Morning Coffee: What makes you stop reading?

SummerI’ve been contemplating this question in anticipation of a meeting with my writer friends this weekend. We have a different topic every month, and this month it’s what makes us stop reading a book. The hope is to learn what mistakes not to make with our own work. For me, it could be a number of reasons. A few examples:

I like to take advantage of an e-book sale to try new authors. A year or so ago I bought a paranormal romance. This isn’t a genre I’d normally read, but I do like a good ghost story. And this one promised a pirate ghost. The description on Amazon assured me it wasn’t a book number two or three of a series where I’d be forced to buy others at full price to understand what’s happening in the plot. Yet, when I tried to read it there was definitely a lot of back story I was missing. Either it was, indeed, a subsequent book in a series, or the author dropped me down right in the middle of something without enough explanation. I was confused. I tried to keep going, to give it time, but I couldn’t get far and it just wasn’t worth even the $.99 I spent on it.

Then there was the book that came highly recommended. They even made a movie out of it. It was set during WWII in Germany and I’d read and enjoyed many others set during that time period so I was excited to read this one. I really wanted to like it; but, unfortunately, I didn’t even finish the first chapter because I disliked one of the characters that much. Now, I wasn’t supposed to like her. She was clearly the bad guy, but she was so awful, so mean to a child, I refused to read any further. And since the book was borrowed, I gladly returned it unread.

I was tempted to do the same with the book I recently finished. But I kept reading because it was a novelized version of true historical facts I’d never heard before and I wanted to know why it turned out the way it did. So I forced myself to keep reading. The problem was, it took place during colonial times and the author wrote in the style of the time. She freely used slang terms that were, no doubt, common at the time, but were completely unknown to me. The author did this to make it sound authentic. She also included excerpts from letters and newspaper articles of the time, so she wanted (I’m guessing) to make the novelized portions flow. All it did was make the reading laborious at times. But the storyline was interesting, so I continued until the end. Had it been complete fiction I wouldn’t have bothered. There’s a big risk anytime the author includes too much slang, stiff formal sentence structure no longer in use, or writes in such a way as to try and mimic a heavy accent by throwing in odd spellings and word contractions.

As writers we have to catch our readers’ attention from word one. The opening scene has to grab their attention and keep them reading through to the last page. No one has the time, or the money, to force their way through a long boring tale or, worse yet, one ridden with typos. If they don’t finish it, they certainly aren’t going to recommend you to a friend. They aren’t going to leave that all important good review that will help strangers make the decision to take a chance on a new author and buy your book. And they definitely aren’t going to anxiously await your next book.

I have too many books I want to read, and too little time to read them all, to routinely force my way through something that doesn’t excite me from page one. Have you ever given up on a book? Have you ever told yourself life’s too short? I know I have, many times.

Hopefully I won’t make the mistakes that lead my readers to say the same about my books

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Morning Coffee: A Never-Ending Process

Healing HeartI recently finished the rough draft of my current novel. Now I can set it aside and work on the final edits for my previous novel in preparation for publication. During this time I will also be doing research and planning for my next two.  Once I get those outlined I will go back to the current novel and start those revisions. You see, by the time I finished this rough draft I came to the realization that it is the first of a trilogy! So by laying out the next two I will have a better hold on what I need to do in my revisions to make for a clean flow. Did you follow all that? It’s fine if you didn’t. Sometimes I have trouble keeping it all straight, too.

You see, writing can easily become a never ending process if you aren’t careful. The more you write going forward, the more you realize you have to change going back. This is good. The problem comes when you don’t know when to stop. Revisions are meant to improve your work, and they do, until a certain point when it all starts going downhill. It is possible to make it worse.

It’s also a never-ending learning curve. When we’re young we learn our letters, how to recognize them and how to write them. Then we learn how to string them together to form words, and words into sentences, into paragraphs. A writer has to know how to put all those paragraphs together to tell a story, and how to tell it well so the reader will want more. I’m still working on that part. I will always be working on that part. The goal is to have every book better than the last.

I’ll be meeting with my editor in a couple weeks to go over her notes for “Mary Bishop” and she’s going to tell me all the ways I can make my writing better, my storytelling more compelling. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to take those notes home and do just that. Then I’ll think about those notes when I’m revising my current rough draft so it’s even better when it gets to the professional editing stage. And at the same time, I’ll be learning how to juggle multiple projects, editing one, while revising another, while researching and outlining two more.

Soon I’ll be learning how to self-publish. I’ll form my own LLC. I’ll need to copy write and register for an ISBN number. I’ll learn how to format the novel, and on which websites, so that it’s accessible on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, libraries. Follow that with learning how to market my books, and how to handle taxes.

The only thing I’m not going to be learning how to do myself is cover design. I’ll pay a graphic artist familiar with book covers to do that for me. Part of the learning process is knowing when something is better off in the hands of another.

Morning Coffee: A Canadian Shore Lunch

003One of the traditions for our annual Canadian fishing trip is shore lunch. If you don’t know what shore lunch is, it’s just what it sounds like…a picnic lunch on shore.

We start out fishing in the morning, then we all meet at the designated spot and time to cook up a wonderful fresh fish dinner. This year it was walleye, baked beans, potatoes fried with onion and bacon, cole slaw, and cookies. It doesn’t get any better, certainly doesn’t taste any better, than when prepared over an open fire and under a clear blue Canadian sky, surrounded by nothing but the sounds and sights of nature. After we’re done eating and cleaning our site (carry in/carry out…take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints) it’s back out on the water to see if we can catch our daily limit.

The ladies in our group have our own tradition that goes with shore lunch, the building of the inuksuk, a man-made stone landmark built by the Inuit people to aid in navigation on an often snowy landscape where everything can look the same. They were also built to mark sacred places.

This year we met on Buzzard Island on a mild early summer day.

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A perfect place for a shore lunch.
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The men will do the cooking.
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While the women do the prep work.
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Mmmmmm! Smells good, guys!
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The ladies are hard at work building the inuksuk.
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Great job, girls!
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Another year over too fast. Fun times spent with family and friends.

 

Morning Coffee: It’s All In The Numbers

003It’s just a number. That’s what people like to say when you get upset about your weight or a dress size. Numbers are unreliable, changing, they’ll tell you. Everyone’s weight fluctuates. Dress sizes change depending on the manufacturer or designer.

But if you ask an athlete or sports enthusiast if numbers are important, they’ll tell you numbers are the most important. A team’s stats determine whether or not they go to the top of their league. A player’s stats are what determine if they play again next year and how much they’re paid to do so. The higher the number the better. Unless you play golf, then the lower the better.

To a mathematician or scientist, numbers are what define the universe and everything in it.

I have been obsessed with a few numbers, myself, the last few months. You see, today is my 60th birthday. There…I said it. 60! The down-side of the hill, so to speak. No other “big” birthday has bothered me the way this one has. Not 40 or 50.

60!

I can’t stop that roll down the hill, but I can at least try to slow it down. So I rejoined WW (the new branding for Weight Watchers) in January. So far I’ve lost 26lbs and I’d love to lose at least 10lbs more. Not only does carrying less weight make me feel better physically and emotionally, it’s helping me to drop some other rather important numbers…my cholesterol. Nothing guarantees how fast you reach the bottom of your personal hill, but being healthy is the best way to try and control your descent, and control just how beat up you are when you do reach bottom. I know when I saw my doctor in February she was pleased to see my numbers had already begun to improve. Yet another case where the lower the number the better.

Then there’s another big number coming up fast. Next month we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. (Yes, I was a mere child bride.) Not many people can say they made it that far without throwing their spouse out the door, walking out themselves, or attempting to dispose of a body.

As a writer, it’s about word counts and number of pages. I hope to soon have to obsess over some new numbers…sales and fans. Stay tuned and that will be a topic for future day.

In the meantime, it’s off to Canada to fish with family and friends. A great way to celebrate a birthday. After all, it’s “just a number”, right?

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Morning Coffee: Caribbean Vacation

Carnival Magic 2019I just returned from the first of three vacations that just happen to fall within a six week time period. The second two are annual plans, a girls’ trip with my sister and a couple’s fishing trip to Canada with friends and family. This first one, though, was more last minute when my daughter needed someone to take over a cruise ticket when traveler number four fell ill and couldn’t go.

I’ve never been on a cruise before so this was a great chance to get away and try new things (something I’m not terribly good at, being somewhat of a worry wart). So, on Easter Sunday I boarded the Carnival Magic in Miami with my daughter, her boyfriend, and his daughter, for a fun week in the Caribbean.

11a Katy and Jane zipline at Amber Cove Dominican RepublicOur first port was Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, where I tried the zip line…twice. Even though my harness fell off as I approached the cable for the first time!! Yes, I did have a moment of rethinking my position, but decided it was no doubt a fluke or someone would have shut them down by then. Good thing I was right because I had enough fun to do it a second time.

 

17b Jane and Katy Coki Beach St ThomasOur second port was Coki Beach on St Thomas. There I tried snorkeling with my daughter’s help. That did not go as well. I’ve never felt as claustrophobic as I did when I strapped on that full face mask. I was warned that it would feel like I had no air to breathe when, in reality, I did, and they were right. But I just couldn’t let go of the feeling the mask was smothering me. I did manage to put my face in the water long enough to watch the fish come to eat the bits of bread my daughter dropped in the water for them and that was pretty cool, but that was it. The soft sand slid under my feet and every wave then lifted and pushed me away from my daughter’s grasp. Then, somehow, a little salt water found its way inside the mask and into my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever removed something as fast as I removed that mask. I don’t know if I’ll be able to try that again, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Our third port was San Juan. My daughter and I went on a five hour bus tour of the rain forest and old fort. If you get a chance to go to Puerto Rico, do. Despite the damage they suffered under Hurricane Maria, they are open for business. The tour guide told how the entire island was brown after the storm. Not a single leaf or blade of green. But the island is once again a brilliant green. Their plants regenerate faster than any others and the result is beautiful! The Puerto Ricans count on tourism and there is so much to see and do you will not be disappointed.

55a Grand TurkOur fourth and final port was Grand Turk, another beautiful beach with amazing clear blue water. This time I stayed on shore and watched my daughter and her boyfriend snorkel. It was too soon to try that again.

Vacations are meant to be a getaway from our every day work. Think of it like a computer re-boot. I spent my time reading or soaking in the sunshine and all the beautiful tropical life around me. The only writing I did was in the airport. Next week I leave for a week on South Beach and then Key West with my sister. I suspect it will be much of the same. By the time June rolls around I’ll be chomping at the bit to get back to my work in progress while enjoying nothing more than the quiet beauty of my own backyard.

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Morning Coffee: A.I.S.

Healing HeartAnyone who’s a fan of “Everybody Loves Raymond” is familiar with the term A.I.S. It means “ass in seat” and was how Frank Barone raised his two sons. If he said “we’re leaving at 9:00, A.I.S.” you better be sitting in the car by 9:00 or you’d be left behind. Raymond tried this with his wife, Deborah, when she habitually kept him waiting. Invited to attend an important industry dinner, Raymond did not want to be late. He set the time and told her to be in the car and ready, A.I.S., or he would leave without her. The night in question arrives. Raymond’s downstairs, pacing, groaning, checking his watch. Finally, unable to stand it one minute longer, he leaves. Meanwhile, Deborah is upstairs getting ready for the party. She checks her watch and proudly announces to herself that she’s ready with minutes to spare. She stops for one last look in the mirror. Deciding she has plenty of time, she picks up her hot curling brush to tweak an errant curl. As always happens when you’re in a hurry, it gets twisted in her hair and she can’t get it out. She tries and tries until it’s too late. Raymond left without her. She’s furious and, of course, a fight ensues when he arrives home. Raymond seeks his father’s backing only to learn Frank never dared to A.I.S. his wife!

A.I.S. became a favorite saying among “Raymond” fans everywhere. And while it’s funny in a television sitcom, it’s unlikely to turn out well for anyone who actually tries it with a loved one.

The one time it can work, though, is when you have to make a deadline. Whether that be for school or work, it isn’t going to get done unless you A.I.S. yourself. That’s the first piece of advice we give when someone asks how we manage to finish writing a whole book. Sit yourself down and force yourself to write. Even if you’re afraid it’s trash, just keep writing. You can fix it later. That’s what the revision process is all about.

That’s what I’m doing right now. I needed to come up with something for this blog posting and was having a terrible time. I took time away from my computer to refresh my brain. I watched television, played hours of Candy Crush and Words With Friends, and surprisingly (not!) couldn’t come up with a single idea. So I sat myself down in front of my computer, told myself “A.I.S., girl”, and it came to me. A.I.S.!

Now, if I could only ignore email and Facebook and work on my book.