Friday, May 19, 2017

Making It Up As You Go

When knitting (or crocheting) any item, most folks follow a pattern. So many rows, so many stitches. There are an adventurous few who dare to add little flourishes to the pattern. Some may use more than one color. Or try different stitches in place of the ones indicated in the pattern. If their size requirements differ from the pattern, they might add or subtract rows, use a heavier or lighter weight yarn or perhaps change the size needles or hook they employ.

But this crafter is still within the standard parameters of the pattern. The changes they incorporate are minor and within the normal ranges for the item they're producing.

Then there are the others--the ones who never learned to color in the lines. That would be me. Oh, I put in my time learning how to knit from a pattern and produced plain, serviceable ho-hum socks. They're comfy and keep my feet warm. Unfortunately, they're not 'me'.

I love colors--the more the merrier--and frills. Give me cables and twists and polka-dots. I love texture and bobbles. So after learning what I needed to learn, I finally burst the confines of the pattern and embarked on my own journey, secure in my skills. I started my own make-it-up-as-I-go socks.

Writing is much the same. In the beginning, you start out with a learning curve. You gather the technical skills you need to write. Things like spelling and grammar rules and voice. After a while, you add flourishes. Interesting characters, off beat locations or even new worlds.

But you might reach a point when you just explode, creating new genres, occupations, cultures, and even new creatures. Maybe you'll want to write about blue people or giant carnivorous shadowdancer spiders. Who knows? You might even imagine a world where King Arthur and his co-horts are still creating mischief, where he plays cards with talking dragons and his nephews are firebird shifters.

Staying on the sane, safe path is perfectly acceptable. Many writers have had successful, financially secure careers by writing within the accepted parameters. We need those writers because there are readers who aren't ready for the more offbeat paths.

Then there are the readers who seek something wildly different, who need a new adventure between the covers. Those are the readers who need that writer who might not color within the lines, the writer who might say, I wonder...

If you're a make-it-up-as-you-go writer, then welcome to my world. Creativity and color and the odd character or three can capture the imagination, allowing readers to have their own 'I wonder' moment.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Mountain

Trestle View by Paul Gould

I married in my teens, had four children, moved from Chicago to Houston to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, and finally, in my forties went to college. Full time. While also working full time and wrangling four teenagers. It was a turbulent time in our household. On weekends, I climbed the mountain in the painting. 

There was a series of marked hiking trails that criss-crossed the mountain top. The route I used was about eight miles long. Up one end, across, down about mid-way, and then back along a rough track to the tiny parking lot where I left my car. I had a backpack of supplies--first aid kit, food bars, water, a book, and a rain poncho--and carried a sturdy five foot long walking stick.

The trail wasn't really a trail, but rather a rough directional aid that was partly stone covered stream paths, vertical climbing, flat granite slabs, and wild laurel. Overall, it was quite a bit more challenging than walking a loop around the neighborhood where I lived. Every week I arrived home at the end of the day with aching knees and sore muscles.

You might wonder why on earth I would do it then...week after week? Because it was the one place I was guaranteed solitude. The first time I climbed this mountain, when I reached the summit I looked out over the glorious Hudson Valley and felt this tremendous sense of accomplishment because against all expectations I'd beat my doctor's predictions. I wasn't in a wheelchair. I climbed that damn mountain on my own two feet.

But there were other benefits to my hikes. I desperately needed some alone time. There on the mountain top with only the birds and shy animals for company, I had the space and peace to deal with all sorts of issues that beset me on every side. I had time to pray or meditate or read a book or just look out over the valley. Each week I went back home fortified for another stretch of chaos and pressure from my job, my family, my school work.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure I would have survived without my weekly climbs. 

A few weeks before my graduation, on a whim, the hunk and I stopped at the Bethlehem Art Gallery not to far from where we lived. And this print was hanging on a wall. I fell in love with it, but it was far out of our price range--even unframed. 

Graduation day arrived. All of my children came home, even the one in the Navy. My parents drove up from Texas. My brother and his family came from Chicago. And in the midst of family and friends, the hunk hauled out this huge flat graduation gift. 

I ripped off the wrapping, wondering what it could be. And there it was, a beautifully framed and matted print of Trestle View by Paul Gould. It hangs over our bed now. We live far away from the mountain and I'm way past the capability of such a hike. But each time I look at it, I'm reminded of the summer I spent on the mountain top. 

Peace and temporary tranquility.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Worth the Price


I was playing a computer game this morning when I paused to marvel at the intricate artwork. And then I wondered, are the artists receiving the pay they deserve? Really?

That led me to another thought. Why do so many authors sell their books for next to nothing? Don't they have faith in their work? Don't they believe they are worth every penny? Oh, I know all the reasons authors list for under-selling their stories, but do they really make any money?

I'm going to go out on a fragile, moldy old limb here and speculate. If an author sells their work for pennies, aren't they sending a message they might not intend? Here's how I feel when I see a lot of books by the same author that are all listed at rock bottom prices:

A) The books are likely backlist so old the author no longer believes they are viable, but what the heck, whatever pennies they bring in is better than nothing,

B) The books are 'throwaway' stories, just banged out to keep the author's name in front of potential readers,

OR

C) The author has zero belief in the worth of his/her work.

There's a lot of conversation out there regarding book pricing. Many authors blame the readers, assuring other writers that readers won't spend the money to buy higher priced books. And therefore, the authors are FORCED to sell their books dirt cheap. Well, there IS a certain group for which this might be true.

But for a true reader, a true fan of your work, price will not be an issue. And word of mouth from true reader fans is the most effective publicity. Think about the years prior to the internet and social media. How did readers discover new authors? Through word of mouth. One reader telling another, "This is a fabulous book." 

And once one book is sold, if it's a quality well-edited story that captures the reader's imagination, then they'll search for other titles by that author. Regardless of price. Because the story is worth it.

So. Back to the beginning. Why are you under-selling your books? Are you worth the money? Or are you a cheap throwaway story? Only the writer can decide that. And the decision he or she makes can affect all the future books he/she hopes to sell.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Misty Memories


Every once in a while, I'll remember something specific about my past. Usually, that memory will be initiated by something specific. This morning for no apparent reason I thought about these two bookcases and wondered whatever happened to them. Why can't I remember?

The top one was what is called a barristers bookcase. The one in this picture has three sections. Ours had four individual sections that could be stacked in any configuration. During the early years of our marriage, we use this case to store linens and our clothing as we had very little storage and very few books. I loved this case. It had glass doors that slid up into the top of the case. And each section was huge.

The thing is...I have no idea what happened to it. For such a large piece of furniture, wouldn't you think I would remember who I gave it to? Or why we don't have it any longer? Sometimes, I think aliens take things in the middle of the night.

The smaller bookcase is similar to one I had in my bedroom in high school. Tall, skinny, and just deep enough to hold paperbacks or CDs. Of course, paperbacks weren't in my world. No money to buy so I used the library. Thank goodness for libraries. I would have gone insane in high school without books to keep me calm. And there were no CDs at that time. There weren't even any computers except the giant room sized ones that used punch cards. So, no CDs. But I had a few smaller hard-backed books the size of Nancy Drew mysteries. They fit on the shelves perfectly. And later, after I married and had babies, baby supplies filled the shelves.

So where did these two important pieces of furniture go? I have absolutely no idea.

Except aliens. Definitely aliens.