Ghost in the Shell – Group Blogging for Fun and High Blood Pressure

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Unsplash jeshoots-com-523925 Frustration

Managing a blog page for a group or organization can be fun and rewarding – a phrase that should immediately toggle the cautionary button.

It’s that time of year for our annual writer’s group conference in mid-March. Since I blog somewhat regularly on WordPress, I was asked to revamp an outdated WordPress page to post presenter profiles, interviews, and conference news. Essentially, I’d be the ‘ghost in the shell’ to solicit, edit, format, and post articles by other group members.

Hey, I use WordPress all the time. How much trouble could it be?

Looking back, I ignored the ‘check details before proceeding’ indicator, and thought I’d share a few things I learned.

Get a Clear Mission Statement Before Proceeding

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Valentina Conde – Unsplash

The group gave me carte blanc to redesign the page, which included an upgrade to a premium page for a small annual fee with access to better template options, widget buttons, and customary links. Nobody had to learn HTML tech-speak or pay a monthly “mortgage fee” to fancy-pants web designers.

That part was easy.

Once the docket was approved, we created a process for members to sign up for one or more of the over twenty articles slated to print over a time frame of four – five months. First solicitation was met with a silence akin to a high school gymnasium at 2:00 AM. It took a bit of prodding by group officers to get things rolling, but eventually folks stepped up.

Create a New User Account for the Blog

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Ludovic Toinel – Unsplash

I blew this one big time. As a WordPress Premium Plan user myself, I hoped to minimize the setup time by creating a new page while logged in with my own account, then adding others for administrators. Updating a page whose original owner hadn’t participated for years with the group, isn’t the best way to go. 

I didn’t have problems with approved members accessing the blog and creating a post, but like Facebook, the WordPress folks like having an “owner” available for everything. Since I revamped the page while signed in on my personal account, only way I can unlock myself is if I delete the account. The annual bill hits my account every year like the return of robins in spring. Every year I have to rebill the group. I’m still working on a third-party Paypal invoice option.

Twenty-twenty hindsight; start fresh.

  • First, sign out from any personal WordPress and Email accounts that are open.
  • Create a new group email and sign-in credentials if one is not available. I found Gmail to work best. May sound like a Homer Simpson “duh”, but make sure officers know how to access it.
  • Then go to WordPress and create new account, using group email.
  • Have fun building the chosen template to fit your needs.
  • Be sure to include group’s mission statement in the blog page “About” profile.
  • Have more than one administrator assist with the management of it. I suggest offering a cocktail or two before making your pitch.

 

Select Template to Suit the Group’s Brand

I love WordPress because they take the pain out of designing a page. They have lots of them for writers and authors, and the web is chock full of outside designers who create WordPress compatible temples.  You want it to be easy to read, not splattered with visual frilly things that distract from the text. Save that for a personal blog that celebrates all things unicorn.

I stuck with the same template I use for my personal page because I’m lazy, and the Chateau Theme has a good balance of widget placement, logos and link options.

I’ll not go into details of initial page set up. WordPress is fairly easy to navigate, and numerous Youtube videos exist from people who don’t get out much. 

I’ve always believed a picture tells a story, even if it’s a simple message. Not everyone agrees, but to me, a blog page without pics becomes just another bunch of words in an overcrowded blogosphere universe. And since the graphic is the first visual a reader sees, make it a good one.

I went all out on my personal page at dtkrippene.com. Took me weeks to find that perfect graphic to represent my brand, “Searching For Light in the Darkness.” For a writer’s group, we agreed something less snazzy to be appropriate, and … ta da – here it is. 

GLVWG Header

 

Ready, Set, Blog – Wait …

Screen Shot WordPress

To fill in that vast empty draft space, articles authored by other group members should be submitted with the following criteria.

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Micah Boswell – Unsplash

Article typed in Times-New-Roman, 12 Font, preferably on Word for Window’s, or compatible program like Open Docs. The days of handing a secretary handwritten notes for letter dictation ended decades ago, and I don’t have time to retype an entire draft. Cutting and pasting on that blank template above saves a pile of time. Avoid fancy fonts; work this on the WordPress draft if you want them.

To this day, I still get articles inside the body of an email or formatted in a weird font that I must reformat. As a result, I transfer all summitted articles to a separate Word document by copying text, using “Paste Special – Unformatted Text” to remove hidden formatting problems that don’t translate well on WordPress, followed by changing the pasted text to NTR 12. Even then, I frequently have to use WordPress’ “Clear Formatting” Button (little eraser symbol) on pasted text.

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Patrick Goth – Unsplash

A useable headshot for profile or interview, not a thumbprint taken from google images, or blurry selfie shot. There won’t be enough pixels. Do not include the photo inside the Word document; which requires screen-printing to clipboard, then opening a photo program to access pic for saving as a jpeg, only to get a photo the size of a postage stamp. Most professional agents and authors will provide a media kit upon request. The upside with WordPress, if the photo is too large, it’s easily reduced in the body of the draft.

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Marco Djallo – Unsplash

Editing isn’t supposed to be in the job description, but it ends up as one. Minor faux pas for punctuation and a missing word happens to everyone, but I’ve had to practically retype some submissions. There’s a lot more to it than typesetting. When I write an article for someone else, I treat it as if I’m submitting to an agent. I mean – we’re supposed to be writers.

Social Media Sleep Crop

 

Include social media and website links if doing a presenter profile or interview. The most time-consuming chore with posting someone else’s work (aside from chasing down useable photos), is searching the net for said links. Why is this important? It’s a common courtesy in a profile piece, and the more links we have inside the article, the greater the SEO search linkages the article will have, which leads to greater exposure. The pros know this.

Get article author’s bio and headshot. The point of volunteering to submit an article is exposure for the author. “Written by Such-n-such” is about as invisible as the dialogue tag – “said”. If article author hasn’t created a bio, this is the time to draft one. Call me old-fashioned for thinking readers want to see a human face, I tend to reject avatars. It might be acceptable with Twitter and Instagram, but if an article author wishes to remain anonymous, so be it. Unicorns and cute pugs are not writers.

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Leio Mclaren – Unsplash

Article should include author’s social media links as well. I remember asking one article author if they had any social media links included in their bio, who answered with “I don’t use social media.” I almost followed up with “how does anyone know you exist as an author”, but sighed – que sera sera, and quit asking.

 

Keyword Search Google Crop

Pay attention to tags and keywords. For the conference, every article should be tagged with: Writing, Writing Conferences, Writing Craft. If the article is a profile or interview, add tags to identify the skill set, like ‘Author Voice’, Query Letters’, or ‘Staging Fight Scenes’. If an author of YA fantasy, tags should include ‘YA’ and ‘Fantasy’. If the profile is about a publisher or book coach, include the publisher’s agency name, ‘Marketing’, ‘Self-Publishing’, ‘Indie-Publishing’, etc.

All this helps to fine tune SEO search engines, so browsers looking for book writing tips don’t end up with suggestions on how much to tip.

 

Vintage Social Media

Share the article on other Social Media accounts. If the group doesn’t have a Facebook Page, get one (sorry, didn’t mean to shout). To paraphrase the words of a NYT bestselling author who spoke at a past conference, blogs exist in a ‘tsunami of content’. To break out of the isolated bubble of a few group members and family friends who might read it, group postings need a social media sprinkler to let others aware the group exists. We’ve found contacting and liking other writer groups and interested parties pays big dividends. Fellow group members who participate in social media should also help broadcast the news. Ask any RWA Chapter Group; many of them have the best communicative share net on the planet.

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From: imfunny.net

When posting the article link, Facebook automatically pops the first paragraph and the picture embedded in the article. It may appear to save time, but what often happens is the photograph displayed may not be the article header pic (if article contains more than one photo). Even if it is, the photograph won’t paste to Facebook Photobook. Took me a few iterations to discover the best course of action is to type in the article title, followed by pasting the article link, then physically attaching the article picture from file. Sounds convoluted, but the article graphic becomes a permanent record on the Facebook page, and it won’t be a cat selfie.

 

And if You’re Still a Gluten for Punishment …

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Vance Osterhout – Unsplash

Our group page goes into hibernation after conference activity ends, until the next cycle begins six months later. I’ve been taught that leaving an active website unattended for long periods of time, can undo all the connections gathered. Personally, I don’t blog often, but I try to be regular. As if I wasn’t having enough fun with the group site, I suggested the platform was available to membership during the off months to:

  • Announce a new book, short story, or article that appeared in a magazine
  • Offer a poem, or short story for others to read.
  • Allow other writerly folk who have something to share with the group
  • Invite blog sharing from other sites. We’ll post your article, you post ours.
  • Share your writer’s journey.
  • Share a valuable lesson learned that may help others
  • Share successes. Share disappointments. We’re all in this together.

The list is endless.

The submissions for off-season, unfortunately – haven’t been.

A Side Note on Other Blogging Platforms

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Markus Spiske – Unsplash

I’m a diehard WordPress user, because I’m too lazy to relearn another platform. But if you’re interested in what’s available, check out The 10 Best Free Blogging Platforms in 2018! (Pros & Cons). What you’ll find is – free gets you in the game, but it’s going to cost a bit more for any kind of customization.

I still run across writers and authors who feel the need to have someone design a custom blog website to be unique. If you want a primer for how much this stuff costs, read How Much Does a Website Design or Redesign Cost? [2019 Guide] for a hefty dose of sticker shock.

I’ve lost count of those who claim to have a brother, cousin, uncle-of-a-neighbor who has some chops in programing. I’m all for unique, but if it’s a group site, the major issue is what happens if the programmer/administrator gets hit by the proverbial bus? Time and time again I’ve seen website administrators disappear, leaving the hapless writer stuck with an HTML intensive site without an instruction manual.

I’m sure I missed a few things, but I think I’ve confused you enough. If you remember anything, stick with simple. You’ll be glad you did.

This ghost-in-the-shell thing is hard enough as it is.

 

spock

May You Blog Well and Prosper

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By the way, we still have openings for the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™, March 21 – 23, 2019. Check out the amazing line up of speakers and get an opportunity to pitch your book to agents and editors.

You can learn all about the presenters on the GLVWG WordPress Blog.

A lot of work went into those articles. Throw us bone will ya, and give us a like.

 

The Silent Light of a Winter Night

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Casey Horner @mischievous_penguins

 

It’s that time of year when I’m away from my writing desk to spend time with family out west. I had hopes to scratch a few lines between the happy helter-skelter of being with loved ones. I made a promise to my muse I wouldn’t desert her (see November’s article, A Writer Comes Home to His Beloved Muse).

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Paola Chaaya @paolitta

Presents scattered on the floor like flotsam, bellies full, and kids down for the night, instead of quiet conversation, clutching mugs of hot beverages on a cold winter night, the adults had their eyes glued on smart-phones. I too browsed the cacophony of apps and media distraction. No wonder I can’t think creatively. I tried reading, but the oversized television screen on mute kept drawing my eye.

 

 

I stared at the Christmas tree in lazy thought, and shook my head. Peace of mind in the monochromatic world of all things life oriented can be elusive. Our heads are too often pointed downward in the bustling crowd. Even those who live in remote places are as burdened as city dwellers from the incessant distraction of a connected society. I needed to find some quiet – a place of reticence to air out the brain.

 

I set the book aside, closed my eyes, and imagined a small town, where new fallen snow muffled my footsteps, the only sound that of a hushed breeze though barren branches – and the occasional air pump of holiday yard blimps. I thought of a cardinal balanced on snow-laden boughs, its scarlet feathers a singular lighthouse in a sea of white, and a lantern post, its warm yellow light a beacon against a colorless palette.

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Max Bender @maxwbender

 

The streets of the small town were deserted, and I marveled at the twinkle of holiday decorations that festooned houses. As if waiting for someone to notice, a lone white bulb was tucked inside a riot of colored lights. Like the cardinal, and the lantern, it impressed upon me the serenity of a simple light in an ostentatious environment. It’s where I needed to get my head at if I had a shot at writing anything.

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Filip Mroz @mroz

I turned, and spotted lighted candy canes on the edge of thick forest. I trudged away from the brashness of holiday décor. Somehow, my whimsical town had disappeared, and I was on a deserted road in a thick forest. I shuffled my foot in the snow to find what powered this odd display, until my eyes revealed a single set of footprints leading into the woods.

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A Writer Comes Home To His Beloved Muse

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I approached the microphone.  “Hi, my name is Dan. My last blog post was September, and I haven’t written a thing since.”

“Hi Dan. Welcome,” replied the back-lit, silhouetted faces of my would-be judges.

Someone in the front row asked the first question. “Are you willing to share with us why?”

“I like to think I had good reasons, even honorable reasons,” I said.  “Since mid-September, I’ve been home maybe a total of three weeks on a travelocalypse that began with a family reunion in Kentucky, a wedding in Colorado, a long planned, prepaid vacation with older siblings in South Carolina, a trip to Singapore, two-weeks with my mother in Florida, ending with Thanksgiving in New Jersey.  Hell, I had to list it in a notebook to keep it all straight. I just got back last Sunday to autumn chores that went undone since it all started – which isn’t going to get done until it stops raining in Pennsylvania?” 

Another audience member joined in. “We’ve all been through this in one form or another. It’s why we’re here.”

“Thanks.” I played with the microphone stand, embarrassed to confess in front of a bunch of strangers. “I’m glad Stephen King isn’t here. He’d be shaking his head, mouthing the word ‘slacker’.” 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the shadowed face said. “Do you try to write while on the road?”

“Yeah, I tried. Packed the laptop and everything.”

“So – what happened?” another participant asked.

I exhaled through pursed lips to gather my thoughts. “Unlike other writers who can pen words to blaring music in a sunny windowed room with views of the birdfeeder, I need the equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber to coax the muse out of her closet. You see – she’s kind of shy, and prefers I write in a windowless, spare bedroom in the finished basement.” I shrugged. “Just us and the radon.”

I was met with silence.

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Oh Where, Oh Where, Has The Artist Gone?

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Lost on the sands of unfindable endings for the book I'm writing Photo by Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash

Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash.com

Sharing artwork and photographs on Social Media is fun. Sometimes, however, it’s used in a blog article or illustration without citing the artist or photographer. Google’s reverse image search can help find the artist, but doesn’t always yield results.

As a stickler for proper attribution for art or photographs, I check for copyright and always cite the artist or photographer’s name with links.  Unless it’s an established art site, however, searching for the artist or photographer from a Pinterest post, Facebook, or Twitter picture may send you into a desert shouting, Who made this?

I’m always on the lookout for potential book cover ideas, character art, and scenes to give me inspiration.  Like a painter who searches for the perfect model or scene to paint, I glean art sites for faces and places. Pinterest boards are my main go-to, along with a few others like DeviantArt.com, and ArtStation.com.

The files I keep are either stored on my Pinterest boards, or file folder for use in a blog article, twitter message, Facebook, or to have as a stimulus for a chapter I’m writing. Wasn’t always this conscientious in past years, where I sometimes linked the Pinterest page or site I copied it from as the source – which often doesn’t identify where they found it.  

Got educated several years ago when I received a “Dear DT” email from the artist who created an artwork piece I used in a blog. He graciously forgave my indiscretion, provided I properly attribute it to his artist website.  Dodged a bullet. Color me lucky – and schooled. I spoke on this in a 2015 blog I wrote, Good Images Speak a Thousand Words – But Is It Legal? 

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Little Big Stories

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Toa Heftiba – via @unsplash

This month, I’m the featured author in the Author’s Roundtable, an online quarterly magazine of short stories for the Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG). Based on a theme that changes with every issue, this quarter is ‘Written in the Stars’. 

*****

In Simple Terms

A shell of its former glory, NASA in the near future discovers what Planet Nine really is, and has to convince a skeptical director who doesn’t understand the basics of our solar system.

Planet Nine

Illustration Caltech/R. Hurt – via NatGeo Education Blog

 

“What’s this all about,” Trevor Stanhope asked his Associate Administrator.

The click of Helen Martinez’s low-heeled shoes kept cadence to Stanhope’s brisk stride as they hurried along on the polished floors of NASA’s subterranean levels. “The note mentioned recent information that needs your immediate attention,” she said.

Six months since Stanhope’s appointment as NASA’s Administrator, President Barbara Preston specifically asked him to shake things up by reining-in expensive projects and the Brainiacs who were too busy looking for ET. “Bring in some solid space science we can use while getting the Mars mission off the ground, like updated satellite reconnaissance and better asteroid killers,” she’d told him.

“Did they send a synopsis, so I can understand what they’re saying when they start throwing those pseudo-scientific terms and acronyms around?” he asked.

“All I got was something to do with all the increased meteorite activity, asteroid close calls, and TNO’s . . . Trans Neptunian Objects.”

“Trans-nep-toonia objects . . .” Stanhope chuckled. “Sounds like that Christmas rock orchestra that pops up every holiday.” A lawyer by education, and six-term, conservative US Congressman before President Preston handed him this job, Stanhope’s grasp of science was limited to high school chemistry. Where did they come up with these names?

To Read More … Click Here

*****

Which leads me to confessing how I got into little big stories in the first place.

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Fireworks, BBQ, and Waving the Flag

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Fireworks, Beer, Brots, and other things burned on an open fire — it’s ‘Merica, and the time of year when we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s break up letter to King George.

 

Going to be a hot one for us here in PA, which will likely send me to the basement writing office to escape the heat. So I’ll keep it short, and wish everyone a fun, safe Fourth of July.

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Ludovic Gauthier – Unsplash.com

May Our Fields of Freedom Never Go Fallow — DT Krippene

 

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Jean Carcallas – Unsplash.com

Oh … and turn off the smartphone. Fireworks are best photographed by the mind.

Desert Inspiration

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Desert

Aside from a writer’s muse that never sleeps, I’m used to finding #writerinspiration from mostly colorful photographs and art from a variety of sites. I post the ones I like on my Twitter feed and Facebook page. My favorite place for royalty-free photos without restrictions is Unsplash.com. Two of my boards on Pinterest – Searching for Light, and Characters, are both galleries of art and photographs used to fine tune the muse when I’m writing scenes.

Desert 2 Edit

This past Memorial Day weekend, I went on a desert excursion with my son-in-law in his off-road 4Runner.  That my young grandson tagged along as well, made the trip extra special. 

But – we were talking about writer inspiration.

 

How does one go from a visual inspiration of a colorful marketplace …

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… and find inspiration in the homogeneity of a desert landscape?

 

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First, you need to get off the beaten track, and into places most vehicles can’t tread. That’s where I discovered it isn’t the visual so much, as it is – the silence.

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Villainous Nyms and Roller Derby Girls

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I was looking for some good villain names the other day, and stumbled across an article I wrote in April 2014 (amazing what one forgets). I checked the analytics and found it to be one of the more popular articles I’d written, and worthy of a shameless reblog. It may not spark an evil nym for you, but it isn’t for lack candidates from the women of Roller Derby. 

 

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Everybody loves a good villain, even better, a good villain name.  To find a villain name that over time becomes a trademark of evil, the very mention of which instills a chill, is every author’s dream. Hannibal Lector, Darth Vader, Count Dracula, Cruella De Vil, Freddy Kruegar, Dr. Doom, Adolf Hitler – to name but a very few. Marvel and DC comics popularized pseudonyms to associate functional similarities like, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Mystique, Joker, or Blackheart.

For me, the most inventive process of nomenclature for faux villains are pseudonyms used by Roller Derby girls with altered famous names, such as aptronyms – a name that matches the occupation of its owner, or charactonyms – a name suggesting a distinctive trait.

Everyone has his or her favorite name play-on-words. Rusty Bucket, Crisp E. Bacon, Solomon I. Lands, Dee Lyn Quint. One of my favorite primary school jokes of a fake library book: 50 Steps to the Outhouse, by Willy Makit; Illustrated by Betty Wont. Sophomoric for sure, but we loved it. Example of an aptronym could be Sally Blizzard – Meterologist, or an auto salesman with the name, Henry Ford Carr. Charactonym examples are more common, like Mistress Quickly, Dr. Horrible, or the famous Long John Silver.

Leave it to a once obscure sport to reset the bar on villainous name selection. If you’ve never watched women’s Roller Derby, you’ve been deprived. A main stay for us kids kept indoors on a midwinter Saturday afternoon when television had only four channels, it’s like speed skating with the aggressiveness of hockey and pro-wrestling. What makes the game even more fun is the cornucopia of pseudonyms used by the players. 

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If It Were Easy, We’d All Be Best Sellers

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Sam Bloom via Unsplash.com

Writers have an abnormal predilection for planting themselves in a chair – alone – surrounded by nothing – and wait for the words to rain. It just ain’t natural.

The 24th GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ come and gone, this is the time I take a few days to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve heard before, and why the hell I’m still writing.  

Our keynote speaker and headliner this year was NYT Bestseller, Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret who wrote the Area 51 series, as well as 70 other titles in fiction and non-fiction. That’s me on the right (as if you couldn’t tell).

Dan with Bob Mayer 2

We spent a full day with Bob, listening to his advice on the standard elements of plot, story structure, character, the importance of tight narrative, and dangers of going off on tangents that don’t move the story. Anyone who has read my article from last year, ‘The Perils of Captain Tangent – a Pantser’s Writing Journey’, knows I have an issue with side stories that end nowhere.

It was the Day 2 of the conference that struck a chord with me. Bob Mayer spoke about ‘Write it Forward’, with lessons he learned in the military.  He gave the classic pitch, “everyone stand up, look at the person on the right, then look at the one on the left. Only one of you is going to make it.” He reminded us that only five-percent of all writers ever finish a book, that five-percent get to the point of publishing the book, and five percent of those people ever get anywhere with it. In simpler terms, earning enough to buy a case of Yuengling beer is like winning the lottery.

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Portable Magic

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As a writer, it’s a requirement to keep one’s skills honed. To quote a master of modern fiction, Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.”

My reading stack is mountainous. Books I want to read, books others want me to read, books fellow authors want me to beta-read, and books my wife wants me to read, which deserves a separate category since it’s usually non-fiction (insert gag reflex). I don’t hate non-fiction, mind you, it just isn’t on my priority list. Unless it’s research for a novel, or a good science article, the real stuff bores me fast.

To quote Mr. King again, “Reading a good long novel is in many ways like having a long and satisfying affair“. Given the occasional stink eye I get from my wife, one wonders if she views my writing muse as the other woman in that satisfying affair. I don’t know what she’s worried about since it’s all in my head.

Do you see the boy in the graphic above wearing glasses by a window on a rainy night? That was me.  I was a middle child of seven, geekish, card-carrying four-eyes by age ten, preferred loner – you get the drill. My second home was the library in small town Wisconsin. That’s where it all started.

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