The Company We Keep

Just as people we meet or socialize with judge us, in part, by the company we keep, the same also applies online. What company do you keep?

Be careful where you post/reply to things. Do you want to risk being associated with a shoddy business?

LinkedIn advises us to connect only with people we know on some level. Maybe we know them personally or work(ed) with them. Maybe we have done business with them remotely.

Today we have so many options for social media, we cannot keep up with them all. At least I can’t. Choose the ones you’ll use and have the best chance for being worthwhile. I look for places to network with other writers or find markets for my writing.

If you’re a writer, do you submit to the low hanging fruit that accepts almost anything and may not even offer payment? How much would you achieve by being published there? At least try for better paying markets that readers and other publishers my recognize.

The company we keep matters. Aim to be proud of your associates.

Enlightenment for Writers and Their Partners

woman hunched over typewriterCreative people are not always the easiest to live with. I can say that because I am a writer.

I am so grateful my partner understands that sometimes I need my creative cave just as much as he need his man cave or, it seems, his Facebook. He knows when to leave me alone because he knows I’ll be back.

When writing “in the zone”, we artist types are often oblivious to what happens around us. You may see us, but sometimes we’re not really there.

Please be patient during the times we can’t bear to take our thoughts away from our work.

If you live with a creative, here are some insights into his/her psyche. If you are a creative, the link will remind you what our partners have to face.





Achieving Your Dreams

My parents built a summer house on a tidal river at the New Jersey shore when I was one year old. Salt water is in my blood.

Dreams fly at the ocean’s edge.

When I was in my thirties, my goal changed from having my own house on the water to actually living on the water in a sailboat.

I found this quote from Henry David Thoreau in a sailing magazine: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a  success unexpected in common hours.” It was printed with a background of a person standing on the shore with one knee raised on a piling and his hand under his chin. He’s gazing out over the ocean at  a sailboat floating by.

For inspiration, I cut out that 3″x5″ image and stuck it on my refrigerator door with a magnet. Not too many years later, I sold my house and lived aboard for six years. The inspirational image went with me in my recipe box, protected by a plastic sleeve designed for recipe cards.

The achievement of that dream led me to another dream: being a published writer. My salt water stories have since been published in four boating magazines and over six anthologies.

The cutout image and quote now reside on my desk, inspiring me to work on my novel and the occasional short piece.

What is your dream? What inspires you?







Lesson from a Mourning Dove

Last spring, a mourning dove built a nest in the palm tree outside my office window. I looked forward to watching the babies hatch.

But that never happened. One day, only part of the nest remained in the tree. Broken eggs and the rest of the nest were on the ground. I don’t know if the wind or a cat knocked the nest down.

Mourning Dove chicksThis spring, a smaller mourning dove built a nest on the other side of the same palm tree. The brave little mother sat there through freezing nights, some frigid days, one night of strong winds, and a couple of downpours.

One day, she carried off an eggshell, but I saw no sign of a little one. Did the hatchling survive?

Now that we’ve had some days with temps back in the 70s, Mama has been able to leave the nest for longer periods. A week ago, I saw two little heads sticking up! Saw them again this morning–they’re growing fast. Mother and offspring barely fit in/on the nest now.

I think there’s a life lesson here. We may struggle to achieve what we attempt, and we may not be successful the first time. If we keep trying, moving forward a little at a time, we can be successful. I hope this applies to me and my first novel.

Several ideas for novels floated around in my mind several ten years ago, but I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle that large a project yet. I spent a few years honing my craft by writing short fiction and nonfiction. Even so, the writing plus the extensive research required to write a historical novel that takes place in 1911 and on two continents has sometimes been so frustrating that I twice set the project aside. Health issues were also a factor.

Past the halfway point now, I’m confident I’ll reach the end this year, hopefully by summer. I wonder if Mama Mourning Dove feels the same. She’s raising her babies all on her own–I never saw a mate bring her food.

Writing is solitary, too, but at least I have a mate to whine to now and then.



Editor? Agent? Lawyer? Right for You?

Editor? Agent? Lawyer? How do you choose which is right for you? The answer depends on what you need and what it’s worth to you.

New York publishers are commonly viewed as the Ivy League of the publishing world. Unless you are extremely lucky, you’ll need an agent to gain admittance there.

But just as the Ivy League, a large university, or any college at all is not the best choice for everyone, not all books are suited for New York. You and your book may be better served by a smaller publisher who will devote more time to you.

What if you submitted directly to a publisher and received a contract. If, and this is a big if, do you need an agent who will collect 15% of your earnings if the only thing that agent can do for you is review the contract?

Choosing a lawyer to negotiate a contract can be expensive, too. How can you keep that cost down?

Jane Friedman has 20 years experience in the publishing industry as a publisher, author, consultant, and teacher. Check out her advice here..


Experienced Pros Share Free Author Advice

The ALLi online event packed with free author advice starts March 18. This will be the 3rd year I’ve attended.

What I love is the solid content without the sales pitches usually found in other free events. I’ve learned more here than in some online multi-session classes I paid for!

  • As an author conference, Indie Author Fringe is unique:
    • its faculty of speakers: the top author influencers and services
    • it’s run by authors, for authors
    • it’s absolutely free to attend
    • it’s global
    • it creates a repository of advice and education that will be promoted all year long by the Alliance of Independent Authors

For 24 continuous hours, 24 events will be broadcast, so no matter what time zone you’re in, you can probably catch some of them live. While you sleep or tend to other things, everything is recorded so you can catch up on them (and the free offers!) when it’s convenient.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. This series of sessions focuses on Writing and Making a Book.

(For those of you on the U.S east coast like me, 10:00 AM GMT on March 18 is 6:00 AM EDT. I’ll be watching while I eat and early breakfast.)




Corn Flake Battles

What food people ate is one of many things I researched for my historical novel, American Gold. One example: What breakfast cereal options did Americans have in 1911? Did they have corn flakes?

Not only did they have corn flakes, they had competing brands. The Kellogg brothers started making corn flakes in 1906. The corn flakes were part of the healthy diet promoted and served at their sanitarium.

Fir the eagle-eyed among you, you may be able to see Canada mentioned at the bottom of the ad on the right. That’s because Kellogg’s began selling cereal there in 1914. Early globalization?

Many others jumped into the profitable cereal business. A former patient at the sanitarium, C.W. Post, created his own version: Post Toasties.

Post claimed his corn flakes were lighter, crispier, and toastier. When my mother was young, she might have heard this radio commercial.

By the time I came along, even Bugs Bunny sold Post Toasties.

If you’ve shopped for cereal lately, you know that Kellogg’s won this cereal war.










Pocket watch? Wrist watch?

When a character in my historical novel, American Gold, wanted to know the time, would he or she check a pocket watch or a wrist watch? Another one of those nitpicking details I needed to check that had nothing to do with the plot!

Because American Gold takes place during 1911- 1913, my male characters would check a pocket watch to see the time or to determine compass direction. Prior to the war, a women might wear a wrist watch, but a “real man” would not.

During World War I, soldiers discovered how inconvenient it was to take out your pocket watch when you were otherwise occupied. After WWI, men began to change to wristwatches.

The watch to the left is similar to my grandfather’s silver one. When I took it to an appraiser, I learned that the chains on these old watches are often worth more than the watch.

If you’re wondering how to use a watch to determine north/south, you can find out here.

My grandmother also had a pocket watch, but hers could also be attached to a decorative pin and worn as a brooch. The gold case is elaborately decorated with scroll work and yellow, white, and rose gold.

Although her watch no longer works, I can’t bear to part with it because it is so beautiful. It’s similar to the one pictured on the right, but the photo does not do it justice.

These mementos of days past remind me that our ancestors appreciated the extra work required to make utilitarian things beautiful.

A friend once said her father told her, “surround yourself with beautiful things.” I smile just thinking about that. It’s one way to make our personal worlds a little more beautiful.





Create Custom Word Dictionaries

Writing my historical novel, American Gold, I find myself using Czech words and names, but Word keeps flagging them as misspellings. I don’t want to add them to my main dictionary because I’ll probably never use those words or names again.

Bird with glasses checking dictionaryOne writer recently told me she creates a custom dictionary for each book. How could I not know about custom dictionaries? Or how to tell Word to use more than one dictionary?

For instructions on how to create and use custom dictionaries plus other neat tricks in MS Word, check out this article from PCWorld.





Oranges and Sunshine: Empty Cradles

I just watched the powerful movie, Oranges and Sunshine, based on the empty cradlebook Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys. (Later editions were titled Oranges and Sunshine: Empty Cradles.) Now I want to read the book.

The movie chronicles Humphreys’ journey investigating the plight of English children sent to Australia and elsewhere. Some of them were orphans, but many were taken from poor families by the government.

Instead of helping the children and families in their native country, the government deported the children aboard because it would cost less money than keeping them in Britain. Families were told their children would have a better life with other families who could provide more.

Children were told they would be living in a land of constant sunshine where they could pick oranges off trees at breakfast. In reality, many ended up in orphanages or other institutions in harsh, sometimes abusive conditions. By the time Humphreys learns of this, the children are adults with no knowledge of their real families.

The movie states that an estimated 135,000 children were sent away on large ships in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, but other estimates range up to 150,000. Humphreys’ mission was to try and reunite as many children as possible with their families.

The movie focuses on only a few of the children’s stories and how Humphreys could or could not find their biological families in time. The book has many more stories.

The deportation scheme was finally exposed in the press in 1987. It took 23 years for Britain and Australia to apologize to the families and children.

If any of you have seen the movie or read the book, please share your reactions in the comments.