Tag Archives: Writing

A Change in Direction

Life changes, and in surprising directions sometimes.

Writing about writing, book sales and promotions wasn’t my cup of tea as evidenced by my lack of posts. I’ve all but abandoned my blog in the last several months but as I sit in a formal dining room in Warwick, England looking out on a cobblestone street, instead of gazing across my snow covered field in Alberta, Canada I’ve found a new reason to blog.

My husband and I decided to expand our definition of family and one of our newest family members is a middle-aged Englishman who after experiencing Canadian hospitality with us, asked to return the favour by inviting us to his home in England once he returned from a stint working in Fort McMurray. It took some creative solutioning but after deciding to homeschool my daughter, and finding a house/dog sitter, I find myself living abroad. I never dreamed such an opportunity would ever come my way or that I would ever have the courage to make such a move.

It was hard to leave. I had been buoyed by the excitement of planning and preparation for weeks but when I backed my truck out of my garage for the last time for four months, leaving my wonderful home and almost everyone I care about wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I had tears in my eyes and I reminded my daughter and myself that this wasn’t permanent. We would be coming back.  We both looked back at our house with a new appreciation and longing. We glanced at our field as we drove by, in a way we never had before. We had only just begun our journey and already we were different.

My husband is the adventurous one. He worked for nine months in Africa several years ago. In July of this year he returned again to Gabon, this time working offshore on a platform. Now instead of my youngest daughter and I being left behind while he globe trots, we are off having our own adventure. We are making new friends and expanding our definitions of home. We have been very welcomed, and made to feel comfortable.

In the airport waiting to fly.

In the airport waiting to fly.

I spent the first four days recovering from jet lag which knocked me off my feet pretty hard. My daughter and I did a little bit of exploring and then we had to get back into some learning before Christmas preparations began. It has been a whirlwind of activity here which makes me feel very much like I am still at home. There hasn’t been much time to sight see. We’ve done a bit of exploring with plenty more to come.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

It’s Christmas Eve and I am thousands of miles away from most of my family and friends. While there is sadness and loneliness, my daughter and I are also enamored with all that is new and so very, very old. We are enjoying our trip tremendously. Every time we step out the front door we see and learn and experience something new.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and Pugs into pubs.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and pugs into pubs and was built long before Canada was even a country. The Punch Bowl was built in 1806.

I am surrounded by history and a whole new country and culture to explore. My head is filled with ideas of things i want to experience and write about. that is encouraging. The home of Shakespeare is just down the road from me. If I can’t find something to write about here… there’s no hope for me.

The Books Are Here! The Books Are Here!

On Monday I got a phone call from my sister-in-law that some UPS dude had dropped 11 boxes on her driveway. She barely got the words out before I hit the shower and got my husband and daughter ready to make the two hour drive to her house.

There is no greater feeling for an author than cracking open a box and holding your book in your hand. It was exciting! It was also surreal, and I could not wrap my head around the experience.

This is me seeing my novel in print for the first time.

This is me seeing my novel in print for the first time.

This immediate reaction was followed by an agony of embarrassment when I passed my book to my husband and he flipped to the back cover and his eagle eyes picked out an extra little “d” where one should not have been.

WHY!!!!!!!! ( I screamed, tearing and clutching at my hair.)

I did not expect perfection but I really thought I was going to avoid this type of error, a silly, stupid mistake, on the back cover of five hundred printed copies. UGH!!!! I worked so hard to avoid mistakes.

I immediately began to beat myself up for rushing because I was trying to make my somewhat secret book launch date. When I received my final proof I knew if I rejected it, there was no way I could make this date. However grief was the bigger component. Hours before I received my final proof we lost our 7 year old German Shepard, Jake. I love all my dogs but he was special. He was our gladiator, our protector.

My Protector

My Protector

It wasn’t the day to make the choice to put my book into production. My husband and I scoured the final proof and we both missed the mistake. This wasn’t the only problem. I missed acknowledging my photographer friend Tanya Hardy-Dubeau for my author photo and my font is a little small. Thankfully my chapters are short.

What is done is done. There is no point in continuing to agonize over mistakes. Feel the pain. Learn the lesson. Move on!

I am just a breath away from finalizing the details of my book launch. I am writing up advertisements for the local papers, I am working on getting my “purchase the book button” installed on this site. This is the calm before the storm of marketing and promotion descends. My Ebook is live on every E-reader format, but I am not pushing it yet, because I want to focus on my launch. I am very curious if I can generate any Ebook sales at all, without any promotion. I’ve got a few weeks to see.

April 28th, 2013, from 1-4 p.m. I will be launching my book “Seascape” at the Mallaig Legion Hall. I will be signing books for anyone interested in purchasing a copy, but more than that I just want people to come out and help me celebrate this accomplishment. There will be tons of great snacks and refreshments. I may even be persuaded to do a short reading from the book. With every book purchased comes an entry into a draw to win some great prizes. I have Chapters gift cards, a Kindle, A Kobo, and because my book is a great beach read, some fun, beach themes prizes.

If none of these reasons to stop by appeal to you, I guarantee you’ll get to see a woman who is excited but scared spitless of the next stage in her life!

Publication complete!

The last two weeks has been very busy for me indeed, and I am delighted to say that I am now completed all publication duties for my first novel. Two days ago the final proofs for my printed copy were sent to me, and I approved them. “Seascape” is in printing, and sometime next week, my novels will be shipped. By the second week of April I hope to have my finished novel in my hand. As of April 1st “Seascape” will begin to be available for sale on assorted e-readers. By the time of my book launch it should be downloadable on all
e-reader formats.

After many, many years, I can finally say I am a published author, and this book is done! Having completed the self-publishing process it is time to give my evaluation of the company I used.

I found Book Baby after doing some research into self-publishing, and I selected them because they offered
one-stop shopping. They provided Ebook conversion, publishing, and distribution, cover design, book printing, author websites, and even some basic promotional services. I was especially pleased with their ability to distribute my novel in every E-reader format currently available.

I began the process at the end of January 2013, and today everything is wrapped up and complete, other than the delivery of my books. The process had only a few hiccups.

The first delay occurred with my cover design. The first proof wasn’t quite what I had visualized, mostly because when they sent me the images they had selected, I agreed to them, even though I wasn’t quite happy with the images, which was totally my mistake. Upon seeing the completed product, I explained that it wasn’t quite what I wanted and made a few suggestions for change. They quite quickly responded and I have to say the second proof was perfect.

The next problem was the only major issue I experienced and if I had done my printed book first as opposed to the e-book, this problem would have been avoided. I uploaded my novel as a single Microsoft Word document, which had been thoroughly edited by a professional editor. All the headings and page numbers had been removed, and it was properly formatted. When the proof was returned to me for approval and it was riddled with spacing errors.

I was forced to reject the proof, and I was told that I would have to find, itemize and describe every single spacing error throughout the whole manuscript. There were dozens! This resulted in a three week proofreading delay. My husband thankfully volunteered to perform this chore because I feared reading my manuscript at this point, might spark a self-conscious panic fit, which would lead to a desire to edit further and/or make additional changes.

Book Baby quickly made the changes and sent me another proof. This time I decided since it was going to be the last read before publication, I should be the one to give it a final look over. I told myself that if I found three or less errors I would proceed with publishing as is. I found seven more errors which resulted in another round of corrections and further delay. I accepted the third proof.

The printed copy required only one proof. There were no spacing errors to deal with because I paid extra for black text formatting. They had to design my spine and back cover, and they got it right the first time.
I found Book Baby to be reasonable priced, professional, and easy to use. If I had begun with the printed book first I would not have lost the time to the spacing errors as long as I paid for the black text formatting. If you choose to go with Book Baby, and you intend on doing a printed book as well as an ebook, I recommend doing the printed book first.

As someone new to the process I liked that they were very willing to do as much my way as I wanted, but in areas that I was uncertain, like the black text formatting, Book Baby staff were able to put together a sample for my perusal. Their website has a quote calculator so I knew exactly how much their service would cost. We exchanged a few phone calls. They graciously answered all my questions and everyone was friendly and helpful, but they did prefer all instructions and changes take place in e-mail format so there was no chance of misunderstanding.

Although I have absolutely nothing to compare Book Baby against, I have to say that at this point I found the process relatively painless and easy. And as long as my printed books look like this:

Seascape final cover design

I’ll be happy!

Calling Myself Names

One of the great things about self-publishing, is you get to make the decisions, and everything is in your control. One of the bad things about self-publishing is you get to make the decisions and everything is in your control.

When I am confident I will dash off a decision, and I will rarely look back. I see little point to regret. Most choices happen for a reason, and I usually end up where I should be. I am also comfortable making decisions because I believe a bad choice can be easily changed. It is as simple as making a different choice and moving on.

There are times however where decisions are not so easily untangled. Some choices require more work than it’s worth to change them. Some decisions become mistakes. These kinds of decisions cause me pause. This is especially so if the direction I should take is not clear or immediately self-evident. When I am uncertain, when my inner compass is directionless, committing to a choice isn’t easy.

It seems silly now, but one of the most angst filled decisions for me was the name I was going to publish my work under. I have no problem with someone else using a pen name. I think it’s a smart choice in many cases, but for me it felt inauthentic. When I rolled names around in my head, they felt strange. They were disembodied entities meaning nothing to me.

But I did not want to publish with my legal, married name. That “Shannon” belongs to other people. She is married to a man named Denis and is the mother of two beautiful daughters. She often works in opposition to “Shannon the writer”. I wanted a symbolic separation of “Shannon the mom and wife” from “Shannon the writer”. I wanted the name to reflect that separation.

So why not used my maiden name? I look back on that young girl with fondness, but she was the daughter of my parents; she belonged to them. She is who I was. I am not interested in going backwards.

Evolving into a writer has been a struggle. I have had to fight and claw for every moment of writing time. I have spent years trying to make writing a greater priority. My biggest obstacle has been myself. Sure other people can be a distraction. Life events cause disruptions. But I am my own worst enemy. I get in my way. Writing is the most personal thing I do for “me”. It is on the same level as spirituality, exercise and self-care. It is an activity I need to do. It replenishes me but it makes no money. I feel selfish devoting time, energy, and resources to something that is at best now, just a feel good activity for me. Everything else comes first.

Until now.

I want my writing name to be a reminder that writing is a necessary part of who I have become. My inner writer is truly and deeply connected and rooted to “Shannon” at her most authentic, most spiritual, most human. “Shannon the writer” is the most personal private part of me, and other than loving my family, I believe it could be one of the most important contributions I make to this world. I need to honor this aspect of myself. I need to distinguish this aspect. I want that distinction symbolically reflected in the name I use.

My original thought was to use just my first name. I love the idea of publishing absolutely everything as simply “Shannon”. But I saw quickly it would be construed as trying to be like Cher or Madonna. That was not my intent. I am simply Shannon. Shannon is who I am. I tried it out on a cover design and, I have to admit, it looked unprofessional. “Shannon” on its own, looked a bit like I was hiding, or did not take my writing seriously. This was not the impression I wanted to give.

I also was convinced a second name had to be used so I could create a public persona. Although I don’t spend nights losing sleep over the thought, I would not want everyone who meets me at a book signing, to have access to my private family pictures on Facebook. I do not think in today’s digital world you can be out there and still retain complete control and privacy, but I do not want everyone who wants to connect with “Shannon the writer” to have immediate access to “Shannon the mother and wife”. She whines too much.

The deadline to making the decision approached and I had no choice but to ask for other opinions. I asked family and friends and I asked my writers group. Almost every response was the same, “what’s your middle name?” It was such an obvious choice I could not believe I did not think of it myself. “Shannon the mom” must have been trying to complete this task.

I have two middle names: Rae and Lynn. These two names together were perfect. Shannon Raelynn has always been a part of who I am. She is me. She is not someone newly created. I have been called Shannon Rae Lynn before, mostly by my mom when she was mad, but regardless it is a name I have been called by. It is a name that is me without the baggage my other names carry. As Shannon Raelynn I can compartmentalize without feeling inauthentic.

I have always been Shannon Raelynn. I am just more so now.

An Office Without A Door

Last year my husband and I built a new house on our quarter section of land. The home was made from my own design, and as the designer I got to create my office.

Other office 003

My office 026

My comfy reading chair

My comfy reading chair

My office consumes the whole top floor of our house and comes complete with a bathroom and a balcony. In the summer I set up a table and chair on the balcony so I can enjoy my morning coffee and write.

But in the winter I must remain inside at my desk.

My office 028

As you can see it is no hardship. The inside of my office is almost as nice as being outside in nature. But silly me, I forgot to put in a door. The door at the bottom in the picture leads to the master bedroom, but the stairwell itself, opens to the livingroom.

My office 003

When I set out to design my private office space, one would think, a door would have been my first priority but it honestly never entered my head. Thankfully, my husband works away, and my daughter is at school all day, and I really have the house to myself for large portions of time.

I love my office even without the door. My only other gripe about my office is that the windows in front of my desk let in too much sun. I really should invest in blinds. I just can’t bear to block the view or the natural light so I shift in my chair and hide behind my monitor and consider moving the desk around.

Now that you have seen the office are a few facts about what happens in my space.

**** My best writing time is in in the morning after I have exercised.

**** I can consume up to 4 pots of green tea during a work day. This of course necessitates the nearby bathroom.

**** On a great writing day I stop only out of hunger. On a truly excellent writing day I stop only when the alarm goes off, annoucing my daughter needs to be picked up from the bus. I am usually starving, but until that alarm goes off, I do not notice.

**** I won’t lie. I have built-in procrastination procedures incorporated into my writing process. Before I begin writing I usually check my e-mail. I will then play solitaire while I listen to selectively chosen, mood enhancing music. And if I am in a truly uninspired mood I’ll check Facebook. I have a bad habit of always answering the phone, even if I know it is a telemarketer.

**** My average writing work week is four days a week, seven hour days. Lately much of that time is being used blogging, and working on promotional and publication duties for my upcoming book. I am only averaging one work day a week on my new novel. That will change after my book launch because I do not want to take another 12 years to finish the next book.

**** I have a small heater in my office. I need warmth or my fingers won’t type.

**** I can not write when I am tired or sleepy. I will fall asleep on my keyboard.

**** I used to see insomnia as a curse; now it is is extra writing time (but only if I am willing to haul my butt out of the warm bed and turn the furnace up).

The Voices In My Head Make Me Do It

Last week I delved further into my writing process explaining I am not entirely alone. I ended that blog with a promise to discuss how in addition to “my creativity” I also commune with the voices in my head.

Once a situation strikes my curiosity and I decide I want to write about it, the characters step forth to act out this dilemma. They introduce themselves and tell me their stories like a friend sharing confidences over coffee. More often than not, the exchange is deeper, more like a friend who has drank too many glasses of wine. This wasn’t always the case. When I began to write my first novel, there were no voices and the characters were as flat as the paper I wrote on.

In “Seascape”, Skylar, my main character was loosely based on me. In my experience all characters have their seeds in the writer, but Skylar was the character who spoke most like me. Having used this device once I was now at a loss. I could not construct a whole novel of Shannon-based characters. Not enough novel-worthy material could be mined from this source. Once I accepted my characters could not come entirely from me, I began to look around for inspiration.

I don’t replicate people on the page, but I may steal attributes. In native mythology, the Raven is closely identified with storytellers. I was told that this is in part because Ravens are thieves. And in this aspect I am a thief. I take little kernels from the world around me. (Remember my writing shirt “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”) Once gathered these kernels or stolen aspects can grow.

I want my characters to be original and fresh, but it is more important they are believable and realistic. In the beginning my characters were flat because I didn’t like them to have flaws. They said and did all the right things; it was terribly uninteresting. This all changed when Lexie, the older sister to Skylar, began to speak to speak to me.

I never had an older sister so my original template for Lexie was manufactured from clichés at hand. She was the bossy older sister. In an attempt to challenge myself I considered motivations for her cliché behavior. Lexie began to develop. She took shape in my mind, began to have conversations with me and emerged as so much more than my original construct. Lexie surpasses normal bossiness. She is unapologetic and so certain of her own correctness, she speaks without a filter. When I pondered why she might be this way Lexie explained she keeps all her relationships superficial. For example she enjoys sex recreationally. This told me she is uncomfortable with intimacy. As I explain it now it seems manufactured, but once I had a strong idea of who she was, Lexie would interact with me. She would agree or disagree with my choices for her. She would argue with Skylar. Skylar would respond and I would jot it all down.

The more I was willing to interact with my characters, the more they grew in dimension, and the faster they lifted off the page becoming energies not entirely under my control. Now all my characters talk to me. It is part of the magic that can happen. If I listen and record, and try not to direct, judge, or change them, everything flows. I can ask them questions like how they feel about a direction I want to take or if they ever had an experience, and they’ll answer. When I try to tell them what to do, if I try to direct or manipulate my characters, I get stuck. They resist and they are always right.

My second novel, the book I am currently writing, has numerous characters. Each is very distinct and developed in my head, but I struggled with one. She did not and would not speak to me. I could not see her, but another character spoke for her. I argued with him, and tried to write out her story. Nothing would come. When I gave up trying to “write her” my other character told me she was dead. I could not write her story because she could not speak to me. She would never be a breathing character; she would only be spoken of.

I get that these characters are my creations. I even see how I have used people in the world around me as a launching point. But my characters are known to me, not as written constructs, but as life-like energies that exist inside my head. They are born. They live, love and sometimes they die. How this happens is not always of my choosing.

I began writing with the belief I would be in the driver’s seat. Now the process feels more like I am the recorder of someone else’s story. In real life I am honored by a friend’s willingness to reveal themself to me; in my writing world I am humbled by my characters willingness to do the same. There is an exchange. They touch my heart; my characters change me.

When you read “Seascape”, if Skylar, Lexie, and Mack step off the pages, and enter your mind, and if in doing so they impact your heart, I want you to know I could not create or manipulate that experience if I tried. That only occurs for the reader because the similar thing happened to me as a writer.

I call that magic!

Next week I’ll post pictures of my beautiful office and describe my mechanics of writing – including beverage consumption, duration of writing sessions, and how I deal with interruptions and procrastination.

I Wish My Creativity Was a Fully Loaded Apple Tree I Could Shake

Last night I finished reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. I had stacks to read ahead of it but it jumped the queue. It was perfect timing to read about his writing process when I was about to discuss my writing process. My friend suggested Stephen and I had many things in common which sparked my interest. (I figure I can’t be on the wrong track if I have commonalities with one of the most successful and well-known writers of our time.)

Stephen and I are much alike. Aside from writing, and profound need to read, we both feel an element of magic in our writing experience. Stephen King suggests stories seem “pre-existing” like “fossils in the ground”, and as writers, our job is to unearth them as fully as possible. He also suggests in relation to writing “that you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Magic and writing. Hmm…

As someone who has sat at a desk and done the hard work of cranking out good pages and bad pages, I am loath to admit it takes more than just hard work. Stephen calls it “magic”. For me it is a creative, spiritual experience.

(Oh boy! Did I lose any readers with this statement?)

I’ll try not to dive too deeply off the “New Age” diving board, but like Stephen King I have to acknowledge in the act of creation, I’ve experienced magical moments. And I emerge from these writing bouts feeling like a vessel which has been used to pour something out. I am not always firmly in control. I’m there. I am melded and mixed with the creative energy, but later on the words surprise me. I can remember the creative emotion I was trying to evoke; I recall physically striking the keys. However, what I read lacks familiarity. Logically, physically, I can’t deny the words came from me. I try my best to recognize them, but I have to acknowledge they do not always feel, wholly, of me.

Some people refer to this as being under the influence of “a muse”. I call it “My Creativity”. My Creativity is most easily described as those occasions when I feel driven to write. Characters speak to me; scenes develop and flash through my head like a movie, playing out for my mind’s eye. I experience strong, visceral emotions I am compelled to recreate with words. If I can get in front of a computer or pick up a scribbler and a pen, the words come easy.

My Creativity is more than occasion when I feel driven to write, she feels like an energy separate from myself. She is an unreliable partner who rarely times her appearance with my opportunities to write. She is flighty and fickle and very likely to bounce in and overwhelm my imagination when I am buried by responsibility. I have to say as a writer there is nothing more frustrating and painful than a day creativity calls and you cannot adhere to it.

Equally as difficult are days when I have time and freedom to write but no inspiration. My Creativity does not appear automatically but on her own whimsical timetable. This cold, Canadian, Sunday morning I could have slept in until noon but My Creativity decided we should get up at seven so I could write this post all about her. I value a Sunday sleep-in, but I honour her more, because when she gets my time and attention I will spend less time forcing words onto the page. I try to be prepared for her. I carry a pen and a notepad everywhere and to jot down quick notes. Later, these notes can bring her back and inspire more writing. Driving, showering, sitting outside, and listening to music can also open the conduit to connecting to My Creativity.

When My Creativity and opportunity connect I write in bursts, typing with my eyes firmly on the keyboard. Yes, eyes firmly on the keyboard because I never took typing in school. I feel my mistakes but I don’t stop and correct as I go. My Creativity is not to be wasted. I let the current flow, holding the conduit open.

If she does not come I do not sit around and wait. I can always edit. Editing isn’t as fun. It is hard work but I admit to a twisted satisfaction at slashing and hacking improvements into my manuscript. Sometimes editing will coax My Creativity out and we’ll write another thick, flurry of pages. If not I have the time to fix the emotion-filled but error-riddled mess we left behind the last time we joined up to write.

Without My Creativity the writing can be bad. But bad writing is still writing. Sometimes I have to “fake it until I make it”. A writer who does not write is like someone who dreams of winning the lottery but never buys a ticket. I buy the ticket and I write. Funny enough, the less I depend on My Creativity the easier she has become to find. I am adept at recognizing sources of inspiration in life events, interactions and personal connections without her. (Warning: my favorite writing attire is a sweatshirt which says “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”.)

Today My Creativity showed up. She helped me write not just this post, but next week’s post. She also peppered me with additions to my second novel while I was trying to shower. Finally she refused to end her day-long appearance until I agreed that next week I should introduce my blog readers to the “others” who make my writing possible. My Creativity reminded me I do not write alone. She is right. I seriously doubt I could write effectively at all without the voices in my head.