Wednesday, August 10, 2022

My Family's History Contributes to Mysteries

 Each summer for twenty-seven years, I've headed to Southwest Missouri for the reunion of Orr and related families. I should say twenty-five years, because we did 2020 and 2021 on Zoom. Still fun and lots of shared stories.

The reunion began in 1937, which marked the 100th year that the first Orr family (that of my GGG Grandparents William Orr and Jennie Adams) came to Lawrence County, Missouri. They were joined by other relatives beginning in the 1860s, and there were eventually Orr, Knox, and Campbell families, as well as Shirley families in the east and the James Orr family in Indiana. And then they spread to 49 of the 50 states. Vermont must have been too cold.

For the first seventy-plus years, massive amounts of food were piled onto wagon serving tables and the signature lemonade came from hand-squeezed lemons.

Some lemons still get the benefit of upper body strength, while others provide their juice through an electric squeezer. The same bucket is employed today as in 1937, though supervision in 2022 passed from Bobby and Margaret Samuels to a community effort.

More fun than squeezing lemons indoors was Bobby and Margaret's lemonade making on the back of his pick-up truck. He had help from every child who attended.

Those of us who have become used to cool indoor homes rejoiced when the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church (founded by Orrs among others in 1854) added an air-conditioned community room.

The food is just as good, but attendees don't wilt in the prairie heat. We're smaller than the initial years, when more than 100 people came from many parts of the U.S. This year we had only several midwestern states, but I expect that as COVID continues to wane the numbers and home states will rise again.

While this annual reunion may not seem to have a lot to do with writing fiction, the stories and time spent with relatives have a lot to do with my Family History Mystery Series. Not that I use direct experiences in the books. I wouldn't be able to return.

What I've learned is that large families and those they marry into have hundreds of tales. For example, when crops failed due to drought in Kansas, one gutsy widow brought a wagon to Mount Vernon and relatives filled it with corn. During the Civil War, large families in border states had sympathizers on both sides.

Because I post family trees on, I had a call from an adoptee who learned a recently deceased man was her birth father and wanted a photo. (I obliged.) Another caller thought he looked exactly like a member of our clan and wanted contact information for potential half-siblings. (I didn't oblige, but they later figured it out on their own.)

Do either of these scenarios sound like fodder for a book? Maybe. More to the point, I've learned that there is no such thing as an unrealistic plot line when it comes to writing mysteries about extended families. If you can imagine it, it can happen -- and probably has.

My Family History Mysteries take place in Western Maryland, about 100 miles from where I grew up. But the trouble the characters get into could happen anywhere, in any family. Trust me, I've heard it all.
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Sunday, July 31, 2022

It's Fun to See Who Buys Your Books

 I often tout the benefits of selling my books at all online retailers (termed "going wide" by some). I sell books directly through Google and a few through Kobo or BN. But for the most parts, I sell non-Amazon books through Smashwords, an aggregator who puts my books on many sites. For this, they take a small percentage of a sale.

Smashwords also sells books directly through its own store. This gives me great joy. Every week when I look at books sold directly by them, I see the buyers' countries. Look at today, for example.

Other sites show me regions of the world and perhaps individual countries. However, I have to hunt a bit more for the information.

I believe this is my first sale in Antartica (The Art of Deliberate Distraction). In the past month, Smashwords sales have been for the countries shown, plus Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopa, the UK, Philippines, and Portugal.

The site does show where books are sold on Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. However, these tend to be more my main four sales countries, U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia.

Smashwords recently merged with Draft2Digital, and one of the reasons D2D was interested in the site was the Smashwords Store. As you can imagine, I was happy to hear that.

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you how to find my Smashwords Profile and list of books.

Happy reading!

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Frantic Finale -- Finishing a Book

I am a very methodical writer in the sense that it's my job and I keep at it. I like tying the book strings together to create a final package. I can handle glitches because I (usually) allow enough time for a project.

Not with Gilded Path to Nowhere, the fourth book in the Family History Mystery Series. With just a couple months before final publication, a few vertebrae in my cervical spine decided to sit on top of one another. With six weeks to go, I did a compression fracture of a thoracic vertebra -- the 12th, if you're keeping score. How? I sneezed.

To top it off, Blue Cross had a watering contest with one of the major clinics in Springfield, IL, and I couldn't go to my regular back doctor! My always helpful primary care doctor found another clinic, and when I realized how bad the cervical problem was, I found another specialist in St. Louis. It's only 100 miles away.

I finally ended up in the ER for the compression fracture, but I did get some nice drugs. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when taking opioids? Or muscle relaxers? But this was not a "tough it out" situation.

It also was not a "delay the book" situation, since I had a few hundred preorders. But I could barely sit in a chair for three weeks and could do little writing or polishing.

This is when you know who your best friends are.

My husband is a trooper, my neighbors and Maryland family were very supportive. But my sister, critique group, and a few other writing friends made time for chapter reviews and more on short notice, with quick turnarounds. I'll never be able to repay them. The book will publish on time on July 29th.

I have learned something important. I always have a better-than-general idea where a book is going, especially in terms of character growth. But because decades of crafting nonfiction made me an efficient writer, I don't do a full outline. 

I work from notes and do brief chapter summaries as I go. From now on, I'm going to write the ending after I finish the first twenty percent of the book. Because you can't think straight when your brain is mush, and who knows when it will turn to mush again? 

The other option would be not to announce a publication date until the book is finished. However, I set it almost 90 days in advance when the book was more than half done. I use deadlines to ensure I do three books a year. Otherwise, it's easy to sit around and read books. 

So, that's my Summer of Frustration story. It will be more fun to describe when it's in the rearview mirror.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Building New Interest in Older Series

I write four series, but a couple of them have been "stuck" with only three books. Hard to say why, because I like the characters. I suppose it's an analog to the saying about reading -- "so many books [to write], so little time."

Finally, I have ideas for additional books in the series, and I've actually written the fourth for the Family History Mystery Series. But how to generate more interest in the two older series -- River's Edge and Logland?

There's nothing like a free book to get readers interested.

I've been offering one book free in these two series to secure more attention. It does increase sales of all books in the series, but more important (to me) is the books get more reviews.  

I sell at all sites and have box sets of the Jolie Gentil series on Kindle Unlimited. So how can I make a book free on Amazon if it isn't in KU? I start with all sites except Amazon. I change the price on Smashwords to free and the book appear free of all the sites except Amazon -- Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. If you try this, don't forget any books that you may sell, individually, on other sites.

With Amazon, I can't make the books free myself. Eventually, Amazon's computers notice a book is free on the other sites and they do a price match for Amazon. If this doesn't happen within a week or so, I go into my KDP account and send a note saying there is a lower price elsewhere. Lots of Amazon downloads begin.

After about a month (yes, one month) I move the price back to $2.99. The thousands of downloads during that month entice a lot of readers. After a couple of weeks, review numbers begin to go up.

This is not a strategy for those who want an immediate big uptick in income. But it does make a difference over time. In the meantime, you get nice notes from readers. That's the best part.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Friday, June 24, 2022

Building Worlds in Fiction

Often, world building refers to creating cast/setting/story line for a fantasy series. I'm in awe of those who do this well -- Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter, and C.S. Lewis with Chronicle of Narnia. Star Wars and Game of Thrones (based on the books by George R.R. Martin) come to mind for movies.

I work in a middle school part-time and fantasy books are those most often checked out from the library.  So much reading is to escape, and what better place to bolt from homework than a fictional realm?

There are lengthy treatises about world building in fiction. If you want an overview, a Wikipedia article is a good start. 

There is a degree of world building in some mystery series. By that I mean the characters and setting are so strong that readers look forward to reestablishing relationships as much as following the story line. I especially like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey works and Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles. 

I also enjoy the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C Beaton and Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford. Hamish largely works in the same setting (with the quirky residents of Lochdubh and nearby towns in the Scottish Highlands), but Virgil is all over Minnesota. His approach to crime-solving can be unusual: don't take the gun out of the car safe unless you'll definitely get shot at, and involve civilians by telling people what you've found and getting them to help you. His nickname is also striking.

What keeps me looking for new books in the Virgil Flowers series are the relationships among several character (Johnson Johnson, Shrake, and Jenkins, and now Frankie) and dry humor. I would love to see him solve another murder in the fictional Tripton Minnesota, but I suppose it's too much to hope for another crime wave in that small a town. And yes, one character is Johnson Johnson, whose father liked outboard motors. He has a brother named Mercury Johnson.

I'm not as fond of series in which the protagonist has superb skills and ties to powerful organizations. I like my lead characters to be more fallible. 

Blogger K.M. Weiland talks about world building in various posts on story structure. Naturally, I couldn't find a specific post, but the entire site is worth going through.

I challenge you to find a series that is so good you put aside writing your own book. Or at least doing laundry.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Why Buy Directly from Smashwords?

Though this 12+ year-old company was recently merged with Draft2Digital, Smashwords still operates. One reason D2D gave for their interest in the acquisition was the Smashwords Store. What is that?

Ebook publishers not connected to a retail site that sells more than what they publish themselves, such as Amazon and BN, may choose not to sell the books they produce. For example, D2D has not. Other, smaller sites may get your books formatted so they or you can independently load them to online booksellers, but don't maintain their own store.

Smashwords does not publish as many books as Amazon, but nearly 600,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Here are some reasons to buy directly:

1) Books can be downloaded in multiple formats, including epub and pdf, and you can download a book in varied formats multiple times. 

2) New books may be available on Smashwords a day or two earlier than other sites.

3) Smashwords has sales several times a year.

4) Smashwords lets authors give coupons for free books on that site, even if the book is sold for a much higher price on other sites.

It's this last point that is a special benefit. As an author, I make coupons available to readers of my newsletter for a few weeks at a time. If you see an author on Smashwords, you can ask them for a coupon to try one book. They can say no, but you could also get a discounted or free book. 

As a reader, Smashwords sales let you buy a book for less than at other retailers without that retailer requiring the author to lower the price on their site. It's a benefit for readers and gives an author the incentive to periodically reduce prices. It's a great way for readers to find new authors and for authors to attract new readers.

Publishers can use Smashwords, but most who do are self-published authors or those who run a press that largely publishes their work (as I do, with Lifelong Dreams Publishing). However, you'll also find authors who have gotten the rights back for older books and are reissuing popular titles. Check out Leigh Michaels. Or authors who publish prolifically with traditional publishers and add some independent titles via Smashwords. Check out Heather MacAllister or Jeffrey Marks.

I've used Smashwords to download a bunch of children's books so I have them on my Kindle when I'm with very young friends or nieces and nephews. You email yourself the book to your Kindle email address or jus on a computer. 

If you haven't looked at the Smashwords bookstore, check it out. You could find a new author to love.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, May 30, 2022

Ways to Remember

Like most people born in the first couple decades after World War II, I had a dad and uncles who fought in that war. They all came home, though it's safe to say that some of them lived quietly with emotional trauma. They saw many people die horrible deaths. 

I include troubled veterans in a number of my stories. They aren't 'bad guys,' but they are anxious or unsettled. I don't want people to forget the sacrifices they made.

A veteran features most prominently in Falling Into Place, the story of Everett and his family. It would be called literary fiction, and I sell few copies. I think it's the best thing I've written. Life is funny like that.  

My dad's poetry dealt with loss several times, though it wasn't presented as battlefield deaths. His Portrait Through Poetry mixes his poems with letters he wrote to his sister during World War II. I put this as the last one in the book (published after his death).

What Does the Future Hold? by Miles D. Orr

The snow will melt and we will see 

that the rivers will always flow to the sea.

The tide will always ebb and flow

the sun will rise and set aglow.

The rain will come and the wind will blow,

thunder and lightening will hit below.

The earth will tremble and start to shake,

our homes will sway and begin to break.

And when the mountains decide to explode,

we will have a sea of lava, without a road.

I wouldn't call this pessimistic, but there an air of fatalism he didn't seem to have as a young man (based on stories from aunts and uncles).

And those letters he and his sister exchanged? They talked a lot about the books they read. She would send him one and he'd pass it around his tent, and read those the other flyers received from their families.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.