Monday, October 31, 2011

Looking for a Cool Monster Costume?

My computer died almost two weeks ago. Dr. Techiestein brought it back to life just in time for Halloween! So here's a tricky treat for anyone looking for a winning monster costume. I would have posted this sooner, but dead computers don't cooperate.

This is my husband in 1984. He had to spray his hair gray way back then! Here's how he made it:

The top part is built on the frame of a backpack - the kind hikers use, not a book bag dealie.

He fitted a long sleeve shirt over the frame, stuffed it, attached a full-head monster mask, slipped a long black robe over the shirt, attached huge monster hands to look like they're holding the red box, which has a hole cut in it to fit your head inside.

You'll need to wear another long black robe and keep your arms hidden. Wear the backpack as snug as possible to support the weight of the stuffed monster. Tie a black cape tied around the monster's neck to conceal the backpack and pin the cape to your robe. Voila! It was about 7 feet tall and a real-attention getter.

If you make one of these, I'd love to hear how it turned out.

Here's another little treat for you.
Check out this jack'o'lantern carved by Steve Attkisson. How clever!

Here's a silly Halloween poem I wrote:

A monster? A meanster?
A youngster? A screamster? 
Ah, no, it's just the Halloweenster,
dreamt up by a dreamster!

Happy Howloween!

What are you doing to celebrate? For those of you venturing out into the night, stay safe. Awrooo!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Computer Died

Hello Friends. I'm super bummed because my computer died on me yesterday, so I don't know how long it will take to get it fixed. Figures, right before Halloween when I had some fun posts planned. This backup computer is hit and miss. It boots up once a week if we're lucky and freezes up constantly. In other words, a piece of junk, only good for playing Spades - my hubby's game.

I'll be back online as soon as my laptop is revived.

Hope to be back soon,
LynNerd - Lost in Cyberspace

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Choices in Publishing

"The future ain't what it used to be."  ~Yogi Berra
If only a peek into a crystal ball could tell us which road to take. 

A group of children's writers had some interesting discussions via email about traditional publishing vs. nontraditional. We decided to blog about our choices and link the posts together. The links for the others who are participating are at the end of this post. I hope you'll visit their sites, too.

We're witnessing mind-boggling, historical changes in publishing. I have mixed feelings.

Sometimes it drives me crazy.

And it's kinda scary, in a way.

When I hear about writers being conned or taken advantage of, it makes me monster mad.

Over the past two years, I've given a lot of thought as to which direction to go with my writing, and I've decided self-publishing is for me. For now. 

Would you turn down a half a million dollars to self-publish?
Best selling authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath discuss this very question in an interview. Eisler explains why he turned down a half-million advance in favor of self-publishing. It makes sense to meWarning – contains some colorful language:  Here's a link that weighed heavily in my decision.

These are some reasons I'm foregoing the traditional route, at least until the industry becomes more stable:
  • It's as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher. 
  • If I do get an agent, there's no guarantee the agent can sell the manuscript since publishers are acquiring fewer and fewer titles.
  • Some agents are publishing their clients' works, which some people consider a conflict of interest. It's stirring up quite a controversy. There are a lot of other strange things happening where authors are being slighted by publishers, agents, and others, so I just don't know who to trust! 
  • I've known several authors whose book deals fell through. Talk about disappointment.
  • Bookstores are carrying less books in lieu of promoting toys and specialty items.
  • Publishers expect authors to promote themselves. Debut authors aren't sent on book tours or given much help with marketing, plus most publishers expect writers to have a good following and a strong social media platform before even considering taking us on.
  • Once published, our books are given a three- to four-month window to do well. After that, they're pulled from the shelves, if they even get a coveted spot on a shelf in the first place. They could end up in a bin at a dollar store! Yikes! After all that hard work. 
  • Publishers are still charging high rates for eBooks. With little overhead, they pocket most of the profit, while the author gets 25% royalties or less. 
Here are some reasons I'm choosing to self-publish:
  • I can control the price of my books and offer them at an affordable rate in this sluggish economy.
  • My books won't go out of print. Ever.
  • I've already tested the waters with an eBook of three short stories, "Trio of Haunting Tales," so I know what I'm in for. Formatting for the Kindle was a nightmare. Since then, I found a formatter whose prices are affordable and she does a professional job. She formatted the first two books in the Monster Moon series (see below).
  • I know better than to expect instant results, realizing it will likely take years of hard work before bringing in a decent income. I'm in it for the long haul. (Thanks to Bob Mayer's blog posts for making me aware of this common sense strategy. See his links below.)
  • With each new title I publish, the odds in my favor will increase (realizing the books I publish must be well written and professional). Right now, there are more Monster Moon books in the works, and I plan to publish a chapter book (ages 7 to 10) in 2012. I'm excited to have more titles to share with kids when I do author visits.
  • Publishers are having a hard time collecting from some of the major wholesalers, which is one reason we're not publishing future Monster Moon books through Stargazer Publishing. If the publisher doesn't get paid, then the authors don't get paid. 
I'm off to a good start with a picture book and two middle grade novels (ages 8 - 12) under my belt, plus the short eBook mentioned above:
  • MERRY AS A CRICKET, 2002, a picture book by WhipperSnapper Books, a small press. They were wonderful to work with. They did all the marketing and supported me in any promoting I did on my own. Unfortunately, a second title I wrote on assignment with author Janet Reyes never came to fruition because they closed their doors. Again, problems with collections contributed to their closing down.
  • Two books in the Monster Moon series for ages 8 to 12, by Stargazer Publishing: CURSE AT ZALA MANOR and SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG, co-authored by Kathryn Sant, Maria Toth, and myself under the pseudonym BBH McChiller. (Links are in the sidebar.) Stargazer is a small, independent press that sells to schools and libraries.   
One of my friends, Stephanie Jefferson, is self-publishing her debut novel in February. It's about a warrior princess in the ancient kingdom of Nubia. She wrote a blog post about her decision HERE.
Awesome cover, Stephanie!
Stephanie has a wild card in her favor - a raving review by Publishers Weekly when her young adult novel qualified as a semi-finalist in Amazon's contest. She didn't win, but that review is like gold. If Stephanie wasn't recovering from a serious illness, she would be participating in this blogfest. 
Here are a few comments explaining why she's choosing to self-publish: 
"My thinking is, with the economy in a serious decline and bookstores closing, the publishers are taking less and less, they are accepting even fewer debut works. Add to that the reality that the royalties are getting less, the support for marketing is nearly nonexistent, and writers have little to no input in covers and illustrations (even when it changes the direction of the story). Do I want a contract? If I can develop a product that is of equal/or better quality, what do I need them for?

"The likelihood of earning out my advance within their prescribed limit is pretty low, which is a mark against me. Instead of being an unknown and high-risk investment as a debut author, I would be labeled a money-losing author."

Another writer friend, Susan Kaye Quinn, wrote an insightful post on 10/5/11, Investing in Your Writing Career, or Why I Decided to Self-Publish Open Minds (click here). She draws an analogy how publishing with a large publisher is like investing in high-flying individual stocks: 

"This is no shock to anyone who has examined the odds of making it through the big pub gauntlet, which is really an all-or-nothing deal: either you win the lotto or you trunk your novel. The return is potentially large (or not - most traditionally pubbed authors don't outsell their advances), but there is a risk of losing years of time waiting to win (at least in writing you only lose your time, not your money).

"My writing investment portfolio has a novel and an anthology with a small pub company, paying small monthly dividends (like bonds). I also have several unpublished novels in various states of 'completeness,' including a middle grade SF, middle grade fantasy, Open Minds (young adult paranormal/SF), and another project not listed on my WiP page (that will be going through the big pub route)."
OPEN MINDS will be launched November 1st.

I love this cover!

Laura Pauling's blog, Exercising the Right to Ramble, has some interesting posts that leave us with a lot to ponder:      

Here are some helpful posts from best-selling author Bob Mayer's blog, Write It Forward:
The Perfect Storm is Looming in Publishing - 9/27/11
The myth of backlist and a dramatic change in publishing - 8/13/11
The real gatekeepers in publishing now? Authors - 9/14/11, "99.5% of indie/self-published authors will be gone in two years.  Other will take their place.  And be gone in two years." 
"Should your agent self-publish you? Can your agent self-publish you? 7/26/11
eBooks as the new mass market paperback and don’t be Buridan’s Ass - 7/19/11
Publish your book or play the lottery? 6/6/11
There is Gold in self-publishing - 6/2/11, "Is there gold for the unpublished author who self-publishes?  Yes.  But the odds are roughly the same as getting an agent, who can sell to an editor, who gets the publisher to put the book out, and readers find the book, and read it, and recommend it, etc. etc."

From Agent Kristin Nelson’s blog, Pub Rants, her post dated 5/18/11 – 21st Century Evolution Of Agent’s Role

It's been a long, wonderful journey this past decade. My writer friends and I have attended many writing conferences and workshops, studied the craft of writing, and learned from each other. Many exciting things are taking place among us: Some are self-publishing, some are choosing a small press, and some are sticking with the traditional route. A few are branching out and choosing more than one way to publish. We'll support each other and new writer friends we meet along the way as we pour our hearts into our writing and work hard to make our dreams come true. 

"The magic is inside you. There ain't no crystal ball." ~ Dolly Parton 
Have you been keeping up with all the changes in publishing? What do you think about it? Please share your feelings and opinions.  

Here are the links for the other writers in this blog ring. I hope you'll check out their posts to read about their choices in publishing:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?

I love to laugh and be as nutty as a numb skull. Humor is subjective, and different types of humor appeal to different people. But laughter and its benefits are universal.

Last year on our way to Ghost Walk, a Halloween event, my husband and I stopped by to see our grandbaby, Little Twinkle Eyes. I was dressed as a skeleton, Funny Bones, so I hoped the makeup wouldn't scare her. 

She wasn't afraid! She recognized my voice and let me hold her, so I told some impromptu Halloween jokes and my son happened to get a video clip. I titled the YouTube video, "Funny Bones and Bootiful Baby."

 Need a chuckle? The video is less than a minute long. 
Watch it, then share the jokes with others. 
Are they silly jokes? Yep, sure are, but they're still amusing! And everyone needs a laugh.

How do you make a skeleton, laugh? 
Tickle her funny bone. Ha-ha! 
(Courtesy laughs are much appreciated! Hey, kids love this stuff.)

There's a lot of info out there about how healthy laughter is for us. You know, how a good belly laugh releases endorphins - chemicals released by the brain which give us a sense of well being. Here's an excellent article titled, "Laughter, the Best Medicine."

Here are some benefits of laughter:
  • Reduces stress
  • Relaxes the muscles
  • It's good for your heart
  • Can lower high blood pressure
  • It can lessen pain
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Helps bond relationships
  • Gives us strength to press through difficult times

These are just some of the benefits of laughter. Can you think of any others? Can you remember a time when you laughed your head off and how it helped you? Care to share?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another Cyber Sucker Punch

I've been sucker punched. Again. Yep, and I did it to myself. Not funny. 

Computer glitch meltdowns fry and refry my brain. There's a definite disconnect in my gray matter when it comes to technology. Even simple changes often cause a ripple effect where one problem leads to another and another. It sends me spiraling into cyberspace mania.

I've had Yahoo Mail for years. I'm a creature of habit. It's so nice to know what I'm doing. But the latest Yahoo Mail upgrade (which I didn't even want) isn't compatible with Mac. It has trouble loading and sending, plus freezes up while trying to access emails. I mean, come on, having to sign in 50 times a day is maddening.

I downloaded recommended firewalls, which made things worse. I finally got a hold of someone at Yahoo support, but got kicked off in the middle of the chat. I had to start all over, but finally got through again. This time I was on long enough to do what the tech told me, but that didn't help. Then I lost her again and gave up.

So what's a tech idiot supposed to do? A friend said I should get Gmail and have my Yahoo mail forwarded, so I took the plunge and opened a Gmail account. The glitch - I need Yahoo Plus to have my Yahoo mail forwarded to my Gmail. Well, I can't afford didley squat to upgrade anything.  However, it did allow me to import all my contacts and info from the Yahoo account. Yay, I was making progress.

Then I stumbled on an option where I could link my Gmail to my Yahoo mail. Aha! That ought to do it. Click. That was easy. Or so I thought.

Now, I know you techies are already laughing and shaking your heads at my bungling. You lucky ducks who find technology a cinch know what an idiotic move that was. I'll blame it on the late hour of the night. I went to sleep, thinking the problem was solved.

This morning when I signed in to check out the new Gmail account, it took me into my Yahoo Mail. Say what? What the heck? I tried to open an email, but couldn't access it. Same old issues. I tried logging in again through Google and it took me back into Yahoo Mail.

Yep, it connected my Gmail account with my Yahoo Mail, the exact opposite of what I wanted. I was running in cyber circles. The insanity didn't end there.

When Yahoo Mail froze up on me again, I decided to go to my Google dashboard and check the stats on my blog. A dashboard for a new account under my new Gmail address appeared. It said I hadn't started a blog yet. I couldn't get to my old dashboard. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to blog again. I couldn't bare the thought of starting over.

I needed to delete this new account, but how? Google doesn't have support people to contact, or maybe they do and they're hiding from me. Over and over I tried to figure it out. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Scream!

Well, it's good to cry and let it out. It beats having chest pains, for sure.

Cyber space cadet - A Classic Case of Refried Brain

Finally, I figured out how to log in with my old email address and accessed my dashboard. What a relief.  But how to fix the other things? How to undo all the mistakes I made? I just can't deal with it right now.  

Are you a tech wizard? Or are you challenged like me? How do you cope with tech problems? I know I'm not the only one, but I know I'm a hard case. I'm going to unplug for a bit. Maybe take a nap, for a day or two.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How Do You Cook Up Suspense?

Teachers, Home-schoolers, Writers, KIDS - 
Here's a Spooklicious Creative Writing Lesson For You! 

The Literary Witches of Craggy Cove: 
Frizzelda (Maria Cisneros Toth) and Batsey (Kathryn Sant)

One of my Monster Moon co-authors, Maria Toth, called me at 10:30 Thursday night.  She was so excited, I thought maybe she'd just signed a six-figure contract!

Nope (not yet anyway)! She was playing around with YouTube and found a video from two years ago when she and co-author Kathy Sant starred in a Homework Hotline episode on KLCS - a PBS TV station affiliate, Los Angeles.

The script was titled, "Cooking Up Suspense." Hostess Lorien Eck explained, “Students will learn how to apply some of the basic elements of storytelling and specifically one of the most important elements - SUSPENSE.”

The half-hour program is split up into three parts. Bookmark this post so you can find it when you need it. Kids love the silly humor and cool Halloween props we lugged onto the set, like Fangs, the vampire bat in a bird cage, and a bubbling cauldron stewing with the elements of suspense.

                                   Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

                                 Part 3 of 3

In case you're wondering where yours truly was (bawk! bawk! bawk!), I was way too chicken to be on TV, so I was happy as the cue card girl. Even doing that made me nervous! At times, my hands shook as I hurried to switch to the next card.

I could have read an excerpt from our first Monster Moon book, CURSE AT ZALA MANOR (more info in the sidebar), but I was afraid I'd get stage fright, so we asked my daughter to read it, and she did a super job. We even got her husband to play the parts of Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula!

Kathy and Maria didn't like the teleprompters (which messed up at one point), and they were depending on me. Maria told Bryan Heffron, the director, that she couldn't memorize all her lines because, "Hey, I'm 50 years old. My mind is like an Etch-A-Sketch!"

Here I am with the poster board cue cards I made! 
I'm giving a thumbs up to my Zombuddies, Kathy and Maria.

I really felt the heat when the director announced there was no time for a full rehearsal, that once we began, there was no stopping, no re-taping. "You make a mistake, you live with it!"

Yikes! But Kathy and Maria kept their cool and did an amazing job.

Practice run-through at home the week before

A lot of work went into writing, tweaking, and practicing the script, plus gathering all the props for the set. Looking back on the videos two years later, Maria laughed and said, "Oh, my gosh, it was such a SCREAM!" We were all loopy from pushing to get everything done on time for two 30-minute episodes.

Here I am goofing off with MC (Main Character - the dummy under the blanket).

MC saved the spot for the werewolf to switch places during the last few minutes of the segment. Toward the end of the show, the werewolf sat up and made his appearance.

The werewolf was actually my husband, George. He was slowly suffocating under the blanket. At the time, we didn't know the werewolf mask didn't have nostril holes. (The things our loved ones get dragged into to help promote our books!)

There's another Homework Hotline episode we did titled, "Brainstorming in the Rainstorm," but we haven't found it on YouTube yet. If we find it, I'll post it in case anyone wants to use it for another creative writing lesson.

So, how about you? Would you be gutsy enough to do something like this on TV, or would you rather help out behind the scenes and hold up cue cards like I did?