October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month by Christine Duncan

I want to take a minute to remind everyone that October is domestic violence awareness month. Please, if you have some spare money, consider donating to your local shelter. Or if you can, donate gently used clothing items, or used cell phones. Your kindness makes a difference in a victim’s life.
For more ideas on how you can help, see the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s website. And God bless you.

A Writer’s Worse Enemy

Writers use a lot of equipment. Pens, papers, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, scanners, laptops, books…but there is one piece of equipment that is vital, and yet consistently lets us down. I’m talking about that bane of a writer’s (and all office staff) life. I’m talking about – computer printers.

The damn things never work. I write the first draft in a notebook. The second draft goes on computer. The third draft is made on a printed copy of the second draft. It works best that way. So I need a printout of the book, about 250 pages at this stage. And this is where everything goes wrong.

Trying to get my laptop to even talk to my printer is a struggle. It may be a fault unique to mine, but it is constantly asking me to scan a sheet of paper to align it. I do this, and it remains stubbornly unaligned. It won’t take a huge chunk of paper, but if you give it too little paper, it throws a hissy fit and refuses to acknowledge existence of paper anywhere in the entire universe.

It will print for a while, then decide take ten sheets all at once, which gets stuck. Or it just twists one up inside. As for ink – it runs out of ink at one moment only. This is when I have asked it to print 200 sheets. It runs out at page 3. I try to cancel print. It hums and hahs about this, convinced I don’t really mean it, until 190 pages have gone through the printer, and come out completely blank. Then, once it has stopped, it will never accept that paper again. I change the ink – and it has to have a long conversation with the laptop as to whether there is new ink, does this effect its relationship with the laptop, and is it the right kind of ink anyway?

I used to think it was just me that had a struggle with a computer printer – then I found a tweet from J.K.Rowling crying out about her fight too. As for the printer in my day job – it breaks down once a day. Every day. For years.

It is clear my printer is a diva. It is needy. If I walk away whilst the printer is printing, it is guaranteed to break down in angry tears. I must kneel by it, alternately begging and coaxing it, feeding it paper at exactly the right moment, never letting it get to empty, nor too full, only sending it 43 pages to print at a time, so it doesn’t get too stressed.

Writers used to have nervous breakdowns over the stress of writing. Nowadays, it’s the computer printers. Those damned diva printers.

Short Stories to Sell Your Book? by Christine Duncan

I read a number of posts on Murder Must Advertise about using a short story to help promote your book. They recommended a number of ways to do this.  You can mention it on your blog with a link to the story, and then, people who read the story might buy the book.  I’ve done this one.  I’ve mentioned it on Twitter and probably(not sure) Facebook.  It does increase traffic to my website, I think.  I have no way to correlate sales to that though. The fact is, I’m not big on my website anymore.  I haven’t updated it in eons, and it shows.  I’m not sure I want a website anymore.  I use this blog more often than I do that.

You can submit your short story to sites that might publish it.  Then in the credits, you can have a link to where ever you sell your book (say your Amazon link.)  I’ve done that too.  But finding and submitting to short story sites is time consuming and they may choose not to publish your stuff.  And some of these places are huge, and your story may get lost in it.

Or you put your free short story in your signature line, and post somewhere like, say, Dorothy L, or whatever listserv or website that is good for your genre, and make sure the signature line shows.  Yeah, I’ve done that one too.  I actually think if you know of a good listserv for your genre, this one works the best because it gives you the biggest exposure for the least amount of time.  You are talking to people with a demonstrable interest in your genre, and you are offering something they may want.  If you are smart, the post you attach it to is not a read-my-book, read-my-book type, but a genuine and intelligent comment about something already under discussion on the listserv.

What works for you?

Yet Another Try At Organising My Writing

I have a new method of planning my book. Let’s see how long this one lasts.

I still have the preparatory notebook, which contains all the things I thought of before I started writing the book. And there’s the current notebook, with a list of all the characters and some research notes and a few scenes I’ve written ahead of time. That’s fairly organised for me.

This time, I went and bought five sheets of thick wrapping paper from the bookshop. It has to be thick, because felt tip pen soaks through the thin stuff. Flip chart paper would have done too, but not so easy to get around here. I just needed large sheets of paper. I stuck them, pattern side down, on the a wall around my desk.

One has a list of characters, with names and a brief salient fact for each one. I can refer back to my notebook if I need more information. One has a list of reminders – remember this theme, mention that fact and so on. The other three will be filled up with lists of the scenes I have to write. I tend to think a few scenes ahead of the one I write, so this reminds me what comes next, and what they lead into. Plus, there’s a sense of achievement as I cross off the scenes I have written.

Having them stuck up the wall means I just have to look up and see them as I write, and also that they’re constantly in front of me when I’m just moving around my flat. Using several sheets of paper stuck to the wall means I can move them around according to how important they are, and when they’re needed, and I can always add more paper.

Now I’m back at my day job, for the moment, I can’t write every day. It’s really easy to lose the flow, and to lose the motivation. With the scenes and reminders and characters stuck up on the wall like this, I have a constant reminder of what is happening, and what I need to write, and I am motivated to keep at it.

I’ve used a lot of methods of giving my writing some sort of organisation. I don’t plan my books, I tend to just dive right in and write away, so I need to organise my ideas somehow, or something gets lost. I think this method works best, so far.

Write What You Know by Christine Duncan

I did not know that DIY articles were fiction, God forgive me.  Total fantasy. I could write this stuff.  Someone should hire me.  I like fantasy.

My husband and I decided we needed a sump pump.  The details of the reasons for this are escaping me right now, but I’m sure they were important at the time.  Anyway, we priced the whole thing, looked at several Do It Yourself sites and decided we could do it.

The jury is still out on that.

Let’s just skip the fact that several small details differed from site to site.  You need filter fabric.  No, you don’t.  You need gravel.  No, not gravel-use landscape rock.   A woman can handle a jackhammer.

Okay, I knew that was fantasy from the start.  I have tried handling a 35 pound screaming, writhing child upon occasion.  The outcome was never what I wanted.  Handling a forty pound, loud, squirming machine did not seem like a great idea.  Some women undoubtedly can handle jackhammers.  Not this one.

Then there is the whole sizing of the pump thing.  No, I don’t think I will ever understand that one enough to tell you about it.  Suffice it to say when I got done reading about GPH and head, I was ready to pay the contractor exactly what he wanted.  My husband was not.

Sigh.  Still I think I could write DIY articles.  They would be realistic.  They would be clear.  If you proceeded when I was done, it would be at your own risk.

The Importance of Illustration

Book illustrations can be as iconic as the books themselves. It’s almost impossible to think of Alice in Wonderland without the Tenniel illustrations, or Wind In the Willows without the E.H. Shepherd illustrations (he also did Winnie the Pooh).

A good illustrator can bring the words to life, and helps to create the world. The Winnie the Pooh we all know is a wonderful combination of A.A.Milne’s words and E.H.Shepherd’s pictures, and it’s together that 100 Acre Wood becomes real.

It’s not just the classic works either. Quentin Blake creates wonderful, spidery, pictures for many books, but most notably Roald Dahl. His pictures look like something a child would draw, and I bet he’s inspired many children. Peggy Fortnum does the Paddington drawings, which became a cartoon, and whilst simple, they are full of emotion. Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo was beautifully made real by Axel Scheffler.

I remember the old Ladybird story books. They had the most wonderful, detailed, painted, lifelike illustrations. The modern ones, all simple exaggerated drawings and muted colours look very dull in comparison.

A writer and an illustrator work best when they work in tandem. E.H. Shepherd used A.A.Milne’s son and his toys as inspiration for his drawings, just as E.H. Shepherd did.

Sometime you get a writer who illustrates their own work and this can be wonderful, words and pictures entwining like flowers on a trellis. Cressida Cowell does these wonderful drawings for her books that wind all round the words. I hear J.K.Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter contained illustrations that caught the eye of someone who passed the book to a child (who said ‘publish it! And when can I read the next one?)

There are rarely illustrations in adult books. Maybe it’s because each adult has a very fixed idea of a character and don’t need a picture. But I have seen some beautiful illustrations in grown up versions of fairy tales. And of course, some graphic novels are basically books with illustrations gone wild. A book like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta are very good stories with some amazing illustrations.

However, children’s books, are the true home of an illustrated story because, for someone just learning to read a really good picture can not only explain the story but expand it, give it a new dimension or depth. It links in with the text to give a face to a character, and it introduces children to drawing.

So if you are writing a children’s book, pick a good illustrator. It’s very important.

Thunderclaps and Bookblow by Christine Duncan

I hadn’t heard of thunderclap before this week. Apparently, authors help each other out by contributing a tweet or Facebook or tumbler status, for whatever is being promoted–say a book release. All of those tweets, or status updates are scheduled for the same time, thus the name thunderclap. It makes a certain amount of sense as you would then have announced to each follower of your fellow authors. And it doesn’t take a great deal of time for anyone. Still, it would have to be a really good tweet to grab any interest. Something that just says my novel was released today will be lost in the shuffle.
The other promo trick I heard about this week was Bookblow which promises to promote your book (for a fee, I’m sure) to over 350,000 people on twitter. Seems like thunderclap to me although not free. The reviews on bookblow appeared to be less than favorable. My guess is that if you’re paying for it, you might expect better results.
I still think that the best way to promote is NOT to go around tweeting, “I have a book. Buy my book.” But what do I know. I have nothing to promote right now.