Monday, July 14, 2014

Lessons of life

Recent events have me thinking about the important lessons we only take to heart after the bad breaks in life. My wife, Joy, has cancer. The oncologist says it's chronic. How precious time is only lifts to consciousness when it is limited. Currently, the cancer is under control, but it could, as it has several time in the last few years, pop up in new places requiring yet more debilitating treatments. For now, we have a quiet summer to watch the bees fly, harvest honey and fruit and enjoy the delights of coastal northern California.

A friend and fellow Writers of the Future winner, Tina Gower, had a tragedy in her family. Her parents house burned down. No one was injured. All that was lost were material possessions. Her response to the tragedy, Memories don't burn is a reminder of how unimportant the "things" we obsess about truly are. She is turning the experience positive with #100DaysofGoodKarma.

Time is short — write, read, love.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Visiting my target audience

I'm working on a young adult novel and have been for about a year and a half. I started two Novembers ago during NaNoWriMo (see my post from Dec. 21, 2012) creating a base story of 45,000 words which I built on. Last November (Dec. 4, 2013 post) I added another 57,000 words to it. The story has gone through two alpha readers who are middle school teachers (thanks Deborah and Lisa) and two critique groups. All have helped me refine the story.

Recently I got an exceptional opportunity — one of my middle school teacher friends offered to let her class read the first two parts of my book and comment on it. Here was my target audience. I jumped at the chance. With more than a little trepidation, I finally got to meet a dozen sixth through eighth graders who had read my book. The experience could not have been more pleasant. The young readers proved intelligent, insightful and as nice a group of people as I could have ever wanted to meet. I left the two meetings I had with them energized and impressed with the young people in my region. Perhaps Humboldt county grows a better, nicer, more involved youth. If so, it's all the more reason to be truly glad I live here. It was a wonderful experience and I thank them for their help and cooperation.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Follow-up on Self-publishing

Once you have your book in epub form, publishing it on all of the major outlets is pretty much a snap, so my novel with an alternate view of the Rapture and Tribulation, The Remnant is now available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Kobo, and in print at Amazon. We shall see how it does.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Venturing into Self-publishing

Well, I did it. I entered the wonderful world of self-publishing. My second novel (let's not even get started about the first one which does still exist in two hand-written notebooks) has been sitting on my hard drive for a couple of years, untouched. After eight years of work, I just couldn't chuck it, so I decided to put it on the market and see what happens. This, of course, required converting it into a format that the dear folks at Amazon would accept.

There are entire books written on this subject and I picked up a few of them. I won't try here to go into all of the detail, but will give you a taste of what the process was like. I started with an MS Word file with the entire manuscript in it. As is probably true of most manuscript files like this, it was messy. A few of the pubs that talk about formatting for ebooks suggest that you copy and paste the entire text into a new file omitting all formatting (in Word, do a Paste Special, paste as plain text). This might work if you haven't used italics or bold text much, but otherwise, you're going to have a heck of a time putting all that formatting back. I didn't do this. What I did do was go to the Format menu and select Styles & Formatting to open the style sidebar and then use a special function in Word (I'm still using Office XP, so the commands may be different in 2007 and 2013) that allows you to "Select text with similar formatting". Once selected, the text could be quickly changed to the style I wanted.

This is crucial. All the converters work from the Style of a paragraph. So all of your text paragraphs should have the "normal" style and all of your chapter headings should be in one of the "Heading" styles. Getting the text paragraphs into "normal" style required doing the "Select text with similar formatting" and scrolling through the entire document looking for paragraphs that were not selected. Then I would do the "Select..." on that paragraph and change all paragraphs like it to "normal". Occasionally, I would come across a paragraph that was "normal" with something else added. Just clicking "normal" in the styles didn't change these. To get them to be just "normal" I had to change them to an entirely different style and then change them back to "normal".

Chapter and section headings had to be done manually. I scrolled through the document, put the cursor in the heading and chose one of the "Heading" styles. I had four different levels of headings: Parts 1-3, Chapters, Years, and locations. Each of these used a different level of heading. The three parts of the book were done in "Heading1". The Chapters were in "Heading2" etc. It is important to use "Heading1" not "H1" because some of the conversion programs don't handle them interchangeably.

Once you've standardized the formatting of your document, you need to save it in ".docx" format. If you're not using the latest version of Word, there is a converter you can add to Word 2000/XP/2003 that will do the conversion. Search for "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack" to get it. It's free.

The last thing you need before conversion is a cover for your book. I used a graphic of a painting by 16th century artist Hieronymus Bosch. Make sure any art you use is in the public domain or purchase it. There are several sites on the web where you can buy the rights to a wide variety of photographs and drawings for prices in the range of $50. With my ancient copy of Paint Shop Pro, I added the title and my name to the picture. That completed the cover for the ebook.

From this point, you need to get some conversion software. If you want to do the conversion process the cheapest possible way, you will need to download "Calibre". Calibre is free. It will catalog all the ebooks on your drive, has a reader, and performs conversions from various formats. The conversion process is fairly straight-forward. My problem with this software was that it didn't incorporate the cover into the format for Amazon (.mobi). It did incorporate it into the format that is the standard for everyone else (.epub). Later, I found I could have used the .epub file and Amazon would have converted it for me. As such, I recommend Calibre.

I did try another piece of software, Jutoh. Jutoh costs $39 and has a few bells and whistles that Calibre doesn't. It also has one drawback, it has a far less intuitive interface for creating the internal Table of Contents for the book than Calibre does. Calibre allows you to designate three levels of heading for your Table of Contents while Jutoh only lets you designate one. Jutoh will let you create a perfectly formatted Table of Contents that is placed inside the text, but the one the reader gets when they press the Table of Contents icon on their reader is lame. What Jutoh did do correctly was incorporate the book cover into the .mobi file, so I went with a lame Table of Contents that points to the internal Table of Contents. I hope Jutoh clears this up some day. Their product is otherwise excellent and they respond quickly to email questions.

Once the files are finished, you need to create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing and fill in all of the forms. It costs nothing. You can also get the book into print through their Createspace service. This is also free, including the ISBN which would, otherwise, cost you $125. Do the ebook first and you'll get an invitation for Creatspace.

I won't try to tell you the process was without frustration. I spent over a week on it part time. I could probably do another one in a couple of days now that I've got the hang of it. It is simple enough for someone with only a good working knowledge of MS Word to do, so don't spend your money having a service do it when you may never get that cost back. Remember, for every book that makes it in the virtual world, there are hundreds that never see a sale.

And in case you're wondering, my novel, The Remnant, is now available.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Followup on NaNoWriMo

It's now December. I finished National Novel Writing Month with a word total of over 57,000 words or the equivalent of 99 pages single spaced. Not all of it is good. Much of it will be useless, but what the exercise does is to force you to silence your inner editor and critic and just write. I recommend NaNoWriMo for any of you who find it difficult to get the words down on paper or who feel they have to get it right the first time. There is a time for editing, but it's not while you're in the flow of writing. There will be time for that later. This is what NaNoWriMo teaches and it is a valuable lesson.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November is National Novel Writing Month

We're on the verge of another National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Every November, ambitious writers take on the challenge of producing 50,000 words in one month. That averages out to 1,667 words per day. And a lot of them actually do it.

Last year, I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future contest. Winning such a prestigious contest should have been a spur to produce ever more writing. Instead, I ended up with what I later found out was a fairly common after effect of such good news, imposter syndrome. I couldn't believe that I had bested thousands of other unpublished writers and ended up blocked. I did almost no writing for four months. In October, I decided to sign myself up for NaNoWriMo just a way to force myself to start writing again. Taking an idea I'd come up with during a writing conference a year earlier, I started a new novel with only a vague notion of where it might be going. In 30 days writing I cranked out 42,000 words, finishing up part 1 of the novel.

The novel continues being written. It is now over 190,000 words and has been split into two books. This November I'll work on it again and hope to add another 50,000 words and maybe figure out where this story ends. Yes, a year later I'm still writing it seat-of-the-pants and the story continues to evolve.

NaNoWriMo is a good way to kickstart your novel. I highly recommend it. In addition to the personal incentive it gives, you can have writing buddies online and there are local NaNoWriMo support groups. The FaceBook page for our local group in tiny, rural Humboldt County has 101 subscribers, so writing your novel doesn't have to be a lonely pursuit.

Good luck to all who take the challenge. May you be a NaNoWriMo winner.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An open letter to Congress concerning Syria

The proposed cruise missle strikes on Syria are based on flawed logic. The most serious flaw is the assumption that parties in the Middle East will react in what we as Westerners consider to be a logical fashion to the application of force. Have they ever? Did the Taliban in Afghanistan? Did the Sunni in Iraq? And if you go further in history, did the Arabs react with the kind of logical submission we expect of Syria when they were confronted with overwhelming force from the Ottoman Empire during World War I? Did the Afghans submit to the mighty British Empire in the 1830s? No, they fought on. We continue to miss the lessons of history both past and present. Force will not achieve our goals, only diplomacy and negotiation will.

For some unfathomable reason our nation seems to believe that just because Bashir Assad was educated in England, he is, somehow, a Western individual. He is not. His mindset is Middle Eastern. He believes that unless he fights on to the bitter end, his Alawite brothers and sisters will be slaughtered by the Sunni majority and he is probably correct. As long as his people are in danger, he has no incentive to end his fight and every incentive to continue fighting more desperately using ever more force and killing ever more of those he considers the enemy of his people. Attacks from the outside will only increase his desperation and his incentive to use ever more intense force to end the struggle quickly. Obama's plan will backfire horribly just as the use of force has backfired every time in the Middle East. We will end up in yet another quagmire. Need I remind you how much the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost us? Our nation is mired in debt and unable to educate, house, feed and care for its own people because of the treasure we have poured into Middle Eastern rat holes through ill planned military fiascos. Let's not do it yet again. Syria requires concerted international diplomacy not reckless military bluster brought on by failed posturing about "red lines."

The nation cannot afford another war. The world cannot afford another war. And another war will not accomplish any worthwhile goal -- history, recent and past demonstrates this clearly. Encourage the President to take bold diplomatic action in international forums, but vote against this reckless, hopelessly ill thought out military action.