Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spider Solitaire - The Writer's Friend or Foe?

My name is Sue Ann and I’m addicted to playing Spider Solitaire. If you own a computer (and you do if you’re reading this), you know that Spider Solitaire is one of the free games that comes with almost every computer on the planet.

I once read an article about a business that removed the game from all the computers in the company because so many employees were playing during office hours it was interfering with productivity. I don’t play the game on my computer at work except on occasion during lunchtime (really, boss, I don’t) because I have no need for it there. Nor do I play it on my iphone. I have other addictions for that device.

Spider Solitaire is my go-to place when I’m stuck in my writing. It’s my Magic 8 Ball when dialogue stiffens or a plot is slogging through mud. Not that Spider Solitaire gives me any specific answers. I don’t pick up my laptop, shake it, and turn it upside down hoping for just the right turn of phrase to appear that will get my work in progress moving again. Rather, the game works like Drano.

If I’m working away on something and hit a road block, and the usual methods don’t work in getting over or around that block, I bring up Spider Solitaire and play a few games. It diverts my focus away from the book, giving my brain something else to do. Working on the puzzle of Spider Solitaire provides my brain with a break from the frustration of the temporary writing block. Usually, I’m in the middle of my second or third game when a light goes on in my head and I know exactly what I need to do to get my manuscript going again. It’s like pulling the plug when hitting the off button is useless in stopping a runaway appliance.

My male cat Raffi is like a dog with a bone (and I hope he’ll forgive me that particular phrase). Often when he gets an idea in his head, whether it be bullying my other cat, or scratching a piece of furniture, or treating my feet like his favorite toy, he will obsess until he drives everyone mad, including himself. When he’s like that, I have to pick him up and physically move him into another room. Snapping at him. Telling him NO! will not work. His brain is stuck in a particular groove and come hell or high water he is going to pursue that path. Only breaking his focus will get his brain out of the deep mud and put a new and less annoying idea in his head. If I could, I’d turn him on to Spider Solitaire.

And what if playing Spider Solitaire doesn’t free-up my creative juices? Well, that’s what cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming the house are for. Usually, after a couple of games, if my brain is still like setting cement, I will get up from the computer and start working on a physical household chore. It’s amazing how many great ideas can occur when scrubbing shower tile. Really. 

Then there are the days I play game after game, lost in a fog, my brain unable to form a decent sentence or beat the stupid game. Those are the days I wish Raffi could pick me up and move me to another room.

A former boyfriend used to say he could always tell how well my writing was going by the cleanliness of my apartment. The more messy it was, the better the progress on my writing. When my place was sparkling clean, he knew I was in the weeds.

I'm so glad he never kept track of how many Spider Solitaire games I played.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sticking My Toe Into E-Publishing

This past week I released a short story titled THE RABBIT DIED.  It's the first in a series of short stories I plan to write for my new Holidays from Hell short story series. These short stories will be in e-book format only for the pittance of $0.99 each.  Right now THE RABBIT DIED is available for Kindle only, but soon it will be uploaded for you Nook readers. 

The Holidays From Hell series will follow protagonist Zelda Bowen, a 30 year old single woman living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, from one holiday to another with her dysfunctional family. 

I first conceived the idea for the Holidays From Hell series on a plane ride back from Birmingham, AL in February.  I had gone to Birmingham to attend two back-to-back events - Murder in the Magic City and Murder on the Menu.  While there, I got to know author CJ West, who has self-published his books.   I had been following all the hoopla about e-publishing for a while, but CJ really lit my interest in it.  With several series already under contract to a publisher, I didn't have time to write a novel for e-publishing, but I did have time to write a short story here and there.  I also didn't want the story to be disconnected, just words thrown on a page standing all alone in the world. Thus, the Holidays From Hell series was born.

As with my novels, I had lots of help.  Several friends read the story, gave comments and found the typos. It went through several drafts, just like a novel, before I handed it off to my manager, Diana James. Diana formatted it and got it up on Amazon.  She and I collaborated on the cover design, but she did all the graphics.  I love the cover.  I had wanted something simple and clean, whimsical and a clear brand for the series.  I think we succeeded.

One of the biggest problems with self-publishing of any kind is the lack of quality control. It's the old garbage in, garbage out syndrome. Would-be authors get excited over the idea of doing it themselves, write something in a flurry and upload it without giving much thought to the finished product. In the end, those stories and books are full of typos, grammatical errors and poor story construction. The author just killed their first chance at making a great first impression. Even worse are those who attack reviewers for honest opinions on the work in question.  They not only killed the work, they have now killed their career.  All because they didn't take the time to put out a professional product and behave professionally when it came under scrutiny.

I was self-published years ago and I took great pains then to have my work as perfect as possible before I published it.  It was one of the reasons it sold well and grabbed the attention of a traditional publisher.  I did no less with this first e-book short story.

E-books and e-publishing are here to stay.  Many authors are leaving their traditional publishers and heading into it almost daily. It offers authors more control and a lot more income than they enjoyed before. But these authors are professionals. They know what works and what doesn't.  They aren't sending their work willy-nilly into the black hole of self-publishing.  They are hiring editors, formatters, cover artists and proof readers.  Although putting a book up on Amazon is free, doing it properly is not.  Just a word to the wise, folks.

For a great view into the world of e-publishing check out Lee Goldberg's blog.  I spent quite a bit of time chatting with Lee this spring about this topic.  Lee used to throw mud on anyone self-published. He's now self-publishing his out-of-print books with glee and sharing the information with everyone. 

So far THE RABBIT DIED has enjoyed steady sales.  I hope that continues, setting the stage for the 2nd story in the series, MOTHER MAYHEM. View and buy THE RABBIT DIED

For now I will continue to e-publish my short stories, but in the future I plan on bringing out a novel in this format.  It won't happen this year, but maybe in late 2012. I will keep you all posted.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dating in the Middle Ages - Week One

And, no, I don't mean Middle Ages as in medieval.  I'm talking about an age range.

I’ve been on a paid dating site for a week now. I’ve been fairly successful in weeding out creeps and have chatted with some nice men. So far there has been no one I’ve wanted to meet, though there are still a couple of potential candidates – if they don’t screw it up. My money is on the screw-up.

First of all, why why why why do these men NOT read profiles? Or maybe they don’t believe them. It’s a mystery. If you are on a dating site and paying for the service, wouldn’t you want to find a proper match for yourself? I realize I’m not a guy and therefore lack that “I’ll just throw it all out there and see what sticks” mentality, but if my profile says I’m looking for men in a certain geographic location and within a certain age range, that’s what I’m looking for. And my preferences are broad enough to throw a wide net, so it’s not like I’m being unreasonable. I also made it clear that I lean towards the left politically and am not religious. Two other traits that have missed attention.

Okay, so let’s move to the next level. I’ve weeded out those who have winked and e-mailed me to several I find promising and moved on to chatting one-on-one. Here’s where you’d think the rubber meets the road, right? Wrong! I can’t tell you how many nice chats I’ve had only to get an e-mail the next morning and wonder “who in the hell is this guy and did he not pay attention to what we talked about?” I’m finding the real personalities are coming out in the morning after e-mail. And although I still consider many of them nice guys, it becomes clear they might not be for me. It’s the morning after e-mail where the rubber is either sticking to the road or burning as I flee.

Guys, here are a few pointers:

Please do not tell me after a few minutes of chat that you are going to delete your dating profile because you think I might be “THE ONE.” You are either lying or desperate, and neither is attractive. I want you to keep your dating profile active, just as I intend to keep mine active, until you find someone with whom to spend quality time. You can’t determine that after online chat.

When chatting online, be present. Don’t let long lapses between comments build. You are either chatting with many women at once or doing other things. If you can’t focus on getting to know me for at least ten minutes, please do not bother me.

Conversely, be aware of providing TMI in initial chats. These are just tools to get to know each other. Disclosing deep personal information should come over time and with trust. After chatting with one fellow, I felt like I was a therapist and he was on my couch. I should have sent him a bill. Instead, I sent him packing.

If you use the world SOUL MATE more than once or twice in your profile, chat or e-mails, chill. Ideally we are all looking for our soul mate. I’ve read enough badly written purple prose in the last week to make a Harlequin editor gag. Leave that talk for later, over candlelight dinners or in afterglow. It’s not that I don’t want a man to say romantic things to me, but not until he gets to know me.

And speaking of profiles, what’s with the single-spaced essays? Geez, some guys’ profiles are so long and verbose, it’s an instant turnoff. And many sound the same, as if they are being coached by a 14-year-old, hopelessly romantic girl. Some I even suspect of being cut and pasted from other profiles. Be genuine because eventually the real you is going to come out and better not to surprise the lady.

Okay, on to week two… stay tuned.

Monday, June 06, 2011

If It's June, It Must Be Odelia!

Today, I'm guesting blogging at The Siren Song, talking about writing 3 different series and across genres. And there's a book give-away!

The Siren Song is the blog for The Sirens of Suspense website, which received a 2011 Anthony nomination for Best Website.  Congratulations and great job!