Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Preservation, Timely and Timeless

        I’ve walked Bishop Hill’s brick and board sidewalks as an owner of a craft business; as a resident, a new pioneer of sorts; and as a parent raising children in an environment that showcased immigrant history yet provided access to new-age technology. I began my writing career under the tutelage of the editor of the Galva News just as the slow decline of newspapers became apparent. When I turned to writing fiction, I stood in front of the Steeple Building and decided that whatever I wrote would have two main goals. First, to make Bishop Hill a character as developed and alive as any other. Second, to use preservation as an overall theme, because at that time the stately structure needed restorative help. When my fictional woodworker said “This too can be saved” he was using the real mantra of Ron Nelson, a colony descendant and one of the driving forces behind the wave of preservation and restoration work begun in the 1960s. Add in the life’s work of the Swedish-born folk artist Olof Krans and you have the basic elements of my first novel, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

        Fast forward to this year’s June Midsommar Music Festival. I drove into Bishop Hill from Davenport to deliver posters for my latest book, Shadows Over Bishop Hill, which will launch at the upcoming Bishop Hill Book Fair. At my first stop I was dismayed to find a petition asking for signatures to save historic colony-era buildings. Again, preservation and restoration were the main issues at hand. I was reminded of the time, years ago, I was stopped on the street by a distressed visitor who asked how I, as a resident, would let such a thing happen. I needed more information and was told about the roof of the Colony Church. I went to investigate and witnessed firsthand the dismal sight of blue sky showing through a gaping hole in the roof. I was shocked at what I saw and how I’d missed knowing about it before then. Thankfully, the roof got fixed along with other major repairs.

        That was then, today’s Colony Church and the tarp-covered Olson barn stand in sharp contrast to the Steeple Building, which has been through several rounds of repairs and improvements completed far more recently than most of the state-owned property. No matter who owns an historic structure, care and maintenance must be ongoing and timely. Old wood exposed to nature’s elements cannot wait forever.

        I have found the more I write about Bishop Hill, the more my thoughts about the meaning of preservation have expanded. Preservation doesn’t begin or end at just the upkeep of buildings; it encompasses individual lives, families, and communities—past, present, and future. I must commend Courtney Stone for his efforts to bring these issues to light with his petitions. We have a lot of work to do to make sure this part of American immigrant history and culture endures and never fades away.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Art of Editing

 

There is a reason the number one rule for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is to silence your internal editor and get going with your first draft. The primary rationale being—editing is time consuming.

 

It is a time-consuming task for the editor you’ve hired, whether for content editing or line editing. And doubly time consuming when you are sitting in front of a marked-up manuscript wondering How am I going to handle all this? Because if you have a good editor, in the top of his or her form, you’re going to be faced with a lot of decisions. That’s the mark of a good editor. They ultimately leave it for you to interpret what will best serve your story.

 

Your editor will nudge you here and there with questions such as: Is this needed? Comments like: I’m confused. How do we know this is supposed to happen here? Some of my favorites start with a simple: Why? Then there are suggestions for punctuation, especially, in my case, with dialog tags. Which leads into the ever-popular passive verb usage issues of limp sentences. Easy things to blow past on a first draft when you’re trying to get a daily word count in. Or, if you’re a pantser, like me, you start with a concept and figure things out as you go. The result is the same, more work later on. (Dangling prepositions: check.)

 

Misty Urban did my content editing this time around, and I have to admit I was initially stunned with her attention to detail. I didn’t harbor any allusions about my manuscript being perfect, far from it, but that first impression was Wow! It gave me pause. I had to come up with a system to manage it all. I settled into marking all her balloon symbols with a XX in the text. XXs are easy markers for edit searches to find. I’d mark up a chapter then go back to the beginning and read through until the XXs came up, evaluate her comment, then decide how to implement it to my advantage. Sometimes it was something easy like spelling. The more compelling comments involved going back to previous chapters to make the story’s continuity flow better; make a subplot clearer, cleaner; or a character trait more detailed. The head-thumping moments came with the catches that saved me from certain embarrassment. (Bless you, Misty.) Rarely came the ones that I could classify and dismiss with an easy: Yes, I meant to do that. I was, after all, paying for her expert advice.

 

Then there was my ending.

 

I purposely avoided reading Misty’s comments of the last two chapters until I had written, or rather, rewritten, my text. Waiting until I knew my manuscript in its new and improved *74,400-word entirety was paramount. In the terms of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, I had to refine my Final Image. I ended up deleting a huge chunk of the last chapter and tacking on what remained to the previous one. I enhanced sections with dialog from the principle cast of characters, losing lesser ones. I tied up loose ends. I added support for my major themes: preservation, family, forgiveness, and the legacy of Pippi Longstockings.

 

Will that be enough? That judgement will have to wait for the next phase of manuscript editing—reading the whole thing out loud. One can catch a lot of problems with that trick.

 

Is editing ever done? No. Must there be an end? Yes.

 

A special THANK YOU to Misty Urban.

 

*68,700 words at beginning of content editing.

 

(P.S. Present errors are all mine.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Review for Flowing Water, Falling Flowers

     Flowing Water, Falling Flowers by X.H. Collins offers a banquet of the senses for the reader interested in exploring a slice of Chinese life that fits somewhere between Upstairs, Downstairs and The Good Earth. The author uses meticulous attention to details of color, sound, food, and even faith to draw us into the world of a well-off merchant-class family with a large house, beautiful gardens, faithful servants, and a social status that requires conforming to the traditional standards of the time, beginning with the 1890s. We learn the gentle, tranquil surface of their lives hide troubling realities. We feel all the love, conflict, and pain as their world is transformed by the cultural revolution that touches all in different ways. The lessons learned about love and loss are echoed in the lives of the most modern generation of these resilient, unforgettable Chinese women. It’s a deeply personal narrative that has been made available to us all.

     My favorite quote is found in the first chapter:

     “Women are made of water. So says a Chinese proverb. Water is so soft that it changes itself to fit whatever shape it is allowed to be. But water can also turn an angled and rough rock into a round and smooth pebble, erode the mountain that blocks its flow, and capsize a ship it carries.”

     I’m in a unique position for this review as I’ve been involved with a few early stages of the author’s writing career in English. First, as a fellow participant at a David R. Collins Writers’ Conference workshop. I notice her eagerness and drive at the open mic readings at Rozz-Tox cafĂ© in Rock Island where I listened to her read her first short story. I made notes and used them to discuss writing craft with her the next day.

     Second, I was on the MWC Press Pitch Committee the year she presented the manuscript for her first novel: Flowing Water, Falling Flowers. Knowing a writer doesn’t make an automatic pass. MWC Press is a small, no-profit operation with limited resources. Strong writing, potential, and willingness to edit counts big time. I found those qualities in Collins and am pleased to say that they have followed through into the final published work. 

     She has produced a good read.

    


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Marketing Plans: Part 2

 

This is the second part of the series on how well I used my 2015 marketing plan.

 

Publish press Releases, etc.

a.     Galva News

b.    Dispatch & RI Argus

c.     Galesburg and other IL area papers

 

Those of us who are of the pre-internet era should be familiar with how press releases were once written by hand, typed up, mimeographed, folded, stuffed into hand-addressed envelopes, stamped, and then mailed out to news editors. A snail’s pace would adequately describe the labor-intensive process. Unless, of course, one could organize a crew of helpers.

My writing career began with writing press releases for the Bishop Hill Arts Council. I had been asked if I could help out and was given some old clippings and told to do a rewrite with the current event information. It was fun to see something I wrote be published. I used those new-found skills for my craft business, my children’s 4-H Club, the Galva Arts Council, and for any time something needed to be promoted.

 

Galva News

My relationship with the Galva News started soon after those first press releases. Doug Boock, managing editor at the time, started giving me assignments as a correspondent. He was my first editor and I learned a lot. I got the front page for the press release for my book. (Okay, it was below the fold, along with GHS homecoming and a Hog Days parade photo. Above the fold was a piece on citywide garage sales, the Bishop Hill Old Settlers reunion, and a bad dog photo. But still….) Doug added a nice introduction to the standard copy I’d sent out to my list of regional newspapers.

I need to take a side trip here and explain how difficult it was, and still is, to write about myself and my work. When I write about other writers/authors I can find the message or the salient point that makes a good review positive and possible. But when it comes to me and mine … I draw a blank. Still, I needed a press release and for this occasion I forced myself into a stranger’s shoes and went for it. The result was better than my usual. I used variations on that copy for my back-cover blurb and other promotional needs. I got a lot of mileage out of that effort.

 

Dispatch & RI Argus, Galesburg, and other IL area papers

Now back to 2016 where I had discovered the wonders of sending newsy items by email, thus avoiding all the labor and expense of stuffing envelopes. I still had to give the editors, who are always conscious of print space, plenty of lead time for editing. I had about a dozen contacts, largely on the Illinois side of the river, on my list and most did something with my press release.

 

(In case you ever wondered how all those awkward sentences made it into print—editors cut from the bottom to make things fit into the available space. So always get your important information mentioned early in whatever promotional item you’re writing about. Just to be safe.)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Prepare to Succeed

 

Do keep good records of all your book sales both retail and wholesale.

Office supply stores and similar areas of big box stores will have a selection of carbonless pads of receipt forms to choose from.

 

Retail sales

I have one type of two-part-form receipt pad for retail sales. I use it at book signings, speaking events, or any time I have a sale. Note: Always have books on hand in your vehicle.

Info you will need: date; location of event; name of customer & address/email, if possible; price; type of sale—cash, check, or credit. Location is important because sales tax will vary by city and state. You are responsible for collecting sales tax. I also use these receipt forms for gift, review copies, and donations; any information needed for inventory control.

 

Wholesale sales

The larger invoice pad is for wholesale book placement in bookstores, gift shops, or anywhere you can work an agreeable percentage deal with the owner/buyer. I have 3-part form pictured. That’s from my days in the craft program in Bishop Hill. A 2-part form should work well and be less expensive. Wholesale customers are responsible for sales tax.

 

Publisher sales

Publishers will have their own events and sales. They will have their own inventory and be responsible for sales tax. Do show up to sign & date your book. Think about a catchy phase to add. Have your quick-drying gel pens ready.

 

Do make up your own one-page inventory forms. Most of your regular wholesale customers will have their own, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the one that doesn’t. Plus, you’ll need something, a spreadsheet perhaps, to track overall sales.

 

The suitcase

I knew about having a to-go box of books for the car before I went to my first panel discussion, but I was totally amazed when the other authors started rolling in with their to-go suitcases. Basically, it’s your bookshop on wheels. Pack everything you might possibly need to set up a table or booth: cash/change, credit card reader, tape, scissors, price labels, tablecloth, book stands, business cards, promotional anything—collect it all then take it with you. Yes, these days it includes masks.

 

Do whatever it takes to be prepared to succeed.  





Sunday, August 16, 2020

Research Tidbits

 

I’ve heard of writerly advice that basically says, “Put some weather in your story.” If that is something you would like to do, and you wish to be totally accurate I have a solution: Weather Underground. There are other weather web sites that allow for searches for historical information, but

https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/KMLI/date/2008-8-9

is where I go first.

 

The search results I’ve shown above are for one of my scenes. It is easy to enter date and location information for one’s specific needs. I think it’s a valuable tool no matter how you use it.

 

Go to:

https://www.wunderground.com/

Find Historical Weather under the “More” heading at the top of the home page.

 

Sunny days. Rainy days. Sunrise or sunset. It’s a way to add another dimension to your writing.

 

Or go to:

https://www.timeanddate.com/

I’ve used this one for Moonrise/Moonset times and Moon phases. The site has an easy to navigate home page.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Marketing Plans: Part 1

 

This is the first part of the series on how well I used my 2015 marketing plan.

 

1.    Make personal Appearances

a.     MWC events

b.    Bishop Hill events

c.     Libraries where possible

d.    Bookstores (Barnes & Noble, local, etc.)

 

MWC & Bishop Hill Events

My book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill, was uploaded to CreateSpace around noon on Aug. 26, 2016. CreateSpace was a print on demand publishing platform that has since merged with Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP. My publisher, MWC Press, ordered 200 copies that arrived in time for our planned book launch events that began with Bishop Hill’s Ag Days celebration in late September.

I really lucked out with my book launch events, I had three.

The first one came as a surprise and an honor. I was invited into the very museum that is shown in silhouette on the cover of Clouds Over Bishop Hill. It went very well even though a few people straggled in after I’d started my reading. Not that it mattered since I’d started with the first chapter. I learned later it is best to read the more action-packed passages. Yes, Bishop Hill can be exciting.

The second book launch event was held a week later and was hosted by dear friends at the Feathered Nest gift shop. It was well attended.

The third was held at the Midwest Writing Center when their office was still located in the Bucktown Center for the Arts in Davenport. I was still reading that first chapter and explaining how I came up with my composite characters. An important lesson I learned that day was not to be apologetic, to stand up for my work.

I made it part of my schedule to return to Bishop Hill for every major festival. I would set up my table display of books, business cards, brochures, bookmarks, and newspaper clippings at the Colony Store, the Steeple Building, and the Colony Blacksmith Shop for the rest of 2016, all of 2017, and some of 2018.

 

Libraries

Early on I made it a point to offer Clouds Over Bishop Hill for placement in regional libraries. Even though my work was fiction, by setting my action in and around Bishop Hill, by using the general outline of its history, I was trying to capture it as another one of my characters. That I believed gave the book added value. I also wanted to reach readers who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to purchase books.

My best attended library event was a Read Local at the Bettendorf Public Library. I still felt new to the Quad Cities and hadn’t expected much of a turnout. I made up flyers that had the book cover and excepts from reviews along with location, date, and logos of the sponsors (MWC & BPL). At that time, I attended three book clubs in Davenport and a grief support group in Moline. They all got flyers. I handed out flyers to my main critique group, Writer’s Studio. I did an old-fashioned mailing to people living in my neighborhood using stamps commemorating the upcoming solar eclipse. I was included in the BPL’s color brochure for Read Local and in other library announcements. On my night I got a few people from each group I’d reached out to. So, instead of getting the usual dozen or so for an average reading we had to keep adding chairs. We ran out of books to sell. It was great!

I did a library reading in Monmouth and one in Kewanee for a genealogical society. I made plans to contact libraries within a 60-mile radius of the Quad Cities but didn’t follow through with the campaign. Traveling costs had become a deterrent by that time.

 

Bookstores

I approached the Barnes & Noble at North Park Mall, Davenport, about selling my book. I was prepared for failure and was totally astonished when the person I was talking to ordered four copies online. I think I had to promise to be responsible for any unsold books. I soon had my book on their shelf. However, that pleasantness didn’t last long. Landing a reading proved to be very difficult to set up. I managed to be included as one of five MWC authors. As far as I could tell there was little in-store promotion. It turned into one of those shows where vendors were buying from each other. I did get paid for the last book I left on consignment with B&N. They have been restructuring, so, I would go back to B&N again to see what I could arrange for my next book, but I would make sure I knew the exact terms of the deal.

I never tried the Book Rack or the Brewed Book, Davenport bookstores, with the first book. I was trying to be loyal to B&N. I would definitely approach them with the new book. The same with River Lights in Dubuque. Anything within a reasonable driving range is fair game. There is an old adage: The second book helps to sell the first. It will be tested.


Read Local at the Bettendorf Public Library.