Dec 23, 2021

Are You in Panic Mode Yet?



 It's two days until Christmas. You have someone to buy for. Maybe you forgot. Maybe that person is difficult to buy for. Maybe you feel like the trite gift card is just too...trite for this person. You're desperate.

How about a book?

No, it probably won't arrive before Christmas, but you could present the description and cover art, creating anticipation for that 'something nice' that will arrive later, when things have calmed down a little.

Each book is a personal choice, but there are so many to choose from, so many great hours of enjoyment to come.

And if it happens to be one of mine, well, you'll make another person happy. Bonus!

Find all my books (and Maggie's too) 

https://www.amazon.com/Peg-Herring/e/B002JK5FKY

https://books2read.com/pegherring/


Dec 10, 2021

Book Clubs Take Note: Discussion Guide: Sister Saint, Sister Sinner

Book Club Clip Art  

When I sent Sister Saint, Sister Sinner to my editor, she was (as usual) helpful about pointing out areas that needed more development, parts that repeated information already given, and places where the logic  temporarily failed. At the end, she made a comment that stuck with me: "People are going to be talking about the things you deal with in this book."

To me, that meant the story was destined for book clubs. Having visited a few in my years of writing, I knew that they often begin with a list of discussion topics. Now, they often don't stay focused on them, and that's okay. Sometimes it's the wine. Sometimes it's a natural progression. But discussion leaders like having questions that can get the conversation back on track when it strays too far from the story.

Every person who reads a book gets something out of it that no one else does. I had the experience once of visiting a book group where one reader didn't like the book and kept bringing up her objections, much to the dismay of the discussion leader. I remained polite when she asked why I did this and didn't do that with the plot. The leader kept moving on to someone else's comments. It wasn't my most pleasant experience, but I recognize that readers will never agree completely on the quality of a book. Authors have to get used to it.

In anticipation of book club interest, I'm posting 20 discussion questions here. You might not want to read them until you've finished the book, since there are spoilers. Mostly they serve to start discussion of a character, a plot point, or a theme. Here are examples from the list:

1.     1.  At the beginning of the story, the sisters have been living separate lives. Now that you’ve finished the book, do you see any significance to their distance from each other?

1.    14.  The relationship between Kim and Drew seems like it was meant to be. What factors in Drew’s makeup contribute to Kim’s attraction to him? 

1 1818. Olin Dobbs becomes for Nettie the son she might have had. Do you believe her support of Olin is a form of redemption for her?


Buy it HERE




Nov 28, 2021

It's Getting Close!


 


You might think "Christmas!" when you read that headline, but for me it's the release of SISTER SAINT, SISTER SINNER on December 15th.

The launch of a new book is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I dread some mistake that I and the many editors and beta readers missed. I drive myself crazy trying to come up with exactly the right categories and keywords to make Amazon and all the other search engines offer up my book when people go looking for something new to read. I'm excited to see what readers think. I'm afraid of what readers might think.

It's complicated.

"So what is this book?" you might ask (Oh, please ask.)

It's not a mystery per se, though it has a murder that eventually is solved. It's more a family drama that spills onto the larger, national scene. But it's not one of those "Aren't these women sweet?" books. These women take matters into their own hands. For better or for worse, they're proactive. And if you have sisters, you'll recognize that the actions of one sister don't always sit well with the actions of another.

Here's a boiled-down version of an advance review from Readers' Favorites:   "Sister Saint, Sister Sinner by Peg Herring was a captivating novel…brilliant plot and unpredictable storyline… fantastic page-turner through stylish writing and flawless character development… a masterpiece."

Aw, shucks... 

Anyway, it's up for pre-order at Amazon and most everywhere. Here's the link:

https://books2read.com/u/bwaGPY

Nov 16, 2021

Something Stinks

 


Last week, Amazon decided that I'm not the author of one of my books.

My first reaction was to make a joke about it on Facebook. Then I sent Amazon a happy little note assuring them that Maggie Pill and Peg Herring are one and the same person.

I got the identical email a second time.

In the meantime, my FB friends made suggestions, some facetious, some not. A lawyer friend said to get a DBA (Doing Business As) for Maggie Pill and send them a copy. That would be a great idea if I weren't in Florida. I called the county clerk for my home in Michigan, and they won't accept an application that isn't signed by a Michigan notary public. 

Another author said she'd had the same problem. She'd sent Amazon an email from her pen name's email address, saying that she had the right to make changes on the book. I did that, also sending a copy of said email in reply to theirs, so they had one from "Maggie"  and a copy of it from Peg.

No dice. This time, I did get a list of things I might be doing wrong. Perusing the list, I learned that the message had to be signed by hand by both parties.

Okay. Print the message, sign Maggie's name and my own, scan it, send it.

Got the same generic email back.

Angry now, I sent a message listing all the things I'd done and asking for a specific reason why ONE of Maggie Pill's eleven books had been singled out as a forgery. The sales are still getting credited to me. It's still listed as part of the Sleuth Sisters Mystery series. I ended with "and SHE IS ME."

This morning I got a message saying that I can now resubmit the book for publication, after making sure my metadata is correct.

Since I have no idea what was wrong in the first place, I'm a little lost, but I did it. I played it safe, leaving blank any line that isn't compulsory. 

In 72 hours, I'll know if it worked.

I don't really blame Amazon or anyone who works there. This is the way the systems we have in place work, and they're designed that way because people don't read instructions. The first thing I did was wrong, because near the bottom of the original email, they said they wouldn't just take my word for it that I'm Maggie Pill. 

Still, it's hard to correct something when you're not sure what the issue is. What has changed since the book was published back in 2018? 

We've all been led through looping instructions that take us back to the beginning, no wiser than we were when we started. Somewhere in the system there's an algorithm that says, "Okay" and moves you forward, but good luck finding it. A human being might have been able to see that Maggie's books are listed on my bookshelf and always have been, but I doubt that humans are involved in the initial stages. To be fair, the big entities we deal with daily are inundated with people who don't read, don't understand, and don't follow directions. Companies insulate their human beings from the frustration of having to explain over and over in the simplest terms what customers should be able to understand.

On the other hand, those who design the systems might do better with the specifics. Customer confusion often results from the assumption that we speak their language and use their terminology, so while we're scratching our heads at instructions about metadata and pixels per inch, they wonder, "Why don't those idiots understand?" 

Decades ago, I read John Hersey's My Petition for More Space, which highlights the absurdities of bureaucracy. These days I find myself avoiding contact with automated systems whenever possible, aware that I'll end up angrily screaming, "Customer representative!" and often end up unable to do what I intended.

I used to wonder how people in the Middle Ages survived with the threat of things like beheading and branding hanging over their heads, but then I consider that we live in a world where the appointments we need, the concerns we want to lodge, and the items we want to buy force us to deal with a faceless, uncaring, often non-human bureaucracy that cannot interact with us on the level we seek. There's only a box to check or a phrase to speak. No explanations accepted.

It's a lower level of stress than beheading, but since it's long term and unavoidable, it might kill you anyway.

 



Oct 4, 2021

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that for a looooonnnnngggg time has been only mine is close to being offered to others. I've certainly talked about it at length to friends and family, but no one has read it except my first-draft beta reader, my content editor, and me (many, many times). And yes, I do pay three different people to critique a manuscript before I inflict it on the public.

Sending a book to the copy editor indicates that it's in its final narrative form, so now it's her job to find the silly stuff that would take away from readers' enjoyment: spelling errors, extra commas, etc. Once that's done, it will be formatted and prepared for print, e-book, and audio offerings.

In other words, I'm saying I don't intend to make substantial changes anymore, and that's really hard for me. Any time I look at past work I think, "I could have done this differently." It's really, really painful to say, "I'm done. This is what they get."

So what is this book about? It's not a mystery, though it has mysterious elements. Not social commentary, though it explores relationships, both family (the sisters in the title) and general attitudes we adopt as we move through society. I'm not a literary fiction type, so that leaves women's fiction as the category closest to accurately describing it.

The premise: Three sisters, close in their youth, have grown apart as adults, due to the way their lives evolved. When events push them back together, they face their differences and make choices that will change their relationship forever.

One is a murderer. One is unsure about her future after her long-time marriage falls apart. And one might well be the next First Lady of the United States.

Here are some possible versions of the cover. Comments?








Sep 2, 2021

From Author to Caregiver (for a minute)

Caregiver colored rainbow word text suitable for logo design. Caregiver colored rainbow word text suitable for card, brochure or typography logo design stock illustration 

 I usually post here about reading and writing, which is my passion, but today I'd like to address care-giving. I've been a principal caregiver at two separate periods in my life. Recently, someone I love very much has been forced into a similar role. Her struggle inspired me to look back on what I learned and (maybe) draw some conclusions.

Care-giving is hard. That sounds like a no-brainer, but until you've done it, you can't imagine the myriad ways that "hardness" manifests itself. 

    Physical: I will learn to handle whatever I must, everything from changing a colostomy bag to cutting your toenails. All the physical "rules" that adults cling to will be broken. I will help you shower. I will feed you like I fed my babies, a spoonful at a time. I will wait outside the bathroom and do whatever you need help with. I will, somehow, learn to get a person the same height and weight as I am from bed to wheelchair and back without breaking either of us.

   Emotional: I will (try to) understand that your moods swing from hope to despair, from anger to gratitude. When you lash out at me, I will know it's not me you're angry at. When the doctor gives you the next bit of bad news, I will be strong for you. (I'll cry by myself, later, alone).  When your friends visit for too long and gush about how well you're doing, I won't scream and order them out. 

  Clerical: I will learn your bookkeeping system, pay your bills, write down the kind of cereal you like, and chart how your home is run, so that things are as you want them. I won't mention that checks don't need to be recorded in three different places, (though it will be hard not to).

   Personal: I will put my life on the back burner. If I continue to work or volunteer or even socialize, my thoughts will be on you when I'm away. I will make myself responsible for giving you every bit of happiness you can find in your remaining days, because those days are numbered.

  Intellectual: I will learn everything I can about your condition. I will count your pills and tend your wounds and monitor the machinery that helps keep you going, despite my ignorance and even fear of it. (Is it possible I might overdose you with that morphine pump?) I will scour the internet for genuine information on what's best for you. I will protect your from scammers who offer false hopes to the afflicted and the dying. At the same time, if it's fairly harmless stuff, I will listen as you tell me about the cure some doctor in Haiti has discovered. I might even help you investigate it, because I know that you need to believe something will take away your death sentence. The last thing before I sleep and the first thing when I wake will be plans to make your life better.

Conclusions: Care-giving can bring growth and satisfaction, but that often doesn't manifest itself until it's over. In the day-to-day actions, we become manic and focused on the next moment. We do what we must, but we seldom reflect on what the overall result will be. That's because the overall result is often bad. For me, those horrible times are over (for now). They forced me to do things I would never have dreamed I could do, both good and bad. They also created in me an urge to reach out to others in the role, to offer to listen, to give a short respite, to express both empathy and sympathy for their daily struggles. There's nothing like talking to a person who's been where you are to convince you that you will get through this.

Care-giving leaves us doubting ourselves. "Was I patient enough?" Probably not. Possibly yes. There's no standard to measure what you might have done against what you did. Your response, no matter how flawed, was the only thing you could do AT THAT MOMENT. Don't look back and second-guess yourself. Love yourself for doing what you could for someone you loved.

Though each situation is unique, those who've been there can help. I found this booklet helpful, though it's possibly a bit outdated (2015) 

https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Caregiver-Guide-Those-Thrilled-ebook/dp/B016KYIAVA


Jul 22, 2021

Choosing Your Next Book

 

Happy Cute Kid Girl Choosing Two Book Stock Vector - Illustration of  doodle, cartoon: 167740868 

Whether you open a website or walk into a bookstore, there's nothing like the feeling of choosing what you're going to read next. Sadly, I've been disappointed more often than thrilled this year, and at lunch with a friend the other day, she said the same. "Maybe we read too much," she told me. "We've heard it all and seen it all as far as stories go." While that might be true, I can still get pulled into a book if it's done well, as I have been with my current read, WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker. It's not an easy book, but when I find myself thinking, even worrying, about the characters when I'm not reading, I know it's because of good writing. Of course, reading is as individual as writing. I can't tell you the book will affect you the same way. I can only give you my reaction.

Choosing a new book is both easy and hard in our time. There are tons of books and tons of places to find them. Still, I've noticed that the traditional publishing world is very much centered on safe choices these days, and they often don't appeal to me. One safe choice is the trending topic. When a book is a success, you can expect a couple dozen similar ones will follow. The covers will be similar in mood and style. The titles will suggest the bombshell best-seller. I got sick of books with "GIRL" in the title some time back. And the time/setting/focus will be the same. Right now it's WWII stories. After some excellent ones (and there still are some out there), we have a host of pale copies, like the one I'm currently reading, which tells me how the protagonist feels as if describing what she had for breakfast and boils down to French people=good, Nazis=bad. Quelle surprise!

The other safe choice for traditional publishers is authors who already have a name. While there are authors whose work I always buy, smart readers know some of them don't write their own stuff anymore. Look for the "with ___" on the cover, which means in most cases that some unknown author wrote it and the "big" author agreed to put his/her name on it, equaling a nice paycheck for everyone. Then there's "franchising," a way of benefiting from an author's name when he's too old to write or even after he's died. It all comes down to money, but for discerning readers, that results in disappointment.

I also note with sadness that editing has suffered--not so much in grammatical things but with allowing big-name writers to do whatever they like. Length is stressed over concise storytelling, and I sometimes find myself paging through to find the plot. I skipped about twenty pages of a legal thriller the other night, and when I jumped back in, the SAME WITNESS was still testifying. Big authors are allowed more leeway to stretch credulity as well. In a book by a well-known author, a fifty-year-old male murder victim was mistaken for a young woman because the killer covered the corpse with flowers. ("Oh, right, guv, we can't move all those flowers. We'll assume it's a young girl because she's done up like Ophelia in Hamlet.")

On the other side of traditional is independent publishing. (In case you're wondering, I started out with a traditional publisher and am now independent.) The problem here is uncertainty as to the quality of the work. Anyone--and I mean anyone--can publish on a dozen sites without investing a single penny, and that means there's a lot of bad work out there. Conscientious writers (like me!) hire editors and test their books with beta readers many times in the process, so they are fairly confident they've got a story worth reading. For a reader, however, it's hard to tell the difference when book shopping.

The other problem with independent authors' work is finding it. Type in a keyword like "mystery" and you'll get a list of the big names. But what if you've already read everything your favorites have written? There's no way to find an independent author with a similar style. We depend on social media to publicize our work, and the results are spotty at best. Often people say things like, "I really liked KIDNAP(.)org. Have you written any more books like that?"  or "I read all your historical mysteries. Do you ever publish anything else?"

"Um, yeah."

So how can you find authors new to you who write good stories? It's not impossible.

Read the recommendations of bloggers/influences who like the kinds of books you like. Here's one: https://radio-joyonpaper.com/?s=Peg+Herring

NOTE: The cover was different back then. Here's what it looks like now: 



Check out the samples on Amazon or other bookselling sites or read a few pages in your local bookstore (They don't mind). I can usually tell with that much if it's my kind of book or not.

Talk to people, online or in person, to find out what they like. I met a woman in a bookstore the other day who recommended a book to me (WWII era) and I bought it. I also often take booksellers' recommendations. They read a LOT of books, so they know if a particular story rises above the ordinary. I have found that young booksellers aren't as helpful as those closer to my age, though. Kids think J.K. Rowling was the first writer to ever explore the idea of a kid learning he wasn't just an ordinary guy--sheesh!

Are You in Panic Mode Yet?

 It's two days until Christmas. You have someone to buy for. Maybe you forgot. Maybe that person is difficult to buy for. Maybe you feel...