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

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Listening Brings Books to Life

 In the mid-1990s, I found myself bored and with a sore back in the middle of a 1,000 mile drive. I pulled into a Walmart, bought Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I've been hooked on audiobooks ever since. Books in the car, books on CD (originally on tape!), and now books on my phone and Alexa.

Alexa? Because it's linked to Amazon, every book I purchase on Audible is available through the round contraption that sits in multiple places throughout our home. Initially I associated it with music and the local radio station. 

Sometimes slow to learn, I hadn't thought about books until one evening I got into bed and realized I hadn't put a tape in the CD player. (I lull myself to sleep by playing a book I've already listened to.) For some reason, I said, "Alexa, play Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Bingo!

Audiobooks are not cheap, so I borrow a lot from the library. Try the M.C. Beaton Hamish Macbeth series or John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books. (The latter require a willingness to listed to salty language.) And, of course, Harry Potter's Jim Dale is an incredible narrator.

A couple of hints to reduce the cost. If you buy an ebook on Amazon, digital copies are generally offered at a reduced price. Watch for sales on CDs at Barnes and Noble, if you go that route. And don't hesitate to buy used CDs. The Chatham Public Library District has a wonderful sales room, and always had CDs.

However, I am now hooked on books on my phone. I never thought I would be, but because I always have the phone with me, I use it more often than Kindle.. I have the Audible and Chirp Apps. Chirp has books, usually the classics, for $1.99. These are temporary sales, and I always find something. I'm loading up on Agatha Christie at the moment.

To listen in the car, you can place the phone in a holder or on a stable position on the seat next to you. Another option is to wear one earbud. Never two, you need to hear someone honk at you.

People have asked me if books in the car can be distracting. I find music distracting (my mind wanders) but never books. You'll have to observe your own behavior.

A number of my books are on audio via Amazon and ibooks. I've made the commitment (to myself) to finish putting all of them on. It's time-consuming, because an author needs to hold auditions and listen to the entire book. But there's nothing like hearing your words spoke by a talented narrator.

Pick up your phone or turn on a CD Player and get ready to be absorbed in great stories.

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

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Making Eye Contact with Words When You Can't in Person

     A verbal storyteller engages with an audience through gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Your book can only compel via words on paper or on an ereader. That's harder.

     Unless you are an exceptional writer, you need to learn a lot before publishing something good enough to earn respect -- and income. Yes, read good books by successful writers. Also read about structure, character development, setting, dialogue, and related topics. Readers deserve your best.

     While you can learn a lot from books, it helps to talk about writing with others and perhaps learn in a classroom or similar environment. I learn a great deal from members of my critique group. When one of us sees an interesting article on writing or voice, we tend to share it.

     There are writing classes at community colleges, workshops offered by regional arts organizations, and writing conferences. Most years, writers' magazines such as The Writer or Poets and Writers provide lists of conferences. Check your library.

     There are many online classes now. They can be expensive, though not all are. I always prefer in-person learning, but your location or schedule may not permit that.

     During the COVID timeframe, a number of authors are giving short courses via zoom. I've taken several that Jane Cleland has offered. Doing a search for "zoom classes by authors" turns up many. I also found a comparison of traditional online classes.

     Take note that some of the results will be ads for classes. We authors know there is nothing wrong with advertising, just be sure to look at a range of results.

     Some of what you will learn in any class is basic-–in a mystery, the villain cannot be someone introduced in the last scene, nor can the reader know a character’s thoughts but not be informed of everything that character knows.  John Gilstrap (author of the Jonathan Grave books) put this aptly in a daylong course I took–-these are cheats. (It's become trendy to talk about unreliable narrators, those whose point of view you share but don't share what they know. I don't read these books.)

     In romance, if the only thing keeping a couple apart is miscommunication, a reader will want to bop them on their heads and tell them to pick up the phone. Strong romance stories build tension in varied ways.

     You can probably think of important points in other genres. Personally, when I read science fiction, I want a description of the aliens. I don’t need many details on the humans.

     So, if you're sitting there feeling blue because you can't interact with other writers, you really can get a sense of shared inspiration with zoom meetings or online classes. Just do it!
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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Is it Story or Structure?

I may not have any business writing about the story/structure dilemma, because I wrestle with both. Some would say this is the difference between pantsers and plotters (the former said to be writing by the seat of their pants). I do a bit of both.

My philosophy is a writer should never let a good story get away from them because they can't fathom the ending when they start. Got an idea? Grab a keyboard or a napkin and write for a few minutes. You might get an opening scene on paper or a few bullet points about how you want the story to develop. If you don't jot down the ideas, they will be gone or diluted.

Here are some recommendations for putting together a novel To be clear, all authors start with the story in mind, it's simply a question of what they do with that initial idea.

Craft of Writing
Jane Cleland
Jane has been offering some free seminars lately. Click on Events on her site. Her books on structure and plot twists are very helpful.

Helping Writers Become Authors
K.M. Weiland
Her website and blog have years of material. People roll their eyes at the word outline, but her material on it may change your mind.

Story Trumps Structure
Steven James
His focus is more on his own writing than teaching, but this book makes his preference clear.

There is still the basic point. No story is written until you put your buns in a chair (or on a bar stool, as Hemingway might have said). I address that in my book, Writing When Time is Scarce and Getting the Work Published.

Get started. Don't stop. Don't get discouraged. Tomorrow is another day.

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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Jazz Would Like Your Vote

       They say not to judge a book by its cover but I need you to do just that. If you like the new cover of my book, Rekindling Motives (Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery Series Book 2), please vote for it for the Cover of the Month contest on AllAuthor.com!
              What's the significance of the cover? Covers are rarely literal; they bring aspects of the book to image form. In this book, Jolie makes an unexpected discovery in an old wardrobe. The family that owned it sold bootlegged whiskey in Ocean Alley during Prohibition. And as usual, Jolie's cat, Jazz, has to be on every cover.
              Last month I submitted When the Carny Comes to Town, and it needed to be at position 100 to go to the next level. It was 101!! I'd like to see Rekindling Motives get into the top 100 so I can go into high gear to get it selected.
              You can head over to All Author to cast your ballot.
               Thanks for your support. It means a lot.
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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.


                                          

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Allegory of the Knife

"This broadcast is interrupted with a warning. A person carrying a knife is roaming the neighborhood. They are wearing a ski mask so their gender and race cannot be determined. Use extreme caution. This individual appears ready to attack."

What do you do? Make sure all doors and windows are locked? Turn on the security system? Call a neighbor to see if they want to go for a walk? Most people would stay indoors and hope local law enforcement will quickly apprehend the dangerous interloper.

But after a day of searching without spotting the potential killer, law enforcement announces the person cannot be found. Local and state police efforts, combined with neighborhood watchfulness, must have caused the fiend to leave. A few suspicious souls doubt the person really meant to harm anyone.


With joy only partially tempered by reservation, you go to the grocery store and take your kids to summer camp. The next morning, you learn the couple across the street was stabbed while walking their dog. Their survival is uncertain.

 Sound familiar? 

A killer virus is stalking our community. We've been unable to attend normal activities, and we learned Zoom is more than a comic book verb. More important, a lot of people have died.

Then it's Phase 4 in my state and we're told it's safer to venture out if we take precautions. But when we do, we face a disheartening environment.

The virus was not transient and is still roaming freely. Yet some people dismiss the danger and say precautions are an attack on their freedom. They are willing to infect others by laughing or coughing in a grocery aisle, knowing their droplets will remain in the air for the next few customers to walk through. 

What's their rationale? The virus spreaders believe they have every right to be where they want to be and share their germs. And the ultimate defense – this is America!

Sure, if they were sick, they'd stay home. When told as many as 40% of cases are spread by those without symptoms, they have one of two responses: "I don't believe you," or "Life is about risk. Stay home if you don't want to get sick." In other words, if you don't want your lungs damaged, it's your job to stay away from people brandishing microscopic weapons.

Why write this now? Because as an asthmatic who's been more short-of-breath since a bout with pneumonia last fall, I welcomed Phase Four as a chance to cautiously go beyond neighborhood walks, a few early-morning trips to the store, and a visit to the farmers' market. 

Since face coverings (a.k.a. masks) are required when social distancing isn't possible, I thought it should be safe. Wrong. I've tried a couple of stores, and it was at best 50/50 for mask wearing. I fled. 

The difference between now and the first few months of isolation is the anger. Why should I have to stay home nearly all the time because of selfish people?

Today I had an epiphany of sorts. I'm old enough to remember the 'smoking in public' debate.  Second hand smoke cause cancer? Hell no, said a lot of smokers. And besides, as Americans they should be able to smoke freely.

Over time, attitudes changed. Most people knew of someone whose cancer had an environmental cause, and lung cancer made it to the top of the list.

What's different now is we can get very sick or die from COVID-19 after a brief exposure. No need to wait years for lungs to blacken. The knife is out in the neighborhood, in the grocery store, at church, and even in a park. It only takes one laugh or sneeze.
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Elaine usually writes mysteries or reflective fiction. While she likes to stay inside and write, she would prefer to go out to do it. But she would rather live to write another day. Learn more about her work at https://www.elaineorr.com.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Book Marketing Challenges During the Pandemic

Like many other authors I know, I wanted a way to give readers more affordable book options while they were either home or working under a lot more stress. I've never seen so many sales on electronic books.

I reduced one series to 99 cents for all thirteen books, and made sure that each week a couple of books were available for Kindle Unlimited. Not very strategic, and I didn't want to appear to be in any way taking advantage of people who were hurting.

I sent a few paperbacks to nursing homes, and then stopped because some didn't want to bring in outside items. I'm going to try that again now that it seems COVID-19 is not generally spread through contact with inanimate items.

My broad suggestion for sales during a time of crisis is the standard one -- consistency. I've expanded my number of tweets and continued to update my webpages. Here are a couple of other things I'm doing. I can't vouch for their effectiveness, but they make sense to me.

1) Reexamine your book categories by studying those of similar books that sell well, or books that address similar topics. For example, I looked at how Amazon categorized The Twain Does Meet and saw two categories addressed culinary mysteries. (The book does mention that Jolie is not a very good cook, but there are no recipes.)

Thinking maybe I could draw in readers looking for the subject matter rather than fiction, I decided to look at books on multiple births or new parents. I saw two categories I liked --#225 in Motherhood (Kindle Store) and #3913 in Family Life Fiction (Kindle Store). Using the contact link for Amazon (from within the book's page in my account), I asked that two categories be removed and these two added. 

Amazon has a good system for this now -- they offer options for the topic you want Amazon to help you with, and on the one for the product page (where readers buy your book), the first option is categories. Only time will tell if it makes a difference. I'm doing the same thing for many books. Labor intensive, but it makes sense.

One hint. You want the category that says "Kindle Store" for your ebooks and the once called "Books" for your paperbacks.

2) Audiobook sales vary greatly for my books. A series gets a boost when a new book comes online, but that's not usually a monthly thing. I sell mine through ACX, which places digital books on Audible, Amazon, and itunes. There are a lot more options today, but this has worked for me. ACX recently made changes to the promo code system. Authors use these to give free copies to reviewers or others.

I didn't realize I could get more codes, or codes for some early books for which I had never requested any. Go to your sales dashboard on ACX, and just above the list of books sold you'll see a link for "Promo Codes." When you click that, the list of books eligible for codes appears. Click on each one and request the codes -- for the U.S. or U.K, or both. You get the codes almost immediately, and they are active after about an hour.

I sent my newsletter folks a list of books for which they could request codes, and received many requests. (I could offer eight books.) With the click of a button, the new system creates the note you can send to requesters telling them the code they need and how to request the book.

The new system also helps you keep track of those you give out.  ACX will now tell you if the codes are used, and you'll know to whom you gave them. A couple of weeks after the recipient uses the code, you could drop them an email to see if they enjoyed the book. That could encourage a review.

3) Back to the one word that makes the most difference -- consistency. I send a batch of tweets every, single day. Beyond that, I mix up ad placements, mentions on relevant Facebook groups, blog posts, and regular newsletters. (I continually gather new subscribers.)

Good luck, and feel free to note your ideas in the comments section.
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For more information on Elaine's 30+ books, go to https://www.elaineorr.com or subscribe to her newsletter.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Keeping in Touch in the Age of COVID-19

If it weren't for social media, I'd be bonkers now. But it's also contributing to a sense of if not paralysis, at least inaction.

If I'm working on a family history book or planting flowers, my mind is occupied enough that it doesn't wander. Otherwise, I could go from website to website looking for...answers. When will normal return, when will I feel as if someone is in charge of normal returning, how do you eat a ten-ounce bag of M&Ms and not gain weight? (I already know the answer to that last one. You can't.)

Cats in Quarantine
Really, I'm not depressed. I like my cats, but I'm sorry not to be with friends and family. I'm also grateful that I can stay in the apartment rather than have to work at a grocery store or take public transportation to any job.

Earlier this week I ventured to the school where I subbed all year to help empty 7th grade lockers. Now there's fodder for a story. I knew the school was so clean you could lick the walls (I didn't) and that there would be few people there. The personal contact with people I like was wonderful! Then I went home and looked at the grass seed I planted. It does not grow faster if you stare at it.

So, I've given myself a good shake, and decided to stop looking at the Internet so much and that I don't need to watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory every evening. And I'll write more blog posts. I had no idea I had not written one in May.

One day this week, the Sisters In Crime organization sponsored a webinar with Jane Cleland, author of the Prescott Antique Mysteries and several excellent books on writing. That has energized me to work more steadily on The Least Trodden Ground. Jane's books on structure and plotting are superb.

I wish you good writing and reading.
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Check out Elaine's website or sign up for  her newsletter

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Now You've Reached the Muddled Middle

My last blog post suggested this could be a good time to get to work on an intended project that hasn't made it to paper or the computer screen. Even though you don't need a "chunk of time" to write, some people believe they have a better chance of completing a book when they have nearly unlimited time.

I am far more likely to finish something when I have a set time for completion -- a.k.a. a deadline. In a time management class, a lecturer once said, "If you say you work better toward a deadline, it means that you don't work efficiently the rest of the time." Probably true.

Let's say you've made a good stab at a story or novel, but suddenly you aren't sure of the next steps. Or the only reason you haven't thrown your computer out the window is because it's a desktop and it's too heavy.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or techniques for completing a first draft.

1)  Even if you don't outline, are you clear about how the story will end? If you don't know, write down several options. They can be as simple as (with insertion of your characters' names): the hero discovers the child his mother gave up for adoption, the villain gets away with the murder, the hero uncovers who really embezzled the money.

Ultimately, you have to know what you're aiming for or it will be very difficult to send characters down the path to get there. You don't need to write down how everything will happen, just ensure you know the ending scene(s).

2) If you're stuck at one point, write a completely different part of the book. It can be one scene that's been making it's way around your brain, a conversation you want two characters to have, or a description of the room where the murder took place. It doesn't matter what you write, only that you do write rather than think you can't.

3) Write a set of bullet points for what will be in the next two chapters. This doesn't have to be a full-fledged outline. The key is not to start fleshing out those bullet points until you have written them. (My bad habit is to get an idea and start writing. It's made worse by the fact that I type so fast I think I'm getting somewhere.)

4) Consider a reverse outline document. I started this eight or ten years ago and it's been a huge help. I wrote a detailed set of bullets for each completed chapter. These aren't written in the style of a publicity piece, and the reverse outline will likely contain far more info that an up-front outline. Include notes to yourself about things to do or check.

The reverse outline is especially important if: a) You didn't start with an outline, b) You have to start and stop your work. It also helps you see if a subplot has been ignored or a character sidelined by lack of action or conflict.

5) Don't move to another project until you have finished the first draft of the current one. It's relatively easy to write the first third or half of a book. If you move on to the next idea simply because you think you can't finish, you likely won't complete anything. It's okay to work on two projects at once -- I usually do -- but not okay to quit.

As soon as I write this, someone will say you have to know when an idea is not developing well. That's true, and an experienced writer may decide something is unworkable and move on. If you're reading this, you likely aren't writing your tenth book, and you don't have the perspective to decide what truly cannot be finished.

Now, quit eating that leftover Halloween or Easter candy and get back to work.
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See more about Elaine's work at https://www.elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

So You Finally Have Time for That Book

You've had an idea for a book for a looong time, but you had a lot on your plate and couldn't make the time to put it together. And now you are home with less to do. So you gather notebook, pens, maybe computer and...

Now what?

If you're like a lot of people, you can write for a few hours or days without hitting a stopping point. Then you hit a "what next?" wall and stop. You put it aside while you think about it. There's plenty of time, you can't go anywhere.

I hope you do get back to the book. If the idea has been percolating, it needs to be on paper, even if you don't decide to publish it.

Thoughts Before You Start

1.  Pull your thoughts together and make some notes. Maybe you've jotted ideas for a while. If not, try to write a short road map before you begin. It'll help you know where you're going and if you're close to finishing.

2. Are you writing for fun or publication? If the latter, think about who you want to read the book and how much they will know about your subject. It makes a difference in your vocabulary and level of detail in description.

3. Don't sweat the details. Also known as don't get bogged down in research. Maybe there's a scene where folks harvest corn. You don't need a lot of intricate facts. Leave a space that says, "Add two sentences on harvesting." If you start reading about the process, you could go on for hours.

4. If you're writing a mystery and want to describe a weapon or manner of murder, you may not need pages of description. A true crime novel or private investigator story would need more than a traditional or cozy mystery. Same goes for a book that involves a hobby. Unless it's germane to the story, the reader doesn't need to know how to throw a curve ball or how long it takes marigolds to germinate. (See #2.)

5. Just keep writing, don't stop to edit. If you take a break, you may need to reread your last chapter to get the feel for where you are, but don't critique yourself.

6. Try not to think about things such as how to find a publisher, market your book, or which talk show to be on. Nothing like that matters until you finish and polish the manuscript.

7. Some people close to you may be interested in your progress, but most people won't be. They may like you a lot, but they're living their lives and probably aren't writers. Besides, someone could try to talk you into going in a different direction. You want to follow your own path.

8. And the most important point. Don't stop if you hit a dead spot. It's okay to jump ahead and write a scene that's clear to you. Work on the transition or specifics later.

That's it. Writing is hard, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Check back in a couple of days for a blog post on how to keep the story moving.

And don't stop reading!
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                  To see more about my writing, go to http://www.elaineorr.com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Tongue-in-Cheek Naming Game

If there were a Lexicon Tribunal, this is the kind of missive it would produce.

It has come to the attention of the Lexicon Tribunal that there is a growing confusion in the land over which individuals have entered into the official partnership known as "marriage." After careful study, the Tribunal has determined that the cause of this consternation is the relatively recent decision of many women to defy the time-honored tradition of adopting the man's family name.

There seems to be no logical reason for this rash practice. The Tribunal foresees untold problems if this convention is permitted to continue. Will telephone directories, already bloated by the addition of second phone lines for fax machines, double in size yet again?  

Will mothers-in-law be forced to learn their daughters-in-laws' names, rather than simply putting the prefix "Mrs." before their sons' names? How will nosy neighbors be able to tell the difference between married couples who have two distinct names and two people simply living in sin?

After holding extensive hearings, at which Tribunal members were repeatedly insulted for daring to raise the topic, we have developed criteria for determining which of the prospective partners' names should become the family name under which the marriage contract can be consummated. 
  • If there is a difference of more than three letters in the length of the name, the shorter name will be used. However, both parties can agree to use the longer name if three sets of witnesses attest that this decision was reached without bloodshed.
  •  If there is a difference of three letters or fewer, three criteria are suggested:
  •  The name that is the most Waspish will prevail.
  •  If both names are ethnic in character, the one that is the butt of the fewest jokes will be selected.  (If there is difficulty determining this, both parties will stand near the playground for a classroom of fourth graders, preferably boys, and keep track of the nationalities most insulted. As in golf, the lowest score wins.)
  •  If one name is or rhymes with "fairy," "duck," or "rick," the other will be employed. This is in consideration of possible offspring of the partnership.
Couples may not avoid the decision by combining family names and creating a hyphenated alternative. There is the obvious issue of length of names for succeeding generations.  It would not be long before mailboxes would have to be elongated, check sizes would be extended, and return address labels would be longer than the envelopes. 

There is, of course, the delicacy issue. The Tribunal greatly appreciated the many suggestions of inappropriate name combinations that members of the public offered. For instance:
  • If Holly Hunt married Max Roach, her name would be Holly Hunt-Roach.
  • If Jane Fonda married Jon Peters, her name would be Jane Fonda-Peters. 
  • If Dan Coffey married Peter Sellars, his name would be Dan Coffey-Sellars.
 The full text of these examples is available in the reference section of the library.  Parental approval is required for individuals under age 18. The Tribunal respectfully requests that citizens stop submitting examples for its review.
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For some of Elaine's more traditional writing, visit www.elaineorr.com. In the comments section here, you are welcome to post additional examples of hyphenated names. I took a humor writing class from Dan Coffey at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. To see more of his wit, check out his travel blog, Geezers Abroad.