Monday, September 03, 2018

Working Men in Fiction
Dio, the Farmer

I'm a bit of an oddball when it comes to my romance novels under my pen name Ella M. Kaye. Okay, hermit writer and oddball might go together naturally. Still...

The current romance trend is to feature men in suits, not necessarily black suits, but suits and ties, the gorgeous business exec with money and power who still tends to woo women to the point they can't resist even if they try. Or, they're modern men who care about their trendy casual appearance, on which they spend a good bit of time making sure is just right, while acting like they don't care how they look.

Of course those heroes work well in romance. It's a good fairy tale story. :)

Me? I like working men with dirt on their hands and faded, stained, even torn clothes they might even wear to town because ... well, why not? They're in the middle of working and looks are just a thing, a second-hand thought, if that. At least when it comes to their own looks. That does not mean they don't notice a woman's looks. Of course they do.
Eli, the Construction Worker

Labor Day is a day to celebrate these working-with-their-hands people. It's about the roughnecks, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind everyday workers who keep us running, moving, driving, growing, with generally no recognition. These are the people I feature. Yes, plenty of women work roughneck jobs, as well, and trust me, they make an appearance, as well, such as Caroline from Pier Lights who takes a gritty job after her more lofty job ends. I also have cameo business execs as heroes and minor characters. Yes. It takes all of us together to be strong and fruitful.

Fillan, the Fisherman
The men featured here are from the Dancers & Lighthouses series: Pier Lights (Dio, the farmer/swordsman), Shadowed Lights (Eli, the high-rise construction worker), and Pieces of Light (Fillan, the fisherman/dance instructor).

The Artists & Cottages series so far features a road construction crew boss (Shadows of Greens & Memories), a big-time exec turned naturalist (Shadows of Blues & Echoes), and a welder (Shadows of Rust & Reels).

Overall, EMK heroes are hard physical workers who are also smart, sometimes charming, sometimes annoying, savvy but at times a bit insecure, and always very real while coping with their daily struggles.

Please feel free to honor your everyday working hero in the comments or by sharing the post.

You can find the first chapters of my books at The Dancers & Lighthouses series has been revamped and are now in print as well as eBook, available at ANY book retailer nationwide, as well as internationally via participating retailers.

The Artists & Cottages series is in the middle of a makeover and will soon be available in print and new edition eBooks.

More books to come in both series, plus the new Songwriters & Cities series that will be out soon.

~~ ~~ ~~

Would you like a promo postcard mailed to your library or local indie bookseller? They are available through Ingram and Overdrive. Send me a note at staff (at) with the address and I'll send one along with your name as a request. (You can also request them directly at your local library.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Authors Dropping Out Like Flies

I run a small local book festival. Its original purpose was to help promote all of our local literary talent because there are a lot of us. It grew into that, plus promoting overall literacy and supporting community in all of four years. This month was year four for the West PA Book Festival.

Any idea how much planning time, detail, funds, and stress it takes to bring in 20-some authors, do all of the promo for it to include newspaper press releases and radio ads, plus road signs (by hand to save costs)? A lot. Months. We even had a food truck, hoagies from the Legion Auxiliary, and music was planned (cancelled on us last minute). Set up and tear down, since it's outdoor and we use tents and a pavilion where we have to move tables out and back in, takes nearly two hours before and after the 6 hour event.

Our first year, turnout was wonderful. This year... Let's just say it was disappointing, with as well advertised as we were. People knew about it. They simply didn't bother to even walk around and see who was there and what kinds of books they might be interested in.

Over the next couple of days, my biggest thought was wondering what wasn't done well enough. And then I found another author's post on Facebook saying she was possibly throwing in the writing towel. Why? Because the money has disappeared. I commented about the low festival turnout, and this author who has done many of these events around the country said book signing turnouts everywhere have dropped to nothing. Along with that, online sales have dropped to almost nothing. She's hardly the first author I've seen say the same.

So, it's not a planning issue. It's a supply and demand issue.

The problem: Amazon is absolutely flooded with free and $0.99 cent novels. Not excerpts. Not short stories. Full novels, given away by the thousands from many, many authors in the name of promotion and with hopes that readers will love the "first of series" and go back and buy the rest at regular price (generally between $2.99 and $4.99 of which the author gets either 30% or 70%, and if they choose 70%, they have no option to keep it from being loaned out for no further compensation). Sometimes that does happen. Yes. A few years ago, some authors were making decent money this way.

By now that has crashed. Why? 

Readers have hundreds of free books downloaded, many of which they'll never even bother to read, or they pay for that monthly service to download as many as they wish without paying for any individual book. There's also the issue of returns. Yes, readers are allowed to read and return, taking ALL compensation away from the author. 

Why buy a book when every day more are being posted free? Why go out and buy a paperback, even a signed paperback, when you can sit at home and download more books than you'll ever have time to read at no cost, or almost no cost?

Who can blame readers? I certainly don't. We authors have done this to ourselves.

For years, I've urged authors to please not give their work away free or next to free. We're undervaluing ourselves, teaching readers that our work is just for fun and we don't need to be paid for it.

So now authors are quitting. Writing a novel is not play. It's work. It's a whole heck of a lot of work for those of us spending months or years on a story that's a part of us. It costs a lot of time, energy, emotional stress, advertising costs, production costs (not all authors pay production costs, but some of us do), not to mention the things we have to put aside to be able to find the time to do this. It's not spare time. It's valuable personal and business time. Just like with any career, it matters.

Yes, big author names will still sell paperbacks and hardbacks, and even e-books at $10-15 while indies are nearly giving them away at $3-5 (or worse). Big pubs don't give books away, more than a handful of prints for select reviewers. They know better than to kill their own market.

It's time we indies take a hint. Supply and demand. Stop flooding the market with undervalued books. We must start respecting our work if we want readers to respect our work and our time. At this point, it's going to take some doing to undo what's been done, but at this point, it's either change tactics, quit, or write as a hobby and not expect to make anything.

Readers, I fully understand appreciating free books. I do. I peruse bargain bins for lit fic by authors I haven't read. When I find what I like, though, I buy other books as they come out, at regular price, because I want them to keep writing. I don't want them to quit. A good book is worth far more than a fast food meal (equivalent cost of a paperback) or expensive cup of coffee (equivalent cost of an e-book). Or even request their books from your library. Most of us are available in print, e-book, and through the library. It's still free to you if you go through the library, but it helps us.

If you value books and good stories, please, consider bypassing some of the freebies and support authors you enjoy. Go to book signings and festivals. Even if you don't buy, pick up their promo and check them out online. But let them know they matter. Before they stop bothering.

There will be a 5th Annual West PA Book Festival because I don't give up easily. I believe in books, print books in particular (there is a difference in your brain between reading electronically and reading in print), and in supporting authors. I believe in trying to teach kids that books matter, literacy matters. They do far better in every school subject when they read regularly than when they don't. Obviously, reading matters.

Variety matters, also. Indies lead the way in providing a wide variety of genres and genre mixes, so by now, you can find anything you're looking for, not only the "in" books big pubs put out. (For example: My LK books are a mix of lit fic, romance, and family drama. It's lit fic but lighter, romance but deeper, and family issues are always involved. My EMK books are romance due to the relationship emphasis, structure, and HEA, but also somewhat mainstream psychological, focusing on mental health issues, with none of the romance "catch words" you often find.)

Myself, I'm not about to quit because the money's not there. That's not why I started writing and I've never depended on it to pay bills (luckily!). I do find it sad to see so many authors throwing up their hands even when they have a lot of followers. There's something just wrong about that.

It's time to seriously rethink the book business and acknowledge books and authors as the value they are to society. Unless plumbers and carpenters and lawyers are going to start working for free, we shouldn't be doing that, either.

LK Hunsaker (mainstream/relationship/family/art):
Ella M. Kaye (contemporary romance/psychology/family):
West PA Book Festival:
Write The Light In:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Read, Kid, Read!

Time to fess up: Who else was a Hardy Boys fanatic back in the 70s?

Okay, we're showing our age, but that's fine, since we apparently grew up knowing the value of a good book and losing ourselves in a good story.

I just picked these books up the other day from someone local who posted them on a sales page to add to my small collection that does include a handful of first editions (like the gray one in the upper corner). Not that I need more stuff in my house, but books don't count as "stuff" and ... Hardy Boys, the editions that I spent so many trips walking to the library (yes, walking) as a kid to read every one they had. They had quite a few, but this collection I just nabbed has some I don't recognize. They're the 40s and 50s in line. I'm not sure if our little hometown library stopped buying them after they had so many or if these came out after I'd moved on to more literary reads.

I know, most girls opted for Nancy Drew instead. I never got into Nancy Drew. I've always been more drawn to male writers for some reason. There are exceptions, but most of my go-to authors are male. Maybe it's the different perspective that I don't have personally. Maybe it's the grittier feel they tend to have. Either way, the Hardy Boys were my book obsession way back when.
[Side note: I do realize the HB/ND books were written by many authors using one name, but it was the characters and stories I loved, not the author I was following.]

I still love a good mystery, as long as it's tame rather than graphic, fun rather than dark. Cozy mysteries are great for a quick escape in between my grittier literary reads, which I was not reading as a child.

Personally, I find it a bit alarming that most book series obsessions for young people these days are rather dark and intense. No, I am not saying they shouldn't read those things. I believe in avid reading in a wide range. But whatever kids focus on the most is what seeps most deeply into their minds and their souls. We used to have, along with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Judy Blume and Madeline D'Engle... and then came the Babysitter's Club and such.

Today's young people have far different reading material. I won't list names because it could be taken as slanderous and I do not mean it that way. All books have their place and kids need to select what they enjoy to make reading as enjoyable as possible. Still, when what's being promoted as "everyone must read this" is all dark and post-apocalyptic and violent and kids think they have to read it because everyone is (yes, that's the way we work), what is that doing to their psyches?

Where are the fun, upbeat YA books and series and why are they not being pushed by the "everyone must read this" people who are supporting books with big money in order to make more big money? It's money that sells books. It's huge advertising pushes that make people think they must read whatever is currently being pushed. Don't fool yourself into thinking we are choosing what gets published and read. The industry doesn't work that way. It follows the money. Yes, when a sensation has begun and people start clamoring for it, then more of that genre is published. Still, it starts somewhere, and that always leads back to big promotion.

It might be time to take a better look at current reading lists, especially the required reading in our schools. Have you seen your child read a classic lately, or something fun and upbeat? Or are they all deep social issues and societal injustice books? Yes, those matter, also, but so does fun and upbeat with kids just being kids and having fun routing out the bad guys and romping around with siblings and your family.

Of course, most important is that kids should be reading at least as much as they're on screens of some kind in order to help balance and strengthen the brain synapses. Too cold or wet to be outside? Take them to the library. Walk if it's close enough. I guarantee those memories will be far more pleasant when they get older than will any of their time-killing on some screen.

And... reading makes us more empathetic. It does. From what I see, we could use a whole lot more real empathy rather than more social justice warriors only following the crowd.

Jump out of the crowd. Read what others aren't reading. Think your own thoughts formed by wide exposure to many other thoughts instead of only what you're being told on some screen or within your own house. Skip the must-read lists and browse. I've found some of the most wonderful books on the clearance tables of local bookstores.

I may have to go back and read the rest of the Hardy Boys books, also.

[Did anyone get the title of this post and where it came from?]

Monday, January 22, 2018

For Authors - Formatting Your Print Books

[I wrote most of this post a few years ago, but since it's been a few years, I decided it's time for an update.]

As part of my quest to help indie authors, I'm often answering questions about formatting books. I also read a lot of books by local authors, who are mainly indies doing or paying for their own book setups. Too often, I can tell they did. That's not an insult. This self-publishing thing isn't easy and advice runs rampant, including advice that isn't always ... let's say: the acceptable way to do things. When I say acceptable, I mean what readers expect, and there are certain things they do expect. Yes, you can go rogue as an indie. I've done plenty of that myself. However, when it comes to formatting your book, you want to be sure it fits readers' expectations so they're focusing on your words, your story, and not the visual mishaps.

This post is aimed at print books, specifically for novels. Non-fic tends to follow a few different rules. Electronic books are completely different things and 
they must be formatted differently. 

A note: I am not an industry publishing professional. I have, however, been doing everything, to include formatting, for my own books for a lot of years. I learned by studying big-pub prints and doing plenty of research, and sometimes by making mistakes with my own books. All rules can be debated, of course, but I’m a big believer in first knowing the rules before you decide which not to follow. 

Let’s start with the cover. 

1) Please, if you decide to design your own cover, do your research first. Look at books in libraries and bookstores or online (although many ebook covers differ than print covers, so be aware of that). First, do any of them state “by Author Name”? Only a few children’s books do that and it’s to differentiate between the author and the illustrator, since illustrations are as big a part of children’s picture books as the story. Even then, in most cases, the author is simply listed and the illustrator gets an “illustrated by” tag. If you don’t write picture books, do not put “by” in front of your name. 

2) Be careful about throwing a photo on the cover and adding some text. Text font matters. Different fonts tell the readers different things. What would you expect from the following titles?

Play with effects and collages if you'd like, but be sure it doesn’t look like you grabbed a few stock photos and just threw them all together. Too often, I look at a cover and see "Photoshopped" instead of whatever the writer was trying to portray. Some readers won't mind; others will. Sticking a person in front of a scene without making sure the perspective is right and blending it well enough it looks like an actual photo screams amateur. On the other side of the coin, putting the title, an image, and your name all in center-alignment over a plain-colored background screams amateur (or vanity published). If your cover screams amateur, it won’t matter much how professional your writing may be. Look at the big pub books in your genre and try to follow their technique (without copyright violations, of course).

Note: If you want to save yourself a lot of heartache, you're not going to want to put a border around your book. Books are not always printed the same. There's the trim to consider and you can't know how much trimming there will be, exactly, so your border is very likely going to be bigger on one side than another. Just let your image run into the bleed area, keeping important elements far enough inside, and don't drive yourself crazy wondering how it will print.

3) The spine and back are part of the overall look with a print book. Don’t spend all of your focus on the front and then throw the rest together with some text over a plain color background. Make it a full picture, not necessarily one picture wrapping all the way around, but an entire work of art combined carefully to package your precious book. 

Book Size

I was in a minor debate about this one recently. Currently, industry standard for fiction trade paperbacks run 5 x 8 or more technically 5.5 x 8.5 (that can depend on which printing/distributing company you use). You can go with 6 x 9 and I know some authors do this to try to keep page count lower (pages = $), but reader preference tends to be 5 x 8. You can go with a mini size, and I've experimented with short runs on that, to try to simulate commercial pocket books. They're cute and with smaller novels, that can work. Be aware, they will cost more to produce. From what I've seen at signings where I've had my 5 x 8 books displayed next to my mini size books (under my pen name), the smaller ones get less attention. Now, it could be different cover art, but I tend to think they are seen as of less value. Readers do look at norms. They do tend to want what they already expect, so your safe bet is 5 x 8.

Whichever you choose, make your books all the same size (under the same name, that is). Making the longer ones 6 x 9 to cut page numbers down and the shorter ones 5 x 8 to look longer only throws the reader. If some books are longer than others, readers should be able to see that. I've had a lot of browsing buyers flip through my books to see if they've been padded and received figurative thumbs up for their non-padded professional look. Just as readers who buy books in series want every book in the series to look related and relatively the same, those who see you have several books will prefer they all look congruous (should I say: professional).

The inside 

1) Again, look at professionally printed novels. They all include a cover page, a copyright page, sometimes a second cover page with publisher info. Pay attention to whether these things are on the left or right side (odd or even pages) and do it the same. 

2) Most novels do not have or need a table of contents. For ebooks, yes. Not for prints. Take that out unless you have a very long, complex story divided into sections other than only chapters. If you feel it is necessary, look at how it’s done in professionally formatted books. A long row of 

1. chapter 1 
2. chapter 2 
3. chapter 3…

looks unprofessional, especially when it’s left-aligned like the text. 

I am adding a TOC to the revised versions of my Rehearsal books because it is a series/serial of 6 books that run an average of 300K words and spans more than 10 years, with several subplots. I have each one divided into sections with separate headings, and so I'm providing a TOC to help readers navigate, in case they want to refer back to something in previous books. It looks like this:

Note the center alignment (not good for covers, but good for front matter other than the copyright page) and differing font sizes for clarity. In this case, the TOC is adding extra information, not only listing chapters.
3) Your front matter, everything before the first page of chapter one, should not have page numbers. Most novels don’t include the page number on page one of a chapter, either, but that’s at least acceptable. Your front matter doesn’t count as “pages” and should not pretend to count. Page 1 is page one of chapter 1. Sometimes they are given Roman numerals instead to differentiate, but that's unnecessary.

Different software handles this formatting issue differently. I use Word to write and format, which isn’t the easiest program to use for that, so I’ve heard, but I use section breaks to accomplish cutting out the page numbers in the front matter and not having page numbers on the first page of each chapter. It is a learning curve, but there are online tutorials to help you accomplish this. 

4) Use serif fonts, not non-serif fonts. Please use serif fonts for novels. Why? It’s easier on the reader’s eyes and better for flow. What’s the difference? A serif is the little line at the end of a stroke. This blog is typed in a serif font called Georgia. See the little extra marks on the bottom of the letters? That creates flow. This, on the other hand, is Arial, the most common non-serif font. It looks far more staccato (sharp and detached). Cambria is a common printed book text. So is Garamond, and it might be the most used among professional self-publishers. Georgia works, also. You can use Times New Roman, but I would stick with something prettier and less all-purpose for print books. It works well for e-books, though. If you use a non-serif font, use it purposely for effect, but be aware it might be a bit off-putting to your reader. Novels should flow.

Keep your font relatively small, also (unless you are creating a large print edition or a picture book) without making it too small. Print a page and compare it to a professionally formatted novel. Slight differences are fine. Big fonts look unprofessional, as though you're trying to pad the book length to make it look more substantial. Even that little difference in fonts makes a difference in overall reading experience, and print book readers are all about the experience!

5) Do not double space. Double spacing is for submissions and term papers, not for print novels. Use your word processor to add some extra space between your lines. Multiple at 1.1 is a nice professional look and easy on the readers' eyes.  

Also, do not leave extra wide margins, since that gives the same impression. There are plenty of resources online to help determine how big your margins should be. For my 5.5 x 8.5 books, I have the top margin at .6 to allow space for my header that includes the page number, and the rest are at .4 with a .25 gutter with mirror margins so the gutter stays on the correct side. 

6) Paragraphs should not be double spaced, either. Keep it the same as the rest of the text and indent. This is different than for eBooks where it’s common practice to double space between paragraphs. That’s fine, although there is some debate about that practice, as well, and it has flowed over somewhat into print books to leave space between paragraphs rather than indenting, but look at big pub books. How many are doing so? Again, readers expect flowing text, not a bunch of extra space.

7) Do not add two spaces after periods. Just don't. In the "old days" when we were using typewriters, it was necessary. With computer processors, it only adds extra white space and makes you look like you're not up-to-date on technology and formatting rules.

8) Left-align or justify? This can go either way. It’s becoming more acceptable to left-align books. If you do this, you’ll want to use hyphens so you don’t have huge gaps at the ends of lines, but you want to hyphenate sparsely. Your word processor should give you the choice. Most of my books are justified (which could make a good joke), but for my very long Rehearsal books, I decided to left-align instead because I wanted that extra flow. After printing the first one I did myself (book 3, since the 1st two were formatted and printed through a company I’m no longer using), I noticed too many gaps at the end because of no hyphenation. I don’t like every other sentence to hyphenate, so I took them out, but that was too extreme. I’ll be reformatting that book to include adding sparse hyphens. (You live and you learn!)

9) Header info: Your name goes on the top of even pages and your book title goes on the top of odd pages. Page numbers can go on the outside corner of the top or bottom or centered on the bottom. I put it all together on the top with page numbers on the outside corners and my name and book title centered. It takes less playing with the formatting (no bothering with a footer) and keeps all non story text in one place mostly out of the way. Make this text a different font from your story font, generally smaller is better, for better clarity/separation, and be sure your header is large enough this info is not too close to the regular text.)

10) At the end of your book, start with your acknowledgements and then a bibliography if needed (most novels do not need a bibliography). At the very end, add your About The Author info. Use third person, not first, and keep it brief. You can add your whole life story to your website if you wish, but this is not the place for that.  You might want to start each end section (acknowledgements, bibliography, about the author) on an odd page. This is very flexible rule, more like a suggestion, really. Under your Author info, include your website if you have a permanent website link. Do not add links to social media, specific book sites, etc., as these can change, and a few years down the road, your info will be outdated. [If you don't have a website, get one. Honestly. Make it, since your author name is your biggest author brand, and gather all of your books under that site. Some authors do make separate sites for separate books/series, but I think that's a huge waste of time/money, unless of course you only plan to put out that one book, then by all means, create a website.]

In the End...


This is your book. If you have specific reasons for going against the standard practice, it's your right to do so. Be careful, though. You need to balance artist creativity with reader expectations and know that going too far out of the lines will push some readers away.

I may be forgetting a few things. Do you have any tips or annoyances to share related to formatting? If it’s something of which I’m guilty, I’d rather know than to blindly keep doing it wrong or annoying the reader. I may annoy them now and then with a character’s opinions or actions, but that’s just part of the job. ;-) 

 This blog post is ©LK Hunsaker. Share only by linking to this post. You can copy and share a very brief bit of info from the text if you include the link with it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

January Reclamation

Some people are big on spring cleaning. Me? In the spring, I'm ready to end my winter hibernation and get out in my gardens that first have to be cleaned up since, once it gets cold in the fall, I'm entering hibernation mode and browning stalks and faded flowers in their pots have to simply lie in wait. So, I try to do my spring cleaning in the fall in order to leave time and energy for outdoor work.

In January, I go into reorganizing/clearing out mode. Maybe that's an effect of being inside the house so much the walls start to close in. I love being home. I don't love being unable to walk around outside, even only on the porch, without freezing. So, yes, the walls close in during the first month of the year when I'm trying to come out of the big holiday rush mode and my insides tell me to clear some of it out.

I've been spending several hours a day cleaning out old files and old paperwork that hasn't been filed yet, combining my writing binders and files and loose notes into one spot where I can actually find them, moving stuff around since we moved the trundle out from under the daybed and hubby made rolling bins that go in that space for all of my ridiculous number of binders to free up bookshelf space, and ("Ah choo!" Excuse me.) getting rid of some dust bunnies while I'm at it.

While sorting through all of this stuff, I ran across a couple of sheets of printed paper that I had to stop and read. It's from 2007, from over at my non-public blog on A blog entry, with all of the comments, where I was pondering what my "thing" was, my hook that kept readers coming back.

I'll have to say the comments were so very flattering, and because it has a lot to do with this post, I'll touch on some of them, even though it might come off as bragging. That is not my intention.

-- "fair and balanced"
-- "you have been there and done that [re. publishing]"
-- "you always write so effortlessly and comfortably about a wide range of subjects, yet you're never preachy"
-- "you're one of the few who intimidates me a bit because of that effortless style. In short, you're a natural at this writing thing and it's a joy to read anything you feel like writing about."
-- "a place of reason and calm and very stylish writing"
-- "representative of a true artist ... fine, flowing style"
-- "classy, fair, and a very good read"
-- "You make art (and not just writing) a part of everyday life."
-- "you are driven. You inspire me."
-- "Class. That's your hook. You are one of the classiest people I know."

The only reason I can share this publicly is because it made me stop and think. This was over ten years ago already, and I'm not sure I've continued to live up to all of it, maybe any of it.

You know that scene in MASH where one of Margaret's old friends tells her she's changed, she's hardened? "Well, yes," I caught myself thinking, "life can do that to you."

I have a scene between two characters that kind of says the same thing. Yes, it does, or it can, but you know, it doesn't to everyone, and it doesn't have to. We don't have to let it. I find it a little scary that I sympathized so well with Margaret. Should that be a clue to unwind? The last decade has sure been an interesting one. I went from my early Forties to my early Fifties, and every woman over 50 understands that one. I've forced myself to get out and do book signings, to the despair of my social phobia. I started a book festival in my local area, which is way out of my comfort zone, for the same reason. And then there were the upheavals and big changes, personally and nationally. But you know, every decade is interesting (and a family joke comes to mind here that makes fun of the use of the word). It's no excuse.

I think, with my writing, I've focused too much on the markets, on getting books out there, on what might sell, on what I can write in shorter bits of time, doing what I can to justify the ridiculous number of hours I spend at this writing thing, and somewhere along the line, the bigger picture somewhat slipped away. I think maybe I've lost some of my muchness. I've slowed way down lately on my books because something feels lacking. Maybe writing mainly under my pen name, which was meant to be somewhat dis-associative, worked a bit too well.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of art instead. Painting. An escape from my writing.

So, it's time to regroup, reorganize my thoughts, step back farther from social media and daydream more. I think maybe a lot of us are in this boat about now. Overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Both too stimulated and not stimulated enough. Time to grab the oars and stroke gently back and forth until we find a smooth and easy balance rather than the constant harsh rocking that's letting in too much water.

Daydream more. Turn stuff off and enjoy the quiet. Reconnect with the people actually around you. Look them in the face, not through the phone. Be driven, but be present.

That's my 2018 Reclamation project.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Starting with a Clean Desk

I'm not good at change. Seriously. After all of the military moves into brand new unknown places, new houses/apartments, even new weather patterns over 20 years, I'm still not good at change. Even planning a two week trip is emotionally strenuous.

So, when it's time to change my work space, specifically the desk I've used for the past 10 years since we moved in here, my emotions act like the flipping world is ending. Okay, slight exaggeration.

And it's not really the desk. The desk was a trigger for the bigger things that are changing, for much bigger uncertainties. But that's how it works. It may seem like a really little thing sets people off and leaves others looking at them as though wondering what demonic spirit suddenly crept into their otherwise pretty normal demeanor. It's never actually that little thing. It's always something bigger, something deeper, something possibly unsaid, pushed aside. Maybe it's even something we didn't know was bothering us so much until the trigger happens.

The thing is, if you face that trigger, go ahead and clean off all of the piles of to-do stuff, to-save for later stuff, unmarked CDs that might have something important on them, the menagerie of writing utensils, bits of small pieces of papers with quotes written on them, or story thoughts, or music you want to look up, the drawings a sweet little one brings in while you're trying to work that get set on a pile somewhere, the coins scattered here and there for some odd reason, paper clips, receipts that should have been tossed forever ago... and the dust, of course ... if you go ahead and face it, clear it off, put it away, that emotional response turns from a trigger into an inspiration.

It'll be fine. It'll work out. Clear away the old dust and such, take the plunge, and the blank slate on which you can start again will feel far more manageable than your beloved mess of comfort. The fear of the task is almost always worse than the outcome. Sure, there is still an adjustment period. One desk is absolutely not like another desk. They all have their good and bad points, their design issues that have to be worked around. Still, there is the clean slate. The new start.

It's tough to consider. It's tough to get started. But forging on through it feels better than running from it or pretending it's not there.

My desk is only one small piece of the to-redo and reorganize and purge pie that is about to come. A big task lies ahead. But the image of the cleared off space makes it feel worth the effort.

So fine, the world is not going to end because I update my desk. Or because I get rid of stuff sitting around here for no real reason other than that change is hard and letting go is hard. Really, it's not. Stuff is stuff, and stuff constantly changes. It's fine. It's not easy, but it's fine.

Here's hoping you can find the courage to clear some of the decks that are holding your ship down farther into the depths than it needs to be. If this pack-rat "don't change anything!" mass of anxiety can live through it, I imagine most anyone can.

Thanks for still being here through my "write a post as it comes to you" off and on blog adventure. And remember, knowing the rules (such as "you must write a post every week to keep your audience") is a good thing, but so is knowing when to break them. Nah, you don't have to. You have to do it the way it works for you, whatever "it" happens to be. Some will stay, some will go. It's all fine.

I'm wishing everyone who stops in here, and everyone who doesn't, a very nice, creative, warm 2018.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fantastical and True

"Production was moved to Mexico City as New York City union regulations wouldn't allow Chagall to paint his own sets. In Mexico, Chagall tackled the backdrops while his wife worked on the costumes, which he finished with hand-painting." 

Few, if any, true artists are only good at one kind of art. Many writers also paint or sew. Many dancers also write. Several big name singers are known for their painting and photography. It's an artistic nature that longs for creativity, usually in may forms.

While I'm not a big Marc Chagall fan (I lean far more toward realism in my arts preferences), I can appreciate that he cared so much about doing his own backgrounds for his ballet concepts that he moved his show to where he could design it as he wished. It was definitely New York's loss. The quote says his wife worked on costumes, but Chagall did much of that himself, even playing with different fabrics and layering techniques in order to get the looks that were in his head. When artists are allowed free rein, they can do some incredible and widely varied pieces/productions, making it more truly self-representative.

Which leads me to indie authors.

Every time I turn around, I hear "indie authors Must, capital M, hire someone to do their cover art and they Must hire someone to edit if they want to be deemed professional!"

I understand no artist can do every different art in a professional manner. I get it. Many writers do full well need to hire out cover work to avoid a reader/critic looking at it and thinking "amateur Photoshop job" which leads to not even bothering to go farther. I've done that myself with books. Yes, once a reader has "unprofessional" in her head, it floods over the whole work, fair or not, true or not. However, some of us writers are also art trained and/or design trained and the never do it yourself rule doesn't apply. Get opinions, of course. Always get opinions, no matter how professional you think you are.

And yes, we all need someone else to read our work to catch things we can't catch because we're too close to the story. Does that mean we have to pay $1-2 per page for a "professional" editor? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we have dear family members and friends who are actually good at catching the "that doesn't make sense" lines and story arcs as well as typos. And maybe, just maybe, after someone catches those story arc and awkward sentence issues, some of us can go back through subjectively and carefully enough and are familiar enough with spelling and grammar rules to do our own copy-editing. Yes, some of us can, just as Chagall aptly designed costumes as well as painting his own backdrops and working on choreography for the dances.

Rules often go way too far. We have to know when to listen and when to move somewhere else to stay on our own path, figuratively, or literally if it calls for that.

Yes, many artists are fantastically multi-talented. In this day of the Big 5 publishers where a children's author cannot, with few exceptions, also illustrate her own books regardless of how skilled she may be at getting the images she sees for her stories onto paper, when the Must Nots gladly curtail the creative process due to bookkeeping issues, when the slush pile reader hired by the pubs toss aside beautiful books because he doesn't like the main character's name, being the same as an ex he is still angry with (yes, it happens), when a writer Must have an agent to submit a book to one of those big guys and agents only accept what's "in" right now, and if accepted, that publishing date can be 2-10 years in the future, or held and not published (also happens), the fantastical authors can easily be left behind.

This is why I self-published. This is why so many of us, to include those who have been previously or are still traditionally published, some by the big guys, are moving into self-publishing. It's not a last resort because everyone said no thanks. It's a freedom of choice and self-expression thing.

I have nothing against traditional publishing. I have a novella contracted and published and I may give that another try. Sometimes that works great. Sometimes it doesn't. If that works for an author, wonderful! If it doesn't work due to creative differences, try the other path.

[Be careful, though, about following too many rules now established for that other path, indie publishing, It's come into its own by now, which means many self-titled experts have jumped onto the Musts for Indies thing, since the Musts are everywhere. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're right for some authors but not for every author. As an indie, it's up to you. Never forget that part of being indie.]

The truth is that some of us need paid help and some don't. Some of us can do better covers than many of the self-titled "experts." Some of us write so far outside the mainstream that self-pub is our only option. Some of us can out-write the "big" name bestsellers with no real struggle and are still mostly unknown because we don't have the "big name pub and big money" backing us.

Some of us simply must move to where we can fulfill our own visions without the gate keepers putting up, well, gates.

It is not the easier path. Most of us do most of the editing/publishing/marketing duties solely on our own, to include building and maintaining our websites and blogs and social media accounts, buying our ISBNs, doing research into which printing/distribution companies are likely to be best for our needs, uploading our books and covers per specs, and keeping up with industry info. It's a huge multi-tasking job. It's time-consuming. It's brain-tiring. It's frustrating. It often seems completely unproductive. But we do it for love. We love writing. We love our stories, our characters. We have things to say that might not fit the current "you must say this" standard.

It's only passion that keeps us running, as most of us pay very few bills with this thing that takes so, so much of our time as we work it around kids, jobs, spouses, houses, injuries, health concerns, sleep... you name it. It's tough. It takes courage. But it's a must.

"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."

Albert Camus

While you're checking books off your shopping list, maybe try one of these intrepid indies along with the big names. They should all have excerpts available, usually on their websites where you can also learn more about them. To make it easier, I'll invite those I know to share their own links plus links to their favorite indie authors in the comments.

Indie authors only here, please. I'll do a separate post for small press authors.

"To encourage Literature and Arts is a duty every good citizen owes his country."

George Washington


Quote: Inside The Fantastical Costume World of Marc Chagall

Image: The Making of Markova

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The hardest part...

"The hardest part about writing a novel is finishing it."

Writing a well-constructed novel is much like putting a river-spanning bridge together. If you miss a piece, your reader is likely to slip through your grasp and be disconnected from your virtual world.

It can be hard for an author to know when we've missed a pertinent piece since we know the story backward and forward. The piece is already in our head. We know where and how it fits. Translating it is the problem. Since readers can't see inside our heads, we have to be sure to get it in words.

I always get somewhat nervous about writing The End (figuratively). Did I get everything in that needs to be there? Do I have extraneous stuff I should take out so I don't take more of the reader's time than needed? The big trick is not stopping too soon, but also stopping soon enough.

It's the same as with painting. Recently, I've gone back to my art. I've never done a lot of painting; mainly I've worked with pencil and charcoal. So while I'm not a novice artist, exactly, I'm a fairly novice painter. While I worked on my latest piece, I could feel the similarities with the way I build a story.

1) Get the basics down.

a) With painting, that means put a rough sketch on the canvas so I know where I'm heading.

b) With writing, that means get the first rough draft of a story on paper.

2) Research details.

a) Since I was painting a fence with Black-Eyed Susans, even though I know generally what they look like as seen from a road, I looked them up to find the detail I needed to make them realistic.

b) My current WIP (work in progress) is set in Williamstown, WV, so I did internet and in-person research to make sure my characters were living in a realistic setting.

3) Add in the bulk.

a) The next step in the painting was to build up the background by adding the main parts: the sky and the grass behind the flowers, the basic brown of the wood fence, the basic green and yellow of the flowers.

b) In the story, this step means filling in some backstory, adding personalized character traits, building up secondary characters, and plenty of note-taking/outlining to be sure it's still heading in a particular direction.

In Progress. ©LK Hunsaker. All Rights Reserved

4. Fill in the little extras that make it pop.

a) After I got the canvas filled in so I had a viable painting of Black Eyed Susans and a natural log fence (that transformed itself from the flat boards I planned to full round logs as I painted), I knew it wasn't done. It needed more pop. More variation. More color. So, I decided to add some purple flowers around the bottom. After adding those, I also added a few aqua straggler flowers meant to look like they decided to join the crowd unplanned. This added a fullness/completeness to the canvas.

b) After I had the WIP fleshed out, it was time to read back through to try to eye it as a reader would and pick up on inconsistencies and missing pieces. It also meant changing sentence structures for better impact and clearing out too many repeated words and present participles (one of my personal writing things to watch) in order to help the flow.

5. The big finale

a) With this painting, I kept eyeing it thinking it wasn't quite right. It was a bit too cartoonish and not quite realistic enough. Finally, it struck me that I was missing the highlights. Yes, Black Eyed Susans are yellow and the shading helps to define their shape, but in the sunlight, parts of the petals appear more white than yellow. Ah. So I added highlights and voilá, more reality. While the painting is no Van Gogh or Monet, I'm happy with it as a good slightly-more-than-amateur effort. It's pretty enough to enjoy.

b) With the WIP, I also kept thinking it wasn't quite right, even if I had hit "the end" and sent it out to a few beta readers. Something about it bothered me and so I couldn't release it. It sat for a while as I did other things, such as work on the painting, and then it came to me. The solution was similar, but far more complicated to fix. It ended too soon. As with a painting, you can't go on too long, but you can't cut it too short, either. You have to have those highlights. And so, the WIP went back to step #3 for a rework. It ended too fast, was resolved too quickly, and it wouldn't have. The story needed a somewhat bigger canvas.

The hardest part of art is knowing when to keep going and when to stop and say The End. Only the viewer/reader can truly say whether that happened at just the right point.

For the creator, it's truly subjective since we can see where we were trying to go whether or not it got where we intended. Once it has a life of its own, the impact it creates is far beyond our control. That's not an easy thing, either, but that's another story.

For a final image of the WIP, check out Shadows of Rust & Reels by Ella M. Kaye once it's published. It's part of the Artists & Cottages series.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Up and Away

Sketch in progress for the next Thoughts & Sketches journal:
Music & Motion
I don't know how others can make and stick to a regular schedule. Honestly, I don't. Stuff happens. Constantly. Unexpectedly. It just happens. Yes, you can often plow through the stuff and just stay on that schedule, and often I do, but often I don't. I get waylaid.

My every weekend blog posts were going along swimmingly and then ... stuff happened. So I'm late. Two weeks late. Ah well, everyone has other things to do and I don't imagine anyone noticed too much.

Last weekend it was a nasty virus. Now, I generally work through viruses. I'd hardly get anything done if I didn't. But this one even knocked hardy hubby off his feet for a couple of days, so it's no surprise I'm on Day 11 of this thing or that my knocked off my feet days were last weekend and I didn't even think about a blog post. Couldn't get my head together that much. What's past is past. We just keep moving along.

And I'm rambling because I don't have a valid topic for this weekend's post, either.

The weekend before ... well, we had to put my puppy down to stop his suffering. Not actually a puppy, Axel was about 10 years old. It's hard to know for sure since he was a shelter dog. They said he was two years old when I contacted them about wanting an easy-going lab mix good with kids, partly as a companion for our then two-year-old female lab that hates to be alone. He was pretty puppy-ish, so he was likely about the age they said. They'd also said he hadn't been abused, because I'm wary of bringing an abused animal into a household with children. I know that's not true by the way he used to duck when we picked up a stick for fetch. He didn't fetch. He ducked. At first.

It took him some time to realize he was quite safe and he stopped being so guardian about his food after a while, also. He'd known too much starvation before the shelter took him in, so much so he'd lost most of his hair. It had come back in fairly well under their care. Sadly, they were just about to put him down at the time I called because they couldn't house train him at all and no one wanted him.

I wanted him the moment I saw him, but they hesitated about letting him be an outside dog (although he already had been) until they came to see the shelter we had up and the big fenced yard where he could run. It was either let us have him or put him down. Easy option once she came over and met our other puppy and saw the accommodations.

We added glucosamine to his diet to fix a limp and his hair was very soon bright and shiny and thick again. He learned not to duck when a man approached or when someone picked up a stick or when we threw a rock for our lab. His favorite trick was to raise his front paw as though shaking hands when trying to get my attention. He was my puppy; he firmly attached himself to me, although that hadn't really been the plan. He never did fetch. He looked at us like, Really? Why? Our lab, on the other hand, only fetches rocks. Why? I have no idea.

I always expected because of his rough start, his wouldn't be a terribly long life. He developed a very fast-growing tumor on his head all of a sudden and then showed signs of pain and rapid slow-down. You know when a dog looks at you a certain way, it's time to let them go. So I let him go. When I said goodbye to him, he looked at me and raised his paw, and then turned away. He knew.

I'm sure there are plenty of people shaking their heads at the idea of having outdoor only dogs, but you know what? That's ridiculous. Full size dogs are well equipped and often much happier outside as long as they have shelter and can run. He was a happy dog, and healthy other than what someone else did. Shelters would have a better time helping animals find good homes if they would consider the circumstances, breed, and temperaments of each animal rather than sticking to a "no adoptions for outdoor dogs" rule. Is it better to make them live their lives in a shelter or to just put them down than to allow them a happy home and companionship? Not hardly.

If Axel could have answered that question, I bet he would have agreed with me.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Flitting and Waiting

As I watch my 2- and 3-year-old grandchildren play, I marvel at their differences. They are opposites in many ways and yet each represent their own parent well and still show sides of their parent's sibling. They're quite the mix and match of my own babies. (Of course they each have traits of their other parent, as well, but I saw my babies grow up and naturally find it easier to pick up on what I remember.)

The elder toddler by 3 months is like his mom now: matter-of-fact and highly organized, he puts one thing away before he moves on to something else, after playing with that one thing for some time. He likes to line up his toys in lines or recently in circles, enjoying the design of it, the orderliness and heaven forbid anything interfere with his planned order. Like his uncle, when he focuses on something, he is intently focused on it. Also like his uncle, he's socially wary and watchful but very kind-hearted and sweet-natured. He appreciates and welcomes help when he wants to do something that isn't quite working out.

The other one is like her dad in that she's very artsy and musical. She's also like her aunt and her dad both as young children, swirling about from one thing to another and back and forth, leaving a wake in her trail of blocks and crayons and puzzle pieces she likes to dump but not put together and she's always moving on to the next thing. Now and then something will catch and hold her attention and heaven forbid you take her away from it. Like her aunt as a child, she loves people and talks to everyone, whether or not they're willing to talk. She will give them "that look" if they ignore her. Also like her aunt, she is very much I Can Do It Myself (which she calls "me-self" currently).

It's interesting to watch them develop their innate personalities regardless of what goes on around them. The world can do as it wishes, and their parents can guide them, but they are who they are and they know inside this is perfectly okay.

I see myself in both little ones. I want things as they are supposed to be, in order and organized, and I don't appreciate anyone else interfering with the way I have things, but this often doesn't come out externally since I also jump from interest to interest and disorder naturally follows, which drives me nuts, but it doesn't change, no matter how I try.

Some things just are as they are and it's okay.

The photo above is my newest project, or newest part of a new project, a series of yellow flower based paintings on 8 x 10 canvas. I'm far better at drawing than at painting because I've done far more of it, but I've had the urge to paint lately, in between my urge to work on clay, so although I have one yellow flower painting in progress already, partly painted and waiting, I had to sketch this one because I saw the idea for it and wanted it in progress. Eventually, I'll add paint. For now, it waits because this weekend, I'm back to the rewrite of the novel that was "done" other than edits which is now getting a makeover with a changed, expanded ending. I also have the next Thoughts & Sketches journal underway that I work on when I feel like it.

In retrospect, that novel in progress needed to wait a bit. Ideas from day to day life and inspirations have infiltrated the story and by now I realize it wouldn't have been right if I'd pushed to just get it done. You have to listen to your instincts. It wasn't ready, so it had to sit and wait while I flitted around with other things.

Sometimes you have to Do It and get it done and other times you need to sit back and wait. Some call it procrastination. I call it all in due time.

Those two little toddlers are exactly right. They are perfect just as they are and I hope they can hold onto that belief regardless of what the world tries to tell them. Grandma will be standing by ready to argue back with the world.