Monday, October 10, 2016

Pulling up the Covers: How my book covers have changed over time

I've become more aware of the importance of covers. I like mine to have a connection to an important scene in the book. Keeping this in mind and doing some research by looking at covers by authors I enjoy reading who write in the same genre as I and checking out the suggestions of those better informed that I am, I have updated three of my covers this year. The first that I tackled was book 1 in the Students of Jump time travel series.

My first book's cover has three destinct evolutions.
Evo #1

Cover number 1: I thought this would be good because it has a representation of the nerg box and the meadow where it first appears. Now it looks very old school and not eye catching.


Evo #2
The second one shows two important scenes: the meadow where the time traveler arrives and the winter scene where a crucial event took place. Brent is living two lives, so a split cover seemed appropriate. I was also trying to brand my series with the title fonts and the bottom color pop behind the author name. It's not bad.

Evo #3
Here is the current cover. This is an initial scene in the book and one that gets revisited at the end. The vagueness of the time traveler is both representative of the process of arrival and the ambivalence Brent feels about how to live his life. This one catches the eye. And most importantly, it has been selling itself, which tells me it is a good match to the story.

I haven't touched the branding, but my covers for the other books in the series are starting to drift away from it, and I will have to make adjustments to this cover to fit the changes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

16 Actions You Can Do to Improve Your Memory

Be the Butterfly - Enjoy life and remember
I've been studying memory and what I can do to maintain and improve my own. My mother and father-in-law have both suffered from Alzheimer's related dementia and memory loss. It has been heartbreaking. What has been even more an issue is the effort those around them go to looking for ways to hold back or even turn back the loss of memory our loved ones suffer.

My father-in-law's memory of all children, grandchildren, friends and even his wife was completely gone in the last year, and his death in late last year was gut-wrenching. For all of that loss, we kept reminding each other that it was his last three years that were the most troubling. Not such a long period of time when we remembered that he lived to 93 in good health and gleeful about life and family.

What did he do that probably helped stave off a disease that had been diagnose early in his 70's?
  1. He was active all his life and played competitive tennis into his 70s, practicing daily when not competing in seniors tennis.
  2. He played tennis into his 80s. Then played vicariously via watching the US Open and other major tennis meets. Did you know your muscles will actually be stimulated if you watch a sporting activity with interest and interaction?
  3. He watched his diet, eating balanced meals and taking appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals and herbs.
  4. He treated everyone respectfully and with kindness.
  5. He was strongly involved in his church and spent many years with his wife as a marriage-encounter teacher.
  6. He wrote his children letters often (not typing or email).
  7. He maintained a positive attitude and encouraged others to as well.
But as I said I've been studying memory. And there are numerous ways to maintain memory even against debilitating diseases.
  1. Stay active - tennis, walking, indoor skydiving, yoga, jogging, jumping rope, ping pong - get your heart rate up and move around. Physical activity and Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Elderly Persons
  2. Eat intelligently and selectively. There are numerous foods that are said to help your body combat illness and disease - blueberries, cranberries, cherries, coconut oil, olive oil, fish, garlic, oatmeal, broccoli (I'm one of those people who think broccoli is nasty tasting, but broccoli spears don't seem to bother me) Can blueberries assist in maintaining memory?
  3. Listen to music, classical, instrumental, music from your favorite memories, jazz, new age, etc.
  4. Learn to play a musical instrument - kazoo, harmonica, guitar, flute, piano - anything that forces you to learn the musical language and reproduce it with sound. Heck, play your armpit. How Music Affects the Brain for the Better
  5. Reduce stress in your life and develop ways to combat and deal with it when it arrives - exercising maybe or the next suggestion Chronic Stress Can Hurt Your Memory
  6. Get enough sleep, not too much nor too little too often. Routine sleep habits that provide the amount of sleep your body needs can help deal with stress, reduce stress and even help you not approach stressful situations as stress inducing Too Little Sleep, and Too Much Sleep, Affect Memory
  7. Hang around positive people who care about you and enjoy your positive company Optimism and Your Health
  8. Marry the person that makes your life complete and whose life you bring happiness and security to
  9. Take vitamins (cautiously, of course. Do your research) Vitamin Bible
  10. Challenge yourself daily to recall memories important to you The Effects of Aging on Memory
  11. Write a book - you'd be surprised how demanding it is to create lives for several other people, plot out the difficulties they are going through and figure out how to get them out of the inescapable corners you back them into. Write flash fiction if you want the same challenge but on a much tighter scale
  12. Meditate - you don't have to turn your legs into a pretzel. Lay down on the couch and decompress for fifteen minutes. Meditation Benefits
  13. Simplify - I don't mean sell everything and move into a tiny house. Just remove some of the complications in your life
  14. Research your family history - keeping track of all those ancestral lines is going to work your mind and give you an alternative to think about when life is handing you tough stuff.They got through it; you will too.
  15. Garden, keep a bonzai or raise koi - being involved with something that takes time, and takes it slowly will give you time to reflect and gain strength in watching your efforts create beauty in nature
  16. Don't do everything listed above - pick out a few to add to your life (activity) and a few to alter your life (diet)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why My Yellow Dog Winks

Sorry, she doesn't wink on command.
First off, she's not really yellow. She is a yellow lab who is real-butter pale. But she does wink, and it appears to be deliberate.

Reasons she winks
  1. Cagney is the reincarnation of my dad who was a winker. Sure, I have proof. When she is very happy, she sways side to side when she does her hurried, happy walk. So did my dad. Over time, I came to grow on her. Same with my dad. By the time I was an adult, he was pretty pleased he was my father. Cagney decided I belonged to her when she turned five. She does not take instruction well. He was a died-in-the-wool dedicated self-teacher. She looks at me like she knows everything, and I'm just catching up. Yeah, she's my dad.
  2. First day she came home, she was nine weeks old. We were teaching her to wait on the rug by the door while her feet dried. I said, "Stay. I'll let you off when your feet are dry." She winked ("I got this"). She was house trained in three weeks.
  3. Today, I let her in. "All you have to do is sit there for one minute (I raised my index finger). Just one minute." She winked.
  4. I tell a joke to my daughter, turn to Cagney and she winks. She got the joke. 
  5. There is a tiny puddle of clear water on the floor. I ask Cagney and Lacey (chocolate lab),"Who drank too much water out of the water bowl?" Cagney winks. Yeah, she's so funny. She's not cleaning it up.
  6. It's late, I've been furiously writing. Cagney is half on her bed and half off. She looks like she's so tired she couldn't get on the bed all the way. I say, "So who's ready for bed?" She winks. She thinks I'm so funny.
  7. She sneaks off the backdoor rug leaving four muddy prints before I catch her. "Now I have to wash the floor." She winks. I look around. The whole floor could use a mopping.
  8. She's been out recently but is giving me the squint eye. "You want to go out?" She winks. "Aw, not a necessity, a desire." She plays tennis-ball keep-away with Lacey until they are both so overheated they can barely walk three steps without laying down. "You ready to come in?" She has just enough energy to wink.
  9. Our two dogs are laying in their usual yin yang formation. They're facing each other. Lacey is intently staring at Cagney, both sets of ears are perked forward. Cagney winks. Lacey leaps into the air and attacks Cagney's pale white throat. Lacey's lips are drawn tightly over her teeth. My pale yellow dog rolls over while being mauled and looks at me. Yup, then she winks.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Yup, you can learn to be helpless

Opportunity: learn from failure
However, you can also learn to help yourself and learn you are capable of improving. Let yourself fail; let others fail. Then give yourself and others the opportunity to learn from that failure.

I read this great article about how people learn to be helpless through experience and environment. The piece was tweeted by Cash Nickerson (@cashnickerson). The article "Don't Give Learned Helplessness a Chance" was written by Patrick Willer who first explains how the process occurs in animals and then relates it to human behavior.

Why did I connect so quickly to this article? I have been battling this phenomenon in my students for nearly 20 years now. I hear "I don't know (IDK)" and the ever popular condition of "I'm bad at that." They have become convinced that they are helpless. Willer's article though brief offers great insight into how this behavioral response can become embedded rather quickly.

Willard brings up a common example that I have found students to feel: " A classic example is that of a child failing a test at school. The child may think he or she is dumb, which is not necessarily the case." A true assessment or not, the belief can set the child into a pattern of failure through actions that prove the belief correct.

Freedom to fail and learn from the experience without recrimination is important. Freedom to ask questions and be given answers that validate the concern or confusion open up opportunity for change and the belief that things can be changed. Knowing that others are finding this to be true is just as important, so interpersonal engagement must be encouraged.

Willard was applying "learned helplessness" to the business world, but it certainly fit the start of each year in my classroom and the push to giving my students the opportunity to change their negative perceptions of themselves both individually and as a group through their own actions and how I received them.

But it's more useful knowledge than that, though increasing confidence in employees and students is worthy enough. It applies just as well to writers working on character development. I have two characters who have been effected by the feeling of not being able to change what has been a major part of their lives. The opportunity to challenge the belief helped them both change over time and take control over their lives and their perceptions of self. Choices that destroyed their friendship held two characters back from rebuilding it until both had the motivation to break out of their past and the belief that it was possible.

excerpt from The Sharded Boy

   Jahl tried to imagine how he would work on the type of items the Marsons tended to do. It would mean Jahl would have to take a stone in most cases to their shop which would either take away time that he could be earning from proper clientele or he would have to rent a stone an additional day if he was taking it for the evening.

   Rouen hung his head. "I'm sorry for never sticking up for you. I should have. We were best friends and I did nothing."

   Jahl hadn't wanted to think back to those days. The two boys had been best friends. But it had been more than that. Until Jahl was nine he had been friends with all the children. And then one day a new kid in town had pointed out Jahl's crippled leg and his slowness in play. Crimlo had made fun of him until the children were rolling on the ground giggling, gleeful over the creativity of the barbs Crimlo had flung. No day after was ever like the days before that child had come to town. Rouen and Jahl never spoke again.

   Anger from the treatment had long since been overshadowed by the general pain of living. Jahl didn't know what to say. But he knew he wanted the work. "Why can't anyone know?"

   Rouen’s face looked relieved that Jahl had not wanted to talk about their days as children. But his answer to Jahl’s questions pained him. "What if my father never returns to work? People will stop coming to us. We'll lose our livelihood. Please Jahl, do this for us. I wasn't the best friend I should have been, but you have always been a good person. We know we can trust you not to tell anyone. Say you'll do it. I have a week's worth of work backed up. I'll never get it done. And new work is coming in every day. I’ve not turned anyone away."

   Often those who most seem to be out to help us, intentionally or accidentally encourage these negative beliefs.

excerpt from The Sharded Boy

   “I have always looked forward to seeing you at the mercantile. When I didn’t spy you out front as usual, I worried. What happened? A couple of day’s illness wouldn’t do this.” He gestured at Jahl’s thinness.

   “I tripped on the stairs and was knocked unconscious. Rouen found me. By then I had caught a chest cold and been without food a couple of days, and then I couldn’t eat what with being sick. Today is my first really good day.” Jahl wondered if he had laid that on a bit thick and if perhaps Bragg had seen him answer the door earlier. But that would have been okay. Mom wasn’t here being a mother hen yet. “Actually, Mom is just being a bit overzealous. I was moving about the house earlier. But she doesn’t believe me.”

  “Loving mothers are like that.”

   Jahl caught the sourness again in Bragg’s tone and wondered if the man had been aware of his mom’s rough mothering. “I suppose.” Jahl attempted to put the same degree of dissatisfaction in his voice. Over the big man’s shoulder, he saw his mother wince.

   “Overzealous or not, it is best not to overdo.” He surveyed the room again. “Take it slow getting this old house together. You have time.” He grinned. “But I, though willing to come to your rescue, which I am happy to see is not needed, am rather short of time. Ona is home preparing supper and wondering where I am, so I’ll be off.” Bragg laid his hand on Jahl’s shoulder and squeezed the thinness. “Mahre, feed this boy. Get some meat on his bones before he shrivels away. And, young man, conserve your strength. You’ve not been strong, and overexerting yourself will only pull you down further.”

   “I’ll take things easier.”

   Bragg pointed to the closed door of the workroom. “Perhaps you should turn one of these rooms into a bedroom so you don’t have to go upstairs at all. Your room at home was downstairs, wasn’t.”

   “True, but I won’t get stronger if I don’t push myself.”

   “But you have limitations that can’t be altered.” Bragg turned to address Jahl’s mother in the hall. “Right, Mahre, he shouldn’t go beyond what his body can take, should he?”

Allow yourself to fail, allow others to fail, allow your characters to fail, but also give yourself and others the opportunity to rise out of that failure. 


Monday, June 13, 2016

My two month run with the book that wrote itself

Questions and answers.
I've already written about the decision to stop working on my contemporary novel to work on what I thought was just a fantasy short story. I think a followup is due as just this week I finished the 99K draft of the fantasy novel. It took less than two months to write, with an average of 7,000 words per week that included teaching, lesson planning, grading and professional development.

This was a completely different process for me. I wrote nearly every day for at least two hours; on weekends closer to six per day. In the past my books have taken a year to write, with a great deal of redrafting. I just finished the book, so I don't feel I can say that this one won't take similar grueling redraft work, but the first draft process has certainly been a different run.

In the last few days I've been doing cleanup on the draft and expanding a bit here and there. Nothing monumental. I want to get the draft out to my beta readers as soon as possible. This also forces me to step back from the work and let it grow cold. Then when I look at it again with the input of my beta readers, I'll be able to be less attached and really consider their suggestions. The book has felt like it wrote itself, so I really need the away time and their input to ensure the story arc is well fashioned.

With the first draft so fresh on my mind, I want to list the things I found particularly exciting about this new writing process.
  • My characters were constantly chattering in my head. I'd ask a question and the answers would come. What ifs?, why thats?, and who do it?,  inspired scenes playing out along each explanatory line. This Socratic approach to developing character and plot invariably lead to me looking forward to my evening writing session. 
  • Because I was writing as the ideas were coming, I often was learning about my characters in the same manner my readers will. Tendencies, reactions, objects that seemed innocent in one scene become important in later scenes. Or limitations or challenges a character had to overcome would teach a skill that was needed later. But very little of it was pre-planned. I don't usually outline my novels, but I often have much of the plot and the characters developed. Not in this case. I knew the main character and had one scene (the last one) largely imagined.
  • Because I had little plotting set down and few characters in mind, there were always surprises that added to the texture and conflicts of the story. One particular scene had two characters upstairs talking. A sound of objects hitting the floor below interrupted them. When one character turned to the other wanting to know an explanation for the sound, I learned about a new character and a on-going conflict my main character was going to have to deal with.
  • The daily flow of writing also kept the story line fresh in my mind 
  • I keep a OneNote (Microsoft Office program) folder for each book I write, and I turn to my notes whenever I am concerned about continuity. As I wrote this book, potential issues would come to mind, and I would open up my OneNote and add the information immediately. I have several sections: Wielder Lore, Characters and setting, Commerce, Society, Conflicts, and Research. Each was a resource useful for maintaining consistency. Having the story so immediate and the notes entered as the story unfolded kept me involved with the story arc.
  • I felt close to the characters and more in tune with their motivations because I was writing almost daily. I was behind by two scenes almost every day, so I never felt that I didn't know what to write.
  • It wanted to be written. There were days when I wished I could just sit back and watch a movie. The book wouldn't let me or at least not for long. Too much of me needed to keep writing because the characters never stopped being present and active.
  • Because I knew the story was always ready to be written, if a thousand words I had just typed looked to be leading in a direction that left my characters milling around uncertain, I would just hit the enter key a few times at the point where everything had felt authentic and ask, "So what are you really doing?" And off the story would run. Sometimes the words already written and set aside would get re-fabricated into the story; other times, I felt confident deleting them.
  • The story involves (among other things) a young man learning how to wield magic. Sometimes the magic would just take hold of him and he would wonder what was actually bringing about the results he thought he had initiated. Writing this book, often felt that same way. I, Elldee, would sit down to write and then two hours later, and 2000 words further, I would lean back and wonder what time it was, when I had last eaten and what the heck had I been writing.
  • I often would get immersed in my writing with my other books, but that usually occurred a third of the way in; whereas, this book started from the first word as though it had been sitting in me just waiting for me to agree it was time.
All and all, this writing experience has been productive. I wonder if my next writing project will run as quickly and fluidly.

Let me know about your writing process. Do you usually outline and develop in advance or are you a panster? This was my first seat-of-the-pants approach, and I rather liked it.