Why I Don’t Blog

blog backgroundWhen I started Y’s Words back in 2010, it was for the purpose of establishing a writing platform–or at least an online presence as a writer. What I’d hoped would be a platform, however, turned out to be an infinitesimal, near-imaginary toehold despite my attempts to do everything pretty much as was recommended at the time.

Back in the day when I posted three times a week, I learned a few things: 1) the effort did not generate significant book sales; 2) as I’m a slow writer, doing three posts a week imposed a fairly small but constant strain and required me to devote the equivalent of one whole workday per week; and, 3) the posts that got the best response from readers were about my personal life, not writing. (Or, about nothing in particular. For instance, a post in which I shared an old, not-so-funny joke is the one that’s gotten the biggest number of hits. Go figure.)

It’s been several months since my last post, though, so it’s time to do an update. That much is obvious. What I’m less certain of is what I should write about.

2015-07-24 12.30.28No point talking about the weather. Whether or not you like the current weather conditions or look forward to the coming winter or summer (depending on your hemisphere of habitation), there’s no point in my writing about it.

I’ve talked enough about snow, spring flowers, gardening, and that sort of thing in the past. To do so again—especially with nothing new to contribute—would be redundant.

There’s nothing going on in our lives at present worth reporting. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for same-old/same-old can be a comfort. But it doesn’t make for interesting blog posts.

How about writing? I don’t know about you, but I’m bored nearly to tears with writers’ blogs by now. Everything worth saying has already been said a myriad of ways and will be repeated many times in the future. A newcomer to the writing life who wants to learn more about it already has plenty of resources, and I see no reason to add my weak voice to the clamor.

file8431289655927There’s another reason I haven’t been blogging, and I touched on it lightly above: the time factor. No, I’m not the busiest person around, but neither am I looking for things to do; and I have neither time nor energy in inexhaustible supply. As a writer, then—and, as I noted earlier, I’m a slow one—I must choose between writing blog posts and working on my next book. I can’t do both on a regular basis.

To summarize: I don’t blog anymore because 1) I have nothing to say; and 2) it doesn’t seem to be the best use of my time.

But, while I have your attention, let me tell you about my current WIP. (For those writing-newbies, WIP stands for Work in Progress.)

I’m about 82,000 words into my latest novel. It took me a while to get rolling, but now that I’m fully immersed in it, I’m loving it. Love the story, love the world I created for its stage, and love the characters galloping about on it. But I have a problem: it’s getting too long. I’ve already written a novel’s worth, but I still have at least as much to go before the conclusion I envision.

Sometimes my fellow writers will say things like, “My novels are usually only about 50,000 words, but my publisher wants at least 75,000.” Or, “I’m done with my first draft, but I’m 15,000 words short. How can I bulk up the story?” Ha! I never have that problem!

IMG_2017For now—that is, while I’m in the first draft stage—I won’t worry about it. I’ll continue to tell the story as it demands to be told until it’s all put into words. Then I’ll decide whether to make sweeping cuts, or add a little more (if necessary) and turn it into a series.

I can think of good reasons for doing the latter, and, though I’d originally planned for this to be a stand-alone, that’s probably what I’ll end up doing. Here are my thoughts on that, in case you care:

  1. Because I intend to self-publish it, there’s no need to consider a publisher’s requirements. That is, I can do whatever I want.
  2. Especially with titles by little-known authors (that is, me), readers are more apt to pick up a short book than a massive tome. Cost is a big factor here: fat books take more paper and ink and consequently cost more to produce, and the price must reflect that. Time is another consideration. Would I prefer to buy a book, even an inexpensive ebook, that’s going to take me forever to read, or one that’s short and sweet? Unless it’s by an author I already love, I’d opt for a short one.
  3. A short book that’s first in a series can whet a reader’s appetite for more. That way, instead of trying to introduce myself to a reader by selling her one heavy-weight volume, I can tempt her to try a short sweet one; and if she likes it, I have a good chance of selling her the whole series. (In other words, it’s better to sell three books than one.)
  4. If I write the whole story and divide it into three volumes, after publishing the first, I can then release the subsequent titles quickly before reader interest in the first one wanes.

And I’ll bet you’re already bored. See what I mean? I have nothing to say that’s worth blogging about.

00097However, I’m giving some thought to posting the opening of my current WIP—just a little bit—to test the waters and/or generate a little interest, so maybe once I finally publish it, I’ll have three or four people already prepared to hand me their money.

What do you think? Would you like to see the beginning of my current project? Or have you already quit reading this post because honestly, you don’t give a fig?

 

 

 

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The World of Pictures

The view out my window at sun-up on Saturday.
The view out my window at sun-up on Saturday

Okay, you’re tired of pictures of snow by now. Too bad. I’m going to show you a few more.

Why? Because I didn’t do it earlier, that’s why!

These were all taken on Saturday the 23rd, while the snow was still coming down. By the time it was done and the sun came out Sunday morning, we had somewhere between 26 – 30 inches. Nobody records an official accumulation here in LaVale, so I’m just estimating based on how far it came up on my leg when I stood beside a plowed section.

Getting started with the snowblower
Getting started with the snowblower

It was perfect weather, actually. Cold enough that the snow was light and fluffy, but not so bitter that being outside was dangerous. (That is, less risk of frostbite, lungs freezing, heart attack from shoveling, etc.) On Monday, I actually saw a guy digging his car out of a massive pile of snow wearing only jeans and boots. He’d taken off his jacket and shirt and hung them on a nearby road sign.

But I’m not really here to talk about snow, specifically. My topic today is pictures.

Look at the difference between the car that's under the carport and the one that's out in the open!
Look at the difference between the car that’s under the carport and the one that’s out in the open!

And no, I don’t mean the photos I’m including here (though they are rather fun). I’m talking about the illustrations God gives us in the temporal, physical world to picture eternal spiritual realities. The whole world is a picture book given by the Father to his children. If we’ll sit in his lap and listen, he’ll tell us what they’re all about.

For instance: while clearing two feet of snow off the front porch Saturday morning, I meditated on a phrase from Isaiah 1:18, Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.

Yea, verily, snow is white. I can think of nothing whiter! Matter of fact, when in full sun, it’s so white it can damage your eyes– snow blindness is a very real thing. The brilliance is not so impressive, though, unless the sun reflects off it. That is, the power is in the sun, not the snow.

The car is no longer bound by snow as in the picture above, but...
The car is no longer bound by snow as in the picture above, but…

We usually say the opposite of white is black. I learned in school that white light is the combination of all colors (think how a prism breaks down white light into a rainbow) whereas black is the absence of color. Opposites, right? All color v. no color? But in Isaiah 1:18, the opposite of white is scarlet. Blood-red, because sin is a bloody scourge we can’t escape.

The snow covers everything and makes it clean and white. Very white. And at present, very well covered! God went to great lengths (depths?) to make his point this past weekend.

...the road isn't cleared yet, only the sidewalk. So we're not going anywhere.
…the road isn’t cleared yet, only the sidewalk. So we’re not going anywhere.

Funny thing about white, though. It doesn’t stay pure for long. If you live a temperate region, you know how quickly the pristine snow will degrade, passing through the stages of brown sugar to ash gray to coal black to gritty slush.  Truly, a fresh snowfall is a brief and precious thing.

When God covers our bloody sin with His snowy-white redemption, it’s a precious thing as well. But we get dirty right away, too, for how long can you go without sinning again? A few minutes, a few seconds? Just when we’re fresh and new, a prideful thought, a lustful impulse, a resentful response splashes its dirt across the surface, and the white is pure no more.

Hope you weren't planning to use the grill today.
Hope you weren’t planning to grill burgers today.

On the other hand, our redemption is eternal. One day, the dirty temporal will melt away, and the new creation beneath will remain, perfect and pure as God made it.

The ideal winter (in my opinion) is one in which, from late fall until early spring, the temperature never goes above freezing, and we get a couple of inches of snow every day or two. That way there’s no mud, no slush, and everything’s always clean and white all winter long. In the spiritual parallel, we need to be made clean on a regular basis through frequently bathing in the word of God (Ephesians 5:26).

Remember "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"? It's not true.
Remember “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”? It’s not true. But I don’t blame the mail carriers!

But it’s not winter forever. In the spring, everything changes. The old things pass away (like snow and ice) and all things become new. A sagging snowman looks a bit sad, but he’s got to go before the grass can get green.

Indeed, God provides another marvelous picture in the changing seasons.

Your experience with the seasons depends on what part of the world you happen to stand on. While I dug my car out of the snow last weekend, my friend in Tasmania (waving hi to Paula!) enjoyed a warm mid-summer day. When my sister (hello to Holly!) lived in San Francisco, she said the biggest difference between summer and winter was the amount of rain that fell. People in equatorial regions often don’t see much change in the seasons at all. Nevertheless, God is the same everywhere, and his truth is universal. We merely see it from different vantage points.

So what am I saying? I’m not sure. I’m just enjoying the pictures, and I hope you do too.

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Maybe a Book Blog Should Be About Books

books-1015594_1280In our last not-so-exciting blogging adventure, I mused about the possibility of making my next post about books… since this is kinda-sorta like a writer’s blog typa thing. One of my devoted readers (my sister) commented privately that she liked that suggestion. So I’ll take her up on it.

As a kid, I was an avid reader. It helped that I had the time to just sit and read. Nowadays, I guess I do again! Because when I started jotting down the titles I’ve read in the past month or so, the list turned out to be longer than I’d expected. I might have missed one or two, but these are the ones that I thought of:

Fiction – on Kindle
Crooked Lines, Holly Michael
At God’s Mercy, L. L. Fine
The Dance, Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (didn’t finish)based on the

Fiction – print books
The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Amy Tan
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke (based on the screenplay of the film by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke)
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
Space Captain Smith, Toby Frostspace captain

Nonfiction – print books
The Heavenly Man (Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun) by Paul Hattaway
Song of Songs: The Divine Romance Between God and Man by Watchman Nee
Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry
What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

A few thoughts on each:

I love Kindle because it’s cheap and efficient. Where else can you get so many books for free or 99¢? And how else can you store hundreds of volumes in a space measuring roughly 7.25 x 4.5 x .5”? I mean, seriously! As a book lover, how can I justify not having a Kindle?index

And yet… I much prefer reading a print book, and I know many who agree with me. Ebooks certainly have their place, but for the best reading experience, you can’t beat print. For that reason, I find it way easier to acquire ebooks than to actually read them. But every once in a while I’ll force myself to make use of the device.

Back when I was working with The Borrowed Book blog, I met author Holly Michael and was introduced to what was then her latest release, the above-mentioned Crooked Lines. Holly is a very interesting person; I loved the cover art; and the book sounded interesting. So, somewhere along the line, I got myself a copy on Kindle but only got around to reading it last month or so. It was okay. Had some interesting aspects to it, and all in all I’m glad I read it, but it doesn’t make my list of favorites.

Neither does At God’s Mercy. This was one I picked up for free, and it was worth the investment. Or maybe I paid 99¢ for that one. I don’t keep track of these things. But I’m glad I didn’t pay more.

51DaiSB6QML._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_I bought The Dance because I used to rub shoulders with Dan Walsh on Novel Rocket, and many years ago at church, we went through a film series by Gary Smalley that I thought was quite good. So when I saw Walsh and Smalley collaborated on a novel, I took the opportunity to get it on the cheap. Though it’s not the sort of thing I’d ordinarily read, it was quite well done. Smalley is a well-known family counselor, so there’s no surprise that family issues are the basis of the story—nor is it surprising that it has a happy resolution. If that type of tale is your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this one.

Awhile back I had a discussion with someone about The Brothers Karamazov (how do you pronounce that, by the way? What syllable gets the accent?), and remembered that I’d downloaded a free Kindle copy—English translation, of course—quite some time ago, but hadn’t read it. So I pulled it up, read about 20% of it, and decided to let it rest for now. It’s not terrible, but finishing it didn’t seem to be the best use of my time.bonesetters

After that I deemed it time to do a little weeding-out of my physical to-be-read shelves. I think the first thing I grabbed was The Bonesetter’s Daughter. I loved Tan’s debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, and this, her fourth, was equally a delight. I believe was Stephen King in his book On Writing who said that no amount of training or practice can turn a mediocre writer into a great one. The average person can be taught to write competently, but, as with any other endeavor, true greatness is a gift. In that discussion, he mentioned Amy Tan as one who is greatly gifted.

After having read two of her novels, I wholeheartedly agree.

After that, I picked up the old classic-you-probably-can’t-believe-I’d-never-read-before-because-I’m-supposedly-a-sci-fi-author, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I’ve never seen the movie, either.) It was… well, pretty much as I expected. A good example of the genre.

white tigerThe White Tiger was an excellent read. It was my first exposure to the Indian/Australian author Adiga, but I’ll keep my eye peeled for more of his novels. A journalist by profession, he made the crossover into fiction with amazing skill in this adroit story of one man’s struggle to escape the constraints of his caste in modern-day India.

I acquired Space Captain Smith some years ago in the course of my membership in The Paperback Swap Club, looking to expand my sci-fi reading. If you liked Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its ilk, you’ll get a kick out of this one.

Now to the nonfiction.

YunOther than the Bible, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I do occasionally indulge. The first on this list, The Heavenly Man, was recommended by my friend in Tasmania. Because I’ve liked her recommendations before, I decided to give it a try—and I was glad I did. The writing style was, in my opinion, clumsy, probably due to geographical differences. But the content made it easy to get past the mechanics. This is the true story of a Chinese man who’s still alive, about my age (a little younger, as I recall) and still active in Christian missions. His experiences put the Christian life in a far different perspective from that which American Christians know. He brings out many points, some obvious and some more subtle, that are well worth noting, and which I’d like to elaborate upon further, but this is already getting too long. Maybe in another post.

In late August, I began a study of the biblical book Song of Solomon and didn’t finish until the end of December. (I’ve been meaning to blog about that for a few months but never have gotten around to it.) After completing the study, I bought this book by Watchman Nee, Song of Songs, for further reading. I’m definitely going to have to talk about all this in another post, or series of them. For now, let’s move on…

My pastor loaned me the two books listed above about homosexuality and the Bible and asked me to read and review them. I’ve done the first part but haven’t written the reviews yet.is god anti

Both were good, but I liked the shorter one, Is God Anti-Gay?, better. When it comes to “What does the Bible teach about…” any subject, it makes sense to me to go to the Bible to see what it says. Why employ a middle man?

The author in this case does a thorough job with it, but while reading his scholarly, linguistic, but altogether readable explanation, I couldn’t help but think that the problem isn’t so much knowing, as believing what the Bible says. Quote chapter and verse all you want, and parse it down to a pile of split hairs; none of that matters. What counts is accepting, and submitting ourselves to, the Scriptures’ authority. Apart from that, it’s just old writings.

Brevity was one reason I liked the first book better. Another is that the author gives some very practical things for a Christian to consider when dealing with the matter of homosexuality in the church, in the political realm, in familial and casual relationships, and in one’s own life. But perhaps the most commendable aspect is the author’s perspective. He is a Christian who himself is attracted to people of the same sex. Therefore he knows whereof he speaks, and what he says is well worth listening to.

So that’s my recent reading list. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime.

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Post-Holiday Report

2016-01-08 14.05.49I love Sundays—especially during football season.

I love going to church no matter what the season. But in the afternoons, when football’s on, I’m guaranteed a nap.

Today, though, Craig was happy about the Steelers’ win last night and didn’t care a whole lot about the afternoon game today, so we went for a walk instead of falling asleep in front of the TV.

It had been raining off and on all day, so we were prepared to get rained on. But instead, we experienced a few flits of snow… and a whole lot of wind. But we stayed dry, so that made us happy.

2016-01-08 13.59.55We’ve been walking fairly regularly this winter. Friday we went to the Paw Paw Tunnel again, hoping to see some fun ice formations, since it’s been a little colder the past few days. We had a nice hike to the tunnel, went over top of the mountain, and then back through the tunnel in the homeward direction. Stopping to take a photo or two along the way.

Then we explored the Town Creek Aqueduct at another nearby stop along the same C & O Canal Trail, near which we discovered another interesting trail that we might check out another day. (Took no pics there.)

school house kitchen
School House Kitchen (photo from their Facebook page)

Continuing our exploration, we meandered into a little burg called Old Town, where one of the first things you see is a school. Except it’s not—it’s a repurposed school building. One of the new purposes for the building is a restaurant, the School House Kitchen located in the original school lunchroom. In another area, they restore antique cars.

Craig and I loved the concept and decided to stop for lunch. We didn’t expect much, and so weren’t disappointed. Basically, it was the quality of food you’d find in a school cafeteria. But it was 2 pm, we’d walked up an appetite, and it was a fun place to stop. We wish the owners success!

2016-01-08 14.05.20None of this, however, is worth writing home about. I only mention it because: 1) it’s been over a month since I blogged; and 2) it’s a good excuse to use some of the nice pics I took.

Since my last post, we’ve had Christmas and New Year’s Day – but no snow. I was thinking recently of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which, thanks to a spell cast by the white witch, it was always winter in Narnia, but never Christmas. The way the Christmas hype begins in October but the temperatures this year felt more like April than December, it occurred to me that this season, it was always Christmas but never winter.

2016-01-08 14.06.41-2
I don’t recommend climbing these stairs.

Despite wet, gloomy weather without so much as a whiff of winter, we had a lovely Christmas. We drove to the Cleveland area on Christmas Day, where we visited with Craig’s family at his sister’s house before taking everyone out to eat at an Asian buffet that evening. When I say “everyone,” that includes not only Craig’s whole family but also our oldest and youngest daughters (Emily and Rustie, respectively), whom we don’t often get to spend time with. After dinner we went to the Holiday Inn where we met up with Shelley and her family, who’d recently arrived from Virginia, and watched the kids swim in the pool for a while before bed.23847923796_fe2ed0c502_n

Shelley & Scott recently acquired (if that’s the right word) a four-month-old foster baby, whom we met for the first time and found thoroughly charming. She’s truly a sweetheart! Because they can’t post photos of her in public, they have to be careful with family pics. But I thought they did a great job with this one!

Bennett with spoonsThe next morning we had breakfast at the motel restaurant with not only Shelley & Scott & the grandkids, but also with our son Art and his wife Jennie, as well as my sister and her husband. We had to wait a long time for our food, but that merely gave us adults a chance to chat and the kids to entertain the rest of us.

We then went back to Craig’s sister’s house in Parma for the official Anderson Christmas. It was one day late because Art & Jennie weren’t able to be there on the 25th, but I don’t think anyone cared about the delay. After the festivities, we went back to the motel where the kids—along with Craig’s nieces this time—did some more swimming.swimming

Art & Jennie had to go home that night, and Shelley & Scott left the following morning. But Craig & I went to Rustie’s apartment for a while before the three of us went to my brother’s house, where we had “Smithmas” with him and his wife, our daughter Emily, and my sister and her husband.

I don’t know how many more Christmases we’ll be able to visit with everyone, and we very much enjoyed being able to do it this year. We’re also very thankful that we have families to spend the holidays with—and that everyone enjoys one another’s company.

New Year’s Eve was uneventful, but on New Year’s Day, we went to a wedding! Not the usual way to start the new year, but it was a lovely wedding and a happy day.

I have many things to be thankful for, but I’ve rambled on long enough. And besides that, I’m out of pictures. Maybe in my next post I’ll talk about some of the books I’ve been reading. That would be appropriate for a writer’s blog, wouldn’t it?

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300 Years of Joy… And Counting

Y birth announcementCraig and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in October, and today is my 60th birthday. I’m not very good at arithmetic, but I do notice that adds up to 100 years.

A nice round number, but it doesn’t include Craig’s age in the sum. (He’ll be 62 in two days.) So I decided to add a few more milestones into the mix and see if I could come up with another jolly, round number.

Here’s the result: It’s been 43½ years since my “rebirth day” when I began a new life in Christ. We’ve had a full and wonderful 37½ years of parenthood. And I lived 57 years in Ohio before moving here to Merryland.

It’s a little convoluted, but if you add all that up (40 + 60 + 62 + 43.5 + 37.5 + 57), we’ve accumulated the rough equivalent of 300 years of joy.

There are plenty of additional milestones I could add, but I wanted an even number for a total. Some of the other things I might include if I wanted to figure out how to work them in: Ten years of button-busting grandparenthood. For Craig, 6 years of retirement. More than 15 years of being debt-free. Almost 14 years since I started seriously to write.

I suppose I could look back and reflect on some of the unhappy days as well. But you know what? I’ve pretty much forgotten those. I know they occurred, but why dwell on them?

stormI am who and what I am today, in part, because of all my experiences, both pleasant and otherwise. Mostly, I am what I am because of the grace of God, who works all things together for good for those who love him. That’s somewhat of a trite saying, but it’s rock-solid true nonetheless. When in the midst of a storm, we don’t always see the good, but it’s always there, above and beyond the savage wind and the dark, thundering clouds.

Today, in this my 300th year of joy, I know there will be storms ahead. Sometimes the gusts will knock me off my feet. But big deal; it happens to everybody. In fact, God promises it will happen to everyone who follows him. But that’s just stuff that happens along the way; it’s not the end of the story.

Little Y about 1957I was recently reminiscing about a day when I was very small, and my mom was wrapping Christmas presents. She had a twin brother who was disabled, and because he couldn’t get out to shop, he ordered Christmas gifts from catalogs and had them sent to our house. My mom would then wrap them for him so he could give them to the family. Because none of the gifts she wrapped that day were for me, I was allowed to be in the room with her.

Being a little kid, I was mighty excited about Christmas and was probably getting under her skin. I asked several times, “How soon can we open our gifts? When’s Christmas?”

“About two weeks,” was always the distracted reply.

“Well, how long is two weeks? When’s it gonna be Christmas?”

I still remember her answer: “It seems a long time, to you. But to me, it’s just around the corner. The older you get, the faster time goes.”

I guess I’ve always had a very literal mind, because I went and looked down the hall, hoping to see Christmas “just around the corner.” It wasn’t there. Hmmm. Maybe only moms can see it…

Christmas tree 2007She was right, though: the older we get, the faster time seems to go, and I’ve been thinking about that truth quite a lot lately.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the excitement I felt about Christmas back then.

I knew I was going to get presents. I didn’t know what they were going to be, but I knew I was going to like them. My grandparents would come over, and it would be a great day. I knew that with certainty, though I didn’t have a clear idea of when that “great day” would arrive.

That little kid is still inside me bubbling over with anticipation. But it’s not Christmas I’m anticipating. It’s Christ.

There are gifts in my future, of that I’m certain. I don’t know exactly what they’ll be, but I know I’m going to love them. All God’s family will be united, and it will be a great day.

I know that with certainty, though I don’t have a clue when that “great day” will arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday Situation Report

file0001354955594What’s the situation? Well…

I am making tomato soup even as we speak, with the intention of canning a few jars. I’ve never canned tomato soup before, but we have tomatoes ripe in the garden and have no need for any more canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I like Campbell’s cream of tomato soup (made with milk instead of water). I think it’s the only canned soup I like. Making it from fresh tomatoes is a lot of work just for a bowl of soup, so I don’t do it very often. But I need to do something with all these tomatoes, so I decided to experiment. I’m not comfortable canning something with cream in it, though, so I’ll leave out the cream. I can always add it later, when I open a jar.

2015-08-22 11.37.42Yes, we have tomatoes in our garden despite the determined efforts of the neighborhood groundhog. The tomatoes in the photo at left are high enough off the ground that the The Beast can’t reach them. The one shown below is in a less fortunate location. I wouldn’t say we’ve lost half our tomatoes to groundhog predation (if herbivores can be said to prey on vegetables), but the critter is making a significant dent in the crop. No pun intended…

2015-08-22 11.37.28Fortunately, we planted more than we needed, so we still have plenty.

I needed more tomato puree, so I planted some San Marzano “paste” tomatoes in addition to the round “eating” tomatoes 2015-08-22 11.39.11shown above. The plants are starting to die off, partly because of being grazed upon by The Beast and partly because it’s not uncommon for them to do that in late summer. The round tomatoes are still going strong, so The Beast should have plenty of good grazing for a few weeks yet.

We haven’t seen as many groundhogs here in Maryland as we did in Ohio. But where gardens are concerned, it only takes one! And here’s the problem: we live in town. In a neighborhood surrounded by houses and people. Which means we can’t handle the problem the way we did in Ohio. There, we had some occasional damage from groundhogs, but let’s just say that the same hog never visited us twice, if you get my drift.

These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beasts calls them "lunch."
These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beast calls them “lunch.”

We could legally trap this critter in a live trap, but what well-fed beast, for whom the whole world is a salad bar, would go into a box to get food? We borrowed a live trap for a while, but the only thing we caught was a possum. Don’t care about possums. And I’m pretty sure I heard the groundhog laugh as it passed the trap on its way to eat all my green beans.

Excuse me while I go stir my soup… Okay, I’m back. One more thing about that, and then I’ll move on: I like this tomato soup because, besides being yummy, it allows me to use tomatoes and carrots from my garden, basil from my herb garden, and chicken broth I made this spring and put in the freezer. It irks me that I had to buy onions, considering the fact that I used to grow marvelous onions in Ohio. But it’s still satisfying to make something yummy from things I have on hand, and to be able to preserve the result for use in the cold months to come. I can anticipate only one down side: I’ll probably never want Campbell’s tomato soup again.

This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park
This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park

Now, let’s talk about writing. I had the opportunity last weekend to go to a one-day “Writing to Inspire” workshop near Frederick, Maryland. Despite being a bit dragged down by a stomach bug that almost-but-not-quite kept me home, I had a good time. (Would have been a great time if I’d been feeling better!) Met some people I’m very happy to know. And hope to be able to go back next year if and when they do it again. This was the first year for it, and it seemed to be well received by all who participated, so I hope it will be the first get-together in a long tradition of them.

11781694_10204935433811036_3742185297715992323_nIn the pic above, you can see a back view of me along the left edge.  The picture at right was taken from the back porch/patio of the tea room. That white disk at the lower right corner is a table, in case you couldn’t tell. The view was lovely, but it was a hot, sunny day and only a crazy person would have sat out there.

Umm… okay, I guess I did sit out there for lunch. So I’m a crazy person, okay?

11898546_10204935414450552_8672716623010485690_n
Find me in this pic. I dare ya. (This is not a trick; I really am there.)

Anyway, here’s the thing about writer get-togethers. It wasn’t a place where everybody tried to sell their books. Actually, I did sell two of mine, but that’s not the reason I went. My purpose was to find a little inspiration/encouragement, and to encourage others. And I think both those goals were accomplished.

Nobody understands a writer except another writer. Being a Christian writer adds another dimension. If you’re a writer and a Christian, you’re a Christian writer, no matter what you write. A Christian has a higher standard and a greater purpose for whatever he or she does, and that applies to writing. So it’s helpful for those of us who are flopping around in this confusing land of Christian Writerdom to have a little company along the way.

So, speaking of “along the way,” what’s along my way in the way of writing? Well, now that I’m feeling myself again after the aforementioned stomach ailment (so wonderful to finally emerge from the fog!), I’m eager to move forward on three fronts:

c1b3b9b01) My friend whom I’ve been helping with her project, Dancing on Stones: A Quest for Joy, is at the point where it’s time to actively pursue publication of this thing. This is huge– exciting–and a long story. But I won’t get into it all now. I’ll just say I’m actually looking forward to promoting this book when it’s available. (Did I really say that? Yes. I’m looking forward to helping her promote it, because it’s a book I’m wildly enthusiastic about.)

2) I’m negotiating with another individual concerning my helping him with a memoir. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s always good to expand our horizons and learn new things. Besides that, I think the guy will be fun to work with.

This has nothing to do with this blog post. It's just pretty.
This has nothing to do with this blog post. It’s just pretty.

3) My friend Susan and I have agreed to hammer out new novels together next month — kind of like NaNoWriMo except less formally organized, and in September. Less pressure, too. We’ve just decided that it’s time we got cracking on these things, and a little determination, as well as accountability to someone one else, might help. I’ve actually already started this new novel — yes, I have written five sentences. So I’m well on my way, ha ha.

My soup is in jars and in the pressure canner now. (The acid in the tomatoes might make it okay to can in a hot water bath canner, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.) The kitchen is cleaned up, and I have some laundry going as well. Once I publish this post, I’ll be able to check off all the items on today’s must-do list. What a nice feeling!

2015-07-24 12.30.28And speaking of nice, I’ll share another photo I took a few weeks ago of the Rose of Sharons beside the driveway. This is a very popular shrub in these parts (they’re like belly buttons: everyone has one), and I’m glad, because I like them. They’re not only beautiful, but they also give me warm fuzzies, because my mom had one when I was growing up. But her one Rose of Sharon was nothing to compare to the ones planted along our property on two sides. When at their peak they’re just short of spectacular.

So there you go: a report of my situation this Saturday.

 

 

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Book Reviews: It’s a Jungle Out There

file0001570123023The farther I go on this writing journey, the more complicated it seems. Even something as simple as a book review has hidden pitfalls.

For better or for worse, Amazon sells more books than anyone. In an attempt to prevent writers from buying bogus reviews (a practice that at one time was prevalent), Amazon has strict review policies.  One of their rules is that a review cannot be paid for. If you’re given a book for free, you’re supposed to state that in your review. If Amazon’s records show you purchased the book from them, they’ll give it their “Verified Purchase” seal of approval. But if you didn’t buy it there, they reserve the right to remove/refuse your review.

You’re not allowed to “swap” reviews. That is, you can’t agree with a fellow author to review one another’s books. Of course that happens all the time — being an author, I know a lot of authors, and I’ve reviewed some of their books and they’ve reviewed mine. But if Amazon gets a whiff of your relationship, they can take down a review you posted of a friend’s book.

Review me! (But don't tell Amazon I asked you to.)
Review me! (But don’t tell Amazon I asked you to.)

Though every author loves having others praise their work, getting Amazon reviews isn’t just a matter of pride. The more reviews you have, the more your book sells as people read the reviews and think, “all these readers can’t be wrong.” Also, the more reviews  you get, the more Amazon recommends that book on their site. I believe the magic is supposed to start happening once you get 10 reviews. (Which is why I’m a bit frustrated that The Last Toqeph has been stuck at 9 reviews for months now.)

And then there are the paid reviewers, like the much-vaunted Kirkus. You can spend several hundred dollars on a paid review, but all that gets you is the right to use a quote from your great Kirkus review on your promotional materials. You can’t post it to Amazon, and you can’t use it to pay your electric bill.

The fact is, I don’t put much thought or effort into book promotion. I don’t track sales (other than to record the few bucks that are automatically deposited into my checking account each month). I don’t try to figure what marketing effort brings the greatest ROI (return on investment), seeing as how nothing seems to bring much return. (But then, I don’t invest much.) I pretty much do what I can without going broke and/or knocking myself out over it, and let come what may.

For that reason, when I saw a message on one of the Goodreads authors’ forums on which I lurk, I took notice. One of these organization that produces paid reviews (“like Kirkus” is the way it was worded) was running a contest in which they would give five winners a free review. “A $300 value!” (Or whatever the quoted cost was — I don’t remember the number for sure.) I took a closer look, and, seeing no danger involved in entering, I gave it a shot and then forgot about it.

But a couple weeks later, I received notice that I’d won a free review from Entrada. Huh? Oh, yeah, I entered that contest, didn’t I? Hmmm… pretty suspicious. I never win anything. Even more suspicious? Someone else on that Goodreads forum said he entered and won. Is it a case where five people entered, so everyone won? Adding to the sense of unease, if you google Entrada in general or Entrada Reviews in particular, this organization doesn’t show up on the first page of results. (It comes up if you search for Entrada Book Reviews, but I didn’t include the word “book” when I did my initial search.)

My unfounded guess based on nothing in particular? It’s probably a start-up company whose internet presence and reputation in the publishing world is not yet established, and this contest is a way to get their name out there. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially since they asked for no money from me — not for entering, and not for winning.

The only thing I was asked to send them was my ebook (so the reviewer could read it), a headshot and short biography — a typical request. As I sent the book file, it occurred to me they might try to sell the book on the black market or something, but who cares? My purpose in writing it was to allow people to read it, not to make money. So even black market sales will further my purpose.

Before Pella Book signing
Pella, Iowa May 2012. Photo by Glenda Mathes

So I sent what they asked for, and they delivered what they promised. Their review of The Story in the Stars is live on their site. It’s a good review — I’m happy with it. And I can use it (or excerpts therefrom) on my Amazon author page, my Goodreads page, or on any promotional materials I create.

I’m still not sure how reputable it is for a company to charge big bucks for reviews. But since I got this one for free, I’ll try to figure out how to use it. Gotta get my money’s worth, don’t ya know.

 

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