The “Read” Not Taken

Who got Kindles, Nooks, or iPads for the holidays? It’s time to load them with e-books and apps (and I’ll be offering my latest Kindle book free in the next few days). I never thought I’d read e-books; now I’m seriously considering writing more of them. The possibilities (for my background) are numerous. One of the big features is the option to publish shorter pieces, advice, nonfiction, fiction, etc.

Several of my traditionally published books also have e-book versions; in fact, my Kids Throughout History series was among the first (of my titles) electronically published for schools and libraries in early 2000. Still, I always thought I’d prefer hard copy books, or as my sister-in-law calls them, “dead tree mode.”

I’m particular about my books. They have to be hardback or trade paperback. I’ve never been a fan of the “pocket” paperbacks. But, I did purchase several PDF style books when Amazon first started selling their “shorts.” During my graduate work, I tried a few e-books to save on textbook costs. A big mistake! I hated sitting at the computer in order to read my assignments and it was tough to use the highlight and note features; it simply wasn’t the same as curling up with a book.

Eventually I downloaded the book apps for PC and acquired several titles. It wasn’t until recently, when I explored plans for e-publishing, that I began reading more e-books.

It’s sort of like research. Are the free books worth it? How does the pricing work? I read the reviews and comments carefully to help me make decisions for pricing choices and such with my own e-published books. I even played around with my sister’s iPad and a friend’s Kindle. They’re neat! They’re heavier than I assumed but probably not much more than the books I read. And, you can “curl up” with them.

So, in all, I like e-books though I still purchase my share of “dead tree mode” books. Two things bug me though. One, strange formatting. Maybe it’s because I spent a few years as a typesetter for a weekly newspaper but I notice whether text moves back and forth between flush left and full justification, or the font changes, or for some reason a word (or letter, or page) is suddenly red or blue instead of black. It bugs me! I notice. And it interrupts the flow of the story for me. Because I was “doing research,” I read the stories despite the format “glitches.”

These could become the “reads” not taken. I don’t want people to delete my e-books or write nasty reviews that state “it wasn’t worth the price–and I got it free.” Ouch! I read many such reviews, so when I published, I worked hard to eliminate these issues and get the formatting consistent.

The second thing that bugs me is typos. I’m calling mistakes in grammar typos because I truly hope they are mere typos and not a book that should have been edited or proofread before being e-published. This thinking is easier for me than when the errors are misspellings or frequently confused words. Sometimes I’ve noticed a place where an error was caught but the correction and the error remained “you’re your car key’s are here.”

Sadly there have been a few books (thankfully they were free) that were so riddled with grammatical errors, especially misplaced modifiers, that I wonder about the credibility of the author. No wonder e-books had a bad rep at first. Some of the worst offenders have the imprint of big publishing houses, too. Absolutely unacceptable.

Yes, typos and errors slip in. We’re all human. Sometimes deadlines are simply too tight and careful proofreading is rushed. I know I have to try my hardest to make my product the best it can be. I don’t want my writing to become the “read not taken.”

Time running out for literary agent contest

I did it! I made and met another goal. Yesterday I submitted to the “Dear Lucky Agent” contest at Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. Time is running out to enter, though, so polish the opening of your middle grade novel and send it in. It’s free to enter.  You have until the end of day, August 27 (PST).

Entries must be no longer than the first 200 words of a completed middle grade novel. There will be 3 winners who each receive an agent critique of 10 pages of their novel plus a one-year subscription to

Summer on my Time


It’s summer. Time for teachers to regroup and other occupations to slow down, vacation, reorganize. Since I juggle teaching with writing and consulting, summer for me means doing things at my pace, on my time.  Well, most things. I’m scheduled to teach both condensed sessions for summer term at the college where I’m an adjunct. Also, writing workshops filled and one was even extended, so I’m teaching later into the summer than usual. 
   I usually spend my summers reorganizing. “Season” here in Florida, which for me is ultra hectic with writing workshops offered at various venues, has ended. So, by the time May arrives, my office is trashed. (I tend to dump workshop supplies or book bags and files on the extra office chair or on the floor in front of my desk.)
   I review handouts and weed extra papers from folders before I finally refill them. I note activities or discussions that worked, and those that didn’t, along with ideas to try next time. I also clean and sort craft supplies, paper, and pencils to store until next season. 
   All of this generally happens in fits and starts. I might begin sorting or weeding or filing and then get distracted with an article idea. A growling tummy or parched throat sends me to the kitchen where I end up creating something yummy to eat and hours later return to whatever I’d started in my office. Sometimes I simply take a break on the lanai and notice wildlife. Wonderings lead to wandering the web for help in  identifying a bird or something in the pond. (Did you know there is fish that looks sort of like an alligator? They are placed in some of the ponds to clean and eat algae. They’re called alligator gars.)
   Of course I do have days with appointments so I mind the clock then and cannot indulge in this “on my time” sort of life. But THIS summer MOST of my time is scheduled. As I mentioned, I’m teaching both Summer A and Summer B terms and, for some reason, they are back-to-back. Not even a day off between them. 
   I do have a day each week without anything scheduled (usually Fridays) but I’ve been spending that time reading–or grading papers. So, the book bags and files and supplies are piled neatly out of the way in the corner of my office or under the window. 
  Eventually I’ll get to them– in my time, after I research alligator gars. After I write that story scene. After I read the new book I bought. I need to create an “on my time” schedule. After all, this is supposed to summer break.  

Last Lap in the Holiday Dash

The deadline is here! It’s crunch time in the parking lots and around the stores. I’m so glad I’m done with the holiday dash. Our family celebrated last weekend so I was a crazy person just one week ago.

Still, I created my own holiday deadline stress: I was determined to sort out a Christmas lights issue. I solved it and cannot wait for dark so I can bask in the silvery glow of lights on my lanai.

During Thanksgiving weekend I finally found clips that would allow me to hang lights on my lanai. I was so happy! This is my fourth Christmas here and every attempt to hang lights was disappointing when clips and lights all collapsed. This year the clips worked.

The lights are still up but after four nights all but one string went dark. I’ve messed around with them without luck and had finally given up. After catching up on sleep, I decided to try once more.

It worked! I have lights! I’m so happy, especially because I made the “Christmas deadline.” Yeah! Such a simple thing to bring such joy.

Internal Frenzy

It’s busy, busy, busy so I haven’t had a chance to sit and watch wildlife or eavesdrop on nature. My internal reading: Maxed Out!

Not only is it the end of the semester (and a short semester at that) but I’m also prepping for the second short summer semester which begins Monday. Since I’ve had several cases of plagiarism among my students this term, I need to create a lesson plan to better get through to these young adults how wrong it is.

But that’s not all. This weekend I’m heading to a writing conference in Orlando. I have to get ready for that too!

I can’t wait! As exhausted as I am, I’m ready for the frenzy of all the info, the enthusiasm, and interacting with other authors.

Can we leave yet?

Beachcombing for Ideas

I took a long walk on the beach this morning with a friend. I know she often walks the beach combing the shore for ideas. I assumed we’d talk about our projects but we had so much catching up to do.

Of course, since I publish mostly fiction, the beach was a great place to find ideas. I wasn’t aware of the amenities this beach had to offer – a concession stand and a café, chair and umbrella rentals, a clean and stocked restroom. There’s a regional article angle since it’s an out-of-the way option for locals.

To reach the beach we walked a trail and then a boardwalk through the mangroves. I’ve seen plenty of anhinga drying themselves before but never so close – the wet feathers looked like fur! That’s an angle for younger readers – and part of curriculum here.

Once we were on the beach, walking ad talking, I had to stoop three times for shells. I have plenty of shells – mostly one have a bivalve shell – so I rarely stop for more. But these were univalve shells, two conch and one cone, they were fully intact. That’s rare. I have pieces of these sorts of shells but few that are unbroken and unblemished. All three were perfect and intriguing.

Now I can’t help wondering about these items and thinking more and more about an old story idea that includes magic. I wonder if my character ever sees the shore. Do they have these types of shells in her world? Might these items hold magical potions or powers? How will they weave their way into that story? So, from a walk on he beach, I came away with two article sparks and items that will inspire a longer piece.

Though we didn’t talk shop, I was making progress with my writing just the same.

Productive Procrastination

One week before summer semester begins. Freedom fettered to a long To-Do list. The priority items are done (submit grades for Spring Term, turn in syllabi for Summer Term, pay bills, finish a webinar outline and proposal, e-mail my latest column) but the other items on the list are not very exciting.

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day Sharpening the Saw. (Before you assume I’m devising a murderous plot or preparing to complete some DIY home renovations, STS is the Franklin-Covey term for down time. I call it “refilling the well.” The two fastest ways for me to regroup and replenish are to read and spend time outside. Since I often read at the pool or on the lanai – and I have a peaceful view of wildlife at a pond surrounded by white pine, cypress, palmetto, and palm trees in both locations — the well refills (or the saw stays sharp) rapidly. But after a day devoted to STS/RTW, I feel guilty spending the rest of the day listening to the breeze swish the trees around while I read at the pool.

One item still on the list is to reorganize my office. It’s sort of trashed because I’ve been dumping bags, Scantrons, and unclaimed student papers in a corner by the file cabinet. Instead of sorting through and filing these papers, I decided to sort through old computer files. What can I delete or move to a CD?

Before long I discovered all sorts of old writing projects, the beginning of new stories and character sketches. I spent a good part of the day at my desk reading old files. I’ve moved most to a CD but also selected three that sound interesting. I’m already building a world for one – several short stories centering around the same two characters could evolve into a novella, possibly a novel. Another I originally intended as a picture book seems better suited to an early chapter book.

So, I was productive, but not in a way I had planned for during this short break between semesters. Tomorrow I wanted to tackle the file cabinet and weed old files for storage. I wonder what gems I’ll find there. I can’t wait to discover another “new” project.

Retreated, Refreshed, and Revised

I spent the weekend focused on refilling the creative well. I took a “private” retreat since plans for first a writing conference, and later a retreat, didn’t pan out. Reading, watching squirrels in the white pines and water birds at the pond, and planning new projects at the pool filled my time.

I left my watches behind and kept my phone off. One night I went to bed at 3 a.m.–didn’t even realize the time–because I wasn’t tired and the book I’d been reading all day was really engaging. Simply doing what I wanted on my own time was so refreshing. (And can’t beat the cost of hanging out at home.)

A new perspective within the same scenery can do wonders. I felt so energized. The best part is, I finished a MS revision. It’s off to the editor. So is a grant application for a WIP. And now I’m ready to tackle the next project, plan the next workshop, and get excited about book promo.

Warning Signs

When friends ask how I manage to juggle everything, I usually smile. I thrive on variety. I used to love multitasking (though it eventually led to my need to “unplug”). I enjoy jumping from one project to the next. I’m energized by teaching in different venues and working on both fiction and nonfiction projects simultaneously.

Sometimes we need to heed warning signs our bodies send out. I ignored the ache and tight muscles in my back last weekend. I noticed but dismissed the weight of a cart used to lug books and various items to the start of two new writing workshops. I could not ignore the sharp pains that made it difficult to sit, stand, reach, or do anything normal the next day.

Gratefully, I was able to cancel a workshop and pamper the injury. But, I didn’t get to write–or teach–so next time, I’ll listen when my body speaks.