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.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July ISWG: Marketing You and Your Book

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

IWSG July Question: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

Just one lesson? Oh my. Well, I'm going to dig into this particular month's lesson because that's the one freshest in my head. 

You can pour yourself into writing the best book you can write, edit your heart out, subject your carefully chosen words to the eyes and opinions of others, spend a good deal of time formatting your work and picking the perfect cover, agonize over what you want to say on the back cover and swallow your heart as you click that publish button, but that's not the end of the journey. It's merely the end of the writing part. 

Now you're in marketing land. It's a strange and formidable place for dwellers of writing caves. A land in which we must seek out others for reviews and interviews, write guest blog posts, join facebook groups to promote our newly published book, go to events and talk to readers. All of which has little to do with that thing we set out to do, that thing we're comfortable doing, sitting in our happy place, creating worlds and playing with the lives our characters. 

Marketing means promoting yourself and your book. It's having to be social without a keyboard. In person. Where stupid things can flow out of your month unedited. Sitting on panels, doing readings, and offering advice to others like we know what we're doing.

It can cost money and there's no guarantee you're going to get a good return on it: Bookmarks, business cards, banners, book giveaways, websites, domain names, nifty little give away items to entice people to approach you, travel costs to events, table fees, paying to enter contests or get reviews from notable sources.

Time seems to vanish just as quickly as it does when you're lost in an awesome plot twist while you hunt down current and active Facebook pages and groups, blogs, and websites on which to promote your book. While you write promotional blog posts and answer interview questions. Hours slip by as you research events, contemplate travel plans, and connect with other authors about sharing expenses or their experiences with particular events. Entire days are swallowed at events where you may meet some wonderful readers and sell a handful or two of books sit there with a smile pasted on your face, wishing someone would make eye contact with you or your books and you sell nothing. 

Marketing is that awkward place where you try to figure out ways to advertise your event appearances and book promotions without spamming your friends and groups you belong to every other day. It's asking without trying to sound like begging everyone you know who has read your book to write a review. It's endlessly trying to explain how reviews work with the magical Amazon promotion machine and how they can be as simple as "I really liked this book." and still be helpful.  

And somewhere in all this, you have to find a place where you can make peace with the book you've released out into the world for better or worse and start settling into writing the next one.

And so it begins again. 

Do you balance marketing with writing or only have time for one or the other? How long do you devote yourself to promotion before giving your attention to the next book?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My low cost garden: How I take a break from writing

While I love my flower garden, I like to grow vegetables too. However, I haven't been able to do that for the past couple years. I've missed the daily excuse to get outside and get more dirt under my oh-so-lady-like nails.

The flower section of my old garden, complete with a pear tree, but minus a partridge.
For years at our previous house, we had a large garden, fenced in, with strawberries and raspberries, grapevines and plenty of room for anything I had the urge to grow. Over the years the kids helped plant seeds. We chased untold numbers of rabbits out of the fencing. Squirrels and raccoons leaped down from trees to rip up my corn and decorate the branches above with the stalks after they were done with their stolen feasts. We composted for years, slowly turning the sandy dirt into a nice dark and fertile soil.

And then came building a house. No time to garden, no sir. We barely had time to eat or sleep, for goodness sake. Ignored, our beautiful garden was quickly overtaken by weeds and eagerly expanding raspberries. Then we moved. I'm sure you know how much fun that is and how long it takes to settle in. Egads!

To supplement our fresh veggie intake during all this, I joined a local farm CSA program. If you have one nearby and don't have the time, space or inclination to have a garden of your own, I highly recommend it. We learned to like all sorts of things that I wouldn't have otherwise considered trying from the grocery store or planting myself.

Now, finally, in our third summer in the new house, I had time to make a garden. It's not that we don't have space. There's plenty of that, but where to put it? The majority of our land is low, meaning it gets wet fast and floods in heavy rain. It's also mostly shaded. The back of the house is much higher and in full sun, but filled with dune grass and beach sand, because nothing says contrast like our yard.

So much dune grass...
The full sun won. I rototilled the dune grass. Three passes to get it good and chopped up.Then I covered it with landscaping fabric and lined the edges with rocks. You'd be surprised how fast dune grass grows. I ran out of time for the weekend at that point. So it sat that there for a few days until free time and weather allowed me to get back out there. You'd think that all of my efforts would deter the grass a little, wouldn't you? Ha! It was already starting to sprout up through the fabric!

So I pulled all the fabric back and lined the area with layers of newspaper. With the fabric back in place overtop and the addition of four inches of cedar mulch. I thought I was in good shape.

What's in the pot? Raspberries. I learned my lesson with those. Contain them!

Time to build boxes. We had a lot of random lumber left over from building the house and deck. I didn't want to spend anything if I didn't have to, so while my boxes aren't pretty, other that one box of screws (because I ran out of my leftovers), they didn't cost a thing.

We're also working on a landscaping project in the front of the house and happened to have a delivery of dirt come in for that. I took what I needed to fill my boxes with good dark composted soil and lined those with newspaper too for and extra deterrent.

The one thing I did splurge on was a pre-packaged drip irrigation system from Lowes. I did put this garden out in the full sun right up next to the house for goodness sake. The least I could do was to give it a fighting chance. So a $60 drip irrigation system went in. It was super easy to do and maybe took an hour so two.

If you're wondering what the deal is with the random corner blocks, I left most of them how I found them so that I could add fencing or drape row covers over the plants if rabbits or deer became a problem. So far, thankfully, they haven't.

Next, I ran to the tractor supply store down the street and grabbed up a bunch of seeds while they were on sale and picked up a few tomato plants while I was at it. Though the last frost was still looming, I just wanted this project done so I planted half a packet of everything. Good to have that other half to fall back on if something fails.

You can tell how often the kids use that trampoline. The dogs like the shade it provides though.

Now, two months later, the flowers are starting to bloom ( some, because they're edible and marigolds to keep the rabbits away), and everything is looking lovely. We enjoyed our first zucchini with dinner last night and have been enjoying fresh spinach and lettuce for a couple weeks.

It takes me five minutes every other day to keep it all weed free. And dune grass free, because yeah, all my efforts did was slow that down a little. That's persistent stuff! But it gives me an excuse to get some sunshine. Those randomly long posts at the corners make good handholds when bending over, woo exercise!

Now I'm going to go clean the dirt from my fingernails yet again and think about what project I'm going to work on next.

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's release day for The Last God and more short stories are the way

I'm happy to announce that's it's finally release day for my sci-fi romance novel, The Last God. To me, it feels like this has been a long and wearing process, but in truth, the book began it's birth last November. Perhaps it just feels like a wearing process because it's been my focus for seven months. But it's been a fun and rewarding seven months too.

Abducting the angry and suicidal god of war might not be Logan’s wisest choice, but she’s the weapon that might be able to defeat the army of Matouk, who destroyed his homeworld. If he can show her how to love, they might save each other from the terrors that plague his nights and all of her days.

If you haven't picked up your copy of The Last God yet, it's now available in paperback and e-book. The e-book is currently on sale for .99 through Amazon / Nook / Kobo / Scribd / Inktera/

While I'm announcing things...

I also got word this weekend that my short dark sci-fi story, Sipper, has been accepted to Caffeinated Press's Brewed Awakenings 3 anthology.

And production work on the Grey Wolfe Press anthology that includes my humorous fantasy short, Chetric The Grand appears to be wrapping up. I'm looking forward to announcing it's release soon.

Next week I'll be taking a break from books and talking about my chickens and my garden because I need a break from book things.

Until then, I leave you with an excerpt from The Last God.

Logan watched in horror as the king left the side of the queen and erupted into a towering being of light.

And then that’s all there was, heat and light. He shielded his face with his arms. Huddling against the wall, he blinked rapidly and waited for the ringing in his ears to subside while he got his bearings.

Beside him, Colonel Rice swore. “What the hell was that?”

Logan had no answers. He could only attest to witnessing the woman he’d seen when they’d entered the massive chamber cover herself in the same golden suit of armor they’d spoken with. Then she grew taller, brighter, glorious. Though his mind reeled with what he’d seen and he was only half certain this wasn’t another one of his nightmares, he hazarded a glance to where the king and queen had been.

The two beings of light exchanged blows of massive proportions. Bombs of energy exploded against their bodies. He couldn’t fathom how either remained standing.

“I’m pretty sure the queen exploded,” he said, knowing how absurd that sounded but having no other explanation.

Everyone else in the room had gone to their knees when the king had stood. The uniformed men that they had followed back here, now had their arms outstretched and their faces plastered to the floor.

While beings of light danced in his vision and bombs exploded against his eardrums, he achieved a single glimpse of clarity. Everyone who had been near the throne was blackened. Dead. Bile rose in this throat.

A thunderous clamor claimed his attention. He tore his gaze from the bodies to see the being of white light, what had been the king, sprawled among the remains of the thrones. He dimmed and then was nothing more than a battered and bloody man. His crown lay at the bottom of the stairs.

A shimmering sheet flowed from the General to hover over him and Rice. The ground beneath them rocked and the walls shook. The ceiling above began to crumble.

The colonel didn’t move. He found he couldn’t move either. He wasn’t easily scared, but he had no idea what was going on here and safety anywhere on this planet was questionable.

Without taking his eyes off the General, he said, “We’ve overstayed. The planet is going to go with us on it.”

“Maybe.” The colonel also stared at the giant golden glowing figure.

Debris thundered down on the sheet above them. A shield of some sort.

Logan prayed their ship wasn’t being crushed where they’d left it with the rest of their team inside. Then he wondered if he should hope that they’d left. He and Rice might not make it back. The shield didn’t look able to stretch that far. In fact, it didn’t even go as far as the archway.

A giant explosion struck the General. For a moment he was blinded again. Another blast of scorching air blew past them, though it seemed the shield protected them somewhat as the heat wasn’t near as intense as the first time.

“Holy shit,” muttered Rice.

The King was gone. Only a large scorch mark on the floor where his body had been. The General lay sprawled on steps, her feet just below the thrones. Her armor missing the golden glow and blackened. Blood dripped down the steps from the seam at her neck where her head was suspended over the edge of one of the stairs. She lay on her back as if she’d been blown over, unable to catch herself.

She was still moving. Slowly, but twitching enough to indicate she wasn’t as bad off as the rest.

“We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Agreed.” Yet, Rice crept forward instead of back the way they’d come.

Following behind, they checked the bodies of the others as they went. All of them had burnt to death. Pain on his own arms registered. He glanced down to find them blistered. Rice’s face and neck was red. He guessed his was too by the tightness that hit him now that the shock had worn off. His clothes were singed.

“Good thing we weren’t any closer,” Rice said, working his way toward the armored woman.

Logan rushed up the stairs. He knelt beside the General, who seemed to have returned to her original size. She weakly pushed him away but said nothing beyond a faint moan.

“Let me help you.”

She pushed at him again. He tugged on the helmet, trying to free her head so he could better assess the damage.

The voice that came from the blackened metal face was a ghost of the powerful voice that she’d used earlier, barely a whisper. “Leave me.”

He pushed her hand aside and felt up the back of the armor, searching for a lever or latch of any sort. There was nothing there but blood. He wiped his hands on his pants. “How do you get this thing off?”

 “You don’t.” Her voice grew slightly stronger. “Now go, I can’t hold the shield much longer.”

Rice crouched down beside them. “You’re coming with us.”