This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of the supernatural thrillers "DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," the short story collection, "The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales," and the new dystopian series, The Touchers: "After the Bubbles" and "Soldier Girl." If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact me.
Family history - November 15, 2019
This morning, as I was showering (a place where I often get ideas), I started thinking about my parents and how they met. That's when I realized that as their only child, I'm the only person who knows their story—and even I don't know all of it.
I think it's an interesting tale—two people with little in common who escaped from Austria to England in the late 1930s and met during World War II—so I decided to write the story and started working on it this morning.
It's a way to keep memories of my parents alive and preserve their histories. And I'm hoping it will also prove to be a good story.
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Dystopian discovery - November 10, 2019
I love reading end-of-the-world stories. My favorites include Robert McCammon's Swan Song and Stephen King's The Stand. As a result, I decided to write a dystopian novel, After the Bubbles, which turned into a two-book series that concludes with the recently-published Soldier Girl.
The Touchers series took me about nine years to complete so it's been disappointing that not many people have read the two doomsday thrillers. And when I mention the themes of my novels to people at book signing events, I get little interest in the dystopian series.
That's why last Saturday's book signing event was so encouraging. Within a span of five minutes, I sold copies of both Touchers books. First, I signed Soldier Girl for Kathy who was attracted to the book title because her soldier-girl daughter, Rita, is an Army lieutenant and she thought the book would be a "cute" gift.
Okay, that's not really a fan. However, the next woman asked me this wonderful question: "Do you have any dystopian novels?" It turned out that her 12-year-old daughter, Ava, loves end-of-the-world fiction and I signed After the Bubbles for her. I'm hoping for many more dystopian fans.
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Tale talk - November 5, 2019
I've started reading my new collection of short stories again and like usual, I'm finding things to change or eliminate—nothing major so far, just language that can be improved and repetitive words or phrases that I missed the other zillion times I've edited these tales.
I'm still not sure of the title for this book. It will either be called George's Mother and Other Weird Stories or The Key and Other Weird Stories. Basically, the title will depend on the cover art that I want to go with: a mysterious antique key or a hand reaching out of a grave.
Sometimes I know the title when I first start writing a book. But it's more difficult with short stories, since I could feature any of the thirteen. I've been vacillating on this decision for months.
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Name—and sex—changes - October 31, 2019
"Names are terribly important. I spend forever coming up with names.
Sometimes a character doesn’t work until I change his name.
In Bandits, Frank Matusi didn’t work.
I changed him to Jack Delaney and suddenly he opened up."
— ELMORE LEONARD
I agree with Elmore Leonard. I've also renamed many characters because the original name just didn't "fit." But my most important name change happened with my second novel, Peachwood Lake.
The book is a coming-of-age horror story, in which 13-year-old Kady Gonzalez is terrorized by a bully, while at the same time, the town's lake is terrorized by a monstrous fish. In the original plot, Kady lives with her mother, Eva, because her father has deserted the family.
Not only didn't the mom's name work, the concept of Kady living with her single mother didn't work either because the book already had an important female character—Monique, a sassy young reporter who counsels the girl. So after completing about a third of the novel, I changed both the character's name and sex: Eva became Edgar, Kady's father, who she now lived with after her mother ran off. And the new name (and sex) work fine.
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Review request - October 26, 2019
I can't overstress the importance of positive Amazon book reviews for an indy author like me. Because I'm not a well-known "name," readers check out reviews before buying one of my books—and the more good reviews, the better the chance of a sale.
I've gotten many positive comments about my novels and short stories on Facebook, in emails, and in person at book signings—and each time I ask the reader to put his or her comment into a short Amazon review. But very few people take that additional step.
Because it really helps, I'm asking again: If you've read and enjoyed any of my books, please post a brief review on Amazon—one or two sentences is fine. And if you've enjoyed another author's book, post a review for that writer too. Every good review helps.
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Cover question - October 21, 2019
I'm again rereading and editing my second collection of short stories. They're mostly in pretty good shape, but I'm still wavering on the title for this book. I originally wanted to call it The Key and Other Weird Tales. However, that would result in a rather bland cover—just an antique-looking key.
I've come up with another choice: George's Mother and Other Weird Tales. The "George's Mother" story is about a woman who claims to be a man's dead mother. With that title, the cover could be more dramatic and creepier: a hand reaching out from a grave.
What do you think?
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Location! Location! Location! - October 16, 2019
Last Saturday, I participated in a Halloween Festival and Parade in a park with YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS authors Larry Berliner and Linda Griffin. We were assigned a space on a side path next to only one other vendor, a witch selling broomsticks. When the costumed children and parents started parading, it was along the main path, where they didn't pass—or even see—our table.
Frantically, I cornered an event organizer and complained about our location. After apologizing, he gave us a spot along the parade route. We quickly moved our stuff (he helped us carry the book-filled table) and immediately people started noticing us.
In our new location, we were also able to display our posters around a small stone monument next to our table and our book cover signs attracted more people.
As a result of our improved location, we all sold some books; we wouldn't have sold any if we hadn't moved. (The witch also relocated her broomsticks—to a space across from us.)
For photos of the Mesier Park, Wappingers Falls event, please see Happenings.
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Just write! - October 11, 2019
Here's my definition of a writer: a person who writes.
That person doesn't have to write a book, but he or she does have to use the writing muscle regularly to produce a story, poem, essay, email, or even a shopping list. A writer must write something.
For the last few days, I've been working on a freelance project that many people would hardly characterize as "writing." I'm creating simple cloze sentences (with pictures) for standardized tests given to non-English speaking second graders, who have to select a missing word from four choices.
Formulating a simple sentence is still creative writing. All writing counts. Even the greatest writers don't always produce monumental works. But they write, and write, and write.
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Then and now - October 6, 2019
I love book signings. They give me the opportunity to meet readers, talk about my books, and (hopefully) sell and sign a few copies.
On Saturday, during an event at my local mall, several people mentioned that they liked reading books on paper much more than on electronic devices. I agree with them; I love turning actual pages—and I haven't heard people praise paper books in a while.
I had another experience that connected to the past when a customer told me she'd bought DUST at one of my early bookstore signing events. The woman looked familiar so I checked my photos—and there she was at my first event—listed as my first customer! (She must have enjoyed DUST because she bought two of my books on Saturday.) Here are the then and now photos:
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Sale-ing forth - October 1, 2019
I rarely run sales on any of my books, mainly because they're inexpensive and competitively priced. But I'm currently running a promotion for the Kindle version of After the Bubbles. The ebook, which normally costs $4.99, is available through Friday on Amazon at just $2.99.
Why am I doing this? Before people purchase my new novel, Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers, I'd like them to read Book One, After the Bubbles. I'm hoping readers will enjoy the discounted Book One and then buy Book Two at the regular price.
I'm advertising After the Bubbles at The Fussy Librarian, which emails a daily batch of ebooks (usually sale-priced) in various genres to interested readers. After the Bubbles is running in the "Thriller" and "Young Adult" categories today (Wednesday, October 2). Fingers crossed that this promo will attract new readers.
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Signing season - September 26, 2019
I'm in the midst of scheduling book signing events for holiday craft fairs, which generally run on weekends from early November to mid-December. However, this year has been unusual because I've had difficulty finding enough events to fill my calendar.
Here's the problem: Organizing holiday fairs is a difficult process, requiring lots of time and effort. As a result, an event that's run for many years can suddenly end because the long-time coordinator "retires"—and no one else wants to take on the arduous task. That's happened this year with two events I've participated in.
But I'm not the only one looking for holiday fairs because members of my Facebook vendor groups have posted requests for event suggestions. I found one craft fair this morning, but the search continues...
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Letting it sit - September 21, 2019
After about a month, I've started to reread my second collection of short stories. This "let the book sit" philosophy works for me because when I look at the manuscript after a hiatus, I always see something that I missed.
This time was no exception. So far I've only read four of the thirteen stories and already discovered—and corrected—several minor plot issues. And these are tales I've gone over many, many times. I'm sure when I read the rest of the stories I'll find other problems that I overlooked.
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The muse strikes again - September 16, 2019
Sometimes vague story ideas pop into my head; other times the ideas arrive fully developed. A few days ago, during my shower, I thought of a tale about a woman who wins a slot machine jackpot at a casino.
Before I finished showering (and my showers only take about five minutes), I had "written" the entire story—including the ending. Later that day, I even jotted down a few details about the slot machine (a circus theme). Now I just have to transpose the story from my head into the computer.
I've already written the first couple of scenes. Although I'm enjoying writing true stories, it's fun to be creating fiction again.
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Jane Hawk series review - September 11, 2019
I've just finished reading The Night Window, the final novel in Dean Koontz's five-book Jane Hawk series. Since I love stories that center on mind-control (my novel, Corsonia, is a mind-control tale) and Dean Koontz is my favorite author, it's no surprise that I really enjoyed this series.
Jane Hawk is a beautiful FBI agent (picture a young Angelina Jolie) whose husband has just committed suicide. She has uncovered a horrendous plan by a powerful group of elitists (Arcadians), who plant control mechanisms in their victims' brains, forcing these people to obey their commands—including killing themselves and others. Because many of these brain-tampering villains are in the highest offices of government, industry, and the media, they effectively brand Jane as a dangerous terrorist, making it nearly impossible for her to defeat the bad guys and keep her 5-year-old son safe.
While I loved the series, I had a few problems: Although Book 1 (The Silent Corner) and Book 2, (The Whispering Room) have endings, Book 3 (The Crooked Staircase) ends like an old-time movie serial with the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, except in this case, Jane's young son is in danger. Even in a series, I believe a novel should have a conclusion.
Also, towards the end of The Crooked Staircase, Koontz hints that Jane will be battling an evil Arcadian who's introduced briefly—but that person is never mentioned either in Book 4 (The Forbidden Door) or Book 5 (The Night Window). I don't like dangling threads.
One other criticism of The Crooked Staircase, my least favorite book in the series: Koontz spends much of the novel detailing the fate of two likeable victims—without any reason for doing so. In the series' conclusion, he mentions the pair briefly, which struck me as a weak attempt to justify the many pages devoted to them.
And while I enjoyed The Night Window, I felt that book contained too many sociopaths. Whenever the story shifted to one of these despicable characters, I looked ahead a few pages to find the next scene with the good guys. It was gruesome to read about so much evil.
But Jane Hawk is a wonderful superheroine-like character and the series' ending is both clever and satisfying. Other than The Crooked Staircase, which you might want to skim, the series is well worth reading.
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True stories - September 6, 2019
About a month ago, I wrote a little autobiographical tale called "Growing Up 'W,'" which I'd been procrastinating about doing for ages. Then I thought of another story, and another, and now I've written four non-fiction short stories—all taken from long-past events.
These tales are totally different from the fictional stories I'm currently editing since they have no supernatural elements. But that doesn't mean these new stories aren't weird. They are, because as we know:Truth is stranger than fiction.
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Requesting reviews - September 1, 2019
Most readers don't realize how valuable Amazon reviews are—especially for indie authors. Potential buyers often check reviews before deciding whether or not to read a book and I can use a positive review as a testimonial.
Although I'd like new feedback for all my novels, I'm especially hoping for reviews for the Touchers series: After the Bubbles and Soldier Girl. If you've read and enjoyed either or both books, please post a short review on Amazon. And if you've loved another author's work, please write a review for him or her too. You'd be amazed at how much it helps all of us.
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Freelance is fine - August 27, 2019
I'm starting a freelance project again, writing short reading passages and questions for standardized tests given to second-grade non-English speaking students in Texas. It's a challenging form of writing because the stories must be under 100 words and the words in them have to be extremely simple.
But here's the bottom line: It's creative writing and I'm getting paid for it. As I always say, writers write. It doesn't matter what you write as long as you keep those creative juices flowing.
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Contest creation - August 22, 2019
I love creating fun contests! But I waited until my website was updated to start a new contest because I wanted viewers to be able to access the information easily on a mobile phone. Now that my website is both computer and phone-friendly, I'm ready to introduce the contest, which revolves around Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers series.
All you have to do is make up a title for a new dystopian novel using the word "Girl" and briefly describe your book. That's it. Here's the link to the Contest page.
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Website wisdom - August 17, 2019
In my last post (August 12), I wrote about the problems I discovered with my updated website. However, in retrospect, I was all wrong about my concerns. During the past week, I've learned a lot about how to design a good website—mostly from my daughter.
I view my website on my computer, not on my phone. But as my daughter (who sells websites) pointed out, 9 out of 10 people check websites on their phones. So although I loved the open look of my site on the computer, anyone who viewed the website on a phone saw too much empty space and not enough content. You had to scroll up, down, and around to find information.
"People have to see your site on the first screen," she pointed out. "They won't waste their time looking through everything." So I had the spacing fixed.
"You need a 'call to action' everywhere," she also advised. Although I had a few link buttons that read "Order Books Here" and "Learn More," she told me to have the buttons appear on the first screen, the bottom screen, and throughout the HOME page. So I had more links added.
By this point, I was checking my website on the phone too and noticed that the text on my BOOKS and EXCERPTS pages—which wrapped so beautifully around the book covers on the computer screen—looked awful on the mobile device. Titles were split and there were huge spaces within the text. After the repairs, all titles are above the covers and text is below. The pages don't look that great on the computer screen—but as my daughter said, "Who cares?" They look fine on the phone.
My initial concerns were trivial compared to the need for the website to be user-friendly for mobile shoppers. And now, after a week of corrections, it finally is.
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New website woes - August 12, 2019
A funny thing happened Sunday night when I checked my website: I discovered it had been updated. Although I've been looking forward to seeing the new look and knew the tech folks were working on it, the sales director promised I would see the revised site—and be able to make corrections and changes—before it went live. But obviously, that didn't happen.
I skimmed the site quickly and found numerous problems: missing photos, incorrect subheads, wrong color bands, strange text and omitted text—in other words, all the stuff I'd hoped to fix before the site went live.
Despite these issues, I still think the "new" website is much improved (and hopefully easier to read on mobile devices). Do you agree?
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Story time - August 6, 2019
I'm working on my stories, both fiction and nonfiction. Right now, I'm editing a little nonfiction piece, "Growing Up 'W'" (see August 1 post) and I'm also rereading and editing my second collection of weird short stories.
For some reason, I'm having trouble "finishing" the short nonfiction tale. Although it's only 500 words, I can't seem to get the words right. Maybe it's because I'm not used to writing nonfiction any more.
On the other hand, editing the supernatural stories has been fun and easy. Perhaps that's because lately I've been writing so many weird tales.
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A different kind of story - August 1, 2019
Recently, an author asked me to read a nonfiction story she had written, an autobiographical tale about an incident during college. I enjoyed the story, which reminded me of something in my life that I've procrastinated about writing for many years: troubles with my maiden name because of its position in the alphabet.
So I finally wrote the little story, titled "Growing Up 'W.'" It was a fun experience—and quite different from my usual weird fiction. And there's one other real-life episode—a strange story involving a college acquaintance—that I'd also like to write.
We all have interesting incidents in our lives. But until now, I never bothered to document any of mine.
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Publishing: Indie vs. Traditional - July 27, 2019
Ten years ago, when DUST was published, I attended the booksigning of a successful, traditionally-published young adult novelist. I was beginning my "career" as an indie author and she was kind and helpful, letting me pick her brain.
We discussed the pros and cons of traditional and indie publishing. Her company took care of editing, formatting, and covers--things an indie author has to do herself (or hire professionals to do). The author also told me she had little say in most decisions concerning her books. In fact, she mentioned the cover of a recent novel she had intended for teen boys as well as girls. However, her publisher decided to put a picture of a floral bouquet on the cover. "No boy will want to read that book," she complained.
I thought of this incident yesterday when I received a finished free-standing copy of a story I wrote for a major educational publisher, a job I got after selling a copy of my short story collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales, to a children's book editor who loved the tales so much she asked me to work on her new project. I wrote two stories for sixth graders.
The story I just received is my time-travel tale about a teenage girl who's transported back into an early twentieth century boardinghouse where she helps an elderly painter. I loved my original story. However, the main editor didn't so I rewrote the story several times, making lots of adjustments.
The finished product doesn't sound like my writing. I prefer simple words and phrases, but this school project requires vocabulary words so "grief-stricken," "ponder," and "twinge of regret" are in the narrative. Also, I always use "June said," not "said June," as dialogue tags and this story has a mixture of both.
To summarize: This is my story, but much of the writing isn't mine. Also, I don't like the cover art. This is what happens when the writer doesn't have control of her work.
On the plus side, however, the pay for writing these two stories was excellent. So I may not love the result, but I was well-compensated--and I still have complete control over my own novels and short stories.
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Good news - July 22, 2019
Recently, a reporter for my local newspaper, the Northern Westchester Examiner, interviewed me about my new end-of-the-world novel, Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers. The story appeared on page 11 of this week's edition.
And I think it's a terrific story. The reporter, Abby Luby, listened carefully, selected the important points, and incorporated them into a cohesive article. As a former newspaper reporter/editor who's written many features, I can appreciate a well-done interview (especially if it's about me).
Let me know if you enjoy it.
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Website woes (continued) - July 17, 2019
In my last post (July 12), I wrote about having to update this website because it was partly unusable and mobile-device unfriendly. (The latter point was confirmed by a Facebook friend who wrote that she had to turn her phone sideways to read this blog.)
So I spoke to my website company about the update. Everything sounds good, except I have to reduce my "pages" from 12 to 8 because that's all a mobile phone can handle and, as the sales director told me, 70 percent of viewers read websites on a phone. (I don't. I'm one of the other 30 percent—I prefer the computer.)
Now I have work to do: I'm reorganizing my pages, choosing a template and background, and deciding how to position everything on this new website, which I hope will be "live" in mid-August. Fingers crossed...
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Website woes - July 12, 2019
I've had this website since I published DUST ten years ago. When I started, in addition to writing blogs and posting pictures, I had the ability to do other things like change the background and color, add a personal banner and tagline, and post book covers.
But that's now changed. My website doesn't let me do those extra things anymore and it's so technologically outdated that, except for adding book covers, even the IT folks can't do the other stuff. Also, because the website was created before smartphones conquered the world, it's hard to view these pages on a mobile device.
So I'm going to upgrade my website; I don't want to, but I have to. The web company's assured me they'll transfer all the contents (lots of words and photos), but I'm nervous. I just hope this "move" will turn out well.
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Marketing matters (conclusions) - July 7, 2019
I've watched the last three lessons of an indie novelist's 6-part course on how to select powerful keywords for Amazon Kindle ebooks. (See July 1 and June 26 posts below.)
Most of the lessons (actually all but Lesson 3) were useful. In fact, the course was like figuring out how to solve a complex puzzle—and I love puzzle-solving. Using the strategies I learned, I've already revised my keywords for After the Bubbles and Soldier Girl, Book One and Book Two of The Touchers. I've also added the following subtitle to both: A dystopian thriller series.
Similarly, I've added genre-related subtitles to two of my other novels and, using the strategies I've learned, will choose better keywords for all the books. So far, my first changes haven't resulted in increased sales because it takes more than great keywords to sell books on Amazon. Too bad it's not a quick—and simple—fix.
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Marketing matters (continued) - July 1, 2019
In my last post (See June 26), I wrote about the mini-marketing course I'm taking on how to find better keywords to attract Amazon readers to my books.
The first two lessons were terrific. They gave me specific insights on what I should look for in selecting keywords.
I took Lesson 3 today and it was worthless. The entire lesson focused on using two tools that will improve keyword selection even more. One problem: These tools cost about $150.
I emailed the indie novelist who designed this course, telling him that I would certainly be willing to spend some money to drive up book sales. But at this point, I don't know if his theories work.
He wrote back that I'll be able to select keywords in Lesson 4 without the tools and added that Lessons 5 & 6 don't require them. We'll see. I'll let you know what happens.
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Marketing matters - June 26, 2019
All the independent authors I know have a difficult time making readers aware of their books. So what can we do? Of course, we can advertise, but that costs money and most of us don't have much of an ad budget.
We can also promote our books on social media, which I do, especially when my novels get good Amazon reviews. That strategy generates some buzz, but not many sales.
This week, however, I was contacted by an indie novelist who's created an online course to help other indie authors generate more Amazon sales by improving the keywords linked to their books. I found his first lesson helpful. Perhaps the tips will work. Stay tuned...
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Loose ends - June 21, 2019
Although Soldier Girl has been published online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I'm still working on peripheral stuff related to the novel.
First, I'm trying to link the paperback and ebook editions, since they're the same book. I'm also attempting to tie The Touchers series together: After the Bubbles - Book One and Soldier Girl - Book Two. These moves seem logical, but dealing with the customer reps is time consuming and not as easy as it should be.
But I have my bookmarks:
And I have my poster:
And on Monday, I will get my paperback copies of Soldier Girl. Eventually, it will all be good.
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Not done yet - June 16, 2019
I thought Soldier Girl was finished. Wrong. Yes, the ebook and paperback have both been published. Unfortunately, however, the paperback version on Amazon is missing its cover photo—not a good selling point.
In addition, the paperback and ebook aren't linked. But that should be a quick fix because Amazon provides clear instructions on how to link two editions of the same book and I've emailed them the necessary information.
Also, I'd like Soldier Girl - Book Two of The Touchers to be connected to After the Bubbles - Book One of The Touchers. Since I'm not sure how to do that, I sent Amazon another email about this issue.
Eventually, I'll be done with the publishing phase of Soldier Girl—I hope.
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Almost here - June 10, 2019
Soldier Girl - Book Two of The Touchers is nearing the finish line. The ebook and the paperback are done and the bookmarks, poster and web art are finished too. Here's the cover:
I should receive the paperback proof shortly and will read the book again, hopefully for the last time. If it's error-free, I'll release Soldier Girl for publication—finally. Meanwhile, I will publish the ebook on Kindle and then on Nook and Smashwords.
It's been a long journey and I'll be greatly relieved when it's over. I really look forward to getting back to working on my next collection of short stories—much easier!
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Unique event - June 5, 2017
I've been participating in book-signing events since I began my fiction-writing career ten years ago. But last weekend's event was unique—and not in a positive way.
First, we had the problem of location. This venue was near a main road, but hidden so most people had no idea the building was there. I had suggested posting large signs and balloons at the main intersection. But they just put up tiny signs and a few little balloons.
Traffic? We had practically none. I didn't even give away a bookmark and nearly all sales were vendor to vendor.
Here's the unique part: In the middle of the afternoon, one of the event coordinators got into a shouting match with a vendor (actually the event coordinator did all the shouting). She was so loud and her language was so obscene that the police were called.
It was not a pleasant afternoon. I'm hoping for a better experience at next Saturday's Festival at the Falls in Wappingers Falls, NY.
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And the proofing goes on - May 31, 2019
I just finished proofing another set of formatted pages for Soldier Girl - Book Two of The Touchers. Since this is the paperback version, I've been printing out the pages and reading them as they will appear, i.e. in book form. However, this time I decided to proof the pages on the computer screen.
It was a good decision because I discovered small mistakes I'd overlooked on the printed page: a missing period, a space between ellipses and the next word—sneaky stuff. And then, of course, I found things to change—removing or adding a comma, substituting repeated words, restructuring awkward sentences. There's always something to improve.
Will the next formatted pages be the final set? I sure hope so.
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Those necessary changes - May 26, 2019
As I've been explaining, I'm currently proofing the formatted version of my dystopian thriller, Soldier Girl, not editing it. However, when I see something that's not right—I'm going to fix it. Here are a few of my recent changes:
"A tall black teen girl about my age..."
This book is told in the first person by 15-year-old Erin. If a girl is about Erin's age, she's obviously a teen.
Here's the revised line:
"A tall black girl about my age..."
Erin and the other soldiers hear screams made by the monsters, who Erin calls touchers. But the touchers no longer have mouths so they can't make any kind of noises.
Erin ignores a death.
This is a doomsday novel so it's not a spoiler if I say someone dies. Many people do, most of them insignificant. But Erin forgets about an important minor character's death and I had to have her remember.
On a positive note: I'm not finding any typos.
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Proofing process - May 21, 2019
I'm rereading the formatted paperback of Soldier Girl - Book Two of The Touchers, looking for typos, formatting errors, and anything that cries, "Fix me!" As I explained in my last post, I'm not editing—actively trying to make improvements. However, if something in the manuscript bothers me, of course I'll change it.
So far I've found a number of repeated words, one repeated phrase, several formatting errors, some unnecessary commas—but no typos and no plot issues. I'm working with the cover designer in early June and if all continues to go well, I expect to publish the novel later next month.
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The book is done! - May 16, 2019
The hard part is over. I've shipped Soldier Girl - Book Two of the Touchers to the formatter and he's already sent me the first PDF. Although I'm proofing the formatted pages for errors—and I occasionally change a repeated word or tweak an awkward sentence—I am no longer editing the novel. Thank goodness.
As I've mentioned before, this dystopian series has been a struggle both to write and to edit. It's taken me much longer to publish After the Bubbles and Soldier Girl than any of my other novels. And I could reread this book forever because I can always find something to fix.
But there comes a point when an author says, "Enough, already!"—and I've reached that point. This novel is done.
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Event recap - May 11, 2019
On Saturday, I participated in my first book signing of the spring (although in the morning, it felt more like winter). It was a YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS event, so I shared a table with authors Larry Berliner and Linda Griffin. Actually, we shared two tables so we had lots of room.
The fair took place in the Buchanan Pavilion in Buchanan, NY—a large open-air facility with an overhead roof—perfect for authors since we like to be outside, but we don't like wind knocking down our posters. Except for the dandelion fluff that flew into the pavilion throughout the day, making everyone cough and sniffle, it was a beautiful venue and a fun event. I even sold a few books.
You can see photos of the Spring Fair in Happenings.
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Review request repeated - May 6, 2019
A few days ago, I was thrilled to find a new 5-star review for After the Bubbles on Amazon. I'm including the entire review as it appears on the page—in the lower-case style of e.e. cummings:
"once again susan berliner gives us a book that is both tense and riveting. caught my attention from the very beginning and kept me interested all the way through.One thing i noticed about her books is that she manages to take an ordinary simple part of life and turn it into something sinister. very cool! similar to king and his clown.highly recommend it for all adults both young and old.looking forward to the next book in the series. kudos!!!"
As I've written here many times, reviews are incredibly important for all authors and especially for independent authors like myself. I'm not famous so potential readers know nothing about my work. Positive reviews tell them that my books are worth their time and money.
If you like a book —one of mine or one by another author—please take a moment to post a brief Amazon review (it can be much shorter than the above example). You'd be amazed at how much it helps.
Here's a link to my After the Bubbles review page.
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The write routine - May 1, 2019
I'm back to working on my short story "The New Neighbors" (see April 26th post) and that means I've returned to my writing routine. Each morning before breakfast, I spend about an hour writing a new scene.
Since I became a novelist/short story writer, I'm able to edit anytime, but I have to do my creative work (writing) at a regular time each day. Treating writing like a job works for me. In fact, it's the only bit of advice I give aspiring writers: Pick a daily "writing time" (even if it's only 15 or 30 minutes) and stick to it. You'll be surprised at how many words you can produce. I've published 6—soon to be 7—books.
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The write time - April 26, 2019
Recently, I've been concentrating on Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers, getting this sequel to After the Bubbles ready for publication. As a result, I haven't been writing regularly.
But now I'm back to writing my short story, "The New Neighbors," although it's been a difficult return. Procrastination is so much easier. Also, I got out of the habit of writing each morning.
Today, however, although I didn't feel like writing, I forced myself to sit at the computer and create a short scene. I don't think it's very good, but at least I wrote something. And I can edit that scene—and write another scene tomorrow.
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Touchers tagline - April 21, 2019
"One touch and you're dead..."
That's the tagline in my doomsday series, The Touchers, which includes After the Bubbles (Book One) and the conclusion, Soldier Girl (Book Two), which will be published in June. In these thrillers, monsters—known as touchers—kill people just by touching them.
In this contest—which ends on April 22—readers must use my tagline to create end-of-the-world scenarios by substituting another method of annihilation instead of death by touch and then briefly explain how that method will destroy the world.
How would you destroy the world?
"One _____ and you're dead..."
Last chance to enter! Please check the Contest details here.
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Home stretch - April 16, 2019
I'm finally making progress with my dystopian novel, Soldier Girl - Book Two of the Touchers. After so many rereads and revisions—and finding problems ranging from major to minor—the book has been significantly improved.
So far with this reread, I've just had one issue—an inconsistency with left and right driving directions. But after I consulted a road map I'd drawn, I was able to verify (and rectify) locations.
Since I'm now optimistic that the novel is nearly "finished," I've made arrangements with my formatter and cover designer to work on the book in May and early June. If all goes well, Soldier Girl should be published sometime in June. I can see the finish line...
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And the read goes on - April 11, 2019
I've just finished yet another read-through of my doomsday novel, Soldier Girl, Book Two of the Touchers. Although I was hopeful this would be the last time I'd be reading the manuscript before production, that's not happening. I still found too many things to change.
It's disturbing because, in addition to numerous repeated words and awkward sentences, I continue to discover sneaky small errors—issues I should have caught during an earlier reading. Here's an example: Early in the novel, the main character, Erin, says she forgot to pack a watch, asks someone for the time, and is directed to a wall clock. But later when she wants to know the time, she neglects to check the clock. She also has a chance to retrieve her watch and doesn't.
I've revised the story like this: Erin is out of the room with the wall clock when she wants to know the time and she doesn't like wearing a watch altogether. Now it's on to the next reread...
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Still not done - April 6, 2019
I'm just about done with this reread of my dystopian novel, Soldier Girl, and unfortunately, the book's still not finished. Every time I read this sequel to After the Bubbles, I'm hopeful that I'll be satisfied. But once again I found lots of things to change.
Here are some of my findings:
* Unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences - Extraneous verbiage that didn't move the action forward or add to the understanding of the characters.
* Inconsistencies - Subtle small errors that I overlooked the first twenty plus times I read the book.
* Missing description - Even though teenage Erin narrates the story, she can still let the reader know what someone looks like. I realized she neglects to describe an important minor character's appearance.
It's disheartening to find so many things to change after numerous readings by myself and others. But I can't say the book is finished until I'm satisfied with it. And right now, I'm not.
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Changing direction - April 1, 2019
For several months, I've been writing a short story about an Alexa-like device, called "FRIENDr." I like the concept and the beginning pages, but I can't get the story to work so after attempting three versions, I've given up. (I haven't tossed the story altogether, just put it aside.)
I don't usually have this problem, but these smart little robot machines do so many things that it's hard to create a supernatural tale about them.
I've started writing another story called "The New Neighbors." Hopefully, I'll have more success with this tale.
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A wonderful surprise - March 27, 2019
I just got a copy of the Northern Westchester Examiner, my local weekly newspaper, and when I looked at the front page, guess what I saw? A photo of Larry Berliner and me from last Saturday's "Meet the Authors" book talk!
I'd sent the newspaper a few photos taken at the Jefferson Valley Mall event with the hope that one would be published—but I never expected the picture to grace the cover. This photo shows Larry and me with two lovely ladies who purchased our books: Connie bought my collection of short stories, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales, and her daughter, Rachael, chose Larry's award-winning funny book, You Can't Be Serious: An inner-city teacher a-muses about school and life.
Publicity is important for all authors—but it's especially important for independent authors like myself—so a photo on a newspaper's front page is a glorious thing. To see the picture and caption, click here.
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The best book-signing event ever - March 22, 2019
If you're on Facebook, you know the site shows "memories" that you can share on your page. Today, it gave me a photo from March 22, 2015, which I posted because it was from my best book-signing event ever.
Here's why Main Street Market was such a great venue:
* Location: The event was held in the Westchester County Center, a large centrally-located building in White Plains, NY. Although we were downstairs, there was a well-attended Home Show on the main level, and reps upstairs ushered customers to our spacious basement room showcasing handmade crafts.
* Shoppers: The Home Show had an admission fee so attendees had money and were prepared to spend it, which doesn't usually happen in March, an off-season for book events. Two shoppers even bought all my books.
* Ambiance: Even though we were in the basement, the room was open and brightly lit, with light food and café tables. There was also terrific background music—two guitarists playing and singing soft rock tunes (Billy Joel, Elton John, Beatles).
Unfortunately, my first Main Street Market was the last Main Street Market. The event, run by Westchester County, was discontinued when government officials required participating vendors to have insurance, something most of us couldn't afford.
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Book talking (con't) - March 17, 2019
Yesterday, Larry Berliner, Linda Griffin, and I had our "Meet the Authors" book talk (see post below) and the event turned out to be different than the three of us expected. Here's what happened:
* Although our talk was outside the Book Nook at the edge of the Mall's Food Court, the Book Nook has been transformed into more of a Kid's Nook so we had nothing to do with that enclosed space. The Mall gave us a loveseat and stuffed chair from the nearby hallway, added a long table to display our books and posters, and arranged several Food Court tables and chairs so they faced us.
* No one sat in any of the chairs that faced us. However, many lunch patrons occupied seats near us, including a young girl's pizza birthday party. Since we had a microphone, those diners heard our talk whether or not they were interested in what we said.
* No one asked questions—probably because no one sat in the seats facing us. Maybe being close turned people off. If we do this again, we won't alter the Food Court seating setup.
* We did sign books. Despite not having a real audience, several people visited our display table—and some bought books. This surprised us because the event was a talk, not a book sale. Last week's event was a book sale and we didn't sell any books. You just never know...
To see photos of the event, please check Happenings.
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Book talking - March 12, 2019
If you read this blog, you know I love talking about writing and especially, talking about writing my novels and short stories. That's why I'm looking forward to Saturday, March 16, when I'll join Larry Berliner and Linda Griffin for a "Meet the Authors" event from noon thru 2 pm at the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, NY.
Larry, Linda, and I will sit outside the Book Nook (near the Food Court) to talk about our publishing journeys and the writing process. We'll also read excerpts of our work, answer questions--and hopefully, even sign a few copies of our books.
This is a casual event so listeners will be able to eat lunch while we talk. We're really looking forward to interacting with local readers!
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Rewriting the story - March 7, 2019
I've been working on a short story about an Alexa-like device, called "FRIENDr." After writing more than 4,000 words, I stopped because the story wasn't moving forward: It was spinning around like a hamster on a wheel. But I really like the premise so rather than dumping the story, I'm rewriting FRIENDr.
I kept the first part except for a few small changes. I'm also rewriting one character and adding another in the hope that these moves will add drama. I envisioned this story as a thriller and to this point, it's not at all thrilling. In fact, it's totally boring.
I hope my rewrite will work. Right now, it's too soon to know.
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Those many changes - March 2, 2019
I just received another critique of Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers. This reader does an excellent job of identifying when my characters behave inconsistently.
He pointed out Erin's boyfriend Blaine's "too cutesy" attitude during danger, Erin's lack of empathy to some of the deaths, and an example of her wimpiness. I thought I had toughened my heroine after the first critique (see January 16 post), but obviously I missed one incident.
Other suggestions included mentioning the dire conditions at the beginning of the novel and adding details about some of the minor characters.
I've already made the simple changes and I'll work on the other revisions as I reread the book. Eventually, this novel will be finished—but not yet.
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Letting the book sit - February 25, 2019
In my February 10th post, I wrote about the benefits of letting a piece of writing sit. As Patricia McArdle said, when you read the work again, "the inconsistencies, the gaps and the missed connections will jump right off the page..."
This strategy worked earlier with my short stories and it's working now with my novel. I'm rereading Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers, and in the first five chapters I've already noticed two serious problems. Both issues involve inconsistencies with the setting.
The first is the location of the army base's parking lot. At the beginning of the novel, I mention that the lot is surrounded by buildings. However, in later chapters the buildings are lined up behind each other.
The second issue involves an army mission with two tanks, one behind the other. At first, Tank One is behind Tank Two, but later in the chapter it's in front of the other tank.
I've identified the problems. Now comes the hard part: fixing them.
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Avoiding the book - January 20, 2019
I certainly identify with Sarah Manguso. The first four novels I wrote (DUST, Peachwood Lake, The Disappearance, and Corsonia) each took me about a year to write and edit. Then came The Touchers.
I wanted to write a doomsday novel told in the first-person by a teenage girl. When I started The Touchers in 2011, the first draft took me forever—and when it was finally written, I discovered that it wasn't finished. I had to write a second novel to complete the story. These two books became After the Bubbles (published last year) and Soldier Girl (to be published this spring).
Writing these two thrillers was like pulling teeth. My narrator, Erin, a 15-year-old girl, annoyed me at times, making it difficult to work on the novels. That's when I did the same thing as Sarah Manguso: I wrote other books. In fact, I produced two collections of short stories. The first, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales, was published in 2016 and my second collection is nearly finished.
Some books, like my Touchers series, are just more difficult to write than others. Short stories? For me, they're fun and easy to write.
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The tricky apostrophe – February 15, 2019
It's that time again: Each year before the long holiday weekend, I write an apostrophe-related post citing the misspelled headlines in holiday sales ads.
I'll begin with a short history lesson: When I was a child, we celebrated the February birthdays of two great presidents: George Washington on February 22 and Abraham Lincoln on February 12, with a day off from school for each man's birthday. However, in 1971, to provide 3-day weekends, a new holiday was created on the third Monday of February to honor Washington and in most states, Lincoln.
This redesigned February holiday has became known as "Presidents' Day," the apostrophe signifying that we celebrate more than one president (not President's Day, which would honor just one man). It's also not "Presidents Day" because it's a "Day for the Presidents," which requires the possessive apostrophe.
Every year, I check newspapers, the Internet, and TV to see which companies misspell Presidents' Day in their ads. Although I've noticed an improvement in the number of "President's Day" misspellings, they still occur. A double-page ad by the Outlet, a furniture/bedding store, touts a "President's Day Super Sale" in New York's Daily News and on the Internet, Michaels, the crafts store chain, is running a "4 Day President's Sale."
And major companies still leave out the apostrophe. Shame on two repeat offenders from 2018: Dell Computers with a newspaper ad for "Presidents Day Early Deals" and Hyundai with a prime-time TV ad for a "Presidents Day Sales Event."
Some advertisers avoid the apostrophe issue altogether by changing headline wording. In the metro NY area, car dealerships often take this approach. This year, I've seen newspaper ads for a "Savings of Presidential Proportions" and a "Presidential Door Buster."
Will the holiday headlines improve next Presidents' Day? Check back in February, 2020.
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Let it sit - February 10, 2019
"After you’ve finished a piece put it away and don’t look at it for a while.
When you take it out and read it again, the inconsistencies,
the gaps and the missed connections will jump right off the page…”
About a month ago, after arranging my thirteen short stories into a satisfactory order (separating genres, lengths, first person/third person, etc.), I did what Patricia McArdle advises: put the book aside without looking at it while I edited my doomsday novel, Soldier Girl (Book Two of The Touchers).
Now a trusted reader is critiquing my doomsday novel and I'm rereading the collection of short stories. Although I've only read four, I'm already finding problems.
For example, I found an error in a time travel tale concerning a car accident on a city highway. The crash happens when a truck driver swerves to avoid a car zooming through a red light. But when I reread the story, I realized this scenario doesn't work because the highway wouldn't have lights. I rewrote the line so the truck driver swerves to avoid hitting a drunk's car that shoots in front of him.
I had read this story many times and never realized the mistake until now. When you reread a piece after letting it sit, you see it with new eyes.
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The write business - February 5, 2019
It's tax-filing time, which means I had to compile a list of expenses and profits for 2018 for my one-woman publishing operation.
Usually my freelance work (writing test passages for ELL students in Texas) gives my income a boost. However, last year I had very little freelance work. As a result, my earnings for 2018 were a bit less than my costs.
Even in years where I make a profit, it's never much because being an independent author isn't a lucrative career. But writing novels and short stories is lots of fun and I highly recommend the "job." Just don't expect to get rich.
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What's happening? - January 31, 2019
As we plow through winter, I'm thinking spring (or at least March) in terms of book events. And this week, I've confirmed two interesting programs.
Save A Life, on Sunday, March 3, is a valuable educational event for high school students. This year's program, sponsored by the Alliance for Safe Kids (ASK), features motivational speaker John Morello, who will offer an interactive presentation on mental wellness. At this event, I'll be sharing an Exhibit Hall table at Yorktown High School with authors Larry Berliner and Linda Griffin.
Then on Saturday, March 16, I'll be co-hosting a "Meet the Local Authors" event, again with Larry Berliner and Linda Griffin. Our YIKES! & TYKES & YUKS team will be at the Book Nook (near the 2nd floor Food Court) of the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights to discuss our books as well as the writing process. We'll read excerpts of our work, share writing experiences, answer questions, and sign copies of our books.
For more details about these two events, please check Happenings. It's going to be a fun-filled March!
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Redundancies (continued) - January 26, 2019
As I reread Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers, I continue to find (and eliminate) unnecessary words. Here are some of my latest catches:
* No one talked very much on our ride back to the base.
No one talked much on our ride back to the base.
("Very," a weak adjective, is useless here.)
* The surviving seven...weren't given any new assignments.
The surviving seven...weren't given new assignments.
* "But they couldn't check in the sky for flying ones,"
"But they couldn't check the sky for flying ones,"
* Most of the windows were smashed and two of the front doors were wide open.
Most windows were smashed and two front doors were wide open.
(Two sets of extra words!)
More to come, I'm sure—I've reread less than one-third of the book!
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Killer tagline - January 21, 2019
"One touch and you're dead..."
That's the tagline in my doomsday series, The Touchers, which includes After the Bubbles (Book One) and the soon-to-be-published conclusion, Soldier Girl (Book Two). In these thrillers, monsters—known as touchers—kill people just by touching them.
In this new contest, I'm asking readers to use my tagline to create end-of-the-world scenarios by substituting another method of annihilation instead of death by touch.
How would you destroy the world? "One _____ and you're dead..."
Want to enter? If so, check the Contest details here.
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Revising again - January 16, 2019
A valued reader, who's also an editor and novelist (the best combination!), just finished critiquing Soldier Girl, the sequel to After the Bubbles. In addition to finding a number of typos, the reader alerted me to several problems with the novel—some minor, but a few major.
One important issue: My teen protagonist, Erin, is much too wimpy at times—closing her eyes when she thinks she's about to die, rather than taking action or at least watching what's happening.
The reader also noted instances where characters don't behave as they should—(e.g. react to pain). Again these are things I didn't realize until now.
It's important to have an objective reader evaluate your novel, even if you think the book is practically finished. Chances are, you'll discover that you need to make changes.
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Outline opinion - January 11, 2019
"I outline. I have to know the beginning and the end...
it's hard enough to find the right words each day;
if you don't even know what's going to happen,
it seems twice as hard."
— Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead's comments about the benefits of outlining make a lot of sense. It's probably easier to write fiction if you know what's going to happen. Nevertheless, I don't outline.
Of course, I know the beginning when I start writing a story or novel. I also know my main characters and have an idea of what's going to happen—but often that's all I have—an inkling.
As I write, my characters take over the action and guide me through the story, often moving the plot differently than I expected. Usually, but not always, they steer the action in a good direction. If the story starts going haywire, I backtrack and rewrite that part. (Even if my characters are the actors, it's still my book, and I'm the director.)
I understand why some authors need to outline, and as Whitehead says, maybe it is twice as hard to write without outlining. But to me, it's not as much fun. I discover the story along with my characters and I want the suspense of not knowing the ending until I have to write it. That's my entertainment.
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Shower power - January 6, 2019
I don't know about other authors, but I do some of my clearest literary thinking while in the shower. That's where many of my perplexing problems with stories or novels in progress are solved.
It happened again yesterday morning. In the shower, I had an "Aha!" moment when I realized a description I'd written in the beginning of my new short story, "FRIENDr," which I didn't understand at the time, made perfect sense. The reasoning must have been lurking in my subconscious, just waiting to be released.
After I figured it out, I wrote a scene in which the main character learns why she received a gift wrapped in Christmas holiday colors (green and red) in March.
It's fun to uncover the secrets in my brain!
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Writing resolutions - January 1, 2019
Happy New Year! I begin each year with my writing resolutions so, without further ado, here are my goals for 2019:
1. I resolve to finish editing Soldier Girl, Book Two of The Touchers, so I can publish the doomsday novel in early spring. This two-part series has taken an extraordinarily long time to write and edit. I'm really looking forward to completing the second book.
2. I resolve to finish editing my second collection of short stories. The thirteen stories are written and somewhat edited. Because these are short stories—not novels (although two are nearly the length of novellas)—this task isn't as daunting as Resolution #1. But editing is still time-consuming. I'm hoping to publish this short story collection in 2019.
3. I resolve to continue writing short stories. I've written one new story and have several ideas for other tales. Now I just have to write them.