Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Feeling like Sally Field this morning

"You like me, you really like me!"

That's actually a misquote, but it's how the infamous Academy Award acceptance speech by actress Sally Field is remembered. She was parodied for that in comedy routines everywhere, mocked for her gushing, child-like relief in gaining other people's approval. In my book, Spontaneous Combustion, I write that you cannot depend on anyone else for validation of your writing—that has to come from within yourself. Still, I confess to sounding a lot like Sally Field this morning after seeing this review of my book.

Bodach blog review

What a rush of relief and gratitude I felt on reading this! Vijaya is a fellow writer, ICL teacher, and blogger, one who over the years has become a dear friend. She even offered me the honor of working with her on the edit of the manuscript of her YA novel.

But even friendship doesn't guarantee that anyone else will understand your work. I felt the presence of a "great cloud of witnesses" as I wrote this book, almost hearing a host of writers rustling behind my desk as I typed away. They were the ones I wanted to touch, to buoy them up in their moments of doubt, resistance, and despair. But I didn't know if I had succeeded in doing that; Vijaya's review reassures me that I did.

You can't see it, but I've got a huge smile on my face right now.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Writers and boundaries: blogger Kristi Holl's new series

It’s been an exciting but chaotic first week after the launch of my book, Spontaneous Combustion. Getting the word out is a challenge, even with all the social media opportunities available. Or maybe I should say especially because of all the social media “targets” one is supposed to hit. There is definitely a blog post in my future on this topic!

But as always, I am overwhelmed and deeply grateful for the outpouring of support from my fellow wizards. The people who write for kids are the most generous folks in the world: no divas or competitive egos here. Many writers immediately bought the book, and are now spreading the word via their blogs and websites. I even got an offer for a free blurb in an e-newsletter for writers, and Kristi Holl asked permission to quote me in her upcoming book.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Kristi has published a couple of books  to which I have long referred my ICL students. She also maintains a wonderful blog called “Writers First Aid.” She has recently begun a series there that you should definitely check out. It's about the relationship between a writer's boundaries and her productivity/creativity.

In chapter 6 of my book, I touch upon that, though I call it writer’s malaise. What Kristi does in her series, and also in her new book due out in about a month, is take a new look at the reasons why writers can't or don’t write. It’s a fresh insight into that quandary, one that is making me step back and think about my own boundaries. I think you might find it immensely helpful as well.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Midnight in the BBQ of good & evil

The small town where I live has two festivals: one in September to celebrate our past status as the one-time buggy manufacturing capital of the country; and one in April, the BBQ & Blues Festival. So the route I took for my walk this morning was clogged with RVs and cooking trailers, and the air was redolent with the tang of woodsmoke and slow-roasted pork. My Newf Yukon loves it, but then he’s a devoted carnivore. I’m a vegetarian, so there’s not quite so much love on my part. Poor pigs! [Though I do like the blues concert at night.]

The festival is actually part of the competitive barbecue-cooking circuit; who knew there was such a thing? Each team also tries to outdo each other with clever names. Look at the juxtaposition of these two teams, barely a hundred yards from one another.

Anarque vs Heavenly Hawgs!

The Grim Reaper certainly did come for a lot of pigs this weekend; let’s just hope that they’ve all earned their wings and joined this little pink angel. :D

Monday, April 22, 2013

Aargh! Lessons learned: stupid mistakes I've already made with my first indie book

Sometimes I think I'm not obsessive enough. The past two weeks I've downloaded so many different proofs of my new book, both print and digital;  made so many changes both large and small; and had to resubmit the manuscript so many times for review that I had begun to think that I had some neurotic block against actually publishing this book.

And then within only a few hours of finally submitting it, and announcing it to the world on this blog, my website, and a brand new Facebook Author page, I belatedly did something I should have done weeks ago.

What was that? I did a title search of my book on Amazon.

Guess how many books with the title of Spontaneous Combustion there are? At least six. Six!

And to make it even worse, one of those books, which was just published last month by another indie author, obviously used the same CreateSpace cover template that I did. Yes, we both had tweaked the template, so the background photos are different, the color scheme is different, and I had chosen a slightly different font. But the covers still look like fraternal twins.

Aiyee! Why in the world didn't I take this small step a month ago? Can you say s-t-u-p-i-d?

Now titles can't be copyrighted, so that's not the problem. And thank goodness for subtitles, because they differentiate the two books as well. Finally, our books are in two very different genres. Mine is non-fiction about the craft of writing; the other book with the too-similar cover is an anthology of short stories.

So all is not lost. But I feel incredibly dumb. This must be a classic rookie mistake. I should have done a title search well before I published my book. I doubt I would have changed the title; it fits my book perfectly, and I can't imagine calling it anything else. But I might have chosen a different cover. Or better yet, invested in a cover designed by a professional.

Let this be the first chapter of my next book, tentatively entitled, Don't Do What I Did: Confessions of an Indie Idiot.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My new book, Spontaneous Combustion, is here!

I finally managed to pry the manuscript out of my fearful perfectionist hands, and hit the "publish" button. My first indie project, "Spontaneous Combustion,” is now officially a book! I’d set my birthday as a deadline, to force myself to finally let go of after revising and proofing it umpteen times. And I just made the deadline: whew!

It’s more of a why-to book on writing than a how-to; a kind of tent revival for writers in the creative doldrums. I hope the book follows its own advice: to see the worth and meaning in what we do as writers without taking ourselves too seriously in the process. So I mock myself, and make some unusual suggestions in the book that I’m fairly sure you won’t find in any other book on writing. [See chapters 7 and 8 for these.]

It should be available for download tonight [April 21st] as a Kindle book, with the print version arriving on Amazon by the end of the week.

I’ve already had my first request for a Nook version. Because I’m participating in what Amazon calls the Kindle Select program, I can’t sell the e-book anywhere else: not even on my own website. Sorry Nook and iPad users (of which I am one myself). But the exclusivity only lasts 90 days, so I’ll have the option then to move back to the regular Kindle program, which would permit me to sell anywhere, including Barnes and Noble and the iTunes bookstore.

So if you are interested in a Nook or iPad version, please let me know in the comments.

In the meantime, you can always read the Kindle version using one of Amazon’s free Kindle reading apps, or even online in your web browser using Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader. Because I chose not to put DRM protection on the e-book version, you can even use a piece of freeware called Calibre to convert the Kindle book to a format that you can then load onto your Nook or iPad. That's what I do. So non-Kindle users aren't left out in the cold, I promise.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

When words fail

Along with the rest of the country, I've watched in shock and sorrow all week since the explosions at the Boston Marathon. A friend of mine was running, but since she finished about 25 minutes earlier, she and her family were out of the blast zone when it occurred. Thank goodness.

Faces haunt me: the faces of those who died, of those who were so cruelly injured, of the people who love them and are suffering with them. And yes, the faces of the two young men whom we believe (or at least hope) were solely responsible for this terrible act.

I'm a writer, but this is one of those times when I think that words fail us. There are no words that can adequately plumb the grief and horror so many people are trying to endure right now.

And there is no word that can explain to us why these two bombers were able to do what they did. One of them is the father of a three-year-old girl himself; how could he kill and maim other children? The other was, by the account of everyone who knew him, a kind young man who even volunteered to help people with Down's Syndrome.

I don't know if that factoid is true, but as we struggle to understand how people could perpetrate such a heinous act, we resort to two words over and over: evil and insanity. In my view, neither word explains a thing. They are simply labels we use to try to comprehend what is incomprehensible. It doesn't help me grasp how one person could unleash such unspeakable violence on others to call him evil; that begs the questions of what evil is, and how he succumbed to it in the first place. Calling him twisted or psychopathic or sociopathic or radicalized doesn't help me either. Again, how does someone who seemed to fit into society for so long suddenly whip around and reveal a wholly different face?

Evil, insanity—neither word helps me make sense of tragedy. They merely open the door to other mysteries.

In the end, I think we have to accept that we will never truly understand how human beings—who are capable of such courage and compassion, as so many others have demonstrated in Boston all this week—can also be capable of such cruelty. The best we can do is bind up our wounds when it happens.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Igniting and writing by firelight

Talk about spontaneous combustion!

Writing by firelight

This blog post by my former student Jenny Lundquist—author of Seeing Cinderella and the brand new Plastic Polly, both by Aladdin M!X—ties in beautifully both with the title of my blog, and with the title of my forthcoming book. [More about that tomorrow, I hope!]

I never would have thought of writing by firelight, and not just because I'd set the chimney on fire if I tried to use the tiny coal-burning fireplaces in my Victorian house. But since the power is always going out in the little town where I live, maybe I should try something like it. It seems like a wonderful way to tease yourself out of a stubborn block.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pollen blizzard!

Pollen blizzard! That's what we get instead of snow. And it's inspired an idea for a new dystopian novel. How about this?

In a world where pollen storms rage for months at a time, only the hardy few who had stockpiled Kleenex and Claritin survive.

There are some compensations, however. Look at this photo that I took on my iPhone of the wisteria in my neighbor's yard: lovely!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Free writing PDFs at www.nancybutts.com

At my website, www.nancybutts.com, I maintain an ever-growing library of articles about different aspects of the craft of writing a book. You can read them online, or download free PDF versions of them. As of 4.8.13, this is the current list, but I try to add a new article every week or so.

I hope you will check the “Free wisdom” section of the website periodically for updates.

Pirate code disclaimer
Quick tips
Channeling your characters: an exercise in voice
The perils of preaching
Don’t let disaster set you back: backup!  

Cross-training: radical therapy for writer’s block
Proofread on your iPad or Kindle
Quotation addiction

"Eureka!" moment while reading Oliver Sacks

I took a break yesterday from endlessly proofing and revising the manuscript of my “secret project” and sat outside in the April sunshine to give myself a treat. In one sitting, I devoured Hallucinations, the latest book from neurologist Oliver Sacks, a writer who is one of the literary heroes whom I worship. I fell in love with sign language many years ago after reading his book, Seeing Voices. And I believe it was this book, salted away in the archives of my mind, that triggered the voice I heard one day in my car, telling me that the main character of a book on which I had been blocked for years was deaf. I give credit to Sacks for unlocking my first novel, Cheshire Moon, for me.

Every time I read one of his books, no matter what the topic, I find more inspiration. Yesterday, while reading Hallucinations, I came upon this passage on page 90.

“To live on a day to day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives.”

And it was like discovering the Ba’al Shem Tov quote I keep elsewhere on my website all over again; it was as if Sacks had seen into my heart. Yes! Though my attempts at providing escape, meaning, or transcendence will always fall short, they are still what make the time I spend writing worthwhile.