Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bear tracks, ice and beginnings . . .

As 2014 ends (and 2015 begins), I'm deep in revision for Rivers of Stone, that fictional trek across 19th Century Canada, and I'm starting to get reader feedback for early chapters.  

Let me just say that occasionally submitting my work-in-progress to The Internet Writing Workshop via the NOVELS-L list is such a treat. Writers submit a chapter at a time . . . slowly . . . and write a critique of someone else's submission. Generally, folks do a minimum of two crits a month to stay active. Most do much more.

I'm such a coward that I do submit slowly and out of sequence, on the premise that chapters must stand on their own. But the feedback is so diverse and helpful, ranging from structural to grammatical, truly informed reader response, that I continue to sub. 

The question that came with this week's crits is this: How does a writer of historical fiction stay true to the 'facts' and yet tell the story? 

The story, the characters and their conflicts, the action, the plot points -- these are all primary, front and center onstage, so to speak. But those facts, the bones that may hold the story together for setting, actual physical reality, and maybe historical persons as well, these facts need to be as accurate as possible.

The Prince Rupert, 1857
Just off Resolution Island near Baffin
So as my main characters travel by the Prince Rupert (a real barque of the period) from northern Scotland to Hudson's Bay, where they encounter dense fog and drift ice in Hudson Strait. 

After much research, I found that the peak years for drift ice in Hudson Strait were 1843-1845, not 1842. But I want those ice floes and drift ice in my story because they are so beautiful and speak to the reality of travel in a wooden ship. Is it OK to tweak the dates? 

I've never been to Baffin Island or Hudson Strait, but one of my critters has. Instead I use the internet to read academic articles, search out videos on Youtube and pictures on Flickr to get a sense of what x was like.

Which brings me to bear tracks. As my main character travels the wilderness of Canada, I want there to be bears. Shouldn't there be grizzly bears and polar bears? 

Yes, but now I need much more -- where these bears live, how they migrate, mate, and what their interactions with people are. I want more stories people tell about these bears, folklore and, yes, images. Like this one, found on Facebook (can't trace the source as it's been shared over 50,000 times on FB and Twitter), but after seeing this image, I cannot forget the awe-ful reality of the size of this Grizzly bear paw!  

I haven't answered the question. Instead, my story unfolds slowly, maybe drifting like the ice, as I continue writing and researching and revising. Each morning, I play with words and images and ideas as the 'facts' recede into the background, and, hopefully, my story comes to life.

May 2015 bring you good writing and good reading!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ending the year . . .

Take a moment to watch Sandy Brown Jensen's beautiful poem, "Year's End, Sweet Creek," in digital storytelling mode.  

Fall into nature as you think about 2015 and what it means to you. May it be a very good year for you and all those you love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

About Websites and Last Night

Last night's panel discussion on e-publishing at our local library brought a few surprises. This group was small, just 12 folks. One was already published. Five had a draft done, and 5 were close.

But here was the surprise. All were interested in e-publishing, but none of these 12 intrepid writers had a website. None wrote a blog. None tweeted, and only 3 were active on FaceBook.

So here is my question: Do these writers who want to e-publish need an online presence? After all, once we click that "publish" button on Amazon, or Lulu, or Smashwords, or Draft2Digital, our stuff is live.

Our panel response was pretty much: 

1. Where are your readers?
2. How will they find you or learn about your books? Your new releases?
3. How will they buy your books?

Because writing and marketing call forth different activities and different levels of commitment, your first step could be to think about what your long term goals are -- as a writer. And decide how you want to promote your work to connect with your readers. 

1. Recreational writer. Maybe just telling stories is all you want. You might share copies with a writing group or send copies to friends and family. Or, maybe you just want to post your stories online for anyone to read. This article by Reid Kemper lists 25 such online communities

2. One-book/two-book newbie writer. Maybe you're just starting out, and you want to dip your toe in e-publishing to find out if anyone out there wants to read your stuff. Or you don't have time to develop an online platform. Or you want your personal life to stay private.

But you could build (or have someone create) a static website for you. For example, using a free WordPress account, you could have pages that don't require updating but that basically introduce you and your books (and links on how to buy them). Bare bones -- but an online presence that allows readers to find you, a web address that can be used on business cards and other promotions. 

A static website can be the first step to . . . a fully fledged online presence. See Standout Books neat article on "Six Essential Features of a Fiction Writer's Website" or Brian Thomas Schmidt's "Twelve Essentials for a Successful Author's Website."

3. Professional writer. These guys pull out all the stops. They're active with a truly fine website, update readers with a blog that's flavored with their personalities (their "brand" that's tied right back to their genre), chat with readers and other writers via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, e-mail lists, and direct e-mail. And they sell books. 

What we can do is to study what these professional writers do, folks who sell books in the thousands and can show us how to connect with our readers. Why not start by checking out websites by well-established writers in your genre to push your skills to the next level or expand into new areas? Or investigate this useful resource: "The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2014" by The Write Life.  

"Ghost Writer" by Steve Petrucelli (Flickr)

Remember, writing is about the journey. We explore, we test, we write and revise . . . Shouldn't we expect to do the same for our online presence?  What do you think?

For further reading, check out this lovely article by Joanna Penn on "Should Authors Blog?"

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Self-publishing and planning ahead for 2015?

Imagine those first moments when that book you've worked so hard to write hits the web. Celebration! Excitement! You've honed the story, and you've got a gorgeous cover. You even paid a professional editor to proofread.

So when a reader and potential buyer opens that magical window, "Look Inside," do you expect any proofing errors? But there they are, laying on the page like a snake on the living room floor. Aargh!

What brings this issue up? This morning, I spent a little time editing the opening pages of a new Kindle book written by a friend. She had written to me to let me know her book was online and wanted me to look at her cover. Of course, I loved the cover, but then I clicked on "Look Inside!" to read that all-important first page and found those snakes. 

We can get overwhelmed by the scope and range of commitment when we enter the indie world of self-publishing. For inspiration and direction, read Russell Blake's end-of-the-year musings about the joys and challenges of being a self-published author. 

Before considering Blake's advice, we begin by writing the best story we can. 

Blake warns that we indie writers can't be just after the money, but if we're serious about building audience, we need to:

1. Publish regularly. Every several months?
2. Write for genres that have a high demand. Romance? Science fiction? Action/thriller?
3. Take the job of being a writer seriously. Have you mastered the craft of writing?
4. Consider writing as a business, not a hobby. Do you have a production schedule?
5. Spend money when you have to for services you need. Do you need help with editing or covers?
6. Write stories that readers will enjoy. Would you want to curl up with a book you've written?
7. Stay light on your feet. How do you stay current with market trends or new technologies?
8. Keep a sense of humor. Who can you blame if you don't?

What's not to like about Blake's advice? Read his complete article HERE.

At the end of the year, it's time to do an assessment. When I think about Blake's checklist, I have more questions than answers. But thinking about these issues will bring me closer to clarifying my writing goals for 2015. Want to join me on A Round of Words for 80 Days

For now, I will blog about some of Blake's topics in the coming week.

Blake says to publish regularly. The first challenge for me is to publish regularly. Right now, my books have a turnaround of about three years from idea through research, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. According to Blake, that's way too slow. 

Can I do something to tighten this turnaround? I did delay publishing of my first book in the series so that Book 1: Standing Stones and Book 2: Years of Stone could be released in the same year, and I'm about 70% done drafting Book 3: Rivers of Stone. Can I commit to finishing Book 3 by September 2015?  Maybe.

Could I edit my serial killer/mystery and publish Mothers Don't Die this year instead, since we'll be travelling across Canada this summer for research on Book 3?  But that's skipping around in different genres. Will folks who love historical fiction want to read about a serial killer? 

Can't achieve that amazing goal of setting a schedule until I decide who's on first.

Aargh! What do you think about 'publishing regularly'? What does that mean to YOU?

"Writer's Block" by Nata Luna Sans on Flickr 

Friday, December 05, 2014

A month of unexpected kindness . . .

We're now in December, a month of holidays with Thanksgiving (and NaNoWriMo) just past. Just for kicks, here's my graphic for words written during NaNo.

But I'm still feeling thankful for writing friends and unexpected kindnesses.

Out of the blue, Sandy Brown Jensen, a digital storyteller and creative writing teacher, sent me a video trailer she made for STANDING STONES. 

Now I did experiment in making my own video trailer for Standing Stones and Years of Stone, using PowerPoint, images I took, and freebie music via youtube. But I love Sandy's new trailer, "Beth Camp: Writer of Forgotten Worlds."  

Another unexpected kindness: Annette Drake, author of Bone Girl and Celebration House, hosts a table at a local craft & book fair this week. She invited me to participate. Here's her table!

Baskethound Books and me
Annette has a marketing mind and inspires me to try new ideas to promote my writing. For some reason, just as many other writers feel about marketing, I'd rather be writing. I'm on the verge of trying something new that will definitely expand my marketing boundaries, but I hesitate. Why push right  now, this holiday month, for more visibility, when everyone else is out there? Accountability? Belief in my writing? 

The research for book 3, Rivers of Stone, goes well. With each detail, I'm able to imagine the life of a voyaguer crossing Canada in the 1840s. The arc of the story may not satisfy every reader, for the resolution is not traditional. But I like it, even as I wrestle with the idea of what it might be like to be a woman in that time.

I still need tenacity and courage to achieve my marketing goals, those very specific tasks that always seem to get pushed down to the bottom of the to-do list. 2014 is close to ending and 2015 is filled with promise. 

But today I'm celebrating that community of writers -- virtual and face-to-face, that encourage my commitment, that connect me to like-minded souls, especially those self-published indie authors who simply want to write their stories and poems. 

Thank you! And may your writing go well.

A Round of Words in 80 Days
The Internet Writing Workshop
Weds WIPpet at My Random Muse
NaNoWriMo National Novel Writing Month
Spokane Authors