Writing Updates


I have several writing updates to share. First, you can buy my novel A Question of Honor in the iBookstore, now. This is great news. I had hesitated trying to submit it because I had heard, apparently erroneously, that you had to have an ISBN in order to submit your book to the iBookstore. I don’t have an ISBN because you have to buy them in blocks of 10, and a block of 10 costs over $200, which I just couldn’t afford when I threw the book together (and still can’t, really).

Second, I have downloaded a trial of Scrivener, and I have absolutely fallen in love with the software. It was created with writers in mind. It’s not really a program for producing quick documents, like MS Word. I wouldn’t use it to make flyers or handouts or to write letters. But I won’t ever use another program to write novels ever again. It’s very easy to use, for one thing. And for another, it makes the arduous job of creating a final publishable document, whether it’s a paper book or e-book, extremely easy. It also creates both ePub and Kindle Mobi documents. The e-books have a working HTML table of contents and chapter markers, which I love. If you write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are thinking of doing NaNoWriMo or writing a book, do yourself a favor and at least try this program first.

Scrivener enabled me to figure out how to format A Question of Honor properly for the Kindle. Amazon says that PDF files are OK for creating Kindle books, but it didn’t work as well for me. The formatting was haywire. I feel really bad if you bought my book on Kindle and got that crazy layout, which I just learned how to fix and can only now correct. Does anyone know if Amazon lets you download books you’ve already purchased again for no additional fee? Once Amazon finishes processing the new file, I’ll update here and on Twitter. Don’t buy it right now, or you’ll be getting the old PDF file (I think—if you can even buy it at all).

Finally, I have been editing a second novel, Quicksand. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo in 2009. I have put aside a third project (currently untitled) based on the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows. I will be sharing an excerpt of Quicksand tomorrow. It takes place in the Kentucky coal fields of Breathitt County, where my ancestors lived, during the 1930’s. It’s heroine, Imogen, is the daughter of an alcoholic coal miner with a penchant for Shakespeare (hence her name) and a the shrewish woman who is the descendant of one of the worst feuders in Breathitt County history. Imogen discovers the body of her stepfather Frank, and she sets out to discover what happened. It’s a little bit of a retelling of Hamlet. Anyway, look for an excerpt tomorrow.

photo credit: Markus Rödder

School’s Out

I am officially finished with the 2010-2011 school year. I have cleaned out my classroom and left it ready for our new English teacher (I will be in an office and will also have a cubicle near the computer lab). So you know what that means? Aside from not grading essays? It means I can work on my own writing.

I have two projects in the hopper. One book is finished but needs to be edited. It’s called Quicksand and is about a girl named Imogen Medley living in rural Breathitt County, Kentucky in the 1930’s. Her alcoholic father is booted out of the house, and her mother marries her father’s brother. Several years and several baby brothers later, Imogen trudges out to the barn to milk the cow and discovers her stepfather’s body. Soon Imogen is reunited with her father and the two become embroiled in the investigation of the murder of her stepfather, which leads both of them to some surprising places.

The other project is an updated version of the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows with a bit of a time travel and/or reincarnation component. Deirdre is a high school student in Massachusetts. She meets a young musician named Nate and finds herself inexplicably drawn to him, as if she has always known him. Meanwhile, a fellow student named Connor, enamored with Deirdre for years, becomes enraged over the growing connection between Deirdre and Nate. Before long, the three of them find themselves enacting the story of an ancient Irish love triangle. Will the consequences be as tragic this time, or can they manage to escape fate?

The first book is personal to me because I wove details and setting from my own family history into the novel, and I personally feel it is a better book than my first. The second book is a book is interesting in that I didn’t worry about audience at all. I just wrote a book I would like to read.

I plan to edit Quicksand and made it available soon, but I’m not yet finished with the as-yet-untitled Deirdre project. I will keep you posted. If [amazon_link id=”B004V4AADS” target=”_blank” ]A Question of Honor[/amazon_link] does not sound like your thing, it is my hope that you might like my other writing. At any rate, it will be priced to entice even the tightest budget.

Indie Writing

Be seeing you

Writing is hard work, but finding a publisher for your writing in this market might be almost as hard—maybe harder. And yet many people frown on writers who self-publish. Even some of the best writers of classic literature have paid to have their books published in the past—Jane Austen’s father sent First Impressions, an early version of Pride and Prejudice, to Thomas Cadell in London and asked if it might be published at the author’s expense. All of her novels, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice, were published “on commission,” or at the author’s own financial risk. But paying for publication through so-called vanity presses isn’t necessary anymore, either. Nowadays, writers can take publication in their own hands. They can create books using services such as Lulu and Kindle Direct Publishing, and software such as Calibre. Writers can publish their own books in print or e-book format.

Self-publishing requires a shift in thinking, and I had to change the way I viewed it as well. Several years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t have time to keep sending my manuscript out to publishers, to find an agent, or to keep at it the way I knew I should if I wanted my book published. I have a demanding full-time job (if you read this blog, you know that because you probably have the same job—and I’m convinced that there are at least three Jim Burke clones). It’s not that I don’t want my book published by a large house—it’s just that the whole process is frustrating when I just want people to read my book. Enter the concept of the indie writer.

I wish I had made up the concept of the indie writer, but I did a Google search, and of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Thinking of myself as an indie writer shifted my perception of self-publishing. When I was in high school and college, my crowd included a lot of musicians. One thing musicians do is try to find gigs wherever they can and create their own CD’s (nowadays, I suppose they create mp3’s) and sell them at their gigs or on sites like CD Baby. No one looks down on them for that. It’s considered a great way to put your music in the hands of listeners. Of course, if a record company (is that term outdated now?) comes calling with a big contract, then you’ve made it. Some people actually prefer indie music because they love supporting local bands or musicians who are working to generate publicity for their art. But you know, we frown on writers for trying the same thing. What is wrong with publishing your own books, just to put them in readers’ hands? Writers can and have spent decades working to publish their work. John Kennedy Toole’s mother famously spent eleven years trying to attract publishers’ attention for her son’s classic A Confederacy of Dunces. Once it was published, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Publishers are notoriously leery of unpublished writers. Publishing a book is a huge risk for a company in an industry that is struggling. But just as indie bands can attract attention to their music through making their own CD’s and mp3’s, writers can also attract attention through self-publication. Brunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader was self-published and became a book club favorite. Eventually, it was picked up by HarperCollins.

Does it necessarily follow that an indie writer’s work will find a home at a large publishing house? No. Not all indie bands make it big, do they? But more people will read my work if I put it out there than will if it languishes on my laptop. To that end, if you want to support an indie writer, you can download my book A Question of Honor in the following formats:

It is the story of a young woman in medieval Wales who takes on her mother’s healing practice and finds herself in over her head the first time she delivers a child. When she is accused of a horrible crime, she runs to her father’s homeland in Scotland. She meets a ragtag group of minstrels on the way, and she wonders if she will ever see the young man she’s in love with again. Meanwhile, her grandfather in Scotland has definite plans for his granddaughter, and it turns out she has a sister she never knew about, too. She begins to wonder if she might be better off returning to Wales and facing the music, but she fears the consequences.

Look for another book soon. I need to do some editing. Also, I am trying to prepare an e-pub version of A Question of Honor, so look for that soon if you need e-pub. The print and PDF versions will give you the nicest layout. I am still learning how to lay out a book for Kindle, and while the book file is readable, it has a few quirks that I am working on fixing.

This post is cross-posted at my reading blog, huffenglish.com.

photo credit: Olivander

La Ghirlandata

A Question of Honor: May Day

La Ghirlandata

Gwenllian opened her eyes and blinked in the blue dawn light. God’s teeth, another May Day, she thought, rubbing her eyes. She heard the faroff crow of a cock. Gwen pulled the wool blanket over her face. It was a tradition in her village, as in so many others, to arrange marriages on May Day. Gwen’s poor uncle Iorwerth had tried—and failed—to arrange a marriage for Gwen these past three years. Gwen sighed. Best to rise and meet the day.

Gwen glanced across the room at her uncle’s empty straw pallet. Of course he would be up and about his business long ere now. Gwen threw off her blanket and trudged out the door. Nervously, she peered down the way. Good, no one in sight. She scampered down the way and broke a few wet, flower-laden branches from the hawthorn tree in front of Huw the miller’s cottage, then rubbed the dewy flowers over her face. She knew it was a silly tradition, bathing in hawthorn flowers—as though May Day dew might bring color to her pale eyes or give her silky, flaxen locks like Tangwystyl had.

Gwen tore a green shoot from the small hazel tree that grew near the cottage and methodically began cleaning her teeth with the twig. One thing Iorwerth always told prospective husbands with pride—“She does have all her teeth.” Once inside, she dressed hastily, grabbed her small harp, and set off for her rock by the lake.

In the middle of the village stood the brightly decorated maypole, mocking her, the symbol of her failure. Gwen scowled as she thought of last year’s disaster. She was to announce her betrothal to Owain the Shepherd. She had had no particular objections to the match, aside from the notion that Owain was about as intelligent as one of his sheep. Still, she had little enough hope of catching another husband. She was seventeen, and the oldest maiden in the village. She had no dowry to offer. But her chief drawback was her temper, or so her mam used to say, and because of her temper, Owain had married Angharad at Lammastide. Angharad was now great with child. And she is a full two years younger than I am, Gwen thought. Gwen shook her head as if to rid herself of the memory.

Soon the maypole dance would begin, but Gwen decided to practice at her harp. Gwen’s harp traveled everywhere with her. She thought her small harp finer in tone and more beautiful in craftsmanship than many of the larger harps played by the bards. Iorwerth had given it to her after her parents had died. She often invented excuses to come to the lake, her favorite place to play.

Gwen had never been far from Llangors, but she could not imagine that a place more beautiful than Llangors Lake existed. Her favorite spot was the massive moss-covered rock, which lay beneath an apple tree, fragrant with apple blossoms and honeysuckle vines. The tree’s limbs seemed to spread across the sky like arms outstretched to the heavens. Soon the water lilies and buttercups would be in full blossom and the dragonflies would be darting among the reeds.

It was hard to believe a full year had passed since that day last spring. Such a rainy day that was, Gwen thought as she began to play her harp. The village had been coated in mud. Owain had plodded toward Gwen as she drew water from the well.

“Gwen, I have a request,” he had said cheerfully, taking the bucket from her hand.

No, do not think on it any longer, Gwen told herself. But the image of Owain sprawled across the ground refused to be pushed from her mind so easily. She had shamed him, unmanned him, and he had said … he had…

She should have cut out his tongue for what he had said. No, the song, she thought. She concentrated on making her fingers pluck the strings. She closed her eyes and there was nothing in the world except her fingers and the sound. In time, Gwen thought she heard the dreamy, faraway strains of a pipe. It must be the maypole dance, she thought with a sigh. She opened her eyes and dropped her harp with a start. There was a pipe, right in front of her, attached to the mouth of a young man with green eyes.

No, sage. His eyes were more of a sage color—gray-green with specks of brown. They turned down slightly in the corners, making him appear somewhat sad. His long golden-brown curls shone like honey with the sun behind him. He looks like one of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk, Gwen thought. A dusting of fine, unshaven hairs covered his cheeks and chin. He was dressed as a traveler, in a coarse tunic and breeches. His boots were worn and dusty. Though he was crouching, his long limbs disclosed he was a man of considerable height. He was no fairy—he was real.

“Pray continue. I should not have intruded,” he said, his lips curling into a faint smile.

He was familiar. Gwen shaded her eyes and looked more closely. Then she drew her hand to her mouth in shock. It was Owain’s cousin, the minstrel. “I thought you played the harp, Elidyr,” she blurted.

“So you do remember me,” he said with a smile. He reached for her hand and kissed it softly. Gwen felt a blush creep over her cheeks. He had grown taller since she had seen him last.

“Why have you come to Llangors?” Gwen asked. “Surely not to see our pitiful little festival.”

“Why, I came to see you, of course.”

If he does not stop smiling at me, I shall melt in a puddle at his feet, Gwen thought.

“Why did you not come to Owain’s wedding?” she asked.

“I was still under the mistaken impression that he was wedding you—and I hated to see such a beautiful, charming creature wasted on Owain,” Elidyr said with a wink.

He had not changed, thought Gwen. Curse his silver tongue. “You have not been seen about for some time. Where have you been wandering?” Gwen asked, changing the subject.

“All over Wales. I have been playing with a troupe of minstrels. Have you made your garland yet?”

Gwen shook her head. “I intend to stay here until the revels are over. I want no part of them.”

“What? You would miss the maypole dance? Who will they choose for Queen of May if you will not dance? Come, now, Gwenllian, let me help you.” Elidyr began picking wild purple orchids.

“What are you doing?” asked Gwen.

“You need a garland, do you not?” Elidyr said with a smile. Gwen could only nod dumbly in reply. “Well, help me find some flowers.”

Gwen pulled a vine of honeysuckle from a lowhanging branch. She inhaled deeply. How she loved the scent of honeysuckle. Gwen wove Elidyr’s orchids around the honeysuckle vine. She held the finished product at arm’s length and examined it for flaws. She brushed the leaves and stems from the skirt of her kirtle. Elidyr took the garland and placed it atop Gwen’s mass of unruly, red curls. His fingertip brushed Gwen’s ear. Gwen blushed.

Elidyr grinned broadly. “Tell me why my foolish cousin did not wed you.”

Gwen stood abruptly and grabbed her harp. “I would rather not discuss it,” she said.

Elidyr laughed. It was not possible he knew … was it? “You served him justly, Gwenllian. He should never have made such a request,” Elidyr said.

“I should not have shamed him so,” Gwen said quietly. Owain’s jaw had hardened and his neck grew red. “You’re to be my wife,” Owain had said quietly. “And you will obey me. You’ll do as I ask, you stubborn wench!”

And then she had done it, in front of the whole village, she had done it. It was as though her hands had moved of their own accord, colliding violently with his chest. Before Owain could collect his wits, he was sprawling in a manure pile, bravely trying to ignore the giggling maids at the nearby well. She had turned on her heel and stalked off, water sloshing from her bucket. And then he called after her…

“Gwen? Hello,” said Elidyr waving his hand in front of her face. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I am afraid my mind was … elsewhere,” Gwen said.

“I was saying that Owain should never have asked you to sell your harp. And for what? More sheep?”

Gwen smiled. “You understand,” she said. “My uncle did not. He told me it was such a simple request and that I should have done as Owain asked.”

“We must hurry. I hear music,” Elidyr said. He bounded off toward the village. For a moment, Gwen watched his honey-colored curls slap against his back, then followed him.

From A Question of Honor available via Kindle, Kindle UK, and Lulu.

A Couple of Announcements and Some News

Lonicera periclymenum ✽ Chèvrefeuille ✽ Honeysuckle

It won’t be long before the honeysuckle vines on my front porch bear blooms like this one. Such gorgeous weather for my spring break! I just have time for a quick blog post before we go out for a walk on the nature trails nearby. One of the things I love about where I live is that it is close to everything—the big city, shopping, and nature, too.

My first big announcement is that you can now download my book for your Kindle.

A Question of HonorI was inspired by Melanie Clegg, who has published her book The Secret Diary of a Princess, a diary novel about Marie Antoinette, via Kindle and Lulu. My book had already been available on Lulu, but I hadn’t thought about Kindle. It is cheaper to buy my book via Kindle ($3.00) than via Lulu, unless you want to buy the PDF from Lulu.

Seventeen-year-old Gwenllian, a young Welsh woman of the twelfth century, is the daughter of a local healer and a mysterious Scotsman, and when a rejected suitor seeks her help during the birth of his child, she is not sure what to do. Meanwhile, it seems unlikely she will be able to be happy with Elidyr, the man she loves. When she is accused of a horrible crime, she runs. Is she guilty? Can she come to terms with her choices and resolve a question of honor?

Tomorrow, like Melanie has, I will post a teaser here on this blog.

Melanie’s blog is wonderful, by the way, which allows me to segue into another announcement. I want to profile some of the great blogs I’m reading and talk about why I like them and how I discovered them (if I can remember), which will, I hope, encourage more people to check them out. Melanie’s blog is called Madame Guillotine. The design is a feast for the eyes. Melanie recently took a trip to the Bath Fashion Museum as research for her writing, and Vic of Jane Austen’s World linked to her blog post with images of the gorgeous dresses in the museum, and it was this gorgeous post that introduced me to Melanie’s blog. Melanie writes about her research (which as a history geek and, I’ll admit it, a research geek, I love reading about), her writing, and other topics as eclectic as music and television, too.

I found Melanie’s approach to her writing inspiring. It made me think about my own writing in a new way. I do want to try to publish my own writing in an avenue that will garner it more attention, but I think Melanie has hit on something wonderful and eye-opening: the concept of the indie writer. She doesn’t use that language, but the way she uses her blog to discuss her writing and the way she sells her fiction made me think of indie music artists. So I don’t know if this is good, bad, interesting, or what, but look for more of the indie writer on this blog, too.

I do have one caveat about the Kindle version of my book. The book layout was created based on a PDF I uploaded, and I’m not sure that the layout was preserved. I will do some research into how to make the pages look more the way I want them to on a Kindle because that is a quibble I have had with other Kindle books I’ve read.

With all of that out of the way, I am excited about this book:

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter

Doesn’t it look good? It isn’t available until April 28, but you can pre-order it on Amazon.

photo credit: ✿ nicolas_gent ✿

NaNoWriMo Update

I have tried on a couple of occasions to record a podcast about A Question of Honor, but I find myself embarrassingly forgetful of some details. I opened it up today, for instance, and I discovered that I had completely forgotten a character in the book. My reaction was “Oh, that’s right. Now I remember who that was.” Kind of embarrassing. I think I need to refresh my memory on some details before I record more podcasts about the process of writing that book.

My NaNoWriMo novel Quicksand is beginning to live up to its title. I am really happy with how it’s going. I had an idea today that meant I would need to do some substantial rewriting and revising, and that’s hard to do on a NaNo schedule. I wound up adding a chapter near the beginning and changing some details here and there, but in the end I think I fixed nearly everything I need to fix to make my new idea work. I think once I’m done, I’ll print out the book so I can see it in print and made revisions that way. It is hard for me to read something as lengthy as a book on the computer (which is one reason why my PDF of Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide has gone so long unread on my computer).

I am caught up on the word count despite taking a day off on Friday. I have 23,390 words written (the suggested word count for today is 23,333). I’m happy about how naturally the writing is coming. I didn’t make an outline, which I suspect will mean I will have some inconsistencies to clear up.

I wondered how long the average adult novel is, and I found a fairly good word count guide at Tristi Pinkston’s blog. The 50,000-word requirement for NaNoWriMo will yield a fairly short adult novel or long young adult novel. I think I read somewhere that it’s about 170 pages, but I assumed that count referred to word processor pages rather than typeset pages. If you figure 250 words per page, as Pinkston suggests, then I have written about 93.5 pages. I tried Pinkston’s trick with a Matthew Pearl book and estimate it might have between 92,500 and 111,000 words, depending on the number of words per page. I don’t want my book to be that long. I picked up a copy of Finn by Jon Clinch, which looks about as long as I want my book to be, and I estimate it at about 70,000 to 84,000 words using Pinkston’s method. Thus, 50,000 isn’t going be enough. I just need to get to 50,000 by November 30, but I think I’m going to need to keep writing if I want my book to be about the average length for an adult novel. I am going to shoot for about 75,000, and we’ll see. I was glad I found Pinkston’s post because word counts mystify me. Still, as Pinkston says, what you really need to focus on is how many words you need to tell the story. The way I figure it, if you’re talking word count, I’m almost at the point where Siddhartha ends, and I am not nearly done; yet, Siddhartha is a well-written, influential novel, and I have never heard anyone complain it’s too short to tell its story.

Question of Honor Podcast #1

On the way home from dropping my daughter off to stay with her father for the weekend, I decided to record this podcast using my iPhone. I didn’t edit it much, and as such you can hear some mild road traffic and the windshield wipers slapping every now and then, but I think it works. It’s informal—just me talking about some elements of writing my book. With NaNoWriMo beginning this weekend, I have been reflecting on the process of writing the last book I completed, and I really wanted to record these thoughts in the form of a podcast rather than writing so that I could turn off the editor and just talk.

A Question of Honor #1