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first-time writing

Writing When You are Busy

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Writing When You are Busy

In the early days of this blog, I was filled with positive energy. I was so happy to FINALLY publish my first book that the first posts encouraged everyone to carve out whatever time they could to write, to follow whatever dream someone had.

While I still believe in following one’s dreams, my enthusiasm has tempered. I am in the midst of a months-long project at work that will radically change everything at my workplace. It is monumental. With such a daunting task ahead, I am frequently exhausted at the end of the work day. The last thing I want to do is sit down in front of my laptop and write.

I have developed a much more realistic habit that might help you too. For Christmas, a good friend of mine gave me a leather-bound journal. (It was really sweet, because I have wanted one for a long time and never told anyone.) When I fill the pages, I can remove the journal inside and replace it with a fresh one.

The journal is a great size. I keep it in my purse. Whenever I have an idea or story thread for the Through the Mist series, I can jot a note in the journal.

Sometimes, I only have time and energy to write passages in the journal. For now, that’s good enough. I still feel as if I am pursuing my dream of writing, but with a realistic approach. It’s all about finding a way to achieve a dream, while living in the real world of boring jobs, deadlines, and stress.

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The Joys of Self Publishing?

I have written in the past about the highs of self publishing. They are many - no one to tell you what to do, when to do it. No one to tell you what to write. Are you picking up on the theme here? You are the boss, which can be exhilarating.

It can also be frustrating. Without someone to nudge you along, you can take your time with the book. That can be a negative. I doubt anyone reading this blog has the privilege of writing full-time. Most of us juggle our “real” jobs with all the deadlines and stress to go along with it. After a difficult day at work, the last thing you may want to do is work on that book. Without a nudge, it could take YEARS to complete your novel.

And then there’s the issue with promotion. What do you do?? Do you place ads? If so, where? How much do you spend? Do you record a podcast? Should you have a giveaway on a website? Can you get someone to publish a review? If you decide to do any or all of these things, how do you actually DO it?? How, I say? HOW???!!!

I admit that I have little patience. I just want to write my story and have someone else take care of the business side of things. Hmmmm….sounds a bit like a traditional publishing relationship, doesn’t it?

Well, I don’t have any publishers beating down my door, begging to publish my book. And, I just don’t have the desire to send a manuscript to 100 publishers, only to be told “no, thanks” or worse, “you suck, your book sucks, you should stop writing for the good of humanity.” OK - that last bit may be harsh, but who hasn’t felt that way?

I have written two and half books in the “Through the Mist” series - “Restoration,” “Adrift” (a novella), and “Reunion.” The first book did well, in my opinion. The novella’s sales were meh. “Reunion” has flatlined, which is a shame. I felt as if I hit my stride with that one. The pace is better, and the ending is really good, in my less than humble opinion.

Let me be clear - I know none of these books will be number one on ANY chart. I want somebody to read them, though. Why else did I take the time to transfer the story from my head to the page? If you are a writer too, you know exactly what I mean.

I feel that I am at a crossroads. I just don’t know what to do to draw readers to my books. And, I have at least two more to write in the series as well as a great idea for a standalone novella. What should I do?

At this point, I have considered hiring a book launch coach. I need someone to pick me up by the bootstraps, so to speak, and tell me what to do. I just don’t know where to start. Let’s see if someone else can help me. As long as the endeavor does not cost a fortune, it might be the kick in the pants that I need. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Wish me luck!

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So, What's It About??

Whenever someone learns that you wrote a book, the natural question is, “So, what’s it about?” More questions may follow if people are interested.

I try not to ramble on too much. I wouldn’t have written the series if I was not passionate about the topic, but I realize that you can only hold someone’s interest for so long. Here are some common questions and their answers:

Through the Mist is a series. What’s it about?

It begins with the first book, Restoration. Tilly Munro is a modern woman who suddenly finds herself over two hundred years in the past, in Scotland. How did that happen? Who is this mysterious Benjamin Campbell? Will she go back, if she ever finds a way?

Then, I continued the story in a novella, Through the Mist: Adrift. Tilly travelled to Scotland with her best friend, Beth Hunter Madison. After Tilly’s mysterious disappearance, Beth’s life fell apart. In Adrift, we learn more about Beth and see the story come to a startling conclusion.

The recently published sequel, Through the Mist: Reunion, continues the story of Benjamin and Tilly. We learn what has happened over the last year since Tilly disappeared. We also learn more about Benjamin’s father Malcolm, and the lengths the man will go, all in an attempt to preserve the estate. We experience a new love story with two characters. How does that one end?

This sounds like a lot of time travel romances that I have read. How’s this one different?

It is true that the “Scottish time travel” romance story has been done many times over. In fact, that was my inspiration. I have read a lot of books in the genre. I never read one where the woman was older and has lived a life before she met our dashing Scot. And, the modern women usually don’t have any problem at all with the changes brought on by time travel.

Well, I need indoor plumbing, access to information, and freedom to speak my mind. I am not a twenty-something and would likely be viewed as a spinster. In short, I would have a serious problem with traveling back in time. That got me thinking - how would someone like me deal with time travel? What things would be different?

That’s how the Through the Mist series was born.

I hate the way Restoration ended. Why did you do that to us readers??

It has been my lifelong dream to write a book. Restoration was my first effort. I admit there are issues in that book with pacing, and yes, the ending could use a little polish. However, the story for me is over at that point. It was always meant to pick up in the next book.

Incidentally, the ending of Reunion is much better, in my opinion. Please give it a chance.

Why don’t you just fix the ending and republish Restoration?

I am a bit of purist. Aside from fixing typos, I don’t believe in changing the book once it has been published. Besides, I am afraid too many edits would spoil the sequel, Through the Mist: Reunion.

Why did you write the novella, Adrift?

For awhile, the material in Adrift was the first part of Reunion. I finally decided to cut it from the book. I was afraid no one would hang in there long enough to get to the real heart of the story that happens in Reunion.

I could not bring myself to leave the story unpublished, though. To me, the material in Adrift provides needed backstory into Beth’s life. Expect some callbacks to the novella in the third book in the series.

You have a few historical references in the series. Are they true?

Based upon my research, yes. I read a lot of material about the time period. I study online resources. And, for the next book, I can reference notes and pictures I took on my recent trip to Scotland. It is important to me that you are part of the story. Adding little details about food, customs, or clothing make the experience real to me, and I hope it does the same for you.

Now, I will say this - I do not have a team of people behind me. I do the best I can, and it takes me longer to complete my research. I have a day job. If you find a glaring historical error, I always welcome comments. You can DM me on Facebook.

The books are affordably priced, compared to other e-books. Why are they so cheap?

With my first book, Through the Mist: Restoration, you took a chance with me. It seemed rather rude to ask you to spend $10 on a writer’s first book. I priced it at 99 cents so you would give me that chance. If you liked it, you got a deal. If you hated it, well, you only spent 99 cents.

The novella Adrift is also priced at 99 cents. It is not essential to the series, but it is a “nice to have.”

Both Restoration and Adrift are now free to read on Kindle Unlimited, if you have it.

I have struggled with pricing for Through the Mist: Reunion, the sequel. I try to keep the price in an affordable range, yet, to be completely honest, it would be nice to make more than 35 cents on the book. (Yes, literally that amount.) Hey - we all need a side hustle these days, right? At the current price, it is still less expensive than some ebooks out there. I hope the story is enjoyable enough for you to spend your hard-earned money.

When can we expect the next book?

Restoration was published in 2016. Adrift and Reunion were published in 2018. I seem to be on a “every two years” track. The story in the as-yet-untitled third book is much, much larger than the other books in the series. I hope to complete it within two years, but I don’t want to make any promises.

Keep an eye on this blog and Facebook for updates.

Have more questions?

Find me on Facebook or Goodreads. You can leave a comment here. I love feedback and questions. I really want to know what you think of the story, the characters - anything.

As always, happy reading!

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September Progress Report

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, Through the Mist: Restoration. It was a proud moment for me. As always, thank you so, so much for taking time to read it.

Many of you have wanted to know what happens next. After all, we don’t see the “happily ever after” when the book ends. The epilogue hints that something happened with Beth, but what?

Things are progressing very well with the sequel. The novella, which tells Beth’s story, is in “beta” mode. So far, the feedback has been good. The consensus is that it was right to spinoff this part of the story to a novella. Also, Beth is a very different character from Tilly, and it shows in the story. My beta readers are not fans of the genre, so I trust their feedback. If I can hold their attention, then the story must okay.

I am putting the finishing touches on the sequel before it goes to beta. I do not foresee major changes. We shall see once the betas get their hands on it. I am still pushing for a release before year’s end. I have some exciting marketing ideas, so stay tuned. I think you will be pleased on that front.

I still have some work to do with the original, Through the Mist: Restoration. The cover for the eBook needs a tweak – the title is too small in the thumbnail. The paperwork’s cover has an annoying problem with the spine – the font is tiny! I found some typos in the text as well as a few formatting glitches. Before the novella and sequel are released, I must make these improvements. Don’t worry – I will not change the story. Good or bad, it is set in stone. I do not believe in changing the fundamentals after publication.

In fact, all of this work on the first book is on my Labor Day to-do list. I hate the less creative aspects of the task, but I have put them off long enough.

Thank you for reading. Keep an eye on my Facebook page too. I will provide more frequent updates as well as share my adventures with G and cooking.

Slàinte!

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Life Gets in the Way

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to win the lottery? I do not regularly buy a ticket, which makes it hard to win. Still, on those rare occasions when I do, I always fantasize about walking into the office and quitting my job so I could stay home and write full time. In fact, I have made it publicly known that, if I win the lotto, I am out the door. It was written (in jest) into a project plan once – what would we do if she won the lotto? It made for much-needed bit of levity in a tense situation.

Until I win the lotto, I must squeeze in writing time whenever I can. We have a massive project ahead this month. At the same time, I have made the decision to change directions for the sequel (more on that in a bit). So, it comes to this – work on the book or work on the blog. Since I doubt anyone waits with bated breath for the next blog post, I chose the book. For the month of August at least, I will only post to the blog when I have something really important to say.

I encourage you to visit my Facebook page. I will regularly post there because it does not require a lot of effort and has a more relaxed tone. If you have not visited yet, you will find a lot of pictures of food. A girl must eat!

Now, about the sequel….

It’s big - too big. As I mentioned recently on Facebook, one criticism of the first book involved pacing. When I read the sequel, I see the same pacing problem. It takes 16 chapters before something big happens. Those 16 chapters are critical to the story, but do you really see that when you are slogging through them? Probably not. I fear that, if left as is, you might toss the book from sheer boredom.

I have decided to take that section of the book and turn it into a novella. Then, when Through the Mist: Reunion begins, it will be maybe a chapter of material, and – BOOM –the action starts. Of course, I will mention a little bit of the back story from the novella but not much. If readers really want to know the full story, they can read the novella first and then start the sequel. The detail people get the whole story. The folks who want action can skip the novella altogether. Everybody wins (I hope).

Could a better writer find a different solution? Sure. If you have suggestions, I would love to hear them. Seriously –I really would.

So, until my next blog post – see you on Facebook!

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Gratitude

A couple of weeks ago, I asked if 3 people would submit ratings on Goodreads for my first book, Through the Mist: Restoration. I was just shy of 100 ratings. I realize some people may consider that amount to be small. It means the world to me because I never thought anyone would read the book, let alone 100 people pick it up. If I received those 3 ratings, I promised to donate $100 to the Avery County Humane Society. I am happy to say that I now have over 100 ratings on Goodreads. Thank you so much!

I have said many, many times that writing a book was the fulfillment of a dream. What’s your dream? You don’t have to pick something grand like skydiving or starting your own business, although go for it if you feel empowered. Try to accomplish something small, just to prove to yourself that you can do it. Then, build on it. Try something a little harder. Soon, you’ll move mountains.

It is easier to sit on the couch and complain about everything and everyone. It is much harder to get on your feet and try. You will feel better for the effort. To hell with anyone who says you cannot/should not/could not do it. Remember – it is important to you. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

Go for it!

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The Goodreads Challenge

As of this post, I have 97 ratings on Goodreads. I am astonished. Through the Mist: Restoration is the realization of a long-held dream. I worked really hard to write and self publish the book. The fact that even one person bought the book is amazing. That 97 people would take the time to give my book a rating on Goodreads, well, that’s just unbelievable.

It would be a thrill to have 100 ratings on Goodreads. I am only 3 ratings away! Therefore, I am issuing a challenge to my readers. If I can get 100 ratings on Goodreads, I will donate $100 to the Avery County NC Humane Society. I adopted G from the organization, so it is a tribute to both you and her.

How do you make it happen? Creating a Goodreads account is free at goodreads.com. Once you log in, search for my book, Through the Mist: Restoration. Then, below the picture of my book’s cover, you will see a drop down menu. You can click that you have read the book. You can give a simple star rating, which is all I ask. If you want to leave a review as well, you can. I humbly ask for constructive criticism, though. It is the only way I can become better as a writer.

Even if I do not hit 100 ratings, I am so, so happy. You made my dream come true just by reading my story. Thank you so much!

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Read My Book - Pretty Please

For the last two weeks, I have talked about the challenges of self-publishing. I shared that writing the book was actually the easy part. The business side of things opens up a whole new world of challenges. Today, I would like to share my experiences with advertising.

Since I am a frugal person and had no idea if I would sell one copy, I looked at available resources at little to no cost. I have three tips to offer as well as some thoughts about what I will do differently with the sequel, Through the Mist: Reunion.

First, pick the right category for the book. In the description on Amazon, I used certain keywords that were relevant to the genre. It is a Scottish historical romance with a time travel twist. Some people love those sorts of books; I do! I looked at bestsellers in the genre. What keywords did they use? How were the descriptions phrased? I then crafted my book’s description so that it would garner attention from other lovers of the genre.

Second, develop a social media profile in advance of the release. I created a website, but I did not have a Facebook profile. That was a mistake. Many readers are accustomed to finding and engaging with their favorite author via social media. While the website was nice, Facebook is better. And, it is free! I post to Facebook when I want to discuss the book, scones, or any random thing. If someone leaves a comment, I respond. I have already learned a great deal about scones from an Australian reader. I never expected that!

Third, set up an author’s dashboard on Goodreads. It is free! I took a webinar about social media resources prior to my book’s release. Goodreads was mentioned in the course. It is a website for book lovers. Readers can start discussions about various books or themes as well as leave reviews of books. They can create their own profiles and list their favorite books. It was simple to add my book to the mix and create a profile. I have had a few questions from readers about my book, which was cool.

What are my plans for the next book? I feel a little more confident about the experience, so I plan to launch the next book on a broader scale. In the coming months, I will research the cost for ads at Amazon, Goodreads, and other relevant places. I want to explore what is necessary for certain sites to review my book as well how to set up giveaways of the new release. Are there other resources that would “get the book out there?” Hopefully, I will learn more about that soon.

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson with everything – formatting, design, and advertising. Writing the book is a difficult task. Once it is done, I need to put away the writer’s brain and think like a business person. I should “farm out” what I can afford and direct my attentions to projects where I can make the most impact. With a little luck, the sequel will reach more readers. For those of you who are on the same journey, good luck – and keep writing!

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Make it Look Purdy

Writing the book seemed like the hardest part of producing Through the Mist: Restoration. Oh, I was so wrong! After I finished the book, I still needed to format it for publishing and design a cover for the book. In this blog post, I’ll share a little bit about my experience and offer some insight into what I plan to do for the sequel.

Let’s tackle formatting first. In a nutshell, your “publisher” will want your book to be submitted in a format that fits their format. I published  eBook and paperback versions of my book. I used Amazon for the eBook. I used CreateSpace for the paperback. Both vendors had different formats, so I had to create two different versions.

In both cases, the vendor provided a template and instructions about their preferences for margins and other things. When you produce your book, ask the vendor if they offer similar information. It will make life easier for you and hopefully allow you to quickly publish the book.

For design, I decided to produce the cover on my own. I think I have fair design skills, so I used Adobe InDesign to create the eBook cover. The knife and tartan blanket are mine. I took the photo on my sofa. I then loaded it into InDesign and did a little work to produce the final image, which I uploaded to Amazon.

The current cover on the paperback was a template available on CreateSpace. I used the previously-mentioned photo and tweaked it a bit for the paperback.

Now, how do I really feel about doing all that work myself? Well, here’s a succinct answer: it sucked! It felt like torture. After spending so much time writing the book, I just wanted to publish it. It was agony to spend endless hours on the format, to submit and resubmit the work again and again. Ugh! Torture!

The cover design was somewhat fun. I enjoy photography and design. I just didn’t like flipping through templates and trying to find “the one.” And, let me say – I am not satisfied with the template for the paperback. There is a major flaw on the spine of the book that annoys me every time I look at it. I will fix it one day, just not now. The memories of that tortuous process are too fresh.

So, why did I do all the work myself? Again, another succinct answer: money. I did not want to sink a lot of money into a book that might not sell a single copy. I am careful with my spending. I could not justify it.

What are my plans for the sequel? I will probably hire someone to do the formatting for me. I feel more confident that the sequel will sell enough copies to justify the cost. With the first book, I devoted entirely too much time on something that did not fulfill me. I could have used those hours to work on the sequel! The trick will be to find the right person at the right price. I am sure you’ll hear all about it on the blog.

For the design, I am still on the fence. I enjoyed working on the process. I could hire someone to create the cover art for me, though I already have the picture in mind. We will see. For me, I see more value in paying someone to format the darn book.

I have said it a million times. You must set a budget for publishing your book, or you will needlessly spend thousands of dollars. Self-publishing is supposed to be fun. It is okay to hire people to handle the aspects you find boring or beyond your technical abilities. Just be prepared to pay for it.

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Budgets: Editing

As I work on the sequel, Through the Mist: Reunion, I am already thinking about marketing the book. The first book was a real eye opener about all the extra work required in self publishing. I thought writing the book was the hard part. Oh, no, the business side is even more difficult.

Writing is such a creative process. I found it a bit difficult to switch off the creative side of the brain and turn on the business part when the time came. I would like to avoid the same mistakes when the sequel is released.

I have talked in the past about the importance of setting a budget. I do not consider myself an expert on the topic, but I can offer some insight into the kinds of things that weigh on my mind right now. For the next three weeks, let’s explore three items that should be considered for your budget: editing; formatting and design; and advertising.

Once the book is complete, you might ask yourself whether or not you should use professional editing services. A person can edit your book for everything from grammatical errors to story problems. It is up to you how far you want that person to go. More importantly, how much are willing to spend for the service?

In my case, I paid $100 to have the first 25,000 words of my book reviewed for content only. I am so glad that I did. She identified a major problem with the opening and suggested a different approach to the prologue. As a result, I completely rewrote the prologue and scraped the first eight chapters of the book. In my opinion, the end result is better than the original.

The Internet is filled with people who offer editing services. Do your research carefully. How many books has this person edited? Have you read any of those books? Exactly what services are offered for the fee you will pay? How quickly will the person return the edited work? Do they provide a contract stating that your work is your own? This last question is important. You don’t want someone to steal your idea!

So, what are my plans? Honestly, I am still undecided. I read the first book, Through the Mist: Restoration, and found a few typos. If I had hired an editor, I would like to think that he or she would have found those mistakes. I plan to follow my own advice and see what’s available and how much it costs. Check this blog. I am sure I will write about it when I make the decision.

I plan to devote some amount of my budget to editing. After all, loads of grammatical errors or a sluggish story will disgust readers. I want people to read my book and feel happy, not angry at the mistakes! Consider adopting the same strategy when you publish your first book. Keep writing

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Is it a Hobby? Or, Is It a Business?

We are fortunate to live in an age when you are no longer dependent upon a publishing house to fall in love with your manuscript and publish it. You can use a myriad of online resources to publish your book, in eBook and/or paperback format. It can be an incredibly daunting experience. It is important to decide upfront if the project is a hobby or a business. The answer to the question will lead you down two entirely different paths.

A hobby is something that you do at a leisurely pace. You are not specifically seeking profit. If you do make a little money, that’s great; it just isn’t your goal. You might spend some money to participate in this activity. Depending upon the hobby, you might spend a little – or a lot. Still, it is discretionary spending. If you must decide between your hobby and feeding your family, you would give up the hobby.

A business, on the other hand, requires time, money, and energy. Your goal is profit. You devote hours to create and market a product. You make the investment because you want this endeavor to be a success.

Now, some would say that you can have both when it comes to writing. If that is your passion, yes, in theory. The old adage “find something you love, and you will never work a day in your life” is a wonderful concept. How many people do you know who have actually achieved that goal? Not many.

The brutal truth is that, while you can self publish your own work, you must decide how you will treat the task. There are literally millions of books out there. I compare publishing my first book to casting a pebble in the ocean. I always came to my original question: is it a business or a hobby?

When I published Through the Mist: Restoration, I quickly realized all the work was on me. I didn't have a publishing team behind me that would market the book, schedule interviews, create advertisements, maintain social media outlets, et cetera. I had to decide how much work I was willing to do.

The process was filled with a lot of uncertainty. Through the Mist: Restoration was my first book. I had no idea if it was good or if anyone would even buy it. I did not want to invest a lot of time or money into the “business” side of things. After all, my main purpose was to finally write a book.

I have not sold millions of copies. I haven’t even cracked 10,000 yet. It is a tremendous success to me because I have sold thousands of copies, something I never imagined would happen. I am amazed that even one person bought the book!

I have spent some money to create a website and buy books for research. I devote time to posting to my website and Facebook in addition to the hours spent writing the sequel. I have not spent any money on advertising , though. I have not contacted various parties to write reviews for the book or sought other means of promotion.

Why? Because I am still learning! I am trying to sort out what I did right, and what I could have done differently. I am researching the various outlets for promotion. In short, I am learning the business side of the endeavor. It turns out that writing the book was the easiest part.

So, what is the takeaway from this rambling blog post? If you are a writer who wants to self publish, I suggest you take a hard look at it. You can spend a ton of money and get no results. You should prepare yourself for that possibility. Then, decide how you want to approach this. If it is a hobby, don’t sink thousands of dollars into it unless you can lose that money.

If it is a business, research, research, research. Most of us do not have a marketing background, a wealth of industry contacts, and unlimited funds. Design a plan. Figure out how much time and money will be needed to execute that plan. Then, be prepared for a long road. If you are very lucky, the plan will work brilliantly and quickly. Do not get discouraged, though, if it takes time to gain traction. Remember, your book is one of literally millions out there.

Before I end this post, I do want to mention one thing I did right. I became a Goodreads author. It was free and easy. My sales jumped after I did that. I don’t understand why but am so glad!

Good luck to everyone out there. Remember, writing is meant to be fun!

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Puttin' on Airs

Whenever someone pretends to be someone they are not, we call it “puttin’ on airs.” Writing fiction is a form of that expression. After all, I do not live in the early 1800s and certainly do not have a fancy castle. Still, I wanted to avoid going too far with the pretense.

I have read several works where the author was very particular about language and its correct use. For example, a novel set in Scotland might use Gaelic words or expressions particular to the dialect of a region. If an author can pull it off, great for him or her! When it is done well, it adds richness to the story. However, when it is poorly executed, it stops the story in its tracks and leaves the reader confused, angry, and/or disgusted.

Unfortunately, I do not have a team of scholars and editors who can assist me in proper usage. I did not want to take the chance of ruining the story. In my work, I do not attempt it unless I know with absolute certainty I am correctly using a word or phrase. As a result, my use of Gaelic is very careful and deliberate in my books.

I do have bits of Gaelic that have special meaning to the story. In the prologue, the chieftain’s name is Ailig. I stumbled upon a name translation that said it was Gaelic for “Alex” or “Alec.” I thought that would be a nice tie-in for another important character in the book. I won’t spoil the story and say who.

Another bit is the name of the valley where the village in the prologue and, eventually, the inn are located. I toyed with different words and phrases. They all danced closely to Outlander, though. I wanted something unique. While flipping through a Gaelic dictionary, I found a few words and cobbled together this name: Gleann A’bunadh. The word “gleann” is obvious; it means glen or valley. “A’bunadh” can mean “of the origin,” “from the origin,” or “original.” When you read the book, I hope you see the meaning there as well.

The final two pieces of Gaelic are a personal joke. The town is named Deoch, and the castle is Fion. According to my handy dandy English to Gaelic dictionary, Deoch means “drink.” Fion means “wine.” I giggle a little when I write those names.

I am sure a Gaelic scholar will be quick to correct me if I have incorrectly used any terms. Please do! I need all the help I can get!

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The Damnable Misery of It All

Like me, you have probably heard a variation of the expression, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” I have always scoffed because wouldn’t we all make that choice? Unfortunately, reality dictates that we have bills to pay and must choose jobs that (hopefully) make ends meet.

For a couple of days this week, I finally understood what that expression meant – and that’s the damnable misery of it all. I attended a seminar about business writing. While the topic may have been geared toward business, the subject matter was writing. I felt invigorated and inspired. I had an opportunity to create, to learn. It was wonderful.

And then I returned to work on Thursday.

It is disappointing to finally know what it is you should be doing with your life and not be able to do it. I am not whining. This is an acknowledgement. I know there are people right now who are in this situation and will likely always be in it. They are talented. They are smart. They just did not win life’s lottery. So, they will spend their days emptying your garbage, cleaning your office, preparing your tax return, teaching your children, et cetera.

I try not to be so melancholy in my blog posts. It’s just tough sometimes. What do we do?

Well, we write a blog post at 1:30 a.m. because we cannot sleep. We pick up a pen and work on the story that will not leave the brain. We raise a paint brush and put paint to canvas. We create for our own sake.

We keep pushing forward because we have no other choice. On your death bed, do you want to regret that you never wrote that story or painted that picture? Who cares if no one else in the world ever reads it? Who cares if you are not published? Sometimes, all we have are the few moments where no one dictates to us. We control this little world in our imaginations.

I may be depressed about my job or other things in life. I refuse to let anyone take away my imagination. It’s free, and it’s all I have. It’s all you have too. Keep writing. 

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Finding Your Voice

As a first-time writer, I found it difficult to figure out how I wanted to write. Sure, I knew the story I wanted to tell. How do I tell it, though? I decided to approach it the way I do tough projects at work: analyze, research, and implement.

I am a voracious reader so I decided to analyze the books I liked. How did the writer structure the story? Did he or she describe every detail in the room, or was the reader left to fill in most of the blanks? Was the story heavy in dialogue? Did we spend a lot of time in the mind of the characters? Did the writer engage my senses – sight, sound, smell, touch?

I watched webinars on storywonk.com. They offered short, free sessions about a variety of topics, which was great for my sometimes limited attention span. I also downloaded some of the paid courses. The fees were modest, and the topics helped me understand more about the writing process.

I tried to read some books about “how to write a book.” I confess that I just didn’t find them engaging enough to hold my attention. I enjoyed the online webinars through storywonk.com so much more.

Now that I had lots of information, it was time to put everything into practice. It turns out the best advice is to just start writing. I first wrote a very long draft of the story. Then, I read what I wrote and changed some things. I repeated this process many, many times.

With each rewrite, I noticed some trends. I have a tendency to use the same words over and over again. I used the navigation tool in Word to search for those words and made sure I did not overuse them.

In my book, I have a tendency to write short paragraphs. Have you noticed that?

I discovered that I like to use little techniques that make it easier to follow the story. I like to read before bedtime. The next night or maybe the next day at lunch, I’ll pick up the book and flip back a page or two to figure out who’s talking or what’s going on. In Through the Mist, I made a conscious decision to structure my book in a “reader-friendly” way. If you put the book down, you (hopefully) would know where you were in the story the next time you picked up the book. I began each section with the name of the character involved in the scene.

Another thing I found was my lack of explanation. I assumed too much from the reader. For example, I called Malcolm Campbell a “laird” in one version of my story. In the critique, Mrs. Rich said I needed to brush up on my history; he would not have used that title after the ’45 Rising. At first, I was a little miffed because I knew damn well that the clan system was destroyed by the Act of Proscription. (Google it; it’s an interesting read.) Then, I understood. While I thought Malcolm’s use of the term showed his old-fashioned sensibility, it did not. I had far better ways to portray Malcolm Campbell, and I should not assume that the reader had a thorough knowledge of the aftermath of the ’45.

By the way, whenever someone says “the ‘45” or “the Rising,” they are referring to the Scottish rebellion against the English in 1745. There were a few Scottish rebellions, but the ’45 is the most significant. The English essentially committed genocide after the ’45. That’s my opinion. I suspect many Scots would agree.

Anyway – moving on….

So, the “implement” part took over three years. I rewrote scene after scene so, so many times, to get it just right. The story that I published differs a great deal from the original. I added much more material as I tried to paint a picture of the landscape and Castle Fion as well as take the reader into the minds of the characters. It took that long to figure out how I write.

If you are embarking on this journey, I wish you luck. Consult with whatever resources you have at hand. It is always useful to understand how other people write and how the process should work. However, in the end, it is your book. Tell the story in the way that fits best for you. If that means you write extensive outlines and put major plot points on note cards, great. If you prefer to jump into the story and make it up as you go along, that’s good too.

I do not believe there is a fixed way that everyone should write. I believe you should write your way. Most importantly, just write! 

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Constructive Criticism

I paid a modest fee to have the first 25,000 words of Through the Mist: Restoration (TTMR) reviewed by Mrs. Lani Diane Rich at storywonk.com. I thought that the book was done, so this was akin to putting on a few finishing touches. Oh, I was so, so wrong.

The genre of TTMR meant that Mrs. Rich was the victim at storywonk.com. She gave a great critique of my work. A devastating, but great, critique.

Up until this point, “criticism” usually meant something negative. Let’s face it. At work, folks are all too happy to tear you down. When I received her critique, I learned that there is a different form – constructive criticism. What a revelation!

Mrs. Rich offered the objective opinion I needed from a professional writer. I learned so many valuable lessons that sent TTMR and me on a completely different path.

For starters, I have a problem with point of view (POV). I still don’t understand how writers can construct a story in an omniscient viewpoint. Maybe I will learn how as I write more books. For now, it is better for me to remain firmly in one character’s viewpoint.

I realized that I did a poor job “painting a scene,” as I call it. I should not assume that the reader knows as much about Scottish history as I think I do. While I do not need to spend pages on a topic, I can toss in a sentence here and there, change the actions of a character – those sorts of things – and thus provide the reader with necessary information. The reader does not need to be bored with research material and history lessons. As a writer, it is my responsibility to push the story along, and sometimes that involves sharing the facts tumbling in my head.

I also adjusted the timeline. I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Let’s just say that certain events happened sooner rather than later. I should have allowed Tilly more time than I did. In my defense, I have known people who endured similar hardships. These women are amazing. They pick themselves and do extraordinary things. Still, one does need a little time to catch one’s breath. I may have pushed Tilly too much.

The biggest change came with the prologue. (I might publish the original here someday, just for giggles.) Mrs. Rich believed prologues were a bad idea and strongly recommended that I eliminate it altogether. If I insisted upon keeping it, she suggested that I try writing the prologue from a different POV.

That was the best advice. For kicks, I wrote it from Morag’s POV. I decided that, if I did not like it, I would not use it. The new version vastly improved the story. It completely changed the entire tone of the book.

I kept the prologue – sorry, Mrs. Rich. In my humble opinion, it is necessary for the book. I have no intentions of writing a prologue for the next one, though. It has no purpose there.

Remember - it is your book, so tell the story how you like. At the same time, I strongly advise you to seek an objective reader for your work. I spent so much time working on the story that I could no longer spot the weaknesses. I want people to read TTMR, something they will not do if the work is deeply flawed. I did not want readers to toss the book aside because they could not follow the story or were disgusted by the quality of the writing. You probably feel the same way too.

I desperately needed the constructive criticism that Mrs. Rich provided. Even if it stung a little. No pain, no gain, right? I hope you have had an opportunity to read TTMR and agree.

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Self Publishing is Soooo Easy

I was blissfully naïve when I decided that self-publishing my book would be easy. It is a lot of work.

In some aspects, the publishing process is better than it was 10, 20 years ago. You don’t need a literary agent or fat publishing contract to print your book. Several vendors are happy to assist you with getting your book printed in eBook and/or paperback form.

I ultimately choose Amazon and their parent company, CreateSpace, because their service is free on the front end. Amazon provides you with tools and other resources to create and publish eBooks. CreateSpace, which will produce your work in paperback form, has similar tools that help you create the cover, market the book, and handle loads of other questions. Both venues take a hefty cut of the total price. I was deeply saddened to see that my dreams of making writing a full-time career likely will not come true. Unless I sell millions of copies, my proceeds won’t even pay for that glass of champagne I featured in the first blog post.

So, yes, anyone can publish a book. That’s also the bad part. When my book is published, it is akin to tossing a pebble in the ocean. Literally hundreds of thousands of books are out there. How can I get people to notice my humble work?

I suppose that’s where the literary agent and traditional publishing house comes into play. All the work I must do on my own would be done by them. I created my own web page. I took the photo that appears on the cover of my book and designed the cover itself. I formatted the book for publishing on both Amazon’s eBook and CreateSpace’s paperback sites, which were two completely different formats. For the most part, I edited the book on my own.

You can find people out there who would be happy to perform a lot of these services for you. Someone would have been happy to design the website, edit the book, et cetera. All of those things cost money, though. When it is your first work, it is hard to justify the expense. It is especially difficult when you have no idea whether or not you have a prayer of making money on the venture.

For that reason, I have done a lot of the work myself. Some snarky folks will say it shows; well, help me for free then. Tell me what I should have done differently – in a nice way.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a very valuable resource that I used. As a fan of Outlander, I discovered a podcast called “The Scot and the Sassenach.” The couple who produced the podcast reviewed each episode of the series. It is a brilliant podcast conducted by two writing professionals. They provide an interesting prospective.

They also offer loads of writing classes (both free and paid) on their website, storywonk.com. They will perform all sorts of other services for you – help you with editing, design, et cetera. I found an offer where they would take the first 25,000 words of your novel and provide a critique. It was not terribly expensive, just $100 at the time. I considered the price to be very fair, especially when I received the feedback.

The review was admittedly disappointing at first, because I thought I was finished. However, the criticism was constructive. She helped me to see problems I had with various aspects of the book. In fact, I eliminated the first few chapters and started over. She is not a fan of prologues and wanted me to scrap it, but if I was “stubborn,” she suggested that I write it from a different character’s point of view (POV). I did, just to see how it would read – and the prologue in the book today is the result. It is far richer and ties the story together much better than the original.

If you are thinking about the self-publishing route, be prepared to do a lot of work. Set a budget for what you are willing to invest. Know that you may never, ever recoup that cost. Then, you can decide how much you can do yourself and how much you must pay someone else to do.

Do I wish I had a literary agent and big, fat publishing contract? I really don’t know. I imagine you must relinquish a certain amount of creative control. That’s really the big reason to go with self publishing – it is all you. No one imposes a deadline. No one tells you that you cannot say something. Some people may find that overwhelming. Some may find it liberating.

No matter which way you go, though, the key is to start writing! I do not believe this will be the venture that will rescue me from my job. I probably have a better chance of winning the lotto. However, that is not my primary reason for writing. I have a story to tell-and now I am finally able to tell it.

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