Amazon, book industry, indie writer, stories, writing

Frankenstein Consumerism

The Frankenstein Monster of Consumerism

I realize I am deviating from my normal blogging about writing books but bear with me….

Consumerism created the Customer. Fed by the ever-changing world of advertising we are courted, pleaded with, prodded and bombarded with endless promises.  Each product touted to be the best-ever cure-all, big fix to any problem we have, all in the name of the great god of Money.

In return, Money created a monster that has a ravenous appetite with the mindset of a spoiled brat.

Now I must admit I am one of those brats.

Note that forty years seems like a long time, though compared to geological time, it is but a Nanosecond. But a long time ago, I could buy a product, bring it home, plug it in, turn it on, and it would work. In fact, there was no instruction manual. Then, I would have the luxury of not having to buy another one for a long time.  Of course, the better the product, the longer it lasted, making the company that made it have to find something else to do in the meantime to make money, like service it when and if it broke down.

Times change just like seasons.

Now, it’s about the number of sales versus quality.

Take, for instance, a wireless printer. I have a perfectly good printer, by the same company, that works well when I plug it into my computer. But I’m getting lazy in my old age because I’m constantly being shown new ways of saving time to be able to go bask in the sun on the beach.  So, I brought home my shiny new toy and spent the next two hours trying to make it work, as promised. I tried installing apps on phone and computer. Downloaded instructions until I was blue in the face. The printer itself printed well, but all it would print was instructions on how to connect to the internet and supposedly anything else that had a Wifi brain. Nothing worked. Like the brat I’ve become, I took it back to the store in a huff.

So first, I would like to point out as a writer, I have learned through many grammar checking programs that the average reading level in our country is 7th grade. Last time I checked you had to have a degree to work on computer programming in order to create programs. I highly suspect these technicians read, or think, above a 7th-grade level.  So, they are basically trying to get mice to run a maze to get the cheese. We are overfed, obese rats. We give up when it gets hard. Please come down to our level.

Second, at my age, you recognize after scurrying through the world these many years, the most valuable commodity you have is TIME.  Yup, it is more precious than money. I get upset when I waste my time on the next new and shiny gadget after receiving promises of it making my life easy. Yup, Frankenstein temper tantrum.

Third, I sadly realize we did it to ourselves.  In our greed and laziness, the first thing we sacrificed to the god of Money, was SERVICE. When the smarter rats discovered how easy it was to legally rob us of our hard-earned cash, they, being the smarter rats, learned how to cut corners.  The first thing to go was service. Self Service was invented and the cheese that tempted us? Cheaper product.

Now we build our own furniture, fill our own cars with gas, check ourselves out at stores, guide ourselves with voices from little boxes, and must have several degrees to run anything electronic. We have been trained by faster and faster internet services to expect instantaneous answers as well as the immediate delivery of any product we want.  Heaven forbid we have a natural disaster because we have lost the knowledge of basic survival.

Advertising has lost its charm and magic. With the sensory overload of constant advertising, we have become numb to it, where now the only thing that sparks our interest is a good drama, whether it be YouTube or Facebook, or politics, or accidents on the road, or even disaster, we are jaded to consumerism and advertising. Until we get something that doesn’t hold up to its advertised promise, then we become little dictators demanding our money be returned.

We stomped through the village and wrecked the environment, greedily grabbed all we could, and scared away customer service so it hides behind little chatbots on every product site and conceals any method of human contact that could answer your questions. The Wizard behind the curtain continues to tell us not to look and to just take our rotten forbidden fruit and be happy with it.

Sigh. I want to go back to simpler days where I had to make my own weapons, chase down my food which in turn kept me fit and I could cook it the way I liked it.

 

 

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Don’t Baby The Reader

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So it is Christmas morning and you are excited to open all your presents, except when you get to the Christmas tree you find all the presents unwrapped and just sitting there underneath it.  

This is like a story where an author feels compelled to let you know everything that the character is thinking, saying and doing.

I wish sometimes I had just remained a reader being totally clueless to anything but what I liked or didn’t like. In the days before I studied writing I could blissfully read through a book and tell you simple things like “Great plot,” or “It didn’t keep my interest,” or “You should read it too.”  Unfortunately this has changed since I slipped to the dark side of writing.

Nowadays, after reading a book, I’m more of a critic. Before I couldn’t have told you why a particular book was boring.  I understand now it is because of simple things like the author not trusting their readers to have the ability to figure out what is going on behind the scenes without being told.

I want a story where the characters backstory comes out like a slow strip tease. I enjoy putting together the puzzle piece by piece with a final reveal that makes me think “aha!”  Take for instance the book I’m currently reading.  There is a pregnancy that has complications and they don’t have the medical set-up for it. So far five different characters have noted this and discussed it.

Or the opening of the last book where the character thinks over their entire childhood and then again, a couple chapters later, repeats certain key points of this very same childhood to their friend.

Then there are the characters that go through a scene reporting in their heads what the other person is probably thinking or feeling and all the reasons for that.

When I first heard the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra, I was frustrated as a writer. It is so much harder to show something than just explain it. But remember, humans are observers. Only 20% of communication is through verbal skills. The rest is observation of the actions, facial expressions or body movements. In order to create a feel closest to the actual experience we must write the other 80% as observation.

As a reader, ‘show don’t tell’ is my medium. I understand a furrowed brow, a wink, or a slap across the face. I want the mystery and the chance to solve the emotions or motives behind these silent communications on my own.

I hate it when I read, “She raised her hand, slapping his face with all of her puny strength, feeling really mad. ‘He deserved that,’ she thought angrily.”  I would much prefer, “Her face contorted into an animalistic mask of rage as she swung her open palm at his face, connecting with a resounding clap.”

To write an observation, or a ‘show not tell’ scene is hard. It is so tempting to make sure our reader understands what we are trying to say. As a beginner, I’ve made so many of the mistakes I now read in other’s stories. Information dumps, to many adjectives, and descriptions full of to much prose have been a challenge for me. But I know practice makes perfect so I continue to study, edit, pay attention and read.

The one thing being a reader has taught the author in me, don’t baby your reader. Allow them to go on the journey and feel, hear, see, touch and experience it through your character’s eyes.

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My Greatest Mentor

IMG-20130917-00529The tiny five foot frame of Viola, could not contain her enthusiastic spirit for living. It spilled out in unseen waves and touched anyone she came into contact with. I was blessed to be one of those it touched.

While working together on our Church newsletter we got to know each other. I took in the articles, did the layout on my computer then Viola would edit and get it printed and distributed. During the conversations over proper grammar we also shared our past, dreams and family stories.

We had a lot in common despite the thirty year difference in our ages. Down to earth, fair minded and confident, she had an easy acceptance of her role as a woman. Fiercely independent, she easily raised children, helped her husband in his construction company and faced the inconveniences of living in rural Wyoming.

It was her innocent, fun-loving sense of adventure that drew me most. We traveled together many times to different conventions that held something of interest to us. Through all of this I shared my desire and biggest secret – my passion to write.

Viola was my greatest admirer and critic. She pulled no punches when it came to editing. When I would write an article for the newsletter, she would rave about it yet point out all its flaws.  I invited her to a writer’s convention and in her spritely way, she enthusiastically agreed to go. In her seventies, she still traveled by herself quite often and thought nothing of taking off on adventures such as flying up to Alaska to visit family.

Set in the lush grounds of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, at first we both were impressed and overwhelmed. Surely these authors had some special talent that we lacked. But Viola wanted to learn to write memoirs and in her modest, humble way helped me to gradually become comfortable in the company of the successful.

During luncheons and dinners agents were seated at the tables so we would have access to talk to them. At one lunch we had an editor from a romance press sitting between us. Viola had outgoing social skills, while I was reserved, so it was no surprise to me when she struck up a conversation with the woman. Once the introductions were over she launched into a brag session about my skills and dreams. I blushed profusely explaining I had an idea, but had not yet put pen to paper. In the end, the agent was so impressed with Viola’s sale skills; she asked for my information and gave me her card telling me to contact her when I had a manuscript ready.

On the way home we threw ideas together and created the outline for what would become “Windswept Hearts” five years later. Every Sunday, every time we got together she encouraged me to write. Eventually, as I saw time erode away her vitality, I knew I had to write the story. I wanted her to see it in print before she went home to the Lord.

Not only did she help edit it, but she was my greatest support and encourager during the process. When I gave her the first signed copy, she beamed through a myriad of wrinkles, and ordered ten more copies for her family.

Last month, as I attended her lively, peaceful memorial, I realized what gifts she had given me. The world was less bright, my dreams of writing a little dimmer as I realized I was now on my own in my journey.

Viola’s impish spirit continues to peer over my shoulder at times when I type and I take the confidence she helped me build to go out and continue to pursue my passion for writing. That same spirit will most likely appear in a character or two, being immortalized forever. I can see her now, giggling and telling me, “Oh, that’s not like me at all and by the way, there are several missing commas!”

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Meet Chryse Wymer, Editor

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I met Chryse Wymer on a site called “BookRix.”  What caught my attention was a comment she left about grammar. I enjoyed her feisty outspokenness and I realized she was right about the grammar issues being discussedBeing grammar challenged, I found myself seeking her advice.  Slowly I began to know the person behind the comments.  I fondly call her the “Yoda of Grammar.” I’m so excited to host her blog here today.

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Thank you, Robynn Gabel, for allowing me to guest post on what I know to be of particular interest to you: commas. For those of you keeping track, this is part three of my comma series. If you are interested in reading part one, visit A.B Shepherd’s blog at: http://www.abshepherd.net/, and part two can be read on John Abramowitz’s blog at: http://onthebird.blogspot.com/

This month, I’ll be hopping along from blog to blog to share my knowledge on the nuts and bolts of great writing. I am a copy editor, proofreader, and author—published both traditionally and independently. I’m also raffling off Amazon gift cards to get you started on your editing bookshelves. You can contact me at chrysewymer@yahoo.com, or, for more information, visit: http://ocdeditor.weebly.com/ So here goes:

COMMAS – PART THREE

I want to reiterate that the basic function of a comma is to separate.

The fifth function of a comma is to separate adjectives that each qualify a noun in the same way < Next to a few odds and ends, she found a small[,] red leather-bound book.> There are a couple of tricks to help decide if a comma is necessary: one is whether or not you can use and between the adjectives. If you can, you need a comma. My preferred method is the switcheroo. If you can switch the adjectives out, then you need a comma, e.g.: Next to a few odds and ends, she found a red[,] small leather-bound book.

The sixth function of a comma is separate a direct quotation from its attribution <“Blue. I like the color blue,” she said.>

The seventh function of a comma is to separate a participial phrase, a verbless phrase (group of verbless words that make sense but do not form a complete sentence), or a vocative (direct address)—e.g.: “Having had coffee[,] she made her son breakfast.”/ “Anna, you’re so rotten!”

The eighth function of a comma is marking the end of a salutation in an informal letter <Dear Ms. Gabel,> <Dear Chryse,> and the close <Yours sincerely,>

Finally, the comma separates parts of a physical address <258 Monkey Butt Drive, Macon, WV> or a date <October 21, 2013>

Stay tuned as I continue my grammar and style tour 30 Days of Linguistic Love with . . . semicolons, one of the most-often misused punctuation marks. Visit me tomorrow on Dionne Lister’s blog at http://dionnelisterwriter.com/ to find out more about semicolons.

 

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Pet Peeves of an Avid Reader

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Before I took classes, online webinars, writing conferences and other educational pursuits to become an author, I was and still remain an avid reader. The world of Indie writers has been a delightful journey of new and interesting material and with the ability to speed read; I devour daily the written word.

Of course, I would like to selfishly believe this makes me a connoisseur of fine writing. In reality, I’m just an average person who has a few pet peeves about how stories are written.

For instance, never name your primary characters with similar names, like Jack and Jace, or Miranda and Miriam, or Jonathan and John.  It is bad enough if two characters have names that start with the same letter, but when the second letter or the first three are similar, even a slow reader is going to get confused. It interrupts the flow of reading. I have to go back to figure out who is speaking or interacting in the scene, especially if both characters are in the scene together.

For example:

*** “We need to be at the pick-up point by nine,” Jace said.

Jack’s tawny hair swayed as he whipped around to face Jace. “Why did we move up the time?”

Jace shrugged his shoulder. “I don’t know.” Jack’s eyes narrowed, suspicion lurking in the blue depths.***

Confused? Try a whole chapter like that! Another pet peeve is when an author inserts a seemingly innocuous moment or item. As a mystery reader, I’ve learned to look for clues as to what will be important later on in the story. The following is an example of that.

***** Her hands shook as she continued to dig through the moldy cloth. Her fingers hit something cold, small and square. As she pulled it out the burnished gleam of gold caught her eye. The little box was plain, no ornaments or carvings to mar its smooth surface.  Her finger traced over the tiny lock keeping its secrets secure.  Impatient to find the key, she turned back to the ancient cloth covering the contents of the old wood chest. Clawing at it she discovered gold coins, a golden goblet and a few twinkling gems.******

So is it just me or would you go crazy wondering what was in the box? If this was at the very beginning of the story and yet, we never hear about that gold box again, wouldn’t you continue to wonder why it was mentioned? I would keep waiting for it to reappear and make some sense as to why it was even in the story.

It’s like settling down for a long movie. You have wrapped yourself in your favorite blanket with popcorn and soda pop  within reach. You are deeply involved in the story unfolding before you and then you have to go to the bathroom.  Do you put the movie on pause now, or wait until the intense scene is over while your bladder pleads for mercy? It interrupts your enjoyment, your interest and the storyline as you dash for the bathroom. For a second you have to come back to the real world.

It is irritating to be reading a scene you are so engrossed in, only to be jarred into the present by bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, dialogue that is off, a scene that ends too abruptly, or my most unfavorite, a cliff hanger ending with no resolution.  As if the author tired of writing and decided to let you decide how it would end.  Or how about an ending where suddenly you are in the height of action and it ends, leaving a myriad of loose ends begging to be explained or resolved.

I love stories that are like a fine dessert. Where the ingredients are blended so well together it is like heaven on my palate. This makes me eager to order that dessert again and again. Like waiting for a favorite author’s work to be released so I can enjoy another great story.. It is artwork at its best when it all comes together and I can leave this earthly plane for a while to exist in another world.

So when you dezign your word desert please think of you’re rea;ders. It well help you in your search for that aphid reeder.

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The Real Writer’s Block

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Staring out the window, you contemplate your next scene and come up blank. Frustrated, you are stumped at what comes next. . A moment lost as the story line goes cold can put a writer into panic. This is called a ‘writer’s block’. 

There are many fixes like taking a walk, a hot shower, listening to your favorite music or just taking a break for a few days. The list of cures is endless.  But the most insidious writer’s block is sometimes not even recognized by a writer.  

Recently someone asked me to read their work.  They were concerned about their grammar. I found the story to be quite different as it was written laced with prose. Unfortunately some of the words used were not in proper context. After some quick emails back and forth, it finally boiled down to the author still only being concerned with grammar. They thought their ‘prose’ style was unique and the reader would figure out what they meant by using words out of context.

I understand. I do. It takes a lot of work to create art. We are proud of our creations, but the worse block is not being able to see where the weaknesses are, even when pointed out to us. The refusal to edit is a death knell for our work.

Read any author’s autobiography and you will find again and again the editing process was the hardest part, but necessary for all writers. We are blind when it comes to our own work. The block we put up, using the excuse it is ‘our art’ and should not be changed, puts us in the dark. Readers are educated. Usually they have read oceans of words and demand a smooth flow, proper usage of the English language, a developed story plot, and understandable dialogue.

I’m not saying that you cannot be artistic, but be realistic. If you are just starting out and haven’t developed your ‘brand’ yet, it is better to be safe. Every established author will tell you that their first work is not as polished as what follows.

Listen to your friends, family and readers. If you are not selling, if more than one person has told you something needs to be changed, consider it. Get an editor. I can’t say this enough. Get an editor!

Don’t be blinded by the worst ‘writer’s block’ of all. An over-inflated sense of how great your writing is.

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Trolling Away

Every now and then I find an article that just says it all for me. As if the writer just knew so much better how to word something.  The following is written by Nick Thompson of CNN.  Below is the link to his awesome article on Internet Trolls.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/11/world/internet-trolling

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How to Attract Trolls

377989_602137889807226_78032928_nI had a business associate in the author world who wrote some pieces that were controversial. Thain itself was not a problem since I didn’t share his views, and in our business dealings he always treated me well. I knew nothing of him really. He complained one day he was being attacked with one star reviews on Amazon and one attacker even admitted publicly that he had not read the book. Well, I didn’t think that was fair so I made some cutesy, sarcastic remarks and suggested he do the same in return. Idiot move on my part, I suggest you don’t do this, unless you want to attract trolls.

I was then given an education on the world of cyber trolls. I wasn’t the only ‘friend’ of his they attacked. I knew where I had screwed up, but was surprised when they also went after several women he knew who wrote kid’s books for charities. That didn’t seem fair, so I strode into a forum in my shabby battle armor to demand why it was ‘fair’ to pick on people who had nothing to do with it. Five hours later, tattered and bloody, I waved the white flag and retreated.

In all fairness, Badly Behaving Authors was a group created when several authors couldn’t let one star reviews pass and they went after the customers who made them. This was troll-ish behavior on the author’s part. Of course, as authors, we all know this is uncouth. Really, it is just someone’s opinion. So BBA became the self-appointed sheriffs to root out and expose these authors. Like any group, it had an altruistic beginning, then by the pure nature of the human being, it became rigid and judgmental, and the battle of the Hatfields and McCoys began.

I found the BBA group left me alone and waited to see if I meant what I said about not wanting to be part of it. On Goodreads it was another story. I saw my books, as well as those of my friends, start being shelved under hideously named shelves and one star reviews start popping up.

Now I’m all for freedom of speech, and as an author I know I have a target on my back for the possible harsh review. Not everyone is going to like my book. Simple. A real critique is also a gift. I want to improve as a writer and though it stings at first, I know to mine it so I can better improve my writing. In all fairness, again, the first one star review I received at Goodreads was just that, a real critique. But I had seen to many other petty reviews that were just snarky and had nothing to do with the book, but simply trolls battering what to them was a badly behaving author.

I retreated again. Quit blogging. Shut down my account at Goodreads. Oh, and by the way, know too that if you put a book up at Goodreads, even though you close your account, your book is forever linked there. According to Goodreads they cannot sever that link.

Knowing how far this could go, I decided to do more damage control. I removed any links to Goodreads from my blogs or anywhere else I had linked in. I watched my Amazon account and found I was pursued no further. I watched what I said in my remarks and comments, and in essence tried to create a cloak of invisibility. If I had an opinion to share, I did it privately.

It is easy to slip and make a comment here or there, but remember, as an author, we are in the public eye. It doesn’t matter your opinion, you have an image to uphold. Trust me, there are not enough words in the English language, or any other language for that matter, to ever win the word battle with trolls. Your best defense is to not engage, under any circumstance.  If you believe their comments, then you have no self-confidence. Get out of the world of writing. Otherwise, understand, it is their perception only. We are all entitled to our opinions, but it doesn’t make them right.

I have since decided that anonymity on the web is not a good thing. It allows people to put on Halloween masks and become monsters and scamper about the internet and create terror. It would be nice to see more ‘delete, block, ignore, and report’ buttons. Sites like Goodreads should tighten their controls, moderate more. As a business owner I always was responsible for my patron’s safety. What makes these websites any less of a business model?

It is one thing to share an opinion, another to trample over another person in doing it. My mother used to say, when there was conflict, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. In other words, both sides are at fault. It is easy to develop a ‘victim’ mindset. To holler, “Mom, they aren’t being fair.” Your best bet is to just not put a target on your back to begin with, unless you are having a bad day and need to spar to get it out of your system, or feel the need to sharpen your wits in a word battle. If so, you now know how to go about it.

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A Frustrated Reader

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It’s nice to be wanted. I know every Indie writer searches for an avid reader like me.  I speed read and can easily devour up to 80,000 words a day.  I’m always hungry for a good story. I will overlook a lot for that elusive plot that will submerse me in another time and place, leaving behind the troubles of this world.

I’m willing to take on any genre, although I’m not fond of horror. Even then it depends on the voice of the writer and the plot line.  It should be a dance between me and the author. I want to be treated with respect and given their finest product.

Yet, I’m finding more often in the Indie world it’s about the writer’s ego and less about my enjoyment. I’m left to fend for myself.  I flounder in poor grammar, sentences that make no sense, wandering plots and in some cases, no plot at all.

It’s like dancing with a partner who is clumsy, steps on your toes and is just plain bored with you. This is how I feel  when I run across a poorly written story. It is frustrating to see a gorgeous book cover, an enticing synopsis, and then to put down my money, only to eagerly open the first page and begin wading through a poorly written quagmire drenched in disappointment.

I try, I really do. I tell myself that there is a kernel of story in there somewhere. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at some of the “diamonds in the rough” I’ve discovered. Other times I speed through, picking up the gist of the plot, but not slowing to become engaged. It feels like a school assignment. Find the most important parts so I can maybe get something out of it.

Why do I do this? Because I’m not only a treasure hunting reader, I’m also an author.  I know the work that goes into writing. I want to reward the poor soul who spent all that time hammering out the story. Sometimes I can’t even do that.

Recently I have taken to writing to the authors in private, asking things like, “What Point of View are you attempting?” Answer, “I’m not sure. I don’t understand POV, I just write.”   Or saying to another author, “I believe there are some formatting issues as some of the sentences don’t have spacing between the words.” Their answer, “I just write what I feel and you have to take it or leave it.”    Huh?

My favorite was the response to a suggestion I made.  “Could I humbly suggest you find a friend who has some editing skills to help  refine and tighten up your story. It has a lot of merit.” The response was, “I’ve always been told I’m  a good righter and I edited it already. Why waste the money. I made this book to make money.” (And yes, they spelled ‘writer’ as ‘righter’, no joke)

I’m not trying to make anyone look stupid by flaunting my imaginary superior skills. I’m in the same boat as every writer. I have issues,  just ask my editor!  Really, I’m just trying to understand where the author is coming from. I wondered if the first author mentioned above was trying for an omniscient voice (I struggle myself with POV) and I wanted to warn the second author there were conversion problems in the manuscript (I hire someone to format for me because I’m computer illiterate!).

In the last week I’ve randomly picked and read over ten Indie stories. I have found only two of those that seemed edited and pulled in my interest enough that I actually slowed down to savor the words and delve into the story. At one point as I was slogging through a poorly written story, I stopped to read sentences out loud to my husband. He shook his head, as baffled as I was as to what the author was trying to say.

Unfortunately it showed me why Indies are getting a bad rap. As a frustrated reader I can understand why people would ask for a refund on a digital book. Though I think writing crude, nasty public reviews aimed at an author is rude and defeats the purpose of a review, I can understand the irritation behind one. How do we go about informing authors  they need to refine their product?

I suggest not damaging future sales for money or ego. For the sake of the readers, for the sake of the industry, for the sake of trying to sell our work, we need to do our best not only to put a pretty cover on our books, but to make the inside as nice as the outside.  Hire an editor as well as a cover artist. It is well worth the investment.