Month: June 2020

On-line Learning

My writing group, VIRA, held our first ever on-line workshop this month. The lovely C.J.Hunt presented a talk on writing short. While guidelines for traditional publishers still call for works of 60,00 or more words, in the world of Kindle, short reads are a “thing” and can lead to a successful career for an author who can put a fully developed story into a limited length. CJ recommended Romancing the Beat, a resource for writers I’ve talked about on this blog.

Although you don’t see the category on Kindle Direct when you self-publish a book, you can get your work into that category with a little ingenuity in your key words. As this is a very popular area, it’s worth the trouble to be sure Amazon lists it in their short reads category. It is one of the searchable topics at Amazon. Typical of Amazon, there are parameters. A fifteen minute read is one category of 1 – 11 pages. The range goes up on fifteen minute increments all the way to two hours or 65-100 pages.  As a writer or a reader, you can target your searches very specifically.

Within the short read category you can search for specific genres like romance or mystery.

Even if you tend to write, or read, longer, C.J. pointed out that writing a short piece is a great way to keep your name out there between longer works. It’s a great way to sell a holiday story, especially Christmas. It’s also a great way to try out something new. As a writer you can dabble in a genre you’ve never tried before without dedicating a huge amount of time. Play around with your shape-shifter idea, put it up as a short read and see what happens. Even if no one is interested, you’re no worse off than when the idea just sat in your to-be-written drawer, plus you’ve gained an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

C.J. is a master at marketing and has sold her short works individually, collected into an anthology, and bundled as a box set. 

She is an engaging presenter and left her listeners with an up-beat message about possibilities. In a world that is full of “don’t” I found it encouraging to hear about possibilities.

There was a second takeaway from the workshop, and that had to do with the whole technology thing. Since C.J. didn’t have to travel, her expenses were less. Long distance members who seldom make physical meetings, tuned in from wherever they were in the world. I saw smiling faces I haven’t seen for a year or more. There was a general excitement about re-connecting in the on-line world.

However, once the initial burst of “yay!” “how are you?” “wow, you look great” was over, many participants turned off their video feed and the screen contained a black box with a name in it instead of a face.  Of course, those in attendance could turn their feed back on and ask questions or make comments. Most did not.  So, the camaraderie of a live meeting, was not there.

I have great admiration for C.J. for filling the allotted time mostly by herself. In a live workshop there is banter between presenter and audience. There are questions and comments that may spark a whole other conversation. In this experience of an on-line meeting, that interaction was largely missing, putting the onus on the presenter to have a lot of material to fill the time. I have teacher friends who have been putting their courses on-line since classrooms were closed and they all say how hard it is. So much material to cover. So many unasked questions to anticipate. So much prep work!

All in all, our Saturday gathering with writers over the internet was a positive experience. I learned a lot. I got my audio and video to work properly. (Yes!) The session was recorded, so I can go back and watch what I missed.

It’s a brave new world we’re all experiencing. Thanks to C.J. Hunt for stepping boldly into it.

C.J. is a founding member of The Creative Academy and has put her presentation on-line there. 

What about you? Do you write/read short? Has your preferred reading length changed with the advent of e-books?

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Tips for the Long Run

Ironically, as we come out of lockdown and into a semblance of normal life, people seem to be experiencing more stress than ever. The formerly cheerful checker at the grocery store scowls and tells you to wait while she santitizes her station. The server who was glad to get his job back, is grumpy about wearing a mask. And all those self-appointed behaviour police who rant and rail and ramp up the fear quotient about perceived health code violations don’t help. The attitude of “we’re all in this together” seems to be crumbling at the edges. 

Perhaps people are just tired. Tired of uncertainty, tired of zoom, tired of trying. But I think there is more at work here. I think we have a case of thwarted expectations. Even while health officials warned us that we were in for months and maybe years of doing things differently, we subconsciously thought when the lockdown ended we’d go back to “normal.” Now the reality of “not-normal” is setting in and we’re finding it hard to take.  Kind of like we were promised a puppy and we got a goldfish. Nothing wrong with the goldfish, but it’s not what we wanted. Some would just like to flush the fish.

So, how do we go about coping for the long run? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read

 Especially read fiction. Fiction is story and story is filled with characters and characters  take us out of ourselves. For a little while we can be someone else, live in a different  world and experience family and friends and (maybe) happy endings. We could all use   happy endings these days, so pick up a romance — or a mystery, where justice prevails.  That’s a kind of happy ending too. While we are keeping distant from our real  life   friends, we can get up close and personal with these fictional characters. We can    laugh and sing and hold hands.

  • Look for the Upside

Amid all the civil unrest, the tragedy of racism, the pain of death, there is still good news in the world. There are people performing good deeds, making music, telling jokes, volunteering, making the world better. When you’ve seen enough of the bad news, go for some good news. Our local television station, CHEK, has made lemonade out of lemons by turning the sports segment — there are no sports at the moment — into The Upside. Here the sports caster and the weatherman collect quirky stories from around our Island and broadcast them on the nightly news. It’s silly and kooky and a lot of fun. It brings people together and it generates lots of smiles. When you’re feeling down, go for the Upside.   

 

  • Walk 

Or run or bicycle or turn handstands. The point is to move, thereby releasing    endorphins, our own little happy hormone. If possible exercise outdoors. Don’t wear   earplugs. Shut down the artificial world and tune in to the natural one. Birdsong,  crickets, rustling grass, soughing boughs, barking dogs — all these things help to restore   our mental balance. In Canada, our national broadcaster, has created “Hello Spring” to lift people’s spirits. If you can’t hike into the back country yourself, they’ve brought the back country to you with clips of bear cubs emerging from their den, a hummingbird  feeding her young, fox kits discovering the world, and many more moments to remind   us  that the natural world is bountiful and open to all.        

  • Work 

In her post in Writer Unboxed,Sandra Callender  about the importance of writers in a time of social turmoil. Violence, she posits, comes from a lack of human connection. When our physical human connections are severed, our fictional connections become even more important. Writers create an antidote to violence. 

If you are a writer, write.   If you are a musician, make music. If you are an artist, paint. If you are a knitter, knit, if you’re a doodler, create the most elaborate doodle of your  life.  In the comments section of that same post Vaughn Roycroft shares a bit of folksy  wisdom about work. Nothing good comes of worry, he says. At least if you’re working, you are getting something done.                                                                                                                         

I subscribe to that belief myself and even used it in my first book of the Prospect Series, The Man for Her.  Whenever Lottie felt overcome by her problems, she worked. She got  something done. She got through it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So, I was “working” in the garden the other day, removing diseased leaves, down on my knees with my face mere inches from the thorns when I spied this beauty hiding behind a branch. Working not only got something done and released my endorphins, it surprised me with unexpected beauty–the upside to a tedious chore.

Hang in everyone. We are all in this together and we’re in it for the long haul. 

Please share your upside stories in the comments below.

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