Monday, January 28, 2019

Where do you write?

Debbie Bailey asked; Where is your favorite place to sit back and write?
The short answer; wherever I can find the right ergonomics. I usually like to sit bolt upright with my laptop on the surface in front of me. Sometimes I slouch way back in a lawn chair and prop my laptop on my... lap. Another option for me is to stand at a counter, or I place my laptop on an up-ended box on the table.
Most of my effective writing is done at a local Marriott Hotel Starbucks. I can sit for hours and be stimulated by the constant parade of people but never get interrupted by a friend. It’s just noisy enough to be white noise. If it’s absolutely quiet, I can be productive. The only time I cannot write is if there’s someone near me and I can hear everything they’re saying… I’m a compulsive eavesdropper! Trust me, if I can hear you, I’m listening to your conversation.
However, I’m not always home. I write a travel blog (Dashing Bold Adventure), so I write all over the world. Wherever I am, I make it work. In the old days I would find an internet cafe and pay for 30 minutes on their computer. That's when I developed speed! It would always take a few minutes to figure out the keyboard. Not every keyboard is a QWERTY. 
The Spanish speaking countries have the ñ on their board. Then to add to the fun the keys are often so worn out, you can’t read them :)
When we're abroad for months at a time, I find some spot that works for me... The terrace on the hotel roof in Puerto Escondido, the open bar at Columbus Isle/Club Med, an adorable cafe in Florence, the covered porch of our bungalow overlooking Lake Atitlan, a coffee shop in Guanajauto MX, etc… What I write varies depending on the amount of time I’m going to be in one place. I don’t do well with my novels if we’re on the move a lot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How do you start a book?

Lynn Takacs asked this question, via Facebook, regarding a photo of me holding up three of my paperbacks, “How did you start out on each one?”
Well Lynn, that’s a bigger question than it appears. Naturally, I’ve been writing stuff for most of my life, but my first book was Counterpart. Of course each book has its mental launching point. That being said each one is unique.
For Counterpart, I actually had a super intense dream. Maybe another person would call it a nightmare… you decide. I was at the mall. I’d gone to pick up a friend who worked in a jewelry store. It was one of those posh, quiet stores with the whooshing glass doors. While I waited for to get off work a man came in a demanded a “Box.” The owner said no and got shot. Chaos ensued with my friend screaming bloody murder. I bravely crawled over to the owner (amazing how brave we can be in dreams!). He thrust the box into my hands and told me to run. So I did. I dashed across the parking lot amidst a shower of bullets, scrambled over a fence, hurtled obstacles, could hear the chase, and somehow I ended up in a ramshackle rundown neighborhood. Spotting an abandoned house, I dashed through the broken front door and ran up the steps to the top floor—the attic. I can still remember how I could hear the blood pounding in my ears in that dream. Suddenly a little old woman’s voice broke the silence as she simply said, “Hello.” It scared me so bad, I woke up. I got up and went into my office and wrote it all down. That’s the first chapter of Counterpart, more-or-less. It took years for me to finish that book because I was working full time as a physical therapist.
The next book, El Tiburon, was a combination of things. First I ran into a constant question… How’s Sport and Sean doing? Are they having any new adventures? I hadn’t anticipated the popularity of these characters, especially Sport (she’s a feisty, tiny physician—athletic and hypoglycemic—she became a favorite). The second impetus was a visit to Guatemala. This was the first time I’d heard of the Guajeros (the inhabitants living at the garbage dump in Guatemala City). I’m a studier of people, obviously, and I began researching their plight. I became enamored with their bravery. At the same time I fell in love with the ancient city of Antigua. We stayed a month. So this all describes the background, but the starting point was sitting down to the laptop and typing. I had no idea what the story was going to be about… actually didn’t know what the story was about most of the time. I’ve had many readers ask how I create so much suspense? LOL… It’s because I’m in suspense as the author!
In The Crossfire of Revenge was Joe’s idea. He actually wrote the first chapter. I altered it considerably, but in essence it’s his chapter, actually half the chapter. He had great ideas and input for this story about a youth group going on a short-term mission trip. He’s been on several as a chaperone, and he’s been to Colombia a couple of times with a men’s group. I combined his knowledge of Colombia with my knowledge of the jungle in Costa Rica to create the scenes. This story is a coming of age story for the eight teenagers. It starts with an attempted kidnapping of the youth pastor and four of the kids. Then the group escapes into the jungle with the aid of the local church. Sean and Sport McGee are the chaperones. Naturally no one but Sport knows Sean is a CIA agent. With this book I had to research jungle survival, and thanks to Jesse Smith at River City Christian I learned how a large church would typically handle this kind of catastrophe.
Please ask questions using any means you feel like using. I will post your question here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do I need an ISBN?

Periodically I get questions from people on social media. I try to answer them immediately. Recently I realized these are good questions and as I get repeatedly asked the same question, I'm guessing they are relevant. So, if you're interested in this crazy world of writing, stay tuned.

Musti asked via Instagram;
“Quick question: I am about to finish my manuscript and wanted to self publish it through Amazon. Do I register somewhere the title? Do I need an ISBN? And how do I get one? Merci.”

Let’s start with the first sentence. Congratulations on your manuscript being almost completed. You’re wise to ask these questions now. I will answer your questions in a brutally honest way because I want a large audience of readers to benefit from it. If I’m reading this correctly, you haven’t actually finished the manuscript (though it’s possible you mean you’re just putting the finishing touches on it). If that’s the case, then you’re a long ways from done. In this new world of indie publishing, the bar is set much higher for the author. We no longer have a publisher to hold our hands, edit and polish our work, or to tell us it won’t sell… no marketability. The manuscript has to be excellent only because that’s what you want. You can publish garbage. That worked ten years ago, but now the readers have caught on. They pay attention to reviews. Now we have to take a good long look at our books first. (I plan to answer the question of ‘How do I get my book ready on my own’ at a later date.)

Do I register somewhere the title?

Art of any sort is protected and doesn’t need to be registered. That includes fiction. However, that being said, I would register your manuscript if it’s a manual, guide, or advice/self help work. The only reason I say that is the titles need to be unique with that type of work. Lots of people can come up with the same guidebook or manual.
Fiction is not the same. Plus you have your computer date imprint on the file. If somebody says, “Hey, that’s the book I wrote!” you have proof on your computer. I periodically email myself the file to establish the date, ownership, and to preserve it in the cloud. Of course I also keep my work on an external hard drive in my safe. All of these have dates that point to you being the owner.

Do I need an ISBN?

Yep! Each and every book out there must have an ISBN, otherwise the powers-that-be wouldn’t be able to track them and their sales, etc.. Actually according to Smashwords, each format should have its own ISBN—e-book, paperback, and audiobook. However, Amazon doesn’t agree. They don’t mind if you use your ISBN from Smashwords… I know because I accidentally did it. I wrote to them in a panic, and they wrote back saying it didn’t matter to them.

And how do I get one?

There are places to purchase an ISBN, but why would you do that? Amazon and Smashwords provide you with a free one. Those two are pretty much the entire market. Amazon sells to all Kindle readers and Amazon customers. Smashwords sells to every reading-device everywhere, including Kindle and distributes to all the large e-book sites like Apple. As you go through the steps to upload your book to KDP Amazon, or to Smashwords, the instructions will ask you if you want their free ISBN. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. The site won’t move forward until one is provided.

Good luck and keep the questions coming via FB, Instagram, this blog, or Goodreads. I'll post the answers here, but I'll try to answer them specific to your situation privately.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Little Background on El Tiburon

El Tiburon (The Shark) was the second of the McGee spy series. The main characters, Sean and Sport, have a knack for getting in trouble. Quite honestly, they are fun to write about… Especially Sport. She is a feisty, athletic, physician, and she can usually take care of herself. She’s extremely independent, but when she is kidnapped by a drug boss and dragged south to Guatemala she must depend on others to survive.
She escapes the drug lord’s compound and hides in a garbage can. On garbage collection day. The garbage collectors toss her into the dump truck and haul her off to the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. She’s rescued by a group of Guajeros.
This is where the research became intense.
Let me give some background. My husband and I have been to Guatemala several times. In fact we’ve had a seven-month long exchange pastor. What’s that? Periodically churches will send a junior pastor to the states to make connections and to learn new things (and teach us new things). We are known for our spare room. I’ve lost count of how many people have lived at our home in the last thirty years. So Marvin came for seven months followed by his sister Karina for four months. We flew to Guatemala for Marvin’s wedding, in which we were the God-parents (a big deal in Guate). Each time we’ve gone we’ve stayed for a month to go to language school, and to loaf around as only Americans can do. As I write this, Karina—my Guatemalan ‘daughter’, is sitting across from me at my kitchen table. She came for a Christmas visit.
So I know Guatemala fairly well. El Tiburon takes place in Antigua, a town I know. The wine bar, Mexican restaurant (not to be confused with Guatemalan food), the textile shops, the rock-n-roll bar, are all real places. So research was easy for Antigua.
The garbage dump is a different story. This is a tremendously sad story of a people group who’ve lived for generations inside the dump, subsiding off the refuse and money from recyclable garbage. Their homes are made of discarded metal sheets and wood sticks.
Last count there were about eleven thousand people living there… six thousand of whom are children. Now the research had to kick into high gear. The Guatemalan government isn’t proud of this community. Many years ago a magazine did a story on these people and there was a general uproar from human rights activists around the world. The result? The government built a wall through the dump to separate the Guajeros from their dump. Now the government can honestly say, “No people live in the dump!” So they crawl through the fence and resume their work. The community is officially called La Limonada. It is extremely difficult to go there and help these people. To visit you must have a guide, which I couldn’t manage.
My story celebrates the strength of the Guajeros. I chose to make them the heroes and characters with integrity. They rescue and protect Sport. In exchange she provides medical attention and education. The little school, Vidas Plenas, is real, but I’ve never been there so its description is a figment of my imagination. Their struggle is real. The harvesting of their youth for gangs is real. Their medical issues are real. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed writing about a group more in my life. It was incredibly challenging to place my main character there.
Currently there are several groups working with the Guajeros. There is much to be done, but it’s almost impossible to help them. The best way is to provide education and continue the fight against drugs. It makes me sad to think of the reality. The only way I could make the situation known was through my story-telling. Let me know what you think after you read El Tiburon.