Just a Number

Independent writers abound these days; I am one of them. Many writers dream of being published the traditional way, being offered contracts, and other writers would consider the possibility. These days, many traditionally published writers are crossing over to independent publishing as well. It is a very active and evolving field right now. Indie books are lost in a vast ocean that becomes wider every minute. I can’t imagine what will be the future of independent publishing but one thing is for sure – evolution. I am glad for this evolution because it allowed me the opportunity to write and publish my works, a long-time dream. I don’t know how many books I will write in my lifetime, or how long I will live, neither does any writer. However, I have asked myself this question – ” How many books do I want to write before I die?” It seems a bit macabre but I have settled on a number that seems to feel right. It doesn’t have any significance other than it seems to be a number that represents a happy compromise (at least in my mind) between enough and not enough, in other words, a fulfilling number. That number for me is 30.

At my age, I would have to write a minimum of one book a year to reach that number, and that is assuming that I would live to reach my eighties or beyond, and be of sound mind. This realization changes my perspective, and as a result, thirty becomes just a number. Do you have an ideal number? How many books would you like to publish?

The Five-dollar Miracle Promo Cards

Over the years, I have made a habit of making promo cards when I publish a book. I don’t go overboard; I order 25-50 cards at a time, and when I am running low I order another set. It is something I do to promote my books. I am not active on social media, so this is a small way of doing something.  I keep them at hand, and when the opportunity arises I hand them out, sometimes inside a free copy of one of my novels. These are the ones for The Five-dollar Miracle. I think they came out nice.

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Photo by M.A.D.

It may not be something at large scale, but it is something I enjoy doing, and gets the word out in a more tangible and personal way. In any case, it serves as a free bookmark. There are many print services online that you can use and are cost efficient. They are also user friendly, and the many ways in which you can promote your work using various products is unlimited. It is something that authors can use to promote their work. Something to consider if you are not too busy or involved in social media.

Home Sweet Home

Today, I find myself wishing for spring, even summer, unusual for a winter lover. I yearn for the sounds and warmth of summer. It usually takes me about four to five years to acclimate well to a new place or new surroundings. It may seem a lot of time for many people, but for me to call a place home that seems to be right. Although I welcome change, I am a bit set on my ways and my memories. The concept of home has always been very important to me. I need my four walls, and I make sure they feel cozy and beautiful to me. My husband seems to adapt fairly fast, and I think it has to do with our upbringing. While I lived in the same house until I got married, he moved many times during his childhood.

I love the phrase Home Sweet Home, but I also admire people who travel and can feel at home in any place around the world. I can honestly say that I feel at home now, although I will always miss my beloved Jersey shore. This way of adaptation translates to other things in life for me, although at different time frames. When I start a new novel, there is a period of time in which I have not yet fully adapted to the story. The time varies with each novel. It takes me some time to acclimate/bond with the story. What I find is that I cannot rush this process; it happens naturally. Once I am in sync with it I feel at home. Then, I can “settle in” and “decorate” the place with my pen.

Home is where the heart is, the adage says, but I think the tic-toc of the heart determines when it becomes home.

There are No Coincidences

I believe that what we call coincidences are tiny miracles that intertwine in this life. Every writer, at one point, questions his/her path and the issue of why keep on writing, or what difference does it make? I’ve have asked that question; I asked that question to God. A few weeks ago I got my answer in the most unusual way.

A few weeks ago, something happened that changed my perspective as far as my writing goes. During that time, I had received a shipment of copies of my latest book – The Five-dollar Miracle, and the next day, I gifted the first copy. It was an impromptu offering. I was talking to that person and the books where next to me. A few days later, I had a casual conversation with that person and she mentioned the many similarities she encountered reading the story. She told me the book spoke to her, and many things she had taken to heart. She was going through many of the challenges the story presented, and so was her church. The pastor had died three months ago, and the congregation faced new challenges as well. What caught her eye and made her read further on was the first paragraph. She asked me how I came up with that date. I found the question unusual, and I told her it was a random date with no significance to me – the day I sat to write the story. For her, it was the day her husband died. I did not know her during that time. She mentioned that she was starting the five-dollar miracle.

Later on, I pondered all the events that had lead to that conversation and weaved my tiny miracle. By then, I had put my question to God out of mind. Only when I pondered these things I realized that my question had been answered. I don’t know if she will find something more in this story, but as far as I know the writing of it mattered, at least for her. As soon as I understood this, I thanked God for his love. I had a new perspective on writing.

As writers, we never know for whom we are writing the stories we create, but sometimes, we are blessed to have a glimpse. As far as I am concerned, The Five-dollar Miracle fulfilled its purpose, and I was able to find a new perspective in writing. If you have asked yourself the same question I asked, I hope this post helps you in some way.

THE FIVE-DOLLAR MIRACLE

“My name is Jonathan. My official name is Zadquiel. I prefer Jonathan. The story that I am about to tell you happened in Jasper Falls, a small town in the north of Virginia, USA. It was a small miracle, a five-dollar miracle that changed a stranger, a pastor, an entire congregation, and a whole country. I will take you to that day – July 29, 2016.” (excerpt from The Five-dollar Miracle)

Stories That Will Not Make It Into Books

I have always been a dreamer. I have very detailed, sometimes long, vivid dreams. Sometimes, these dreams are stories from start to end. Many times, I write these down. The format is a short version in a 3×5 card that will trigger the memory of the whole dream. One of these stories left an impression on me, and I intend to make it a novel. My dreams are all over the place, from past experiences to present, featuring people I know to complete strangers, and even fall into the category of fantasy or sci-fi dreams. Many of these, I write and ponder on them later on, while trying to find a significant meaning or common thread to the bizarre dreams. These usually play like a movie, whether I am inside the dream or an observer.

I have heard of writers turning dreams into books. As writers, we draw inspiration from everything around. Most of my dream stories will not make it into novels. I will give you a couple of examples, although in a very brief format. One of these is about a couple who must fight for their unusual love. They meet when she is about to become his parent’s meal. His family is one of many modern cannibal tribes who live in secrecy, and come from a long line of families whose traditions date back centuries. To get their meals they put together fancy high society dinners at hotels, and many of their young and tender guests are seduced by these free and fancy invites. There is always a topic, charitable cause, and of course, the chosen people are taken to a special room, where they will disappear and become the meal, eventually. The protagonists meet in such a scenario, and he experiences love at first sight. He takes her by the hand and runs while exiting via an elevator. After that, they must face persecution by his family and the other tribes.

Now, as weird as that sounds, I assure you that I have all my faculties, and by now, you understand why this bizarre story will not make it into one of my books. Another example of these dream-stories features a colony of vampires. It takes place in the 13th century and starts when the vamps raid a small village and take a few people, including the protagonist (Amielle), to their underground castle, hidden away from plain sight. Of course, they will become a food supply. I am seeing a common thread here (food). Should I eat more? The male protagonist, a nobleman in love with the village girl who has been taken, is on a quest to rescue her. King vamp (Baldemiere) is smitten with her and decides to spare her, but she must surrender her will to him in order to become his queen, which the current lady queen does not take well, and eventually, she leads the male protagonist (Antoine) and his soldiers to the hidden castle via underground tunnels that cross various villages, hence how each village is attacked at random. Now the sad ending – Our lady protagonist unknowingly has fallen in love with king vamp and has to make the choice of sacrificing her beloved nobleman and his soldiers thus becoming a vampire queen.

These are two examples of bizarre and graphic dreams of mine that will not make it into books. In the first story, I do not know their names, in the second story I do. Although I find them a bit interesting as dreams, and would not be difficult to write because they are full detailed stories, these do not call me as a writer, and do not fit my writing style at present. I say at present because I don’t now what the future holds or if I will ever be interested in writing in this category. I remembered a comment from an author who I cannot recall right now, and he said that you cannot make every dream idea you have into a book. This was many years ago, and I did not fully understand the whole meaning at that time; however, I understand it now. As you grow as a writer, not only does your style evolves and you become aware of it, but also, your ability or desire to follow a “path” (for lack of a better word), thus becoming more selective in a conscious way.

Unsolicited Advice

The other day, I thought about how blessed we are now, at this time. Writers are able to realize their writing dreams thanks to the amazing technology available, much of it at low cost. These are blessed times for writers, whether you write via an independent publishing venue, a blog, social media, or other method. I am very grateful for this. When I was younger I wanted to publish my work independently, but it would have cost so much money, hence why many of us set the dream aside until adulthood. No other generation had the opportunity we have today. However, for me, this also presented the challenge of sorting through all the information/methods available, and keeping up with it all (an impossible task). Everyday, there is more information, technology, venues available so trying to understand it all is plain silly.

Much time went into sorting things out, especially, when the gates of publishing were opened. Reviewing my experience made me think about what advice would I offer myself back then. I thought about it and if I was to put it in once sentence it would be – Find your way. Realizing that “just because everyone is doing something one way, doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to” was not easy, especially in those early days. People tend to follow patterns/trends in new territory; it is human nature, and hence why things go viral. We are social mamals whether we realize it or not. When a new venture/technology or other, is in the early stages we tend to follow and take notes in order to learn. That is a good thing but it could also be confusing, even frustrating, more so when something that “has been proven” to work for other people does not work for you. In hindsight, my advice to myself at that time would have been to slow down and treat information as just that, not as a bible for writers or written in stone. Information serves the only purpose of presenting alternatives, being an aid in learning.

If you are just at the beginning of your writing journey, you will need to learn, and tons of information is available. It is a blessing, however, during your learning/study process you will doubt yourself when that information might not match your reality or expectations. That is all fine. Sort through it, pick up what applies to you as a writer, and keep on moving. Find and do what feels right for you. Find your way.

My Next Novel

My plans were to continue where I left off before writing The Five-dollar Miracle; however, in the final rounds of writing this story, another title kept crossing my mind on several occasions to the point of captivating my full attention. I understood that this is the story I must write next – The Girl Who Could Not Love – and I will put aside the story I was about to continue, once more. And once more, I will trust the process and write, although right now all I have is a title and the main character’s name – Amalee Stonehart (yes, she named herself).

I will be working on developing this story (or it me) for the remainder of the year, and I have no idea what it will be about or where it will take me. It seems that this one also will not follow the style of my previous works. We will see. As a writer, I am open to inspiration and try not to box myself in, whether genre or style. I am excited to see where this litte adventure will take me this time.

Right now, I have several stories in the back burner, as well as future plans for a book of poems (will not dare call it a poetry book) and a compilation of short stories. These will have to wait, at least another couple of years, for what I can tell. I would love to continue where I left off soon, as I do really want to write this story that has been patient enough with me, and put aside a couple of times. I am not sure of its title, which is ironic, but I do have a short outline, mostly chapter ideas, and ending. I never knew that writing could be so unpredictable for me, on the contrary, I thought of it as very predictable, planned, and structured. As far as the remainder of the year, it will be dedicated to my next novel – The Girl Who Could Not Love. Wish me well.

Little Green Box

Previously, I shared a bit about my writing habits, as well as some things I like to have in place, which make my work enjoyable. For me, writing is a passion but it is also my occupation, so I treat it seriously, with respect, the same way I would approach any other job. Organization is an important part of it; however, I do it to my liking, and do what seems to work well for me. Ideas come to me at any moment and with disregard of time of day. Inspiration is everywhere and I don’t know when or what will spark an idea that might make it in a future novel. If I don’t write these ideas when they happen I forget them. If the idea comes through a dream, I write it as soon as I wake up. I keep pen and paper inside the night table. If during the waking hours, there’s pen and paper all over the house. If it happens while I am on an errand, I carry a small idea notebook in my handbag.

After an idea is captured, I will look it over and decide if it is worth keeping. I write/organize it in an index card, with any other related thoughts or details that will surface, and then, I file it in a green metal box. I visit this box when I am considering a new story, and sometimes, when a current story might trigger a memory of an idea in that box that I might include in the current work. The index cards are alphabetized, and I keep month tabs as well, for easy retrieval, and to include any ideas that surface in a particular month. This method has work well for many years. I understand that it is not for everyone, especially if you favor electronic methods/software for organizing your work. So far, I keep enjoying it and will keep using it. What methods help you organize your writing?

Little green box

Slowing Down to the Speed of My Pen

Throughout the years, I have discovered what works for me as far as my writing routine and process, as well as likes and dislikes. I think that it is important for a writer to feel comfortable in the process, at home and at peace with your pen. I would like to share some of the things that have become my constants when writing. As time goes by, you will attune to your pen speed.

I have a better disposition for writing in the morning.

I cannot write in my pajamas. I must be dressed and ready, and only after breakfast will I write.

I write a first draft by hand, old school, with paper and pencil. Later on, I will type it, either by chapters as I finish them, or I will wait until the entire manuscript is done and type it. I prefer to write in pencil. I have a collection of vintage pencils for that purpose.

I must print the manuscript for revisions; I don’t like to read and revise from the computer screen.

Many times, the title comes up first before the story is written. Sometimes, the end presents itself first, whether as an image, and idea, or a single line.

I don’t outline. Side notes develop as I write. I consider that my raw outline.

I cannot force the story. It flows freely, and sometimes it surprises me. By that I mean that something unplanned reveals itself, something I had not thought about the story.

I prefer traditional methods of organizing my notes/work than electronic methods – rolodex (some of you might be too young to know what that is), metal box for index cards, and many other things. I tried electronic devices and methods but lost interest. The magic was simply not there for me. I still use a planner or an old ledger to organize my work for the day.

I go through three revisions before a final edit. I must take at least a day or two off (not looking at the manuscript) between revisions.

I can only focus on writing one story at a time; I give it my all. I admire people who can write more than one story at a time.

After I finish a story, I must take time off before starting another. Emotionally, I feel drained a bit. I need time to recharge.

I have learned to listen to my characters and not impose the pen on them.

I have learned to slow down to the speed of my pen and the flow of the story. I will not rush it. Also, I have eliminated the word prolific from my writing process. I dedicate as much time as the story needs; however, I have deadlines in place for my own benefit.

Sometimes, I place an inspirational prop (related to the story) nearby. For Moonlit Valley it was a vintage Shirley Temple doll. For the story I am writing now (The Five-dollar Miracle) it is a sky blue envelope.

My favorite character is not necessarily the main character.

When revising, I need to read aloud, sentence by sentence. It helps me determine how reader friendly the pace is. Sometimes, I may need to rehearse a line.

I don’t find weird anymore if I cry when writing a scene or if I talk with a character; it is all for the story.

Before starting a chapter, I like to say a short prayer. It helps me center.

I learned to accept that sometimes, I must put aside the story I want to write next and write the one that speaks louder (the nagger).

I write better in an organized/neat environment. Out in nature works well too.

I must have a thesaurus and a dictionary next to me when I revise. Sometimes the first or second word I chose is not the best one to use.

I feel my best when I write or when I create something.

These are just a few of the constants that have developed over time. I have tried other methods but this seems to work well for me. What seems to work for you? What are the things you would not change in your writing process.

I wish to share a few pictures of my beloved writing tools. I understand that these might not work for many people, but I love these and they make me happy, and these enhance my writing environment as well. As you write, over time, you will develop your writing nest, an environment in which you feel at peace and at home – your writing sanctuary.

This old ledger serves as my planner at the moment.

Rolodex and metal green box where I keep ideas for future novels. The old golden box serves as storage for clips, tacks…

Vintage pencils

Because one cannot have too many vintage pens and pencils. They make me happy. The metal object next to the pencils is a stapler, and it still works.

Old sharpener, a necessity.
Inspirational prop
A little bit of my writing space.
My mantra.

The Four Sides of Truth

For the longest time, I have been hearing about how there are two sides to a story/situation/incident, and for the longest time I have never seen it that way. Perception is only one part of it. I think there are four earthly sides to the truth, and I say earthly because other dimensions/realms such as the divine/supernatural or space might alter that number, but that is another topic. However, since we all live on Earth let’s stick with the earthly realm for the purpose of this post.

Mostly, we are aware of the two sides of an argument or any situation – two points of view. As an example, two people are arguing about an incident represent those two points of view, and we usually assume that one is correct and the other is not – all in search of the truth in a situation. I believe there are four sides to truth in any situation. These are, Individual/group #1 side/point of view, Individual/group #2 side/point of view, The observer/witness #3 side/point of view, and #4 the raw incident (what truly happened without perception).

We process information in different ways, and our perception is influenced by many factors – culture, upbringing, beliefs, financial status, religion … and many more. This applies to #1,#2, and even #3 the witness/observer who only observes part of the interaction between #1 and #2, but lacks information or background prior an incident, so the witness relies on what he/she observes only. This three sides are influenced by the above mentioned factors. Side #4 – the raw incident – is closest to the truth. To illustrate this I will give a simple example involving three neighbors and a dog. Neighbor #2 happens to see Neighbor # 1 dog running loose earlier. Neighbor #3 is taking a walk and sees the dog running, and coming from neighbor #2 house. Neighbor # 2 steps outside and sees that his recently planted garden has been partially dug out. He goes to Neighbor #1 home and tells him how upset he is about the dog ruining his beautiful garden. A light argument erupts, and Neighbor #3 listens from his front yard. Neighbor #3 (the witness) assumes that because he saw the dog coming out of Neighbor #2 front yard the dog did it. Both neighbors, #2 and #3 think they know what happened. However, the truth (the raw incident as it is) is that Neighbor #2 garden has a mole problem. The little critters ruined the garden. In this example, all three people involved are far away from the truth, which has nothing to do with the dog, that by the way, happens to have a very clean nose and paws, but no one noticed.

As writers, we have the advantage of knowing the truth in our story (although sometimes, a twist we did not expect to write surprises us), and we are witness in a sense, however, omniscient when writing the story. We write from all sides.