Self-publishing with KDP; China book update; Teddy Update

Self-publishing with KDP: Last year Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Createspace, surrendered to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Amazon made this change before KDP was really ready but now it’s fantastic.

One of the most annoying and complicated aspects of the process with Createspace (and originally with KDP) was getting a cover design that worked. KDP offers templates but since I do an entire cover myself, they’re not very useful to me. BUT KDP now allows an author to edit the cover on its platform to make it fit. Unlike Creatspace, where an author had to have exactly right sized cover art to fit, KDP makes a lot of adjustments within its platform to fit cover art to a book’s interior. For example, Createspace might require that cover art be 13.75 x 9.25 inches (or something) while KDP can take 14 x 9.7 inch cover art and fit it to the project. This is pretty arcane, but if you’ve been there, you know…

I haven’t built an eBook with this new KDP platform, but I will. They offer to translate a paperback file to Kindle. In the past, this was lame and made a Kindle book that my vast quantity of readers complained about. While I have read books via the Kindle app on my phone and iPad, I don’t like it and don’t have a feel for the experience. I rely on others to tell me. To make a more readable ebook, I used iBook to build eBook files and uploaded it to Kindle. This worked fine and garnered no complaints. Maybe KDP has also improved the platform for transferring a paperback file to Kindle. . More arcane stuff that might be totally irrelevant so….

China book: I’ve done all the suggested edits to the China book and now my editor has it again. The coolest thing about her remarks was, “Add more poetry.” I guess I must be old because I never expected to hear that in my entire life and now I’ve lived long enough to hear/read it. ūüėČ I changed the cover to reflect the way illustrations will be integrated into the stories. Since the slides were the secondary inspiration and foundation of the story, I figured out a way to make the idea of old slides part of the book without writing a lot about that (boring). I’m excited to see how a book with color illustrations will turn out. I’m not even sure how to do it.

New cover

Teddy Bear T. Dog Update: This little guy is GREAT. He is hilarious to watch play with Bear; he loves learning new things; he’s affectionate, fun to be with, optimistic and forgiving. He’s learning (finally) to walk with the head collar.

Yesterday I got to watch Bear and Teddy play something like hide’n’seek. Bear stood under a lilac bush. Teddy came racing around it, jumped on her head, fell backwards and got up. It was so funny. Bear has infinite patience with him, and when she’s tired of him, she just doesn’t respond. Lots of lessons in training a puppy that Cesar Milan never came up with, I think. The combination of herding dog (Teddy) and livestock guardian dog (Bear) is perfect. I guess herdsmen have known that forever.

Right now I’m working on teaching Teddy not to freak out when he’s left alone. I put him in my room (where he sleeps) when I walk Dusty and Bear. There’s a lot of doggerwauling (caterwauling of the canine variety) but when we come home he’s asleep. He doesn’t destroy anything, a common problem for Aussies with separation anxiety. He is learning that not everyone ties him up and leaves him behind.

While Teddy might go to California, he might go to Georgia, for all his breezy flying around the yard, I think Teddy wants to stay home.

Self-Archeology

Discovering all those letters I sent my mom from China was a huge surprise. I thought I’d thrown out everything in the Great Purge of 2015. Writing the blog posts about my experiences was fun. Transforming them into something like a coherent book was difficult. Integrating the letters was emotionally intense and when I was finished, I was drained, exhausted.

It’s very strange meeting yourself after 35 years or more and that’s essentially what happened.

Some of what I found was inspiring, some was simply informative, some of it showed me how consistent I have been through time. We are more than the sum of our experiences. We’re also something intrinsically, fundamentally.

Most of all I saw how deeply I loved China.

I also saw the virtue of ignorance — if I’d known more about China and its history leading up to 1982, I might not have gone. But I didn’t know, so I was open to being told by the people around me. In my mind was a vague memory about the Cultural Revolution and, of course, the Beatle’s song, “Revolution,” but as none of that had any meaning to me as a teenager in Colorado Springs, I didn’t pay attention.

When I returned from China I literally read everything I could find, had friends in China send me books, went to LA’s Chinatown to buy books, had a friend in Macao send me books and used the library at San Diego State. I desperately wanted to know where I’d been. It was important, ultimately, to do all that learning away from China and away from the influence and commentary of my Chinese friends who’d all grow up “under the Red Flag.”

For a while I felt that I’d really failed my life since the only great thing I’ve done was go to China for a year, the only adventure but then I thought more about that. What’s an adventure? Yeah, I have regrets over many of the choices I made. I think that’s just part of living long enough to be able to look at your own life as if it were a book. We make some choices because we really don’t know better, or don’t have a clear view of our essential selves, or think we’ll live forever and have time to make it up.

This is the third book I’ve written about my life. All of them are show a character who’s utterly consistent. It’s interesting because several years ago I never imagined writing about my own life experiences. I thought writing memoir was self-indulgent and self- important. Again, a completely consistent aspect of my personality. The very thing I mock or say I would never do is probably the next thing on my agenda.

The most wonderful thing I found in all those letters was this. You need to know my mom didn’t want my brother or I to be artists. She said over and over “Art is a four letter word in this house.” But, the poor woman gave birth to two artists. She thought all artists were Van Gogh, insane geniuses who couldn’t be happy and who sliced off their ears. Still, I wrote her this:

‚ÄúDear Mom, I think art (you can cover your ears if you don’t want to hear about A-R-T) if it’s any good has to be about something. If you just stay in the same place and do the same things always you’ll write one story and make once picture over and over and over…so maybe I’m in the process of preparing to make something.” October 13, 1982

Bear’s Friend?!

Last Saturday I cleaned out the garage and found letters I’d sent my mom from China. I also found three “stories” I’d written back then, one about traveling to Hainan Island, one the script that went with the (long? tedious? boring?) slide show we gave friends and family, and one a proposal for an article. I told my editor to throw out the manuscript I’d sent her. Then I read everything I’d written so long ago and edited my manuscript. I was surprised to find I’d remembered things well. What was more surprising was that the stories I was telling back then are the same ones I’ve written this year. Somehow that made me very happy.

And, I made a book trailer last weekend.

It’s finished again and just at the moment when I saw the end in sight, yesterday, I saw a dog posted by the local dog shelter. I went to see him and he seems perfect for my “family.” He’s a mini-Aussie who looks very much like my dog, Mindy (RIP). He was “advertised” as a Bernese/heeler mix, so I was expecting a MUCH larger dog and was delighted when I saw him. I’ve loved this breed for years. I’ve had two regular sized Aussies and an Aussie mix and they’re great — smart, alert, cooperative, adaptable. I think he’ll figure out his place in the family quickly. Dusty’s a lot more stable with the meds he’s on, too.

I’ve been worried about what Bear would do when Dusty joins Lily and the others in the Enchanted Forest. Bear’s never been an only dog. When I saw the dog’s photo on Facebook I thought, “There’s Bear’s friend.”

The shelter has to keep him for five business days, but I’m going to foster him in the meantime. The shelter is packed to overflowing and most of the dogs there are large, the majority pits, which I love, but this little guy isn’t the dog to stay in a place like that long without losing heart. If his owners do step up, that will be fine, too, but it seems they might not. He was found several days ago by a woman in Del Norte who took him in as long as she could and posted daily that she’d found him.

Anyway, I’m going to go get him in a little while. ūüôā

Otherwise, I finally planted all the veggies that had become house plants. It’s been a cold spring, though every chilly day was one more won from summer. I know, I’m a weirdo.

Scarlet Emperor beans

I’m not hopeful that the garden will be great this year, but the iris and lilac have been spectacular.

That’s pretty much the view from Heaven. I’ve been reading posts from time to time, but not consistently. I’m sorry. The China book has been very compelling and I’ve loved working on it. Now I have some short stories in mind that I might write here since it has worked so well in the past.

Congratulations to the Rag Tag Daily Prompt on surviving for a year and growing. I remember well how it started and wondering if it would survive more than two weeks, but it did. Take that, WordPress. We didn’t need your stinking’ prompts after all!

Halcyon Days

I have a feeling that one’s halcyon days might depend on one’s attitude. I’ve been feeling glum about things. Anyway, woke up in a blue mood, confused and disenchanted. The prompt “halcyon” wasn’t happening.¬†

I realized lately it’s probable that I’ve hit another one of those “turning points” or “crisis junctures” in life, often related to age. Also, maybe, it’s also related to the time of year which everyone agrees isn’t always the “holly jolly” thing it’s supposed to be. In my case, after all the HOPE and striving last year, I have landed square in reality again. It’s OK. It’s a far better reality than that in which I lived last year.

Over the past two days I’ve seen what story the Work in Progress actually is. It’s not a happy story, but it is definitely a Goliard story and it’s a view at a little known aspect of the Middle Ages, though that’s not all it is. I still want to write it, but it’s going to require a lot of discipline and mountain hikes. I wish it would really snow so I could find out if I can still X-country ski. I make take horse-riding lessons. To write this story my life is going to need a very powerful balance toward the good, the happy, the light. Thank goodness I have a pal who’s always ready to go outside with me.

Anyhoo, with all this in mind, I left the story for the day, shopped, cleaned, took the dogs for a walk. At the store a couple of guys were making fun of salad dressing and it just cracked me up.

“All there is is raaanch.”
“I hate raaaanch.”
“Me too, but look at that. Every brand of raaaanch.” (You have to pronounce it in kind of a nasal way like in a cowboy movie)
I had to go where they were to get salad dressing and I said, “You guys are totally cracking me up.”
“Yeah and we haven’t even had anything yet.”
“Wow.”
“What about rawnch.” (Faux British accent)
I laughed. 
“Oh, ranch” (French accent).
“Mai oui. C’est¬†merveilleux.” I said.¬†

Lucky I’m easily amused.¬†

Still in a funk, I took out the dogs. We’ve been walking at the end of the golf course where, if I were a deer, I wouldn’t hang out. Now I think my herd of deer might actually “like” me.¬†

Bear notices them as soon as they are within our “range” which is about 100 yards. I knew they were coming and from where when Bear suddenly stood between me and what seemed to be the “big empty” to the west. I knew then it wasn’t empty, but I didn’t see anything.¬†

We kept walking and from time to time I looked toward the north, toward the parked tanker cars beyond which the deer hang out. Not always “beyond which” I know for fact from their footprints, spray on snowy trees, tracks and Dusty and Bear’s passionate sniffing. Then I looked over at the train and saw big ears turned in my direction under one of the cars. I stopped.¬†

Bear resumed her guardian position. I took Dusty’s collar because we were pretty close — maybe 50 yards away and no real barrier. If he saw them, there was every chance he’d bark and chase. I turned and kept going. When I turned around, one of them had emerged from under the train and was walking toward us.¬†

Well, my deer. “We’re not friends,” I told her. “These are dogs and your dad or husband doesn’t like me.” She stopped. Dusty, Bear and I walked away from them and when I turned around, they were gone.¬†


Then I thought, “What’s really better than this? I can walk. I can write this difficult story. It’s in my power now, but it wasn’t before. I live in this beautiful place. I can spend the winter getting ready to climb mountains this summer. Never before in my life have I had this kind of freedom. So what if I’m old and ugly? Dusty and Bear don’t care and neither do my friends. That’s MY female ego problem, nothing more. So what if I’m approaching that ‘three score and ten’ they go on about in the Bible? I don’t want to live forever anyway. Sure, right now I’m disappointed about some stuff, but who isn’t? These are halcyon days, these winter days with the steeply angled light, the indigo mountains and the promise of snow.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/rdp-monday-halcyon/

Time and Tide

The Goliard novel I’ve begun is as fun to write as The Price wasn’t, at least so far. One of my struggles with The Price¬†was tied to our times. The more I researched into what happened during the mid-18th century great migration to America, the more troubling it all was and the more I feared drifting into an irrelevant polemic about slanted history.¬†

Primary sources can be harsh, but they reveal worlds, and the commentary in our (often politicized) history books can be insipid. I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t despise Christopher Columbus. He was a man of his time, and the times were awful. Maybe he was even better than average.¬†I don’t know if it’s possible to write history without bias but boy, what a wonderful world it would be if that could happen.

History is messy, messier than most of us realize until we are obliged to dig into it. I think that’s how it should be. Our progenitors did not mean for us to live in their world but in our own. They consistently hoped our time would be better than theirs. Even I, looking back at the little bit of history I’ve lived through, hope many of those things don’t return. The future will have its own troubles without carrying the old ones forward with them. (Hey, coterie of anti-vaxers? I’m talking to you. Vaccinate your kids, for the love of god.)

Anyhoo, I don’t where this blog post is going, so…¬†


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/rdp-wednesday-coterie/

“Schneeballs?”

image_562777025843467

Cold morning out here in the real west (no surprise). I’m sad that one cup of coffee is (for good reasons, not the least of which the second doesn’t taste that good) the limit. That one cup is so good…

The chilly draft in my 90 year old house swirls around my wool-socked feet. I have two manuscripts on the table here, and one has been printed into a book. The best part of that is that I spelled the faux title of my own novel wrong. Never mind it’s the name of members of my own family. I’m an endless sense of amusement and frustration to myself.

The thing of printing a manuscript into a book is that it’s very helpful to me in the proofreading process. This isn’t a legit book in terms of formatting and other stuff, but it’s book-like.

It’s been edited professionally, something I wish I had been wise enough to do for¬†Martin of Gfenn. Every subsequent book has had that advantage and it’s major. There’s also the thing (with a self-published book) that each time you need to deal with the manuscript you risk typos. At this point with¬†Martin of Gfenn the typos are mostly spacing problems, still, who wants that?

In any case, yesterday when the book-like-thing arrived I thumbed through it and realized (for the first time) that I like the story. I saw what I have done — I have written a love story that’s not smarmy and predictable. I have created a complex female protagonist with integrity, passion, and genuine feelings. My male protagonist (antagonist?) never overcomes his flaws or sees them; he’s consistently himself and worthy of Aescylus or some guy like that.

When I started this book, I fought it all the way. I didn’t want to write about a woman, and there was nothing about the male hero that I liked.

One thing that happens when a person writes fiction is they soon discover that the people in the stories are not “their creations” at all but the emerge all on their own and demand to be themselves.

But they’re pretty loose about how you spell their names…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/rdp-thursday-loose/

Of Mice and Music

One of fall’s quaint customs is the return of vermin. Mice. Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of experience getting the little sons-a-bitches, and I’m determined to win. So far it’s one down and godnose how many remain. It’s a little-known fact that mice travel in malevolent packs and eat bananas

In other news, since I have no story to write at the moment (waiting for my novel to come back from my editor) I pulled out the “never finished story” and started working on it. For some reason, I also decided to listen to The Pretenders, in depth. I have always liked¬†them but I never listened to their music in any profound or concentrated way.

Wow.

It’s always surprising that the best songs don’t make the radio.

I’m in love with their first album. I got hooked by this, “Precious,” the very first song:

Now Howard the duck and Mr Stress both stayed
“Trapped in a world that they never made”
But not me baby I’m too precious
Fuck off

Back in the day when this album was recorded and Howard the Duck Comix came out I was THAT person. As I rode the bike to nowhere and heard this song, I saw me walking down a crowded Denver street in bright red oxfords (not Dr. Maartens, please, it was 1979 or 80) composing a poem in my head. I was on my way to work. I’d bought Howard the Duck the day before and absolutely loved the sentence, “Trapped in a world he never made.” The sentence was echoing around in my “soon-to-be-at-the-law-firm-I’m-a-paralegal” brain.

It’s not nostalgia. I never heard this music before, but like manna from Heaven, the perfect soundtrack for eliminating redundancies from the book that’s never finished, the love stories that couldn’t jell.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/rdp-monday-quaint/

Do You Want to Know What Comes Before?

Yesterday you may have learned that I’m struggling with a story. It’s about the same family you may have met in Savior and¬†The Brothers Path but 200+ after the events in The Brothers Path and 500+ years after the events in Savior.¬†

It would help me a lot to know if, reading this, you’d like to know more about these people. Also, who seems to be the main character (to you). Here’s how it ends:

To Weber’s good fortune, Brandstetter fastened the loaded cart to the wagon. Kasparli and Vrenli would ride in the wagon with Brandstetter’s children. Hans Kaspar and Weber would follow behind.

‚ÄúConrad, you get up on Little Red. Let‚Äôs see how you drive a team of Conestoga horses.‚ÄĚ Brandstetter motioned to the immense red animal to his left, closest to the wagon.

Conrad leapt up onto the horse, and in reflex and instinct, patted its neck.

‚ÄúLet‚Äôs move,‚ÄĚ said Brandstetter, when everyone was settled, hitched up and organized. ‚ÄúFirst stop, Germantown church. Next stop, Lancaster. Then four hundred miles on the Old Indian Warpath. Get them going, son,‚ÄĚ Brandstetter handed Conrad a whip. He flicked it lightly over the horses‚Äô heads. The team shook its¬†harness bells, and the small procession began its trek into the vast wild of America.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing

There’s a lot out there about how to be a writer, but, at the very heart of being one¬†is William S. Burroughs’ description of Kerouac. “Well, Kerouac was a writer. That is he wrote.”

I read a blog post yesterday that left me thinking about where I was when I started — I actually started writing as a small child, so I don’t mean then — but when I started writing novels intentionally (1998?) vs. where I am now. I’ve learned some stuff.

I’ll start by “where I am now” in the most literal sense. I have this¬†WordPress blog because a book I read three? Four? years ago said, “A good way to promote your work is by having a WordPress blog.” Whether a person’s work is conventionally or self published, it needs to be promoted, a task falling more and more on the shoulders of the author. At the time I read that book, I had two novels to promote and had begun a third.

Once on WordPress, I found the “Daily Prompt.” I already wrote everyday without someone telling me to write every day, but, following the instructions in the book, I decided to “attempt” (there is nothing difficult about it, IMO) the daily prompt. Back then it wasn’t just a word; it was a topic. OK. I thought it was stupid and in no way a challenge, but I did it.

The reward? I’m not going to talk about the relationships I have built with others, though I’d say that’s a yuge reward. I’ll stick to the more writerly rewards.

Because of the Daily Prompt, I wrote some short stories I would never have written or even thought of. Not a lot of them, but one of them won an award last year. Here it is¬†as it appeared first, here on WordPress. The prompt was: “The Setting‚Äôs the Thing:¬†Today, we challenge you to create a compelling setting for your story. ¬†‘A man and his wife meet for lunch in a diner on August 5th, 1970, in New York City. She‚Äôs pregnant and plans to spill the beans over lunch’.‚ÄĚ

I ended up loving the story and I would never have written it without the “Daily Prompt” mandate I’d given myself. I was wrapped up in writing The Brothers Path, not thinking of any other stories. I¬†like writing short fiction and, in this consequence-less world of the Daily Prompt, it’s easy just to¬†write something.

That brings up the question of inspiration vs. discipline. My art teacher in high school said not to wait for inspiration, meaning, don’t just paint when you’re inspired. Paint all the time. He was right, actually. The short stories I wrote first here on WordPress, and later refined on my computer, were not the result of inspiration but of discipline, choosing to do the prompt and sticking with it.

What do you get if you “paint every day?” You get better at painting. You get ideas you didn’t know you had. You paint things you never thought of painting. The same has been true for me writing the daily prompt. Write every day? Get better at writing.

Discipline is also humility. This is important to me as a writer. No inspired person is humble. The word “inspiration”¬†means the gods are breathing life into you. In the moments of inspiration you are as close to a divinity as possible, carried away on the wings of angels — NOTHING can go wrong; EVERYTHING is perfect; your work is AMAZING because the experience in which you are enveloped is transcendent, miraculous. Discipline is the key to knowing that, when the glorious moment is over, you’ll have to sit down and revise…

There’s¬†a lot written on the question of revision. I think there are several kinds, or perhaps levels. There’s revision as you write (you pay attention to what comes out of your fingers). There’s revision after you’ve written something — a paragraph, a page, a chapter. There’s revision at the level of looking (objectively) at a completed project to see if you’ve done all you can to make it as good as it can possibly be. That’s revision for all the “pretty” things of writing, where a writer can make choices about HOW a story is told. In writing¬†Martin of Gfenn I learned the hard way that, in a very real way, there are two novels; one is the story; the other is the WAY the story is written. It was that discovery that transformed me from a hack¬†taking dictation from “the gods” into¬†an artist.

And, then there are readers. I believe that every writer who is serious at all wants people to read their work. I have accepted that my novels are not on the public pulse, and I understand that doesn’t make me a bad writer or my novels not worth reading. It’s a big world out there and market forces drive sales, I don’t. Burroughs also said that every writers’ work reveals the writer. I have certainly learned a lot about myself by seeing what I have dedicated myself to writing.

At this point — after 3+ years writing this blog — I have just over 1,000 followers.

I am writing a novel now. I don’t know how it’s going to come together — it’s “finished” in the sense that I have written the beginning, the middle and the end, but it’s still a very unfinished work. I don’t even know who the protagonist is. If you write historical fiction, you are bounded by historical events, so it’s possible to “know” a story without having a story, in a sense.

As I go¬†to¬†it at least once a day for however long I can stand it, I think about writer’s block, something I’ve always mocked saying, “So don’t write! Ha ha! Or write something else!”

Yeah, well, once more, live and learn.

Book Marketing Update

I know you are all on pins and needles, so here’s what’s going on.

I sent 3 copies of¬†The Brothers Path to Mastof Books. I’m excited that I’ll be included in their catalog in October!

Summoned up the courage to call the local independent bookstore. I’m going there on Monday with my three novels to see if they want to stock them.

My first blog tour keeps attracting tour hosts which is great for me. Got another one today and that makes 12!!

Got an interview for Savior that will be on IndieBRAG at some point soon.

I finally realized I had to do bookkeeping for this “business” and spent six hours¬†today¬†setting that up. There’s so much going on that it should probably be kept on several different spreadsheets, but I have it on one (in various colors). The most depressing part (besides it being difficult) so far I’m into this $1000 for comp-copies of books, advertising (including virtual book tours), and giveaways.

I know that’s not much when it comes to advertising — but YIKES!!! For that money I’ve gotten copies of my books to sell (like to Mastof Books and, hopefully, Narrow Gauge Newstand) and give aways (as on Goodreads) and for reviewers (the virtual book tours) and advertising on Goodreads — ads linked to the give aways. So far that has motivated people to add my books to their “to read” lists and I’ve gotten a review from that.

I was very happy when things added up on my very out-there spreadsheet; that the number of books I’ve bought equates to the number I have + the number I’ve given away + the number I’ve “sold.”

After that, with a splitting headache, I road the Bike to Nowhere for 10 “miles.” Exercise, even that, is a great relaxer and attitude adjuster. And, you know, I got to listen to Eminem, who reminded me once more not to give up.

And tomorrow I can to to the Potato Festival with a clear conscience and free mind.

***