Writing

blog, stars, eastern north america, northern south america, blue, purple, green

Maxed Out Blogger!

I’ve been blogging since May of 2010. Almost a decade! For the first few years, I was pretty much talking to myself. Since 2015, I have observed a steady increase in numbers of likes, comments, and follows, probably because I’ve done a fair bit of liking, commenting, and following myself. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

I’ve decided, for what it’s worth, to document my blogging practices, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

I’m now following 117 blogs, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed. My policy, as per my About page, is that every time someone whose blog I’m not already following likes a post, I visit that blog and read a few posts and/or the blogger’s About page, if they have one. When one of my posts gets a few dozen likes (which is great!), it can be hard to keep up. Posting only once or twice a week allows more time to react and respond.

Likes. If I “like” a post, that means I’ve read it and actually (surprise!) liked it, or, in the case of reblogs, the intent behind reblogging it. If I decide not to read a post, I just leave. I don’t use the “like” button to just to say “I was here.”

Comments. I don’t always comment, even on posts I like. Sometimes I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say, especially when there are already a lot of comments and mine would say the same thing. I’m in the Pacific time zone, so I’m usually a latecomer to posts written by folks east of me. And sometimes I start to comment, but a little voice asks me if I really want to say that. I’ve learned to obey that voice, especially if it’s late and I’m tired. Better not toss off a remark that might be misinterpreted and unintentionally offend or puzzle someone.
I always reply to comments on my posts.

Follows. I don’t routinely follow everyone who follows my blog. I know some bloggers assume their follow will result in a follow back. Sorry, no. I’ll visit and read a post or two, and maybe like them, but the only reason I follow a blog is because something about it — the content or the writing style — interests me. When I follow a blog, it’s with the intention to read all new posts on it. I sometimes wonder at some of the bloggers who follow me; they seem to have nothing in common with me at all. But then, life is full of small mysteries.

Not mysterious at all are a few things I find discouraging. They pretty much guarantee my quick departure from a blog. First of all, gifs. I hate ’em; they make reading almost impossible. I can read around the occasional gif if the subject of a post is interesting, but if someone has studded their post with snippets of people yelling, jumping, twitching, dancing, or collapsing, I’m outta there. Second: popups offering newsletters or deals of some sort. Nope, I’m not coughing up my email address, especially if the popup appears before I’ve had a chance to read anything. Third: the prospect of a daily deluge of posts. I already follow a few high-volume blogs, and hesitate to take on another, unless the posts are super short and/or riveting. A flood of posts means either a s**tload of email notifications to delete or a Reader that needs to be triaged — OK, let’s read this one; no, not that one, maybe that one, not that one… It adds to the fatigue factor.

Griping aside, I’m happy to see lots of visits, likes, and comments. I’ve “met” many delightful and eloquent bloggers in the past near-decade. I’ve learned stuff, I’ve been appalled, delighted, and enlightened. I have blogger pals all over the world. I’m looking forward to another decade.

Image from Pixabay

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creepy portrait zombie book

Zombie Books

Some say ebooks are immortal. That’s one of the wonderful things about them. Self-pubbed authors don’t have to worry that their publisher will decide to take their books out of print, to be remaindered and (gulp) pulped. Books going “OP” is just a quaint remnant of the bad old trad-pub-or-nothing era. Now, ebooks and POD print books exist as files on servers, not paper volumes produced by a complicated process involving heavy machinery. Books now can remain in “print” and available to readers forever.

That’s great, but what about the books no one wants, no one reads, no one even looks at? There they sit, unvisited clumps of electronic blips, not dead but not alive either. Unlike print books, they can’t even be used as decor or carved up into paper sculptures. In some cases, even their authors have abandoned them, giving up on whatever hopes they had as self-published authors. Those books are immortal, but effectively dead.

Books need brains, the brains of readers to take in their words, to engage with their narratives, to visualize the stories they embody. To think about their meanings, and to talk about them with others.

It’s sad to think that a portion of the enormous output of self-published authors in the last decade may languish undiscovered and unwanted. Millions of new books are born every year. How many of them will end up as zombies? More to the point, must it be this way? Do some books just deserve obscurity? How can we as authors ensure that our book babies live on in the minds of readers, rather than shambling into virtual graveyards?

cemetery, gravestones

Images courtesy of Pixabay; “digital brain” image by A. Driscoll using Canva, with elements from Pixabay and Canva.

gargoyle grumpy

The Irascible Indie. Part 5, Confessions of a Non-Marketer

The Irascible Indie is back! She’s emerged from her dark and dusty corner (coughing and sneezing), insisting she must opine on that perpetual bugbear: MARKETING

I’ve just reread four blog posts from 2015, written by my grumpy alter ego, the Irascible Indie. They are mild rants about various aspects of being a self-published (aka “indie”) author. I was actually quite impressed with how well-written readable they are. Anyone who’s interested can find them here:

And now, here are the Irascible One’s views on marketing…

Not a day passes without at least one blog post popping into my reader about marketing — lists of tips and tricks, how-to articles, and stern warnings that failure to market means failure as an author. Marketing is the bitter pill you must swallow after the thrill of pressing the “publish” button.

Okay, I admit it. I have a skeptical attitude toward marketing. As soon as I see certain words — SEO, clickthroughs, keywords, analytics — I get that uh-oh feeling. After reading multiple posts about picking the right keywords and other magic formulas to romance “the algorithms,” I’m left with the feeling that the authors of those posts live in a different universe. Their screenshots (which are hard on my eyeballs) do not resemble anything I see when I try to follow their instructions.

Reading about marketing makes me feel like a kid forced to wear a scratchy woollen sweater — you know, the kind that drives you crazy and makes you want to scream and stomp your feet. It’s itchy! I hate it!

Not good enough? Okay, let’s take a look at my reasons and figure out if there’s anything to them besides a contrarian attitude.

Reason #1 I hate advertising. I’ve perfected techniques to ignore ads, both in real life and online. I don’t want to inflict ads on anyone but enemies. Besides, ads cost money. Why should I pay someone to say “Buy my book!” for me?

Reason #2 I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s personal info, especially now. Look how Google and Facebook messed up with that. I’m not going there. And I don’t want to send emails that are disguised “Buy my book!” pleas to people who trusted me with their addresses.

Reason #3 What could I possibly say in a newsletter that I’m not saying right here in my blog? I’d rather spend my time writing stories, novels, and blog posts than trying to manufacture stuff for which someone would be happy to exchange their email address. And too many newsletters are offered via annoying popups. (A popup, by the way, pretty much guarantees that I’ll never sign up for a newsletter.)

Popups are about as desirable as junk mail.

Reason #4 Advertising is expensive, and not always effective. We authors (wannabees, aspiring, self-published, and indie) are a huge market for legitimate and bogus services alike. Even with a budget and plan for advertising, you need to sift through all the options, recognize the scams as such, and figure out how to leverage use the legitimate ones optimally. Unless you get it right, your ROI is likely to be poor. (See, I can throw jargon around too!) Don’t get sucked into believing that liberal applications of cash will do the trick.

Reason #5 Getting reviews to improve sales is a tricky business.  For one thing, it’s too easy to offend the Mighty ‘Zon. You can’t buy reviews (not that I would), you can’t exchange books for reviews, you can’t do review swaps with other authors, reviews have to include disclaimers, etc. Even an honest mistake can result in reviews being pulled, reviewers losing their privileges, authors losing their Amazon accounts — forever. And then there’s the torturous process of finding reviewers. In my random visits to book bloggers’ Review Policy pages, I inevitably see variations on the “No longer accepting books for review” theme. Natural, organic reviews from real readers are the best, but they can be few and far between, and an author has no direct control over that process.

Reason #6 Marketing isn’t simple. That’s why trad publishers used to have staff for it. For this indie author, there are too many options, too much advice, too many services with cutesy names and acronyms. It’s all a blur, and the prospect of figuring out what might work is dizzying. I’d rather be writing, or reading. (Hell, I’d rather be cleaning the bathroom.) The answer, of course, is to select one or two of the least daunting strategies, take small steps, and refuse to be overwhelmed by the flood of advice. And keep an eye on your expectations.

There’s an idea floating around that authors who don’t embrace marketing aren’t as hard-working and “savvy” as they should be. They don’t treat their writing as a business, so they deserve to fail. I resist these labels. I’ve happily put my energy into writing, editing, book descriptions, formatting, cover design, and presenting information about my books on my blog and elsewhere. Patience is my middle name (well, not really, but you know what I mean). I’ve whittled my expectations into elegantly slender shapes. If that’s not enough, so be it.

And yes, having said all this, I know enough not to whine about my sales!

Thank you, Irascible Indie, for your views on marketing. Now, back to your dusty niche, leaving me with a nice target to wear on my blog. I’ll relay any comments to you, including those that try to change your mind (such as it is). Bring ’em on!

Target-like image. I love those colours!

Gargoyle and “target” images courtesy of Pixabay

Call for Submissions: Fears of a Clown

Here’s a call for submissions with a rather interesting theme. Be sure to click on the link in Dave’s post for details. You might also want to read his follow-up post about how he came up with the idea.

Davetopia

Toward the end of last year, Misha Burnett challenged the Nasty, Brutish, and Short writing group to each compile and release an anthology this year. As Fauxpocalypse, a project he conceived, marked the start of my career as a professional author, it felt right to not only accept but dive in. So, I’m issuing a call for short stories.

Scary, thrilling, unnerving, or weird stories featuring clowns; but ones where the clown isn’t the thing that’s scary, where there’s something worse. Full details here: davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/submission-calls/call-for-submissions-fears-of-a-clown/

The Barker Beckons
©Jack LawrenceCC BY 2.0

If you know someone else who might be interested in submitting, please pass the details on.

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Osiris image from replica of Sennedjem tomb RBCM Egypt exhibit 2018

A Quick Visit to Ancient Egypt

On Saturday, November 24th, I spent a few hours surrounded by objects from ancient Egypt. After a couple of years immersed in researching and writing a novel featuring such items, I was delighted when the Royal BC Museum hosted a travelling exhibit called Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs. (It continues until December 31st, for anyone who might be in or near Victoria, B.C.)

And I was intrigued to hear that on this particular day, an anthropology class at a local college was to stage a mock ancient Egyptian funeral right in the exhibit space. The project was part of a course called Anthropology of Death. The students did a lot of work to create the atmosphere and physical objects. They had even mummified a chicken, which was on display just outside the exhibit space.

A human dummy mummy (not a real one!) was carried along the twisting path through the various dimly-lit rooms, into a life-size replica of the tomb of Sennedjem, an artisan of Thebes. It was placed into a coffin (a borrowed theatrical prop), and the correct ceremonies were performed, including the all-important “Opening of the Mouth.”

Mock ancient Egyptian funeral in the RBCM Egypt exhibit
You can just see the “mummy” in the bottom of the coffin. Offerings have been placed at the left end and the participants are holding scrolls with the ceremonial words.

Photos taken with a phone in dim spaces with lots of reflecting glass (exhibit cases) and small spot lights, among crowds of people jostling around, aren’t the best. (That’s my excuse, anyway.) I focussed (yes, indeed!) on items of special interest to me, either because they appear in my recently published book, or, in the case of the cat statue and mummy, just because.

This photo of the Bennu Bird was one of the best, along with the one of the Osiris image at the top of the post.

The Bennu Bird, from the replica of the tomb of Sennedjem.
Bennu Bird in the replica tomb

This stone sculpture of the head of an unknown queen was in a dark corner, and my photo (somewhat enhanced) makes her look quite creepy.

Stone sculpture of head of unknown queen from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Sculpture of unknown queen.

False doors (or “spirit doors”) appear in my novel, so of course I took a photo of this one. It dates back to the Old Kingdom, which makes it about five thousand years old.

Old Kingdom false door, made of limestone with hieroglyph inscriptions, from RBCM Egypt exhibit.

Shabtis (or ushabtis, or shawabtis) are small human figure sculptures that were placed in tombs so they could work for the deceased person in the afterlife. They were pretty much mass-produced, but sizes and materials varied somewhat. This one struck me as looking quite sinister, so I touched up the image to emphasize that.

Shabti from RBCM Egypt exhibit 2018
You wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley.

Most people know the Egyptians had a reverence for cats. At least I think it was reverence, since there was a cat goddess, Bastet. Many cat mummies have been found, and this exhibit included one. My photo makes it even weirder than it looked in real life reality. The covering is quite intricately patterned, and the fake eyes and ears are touching.

Cat mummy from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Sad kitty…
Bronze cat statue from RBCM Egypt exhibit.
Detail of bronze cat statue. Really, it’s an elegant piece, but this picture makes it look more like the cat mummy above.

As always, one exits through the gift shop. I couldn’t resist buying a pair of fake shabtis. (You have to read my book to find out why.)

Reproduction shabti figurines from RBCM Egypt exhibit shop
They look a bit apprehensive, don’t they? Right now they’re standing near my computer, wondering what jobs I’m going to make them do.

I’ve always been a sucker for blue glass, so this little jug was an obvious choice. I like that it was made in Egypt (as were the shabtis) from recycled glass.

Cobalt glass pot with small handles, Baladi glass from RBCM Egypt exhibit shop
“Baladi” (which means “local”) glass

Book Review: The Crux Anthology compiled and edited by Rachael Ritchey

First, I’ll note that I have a story in this anthology. It’s called “The Blue Rose.” That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Here are links to pre-order the ebook. It’s $0.99 now, but goes up to $5.99 after the end of November, so act fast!

AMAZON   Barnes & Noble   Apple   Kobo

And here’s my review. This contest-based anthology is grouped around the theme of adventure as prompted by the picture on the cover. Most (but not all) of the stories recognizably incorporate the picture’s elements – a youngish bearded man, a woman with white-blond hair, a white temple-like structure on a steep green hill, suggestions of a cave, and a hint of the supernatural. It was interesting to see how closely authors adhered to the picture, and what forms the elements took in their stories.

The quality of the prose is uniformly good, although the authors’ styles vary, as might be expected, since they hail from widely scattered parts of the English-speaking world. The stories range from magical fantasy to grim dystopia, and include humour, mystery, romance and tragedy. Most readers will find something in this collection to captivate, intrigue, thrill, and entertain.

Specifically, these are six stories I especially enjoyed:

“The BUSS Stop” by K.R.Ludlow, for its unabashed goofiness and fast pace.

“The Cave of Legix” by David Jesson, for the realistic depiction of an expedition’s interpersonal dynamics and an ingenious mystery in a tropical jungle cave.

“The Paths We Choose” by R.J. Llewellyn, for its characters’ strong emotions and tragic choices made under extreme duress.

“Daddy Forgot Water” by Barb Taub, for its unflinching presentation of a horrific but plausible scenario.

“The God Strain” by Gary Jefferies, for a darkly humorous look at the beginnings of what might turn out to be a similar scenario.

“The Forever Door” by Rachael Ritchey, for fast-paced thrills in a vividly imagined setting, with a compelling quest, a remorseless villain, and a relatable sibling duo as protagonists.

I was delighted to be included among this group of authors and to work with Rachael and other members of the “Crux Crew” to let the world know about this worthwhile book.

The Crux Crew Mini-Interview

Find out more about three of the authors in the Crux Anthology.

Rachael Ritchey

I couldn’t help reblogging this entertaining and interesting interview (more of a conversation between three authors we get to sit it on) between host author Joy E. Rancatore, R. J. Rodda, and Audrey Driscoll. 

To enjoy the interview in its entirety, head to Joy’s website by clicking this link:

http://www.joyerancatore.com/2018/11/15/the-crux-crew-mini-interview/

Following is a snippet, but don’t miss out on the rest. These ladies are smart, and their conversation is one we can all enjoy. 

~ Rachael Ritchey

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The Crux Crew Mini-Interview

Is it tea time where you are? Are you sipping your morning coffee? Even if it’s neither, I invite you to pour yourself a cuppa and join me, Joy E. Rancatore(JER) and authors R J Rodda (RJR) and Audrey Driscoll (AD) as we have a little chat about writing, stories and the release of The Crux Anthology. We are proud to be part of…

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The Crux Anthology print cover

“The Crux Anthology” Available Soon!

It feels like way longer ago than January that I saw a post on Rachael Ritchey’s blog announcing the Adventure SciFi and Fantasy Contest and decided to enter. Usually I don’t do contests, but there was something about this one…

I was thrilled when I actually finished my story and sent it in, and even more thrilled when Rachael notified me it was in the top ten. Then in May, I was totally chuffed that my story won Third Prize.

And now, The Crux Anthology is about to be published. Take another look at that gorgeous cover. Then take a look at this…

The Crux Anthology back cover description

And here’s the list of those authors…

thecrux-ebook1.jpg

You may recognize some of these folks as bloggers. Here’s a chance to read a curated selection of their fiction.

Just so you don’t miss any important details, click here to sign up for the Crux-specific newsletter.

The release date is November 26th, but you can pre-order on the 19th. All sales proceeds will go to the charity Compassion International.

 

hot air balloon on ground rainbow colours

Her Day Approaches!

I’m inflating that balloon again! The ebook version of She Who Comes Forth launches on Wednesday, November 7th. That means there are only three more days to pre-order at the special price of $2.99.

Recently turned 21, France Leighton travels to Luxor, Egypt, taking with her two legacies—an antique cello and an emerald ring. Instead of the archaeological adventure she expects, she gets a lecherous dig director, hidden agendas, a risky balloon ride, and an enigmatic nuclear physicist. In the mysteries of the ancient tombs, France realizes she and her gifts may imperil the world—or save it.

AMAZON:  US  UK  CA  AU

B&N  KOBO  APPLE

SMASHWORDS

Here is a tiny taste…

1

The Chapter of Experiencing Departure and Disappointment

 

Luxor, Egypt, September 27th, 1962

My hair flopped into my eyes—again. I tried to blow it out of the way, but that never works. I pushed it behind my ear for the hundredth time that day, my dirty hand adding to the accumulated grime on my face. Sighing, I turned back to the pile of rocks in front of me. Check for inscriptions. Check for chisel marks. Attempt to discern shape. Sort and classify.

The clink of tools on stone and the murmur of voices blurred into a distant hum, joined by the drowsy buzz of flies. Even in the shade of the tarp stretched over the sorting area, it was hot and getting hotter.

“Hello, Miss America!” The Grinner arrived with another basket of rocks. His thin body jiggled under his grey galabeya and his eyes squinted under his faded blue turban. “It is beautiful day! Very happy to see you!” He was smiling so hard I thought his face would split and the top of his head would fall off, turban and all.

“Hello,” I said. I couldn’t remember his name. Ali? Omar? I couldn’t keep them straight. To me, this one was “the Grinner,” and I couldn’t call him that to his face.

“Please put that here.” I pointed to a spot next to the basket I was working on. “Thank you. Very much.” I turned back to my current rock, hoping he would take the hint and leave.

“His name’s Mustafa,” Hank said from behind me. “It’s no hardship to remember the workers’ names, France. Just like I remember yours. They appreciate it.”

Great. Another mini-lecture from Hashish Hank. I squinted up at him, brushing the hair out of my eyes yet again. “But my name isn’t ‘Miss America.'”

Hank grinned. “That means he thinks you’re pretty.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Even my sarcasm-producer was weary.

“And you’d better step it up.” He gestured toward the new basket of stone fragments that had joined my half-full one. “The Boss wants us to get this section done today, so there’s lots more to come.”

“All right.” I blew a raspberry at his departing back and picked up a rock. Check for inscriptions. Check for chisel marks. Try to discern shape. Sort. Classify. Wipe sweat, push hair behind ear.

Shit, it’s hot!

Archaeology, Egyptian style.

If only I’d known.

 

Balloon image from Pixabay

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Writing Environments

Has anyone ever wondered how much the physical environment in which a book is written influences the finished product?

My first four books were written under these conditions: basement room with closed door, no company except one cat, specially selected music, and totally offline. The computer I used was not connected to the internet; it was essentially a glorified typewriter. I did my research using real books, except for snatched opportunities for internet fact-checking in my workplace. (That’s another thing — I had a full time job then.) Writing sessions were at least three solid hours almost every evening, with the World’s Best Cat nearby. I wrote the entire Herbert West Series between November 2000 and late 2006. Then in the winter of 2007-2008 I wrote another, unrelated novel (which remains as yet unpublished).

Zeke, May 11, 2014

Zeke the Cat (1997-2017)

The conditions under which my latest book (now available in print on Amazon, ebook still on pre-order) was created: shared office in the main part of the house, with spouse and large dog coming and going, and talk radio or randomly chosen music. Almost all research was done on the internet, and the book was written on an internet-connected laptop (after the handwritten “proto-draft,” of course).  Writing sessions were spasmodic, some as short as five minutes (between checking emails, reading blog posts, and looking things up). Some were as long as a couple of hours, circumstances permitting. No wonder it took a whole year to produce a 100K-word first draft, and the best part of a second year to edit, rewrite, and format. And I’m retired now! Finally, most of this book was written without feline company, since Zeke (the WBC) died in January 2017.

It’s tempting to wonder if these differences in the environment of creation are discernible in the finished work. I’m hoping my writing skills have improved since the early years of the millennium. Despite distractions and interruptions (or maybe because of them?) the new book is shorter and (I think) gets to the point faster. I’ll have to speed up my output if I want to finish — no, wait — if I want to start the projects I still have in mind.