Working on a “Bucket List”

Seattle, Washington - © Tommie Lyn

Seattle, Washington – © Tommie Lyn

Last year, we ticked off one of hubby’s bucket list items: visit North Dakota. That left one item on his list: visit Alaska. And we took care of that last week. We embarked on a cruise ship in Seattle that was headed “north to Alaska.”

Ketchican, Alaska - © Tommie Lyn

Ketchikan, Alaska – © Tommie Lyn

Our first port was Ketchikan. And, as you can see by the accompanying photographs, I took my camera with me and had fun snapping lots of shots of the picturesque town and its surroundings.

Ketchican, Alaska - © Tommie Lyn

Ketchikan, Alaska – © Tommie Lyn

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Tracy Arm glacier - © Tommie Lyn

Tracy Arm glacier – © Tommie Lyn

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Then we ventured into fjord territory. The scenery in the Tracy Arm was gorgeous, and we saw an actual glacier. Breathtaking!

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At first, I was a little concerned about the ice in the water (Titanic, anyone?) but the chunks were fairly small.

Tracy Arm fjord - © Tommie Lyn

Tracy Arm fjord – © Tommie Lyn

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Juneau, Alaska - © Tommie Lyn

Juneau, Alaska – © Tommie Lyn

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Juneau was next on the itinerary, and it presented me with plenty of opportunities for taking pictures.

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Skagway, Alaska - © Tommie Lyn

Skagway, Alaska – © Tommie Lyn

And then, our last stop before heading south again was Skagway. Hubby told me of all the people on a quest for gold who came through Skagway on their way to the Yukon (he knows about those things, you see. Gold prospecting is his beloved hobby, and he’s read everything he could get his hands on, from historical data to all the how-to books.)

Whales feeding, Victoria, British Columbia - © Tommie Lyn

Whales feeding, Victoria, British Columbia – © Tommie Lyn

Victoria, British Columbia was our last port before returning to Seattle, and one spectacular (to us) event that we saw while we were docked was only partially visible. Several killer whales had corralled some food, probably fish, and were having a meal, complete with surfacing, splashing, and a show of fins. I belatedly decided to try to photograph it, but all I got was a dark shape which you can see in the water beyond the mast on a nearby ship. Oh well. You can pretend you see the whale…

What about you? Do you have a bucket list you’re working on?

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KEY: Knowledge Empowers You

Image copyright  Ivelin Radkov, via BigStockPhoto

Image copyright Ivelin Radkov, via BigStockPhoto

Are you old enough to remember Schoolhouse Rock?

I am. My kids watched it on Saturday mornings, and I watched it with them. Those animated segments taught math, English, (the “Conjunction Junction” song still gets stuck in my head sometimes, LOL), and other things, even the Preamble of the Constitution.

Recently, I asked people who’d watched Schoolhouse Rock back in the seventies if they learned anything from it, and everyone had (including me…I learned how a bill proceeds through Congress).

Which brings me to ask another question…if they were an effective teaching/learning tool, why were they discontinued? Especially in the light of dismal performance of our public schools today.

What about the schools in your area? Are the children learning? Or are they being indoctrinated and made to conform to standards set by people who don’t have their best interests at heart? Is it time parents insist that schools use curricula that give children a good foundation, that teach basic reading, writing, math, and history, rather than forcing a social or political agenda upon them?

Or are the children being dumbed down.

…about Adventures with Aesop: A Cat Fable.

Cute kittie

I have lots of writerly friends on Facebook. And Twitter. And most of them have pets.

At my age, it’s all I can do to take care of hubby and me, so we haven’t had a pet for a number of years. But when the sons were growing up, we had more than our share of cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, frogs, turtles, squirrels, and snakes.

Nowadays, I can admire cute puppies and kitties…from a distance…without suffering an inordinate desire to have one in my home. Others keep telling me how wonderful it would be if I’d just go ahead and get a pet. But…um…no. Been there, done that. I have other fish to fry these days.

But…one day, I don’t know what got into me, but I dreamed up a scenario of getting a cat, and I posted the scenario on Facebook, complete with photos. My friends and I got some chuckles from it, and some other friends suggested that I should make a video trailer of it.

So, without further ado, here’s “Adventures with Aesop: A Cat Fable”:

 

…about editing…again.

Image © Marc Garrido i Puig via stock.xchng

Monk is one of the few television shows I watch…still watch, even though it’s in rerun mode now. Part of the show’s charm is the quirkiness of the main character, Detective Adrian Monk, who has OCD. His disorder creates problems, but it helps him at times, too. And he has said of it, “It’s a blessing…and a curse.” I can think of other things the saying would apply to, but the one most recently on my mind is the ease with which authors can publish their works today.

No longer does an author have to spend months or years writing query letters or proposals and mailing packets to agents. And there’s no waiting for months while a manuscript is under consideration by a publisher. Or further long stretches of time while the manuscript is prepared for publication once it’s accepted.

No.

Today’s revolution in publishing makes it possible for an author to skip all that. He/she can format a manuscript, upload it to CreateSpace, Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes & Noble and, voilà! It’s available for sale.

It’s a blessing. And a curse.

Because now, too many authors are rushing to publish their works without due diligence in preparation. Making errors is a facet of being human…so, no matter how perfect an author believes his work to be, it needs editing, sometimes lots of editing, to make it ready to meet the world of readers.

And when I speak of editing, I’m not referring only to correcting typos or errors in grammar or punctuation. I’m not talking about finding accidentally omitted words or places where a character’s name magically changes from Steve to Roy. No, I’m talking about clunky phrasing that needs to be streamlined. Redundant words that need to be eliminated. Adverbs and adjectives that need to disappear. Clichés which need to be replaced with fresh imagery. Faulty story logic that needs to be straightened out. And revising behavior and dialogue that isn’t true-to-character (would that particular character say what he’s saying in chapter four? And do all the characters sound alike when they speak?)

Some have pointed out that they’ve read traditionally published books which have errors. So have I. But that doesn’t justify a sloppily prepared and published manuscript from a do-it-yourselfer. If anything, a book from a self-published author should be even more error-free than a traditional one, because the author doesn’t have to rely on employees at a publishing house to catch and correct any problems. He cares about his story, and he has the opportunity (and responsibility) to ensure his work is as good as he can make it.

And if he later finds a mistake he overlooked initially, he can and should correct it. I spent four years editing, rewriting, polishing, and re-editing my first novel, High on a Mountain. And guess what? After it was published, I found a couple of errors, which I corrected. I wouldn’t want errors to ruin the reading experience for anyone.

My point in saying all this is not to criticize my fellow self-published authors. It’s to encourage us all to take the time to make our work the best on the market. Bar none. (Hey, is that an idiom? Or a cliché? Oh, well…)

Image © Marc Garrido i Puig via stock.xchng

…about How the Scots Invented the Modern World.

I don’t usually like to write book reviews. They are subjective, a matter of opinion. And who’s to say my opinion should carry more weight than someone else’s? Nevertheless, I decided to write a review.

And I didn’t choose a book hot off the press. No. I broke with the usual practice of writing about a brand new book and chose one that was copyrighted in 2001… How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman.

I read this book (along with many, many others) when I was doing research to learn all I could about Scotland prior to and during the writing of High on a Mountain. I learned something from each of the books I read, but this particular book made an enduring impact on me.

Why? Because the information in this book was astounding. The subtitle may give you a notion as to why it astounded me: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. Wow! Quite a statement, that. But…it’s a true statement.

As Herman points out throughout the book, Scots made changes in ways of thinking and doing that profoundly influenced and affected the development of Western Civilization in modern times. From such mundane inventions as air-filled tires (invented by a Scot named Dunlop) to paved roads (developed by a Scot named MacAdam…did you ever think about where the word “tarmac” came from?) to high-flown ideas like self-government (George Buchanan asserted that political power should reside in the people, not the government), Scots were the inventors of the new, the modern way of doing/thinking.

Herman’s writing style is engrossing, and even when discussing what could be dry subjects, he makes topics interesting. I highly recommend this book.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Scots-Invented-Modern-World/dp/0609809997/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330381537&sr=1-1

…about things Mama taught me.

When I was growing up, my family was of modest means. In my hometown, most people fit into one of two categories: well-off or poor. The well-off owned businesses or were in upper management at the cotton mill or a spread house or carpet factory. Those who were poor were laborers in those establishments…the working poor.

And then there were others who didn’t even have one of those low-paying jobs. They were the very, very poor.

The knowledge of this wide social divide was impressed upon me when I was in elementary school. A group of well-to-do girls decided, for some reason, that I had suddenly become acceptable, and they would allow me to be part of their group. Even though my clothes were homemade. Even though I had none of the amazing possessions they sported.

One day at recess, when the group gathered on the playground, a girl, who was obviously, heart-breakingly poor, caught their attention. She was dirty, her hair uncombed, her clothes raggedy. And she played all alone.

The well-off girls pointed at her and made fun of her. What they were doing made me uncomfortable, so I backed away and stood at the fringe of the group, not sure what, if anything I could do.

That night, I told Mama about it. She stopped what she was doing and faced me, with fire dancing in her blue eyes. She said, “Don’t just play with those who have nice clothes and already have lots of friends. Tomorrow, you go and be nice to that girl. You play with her. When someone doesn’t have a friend, you be their friend.”

And so I did.

What Mama said sunk deep, set my attitudes and has guided a lot of my decision-making through the years. And, I’m beginning to realize, it has influenced my writing.

I don’t usually write about the rich, the powerful. And in several of my novels, the main character, like Ailean MacLachlainn of High on a Mountain, is poor and has a hard life. Most of my characters are ordinary folks who face tough situations.

But though downtrodden, they are not beaten. They face their circumstances with courage and determination.

Take, for instance, Fallon McKniere, of On Berryhill Road. Fallon endured heartbreak when she was six. Her father died, and it was thought that he committed suicide because he’d embezzled money from the Navy. When she couldn’t take the ridicule, couldn’t take being ostracized any longer, she dropped out of school.

She works in a convenience store and has little hope of ever doing better. She makes so little money that she often goes hungry. But she has courage, a strong moral ethic and does her best to take care of herself and her mentally-unbalanced mother. And though she has been treated unkindly, she responds to others with kindness.

Fallon is someone I admire, someone I’d be honored to have as a friend. Like the little girl Mama told me to befriend so many years ago.

Image © Talis via bigstockphoto.com

…about making books free.

Amazon.com recently started a new service (I call it a service, because that’s what it is proving to be for me). They’re offering a lending library for Amazon Prime Members who own Kindles.

I’m not a Prime Member (but I’m considering it now), so you might wonder how the lending library is of service to me.

Here’s how. If I opt to put a book into the lending library, Amazon provides the use of a special promotional tool: I can make a book free for a limited time. Making a book free is a fantastic way for an unknown author to become known…at least, to become known to those who download his/her free book.

I already knew, due to an experience with “free” in August, when I made Tugger’s Down free, that this was a powerful promotional tool. So, in the middle of December, I made the first book in my historical series, High on a Mountain, free on Kindle. And while the effect was not as dramatic as it had been for Tugger’s Down [because High on a Mountain is: 1) in a less popular genre; 2) it had a LOT of competition from other books being made free], it was a beneficial means of promotion.

And so, I made the decision to offer yet another book free…On Berryhill Road. It went free yesterday, the 25th, and I’m very pleased with the results thus far. If you own a Kindle or you have the Kindle for PC app, or a Kindle app on another device, you can download On Berryhill Road today through Thursday. It will be free for a limited time, so don’t miss out!

P.S. Don’t you think the snazzy new cover created for On Berryhill Road by Connie at Word Slinger Boutique is…well, snazzy?