Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Another message from the universe

I just received a call from one of my first cousins to tell me that his wife, Rhoda, died this morning. What a shock. I saw her a few weeks ago while we were in Chicago -- we celebrated our 70th birthdays together at McCormick and Schmick's at the Old Orchard Mall. Her birthday was four days before mine.

And now she is gone. Just like that.

Like how my husband and I felt after his brother died last January, this is message from the universe reminding us that we don't have an infinite number of days left. We need to use the ones that remain fully and wisely. And what is more, we need to visit family and friends every chance we have.

I am so glad I saw her last month. And, now, I'll be going to her funeral on Friday. At least I can be there for my cousin during this hard time for him.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The writing life - another report

Since I consider last week my first real week of retirement, I think I got through it with flying colors. I was very diligent about my writing, I got caught up with the over 500 emails in my inbox, I posted at both my blog sights (Choices and Red Room), and I began to write down my thoughts about how to get my memoir into a shape that will pass the publication hurdle. I also got very involved in watching the first season of “Damages,” the lawyer series starring Glenn Close. It’s absolutely brilliant. And, I’m as disciplined as ever about keeping to my workout schedule.
I continue to write at least 300 words a day on my novel, so at this rate I should have a book draft ready very soon. I’m already about 70 pages into it. However, right now it’s a just a hodgepodge of scenes, dialogues, scene outlines, and little descriptions, and it definitely lacks a lot of necessary research. I plan to workshop it in Jessica’s Novel 2 class starting in September – unless my memoir edit is still in full force. Needless to say, I’m very happy with my writing life so far. And, as you can see, there's a little play involved as well.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lost and found

Here's the Lost part:

On one of the first days of our trip and coincidentally on my birthday I carelessly left my laptop behind at the security checkpoint as we were getting ready to board a flight to Washington DC from Chicago. Seconds later, as shown on the surveillance tape, a large African American man dressed in Army fatigues with sunglasses perched upon his bald head, took it. So, of course when I realized I didn’t have it about 20 minutes later and went back to the checkpoint to see if I could find it there, it was gone. 

Unfortunately, the TSA folks and the Chicago police began to help much too late to find the man still in the airport. Before its theft became a cause célèbre he was long gone. First, the TSA guy at the security checkpoint gave me a number to call for the security folks upstairs. When I called they said they would look at the tapes and call me back. That took about a half hour. 

They then called the Chicago police and asked me to meet an officer back at the security checkpoint. There ensued another delay because I first had to tell the officer the story, and then he had to hear the same story from the TSA folks, and by then hordes of folks also had to hear the story and fill out paperwork before they got anyone to start looking for the guy. But, alas, it was already about an hour and a half later, and by then, the thief and my computer no longer on the ground -- at least not in Chicago. So, we left Chicago for Washington DC on a later flight computerless. Fortunately, United Airlines didn't charge us for the changed flight time.

We went to the Apple store in Pentagon City to replace the computer the next morning. This time I got a LoJack computer tracking system. I also bought Mobile Me so I could download all my work to there – daily. Even though I was backing up onto a thumb drive pretty regularly I lost a couple days worth of work – I think one journal entry, a piece for my book, a poem, and the blog piece I wrote for Red Room. I recreated the blog piece in long hand and typed it in on a hotel computer so I wouldn't miss the deadline, but I’m afraid the other three things were lost forever.

So the huge lessons are: make sure you have all your stuff with you when you leave a security checkpoint at the airport -- no place is safe from theft, make sure you back up after each work session on your computer, install a security system on your computer -- and an access password, and make sure you shut down your computer every time you stop working on it -- I just put my computer to sleep before I went travelling with it. 

Now for the Found part:

A few days before the end of our cruise I realized I had lost one of my hats. It wasn't in its cubby in our stateroom and it wasn't on the shelves where I kept my clothes. (Because of our small quarters I always made sure everything was in its place.) And, with all our touring I realized I could have left it anywhere.

Even so, on the day before we were to disembark I decided to go to the Purser's desk (like the front desk at a hotel) and ask if there was a lost and found on board. The man at the desk asked what I had lost. "A cap," I told him. "What color?" he asked. And before I even got the word "purple" out of my mouth he gave me a big smile. Both of us said with the word Woof on it at the same time. He left to go into the area behind the desk and brought out my hat. I must have left it in one of the tour meeting areas, and some kind person picked it up and turned it in. So not everyone takes the opportunity to commit a crime. I'm thrilled to have my Woof hat back -- a gift from my veterinarian niece.
Here it is:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trip pix

Some of my readers have been asking for photos from our recent trip. Here are a few of the things I found most interesting:

The Starn Banboo installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (now I said interesting, not that I particularly liked it)

The London Eye -- this was our second trip on it.

The dragon spire in Copenhagen (for some reason I got caught up with spires, ceilings, and roofs)

The Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm -- and the vodka was almost non-existent

The amphitheater in Tallin Estonia where tens of thousands gather to sing

The paper mache chandelier at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg

The monument to Sebelius in Helsinki -- a favorite composer during my college days

The regatta in Oslo (through the rain drops on the ship's window)

The Prince Albert Memorial in the Kensington Gardens

The sea of trees of Central Park as seen from our hotel room in NYC

Notice anything? Yes, most of the photos show dark or rainy skies. That's what the weather was like in most places. Plus it was cold.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The sad tale of the travelling dress

Pretty dress even though it's a little wrinkly, right? Well, it should be a little wrinkly and worn out by now. After all, it travelled half way across the world. And, unfortunately it never came off the hanger.

Why is that, you might ask. Well, see that little white thing on the left side, just under the bust line. That's a security tag. Yep, that's right. I bought it at Nordstorm especially for one of the formal occasions on our recent cruise. The Nordstrom seamstress shortened and took it in a bit, and the salesperson  packed it up for me in a garment bag, and all the while neither noticed the tag was still on.

Sure, I should have checked as well or least gotten a warning alarm as I took it out of the store with that pesky thing still attached. And, I never noticed it was there until I was ready to put it on somewhere in the Gulf of Finland. And then it was too late.

My husband immediately went to the dress store on the ship and asked for help, but the salesperson's reaction was, "No, not again!" She said it happens at least two times on each cruise. But, unfortunately she didn't have the device to remove the tag. Why should she? She had the perfect solution -- buy a new dress from her and take the one with the tag back to the store when you get home. She also warned not to try to take the tag off ourselves. We would surely ruin the dress.

Well, I didn't buy a new dress -- I made do with what I had. But, I'm going to take this pretty blue dress back to Nordstom today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Drumroll please! WOW Blog Tours and Choices present Barbara Barth!!!

I’ve Written My Book, Now What?

The Now What is a huge question. Do you try to find an agent to help you find a publisher? Do you try and self publish? Who can you contact for help?

I’ve been there, done it and gotten a T-shirt. My T-shirt says Print On Demand.  I am always looking for the universe to send me signs, and my sign on how to publish my book came in the strangest of places.

September 2009 found me working away on my book. The first draft was completed and I was trying to figure out what to do next. I spent hours online looking for answers. Knowing I still had work to do on the book did not stop me from fretting how to get it into the world when completed.

While doing my research I read how long it can take to get an agent. Then how long it can take to have a publisher do something with your book. If they want it at all. Be prepared for third party edits of your ideas. Allow at least two years for the book to go into print. If you are not in the top percent of books the publisher wants to promote, you are still doing much of the work. None of this agreed with me. As a widow I needed something to do, and taking charge of my book was my bridge to my new life.

So the sign. Let’s get back to that. It was a miserable rainy day. I had a cold. The mailman had left a registered letter slip. I was curious what was so important that required my signature. I threw on my raincoat and headed to the Post Office.

Standing in the long endless line at the Post Office I saw an old friend of mine several people up. We frantically waved at each other to say hello.

“Hey,” she shouted across all the people in front of me. “What are you doing?” She was loud enough that everyone turned to me to see what I had to say.

“I’m almost finished writing my widow book.” I had to yell loudly back to her.

The woman in front of me turned and smiled. “I’m a writer too.”

How nice I thought.

She continued. “There’s a class on publishing at Emory University this week you should check out. The teacher is an author from out of town and only gives this class once a year.”

That got my attention. I was so confused on what to do with my book. And here at the Decatur Post Office a stranger had my answer.

I grabbed my envelope and headed home. In case you are as curious as I am about everything, my letter contained plastic rhinestone butterflies from Malaysia. I was designing a scarecrow for the annual Halloween event at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and the butterflies were to be glued on my scarecrow’s dress.

As soon as my feet hit the house I raced to my computer, got online and registered for the course. Three nights later I was sitting in class on the Emory campus. The teacher was Tom Bird a publicist with the Pittsburgh Pirates turned writer many years ago. This evening his subject was Print On Demand (POD).  Similar to self-publishing but you don’t have boxes of books in the basement and the cost is much less expensive. I was excited!

I looked up Print On Demand on Wikipedia to give you a more formal defination. POD companies offer “services directly to authors who wish to self-publish, usually for a fee.
These services generally include printing and shipping a book each time one is ordered, handling royalties and getting listings in online bookstores. The initial investment for POD services is usually less expensive for small quantities of books when compared with self-publishing that uses print runs. Often other services are offered as well: formatting, proof reading and editing, and so on. Such companies typically do not spend their own money on marketing, unlike traditional publishers.” Books are not printed until an order has been received and the books are printed using digital printing rather than traditional printing methods.

There are many companies that do print on demand. The teacher that night talked about Lightening Source as his choice for POD. Lightening Source is owned by Ingram, one of the biggest book distributors in the U.S. The costs are less than the company I ultimately chose, Outskirts Press, but I would have to do my own PDF. I am sadly technically challanged and this obstacle seemed overwhelming to me. Outskirts Press for a larger fee did the work for me. All I had to do was submit my word document with instructions.

While there are many POD companies out there I am familiar with just two. Outskirts Press that did a whiz bang job on my book. The other is Lightening Source who will be my choice for my next book. I have learned I can get help with all those things that scared me before.  Lightening Source has that link to Amazon that is easier as a seller to work with. The profit margin is higher and there are many pluses there I was not familiar with when I started this process.

This go round I am very happy with my experience with Outskirts Press and my book looks sensational. I’ll put it up against any industry published book. It can hold its own.

So what did this cost me you might ask? I am happy to share. I chose the Diamond Package at just under $1000. That allowed me to submit my own cover, rather than using one of theirs.  A book cover speaks to me before a book does and I wanted control of that image. A graphic designer friend gifted the cover to me. Outskirts Press sent the template for her to complete and return to them.

Other perks with the package I chose included an online listing with Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Outskirts provided the ISBN. I had already applied for my copyright. There is an e-book and a website.

I chose to do my own web and found a great web designer. It was important to me to have a professional web that reflected the spirit of my book. Check it out and visit my web gal .

Outskirts Press did offer editing services for a fee. I chose not to use them. I decided to do it myself. That said I had eight rounds of edits at $49 per round. With each round I paid extra for every group of 25 edits. The cost did add up. However, during the editing process I also changed my text to add more dialog and did other major revisions. That explains most of the eight rounds. The rest were punctuation errors on my part.  It took less than three months from original manuscript submission to my final book. My eight rounds of edits slowed the process a good bit. But I sure learned a heap of good stuff.

I paid additional fees for Kindle and the Look Inside feature on Amazon ($200) and a buy back program for retailers ($495).

Outskirts Press sends marketing e-mails almost daily. The e-mails contain advice on what to do next. I found a better answer. I have a literary agent/publicist that is wonderful. John at . Two days after reading my book he had a YouTube book trailer online and within a week an interview on his newsletter. .

I am amazed. For a gal who had no knowledge of the book world I have written and published my book. It has been two years since my husband’s death. My book took me from my old life to my new life where everyday I am writing away with six dogs sleeping at my feet.  My choice to use Print On Demand kept me busy, involved. Doing it my way (thanks Frank for letting me use your song) has put me in control of my destiny. I am now feverishly learning how to market my book and have started pitching to agents. If they want my book, that’s great. If they don’t, it is out there for the whole world to read.

I call that a win win.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

WOW blog tour

Don't forget to join us here tomorrow for Barbara Barth's blog post. She is sponsored by WOW - Women on Writing's blog tour. I can't wait for you to read her advice on writing a memoir and printing on demand.

See you here tomorrow!

Towel art

My husband and I just returned from a cruise to Northern Europe, visiting Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Oslo. We were pampered royally on Cunard's newest ship, the Queen Victoria. One of the people who helped make us feel like royalty was the young woman, named Santa, who took care of our room. Santa, from Latvia, worked about 12 hours a day or more with most of her days starting out on the balcony scrubbing away any precipitation that accumulated during the night. And, no matter when I saw her, she always had a smile and a happy greeting for me.

One day late morning we came back to our state room and found an adorable towel scupture on our freshly made up bed -- hand made by Santa. Not only is this young woman a hard worker she has a wonderful artistic touch. We were indeed enthralled by her on all counts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Save the elephants

One of our first stops across the Atlantic during our 40th anniversary celebratory trip was in London. Throughout the city were large fiberglass elegantly painted elephants that will be auctioned off later this year. All proceeds will go to saving the elephants. Here are a couple of examples.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Introducing Barbara Barth

I'll be hosting Barbara Barth here on "Choices" on June 21, so I want to give you a little information about her in advance.

Barbara Barth likes a lot of things: turquoise jewelry, surfing the ‘net, margaritas. Then there are the dogs. Six at last count. But who can keep it straight with all those tales wagging? This Georgia antique dealer and jewelry maker published a hobby newsletter for 13 years. After her husband died she recorded the year that followed in a series of essays. When she isn’t writing you can find her at the local thrift shops or pounding another nail into the wall to hang the paintings she can’t resist.

Her book, The Unfaithful Widow is the memoir of a 59 year old wife who suddenly finds herself a widow. She’s the member of a new club where she doesn’t fit in, trying to create a new life for herself. Along with the grief there are plenty of awkward situations, new experiences and just plain silliness. The Unfaithful Widow delves into everything from condoms to memorial services to dog companions(and a few human ones).
And, I'm very excited that she'll tell us about writing a memoir in essay form and the advantages of printing on demand.
So I hope you'll join Barbara and me here on June 21.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So, how's the writer's life going?

I’ve been very good about writing my 300 words a day. Or if I don’t, I makeup for it in the next day or two. Yet, I can’t bring myself to read the book my novel writing teacher recommended: The Scene Book A Primer for The Fiction Writer. Hey, I don’t even call myself a fiction writer yet, so what am a hesitating for? I need the instruction very badly. In fact I plan to sign up for her Fall class.  

I have begun to introduce myself as a writer lately. Someone asked me today if I work and I said, “I recently retired. But I’m a writer so I’m keeping busy with that.” I explained that even though my day job was related to writing, I have the opportunity concentrate on my own thing now.

Another thing that’s happening is that I’m spending a lot more time reading. I’m on my third book in three weeks – A Reliable Wife, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and my current read, The Shadow in the Wind. All three are very different yet all very worth while. Of the three I’d say I liked A Reliable Wife the best and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the most poorly written. The plot is very clever and makes the book a page turner, but I’m afraid that when the writing bothers me I have trouble getting the full value of the plot.