A Photo, A Kilt, An Italian Woman, and Many Questions

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, which works out well for today’s post, as the school year is racing towards me and the majority of my words are being soaked up into lesson plans!

Personally, I think that this extraordinary shot from the archives of The Imperial War Museum   is interesting enough to qualify for at least fifteen hundred words. Of course, that makes this an over-long post, so I’d better get on with it. Without further ado…

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“An Italian woman inspects the kilts of Pipe Major William MacConnachie and Pipe Major William Boyd in the Colosseum of Rome, 6 June 1944.” © IWM (NA 16084)

I can’t help but wonder, was this photo spontaneous? Was Sergeant Radford of the No. 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit in just the right place at the right time to capture this odd image?

Was the pictured Pipe Major so happy to be in Rome, the first Axis capital to fall, that he ignored the “breeze” pulling at the back of his kilt?

Perhaps, or perhaps it was staged. After all, in my opinion the lady’s shoes don’t look built for stealth.

Either way, I don’t imagine she could have gone undetected for much longer. What do you suppose the shot would have looked like taken thirty seconds later?

And, of course, there’s the obvious question: just what was she doing in the first place?

At any rate, I didn’t expect something as curious as this little image to come up when I searched the IMW collections under “Second World War Italy,” but I’m glad that it did! I love finding old photos that make me wonder, that hint at the stories of the people they capture.

As I’ve now clearly exceeded the two thousand word mark, between the picture and my musings, I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions- what do you think this picture was all about?

As for me, I’m back to planning Creative Writing lessons! Maybe the kids and I will do some stories using photos as prompts…

Many thanks for visiting!

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UP FRONT by Bill Mauldin: Finding Humor in the Darkness of War

Bill Mauldin

Thus far I’ve lived a quiet life, and I’m thankful for it.

Of course there have been sorrows and troubles. Like every family, we have our ongoing health and relationship struggles that may not end this side of heaven. Still, once I started studying history again, I quickly remembered to be grateful for these.

At least my family has a home.

At least my loved ones can get medical care.

At least I’m not wondering where my next meal is coming from.

At least…

However, living a quiet life and writing about unquiet times proved a challenge. If I were going to try to portray a difficult time- for instance life in the slit trenches and foxholes of the 1940s- how was I to do it well?

I focused on finding books and sources written by people who lived through the conflict. I devoured first-hand accounts, and books which used first hand accounts as sources.

After a while, my husband noticed that some of the topics were starting to weigh heavily on me. (He’s a good one 🙂 ) He encouraged me to pick up some fiction again, and he also gifted me one of my favorite books from this era, Up Front by Bill Mauldin.

Published in 1945, Up Front is a different sort of history book. Bill Mauldin was a cartoonist for the Army newspaper The Stars and Stripes. This book is a compilation of his comics, narrated by the author. It almost reads like an interview, written in first person and giving his perspective on the time.

As far as his comics, Mr. Mauldin says:

“I haven’t tried to picture this war in a big, broad-minded way. I’m not old enough to understand what it’s all about, and I’m not experienced enough to judge its failures and successes. My reactions are those of a young guy who has been exposed to some of it, and I try to put those reactions in my drawings. Since I’m a cartoonist, maybe I can be funny after the war, but nobody who has seen this war can be cute about it while it’s going on. The only way I can try to be a little funny is to make something out of the humorous situations which come up even when you don’t think life could be any more miserable. It’s pretty heavy humor, and it doesn’t seem funny at all sometimes when you stop and think about it.”  (pgs. 7-8)

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He doesn’t paint war as clean and shiny with everyone behaving properly, (i.e. these aren’t comics for the kids,) but he doesn’t paint a bitter picture either. Mr. Mauldin focuses on the people, the camaraderie, the respect, (or lack of) they show each other, fear and courage and small acts of kindness.

‘Joe’ and ‘Willy,’ two scruffy infantry ‘dogfaces,’ are the stars of Mauldin’s comics. The book follows their progress (though not exactly chronologically) from the muddy mountain slopes of Italy, to the embattled Anzio beachhead, up to Rome, then over to France.

His comics and views of the war weren’t always popular. General George S. Patton’s hated Mauldin’s cartoons. The ‘spit and polish’ general objected to Mauldin’s portrayal of tired, sloppy soldiers, and to jokes at the officers’ expense. Mauldin himself admitted that he liked to poke some fun at the ‘brass.’ However, he qualified this tendency.

“Not all colonels and generals and lieutenants are good. While the army is pretty efficient about making and breaking good and bad people, no organization of eight million is going to be perfect.” (pg.16)

“I never worry about hurting the feelings of the good officers when I draw officer cartoons. I build a shoe, and if somebody wants to put it on and loudly announce that it fits, that’s his own affair.” (pg. 180)

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While he may have stirred up a little fuss with some of these comics, in the end, Mr. Mauldin’s hope for his characters was for them to find their own quiet life. A hope for peace.

“I’ve been asked if I have a postwar plan for Joe and Willie. I do. Because Joe and Willie are very tired of the war they have been fighting for almost two years, I hope to take them home when it is over. While their buddies are readjusting themselves and trying to learn to be civilians again, Joe and Willie are going to do the same. While their buddies are trying to drown out the war in the far corner of a bar, Joe and Willie are going to drink with them. If their buddies find their girls have married somebody else, and if they have a hard time getting jobs back, and if they run into difficulties in their new, strange life of a free citizen, then Joe and Willie are going to do the same. And if they finally get settled and drop slowly into the happy obscurity of a humdrum job and a little wife and a houseful of kids, Joe and Willie will be happy to settle down too.

They might even shave and become respectable.”  (pgs. 17-18)

It takes a gifted writer, and in this case cartoonist, to find real smiles in the middle of terrible situations. For those who appreciate this gift, those who are interested in this period of history, or those who just want to appreciate their quiet lives a bit more, Up Front is an excellent choice.

 

Have you enjoyed Bill Mauldin’s work, or found other stories that help you appreciate the quiet times in life?

Many thanks for visiting!

 

Fictional Babies Never Spit Up: On Writing Characters With Children

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Ah, details. There’s nothing like a detail that’s out of place or forgotten for pulling me out of a story.

For instance, I have no problem watching a movie about reconstituted dinosaurs walking the Earth.

I’ll even accept that the characters truly believe that this time having said dinosaurs in a theme park will work out.

But when one character steps up as an authority on dino training, able to tame the most vicious species of all, and his stated qualification for doing so is that he was in the Navy…

Somehow dino training and Navy work don’t quite seem to mesh. (Willing to admit I might be wrong, I asked a couple of Navy friends if they’d started learning how to train dinosaurs yet. They told me they’re not supposed to talk about that. So, I guess it’s an open question… 😉 )

Now, I’m no expert on dinosaurs or Naval duties, and a clever writer could probably explain this discrepancy away. However, I have, by the grace of God, brought three small humans into this world and raised them for several years.

This background makes me a little more skeptical when reading stories involving parents.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into a few tales where missing details reveal that the author lacked experience with wee people, but really wanted to insert a character with kids into their story to build sympathy or suspense.

Now, it’s not a bad ploy, when done well.

However, it’s essential for the writer who doesn’t have small children to realize that if they’ve just made one of their characters a proud parent, they’ve also just made their character’s life a bit more complicated.

Are These Clothes Washable?

Let’s start with the basics.

Coincidentally, it was another dino-related film where I noticed a mom, baby on her hip, wearing a midriff-baring shirt. No, the shirt wasn’t the problem, but the taut little tummy underneath? Nuh uh.

Despite what Hollywood says, after 9+ months of being stretched from the inside out while manufacturing another human being, things don’t just SPROING! back into pre-baby proportions.

Body changes aside, just wearing nice clothes with a little one is tricky for Mom and Dad, cuz they’re going to get wrecked.

My husband took a long hiatus from neckties, as spit-up left new patterns on some of his favorites. After a few tugs, I put my dangly earrings aside, and after a beaded necklace exploding at an Easter service, most of my other jewelry went away too. The parent of small children learns that solid colors like black don’t hide smears from cookie crusted fingers. This isn’t even touching on the impossibility of finding time in the bathroom alone to get ready.

In other words, if your character has small kids and is always tidy and dressed and fit, he or she is giving something else up.

Maybe it’s sleep. Maybe it’s time with the kids. Maybe it’s some extra money. Maybe it’s privacy, as their mom has moved in with them.

If the parent you’ve created looks too good without any sacrifice, it’s likely he or she won’t quite ring true.

Where’s the Floor?

Kids leave a footprint.

Scratch that, they leave many footprints, often muddy. Also, toys, books, clothes, burp cloths, bottles, teething rings, rolled up diapers that didn’t make it to the garbage yet, sippy cups, baby food jars, tiny spoons that get lodged in the garbage disposal, and socks…socks everywhere.

I’ll not say it’s impossible to keep a clean house with small children. I’ve heard of people who’ve done it, though I find the stories suspect.

In the fictional world, however, if your character’s house is spotless, if her décor is stylish and the children’s rooms are effortlessly tidy, she MUST be either 1. giving up one of the things listed above 2. extremely organized, allowing no unnecessary items into her house, or 3. fake.

Tempus Fugit

Awww, your character got invited to a party!

She manages to find a dress little Timmy hasn’t spit up on, and it has a waist line that hides the post-baby belly. (She’s kept an eye on that since someone last week asked her when she was due.) Timmy took a long nap so she even got her hair done and…oops!

He’s crying. The sitter’s not due to come for fifteen minutes.

She leaps heroically past the pacifier, stuffed dog, and board books on the floor, leftover from Timmy’s “tummy time”, approaches the crib and…

Sniff sniff…

Her super new parent senses immediately catch the whiff of the gift in Timmy’s diaper.

Well, don’t want to leave him sitting in it. Oh, and he’s hungry, and this dress isn’t conducive for nursing

If she’s very, very good at what she does, she might be ready to go by the time the sitter comes, or only be a few minutes late.

Parents’ time is not their own. If it’s easy for your character to get out the door, yes even when that handy grandmother or best friend is in town, can she tell me how she does it?

So. Many. Emotions.

From that burst of fierce love when they placed my newborn into my weary arms- no, even further back, from that terrifying, exhilarating moment when I discovered I had a new life inside of me- my kids haven’t stopped playing havoc with my emotions.

I love them and I’d do anything for them and they make me crazy and I just want them to sleep.

I long for a date, away, with my husband, but then we miss them and I don’t know what to do with my arms without a little one in them, and we end up talking about them most of the date.

They weep inconsolably because I threw an old coloring sheet away and I have to walk away for my sanity, but then they get really hurt or sick and I know that if I could , I’d take all of their pain for them, and I’m consumed by frustrated helplessness, because they’re my baby and I can’t do anything but hold them and pray for them…

Having kids is an emotional business. That’s why parents with kids in peril make such sympathetic characters.

HOWEVER, it robs the story of the full power of that emotion if the kids just drop into the story for the sake of a moment in plot, then are stowed away until they’re needed again.

SO.

While it might enhance the tension in your dinosaur thriller to have the young mother clutch her newborn to her heart as she flees, just remember, if she trips over a few stray teddy bears and the odd container of baby wipes on the bedroom floor, if her hair is messy because, hey, she has a newborn and hasn’t had time to comb it, and if instead of a cute matching ensemble she’s in her husband’s shorts because they fit better postpartum than her pre-baby pants, and she’s sick of her maternity clothes, those of us who’ve been there (sans dinosaurs, of course) will likely be smiling.

 

Readers, what missed details pull you out of a story? Writers, what details have you been struggling to get just right?

Many thanks, as always, for visiting!

 

 

Musical Interlude: “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”

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My children coaxed me into trying to harvest enough decent apples from our tree to make them a pie. As usual, once I’d pared away all of the wormy bits, the “good” pile was much smaller than the waste.

I managed a tasty crisp, though, AND the process reminded me of one of my favorite 40’s songs, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree!”  (Fitting, especially after poor planning allowed one of the apples I was picking to hit me squarely in the nose…)

According to various sources,* “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” was based on an English folk-song called “Long, Long Ago.” It was adapted by Lew Brown and Charles Tobias, and debuted on Broadway in 1939, then re-adapted once the United States joined World War II.

The song’s popularity soared; in fact “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” had three different versions on the hit parade at the same time!

The first version I heard was released by the Glenn Miller Band, with vocals by Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton and The Modernaires. Fellow Minnesotans, Patty, Maxene and LaVerne Andrews (also known as The Andrews Sisters) released their own version, and were featured in the film Private Buckaroo.

I’ve shared both below, with the Glenn Miller rendition first.

OR, if you’d prefer some 40’s dance moves, here is the Andrews Sisters’ Rendition!

I hope you enjoy them, and thanks for visiting!

 

 

*I checked out several sites, which seemed to repeat each other- this one actually cited some sources, so I used it as my primary resource.

Behind Great-Grandpa’s Walls

Up North House

I remember my great-grandpa fondly, as a tough old Swede who chopped wood into his 80’s, and who had a smile that beamed from ear to ear.

Long before my time, he served as an Army cook in World War I, and while in France cooked for the President’s daughter (or so family legend attests.) He returned to build a home for his bride amidst the pine and birch woods off the north shore of Lake Superior.

Though they’d moved out by the time I was born, visits to Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma’s old house “Up North” were a highlight of my childhood.

My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would pile into the house, or camp in the yard. The kids would brave the mosquitoes and explore the woods. We’d pick berries and wildflowers, build dams and bridges on the little creek, and return to the house for cards and fresh fish from the river.

Of course, while I loved the house, it always had some…character.

I still find the steep descent to the dark, earthy basement a little alarming, and only go down when absolutely necessary.

I believe Great-Grandpa dug the pit that served the house’s septic needs himself, which, until it’s recent update, made using the facilities an adventure.

And then, there are the items we found in Great-Grandpa’s walls.

Age had taken it’s toll, and the house had become rather musty. My dad and I spent the better part of one visit during my late teens pulling apart the interior walls in the upstairs bedrooms so that he could clean them up.

The insulation- such as it was- contained some interesting objects. Probably the strangest was an old, ugly, housecoat.

What in the world…?

Maybe my family, never a group to waste anything, just thought that the housecoat would be useful for insulation. Personally, I like to think there’s more of a story there. Maybe one of the daughters of the house, my grandma or great-aunts, received it as a gift, and decided that it would be best if the unflattering thing just disappeared…

I don’t know if more clothing has turned up, but during more recent renovations, Dad found some items of particular interest to me.

DSCN2892I’m not sure just why newspaper and magazine clippings from the 1930s and 40s were in Great-Grandpa’s walls. Were they more insulation, or were they just one of those things that gets tucked into a “safe place” and forgotten?

Whatever the reason for their preservation,  they made for fascinating reading!

For instance, I learned about the danger of gossip during war-time, and the nefarious plots of the enemy.

DSCN2888I also learned how to be more patriotic in my gas consumption, and some handy, low-sugar wartime recipes.

One of the more curious pieces was incomplete. The article appears to chronicle the story of a spy smuggling information to an Italian diplomat in Washington.

Whether the story records a real bit of war-time espionage, or was just a ploy to sell papers, it looks like it would have been interesting reading. However, I guess Great-Grandma was more interested in the recipes on the other side.

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Ah well. At least I got some free dietary advice…

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The stack of papers was quite a bit deeper, but I only found out about them on the last day of our visit. I am looking forward to getting a better look at them, and questioning Dad about just what else he’s found in Great-Grandpa’s walls!

Have you found any history in unexpected places?

Many thanks for visiting!

Summer Travels and Midwest Curiosities

Hello all!

The Clare clan has returned from our visit back home to Minnesota and Wisconsin. (Even after thirteen years in the Pacific Northwest, and in spite of the Midwest’s violent weather changes, blood-thirsty mosquitos, and horizons that can feel lonely in their vast emptiness, those blue skies and rolling fields still whisper “home.”)

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There might not be much to see, but you sure can see it all.

Our travels didn’t allow me much time to explore and look for spectacular views or historical sites to share -when you manage to get a family of five 1,500+ miles away from home to visit family and friends, people take priority over sightseeing.

Instead, in between hugs and meals and board games and farewells, I found myself looking around, noticing and enjoying the little curiosities of the Midwest as they presented themselves.

I hope you’ll enjoy a look at some of them too!

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For instance, I have to admire the optimism here. Yes, it’s certainly closed, but “road?”

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The challenge of sustaining small family farms doesn’t seem to have daunted these folks. This shot was taken in the middle of a nice little subdivision- you can see some of the houses in the background. I imagine the tiny hayfield down the block is theirs as well.

DSCN2855If you’re going to build a water tower, why not add a little local flavor? (Mmm, it makes me hungry for sweetcorn. Minnesota’s is the best.)

Speaking of flavor, we found an interesting bit of it plunked in the middle of peaceful green fields near Jordan, MN.

I can neither confirm nor deny that this is actually the largest candy store in Minnesota. It must be something special, though, as a number of superheroes turned out to guard it. Apparently Doctor Who and the Borg also found it worth a visit.

The sheer volume of candy was impressive enough, with sections of local goods as well as imports from around the world, but then they included a few special displays.

My four-year-old’s hand is in front of the glass, for perspective.

Of my three children, she’s the only one who kept pulling me over to listen to the animatronic candy’s performances of “oldies” music, which took place every five minutes. The other kids found the talking candy unsettling. Personally, I’ll take them over that giant gummy worm…

Needless to say, the kids had a good time perusing the wares and spending the little allotment we gave them. I *ahem* may have found a few items myself.

Eventually, we recovered from the sugar crash, and resumed our journeys.

The straight highways cutting through the southern Minnesota prairie toward Wisconsin seem to go on forever, until you approach the border. Then fields drop away to clumps of dark trees, rising up to cover the slopes that surround the road as it descends into the bluffs that cradle the Mississippi River.

The longest river in North America and third longest in the world, the Mississippi has humble beginnings in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park. The river’s headwaters are shallow enough to wade across- I know from experience- but by the time the Mississippi reaches the southern edge of Minnesota, forming the border to Wisconsin, it’s grown to a respectable size.

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Perhaps there are places in the world besides Wisconsin where you decide where to purchase cheese by checking out billboards along the highway. I just haven’t visited them.

We decided to check out Humbird Cheese in Tomah because it was conveniently placed in the spot where I navigated us onto the wrong road and we had to backtrack anyway, and because with a happy mouse on their sign the cheese had to be good.

We were not disappointed.

The cheeses in whimsical shapes were interesting, but we were really searching for cheese curds.  It wasn’t until I moved out of the Midwest that I discovered the sad fact that cheese curds are not known and loved everywhere. The bite-sized curds are best when they’re fresh enough to squeak between your teeth.

We indulged in a variety: Cheddar of course, but also Cajun, and Chive/Onion. The beef sticks were a bonus. Mmmmmmm.

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Sated with candy and cheese, full of sunshine and mosquito bites, it was nearly time to bid farewell to family and friends and return to the evergreen shaded Pacific Northwest.

That’s when I found a fascinating bit of history I wasn’t expecting, with an odd family story to go along with it…

but that will have to wait for next time. 🙂

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Here’s a hint…

Have you found any interesting places, or enjoyed any local curiosities in your travels of late?

Many thanks to the bloggers Jon, Ari and Dan who provided guest posts while I was away, and many thanks to you for visiting!

 

 

My Crazy Path to Publication, a Guest Post by Dan Alatorre

Hello all! Today blogger, published author, and fabulous contest host Dan Alatorre has kindly agreed to visit the Naptime Author, and to share the story of his path to publication!

img_2351-3Hi Dan! Thanks so much for coming. So, how did you begin your journey on the crazy path to publication?

My path to publication was probably a little different from that of most people.

When my wife and I found out we had a baby on the way eight years ago, we were very excited. Facebook was kind of new to me at the time, and I was posting a lot because I was excited – obviously. Did I mention I was excited? Because I was excited. (The stork had missed our house despite years of trying our best to get him to land here.)

I was about to become a father for the first time at forty-seven years of age – an age where most of my friends were getting ready for grand kids or their children’s marriages or their children going off to college.

As a result, they were really enjoying all the things I would post about. Preparing the house, our stay in the hospital, late-night feedings – all that good stuff. I’ll spare you the intricacies of diaper pails and spit up towels. Burp towels. Whatever they’re called. I knew seven years ago. I don’t need to know that know.

Moving on…

Unfortunately, I am the type who, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I have a hard time going back to sleep. So a lot of those 3 AM feedings turned into an opportunity for me to jot down the activities that had taken place during the day with the baby. And then with the one-year-old, and with the two-year-old. Not all at 3AM, but you get the idea. See, my brothers and sisters and dad and friends, they all said: Kids grow up fast. Enjoy this time.

And even though I was a sleep deprived zombie half the time, I did enjoy it. A lot. Kids are definitely the coolest toy in the room.

So I’d write down the fun stuff we did that day, like go to WalMart to look at tricycles and end up playing soccer in the aisles for an hour, after an hour of bouncing on trampolines and testing the finger paints.

I’m not saying these were all good ideas.

But they were fun…

And at night or in the morning, I’d write them down and post them on Facebook, go off to work and think nothing of it.

But then a funny thing happened.

When I would come home from work that night, there would be 100 comments from my wife’s friends, all reliving their own precious moments with their little ones. And telling me how I had made them laugh or cry before they went to work that day.

And then comments started coming in like, “You should write a book.”

And if enough people who you believe have your best interest at heart tell you to do something, you seriously begin to consider doing it.

Sounds like good advice! How did you transform your posts into a full-fledged book?

I wrote a few books about what it’s like to be 47 years old and a first time dad, walking around with your one-year-old bundle of joy, taking her to Home Depot in a sparkly princess dress and whatnot. That went on Facebook, too, along with me asking if any of my friends knew anybody in the publishing business.

One friend did.

After talking with that agent and sending him the manuscripts and following up, and realizing that things seemed to move a lot slower in that world than the Fortune 500 companies I’d worked for, and deadlines in the traditional publishing world didn’t really mean anything (to them; I always had to meet mine), I got a little frustrated and decided to part ways.

With a few online courses, I found out how to publish my own book, and after scrubbing my manuscript clean, I sat down and put it in the computer and hit the publish button.

And then I literally sat back and waited for Oprah and Ellen to call.

I’m not kidding. I was in the shower shampooing my hair, rehearsing answers to questions Ellen was going to ask, and practicing my dance moves.

After about three sales of books in three weeks (mostly to family members, I think) and no call from Ellen, I figured I would probably have to change the way I was doing things.

I can be slow, but eventually I learn. Baby steps.

What changes did you make to your marketing strategy?

I actually marketed.

I had been in some online author groups, and one author in the health area was looking for some time management tips. That’s what I used to do as a Fortune 500 sales manager, so I helped him a little bit – and as we talked, he explained he was struggling to get his next book out. Coincidentally, I had collected a bunch of “family favorite” recipes from all my brothers and sisters, to assemble into a cookbook with funny anecdotes from our childhood. I asked him if he would help me market my book in exchange for helping him with his time management. Long story short, we released that book and it shot straight to number one.

The things I learned doing that allowed me to market the other book that I had already put out. (Ellen still hadn’t called.) It started selling, and eventually it got to number one, too!

And I put out a bunch of titles in a very short period of time that all did really well. But it felt like a niche market. I wanted to branch out and really test my wings. I’d write a book in each genre until I found what I was good at.

Why not? Baby steps.

For those who haven’t checked it out, Dan’s first book, Savvy Stories is a hilarious and poignant chance to experience that wonderous ‘baby stage’ WITHOUT having to go through the diaper changes. 🙂 )

So, as you were exploring all of these genres, did you do anything in particular to strengthen your writing craft?

Well, in a round about way. The part I skipped was when people ask, “Did you always write?” Originally I would’ve said no, but the fact is, I did. I always wrote. I made cartoons as a little kid; I wrote stories for my older brothers and sisters. I created a newspaper at my grade school and was co-editor of my high school newspaper. I wrote short stories for fun in college…

And then like everyone else, you seem to get away from it for a while.

So when I started marketing my book, it was suggested I join a critique group. I wanted none of that! A bunch of no-talent hacks, sitting around telling each other how great they are? No thanks.

I could not have been more wrong.

I was able to show a lot of people what they were doing wrong – and how to fix it – but I was able to learn a lot. When you are looking for mistakes in other peoples’ work, and having to explain what works and what doesn’t, it sharpens your eye. It helps you. As a result, my stuff got much sharper.

But additionally, I made lots of contacts with people who were getting ready to publish their books. And I was able to help them, and they were able to help me.

Some of my connections have gone on to become bestselling authors.

That’s pretty awesome! So, what do you enjoy most about writing?

It’s not being your own boss, although that’s very liberating. It’s writing a story that gets people involved, and then throwing a twist at them, or making them laugh, or cry, at just the right moment. That’s a lot of power just from typing letters on the keyboard, and it’s one I do not take lightly. I’m good at it, and I love doing it. It will always be cool that complete strangers pay good money to read my stories, and lots of people pay me a lot of money to get my input on their stories.

Many things have become available to me since I published my first book. I’ve been invited to the Board of Directors of the Florida Writer’s Association, one of the largest and most prestigious writing organizations in the United States; I have given many presentations on writing for many writers groups. I have spoken more times than I care to admit to my daughter’s grade school because they view me as a celebrity. That’s still pretty cool, even if Ellen is still missing out.

And occasionally a friend will ask me to share my insights on her blog, so we can help others on their writerly path.

I’m so glad that you were willing to share them here, today! Do you have any final thoughts?

Here’s the bottom line.

Whatever you want to know about how something is done in writing a story, grab a book where it was done and see how they did it – then go from there. Witty dialogue exists in lots of books (like lots of mine). Find it and study it. Car chases and gun battles and ghosts and demons, all that stuff exists with terrific examples from masters in each genre. Read them. Study them the way a little leaguer studies Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. Then, carve your own path but, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, if I mix a metaphor or two.

Be as helpful to as many people as you can. Some of them are going to be way more successful than you, darn it, but they will still be your friend. Others will struggle and will need your help and guidance. Lend your clout to any and all of them when you can – which is always – and remember that all of them will help you write better stories. In the end, that’s what I want to do. I want to write the best stories I can possibly write.

And, well, yeah… retiring on a yacht in the Caribbean would be good, too.

Baby steps.

Thanks again Dan, for sharing your stories and your insights! If you’d like to find out more about Dan, his other books, and the contests he hosts, he can be found at https://danalatorre.com.

Many thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Bitesize Marketing Ideas: a Guest Post by Ari Meghlen

Hello, writers and readers! While I can claim a fair amount of useless knowledge, useful writerly things, such as branding and marketing, are far outside my ken. 

Thank goodness for others, like fellow blogger Ari Meghlen, who understand these mysteries, and are willing to share their knowledge! Ari has graciously agreed to visit today, and share 10 marketing tips. Enjoy!

Avatar-Ari Meghlen (1)

Firstly, I want to say a big thank you to Anne for having me on her blog, The Naptime Author.  I appreciate being given the chance to share my thoughts with all her lovely readers.  Now, let’s get to it!

Marketing is one of those words that most writers dread.  We aren’t really into tooting our own horns.   Our comfort lies in building worlds, spinning tales, breathing life into characters…so this “marketing” malarkey doesn’t sit well with us.

So, for those of you who are not sure where to begin with marketing here are 10 Marketing bitesize ideas you can put into practice right now. 😀

01 – Stop using the word “Aspiring”

Is that really a Marketing thing?  Yes.  The reason it’s part of marketing is because how you present yourself is important.  Your stories are not the only brand you have.  You, the writer, are also part of that brand.

It’s time to be professional.  You aren’t aspiring.  If you write, you’re a writer.  End of.  Accept it.  Own it.

02 – Make use of your Email Signature

First, make sure you have an email for your writer-side (especially if you use a penname).  Stop using things like “gypsysurfer23(@)randomemail.com”  Have an email with your name/penname or website name.  Again, it’s part of the brand.

Once you have that, make use of your email signature.  Add in links to your website, social media platforms etc.  The quick rule is, keep it neat, simple and professional looking.  Don’t list every single site you’re on.  Just the main ones otherwise it can get cluttered.

03 – Be easy to find

If you want to be a professional author, people need to be able to find you online.  Make sure your profiles are up-to-date with where on the net you can be located.  If you accept emails, have your email address listed or on a website include a contacts page.

Check out all those less-thought-of places too, like About.me or Gravatar.  Did you open a Facebook account but don’t visit regularly?  Okay, but at least include a link to a place you are active on.

04 – Buy a Domain Name

If you have a website/blog for your Author/Writer platform then consider buying a domain name.  It adds validity to your presence.  Especially if you are published.

Most writers will use the name they write under.  If that’s not available, consider adding “Writes” to the end or “writer” or “author” to the end or beginning.

Most web-hosting makes it easy to connect your website/blog to your new domain name.  Though be aware, this is often only possible with a paid account.  However, paid accounts are usually good investments.

Heck, even if you don’t yet have your website/blog or are able to get a paid account, it can be good to secure the domain name early.  It usually costs very little.  Mine is about £12 for 2 years.

05 – Make time for other people

It’s all about interacting, making connections.  Take the time to visit other blogs and websites, other social media sites.  Look at other writers’ sites, leave supportive and encouraging comments.  Engage with readers without trying to sell them anything or drive in the point you’re a writer.

So often I meet new people online only for them to bombard me minutes later with comments about buying their books.  I’m not interested in that.  I want to connect with real people, not deal with some pushy sales guy.

I have met some incredible people since I started blogging.  Writers and readers alike who share similar interests, who tell me their achievements and their setbacks.

We should never be on a pedestal, proclaiming things to the audience we perceive around us.  We should be side by side, chatting and making real connections.

I have bought the books of so many people who just chatted with me, who reached out with comments and created conversations.  It made me interested in their work.

I’ve had people support my blog so much more than I ever expected, because we engaged and made real connections and they liked that.

I hammer on about this all the time, but writing is about community not competition.  We should be supporting and encouraging each other.

06 – Consider guest posting

Now I know many writers see that and go “but I have nothing to say” or “I’m not published, no one will be interested.”  Wrong, on both counts.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to offer slots on my blog for guest posts.  I sought out people I thought might be interested.  I often got these responses.

However, I managed to convince them they had something to share and that being published didn’t matter.  Heck, I’m not published, and people still read my posts.

Guest posting is an awesome opportunity.  It is another connection.  It is getting your name and your voice and your thoughts out there.  There are always things to talk about.  Always ideas and suggestions to share.

I have the great honour right now to be sharing my thoughts with you because of this guest posting opportunity Anne has given me.  Be brave!  Visit blogs that offer guest posting opportunities and see if you would be a good fit.

07 – Maintain a consistent Brand

The word Branding sometimes feels strange when applied to writers.  After all, we consider “brand” more for corporations.  You know, the ones with easily recognisable logos and catchphrases.  But we need branding too.

Branding can include things like colour scheme, font, imagery.  It can include a logo or an avatar.  It can include a style and voice.

You probably already have some kind-of brand, you just might not be consciously aware of it.  The best way to work with your brand is with your online presence.

Keep your brand consistent on all your online platforms.  That means banners, fonts, tag lines you might use.  They should be the same or similar across each location.  Think about it, Twitter, Facebook etc allow you to include a banner.  This should be the same or similar as each other and your blog/website.

The colour scheme and fonts should be the same.  Maybe even the photo or avatar.  It doesn’t have to all be exact, but there needs to be a consistency.  People need to see it and instantly recognise it as you.

I use the same avatar on all my platforms.  The same banner or at least part of the banner on all platforms.  I keep a colour scheme I work with on my platforms.  Each of these pieces builds the brand.

08 – Work smarter, not harder

I don’t know about you guys, but when I decided to be more focused with my writing (which included being active on social media, urgh) I suddenly realised just how much effort was needed outside of the actual writing processes.

For the first year I foundered.  Badly.  I huffed and puffed my annoyance at all these platforms (I was only on two!), couldn’t find time to write blog posts let alone outline or write my newest WIP.

In the end I had to step back and work out a system.  Putting things in place to take some of the pressure off.

This included creating a Content Calendar for my blog so that I wasn’t always scratching around for topic ideas last minute.

I looked into different scheduling programs to help ease the burden of posting on social media frequently without getting overwhelmed.  This led me to Buffer (which I love).

So, take a step back.  Make note of what areas are pulling you under, what areas you feel you never have time for.  Is there anything that can help you?  Any systems or processes that can ease those burdens?  Reach out to other people, find out how they do things.

Most writers are happy to share their suggestions for things like time management and systems they find useful.

09 – Confirm your audience

This one still surprises me.  I’ve met a few people who have written books and even published them but haven’t considered who their primary audience is.

Now there is some school of thought that says you need to drill down and come up with your singular ideal reader.  You know their age, their sex, their race, where they live, what they do for fun, the colour of their hair…

It might work really well and be the best idea ever.  But…not for me.  That seems a little too restrictive.

However, you do need to know your audience in a narrow way.  Think about it, if the majority of your audience is male teens to early twenties you need to know this – because then you can amend your marketing techniques to where those people are more likely to hang out.

Also, if you’re published, don’t make the mistake of assuming because you write, say, YA (Young Adult) that your main audience is Young Adults.  There have been cases were books aimed for YA have been a bigger hit with older people.

I’ve seen so many people throw money into ad campaigns on social media platforms that don’t cater to their audience.  Don’t waste your time and money marketing to people who aren’t going to be as interested.

10 – Be Authentic

As writers we have a defined voice.  Don’t mimic others.  Don’t try to copy other people’s styles.  Yes, we can learn our own from studying other people, especially when we are new to writing and marketing.

But always make sure you are being authentic.  If some other writer has a great following, a bigger platform, don’t just try to emulate that by sacrificing your own authenticity.

Be you.  Always 😊

 

Thanks for the excellent advice, Ari! If you’d like more of her writing wisdom, she can be found at her official author website: https://arimeghlen.co.uk/
About Ari Meghlen

Ari became a writer because she couldn’t become a pirate.  When she is not immersed in her tangled worlds full of screaming trees, living gargoyles, vengeful demons or trapped souls… Ari is pretty much daydreaming about said worlds.

She writes fantasy, lots of it.  She also blogs about writing to help other writers because apparently working on over 5 different novel series’ is just not enough “writing”.

Most days she is surrounded by cats and books though she also enjoys watching bad movies with her boyfriend.  Like REALLY bad movies

The Horror! The Terror! The Author!

Many thanks to author, blogger, and my long-time friend Jon for visiting this week and creating this guest post. Are you ready for THE HORROR???!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up to see the strangest creature in all creation! Just two bits and you can step out of the midway of this fine, fine fair and into our private viewing room! Thank you sir, ma’am. Right this way. Watch your step, please.

Now, prepare yourself! Those with weak hearts may wish to look away! Behold! Come, view the writer! Here he is, in all his glory! Gasp! Shriek! Oh, little boy, sorry, no refunds.

I know. It’s terrifying, isn’t it? Those bags under his eyes? That vacant expression! But wait!

Oh, he’s looking at you now, little one. You’ve clicked some idea off in his head, and there’s no telling where you might end up now! Perhaps that coat you’re wearing reminded him of a day in his youth when he had a crush on a girl who told him know, and now the emotion is sending in sliding into a story! Maybe the cut of your hair made him wonder what would happen if we all just shaved our heads and there was no fashion industry. Perhaps you just happen to be standing there when random neurons connected, and now he’s chasing after that story about how a dragon kept breathing books instead of stories.

It’s not your fault. You just happen to be in his presence.

Yes, sit and stare at Jonathon Mast, the author who has more than once stared at my tall, tall hat and declared that it gave him the idea that would finally get him that big publishing deal! And as amazing as my tall, tall hat is, it has yet to get him in the doors of any traditional publishers!

And maybe I am Jonathon Mast. Maybe everyone in this blog post is.

Yes, little girl, try not to gasp too hard. I have just rent the fourth wall asunder and revealed the truth of your reality. You do not sit in the freakshow of the midway. You are merely pixels on a screen as someone reads a blog post!

A blog post, guest-written, far from home!

Yes, ladies and gents, welcome to this guest post, written by Jonathon Mast, who does not in reality own a tall, tall hat, though he wishes he did.

But back to our fictional freakshow!

You see, this author is a dangerous beast, and not to be trifled with. In fact, you should beware any writer. Beware! But he looks so harmless, you say! Look at those atrophied muscles and weak eyes! True, he likely won’t attack you and grind up your spleen for goulash, nor will he rend your fingernails from their resting places. What the author does is so much more dangerous.

He takes your life and cuts it up and uses the best parts in his story. Just like he did to this little one here. A bit for that chapter, a snippet for this character. He’s always on the lookout, always prowling, always dangerous.

And if your father happens to be a writer?

See some authors, like the immaculate Anne, might only steal naptimes from their children, purloining moments of ecstatic writing and research. (But even Anne is a thief, snatching at history and melding together a story of her own creation. But thieves are such fascinating people, aren’t they? Don’t be afraid to admit it. And the only thing she steals is reality, not moments.)

But this writer, this jolly Jon Mast? If he happens to be related to you by blood? Perhaps if you have the misfortune of being his progeny?

Oh, your childhood is doomed to be dissected, ripped apart, used as grist for his unholy mill. That time you scraped your knee? How you made him feel when you refused to play with him? How he felt when he refused to play with you? It’ll all be there in ink and pixels, kneaded into a character or a moment for everyone to read about and cry or laugh or shrug noncommittally.

And the author? Oh, he feels terrible about it. Maybe. As much as he writes about emotions and all that sensational codswallop, it’s hard to get inside his own head. Maybe he feels guilty. Maybe he feels proud. Or perhaps he just feels a little indigestion.

It’s best not to gaze on the horror too long, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve got enough for the two bits you paid to enter. Time to move along, now, move along. You can buy tickets to the next show if you want to come back.

Don’t worry. Most of you have escaped unscathed. I don’t think he watched you too long to take anything from you.

But you never know.

 

Jon Mast’s wife and children tolerate his writing. He is also a pastor. He shares his journeys of writing discovery over at Wanted: One New Earth. If you’d like a look at his fantastic speculative fiction, you can find links to his published short fiction here. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Board Games, the POW’s Secret Weapon

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Photo courtesy of Christine Roy via Unsplash

My family loves games. We’ve spent many happy hours around the table, trying to discover if it was Miss Scarlett or Colonel Mustard whodunit, trying to outbid each other in Rummy Royale, or seeing who can construct the most elaborate Scrabble word.

Personally, though, I’ve never cared for Monopoly. I don’t mind loosing a game, (in spite of rumors to the contrary- some friends just are jealous of my amazing Parcheesi skills 😉 ) but if I’m going down, I’d rather it’s in a blaze of glory having gone “all in,” rather than being slowly bled to death by the bank.

However, I gained a new respect for Monopoly when I learned that it had an exciting role in World War 2- helping save POW’s, no less.

Christopher Clayton Hutton of M19 (British Intelligence) worked on devising ways to smuggle escape aids to POWs. He found an ingenious one when he partnered with the printing and packaging company John Waddington Ltd.

Waddington’s had two things essential for Hutton’s newest plan: they produced Monopoly games, and also had the technology to print on fabric. Specifically, they would be able to print maps on silk- maps that would be thin enough to conceal, and would be silent when unfolded.

A select group of people labored over Monopoly boards, cutting compartments into which were slipped metal files, a compass, and a map of the area to which the game would be shipped. The compartments were hidden under the game’s normal decals. Real money was concealed in the stacks of play money, and the boards were marked so that the POWs could recognize them when they came in.

Of course, smuggling the boards into POW camps was a challenge. Using usual channels such as the Red Cross or care packages from family members would be too much of a risk. If the Germans intercepted contraband in these packages, they might refuse to allow them in anymore. Instead, M19 devised false charities under whose names they could ship the board games.

Just how many prisoners were aided by these special board games is unknown, but they have the distinction of being one of the few means of smuggling in aid that was never discovered by the prison guards.

Since this information was declassified in the 80’s, Hutton has published a memoir about his experiences- I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might be worth a look!

If you’d like more information on this and a few of Hutton’s other tricks, I particularly enjoyed reading through this article.

I will be without my computer (gasp!) for a bit, but fellow bloggers have kindly offered to keep The Naptime Author home fires burning- stop by for some excellent guest posts in the next week or so!

I hope you enjoy their insights, and look forward to reconnecting with you soon.

Many thanks for visiting!