Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tripping in Tennessee, Missing in Mississippi ... Arkansas A-OK

Street Sculpture, Memphis TN
This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit two states I’ve never seen before. As it turned out, I also saw a third, by mistake.

This trip was occasioned when my husband (a musician and enthusiastic researcher) received an invitation by two libraries in the first two states to give talks about The Beatles last tour in the United States. As I am the resident techie, I  also get to go and this time, I had a good reason on my own account to research my novel in progress, Pavane for Miss Marcher.

Pavane takes place in New England, some years after the end of the American Civil War, or the War 
Courthouse, Oxford, MS
Between the States. When I first had the idea to write this story, I, like many Americans long generations distant from the conflict, had only the “accepted” history to go on, but I also had several personal experience facts from members of my family, friends and acquaintances that were and are in conflict with the “perceived history” taught in schools and universities now.

In fact, when I mentioned that I was writing a post-ACW novel, one colleague told me I “had better be on the right side of the story.” There is no more red flag to a writer than the injunction to tell “the right story”. Since there are always at least two sides, the declaration that there is a “right” side implies censorship.

Island Queen on Mississippi River
Solzhenitsyn certainly understood this two-sided wrangle between one side and the other, in his case the State and the Individual. When I was a student, the Individual was heroic and therefore, 
Solzhenitsyn was presented to students as a champion of the rights of the individual. In less than two generations, with a change in the political nature of the State, it is the Power of the State over the Freedom of the Individual which is favored.

Therefore, saying there is a right side of history must always depend on which side has the upper hand. The obligation of all writers is to make the greatest effort to present what is essentially “true,” regardless of being “right” as in “acceptable.” Conflict is the meat, bread and potatoes of the writer’s paintbox. History is at the mercy of the victors and those with the wherewithal to revise history to suit their agenda. 

I've now had the opportunity to experience Southern life in ten states and, without exception, I have fallen in love with the people, their civility, generosity, intelligence and kindness. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Good Memory - The Fourth


 by Fran McNabb

Next weekend is Independence Day weekend. July 4th. For most people the holiday means vacations, picnics, boating, and fireworks displays in honor of our country’s birthday. That day means the same to me but it also has much more meaning filled with nostalgia and emotions.

When I was a child (many, many years ago), my family lived about two blocks off front beach on the Gulf Coast. Fourth of July was a wonderful holiday for us children. Families would walk
together to the beachfront, sit along the seawall and watch the fireworks shot from the island right across the channel. I was always in awe of the displays, but again, as a child, my biggest concern was playing in the sand and having a good time with the other children.

Today I look back at those days and realize how wonderful they were. Times were simpler. Lives were more intertwined with other people in our small community. We didn’t live in an exclusive part of town. Most of our neighbors were hard-working laborers in jobs connected with the seafood industry. Mine were as well. We weren’t rich, but we didn’t know it.

The Fourth also meant another thing to our family. It was my only brother’s birthday. Sometimes during the day we would have a party for him with a cake baked in Mom’s small kitchen. That evening as we walked down to the beach I’d always have to listen to him tell everyone it was his birthday and the fireworks were for him. I’d argue and say they weren’t and sometimes we’d end up exchanging a few brotherly-sisterly knocks.

My brother is no longer with us and it’s on days like the Fourth that his memories come rushing back to me. We had some wonderful times together and I love reliving them in my mind. Like all people who have lost loved ones, we long for one more moment with them. Everyone has his own days that those memories are strongest. Mine is the Fourth of July.

Enjoy the fireworks, remember the meaning of our country behind the Fourth, but most importantly enjoy the friends and family you share the day with. They are what makes our special days “special.”

Happy Fourth of July to all of you (next weekend).
FRAN MCNABB lives along the Gulf Coast and loves the special events and activities unique to the coastline. She uses this setting in many of her sweet romances. Check her out at  www.FranMcNabb.com  or at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Grandchildren A to Z

When we were young and dumb and just beginning to plan our future life and family, The Waltons were on TV. Although we knew the romance of their situation was highly idealized, we liked the idea of a large, loving family with each member supporting every other. The Waltons had seven children.

Simultaneously we were cultivating the friendship of a man who became one of my husband's dearest friends, met my sister at our wedding, and eventually became my brother-in-law. His military family, while not ideal, seemed to have many of those same mutually-supportive qualities we had admired on TV. He was one of seven children.

It's easy to see where this is going and yes, by the time we were settled into our marriage and getting ready to start our family, we were thinking of seven children. It's fairly easy to see how that would go as well, but as I wrote earlier, we were young and dumb.

We even went so far as to decide our children would be closer if they were closer in age. Our eldest was barely twelve when our seventh was born. If we'd taken more time to consider, perhaps we would have organized matters a bit differently.

Now here we are, not a Walton clone in sight. Our children all have children of their own and our eldest grandchild, a handsome young man named Austin, recently married. Our family may be looking at yet another generation in the years soon to come.

We're human. Like other parents, we've made mistakes and I have to admit, I made some whoppers. While I have my regrets, I'm deeply grateful for my family. They have their share of mistakes, regrets, and differences as well, and that mutually-supportive vibe we looked for is quieted by distance: the seven of them are spread over six states. Still they make serious efforts to stay in touch and to back one another. They are all great people.

With the birth of our twenty-fifth grandchild last month--a handsome manchild named Zane, we now have grandchildren from A to Z. Most of them are too far away to know us well, but we are making the effort to see them as often as we reasonably can and we're trying to remain an important parts of their lives. The Waltons may have had a more idealized family, but they've got nothing on us.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

10 Steps to a Kick-Butt Amazon Author Page

by Victoria M. Johnson

Is your Amazon Author page working hard enough for you?  Your author page on Amazon is your storefront 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Even when you're sleeping, readers from across the globe can land on your page and discover your work.  Does your content pique their interest?  Does it drive sales of your books?

First of all, if you are a writer or poet with works available for sale on Amazon, you must create an Amazon Author page.  There's no cost to you and it's easy to do.  Start here: http://authorcentral.amazon.com

Kick-Butt Amazon Author Page

The following steps are simple.  Keep in mind that the page is aimed at readers, people who buy books, fans and future fans.  Its purpose is to feature your books for sale and entice the visitor to buy.  Secondly, many readers want to know something about the author.  I've seen author pages that lead page visitors to other sites—away from the page where they can buy their book!

Elements of a kick-butt author page:

1.  Your photo.  I'm surprised by the number of pages I see without a photograph of the author.  Readers want to see you.

2.  Your biography.  Remember keep it reader focused.  This isn't the bio you use for classes you teach or fellowship applications.

3.  Your books.  Make sure all your books are added on your author page.  The instructions to do this are on the author central link above.

4.  Book related videos.  Most popular videos are book trailers, author interviews, and author readings or other book events.

5.  Your scheduled events.  If you participate in literary events in your community or away from home, you should always add the event to your page and select one of your books related to the event.  At one time I had three upcoming events and I highlighted one book for each.  It's another way for readers to find out about your bookstore appearances, booksignings, or readings.

6.  URL to your website.  I am mixed about this.  Many bestselling authors include their URL to their website.  Many do not.  Personally, I don't want to lead visitors away from the page where they can buy my books.  On the other hand, readers who want to know more about you may want to visit your website.  This one is up to you.

7.  Your blog posts.  It's easy to display your recent blog posts on your author page.  If you regularly post interesting content that entices readers to buy your books, then this can be a good thing.  Otherwise see item number six above.  (The same applies to displaying your facebook URL.) 

8.  Followers and Giveaways.  Readers can follow your page and amazon will notify them whenever you have a new release.  This feature is invaluable to reaching readers who already have an interest in your books.  Many authors offer a giveaway through amazon to lure entrants to visit and follow their Amazon page.  Details for offering giveaways are on the Author Central site: here.

9.  Link to your Amazon Author page.  In author central (upper right hand side) you'll find the URL to your author page.  Copy it and use it in all your author bios, in your books, your bookmarks, your website, etc.

10.  Share your author page in tweets, pins, posts, and updates!  You went through the work of creating a kick-butt author page, you may as well share it.

A sample kick-butt author page

Take a look at Melissa Foster's page.  It has all the elements above, PLUS, she offers a URL to sign up for her newsletter, and she has a URL to download her free books!  Notice, too, that her blog posts are aimed at readers.
Other examples:

Gina Ardito has a unique bio and when you scroll down towards the bottom you'll see an example of using the Upcoming Events feature.
Susan Aylworth has an engaging author photo as well as other intriguing photos of author events and places that inspire her books.

LeighMichaels writes both fiction and nonfiction books.  I like the way she describes both in her bio as well as her wonderful photos of herself writing. 
Do you have a kick-butt author page?  If so, give us the URL in the comments below so we can check it out.  If not, follow these steps and the examples of other authors.

Amazon author page
Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Room of (Son's) Own

by Sofie Couch

This year, I have been blogging about space – the space that helps us define ourselves and the world around us.

It’s easy for me to think of my own space in those terms, but this past month, I realized another really important space: the space designated for another creative, my son.

I may have mentioned that we do this odd thing, here on the chicken ranch. It’s called “unschooling”. Basically, the parent lets go of expectations and follows the child, a la Montessori, a la free-range chickens. (I've been operating under the notion that I've got two kids... in case I mess up one of them with this whacky unschooling thing. So far, they haven't proved the strategy wrong.) So we’ve been unschooling now for going on seven years with one child or another. My son is quiet, not selectively verbal, private, and while I spent the month of May, (his birth month, I might add), harping on my expectations of him, I forgot to consider what he wanted for himself. It turns out, he’s been stewing over a “room of his own” for work - as in a real job doing what he wants to do long-term, Game Design. Sure, he has a bedroom. But he just turned seventeen and like a typical seventeen year old, he’s been pondering his own independence, his place in the world,... his space.

So this month, the She-She-Shed changed its trajectory. It has become the future headquarters of his game design company. So now, the single solar panel that is fine for running a lamp and charging a laptop, just decided to upgrade to a full electrical panel, insulation, cooling and heating… and the removal of a lot of girlie froo-froo Mommy stuff.

I have a new “room of (my) own” in my previous writer’s retreat - in the cottage out back. I blocked off week days, so now, it’s rented as a writer’s retreat only on the weekends. Weekdays, it’s my own private writing retreat, as it was originally intended. Somehow, I lost sight of the fact that it was designed for that function.

And the She-She-Shed-soon-to-be-Game-Design-Studio begins its journey. Feel free to share with me, pictures of the space you have carved out for yourself. sofie@sofiecouch.com.  I would love to see it. And in the meantime, enjoy some of my “pins” for the Game Design Studio at: https://www.pinterest.com/sofie321/computer-barn/

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

You Want Us To Do What?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I’m distressed. Not long ago I went to lunch with a well-known publicist. We all want lots of sales, and anything that helps sell books is all to the good, right?

Now I’m not sure. The more I listened to the publicist, the more distressed I became. With the energy of a televangelist she spoke of how in order to be noticed a writer had to Tweet several times a day, Facebook just as often, join and participate in several new social media groups (as one never knew which one would turn into the next Facebook), grow a mailing list for regular newsletters, attend at least one book club (but several were better) both in person and online in order to get to meet readers, do readings and signings and all manner of public appearances, have an interesting and up-to-date website… Oh, and you’re supposed to have a blog – or several – which you update regularly and often, as well as guest blog. Blog tours are also recommended.

Then she got really depressing and predicted that within a very few years we wouldn’t be selling books at all – that all content would be free, like movies and tv are free on the internet today. (I haven’t seen any actors, actresses or producers working for free lately, though, and I doubt if many professional writers want to either.) When asked how we would make our money, she gleefully announced, “Through marketing!” Yes, we’re supposed to sell mugs and tote bags and God-only-knows-what, each with a tie-in to our books and characters. Apparently some writers are already doing this, but there was no explanation of when they found time to write, let alone lead a life or be with their family.

That’s when I tuned out, totally overwhelmed. We’re supposed to do all that? And write, too? To say nothing of dealing with real life, such as emergencies, family obligations and even the constant necessities of the dishwasher and the laundry…

Most writers have families, and jobs, and obligations. And, yes, they have to write. Most writers I know are already stretched to the max. No writer of whom I am aware sits around on a chaise eating bon-bons and wondering how they will fill the empty hours since they finished their last opus. In fact, I venture to say most of us barely get done what is already necessary.

So where is all the extra time going to come from for us to tweet and FB and attend all those book club meetings and gather every reader we meet into the fold of personal friendship? My days are full, but I’m selfish – I like getting at least five hours sleep a night, and that’s just about the only time I’m not busy.

Another, equally vocal, camp says that we should all be self-publishing, that self-publishing is the best way to gain fame and fortune. Well, I’m self-published and if this is fame and fortune…! I know that there are authors making bazillions of dollars from self-pubbing, and I know there are other authors with equally good books who even after several months have not yet made back their expenses. Most of us fall somewhere in between. Whatever the financial rewards, self-pubbing just adds to the workload. Now you not only must deal with edits, you have to find and hire the editor. Same with the cover and the artist, as well as the translator if you decide to publish in foreign languages. A lot of authors do their own formatting for the various vendors – more time gone! Then, once the book is out, you must deal with any legal matters that crop up – copyright questions, piracy takedown notices, excerpts – and before you know it, an entire morning or even a day is gone and not a word written.

Everything I’ve mentioned, from formatting to laundry, can be hired out or, if you have helpful children or a supportive spouse, handed over to them. If you do hire someone that becomes self-defeating in a way and can backfire badly. You can pay a virtual assistant to tweet and FB and Instagram and whatever for you, but if part of your goal is to be a friend to your reader, how is that friend going to feel when they find out (and they will, believe me, they will) that the lovely personal notes and friendly posts you’ve been making to your fan friends have been done by a hireling?

If there was one thing this marketing guru harped on, it was personal contact between the author and the reader. “Make the reader your friend,” she crooned; “go to places where you can meet the readers.” Now instead of writing, we are supposed to join book clubs – both physical and on-line, where the readers can get to know us as a person and regard us as a friend. We are supposed to start street teams, where our fans publicize for us and we reward them with advance books, goodies and our attention. “Stay in contact with your readers – always answer any communication you receive from a reader/friend. Talk about your personal life instead of your working life when you blog. Be open. Be receptive. Keep them appraised of what you’re doing.”

Why? Why force or feign a friendship where one doesn’t spring naturally? We all know about some readers who want to have a personal relationship with their favorite authors – not just because they admire their work, but because being ‘friends’ with a real author somehow makes some of the glamour rub off on them. I don’t understand that particular line of reasoning, but I know it exists, sometimes to the point of dangerous stalking. Most people don’t need to be friends with someone in order to appreciate their talent or artistry. I have met readers and a few of them have become friends, but it is because of whatever magic that makes two people become friends no matter how they meet, not because I want to hang their scalp from my belt as a fan. To treat every fan you meet as a special friend is really doing them a disservice, for while everyone can be friendly, friendship is special. I do believe in friendliness and politeness to all readers, but not the cold-blooded stalking of them for fans.

And for that matter, where did this position of ‘you have to make friends of your readers’ start? As far as I am concerned, readers becoming friends isn’t part of the professional equation. Writers write books. Readers read books. That’s all either should expect, other than the common courtesies that are part of a civilized society.

So, I ask again, where is the time for all this involvement and friendliness supposed to come? I guess it would work well for someone who has written a single book, maybe two, and is doing nothing but trying to sell them. For the rest of us, we have to have time to write. It has never made sense that readers expect you to be their best friend and still have you write X number of books a year.

There are jokes about writers working in an empty room filled with imaginary people. They’re funny, yes, but they also underscore that writing is at heart a very solitary business. Some writers dream of a quiet room where they can be alone with their computer and their stories for hours and hours, but I also know many writers who write best in a crowded coffee shop, or who turn out scene after scene in the dentist’s waiting room or while at their daughter’s soccer practice or even sitting with the family in front of the TV at night. I applaud them for writing whatever their personal process is, but wherever they sit while putting down words, writing is still a solitary business. No matter how many people are around, writing still boils down to just the writer and the words and the people in that writer’s head.

Just the writer and words – and it take time and concentration to get those words, to make a story come alive and touch people. On my computer I have a little saying that I read every morning before starting work – “Write, don’t talk.” Originally it meant that a story should be written and not talked to death being shared with all and sundry, but it fits just as well to mean one should be writing instead of chatting with friends. Beside that phrase is another one, “Writing is easy – all you do is stare at a blank screen until drops of blood fall on your forehead.”

Good writing is work, and like all work, takes time. There has to be a balance between writing the books and publicizing them. I think the majority of a writer’s time should be spent writing the best book she can. And another. And another. Writers should write, and readers should read. That’s the equation.