Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Old-fashioned Bookstore

I love e-books. I do. They are quick and easy and convenient - especially on vacation. But I also still love physical books. I can't tell you how many times I have loved a book so much that I've actually hugged it to my chest. There is nothing like the look and feel and smell of a book that you can hold in your hands. And, I love old-fashioned bookstores - those small, cozy places that are tucked away in secret spots in your city or town.

I grew up in Andover, Masschusetts. It's a beautiful New England town, perhaps best known for being the home of Phillips Academy, Andover. Or possibly, for being the hometown of Jay Leno. When I was a kid, almost every day after school, I'd stop into the Andover Bookstore. Some kids stopped at the candy store after school, but I went to the bookstore. (Okay, yes, sometimes I went to the candy store too!)

For me, the Andover Bookstore is the stuff of dreams. When you walk through the front door, you see, to your left, a wood-burning fireplace flanked by comfortable wing back chairs and a coffee table. In winter, the fire is lit and you are welcome to sit in those comfy chairs, warm yourself and look at the books. Immediately to your right is the old-fashioned, high, check-out counter built from some sturdy wood - oak, or perhaps mahogany. A set of stairs beyond the counter takes you up to a balconied area filled with books. Toward the back, stairs descend to what is now the children's section.

To the left, a few steps down lead to a sunken area, also filled with books. Built-in bookshelves line the walls and library-style shelves fill the room, creating aisles through which you can wander.

When I was a child, this sunken area housed the children's books. I loved stepping down those two or three stairs because I felt like I was entering a secret space filled with treasure. For me, it was a bit like Dorothy stepping out of her farmhouse and into the magical, colorful land of Oz. Sometimes I would touch the books, pick them up, admire the covers, read the inside flaps. But often I would just gaze at them. The folks behind the desk probably thought I was a bit coo-coo. But to me, these books and this bookstore represented true beauty.

My dream is to do a book reading and signing in this place that is so special to me. I am putting that thought out into the universe and will do what I can to make it come true. It would be like coming home to a place that I loved and where I felt my first true sense of belonging.

I am always delighted when I find small, local bookstores in places that I visit. Santa Fe, where I live now, is also lucky to have a couple of these: The Collected Works Bookstore and Garcia Street Books. These places, where the smells of old, polished wood and books mingle in tight and cozy quarters, are rare and precious treasures. 

Do you have a special favorite bookstore? I'd love to hear about it. You can check out the Andover Bookstore via this link:

http://www.andoverbookstore.com/news/txp/

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Release: Following the Whispers by Karen Walker

Exciting news for author Karen Walker. Her memoir, Following the Whispers, is now available on Smashwords for just $2.99. I just purchased it and downloaded in to Kindle for PC. Can't wait to read it!

 Read more on Karen's blog at:
http://karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com/
and buy the book  at 
http://smashwords.com/

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Way Things Happen

I've used this post title before, and I'll probably use it again, because I am always interested in and amazed by the way things happen. In this case I am thinking about my decision to go ahead and self-publish my book - especially with regard to the timing of several coinciding events.

I am one who believes there are no coincidences. Here are the things that happened that made me feel that I was being supported in this choice:

**Earlier this year, I reconnected with a high school friend, Arthur Wooten, who has successfully published several books. We started talking about writing and publishing, and now I think of him as my publishing mentor. He is amazingly generous with advice and support.

**My Mom passed away in March. To my surprise, she left us some money. It's not a fortune, but even divided between three children, it's Not Nothing either.

**I learned of this money around the first of June. Okay - now those of you who think astrology is a bunch of hooey need to tune out for a minute. On the first of June there was a solar eclipse. It was in my "8th house of other people's money," which includes inheritances. Eighth house money is intended to allow you to pursue a dream that would otherwise be beyond your reach.  Okay, I've got chills now.

In early June, I let my agent, Kate, know that I was thinking about self-publishing, and felt that if a large publisher didn't pick up my book soon, I would prefer to go that route than to pursue smaller publishers. On June 17th, the day before my mother's memorial service, Kate said she had struck out with another publisher and that if self-publishing was in my mind, that perhaps I should go ahead and start that process. Kate believes in my book and I think she really wants to see it out in the world too - one reason being that her daughter keeps asking her, "Mom, is it a book yet???"

At this point, everything just seemed to settle. The timing of Kate's message with my mother's memorial was too "coincidental" to overlook. Mom was a hard working secretary, God bless her, and she had unexpectedly given me the resources I need to realize my dream. It's mid-year, there is plenty of time to create the book, develop a good marketing strategy, and roll the book out this fall. It all feels right.

So there you go. Now someone asked if I would share the costs of my self-publishing effort, and I'll be glad to. I purchased these services from Createspace: Total Design Freedom Book Interior, Custom Illustrated Cover, and Kindle-ebook conversion. That all comes to $1798, of which the custom illustrated cover is the largest part (usually $1500 but they gave it to me for $1300 - they gave me a deal on combining the services and threw in the e-book free - it's usually $69. I also sprung for an additional $75 for a Library of Congress number. That might be a waste of money but I figured it didn't hurt to do it. They also gave me 50 free copies of my book. I'll have to pay for more, but it's not a lot per book.

I'm starting my marketing plan next, so any and all ideas are welcome. My book is set at Christmas time and it's called The Christmas Village. It's about a sad 12-year old boy who finds himself magically transported into his grandmother's miniature Christmas Village, and back to the year 1932. It's technically middle-grade fiction, fantasy/adventure, but it appeals to younger and slightly older children as well. And, it's meant to be a story that adults will enjoy and can feel good about giving to the children in their lives. I think of it as kind of "It's a Wonderful Life meets Back to the Future."

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Have People!

When I leave for work, my husband always says, "Have your people text my people." It's a joke of course, because he's pretty much my people and I'm pretty much his. That was the case that is, until Createspace came into the picture.

Createspace is Amazon.com's self-publishing arm. I have given them my Mastercard number and so now we officially partners in the venture of publishing my book, The Christmas Village.

So far, they have been excellent. First Jenny, my publishing consultant/team leader, called me precisely when scheduled and went over everything with me. I signed up for the Customer Interior Design and Custom Illustrated Cover, along with e-book capability. She gave me a deal on the combined price, throwing in the Kindle e-book set-up for free and I was also eligible for their current promotion that gives me 50 free books right off the bat.

I didn't purchase copywriting or editorial review, because the book has been edited from here to Timbuktoo and back again - by me, by my reading committee, and by my agent. Kate (the agent) was an editor, so she knows what she is doing.  I feel the book itself - the story and how it is written  - are done and ready to go. I chose the custom illustrated cover because it is a children's book and so the cover is very important.

Yesterday, my Project Team Manager, Alita, called to go over what will happen next. She told me that I have a project team consisting of five people. I have people!  Very cool.

They have applied for a number from the Library of Congress and then we open up the project and get moving. In the meantime, I am final proofing the manuscript and reading on their website about what they will need to know from me with regard to creating the actual book. Things like: What kind of font do I want? Do I want any interior illustrations? What is my vision for the cover?  Also I have to read about their specs for anything that I upload to them (manuscript or images).

We should get underway in a about a week. I am very excited and feel good about this decision. Best of all, I have people!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fog Lifting and Ready to Roll!

This past weekend I went back to New England for Mom's memorial service. It was sad, of course, but it was also wonderful. I feel so much better now that we have done it. I was, however, exhausted from a very long day getting there, being anxious beforehand, tired when it was done, and then another long travel day to get home. No matter what you do, there is no quick and easy way to get from one side of this country to the other.

The service was Saturday morning, and then Saturday evening we went in the complete opposite direction. My sister's college roommate was having her 50th birthday party, so we all went. The friend is from a BIG Irish family, so it was raucous and crazy and funny and wild. She is one of seven kids, including two priests - one an Anglican priest and one a gay Episcopal Bishop. Throw in about a hundred cousins, a keroke machine, and Uncle Frank with the beautiful voice, and you've got yourself a party. We sang all the old Irish songs (even though I'm English!) and some George M. Cohan thrown in for good measure. It was just what the doctor ordered and we covered life from both directions that day - first honoring the deceased and then celebrating the living.

In the midst of all this, my agent told me that she felt she was striking out with my book. The latest publisher told her "It's well-done, but it's not for us." She said she hasn't heard from everyone, but she knew that I was moving in the direction of self-publishing, and felt that the fact that she hadn't heard indicated that they likely weren't interested. Whether they are or they aren't, I realized that I am ready to bring my book into the world, and so I am going to do it myself. I will be using Amazon.com's Createspace, which my friend, successful three-time author, Arthur Wooten, is using. He is blazing all the trails for me and is a wonderful mentor.

Since my book is set at Christmas time, I want to roll it out in the fall. So, I begin this week. I hope that you will come along with me on this adventure, and I will be asking for all the help I can get when it comes to marketing and promotion. I plan to roll out locally here in Santa Fe and also back east in my hometown, my sister's town and other places where I have friends to open doors and smooth the path for me.

I am gathering a list of book stores and libraries and even Christmas stores. If you have ideas for me, please send them - I don't care how long my list gets! I will do what I can this year, and then do it again next year.

I am so pleased to have made such supportive friends here on blogger. It's not always about writing, sometimes it's just about life, and I love that balance. Thank you all for being there!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Too Much the Foggy

One day last fall, a stranger just happened to wander into the yoga studio and we ended up talking about all kinds of things, including writing. She asked me if I knew that Anne Lamott was speaking at the Lensic Theater that night and I said, "NO! I didn't!" I immediately called and got myself a ticket., If you ever have the chance to see/hear Anne Lamott in person don't miss it - she is funny and human and kind and passionate and down to earth. Did I mention funny?

The story she told that stuck with me the most had to do with a trip she took to India. With her guide, she took a boat ride down the Ganges River. It was extremely foggy - so foggy that they could see absolutely nothing, and then suddenly a huge statue would loom up beside them. Then just as suddenly, it would be devoured by the fog.

Anne's guide, feeling bad about the poor visibility, shook his head sadly and said,

Early morning fog on the Ganges River
"Too much the foggy."

She said that in that moment, she found his oddly-framed little comment to be unintentionally deep and meaningful. Sometimes life is just like that - too much the foggy. I feel that way a lot these days, as we try to navigate life transitions and change: the loss of both of my parents in the past two years; deciding to sell our house and try a new way of living (touring the country in an RV); waiting for the house to sell, getting our hopes up, getting disappointed; waiting to hear back from publishers about my book; hoping for the best, having faith that the best will happen, yet worried that it won't.

That reminds me of another other thing Anne Lamott said that night. She said, "I have a lot of faith, but I worry a lot." She is quite religious, so she recognizes that this statement is something of a contradiction. Yet it's so typical of her - utterly human and honest and real. I related to that sentence so much. I think that maybe when everything in life seems like it is too much the foggy, we have to cut ourselves a break and let it be okay to have faith but still worry.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Warped Perspective

Before I get to what I'm thinking about today, I just want to point you toward a couple of writing contests that have upcoming deadlines. You can find them in my sidebar to the left.

I also put up a new Quote of the Week, this one  from Marie Curie. I love it when someone who isn't a writer says something that sounds like it's intended to inspire writers!

Okay, so the other day I was going through my Box 'O Stuff, and came across a photograph of myself, in a bikini on a beach in Anguilla. I would have been about 35 years old, so that was 20 years ago. My waist was tiny, my stomach flat, and even my thighs, with which I have been at war my whole life, looked slim. So, yeah, I know, we all looked better 20 years ago, unless you're only 30, in which case you might have had braces and frizzy hair back then. But the thing is, back when that picture was taken, I worried all the time that I looked fat. All the time, like a drumbeat in my brain was my mantra: fat, fat, fat.

There is more of me now than there was then.  But somewhere in the last few years, I either became more accepting of myself or more delusional in the opposite direction, because I have been thinking I look pretty good. I know I'm in good shape - strong, flexible, fit. It's the yoga. But I also know my thighs are chubbier and I have this belly fat that I never, ever had. I don't like it.

I know that I can't get back to that 35-year-old body. Or, maybe I could, but it wouldn't be worth it. I like to eat, good food is part of the joy of life. And, at 55, if you get too skinny, you get all wrinkly and then there is that neck thing that happens. BUT! I do think that I should lose about 12 pounds.

Anybody in my age group or older knows that this over-50 chubby belly problem is a real thing that is definitely NOT caused by eating like a pig. So, it's harder to lose weight. It really is. You don't understand until you get there and it's your darn belly that's gone all blubby on you.
So! I've joined this small women-only fitness center right across from the yoga studio, and I've been walking/jogging on the treadmill and using the ellyptical, interspersed with core work and weights. And you know what? It feels really, really good. I thought I was over that stuff, but it turns out my body really likes it. It feels happy afterward. :-) I still take two yoga classes a week, plus my own individual practice, which is pretty much: Do SomeYoga Every Day.

Anyway, I'm on a mission, and when a Scorpio gets on a mission, look out! I am down 1.5 pounds so far. But actually it's not even about the pounds - it's about that smoosh in the belly. I wish I could invent a cream that you could rub over that area and watch it disappear. I'd call it "SmooshBeGone!"

Wish me luck!

Monday, June 6, 2011

This N That

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THIS:

Just got a thumbs-up on an article query I sent to one of the major writing magazines. They love the idea and want to assign it to me as a two-page, 1650-word feature, but don't quite know when. So I agreed to give them a couple of months to see if they can be more definitive with timing. It's the first feature article query I've sent out in quite a long time, so it was nice to have it well received!
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THAT:

If you are visiting my blog from the Blogdramedy Blogshorts Challenge, please forgive me, as I am unable to participate after all because: 

A) I forgot, and 
B) I started writing my new book and I need to give it all my attention. 

It's nice to meet you though, and if you leave a comment on my blog, I will stop by yours. And if you follow me, I'll return the favor. Feel free to mosey around my blog - I look forward to getting to know you. 
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THIS:

Check out my husband's blog at http://rvpainter.blogspot.com. 


He's an artist and his blog combines talk about art and talk about RV's (we hope to buy one soon), but the main thing is he's very funny! So even if you don't care about art or RV's his blog will make you laugh. 
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THAT:


Over the weekend, I got up to 1200+ words on my new book. Taking it slowly at first, but it feels good to be working on a longer project again.
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Friday, June 3, 2011

In Which I Begin Writing My Next Book....


Today I wrote the first 500 words of my next book.

Starting is surely the hardest thing! The idea for the story has been building, but until today, I hadn't felt ready to actually start writing. I'm sure you are familiar with this feeling, that tingly combination of fear and excitement that comes with beginning something new. I purposely set a goal of only 500 words so as not to put too much pressure on myself. I actually wrote 547 words, but who's counting.

Because getting started is so hard, I keep the advice of my idol, Anne Lamott, in the forefront of my mind.

When you ask yourself, "Where do I start?" 
Anne Lamott answers, "You start where you are."

When you worry that it's not going to be any good, Anne gives you permission to write what she calls "a shitty first draft." The concept of the shitty first draft is so liberating, because one of the reasons we procrastinate getting started (I think) is our fear that what we write isn't going to be any good. And the fact is, what we first write usually isn't any good. It doesn't matter. What matters is that we begin.

What I wrote today is sparse and spotty and not very well written. It's pretty shitty. Anne would be proud of me. I know that the beginning I wrote today may not end up being the beginning of the book by the time I'm done. I know that the plot ideas I have in mind will change. I know that my characters will take on personalities that surprise me. But the only tingle I feel now is excitement, because today, my first three characters showed up and said stuff and did stuff. And tomorrow, I'll write another 500 words. More characters will show up, and they'll say and do stuff too.

It's okay that, right now, it's not very good and I don't know how it will all come out. Because the only thing that matters, right now, is that I've begun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More of the Kindness of Strangers

This morning I opened my email to find a lovely surprise: emails from a man from Beaumaris, Wales, with gorgeous photographs attached. I had written a letter to the Beaumaris Town Council, explaining my desire to find out more about my mother's time there as a 14-year-old evacuee at the start of WWII. They put my letter in their town newsletter, which apparently just went out. (If you need to catch up on the background, read my May posts, "The Kindness of Strangers," and "One Mystery Solved").

Anyway, this nice man, Phil Roberts, read my letter and wrote this to me:

Melissa,

I have just read your touching letter in our local newsletter. Although I cannot help with any details I can forward you some photographs of Beaumaris  - some taken from a helicopter, others of the local scenery. From the photo attached you can see the green grass where she would have played (where all the cars are parked).  I hope you find them of interest and good luck in tracing your Mother's billet.

Phil

(Note from me: He means the green where my mother described playing in an essay she later wrote.)

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I'm telling you - these people from Beaumaris are so nice!  He also said my blog was "brilliant" - I love those English expressions that make things sound much better than they actually are! But I digress....

Here are the wonderful photos that Phil sent me. Beaumaris is a beautiful town - the stuff of my fantasies.  The town sits on the Menai Strait, which creates the isle of Anglesey, Wales. That's where Kate and William have a home (you know, THE Kate and William). And, best of all, it has a castle - one of the most famous ones in Wales.


Helicopter view of the town, showing Beaumaris Castle. Where the cars are parked across from the castle is the green that my mother described playing on. Her "billet" or foster home would have been somewhere along the street facing the water.

Another helicopter view of the town


Beaumaris Church


Looking across the Menai Strait to snow-capped mountains


Rooftop view of Beaumaris