Monday, April 30, 2012

Slowed Economic Recovery/Realistic Expectations

The timing of our recovery as a nation is reported to be slower than expected, (Time Business - Spring Slowdown: Is the U.S. Economic Recovery Stalling?)I hope it is because we are being wiser with our monies as individuals. I also think that we as a nation have come to the realization that we have to work harder for our money than we used to and therefore will not spend what we do earn quite so carelessly. Sure, there are a lot more factors involved, but overall, we are going through a time of change as a nation.
 
As a writer, I don't expect that my writings will just start selling like free hotcakes in front of a hungry crowd. I will have to consistently market and build a name for myself and that takes time. The hope is that if I head in the same direction for a long enough time that the hard work will pay off. In the mean time, I am enjoying myself, so don't think my life is all hard work and no play.

Haven't you found that you need to spend a little more carefully?


Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Marketing

I never realized how much work is involved in marketing a self-published book. Somehow I had the notion that once I wrote the book, it would miraculously sell. I didn't expect a block buster but still! So, as I continue in this field of short story writing, I find that I still have a lot to learn. It's all right as I do love learning and I realize that real success does take hard work.

So onward - my book trailer is under development, people are continuing to download my books and I am developing my whole online presence as a writer. When I can, I take the time to develop my latest story. 

I need reviews for my book and stories. If you are a writer and need a review for your book, please consider exchanging works for reviews.You can drop me a line at heidebraley@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Trailers

Today I am planning on researching how to design and build a book trailer for my book, The Meanderings of a Pen - a Collection of Short Stories. I had no idea that such a medium was even used for books, but it is really a clever way of giving prospective readers a quick glance inside your book. My challenge will be that instead of setting the mood for one story, I have twenty stories to present. Hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to post the finished result and you can be the judge of it.
Update: You can now view my trailer on the right side column of this blog. (5/1/2012)
One thing I am learning as I write and publish stories is the tremendous amount of work involved in marketing a book. I read the article, How Darcie Chan Became a Best-Selling Author by the Wall Street Journal. Before she published her novel as an ebook last May(2011), she could not find any publishers willing to take it on and she left it alone for five years, sitting in a drawer. Nine months after publishing online, she sold over 400,000 copies and had film studios knocking on her door to make it into a movie, but still no publishers. It just shows that the market is changing and we need to adapt.

We are having a wonderful spring here in Maryland, lots of cool days and chilly nights. Weather like this is perfect for getting yard work done before the humid heat of the summer hits. Today is raining so I can write...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take Time to Stop Writing

Old Accountant
One of the wonderful things about writing is not writing. Yesterday, I put a good dent in a new story and then donned my work gloves and did a little planting in our garden. Beans, peas, beets and dill seed are now getting ready to sprout in the cool ground. I have some tomato seeds sprouting in the kitchen but it is still too cool outside for the tropical vegetables right now. 

I think it is important for writers to take breaks from their writing to recharge their imagination and to see how other people around them are experiencing life. The older I get, the more I realize that there are all sorts of people who don't see life as I do. It's both strange and wonderful and sometimes frustrating. 

I read a blog this morning about a college student who writes about living on the edge of town in the not-so-good housing because it's cheap. As he says, "those of us who habit these borderlands of pending gentrification usually have a corner store where you can stop and purchase anything you need:  gas, condoms, bath salts, you know the basics to have a good time.  But that's not half the fun, no my friends, the best thing about the neighborhood corner store are the people that hang around outside." You can read more of it here: Tales of The Genomic Repairman. He hit it on the head, it's the people that are interesting and as he describes so well, fun to categorize. 
 
I borrowed this picture from here


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dealing with Conflict

No, this is not a counseling blog - it is a way of thinking that generates stories. Since we all face conflicts just about every day unless we live in a bubble, we can relate to short stories that tell of unexpected conflicts or at least unexpected solutions for normal conflicts. So, maybe you have a roommate that irks you because he is just too noisy, you want to resolve the conflict by stopping or reducing the noise. But would you go so far as to drug him, only to find out that you gave twice as much as you should have.... Sometimes the resolution we think will solve the conflict actually does more harm than good, making our frustration worse. Conflict is what makes the world go round, unfortunately for those who think that peace is the answer for everything. 

Who do you like to read about - someone who tries to fix a problem, or someone who avoids it, or maybe someone who pretends there is no conflict? I think if I read a story about someone who avoids or pretends that there is no conflict, I want another person or event in the story to wake them up and resolve the conflict.
Dennis Jerz advises writers to intensify the conflicts, in his article, Short Stories: Developing Ideas for Short Fiction. Think up intriguing, surprising combinations when writing short stories.

Another good site is Short Story Elements where the writer explains, conflict is essential to plot.  Without conflict there is no plot.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Setting the Mood

When you write a short story, you have to try and set the mood as soon as possible to draw the reader in before the story ends. Long stories such as in novels take their time since they have pages and pages to fill and you slowly absorb the mood in a more leisurely pace. You can use dialogue such as, "I told you never to set a foot in my house again, you lousy cheat." It pretty much says the story is about a fight between husband and wife. Or you can use descriptive words such as, The heavy air under the weight of the slate blue sky pressed on my thoughts, making me feel small. 

Mood is the emotions that you (the reader) feel while you are reading. Some literature makes you feel sad, others joyful, still others, angry. (Tone and Mood) You can also call it the atmosphere of your story. Words paint feelings on paper. In my story, Idiot Thieves, I start the story with the sentence, "My day started as normal with my getting up and getting the coffee brewing for the morning, taking a shower and then feeding the cat." It shows a pretty normal person going through their humdrum morning ritual, setting the mood for a later surprise. In another story, My Secret House, I use the line, "Where shall I start?" to show a complicated situation around a specific incident.

When I try to think of story lines, sometimes I will hear someone say a phrase that will be enough to get my imagination going, but often it is a picture that really opens the doors of a story for me. What works for you?

My latest story, Who Am I? came from a photo I took while vacationing in Seattle of a raging river. Somehow, I could imagine a person trying to white-water raft through the seething water and my story starts, My first thought I remember was, “How can I get out of this water?” but it was more of an instinct than a collected thought...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Can It Be Friday So Soon?

I hear older folks often whining that time goes by so fast. But it doesn't really. Each day is passing at the same rate as it did when we were babies. What changed? Maybe it is boredom. As a child, we had so much time to sit and be bored with whatever our parents and teachers thought might be good for us to do. As adults, we do what we want for the most part, and since we fill our waking lives up with relationships and responsibilities, we end up with very little of that boring time that slowed everything down. When we do have time on our hands, we immediately fill it up with watching television, eating, reading, listening to music - anything but quiet thinking. I am a prime culprit of this evolution and do not expect that I will change, but I refuse to start saying that time is passing by so quickly - I am afraid that I will then stop enjoying my days as much.

I think the generations after me will struggle even more as their pace of life has been faster than mine. A simple example is how satisfying it was to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom as a child on Sundays with my parents. I was spellbound and thoroughly enjoyed every second of watching. On the other hand, when my children flick through television stations, they almost never stop to watch such shows, as they consider them too boring. If you go back a couple of generations, my grandparents' childhood must have been extremely boring compared to mine - or was it? Isn't it the boring times that force us to be creative, explore and to invent? 
 
Just makes me wonder...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Length of a Short Story?

I received a review on one of my stories, Asleep On The Beach, that the reader enjoyed the story but thought it was a little short. It prompted me to double check and make sure that I was writing my stories long enough. According to Fiction Factor by Lee Masterson, a short story is anywhere from 1,000 to 7,500 words long. My minimum is 3,000 words and I usually don't go much beyond 4,000 words, so I think I am within the ballpark by his standards. 

Another great website for short stories, Classic Short Stories, has a list of many of the classics like Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, O. Henry, Rudyard Kipling, Guy de Maupassant and Jack London to name just a few. They wrote usually between 1,500 and 10,000. (You can read many of the stories there for free as well.)

I guess the trick is in the writing so that the reader doesn't feel like they have been jipped when they get to the end of the story. Here is an example of a story about the third of the length that I usually write, but it gets the point across.

 
Monday dawned warm and rainless. Aurelio Escovar, a dentist without a degree, and a very early riser, opened his office at six. He took some false teeth, still mounted in their plaster mold, out of the glass case and put on the table a fistful of instruments which he arranged in size order, as if they were on display. He wore a collarless striped shirt, closed at the neck with a golden stud, and pants held up by suspenders He was erect and skinny, with a look that rarely corresponded to the situation, the way deaf people have of looking.

When he had things arranged on the table, he pulled the drill toward the dental chair and sat down to polish the false teeth. He seemed not to be thinking about what he was doing, but worked steadily, pumping the drill with his feet, even when he didn't need it.

After eight he stopped for a while to look at the sky through the window, and he saw two pensive buzzards who were drying themselves in the sun on the ridgepole of the house next door. He went on working with the idea that before lunch it would rain again. The shrill voice of his elevenyear-old son interrupted his concentration.

"Papa."

"What?"

"The Mayor wants to know if you'll pull his tooth."

"Tell him I'm not here."

He was polishing a gold tooth. He held it at arm's length, and examined it with his eyes half closed. His son shouted again from the little waiting room.

"He says you are, too, because he can hear you."

The dentist kept examining the tooth. Only when he had put it on the table with the finished work did he say:

"So much the better."

He operated the drill again. He took several pieces of a bridge out of a cardboard box where he kept the things he still had to do and began to polish the gold.

"Papa."

"What?"

He still hadn't changed his expression.

"He says if you don't take out his tooth, he'll shoot you."

Without hurrying, with an extremely tranquil movement, he stopped pedaling the drill, pushed it away from the chair, and pulled the lower drawer of the table all the way out. There was a revolver. "O.K.," he said. "Tell him to come and shoot me."

He rolled the chair over opposite the door, his hand resting on the edge of the drawer. The Mayor appeared at the door. He had shaved the left side of his face, but the other side, swollen and in pain, had a five-day-old beard. The dentist saw many nights of desperation in his dull eyes. He closed the drawer with his fingertips and said softly:

"Sit down."

"Good morning," said the Mayor.

"Morning," said the dentist.

While the instruments were boiling, the Mayor leaned his skull on the headrest of the chair and felt better. His breath was icy. It was a poor office: an old wooden chair, the pedal drill, a glass case with ceramic bottles. Opposite the chair was a window with a shoulder-high cloth curtain. When he felt the dentist approach, the Mayor braced his heels and opened his mouth...(continue)



 













 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wimpy or Good?

What makes a good story different from a wimpy story? According to Michael Parent in The Storytellers Guide, the problem with a wimpy story is that it gives too easy a solution. That means when you look for interesting characters, they have to be able to live through circumstances that have tougher solutions than we find in everyday life - otherwise the account of their experience is normal and therefore wimpy. Everyday life lacks the spark that makes us sit up and notice, even though we might be rubbing shoulders with people who are very interesting if we took the time to listen to them.

I once met a blind girl, Aeriel Gilbert on a plane while flying to San Francisco. After a few hours of sitting next to her, I found out that she had been blinded by a vandal's act of replacing eye solution with drain cleaner. She went from being a normal nurse to the Outreach Manager for the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization on the West Coast. Not only that, she took up rowing, winning many medals to the point of carrying the Olympic Torch through the streets of San Francisco with her dog at her side. If I hadn't sat next to her, I would have just seen her as a blind lady on the plane, when in fact she was an extraordinary person already featured in the Incredible People Magazine
 
Who have you met that is extraordinary?


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Open Your Windows

Last night was warm enough to keep our windows open during the night. After a winter of silent, sterile sounds each night, I felt like there was an orchestra outside. The tree frogs were singing in their two-tone chants, the few crickets were making their chirps heard, barred owls on the hunt were sounding off, a few Canada geese would honk as if someone was disturbing them once in a while. By the time dawn arrived, hundreds of birds woke to sing in the day with the white-throated sparrow leading the pack just ahead of the crows. Sure there was the rumble of the freight train off in the distance and the occasional hot rod using the empty night road to clean out his carburetor, but the sounds of wildlife were more noticeable.
 
By taking the time to listen and pay attention to details, you can better describe scenes in your writing and transport readers to their own backyards, whether they are simply a childhood memory or where they currently live. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Setting the Surroundings

story, short story, romance, chesapeake, water, fishingWhen I go to write a story, I often find it is easiest to describe the current weather for the surroundings in my stories. Today is an extra warm day and so when I write, I will describe how I react to the heat. I also can look outside and use the current season for an accurate description of types of trees that might be blooming or leafing out. This is an easy way to research weather and conditions for certain times of the year. If I try to write about winter in the middle of summer, I tend to struggle with the actual feelings that winter brings. A simple example is - in April, we can't wait for summer to come so we can enjoy the warmth and swimming but when August comes and the heat is unbearable, all we want is cold weather again. 
Today is April 16, but we are supposed to get up to 90 degrees. That is a radical change from frost warnings just a few days ago!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Who Are You?

We have all imagined what would happen if we died suddenly. I usually think of my kids first, wondering if they will be safe. Since they are all adults now, that is not quite an issue. Then I think of my husband, Eric and how sad it would make him and finally about our financial affairs, whether or not everything is in order.

But have you ever thought what would happen if you lost your memory? That part of gray matter in your head that holds the link to your name, your personality, your likes and dislikes, your friendships, even your religion, is far more important than any purse or wallet that a thief might grab.

Makes me wonder... What if you were whitewater rafting and got separated from your friends after wiping out?

Today is Friday and that means it is time to list some free e-books for the weekend. Check out: What Was That? and My Secret House and Idiot Thieves.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Looking for Opportunities

My newest story is live on Amazon, My Secret House
Today, I look for another story line and am thinking of guilt and shame and how powerful they are in our lives. Of course, if I just leave it at that, every reader of this blog is going to have their own idea of what I am going to write about. We all have our own list of things that have either happened to us personally or to a friend that we are not so happy to admit to. Most of them are not something we really want to read about but there are times when people hide stories that are really quite intriguing and not so terrible as they think.
Seagull, washington, picnic, park, humorous
It is the seemingly terrible things that can change our lives or at least our perception of life. Isn't that what all the motivational speakers like to tell us - we can't succeed without failure? I like to hear that other people go through uncomfortable times - not for the mistakes but for the way they reacted afterwards. Haven't most of us grown up enough to realize that we are all flawed? Who wants to live in a sterile world where no mistakes happen? Even worse is living in an environment where everyone pretends to be perfect.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dreaming Story Lines

view, new york, park, hiking, short story
World's End State Park
Yesterday I mentioned that I really get involved in the characters in my stories, sometimes finding it hard to break away from the story and get back to reality. Well last night, I actually dreamed that I was in my story, My Secret House, walking and walking, but I couldn't take real steps . Of course, the story line was all messed up like dreams are with bits of reality and dream all mixed together. I will say that I was able to feel the frustration and pain in my feet that I will use to enhance the mood of my story.

On another note, I noticed in an article by Josh Hruska  in Amazon, B&N, and Publishers Slug it Out Over e-Books While Libraries Suffer, that there are reports of friction between six major publishing firms and Amazon. I wonder just how the changing markets are going to settle down. E-books are not going away but neither are the paper-bound books. I am not really sure why there is so much conflict since the majority of books are written and formatted on computers and ready for paper binding as well as e-publishing with just minor adjustments between the two styles. As usual, I think it is money that is the heart of the issue since the rock and mortar institutions have been able to charge an exorbitant amount of money for a product that today just doesn't cost that much to produce anymore. To be a player in the new environment, they will have to adjust.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Story Sales

This morning I was looking over the distribution of my stories and was pleasantly surprised to see that Snow Dog tops the ranks with more than 50 percent more sales than the others. Broken Friendship comes in second. With Amazon's tracking and data reporting, I can watch the sales and see which ones do better than others. Of course, this will help me to see what people are interested in reading and I can direct my new stories in that direction.

Today I am working on a story called, My Secret House and look forward to bringing it to a conclusion. When I write, I get into the story and feel the emotions of the story. If I don't have time to finish, I tend to feel the unresolved tension from the characters almost as if I were living through my words. It's kind of bizarre and I need to remind myself to keep reality separate from my writing or my family will start worrying about me.

What kind of short stories do you like?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Catchy Titles

After a relaxing weekend with family, I am looking forward to writing. One of the things my brother mentioned about my new book, The Meanderings of a Pen, was that he liked the catchy titles of my stories. Some people write a story and then add a title, but I almost always think of the title first and then write the story from there. Once in a while, the story will take an unexpected turn and I will need to adjust the title, but not usually.

One of the habits I have is taking a small observation and then expanding it to be a large conclusion. I was reading about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who is famous for using this practice for his wonderful stories filled with such suspense and mystery. He based Sherlock Holmes' character from his boss, Dr. Joseph Bell from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary who liked to weave tales about ordinary circumstances.

So, enough contemplating - I need to get writing...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday, Good or Holy or What?

If you do a little studying about the Friday before Easter, it is amazing to see all the customs that different cultures and countries engage in on this day. 
 
Depending on what you believe, you might be fasting or feasting, working or worshiping, dancing or praying - it is truly remarkable to see the huge variance. Did you know that in Bermuda, they celebrate with kite flying? or that in Cuba, they are considering making Good Friday a holiday for the first time this year? or that in Britain, they serve hot cross buns? or that any public performances involving dancing are banned today in Germany? or that the stock market is closed in the US but banks and the post offices stay open? while in Ireland all the pubs are closed? Wow!

So, whether you are working today or are going to church or starting spring break from school, I hope you enjoy your day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Personal Stories

This morning I was reading some excerpts from a magazine I like - Sun magazine - "an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than thirty years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human." In it, there are stories written by readers talking about non-fictional events that happened to them personally. Some are amazing and others are obviously more of a personally important event. It made me think of personal stories I have and wondering which might be interesting enough to others to create a story...

So this is Thursday and Easter is this Sunday so I should probably get my groceries for the weekend now to avoid the rush of others trying to grab their supplies, or the absence of the essentials that I think I need. 
 
This is the time of year when it seems like so many projects need attention at once. Mulching, weeding, planting, painting, cleaning...maybe I'll just do some more writing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hot Off the Press!

I finally finished a story I have been working on for a few days. I was just sentences from finishing two days ago when my computer shut down unexpectedly and I lost pages of work. Not sure why it didn't automatically save since I was working in Word and it usually does. 

So here it is, What Was That? It's a short story about frightening booms in the middle of the night in a small New England town. It is based on an actual event but totally manipulated to make it more of a story than a news event. I hope readers enjoy it as something different but totally possible.

Here are a few lines as a teaser: 


“What was that?” Diane sat up abruptly in bed. “Mike, listen. Did you hear that?” She shook his shoulder as she sat in the darkness of their bedroom.
“What? Hey, what’s up?” Mike pulled himself up to his elbow, trying to focus in the dark room.
“Listen,” she paused for a couple of seconds. “I just heard a loud boom and the whole bed shook.” Diane talked in a hushed voice, hoping to hear the sound again so Mike could hear it.
“It’s probably just someone excavating at the quarry or something. Let’s go back to sleep,” Mike said as he pulled the quilt back up over his shoulders.
“I don’t know, maybe. Just seemed strange this late at night...”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Color or Black and White?

I recently finished preparing my book for printing after several rounds of editing and reformatting. I thought I was finished and submitted my manuscript to CreateSpace for printing. I was shocked to find that it was going to cost close to $30 for my book as it was. Who would ever buy it? It was not worth that much and I was very disappointed.
 
However, I didn't give up but kept reading and studying on what I could do. I found out that the pictures in my book that introduced each story were my problem. I assumed that they would be printed in color while the text would be printed in black, just as they looked in my Word document. I had twenty pictures and figured out that each of them cost over a dollar to print in color. I had to ask myself if I needed them in color or did it even matter? It only took me a second to answer that question! I am publishing stories, not pictures.

So now my first short story book, The Meanderings of a Pen is available at a much more reasonable price. As you can see, this is a learning process.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mark Twain

Did you know that Samuel Clemens was a real riverboat pilot on the Mississippi? It took him two years of studying 2000 miles of the Mississippi before he earned the license and he then used it for almost three years before the Civil War broke out. His pen name, Mark Twain is from the the cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms, "mark twain" when it was safe to navigate. He was able to use his personal experiences to create some of the best stories known to the United States.

I think by writing about what you have lived through, you can create the feelings and emotions of an event much better than if you are just trying to imagine them. Samuel Clemens lived during the era of slavery and could write well about the relationships of the children of the slaves since he actually had friends that were slaves. He stopped going to school at age 13 but instead he educated himself in libraries and you can feel his disregard for the schoolhouse in his stories.

Each generation has their own set of circumstances for the basis of their writings and it is up to them to find the parts of life that are interesting enough to save on paper for future generations. What have you lived through?