Musings on the Past Few Weeks…and a Poem

I feel like my schedule’s been getting away from me the past few weeks.  I haven’t found as much writing time as I usually do. Why?  We had the end of term 1 of school (all that grading and extra help and contacting home!) and the beginning of a new one, fun family things, yard work, some meetups with friends, some excursions with my husband…  Good things, really.  Even the yard work.  My husband and I are still very much in the glow of having our first house and first yard.  I’m loving being outside and taking care of the property.  We filled a lot of leaf bags this weekend, and got to spend time outside together with the dog.  Oh, and we washed the dog, and his bed.  He will smell really good for a few days…or maybe one…  Today, I’m writing right before I transition to doing a little more prep for this next (short!) week.  I’m hoping that with this holiday week, I’ll find some extra time.  I’m missing my quiet, intense hours.

It’s not that I haven’t written at all.  There have been a few snatched, furtive moments, but not those long, satisfying stretches of repeated clicking and clacking of the keys until I truly can’t write any longer…sigh.

Ha ha–well, I have been reading, which has been good.  I’m grateful to the “Text to Speech” feature of my Kindle that reads books to me for free while I’m getting ready in the mornings and on my commute.  I couldn’t read nearly as much without it.  My husband thinks the voice sounds awfully mechanical, and, hey, it’s not an actor, but I’ve gotten used to it.  I don’t mind it.  Thank you, authors and publishers who have enabled “Text to Speech.”

Here are my writing resolutions for the not-to-distant future:

-Polish my current short story, a deviation from my typical short stories, involving ghosts

-Return to writing my second novel (I’m midway through!  I’m leaving the first one on the figurative shelf for now)

-Write another installment for this blog of “Shows I Liked that Got Cancelled”

-Write a post for this blog with my thoughts on some of my recent reads

And, for now, a haiku:

Haiku for Missing My Writing

Well, I have opened

the document.  That counts, right?

I miss you.  Sorry.

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Reading Adventures – Gone Girl, Dark Places

Don’t worry–no Gillian Flynn spoilers!  The only possible spoiler is about a long-gone episode of Nip/Tuck (see below).

After a day of recuperation after the fabulous Writer’s Digest Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, I’m reading to dive back into my blog.  Last week, I was away from home at a training, and met my friend and fellow writer, Lisa Pais on the train down to New York for the conference.  I’ll tell you more about the conference in my next post!

I wanted to share two of my latest reads.  I had heard a lot of buzz about Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, so I started reading it last week.  While it didn’t grab me in the first few pages, I was soon hooked.  I loved the characters Flynn created and the way those characters surprised me.  I don’t tend to read psychological thrillers or mysteries, and it had been a long time since I’d read something with the flavor of Gone Girl.  I was impressed with Flynn’s level of detail and the way she tied everything together.  Wow.  I don’t think I could have managed to write that kind of novel!

Gone Girl

After Gone Girl, I was eager to add another Flynn novel to my Kindle for my train trip down to NYC.  I ended up deciding on Dark Places, about an adult who has grown up without her immediate family after they were brutally murdered when she was seven.  This novel hooked me immediately (although I was biased toward Flynn at this point!) and I had a hard time putting it down.  My stomach roiled in discomfort several times, but I loved the story and thought the plot and characters were again very well done.

I was reminded of the time period when my husband got me into watching Nip/Tuck.  Did anyone else watch this?  I loved and hated to watch it.  We were behind, so we were watching the seasons on itunes, episode after episode.  The characters were interesting, the plot was exciting, but during and after each episode, I usually felt like I was going to throw up.  After each episode ended, I would think to myself: Wow, I wish I hadn’t watched that.  I should stop watching this.  Then: Let’s click on the next one.  Maybe something good will happen to these characters in the next episode and no one else will get hurt or traumatized.  The arc which stuck with me the longest is probably the one with the crazy agent who had a penchant for making teddy bears…sometimes out of people…I’m shivering and cringing all over again just thinking about it.

Anyway, I liked Dark Places even better than Gone Girl.  For me, Dark Places led me into situations which were extremely enticing because they were bizarre; I had never imagined anything like many of the experiences Flynn’s protagonist, Libby has.

Dark Places

I was trying to talk my husband into fitting Flynn’s books into his schedule, and I was saying to him that I didn’t think I had such disturbing elements in my own writing, and then I realized…I actually do.  Maybe my writing isn’t as different from Flynn’s as I had at first imagined.  I have some sympathy for my own psychopaths and villains, and I know how they ended up the way that they did.  While my novels are not thrillers and don’t have the same feel as Flynn’s, there are some interesting parallels.

This reminded me that it’s important for me to read outside my usual genres and my comfort zone.  There is a lot that I can learn from top-notch writers in any genre.  Especially as a writer, it’s helpful to me to see how writers use the common elements of setting, characterization, plot, tension, etc. in telling very different stories.  In my writer’s critique group as well, though there are some connections that pop up in our writing, we are ultimately telling stories in several genres with different styles.  I love my writer’s group!

I’m also currently reading Omar Farhad’s Honor and Polygamy, which is even further from something I’d normally read.  I’m also in the middle of Kristina Riggle’s Keepsake, which is right in my comfort zone (and which I’m enjoying very much!).  Sometimes, I read books one at a time, but I do find that, especially in the summer, I have some time for reading multitasking, and my brain wants me to spread it a little thinner.

KeepsakeHonor and Polygamy

Anyone else had some recent experiences reading outside your typical genre?

(Images are linked to the sites where I got them)

Ambient Lighting and the Comforts of Home – In the mood…for writing

I’m currently away from home for a few days for my non-writer job, and I’m staying in a room with very bright lights.  They are not “soft white,” and though they can be turned on and off in many different combinations, the quality of the light is the same.  I’m pretty peaceful here, reading, writing, and editing in solitude, but I do miss the atmosphere of home.  My husband laughs at me when I come into the living room when he’s been sitting in there for a few hours and adjust the lighting.  Hey, I like my lighting, all right?  It sets a mood.  I love feeling like I’m in a calm, inviting environment, and lighting is one of the keys to that.

I also should have brought my sweatpants.  Mistake!  I mentioned in my last post how I hate to be cold…well, the AC in this place is not fully within my control, and it’s a little chilly.  I may or may not have slept in my jeans and a wool sweater each night.  I was warmer that way.

Still though, it hasn’t been a bad few days at all.  I’ve got some more writing work to do after I finish this blog post.  I’ve got the lights turned down as low as they can be while still functional.  (They are still too bright and too white.  They are saying, “What’s the problem?  What kind of fancy light do you want?  Aren’t we good enough for you?” and then they think about dimming, but don’t because they weren’t made to, and they want to speak to me in a softer tone, but they can’t.  Still, they feel sorry, so they add, “We have our good points.”  They don’t elaborate.)  I acknowledge that I can see everything very well.  There is no question of that.  (The lights appreciate the concession and show their appreciation by shining in exactly the same glaring way as before.)

When I’m home, I like to have the light right, and sometimes I listen to music with headphones, though other times I write in the relative silence that is not headphones but still life.  Often, I read something to transition into what I want to work on…even if I’m focused on editing.  I’m replicating as many conditions as I can here.  Home soon.

Any other writers have your own “getting in the mood” rituals?  Or anyone else have a preparation ritual for some other work?  

P.S. My short story, “Glass Eyes” is still free at Smashwords through tomorrow with the code SW100 at checkout through their summer sale.  Also available for purchase for Nook at Barnes & Noble and for Kindle at Amazon.

Links:

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” on Smashwords

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Barnes & Noble

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Amazon

“Where There’s Smoke” by Jodi Picoult – Review and Connections

While out and about in the car today, I used the Kindle Text-to-Speech feature to listen to Jodi Picoult’s new (FREE!) short story, “Where There’s Smoke.”  I loved it.  One of my all-time favorite Jodi Picoult novels is Second Glance (another is The Storyteller), and I’m excited that Picoult is again taking on ghosts and their interactions with the world of the living.  I love the way she did this in Second Glance: the novel remains character-driven and has a great plot as it incorporates elements of the paranormal.  Second Glance has a similar feel to Picoult’s other novels for me, and I think the strength of the characterization make this novel accessible, not only to those who enjoy paranormal novels, but to readers who tend to focus on commercial, upmarket, and women’s fiction which might not normally include any ghosts.

In “Where There’s Smoke,” the main character is Serenity Jones, a TV psychic receiving communication from spirits on the other side and struggling as we all do, to live life the best way she knows how.  I really enjoyed the story, finding Serenity easy to relate to despite my initial hesitation over her profession.  Though I’m interested in the paranormal (loving shows like Paranormal State, Ghost Adventures, and The Haunted), I sometimes feel skepticism when it comes to big TV psychic personalities and wasn’t sure what to expect with Serenity.  Well, I loved the story and the stakes that Picoult created for this character and those around her.  I’m looking forward to Picoult’s upcoming novel, Leaving Time.  This novel will include Serenity, and the short story definitely worked to hook me and cause me to breathe a sigh of disappointment when I saw that I’d have to wait until Leaving Time‘s October release date to find out more.

What are your favorite Picoult novels?

Do you find the paranormal interesting?

Trying Self-Publishing: “Glass Eyes” Now Available for Purchase!

I am a high school English teacher, and this takes up a lot of my time during the school year, so this summer I’m trying to spend as much of my time on writing as I can.  As I’ve been reading, dreaming, writing, editing, and querying, I decided to self-publishing an ebook.  This is the perfect time for me to delve into this process and learn the ins and outs through firsthand experience.  I took a story which is dear to my heart, “Glass Eyes,” and prepared it for publication, focusing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Cover Art

I had a lot of fun creating the cover for my ebook.  A stuffed fox features prominently in the story, and I knew that my aunt and uncle had one.  I drove down to their place and took several photographs of it.  My aunt and uncle were very helpful and accommodating!

Here are some covers that didn’t make the cut:

         

Once I got home, I sifted through my photos and edited the ones I liked best with the Microsoft Office Photo Editor.  I brought my favorite edited images into Microsoft PowerPoint and added the title, subtitle, and my name.  I played with placement, font, and color, and feel satisfied with the final product.  I can’t wait to make another cover!

Here’s the one I went with:

 

Slide1

I like the way the fox breaks up the image in this cover.  If you look carefully on the right, there is a swing, representing my five-year-old protagonist, Kate.  While I liked the images of the fox indoors in front of the books, I felt that those covers were too busy and distracting.  I also felt the cover I went with felt more modern than some of the others.

Preparation and Formatting

To prepare for launching “Glass Eyes” as an ebook, I read Building Your Book for Kindle and Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing, and Mark Coker’s Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.

The Kindle publications had some helpful information for how to navigate the process of publishing on Amazon.  I found Coker’s book the most helpful.  In addition to giving instructions for publishing an ebook, Coker also gives tips on marketing, defines terminology, and talks through the pros and cons of different ebook publishing decisions.  Once I had gone through the steps to publish on Amazon, I also read the Smashwords Style Guide and carefully worked through the Smashwords template.

Formatting was a big part of this process.  I spent a lot of time trying to get my indents to look right for the Kindle edition, and I read several pieces of internet advice and eventually found the right advice, written in a way that I could understand it, and (Hallelujah!) made a well-formatted book.  I plan to add a blog post about formatting that goes into more detail, and I’ll share the resources I found helpful.

Published!

Once the ebook was available on Amazon and Smashwords, I was so excited!  None of this excitement has dissipated yet.  It’s exciting to have a published story out there, and I’m also looking forward to learning about marketing and sales through this experience.  I’ll keep my ears open to advice.  I meet with a weekly writer’s group of very kind and talented individuals, and I constantly benefit from their points of view.  I’m also keeping in mind what I learned from attending this years NECRWA conference (New England Chapter Romance Writers of America).  Many authors spoke about their experience with self-publishing and ebooks.  In particular, I benefitted from author Katy Regnery‘s workshop in which she shared her experiences about indie and self-publishing, and all that goes along with them.

More details to follow!  Have you self-published or indie published?  What were some of your takeaways?