Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Room with a View

This blog sits at the back of my computer and even farther in the back of my mind. I remember it once in a while and feel guilty about finding nothing to say. Today I feel effusive, almost as if I can’t write enough. It’s spring—and it is beautiful!

Out my office window, I have a picture view of my flower garden featuring roses in ivory, yellow, salmon pink, soft pink, Tropicana orange and American Beauty red and in every stage of bloom from barely budding to full glory. From my side window I can see my irises blooming grandly in soft lavender, stark white, and deep purple-blue. The red dogwood in the midst of the garden is almost fully leafed out and the bracts at the end of each branch are just beginning to form white blooms. Does spring get any prettier than this?

Today the sky is gray, promising the rain our northern California home has needed so desperately and which has come this year in amounts almost equal to the need. We can’t yet call our long drought broken, but our state’s major lakes and reservoirs have been able to release “extra” water for the first time in years. To help me appreciate this gray day even more, it is the first day in nearly two weeks that has not been sparkling sunshine.

Our home is less than an hour’s drive from one of the places known throughout the world for spring wildflowers. On a typical Saturday this time of year, we can go to Table Mountain, hike the trail to the seasonal waterfall—flowing fully this year—and hear a dozen different languages being spoken by families who’ve crossed oceans to see what is almost in our backyard.

To add to our enjoyment, the world’s best field guide for recognizing the dozens of varieties of wildflowers was written by our friend, Sam, who together with her husband, Sam, comprise “The Sams,” some of the finest neighbors we could possibly ask.  She is also the world expert on our local flora. We hike the mountain with guidebook in hand. Then, should we come to a quandary about exactly which gold bloom we are enjoying, we can snap a picture and ask the expert—just another of the lovely benefits of spring.

Summer will come and with it the kind of heat that wilts enthusiasm and encourages air conditioning, but for now, the spring is perfect. And I’m in love with it all.

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

Technology – Friend and Foe

 Since the development of the personal computer in the mid 1980s, I have been half in love and half at a loss about technology.

At the time, my employer was one of the first to embrace the computer as a word-processor that took over from the once brilliantly advanced golf-ball IBM typewriter as my favorite acquisition. Not long after learning how to use the 3.5” floppy disk for my workplace BBC (I was living in Cardiff at the time), we invested in a Sanyo dual 5.25” floppy disk PC on which my husband transcribed his doctoral thesis. My own set of floppy disks held chapters from some of my early manuscripts.

Shortly afterwards, my brother sent me 5.25” floppies with programs to load onto my hard drive – the only problem? My Sanyo ran programs in one floppy disk drive and saved to the second floppy disk drive, holding information somewhere in something called ‘memory’.  Within a few years, the technical world had leapt light years ahead and we were still in dot matrix mode.

Barely six years before, I had written my Masters Degree dissertation on a typewriter on cotton rag paper and a carbon copy, pecking one letter at a time to avoid any errors that meant re-typing the whole page because corrections were unacceptable. This collection became my first publication in hardcover. A few decades later my second hardcover book, a novel, had been written on a laptop and sent over the wireless network of the Internet from my home in Wales to my publisher New York.

The progress is ceaseless and I have recently confessed that I no longer use the myriad of notebooks I possess, preferring to take notes on my phone in a program that can be accessed from my tablet as well as my laptop and is held in that space somewhere called “cloud computing”. And strangely, my laptop has a solid-state (no moving parts) hard drive but no floppy disk drive nor a DVD/CD player. The programs (applications) I have added have come from “the cloud” – where ever that is – and I do not have them in any tangible form.

All of these developments make for equipment and activities that are beyond our comprehension and our control. What is convenient about my cloud note-keeping also makes me vulnerable to the failure of the entity where is it stored or the entity that has provided the program I use. If by some act of sabotage or Deus Machina, the bank of storage disks my provider uses is disabled, I will have lost all my work.

Yet, the lack of security is outclassed by the convenience. We innately trust progress, even though the original copy of my husband’s thesis is no longer accessible as the floppy disk has been superseded by the flash drive which has now been superseded by cloud-computing. In order to reproduce my dissertation, I would need to transcribe it from the printed copy.

There are always prices to pay for moving ahead. Change is embraced and resisted in equal measure. Making the most without losing the best is a balance we achieve by due diligence and thoughtful consideration. 

Embracing the future does not require that we must shun the past.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Birds, Birdhouses, and Writing

By Fran McNabb

Classic and Cozy Blog is primarily a writers’ blog so when you read an entry, I’m sure you expect some reference to writing and books. My topic today is “Birds, Birdhouses, and Writing.” I really wanted to write about our martin birdhouse because after nine years of watching an empty house, we have martins! I’ll figure out a way to include writing.

Before Hurricane Katrina we always had martins in the old birdhouse that was positioned on our pier. We lost both the pier and the birdhouse in the storm so after we settled into our new house, my husband ordered a brand new, really cute birdhouse. We were so proud of it, but when martins came into the area, they flew to ours, checked it out, then went to our neighbor’s house where they laid their eggs and raised their little ones.

Year after year this happened. It finally got to be a joke in the neighborhood because our
sparkling clean house stood empty while our neighbor’s old, dilapidated house attracted the birds. Not so this year. When the martins came into the area, we held our breath as bird after bird checked out our house and actually returned. Today we have six or seven nesting birds. Why this year? Who knows? The wind did shift the house slightly. Maybe they didn’t like the direction before it turned. We’re not questioning the why. We’re simply enjoying their presence.

Now how do I connect this to writing? It’s easy. In the mornings I sit on my chaise lounge in the sun room not far from the martin house. For the last week I have loved, loved, loved the sound of chirping as I work on my manuscript. Their constant chatter makes me happy.

I love living on the bayou harbor especially in the spring when life returns and everything seems to be active. This year is even more wonderful because of those cute little birds and their happy songs. No matter where you live, I’m sure there are birds that liven up your spring. Listen to them and let their singing help you tap away at your keyboard.

Fran McNabb lives on the Gulf Coast and uses the coast setting in many of her light romances. Her publishing credits include eight light romances, two entries in non-fiction anthologies, and several magazine/newspaper articles. As a former English and journalism teacher, she loves giving writing workshops. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com  and mcnabbf@bellsouth.net

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spring on My Mind

Spring has sprung
The grass has riz
I wonder where the flowers is?

-Variant of an old poem, origin unknown though frequently attributed to Ogden Nash

Spring has sprung, at least it has here in North Carolina. The daffodils have come and mostly gone. Tulips, azaleas, dogwoods, quince, cherries and other fruit trees are in their glorious seasonal finery. Temperatures are moderate, but wildly changeable, a sure sign of spring.

Spring reminds me of fresh starts and new things. Trees leafing out, dry brown winter grass turning green again, plants surging up from the ground showing new life. Longer days and warmer temperatures mean more time outside and upcoming vacations. I’m eager to get out in the garden and start planting so I can see all those promising shoots appearing.

And in life, too, turning seasons bring new things happening. Over the past few years that’s meant a few new grandchildren, deaths of parents, people around me changing jobs, moving, retiring, and a host of other smaller changes.

Career changes have been happening to me as well.  I’ve slowly cut down on the number of website design and development projects I’ve been taking on, to make more time for writing. I’ve got so many things I want to write.  Ideas are clamoring for brain space and several partially completed projects are urging me to get back to work on them.

And as the seasons change, so has the publishing industry.  When my first book was published, in 1990, I wrote the book, sent it to my editor, revised per her instructions, then a year or more later, the book came out and that was that. I might do a few readings or signings but it was generally agreed a writer couldn’t do much more than that. Following a few adventures with other publishers, I sold to my first epublisher in 2000 and worked with several of those. It was a whole new world. Being on the internet meant lots of networking and promo. Then came social media and self-publishing.

The publishing industry today looks nothing like what it was in 1990. Amazon bought out my first publisher, Avalon Books, and several of the small press publishers I’ve worked were bought out or went out of business. One of my more recent publishers, Five Star/Cengage, has just axed its mystery line, leaving my Market Center Mysteries orphaned with the first book published a few years ago and the second book still in the editing phase.

I’m not completely new to self-publishing.  I’ve been retrieving rights to my older books and republishing them myself for the last several years.  But this feels much different. It’s a book that’s never been published before.  I’m having to get it edited, then copy-edited, have covers made, think about creating blurbs and publicity, and… Yikes!

I hope to have Wired for Murder, the second book in my Market Center Mysteries series that began with A Gift for Murder, ready to release on July 1st, but it depends on how quickly the editing and cover design get done.

Stay tuned.  I’ll post more about the process and my entry into this brave new world this spring.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Shh! Authors at Work

Wondering what's ahead from the Classic and Cozy Authors? Wonder no longer. Here are some of the projects we're working on.
Title: Jail Bird
Main Characters: Roxanne and Cyran (an homage to Cyrano de Bergerac) and parallel mini-romance featuring Claire Voyant, (yes, I DID go there), and Sam
Genre: Romantic Comedy
One Paragraph from the Page I'm On:
A silent alarm. A cracked safe. A missing manuscript. And now, a car chase. Well, it wasn’t so much a “chase” as a two block crawl with a dramatic musical backdrop courtesy of the local country radio station.
Publication Date: April 30th! (I’ve gotta get crankin’.)
Did you know: Did you know that in Cyrano De Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, 1897, Cyrano and Roxanne were cousins? Ewww.

Title: The Matchmakers: A Match Made in Williamstown
Main Characters: Libby Schuyler and Jack Parker
Genre & Publisher: Inspirational Romance Novella proposed to Serenade Books
One Paragraph from the Page I'm On:
Jack unfolded his fists he hadn’t realized he clenched and looked over Libby’s head at her grandmother. He pasted a smile on his face. “I’m ready. I haven’t had a good home cooked meal in months, since the last time I visit my parents.”
Due Date: June 20
Publication Date: None yet
Did You Know (something I learned for this story): The University of Philadelphia has a Department of Religious Studies

Monday, April 4, 2016

"A Room of One's Own": The Power of Place

by Sofie Couch

I’m in deep.
You see, I keep creating these spaces, a la Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”. It began in a little cottage out back. Actually, it was a cinder block hovel, which I had renovated, I decorated, made beautiful, (too beautiful for me), and in the end, I decided, it was too nice to keep to myself, so I started renting it out through Airbnb.

So then I began work on my She-She-Shed, which is meant to be a writing retreat. It sits away from our house, convenient as I presently work in my office, a.k.a., former dining room. Work continues on the She-She-Shed... slowly.

Because, you see, it got really complicated. It involves a business my Mom and Dad started 22 years ago – an antique mini-mall – the loss of one parent, the needs of the other, and more than 40 antique dealers who depend on that business for supplemental income.

So now, I’m in the process of purchasing the family business, updating the accounting system, learning about payroll and quarterly taxes and employees’ needs and renters’ expectations, grown-up things like 1099s and sanitation laws…  I was feeling a teensy bit overwhelmed last week, when the fates jumped up in my face to help me sort out my priorities. (You can read a bit about the fates and a rubber chicken here: http://sofiecouch.blogspot.com/2016/04/somethins-gotta-give.html ).

And then I realized, I’m still on this one year mission to create “A Room of One’s Own”, only now, I’m doing it for hundreds of people. At the antique mini-mall, we had our spring Open House this past weekend, and in the middle of one of the craziest, most successful days we have ever had – ever – I realized I am still on this same mission! 

I saw people come up to the counter with vignettes that spoke volumes about their favorite color, their aesthetic, their bliss. And they helped me to find mine too. The chaotic, hot, beautiful mess that wraps itself around owning your own business only makes me appreciate the quiet of home that much more.

I’m writing from the library table. (It’s the new dining room). My husband sits across from me. My teenager is in the man cave just a few steps away, my twenty-year-old is watching a calculus video lecture. There are sights and sounds and dogs and chickens and crunching and munching, and interruptions… and it is bliss. It makes my little she-she-shed seem very solitary. (But don’t you know, I’ll be out there later today, on my day “off”, fixing it up “for my own particular use”, as Charlotte Collins said in Pride and Prejudice.

If you find yourself in Keswick, Virginia, you’ll have to swing by the shop, A&W Collectables, for the accoutrements of styling your “Room of (Your) Own”.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

One Brilliant Thing Writers Should Do at Tax Time

by Victoria M. Johnson

You tracked your expenses throughout the year, you gathered all your receipts, and you recorded your royalty income.  Now you're ready to send your spreadsheet and copies of everything to your tax preparer.  But wait.  There is one other important step you can take.  This step doesn't take much time to complete and it is worth it in more ways than one.

All you have to do is add a text box at the bottom of your spreadsheet, if there's room, or add another page to your tax record, if there's not room.  For me, this text description is part of my record that I turn in to my accountant and I consider it invaluable.

What goes in the text box?

Add brief descriptions of writing-related activities and accomplishments for the year.  Brief and relevant are key in this step.  It requires you go through your calendar, month by month, to refresh your memory, and total up some of the items.  I know your calendar includes literary events you participated in such as: author appearances and readings, submissions to publishers; classes you taught, book publication dates, awards you won, lists you made, and so on.  I also make note of income sources.  These are the kinds of things to add in your text box.

Here's an example of my paragraph:

ACCOMPLISHMENTS THIS YEAR: Appeared in 2 print and 2 online publications.  Self-published one novella ebook.  Started my own press.  Entered 3 poetry contests.  Submitted 1 new book proposal.  Professional workshop speaker for CWC, LGSR & AFP.  Participated in two guest author talks and signings.  Participated in several poetry/fiction readings in Los Gatos, San Jose, Cupertino, and Saratoga.  Participated in Poet Laureate Poetry Podcast Project.  INCOME THIS YEAR: from royalties paid by publishers Montlake, Amazon KDP, McGraw-Hill, and Distributor Robertson Publishing, and workshops and speaking fees.  

Victoria M. Johnson

As you can see, there's nothing earth shattering.  Just the day-in and day-out of being a professional writer.

I've kept track of my accomplishments for several years now and each year I can see how productive I've been.  Some years I can say my work was a finalist in a contest or that I won an award.  And other years I can show income from an advance paid by a publisher.

If you're ever audited, the IRS will be interested in the spreadsheet, your receipts, and official proof of income and expenses.  This additional notation of your accomplishments provides context, jogs your memory of your literary activities and projects.  It can help you answer questions.  Will you remember how you were pursuing a professional writing career, what specific efforts you made to publish, or the results of all your expenses three or four years from now?  I know I wouldn't remember unless I kept this annual notationwhich I know won't get lost because it is with my tax documents.

At the least, you'll have a cool ongoing record of your endeavors that only took you minutes to note each year.  Since you are noting your activities on your calendar anyway all year long, just tally them up at tax time like any other tax item.  The effort is worth it.

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.