Month: August 2014

Late Summer in the Garden

August is not this garden’s best month. Since I no longer have a vegetable patch, I don’t experience that plentiful harvest thing. Except for tomatoes. I grow them in pots, and this has been quite a productive year.

August 24, 2014

Otherwise, things have that dry and rattly look.

August 21, 2014

There are a few exceptions.

Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" and Delphinium in new flush of growth

Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” and Delphinium in new flush of growth

August 9, 2014

Today I saw developing buds on my Chinese witch hazel. One branch has managed to grow into a spot that gets a bit more sun than the rest of the plant, and so will bloom next winter. The Convolvulus sabatius I thought was killed last winter is alive and well (although small), and yesterday I potted up seedlings of Gaura lindheimeri. Now the trick is to get them through the winter. For some reason I have had trouble with this plant in recent years. I don’t know if it’s because of late cold snaps (such as last February’s -9 C) or excessive wetness in the dormant season. I do have more seeds if this batch fails.

I see I have mentioned winter several times in this post about late summer. Yes, I am actually looking forward to winter, which here is green and wet, a refreshing change from endless sunshine and drought. Before that, I hope, we will have the delightful season I think of as spring-in-fall, with shorter, cooler days and rain. Many spring-blooming shrubs put out a few blooms then and the garden seems to sigh with relief. Certainly the gardener does.

My “Fragrant Cloud” rose (a rather feeble specimen growing in a pot on its own roots, not grafted) escaped being eaten by deer this summer, so is blooming again.

Rose "Fragrant Cloud"

Rose “Fragrant Cloud”

These dark red sedums have likewise been spared by deer, even though they are in the unfenced front garden. It seems to me that deer have distinct preferences;  a couple of years ago sedums had no chance, but these have been blooming for weeks.

August 15, 2014

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Fighting the Blurb

I actually hate the word “blurb.” It sounds like a dumb, brainless thing. But blurbs are important when it comes to selling books, so getting them right is important. Here are some wise words on how to do it.

chrismcmullen

Blurb Fight

BOOK BLURB

In modern times, the book’s blurb is dynamic—it isn’t etched in stone. You can change it as often as you like.

  • If you’re getting regular sales, don’t touch your blurb with a 12-ft. pole!
  • Otherwise, keep fighting your blurb until you finally get it right.

It would be ideal to perfect that blurb before you publish, and you should strive to do this:

  • Browse top-selling books similar to yours and search for successful books where the blurb likely played a strong role. Big-name authors and publishers can sell books without the best blurb, so you can learn more by studying effective blurbs from lesser-known authors.

But, try as we might, it’s really hard to nail that blurb. Thus, those of us who are merely human must keep trying (except while sales are good—”if it ain’t broke…”).

And even if the book description was perfect, external factors may prompt…

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So Your Friend Is an Author…

Good advice for friends of authors. (You know who you are).

chrismcmullen

Judge

Amazing, Isn’t It?

Yes. It is.

How many authors do you actually know?

Now your friend is one.

The key word there is friend.

This was your friend before. Becoming an author doesn’t change that.

Sure, you can tease your friend about this, if your relationship ordinarily involves teasing.

But your friendship is based on more than just teasing:

  • You support one another. Even if one of you writes a book.
  • You’re honest with one another. Even if you think the book isn’t quite, well, you know.
  • You know each other well. How to get on one another’s nerves. How to put things gently. So you can figure out the right way to share honest feedback.
  • You motivate one another. So in addition to honest feedback, you’ll provide encouragement, motivation, and direction.

Your friend wrote a book. That’s a huge accomplishment. Treat it as such.

There are some things you…

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Wishes and Horses: The Phenomenon of Self-Publishing

Last week I attended a book launch by a writer from one of my critique groups. It was a pretty splashy event, complete with an Elvis impersonator who arrived in a vintage Ford Mustang.

That got me thinking again about the whole self-publishing thing. It’s a remarkable phenomenon, the result, I think, of three things: thwarted creative ambitions, market forces and technological developments.

“Everyone has a book in them,” and when it became easy to create manuscripts, everyone wrote their book. With all the touting of books and featuring of authors in the media, wannabes began submitting their creations to publishers. To serve this market, how-to-get-published books and courses proliferated.

Publishers could not cope with the flood of queries and submissions. The big ones fenced themselves off behind agents. Smaller publishers insisted on print submissions, hoping that exacting submission guidelines and the cost of postage would act as a deterrent — to no avail. Who hasn’t heard of five-foot stacks of “slush” plugging up publishers’ mail rooms?

Rejections flooded out from agents and publishers to hopeful writers, many of whom (despite advice to develop thick skins) got seriously pissed off and started looking for other ways to get their creations out there. By this time the internet was available to all and creation and sharing of “content” was the name of the game. In the best tradition of the free market, alternatives opened up to meet the pent-up demands of writers. Self-publishing went from suspect (the vanity press) to last-resort (POD and “subsidy” publishers) to normal (today’s new world of ebooks, Smashwords and Amazon).

When you think about it, this progression is logical. Why wouldn’t people start to write memoirs, novels and how-I-did-it books, when all through school they were told to be creative, follow their bliss and take chances? Especially when the personal computer and Microsoft Word made whiteout and carbon paper obsolete.

Having poured one’s passion into a literary creation, why wouldn’t one hope to share it with others, receive admiration and make money? Most famous authors aren’t beautiful, athletic or talented at anything besides sitting behind a computer and stringing words together. Oprah’s Book Club, here we come!

Publishing has always been a business with narrow profit margins, in which a few wildly successful books subsidize the less-than-best-sellers. In the traditional situation, a book has a short time to prove itself before it’s taken out of print and remaindered. With the best will in the world, there was no way publishers could hope to publish all the wannabe authors flooding them with submissions.

And there was no way that the writers, full of newly-discovered creative joy and the self-esteem that had been introduced to them from childhood, would accept their multiple rejections and settle for bridge, bingo and birdwatching. Entrepreneurial types recognized a huge and eager market, and hastened to serve it. Editors, book and cover designers, advertising and publicity providers rushed to fill the gap. Writers, no longer thwarted by the gatekeepers, became published authors eager to market their books.

I am a self-published author, and I can say without hesitation that I much prefer that to being an unpublished writer, full of self-doubt, resentment and frustration. I decided to publish my works, and it was up to me how much and what kind of editing to do, what cover images to use and what sort of marketing to do. Several years have passed since I published my first novel. It’s still in “print” (as an ebook) and selling steadily. Instead of sending out submissions I am writing new material.

You could say that the slush pile has been liberated from publishers’ mail rooms and made available to readers. Some bemoan the flood of crap, but let’s face it — there’s always been a flood of crap. The internet has made it possible to create and share more of everything, “crap” and good stuff both. The best indie authors are producing books as good as anything by the traditional publishers. What can possibly be wrong with writers and readers having more choices? It’s an exciting time.

The (Dubious?) Delights of Darkness

“…it’s a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyric tenderness…”

This is how one reviewer describes Rene Denfeld’s book The Enchanted. I just finished reading the book and can attest to the truth of this assessment (well, I’m not sure about the “jubilant celebration” bit). A day after reading the last pages I feel the literary equivalent of eating a meal of rich, exotic ingredients — queasy-uneasy, almost wishing I had never opened the book and started reading. It has left a layer of disturbing images in my brain (as well as a few gorgeous, heart-rending ones) that will take a while to fade. Which speaks highly of the author’s efforts.

For some reason I’m intrigued by books that promise darkness, as long as it’s delivered by means of enticing, artful prose. Being something of a misanthrope, I suppose I’m attracted to writing that shows the dark side of humanity. And perhaps I’m looking for explanations or even scraps of hope.

Reading these books can be a strange experience. It goes something like this:

You leave the familiar trail to take a path you’ve never noticed before (but which, when you see it, is too inviting to pass). It twists and turns through a wood full of strange plants and intriguing glimpses of dim, green clearings among tall trees. You keep thinking you should go back, but the path leads you along. It must go somewhere. When you reach a viewpoint or a creek, or if the path starts to peter out, you’ll just turn around and go back the way you came. Easy. (But how long has it been since you left the familiar trail? It feels like a long time, and the things you know are very far away). You come to a house snuggled about with vegetation — unpruned fruit trees, roses and brambles gone wild. It’s never seen a coat of paint and the roof is sagging, but the windows aren’t broken. The path you’ve been following leads to rotting steps that take you to the porch. A solitary chair, a mug half-full of coffee, an ashtray with a single butt. The door is ajar…

So you peer in. And you hear sounds. Wet, ripping sounds, thumps and grunts. Against your better judgment you follow the sounds to a room at the back of the house, where you see a thing of horror being done. Your brain doesn’t have a category for what you’re seeing, so you keep watching. And watching, while the horror goes on and on.

It’s a long way back to your familiar milieu. You can’t stop remembering, seeing those scenes on infinite repeat, feeling the sick and delightful roiling of your sensibilities as you process the images. Because you kept on looking (reading). Because on some level, you enjoyed the experience. You’re not the person you were before you took that path (read that book).

A couple of other books that had this effect on me are Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game and his novella 1922. But The Enchanted beats them both, because it feels less fictional. The fundamental horror is real.