...about editing...again.

Monk is one of the few television shows I watch...still watch, even though it’s in rerun mode now. Part of the show’s charm is the quirkiness of the main character, Detective Adrian Monk, who has OCD. His disorder creates problems, but it helps him at times, too. And he has said of it, “It’s a blessing...and a curse.” I can think of other things the saying would apply to, but the one most recently on my mind is the ease with which authors can publish their works today. 

No longer does an author have to spend months or years writing query letters or proposals and mailing packets to agents. And there’s no waiting for months while a manuscript is under consideration by a publisher. Or further long stretches of time while the manuscript is prepared for publication once it's accepted.


Today’s revolution in publishing makes it possible for an author to skip all that. He/she can format a manuscript, upload it to CreateSpace, Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes & Noble and, voilà! It's available for sale.

It’s a blessing. And a curse.

Because now, too many authors are rushing to publish their works without due diligence in preparation. Making errors is a facet of being human...so, no matter how perfect an author believes his work to be, it needs editing, sometimes lots of editing, to make it ready to meet the world of readers.

And when I speak of editing, I’m not referring only to correcting typos or errors in grammar or punctuation. I’m not talking about finding accidentally omitted words or places where a character’s name magically changes from Steve to Roy. No, I’m talking about clunky phrasing that needs to be streamlined. Redundant words that need to be eliminated. Adverbs and adjectives that need to disappear. Clichés which need to be replaced with fresh imagery. Faulty story logic that needs to be straightened out. And revising behavior and dialogue that isn’t true-to-character (would that particular character say what he’s saying in chapter four? And do all the characters sound alike when they speak?)

Some have pointed out that they've read traditionally published books which have errors. So have I. But that doesn’t justify a sloppily prepared and published manuscript from a do-it-yourselfer. If anything, a book from a self-published author should be even more error-free than a traditional one, because the author doesn’t have to rely on employees at a publishing house to catch and correct any problems. He cares about his story, and he has the opportunity (and responsibility) to ensure his work is as good as he can make it. 

And if he later finds a mistake he overlooked initially, he can and should correct it. I spent four years editing, rewriting, polishing, and re-editing my first novel, High on a Mountain. And guess what? After it was published, I found a couple of errors, which I corrected. I wouldn't want errors to ruin the reading experience for anyone.

My point in saying all this is not to criticize my fellow self-published authors. It’s to encourage us all to take the time to make our work the best on the market. Bar none. (Hey, is that an idiom? Or a cliché? Oh, well...)

Image © Marc Garrido i Puig via stock.xchng

...about How the Scots Invented the Modern World.

I don’t usually like to write book reviews. They are subjective, a matter of opinion. And who’s to say my opinion should carry more weight than someone else’s? Nevertheless, I decided to write a review.

And I didn’t choose a book hot off the press. No. I broke with the usual practice of writing about a brand new book and chose one that was copyrighted in 2001… How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman.

I read this book (along with many, many others) when I was doing research to learn all I could about Scotland prior to and during the writing of High on a Mountain. I learned something from each of the books I read, but this particular book made an enduring impact on me.

Why? Because the information in this book was astounding. The subtitle may give you a notion as to why it astounded me: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. Wow! Quite a statement, that. But...it’s a true statement.

As Herman points out throughout the book, Scots made changes in ways of thinking and doing that profoundly influenced and affected the development of Western Civilization in modern times. From such mundane inventions as air-filled tires (invented by a Scot named Dunlop) to paved roads (developed by a Scot named MacAdam...did you ever think about where the word “tarmac” came from?) to high-flown ideas like self-government (George Buchanan asserted that political power should reside in the people, not the government), Scots were the inventors of the new, the modern way of doing/thinking.

Herman’s writing style is engrossing, and even when discussing what could be dry subjects, he makes topics interesting. I highly recommend this book.

...about things Mama taught me.

When I was growing up, my family was of modest means. In my hometown, most people fit into one of two categories: well-off or poor. The well-off owned businesses or were in upper management at the cotton mill or a spread house or carpet factory. Those who were poor were laborers in those establishments...the working poor.

And then there were others who didn’t even have one of those low-paying jobs. They were the very, very poor.

The knowledge of this wide social divide was impressed upon me when I was in elementary school. A group of well-to-do girls decided, for some reason, that I had suddenly become acceptable, and they would allow me to be part of their group. Even though my clothes were homemade. Even though I had none of the amazing possessions they sported.

One day at recess, when the group gathered on the playground, a girl, who was obviously, heart-breakingly poor, caught their attention. She was dirty, her hair uncombed, her clothes raggedy. And she played all alone.

The well-off girls pointed at her and made fun of her. What they were doing made me uncomfortable, so I backed away and stood at the fringe of the group, not sure what, if anything I could do.

That night, I told Mama about it. She stopped what she was doing and faced me, with fire dancing in her blue eyes. She said, "Don’t just play with those who have nice clothes and already have lots of friends. Tomorrow, you go and be nice to that girl. You play with her. When someone doesn’t have a friend, you be their friend.”

And so I did.

What Mama said sunk deep, set my attitudes and has guided a lot of my decision-making through the years. And, I’m beginning to realize, it has influenced my writing.

I don’t usually write about the rich, the powerful. And in several of my novels, the main character, like Ailean MacLachlainn of High on a Mountain, is poor and has a hard life. Most of my characters are ordinary folks who face tough situations.

But though downtrodden, they are not beaten. They face their circumstances with courage and determination.

Take, for instance, Fallon McKniere, of On Berryhill Road. Fallon endured heartbreak when she was six. Her father died, and it was thought that he committed suicide because he’d embezzled money from the Navy. When she couldn’t take the ridicule, couldn't take being ostracized any longer, she dropped out of school.

She works in a convenience store and has little hope of ever doing better. She makes so little money that she often goes hungry. But she has courage, a strong moral ethic and does her best to take care of herself and her mentally-unbalanced mother. And though she has been treated unkindly, she responds to others with kindness.

Fallon is someone I admire, someone I’d be honored to have as a friend. Like the little girl Mama told me to befriend so many years ago.

Image copyright Talis via bigstockphoto.com
...about making books free.

Amazon.com recently started a new service (I call it a service, because that's what it is proving to be for me). They're offering a lending library for Amazon Prime Members who own Kindles.

I'm not a Prime Member (but I'm considering it now), so you might wonder how the lending library is of service to me.

Here's how. If I opt to put a book into the lending library, Amazon provides the use of a special promotional tool: I can make a book free for a limited time. Making a book free is a fantastic way for an unknown author to become known...at least, to become known to those who download his/her free book.

I already knew, due to an experience with "free" in August, when I made Tugger's Down free, that this was a powerful promotional tool. So, in the middle of December, I made the first book in my historical series, High on a Mountain, free on Kindle. And while the effect was not as dramatic as it had been for Tugger's Down (because High on a Mountain is: 1) in a less popular genre; 2) it had a LOT of competition from other books being made free.

And so, I made the decision to offer yet another book free...On Berryhill Road. It went free yesterday, the 25th, and I'm very pleased with the results thus far. If you own a Kindle or you have the Kindle for PC app, or a Kindle app on another device, you can download On Berryhill Road today through Thursday. It will be free for a limited time, so don't miss out!

P.S. Don't you think the snazzy new cover created for On Berryhill Road by Connie at wordslingerboutique.biz is...well, snazzy?

...about winning NaNoWriMo.

Okay. Just validated my manuscript, and...I won! I won! I won! I wrote 50,000 words and won NaNoWriMo!

The dust settles, I calm down, and...now what?

One piece of advice given to WriMos is to silence your inner editor and just write. If you keep stopping to fix things, to edit, you'll likely get stuck and not cross the finish line by November 30th.

So now, knowing you have a number of places where you said to yourself, "I'll fix that later," and you kept writing, per advice, you KNOW it needs editing. Or, you may be like I was after my first NaNo experience. I was convinced what I'd written was drivel and was poised to hit "Delete." But my NaNo buddy from that year persuaded me not to do that. She said that it just needed some judicious editing.

So, I took a deep breath...unsquenched my eyes and started reading it. And you know, it wasn't that bad. Oh, sure, there were places that made me cringe, but I thought, "She may be right. It may just need some editing."

I'm glad I took her advice. That book is my best seller online.

You first-timers who've never before written a novel may be feeling overwhelmed at the idea of all the editing ahead of you. Take heart. Other writers have lived through the edit/rewrite trauma, and you will, too. But I thought I'd share some tips that might help you as they helped me.

So, sharpen that red pencil, and let's get going.

First, if you're not accustomed to editing fiction, you might want to get a couple of books that I found immensely helpful as I learned to edit my works. The first is "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King. The second is "The First Five Pages" by agent Noah Lukeman. There are other good books on the subject, but I found those two most valuable.

Be prepared to spend however much time it takes to make your novel the best it can be. Spend time assessing character arcs, storylines, and other underlying nuts-and-bolts issues of good storytelling. Good editing takes time. A lot of time.

Make several passes through your novel, reading it with your eye focused on one issue each time. I make passes looking for unnecessary words. And other passes ferreting out the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. And searching out redundancies. (You'd be surprised how many times you find over-used words. I sometimes get stuck on a certain word and it crops up continuously.)

When you're sure you've fixed everything fixable, do another read through looking for typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes. There aren't any of those, you say? As many times as you've read through it (and you're thoroughly sick of the story by now), there couldn't be one mistake left in it.

Oh yes, there can. And there are. Just try to make sure that YOU are the one who finds those lurking problems, not a reader.

And after you've done that...it's time to discuss what you plan to do with your clean, polished, shiny new manuscript. But that's a topic for another time...

Image courtesy of Hannah Chapman via stock.xchng

...about NaNoWriMo.

Today is November 15th, and I'm right in the big middle of my 6th NaNoWriMo. The title of my story is Windows, as in, the eyes are the windows of the soul. And my main character is Cotton Chastain. You remember him, don't you? From The Sands of Santa Rosa, last year's NaNovel? At the request of a reader, he's doing a repeat performance.

Except for my historical series about one family, I've not written more than one book featuring a particular character, so writing Windows has been a unique experience. Time will tell whether it's a worthwhile experiment.

But for now, I'm enjoying revisiting Cotton, Mattie and Sara.

Image: copyright Bill Davenport via stockxchng.com
...about winning.

I have to tell you...as far as contests go, I'm usually an enterer, not a winner. But a few weeks back (or has it been longer?), Smashwords.com had a contest. It was simple. Make a blog post explaining how to format an ebook for submission to Smashwords.

Although, as I said, I don’t win contests of any sort, this time I decided to try. Why? Because the prize was a very cool, cobalt blue glass mug with the Smashwords logo in silver. Ummm. I thought it would look totally cool on my desk, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my morning coffee would probably taste better sipped from such an excellent mug.

So I entered.

And....I won! I won! I won!

(Trying to settle down here and regain my decorum.)

Anyway, to see a photo of this beautiful blue mug (which, by the way, I was right...it makes a cup of coffee taste wonderful), you can visit the Smashwords blog to see it here.

YAY! I won! (Still can’t believe it.)

Thank you, Smashwords!
...about Kondi's Quest

I'm delighted to have as my guest today, Sylvia Stewart, whose book, Kondi's Quest, has just been released by OakTara. Sylvia's many years in mission work in Africa gave her a heart for the people, which is evident in this poignant story about a young girl of Malawi. Without further ado, we'll hear from Sylvia:

In 1946, a few days before my sixth birthday, I landed in Stanleyville, The Belgian Congo. I remember the palm trees flying by as our old propeller plane taxied down the dirt runway. We stepped out into muggy heat as we crossed to the terminal.

From that day, Africa has been my second home – as dear to me as my birth home in Oregon, U.S.A. As I grew up, my one desire was to “go back home” to Africa.

Our mother taught me first and second grade. Then I went to Rethy Academy, 350 miles and 10 hours’ drive from my parents. I began to learn to think for myself, to be independent and to rely on my heavenly Father.

I especially remember one moonlit night, lying on my back in my dorm room’s top bunk. Loneliness crushed my heart until I could hardly breathe. I’m alone – all, all alone! Just then a jackal began to howl not far away, and I wanted to howl with him. Tears trickled into my ears and I clapped my pillow over my head to stifle the sobs that shook my slight frame. I didn’t want the other girls in the room to hear me crying, and think I was a baby. In the stuffy darkness under the pillow, with even the moonlight cut off, God spoke to my heart as clearly as if His voice had been audible: “I’m here. You’re not alone – I am here!”

Throughout my life, God has been “here” for me. In the ups and downs, in the thick and thin, in the joys and sorrows, He has been the Solid Rock to which I’ve clung. I learned this lesson early in life because I had to be away from my parents at such a young age. God is WITH me and will help me through any issue that I face.

Kondi lives in Malawi, East Africa. She will show you much about her culture and the African way of life. Kondi is the composite of a number of Malawian girls I knew. She has poignant, tragic and funny experiences. She’s artistic, smart and loving. She’s also afraid.

Will this same promise also hold true for Kondi in Kondi’s Quest? Will God be close to her in all her troubles and her efforts to please God and her earthly father? Will she learn that living for God meant He waswith her – even when He seemed to be distant?

It is my prayer that Kondi’s story will touch the hearts of pre-teens around the world and help them know God loves them and that they will experience His presence when they are most vulnerable and in difficult circumstances.

~Sylvia Stewart

...about The Blue-sprigged Dimity Dress

I think I was eleven years old when my grandmother told me about the first time she wore a long dress.

When she was a girl, back in the late 1800s, women wore long dresses but little girls didn’t. And having her first long dress was a proud milestone on her journey to adulthood.

Her story is a cherished memory. I can still remember how she looked as she told it, can see the brilliance of her blue eyes, the smile crinkles at their corners, and can hear her chuckles.

I always wanted to tell that story, to write it down so it wouldn’t be lost. I tried to do that when I was in my thirties, but it was a pitiful effort. I decided that I didn’t have the talent necessary to write it, so I forgot about it. Until I was in my sixties.

Some things I learned about the history of Scotland demanded to be told. I tried to write a fictionalized account of them, but, as with my grandmother’s story, my efforts were lame. But I’d discovered something during the intervening years: most things can be learned, and if you apply yourself, you can do a passable job of quite a few things.

So I set out to learn how to write.

After I wrote my first novel, High on a Mountain, the next thing I wrote was my grandmother’s coming-of-age story. This time, I was happy with it. But now, after it has rested on my computer the four years since I wrote it, I can see it’s woefully lacking. I want it to be a tribute to my grandmother, so I’ve decided to rewrite "The Blue-sprigged Dimity Dress," to make it something she would be proud of.

I’m starting the rewrite today.

Ma, this is for you.

...about formatting for Smashwords.

When you’re a bright and shiny new author with a sparkly story to share, the question is: how are you gonna make it available to likely readers?

The answer used to be: write a query letter. No...write tons of query letters and drop them in the mail. Wait for the rejection slips to pour in. Rinse. Repeat. And some “experts” say you have to continue this process indefinitely. Bleh.

The prospect of that uphill slog discouraged me when I was at the bottom of the hill looking up. Until I found new ways to share my story.

One of them was Smashwords. It amazed me that I could format my manuscript by Smashwords’ guidelines, upload the file, and it would be available to the whole wide world as an ebook within the hour. WOW!

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to computers, text manipulation, or any one of a myriad of other abilities. But I was able to format my story, using the instructions I found in Mark Coker’s Style Guide (which is a free download from the Smashwords site). If I can do it, anyone can do it.

The main thing to remember in this process is: when in doubt, follow the guide.

But here’s a brief idea of how I set up a manuscript for uploading to Smashwords.

First, before I do anything else, I make a copy of the document to work from, then put the original in a safe place, and I don’t touch it. I work from the copy.

And let me mention this: before I even get so far as formatting my manuscript for Smashwords, I do one thing while typing my manuscript that simplifies my life: I never ever use the tab key to indent text. Nor do I use the space bar. I use the Paragraph > Format feature of Word to set indents. But if you’ve used the tab key, remove the tabs from your document using Search and Replace. Same thing goes for space bar indents.

Now, to get started with the formatting, I strip the undisplayed control characters within the text of a document (just because you can’t see them, don’t think they aren’t there. They are there, biding their time, waiting to make hash of your manuscript when it is converted into an ebook. So I remove them as a first step).

I copy the entire text of the document (Select All, Copy), then paste the text into Notepad (Notepad is a nifty little program you can find in your Accessories folder). That strips the embedded word processor control characters from it (except for tabs. They have to be removed manually or with Search and Replace, as I already mentioned).

Close the Word document. Open a new Word document, copy the text from Notepad and paste it into the new Word document.

At this point, you may be thinking your document looks pitiful...no indents and your italicized words are plain jane now. Not to worry. Notepad stripped out the control characters that told Word about the indents and other formatting niceties. We’re going to put them back manually. Here’s how:

1. Highlight all the text using Select All.

2. Go to the Paragraph > Format menu. Click the ‘Special’ drop menu on the right and select ‘First Line.’ A box will appear with the number .5 in it. You can leave the indent set at that amount or you can change it (I usually set my indents to .3).

3. Start at the top of the document and manually re-center chapter headings and any other text that has to be centered. Note: be sure to go into Paragraph > Format and change First Line to None for any text you want to center.

4. Start at the beginning and manually add any italics or bold attributes that Notepad stripped from your text.

5. At the beginning of the document, make a title page, following the Style Guide’s instructions. Include the title, name of author, copyright notice, the Smashwords license notes and any disclaimers (I also include the license notes at the end of the book). I always include attribution and copyright notices for the images used on my covers. I also put other information at the end of the book, like, my website address, contact information and a list of my other books.

And that’s it. I’m ready to upload.

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?