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Thoughtful Research

A Publishing Career -- Ongoing

Are agents and publishers avoiding me because I have what appears to be nine self-published books? Does this make me look like I'm too impatient for a publisher's contract? Well, listen up and learn. The one thing I crave is a publisher's contract. The one thing I do NOT want is to self-publish (SP) one more original novel.

 

My first novel, Felling of the Sons, an authorized Bonanza novel, had two different publishers. Electric Works Publishing released it in 2001 and told me they were working hard to establish a relationship with Amazon. That's what I wanted. In the meantime, all they sold were PDFs or "floppy disks." Yes, believe it or not, Felling of the Sons was first issued as a second gen floppy disk. I found a printer and printed 100 so I could bring some to a Bonanza convention. Those first editions sell for a lot of money these days.

 

I canceled that contract after three years because he was having no luck getting on Amazon and my stock was gone. It was sad for me, because that was my first and only appearance in the Writers Market (2003 edition). A week after my book was canceled, he folded up his business.

 

So I searched for a publisher for second edition. That's not an easy task, but maybe a little easier in 2004 than it is now. Write Words picked it up and that was an uneasy relationship I kept for a decade. She also published Mystic Fire. In both cases she paid a royalty, which amounted to the retail price of a book purchase, so she could call herself a traditional publisher. These days most small presses do not pay royalties but we still call them traditional.

 

Anyway, she retired, maybe back in 2014 or so. I remember her saying she'd still have the books for sale but she would only pay out once a year. Since my two novels paid a fee to Bonanza Ventures, I didn't think I should allow her to keep our money that long, and I pulled out. The search was then on for a new publisher, but finding one to take previously published works had become more difficult. After a slight effort, since I was doing too many other things at the same time, I decided to put them up at Amazon.

 

In the meantime, I was seeking publishers for Dancing with Cannibals, Civil War and Bloody Peace, Saving Boone, and Grimms American Macabre.

 

I developed Civil War & Bloody Peace during my bachelor's in history and took it with me to my master's, where it was my master's thesis. Before, after and during my college years I was on the road, going to every place mentioned in that book to get primary details of what went on there. When I felt the book was close to developed I began the query process. I must have queried every publisher three times.

 

Don't tell me I don't have patience to wait for a publisher. I had traditional publishers tell me that I should try the university presses. I had university presses tell me I should try the trade presses, which I eventually learned are traditional presses. I had some say it was too long, so I shortened. I had some say it was too general, some say it was too specific, some say I didn't analyze enough, some say it was more like a memoir. I had come to a decision. I wasn't going to waste this research, and put it at Amazon in 2019.

 

But this decision came after a series of book sales, and my devastating first publication at Amazon in 2015. I had co-authored Dancing with Cannibals, helping an African make one of his books publishable. He had a lot of disjointed scenes and history about the Congo in the early 1900s that he just wanted someone to edit for better English, but the book was such a mess I had to ask him, is this fiction or nonfiction? At first the deal was that I got 20% of the sales. But I said it was way too much work and I would need to split this 50/50 but I'd also do the submitting. We worked on it, back and forth, for seven years, and finally I got what I thought was a publishing contract. Turned out to be more like a money-making scheme for some college students (can't even remember the name of their company), so I got us out of that. Well, that made him mad, although I kept him abreast of developments all along the way. He began to bad-mouth me everywhere. And after a few months of silence, I got a little worried. I knew he wanted to put it on Amazon, but I said we have to go through the submission process first.

 

So I did a search one day at Amazon in 2015 and there it was. Same title, but different co-author, although this guy was referred to as an editor. I got the sample Kindle, compared it word for word with mine, and saw only one sentence (poorly written) had been added.

 

I went through the process to prove to Amazon he didn't have the right to publish without me. I then went through the process of, once again, editing it, and then putting it up with both our names on it. That was so little fun I'd never do it again, by the way. He does not market it. But I have to share half of the sales with him. Suffice to say that it's a good book that doesn't sell. He's yet to make $10 on it, and I won't send him a check until he makes $50. All rights go to him when I die, though. I won't have my kids dealing with him.

 

Anyway, while I was still submitting on Civil War & Bloody Peace, and after I moved to Madison to take a full-time job with benefits in 2015, I continued to promote my three fiction novels; the two mentioned above and the third was Vrykolakas Tales: Adventures in Death & Romance. Now this novel's title is not one I was particularly keen on. I was willing to take a publisher's advice on it. It had even been agented, back in the 1990s, under the title Journal of an Undead, when it wasn't yet part of a trilogy. But the agent seemed to indicate that they all thought it was a Zombie novel and were disappointed to learn it was just an "Anne Rice" wannabe. Well, I started mine before I knew anything about her, thank you, so no comparisons, please. I played around with titles while submitting and ended up with one I still wasn't convinced about. "Let the publisher decide" has often been the advice.

 

In 2016 I got the contract -- after canceling numerous others that weren't good enough - from Solstice. It was a pretty poor royalty but they sounded like they did a lot of marketing. They were promoting it as a paranormal romance. Well, given that title, I thought that was okay. They didn't change the title or even mention to me that they thought vrykolakas is hard to pronounce. I gave them a cover idea, which they ignored. They came up with a cover that was, at first, fun, but then not. I eventually found that it's a stock image when I saw another book with the same cover. At that point I insisted they let Adam add the flower in his hand. (Adam is my cover artist for my SP books and my graphics artist son.) But the worst part of the cover, and I told them this, is do not make Vrykolakas Tales the featured title. That part should be in small print. They didn't listen to that either.

 

It also turned out that it was poorly placed as a paranormal romance. They got several reviewers for the book and not one of them could get into it. Another weird thing about Solstice. I asked why they didn't have their publishing imprint on the back book cover. There was this big blank space where that was supposed to be. They didn't know what I was talking about. So much for a "good" publisher. After the three years I allowed that contract to expire.

 

But getting a publisher for a formerly published had become even harder. In the meantime I found a different edit of that book that I had lost (it was on Google Drive) and I worked on that, and the other two in the trilogy, and I went to Crete, where part of the action takes place, and worked on it more there, and now I have a trilogy to offer. This one is called Journal of an Undead: Love Stories. But it's still a previously published, and it's even harder to find a publisher now than before. So now I'm marketing Journal of an Undead: Climax instead. The last publisher interested said they wanted the first book of the series, and after taking that, then said they didn't do reprints.

 

Also in 2016 All Things that Matter Press agreed to publish the Grimm's anthology collection. It was scheduled to be released shortly before the Grimms TV series was to end. I joined a Facebook group because I loved the Grimm series and hoped to promote the book. I had them publish it under my pen name, Lizbeth Grimm, derived from my grandmother's maiden name. They lived in Grimms, Wisconsin, which is also fun, and we used a photo I had of their old house on the cover. They had a horrible looking type for the cover title, though. They wouldn't use the font I had. They also had the cover much too dark, you could hardly see the house. I complained, they said there was nothing they could do, and yet the next time I looked, it was better.

 

In the meantime I read one of the publisher's books (a mom and pop operation is what they were) and was honest about it. I don't think they took kindly to that idea. Honesty, I mean. Though they never said anything.  In 2017 I offered them Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-breed, but in the meantime realized I didn't want that on the cover and changed it to Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-White Son. We tossed a few different ideas around. They wanted half-breed on the cover and I said no. They didn't like Saving Boone because they thought readers would think Daniel Boone right away. And they proceed to butcher the cover, to the point where I could not even promote it. I spent a year in agony with what I thought (and still think) is one of my best written novels, before finally joining Authors Guild and getting that contract canceled. The reason? The title was wrong and they would not change it. Instead of "a son" they had "the son." It entirely changes the connotation. Anyway, once they canceled that, they just naturally canceled the Grimm, too, which actually had pretty good reviews, now lost to eternity.

 

But now I had two more books that were likely not going to find a publisher. No, I'm not impatient, except perhaps in not waiting for better contracts. I have had a number offered that just didn't feel right, so I don't take the first one I get, ever.

 

I hope publishers don't see my experiences as making me too hard to work with. I don't think I am. But at the same time, when I have ideas about what goes on the cover, I should be listened to. All three of those published covers were bad. But, that said, Adam's covers don't guarantee they'll sell, either. I've even had people tell me they liked that old Saving Boone cover. I just don't see how that's possible.

 

Anyway, Saving Boone went a few rounds of submissions with a  new edit and title, Saving Boone: Legend of a Kiowa Son but there are even fewer that will take previously published. I told Adam I wanted movement on the cover, buffalo if possible, but the book does not sell. Grimms American Macabre has a new cover ready to go and it will be called Grimms American Fairy Tales.

 

Why wouldn't publishers want a cover free to them and ready to go? I'll try a few publishers for Grimm but I don't hold much hope. It'll have new stories, and be more whimsical.

 

In 2019 I self-published Civil War & Bloody Peace with Adam's cover because I wasn't going to let all that research go to waste. When the pandemic hit and Trump was making such a mess of everything I researched and wrote From Lincoln to Trump. Though I queried a few, I wanted it out before the November 2020 election and the only way was to do that myself. Now it's in second edition, and of course I know better than to try and market it again.

 

Then there's my series of copper resource manuals. I have been compiling a master database of all pre-contact copper artifacts found in the Americas for over a decade, and realized that I need to start getting the books out there. I have 23 planned. I queried several who would take this kind of work and they all responded with affirmatives, but I would have to accept little to no royalties. They were academic publishers only, and I guess meant for professionals who have to publish in their field. I'm no professional, I don't teach and I spent money gathering these materials. I suppose I could have just gone with them for the "prestige," but I was also afraid they wouldn't be able to handle the data appropriately. So all of these will be SP at Amazon in book form only.

 

What I have left in my unpublished book list are one history nonfiction where I have a beta reader ready to help with the final clean-up and a publisher ready to take a look. I have my Journal of an Undead trilogy that I don't want to SP but I will do Love Stories if I have to. I have an archaeology novel making the rounds, a mythological erotic that's having a hard time, and I'm doing continual work on a first-person thriller that's been giving my trouble and gets no feedback from previous submissions where I thought it was ready. I always look for publishers before I self-publish anything.

 

So please don't tell me I'm not patient. This is just the way my publishing life has gone.

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The Write Way to Edit your Novel

I was reading "The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submission," given free by Authors Publish, as a definitive guide to submitting to publishers following your hard work of writing a novel or book. Emily Harstone starts by saying how to edit and edit until you know the book is ready. I didn't like her process of editing and want to provide here an editing process that makes more sense.

 

Harstone says the first edit should be to catch any grammatical errors. But I contend you do that during the absolutely LAST edit of the book. The first edit, after you've written "the end," depends on how wordy you are. A good novel needs to be at least 80,000 words. If you fall short, you need to figure out where actions, scenes and people need to be fleshed out. Do you need another subplot? Is there a character hiding in the shadows that needs to be uncovered? You will do a lot more creative writing in your second draft.  If you're wordy and way over 100,000 words, then you need to trim. You need to look for all the ways your characters talk too much, say too much, leave too little to the reader's imagination. Remember, you're taking your readers on a journey. If they know how it's all going to turn out right away, they will stop reading.

 

What I find humorous about her suggestion to do grammatical changes in your first edit is that you will keep making them as you keep creating. You may think you won't, but you will. Save that technical stuff for your read-aloud final draft.

 

You don't need to print each edit as you go. But definitely print the first draft just in case something happens to your computer. Heaven forbid. I had mine stolen once with 6 weeks of work on a new novel gone. Brilliant stuff, too, probably.

 

Once the novel feels fully formed, you need a print copy. That can take a number of edits to get it to its full form. You'll know when that is. The next edit, then, when you feel it's ready, is the red-line edit. Get off the computer and sit with your print copy in hand. Pick up a read pen and put your reader glasses on. Now read it as though you've just picked it up in a book store. Analyze every line as though one that will potentially throw off or confuse the reader. The biggest problem when I red-line edit I see is confusing prose.

 

Now I know that I'm currently only self-published, but it's even more important for people who only want to be self-published to follow guidelines like this. You don't have a publisher's eyes fixing things for you. You are in charge.

 

After you go through your entire print copy with red-line changes, make those changes into the manuscript on the computer. This is considered another edit because you might make changes to some of those hand-written edits, too.

 

When that edit is done, it's up to you if you want to print another one. The LAST edit is the read aloud, and can be done on the computer.

 

Emily Harstone doesn't give you any of these tips. After making grammatical changes she says to revise with content in mind. And then give it to readers. But follow the more complete steps above, and after your read-aloud, where you'll catch your tense switches, spelling errors (the ones spellcheck doesn't catch) and easy flow of sentences, then you'll do your spell check, and find a reader or two. You night not be able to find a reader. People do get uncomfortable with that process.

 

After your read aloud, you should feel comfortable enough to submit. But be honest. Did you enjoy reading it? Does it have enough of what it claims to have to hold a reader's interest? Did it hold yours with every edit? I'm working on a first person novel that's been through so many revisions and content changes and each time I think it's ready, only to find, after putting it away a while to work on something else, that it's not ready at all. I think my struggle here is with first person. But I've been unable to figure out how to make it third person and retain the same 'cozy thriller' feel I want it to have.

 

"As an author we are so close to the work that it is hard for us to see plot holes, gaps in information, inconsistencies in pacing, and many other issues. You can only gain this perspective by asking other people to read your work." Yes, readers can be helpful this way. But a read-aloud of your work can also do a lot of this for you. Let a publisher who likes your vision do the rest. Find a reader you trust if you can. But don't give up and die if you don't.

 

I'll share this story. I ran a writer's group called "The Green Bay Reading Writers Guild." My goal was exactly that -- to help authors find beta readers and give readers the next level of activity by helping writers get their books ready for publication. I envisioned these readers then getting editing credit when the book was published. Problem: one guy there got a number of readers to read his book. And he very vocally did not like any of the suggestions he was given, such as cut your 200,000 word novel down, you're too wordy. We lost most of our readership, because I, at the time, did not set any ground rules.

 

Authors, don't be so sensitive that you tell your beta readers they're wrong. Oh, we authors all do this. Please. It's why finding beta readers can become more difficult. Harstone shared a Facebook beta readers group, and another at Goodreads. Check those out if you're a member.

 

Take their suggestions to heart. Understand what they're saying. They may want you to kill someone earlier or later, they may want you to remove your favorite sentence because it doesn't fit.  Run a couple of new ideas they generated past them to see if you've understood their concerns. Don't just thank them and move on. Make them feel they've helped. Give them a thanks in the book. No, you don't have to accept every suggestion. But understand why they made it before ignoring it. It might lead you to make a different change that works as well.

 

"If you are struggling to get a book published and have submitted it to twenty or so publishers without any response, except for canned rejections (personal rejections are often a compliment and should be seen as such), you should consider another major round of revisions."

 

Yes, this is where I've been with my first person cozy thriller. So I am finding a read of this publication helpful, and you will, too. But if you really want to know how to edit, bookmark this article. It'll work better for you.

 

Go to Authors Publish Magazine for more information on their publication.

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Trump before the Pandemic: Anyone remember?

I'm a glutton for the truth. Seems there's not a lot of that going around these days. When it comes to Trump closing the government for his wall, I don't believe that's why he did that. I believe it's because he feared the incoming Democratic House. Here were just some of the supposed facts I gleaned from the newspaper on January 19, 2019:

 

"Trump has argued, despite polling to the contrary, that federal workers and other Americans accept any such sacrifices, given their support for a border wall to keep the country safe."

 

He believed they supported him, and were willing to give up a paycheck to stand behind him. These federal workers should have stormed the bastille to demonstrate their lack of support in the most physical way possible. But they didn't. Does that mean they supported him? Perhaps, like many of us, they felt helpless.

 

One reason for the fallacy of his border wall:

 

"Apprehensions at the southern border have been declining for two decades, and no terrorists are known to have crossed it."

 

It was related that, of 4,000 terrorists that have been captured over a period of time, only 6 came across the Mexican border. With the shutdown, TSA personnel at airports walked off the job rather than keep working for no pay. Airports are considered the #1 way terrorists get into the US.

 

"Democrats have also called for investigating detention centers at the border, after the recent deaths of two migrant Guatemalan children in U.S. custody."

 

And these weren't the only migrants to die. But whites killing migrants or blacks or school children are not Trump's (or the GOP's) concern. In his national address on 1/9/19, he talked about recent deaths by illegal immigrants, maybe three people, and did not mention all the shootings in 2018.

 

"Moments after Trump's speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York delivered a televised rebuttal, arguing against what Pelosi called the "immoral" wall while making the case for reopening the government "before any negotiations about border security."

 

According to Schumer: "The president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil of his administration."

 

Those who believed during this crisis that the Democrats should cave to Trump missed one vital point. If they had caved, and voted to allow him to have that 5.6 billion for his border wall, he would have held it over their heads. He would have gained control of them, as Bush did in 2003.

 

I firmly believe that whoever wins this battle will win the presidency in 2020. There is another big fear about that, though, and that is that Trump could manufacture a war, because that's what saved GW Bush's presidency.

 

"Even many of Trump's conservative allies in the immigration fight have put a low priority on building a wall,  but the president has suggested that he will keep the issue at the center of his re-election battle of 2020 … Senate leaders have not lent him vocal support lately."

 

That's good -- it will bring reminders of how he lost this fight. Actually, I can't see him making it to 2020. One of the main problems is Mitch McConnell; word is that many in the Senate are against funding for the wall, but McConnell won't let them vote to end the government shutdown.

 

Trump had two years with a Republican Congress to get this support for his wall passed, and didn't do it. This is nothing more than posturing against the new Democratic House, which was sworn in during the government shutdown.

 

Names of those Republican senators in this article who want to reopen the government to continue negotiations include Sheeley Moore Capito (WV), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Cory Gardner (CO), Thom Tillis (NC) and Susan Collins (ME).

 

"Democrats … believe they have the leverage and have been unwilling to yield. They have previously supported money for border barriers in past years' immigration compromises but now see the issue as politically toxic to their anti-Trump voters."

 

The best thing Pelosi could have done, she did: Since the House is where the State of the Union speech is held, she closed the doors, saying he can give the State of the Union when the government reopened.

 

Trump finally caved on January 25th, saying he'd give the government three weeks to come to a deal on his wall. It came while the airlines were struggling to keep people in the air, and the same day his good buddy Roger Stone was arrested during an armed raid on his house.

 

Now there are some who say Trump put a positive spin on this by being the one to reopen the government. But he was the only one who could. McConnell was not allowing a vote in the Senate until he could sway everyone in Trump's favor. Most of the talk I've heard since then is that Pelosi now controls Trump -- that he put the federal workers through hell and gained nothing.

 

Supposedly it'll be open for only three weeks if he doesn't get his wall. By February 10th he was still talking about another shutdown, or calling an emergency to get his funds. Politicians in Arizona are hoping to prove there is no emergency; most of the border people are doing this, from what I understand.

 

By the end of February, Trump declared his emergency at the border to get the money for his wall that way, and promptly took off for a golf vacation. Why didn't he have to somehow prove the emergency? Why not make it his "13 days in October?" Because there is no emergency and everyone, particularly border politicians, knows it.

 

On March 14th, Congress voted to reject his emergency declaration, and the next day, he vetoed their rejection.

How can a president veto Congress determining that something he did was wrong? How can he veto a congressional repute of his actions? Isn't this the mark of true dictatorship? I've also heard it said that he's rallied his supporters to his "cause."

 

So here we are, into April (2019), and his veto was NOT overruled by the House, for the reason given by some of my Democratic friends that they have bigger issues to worry about -- like beating him in 2020. Really? You don't think beating his issues NOW is going to help you beat him in 2020? And now I notice that Trump isn't going to wait for a wall. He wants to close the borders NOW. Close them, which I guess means closing all bridges so no one and nothing can get in or out. I heard that hasn't been done in three decades and people are worried about getting their avocados.

 

"So," as a friend succinctly put it, "if he can do that, why does he need a wall?"

 

Good question.

 

Trump wants Mexico to stop letting their people cross the border. He thinks closing the border will be good for our business. "Mexico could stop them," he quipped on 3/30/19. "It's very easy for them to stop people from coming up, and they choose not to do it."

 

Closing the border would halt millions of dollars of commerce. But like his declaration that the Republicans have a much better health care plan in mind so let's completely get rid of ACA, Trump does not say how closing the borders would be better for our business. Do we grow avocados, too?

 

The Mexican president, Obrador, in what could have been lost in translation, expects to cooperate because they "want to have a good relationship with the United States government." I hear they might be tightening security at their southern border to stop people from Central America coming in.

 

Recently the Mueller report was released, and because no further indictments were recommended, Trump felt vindicated. He also did not want the report released. There is word that when and if it IS released, it will be redacted -- only revealing what Trump wants revealed.

 

This is serious. He has to be held accountable, as does the entire Republican party that does not oppose him.

 

Confucius tells us what a good leader is and does. He must serve as a model, lead by good example, suffer when the people suffer. In 12.17: "…the key to governing lies in being correct." The problem is, Trump believes everything he's doing is the right thing to do. Being correct is a vague concept. What is correct? In 13.6: "Lead so that those near to you are satisfied and those far from you are drawn to you." We can't say that anyone in Europe is drawn to him. In 12.19: "Why should a leader speak of killing? The abilities of the exemplary person resembles the wind, while that of a petty person resembles that of grass. The wind blows and the grass bends in response." We all know now what Trump thinks of wind. It doesn't always blow.

 

Trump lies too often. He says he has a plan, but he has no plan. He's a bully and a tyrant.  He says Mexico will pay for the wall. He knows he can't force this, but he got his supporters believing it. He declares an emergency at the border and goes off to play golf. There was no emergency, but he got his supporters believing it. He says he will close the borders completely, that this will be good for business, and he's probably got his supporters believing that, too.

 

Remember back in January? No terrorists have been known to cross the border, and yet he feels that this is one reason it needed to be closed. His supporters still quote it as a reason to close the borders. They are now afraid of Mexicans. Oh, and Trump is also known to recently say that his supporters are ready to defend him wherever necessary. This is a mass call to domestic terrorism.

 

By April 5th, however, Trump had to (or was forced to by the GOP) backpedal on his grand scheme of closing the border completely. He said it was because he forced an agreement from the Mexican president to do more to secure their southern border, and also that if he saw no improvement in a year, he would put tariffs on Mexican cars.

 

Moral of this story: Trump doesn't know what the hell he's doing.

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Challenges of a Low Fat Diet

I lost the 25 pounds in 2013 that I'd been trying to lose for the last ten or more years.  It amazed me how a simple change of diet made the weight just fall right off.

 

Simple?  Well, maybe that's not quite right.  I don't advise people to develop gall bladder trouble before they begin a do-or-die diet.  But these changes were what I needed, so maybe they'll work for you.  It will take a lot of determination, however.  For me, it was a matter of just wanting to feel better without surgery (like the kind that killed Dan Blocker).

 

I got the diagnosis shortly before leaving on a trip to New Mexico; to remain well enough to travel by car alone, I was given some tips. I was worried, well, what can I eat at a motel food counter?  By the time I got home, I'd lost the first ten pounds, and that was enough to keep me on this diet for life.

 

The last time I was able to lose like this was in 2005, when I worked for two months at Carlsbad Caverns. I got in the best shape of my life, but you know, I couldn't recreate that lifestyle anywhere else (except a little now at Kwik Trip, maybe).

 

Here's what I did:

 

1.  Read packages of all items.  Know the fat content of everything you eat.  Avoid high fat content, and especially high saturated and trans fats.  The doctor advised no more than 20 gm of fat per meal, and less than 10 gram per item.  I figured the lower it was the better because I couldn't in any way figure out grams.

 

2. You still need to have good fat in your diet. So there are good fats that you can eat, such as nuts.  Again, read the package to make sure the trans and saturated fats are low to nonexistent. You can also look at cholesterol levels, because that counts, too. I found when I traveled that beef jerky was really low in fat, as were crackers and chips. I have can small portions of cream cheese, like the motels have, but best to have low-fat cream cheese, cheese and yogurt. Dairy-free is even better, if you can handle that.

 

3. Watch the portions. Chips are a particular downfall. The package will say how much is in a single serving. Eat that, and nothing more.  And no more. Put the right portion on your plate, and don't have seconds. Leave the table still feeling hungry. Portions – that's crucial in this diet.  I discovered I was eating too much at every meal as well.  Fill up on water with the meal.

 

4. It doesn't hurt me, though, before bed, to have a few of those low fat crackers, if hungry, to help me sleep.  But now that I've lost the weight, I don't feel hungry as often.

 

5. While on the road I discovered few restaurants where I trusted the food served.  So I ate at Subways and have Wendy's salads a lot.  I was not afraid to study a menu, ask a few questions, and get up and leave.  I ate a lot of turkey and vegetables, dry bread, and baked potatoes with only salt and pepper.  If I don't know what else to eat when I dine out, I order salad.  I ask for half portions.  I take half home, if I'm not on the road. Yes, eating out remains a challenge, and I pay for it when those ill feelings return.

 

6. Eat more vegetables.  There's great veggie selections at Trader Joe, if you have one near you. Add things like nuts and cranberries.  And I already loved Vinaigrette dressings, which are the only ones that fit this diet.  

 

7. Change the way you cook. Yes, a Mediterranean diet IS better, so check it out.  We got rid of shortening and all oils except Canola.  Use olive oil on everything except breakfast foods. Canola oil in your deep fryer, but don't overindulge; a few fries is okay.

 

8. Apples.  Every day.  Have an apple before dinner to cut back on hunger. Have one between meals.

 

9. Drink more water.

 

Yes, it meant giving up a lot of things I used to love. Pecan pie. Banana splits. Most desserts, actually. I do buy a few sugar free cookies because I also once received too high a sugar count in my blood. Where did that come from? I don't eat candy bars at all anymore, and never touch soda, which I gave up long ago.  Cutting back on sugar is always a good idea, whether on a diet or not.  

 

And there are always favorites you won't have to give up.  I can still have my nuts and peanut butter, wine and Cheetos.  But always, everything, in moderation.  That's key.

 

So happy dieting!  And don't forget to exercise.

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The Special Needs of the Copper Artifact Master Database (CAMD)

David Overstreet, Menominee historian, once wrote: "One wonders if the distribution of copper implements in Wisconsin is representative, or, is it skewed, by the ardor and efforts of [Henry P.] Hamilton in amassing his great copper collection?"  That's a good question, but an even better one to consider is if Hamilton's public hobby of buying and collecting copper artifacts led to the black market in copper artifacts.  If so, perhaps his early and untimely death by copper arsenic poisoning was justly met. There's a website devoted to the buying and selling of copper artifacts, and artifact shows you can attend to buy and sell.  And if you hunt on your own land, or with permission, you can pretty much metal detect your little heart out, because copper artifacts can be "heard" under the ground.

 

But we're also talking about sensitive cultural material that's been robbed from its resting place and its original owners.  Some museums are reluctant to share their database with me because they fear my gathering of this master copper artifact database compilation will encourage more metal detecting. But in the course of wanting to know what has been found out there by private collectors and later installed in museums, I've discovered that these private collectors are the ones most likely to give their collections to museums, such as Henry P. Hamilton did in 1919.  

 

So isn't it just a little disingenuous for museums to tell me that they cannot share their collections for this project because it might encourage collecting?

 

I am on the fence about private collection, as you can tell.  I think it's a great thing to find out how extensive the pre-contact trade, industry and communication network was, and through copper artifacts being assembled in the CAMD this can be illuminated to a great extent.  

 

But am I encouraging collection by making this compilation?  

 

There is the possibility that knowing more about these copper artifacts will make their possession by others even more valuable, because of what the artifacts can tell us based on where they were found. I've even had to pay a private collector to get his database.  I only paid once, but there are many collectors who don't share with me because what's in it for them? Well, I always give back as good or better than I get, but that's not enough for some. I don't think any collection is worth anything without knowing all that was found in that area, and everyone should want to be a part of this to gain this knowledge. In that respect, I am increasing the value of copper artifacts by creating location context based on an overview of all copper found. No one else is doing that. Many museums do approve of that. My hats off to Chicago's Field, Milwaukee Public Museum and Harvard's Peabody, just to name a few. For the cover of the Michigan Copper Artifact Resource Manual, the Grand Rapids Museum was most cooperative.

 

But there are criticisms. One was University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They claimed to have sensitive burial material and declined to have it listed publicly, and no amount of reassurance that so do others and I don't share sensitive material made any difference. I faced similar scrutiny in Delta County, Michigan more recently. They didn't like the idea of sharing artifact locations, even though I tell everyone that I don't need to reveal anything more specific than where it was found at the county level.  The problem, said Delta County, is the Native American Indian population in the area doesn't like it when people metal-detect on former sacred ground.

 

Disclaimer: the argument I will put forth here on this issue is not a pretty one.  On the one hand, no one feels worse than I do over how much has been taken from them.  But there comes a point when we have to say there's nothing we can do about the past. They still have land that they can keep people off of, and if they want more, they should buy more.  Many have casinos and can do that.  I know the Oneidas are doing it and the people in South Dakota should do that, but still refuse the money they were paid for the Black Hills. The Menominees were offered the Copper Culture State Park burial land years ago, and turned it down. They could have had their sacred burial grounds back for a buck, from what I understand.  The reason I left my job as curator there (besides the fact that it didn't pay) was that the Menominees disliked it as a burial museum, but since they didn't buy the land when it was offered to them, there wasn't much they could do about it.  I happened to agree with them, and didn't know back in 2010 of any other burial museums being run in this country (it's a bizarre focus for a museum).  There are mound sites, of course, such as Dickson Mounds, where burials were found.  But they don't run it as a burial site; at least, they haven't since NAGPRA.  In Oconto, burial photos are the main feature, rather than the copper itself.  I wanted to make it known as the Copper Artifact Research Center in the U.S., but Oconto citizens on my board did not agree.

 

One argument tribes use against the digging is that we don't go digging around in our historical burials.  But that's not a good argument, for the reason that headstones mark those locations, and those locations are properly owned and documented. The tribes could refer to all of the U.S. as sacred burial lands.  A lot of the sites got dug up because nothing indicated a site as a sacred site, like headstones, and stuff was found. That happened in Oconto, where the burial site was being excavated for its gravel. I'd love to give them all their land back but it isn't possible. I wish they had won the Indian wars. From my perspective, the only way to get the Black Hills back -- even though it was taken illegally -- is to buy it back.

 

I am available to any tribal member who wants to question me. But what I need is a capstone statement so that everyone realizes why this research is important, and should be of vital interest to all tribal members in North America.

 

 The CAMD demonstrates the wide communication and trade network their ancestors had in this country, via their copper industry, previous to the arrival of the Europeans. It shows how much civilization they had, and why they welcomed the Europeans at first -- as traders.  It is NOT to reveal sensitive digging locations and it is NOT to encourage more metal detecting. But it IS to encourage anyone who's found anything to share it for the database; otherwise, they might as well just put it back in the ground. This project shows that the value of those artifacts goes way beyond any sale value.

 

Much of what I've uncovered so far demonstrates the need for this research.  There is no good common typology that is being used, so pieces have been misidentified.  Some museums have no idea what they have and want help with interpretation.  Without someone showing an interest in these collections, they could be sold off, or even discarded.

 

The pre-contact copper tooling industry on this continent is a fascinating thing, and is currently undervalued.  It began up near Lake Superior, or in southern Wisconsin or in Illinois off float copper, as much as 10,000 years ago, long before the people here had agriculture.  Everywhere else in the world, agriculture and even pottery came first, which is why most other cultural groups entered the Bronze Age.  But the copper industry was going strong long before pottery was created and used in the U.S. --  when agriculture arrived copper artifacts became more decorative and ritual. Around 4,000 years ago, copper tooling in South America came after agriculture and turned into a smelting industry; they began to enter the Bronze Age long before Pizzaro arrived. And in Mexico and Central America, the influence of copper came from both north and south.  They were the last to tool in copper, but copper connections are being established in the CAMD between Mexico and the Great Lakes cultures that never could have been made otherwise.  As Mexico was sharing corn northward, copper trade was heading south.  Mexico was entering the Bronze Age when Cortez arrived.

 

There is so much to learn by the study of a single industry that spanned 10,000 years and affected so many people. The more information we have, the more we might be able to say where materials were created, who they were created for, and even why. We can be quite hard on private collectors who don't want to share what they found because they're afraid of getting into trouble. Because of this research, the same can be said now of museums.  But why should this research get anyone into trouble?  

 

If any tribe can answer that question, I'd love to hear from them. If they want to shut me down, they can contact me. If they want my data, all they have to do is ask. It belongs to them. I charge minimal price for the manuals I create, only as a way to pay back the time I spent. And I know I'll never earn as much as the time was worth.

 

There are important questions that historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists want to answer.  But if a project like this can be shut down, then why even have such a thing as archaeology?

 

Why, indeed.

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SUPREME COURT, GUN LAWS, STATES RIGHTS and the CONSTITUTION

You hear a lot about state's rights, but what do states really have the right to do? It would appear that all depends on the U.S. Supreme Court in charge of our country at the time.

 

In the Times of San Diego, dated 18 minutes ago when I started pulling this together (7/1/22), this SCOTUS felt it had the right to throw out a lower court ruling in California where they were attempting to BAN the use of large capacity ammunition magazines. Here's why that's scary:

 

The justices' actions mean that lower courts that allowed gun restrictions will have to reconsider many decisions, including Maryland's ban on "highly dangerous, military-style assault rifles," bans by both California and New Jersey on magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and Hawaii's ban on openly carrying firearms in public.

 

Now it was always my understanding that the SCOTUS could only act when an issue involving two or more states was brought to them. What's with the interference here? Apparently the Firearms Policy Coalition challenged this ban on assault rifles and expects us to rely on people's good moral character. "We are eager to see this stay lifted and one more nugget of freedom restored in the Golden State." This is probably also in relation to the moderately tougher gun laws passed by Congress recently.

 

What are those new gun laws? Here's from CNBC:

 

The measure aims to strengthen background checks for the youngest buyers, close the so-called boyfriend loophole and incentivize states to pass red-flag laws. While Democrats wanted to go further to rein in gun violence following the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, they could get Republicans to agree to only more modest measures.

 

Do those new laws help us get guns only into the hands of people with good moral character? While this one appears to make that effort, I'm not sure any law can do that, such kids get get hold of their parents' weapons so easily. Prosecuting more parents when their kids kill helps, and may prevent more in the future if they learn to keep these weapons locked up. But most of those owners would say that would prevent them from protecting their homes. Honestly, though, we don't need guns in the streets to protect our homes.

 

New York, of course, is having the same problem with this uber-conservative SCOTUS. Also on July 1st, those legislatures are meeting in a special session to rewrite their gun laws after SCOTUS struck down one law that required people to prove they had good reason to carry a concealed weapon. Their session began the previous Thursday following a ruling by SCOTUS that said people have the right to carry guns in public. Governor Kathy Hochul called their decision reckless and reprehensible.

 

"Our nation has been brought to a moment of reckoning due to weapons of war that have been too easily accessed by those seeking to kill," New York Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. "In these devastating times in New York and across the nation, we have worked ... to step up and send a message that this path of gun violence is unacceptable and we need real change."

 

So what's behind the SCOTUS decision to protect the free carry of guns? Is it because they believe a good guy can stop a bad guy, though we have little proof of that? Is it because they buy in the NRA notion that if you keep good guys from getting guns only bad guys will have them? Do they watch too many old westerns? What about people who become bad guys when they have guns? How many hardened criminals commit these mass shootings? Maybe 1%? I don't know. I don't think anyone cares.

 

The Supreme Court said that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. That's important because about half a dozen states have conditioned getting a license to carry a gun in public on the person demonstrating an actual need — sometimes called "good cause" or "proper cause" — to carry the weapon. That limits who can carry a weapon in those states. In its decision, the Supreme Court struck down New York's "proper cause" requirement, but other states' laws are expected to face quick challenges. About one-quarter of the U.S. population lives in states expected to be affected by the ruling.

 

I think in view of all this, we should just throw the 2nd amendment away. We don't need it anymore. We don't need another Civil War, either, but that could happen.

 

One view on the 2nd Amendment laid out its most obvious meaning, when written. George Will of the Washington Post wrote on this ruling, that the six justices (yes, even Roberts), in striking down New York's ban, were acting on a 2nd rights amendment theory that had also been affirmed in 2017 and even back to 2008, when it's not clear that the right to protect your home meant outside of it, too.

 

Will wrote that the Second Amendment is the only one in the Bill of Rights with a preamble: "A well regulated Militia …" is that preamble. That's what this amendment is for. Nothing else. Not a well-armed public, not a punch of KKK looking to reinstate slavery. A well regulated militia. This means only that the federal government could not take away any state's right to defend itself with its own armed troops should the federal government want to restrict their freedom.

 

Well, guess what? The Federal government is now restricting their freedoms. And it doesn't seem like there's a thing they can do about it. Because the state militia now also belongs to the federal government. Our Constitution no longer works. It needs find-tuning.

 

Oh, but Justice Thomas, who's been a real bully boy since we've learned his wife is a White Supremacist (go figure), even calls on "American tradition" as the reason we have to allow free gun use in this country. Well, we can't argue that, can we? Even though strict gun laws are also a part of American tradition. Need proof? I'll work on that next time. No, here is a restricting of state's rights and nothing more; every state has the right to set its rules and laws.

 

Even Justice Kagan was conflicted: "It was completely intuitive that there should be different gun regimes in New York and Wyoming, but it is difficult to match this with our notion of Constitutional rights."

 

No, it isn't. Read the 2nd Amendment again. Understand state's rights again. If people in Wyoming want to shoot each other up, that shouldn't mean that people in New York must be forced to do the same. States rights.

 

Of course our Civil War was fought to remove states rights in reference to slavery. I can see this conservative court using the same mentality in regards to gun laws, abortion,  gay rights … you name it.

 

They are only getting started.

 

Sources:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/supreme-court-gun-ruling-threatens-to-loosen-more-california-restrictions/ar-AAZ5a2d 

 

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/new-york-lawmakers-open-special-session-to-pass-gun-safety-laws-after-supreme-court-ruling/ar-AAZ5tj9 

 

https://apnews.com/article/supreme-court-guns-decision-what-to-know-a068d964981b6d1242a5ab124224f77a 

 

George Will, a Washington Post Opinion, appeared in Beloit Daily News, June 29, 2022.

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Dracula V. Arabus: The battle of the Undead

Published in May 1897, Bram Stoker's Dracula became a success after his death and has never been out of print since. How many of us authors fear this? Sure we do, not living to see our own success. I often say, since Arabus Drake was created in 1983, that I'll be dead before anyone pays him any attention. Sure, he was published once, but in lousy form by a lousy publisher (though they sounded good at the time). Now just try to get another publisher to pay attention to one that's been published before and DIDN'T sell a million that first year. At the same time, I am determined not to self-publish any more books than the copper artifact ones.

 

Fortuntely for me, but not for Stoker, mine is a trilogy.  That makes three books that could make me famous after I die! Well, considering I don't have a lot of time, and I just keep editing and researching, researching and editing…

 

But let's see what other comparisons I can make to Stoker and whether mine will ever have the chance of success, dead, undead or otherwise.

 

Bram Stoker chose Transylvania because it was, to them at the time, a faraway "Never-never land," to use the words of authors Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. A word about their book, In Search of Dracula, from which this research is taken (p. 133-155), they wrote first about all the history and folklore of Vlad Tepes Dracul, before getting to how Brom Stoker used research and myth to create Dracula, and finally into famous books and films of vampires. Anyway, Stoker did his research, and the authors proceed to give us a blow by blow of this famous book.

 

Here Dracula lives with "a harem of female vampires," and here I part company with Stoker and many other vampire writers. If you have even one extra vampire in your book, how do you retain that element of reality? You have to keep vampires fed on human blood, you see, and creating more vampires just creates more until … well, you know the rest. Zombie vampires rule the world. Dracula is enamored of women, apparently, as likely Stoker was as well. I try to downplay that effect a vampire has on women. Arabus will repel as well as attract, depending on his mood. But he does want to be accepted by other mortals as one of them.

 

That doesn't seem to be the case with Dracula, this desire to be accepted. Of course Dracula is also more easily destroyed, unless he has mortal help to get other mortals away from his coffin while he sleeps. Arabus has no such weakness, although I do need to give him a weakness. Otherwise Arabus does seem impossible to kill. I thought that was one of the appeals of Arabus, but maybe a weakness will add a little more of a chill to the storyline. I thought maybe that the bite of a cat could kill him. But that's too easy. And yet, he is terrified of them. What else can kill Arabus? Sunlight can, but he can go out in the daytime if he stays covered from the sun. His undead skin cannot heal from sunburns. Of course the stake in the heart, that would kill anyone, and cutting off his head. Not easy to do. I'm open to suggestions!

 

Dracula also needs sacred earth for his coffin. There's a great deal of Christian references here, likely indicative of the times, but also of the Rumanian legends that Stoker researches. I use Greek legend, and though there are Christian ways recounted in which one can become vampiric, there is no fear of holy water or crosses in Arabus's story. Yet if you are buried in a shallow unhallowed ground, and buried in rage because of an unjust death, it's easy to come back vampiric, which is what happened to Arabus. There's also a Christian reason Arabus got his name, as a derivative of Barrabus, the one released from the cross instead of Jesus.

 

Stoker was born in November 1847 and was a sickly child. He was Irish Christian. I was born May 1953, Belgian Catholic, and not at all sickly, that I can remember, although I do remember getting the nickname Mono Monnie. No idea why. People blaming me for passing germs, I guess. Things like that, even once, can stick and hurt.

 

He was favored by his mother, who didn't care a whit for her daughters. My mother was much the same. He was more interested in drama than in athletics, though he got over being sickly and excelled in sports. I became enamored of drama at age 11. Stoker became a drama critic, seeking ways to get closer to a famous actor of the time, of who he was enamored. He also became friends with George Bernard Shaw. I simply sought my love of the theater from the stage, rather than the audience.

 

Stoker wasn't the first to write vampiric material. There was a short story called Carmilla written by Joseph Sehridan Le Fanu, considered one of the greatest vampire stories of all time. So of course I had to order a copy. Le Fanu uses some of the same vampiric myths you'll find in my work.  And Stoker wrote other horror material before Dracula.

 

Stoker finally got to meet his actor idol in 1873 and began to work for him in a part-time capacity as private secretary and confidante. If I gave the impression Stoker was gay, I didn't mean to; he married in 1878 and they had a son. But his relationship with Irving was as close as any two men could be. The authors believed that part of his relationship to Irving was developed in his Dracula book.

 

Arabus had a similar arrival; he came in a dream but he developed as part Armand Assante and part Adam Cartwright. He has very high morals but he was, as mortal, a bit of a coward. It's as a vampire that his similarities to my heroes emerge. Because of that I have a bit of a harder time make this a true horror.

 

Stoker was a better writer at making the moods needed for horrific settings. My settings just don't get there. I have to fall back on the tried and true, while he's pushing his victim into a dark corner. Oh, I get a little better than that, but no "eyes as inflexible as Fate" kind of thing. I just wrote this: "as every shriveled vein screamed inside him for Corny's blood." Well, you had to be there.

 

There's no clear indication why Stoker got obsessed with vampires. But he was and continued to investigate the writing of gothic novels. Before Stoker, supernatural elements all tended to have some natural or rational explanation (I'm anxious to see what they use in Carmilla). They were all highly charged with emotive language, the kind we don't really get away with using today.

 

Mary Shelley wrote the first one where a realistic supernaturalism was introduced, with science to explain the very real horror of bringing the dead to life. John Polidori, who was at a party with Shelly and others in 1816, responded to a challenge to write a horror (ghost) story, and came up with The Vampyre. This one is a take on the Greek legend. But it never caught on and its author committed suicide with poison two years later. The authors mention several other attempts at vampiric writings, including Varney the Vampire in 1847. We can imagine that Stoker read most, if not all of these. What's fun about Varney is that he is a good person who hates being forced to do evil and finally jumps into a volcano. I'll have to see if I have a copy. This sounds suspiciously like Arabus.

 

Stoker makes no attempt to explain the vampire. Dracula just is. I start Arabus with an origin story, and in fact, I go a little deeper because I also created a movie based on his origin story, which helped the novel become more descriptive, and, dare I say it? Moodier. Unfortunately, you may never know in my lifetime because no one will re-publish it and I would rather become undead than put any more of my fiction at Amazon myself.

 

Stoker made Dracula contemporary to his time. The last of the Arabus trilogy is contemporary, set in Sauk City, Wisconsin, and with the timing of the pandemic, will become historic if it's not published in my lifetime. Stoker's imagination was stimulated by tales of Jack the Ripper in his day, too, the way mine have been by the pandemic. Stoker did his research, including the British Museum. I traveled to Crete to create the new cover for Journal of an Undead: Love Stories. I got my history degree because of Arabus. I was researching myth and legend long before I went back to get my BA in history. In fact, I got a publisher interested in Journal of an Undead and because I'd come that close to a good publisher, I decided to go back to college to become a better writer, but was talked into changing to history instead. I also got going on the Civil War & Indian wars history of a great-uncle, which took a lot of time away from Arabus.

 

But Arabus was agented, during a time that I was playing with turning him into first person. That was another element that added more style to my fiction, because it made him feel more real than ever. But then I turned him back to third person again.

 

Stoker's first book was called The Snake's Pass, which almost sounds archaeological in its approach. I got a copy of that too, as a Kindle, because it was cheap.

 

His work on Dracula took seven years of research and writing, certainly deserving of bringing him a measure of success in his lifetime. The authors feel he related himself to Van Helsing, as the true hero of the book, because he's the one with knowledge of how to defeat the vampire. The description of Van Helsing reflected that of Stoker himself. It sounds as though he had some nice moody places in which to write his chapters. Always a bonus. I tried to take advantage of my two weeks in Crete to do a lot of editing, but the places I stayed at were not conducive to the imagination. If only I could have written on the 7th floor of that British castle, in the room that slanted, back in 2000.

 

In all his writing, Stoker still sought something real to give his Dracula that air of authenticity. The very realness of what could be vampiric is what we have most in common. We have to assume that he came upon Vlad Dracula in his research. The name of his monster could hardly be a coincidence. I use quite a bit of Vlad Dracula's real history as a bloodthirsty Wallacian king in my Arabus book, and it could be the reason my story starts in 1483, only 30 years or so after Dracula died.

 

My first book was titled Journal of an Undead. But my agent couldn't get it placed. I felt it was because the word sounded too zombie-ish. So I changed it a number of times. It was finally published as Adventures in Death & Romance: Vyrkolakas Tales. Stoker, too, first called his work The Un-Dead. In Romanian legend, garlic can protect people against vampires; he also used Slavic legend that said they had no reflection and were repelled by a cross. You'll find in my book only Greek legend is used, although I do make reference to how myths could be blended back in the Dark Ages.

 

Stoker's vampire can turn into a bat. Arabus uses the black void to travel quickly, and escape danger.

 

Stoker was fascinated by Freud's discoveries about the human psyche. I love Jung's work and imbue human psychology in everything I write. Stoker wrote that we can defeat him if we all work together. In Arabus, I create a legend that he can be destroyed with four working together. Stoker's book was published in 1897, although according to the authors, that's when he signed the contract. He died in 1912, waiting 15 miserable years for readers to respond, and died in poverty.

 

I'd have to publish mine this year and live to be 84 to understand that kind of misery.

 

"Stoker's Dracula is based on the notion that certain beings do not die but instead undergo a transformation into another form of life." I'd tell you what happens to Arabus in the contemporary novel but that would spoil things -- even if you never get to read it in this lifetime.

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Two Ways to Write a Novel


Perhaps you've heard the debates. Writing an outline for your novel's first draft stifles your creativity. But if you don't write an outline your plotline will get lost.


Before you take a sledgehammer to your laptop, be assured there is a solution. I presented this technique at a writer's convention and one writer told me, "I never thought I could write a novel before!"


As a writing support group moderator and published author I've talked to a lot of writers. Over and over, the one question asked is how I managed to finish a novel. I learned that when writers get stuck writing their novel, they generally get stuck at chapter three. Some, however, can write an entire first draft without an outline and not get lost. Those writers' comments encouraged me to develop this unique two-step process of writing the novel.


This article will help you decide if you're that kind of writer, and if not, what to do if you get stuck. Using the process shared here that combines both ways of writing a book, you will determine if you need to write an outline—which we will now call "the story treatment."


STEP ONE: You have to start with the idea that you can write a novel and you have to find a great idea for a novel—something worth writing, with the unique feel only you can give it.


When I came up with the idea for my first published novel, Felling of the Sons, the idea was what would Ben Cartwright do if all three of his sons were in danger at the same time and were off in different directions?


STEP TWO: A book has to start somewhere. Too many writers worry from the start where to start. By the time you finish your first draft, that beginning will probably no longer make sense. So never worry—just start. Start with tension— something is happening. Start with an event or trauma. If it makes you want to write the first draft, it should make the reader want to read it. I started with the villains in "Felling of the Sons," and their desire to kill a Cartwright. My publisher later said I shouldn't start with dialog. But I liked the tension of it.


STEP THREE: Keep writing. Write and write and write. When you hear people say "write what you know," this is probably what they mean. So with just enough research to know that your idea is do-able, keep writing. Write with all the inspiration your idea gives you.


STEP FOUR: Don't stop writing. The problem with writing a first draft is that few of us can complete 300 pages before doing something else—like sleeping. We can't, unless we're Stephen King, have the luxury of not also having a job. Before you know it, a week has gone by without a minute of writing time. Now you're re-reading what you've written to find out where you left off, what you named the secondary character, where you put little pieces of the puzzles, what they are …


If you start re-reading and re-editing those first three chapters and can't figure out what to do from there, you've killed your momentum. This is where outlining the rest of the book will help.


But say you got to those 200 plus pages, beginning to end and completed a first draft without stopping. Then you are one of those writers who doesn't need the story outline. To me, these people are simply legends. But this is the main point of this process that I recommend. Find out which kind you are by simply writing as far as you can go. Write the novel until you get stuck. You might not. It can demand on how your mind works, the kind of novel you're writing, or even how well structured your writing time is.


STEP FIVE: But if you've found out, instead, that by chapter three you don't know where to go next, you're reading to plot out the rest of it, to give yourself that guideline that will help you finish. If you're re-reading too much because you forgot what they did on whatever page that was, you don't want to give up, do you? Well, yes, if what you have so far bores you, maybe. But instead, give yourself another chance. Write the story treatment. Here's how.


1.Go back to your basic idea paragraph:


Jack and Jill were brother and sister. Their parents sent them for water. They had to climb a big hill. Both of them took buckets. They climbed the hill. They filled those buckets. But Jill bumped into Jack and he tumbled down the hill and broke his neck. What did Jill do next? She ran away, because she was afraid she would have to spend the rest of her life caring for a paralyzed brother. But where did she go? She ended up in the next town, where she had to find a job, but she was feeling so poorly about Jack that Clive, the local pimp, was able to force her into bondage. When no one hears from Jill, Jack, now a paraplegic, finds a way to use the internet to track her down. He gets in disguise and feigns a more totally inability as he rolls to her rescue and shoots the pimp. Jill is saved, and she realizes that her brother doesn't hold her responsible, after all.

2.This is an encapsulation of your novel, start to finish. Make sure you have a story at all by turning your idea into one paragraph, start to finish.

 

The Story Treatment (ST) gives your book cohesiveness so you don't lose yourself. In my current novel, the ST helped me learn in a novel I'm editing who Boone Tyler became along the way, and gave me the characters, the plot, and the novel's reason to exist. But from here you develop the story treatment (plot outline) even further.

 

3.The ST needs to be only about four pages; or it can be a page, or 20 pages. Keep adding to your idea paragraph until you have enough to finish the novel.


a)It's not necessarily easy to do. You need to spend some time with it. It needs to be complex enough to excite you.
b)Once you have the ST done, you will continue your novel without the pesky need to look back at what your characters did two days before.

 

But doesn't it rob my creativity? "Then I can't let my characters go off into new directions." The ST gives you the freedom to get into the plot and keep your characters moving. With this freedom they will come alive and start doing things you never expected.

 

4.Because characters do unexpected things, you will need to update the ST as you write the novel. I keep a printed one handy and make notes as I go. Petroglyphs are etched into rock. Your novel is not. You use the same imaginative juices to create the ST that you use to write the novel.


a)Do you think your mind will allow itself to be boxed in by one idea if another one comes along? Of course not! All you have to do is change the ST to keep it updated when those new ideas happen.


5.You'll find with an ST that you will now be able to handle a lot of intricate plots and subplots. Jean Auel wrote a series of novels that seem like they could have been created without a treatment. But she said the first one started as a short story, then she realized she had to know more about these people and immersed herself in research. The short story became an outline, she said, "into a plan for 6 epic novels."

 

For some writers, working on a novel without an ST is like building a house without a floor plan. You might force yourself to live in it, but try finding someone else to live there with you. With your ST done and as exciting as you can make it, you are ready and excited to finish the novel.

 

6.If you've kept the ST updated during the draft process, it is the perfect vehicle to turn into a synopsis. When a publisher asks for you, it will make you groan, but a story treatment is easy to turn into one if you've kept up on it along the way.

 

Whatever kind of writer you are, this process of writing a novel will work for you. Just start writing and see where that leads you. If you can't get all the way, plot it! Don't just throw it away.

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How We Learn about Inadequacies

Nerves were racing double time on my way to my first big commercial shoot. By big I meant more money in two days than I've ever made before. What if I let them down? What if they're disappointed? I've come to learn that my agent thinks it's a miracle if I get any commercial at all. Why? I have a lousy profile. And my hands are too veiny. What if I disappointed them here when they see what they really got?

 

I pulled up to park on the street where I could see an RV and all kinds of camera setup action going on. One girl directing traffic came over to me. "Are you our talent?"

 

Gosh, I loved being called that. I responded, "I'm playing Alice." I think my gray hair gave me away. The only other gray-haired I met that day was the fellow who owned the RV and rented it for cast and crew to have a bathroom and a place to veggie out.

 

I waited in the car because I was early, and then decided I had to find Maya, who I was told to call when I got there. She helped me unload my costumes and then I drove to a more appropriate parking spot.

 

I noted on the call sheet that there was going to be a safety meeting, but I never got to attend so I guess that was just for the crew. We were, after all, filming during a pre-booster-shot pandemic.

 

We were shooting at a house with the owner's permission, although that did not include bathroom privileges. I was there from 8 am until 7 pm and usually prefer to hold it when I'm on an airplane. But discomfort aside, and the RV handy, the cast was welcoming and all wore safety masks.  I bonded with the little girl playing my granddaughter. Together we got on our old-fashioned, back-pedal brake bikes to practice for the first big scene. A storm was coming up the Mississippi River so we did all the outdoor scenes first. I brought my own helmet, as she did, and we practiced breaking without using our hands.

 

Then we were told to get into position as the camera crew and director tried to figure out the best way to film the biking scene. This was the most complicated, and I was glad we got that out of the way first. (I was in a low budget movie once where they saved the big dialog scene for last and I was fired because I couldn't get the lines exactly as in the script.) 

 

The trick in this scene was that I had to follow the mobile camera so close as to nearly touching; they wanted me to walk the bike and then seamlessly start to pedal. I just didn't know there was a way to do that seamlessly. The director finally agreed after several attempts, so that I had to start biking behind them as they moved, still close but a little more off to the side so they could see her behind me, and start pedaling right away without hitting the camera crew.

 

Then came their first criticism, but one I always expected to get. "Now you're not on stage here. You don't have to amplify those emotions. Just play it soft and sincere, dial it down." To jump ahead, later he told me to dial it up again.

 

Granddaughter was so very charming and perfect in the role. I hope we'll be seeing more of her. (I was asked a few times if she was my real granddaughter.)

 

Once the bike scene was a wrap, I was in for the surprise of my life. The crew told me to get into a funny looking contraption. I stared at it. "You want me to fly now?"

 

"No, you get to be the camera. The camera is strapped to you and it follows your moves."

 

Well, that sounded clever to me. Since I was the only brace, I used a lot of hip, knee and abdominal muscles to hold it up. Odd how they never asked me if I ever suffered from back or knee pain. That's when it occurred to me. I really AM the focus of this commercial. Me. And this way, too, they didn't have to worry about the camera catching my profile. Clever. I shot a film recently where they kept saying, let's get it so she's looking more at the camera. The girl I was working with on that (just for fun) film called it a ski-slope nose. But then, she wasn't the one the camera crew applauded for when we were told to ad-lib.

 

Next came my bush-cutting scene where granddaughter and son come to greet me and all I had to do was react with pleasure when I heard their voices. They took away most of my lines, though. That was disappointing. Probably thought I sounded nasal through my ski-slope nose.

 

They had one scene where I was supposed to be spray-painting the bike, but they felt my face was too close to the bike to pull that off, so they had to change it to just painting with a brush. The premise was that I was painting bikes as a hobby, and used to love riding bikes but was getting out of shape. In the scene where I was pushing granddaughter Lucy off on the bike, I'm supposed to react to my smart watch signaling high-blood pressure. But I thought they needed more there and gave them a chest clutching, hot-breath pant as though I was going to pass out. Someone said, oh my goodness, help her, she's having a heart attack. That's not what they wanted. So I had to dial that back, too, and give them just a frown at the watch.

 

We got to do the bike-painting scenes, Lucy and I, and they told us to have a little fun with it. So she got to paint my shirt, not just once, but several times, so I gave her 'that look.' That was the only other compliment I received, and they didn't use that in the commercial.

 

Lucy was done by lunchtime. In the afternoon I was strapped in again, and filmed opening and shutting the garage door, supposedly with different expressions each time (before and after therapy), the in-house phone call to hear insurance reassurance, and the painting scenes that I did alone. I had to come back the next day to film just in the morning at another location. Those were the scenes where I was getting checked by the doctor, and working out with exercises. But it seemed like every time we changed to another scene, strapping me in again to that camera, I had to stand there for what felt like hours, holding the camera up with knees that were getting quite sore. They had to have discussions of what they wanted, shoot several times, then get on video chat with the advertisers to make sure it was what they wanted before we could move on to another scene.

 

At the end, when we all called it's a wrap, I got ready to leave. I turned to the director and said, most politely, I hope you weren't disappointed.

 

He did not respond. I suppose all actors look for reassurance. They must get tired of that. Yes, they did manage to shoot the film without getting my profile. And I joined the Dean's Health Medicare plan. So win-win! The commercial aired a lot, and an ad with my face (not profile) was plastered on the side of a city bus. Now there's a first! And it was a nice check, more than I expected.

 

The following year I got another check in the mail, because they decided to use the commercial again at least in print places, like Facebook.

 

The next two commercials I got chosen for were both off full-front photos, not video auditions. I haven't won off a video audition since. So yeah, this commercial was like a miracle because it was what I like to do best - ride bikes.

If you're not a success, it's likely you're fault, even if it's a body part for which you have no control. But the camera does have control. Tell that to the producers who filmed my entire leading role in profile. No, they never got chosen for any film fests. I wonder why.

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Abortion Debate Updated

Let's start this debate off with a little quote from a well-researched novel about the Church's attitude in 1215.

 

 "Her funeral, too, had to be held outside the church, for her body held an unbaptized infant, and the church must not be defiled." Really? You wanted babies baptized inside the womb? I'm going to say it out loud, because that attitude is so offensive.  Just because Christians believe that every conception is a gift of God doesn't give them the right to regulate someone else's womb. This whole issue about birth control, including abortion, is about a woman's right to choose her time to be a mother.  But it's more than that.  It's against the Christian idea that they have the right to control society.  Normally I have nothing against Christians.  But on this issue I do, and by the time you're done reading this—if you read it with an open mind—you'll understand the debate a little better.  

 

Granted, this opening quote was from 1215 in Italy.  But think about it—is it really so different an attitude than what pro-lifers promote today?  I made a radical comment in a novel I wrote—about a girl out west in the 1800s who was raped by her father, gave birth, and the father strangled the child and never let her see it.  There have been readers who have badmouthed the book and refused to read more because of this event, a pivotal event in a relationship that moves the story further. Why so incensed?  Because it could never possibly happen?  Of course it could.  Had this girl been allowed an abortion, a lot of grief and trauma could have been avoided.  I don't know how they did abortions in the middle 1800s, but by the late 1800s I know that abortion doctors were available.  I found search for another novel set in the 1940s that claimed the use of a morning after drug.

 

But in today's world, we need to factor in emotional maturity, because today's unwed mother is so often left alone to fend for herself.  And pro-lifers refuse to face that fact.  They want to force that woman to bear the child but provide nothing to help her out afterward, unless she is willing to fall on the auspices of their church and plead eternity loyalty to their savior.  

 

Is it any wonder that newly born babies are often found abandoned?

 

If you believe that from the moment an egg is fertilized by sperm its life deserves to be protected until it is born and takes a breath, you're a pro-lifer.  Paul Ryan, former Senator from Wisconsin, wanted to give a fertilized egg the same legal rights as a breathing human being.  This GOP attitude has led to the issues of Justice Scalia saying that the Roe V. Wade protection of abortion got it all wrong. All wrong is from a Christian standpoint. Let me demonstrate.

 

Roe V. Wade's Supreme Court ruling referred to the 14th Amendment's Constitutional right to privacy. That this issue is between a woman and her doctor and no one else -- in effect, no state was then allowed to prohibit abortion because it's interfering in a woman's right to privacy. There's also a phrase in that Amendment that says that all persons have a right to life, liberty and happiness … all "individual persons" was then latched onto and Christians began demanding we see fetuses as individual persons. Ah yes, there's the rub. How is a fetus an individual when it cannot exist outside the mother?

 

That's the issue and there's the compromise. No child in the womb who is able to exist out of the womb can be aborted; that is, deliberately killed. We make the part of this privacy act and we effectively cover all bases. There really are no arguments that don't boil down to this specific comment: Is the fetus an individual? No, not if it cannot sustain itself.

 

It all really boils down to 'none of your business.' Today we're also facing a formula shortage. I mean, how does that even happen, when more women than ever are breast-feeding? Well, it means the formula companies have to scramble to make the product cheaper. I hear one even sickened babies and had to be removed. Not all women can breast-feed. Sadly. It's the best thing for the baby. And now they want to do away with abortion at a time when current babies are a struggle to feed.

 

My strongest argument in favor of birth control, including abortion, is that there is no one more helpless than a newborn infant, an eating machine that at first seems to cry incessantly because he doesn't always know how to eat, or maybe he's simply frustrated, too, at the birthing process and in pain from all the adjustment his body has had to make.  The mother has to have extreme patience in those first months, while dealing with this squawking eating machine, especially if breast-feeding, along with a host of other problems, namely pain and maybe even a little post-partum depression.

 

Add to this the frustration of having a baby you really didn't want, and formula that's hard to find.

 

The problem with calling abortion murder is what happens when a women miscarries. Is anyone going to believe it was accidental? Or does a woman who miscarries automatically become a murderer? Being pro-life puts you on a slippery slope for which there is no real escape. You have to keep defending and defending that position, along with wanting no government interference, which is supposedly a GOP stance -- less government involvement in our lives.

 

Grieving women have a hard time coping with the loss of their lovingly anticipated offspring.  Should we accuse them of murder?  Did they do something wrong, causing the fetus to abort?  Absolutely not.  But how do we know that this mother, whose baby miscarries or dies at birth, really wanted it?  If you outlaw abortion, will ever single prenatal death be called murder?

 

A woman has an abortion not because she's mean, but because she's loving. She knows that her child deserves the right kind of environment. So what happens when you force her to bear young before she's ready?  She may have such a horrifying experience that she never does it again.  So by making her bear one she doesn't want, you are robbing her of the loving experience of having others she does want.

 

Today, a woman needs to be ready, because killing a breathing infant IS murder.

 

Caring is a remarkable feeling and giving birth is a beautiful thing -- if the child is wanted. Yes, adoptive families are most often loving ones (although I have known failures).  Adoptive children fill a gap. But there will always be things about that adopted child the parent will never know, forcing that child out to seek her birth parents.

Abortion has a very long history, indicating that women have always believed they had the right to choose motherhood.  But then Christianity stepped in and made it a forbidden act, by converting those "pagans." Aside from the crime rate caused by unwanted and abused children, do you know what women had to go through before Roe vs. Wade?  Doctors were sought who would perform abortions in closets (figuratively speaking), coat hangers were used by those desperate for do-it-yourself … I would bet some very dangerous substances were ingested as well.  Women died in desperation because of the fear of bringing a child into an undesirable circumstance. And we've mentioned the occasional dead baby found in the garbage, or flushed down the toilet because of the terror of women unable or unready for the responsibility, and fearful of the stigma of pregnancy.  

The point of pro-choice, then, is not to stop people from having babies. Instead it recognizes the seriousness of the mother/child relationship and allows the mother some say when it's her time.  

 

Pro-lifers think everyone has to give birth because they and their God will be offended otherwise.  But their God does not belong to everyone. People who are comfortable with their spirituality have no need to push their beliefs on others, which is what pro-lifers try to do.  

 

No one is forced to have an abortion.  That might be the biggest fallacy out there.  But to say we want to be free to have guns and defend ourselves and in the same breath take away a woman's control of her own body is an arrogance that only an insensitive man can devise.

 

I long for the day when there is no need for abortion, because of easy access to birth control, lots of sexual activity training by the time the girl is menstruating and at that same age for boys, an open conversation and dialog about this most important of duties, and free birth control and morning after drugs readily available.

 

I would rather see Christianity disappear than hear one more of its radicals say that they have the right to stick their hand over another woman's vagina.

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