Monday, December 2, 2019

Review for Borrowed Time by Tracy Clark

I like this private detective's attitude, how she speaks her mind, and how she never gives up. Her case, her client, her friends mean everything to her. She finds ways around obstacles and makes her case. It's just up to everyone else to catch up with her.

That’s what I wrote for my Goodreads review. Simple, to the point, but without the little snippets of insight and language I tagged as I was reading.

Here are the passages I tagged:

“I got a partial plate,” I said, eyeing Ben. “And a quick look at a decal.” P. 162

“The car is registered to a company called Fleet Transports, so it could have been anybody inside.” P. 164

It was the wide smile, though, that leapt off the screen and grabbed m by the throat and held on. It was just a little too eager, too bright, too much wattage, like a used car salesman’s whose very life depended on unloading a lemon he knew full well had questionable provenance. P. 184

She was an investment analyst I knew, one I called whenever I had to unravel high finance issues that made my head hurt and my eyes glaze over. I needed the facts on this whole policy-selling thing, not Spada’s high-voltage hard sell, and Lucy was the one to ask. P.190

“Tomorrow morning. Ten AM. Her home.” P.196 [smaller font for AM]

He shot me a confused look, cocked his head. P.225

“I should take you in for obstruction.”
“That’d be a bonehead move, and you know it.” P. 233

I didn’t care how Spada got put into a cell, only that he got there. P. 298

I squeezed my eyes shut, giving it a minute for the memories to settle. When I opened them again, I was fine, or at least fine-ish. I squared my shoulders, centered myself, and then jogged back to the car. P. 317

Why was Spada being so cavalier, so reckless? I sniffed, froze. “Do you smell smoke?”
Whip sniffed, too. “Yeah.”
We wheeled around, sniffing harder, trying to get a bead on the source of the smell. “There.” I pointed at the front door, at the black smoke beginning to billow in underneath.
“Well, that ain’t good,” Whip said. P. 329

I found all of these refreshing and reminiscent of my protagonist. A great find. Yet another reason for authors to keep up with their reading.

Now, if I could only cultivate the higher level of character description as demonstrated here, and by other authors I admire….

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Help Needed

I took time out of my preparation for National Novel Writing Month to answer a request from Todd DeDecker. DeDecker, the Bishop Hill Heritage Association's administrator, asked for help not for himself or the BHHA, but for the Bishop Hill State Historic Site. He provided a form letter so BHHA members can plead the case for the state site getting more financial aid from the Illinois Dept. of Natural Services. I wrote my own letter: 

Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Colleen Callahan, Director
One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702-1271

Dear Director Callahan,

I am a fan of the Bishop Hill State Historic Site. I lived next door to the Bishop Hill Museum for over twenty years. My kids grew up volunteering for the annual harvest festival and waiting their turns for the fourth-grade Live-in experience. When the king and queen of Sweden came to visit Bishop Hill, we walked through the back yard to meet them, much to the surprise of the secret service agents. That’s why when it came time to write my first book, I relied on my Bishop Hill memories and experiences.

My book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill, may be fiction but the major themes of preservation, the artwork of Olof Krans, and the character of Bishop Hill are not. I take them very seriously, especially that of preservation. Colony buildings shouldn’t be going without the repairs and maintenance they need to maintain structural stability. Such as the time when there was a hole in the Colony Church’s roof so big that daylight, as well as rain, poured in. People, visitors, stopped me on Bishop Hill’s main street to complain. That was very shocking. I hope the present situation isn’t as dire as that.

The Colony-era buildings of Bishop Hill and its immigrant history are cultural gems for state, national, and international pride. Therefore, I’m asking the DNR to do all that it can to preserve this legacy. Increasing funding for the Bishop Hill State Historic Site is a vital first step for preserving it for present and future generations.

Thank you for your time,
Mary Davidsaver

Todd DeDecker

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

American Fire Review & Personal Resource List

American Fire, a nonfiction work by Monica Hesse is the perfect reading material for a writer who wants to put a little arson into her novel. Who thought lighting a fire under some old house would be interesting and intriguing for her readers. Especially if said old house was filled with historical records and artifacts. How, in this case, the arson could graphically highlight a favorite theme of preservation in a way that no one could miss. All the better that small rural towns and volunteer fire departments were key points of Hesse’s book. Yes, that writer would be me. Thank you, Monica Hesse, for being a valuable resource for my fiction.

As I said, my work is fiction. Hesse’s is not. The string of arson cases in American Fire started in late 2012 and went on for five and a half months. Long and costly months for the volunteer firefighters of the eastern shore of Virginia. Hesse described all the relevant details of the crimes, the punishments, and the emotional toll the crime spree took on all involved.

These are some of the pertinent facts that I’m taking with me after reading this book:

*The decline of population and opportunity for an area once known for potatoes left an abundance of empty buildings and potential targets.

*How a small fire department took up a collection to buy a “chemical engine.”

*That they parked that new engine in bays “designed for hand-drawn fire engines, not mechanized ones.”

*Volunteer firefighting tradition was handed down through generations as fathers taught sons the basics. Way before structured classes and new methods came along.

*Actually, the basic method stayed pretty much the same: surround and drown.

*The signal that a fire was under control was the same, too. The black smoke of an active fire being replaced by the white “smoke” of water evaporating into steam.

*An arson investigator looks for the V—the smoke pattern that could trace the point of origin. Also, the soot line, which would tell how the fire burned, how long and how slow.

*Those clues aren’t available if the house is reduced to ashes.

*Being part of a volunteer fire company provided camaraderie as well as a vital sense of importance.

*“Arson is a weird crime. It doesn’t make one richer, unless there’s insurance; doesn’t give one nice things; doesn’t get rid of an enemy (in a basic sense); doesn’t make one famous (less than a 20 % arrest rate) … the visible remnants of an arson are not what it has left behind but what it has taken away.”

*“Firesetting is a behavior. Arson is a crime. Pyromania is a psychiatric diagnosis.”

*“To journalists and professional storytellers, crimes are always more interesting when they happen in folksy, safe communities than when they happen in big cities.”

*The loss of population and the change of employment opportunities cut down on people able to volunteer for firefighting.

*This particular arsonist wasn’t considered very good at setting fires. Not all eighty-three fires resulted in complete destruction.

*“The key was to create a public message (about the fire) in a way that would jog people’s memories without disclosing any proprietary information or leading all potential witnesses.”

*Anyone could become a person of interest.

*“Under a loose siding panel, someone had stuffed a lit rag and it was still smoldering.”

*“The flames hadn’t fully involved the house … the departments … on their way thought they could handle it.”

*Folie à deux is a French term which literally means “madness of two.”

*Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi forged $45 million dollars’ worth of art and were captured in 2011. [Fact for my first BH book.]

*Charlie Smith confessed to using rags to start fires. No accelerant was used. A point in his favor when the judge was considering his sentence.

Fun fact: I was able to find a photo of Bishop Hill’s first mechanized fire truck, and probably like the one Hesse wrote about. It’s a vintage chemical engine that had been saved by a farmer and stored in one of his buildings until his estate sale. It’s been restored, and the Bishop Hill volunteer fire department brings it out for parades. In this photo, it’s being driven by Jack Hawkins, a former fire chief.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Writer’s Almanac for September 30, 2019

I try to listen to Writer’s Almanac every morning. Today’s program was filled with treats. Garrison Keillor reminded me that today is the birthday of Truman Capote. First, after the usual biographical information, he quoted a passage from In Cold Blood—it was a section from the passage I read aloud for last week’s Banned Books night at the Rock Island Library. It was all about the normal sounds of that November morning being punctuated by shotgun blasts that changed so many lives. I had chosen well.

Secondly, Keillor added two quotes from Capote on writing:

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born know them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”

Good advice for a visual learner.

Finally, learning how George Perkins Marsh delivered the first address on climate change on this date in 1847 was surprising. His observations and conclusions from 172 years ago ring true today in his musical analogy about man as a “disturbing agent”:

“Wherever he plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned to discords. The proportions and accommodations which insured the stability of existing arrangements are overthrown. ..."

Such a nice way to start the day.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

In Cold Blood for Banned Books 2019

The following is my “speech” for Banned Books Week. The Rock Island Public Library and the Midwest Writing Center join for a yearly public reading and I did more than sit in the audience this year.

In Cold Blood for Banned Books 2019

I’ve come to Banned Book readings because they are so important. I have often wished to participate, but what book to choose. I’ve found lists of banned books and have been pleased that many titles are familiar to me as ones I’ve read. But not so pleased because there are so many more left to explore.

This year I went online, perused the first list, and what did I find? Dr. Seuss! Really?! Someone in Toronto complained about the violence in Hop on Pop.

I’m awaiting the arrival of my first grandchild. She is sooo going to have this book. My youngest son will have to deal with any ensuing mayhem. So, yes, a tiny little part of grandparenting is … shall we say—payback. Just kidding—he was the “good one”.

Okay, I’m buying this book but it’s not the one I want to talk about tonight.

Neither is this one.

Lord of the Flies was assigned reading by my high school English teacher. I should explain that this guy was in the army, the World War II army, and got his college education through the GI bill. He liked to say the regular college students started out [down] here. While the returning veterans started out [up] here. So, Mr. Schakel knew his stuff.

I read the book, wrote my report, and he called me up to his desk. It was after class and he patiently explained to me how I missed the whole point of the book. I don’t remember his words, but the sinking feeling—yeah, I remember that.

I missed Hop on Pop the first time around.
I failed my reading assignment with Lord of the Flies.

That leaves the book I do want to talk about: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—whose research was assisted by the one and only Harper Lee, but I didn’t know any of that at the time. I was a somewhat isolated teenager in small-town Iowa. The important thing here is that I, as a teenager, chose to read this; to enter the world of Perry Smith & Richard Hickock, the Clutter family, the criminal investigation, the confessions, and the trial.

This was an eye-opening experience for me.
This opened the door to all kinds of questions:

WHY did this happen?
HOW could it have happened?
WHEN will it ever end?
WHAT can a person, an individual, do?

Sound familiar? We are still asking those questions. And that’s okay.

We must not lose the chance to connect with the kinds of books that stir our passions, our fears, that push us past our boundaries, the books that make us tackle the difficult questions.

That is why I chose In Cold Blood for tonight.

My reading:

“Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow train streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises—on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again—those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.”    
1965, first printing, page five.

The fact is that while I can read about true crime, or in this case a “Non-fiction Novel”, when it came time to write my own book I went with the safer, less violent, cozy route—that included a nice, friendly dog. To answer the question of Why?—that was my choice.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How to Race in the Rain and Other Lessons

“I loved it when he talked to me like that. Dragging out the drama. Ratcheting up the anticipation. I’ve always found great pleasure in the narrative tease. But then, I’m a dramatist. For me, a good story is all about setting up expectations and delivering on them in an exciting and surprising way.” Page 59

I love it when an author can incorporate writing lessons into the text of their work.  I got two gems with The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

The first quote, above, is about structure, not revealing all knowledge too soon or all at once. Something I had to struggle with early on, and which I still try to pay extra attention to. I call it the information dump: an irresistible urge to tell all way too soon. For me, in my first novel, it was the backstory of Pearl, the 103-year-old retired teacher. Her actions were too important to squander away. I had to make myself break her story into smaller sections, space them out in the narrative, gave her the beginning and the end. I made myself be patient. Some readers got it, some didn’t.

Building a firm foundation for the main character is vital. The writer must create a narrative arc of development that plots a path of growth, either positive or negative. It reminds me of one of the first tips I got from a dear Bishop Hill friend, “Your protagonist has to change.” 

Vonnegut tells it this way: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.* That’s a little extreme for my taste, but it gets the idea across.

The second quote from Stein highlights just such a lesson:

“The true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles—preferably of his own making—in order to triumph. A hero without a flaw in of no interest to an audience or the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object. Which is also why Michael Schumacher, clearly one of the most gifted Formula One drivers of all time, winner of more races, winner of more championships, holder of more pole position than any other driver in Formula One history, is often left off the race fan’s list of favorite champions. He is unlike Ayrton Senna, who often employed the same devious and daring tactics as Schumacher, but did so with a wink and therefore was called charismatic and emotional rather than what they call Schumacher: remote and unapproachable. Schumacher has no flaws. He has the best car, the best-financed team, the best tires, the most skill. Who can rejoice in his wins? The sun rises every day. What is to love? Lock the sun in a box. Force the sun to overcome adversity in order to rise. Then we will cheer!” Page 136

Frankly, this would work for a synopsis for the whole book. Our protagonist, Denny, has misfortune after misfortune rain down upon him in an unceasing downpour, testing his skills, his principles, his very soul … until the very end. We discover the metal of his being. On the last turn of the last lap victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. The only thing left to wonder about is what happened to Enzo, the dog.

*From Brain Pickings:

#8 on Vonnegut’s list cancels out what I said about pacing. But, in my defense, he was talking about SHORT stories.

Links to other author’s lists of advice can be found here as well.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Butterfly Business

Monarch Madness is upon those of us who are trying to increase the population of Monarch butterflies here in the QC urban area. We do it because it helps the annual migration. We do it because, like gardening in general, it’s a satisfying hobby with tangible results.

Last year’s harsh winter took out some of my Whorled milkweed. The taller varieties seem okay. And, new this year, I’ve figured out that pruning the plants back early can produce more compact plants with additional tender leaves that momma Monarchs seem to look for. A sensible idea that needed reinforcing. Many thanks to: for supplying this helpful hint and a nudge to go for it. My “weed” patch looks so much better.

This year, I’ve rescued eggs and caterpillars to raise and release. So has my neighbor. It makes for pleasant days watching Monarchs flit around our gardens. The photo I’ve added has three Monarchs going about their business. Difficult to see, but they are there.

All this has inspired me to dig out my “Letters to a Butterfly.” This began last year with my milkweed expansion in an isolated area at Fairmount Library, Davenport. (They now have four different kinds growing.) It turned into a letter writing project for visitors to my booth for Art in the Garden held at the Quad-City Botanical Center, Rock Island.

Here are the letters I collected:

Go forth and flutter lovely Monarch.

Keep flapping your wings! You’ll get there!

Oh! The places you will go 😊

Watch out for cars.

Though it may seem hard, and there will be mistakes, you’ll get there!

Come back …

Lots of encouraging thoughts for those hot summer days in the garden.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Ben Miller

Ben Miller was the keynote speaker for this year’s David R. Collins Writers’ Conference on Thursday, June 27 at the Figge’s John Deere auditorium. What follows are my remarks at the open mic event held Friday, June 28 at Rozz-Tox, Rock Island, IL.

"Ben Miller was the perfect choice to be the keynote speaker for the 40th anniversary edition of the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference. The Figge was the perfect venue. I toured two exhibits that involved recycling: the first artist used garbage from Rio’s largest dump to restage famous paintings, the other artist reused knick-knacks to form collages that transformed familiar objects into shrines and 3-D sculptures. Perfect tie ins with the title of Ben Miller’s book which is rather long and involved. It begins with “River Bend Chronicle” moves on to mention “Junkification,” then alludes to a “Boyhood,” before concluding with “the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa.” To date it is his one and only book.

I believe Ben Miller is better known for his essays. I believe that after listening to him speak to us current members of the Midwest Writing Center and this year’s conference attendees. His remarks were quite literate and eloquent. Testament to the many people he mentioned and thanked for helping a needy youngster turn a writing passion into a life’s work.

Dick Stahl still writes poems inspired by the Mississippi River; he just celebrated his 80th birthday. Steve Lackey keeps the Writer’s Studio chugging along; its twice monthly meetings still welcome all comers. Rochelle Murray may be a retired librarian, but she never tires of being the champion for children’s reading skills. These are only a few of Miller’s cast of life-changing, perhaps lifesaving, characters.

The Midwest Writing Center began as the vision of David R. Collins, teacher. It continues as a hard-working resource for all aspiring writers. Just as it supplied Ben Miller with what he needed, when he needed it. The Midwest Writing Center has always been there for my writing journey by offering just the right workshop, and the perfect inspiration when I needed it. So yes, I answered Ben Miller’s call to action— DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR WRITING EVERY DAY! I wrote this today, at 5 AM. And I will write something else tomorrow.

Thank you all for your support."                 Mary R. Davidsaver                                                                                                                          

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Timely Quote: Gardening

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do especially in the inner city.” – Ron Finley

I love a quote that presents itself at the perfect moment for maximum impact. This one came in time for a morning of aching back and legs, the inevitable result of spending the previous warm afternoon clearing away last year’s garden clutter. Springtime squats—the exercise I’m always unprepared for—are those repetitive motions performed by bending the knees to get closer to the clump of dried up stuff you need to cut off or pull out to make way for the new growth that’s just peaking out of the ground. Anyway, that’s my ritual. Someday I’ll get smart enough to pull up a stool and sit down right away. 

My gardening space is more suburban than inner city. I still count it as a defiant act in so much as it tends to fly against the grain of a homeowner’s association’s idea of neat, tidy, and bland. I have a few supporters in my corner. Those who wish me well in working on my little island of a Monarch waystation. Their kind comments help me keep going. Plus, the butterflies have found me! Caterpillars, by the way, make great pets. I give them a head start in life by nurturing them through their main stages of growth then send them off into the world. At the end of the season, we are all free to go our separate ways.

As for therapeutic … Yes, I have the good feelings that come from helping the Monarch migration, but I have the look of a gardener: weathered skin, worn-out leather gloves, and a healthy respect for bees. I’m not sure I’d call that part therapeutic. For me the therapy comes when I absolutely need private time—I go out to the garden and find something to do. It’s a soothing repetitive routine that’s not without its surprises. Some good, like seeing a moth that behaves like a hummingbird. Some bad, as when I finally discover the parasite that’s killing caterpillars. Both spur me onward with new understanding and growth.

Gardening is work. Writing is work. Seeing them as therapeutic and/or defiant acts comes from your perspective and inner need. My need right now is get on with my next project.

Ron Findley’s quote comes from a recent Quad-Times Crytoquote puzzle.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spending Time with Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl’s playwrighting workshop at Brunner Theatre, Augustana College, provided three writing exercises.

I missed the first one because I was late leaving home and then found my preferred parking spot filled with sports fans. So, I can only speculate on the myriad ways a roomful of eager college students might choose to name their main characters. My unfortunate loss.  

The second exercise had us pairing up and dedicating time to closely observing each other. I have to say that both looking and being looked at can be equally uncomfortable. But the mental images formed lingered quite a while. After being thus forced into “observation mode” we were given time to write about “home."

The third exercise had the feel of a Mad-Lib game. Our goal was not to fill in the blank spaces of a ready-made story grid. We would be fleshing out our own stories. It started by drawing five columns on a sheet of paper. Then we were asked to randomly place words: colors/3, names/2, the letter I/3, nouns/5, adjectives/3, adverbs/2, verbs/4, and a couple of exclamations throughout the page. The goal was to leave lots of blank spaces in between the pre-chosen words. Filling in those blanks within each column created sentences that made sense and often flowed into a coherent story. If the words chosen were related to a current writing project, I could see how it would inspire viewing your work with fresh potential.

That exercise was my best take-a-way from Ruhl’s workshop. I can see why she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. That and the time I spent among energized college students working on their plays.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Battle of the Prophets

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer was one book I had to finish. Not so much because of the true crime aspects, as sensational as they may be, but because of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Krakauer reported. As I read, I began to note some basic similarities between Joseph Smith and Eric Janson. The former was the founding prophet for the Mormons and the latter was the founding prophet of the Bishop Hill colony in Henry county, Illinois. I made my home in Bishop Hill for years, so reading this book became something of a personal journey.

Joseph Smith Jr.
Born: Dec. 23, 1805
Died: June 27, 1844 [age 39]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse(s) Emma Smith & other plural wives

Eric (Erik Jansson) Janson
Born: December 19, 1808
Died: May 13, 1850 [age 41]
Cause of death: gunshot
Spouse Maja Stina died of cholera. Janson remarried in September 1849. Plural wives? Not to my knowledge.

Smith was swept up in the American “Second Great Awakening". In Sweden, Janson was part of the Pietist Movement that had spread northward from Germany.

Smith had visions of a golden book. Janson had mystical experiences and claimed his rheumatism was cured.

1831 Smith and his followers moved from western New York to Ohio, to Missouri, and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Janson led his pietist sect to emigrate from Sweden to US in 1846. They settled in west central Illinois. They Americanized themselves by learning the language and, in some cases, changing their names.

For a time, Nauvoo grew to be second largest city outside of Chicago. Bishop Hill, named for Janson’s birthplace, also grew but not nearly as much. Bishop Hill colonists used John Deere’s new plow to break the prairie and grow sustaining crops. Their letters sent back to Sweden sparked a wave of immigration to the US.

Smith landed in jail in Carthage, IL, and was fatally attacked by a mob. Janson was jailed in Sweden prior to escaping for America. His beliefs conflicted with the state religion. He was at the Henry County courthouse on business when he was attacked by former colonist John Root.

After Janson’s death, Bishop Hill colony had a group of trustees take control of the colony business. Which was in very bad shape. In no small part because a doctor Janson had called in during a cholera outbreak sued to get his bill paid.

Where did Dr. Robert Foster come from? —Nauvoo.

Nearing bankruptcy and depopulated by desertions, the Bishop Hill colony could still list the following: “100 men, 250 women, 200 children. It owned 4000 acres, a church, grist and flour mills, 3 dwelling houses, and 5 other buildings.” This list doesn’t begin to do justice to the imposing scale of those colony buildings. Most still exist.

The dissolution of the Bishop Hill colony began in 1862 but, because of the Civil War, was not finalized until 1879. The 200 remaining “Janssonists” dispersed among: the Methodist church, Pleasant Hill Shakers, and Seventh Day Adventists.

I found these rough similarities uncanny, but Jon Krakauer’s book plumbed a depth of violence in the background of the Mormon religion and its fundamentalist factions that I never experienced in my time living in Bishop Hill. I would subscribe to the following quote:

“The Bishop Hill colony was not insular & makes a useful contrast to Mormons in Nauvoo & the Amanas, both contemporaries.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

Valuable Marketing Tool

The saga of the orange “Crush” pencil stub or the review of Book Marketing Basics, either way you look at it, there’s a valuable marketing tool here.

I’ve known that marketing was Jodie Toohey’s passion since the first time I laid eyes on her. It was at a 2008 launch event for Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls and everything had an orange theme. I picked up an orange pencil. There wasn’t much left of that pencil after my husband used it for a carpentry project, but I saved the nub all these years. Printed on that four-inch piece of orange wood is “CRUSH” and a web address. I’ve kept it because it was, and still is, a valuable reminder of the essence of marketing: getting your name and your product out into the world, and letting people know how to find you.

Book Marketing Basics: The 5 Ps; Applying the Fundamentals to your Book is Toohey’s latest book. I was thrilled to receive a free early copy so I could provide a review. I have watched Toohey hone her approach to marketing by leading traditional classes, holding multi-day workshops, and experimenting with online avenues for instruction. She’s always made her educational tools interactive and relevant.

My favorite chapters from Book Marketing Basics:
Developmental Editing—a great money saving idea that’s easy to implement.
Line or Copy Editing—offers solid examples to help your writing.
Copyright—or now not to stress out about protection.
What To Charge? & Discounts—numbers are always important for the bottom line.
There are too many chapters on where to sell and how to promote to list them all separately.

I found things I knew and needed to be reminded of, plus new things I’d like to try out. There are tips for saving money and advice on spending your money wisely. Throughout is the mantra of knowing your readers and connecting with them either in person or online. The list of resources at the end of Book Marketing Basics is a gem all by itself. 

As a writer, I started out at the lowest level and I sure wish this practical resource book had been there for me. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Iron Pen 2019 part 2

I was sorting through files looking for one thing and found another. This quote from Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite and worth sharing. I strive to follow this advice and look for joy and be hopeful. It's easiest in a garden. Hardest at the keyboard.

Excerpt from High Tide in Tucson

“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.

In my own worst seasons, I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

It’s not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry. We hold fast to the passions of endurance that buckle and creak beneath us, dovetailed, tight as a good wooden boat to carry us onward. And onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another—that is surely the basic instinct. Baser even than hate, the thing with teeth, which can be stilled with a tone of voice or stunned by beauty. If the whole world of the living has to turn on the single point of remaining alive, that pointed endurance is the poetry of hope. The thing with feathers.”

Barbara Kingsolver from High Tide in Tucson, Essays from Now or Never

Monday, March 4, 2019

Iron Pen 2019

The Iron Pen twenty-four-hour rapid writing contest for 2019 is history. The entries are in and awaiting judgement within the three major categories: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My judgement, however, doesn’t need to be tallied. I totally froze up on the prompt. Which has left me wondering what happened?

In 2010 I came through with a win when the prompt was about broken bones. I eked out a win with the quote from Bird by Bird a couple of years later. I’ve always managed an entry of some kind for every other year. My best guess at this point is that some time ago I stopped flexing my writing muscles. I let my skills go lax along with my blog. The main exceptions were a few stints on my next novel. 

Missing out on this year’s Iron Pen was a shame. Especially once I found out this year’s prompt was from a short story by Roxane Gay. Some Iron Penners don’t like knowing anything about the origin of the chosen prompt. But I do. Even if I don’t use that information for my work. I just like having the background. (Sadly, my Google search couldn’t find it for me.)

I read Gay’s Difficult Women for a book club last fall and enjoyed the variety in her short stories. What I liked most about The Dissection of the Human Heart was its similarity to Bullet in the Brain, a short story by Tobias Wolff. I was so impressed with that one I’ve remembered it decades later. Gay’s story does indeed use the anatomical sections of a human heart as repositories for memories and emotions, while Wolff’s story uses the path of the bullet to excite synapses for a single memory while bypassing a host of other possible last thoughts. Gay’s piece offers the perfect feminine counterpoint to the masculine viewpoint of Wolff’s Andre, the protagonist whose snarky attitude led to his demise.

I haven’t been one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I guess, as late as this may be, it is time to make one. Starting now: MORE WRITING.

If only my Fitbit would count words as well as steps.