On the (Twenty)-Seventh Day of Christmas…

#amwriting #amediting #blogging

Hope everybody’s gotten a good start on the New Year. I was a little surprised to get my year-end stats and realize I hadn’t posted anything but a few short quotes since Thanksgiving. (Re-blogging others’ work doesn’t really count.) So I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain what I’ve been up to.

On the writing front, I finished the final edit of my first manuscript, LET THE CANYONS WEEP, based on a “revise and resubmit” request from an editor at a small press. (I resubmitted, but haven’t had any news yet – still got the fingers crossed.) I also had to admit that my query letter just wasn’t working, so started from scratch. The process of writing a query letter is completely and utterly different from writing the novel – it takes a long time time and a totally different set of brain cells to distill 100,000 words down to three paragraphs. Now that it’s done, I really like the finished product and have begun sending it out. We’ll see what happens…

Then I got my second manuscript, THE WOODSMAN’S ROSE, back from my critique partners – there were some problems with story flow, so I’m still working on a few new scenes, but most of the other edits are done. And I’ve been preparing my third work, RAINBOW MAN, for my critique partners – still got quite a bit of editing to do on that.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve completed two new chapters of my latest novel, THE WINDS OF MORNING.

Sounds like I might have had my hands full, but this year I also decided to invite my family for Thanksgiving. Never done it before – always just had to bring a covered dish or dessert to someone else’s house, usually my mother’s, MIL’s, or brother’s. But I’ve got to say I really enjoyed it. I like to cook (on occasion) and I love to bake, so it was a really great experience!

As if that weren’t enough, my family makes a REALLY BIG DEAL of Christmas. That means the house gets decorated to the hilt – even the shower curtains get changed. Special Christmas dishes come out of storage, candy canes and snowmen rim the lawn, wreaths are put on every door, inside and out. Reindeer, snowmen, Santas, music boxes, cookie jars – oh, and trains, I love the trains! When I’m finished, the house almost looks like an old-fashioned “shoppe”! Glance in any direction, in any room, and you’ll see something of Christmas.

For much too long, my husband and I lived in a small 4-room apartment that had no room for a tree, so our Christmas tree went on the enclosed but unheated porch downstairs, which meant I only saw it twice after it was decorated: on Christmas morning and at our holiday open house. One year I found a cute little tree that I could decorate and hang on the wall, so at least I had the feeling of a Christmas tree upstairs. Two years ago, my brother gifted me two artificial trees (one full size, one 4′) and my sister gave me a table-top tree.

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The Wall Tree

At that time, we moved into a 10-room home, and decorating has taken on a scope it’s never had before. This year, I decided to use all the trees at my disposal, plus the live tree for the living room. Tiny tree went in the guest room, wall tree to master bedroom; full size tree to my office, 4′ tree to the TV room downstairs. And believe it or not, I had already accumulated enough ornaments for all of them!

Crazy, you say? Maybe a little bit. But living for 16 years without a Christmas tree in the house leaves its scars. And this year, a whole lot of healing took place!

Fortunately for me, the artificial trees can go out to the new shed with the lights still on them, though the decorations have been removed. Otherwise, it might just have taken me until Easter to get everything put away.

I’m at the end of the process now, holiday dishes and cookie jars about the only things that haven’t been put away. Which means that soon, I be getting back into my “normal” rhythm, and be posting a few times a week.

And next year, I’ll be sure to let everyone know there will be down-time between Thanksgiving and the middle of January. Hope you don’t miss me too much!

The Liebster Award

I got a big surprise a little while ago, when my blog was nominated for the Liebster Award by Vagabond Velda. I’m really thrilled that she considered my blog.

The Liebster Award is community-based, and qualifying blogs must have fewer than 300 followers. It’s a great way to discover new blogs and bring them to the attention of your readership and the Blogosphere.

Once nominated, you answer 11 questions about yourself or your blog, then give 11 random facts about yourself. The next step is to nominate 11 more qualifying bloggers for the award and create 11 questions for them to answer. Then you must visit each blog you’ve nominated and inform him/her about the award.

So here are the 11 questions from Vagabon Velda, along with my answers:

1.    What is the best time of day for you? Probably around 4 PM. I’m fully awake by then and have gotten all my chores out the way.

2.    Of everything on this planet what drives you bonkers? Cruelty. And willful stupidity: take climate change, for example. So many say “I’m not a scientist … “, yet refuse to listen to what the scientists have to say.

3.    What is your favorite pastime? Aside from writing, singing

4.    Are you living your dream, what is it? My dream is writing (so yes) and getting published (not yet)

5.    Make a list of inspirational moments? I think my biggest inspiration was my maternal grandfather. He was stricken with emphysema in his 40s, spent the last 20 years of his life confined to bed, but seldom complained and never stopped learning.

6.    What is your favorite color? Aubergine (deep plum purple, aka eggplant). Not only love the color but the name of it as well.

7.    Are you city, country or a suburb type of person? I’m a country girl at heart, but the seashore calls as well.

8.    Indoors or Outdoors? Outdoors, though with my Irish heritage, I have to be very careful about the sun.

9.    If you were an animal what would you be and why? A big cat: tiger/leopard/jaguar. I just love their playfulness and that big purrrrrrrrr …

10.    Tell me one thing that you love about yourself? Honesty.

11.    Why do you blog?  Two reasons: to bring to light some of the world’s forgotten history and music, and to introduce people to the manuscripts I’m writing.

Moving on to 11 Random facts about me:

1.      I often get correspondence addressed to “Mr.” MacShane, or even “Mr. Gifford”.

2.      I have fibromyalgia (and it’s a real bitch! Don’t believe everything they say about the drugs.)

3.      I have a fish tank full of Fancy Guppies.

4.      My husband is the Pied Piper of stray cats, and at any given time, we’ll have up to a dozen rescues and fosters. I named one of my cats Potiphar.

5.      I started my creative writing journey in 4th grade by writing stories about TV characters.

6.      I’ve been a New York Yankees fan since I was 6 years old, know some pretty obscure baseball rules, but can’t name more than a handful of active players who aren’t Yankees.

7.      I like poetry and the Oxford comma.

8.      I won’t eat mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, onions, or anything spicy.  I didn’t eat a pizza until I was 24 years old. (And yes, I was born in America.)

9.      I grow my own tomatoes organically.

10.    I dream often and in vivid technicolor.

11.    It angers me when people who profess to be Christian say they don’t want their tax money to pay for programs for the disadvantaged.

And these are the people I’m nominating, each of whom has inspired me in one way or another:

1.   Humanity’s darker side

2.   Jennifer Faulkner

3.   Clover America

4.   Embracing Romance

5.   From Kathleen’s Desk

6.   Jaded Pages

7.   Smart Mouth

8.   The Well-Thumbed Paperback

9.    Annette Bennet Watercolor Art

10.   Simply Silent

11.   The White Haired Shooter

Finally, the eleven questions for my nominees to answer:

1.  Are you a dog-, cat-, or fish-person?

2.  What’s the weirdest name you ever gave a pet?

3.  If you could live anywhere on earth, where would it be?

4.  Which season do you like best and why?

5.  Do you prefer shoes, boots, or walking barefoot?

6.  What’s the most romantic thing you ever did for someone or they ever did for you?

7.  What’s your favorite book?

8.  If you had to give up one food that you really like, which one would it be?

9.   What currently-living person do you admire most and why?

10.  Can you sum up your character in three words or less?

11.  And just for fun: The New York Yankees were the first pro sports team to assign PERMANENT numbers to its team members‘ jerseys. How many retired numbers do the New York Yankees as of today? (Note: it will probably change before the end of the year!)

Best wishes to all of you!

Blogging 101 & what’s it’s done for me …

Being new to the Blogosphere and not making too much progress on my own in terms of readers and comments garnered with each post, I decided to take Blogging 101, a free class offered by WordPress. I needed to discover what I was doing wrong, and how to do it right. Or if I was doing it right, how to do it BETTER. Here’s what I learned:

1.) A blog is like a book. I put my blog out there on a virtual shelf like it was a book I had published. And then I waited for readers to come and pick it up. I had subscribed to a few other blogs, but I hadn’t really joined in on the community.

Wait a minute! I wouldn’t have put my book out there without any support — why was I trying to do that with my blog? Who will know it’s there without at least a little bit of prompting from me? Community — that’s the ticket! And though I’m still a bit behind the curve in that respect, I now have the tools I need to catch up (whenever I complete my initial round of queries and the last round of edit on my second manuscript).

2.) Tags and categories. They’re both important, but they’re not the same thing: categories are broad and tags are more specific. And the WordPress system will ignore any post with more than 14 tags and categories combined.

Who knew? I had one only post with the “over 14” offense, but most of the other posts were suffering from cross-contamination in the category/tag fields. Time to clean it up!

3.) Widgets are wonderful! I didn’t even know they were called widgets, but I’d seen them on other bloggers’ pages and I knew I needed some.

I learned how to get them as well as how to make them work for me.

4.) I’m not sure this was covered per se, but in reading the creative ways people were coming up with titles for their blogs, I realized that the titles for my posts were pretty “blah”.

I published a new post on St Patrick’s Day (if you’ve been following, you know I’m part Irish). I was going to call it something like “St Patrick’s Legacy”. Blah, blah, blah. What I actually published was “St Patrick and the Slave Trade”, and the new title not only more directly described the post, but it garnered me more views than I ever had before.

I’m going to try to come up with some new titles for my previously published posts (and if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!)

5.) Restricting myself wasn’t working. More than one task on Blogging 101 recommends expanding the focus of your blog.

“But how?” was my first reaction. I’m blogging about a book, and a bit about the research I’ve done to create that book. I don’t want to talk about my sewing projects, arts and crafts, or how I trained my pig of a cat to wait for his sister to finish her dinner before he scarfed down the left-overs.

I want to talk about my books.

So I did some really serious thinking and decided to keep on posting about things I found during my research. Maybe to add a sample of my writing here and there. But that was really all I came up with.

Then I was cutting a scene from the manuscript I’m editing. It was a Welsh legend about Olwen, daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden, and Culwych, the cousin of King Arthur. It’s considered one of the earliest recorded Arthurian tales. As I cut it from the manuscript, I thought, “Why don’t you put that on your blog?”

So I says to meself: What else is in my books that I can use? Well, there’s a lot more Celtic lore, along with many rarely-heard traditional Irish songs, and other Irish songs that were adapted to America like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Plus, there’s 19th century poetry; cowboy songs from the American West; Native American lore; herbology; etc., etc., etc. All included or referenced in my manuscripts.

By the time I had finished the list of inclusions, I’d come up with 10 additional subjects that I could write about — and all of them are related to my Donovan family saga! I can create new pages for some, find new examples of others — and all of a sudden I’m so excited about the blog that I now have to convince myself every day that writing the books comes first!

6.) Last but not least, I realized that I absolutely love photography blogs!

All of this from Blogging 101. So if you’re on WordPress and stuck on your blog in any way, shape or form, or even if you just want to make your successful blog better, let me HIGHLY recommend this course — tons of good info and bright ideas!

Slainte!

BTW, you can expect to see the legend of Culwych & Olwen some time next week. There’s this little matter of reformatting the blog that needs to come first.