Friday, December 18, 2015

Bishop Hill Book Signing

Saint Lucia’s Day is celebrated throughout Scandinavian countries as a festival of light. Likewise, in Bishop Hill you’ll find sidewalks lined with hundreds of luminaria, votives set out in simple bags, and windows aglow with still more candles, some real, on the Friday and Saturday nights closest to Dec. 13th.

I was there this year as chauffeur and helper for Lilly Setterdahl. She held a book signing in Bishop Hill’s new Welcome Center for her 19th book, Second Love After 50.

We had perfect weather, as in no snow, for our afternoon. Lilly spent two hours talking to people and selling her new book as well as copies of her other books. I walked the streets visiting old friends and trying to take in all the “new” the village had to offer.

Lilly and I couldn’t stay for the evening’s light show; we had to get back to the Quad Cities. I had to be content with my memories of years past when I spent many chilly hours in the Blacksmith Shop stoking the wood-burning stoves, eating cookies, and drinking the spiced cider. (I would occasionally try some homemade glögg just to see how much pain I could endure.)

From age 9 on my boys and their friends had the run of the village when they weren’t in service as Tomtes and St. Lucia girls. They were free ranging before we had that term.

I dropped Lilly and her gear off in East Moline and had a lot to think about as I made my way across the river to Davenport. I passed a lot of houses decorated for the season, some quite lavishly, but none had the lovely warm glow of the hundreds of candles that filled my memory.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Jan Brett

Somewhere along the line, I missed out on the phenomenon of children’s literature that is Jan Brett. That omission was rectified when I met up with her on a recent sunny Sunday morning at the main branch of the Davenport Public Library.

I should say I met up with her and her entourage. Brett was accompanied by: her husband, a musician in the Boston Symphony; a pair of live Bantam chickens (I’m going to guess that the egg she held up was just the shell); two large fuzzy costumed creatures (one of which had to be a hedgehog); a staff of 3 or 4 people from Iowa City’s Prairie Lights bookstore (there to sell books); and a full compliment of local librarians brought in for extra duty.

Brett’s custom decorated tour bus rolled into Davenport as part of the tour for her latest book, The Turnip, a lavishly illustrated children’s picture book based on a Russian folktale.

I got there soon after the doors opened and picked up a nice assortment of promotional handouts. I readily accepted everything for the purpose of marketing research. My blue mitten indicated what group I was assigned to if I bought a book and wanted it signed. Blue turned out to be the second of four groups. That was an impressive amount of organization. When I saw the length of the line waiting to buy books—I knew it was needed. The tour bus, a crowd of over four hundred people: Brett had indeed achieved “rock star” status.

Brett’s thirty minute talk was part reading and part drawing lesson. I was impressed that she never talked down to the kids in the audience. She used scientific names and terminology to describe the chickens and explain the differences between male and female. Scientific and G-rated. The lesson went well over the top in terms of helpfulness and gentle encouragement for everyone to try their hand at drawing.

I plan to add this experience to my cache of marketing info. I will never be at this level, but there’s still a lot to be learned at the feet of a master.

Friday, December 4, 2015

POV Revisited (Again)

I finished Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News. I’m impressed with how well she handled all the interconnected story lines. More than the story lines, she fully fleshed out the characters—warts and all.

Rereading it made me realize (again) that I did the right thing by limiting my novel to one main POV. I had given each of my four POV characters a good beginning, but having two of them suddenly become quiet after a pivotal scene had been a mistake. Atkinson had her three main POV characters speaking to the reader till the very end. They were allowed plenty of room to wrap up their subplots—for the most part. Some loose threads lingered. A few mysteries remained. Quite enough for her next work in the series.

Her attitude about the lingering mysteries of life:

“Everywhere you looked, there was unfinished business and unanswered questions…

…Everything would remain a mystery. Which meant, if you thought about it, that you should try and clear everything up as much as you could while you were still alive. Find the answers, solve the mysteries, be a good detective. Be a crusader.”

I think “try” is the operative word here. So, if I try this again, having multiple POVs, I’ll have a great example to fall back on. Another case where a writer doesn’t have to play by the strict rules of a genre to succeed. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

POV Revisited

I went out of town for Thanksgiving. Before I left, I was writing what I thought would be my weekly blog post only to discover (too late) that I was really writing a column. Hence—the lateness of this post.

While away, I started rereading Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News. This turned out to be a great thing. I had forgotten all about the structure she chose to tell her story—stories.

Atkinson has whole chapters dedicated to separate points of view, POVs. There are four: a doctor, the lone survivor of 30-year-old crime; a veteran who was police and is now a private detective; a currant police detective with marriage issues; and a 16-year-old orphan with the worst kind of brother. 

Each person receives ample time to reveal background, frame current conflicts, and then gets sent on their way. I presume they will all eventually meet up with each other.

I’m only halfway and there’s been a train wreck, the doctor’s husband is lying about her whereabouts, nasty thugs are looking for the brother, and the two detectives have more in common than their professions.

I have to finish so I can see how Atkinson makes all this come together. (My memory is a little murky… Well, a lot murky.)

It’s an academic point for me, since I’ve already taken out the multiple POVs from my novel. Let’s face it; I didn’t have this much drama going on. My story is set in—Bishop Hill, IL—the center of the grand American Midwest.

Donald Harstad can pull off demonic cults and foreign terrorists in northeast Iowa. I’m only managing a missing painting and the motives behind the heroes and villains searching for it. 

I will endeavor not to be late with the next post.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Start the Launch Party

When I enrolled in the Midwest Writing Center’s marketing workshop series lead by Jodie Toohey, the Wordsy Woman, I thought I knew a little something about promotion, sales, and social media presence. The operative word here is “little.”
After the six sessions of intensive presentations and HOMEWORK I can positively say, “I now know a lot more.”

Before, I would have had my launch party and then…?

I would have been hard pressed to have any kind of plan of action outside a press release.

Knowing what to do next. Who to talk to about reviews. Where to investment my time and money. How to handle all the things that needed some preparation and lead time to make happen in an organized and beneficial manner. When I should pace myself and think realistically about just what I could do to connect to my potential readers. These topics were well covered over the course of two months.

“Realism” is another operative word. I got a dose of that as I completed my writing assignments, filled out my worksheets and charts, and thought about how I’d answer probing questions about my target reader.

I came away with resources to tap into and ideas to try. I plan to budget, schedule, and keep in touch. There is a wealth of information out there and it’s good not to have to navigate those waters alone.

The best part: a book launch still starts with a PARTY! 

Launch v. > (launch into) begin (an enterprise) or introduce (a new product).    From the OED

Party n. (pl. parties) 1. a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking, and entertainment.    Also from the OED

I plan to serve meatballs at mine.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thought for the day:

I went to the Figge for the Thursday night opening reception for Wit + Whimsy The Photographs of Kenneth Josephson. I knew nothing about Mr. Josephson outside of seeing a few photos that had been included in a prior Figge exhibit. I remembered his work being fun and inventive. I liked how he took time to see the odd little things of our everyday life and transform them into Art by shifting the focus of the image ever so slightly. Tire skid marks on a paved road become calligraphy. Distorted lane markings on melted asphalt seen through a mat become a modernistic print.  I looked forward to experiencing more of his unique way of viewing the world.

The 84-year-old photographer spoke sparingly and let an overview of his work do the talking for him. It was quite eloquent. He only needed to add clarification here and there, to explain about lighting, timing, and the lucky gifts that occasionally befell the patient observer with a 35mm camera loaded with film.

His last story of the evening was about his trip over from Iowa City. It seems his car passed through one of our small Iowa towns, one no bigger than a few buildings around an intersection, and something caught his eye. A multitude of cracks in the road had been repaired and what would look like random lines of tar to most of us appeared like an exotic alphabet to him. He had the car stop so he could take a photo.

I can appreciate that level of spontaneity.

I have been known to pull up short and walk back to take a picture of spilled paint on a London sidewalk. The neat thing: pigeons had walked through the wet paint and left trails of intersecting birdie footprints. So much fun. That probably set off my own series of pigeon photos. (The benefit of digital photography—it’s so easy to take and store all the shots you may never get back to. As long as the memory space holds out, I’m good.)

The point I’m trying to make is to stay open to new uses for the familiar. If it works for the visual image, it’s up to us writers to make it work for our written words.

Friday, November 6, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

No one can ever accuse me of being too fast. I prefer to think of myself as the slow-and-steady kind who gets things right in the end. But still, it can be annoying.

The case in point: I’m going through my manuscript to check out how I’ve used shifts in the POV, point of view.

Shifting the POV is acceptable if it is clearly defined at the beginning of chapters or otherwise marked. This advice can be found in Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. It is used effectively in The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro and S is for Silence by Grafton.

I used different POVs to enable three secondary characters to present themselves to the reader and share their thoughts and experiences. This bothered some, not all, of my Beta readers.

Writers need good feedback on their stories & manuscripts. You can’t fix the problems until you know what they are.

However, a writer has to acknowledge that a problem exists before steps can be taken to fix things up.

This second step is very hard. I’ve tried to be open to input and still I’ve come face to face with the issue of acceptance.

By using multiple POVs, I thought I was adding depth and dimension. I thought I was building dramatic tension. I thought I was on par with what I’d seen from other writers.

I finally went back to my manuscript and took a fresh look at what I had done and how it had turned out. I asked myself, “How much value does this really add?”

The answer, “Perhaps, not enough to keep it as is.”

So, here I am at the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2015 looking at some significant rewrites and alterations.

I don’t think it will result in major changes. In fact, I suspect my protagonist will be the clear beneficiary. And she needs help to come across as strong and capable in the end.

The job will be to eliminate the secondary POVs and integrate the character info into other scenes. I can do that without losing much. I will miss the word count more than anything. But finding strength in other places should make it worthwhile.

I wish I could have come to this point sooner. Maybe it is still part of my learning process. It just feels a little old sometimes. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Theme: Love

I’ve had to tell people on a few occasions that my novel is not a romance. Not a big deal. There is no explicit anything to worry anyone. It’s all safely “cozy.”

But I do think about the theme of Love in terms of attraction between characters in a few situations.

For instance:

·       I explore how two people can know each—not like each other—but maybe become open to a change if the situation allows.

·       I’ve got a couple who, for the best of reasons, make some unconventional choices.

·       I’ve gone briefly into the past for another couple and tried to tie their romantic stories to the present.

Taken together, I’m hoping these subplots will combine to make things interesting.

Another reason to spend my time on romance—I’ve been thinking about family weddings. One occurred recently and the other will happen in the near future.

I saved a wonderful newspaper column by Dr. Wallace who wrote in response to a young person’s question about defining the word “love.”

Dr. Wallace quoted Haim Ginnott:

“Love is not just a feeling and passion. Love is a system of attitudes and a series of acts, which engender growth and enhance life for both lover and beloved.

“Romantic love is often blind: It acknowledges the strength but does not see the weakness in the beloved. In contrast, mature love accepts the strength without rejecting the weakness. In mature love, neither boy nor girl tries to exploit or possess the other. Each belongs to himself.

“Such love gives the freedom to unfold and to become one’s best self. Such love is also a commitment to stay in the relationship and attempt to work out difficulties, even in times of anger and agony.”

I saved this clipping for years. To its call for commitment and grace, I would add the following ingredients to a happy marriage:

·       A sense of humor
·       Extra patience
·       And a big dose of kindness

I find all these things to be useful and true on a daily basis

Friday, October 23, 2015

Going To Market

Book marketing workshop last Wednesday night at the Midwest Writing Center. Presented by Jodie Toohey author of Taming the Twisted.

Guest speaker was David W. Dorris author of Life Is Too Short: Life Is What We Make It.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Not About Jansson

A reader asked questions about Erik Jansson. She thought I should add more info about him. Background stuff I suppose. Place him in the context of my story a little better.

It took a couple of days of rumination but the answer is no, I only want the bare minimum of info about Jansson.

He’s important to the founding of Bishop Hill.
He’s important to, well, the mystery of my mystery.
He’s not what the book is about.

My book is about descendants of the original Colonists and the choices they have to make about staying in Bishop Hill, how they preserve what remains of the Colony, and how they relate to their heritage.

My book is not a history lesson. Others are far better qualified than I and have done excellent jobs of recording the real story of Jansson, the Swedish immigration, and Bishop Hill.

My work is fiction. I’ve used the few facts I know about Erik Jansson and Olof Krans fictitiously.

Specifically, I have created a coming-of-age story about one young descendant in particular. She is faced with a mystery about a Krans painting, which may or may not exist. She has obstacles, both personal and professional, to deal with. At age twenty-two, she’s a “new adult” who has to make some adult decisions.

So, I will reread my manuscript and see what I can do, but I don’t intend to put in any more info on Jansson than what suits my purpose.

I’ll acknowledge right now that it probably won’t be enough for some people. Great. Those who want to learn more, and I encourage learning more, are free to continue their journey to Bishop Hill, either by further reading or an actual visit. There’s a lot out there and many people who will help you along your way.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Farewell to the Queried Agent

Dear Queried Agent,

I sent you my query letter months ago. I know you’re busy. You get hundreds, thousands of queries every day. I get it. I knew getting any kind of response was bucking the odds. That’s why I was grateful for the one email I did get.

In 2013, the MWC had then agent Jen Karsbaek come to the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference. I paid $25 to have her hear my pitch. It was, like, my second pitch, so it wasn’t very smooth. However, it was enough for her to request 40 pages of my manuscript. Nice.

She responded in a timely fashion and offered some pertinent advice for a rewrite. Also nice.

I followed her advice—not in timely fashion—and when it came time to resubmit the pages I discovered she was no longer an agent.

Sad, but I followed directions and sent my pages along with an explanation to the recommended agent taking over her caseload.

No response.

In the meantime, I don’t have an agent, but I have found an interested publisher.

What to do?

Be proactive.

I checked out a library copy of How To Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. The info was old by 12 years and counting, but at this point any info was greatly appreciated. I made myself slog through to glean whatever crumbs I could.

On a more current front, through David Brin and Google+, I got handed a nice list of websites for authors. Many of those appear to be business oriented.

I’m not down and out.

I’ve got even more reading to do.

Here are 120 great websites for authors:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Something New

I’ve spent the last few days trying to learn something new; adding, as it were, to my punctuation skill set, the … ellipsis.
Defined in the OED as:
Ellipsis n. (pl. ellipses) the omission of words from speech or writing. A set of dots indicating such an omission.

It appears I’ve used this symbol a lot in my dialog. I wanted to indicate halting pauses … as well as omitted words. People talk like that … I know I do. I pause … because I’m trying to remember what point I was going to make. (I’d be more upset if this wasn’t already a lifelong trait.)

Like I said, I’ve liberally sprinkled … all through my manuscript. Some places more than others. When I started looking, I was surprised at how many times I slipped … in. (I took a few out.)

Spacing is important with….

In going through my words, I have to decide where to add a space, where to place a comma, a period, or question mark. (I don’t use many exclamation points.)

I’m still learning. I’m paying attention to what I’m reading to see how other writers and editors do it. I’ve come across many … and some…

It amazes me that there’s always some, new to me, little detail to learn.

I suppose it shouldn’t…, but it does.

Friday, September 25, 2015

More on Moms

I’ve spent a good deal of my life trying not to be my mother. It was a shame, because I could have learned a great deal from her in my adult years. But she was, as I am now, not one to open up and reveal her innermost thoughts. My insights, such as they are, have come after she left.

When I wrote about moms before, I had a saying and a visual image stuck in my mind. Both came from a collage I’d picked up at an arts & crafts show.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Senior Expo

I went to a senior expo last month to help out at the information table for the Midwest Writing Center. My first time at such an event.

When I got there, the table was set with the MWC’s banner, informational handouts, and sample books. We were ready to go.

The red banner had the motto, Fostering appreciation of the written word and supporting its creators, in big letters. However, having the banner draped over a table and partially obscured by piles of leaflets seemed to present some confusion for people passing by.

Some seniors saw only “the written word” and got sidetracked into the issue of teaching cursive handwriting in public schools. They lamented the loss of skills and a younger generation becoming ill equipped to handle anything but keyboarding.

Some seniors said they only read books—never wrote them.

Some even commented on the fact that they couldn’t read very well. One lady described how she had to read a sentence over and over before she got it.

Well…guess what…I do that all the time. Have done it forever. I have a longtime friend who also admits to having to read sentences more than once. She’s one of the most creative artists I’ve ever known. I guess distraction comes with creativity. It doesn’t mean you give up trying to read…or write.

For the great majority of passersby, we were a mild curiosity. The real pleasure came when we established a connection to someone interested in writing down family history or handing veterans info on a workshop tailored for their needs.

The MWC’s workshops and programs have fostered my appreciation of the written word by exposing me to the work of a wide range of writers and poets. It has supplied me with writing tools and direction. It provided the all important opportunity for feedback.

I did my best to spread the good word.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Financing College

You might think this is an odd post for a blog that’s about writing in general and writing my novel in particular. I hope to file this topic in the “Things I Got Right” department.

I have my 22-year-old protagonist as a recent college graduate who wants to go on for an advanced degree in museum studies. Money is an issue for her. My novel is set in early 2008, a time when money would become an issue for lots of folks, not just students.

I wanted my protagonist to think about and handle college financing in a realistic way. To that end I was fortunate to have some expert advice “in house.”

My husband, Mark Davidsaver, has produced a website of financial calculators for many years. His most favorite is one specifically designed for people, parents and students, to calculate future college debt.

He used his own experience with navigating federal, state, and college forms. He got feedback from actual college students and tried to make his calculator as streamlined and as easy to use as possible.

He’s quite disappointed that it never caught on. His paycheck withholding calculator remains his most popular.

So, why mention this now?

Because of a recent back-to-school column by Katy Williams, a St. Ambrose freshman, for The Dispatch. The title of her column: What I wish I knew before I went to college….

For point #3, she mentioned, “Money does not go as far as you think it will.”

Her suggestions:
·        Learn to budget
·        Find a part-time job
·        Avoid having a car

All solid ideas that have stood the test of time.

To that list I would suggest a visit to:

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Fall Novel Workshop

I recently had a meeting with Aiden Landman of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. He met with me in his capacity as director of Young Professionals of the Quad Cities. I was representing the Midwest Writing Center. Our purpose: to see how our two organizations, each rich with resources, could work together and help each other.

As I ran through the list of MWC’s offerings of workshops and writing opportunities, Aiden indicated he knew quite a bit about YEW, Young Emerging Writers. This year’s group of teens recently put together the latest volume of The Atlas magazine.

I mentioned that I considered myself a product of the MWC’s workshops and conferences and therefore, while not a young emerging writer, I could be considered an old emerging writer. Not the best joke to make because OEW doesn’t make a good acronym, neither does MEW, mature emerging writer. Failing at humor, I moved on.

The MWC has so many irons in the fire (metaphor alert) it can be difficult to highlight just one.

For instance, the upcoming Fall Novel Workshop with Larry Baker, an Iowa City writer, novelist, and educator.

I took part in the 2012 fall workshop and I found the six intensive sessions to be the best investment I could have made for my novel. It gave me a big dose of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop experience for a fraction of the price—and it was practically delivered to my doorstep.

I was prepared to work and to accept the constructive critiquing of my beginning 30 pages of manuscript.

Pretty much in line with how Larry Baker describes his workshop:

“Writing is not inspiration. Writing is a craft. Writing requires thought, preparation, perseverance, and a commitment to self-criticism; revision requires a writer to go through those same steps again.”

I came away with better work. I built on that work by going through those same steps many, many times. Each editing pass-through shaping and refining the whole.

Now, I am ready to get my novel out into the world, and it will reflect my best efforts.

After all, producing one’s best effort is an ageless goal.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fortunate Mistake

I was getting a belated start on my weekly blog post and stopped to look up the mission statement for the Midwest Writing Center, my favorite not-for-profit organization.

I expected to find the following the simple sentence:

Fostering the appreciation of the written word and supporting its creators.

Instead, I found a nice photo of a bunch of kids, probably some middle-schoolers from a recent summer-camp-style workshop, with this displayed underneath:

Fostering the appreciation of the writeen word and supporting its creators.

My first thought, “Ugh, typo alert. They should fix that.”

Then I took a minute, looked at it again, and began to appreciate the cleverness of that particular misspelling. Especially in the context of a group of young people.

By entering one T and two Es instead of two Ts and one E, the word transformed to something new and exciting. A few misplaced keystrokes produced a superior caption for that photo.

It put “teen” into the writing picture.

After all, getting young folks into writing was the whole focus of the Midwest Writing Center’s YEW Middle School Camp and Young Emerging Writers Summer Internship Program.

Sometimes typos and other artistic mistakes have to be appreciated and savored for the subconscious gifts they are.

“Totally cool,” in oldie speak.

In other words, “Awesome.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

What It Is NOT About

I tried for a very long time NOT to make my novel about mothers.

I failed.

There are subplots about mothers…and daughters…and growing up…and coming to terms with less than perfect parents.

I also tried to keep Erik Jansson’s presence to a bare minimum because there were things I didn’t want to discuss.

Failed at that, too.

But I managed to put off dealing with him until close to the end of the book.

I wasted a lot of time in the process of failing to deal with those issues.

The lesson I learned was not to avoid the difficult topics. Not to try for definitive answers. Just put in enough information and thought to be enticing.

I think it turned out to be a lot like one of my favorite Rhymes with Orange cartoons:

A woman tries to decide which piece of pizza to buy for lunch. She asks the guy behind the counter what’s on each.

He says, “One has pepperoni and one has little bits of truth.”

She chooses the slice of life.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Write To Read

They say to write what you want to read.

“They” being the experts we’re supposed to pay attention to because: a. They’ve been there, b. They’ve done that.

Well, I’ve spent the better part of the last five years adding layers of detail and nuance to my novel, because that’s what I wanted to read. I like books that are: smart, involved, and complex enough to be interesting.

To that end I’ve tried the following:

·        My novel doesn’t deal with one mysterious painting—it deals with three of them.

·        My protagonist has mommy issues with not one but two parental figures.


·        She has issues with a well-meaning uncle.

·        And guy issues.

·        And roommate issues.

·        And work issues.

·        And finally, she has to figure out that each of my villains has his own selfish agenda.

I’ve heard “them” say to write what you know.

After spending a large chunk of my adult life in one small place, I think I know Bishop Hill. It may not always present itself in an obvious manner, but the currents swirl around in my subconscious mind. They surface when I need them, allowing me to built fictitious characters and events out of bits and pieces of the stuff I remember.

The whole process has been an education in writing longer works of fiction. I hope the end product will be an enjoyable read.

A “good read” has been my goal all along.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Getting Things Right

Recently, I was given a gift, a nice Facebook gift, when a young friend, who has a really cool job at an art auction house, connected me to a Christie’s article about paintings.

I took art classes in high school and college. I did some painting…but not all that much…so I knew writing about paintings in a mystery novel would be a stretch. I had to pay attention to books like The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro for painting terminology and descriptions of techniques, and carefully read anything I could find on Olof Krans. Even if I couldn’t directly use the information, I needed to understand it all.

Now, I had another good source. The Christie’s article was about the backs of paintings. Yes, the backs.

As museum visitors, we rarely get to see the backs of paintings. I can only think of one occasion where a Grant Wood painting was displayed on an easel in the middle of the room leaving the back exposed.

So, this article was a treat from the start:

“5 things you can learn from the back of a painting.
The most overlooked aspect of an artwork is by no means the least important, as specialist Tom Rooth explains.

“…What lurks beneath the back of a painting can often be as surprising as what is marked upon it. Though it’s incredibly rare, there have been cases where paintings have been found hidden behind other works — sometimes for hundreds of years, escaping the attention of galleries and auction houses. A loose lining, or an unusual run of nails can be a clue, though sometimes these secret masterpieces are only revealed when a work is reframed. It’s impossible to say why a work is hidden in this way: it may have been a way to store and preserve a work, or it might simply be that the frame was repurposed.
“Where reframing would be difficult, improvements in imaging technology have allowed experts to see through the top layers of a work to any original paintings or drawings below; it has not been uncommon for penniless artists to reuse canvases.”
There’s nothing like the feeling of being totally on target. The “I was sooo right” moment.

I savor it because…it doesn’t come by all that often.

To read the entire article go to:

Friday, July 31, 2015

Cover Art

When I looked out my kitchen window on Dec. 23, 2010, I was stunned by what I saw. The sun was coming up and the sparse clouds had a rose-tinged golden glow. I stared for way too long before it sunk in that I was looking at a perfectly recognizable cross.

It took even longer for my brain to kick in with “Get a photo of it. Now!

I got several shots before the cross drifted off toward Galva, leaving me overjoyed with my good luck. I had some amazing images of something I’d never seen before. When I checked online, I found my photos held up remarkably well to those taken by other people.

My first thought…I have to use this in my book.

Easy enough. I worked it into some early action. It fit perfectly.

Second thought…which came somewhat later…I have to use this for the cover.

Major problem…when cover design time came, it’s obvious the photo was taken in December—there’s snow on the ground—my novel takes place the end of May through early June—college graduation time—there shouldn’t be any snow.

After sending my cloudy cross photo to the cover designer, Ken Small, I get a couple of samples to look at. It’s obvious—there’s snow. Not good.

I spent the weekend with the problem on the back burner, while my husband and I walked the Bix7.

The easy, best solution presented itself as I sat around the house recovering: crop the photo. Simplify the whole thing.

That’s where it stands: blue morning sky, cloudy cross that’s mostly there, and the title for my mystery—Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

Everything still fitting together very nicely.

Friday, July 24, 2015


The time has come. I’m checking into the world self-publishing.

My writing group meets at the MWC two Saturdays a month and Lori Perkins and Lyle Ernst, local representatives of Absolute Publishing Services, came in earlier this year and made a presentation about the services they could offer.

This last week, I finally got around to making an appointment to meet with Lori and Lyle to open the discussion and begin the process.

Even with some idea of what might happen, I still wasn’t prepared to have to make so many decisions so soon.

Decisions such as:

·        Book size: 5”x 8”, 5 ½”x 8 ½”, 6”x 9”

·        Type: font style and size

·        Chapters: always starting on the right, starting left or right

·        Margins: wide, narrow, in between

·        Photos: color or black-and-white

·        Paper: white, off white, buff, etc.

·        Copy editing: the final fine tuning

·        Cover design

I figured there was probably more, but they wisely waited to spring it on me. That was quite enough for an initial exposure.

Since I really had no firm preferences, I did my usual thing…I asked for other people’s opinions. People who would probably be in my target audience—the infamous “Ladies Who Lunch” crowd.

I picked out three representative paperback books and polled my neighbor ladies on book size and type style. The results were enlightening:

·        Book size: one vote for each size. Initially not too helpful, but listening to their reasoning was worthwhile.

·        Font size & style: they all voted for the same, most readable one. That was good to know we agreed on a key issue.

With the information I’d gathered, I sent off my preliminary choices. Lori, of course, turned around and asked, “Could I give her something for the back of the book? Anything would do.”

This is no small request. Back of the book blurbs and info form the hooks that can make a sale. I’ve been struggling with that for ages. This stuff is important and it took quite awhile to put together something I didn’t cringe at…too much.

I’m not good at self promotion. Sad, but that’s what selling books is all about any more. Even those with a traditional publishing company behind them have to go out and do the heavy lifting of marketing.

Anyway, the process has begun and I will see where it leads.

The really good thing about all this…it feels right.

Now is the time for this step. And the chances are good that I will have books in hand before Ag Days in Bishop Hill.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another Way to Edit?

There are a few ways to read:
·        Slow #1-trying to savor the experience
·        Slow #2-having to stop to look up words, or, worse yet, trying to figure out who’s talking
·        Out loud-preferably to a youngster
·        Fast-speed reading to get it done and out of the way

Similarly, there are different ways to edit:
·        Slow & meticulous-trying to stay alert to every possible problem
·        Reading out loud-listening to your words to hear if they flow, or not
·        Reading backwards-trying to trick your brain out of automatically “filling in the gap” instead of recognizing a mistake
·        Fast and furious-only hitting the high points that need the most attention

I’m not sure this last one is a valid tool or not. All I can say is that I happened upon it pretty much by accident and it worked for me.

I had started an editing read for my novel a couple of weeks ago, but couldn’t quite muster up the momentum for an in-depth, motivated, and all out thorough editing read.

After all, what I wanted most was to add a few tidbits of color here and there by using the tips on sheriffing terminology I’d gotten from talking to Donald Harstad. I also wanted to add a couple of other small “adjustments” I’d discovered through my recreational reading. I sometimes come across a word or phrase that sounds just perfect and wish “I’d thought of that.” I use them when I remember, and I remember to make them “my own” and not simply copy verbatim.

So, I noticed that as I was picking up speed for this quick read through the heaviness lifted, it didn’t feel like a chore any more.

Another odd thing happened. I was able to pick up some long standing mistakes: like finding a “the” that should have been a “them.” That shouldn’t have happened. All I can figure is that the subconscious mind is an amazing tool. It works best when you let it loose.

In the end, I was able to pleasantly accomplish a great deal with this fast and furious approach to editing.

Did I stumble onto something new?

Probably not.

But it was all new to me.

And that’s what matters most for me and my novel.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Where to Write?

I spotted someone taking advantage 

of a small shady spot.

Where's your favorite place to write?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ladies Who Lunch

I began my experience with the Midwest Writing Center by driving into Davenport from Bishop Hill for the Pen In Hand mini-conferences. I could handle the travel and the work load of the one day events.

It took me awhile to work my way up to the three days of the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference, an annual June event that turned 10 years old this year.

After I had a couple of DRC conferences under my belt and a nearly finished manuscript in hand, I felt ready to approach the visiting pros during the pitch sessions for the 2014 conference—a pitch session being 10 intense minutes of talking up my book to an agent or a publisher. Of course, that also meant pitching myself as well as my book. Both would be difficult, but, thanks to working on this blog, I felt reasonably ready.

My first appointment was with Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press. He runs a small publishing company that looks for “writing that better explains how we can best live in the Midwest.”

I didn’t know if he would consider Bishop Hill part of his Midwestern range, but I needed the practical experience.

Everything went well until the very end when he asked me one of his stock questions: “Who do you see as being your audience?”

I had pages of notes about characters, themes, plots and subplots…I had nothing on the marketing aspects of publishing. It seemed too far away to plan for at that time.

Since I knew I’d be on display, I tried to dress the part. Instead of my usual jeans and t-shirt, I had on dress slacks and my best new jacket. And since he caught me by surprise, I tugged at the shoulders of my nice jacket and ad-libbed: “Ladies who lunch.”

It failed to impress.

Afterward, I spent some time trying to figure out where it came from. How, in a pinch, I would have thought of that line.

I had to think back to my time in Bishop Hill and what the main attraction was during those years. It was tea rooms.

Bishop Hill in the 80s and 90s built up an impressive supply of tea rooms for family, friends, and other groups. The day in and day out staple: ladies. So, yes, that was a valid response. However, it was not complete. It didn’t answer the question of how does one market to “ladies who lunch?”

I left the issue unexamined throughout the past year as I went through extensive rewrites and revisions. Only in the past month have I spent time thinking about how to reach potential customers. Book buyers are customers.

I signed up for a different pitch session for the 2015 DRC Writers’ Conference and a requested element for the presentation was to have a marketing plan. I fell back on my experience as a craftsperson. I had operated booths at craft shows & fairs before eventually opening a shop in Bishop Hill. I brainstormed a page of ideas. Again, I felt ready.

As a bonus feature of the conference, Steve gave a free workshop at the MWC on what to expect from an independent press. I attended. I was struck by something he mentioned: He relied on events and gift shops for selling books.

When I went home to check my list of marketing ideas there they were—events and gift shops—as my top items.

I was on the right track to finding those elusive “ladies who lunch.”

Now, I just have to refine my sales pitch and broaden my range of appeal.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kenda Burrows Editor

I saw in Monday’s Dispatch that Kenda Burrows got first place awards for Best Editorial Page as well as Best Local Editorial from the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors Association.

A delightful surprise on my part.

I went to one of those events years ago when I was writing for the Galva News. They always read the judges comments before presenting some very nice plaques. For Kenda the judges said in part:

“…I hope readers appreciate what it takes to deliver this much quality local material. The design is not flashy, but local editorials, columnists and letters to the editor set this paper apart.”

As a reader I do appreciate her efforts on the editorial page. It’s always interesting and distinctive.

I especially appreciate her willingness to stick her neck out and give unknown and inexperienced columnists a chance to write on a new and higher level. She did that for me.

I was chosen to be part of a group of guest columnists in 2008 thanks to then governor Rod Blagojevich. He went out of his way to give me a lot of material to work with by closing down state historic sites. Since Bishop Hill had three sites within its tiny village limits, all I had to do was walk from shop to shop and listen to the reactions. I wrote them up, gave the piece a positive twist, and ended with a satirical “Thank you, Governor, for that much.” I had a killer entry.

But winning was the easy part. I had to follow up with other columns. I had to deal with the deadlines. I had to get used to expressing my opinions. I had to write in the first person. Those things did not come easy to me at that point in my writing career.

Working with Kenda on those columns became an invaluable experience in my development as a writer. I will always appreciate her and the Dispatch. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Donald Harstad on Writing

I met up with Donald Harstad in the second floor lounge of the St. Ambrose library. He had been invited to talk about writing and being an author. His specialty is crime fiction and police procedurals set in northeast Iowa.

He sat on a library table and regaled us with a life story that began in Iowa, went to Hollywood, and then returned to Iowa when Hollywood got too strange, too drugged out, and, thanks to Charles Manson, too dangerous to raise his young daughter.

He happened upon a career in law enforcement with his return to Elkader.

His writing career got a kick start when, without warning, he was forced to take earned vacation time. It was a use it or lose it situation that left him home alone. His solution was to write a book—in eleven days. Yes…eleven…long…coffee-fueled days. He used a Commodore 64 computer and 9-dot matrix printer to produce his first book. It was difficult to read and probably would have gone no further if his sister hadn’t finagled a way to get it retyped and distributed among her Hollywood friends and contacts. His lucky break came when an agent took an interest.

Millions of books later…I get to sit in the St. Ambrose library and listen to his advice:

·        Find out what you do well and make it work for you.

·        Stay sober, get some sleep, and be alert.

·        Write 1-3,000 words a day.

·        Begin the next day with a quick edit and then go on.

·        Don’t trip the reader’s “eye.” Keep the writing smooth.

·        Don’t edit dialog. Keep it realistic and brief.

·        Know what people are like.

·        Have your cops keep their fingers beside the trigger and the gun pointed down.

·        Cops will be all business on the job. No one throws up at a crime scene.

·        Cops will not use jargon like “perp,” that’s for wannabe’s. Real cops are thinking and therefore speaking in terms of the reports they’ll have to write up at the end of their shifts.

·        Ditch the agent who’s looking out for himself first.

·        If you have a contract with Double Day—don’t screw it up by going with an independent!

·        London is a great place to stage a murder scene.

·        If you find yourself signing books at the same table Charles Dickens used—have someone take a photo!

His second book took 30-40 days to write. Must have had something to do with all that training writing all those police reports. I can only wish for that kind of speed.

·        A final bit of Harstad advice comes by way of John le Carré: “Strive to write interesting shit.”

That motto hangs on his office wall above a more modern computer.

Sounds like good advice to me. Can’t wait to read that first book.