Wednesday, September 6, 2017

IWSG: September Surprises

It's been a busy month. So busy, that I haven't posted here in a while. What's been going on?

Our exchange student from Denmark arrived mid-way through the month. We've been having a great time showing her around town and getting her ready for school. The school here is MUCH bigger than what she's used to, but she did well on her first day. It's only going to get busier from here now that we have two high school students to play taxi and supportive parent for.

I volunteered to serve as a mentor for a Wesleyan University online course on NaNoWriMo preparation. Which means I've been busy answering questions and reviewing assignments for participants in the class. Oh, and taking the class myself. Because I have a ton of free time... (or I'm just a bit crazy).

As an ML for NaNo, these next two months are planning for regional activities time. The fact that this is year nine as ML makes this not near so daunting. We generally have this down. Except the venue I use for my giant mid-month write-in may not be an option this year because they're moving. Add that to my list of things to do along with waiting to meet the ML's I'll be mentoring in the next couple weeks. Here's hoping they don't need a lot of my time and attention or that I don't need sleep.

So anywho, nothing going on here, just lounging around. So hey, why don't we take a few moments for this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group post. 

Question: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? (For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?)

Yes, definitely. If you've ever done NaNo and read your efforts months or year later, you'll find some portions of the chaos that amaze you. Did I write that? I don't distinctly remember writing that, but holy crap, it's pretty damn good! Even better is when you edit and revise a project and set it aside for a while then go back and read it. I'm often surprised how much I enjoy reading those stories even though I know what happens.  

I've pushed myself to write in third, to write multiple points of view, to do dueling points of view, to write dystopian, fantasy, and more romance scenes than I would have been comfortable with years ago. Beyond my usual novels, I've written short stories and short novels. 

Keep trying new things. They may not work out. I have a whole folder of things that didn't work out. But, I also have multiple folders of projects that did work. You never know what your capable of until you give it a shot. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer Project: Building The Pond

No, I'm not writing a book about The Pond. In between attending author events and book signings, I've been busy digging and lugging and getting downright muddy with a real pond.

I thought this was a lot of rocks...ha! 
You may remember this photo from a previous post.

See all those rocks flowing down the hill? I collected those from a house across town van load by van load three years ago. Then I unloaded them in a big pile. A year later, I moved them all to this hill. Who needs a weight set?

The digging has begun.
Well, I decided it was finally time to do what I intended with those rocks rather than let them be the haven for snakes and weeds they had become. So this summer, it was time to build a pond. Two of them actually. But it started with moving all those rocks again, but only a few feet to either side this time.

I'm not good at stopping to take pictures when I'm in the middle of a project, but here's where I was after several days of moving and digging. The top pond was difficult as the first foot was hard clay, rather like cement. Thankfully, nature took mercy on me and provided sand for the rest of the depth. The top pond is 3 foot by 5 foot and 2.5 feet deep.
I tried to give the waterfall some
angles to make it more interesting.

It appears it was spring when I first began this project because the tulips are just done blooming. Summer really rushed by this year!

There are 23 feet between the top and bottom ponds. All of which needed to be made into a series of waterfalls. I spent a lot of time standing and staring at the hillside. It was much like contemplating a scene when writing. A lot of chin scratching, some scrunchy faces, tipping of head from side to side, walking up and down the hill and standing in various places along the way. Days passed, summer moved along.

My collection of rocks included two nice slabs of marble, which I planned to use for my upper and lower fall. The smaller falls used various flat rocks that I had around. With the fall as long as it is and as wide as I ended up making it, I ended up having to borrow from the newer pile of rocks I'd bought and moved here this spring. There was much moving of rocks, a bit of swearing, and two blackened fingertips that were caught between rocks as they shifted into place (and quite a lot of swearing at those moments).

I hit up my local Lowes for their clearance broken bags of stones and pebbles to fill in the gaps.

As you can see from the photos there are a lot of tall plants next to the waterfall. They weren't tall when I planted them there, but we have super soil. That meant I spent some time digging out a lot of overgrown plants. Though I was able to give some of them away, several of my prospective plant takers failed to get back to my and my patience ran out. I did expand some of my flower garden area on the hillside to accommodate some of the offending plants, but the rest got pitched out into the field. Hard as they are, they may grow there and naturalize the otherwise boring field of weeds. If not, oh well. I have plenty more of those particular flowers.

Work began on the lower pond. I wanted this one to be deep enough that the bottom (hopefully) wouldn't freeze. I also wanted it big enough to support fish and plants and help fill the space on the hill.

The first foot and half was again hard work, though not because of clay this time, but because when the house was built, the excavators had shoved all the yucky piles of debris onto the hill because the soil was good. Unfortunately, it also included a lot of what had been tree roots and stinky black dirt. It smelled so bad! Once I got through the two feet of random wood bits from the excavators, I got live wood bits thanks to tree roots, both from trees still here and those we had removed before building. There was much clipping of roots and swearing and hacking of roots with shovels.
The shovel and I grew very close over the weeks that passed.
The lower pond is 5 feet by 9 feet and has steps at 2, 3 and 4 feet, with the lowest section at 5 feet deep. Even more fun than digging all that dirt out was deciding where to go with it. I don't mind digging. Lugging carts full of dirt is not my favorite thing. It's not even something I sort of like. In fact, I dislike it very much. After awhile I enlisted my husband to take the dirt carts away with the lawnmower to patch up the lawn wherever he wanted.

Then came the issue of doing a pond on a hillside. Where does one determine the level of the pond when one side is significantly higher than the other? I decided to make a step on the tall side and raise up the short side with some of the dirt from the pond to even out the difference.

There was much anticipation while
I waited for the top pond to fill and
water to start down the fall.
Just when I thought the digging was over, I remembered I would need to dig a trench along side the whole thing for the pipe to bring water from the bottom to the top and for the electric that would need to come down from the house to the pump and filter in the bottom pond. Oh good! More digging!

I ended up going with 1.5 inch irrigation hose for my waterline because of the distance from the pump. This allowed for a good flow of water down the fall. It makes for a lovely rush of water sound that draws birds, butterflies, and frogs. Yesterday, a heron came. It was pretty, but it better not eat my fish. Hopefully, the dogs in the yard will chase it off again like they did today.

Yes, there are fish. The top pond is home to a lively guppy population. (There's a post about the originator of my guppies out here somewhere. Yes, the progeny of the great guppy mother have prospered). I put them out there when the top pond was half full and beginning to teem with mosquito larvae. Euw! The guppies feasted. Sad to say the waterfall and lower pond took much longer to finish than I had originally anticipated due to weather, limited time, and my energy level. By the time the lower pond was ready for the pump, the top pond was so green and dark that I was sure there was nothing left alive in it.

The first fall is the longest.
Once I had the pump and filter installed and all the lines run between them and the ponds, it was time to switch the whole thing on. Slowly, and with the help of some barley tablets, the water began to clear. Surprise! The guppies had multiplied like the guppies they are. Baby guppies everywhere!

It took a few days of tweaking stone placement, one day of letting it all dry so I could use pond foam to fill gaps and further direct the water flow, and a week of wondering where my water keep going (dirt settled on the rim of the top pond, creating a slow overflow area that was well hidden), before I was finally happy with the project.

Not all the way happy though. Those two nice slabs of marble I mentioned? They survived the move over from their previous home, they were moved here several times. They were walked on and shuffled here and there. But when I finally placed the lower one near where I wanted it? It broke in half. Yes, you guessed it, more swearing ensued. I did install it for now, but I will replace it next year. Right now, I just want to finish the landscaping and buy a bench so I can enjoy watching the fish and frogs.

It only took a week before the frogs
started arriving.
The bottom pond is home to 14 goldfish. The ten cent kind. I learned my lesson with that with my other pond. If it's not the heron, it will raccoons feasting on expensive pond fish. It's also home to about half of the guppy population. How? Well, when the water started flowing, it pushed all those babies right off the surface of the top pond and propelled them all the way down to the lower pond via the waterfall. An amazing amount of them survived. There are also several full grown males down there. Sad for them, because all the full grown females were smart enough to hang out at the bottom of the top pond. Baby guppy explosions will be on hold for a while.

There's still some work left to do. The electric needs to be finished, but it's running off an outdoor extension cord for now. The landscaping needs some of my time, but I'll get to that when the mood strikes. Mulch will come when it's on sale at the end of the season. One of these days I'll finish digging the hole for the filter system, but it's okay in its half hole for now.  One day I might hang a nice flower basket from the top of my electric post or decide to chop it off further down. The pond needs plants. All tasks for another day.

 I'll leave you with the view from upstairs. Don't mind the hose and shovel. We've all grown quite attached this summer.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August IWSG: Those annoying little things called words

Time to take a short break from marketing to do this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group post. 

IWSG July Question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Oh, wouldn't it be nice if that was the same thing for all three? That would be too easy though, and we wouldn't want that. Wait, I'd love a little easy right now. Too bad. Onward!

Reading: Repeated information drives me nuts. This happens most often with a character's way of speaking (they seem to whisper every line of dialogue), a habit they have (frowns when responding to everything), or with a detail of physical description. Perhaps some readers have short memories and need to be reminded that a character has curly hair every three pages. Though, really, I think we can all retain that information. I don't mind an occasional reference to reinforce a description but spread them out for the love of all that's curly. 

Writing: I get annoyed when the words in my head don't flow neatly into the page. Don't we all? Ok, seriously, I'd have to say my biggest pet peeve is having to find the delicate line between the amount of description I prefer and what other people feel they need. Specifically when I do add description (trying to be a good little detail providing writer regarding setting and characters) and I get editorial comments like, "Why do we need this?" Those cartoons of writers pounding their heads to bloody pulps on desks are quite accurate. 

Editing: Repetition of phrasing, paragraph length, and words that start paragraphs. I find all of those things horribly distracting from the story itself. All sentences shouldn't have the same structure. All paragraphs shouldn't start with "I" or "He" and sometimes paragraphs should have more or less than three lines. My eyes like variance. 

Do you have any pet peeves you'd like to share?

While you're here, could you take a few minutes to vote for the cover of The Last God in this July Book Cover of the Month competition? You do need to vote all the way through the brackets. There are a lot of great book covers to vote for!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

When I'm not writing, I'm playing in my flower garden

I'm so glad we're not in this stage anymore. 
 When we built our house into a hillside three summers ago, the hill was nothing more than a pile of dirt and a couple trees. But I had a vision.

At our previous home, I'd created flower gardens all over: around the vegetable garden, the house, the shed, the garage, the mailbox, around various trees, and a couple big beds out by the roadside. As you may imagine, this meant there were flowers all over the yard. While this was very pretty, it was also a lot of work. So when it came to designing my new flower garden from scratch, I decided to keep my ambitious flower tendencies a bit more in check to correspond with my time and mid-life energy levels.

Who thought gardening on a hillside would be less ambitious? Ha!
Which brings us to summer number two. In which I planted and mulched around a whole lot of things. Many of these plants were brought over from my previous flowerbeds and survived a hard winter in pots and some of them even in plastic bags (because I ran out of pots). Others had been brought over years before and had resided in a holding garden. The rest were clearance finds. I allow myself a handful of full priced plants a year and even that pains me. I love the clearance table at my home and garden store or most any nursery I pass by.  I love them so much so, that I've rather run out of room for new plants already. Ooops!

Notice that rock pile coming down the middle of the hill? *We'll get to that in another post.

Everything grows like mad here!
Now were up to our third summer, well second living here, but you get the idea. As you can see, everything has filled in nicely. Some so nicely, that I've had to split plants and expand the garden another five feet toward the roadside because I hate tossing perfectly good plants in the mulch pile.

Iris is my favorite flower, followed closely by daylilies. I have a lot of other things in here too, but those two far outnumber the rest.

You can see how well the creeping sedum groundcover likes it here too. A year ago I had a few springs from my sister in law. I tucked them between the rocks. Next thing I know, I can't see the rocks anymore. And I've pulled out handfuls of the stuff and spread it elsewhere. The rocks are completely covered again!

In other rock pile project news, I decided to take care of my hillside ramp that started at the six nice rock steps we could afford (those suckers are pricey!) at the top of the hill and break it up into steps of my own with other rocks that I'd purchased this spring. So now I have a slightly less dangerous and more traversable slope. Wet mulch on a steep incline was slippery!

It's funny to see these pictures from a couple months ago. That sedum has mostly covered these new steps too. I'm not complaining. Everything that covers means less mulch I have to buy next year.

You may notice the wall of large rocks to the left of the last photo. I put a bunch of different varieties of sedum between those last year. It filled in beautifully.

We get a lot of dragonflies and butterflies in the garden, as well as bees from the neighbor's hives. That's all fine and dandy until that creeping sedum flowers. While it's lovely to see the hill covered in tiny yellow flowers, it makes spotting the yellow bees difficult, yet necessary when the sedum covers the path areas. Yes, wearings shoes also a wise choice.

This particular dragonfly was in no hurry to leave its warm rock and let me pretty much put my cell phone on top of it to take a close up. I wish butterflies were as patient.

Please, may I eat another sky raisin?
They're sooooo tasty.
Who loves the flower garden even more than me? My little dog. Bitsy spends hours weaving through the iris and lilies chasing sky raisins (flies). This is a rare picture of her sitting still in the sun. I wouldn't think flies would be all that tasty, but she must. If nothing else, it's good exercise and the world could do with a few less flies. Not that I want her licking me anytime soon after eating one. Euw.

The lovely black-eyed susans are transplants from a corn field next door that was left to its down devices last year and soon filled with wildflowers. When I moved a few plants here, I thought they would never make it. They shriveled up and looked dead. Yet, this year they came up all over the place and I just might regret planting them a little. I pulled out quite a few of them already before they took over.

*That new rock project? I'm creating two ponds and a long waterfall between them. Watch for photos once I get that project done.

Until then, I'll leave you with this last photo of flower hill.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Perils of Pay To Publish: A Cautionary Tale for New Authors

I thought the whole pay-to-publish route was so talked about that authors didn't fall for that anymore. With the internet and all the information out there, it would seem like there would be plenty of information available for those new to the publishing game. Alas, this is not true.

Over the past six months, I've met not one, but four different authors who paid to have their book published. And I'm not talking about paying an editor, a cover artist, and a formatting person. I'm talking shelling out thousands of dollars to a company so they can hold their book in their hands.

With self-publishing such an easy and enticing option these days, and the wealth of information out there on how to do everything from formatting to marketing on your own, I am mystified as to why anyone would think they need to take out a loan to publish a book.

So while it would seem to me that this topic has been flogged to death, I'm going to cover it again. If you approach a publisher and see any of these: say no / look for other options / run the other way:

1. If the publisher charges a reading fee
2. If the publisher doesn't ask to see a query letter/ synopsis/ first chapter but responses to your inquiry regarding publishing with an offer to publish and pricing options.
3. If there are up front fees of any kind.
4. To make this clear, if you are asked to pay ANYTHING to get your book published.

The only time there should be a cost to you is to purchase books at a significant discount from your publisher for you to sell yourself - such as for signings, copies to gift to family and friends, or author events where your publisher will not be present.

Perhaps having to formulate a query letter and the dreaded synopsis, of having to wait for months, and the fear of rejection letters makes the idea of just forking out a couple thousand to skip all the headaches seem worthwhile. It's not.


Your cover is now in the hands of a company who isn't invested in your book. They don't care what it looks like. You better read that contract with a magnifying glass and know what rights you're handing over. They're just churning out what you're paying to have them publish and who knows what effort they're putting into editing and proper formatting.

Your pay-to-publisher will ship you boxes of books that you've paid for. You will have to sell them in order to recover your cost to publish. Sure, your book may be listed on Amazon and maybe even a few other sales avenues, but all those books in your basement/garage? That's your investment. The marketing is on your shoulders.

If you're a well-known business person, teacher, or public speaker, perhaps you can move all those books fairly quickly with a few big engagements. But for most people, you'll sell a few to family and friends and then spend years trying to sell the rest. That's years you're peddling books and selling one or handful at a signing. Do you have years to recover your thousands of dollars?

And we haven't even touched on the costs that many authors have, like all your marketing and publicity: Bookmarks, websites, table fees at author events, travel, business cards, review copies, give away copies, and any other promotional goodies you might need. If you've paid thousands up front, all these costs now also come out of your pocket and eat into any progress you're making toward recouping your costs.

The worst of the four experiences I've encountered was an author who thought she was dealing with a reputable company because it was a division of a name she knew. They charged her $3,500 to publish her book. A book she didn't even have finished. Her first book, mind you. She wasn't a known name in the market by any means. And when she finally had the draft done some nine months later, she was informed that it needed significant editing, and that would be an additional $3,500.  Unwilling to pay that much a second time, she found a college student to edit for her for $600. And now $4,100 later, she has her book to hold.

All four of these authors are out thousands. Yes, they have books to sell, but will they ever make their money back, let alone make a profit? It's very unlikely.

Do NOT let this happen to you.

Do your research on how publishing works. There are options. All of them involve having written your book, utilizing beta readers and critique groups, and learning how to do some editing and general formatting on your own. If you haven't done those things, you're not ready to publish.

Option 1: Aim high and query an agent to help with the publishing process and better your chances of a deal with a big press.
Option 2: Query publishers taking unsolicited submissions
Option 3: Query small presses who may take more chances with first-time authors
Option 4: Self-publish.

The only one of these options has costs involved and that's self-publishing. While there is a host of information out there on how to do all the steps yourself, you're probably not good at all the steps. You may wish to pay someone to design a cover. Hiring an editor is a good choice and often important step. Formatting your book for print or as an e-book can be confusing, there are people who can do that for you. In this option, there are companies who will offer one or all of these services and you can select which to pay for. It should not cost you thousands of dollars. Do your research. Learn how to do as much as you can or feel comfortable with yourself. Pay what you can afford for an editor that works for your book.

If you're considering publication, talk to other writers. Join a local writing/author group.  Join a group online. Build connections. Find out what others are doing and how they're going about it. Talking with other authors is a great way to spot red flags with publishers and possible offers as well as staying aware of new opportunities and markets you may not have considered.

Keep in mind, if you hit upon a contract with a legitimate publisher, they will pay you. You do NOT pay them.

I can't say this enough: Research. Learn. Don't pay thousands.