Monday, November 23, 2020

Would you Like to Worry Less?

 Years ago I developed the idea for a book, The Art of Deliberate Distraction. I hesitated to finish writing and publish it because I'm no expert in counseling or anything similar. I can claim to be someone who tries to focus on positive thinking.

With the arrival of COVID-19 and the ensuing stress, this seemed like a time to tackle the project. The result is The Art of Deliberate Distraction. It's more an article than a book, so I've added my heartwarming novella, Falling Into Place, as a bonus.

What is deliberate distraction? Deliberate distraction offers a way to consciously refocus your thinking – if only for a few minutes – so you can feel more well-balanced as you handle tough events. 

If you're trying to work from home and keep kids on task for homework or remote learning, it's tough. I remember a cartoon from the beginning of the pandemic. I don't have the image, but it said something like, "Tried remote learning. Two boys were kicked out of class and the teacher was fired for drinking wine." 

After nine months, it's harder to laugh about the restrictions and separation from our families. As one who had pneummonia last year, I wouldn't want to tackle COVID-19. So while I don't like missing Thanksgiving with my Maryland family, I prefer to love from a  distance so I can live for next year.

There are simple things we all love to do -- take a  walk, talk to a friend, read a book, binge watch our favorite TV show. When we're stressed or extra busy, sometimes it feels as if we have an obligation to worry. We do have a responsibility to tackle problems if we can, but we can also give ourselves permission to take our thoughts somewhere else by practicing deliberate distraction.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Making Writing More Readable

Each writer has their own style and each character has their own voice. However, you (usually) want your writing to be read easily. A reader can  get frustrated if they have to go over a sentence or paragraph a couple of times to get the gist of it. Though if you want a character to be misunderstood, then you're golden. 

I have a mental checklist as I edit. I'm not talking about a read-through as you continue to write a story. These suggestions are for what I call polish editing.  

  • Watch for what a grade-school teacher called 'helper verbs' – especially any form of the verb to be. Was plus a gerund can usually be replaced by past tense. I was walking becomes I walked. Some authors believe that using gerunds makes an action seem more immediate. It can -- unless you do it all the time.
  • Use precise verbs. Words such as walk and look are often overused. Do a word search if you're editing online or use a highlighter if reading on paper.
  • Break up paragraphs—especially so that each character's dialogue is in a new one. A long paragraph can take up a full ebook page.
  • Avoid overly long sentences. If you use 'and' and 'but' a lot, consider shortening some sentences. Varying sentence length can be a good way to vary characters' speech patterns, so long-winded or clipped sentences, when used purposefully, can be useful. 
  • Avoid using similar names or having a lot of towns or characters whose names start with the same first letter. This especially helps when a book has numerous characters or there are many pages between mentioning a locale or name.
  • Avoid passive voice! The subject of a sentence should usually be the person performing the action. Instead of, "Those words were spoken by me," the phrase, "I said," is more direct.
If it feels as if polish editing inhibits a character's voice or makes your writing sound more like nonfiction, your approach may be too rigid. If you really don't get this, ask an editor to go over a few pages of your work and offer suggestions geared toward readability.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter. 


Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Craziest Thing I've Ever Done (in terms of books)

 What happens on Halloween? Kids dress like action heroes and adults act like kids. It's also the day that I issued two new books, Least Trodden Ground and Aunt Madge and the Civil Election. 

Who would be crazy enough to do that? Looking in the mirror, I recognize the face.

Least Trodden Ground has been in the works for months and had the benefit of my Decatur area critique group. (Thanks Angela, Dave, and Sue.) The book combines my love of family history with a mystery set in the Western Maryland mountains -- my home state.

Aunt Madge and the Civil Election is a story I promised when I wrote Underground in Ocean Alley. In that book in the Jolie Gentil series, Jolie tries to solve a murder while Aunt Madge runs her campaign. She dove into the race in her mid-eighties to promote sensible growth rather than see a big development change the character of the town. Election results are unknown at the end of Underground in Ocean Alley.

I knew Aunt Madge's camapaign would be fun to write about, but I needed to "hang the idea" on more than people running around putting up yard signs. And then the U.S. 2020 election came around, and I was tired of listenening to people argue. (Yes, I voted. Of course.)

Why not give Aunt Madge a worthy opponent, but have both candidates commit to a civil election? And throw in some humor. Why not indeed?

To write in a parallel timeline to the prior book, I muted the mystery (didn't want to give it away to people who wanted to read Underground) and wrote Aunt Madge and the Civil Election from her point of view rather than Jolie's.

It's a challenge to write a scene from a different POV -- to write a 17,000 word story that parallels a prior book. Of course there are many dozens of scenes in  this "long short story" that are not in the other book. But concurrent action can't contradict what happened previously. Whew! I made some small adjustments.

I was determined to publish Aunt Madge and the Civil Election before the actual U.S. election, so there were several 2 AM evenings followed by a 7 AM morning. And no input from my critique group! They make everything better.

So, today I have two new publications. Least Trodden Ground is available everywhere and the paperback can soon be ordered at Barnes and Noble. (It's on Amazon now.) Aunt Madge and her campaign are available at most online retailers and will be in paperback in a few days.

To add some extra fun, if you comment on this blog post you'll be in the running to win one of two copies of each book. Our black cat Stella will chooses the winners. They will be announced November 6th.

Now, calm yourself by reading (any) good book!

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Dealing with Rejections

     You haven’t fully become a writer until you’ve had work rejected by multiple magazines or publishers. I’ve heard writers say they could paper their walls with rejection letters. Bottom line, if you don’t have a thick skin, find ways to toughen it. Just keep thinking, “Where do I submit next?”

     Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) submitted And to Think I Saw That on Mulberry Street (his first book) to twenty-seven publishers and received rejections each time. After what he decided would be the last one (because he wouldn’t submit again), he was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York and ran into a friend. He relayed his situation, and the man told him he had just become an editor at a publishing house and invited him to submit there. The rest is publishing history.

     Rejections don’t mean your writing is bad. 
They simply mean the piece isn’t right for that magazine at that time. They could also be because you didn’t pay attention to submission guidelines, or it could mean your story needs work. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some feedback. Take it with an open mind.

The important thing is to keep writing and submitting!

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Monday, October 5, 2020

Creating an Online Course During Covid

 I've often given talks on writing and publishing, and enjoy it. I think those will be out for a while, so I redesigned an online course and put it on a new platform, TabletWise. 

Some potential authors have an idea for a book, get right to work, and finish it in a few months. That's not how it works for everyone. Story ideas can come naturally, but it can be a challenge to structure them well. For some, it's even hard to wrap their head (and computer) around the idea. 

Decide What to Write and Learn How to Publish guides a writer through the deicsion of what to write, offers resources for learning how to write, and then digs into the publishing world. The course has information for those who want to work with a traditional publisher and those considering self-publishing.

In the last few years, the term 'hybrid publishing' has arisen. I've seen a couple definitions. A common one includes an author paying a publishing firm to perform certain functions -- such as formatting and some marketing. The publisher does not accept all authors, and the author makes more per book than with a traditional publisher. 

One way to publish that's laid out in the course is 'author as publishing manager.' If you decide to self publish, you can essentially be your own general contractor -- find people to format, perhaps hire an editor and publicist for specific tasks.

If you plan to do only one book, then working with a hybrid publisher can make sense. If you plan to do several -- and you don't want to perform all roles yourself -- you can manage the process as others perform tasks for you.

If you want to go with a traditional publisher, the course suggests how  to find an agent and offers a list of detailed questions to ask a publisher before you sign a contract.

The course offers a mix of videos and text lessons you can download. In other words, you  get to see my smiling face sometimes. 

You can buy a lot of books and take a lot of classes on writing and publishing, or you can take this course for the reasonable price of $19.98. You can learn beyond the course by consulting the list of resources at the end of each lesson.

What are you waiting for? Readers are waiting!

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Saving Our Bookstores by Buying Gifts as Well as Books

In-person shopping isn't as big this fall as last, but that doesn't mean we can't buy books and other gifts at independent bookstores or Barnes and Noble. Shop at a store or on line. Put a note on the refrigerator to remind yourself.

You say not all your friends and family want books? You can buy games, puzzles, toys, notecards and a lot more. Many stores will ship products. 

I have begun publishing my paperbacks (as well as Nook Books) through Barnes and Noble Press, to make it easier for readers to order them in the stores. They do a lot for authors, so I'm happy to see them make money when I do.

Are you familiar with https://bookshop.org?  It's an online platform through which independent bookstores can present their books to the public. This is especially important at a time when so many have been unable to deal with customers face-to-face. The site has helped independent bookstores make $6.9 million. That's a lot of tea and cookies.

Each bookstore has its own sales page. For example, Our Town Books in Jacksonville, Illinois (near me) has https://bookshop.org/shop/ourtownbooks

Another option is a list, by state and Canadian province, maintained by New Pages. Some of the bookstores are open for in-person sales and some are currently doing only online sales. I went through several states that I know relatively well and found the list quite comprehensive.  https://www.newpages.com/independent-bookstores

I got a kick out of the website of Solid State Bookstore (on the H Street Corridor in DC), which proclaims "October is the New December." In other words, shop early. https://www.solidstatebooksdc.com/

Why is it important to give books as gifts? I substitute teach, largely in a middle school. I love to see the books the language arts teachers pick, and see how they sometimes work with teachers in other disciplines so, for example, lessons in language arts and history cover similar subjects.

But there is one sad thing. When kids finish a test early or tell me in study hall that they have "nothing to do," I tell them to select a book from the shelves or read their own. Some do, and a few always have personal fiction to read. At least 100 kids have said, "I don't read." Period. They say it proudly.

If you know kids with similar perspectives, give them a book that deals with something they do like. If they watch football, give them a history of the Super Bowl. Try an audiobook that deals with a popular TV series. Anything to get them away from the television and video games. Either one is fine in moderation, but most low readers are mesmerized by watching rather than interaction -- which you have to do with a book.

As someone who shops rarely, you may never hear these words from me again: "Grab a credit card and go shopping."

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Friday, September 18, 2020

Writers and Their Cats

 Our current cats, Stella and Phoebe, are  rarely far from us. They especially like hanging with me, but I think that's largely because I stay quiet a lot -- in the chair in front of my desk, or a recliner fitted with a lap desk.

Mostly I'm ok with their presence, at least until they sit in the laser printer's exit tray or under my feet. Lately that's where Phoebe sleeps. It makes no sense. She could be on a towel on the sofa or by the window. But she rolls herself into such a tight knot you can barely distinguish between her head and tail.


Having a cat at your feet (especially when she has snuck into that position) can be frustrating. (So can working with the newest version of Blogger, which won't let me wrap text around a photo.)

Now check out Stella. She likes to be higher. I walked into the bathroom a few days ago and found her on a towel by the sink. I had just left the room and she appeared to be waiting for my return.

I think the closeness reflects their uncertainty about why the humans are home so much during the pandemic. Normally they rule the roost for many hours each day while I'm writing at the library and my husband is at work. He is back at work, but I'm still working at home.

I'm also struggling to write, so they may believe they are comforting me rather than trying to send me to the hospital. 

After weeks of writing less than a page a day, I began working on a new online class and revising an extensive book of family history. I had to make myself do something productive. It feels very self-centered when there are so many people in dire circumstances. 

Serious point here. If writers (or anyone) find themselves unable to do routine things, recognize why that's so. It may not be possible to change the circumstances, but perhaps you can do something to distract yourself. If nothing else, many authors are giving away copies of  their books. If you want a couple of mine, send a note and I'll send you a Smashwords coupon.

We are all in  this together.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter