Who said that?!

Warning – this post is an attempt to distract you from current events. Read at your own risk.

I love collecting quotes. Whenever I run across something worthwhile I jot it down (because heaven knows my memory is an untrustworthy stinker). The following mashup comes from a variety of sources. Citation is provided when known.

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“Imagination is wasted without a creative outlet.”

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” Charles Dickens

“Rip was so straight you could level a picture frame with him.”

“The feeling flitted across my mind like the shadow of a bird, but it never stayed to sing.” Neenah Ellis

“The best way to a man’s heart is through his mother.”

“Right…Stun the bitches tits off and apologize later.” James Gardner

“The room looked as if it were channeling its inner museum.”

Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Christopher Hitchens

“Just like a zit, she kept popping up – unwanted and refusing to disappear.”

“You’re not old as long as there’s a little bit of whipper left in your snapper!” Hallmark

“It was a wet, burbly sound, like a fart with attitude. The equivalent of a rectal raspberry.”

“I wouldn’t trust them to organize a drinking party in a distillery.” David Weber

“Nothing like a a little judicious levity.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Author update – The upheaval caused by Covid-19 affects all of us, even if we remain healthy. I am still working, despite the stay at home order now in effect, and, so far, my immediate family is weathering the storm just fine. A friend recently lamented that the world will be forever changed, and I must agree. We have an opportunity to learn, grow, and change for the better, but will we?

My current project is keeping me busy, and providing a blessed distraction! Rise of the Draman is undergoing a final beta read and I am closing in on a publication date. As usual, I’m struggling with the book description and having an awful time of it. So much to say with so little space! A dozen different ways to approach it, yet which one will hook the potential reader?

I didn’t write this book with any specific purpose in mind. Somehow, it turned out to be chock full of timely lessons for what is happening right now, including adversity, sacrifice, love, unity, and the greater good. Getting it out there ASAP is my goal, and I hope it proves to be both entertaining and helpful. Book launch is tentatively set for the middle of April.

Wishing you peace and safety, my friends.

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Fantasy Maps – From Brain to Page

My next book, Rise of the Draman, is a fantasy dragon tale set in medieval times. After writing began, I sketched out a rough map (we’re talking grade school quality here) to use as a reference point. Eventually, I ended up with four, detailing the kingdoms and places where most of the action took place. They not only ensured consistency, but imbued the story with a sense of reality.

As things became more complicated, I toyed with the idea of including maps in the book. Why? While I did my best to describe the world in sufficient detail, words on the page will only take you so far. A good map will enhance the story, help the reader understand action and character motivations, and simplify complex scenes.

“Like a good novel itself, a map draws the reader into its created world, but still leaves room for imagination to fill in the rest.” Clay Andres

Now comes the tough part. I knew I couldn’t draw them, and the available do-it-yourself software was either too expensive or hard to use. What to do? I mentioned the desire for maps to one of my faithful beta readers, and she volunteered to create them for me! The before and after images below speak for themselves.

 

Dramanshire Map

 

Dramanshire - darkened

Created by Kari C.

 

The artist and I exchanged many emails and texts to fine tune what I wanted, clarifying various features and making changes which reflected the story as written. The process was exciting and not nearly as stressful as I imagined. In the space of one week, she churned out four completed hand drawn maps! In her spare time!

I’m even more excited about Rise of the Draman now and can’t wait to see what my readers think. While I would love to share all four, you’ll have to buy the book to see the others! They’re beautiful, super COOL, and take my story to another level.

“One of life’s greatest treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And at the end, it’s a reminder of all the places a story has taken you.” Sarah Laskow

Publication is tentatively set for early April.

 

(Don’t) Say that again – Dealing with overused words

I’m on the hunt.

My manuscript was overrun with the nasty little boogers and it’s taking precious writing time to stop and cull them from the herd. You know what I’m talking about, though they go by many different names: crutch words, filter words, overused words, tired words, lazy words, needless words, filler words, repetitive words – and don’t get me started on adverbs! I’m tempted to use a different term altogether, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.

I prefer the term “crutch words”, but what are they?

“They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become overused). These repeated words/phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage need to be reduced.” Sam Giacomo

I found at least three things worth mentioning in Sam’s simple definition.

Default setting – every writer tends to overuse certain words and phrases, but it’s part of your unique writing voice. They spring from your upbringing, education, region of the world, and personality. Relax. You come by it naturally, you can use them, and you’re in good company.

Not be obliterated – When I was first confronted with my own repeats, it surprised me! (Had, that, but, was, & would are some of my worst.) Removal of every single crutch word is neither required nor desired, but you will have to cull them. The effort is more than worthwhile, as it will improve sentence structure and the overall quality of your writing.

Reduced – Here’s the hard part, and none of my research revealed how many occurrences of a word or phrase is acceptable or excessive. Shouldn’t the magic formula look something like this? [20 uses of “X” per 1000 words = disaster] I wish it were that easy! I use MS Word for my writing, so I take advantage of the “Find” feature. If I see a whole bunch of repeats clustered together, I go hunting. If the overall number is large, I look at each one and winnow it down.

For example, while working on story number three of my current MS, I punched in the word “was”. Whoa! Two hundred forty four occurrences in a document of just under twenty thousand words. It took hours of eliminating, replacing, and re-writing to get the number down to one hundred three. The process is subjective, but once you know what your crutch words are it’s easier to find an acceptable balance.

Beware – the little stinkers are tricky! The list of offenders never goes away as old ones are replaced with new ones. Always ask your beta readers to watch for them, as they are more likely to catch them than you are.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

Self Pub Book Covers – A Review

Every book needs a great cover. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make, and indie authors have a fair number of options available. The process for my current book, Rise of the Draman, took an unexpected turn and I ended up using a pre-made cover from SelfPubBookCovers. Let me tell you how I got there and offer a review of their services.

The covers for all seven of my previous books have been designed by the same graphic artist. I assumed she would also take care of number eight and began the process. It became clear after a little back and forth that we were not on the same page! The problem this time was the nature of my book – a medieval-ish fantasy tale requiring a dragon on the cover. This was not her forte, as she mostly deals with modifying photographs or pre-existing artwork. She gave it the old college try, but in the end I had to admit defeat and look elsewhere.

I searched through a passel of websites offering both pre-made and custom covers. Some were very limited in scope (romance books only, for example), others lacked quality, and prices were all over the map. After a while I narrowed my search to those specializing in fantasy, and while this helped, most of them were too expensive or I didn’t care for their blood-thirsty, demon-eyed, dragon-on-the-rampage images.

The first one I contacted offered both pre-made and custom covers at a somewhat reasonable starting price, so I made an initial inquiry. While it wasn’t quite bait and switch, they quickly discouraged a pre-made and pushed for a custom job beginning at $900.00. Sorry, this indie author doesn’t have that kind of money!

In the past, I had looked at SelfPubBookCovers.com, and decided to give them another try. They claim to be the “world’s leading marketplace for high-quality, affordably priced, pre-made book covers”, with 30,000 to choose from. Once you create a user name and password, you can save your favorites as you search – essential, given the number of covers available. After much debate, I made my selection and then the fun began. The one I wanted required a modification. Here is their process:

  1. Please send us the file name of the cover you are interested in, along with a sentence explaining the modification you are looking for.2. We will contact the artist to see if it can be done for our minimum fee of $50 (which is in addition to the cover purchase price).

    3. We will get back to you with a confirmation. At that time we will ask you to purchase the cover and for you to take care of the modification fee.

    4. You will see the modification, and will have 2 rounds of comments/adjustments. If additional changes (more than 2) are requested, there is a $25 per round fee.

    If this is acceptable, please send us the book cover file name and how you would like it modified.

    NOTE: Please DO NOT buy the cover you are interested in having modified until we confirm that the modification can be made.

Seem clunky to you? It did to me, as I was used to dealing directly with the artist myself via email. I also did not like having to pay before seeing the end result, but I understand why it’s necessary. In the end it worked out fine, and the next time it won’t seem quite as daunting. The modification I needed was very simple – exchange the silhouette of a little girl to a boy. After one more minor adjustment, their work was done, AND they kept their promise of a 5-day turnaround (including Christmas day) – impressive!

SMALL-72dpi-1500x2000

Afterwards, you are free to log in and use their software to add the book title, author name, tag line, etc. This can be done any time following delivery of the finished file, though you are limited as to color, font, and placement. Remember – once you make the purchase, that cover will never be sold to anyone else in the future – it’s YOURS.

So what about the cost? Was it truly affordable? Yes. Most of the covers run around a hundred dollars without modifications. Mine was priced at $78.00 + the $50.00 modification fee, for a total of $128.00. For an indie author on a tight budget, this was a terrific bargain.

Will I use their service again? Yes, I expect to at some point. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Again, yes. Even if you are not concerned about cost, they have some wonderful covers available. Give SelfPubBookCovers a try!

Note – if you have found a pre-made cover shop you like, let me know in the comments!

W.I.P. = Weary, Impossible, Provoked

It’s no surprise I am still working on Rise of the Draman, though I REALLY want to get it finished! Why does every project take longer than I estimate?? Can’t I just write and ignore everything else? It’s not all doom and gloom, as I am making significant progress – even squeezing in the holidays and tax preparation. Speaking of taxes, my book income went way down this year and I overspent on promotions. I’ll have to be even more careful – it’s going to be tough.

Anyway, back to my WIP. I completed story five in late November, so what have I been doing for the last eleven weeks? When I started the project, it was supposed to be a series of short stories, released one at a time over several months. Those goals were jettisoned when I realized:

  1. I’m no good at writing short stories. I do just fine with flash fiction or novels, but short story writing is a special ability I don’t seem to have! A bit discouraging, but a good learning experience.
  2. Publishing and promoting five separate titles is WAY more than I can afford at the present time.

By the time I got to the last one (Dragon Rescue), the decision was made to combine the stories into one volume. By doing so, it freed me from word count restrictions – and set me up for a lot more work!

Dragon Child went from 11,172 words to 19,803 – a 43.5% increase.

Dragon Valley went from 14,214 words to 22,634 – a 37% increase.

Dragon Bonds went from 11,722 words to 16781 (so far – not finished yet).

At 13,000 words, Dragon Quest will most likely get a hefty increase.

At 30,00+ words, Dragon Rescue shouldn’t need anything.

Adding new material isn’t the only reason I’m behind,  of course, as there are now internal consistency issues to address and small but important changes which affect all the stories. Oh, and don’t forget a thorough round of editing and another beta read for each one. At some point I also have to create character lists, maps, a terrific blurb, and apply for the copyright. The joys of self-publishing are on full display here, and I haven’t even reached the promotions stage! Whoopee!

Yes, I’m very eager to get the book finished and launched, but I won’t cut corners – even though it’s taking MUCH longer than I thought it would. I’m tired and want to reach the finish line right now, but the race isn’t over. Giving up isn’t an option, no, no, no. I’m going to birth this baby if it kills me, and then promptly forget about the pain as I start on the next one. Yep, writers are weird.

Photo Prompt – Caption This!

pexels-photo-225406

“For meowing out  loud – put some clothes on!”

 

pexels-photo-374898

“Sorry you are not, but you will be….you will be.”

 

pexels-photo-774731

“O Mighty Can Opener – deliver unto me the salmon!”

 

pexels-photo-789746

“It’s called snow art, you idiot. Now stop tugging before it gets ruined.”

 

pexels-photo-991831

“If you suggest Oil of Olay one more time…”

 

border-collie-jump-water-british-sheepdog-37860

“Forget the bathtub. THIS is the original power wash!”

How To Criticize Without Being Critical

A writer’s work is under constant scrutiny, often accompanied by suggestions of how to fix it. Personally, I don’t like being told what to do – but the right kind of feedback really gets my motor going (just ask my beta readers). The post below, written from an editor’s viewpoint, intrigued me with its title and I found it incredibly affirming.

Now, I’m not a professional editor, nor do I work with one. Doesn’t matter. The guidelines below apply to interaction with readers, beta readers, reviewers, muses, soundboards – and it works whether you are giving or receiving. If only the world at large would read and apply the Two Basic Rules of Editing, it would provide a wonderful boost to writers everywhere!

I’ve condensed the original post down to the basics, but encourage you to read it in its entirety HERE. I hope you find the information as helpful and encouraging as I did.

 

The Two Basic Rules of Editing

Remember: It’s not your job to fix it! Your job is to help the writer fix it.

Rule 1. Praise

Too often people think being a critic means being critical. That’s only part of it, and not even a necessary part. A good critic assesses what’s strong ahead of what’s weak—because if a work has no strengths, why should anyone care what its faults are? I believe that if you can’t say what’s good about a piece of writing, you have no business telling the writer what’s not good about it.

Praise serves different functions:

  1. It sets the tone.A writer is much more willing to entertain your criticisms and ideas if they know that you like their work.
  2. It sets the parameters of what the book can achieve.A pedestrian stylist is never going to write like Jane Austen—but maybe the writer is good at ingenious plotting, like Agatha Christie, or explaining difficult concepts, or mounting a convincing argument, or eliciting sympathetic emotion in the reader. Whatever the writer’s strengths are, they will be stronger in some places than in others. Identify those benchmarks so the writer can set their sights on them.
  3. It sparks ideas.When you tell a writer what you really loved—what surprised you, what moved you, what shocked you, what made you laugh, what made you see something in a new light, a turn of phrase that delighted you, the places where you absolutely couldn’t stop reading—they will often see ways to deepen those responses, or play with them, or find other places in the book that chime with the section you mentioned. The writer will see ways to improve the book that you hadn’t noticed, and that they themselves might not have noticed without your enthusiasm. Which leads to:
  4. It energizes the writer.Now they’re excited! They can see what the book (or script, or story) will look like when they make that change, and they’re longing to get to work on it. When a writer feels that they’re succeeding, they want to add to that success by improving what’s less successful. A writer who feels that they’re failing may be dogged and keep at it, but inspiration is less likely to come, if it comes at all. Often the writer will simply give up.
  5. It gives the writer confidence going forward.The chances are the writer will meet rejection along the way to publication, and beyond. Praise from a reader or editor works as both gasoline and armor.

Rule 2: Ask questions

This rule covers everything that is not praise—in other words, anything that’s not working for you as a reader. As an editor, I feel more confident if I don’t expect myself to know the solution to every problem. As a writer, I am far more energized by being asked to think about my work in a new way than by being told what to do.

The purpose of asking questions is not to get answers. Questions give the writer ideas. Prompted by your question, the writer may come up with an alternative plot event or character motivation, a clearer or different chain of argument or narrative, perhaps even an entirely different way of telling the story. Your question may help the writer articulate something that’s obvious to them but that isn’t at all obvious to you.

If you have a specific solution, remember that it might not be the best one. I usually say something like, “This may not be a good idea, but what if there was a car chase here?” The writer may have already tried that solution and it didn’t work. They may be viscerally opposed to it, perhaps because it’s a cliché. They may love it and be thrilled that you gave it to them. Or—best-case scenario—your idea sparks a better one. And the writer’s imagination is why you’re both here to begin with.

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Update: I’m still working on RISE OF THE DRAMAN. Along with general editing, I’ve added about 16,000 new words to the first two books – with two more to go. As always, it’s taking a lot more time than I hoped (go figure)! Just dealing with crutch words can be incredibly time consuming, especially when it requires the restructuring of sentences and paragraphs. It’s all good though, as it improves my writing and produces a better book. I’m still hoping to publish in February, if all goes well. We’ll see!

 

Photo Prompt – SHADE

Shade

His shadow reached me long before he did; shifty blackness with more life than the man. Untouchable, yet a felt presence, nonetheless. It washed over my skin, filling pores and raising goosebumps. I should have run; wrenched myself free and fled from him again, but I could not.

Something in this strange creature touched my soul in a way no other ever had. Could I stay with him? Give myself freely? Get lost in this dichotomous being who simply wanted to love and be loved?

As he neared, shadow merged once again with flesh and the feeling of otherness faded. He smiled at me and extended a hand. I took it with gentle pressure; warm and soft. Together, we sought the darkness, for it was only there he found peace and I could forget what it was that captured my heart.

Photo Prompt – Interdimensional

45-044D

Talen rubbed weary eyes, wishing he’d gone to bed with the others hours ago. He simply couldn’t rest when the solution was so close at hand, and finished entering the latest set of parameters. The Jolly Roger wasn’t the only science vessel in this region of space looking for the elusive opening in space-time that every dimensional theorist claimed was here. If it were to do them any good, it had to be located precisely, studied, and mapped before any attempt was made to use it.

An insistent chime interrupted his weary thoughts, pulling his attention back to the workstation terminal. It took a moment for his sleep-deprived brain to understand the message.

Iteration 2257 successful. Anomaly located. Display visual?

Talen’s hand shook as he activated the main viewscreen. None of the scientific models matched what he was seeing; a beautiful, fixed, star-shaped structure. Awestruck and jittery with excitement, he instructed the computers to verify and record, even as he hit the comlink. They wouldn’t mind being awakened for this!

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The celebration didn’t last very long. Jurri was the first to point out what everyone else should have realized immediately.

“This thing is not a natural formation. Every single theory postulates a dimensional gateway as a rip, tear, or hole in space-time. What we’re seeing is symmetrical, precise, constructed. We don’t have the ability to build something like this, but someone does – and did.”

The ramifications were staggering. How many of these gates existed? What was their purpose? Who might be waiting on the other side? Unless this was a forgotten relic of a long-dead alien civilization, they’d just stumbled on the greatest threat mankind could ever imagine. Talen acknowledged the frightening reality of their situation and punched the comlink.

“Captain, we’ve found something…”

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Interesting note – this image is based on a photograph of pond scum – really! At the time, I was playing around with various digital enhancement software, and this one turned out so well I decided to keep it. Cool!