Saturday, October 11, 2008

I just finished reading a novel by a major American novelist and found it quite boring. There was no opening hook to grab my interest; I kept hoping that on the next page, a gripping plot would suddenly develop, but it never did. I slogged through the book by sheer determination. There was little action, little suspense, long unbroken passages of dialogue, and I found myself skimming over much of the book, just trying to get it over with. The only reason I continued to read was my interest in the subject matter of the book.

Many aspects of this book did not match up with what I had been taught about basics. Because of the author’s reputation, and my contrasting lack of knowledge and experience, I wondered if the problem was somehow me. I thought, who am I to question the technique of a popular established author? Am I off-base here? Perhaps I lacked appreciation for what others thought was actually a good book. I knew how to find out what others thought: I went to, did a search for this book, and read all the reader reviews.

I was relieved to find that most readers’ opinions were similar to mine. I gained confidence in my ability to critique the writing of others. I realized that just because an author is talented, not every piece of his or her writing is guaranteed to be equally good. Each piece must stand or fall on its own merits.

I have just started on another of his books--again, because of my interest in the subject matter, and because it comes recommended by someone else. I’m half way through the first chapter and am still waiting for it to “grab” me. I doubt I'll read this book. I have always loved books and am willing to give the author many chances to hook me, but other readers may not be so forgiving. I think a weakness of many books is to start by laying the foundation for the story, instead of jumping right into the action, filling in the details and background as it goes along.

As a writer of books for children, I know that I am competing with TV and computers. I only have a page or two in which to hook a reluctant reader, and each chapter must leave the reader wanting to know more. There must be action, dialogue, little narration, and opportunities to “hear” what the protagonist is thinking, so that the reader almost “becomes” the protagonist--seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, feeling what he feels. This is what I work towards.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yes, I spent the first few weeks of my summer vacation working on the sequel to The Orange Slipknot. I got a lot done, reworking some parts, improving the last half of my synopsis which I work from, and struggling to clarify a few uncertainties in the timeline of my plot. I wish I could say it's done but I haven't touched it since.

A writer, like anyone else, must prioritize in order to make the most efficient use of time. I must accept the fact that, working in a school, I have much less time for writing projects than I did over 12 years ago when I wrote the book as a mostly stay-at-home mom. It has been very hard for me to learn to write in small chunks of time, governed by the clock. And when I must choose between marketing my book and working on the sequel, I usually choose marketing. After all, if people haven't read the book, what use is a sequel?

Many of my summer days involved several hours of Internet research for lists of phone numbers: book stores, gift stores, feed stores, and western stores, in Nevada and surrounding areas. Then several more hours were spent on phone calls. (Good thing we have unlimited long distance!) Fortunately, I also made many trips to the post office with piles of packages.

I finally got some photos of the Hadley Ranch at Carlin (Maggie Creek), which for the most part is the location I pictured in my mind for much of the story. We enjoy going to Elko on Labor Day weekend for the big stock horse show and this time I remembered my camera. Going over, the sun was in the wrong place, so we decided to try to get pictures coming home. In the afternoon there was a huge dust storm, but I got some pictures that weren't too bad. I added them to the Powerpoint slideshow I have prepared for possible use in author talks.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I haven’t blogged for awhile. Actually, I took a break from book stuff for a month or so, other than a few phone calls and emails. To tell you the truth, the book was starting to feel like my slave-driver; I felt guilty any time I was not spending my spare time on selling or thinking about the sequel to The Orange Slipknot (my summer project). I had been hitting the marketing aspect pretty hard, so I decided to just relax, do other things in my spare time, and hopefully let all those contacts bear fruit.

I enjoy reading about how the brain works; I recently read something interesting about how to increase your creativity. Work on your project for awhile, then leave it for an hour, or a few days, go do something else. Relax, do something different and enjoyable, don’t think about your project. Meanwhile, your brain will be working on solutions, and next thing you know, ideas will come to you.

My school job will turn to summer vacation in another week, and I plan to spend a good part of my summer working on the sequel. I haven’t worked on it for a few months, devoting my spare time instead to marketing. So I am now rereading what I had written; I will then leave it alone for a few days before starting to work on it. I will trust my brain to be working on it in the background, kind of like my computer is working in the background as I type, updating my anti-virus system. Hopefully when I am ready to bring up that “program” (the sequel), my brain will provide me with the updates it’s been working on. It’s worth a try, and I like this idea better than forcing myself to work on a project so hard that it seems like a chore.

Meanwhile, I have been spending more time seeing grandkids, reading, surfing the Web, playing the piano, visiting with friends on the phone, riding horses, yard work, watching TV (mostly news and horsey stuff), and chatting with my horsey Internet friends. I took a vacation from working on my book so that when my REAL vacation starts, I’ll be ready to get back to work. That’s kind of a paradox, isn’t it?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's sure exciting to hear kids making frequent comments to me at school about how far they are along in the book, how much they like it, and wondering when the next one will be out. I did a book talk at school, complete with a newspaper reporter who did a nice job with several photos in the paper. Then I did a talk at the middle school for three classes--about 100 kids. Next Saturday I do two talks in Elko, at a bookstore and the library.

Another printing wrinkle...literally. Some books of the second printing turned out to have wrinkles (indentations) on the covers and some had a few blank pages; about a third of the books had to be returned. So many things can go wrong.

I spend hours every week on the internet, finding lists of email or fax contacts for schools and libraries, state by state. Reviews are starting to come in. It's always scary to start reading someone's review of my book, just as it was scary to open that newspaper and see what the article looked like. I don't enjoy being in the spotlight; I felt horribly self-conscious about the article. But so far I have been fortunate in that all my publicity has been positive and tastefully done.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The next big push after getting out numerous press releases was to get copies of the book placed in Elko, Nevada before the big Cowboy Poetry Gathering this last week in January. I spent over a week making phone calls and emailing stores and libraries, then decided to just take a half-day and make the two-hour drive so I could make deliveries and hopefully sew up a few locations by a personal contact. This was my husband's first exposure to making book sales; I think we were both taken aback by the enthusiastic response of those I talked to. Of course, the book's Elko setting and buckaroo theme makes it a natural choice in northern Nevada. I left almost 60 books in Elko, and a third that many in Battle Mountain.

Now I can back off the heavy-duty selling a bit and have a more regular life again while the books find their way into the hands of the public. I notified the Institute of Children's Literature that one of their graduates had sold her first book, so they wrote back, requesting details. I also started putting together photos for a slide show for possible presentations--finding and selecting old pictures, scanning them onto the computer, fixing them up in Adobe Photoshop, organizing them, teaching myself how to put them into Microsoft Powerpoint which I know nothing about, and planning the talk that would accompany them. These two projects took me back through 10-15 years of memories as I retraced the steps that led to publication of my book.

And yes, I have been working on the sequel. Just as with The Orange Slipknot, much of my "writing" involves mulling over possibilities for character and plot development, so much of what I call "writing time" has nothing to do with actually adding more words to the story. I "write" while getting ready for work, while spending a half-hour every morning at crosswalk duty, while cooking, eating, cleaning house, or driving. I even work on my story when I'm awake in the night and can't get back to sleep.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The boxes of books finally arrived! Just in the nick of time for me to get the prepaid autographed copies out in the mail. One last glitch almost cost an extra day--UPS had recorded my address wrong, and the poor UPS lady spent 45 minutes going up and down my road, looking for that non-existent number, and going door-to-door trying to locate me. I thanked her profusely and offered her a tip for her efforts but she refused it.

I forced myself to wait to open the boxes until my husband got home so we could share the big moment. He took pictures of me and my boxes and books spread all over the couch, which I immediately emailed to family and close friends. Holding my book in my hands was an absolutely wonderful feeling.

What a whirlwind of activity the last few weeks have been! I think I went to the post office about 8 days in a row with book orders. Getting them out just in time for Christmas resulted in many local sales, including several stores that carried them. Hearing great comments on the book prompted me to add a "Readers Say…" page to my website. To my surprise, I found that many adults loved the book too, so I guess it's not just for kids. I sent my first press release to our local newspaper and a week later my article appeared.

By Christmas day my company was gone and I was free to work on book projects--next was more press releases. Thanks to the internet, I was able to easily find email links to newspapers in many cities. I began with Nevada, then neighboring states in the Great Basin area. I tweaked the headline and a few sentences to hopefully make it eye-catching and relevant to other locations. I also researched and worked on some other promotional ideas.

I got several good days of work in on the sequel to The Orange Slipknot. (One reader already asked when the next book would be out!) Mostly I needed to reread and rework material I had written previously, but as often happens when writing, I had a couple of serendipity moments where new ideas popped into my head. I think I may be about halfway done with it now. I would like to think that perhaps that means I could be done by the time school is out, but who knows. I am so thankful for my two-week Christmas break. It has truly been a working vacation though.