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Cold Weather Prepping   4 comments

October 23, 2017 – How to post. Pick something and explain how to do it. It can be writing related, craft related, garden related – just share how you do it.

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I thought long and hard about this post and finally decided not to share a craft or something writing related and my garden has been frozen for a few weeks at least. Which is kind of my point. So I decided to post on preparing for winter.

Alaska has really COLD weather, so we actually have a season for prepping for it. Pretty much everything stops right after moose season while we turn toward getting our houses and cars ready for winter. Our cars especially need some TLC to be ready for the icebox.

Image result for image of head bolt heater cordOur garage was built by people who apparently owned toy cars. We can pull in, but we can’t open the doors of either car … and heating our garage would be prohibitively expensive because it was incorrectly insulated, so … well, it’s an unheated attached tool shed that we can, if needed, pull a car into if we are prepared to climb out of the trunk to exit the car.

First order of business? Change the oil. You can, of course, do this at Jiffy Lube, but I like knowing it’s done right, so we usually do it ourselves. We have a special tub for catching the oil (and our local solid waste collection site accepts fluids like oil.) We buy a new filter, five quarts of 5W30-50 (depends on the car; we use 10W whatever in the summer) and a replacement fuel filter. While we’re changing the oil, we check to make sure all the lights are working and that the battery is doing well. Being an electrician, Brad has meters for that. We also check the coolant in the radiator, which also requires a meter. While most people can get away with premixed coolant, here in Alaska we have to make sure the antifreeze can go down to at least 40 below, so we usually mix it ourselves. We check our tire treads in the spring to give us time to buy new tires if needed, but we check them again now just to be compulsive. This year we have a tire that needs repair as it has a slow leak. That could easily become a big leak as the cold hardens the rubber in the tires.

Then we check the engine heating devices. Because it gets so cold here, whenever your car is parked, you have to plug it into a headbolt heater. Mechanics insert a heating element into the engine through the headbolt. We also warm our oil pans with a glue-on heating pad. While not absolutely necessary, it can be helpful to also put the battery on a battery-warming plate. (I am personally not a fan of battery blankets, probably because my stepfather the mechanic had no use for them).

These devices usually run to a central cord that hangs out of the grill of the car. You plug it into an extension cord that runs to an outside outlet that, ideally, is connected to a timer so that it only comes on for a couple of hours before you leave. Ours comes on at 5 am. We also have an override so we can give the cars some heat before going to pick up kids in the evening. Of course, we have two of these timed plugins because we have two cars. At one time, we had three cars, so one person had to plug in inside the garage – by running a cord under the door and actually get up two hours before departure to manually plug her car into that outlet. She was young and overslept a lot, so her mom often did it for her.

To check the headbolt apparatus, I plug in the car when it’s still warm outside and check to see if the engine compartment gets warm within a half-hour. If it does, we’re probably good to go. Brad checks the industrial Arctic-grade extension cords for cracks annually and replaces the ends about once every two years. We check the timers to make sure they’re working, still keeping time, etc. We run the 20-foot extension cords behind the garbage cans because, should we forget to unplug the car, the cans will fall over as the extension cords uncoil. This acts as a warning that prevents us from dragging the cords down the street — which often results in destroying the cords, or in getting them wrapped around an axle, which can seriously damage the car.

A final step in prepping the engine involves wiring a piece of cardboard to the backside of the grill, blocking about three-quarters of the airflow. This keeps the engine from being too cold, allowing the interior heater to actually warm us up. Brad’s Jeep has a bra, but my car needs the cardboard.

We squirt graphite-based deicer in the locks, clean the windows, smear this anti-fog stuff on the inside to try to prevent frosting (it’s debatable if that actually works), cover the backseat with a blanket so the dog can enjoy car rides without getting frost-bitten, fill an auxiliary gas can with gas and put it in the trunk along with some survival gear (most especially jumper cables) and a couple of bottles of oil. We move the ice scraper with attached brush from the trunk to the back seat (we’re going to need it).

Starting right about now (mid-October), we’ll warm the car for about a half-hour before starting the engine and then we’ll let it run for a couple of minutes before backing out of the driveway. When true winter (defined as colder than 0 F) arrives (around Thanksgiving, but sometimes as early as Halloween), we’ll warm it for an hour and run it for five minutes before departure. When it drops to 20 below, we go to an hour-and-half or two hours of warming. I only usually let the car warm up for five or 10 minutes, although there are people who let their cars run until they’re warm inside. That wastes a lot of fuel, I am not convinced it is easier on the engine, and it sure adds a lot of pollutants to our atmosphere. I also wear clothes that suit the weather.

When I get to work, there is another extension cord waiting for me to plug into because that’s what’s needed to keep the car going around here. Brad carries one with him in his vehicle so that he can use clients’ plugins so his vehicle doesn’t freeze when he’s inside. It’s not uncommon when you visit friends for them to tell you where the extra plugin is, but if they don’t have one, you have to go outside about every two hours to run the car for a few minutes (10, 15) to keep the oil loose. There is a big move here to encourage employers and businesses to provide outlets. That would be nice for those times when you go to the movies or out to eat and you know you have to take care of the car every two hours or pay the consequences.

So, there you go. One piece of a larger puzzle for winter time prep here in Alaska.

Let’s Get Visual   Leave a comment

We authors in the 21st century write in a time when readers, trained by movies and television, expect a visual experience from our books. Of course, all the gurus say “show, don’t tell.” That sounds simple … just make the characters do something that readers can visualize … but we authors know it’s really not as simple as it sounds. There are a myriad of choices we must make to “show” rather than “tell” a scene. How do we creat a visual scene that our readers can “watch” as they read? If you’re like me, “show” is just too vague of an instruction. There must be some ways to transfer the clearly enacted scene in my mind to the page in a way that will come across with the emotional impact I intend.

It would be so much easier if we could just say “the character is feeling this”, but that’s telling not showing, so we go through these scene construction contortions designed to show our character in action, reacting to the environmental stimuli that make them feel, hoping that our readers will clue into what the character is feeling. I’ve read a lot of books that missed this mark. Why?

I think it has something to do with focusing too much on the overall plot and not enough on the plot in each scene. Think about a movie. A director creates a scene through a compilationg of segments or pieces. A collection of camera shots are subsequently edited and pieced together to create a seamless “moment in time.”

My son and I were watching “High Noon” a while ago and it got me to thinking about this concept and how novel writers could learn from screen writers and directors. That’s a movie that plays with time in an extremely successful way. I recommend you watch it sometime. Yes, it was made in the 1950s, but no, it’s not just some old relic that we can leave in a vault. The techniques used in it to speed time u and slow it down can translate into our writing and make it more visual and therefore, more readable to a modern audience.

Our stories are told over periods of time. I’ve read novels that encompassed a couple of hours and others that covered decades. Pacing so as to create a smooth passage of time is essential for the reader to follow the story, but I’m suggesting you can manipulate time to evoke an emotional response.

Often during crisis, time feels muddled and hazy. If you’ve ever witnessed an accident … say, a car crash … you may remember that time seemed to stop until you could catch up to it. It doesn’t just slow down. It acquires this bright, highly detailed feeling. And generally, that is how you remember it.

For example, when I was in high school, I saw a little kid hit by a car. I remember that I saw the kid break away from his dad out of the corner of my eye just as a truck came into view. The kid ended up under the truck. The dad grabbed the kid, the driver expressed horror and offered a ride to the hospital and they took off. I remembered to breathe as my heart pounded in terror for the little kid.

Okay, you pretty much know the details and I made it clear that I was terrified. I could have done so much better.

I could have slowed things down, described the child as I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I could have described the truck as it came into view and the face of the driver as he realized there was no way to stop in time. I could describe the screech of the brakes as he tried. This gives the scene so much more power than a simple retelling of the facts.

In my latest work-in-progress, What If … Wasn’t, my character is processing old and painful memories. These are not just fleeting thoughts in his mind. They are all encompassing experiences that he feels in the present as well as in the past. I could say something like “Peter sat there thinking about that night on the bay for at least 20 minutes” but that doesn’t really pull the reader into the scene. Instead, I try to make the reader feel the passage of time by focusing on details you wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to. By having my character notice something seemingly insignificant, I try to show that his inner awareness is shifting. By noticing things around him, details that are small and easily missed, which nobody else would pay attention to, I very deliberately shift the quality of time.

When we look back on the reel of our lives, there are moments that seem marvelously alive while others seem insulated and unresponsive to the world around us. There are no set rules for how to accomplish this as writers. By having your characters slow down and notice the small things, thus slowing down time, you can explore how she feels in that moment and provide a visual element to your writing that draw your readers into your character’s experience.

 

 

 

 

Posted November 9, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Fine Torture of Book Titles   Leave a comment

I’m going to admit that I HATE coming up with book titles. I also hated writing my own headlines when I was a reporter. Fortunately, I didn’t have to very often because the newspaper I worked for had a long-time printer who was great at headlines.

So, maybe, I could have benefited from the practice.

Driver WhisperWoodsFRNTRegardless, I still don’t like coming up with book titles. Why? Because it’s hard and SO VERY IMPORTANT.

The cover is your best advertisement and the title is an integral part of the cover. Which really makes me wonder why there is so little good guidance on the right way to think about titling your book. Most of it can be grouped in three categories — go with your gut, browse bookstores for ideas, and don’t waste a lot of time doing it.

Wrong, wrong, and WRONG!

 

Big professional companies like pharmaceutical firms and Procter & Gamble spend millions naming their new products. I can testify that changing the title of a blog post that you wrote sometime ago can vastly change the attention it gets. The cover is your best advertisement and the title is an integral part of the cover. Of course, you should spend time doing it, because it ensures your book has the best possible chance of success.

 

The title is the first piece of information someone gets about your book, and it informs the reader’s first impression about your book. You never get a second chance to form a first opinion. A good title isn’t a guarantee of book success, but a bad title will almost certainly be an obstacle to doing well.

Front Cover LAWKI no windowJust think about what you do when you search the Amazon lists for a book. What’s the first thing that gets your attention. Those annoying thumbnails makes the cover of less importance than the title. I know that I am attracted to well-chosen titles. That makes me click on the thumbnail. Then if the cover is good, I read the blurb. If that’s good, I read the sample text. And then, if the book sounds good, I buy it or put it on my “wants” list for when I have the money to buy it.

The title is the first thing the reader sees or hears about your book, usually before the cover, so getting your title right is possibly the most important single book marketing decision you’ll make. And, yes, it is marketing!

Let me give you an example. Quite by accident, I entitled my apocalyptic Life as We Knew It the same as a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I didn’t know about Pfeffer’s book when I published. Although both books are apocalyptics, they are very different books, with very different covers. Although not legally required to do so, I considered renaming my book initially because I respect Pfeffer’s work, but then I decided against it. Why? Because of the marketing value of people accidentally discovering my book while looking for hers. Is it possible that book is my personal bestseller because of that serendipitous title poaching? Could be. I am 99% positive that nobody is buying my book thinking they’re buying hers. They’re very different and our names have no similarities. While I will try not to name books after existing better known books, I decided to let my mistake stand for the marketing value.

Plus, remember what I said about hating coming up with book titles. I really don’t think I could come up with a better one for that particular book.

 

 

How did I hit upon it or any of my other five titles. I try for the following attributes in naming titles:

  1. Attention Grabbing
  2. Memorable
  3. Not embarrassing or problematic for someone to say aloud to their friends

Attention grabbing should be a no-brainer. There are a million things pulling on people’s attention, and you need a title that stands out. A bad title is one that’s boring, or seems boring. There are many ways to grab attention; you can be provocative, controversial, exciting, you can make a promise, etc. The point is your title should make people stop and pay attention to it.

Memorable is not the same thing as grabbing attention. It’s much easier to get a reaction out of someone, and then be forgotten, than it is to get a reaction that sticks with them. Remember, a book title is not only the first thing a reader hears about your book, it’s the one piece of information that a reader has that leads them back to the book itself. If your book is recommended to them by a friend, and they can’t remember the title, then they can’t go find it in a bookstore or on Amazon.

I am still looking for this really great book I read about 25 years ago that I cannot remember the title of. If I remember correctly, it was a very poetic title that exactly matched some obscure part of the story. Do you know the book I mean?

 

 

People do not like to feel stupid or socially inept. If a book title is hard to pronounce, they won’t talk it up. Lathe of Heaven took forever to catch on for that reason. Starship Troopers caught on almost immediately. If it contains words they don’t understand, it’s likely they won’t buy it and they definitely aren’t going to talk it up to other people. Try not to embarrass your readers.

One of the most important things to think about when picking your book title is how well it facilitates word of mouth. Really, what you’re doing is thinking about how people will feel about saying this book title out loud to their friends. Does it make them look smart or stupid?

Most of my books have working titles that will never see the light of day. I don’t really come up with titles until I’m almost done with the book and most of my titles are intimately connected to the book.

The Willow Branch refers to the walking stick Ryanna receives in the last scene of the book, but that harkens back into the history of the novel series. It also brings up an incredibly beautiful image of a diamond willow staff.

Mirklin Wood refers to the forest Padraig and Tamys traverse in that book. There’s a homage to JRR Tolkien (Murkwood) in it. Fantasy fans might be attracted just because of that.

Fount of Dreams, the as-yet unpublished third book in the series, refers to a magical item in the book.

Life As We Knew It is drawn from the idea that this is a transition from the civilization we knew to a survival situation — and the cover image drives this home because you have a a barn with a nuclear fallout shelter sign and a mushroom cloud in the background, suggesting that this community is wholly inadequately prepared for the looming disaster.

Objects in View, the soon-to-be published second book in that series, was inspired by the title of a television series I was watching, but it also refers to a philosophy of realism espoused by most of the Delaney men.

What If … Wasn’t, my latest work-in-progress, sets up the idea that someone in the novel didn’t get what they were hoping for.

So how can you test your book titles?

Imagine one of your readers at a barbecue talking about your book with other people. If you can see them confidently saying the book title aloud, and the people listening nodding and immediately either understanding what the book is about based on that (and perhaps a sentence or two of explanation), or asking for further explanation because it sounds interesting, then you’ve got a good title. If you imagine any other reaction, seriously consider whether you need to rethink the title.

Remember, so much of book marketing boils down to word of mouth.You want your book title to inspire and motivate the readers to talk about it with their friends.

What do I suggest you do to find a book title, especially if you’re like me and you hate naming books?

It should start with brainstorming. Write down every title you can think of. Use clever or noteworthy phrases from your book. Use both short and long phrases. It’s okay to start out with a long phrase, but the ultimate goal should be to limit the main title to no more than five words. More than that and you crowd the cover and make the title difficult to remember.

Using statements that provide unusual contrasts or paradoxes that will make the reader curious about the book’s story. Who Moved My Cheese? is  great example of this.

Use metaphors associated with the themes in the book. Humans think symbolically, so using metaphor is powerful device to help you create a title that resonates. A great example of this is the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. The title signals the warm, nurturing feeling that is associated in our culture with chicken soup. It suggests that the book will contain stories that nurture your soul.

Use alliteration: Alliteration is using the same letter at the beginning of all or most of the words in your title. People remember that better. What If … Wasn’t makes use of that technique. George RR Martin makes use of it all throughout the Song of Ice and Fire — Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, Dance of Dragons, etc.

Alter a popular phrase or use slang. My homage to Tolkien might mean something to fantasy fans and since I’m selling a fantasy ….  Start with that popular cliche and play with it.

Alternatively, coin your own phrase. I haven’t tried this yet myself, but the world is made up of books that benefited from that. The Great Gatsby (which also has alliteration), Common Sense, Breathing Underwater are just a few I can think of.

Use Amazon and other resources for when you’re really stuck. I’m not saying to rip off another book’s title, but to gain inspiration from the titles that already exist. Wattpad, by the way, is a great resource for this because they’re trying to attract any sort of attention to their stories and sometimes they come up with brilliant titles in the process.

I had a friend recommend a random title generator. I tried it and I wasn’t impressed, but if you were stuck, it might jar you loose. Some sites to check out:

 

So, now you’ve got some possibilities — maybe 5-20 possible titles. Now you need to test your titles, so you can narrow the field. You can certainly ask your writer’s group and beta readers, your husband and auto mechanic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this sort of testing. But, on the other hand, you might want to open it up to a larger audience. You probably can’t afford a focus group like the big publishers use, but there are affordable options for the independent author. If you already have a reader base (or even a list of a list of authors I’ve interviewed), you can use Survey Monkey or Google Survey. Facebook and Twitter now allow you to put up surveys too.

Titles cannot be copyrighted, so technically every title is fair game. There is a very popular modern book out called Mein Kamf that is really different from Hilter’s book. It’s a good way to get attention, but scrubbing off the stink might be hard. Lots of people told the writer not to do it. He ignored them. It worked out. It was a HUGE gamble.

Ordinarily, you should pay attention to the results you get. Seriously! Don’t bother to run the test if you’re not going to consider the advice it generates. But, truth be told, sometimes you just have to go with your own instincts.

Who would have thought that To Kill A Mockbird would be a popular title.

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