"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In the Silence: One Author's Venture into the Universe of Self-Publishing

Image property of Efi Loo Publishing

After publishing my last post on June 26, (click here), where we explored what I learned by taking a blogcation, I had an epiphany.  I needed to take my own advice!  So, I made a conscious decision to become silent . . . online that is.

They say silence is golden.  In my opinion, whoever “they” are failed to mention that the golden part comes with a price.  A three-step price.  Step one; a splash of self-determination, step two; a smidgen of self-doubt, and step three; a dousing of frustration.  But, in the end, every price has its payday.

Let’s explore:

For some of you, venturing into the universe of self-publishing is nothing new.  Perhaps, you entered it many moons ago and have been flourishing in its frontier of possibilities ever since.  However, for others, perhaps like me, you want to board the ship, but in a small way hope the engines never fire up for fear of them exploding before you ever leave the ground. 

In May, I wrote a short story for my Nephew’s second birthday titled, Shells For Hunter.  Being my first venture into self-publishing, I felt the story was the perfect size to use as my “test” subject, and besides, it is a darling little story.  

Having a completed story, I set off to self-publish my first book!  How hard could it be?  I had written the story in four days, what, with another four days of re-writing, a little self-editing, create an Amazon account, download my cover art and story, and boom, my book would be up and published in no time, ready to be read to children all over the world!


Enter step one: A splash of self-determination.  After spending two weeks making sure every adjective, sentence, and punctuation was the best I could make it, Shells For Hunter was ready to rock and roll!  

Enter step two: A smidgen of self-doubt. Wait, if Shells For Hunter were being published by another publisher, wouldn’t they send it through their editorial department to be proofed by a highly trained and skilled professional?  After reading through the draft for the umpteenth time, perhaps I did have a misplaced comma here or a misused semi-colon there.  If I’m going to put my name on something, it is going to be done right!  

Thanks to my inner-connections of networking through the internet, I had recently befriended a wonderful editor in Australia, Dionne Lister.  She had recently edited a book I find to be an absolutely hilarious take on becoming a writer, (The Squirrel That Dreamt of Madness), and so we agreed to do business together.  I am so thankful for Dionne’s services.  She was quick to respond, always willing to address questions and even met with me face to face via Skype!  Glad we did, she has a really cool accent!  

Finally, after having Shells For Hunter professionally edited, it was time to really get things rocking and rolling!

Enter step three: A dousing of frustration.  I spent many years in the corporate world transitioning from typing on an IBM select typewriter to whizzing my fingers across the keyboard of a word-processor and beyond and from creating ad-hoc reports to creating Excel spreadsheets, so I’m no stranger to technology.  I knew about converting my manuscript into an EPub file before downloading to Amazon.  No big deal, piece of cake.  

For the love of Pete!  

After spending another month researching and learning to reformat my manuscript, (you see, I work on a Mac), I knew the rocking had to be over and it was time to start rolling.
Double Screech! 

Lucky for me, I have a business partner that is a highly trained professional, my husband!  In comes one last step to the silence is golden price....oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Needless to say, Shells For Hunter was finally ready to rock and roll and no matter its future, I’m glad those engines fired up and propelled me into the universe of self-publishing.  

My advice?  If you are toying with the idea of venturing into the self-publishing world, go for it!  But, be prepared to pay the price and, hopefully, you have people or business acquaintances that will be there to assist you in your journey. 

What lesson did I learn?  That silence is golden and its path is worth the price.      

Would I do it again?  Only the future will tell.  

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Blog That Time Did Not Forget: Three tips from a writer's blogcation

I liken living in the 21st century to a young child born in the 19th century who saw an incandescent lamp light their room for the first time and who lived long enough into the 20th century to watch on a black and white television an astronaut take one small step for man kind.
The only difference is now we don’t have to live to a ripe old age to watch the advancement of technology for it changes overnight, literally.  
For many of my devoted followers, thank you by the way, you may have noticed I have not posted many blogs articles over the past three months.  If you are reading this today, I would again like to thank you for your loyalty, but please be assured it was not due to slacking off.  I would like to think of my absence as more of conducting an experiment in time travel.  
Let’s explore:
My last two articles posted were devoted to time and space in fictional writing.  If you missed them or would like to discover them for the first time, (click here for Part I and click here for Part II).   
In them, we explored techniques that can be used to help transport your readers through time.  Afterall, writing is one of the unique forms of art in which all five senses can be used to achieve this!  
During that time, I began to have flashbacks to when I first started writing.  A time when I unequivocally knew that one day I was going to become a published author!  So, I decided to take a blogcation.  
What did I discover during my time off?  That I did become a published author and if I ever had high hopes of doing it again then some things needed to change.   
Listed below are the top three major tips I discovered during my blogcation that I hope will help you too if you are at a point in your writing career where you may be wondering, “What am I doing wrong?”
By taking time to sit, in silence, and free write reasons why you ever wanted to become a writer helps to awaken dreams that have long ago been tucked away deep within your inner thoughts.
For example, here are four of the numerous phrases that seemed to magically appear on my notepad, but once I saw them, I remembered.
To make a difference   
To bring wonder to a child!
To inspire...
Life long...dream
So go ahead, grab a notepad and pen and find a cozy quite spot to sit and ponder and then be ready to rediscover the writer inside you that’s still full of dreams and imagination just waiting to come alive!  (Oh, and one important note, if you have a furry pawed ghostwriter like Efi Loo, don’t forget to include them too!)
Prior to becoming a writer, I owned and operated my own interior design business where I not only helped my clients create the home of their dreams through design and color, but also through the art of feng shui.  
What is feng shui?  Feng shui, (pronounced fung shway; fung, meaning wind, and shway, meaning water), is an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China where the principle of five elements in shapes; water, wood, fire, metal and earth are used to bring harmony to a space through the use of color and the placement of objects.
What does this all have to do with being a writer?  Everything!  Taking a blogcation helped me realize I could use the help of an interior designer to come in and help revitalize my work space.  Then it hit me, I am a trained interior designer and I wasn’t living up to the advice people once paid me for!  
Clutter is one of the biggest no-no’s in feng shui, because it prevents positive energy, (chi), from flowing freely through a room.  But wait you say, all writers know that clutter is our best friend because having all that paper strewn about our desk is a sign of progress, right?   
Wrong, think again.  Clutter is nothing more than a sign of a bogged down mind which can prevent you from moving forward in a positive way.  
If you have been feeling heavy minded lately and can’t seem to get your creative juices flowing, look around at your work space with feng shui eyes and you just might be surprised at the amount of “progress” you have piling up in front of you!  
Take time to clear your workspace by creating folders for unfinished manuscripts and scribbled story ideas on crumpled up napkins and coffee stained work in progress’ you’ve been editing for months.  

Then while you’re still motivated by the uplifting feeling, organize a closet or clean out a junk drawer and then get ready, because your inner writer will have come alive and nothing will stop it from wanting to write!
As with any structure, the foundation is its strength and the stronger its foundation the taller it can rise.  
One of the main lessons any coach can teach their players when they fall into a slump is to go back to the basics.  The same lesson can be applied to any writer.  
Often times, we find ourselves so caught up in our own works of art that we tend to forget we had a starting point.  Then when our flame begins to flicker and burn low we feel lost and confused and don’t know how to start over again.  
Whether you started fresh out of college or spent many years pursuing your dreams of one day becoming a published author, you had a beginning, and it’s important as time speeds by into the unknown future that you take time to revisit your past and those lessons learned that helped to build your foundation as a writer.  It can renew and revitalize old forgotten lessons that once propelled you forward.  
To quote Albert Einstein, “‘Time is relative,’” and as I stated in the beginning, now we don’t have to live to a ripe old age to watch the advancement of technology for it changes overnight, literally.  
I should know, for as the cliche goes, proof is in the pudding.  During my three month blogcation, Facebook came out with a new look, as did Blogger and Twitter, and once again I had to learn new skills to catch up to the 21st century.  
Only this time I realized there was one thing that remained solid over time, my foundation, and I’m glad I took time to revisit my past and add another brick from my memory as to why I wanted to become a published author.
How about you, do you remember why you became a writer?
Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

From Seconds to Eternity: Time and Space in Fictional Writing - Part II

“For us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” - Albert Einstein

In Part One, we explored two methods used for capturing time and space in fictional writing.  In short, we discovered summary deals with a long period of time in a short distance and scene is key to readers experiencing the elements of your character’s lives through the five senses.

Originally, in Part II we were going to discover two more methods for transporting readers through time; however, due to the length needed for each method I felt it necessary to break each one out into its own post.  After all, time is crucial to any writer.

The third method used in fictional writing time travel is flashback.  Although a successful technique used in film, if used appropriately and sparingly, it too can be just as magical and powerful in fictional writing.

Let’s explore:

When used properly, flashback can be more effective in transporting a reader into the past than film or stage can an audience.  How?  Because writing encompasses all the five senses, not just sight and sound, thus allowing a reader’s mind to live the experience as if they too were traveling back in time.  However, when used improperly flashback can be intrusive or even down right annoying to the reader.
So when and how should a flashback be used to strengthen a story?  Here are four quick questions to keep in mind when you feel a flashback is necessary:
  1. Could I obtain the same result using dialogue?
  2. Would a brief summary fill in the missing information?
  3. Is there a reference that could be made instead?
  4. What about using a certain detail to reveal the information?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then a flashback may not necessarily be your best option.  But, if the answer is no, then ask yourself if using a flashback would contribute to the revelation of character and theme.  If yes, it’s clear a flashback would be an effective method in revealing information at the right time.

It’s important to keep in mind when using flashback to provide some kind of transition.  A connection between the present and what happened in the past will often not only transport the character into the past, but the reader as well.
Listed below are some helpful do’s and don’ts when using flashback.
Don’t use straight out transitions such as, “Larry thought back to when” or “My mind drifted back to when I was little.”  It’s always best to assume the reader is intelligent enough to follow a leap back in time.    
When writing in the past tense, do begin the flashback in the past perfect and use the construction “had” several times.  Then by switching to the simple past; the reader will be with your character in the past!  If writing in the present tense, it's best to keep the flashback in the past.
Don’t have a flashback within a flashback.  Way too confusing to any reader and it may be a good sign you are attempting to use flashback to carry too much of your story.
Do be clear when ending the flashback and catching up to the present.  A technique good for making the smooth transition is to use either an image, a sound, a smell or an action that the reader will remember from the time period the character is now living in.   
In Part III, we will explore our last method for transporting our readers through time, slow motion.
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Seconds to Eternity: Time and Space in Fictional Writing - Part 1

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.”  -Albert Einstein 
Literature, in its own right, is tied to time like no other art form I know of.  For example, a photograph or a painting is an image of a moment in time and last only as long as it takes to look at it.  Same could be said about music.  A song lasting 2.5 minutes represents the 2.5 minutes it takes to listen to it.  
A book takes time to read as well; however, the reader can be transported through time whether they spend five minutes reading or several hours.  For example, it’s possible to write a story that takes thirty minutes to read and covers thirty minutes of action or the time covered could be stretched out over a lifetime.  There are no requirements when it comes to fictional writing.  
As a writer, the possibilities to capture time and space in a story are infinite; but just like a scientist developing a time machine, there are methods to the madness and I’m not talking about something as complex as a flux capacitor! 
Let’s explore:
Summary and Scene
Summary covers a relatively long period of time in a short amount of distance.  It’s a useful method to help reveal information, explain a character’s background, change the pace or to advance forward or backwards in time.
Scene is to fiction what the five senses are to living.  In other words, they allow your readers to experience the elements of your characters’ lives through sight, sound, scent, taste and touch.

It’s possible to write a short story in a single scene, without any summary at all, but it’s not possible to write a successful story completely in summary.  By summarizing events rather than having them realized as moments of time in your character’s life, you disconnect the reader from putting themselves in your character’s shoes.  
To put it simply, summary allows you to speed up time in your story and fill in the gap of missing information, scene allows you to slow the pace and fill in the gap of missing details; smells, colors, sensations...etc., you get the picture.  

Eventually, a story requires a trigger or a crisis to occur that is crucial to a turning point in your protagonist’s life and cannot be summarized, therefore, all stories require scenes.   

One simple formula I use to help keep on track to bring balance between summary and scene is the following:
Scene elements Summary elements
Goal                Emotion
Conflict             Thought
Disaster            Decision

Basically, in a scene, a character has a goal (maybe to fix a cup of coffee, thus allowing smell and taste to be interjected) then a conflict arises (they knock the mug over, spilling hot coffee on their lap, in could come sight and touch) and next a disaster (the phone rings, Aunt Ruby just died, time for sound).  
Moving from scene to summary will now allow the pace to quicken.  The character reacts to the news (they remember when growing up they were the only one Aunt Ruby never sent a birthday or Christmas present to (a long period of time in a short distance)) then they think about what just happened (Aunt Ruby became filthy rich when her husband died) now they make a decision (they will go to the funeral and put on a show of sorrow) then the character takes action based upon their decision (they take their best suit to the cleaners).  
So as we can see, by using the method of summary and scene we are able to transport our readers through time in a matter of a few sentences or several pages.
In Part II, we will explore two more methods for transporting our readers through time; flashback and slow motion.
Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Showing is Believing: Grasp the Principle of Filtering and Never Tell Again

All writers start out as beginners.  Whether they spent years in school or ventured out on their own in search of their dreams, there was an invisible start line etched across the beginning of their pathway to a writer’s life.
Like many beginning authors, I started out writing all my stories in first person (read my post hereand ended every line of dialogue with an attribution of either she said, he said or they cried! (read my post about it here)
Then there was the infamous challenge of overcoming the don’t tell ‘em, show ’em syndrome.  If you ever find yourself wondering how in the world can you show something to the reader without telling them, then you are not alone.    
For example: It’s easy to think if my character has walked into a room and sat in a chair by the window and looked out and saw her neighbor fall to the ground that the only way my readers are going to know they fell is if I write the scene like this:
{Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down.  She looked out the window and saw her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, standing in his front yard.  She noticed a strange look on his face and then she saw him clutch his chest and fall to his knees.}

In writing fiction, you will often times be writing through some observing consciousness and when you ask the reader to observe the observer, you start to tell not show and inadvertently get in their line of sight.  
By removing the filters, you allow your readers to remain inside the character’s stream of consciousness.  
Let’s explore:
The filter is a common error and as a beginning writer, difficult to recognize.  Even experienced writers can still fall prey to the natural urge to tell not show syndrome, but once you grasp the principle of filtering it’s an exciting way to make your writing more vivid.  
Taking our example from above (I’ve highlighted the filters) and then removed them to “show” how our scene can be more vivid.  
With filters:
  {Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down.  She looked out the window and saw her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, standing in his front yard.  She noticed a strange look on his face and then she saw him clutch his chest and fall to his knees.}
Filters removed:
{Mary made her way to the chair by the window and graciously sat down. Across the street her neighbor, Mr. Pepper, was standing in his front yard with a strange look on his face. Suddenly, he clutched his chest and fell to his knees.}
Notice how in the revised version with the filters removed, it reads as though you are Mary observing the scene and not someone standing next to you telling you what she was seeing.  
So, the next time you are self-editing your story, make a mental note to watch for filters and experiment by removing them.  You just might be amazed how vivid your scene becomes!
How about you have you learned to spot filters (or perhaps you refer to them as something else)?  If so, I would love to have you share how it has improved your writing.
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Defeating Deadlines: How Flash Fiction Improved My Writing Skills

Time is running out and all you can concentrate on is the ticking of the clock.  The more you focus on the mesmerizing sound the harder it becomes for you to concentrate, and the less you concentrate, the only letters that come to mind to type on the keyboard are, D. E. F. E. A. T.  
Sound familiar?  Every author during some point in their writing journey succumbs to the inevitable dreadful deadline.  Sometimes it may be out of our control and other times it may be self inflicted.  No matter the reason, missing a deadline is one of the hardest things to accept, other than rejection, as a writer.  The only difference between the two is at least with a rejection you’ve tried; you made every effort in your control to imagine, create and write a work of art.  With defeat of a deadline, you continually say to yourself, “If only I hadn’t done this or that.” 
When I first started writing I found myself in awe of writers who could write a short story in say, a week, and then edit, revise, edit and revise some more and complete it in two weeks, maybe a month.  At the time, I never saw myself as one of those writers.
Years crept by and holding to my beliefs of one taking responsibility for their own improvements I studied, practiced, studied, practiced some more and then I began to network with authors whom seemed to have mastered the art of writing stories in a flash.  I’m not talking about just putting verbiage down on a screen, but actual stories that tell a tale, stories that are tight as they can be and stories that have been revised and edited all in one week!    
How is that possible?  Let explore:
In June of 2011, I discovered a whole new writing genre called, Flash Fiction.  Having never heard of it before I was very intrigued by the mere name of it and inquired with a new connection of mine, author Blaze McRob, and he took me under his writer wings and introduced me to an exciting fast paced world of talented writers. 
There are many flash fiction writer groups out there, but they all have one thing in common; write a short story usually in a thousand words or less, based upon a weekly theme and then post it on your blog.  Then the group reads and comments on each others stories.  In addition, there are many readers out there that enjoy reading flash fiction and discovering new authors!  
So, how has writing flash fiction improved my writing skills?  For starters, it has challenged me as a writer to jump right in and start a story smack dab in the middle of the action, for you don’t have much time to build up to it.  It has also taught me how to strengthen my word usage.  In other words, are my words specific, clear and simple and are my nouns and verbs strong?  For when you only have a thousand words or less, less is more.  Lastly, the encouragement and recognition I have received from fellow authors and readers of flash fiction has pumped up my self-confidence as if it were on steroids.  
If you’re looking for ways in the new year to challenge yourself as a writer, why not discover the world of flash fiction?  You’ll be amazed at how much you will improve in tightening scenes, making words count, eliminating clutter from your writing and, best of all, keep your creative juices flowing!
I’ve listed two sites that specialize in Flash Fiction:
Vamplit Publishing is for writers of horror, and I am honored to say, I am a contributing author to their Friday Flash Fiction.  They are open to new contributors and they and all their authors are encouraging and supportive of one another.
Friday Flash.org host many genre’s of flash fiction and occasionally hold contests.  A great place to meet new connections and grow as a flash fiction writer.  

The Cat Vamp Diaries: All Things Scary is my friday flash blog where I feature my flash stories and more.  Hope to see you around the flash fiction scene!
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What Fluffy Little Kittens Taught Me About Rejection

A new year has begun.  Twelve whole months of promise and hope just as if each one were a clean, crisp white page waiting to be filled with words that create a colorful new world!  
With hope there comes opportunity, and with opportunity, there comes the possibility of the one dreaded word in all writer’s vocabulary, rejection; the dismissing or refusing of a proposal or idea.  
As writer’s, we’ve all experienced the emotional elements associated with having our ideas and words dismissed or refused.  Although it’s been several years since my first rejection I can still remember as if it were yesterday when my heart and soul felt as though they had been gouged out with a frozen grapefruit spoon.  Was I hurt?  Yes.  Did I die?  No.  Did I give up writing?  Absolutely not, and neither should you!  That is why I want to share with you what fluffy little kittens have taught me about rejection.
Right about now you may be asking, “What does fluffy little kittens have to do with rejection?
Let’s explore:
Often times, you come across an article in a health magazine or listen to an expert being interviewed on t.v. about the importance of balance between work and play.  Some people refer to something outside of work as a hobby, I prefer to refer to it as a passion.  It doesn’t really matter which definition you choose, except for when you’re sitting across from your accountant, but what is important is that you have one.
If you’ve been writing for a while then you most likely know it can become very easy for a writer to isolate themselves inside the make believe worlds they create, particularly when writing is a passion, and sometimes forget about the little things in life that are important.  That is why having a passion outside your writing that you can get away to is very important for maintaining a healthy perspective.

Whether it be about writing or an outside cause, most writers I know are very passionate people and a lot of times it’s their outside passion that is the driving force behind what they write.  If you haven’t already discovered a passion outside your writing, dig deep down inside and remember why you became a writer in the first place.  You may find its been lying there dormant waiting for you to rediscover it.  
For the past twenty years a personal passion of mine has been rescuing and saving abandoned animals and in many cases reuniting lost ones to their beloved homes for a happy ending.  
In total, there have been 32 cats, kittens, dogs and puppies I have helped along in their journey through life.  Why?  The answer to that question is even a mystery to me.  The only thing I can equate it to is the same passion I have about writing.  It’s just something I have to do.  Some may describe it as a calling in life, just as certain people have a calling for missions work, teaching or serving.  How about you, what special passion do you have in life outside writing?
Perhaps this may explain why I never go seeking animals to rescue, they simply show up at my doorstep.  I often wonder if somewhere out there in the lonely world of lost and abandoned animals there is a make shift latrine with words scratched into a tree stump, “For a good home follow your nose to...”
My most recent rescue, and biggest one to date,  happened two days prior to this past Thanksgiving.  A mother kitty and seven adorable fluffy kittens showed up with nowhere to go.  Since I was the one in the family entertaining this year and had only two days left to prepare I had two options; (a) call the local county and have them pick them up and forget about it all or (b) drop everything and set up a makeshift shelter in my garage and still have two days left to prepare for Thanksgiving.  
One decision would have resulted in lack of sleep due to a heavy conscious on the heart and the other decision would have resulted in lack of sleep, putting writing on hold, using money saved for Christmas and a heavy burden on the heart if I couldn’t find them all homes and had to call the county anyway.
Which did I choose? I chose the one that had promise and hope.  The one which its future had not yet been written and then I chose my words carefully as I filled in the clean, crisp white pages and created a new colorful world for fluffy little kittens who only knew rejection, but always had faith in their eyes.  
Each and every morning I would rise early to tend to my own that I have rescued through the years and then would set out on my new daily ritual of carefully transferring  the kittens (with a hug or two) to a clean cage to eat while I cleaned and washed their carriers so I could start over again the next day.  Every hour on the hour I would tend to them again due to the small confined spaces they were in.  They never seemed to mind, they only seemed to care someone took the time. 
Then each and every day I would put calls out to every rescue organization in the area, but none could help, or were willing.  With time running out (I had a deadline for I was going away for Christmas) I placed an ad on an online source and since being a writer I decided why not create one that would touch the heart.  
The responses were overwhelming!  My email became full over night.  Now having rescued through the years, I knew enough not to just randomly pass out kittens.  I contacted and interviewed each person wanting to adopt and after two weeks of visiting and meeting the perspective new families, each and every fluffy little kitten, including Mom, had a new loving forever home!  And, for all my animal loving followers, be assured they were delivered spayed or neutered and properly vaccinated.
What did fluffy little kittens teach me about rejection?  That sometimes the easy road out is the hard way out.  That if you want to persevere and overcome you must take the road that has yet to be traveled, the one that is wide open with promise and hope, waiting to be filled with words that create a colorful world.  For behind every slammed door, there is one that’s heart is always open willing to believe.    
Maybe after all there isn’t  a make shift latrine with words scratched into a tree stump leading lost and abandoned animals to my doorstep.  Maybe they too have learned to choose the hard road out and travel the one filled with promise and hope.  
Happy New Year and may this be the year that you never give up.
Until next time,   

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author