Tuesday, March 16, 2010

12 Lessons from Ireland

In the summer of 2008, my husband and I took a trip to Scotland, Ireland, & England. Though quite a whirlwind, we brought much of it away with us.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d share pieces of it, using a few of the many, many photos I took along the way.

If you move your cursor over top of the photos, it will tell you what each one is.

[Photos are copyright-protected. Do not use without permission.]

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

1) Build strong, with heart and eyes and head. What you do now may last longer than you can imagine and impact many more souls than you would ever have thought possible.

Stone wall in the Burren
2) Use your own natural resources whenever possible.

in the Burren, a close up

3) Step wisely and pay attention to what’s underfoot. A path is made of more than stone.

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral

4) A window is not only a window. Sometimes it tells a deep and meaningful story. At least it can if you want it to.

Ancient texts at Trinity College, Dublin

5) Books are to be valued by both writer and reader. Put your full creativity and passion into them and they will be well-loved and well-cared-for by those who follow. (These were hand illustrated over 1,000 years ago.)


6) Water refreshes the body and spirit, whether by taking it in, immersing into it, or enjoying and respecting its beauty, peace, and strength.

Cliffs of Moher

7) Rain may feel gloomy and it may be annoying as we go about our days, but it also brings vibrant life and calming green. No one knows this better than Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher

8) Whatever the language or place or temptation, there are reasons for rules and boundaries. If you cross them, do so very carefully and with due consideration for the results. (Also, when making a rule, it’s nice to be polite, and to remember they are meant to be protection from harm, not restriction from liberty.) :-)

Celtic Cross at Kilfenara

9) Faith itself matters more than the particulars. The Celtic cross is a blend of Christianity and Paganism. They mesh beautifully in Ireland. There’s no reason the rest of us can’t do the same. Respect other faiths if you want yours respected.

Fairy Circle

10) Magic matters. The Irish wouldn’t dream of crossing down into the middle of this Fairy Circle where tree roots grew up into hill formations in a large circular pattern with a lowland middle. There are many of these in Ireland. Workers will halt a construction project before they cross into it. They will walk the edge of the hill circle, but never step down into the fairy territory. If a tourist does, they fear for his safety in days to come.

Leamanoh Castle, County Clare

11) Never, never underestimate a woman’s ability to protect her home!

Colin O’Brien, whose built this castle with his father, was killed in battle against Oliver Cromwell’s forces. Cromwell insisted Colin’s wife, Maura, marry one of his officers because after a certain amount of time, the land would belong to the husband. Maura, not to be done out of her ownership of the land, arranged for the new husband, only days before he would take ownership, to join her at the top of the castle for a romantic evening. Somehow, he managed to fall off to his death. A resourceful woman, Maura remarried – several times – and each new husband mysteriously fell to his death just before the change of ownership. Men should well be glad that law no longer exists. ;-)


12) It makes no difference whether or not you believe in Leprechans, since they believe in you. Some will find them, some won’t. It’s all in the way you look. Not finding him, though, doesn’t mean he’s not there.

For more photos of Ireland, click on Ireland Slideshow at the top of my blog!


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: Still Alice

Still Alice
Lisa Genova
Pocket Books 2009

I picked up Still Alice because it was my library's book club selection this month. I'd never heard of Lisa Genova, but by the time I finished the novel, I was glad to know she's working on another.

Alice is a 50 year old psychology professor at Harvard who has co-authored a text book with her husband, a research scientist, and has established an incredible reputation as not only a preferred teacher but also as a world-traveled speaker. As she celebrates her birthday, she is struggling with memory issues and even starting to get lost close to home in an area she's very familiar with. Going privately to a neurologist, she is diagnosed with early onset alzheimer's disease.

Since Alice is the POV character, you have to wonder how Genova will continue to follow her story as Alice lapses further into the disease. I was rather impressed with how well she managed to show the early struggles as well as the progression. All of the characters are well drawn from Alice's POV and we get to know some of them better than others. I found it interesting that the child she says she knows the least is the one we know the most. The other two are mainly background.

Her husband, John, is an interesting character and at times, I wanted to yell at him for being so self-centered, but then looking back at their history, I couldn't help but think Alice partly made him that way with her work obsession. The novel is a nice look at marriage-combined-with-work issues, as well as the dementia issue.

From the beginning, we bond with Alice. Anyone who has ever been so busy finding a set of keys seems an impossible task will relate. This makes us truly sympathetic of her plight and we pull for her to keep going, keep trying. As we do, we learn much about Alzheimers and how it progresses and how they are working to find ways to slow or stop it. There is also information about how to keep the brain healthy in general.

At times, the writing is a bit stiff, especially at the beginning, but Genova is a first time novelist and I believe she may find her stride with the next.
This is a must read for anyone dealing with dementia in a loved one, anyone with dementia in their family history, as well as for anyone who wants to better understand this disease. It is truly educational and heartwarming and sad and hopeful all at once.

Note: Genova self-pubbed Still Alice when she couldn't find a publisher for it. She went through iUniverse and also contacted the National Alzheimer's Association for a possible endorsement, got their agreement, won a couple of indie awards, and Pocket Books picked it up. She recommends other authors self-pub instead of letting their manuscripts languish.

This review is from a book I purchased and no compensation has been offered or received.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Artistic Eye: in photos

Art is a way of seeing.

That’s far from a new thought, but yesterday I posted a few photos of a local park in the blog I set up for my county to show the area in all its glory. I posted the link in my Facebook and received a comment about my “artistic eye.” That’s what art is all about: seeing things in a different viewpoint, looking more deeply and at different angles to find details. I’m not sure if it can be taught fully, but there are techniques anyone can use to see things more artistically.

I’m not a good teacher. I never have been. I found this back when trying to help my kids with their homework. Understanding and teaching are different. However, I’m always willing to share what I’ve learned and thought I’d try today, using other photos from the park that are more artsy than descriptive, if that makes sense.

I have a thing for docks. There’s something romantic about an old wooden structure reaching out into the water, a path that leads seemingly nowhere, unless you have an alternate mode of transportation. I don’t see only the dock here. I see the possibility of a small boat coming to its open end, ready for passengers. I see a couple walking out hand-in-hand to the edge and sitting together enjoying the water (or slushy snow in this case) and serenity of nature, wordless, since quiet is a powerful means of communication. I see footsteps in the snow beside it that were there before the weather warmed and made treading out on the pond on foot impossible. I see the shelters in the background amidst the trees that hold the possibility of get-togethers and laughter. I wonder who made the footprints. I wonder if the water is seen as a barrier between the dock and the shelters or a connection. I see the changing season: grass beginning to show on the land while snow and ice still control the water. I see possibility of metaphor.

Angle matters. If I had centered my son in the photo, I wouldn’t see the little pavilion in the background and I wouldn’t get the path of water leading to it. I wouldn’t have the edge of grass that echoes the melting of the ice that echoes the short sleeves. I wouldn’t get the same angle of his head echoing the curve of the pond. There’s always more to a photo than the main subject. Background matters.

Catch the sun in the right place and it will assist your eye and transform your scene. Also, try looking up instead of always out. It’s amazing the beauty you can find just by raising your chin.


Catch the reflections.

And the tracks left by someone else. 

If you’ll return (and you can know I’ve left a new post by subscribing to your right), you’ll soon find more artistic eye entries: in fine art, in writing, in design, and maybe in social issues.

By the way, all photos online are copyright protected by their creators. If you would like to use my photos, please contact me and let me know where and for what. I don’t mind sharing with permission and credit. I have the better, larger versions if there is a good purpose for the larger versions.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Publishing: How I Got Started

I’ve been asked often by other writers how I got started with publishing my books. Fair question. The publishing business is a complicated one, with many paths and many branches stemming from each of those paths. Now that Blogger has the option to add tabs to blogs, I thought I’d take advantage and use it to gather some of my thoughts and experiences with publishing. The main focus will be on indie publishing, since I am indie and haven’t been contracted. Maybe I can pull in some author friends who have been contracted to help fill that part of the information.

For the beginning of this series here on my blog (although I’ve been giving info to my On Our Own group for years), I’m starting with the few basics.

Back while I was working on Finishing Touches, which wasn’t my first written novel, but the first finished, I was asked what I planned to DO with all the writing I’d been working so hard on. Also a fair question. I didn’t start writing with the idea of publishing. I wrote because I’m a writer and that’s what I needed to do to be fulfilled. Did I want to publish? I wasn’t so sure about that one. It’s a scary thing, putting your work out there for readers to view and possibly tear apart. A novel is a part of a writer’s soul, at least mine are. Of course they are fiction, but not entirely. Much of who a writer is can be found better in her fiction than with normal activity. Did I want to share that much of me?

Not so much.

However, I loved my characters and my stories and yes, I decided I did want to share them. The question then was HOW?

I learned research methods in college, and I did plenty of it. That gave me a good general concept of where to start in publishing: research. So I did. In between writing and continuing to study the craft, I researched the publishing business. Now, I’m no expert. I don’t ever claim to be. But I did do my homework first and found I had three major options as to how to go about it:

1) Traditional

With traditional publishing research, which is where I started, I learned that not only would I have to do queries and synopses to mail out, that most don’t accept multiple submissions and can take weeks to months to answer before I could send it elsewhere if it was rejected, but I would also either have to search through to find the “right” publishers for what I wrote or find an agent to find the right publishers. Either one would take a good amount of time to find the match I needed. After that, it could take 2 years or so, IF my book was accepted, before it would actually come out. A good agent, as I found, is as hard to find as the right publisher. (And never, never PAY an agent! Legit agents make money when they sell your book, which is why they won’t accept you if they think they can’t sell you.)

Other than the time problem I had with this, I also had a problem with the “right” match issue. I don’t write to a commercially marketable genre, aka what’s “in” right now. I do my own blend of different genres and often they are very long. Most publishers will not accept more than 100,000 word manuscripts from new writers and many want no more than 60,000. Not a good match for me.

Also with traditional publishing, control is taken away: cover art is hired out with the author often having no say, how you market and where you sell is restricted, how long it takes to be available widely varies, and it’s always possible to get a contract only for the publisher not to bother ever putting it out. It’s happened. I didn’t want my hands tied. Not to mention the royalty rate is very low and many authors never get more than the advance. Advances are hard to come by these days. This method was not the right fit for me. So I moved along.

2) Self Publishing

Actual self publishing is when the author does all the setup herself, providing cover art (often purchased) and properly formatted text files, and then takes them to a printer (brick and morter or online), and pays all expenses to have them printed. It’s a risky way to publish, especially if your printer insists on you buying a large print run (sometimes 1,000 copies) that you then have to store. Doing this with an online printer is a safer way to go. Still, it’s an incredible amount of work and the author must BE a publisher, with publishing company name and the legalities that go with that.

3) Publishing Service

Many call them vanity publishers, but companies that will take your text files and assist you in producing and distributing your books save a lot of time for the indie author. They will also create covers for you, but I strongly suggest using your own, hiring that out to a good amateur artist if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself. Be careful doing it yourself. A good cover is very important. Also be careful about which company you choose, as there are a plethora of these places and many are more hurtful than helpful. Many, though, have good reputations, and this can be a viable way to get your feet in the publishing door.

I decided to go this way with my first books. Before I chose one, I did … more research. I compared fees with service, listened to what their authors had to say about them, skimmed message boards for good and bad of any I was interested in, and wound up choosing a small moderately priced company with all the services I wanted. It turns out that Infinity is now one of the top 2 recommended Publishing Services. Booklocker is also well recommended. Another that gets good comments from its authors is iUniverse. If you’ve gone this route with another company you’d recommend, please feel free to add it in the comments.

My latest book was done with an online printing/distribution service, using my own company and ISBNs. It meant taking the time to learn what I needed to know and do all the setup and the legal necessities, but if you have the time and ability to learn it, this is a good way to go.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of publishing, and I’ll focus more on them in later posts. All of these will be gathered as links under my “Indie Publishing” heading at the top of my blog. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address.

As I said, I’m not an expert and cannot be liable for the way anyone uses this information. Do your own research! Be prepared before jumping into this business, because publishing IS a business, although writing is an art.