Guest Post: Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

Hello, hello!  Welcome to another guest post.  Today we welcome my friend and fellow Odd Stones Alliance member (the writing group we’re in), David Simms.  Between parenting, playing in a band, teaching, and many other awesome things, he’s managed to complete and publish his second novel.  Here, he shares some of his experience with the whole process from writing to publishing to marketing.  Read on!

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Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

The birth of a novel in 2018 is a vastly different experience than it was just ten years ago. It begs the question, when you spend years toiling over your story and nobody cares, or reads it, does it count? With the market today, too many authors take the route of simply dropping the book into a forest where nobody will see it, hear it, read it, or know about it. The gestation and birth is easy – barely anyone teaches writers how to raise the damn thing. When I embarked on the adventure to pen my second novel, Fear The Reaper (Crossroad Press), I knew it would be a different experience. My first novel was a blast to write. Sure, it was painful at times, but the writing was pure bliss. The research was 90% imagination and the rest drew from experience.

This time, I decided to take on the behemoth of a mental hospital down the hill from my new house. After learning its dark history and discovering that no other writer had ever published a novel on this topic, I dove in headfirst and cracked my skull on the task of writing a historical thriller. A true historical fiction piece scared me bad enough, but wrapping one of America’s darkest, dirtiest secrets around a fast paced story sounded much more enticing. After poring through several nonfiction texts, studying the town’s historical society while fending off dusty spiders, and interviewing former doctors, nurses, and relatives of patients, I had my story.

Writing the beast of the novel felt like bliss. Getting every detail of clothing, cars, food, drink, and sports team correct felt just right. By the time I hit the finish line, 109 thousand words glared back at me, daring me to edit them. No problem. It took several months, but editing it happened. Mostly, it was a pain-free experience.

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Postpartum (a term meant sarcastically, as I’d never be able to handle that experience), the book sat in my hands and I realized that books need to be raised, like petulant children. In this literary age where it seems a million books are published every week, writers must become warriors to get anyone to read it. Unless he/she is blessed to be with paired with a god/goddess of a publicist with endless funds, the writer must go ballistic and strategic if success is going to hit.

Without an agent or army, I hit the trenches alone and launched the second career of an author – the marketing. This is just as time-consuming as writing, yet without the fun. Thankfully, I’ve met and/or befriended many of my favorite writers, which helps networking – tremendously. Most of this has occurred because of the band I’ve played for. Follow that up with reviewing for four high profile venues and even more doors open. When it came time to secure blurbs for Fear The Reaper, I reached out and nailed down four out of six quotes. That’s better than most newer writers but it happened solely because of connections, not because I’m an amazing writer (I’m not).

My advice here: bite the bullet and social anxiety. Go to cons. Friend fellow authors on Facebook. Talk to them. Ask them for advice – most of them will happily oblige.

The second round hit harder. With a million books out there multiplying like germs in the Oval Office, how could I get my novel to stand out? My publisher is great but doesn’t do much marketing, which is normal (wish I would’ve know that earlier). So I reached out to people who know marketing best. Surprisingly, some self-pubbed authors really nail this aspect of the career. “Run a Facebook ad,” said one. So I did, and it sucked. Then I ran another but was bright enough to share it with a few who had much more experience with it. When I began receiving comments from across the globe, I knew it worked. Leading with one of the blurbs from a NYT best-seller obviously helped. Comparing my book to others (Shutter Island crossed with The Firm with a touch of The Shining – not my words) drew in even more readers.

Does this mean I’ve sold a ton of books? No, but it does mean I’m free from eating cat food for a few months.

I noticed that several of my “successful” writer friends kept posting news of their book tours, multiple signings, and interviews (online, radio, television).  How does one accomplish this on a budget, I pondered. An extreme, teacher budget. Some suggested a publicist. Sure. Once I learned that most of them only asked for my first born and random organs, I decided not to go into deep debt. Upon further investigation, I discovered that much what they offered wasn’t substantially different than I could accomplish on my own. I asked about television. They countered with radio. Does anyone still listen to talk radio anymore? If so, how many would purchase a novel after hearing an interview? Not many.

Yet the other avenues still appealed and seemed within grabbing distance. I sent out swarms of press releases to newspapers, television stations, colleges, libraries, bookstores, and that creepy guy who stands on the corner downtown. Even he ignored my requests. For a book of this importance (the subject, not my writing), one might think there would be interest, especially since it was a local book tackling a horrible part of history that most aren’t aware of. After so many cold shoulders, the offers did trickle in – at glacier speed. But still, I persisted. 

Five interviews later, most reaching across the world, I’m pleased. An invite to a black tie event where I’ll be paid? Sure. A dual signing with an author from California in NYC and DC? Definitely. Selling books by the side of the road before my ghost tours? Awesome.

It seems that there’s a course for just about everything in writing, except for how to actually get people to notice that your book is alive and out there in the wild. The ones that are in existence, that are legit, are harder to find than a unicorn riding a leprechaun. Maybe that should change. For those of us who spill blood on the pages for years to conceive these extensions of our souls, getting the world to notice them would be pretty nice.

But it’s possible. I’m proof of that. Keep reaching out in the dark. Eventually, you’ll find something. Hopefully, it doesn’t bite.

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Bio: David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, son and trio of furballs after escaping New Jersey and Massachusetts. A special education teacher, college English instructor, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, and book reviewer, he moonlights in the Slushpile band on lead guitar after co-founding the Killer Thriller Band with several best-selling authors. He gives workshops in three states on using music to help students of all ages to learn and de-stress, getting teens to write, and combating burnout for teachers in schools. He has sold several short stories which have been published in various anthologies, such as TERRIBLE BEAUTY, TRAPS!, and DARKNESS RISING and academic publications on music therapy, creative writing for teens. DARK MUSE was his first novel, a YA musical dark fantasy. FEAR THE REAPER is a thriller that’s mostly true story about the eugenics movement in America – basically, how we directly influenced Hitler and began a truckload of horrors right here in the states.

A Look Inside Seafood Shack Mariscos

Hello, hello!  Welcome to September.  It seems like forever since I’ve posted a food review (since January 2017 actually), so I thought it was about time for one.  Dad and I were going to go to Zenna  on Sunday, but they are temporarily closed due to fire damage.  So, we ended up trying a place called Seafood Shack Mariscos.  You can find addresses for all three of their locations on the website linked above.  It has a Big Shucks vibe.  Honestly, it’s super surprising to find a seafood place in Mesquite that isn’t a huge chain (Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack, etc.), so Dad and I decided to check it out.

First, a reminder of my rating system:

MMMMM = Everything is magnificent!
MMMM = Great, but something is off.
MMM = Pretty good, but a couple of things could be better.
MM = The bad’s starting to outweigh the good.
M = Definitely more cons than pros.
… = I couldn’t find anything nice to say.

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Didn’t think to take pictures, so I borrowed this one from Google.

Accessibility: not bad, not great.  Cripple parking is sparse, but it’s a small lot so what do you expect?  There’s a spot on either side of the loading zone right out front.  And it’s a loading zone that’s actually large enough for me to get unloaded in (yay!).  Getting in is easy enough.  But the tables are pretty tightly packed, so when it’s busy, you have to rely on the kindness of people moving and pushing chairs around so you can reach an empty spot.  It’s embarrassing, but you do what you have to do for the sake of food.  The tables themselves are easy to fit under and a good height.

Service: good.  You order at the counter, they give you a flag, someone brings your food and booze out.  Fountain drinks, tea, and condiments are serve yourself.  The cashier smiled at me when we approached, but seemed a little apprehensive to assume I would order anything.  After she realized I was going to order, she talked to me normally.  Some wires got crossed because I speak softly, but Dad helped straighten them out.  She also messed up some stuff with him, though, so I didn’t feel too bad about my mumbling.  The person who dropped off our food just asked if it was ours and put it down in front of whoever responded, which was perfect.

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Again, no pictures.  So here’s part one of their Mesquite menu from the website.

Food: fan-freaking-tastic!  We got a bowl of gumbo and a shrimp and octopus cocktail to share.  Both of which were amazing.  I had a little trouble chewing the octopus, but it’s supposed to be chewy.  I knew that going in.  Dad had the salmon, which came with rice and veggies.  Aside from the fish being a bit more well done than he usually eats it, he said it was really good.  I had the enchiladas de camaron.  Three shrimp and cheese enchiladas in a creamy sauce with a side of rice.  They were wonderful!

The only (not really) problem with the food was that everything came out at once.  It’s one of those things that happens when you have to order everything up front.  Is it inconvenient?  Yeah, a little.  Especially for those of us who enjoy eating at a slow pace.  Is it a deal breaker?  Nope.

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Part two of their Mesquite menu from their website.

I didn’t notice any desserts on the menu.  Sadness.  But they have mango margaritas (as well as other drinks).  Those things are addictive.  They coat the rim in Tajin (a seasoning containing lime, chili peppers, and sea salt).  It goes really well with the sweetness of the mango.  They also have tamarindo margaritas.  I want to try that one too, but it’s going to be really hard to beat the mango.

Price: normal.  Seafood is never going to be cheap, but the prices here are pretty good.  We walked away with around a $60 bill (not including tip).  That’s not bad considering all the yummy food we got.  We’ll definitely be going back and I suggest you give it a shot as well if you’re in the area!

My rating:
MMMM

Thoughts On LITTLE COMFORT

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the last Wednesday of August.  That means it’s time for another book review.  This month, I’ll be looking at Edwin Hill’s debut novel, Little Comfort.  It came out on August 28th.  It’s a new cozy mystery series that I actually forgot I had requested from NetGalley until I received the approval notice.  I must thank them and Kensington Books, the publisher, for sending me an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Without further ado, let’s get to it.

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A nice, simple cover.  But I don’t remember a bird in the story.

Little Comfort introduces us to Hester Thursby.  She lives with her partner (but refuses to marry him) in Boston, though she maintains a separate apartment area above his for when she needs time alone.  They have recently been saddled with taking care of his niece because his sister/Hester’s best friend took off.  So, Hester took some time off work until they could find a new life rhythm.  When things seem to be quieting down, a woman contacts Hester and asks her to track down the woman’s brother.  Since finding people had been Hester’s side business for a while, she agreed.  From there, things went very wrong.

This book was a little different from the cozies I’ve been reading because it shifted POVs.  We start out with Hester (an interesting character), then jump to Sam, Gabe, and a couple of other characters (all interesting in their own right).  The story shuffles back and forth around them.  I, personally, like that method.  I mean, following one character throughout the whole book as she figures out the crime is fine, but it wouldn’t have worked here.  This way, we not only get to figure out what’s going on, but we get better insight into the minds of the bad people.  The story isn’t really about whodunit, but how they ended up in that position and why they chose to do what they did.  That’s why the rotating POV works here.

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Who doesn’t love being in the mind of a sociopath every now and again?

As far as the plot itself goes, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep it intriguing.  My only complaint would be that the climax felt a little rushed.  Normally, I’m all for a quick “end it while cutting off the villain’s monologue” type thing, but considering the person who actually ends it, I wanted more.  More struggle, more explanation, more conniving on the bad guy’s part.  I wanted the niece to have a bigger part because I didn’t believe the guy would just let her loose.  That whole scene just felt too quick and easy.  Granted, there’s some stuff after the climax that kind of makes up for it, but I expected a little more.

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Pretty much.

The writing was a little shaky at times.  A lot of it was tight and pulled me along.  But sometimes, especially in the beginning, there was a lot of focus on tits.  Like, a lot.  It was borderline comical/annoying.  Don’t get me wrong, tits are great, but it felt like the author was overcompensating for something and I couldn’t decide what.  Mostly, though, things either went along at a really nice pace or they went too fast.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Little Comfort enough that I’ll look for future Hester Thursby books.  Hester was a great character and I’m interested to see what happens with the kid and the partner.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  My issues with the story weren’t big and could be attributed to the fact that it’s the first book.  If you’re into these kinds of stories, give it a shot.  However, I’d say if you’re legit sensitive to certain kinds of topics or just have a tendency to say things need “trigger warnings,” this book probably isn’t for you.

Year End Reading List

Hello, hello!  August is chugging along.  My revisions are going surprisingly well so far.  I keep waiting to hit a wall or something, but my sticky notes are keeping me on track.  Sometimes, my main character feels a bit too feminine, but I like him that way, so I’ll deal with it later if I have to.  Otherwise, I don’t have much to ramble about this week.  Because of that, I decided to share my reading-list-thus-far for September through December.  This list may or may not include books for my monthly reviews.  I haven’t decided on those yet.

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It’s a thing.  It’s not just me.

September’s reads:

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.  I’m reading this for the reading group I’m in.  It sounds like something I’ll enjoy.  Here’s the description from Amazon:

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

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Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien.  It’s the second in the Noodle Shop Mystery series.  You can find my review of the first book here.  I enjoyed it enough that I’m giving this one a shot.  Here’s the description from Amazon:

Lana Lee is a dutiful daughter, waiting tables at her family’s Chinese restaurant even though she’d rather be doing just about anything else. Then, just when she has a chance for a “real” job, her parents take off to Taiwan, leaving Lana in charge. Surprising everyone—including herself—she turns out to be quite capable of running the place. Unfortunately, the newlyweds who just opened the souvenir store next door to Ho-Lee have turned up dead. . .and soon Lana finds herself in the midst of an Asia Village mystery.

Between running the Ho-Lee and trying to figure out whether the rock-solid Detective Adam Trudeau is actually her boyfriend, Lana knows she shouldn’t pry into the case. But the more she learns about the dead husband, his ex-wives, and all the murky details of the couple’s past, the more Lana thinks that this so-called murder/suicide is a straight-up order of murder. . .


October’s reads:

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The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.  I’ve been meaning to try this one since it came out, but never quite got around to it.  Now, the reading group I’m in chose it for October, so I have no excuse not to read it.  Here’s Amazon’s description:

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

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Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna.  This one’s a bonus suggestion from the reading group.  It sounds cool, so I’m going to give it a shot.  I’m putting it down tentatively for an October read, but I might save it for later.  Here’s the description from Amazon:

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied. 
   With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.


November’s read:

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European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss.  The second in her series.  The reading group I’m in decided to read both of Dora’s books in a row because she’s amazing.  I admit the length of this one is a little daunting (720 pages), but I can do it!  Especially if I can start a little early on it.  Here’s Amazon’s description:

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.


December’s read:

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Sea Witch by Sarah Henning.  I’ve been looking forward to this one since I found out about it six months ago.  I was super happy when the reading group I’m in decided to give it a shot.  For now, I’ll save it for December, but if I get a chance, I might tackle this one earlier.  Here’s the description from Amazon:

Ever since her best friend Anna died, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. Hiding her talents, mourning her loss, drowning in her guilt.

Then a girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears on the shore, and the two girls catch the eyes of two charming princes. Suddenly Evie feels like she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But magic isn’t kind, and her new friend harbors secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad—or on two legs—without Evie’s help. And when Evie reaches deep into the power of her magic to save her friend’s humanity—and her prince’s heart—she discovers, too late, what she’s bargained away.


I’ll need to pick at least two more books to keep up with my two books a month goal, but I haven’t decided on all of them.  Plus, I have to wait for NetGalley to get back to me about some books to review.  I should probably get something festive for the holiday season.  Maybe a Christmas cozy?  Otherwise, this is my reading list until next year.  What’s on your list for the foreseeable future?  Feel free to share your list or suggestions or comments here or on my social media pages!

New Draft, New File

Howdy, howdy!  Another week gone by in the blink of an eye.  It seems like the only way I can keep up with the days is by the difficulty of the crossword, and that’s not a reliable measure.  Maybe I’m just being over-dramatic.  Anyway, this week, I wanted to talk about another new-to-me revision technique that I’ve been trying.  It’s another suggestion from the same book I mentioned last week, The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield.  Basically, you type up the new draft in a blank file.

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Yes, get into it.

In pre-word processor days, writers had to type up each new draft with their trusty typewriter (or write them out by hand if you want to go back that far).  There was no copying and pasting.  No saving the source file under a new name and making changes in the text you’ve already written.  Sure, they had the hardcopy next to them, but still… it sounds like a long and tedious process.  But it’s worth a shot when you’re having trouble getting into the revision flow.

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t followed Scofield’s advice as thoroughly as I could.  She suggests printing two copies your first draft and doing a bunch of exercises and making notes on the hardcopies and all of that, then revising into a new document from there.  That’s too much work for me.  I’m not being lazy, just mobility-impaired.  Why struggle with shuffling a bunch of papers around when I can use track changes in Word to make notes and achieve similar results?  Technology makes my life easier and more independent, so I try to make use of it when I can.  If I get stuck in the revision process, then I’ll back up and try it another way.

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That’s when we try something new.  Also, panda butt!

However, I did decide to follow her advice about typing the new draft up from scratch.  I open the first draft, highlight the next 1,000ish words (because it gives me a visual of how much I want to get through that day), then open my current draft file and get to typing.  Even though I was skeptical at first, it has been super helpful.  It allows me to focus on the voice of the narrator, which was shaky early in the first draft, and to fix things in my head as I type up the new version.  I’ve added stuff and taken stuff away.  I play with paragraph breaks and punctuation.  It just feels more acceptable to change things around on a blank page than it does on a completed draft.  I’m not disrespecting what I’ve already written, I’m making it better.   Even the stuff that I’ve sworn I was going to type up verbatim ended up getting tweaked to fit the new flow.  It’s been a freeing experience.

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Okay, it’s not as cool of an experience as this, but it’s pretty close.

I, personally, like starting at the beginning and working through things paragraph by paragraph.  But even if you like to jump around and work on different scenes in different orders, typing everything up in a new file could be helpful.  I know people who write their first drafts by hand and type their second draft from that.  There are so many ways to do this whole writing thing.  I’m constantly tweaking my own method, in case you haven’t noticed.  So, if you’re stuck or just haven’t found a way that consistently works for you, don’t be afraid to try a new process.

As always, feel free to share your own methods, comments, or questions here or on my social media pages!

Making Timelines

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s August going?  I’m still on track with the goals I posted last week.  Writing and revision are slow, but I’m doing something every day.  As far as books go, I’m currently reading Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a craft book.  It’s not bad, but half the time she seems really into genre fiction and the other half it seems like she’s looking down on it.  I’m just getting mixed messages from it.  However, I have found many of the exercises in the book useful!  I wanted to talk about one of those today: making timelines.

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It’s not bad as far as craft books go.  I’d recommend trying it.

In all of the fiction writing classes I’ve taken, there’s always been at least one hardcore plotter (sometimes, it’s even the teacher).  These are the people who swear by creating outlines and timelines of every little thing before they even begin writing.  I’m not one of them.  Sure, I plot things out in my head, but writing it down feels constrictive.  I like to let my first drafts form organically.  There’s no theme in my mind, no worry about subplots, none of that.  I know point A and point B.  Getting from one to the other should be an adventure.  That’s just how I like it.

I admit that my approach makes revision difficult.  I have nothing but the manuscript to work with, so trying to rework it into something readable can be a daunting task.  That’s why, when someone in my writing group suggested the above-mentioned book, I decided to give it a shot.  And you know what?  It offered suggestions that I had never thought about before.  Did you know that you could write your first draft with no guidelines and then make timelines and outlines and all of that plotter stuff after you have that shitty draft finished?  Because I had never really thought about it.  And now I feel like a complete idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

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Me. Stupid face and all.

So, guess what I did!  I bought a bunch of sticky notes and wrote out the main plotline, filling in stuff and taking stuff away as needed.  In other colors, I took certain characters/groups of characters and wrote out what they were doing and important tidbits that needed to show up in the novel.  Dad stuck them up all over my mirrors and now they taunt me every day until I do my work.  I can’t say I did it correctly.  I didn’t give each little plot point its own Post-It (only the major ones got that honor).  I’m sure I could’ve used different colored pens for different plots and all that crap.  But for my first time, I’m happy with it and it’s working for me so far.

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Why?  Why is this so true?  Timelines as well.  So hard.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because you’re not a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t try their techniques during the revision process.  The book offers a lot of different suggestions, some of which I skipped in favor of others.  I’ll read about the ones that I know don’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to do them.  If you’re having trouble finding a toehold in the revision process, pick up a craft book and try something new.  Make timelines.  Use sticky notes or index cards.  Have fun.  See what kind of pretty pictures your story makes.  Or keep it simple like I did.  Whatever works for you.

Speaking of things that work for you (or don’t), how do you go about revision?  Do you make timelines before or after the first draft or not at all?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and techniques here or on my social media pages!

August Goals!

Howdy, howdy!  Can you believe it’s already August?  I feel like I’m still stuck in June.  Time just keeps getting faster and faster.  Am I alone in this feeling?  Yeah?  Well, okay then.  I don’t really have much to talk about at the moment, though I am trying my hand at some revision techniques that are new to me.  If they work out, I’ll probably talk about them more next week.  Anyway, since this Wednesday actually falls on the first, I decided to simply share my August goals with you.

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It’s a pretty picture.  That’s all.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you…

August Goals:

1. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday) to semi-pro markets or higher.  This is one of my goals for the year (submitting two stories to magazines or anthologies every Monday) and I’ve been doing really well with it.  I haven’t missed a week yet, though I do believe I submitted stuff on Tuesday a couple of times.  Sometimes, I’ve dreaded submitting or felt like I’ve submitted everywhere I possibly could, but I pushed through it and found new places anyway.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up!

2. Write 50+ words OR revise 1+ pages EVERY DAY.  I’m back to the small goals every single day thing.  It’s just really helpful to me when I feel like I’m between projects.  In my head, I know I’m prepping for in-depth revisions on LR, but if I don’t keep track of words or pages, I don’t feel productive.  This goal might change once I find my rhythm with LR.  For now, though, it’s good for me.

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George R. R. Martin

3. Read 2 books.  This is another one of my goals for every month this year.  Honestly, I’ve kind of lost track of how many books I tend to read in a month because some overlap months and others I deliberately read over a longer period of time (almost always craft books).  But I do know I’m up to 18 books this year (thanks to GoodReads tracking feature), so I’m ahead of schedule.

4. Make time for people.  I’ve been a bit reclusive recently, though I still try to answer every message I get.  I just don’t initiate as many conversations as I should.  This is nothing new.  It’s something I struggle with all the time (as you know if you’ve read earlier posts).  I’m just far too comfortable not talking to people and stalking them on Facebook instead.  Yes, I’m creepy like that.  My friends know this and many of them do the same.  But I really do want to be better about socializing.  I swear.

5. Finish timeline for LR.  This is one of those new-to-me techniques I mentioned earlier.  There’s about one more day’s worth of plotting before I have a timeline that I can work with (I’m plotting it on the computer before I write anything out).  I even bought a bunch of Post-It notes in pretty colors to make everything easy to differentiate.  I just have to figure out where to stick them that’s easy to see.  Then, I have to recruit Dad to do the sticking.  I bet he never thought my novel writing would include work for him.

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That’s a lot of Post-It notes.

6. Work on revisions of LR.  Hopefully the timeline will make revisions go more smoothly than usual.  It’s already given me ideas for new scenes and how to rework some old ones, so I’m cautiously optimistic.  I should have some updates on this in the next couple of weeks.  Wish me luck!

Those are my goals for the month.  What about you?  What are you hoping to accomplish before September?  Feel free to share your goals or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts On THE WICKED DEEP

Hello, hello!  It’s the last Wednesday of the month already.  Time flies when you’re having fun (or just going about daily life), I suppose.  Anyway, you all know what happens today: a book review!  This week, I’ll be talking about The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw.  It was published back in March of this year by Simon and Schuster.  I read it with the reading group I’m in and decided that I have too many thoughts about it to not write a post.  I usually try to keep my posts as close to spoiler free as possible (sometimes a couple will slip through), but that’s going to be impossible here.  Spoilers this way lie.  You’ve been warned.

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I absolutely love the cover.

The Wicked Deep is the story of a small town called Sparrow and the curse that has plagued it every summer for two centuries.  Why is there a curse?  Because the town sentenced three sisters to death by drowning for acts of witchcraft, of course.  What is the curse?  The three sisters possess the bodies of three girls from the town and lure boys to their death in the harbor.  Poor Penny, a seventeen-year-old who lives on an island with her not-quite-all-there mother, has accepted that it’s the town’s fate to suffer the wrath of the witches every year.  That is until Bo, an unwitting outsider, shows up and she decides it’s her mission to protect him.  Things go all kinds of wrong from there.

I have to admit that I was totally in love with this book as I was reading it.  The setting was wonderful and the writing pulled me along.  Even after I finished it, I was prepared to give it five stars.  Then, I took a breath and started thinking about it.  Really thinking about it.  That was when things got super dark, and not in a good way.

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It really did.

*spoilers ahead*

I ended up feeling sooooo bad for Penny. First, she’s possessed by Hazel (violation much?), but then there’s the whole Bo thing. I mean, there’s sex.  That means Penny is basically ghost roofied and forced into sex without any say. To be fair, Bo doesn’t know about Penny being Hazel at first.  But after everything is over, he keeps dating Penny like everything is normal and he was in love with her all along. At the same time, he keeps pining over Hazel. So, he’s not in love with Penny, which means she’s stuck in a relationship with some guy who’s not really into her.  It all just got very rapey the more I thought about it.  By itself that’s fine (not every story has to be a happy one), but there will be people who think this is a great love story and that’s what really makes me sad.

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Me after really thinking about things.

Aside from that, I also expected more from Penny’s mom.  She supposedly has some kind of psychic powers and knows when people are on her island and all that, but she doesn’t kick Hazel’s ghostly ass?  She doesn’t really do much at all.  It’s apparent during her conversation with Hazel that she knows things, but she doesn’t act.  It was just a little disappointing.

Ultimately, I had a love/hate relationship with The Wicked Deep.  I’ll still keep a look out for other books by Shea Ernshaw, though.  It was good enough that I was swept along, which makes it worth looking into other stories by her.

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Overall, my issues with it dropped my rating down to a 3 out of 5.  I definitely suggest picking it up if you’re into stuff like that, but really think about the story.  Maybe I’m making too much out of something small.  Maybe you’ll find it creepy too.  Who knows?

Impromptu Celebratory Post

Howdy, howdy!  I know, I’m not supposed to be posting today.  But there’s something I wanted to celebrate now that Dad has finally given me the go ahead.  And since next week is a book review post, I thought I’d just write this one as something special in between.  First, say hi to Dad from my Stonecoast years!

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Pretty sure this was January 2013.

That was when he was around 270 lbs.  He maintained that weight for a while after losing 60 lbs (yeah, he was 330 at one point).  Then, a week or so after Thanksgiving last year, we went to see a new doctor who came into the room and immediately said Dad was dying because of his weight and diabetes and all that stuff (dude was a real ray of sunshine </sarcasm>).  So, he told Dad to lose 70 lbs through diet and exercise.  He gave us a crappy little paper that showed what the diet would consist of (not helpful at all), said to do 30 minutes of cardio a day, then sent us away to figure everything out ourselves.

So, we did.

The doctor said 1,200 calories a day, so I found an app to keep track of that.  Dad got a new Polar A370 watch to track his exercise and that H10 heart monitor we posted about a while ago, plus the corresponding apps.  And for almost 8 months (November 29, 2017 until July 18, 2018), Dad religiously stuck to between 1,200 and 1,300 calories a day.  The calorie app would yell at him if he was under 1,200 because, for men, that’s considered starvation levels, but he rarely went over 1,250.  He walked on the treadmill 6 days a week and did some strength training as well, but had to give up the exercise for a few weeks when the doctor put him on a statin and he had some adverse reactions.  It was hard work and I’m super proud of him!  Say hi to Dad now!

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He’s strong like bull.
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A dorky bull, but still.
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He also made the curtains, in case you were wondering.

He’s lost about 80 lbs!  He weighed 191.1 on the 18th!  He went from a 2X down to a large.  He bought a new belt a few months ago and is currently in need of another new one (he’s been drilling extra holes into it as needed for now).  He did an awesome job!

Now, we’re slowly figuring out a maintenance plan.  That’s all.  I just wanted to brag about Dad a bit.

See you Wednesday!

Smashed Cucumbers and Grilled Lamb-Stuffed Pitas

Hello, hello!  First and foremost, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD!  Yup, it’s the anniversary of his awesomeness as a few of my friends call it.  If you have his number, call him and sing at him.  Otherwise, post birthday wishes here or on my social media pages and I will pass them along.

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Opus and Bill say happy birthday!

And now, onto the blog.  I have nothing new to talk about, so I thought I would post a couple of recipes Dad recently tried out: smashed cucumbers (also known as Pai Huang Gua) and grilled lamb-stuffed pitas with yogurt sauce.  Both of these recipes came from America’s Test Kitchen.  Have you tried something new recently?  Feel free to share your food exploits here or on my social media pages!

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Borrowed from Google

First up, smashed cucumbers (from season 18, episode 17).  Serves 4.  We forgot the chili oil ATK suggested you use with this dish, but it was good without it.  Nice and cool and refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.  Dad also added a teaspoon of minced ginger, which was delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14-ounce) English cucumbers
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (or 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced to paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Directions:

1. Trim and discard ends from cucumbers. Cut each cucumber crosswise into three equal lengths. Place pieces in large zipper-lock bag and seal bag. Using small skillet or rolling pin, firmly but gently smash cucumbers until flattened and split lengthwise into 3 to 4 spears each. Tear spears into rough 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces and transfer to colander set in large bowl. Toss cucumbers with salt and let stand for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes.

2. While cucumbers sit, whisk vinegar and garlic together in small bowl; let stand for at least 5 minutes or up to 15 minutes.

3. Whisk soy sauce, oil, and sugar into vinegar mixture until sugar has dissolved. Transfer cucumbers to medium bowl and discard any extracted liquid. Add dressing and sesame seeds to cucumbers and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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Also borrowed from Google.  We had the smashed cukes instead of a salad.

Next up are the grilled lamb-stuffed pitas with yogurt sauce (from season 18, episode 20).  Serves 4-6 (the following instructions are for 4 servings, but just add extra pitas and divide mixture by 6 if you want to serve more/have fewer calories).  The pita was crispy, the meat juicy, and the yogurt sauce was nice and cool and creamy.  Definitely worth a try.  Some grilled onions on top might be a nice addition as well.

Ingredients:

SAUCE

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup minced fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt

SANDWICHES

  • 1 onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 pounds ground lamb (or 85 percent lean ground beef)
  • 4 (8-inch) pita breads

Directions:

1. FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Set aside.

2. FOR THE SANDWICHES: Pulse onion and cilantro in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in oil, lemon zest and juice, coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon. Add lamb and knead gently with your hands until thoroughly combined.

3. Using kitchen shears, cut around perimeter of each pita and separate into 2 halves. Place 4 thicker halves on counter with interiors facing up. Divide lamb mixture into 4 equal portions and place 1 portion in center of each pita half. Using spatula, gently spread lamb mixture into even layer, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Top each with thinner pita half. Press each sandwich firmly until lamb mixture spreads to ¼ inch from edge of pita. Transfer sandwiches to large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. (Sandwiches may be held for up to 1 hour before grilling.)

4A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter two-thirds filled with charcoal briquettes (4 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

4B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.

5. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place sandwiches on grill, cover, and cook until bottoms are evenly browned and edges are starting to crisp, 7 to 10 minutes, moving sandwiches as needed to ensure even cooking. Flip sandwiches, cover grill, and continue to cook until second sides are evenly browned and edges are crisp, 7 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer sandwiches to cutting board and cut each in half crosswise. Transfer sandwiches to platter and serve, passing sauce separately.