Norman Rockwell Moment

The e-cards I sent this year included an audio file of a child singing “Silent Night.” That has always been my favorite Christmas carol. I love the simple melody and lyrics, and it reminds me of my own childhood when I played the spinet on Christmas Eve and my German father and aunt loudly sang Silent Night and few other carols in their native German. I picture it now as my family’s own Norman Rockwell moment.

Springerle

Dessert at Christmas Eve dinner was the Christmas stollen plus German cookies – pfeffernusse and springerle. Pfeffernusse are a gingerbread type spice cookie, springerle are anise flavored. One could not cut into the stollen until Christmas Eve or else you would have bad luck. Mom used her Czech recipe for stollen, but the result worked for both sides of the family.

My mother was born in Nebraska to Czech parents, so Christmas in my house was a two-day affair. Christmas Eve was German night; Christmas Day was American/Czech day with my mother’s side of the family.

Medvedi tlapcicky

Roast goose and dumplings for a Christmas afternoon dinner, more stollen, and Czech Christmas cookies – vanilla crescents and medvedi tlapicky or “bear paws” because they are baked in individual molds or a madeleine pan to look like paws. They are a savory chocolate cookie. Good old American chocolate chip Toll House cookies were also there.

This story dates back to the 1920s. That’s well before my time, but I think you’ll enjoy it: The Real Flying Santa.

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Instead of killing bookstores, Internet is now helping them!

The prediction that online booksellers would hurt bookstores seemed to be coming true. But lately, instead of killing bookstores, the Internet appears to be helping them. Social media is a factor.

people readingCustomers are reportedly willing to pay up to 30% more for the bookstore experience: being able to pick up a book and browse or talk with someone who has read it.

Special events scheduled in stores don’t hurt either.

Check out this 122-year-old bookstore in California.

 

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How to Choose a Small Publisher

I’m busy with the holidays and fighting a cold, so I’ll make this short and sweet.

Here’s some good info from Jane Friedman on how to choose a small publisher.

It can be tough to sell any of the Big Five on your first novel. Even if you do, you’re not likely to get the marketing support you envisioned. They typically concentrate on their top selling authors.

Small publishers want your book to be successful as much, or almost as much, as you do.

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Beryl Markham West with the Night

Beryl Markham was a fascinating and controversial person – horsewoman, author, and aviatrix involved in more than one scandal. After reading her adventurous memoir, West with the Night, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” Who needs more of a recommendation than that?

Born in England in 1902, Markham moved with her family to a farm in Kenya (then British East Africa) at the age of four.  Her mother and brother soon returned to England, but Beryl stayed in Africa with her father.

She learned to speak both Swahili and English. Her playmates were African tribal children and some remained her friends into adulthood. Her blonde beauty became legendary in Kenya.

She became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. One of her charges won the prestigious St. Leger race in Nairobi. Markham won the Kenya Derby six times.

She became an accomplished flyer, initially as a bush pilot and later as one of the first to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west (against prevailing winds) in 1936.

51xvwuh5htl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Markham was no angel, but I applaud her courage in pursuing her goals which defied cultural norms of the times. I heartily recommend reading West with the Night before you read what other have written about her.

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How did people make leather 100 years ago?

fez-1691608_640Karel, one of two main characters in my American Gold novel which takes place during 1911 – 1913, worked in the leather trade in the Czech Republic.
tannery-505200__340 Tanneries were not the most pleasant places to work because of the smelly materials and acids used in the process.

Other people in the area avoided getting too close, and towns sometimes required tanneries to be a required distance outside of town. Early zoning ordinances, perhaps?

I don’t know all the jobs my grandfather might have done. My mother told me that the job of scraping the flesh off animal skin was painstaking work. She said if the skin was not scraped clean, it would rot.

I only know that by his mid to late twenties, my grandfather called himself a “staker.” By the time a hide reached the staker, it was relatively clean and ready to be stretched. Stretching helped leather stay flexible.
You can find out more about the whole process during Edwardian times here.

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Which literary movement do you belong in?

Whether you’re a reader or a writer: Just for fun, which literary movement do you belong in? Take the quiz and find out. I got the Lost Generation with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Kafka, and James Joyce. Great company! Hemingway is one of my favorites.

Romantics, Transcendentalists, Gothic, the Beat Generation … find out where you fit in.

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Publishers: Big 5, Small Presses, and You

We’re down to the Big 5 in publishing, but the number of imprints buried under those big names is mind-boggling. Trying to find out who owns who can feel like forging a path through a jungle. Here’s link to a current chart that helps to sort out who owns who.

Some writers prefer a small press because you often get more individual attention there. These publishers are more likely to take a risk with a new author or a niche market than the big print houses are. To help explore these, Poets & Writers magazine has a database of small presses to check out.

book-147086_640There’s always the do-it-yourself option where you are the publisher but farm out certain tasks. The Alliance of Independent Authors can help you here. You don’t have to be a one person band. an help you here. Not only do authors share advice, but the organization vets vendors so you ‘re not choosing cover design, production, promotion, or other services in the dark.

Which path will you choose?

 

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What is Wattpad? Is Wattpad Right for You?

Wattpad may be right for you if you

  • Share or want to share free content serially to promote your writing
  • Want to reach a younger demographic

Orna Ross interviewed North Carolina cozy mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig on October 15, 2015 about her experience with Wattpad.

smartphone-768352_640According to Elizabeth, Wattpad has 40 million users, 85% of which are mobile users. 45% are age 13 to 18, 40% are age 18 to 30. (As of January 2014, Wattpad had 24 million. Impressive growth!)

With most of her readership considered seniors, Elizabeth wanted to expand her audience demographic. But would those younger readers take to an octogenarian sleuth? Elizabeth tried Wattpad which includes a demographic tab that gives you reader’s age and geographic location.

Results after a year and a half:

  • She received positive feedback and people said they would purchase her other books
  • She picked up a reader in assisted living who cannot access books any other way, so all ages are on the platform
  • 25% of her Wattpad readers are male
  • She gained readers in Africa, Philippines, India, and elsewhere around the world. (She used to have zero income from India. Now her income from India exceeds that from the UK.)
  • She was offered a cross promotion that yielded a lot of reads.

For more, here’s a link to an interview Joanna Penn did in 2014 with Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content at Wattpad. Gardner says Wattpad has users in every country.

Depending on where you are with your writing, Wattpad may or may not be right for you now, but it’s something I’m keeping in mind.

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Does your male character talk like a woman?

Do you think you’re pretty good at writing dialogue for your male characters? Does your female antagonist talk like a woman or a man?

For example, women tend to use grades of words, i.e., crimson instead of red. Chartreuse instead of green. Things are marvelous with women. The same things are just okay or good with men.

woman-1716982_640Test your gender dialogue writing skills with this free “gender guessing” tool.

Originally written to try to determine if the writer was a male or female, the analysis should work just as well for our written dialogue. Just copy and paste dialogue into the box and see.

For best results, submit at least 300 words. You probably don’t have a chunk that large handy, so you you may need to copy random portions of speech from the same character.

Writers Digest offers more tips on the differences.

 

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Is your story proportional?

When Peter Makuck, a North Carolina poet and short story writer of some renown, received feedback on a story he submitted to his editor, he was told his story structure was not proportional.

I knew about various types of story structure and about character arcs, but I’d never heard of story proportion. Was proportion just another word for structure? Pacing?

disproportionalMakuck’s story included a scene followed by a two-sentence summary followed by another scene. That two-sentence summary was out of proportion and made the piece choppy.

Rereading his story, Makuck agreed and rewrote the two-sentence summary as a scene. He realized his editor was right. The revised story structure mad his story proportional and it flowed much better.

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