Thursday, July 15, 2021

My Web Page Enters the 21st Century

What could keep an author from posting for more than two weeks? Marathon sessions to recreate her webpage, which I believe I began building in about 1999,

The initial design was busy and used a builder that didn't lend to a modern look. I had postponed an upgrade because it is soooo hard for me to learn new technologies. I should not have waited so long.

However, I've learned more about my writing, and can now describe it better. As you'll see, I have much more to learn, but elaineorr.com now has a clean look. I like it.

Why Now?

The redesign did not happen on purpose. First I had bad luck, then very good luck. My host (who will remain nameless because I won't give them publicity) cancelled the proprietary software they provided. No email warning. They said if I had logged into the host panel I would have seen announcements. 

Why would I do that? I write books and update a webpage. I only go into the panel to pay my bill. (Make that past tense.)

I bit the bullet and transferred my hosting contract to WordPress, which I've never been able to learn. Bought two books. Still could not do more than title a page. There's a certain amount of operator error, but I just don't find WordPress intuitive.

Here's the very good luck. I posted a note on my church Facebook page, and a wonderful friend stepped up. She taught me a lot, but also did a good portion of the design and template building. And gently corrected my mistakes. 

She introduced me to Elementor, a developer tool specifically for WordPress. I can do enough to be dangerous, so to speak.

Learning New Technology

Learning new software has never been easy for me, but I usually jump in. I bought a Toshiba laptop when they had 50K (yes, K, not even megabytes) of memory. You loaded (and used) software on floppy discs. I think this was the late 1980s. (Yes, I'm old. Seventy next month. Going strong.)

I could absorb new software because I worked a lot for a nonprofit, and they graciously let contractors attend training when they bought new software. They also had very patient staff two generations younger than I who answered questions. Even if asked three times. 

Repetition is my personal key to learning new software, but now I work alone. I may find a course about WordPress or Elementor. I need to keep learning.

The personal aspect of learning new things works best for those of us (at least me) who memorized multiplication tables in the days before calculators.

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

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Starting with Jolie's New 'Normal' World

In reading K.M. Weiland's materials on structuring a novel, I appreciated her concept of the protagonist's 'normal' world. A writer doesn't have to present the ins and outs of a character's universe, but she has to fully understand them before the novel's events can disrupt them. 

As we near the 10th anniversary of publication of the first Jolie Gentil mystery (more on that later), I'm starting the 12th book in the series. It will join a prequel, novella, and a long short story. And since it's been months since I wrote any of those, I'm making a new list of Jolie and Scoobie's normal world.

So much has changed. Jolie entered Aunt Madge's Ocean Alley Cozy Corner B&B as a woman who recently separated from an embezzeler husband who'd stolen from her as well as others. Can you say jaded? 

Some readers didn't like her. They said she was self-centerred. Well...yes. A lot of people who've been hurt badly can be self-focused. She made some dumb mistakes and evolved. 

Her early normal (in the series) was as a single real estate appraiser getting reacquanted with old friends, making new ones, and being dragged into volunteer work at the food pantry. Turns out she excels at bossing people around for a good cause.

Jolie is still a real estate appraiser, but now is married with two kids, helps run the B&B, and continues to manage Harvest for All Food Pantry. That's a rough sketch of her current normal, but thinking through subtle aspects is more complex.

For example, I chose a career that could interest women and men, and had her involved in things such as local economic development and concern for those who may need extra help. But those are asides as she solves mysteries. Readers aren't looking for perspectives on town activities or empathy. They have to be subtle.

While I find her four-year old twins hysterical, their role can't predominate or I'll lose readers with no interest in kids. In addition, favorite characters are Aunt Madge and Scoobie, so normal needs to include clear roles for them. Especially since Aunt Madge has recently been elected mayor of Ocean Alley.

Once 'normal' is clear, what could disrupt it enough to add solving a mystery to her already busy schedule?

I'd love to hear thoughts on what Jolie and Scoobie's everyday routine could include. I've learned a great deal from readers' comments. I can always absorb more.

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



 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Drawing History Into the Mystery

 It's no secret that my Family History Mystery Series deals with a mix of current and past crimes. Sleuth Digger Browning is an avid family historian living in the Western Maryland mountains. 

I've enjoyed learning more about the region's history, but had to do much of it remotely because the entire series (so far) has been written during the pandemic. I lived in Maryland (near DC) until my early forties, and have often driven or taken the train through the Appalachian Mountains. (Called the Allegany Mountains in some areas.)

Driving brings vistas of farmland and scenic overlooks. The train goes through the forests, along rivers, and into small towns. Those train rides drew me into stories.

For the third book, Mountain Rails of Old, I wanted not just personal family histories as a theme, but some aspects of local history as well. I drew in some of the Civil War time period and a role for the Underground Railroad. 

Maryland was a  border state, and a lot of people don't realize Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't apply to border states such as Maryland and Delaware. The president didn't want to risk having them secede. Slavery was most common in southern Maryland, where I remember seeing huge tobacco barns as a very young child.

Nonetheless, the Western Maryland mountains lead into Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Pennsylvania was a state to which a lot of escaping slaves fled. Thus, the idea of a possible Underground Railroad Station near the fictional Maple Grove. It's not a major element of the story, but I learned a lot weaving in those components.

As the June 30th release date approaches, I find myself more excited about this book than many others. Could be because it's set in my home state, could be because this summer I'll finally get to do some on-site research. I've been fortunate to find some excellent books, but it's not the same as visiting the locale.

I'll be looking for ideas for book four. 

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


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Try the "Writers Helping Writers" Website

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have created Writers Helping Writers -- a resource with dozens of tools and motivational articles for writes (published and unpublished) at all stages of their careers. From their blog to bookstore, the topics and tools are timely and to the point.

I enjoy learning. As I finish a project, I look for a new book or web resource to charge my writing batteries. Amazon carries the Writers Helping Writers Thesaurus series, many of which deal with character development and setting. I had seen these, but didn't realize how much more the authors provided on  the website.

The website has a tools section with downloadable articles on writing as a career, characters, revising work, setting, using emotion in writing and many more. Check out links to podcasts.

Some resources are free, others such as writing software or consultations require fees. I can't do the site justice. If you are also into lifelong learning, have a look.

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

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Hobbies Into Books

I've enjoyed using my family history hobby as a jumping off point for the family history mysteries, and my friend Karen Musser Nortman does a bang-up job with the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries. Since she camps all summer, she also has a built-in marketing modality -- never a bad thing.

I read several recreation or theme-based series. To get a better sense of how other authors handle hobbies in their books, I did a couple of Google searches, with limited success. Google kept wanting to guide me to articles about the best hobbies to list on a resume if you don't have a lot of job experience. Not helpful.

In the genre I write in most, cozy mysteries, there is an entire category for cozy craft and hobby mysteries. A quick survey shows food predominates, with authors such as Joanne Fluke, Ellery Adams, and Abigail Frost. I am a big fan of Molly MacRae's Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries.

Pets may not be considered hobbies, but there are plenty of cat and dog mysteries. I like the Pampered Pet Mysteries by Sparkle Abbey, which is a good mix of pets and crime. I've read other pet-based mysteries (authors to remain nameless) that focus as much on the pet angle as the mystery. There's only so much I need to know about vet visits and animal costumes.

I think balance is the key for any theme-based book or series. Too much about cooking techniques, bakery shops, or genealogy searches and readers can be turned off. Maybe not if they are big-time into a pastime, but that could narrow the audience.

Until writing the Family History Mystery Series, I started with the setting. I love the Jersey shore, Iowa Rivers, and small towns. It hit me that if I merged a hobby through which I knew people it could lead to readers. Why didn't that occur to me ten years ago? No matter. What matters is I'm having a blast.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Working in Spurts

Ideally, I've developed ideas for whatever I'm writing and work consistently. For years, especially toward the end of a novel, my tenacity surprised even me. 

With the many changes wrought  by the pandemic and my aging fingers, I find it harder to sit still for an hour or  two at a time. Actually, sitting is fine. The fingers protest.

Yes, there is dictation. That's fine when I'm home alone, but doesn't work in a library or coffee shop. While I do it at times, it isn't as rewarding as ideas flowing from my brain to the screen in what, for me, is a more seamless process.

I've graduated to writing in spurts. I'll work for half-an-hour and then walk around with an icepack on my fingers. Occasionally I sit still to listen to the radio or watch a few minutes of TV, but walking is better. I do think as I walk and occasionally jot notes. However, too much writing by hand defeats the purpose of taking a finger break.

This past Saturday I had my second writing date at the library since March 2020. Bliss. Plus, when I need a break, I can wander the shelves.

Bottom line, I need some new productivity techniques that don't involve snacking. Many people have jobs in which they work in spurts and maintain concentration. I'm open to suggestions.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Donating to Roadside Libraries -- and Finding Books for Them

One of the best parts about my local library (Chatham Area Public Library in Illinois) is the room where sales of used books (and treats!) help fund the Friends of the Library activities. During the pandemic, the room couldn't operate, but is now open for limited hours, with occasional days when donations can again  be made. I write at the library a lot, and love this room.

Since we could not donate to the room for more than a year, I've looked for alternatives. Thrift stores are an option, but donations may not go to local stores. Fortunately, when dedicated volunteers created micro-pantries at locations throughout Springfield, Illinois, many also added micro-libraries.

You may have seen these for years in neighborhoods near you -- books to read, bring back, or keep. When so many libraries were closed, these neighborhood sites were invaluable.

This is a picture of the little library that sits next to the micro food pantry at Lanphier High School in my town. It may not seem big, but it can hold a lot of  books -- tall ones on the top shelf.

You don't need permission to drop off books, but it's important to note that people of all ages have access. A mix of reading for children and adults is most helpful. I would never advocate any censorship, but you want to follow guidelines and use common sense. For example, erotica would not be appropriate.

As the school year ends, kids may have books used for coursework (not textbooks) that they won't use again. School libraries may be thinning the collection to prepare for next year's acquisitions. Teachers and school librarians are busy as the year winds down. However, they may be willing to let you pick up used books that can be added to the free libraries. It's worth asking.

If you get a bunch of books from schools or from "bag day" at local library book sales, make a few trips to the mini-library --or go to several. The only thing you can't do is leave a box of books outside the enclosed boxes. 

Where to find these small libraries? Go to https://littlefreelibrary.org/. Above the map, put in your zip code. You may not find all the locations, but many are registered here. Does it take time? Yes. Is making books available to all worth it? You bet. 

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To learn more about Elaine, go to www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.