Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Penny for your thoughts...

I went to the post office during my lunch hour to mail a package to one of my Army guys. Walking back across the parking lot, I saw a penny - face up. In my mind I heard the rhyme, "See a penny, pick it up. All the day, have good luck." I don't know what madness possesses parents to teach their children little ditties.

Keep in mind that I'm in Arizona. Today the temp was 92F (33.3 C) and who knows how much hotter on the asphalt. So you can imagine that the penny was very warm to the touch. In my 'always serious' mind I started thinking about putting that penny in my coin purse, and into my purse.

What if it was so hot that my coin purse began to smolder? What if in turn my purse turned into a slow burning fire? I can't just throw it out the window as I'm driving down the "Loop" -- can I? My favorite lipstick is in that bag, not to mention I really like the bag itself.

So, what if I'm driving down the road with smoke coming out of my car cockpit? What if the fire department is called? They charge now for unnecessary call-outs. Of course, the paramedics would have to come too, after my car was thoughly foamed.

Add a couple hundred dollars worth of bandages to my burnt fingers -- from picking up the hot penny in the first place. Even without adding the damage to the car seat, and the rest of the car interior from the foam, I'm thinking I'm pushing rapidly toward that penny costing me $1,000.

After all of that, there is no way I'm going back to the office with an mile of bandages wrapped around my hand making it the size of Texas (we say that state side when something is very big).

One thing is, I must get back to writing. This pent up creativity is mutating into very strange thoughts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kathryn's Beach

One of the fun things about selling my books myself is that I know who my readers are. It wasn't that way before.

Someone I see regularly is reading Kathryn's Beach. It is fun to hear her comments. The latest one is that there isn't much dialogue. I admit, that is generally true in the beginning.

My writing style is not mainstream. Besides being literary in nature, there is that pesky first person present tense thing to get used to.

Quite honestly there are people who don't finish Kathryn's Beach. On the other hand, there are quite a few who do and are surprised with it. The industry standard is so firmly set that reading something out of the norm seems to be an awakening, sometimes an unsettling awakening.

The action is unconventional. It isn't physical action as much as the action of human development, and in Kathryn's case, human healing. The dialogue is there. It is tight. Plus a great deal of it is internal dialogue.

The books are a faux memoir, a genre that I made up. I had the sense of an old Kathryn sitting near a window on a rainy afternoon telling her story to someone much younger, perhaps a young woman version of Shasta, perhaps not.

There were complications to writing Kathryn's Beach. One of the most notable problems was to not write her too bold for the broken, reclusive person she was in the beginning. Even the decision to not tell her last name - that's right, her last name is not in Kathryn's Beach - was done to further accent how small she felt, a one name person.

How I left her in the end mirrored the beginning. Different setting and different companion was done deliberately. But in both the beginning and ending, there are just two people in the scene.

Betcha you didn't know all of that. If you've read Kathryn's Beach, make a comment about what you thought. Say anything you want (except details about what happens on Thanksgiving weekend, please). I won't delete any of the comments. I promise.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celebrating 25 Years...

Many awesome things can occur in 25 years. It certainly was a good age to be. When I think of the history that can occur in 25 years, it amazes me.

Laura is celebrating 25 years as a graphic designer. Check out her website. Hover your curser over and around the number 25 and watch the pictures change. Notice anything familiar?

(Be sure to check out the rest of her site too!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TAG! You're it!

Some weeks back my web designer sent a note that read: I’m going to change all your page titles from the H3 tag to the H1 tag. I’ve learned it carries more weight.

Not only do I not know the difference between H3 and H1 - I don't care to know. Years ago I learned that she looks out for her clients and stays current in her field. So why worry about it? Not that I could do my own website, but my books are worth having a pro.

Same goes for the Cactus Rain Publishing logo. I drew the design idea on a piece of paper. I knew exactly what I wanted. I went to the paint store and selected paint chips for the colors I wanted. I scanned in my drawing. I mailed the paint chips to Joyce and she told me the color codes for them. That is what I sent to a graphic artist, who I'm told is in Italy (I don't really know). In short order the file was sent with several formats and sizes.

Sorry you DIY people, this is the kind of stuff that makes having a professional worth their weight in gold. I'm very lucky to contract with such good people. That wasn't always the case.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blog Award!

Michelle Gregory, a writer here in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, AZ), gave me a blog buddy award. I looked for the instructions and have decided to make up my own - I am a writer, after all ~ right?

Hmmmm, let me think.

There are so many blogs I enjoy and I confess to being remiss at posting comments. (I don't want to seem like I'm stalking them!) The temptation is to list some or all of the people I listed on the previous post. However, I think I'll list some new people.

Edward C. Patterson

Jody Hedlund

Anita Davison

Long time friend, Karen Dionne,

Martyn Daniels

DJ Kirkby

Cheryl de los Reyes Cruz

Leah Witmond

June Austin

Well there you go. New blog people to meet. If they have 'google alerts' set, they will find they won an award. What are google alerts? Google it and you'll see.

Thanks Michelle for the award.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blog Award!

Glynis Smy in Cyrpus is always so good to me. (I hope we meet someday.) She writes a lovely blog and submitted an entry for the short story competition. I can always count on her to post a comment here and there on my blog.

Now she has given me an award, A Beautiful Blogger Award. Thank you, Glynis. I treasure our long distance friendship.

Oh gosh, 7! - seven interesting things about me. Wow, that is a hard one. I'm a very private person. Okay, here goes...
1. When I was little I wanted to be a Catholic nun - and I wasn't even Catholic.
2. I'm dyslexic. No news there. But before it had a name, I was ashamed that I couldn't read or spell. I hated how adults and other kids made fun of me - even unintentionally.
3. I'm learning Latin American Spanish only to discover there is such dialect diversity in Mexico (where most of our Spanish speaking clients come from) that I'll still only be able to talk with them piecemeal.
4. Years ago I submitted testimony on social work to a joint sub-committee of a state legislature. I guess it is in the basement archives somewhere - very dusty.
5. I like me again.
6. My kids seem to have turned out okay and they like me.
7. TBA, I'm not finished yet.

It is so hard to narrow down the bloggers I want to bestow the award on. I know some won't put it on their blog, but I'd still like to mention them.

1. Carrie Sheppard
2. Joy Collins
3. Glyn Pope
4. Carol Anne Strange
5. Nick Daws
6. Ivana Maric
7. Jen Garsee
8. Susan Gabriel
9. Ella Press
10. Michelle Gregory
and Andy in France (my writing buddy who shoots fantastic photos).

Love ya!

Click here: Author Blog: Glynis Smy: Oh It Just Gets Better and Better!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Inspires?

I've written a lot about writing. I like that topic better than writing about the industry.

Glyn Pope recently wrote that he had read a book that was so well written that he wondered if he should just give up writing (he was being dramatic). My friend Joy Collins and I were having an email conversation about a book she read that was so well written that it inspired her to strive to be a better writer.

Not to be egotistical, but I know I can write. I know no one sees coming what happens to Kathryn's friend in Kathryn's Beach. I've had many comments from readers about how that effected them. There aren't as many comments about High Tide, but I know that the characters come alive and even though humorous writing is a tough market, I've managed several humorous scenes in that book while telling a poignant story. The impact is more subtle, the inner response more quiet though personal beyond words to those who can relate. I know the writing and the story 'type' change in Storm Surge to a different level, perhaps less personal for the reader and more typical writing, but one of the best books I've written.

I don't have a crisis of faith about my writing - though I fully understand those who doubt their skills from time to time. I never want to give up the craft, but I could easily kiss the industry goodbye and never look back.

I've been at my new job for a month now. No one bothered to ask what I do when I'm not working. So they are just finding out about the writing. Get this, they asked if I'd lend them a book to read. That was an awkward moment. I don't exactly have a loaner copy of my books. I don't even loan other people's books that I own. Why? Because I know that the author doesn't get a dime for books that aren't bought new. Nope, not from the used bookstore, not from the used section in Amazon, not from the garage sale down the street.

I never think about giving up writing, but I could give up publishing in a heartbeat. Imagine no more query letters, romancing agents, hoping they can successfully shop the ms, that the sell through numbers will be high enough not to hurt my career. Oh I could give that up and never look back. Especially now that I publish my own books and have to do my own marketing. Oh yeah, I could walk away from that very easily.

The industry isn't like the public thinks it is. One person at the office asked if didn't I get a bunch of free books. No, I never have. Most publishers give a very limited number of comp books to their authors. The free books we give our closest friends and family are not really free, we've bought them. Now sometimes we can buy them at a discount and I certainly do get a good deal now that I do my own thing, but shipping isn't free - coming or going. So yeah, I could give up publishing them even though my books are well received.

What a horrible thing to write when I know most of my audience [for First Draft] are aspiring writers. But the reality is that writing is one thing and that thing is a very satisfying adventure. Reading a book is one thing, but writing one and seeing the story unfold before your eyes is even better than any reader can imagine. Once the role shifts to a drive to publish, it changes things. Frankly, I want back the old days when I knew nothing about the industry, when I didn't have to read about eBooks and their readers and figure out if I really want to do that with my books because of the price of eBooks.

People in that discussion, usually consumers and non-industry executives of eReaders, don't realize that the end price of any book is offsetting other expenses. The price question isn't only about the cost of producing that copy of the book, but the price of staying in business to produce books; that bestsellers have to 'carry' the underperformers.

In a way this blog post is simple rambling thoughts of a crazed writer who spent too much time in the heat today. In another way, it is a collection of facts that challenges the myths of the industry held by the general population.

If you want to learn more about how the industry works from a couple of reliable sources, look for these books: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner; or a really good book about the script industry - everyone should own this book if no other book about writing of any type - The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J. Michael Straczynski.

Here's Glyn's blog post:
and Joy Collins is at

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marketing, sheesh!

Marketing is one of my least favorite tasks of the publishing industry. My friend Carrie Sheppard is a marketing professional. When she tells me the formulas for contact vs conversion, I can't imagine doing a more discouraging job. As lousy as the numbers are in regular marketing and advertising, they are even worse for books.

I keep telling Carrie if she could figure out how to sell books, she would be a wealthy woman. (She laughs and says that books are a hard sell.) So why is that? Nearly everyone loves to read. (Even I read, just not much fiction except for mss and almost never the NY Times best seller list.)

I get lots of unrequested marketing pitches for books. I also get lots of marketing pitches for marketing companies. I haven't seen any new ideas in any of the material - even the ones that come in the regular postal mail. They look nice enough, good paper, excellent graphics - and no new ideas.

Maybe it works on other people, but the social networking sites don't work on me. Do they work on you? How many novels have you bought because you heard of them on Facebook or through Twitter?

Have you ever randomly searched through one of the online booksellers like you do the stacks at the bookstore? I don't. Not for fiction anyway. I usually go there with a book or an author in mind. (I'm waiting for a book on import/export rules to arrive.)

I'm just wondering about all of this. Like everyone else, I'm trying to figure it out. Book reviews and word of mouth hardly work on me. I've been burned so many times by bad pitches that I wait until I stumble on a book on my own. What do you do? How do you select your next book?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Born to Bully?

There is the age old question about genetics vs environment. I can't imagine a baby being born to bully. Is it possible there is an Alpha Dog gene? Are we actually only the sum of our genetic makeup?

Is it environmental? Do parents love one child less and the other children pick up on it and abuse the outcast? Is it a person feeling helpless compensating by bullying a younger or weaker child - with the parents' blessing or at the least a blind eye to what is happening? (Or in the case in the news, the school staff. Oh yeah, they know what the kids are doing or just don't want to know.)

It doesn't seem that bullies grow out of the behavior. We've all worked with the office bully. They are aggressive, often loud, forceful people. Even when they have learned to be subtle, they still bully one or more of their coworkers or subordinates. Generally we 'take' it and try to get our work done despite their disruptive presence.

They are toxic people. You know who they are - the person we're glad when they are off. The relief of knowing they won't be at work or driving into the parking lot and seeing their car missing is sure delight.

Like 'addictions' treating the behavior is only part of the solution. The cause, the precursor, has to be addressed. Whether there is a formal intervention or the bully seeks help independently, it doesn't go away on its own without [therapy] treatment.

So what do we do about bullies? In the case of the young woman who finally killed herself, I applaud the attorney for charging the other children who behaved in gang-like behavior toward her. Her tormentors were vicious terrorists.

However, I'd take it a step further and charge the adults (teachers, administrators, staff, and other parents) who were aware of the situation and did not act to help her. In my opinion, they aided and abetted the bullies to driving her to her death.

Yep, if it was up to me they would be on the child abuse register. I wouldn't think twice about getting them out of the school setting. We have child abuse laws that cover peer abuse. There are anonymous hotlines to report 'suspected' abuse. And God forbid those Child In Need of Care Children Services workers do not confirm on bullying, or the judges dismiss the cases. CPS means Child Protective Services. The law is clear.

Here is how it works. During an open house at school we followed our son's class schedule. One teacher - Math, everyone's favorite subject - bragged how he threatened to take the class to the courtyard to study as punishment because some kids weren't getting the subject material. Keep in mind that it gets over 100 degrees here in Phoenix. The school was on a block schedule - classes were 90 minutes. My kids are math-whizzes. My son said that he tried to help the students understand the material - they just didn't get it. Keep in mind that he was a kid without a teaching degree. (Doesn't that sound like me being bullied by my teacher because I couldn't read? Oh yeah.)

I have problems with punishing those who are doing what their supposed to be doing with the hope they will exert peer pressure on their classmates. (I know the military does it all the time - the theory is that people die if there is someone in the unit who doesn't follow the rules.) But it isn't the student's job to teach the material. I certainly think moving a class to 100 degree unshaded courtyards is not a viable teaching tool.

Well anyway, after talking with my son, I talked with the principal during the open house - as did other parents. The next morning I presented her with a letter outlining my concerns and that in Arizona one school had already been cited for putting students in detention outdoors. By the time classes began, that teacher was suspended and the principal taught his classes. She ended up teaching math most of the rest of the semester until a replacement could be found. Guess what? The whole class moved forward and were challenging the next upper grade level to a math contest.

You bet I'm glad I took action. I'm glad the principal asked other teachers and the students, and suspended the teacher quickly. It really isn't that hard to take a stand to protect our children. Wild animals do that much.

Kids don't always tell their parents about bullying so it is important to create a relationship where those problems can be discussed. Watch your kids and ask questions when things don't seem right. I'm betting that the young lady who killed herself didn't act like a happy, out going kid after the bullying began. And if school officials offer rhetoric and nothing more, then move your kid to another school. How hard is that to figure out?

The saying goes, we have the world we have because we agree to it. The group who started the facebook page have said they do not agree to bullying. Let's end it. It takes more than talk, it takes action.

More info on the young lady who was driven to suicide by school bullies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


You know where I stand on the matter and you know my story. Now read this:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Damage Control

Just so we're clear on this, I stand behind my judges' 100%. As the writers noticed from the comments, the opinions about the stories varied. What that means is that there is no 'universal reader.' Writers have to target their market and the only way to do that is to understand who reads your genre.

While I liked something about each story, I didn't like each story equally and if they had been part of a novel, I would not have bought some of them. All that means is I was not the target audience for some works. No big deal.

In the real world of publishing this post wouldn't have been written. This industry does not apologize. Usually, it does not explain. The judges' comments were blunt at times, both positive and not so positive. Most times to get that kind of feedback there is a fee. My judges were dead on about where the stories needed improving. Use that info to your benefit. This is not a touchy feely industry, so get over it and move on.

I understand that artists, especially writers, are sensitive souls. That is exactly why I did not say what I didn't like. However, let me make perfectly clear that unless your mother or lover works for a literary agent, you will not get big hugs over every word put to ink. This is a business. Agents are looking for works that will sell and that are as close to "ready to go" as possible. Fixing mss takes time and time is money. Fix it before you submit it.

Agents understand that acquisition editors do not want [or have the time for] mss that need a lot of rewrites. It ain't happening. Certainly it won't be happening in this economy. So take the comments about the lacking dialogue (stilted, clich├ęs, strange tags), unemotional characters, and grammar errors and use them to improve so you can compete with an edge others don't have.

Seriously, rejections hurt. Most rejection letters do not say why, or might say "Not for us," which tells you a whole lot of nothing. I've said before, so far I've had 216 rejection letters in my career. You can only lick your wounds so long then get to work to be an awesome writer.

I'm not writing this to any one person. Even people who did not enter, for whatever reason, need to know that this is a very serious industry and if you want to be part of it, grow up and act like it. Believe in your skills and craft. Write your best works. Keep in mind, no matter what else happens, I love you guys.

Friday, April 2, 2010

IMO - notice there is nothing 'humble' about my opinion

First off, I did not judge the contest. I knew some of the entrants and wanted it blind for the judges and to keep the judges sequestered during the contest.

What I’ve done here is to comment briefly on a few of the things I liked. This would be a really long post if I listed everything I liked about each story.

I’m always a sucker for literary devices. An extra proof reading would have helped most stories, especially if read aloud. Some didn’t pay close enough attention to the guidelines and the judges deducted for that. Another comment I saw often was in regards to creating a need for the reader to care about the well-being of the main character. Certainly that is due more attention by nearly all the writers.

Here's the good stuff (IMO)...
Published Authors
A Shrewd Moment by Andy D Kemp (France)
Very visual descriptions. No way did I want to sit on the cold upholstery. Good relationship between the driver and passenger. I cared about them.

Bostwick Blues by Don Blinebry (USA) *
I liked the Noir feel of the piece. Nearly heard the narration that was key in both radio and television gumshoe stories. I liked the addition of the snitch. It is so easy to forget to widen the cast when writing in first person.

Carnival by Francis Hayes (UK)
Good use of setting throughout the work. I laughed at the Kansas comments, since I’ve lived there. Strong dialogue. Worked well, in fact, totally got me with the twist at the end. This writer must have been to the US or have a magical imagination that is perfect about the locations in the US. I would not have guessed this was not written by an American.

The Jade Princess by Derek Coleman (USA)
I like the narration and the unexpected twist at the end after the fraud had been exposed. Made me smile with the thought that often the treasure isn’t the obvious one.

The Lemon Man From Agerola by Jo Smith (France) *
I was so mad at her friends for putting her in harms’ way by jumping in the other car. I bought into the story and the risk.

Packet drink, Please by Aneeta Sundararaj (Malaysia)
I like the relationship between the old woman and the child - neighbors, but more. "When we smile at each other, both have missing front teeth." I liked that showing of their ‘oneness’ -- their bond of friendship and more.
Unpublished Authors
Appreciation by Ivana Maric (Croatia)
My state of mind is to like the twist in this story. Good use of foreshadowing. If you’ve read my blog, foreshadowing is one of my favorite writing tools. Good job on setting the setting and changing the dialogue to fit the changes in the internal dialogue of the main character.

Let’s Drink on It by Russ Waterman (US)
Smart idea to set a story on a California beach. Shows the writer has me figured out. I liked the beach bum attitude of the two characters, typically Californian. Some judges had trouble with the time line, but I don’t think a country this large would go Armageddon all at once. I think it would come in waves and the fact that the guys were resolved to the end coming wasn’t a problem for me.

Meticulous Planning by Fiona Taylor (UK)
This is enough to give chills to every mother of small children. The title fits perfectly. The mind of the main character is chilling, as it would have to be.

Of The Gods by Anne Dewvall (USA)
Very literary, a style I like. I couldn’t figure out the setting or main character, so that kept me reading because it was done in an intriguing way. Nice use of symbolism. I found that it was an enjoyable piece once I shut off my mind to the questions and rolled with it. It reminds me of the book of Revaluations in the Bible, not meant for everyone to understand the underlying story.

One More Hour by Glynis Smy (Cyprus)
This one had me going. I was guessing with the rapid changes of circumstance, so I was pleased when I found out who the main character was and what was ‘afoot’ as Mr. Homes would have said. Made me smile. Very original idea.

Opening A Vein by Samantha Kelley (USA)
I love the line, "The ink flows out of my pen like lies out of a politician." You know me, I like the use of literary devices. I could have stopped here and been perfectly satisfied. Ah the insanity of being a writer!

The Pussycat by Robin Rhodes (USA)
I could almost hear the bar music, though it wasn’t mentioned. Good use of dialogue in most places. The setting was established nicely. The ‘attitude’ of the main character was consistent throughout.

The Hunter by Peggy Nolan (USA) *
Totally not what I expected from Peggy. (Yeah, like reading her blog makes me an expert!) I liked the setting - I admit I never stopped to wonder what the teacher was thinking while we were all thinking of getting through the lecture in one piece. Thought the setting was believable and original.

The Sacrifice by Nicolas Sharp (?)
Starts with a good pace and the writing supports the chase. I was totally surprised by the twist at the end, plus I liked the bond between the two characters. I’m one who likes people to connect.

The Surprising End of My Innocence by Janie Hickok Siess (USA)
Easy to get attached to the main character. Straight storyline, from beginning to end, without gaps. Very little dialogue, but what was there was strong and point on target.

Thank you to everyone who entered the short story contest. I hope you gained something useful from the experience. I’ll email the judges’ comments to you this weekend. Some are very blunt and I even commented to one judge on that. So lick your wounds after reading their comments, then read mine again. Plus, the points the judges like are certainly keepers as you write other works. Do again what you do well.