working on…” type paragraph or two that you keep as up-to-date as possible. Even if the note is “I’m writing the next book, expect it in a 2014”,  or “at this time I am developing a new series, more information to come this summer” this is information I want."

My conscience twigged me when I read this and I felt I had to rectify the situation without too much delay.   You can see the covers of all my books in the Shelfari book shelf to the right.  Here is the list of books with some hopefully useful notes:

Jaswinder Mystery Series:  

First book in series:        Operatory of Death  - takes place in a dental clinic in Surrey, B.C.
Second book in series:   Death at Table 15  -  takes place in a restaurant in Surrey, B.C.
Third book in series:      Counting on Danger  - takes place in Las Vegas
Fourth book in series:    If Llamas Could Talk  - takes place in Surrey, B.C.

These books don't have to be read in order and can stand alone but, if it was me, I would prefer to read them in order.  They do take place chronologically.

The next 'set' of books are my contemporary dystopian fiction.   I've recently read the suggestion that writers should use a different pen name for each genre.   Oops, too late!  There are two books so far in this category:

A New Premise  - a stand alone book
When Bees Die  -  Part 1 of a trilogy.   I'm working on Part 2 at the present.

Finally, as I've recently written, I've ventured into the Romance genre as I know this is a popular one.  The two books are what are described as novellas, that is, shorter than a novel.

First book in series:       Maui:   Here We Come!
Second book in series:  Return to Maui
Now my conscience is somewhat assuaged.   And if I haven't mentioned it before:
                                          
                                                 Thanks for visiting my site!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sweet Romance List

I want to mention a list of 'sweet' romances which Marti Talbott, the writer I interviewed here a week ago, has compiled   You'll find the list here.   Have a look if you're interested in romance novels of this type with great stories and characters.  You'll find my books Maui:  Here We Come and Return to Maui listed here.




                                                             

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Search Engine Optimization


                                                                      



Search Engine Optimization or SEO  is self-explanatory in its meaning but difficult to achieve in reality.  Think about it:   When you search or Google a word, a phrase, a person, a topic, how many pages do you scroll through before you either find what you are looking for or give up?   Probably not more than two or three.    So the goal of every business, service or book is to locate themselves as near to the top of the first page.  

This is where I stop writing this post and spend two hours googling every possible word that could relate to one of my books and see if, unlikely though it may seem, one of my books pops up.

I'm joking.  I have tried this on Amazon (in the books or Kindle category)  and wrote about it previously and found it quite accurate but to have a book appear in a more general world wide search--now that would be something.  

It seems that the thing to do is to carefully choose the keyword that would bring potential readers of your book and ensure that word or phrase appears one to two percent of the time on each page of your website.   So for example, if I chose the phrase Bees Die to reflect my book When Bees Die, I should repeat that phrase every one hundred words or every five or six lines.    I'm not sure how I could keep working that into any discussion or conversation.   Maybe it could just float around like a piece of lint on the post that everyone has agreed to ignore until some unfortunate person decides to sweep it up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

THE COSTCO EFFECT

The title of this post refers to the propensity by some shoppers to buy a six month supply of something because the price is so good.  I'm not a Costco shopper.   I went into the store once, maybe fifteen years ago, and was given a one day pass to try it out.   At that time, the idea of paying to shop seemed repugnant to me but many others have paid the annual membership fee.

My impression of Costco then was that products were located in any location so that roast beef was next racks of jeans.   The other thing I recall was the size of the packages.   Boxes of Oreo cookies were the size of jumbo cereal boxes.  Sure, the unit price was less but somehow I predicted the savings would be lost in excess consumption.


                                                               



It's a little like the free e-books out there.   Kindle owners--or owners of other e-book reading devices--can find it difficult to resist 'free'.   Some of them have thousands of free books loaded on their devices.   Will they all eventually be read?   How many other times do you see free things?   Two for one--yes; fifty percent off--yes;  even air miles or other loyalty points--but free?   Not so much.   I recently read a book called Overdressed; The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion in which the author bemoaned the over-consumption and disposability of cheap clothes.  Women are buying multiple versions of the same item because of the low prices.   Now just imagine if they were free!