Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, Brit style

I'm not going to talk about books, or characters, or editing this month. Well not much anyway. I'm just going to wish you a very Merry Christmas and have a bit of fun with baking. So please keep reading.

In the run up to Christmas there’s always so much to do and so little time. In our household, we don’t put up any Christmas decorations until after the tenth of December, our son’s birthday. Then boxes are dragged from the garage, shelves are laden with festive nick-nacks, and we buy the largest tree possible on which to hang all the baubles and seasonal decorations we have collected over the years. Our doors are dotted in Blu Tac and plastered with Christmas cards, and cupboards gradually get full-to-overloaded with treats.

Having researched a few of the differences between American and British Christmas traditions, I thought I’d share a few things with you here.

Whilst I wouldn’t advocate consuming alcohol too early in the day, at Christmas we English like to have a glass of champagne, or something sparkling, on Christmas morning. Sometimes we add orange juice to make a Buck’s Fizz—I think you call it a Mimosa, although our Buck’s Fizz has more champagne than juice. Personally I like to drink my orange juice neat. Just like my champagne J.

Of course, we don’t just drink in the morning. We maintain a steady intake during the day. In my case, it improves my cooking. At least I think there is a correlation between everyone enjoying my food, and consuming more alcohol.

Among treats such as chocolate Santas—whom we call Father Christmas by the way—marzipan fruits, chocolate liquers and stollen cake, there is a very British tradition of eating mince pies at Christmas time. The majority are consumed during the run up to Christmas. By the twenty-fifth, we’ve usually had our fill, and they are pushed aside by the great Christmas pudding, flooded with rum, wine and stout, and served with brandy cream.

But getting back to the mince pies. It’s come to my attention that you don’t have them on your side of the pond. So I thought I’d share an old family recipe. Actually, it’s not my family, but it does date back to 1989. At least that’s the date of my copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course.

So if you love your baking and want to rebel against American tradition and provide your loved ones with a treat, here’s what you do:

Buy the Ingredients:
For the filling
For the Pastry
For the top
1lb of cooking apples, chopped
12 oz plain flour
8 oz shredded suet
3 oz lard
Icing sugar
12 oz raisins
3 oz butter

8 oz sultanas
A pinch of salt

8 oz currants
Cold water, to mix

8 oz mixed peel, chopped

12 oz soft dark brown sugar

Grated rind & juice of 2 oranges

Grated rind & juice of 2 lemons

2 oz almonds cut into slivers

4 teaspoons mixed spice

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ a nutmeg, grated

6 tablespoons brandy

Make the filling – probably best to do this first.
As an aside, and just in case you didn’t know, the filling is called mincemeat but there is no meat involved. It’s all sweet and great for vegetarians.
Step 1 - Just mix them all together, holding back the brandy—but don’t drink it. Or if you are tempted by the bottle, make sure you leave at least 6 tablespoons. Otherwise all your mince pies will be ruined.
Step 2 - Cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours. During this time you might be able to complete the next chapter of your book. It might even read better if you have started on the brandy.
Step 3 - After twelve hours loosely cover it with foil and place in cool oven gas ¼ , 225F, 120C for 3 hours. This can give you time to edit that chapter. Unless you’ve had too much from the bottle during step 1, in which case best to sleep it off during this waiting period.
Step - 4 Let it go cold. You may need someone else to help check it has gone cold if you didn’t stop drinking the brandy at step 3.
Step 5 – Stir in the brandy
Now it’s ready. I hope.
Please note. This makes 6 lb of mincemeat. You will need 1 ½ lb to make 3 dozen mince pies. You can freeze the rest, something to look forward to next year, without all the hassle!

Making the mince pies
First - pre heat oven to gas 6, 400F or 200C
Now make the pastry and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Roll half out, about 1/8 inch thick, & cut into 3 dozen rounds of 3 inches each. Do the same with the other half, only this time make the rounds 2 ½ inches. This provides a top and a bottom.

Now grease the patty tins and line them with the large rounds. Fill with the mincemeat—not too much, just to the level of the edges of the pastry.
Dampen the edges of the smaller rounds with the water and press them lightly into position to form lids, sealing the edges. Brush with milk and make ~ 3 snips in the top.

Bake near top of oven for 25 – 30 minutes until they are a light golden brown. Leave to cool and sprinkle with icing sugar. Enjoy.

At this point I should say "Here's one I prepared earlier." But I have to confess, I have never made a mince pie in my life. I guess there's time yet...

I wish you all and your families A Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lots of Christmases Past - Lots of Backstory

by Linda Thorne

Why does it seem Christmas gets here quicker every single year? There were a whole lot of years when my step children were children. Those were the greatest Christmases of all and I remember them so well. We lived in Denver then, so those were often white Christmases. The last white Christmas we had in Nashville was in 2010. Our children are grown now with children of their own and all live in different states. This year it will be Mo and Abby (above) and my husband and I again and the memories of Christmases past or what writers call backstory.

Speaking of that, I'd like to write a post saying my second book in the series is polished and ready to be turned over to my publisher. I'm afraid that's not the case. Right now my biggest struggle is backstory. The main plot is built around a 30-year-old cold case with my lead character, at the age of 20, being the intended victim. Someone else was murdered in her stead. I love the story line, but weaving in an inciting incident that happened 30 years earlier is not only difficult, but a science. A friend of mine read much of the book and gave me suggestions and then warned me to tread carefully in finding the right places to drop in the backstory. I'm so thankful she's willing to look at it again once I've struggled through this process.

Does anyone else find Christmas is here before you know it?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

2017 - My Publishing Year in Review

It's still a shock to me, but 2017 has been my best publishing year to date. No, I'm not making the big bucks, but I'm making enough to make writing and publishing worth the countless hours of time and effort I've put in since 1997 when I completed the first draft of my first novel.

That first novel did not see the light until 2008; that was no fault of the book but of the author who shelved it for years before dusting it off in 2005, revising, acquiring agent representation in 2006 and a publisher in 2007. Returns on that book, on which I made a paltry 4% of retail per my contract, were minimal.

In 2013 or thereabouts I decided to go rogue and started publishing novels, novellas and shorts, in several genres and using different pen names, on the KDP indie platform. Sales were slow and inconsistent, and as the years passed I became more and more disillusioned with Amazon's policies. At the end of 2015 I took all my titles out of Amazon's Select program and went wide in January 2016, selling on B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play and others.

Going wide was the BEST decision I ever made. From the very first month, January 2016, I received royalty checks like clockwork. It was just coffee money, but it was the first time I was getting paid every single month for my writing. One year later, in January 2017, two of my titles suddenly took off on iBooks and my monthly royalties increased by roughly 1000%. Those monthly payments cover a few of my bills, including groceries. I am still in shock.

I'm an optimist, disgustingly so according to one of my friends, and as 2018 draws near I have solid grounds for that cheerful outlook. I'm hoping to increase my royalties by putting more titles in the stores--or at the very least, maintain my current momentum. Publishing is a very unpredictable business, but barring major debacles, 2018 is beckoning with a smile.

What has publishing been like for you in 2017?

Monday, November 27, 2017

'Tis the Season

Every year about this time I post a blog on the topic of giving, and since my personal blog is already booked up (no pun intended) for the next couple weeks, I thought I’d share the giving post here.

My giving post generally focuses on specific charities, but this year I’m including a word of caution, too. We’ve all gotten those phone calls asking for money for various deserving charities (and if you haven’t gotten those phone calls, please PM me and spill your secret), but it’s important to note that the companies that are hired to make those calls get paid with a significant percentage of the money they bring in.

If you want your chosen charity to get the most bang for your buck, give directly to the charity by calling or visiting its website. A much higher percentage of your donation will, in most cases, go directly toward helping people, animals, etc.

With that out of the way, I’d like to introduce you to Charity Navigator. If you’re not familiar with this website, it’s a place where people can go to get some important particulars about the charities they’re considering, such as transparency, accountability, and financial health. Charity Navigator rates charities based on these criteria and shares its results with donors in ways that are easy to understand.

Charity Navigator has a number of ways to help donors choose charities. A donor can search for a particular charity by name, of course, but he or she can also search for charities with perfect scores, trending charities, big and small charities, charities to watch, and the list goes on and on. The site also includes tips for donors as well as a blog with some helpful and informative information about giving.

Click here to visit Charity Navigator and check it out for yourself.

Interested in what charities I’m considering this year? Here they are:

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund

Rainforest Trust

Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Hawaii

Books for Africa

These are just a few of the literally thousands of charities to choose from, and sorting through them to find the right ones for you is a time-consuming job. Charity Navigator does most of the work for donors. I urge you to check out the website and give during this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Instagram: Not Just for Millennials

“Instagram is a cross between Pinterest and Twitter,” says Sonja Yoerg, author of contemporary fiction and a fan of Instagram. “Instagram shares Pinterest’s image-sharing feature and Twitter’s use of hashtags for categorizing and tracking topics.”   
Have you tried Instagram? No? Read on. Even if you’re a veteran, read on and share your tips and best practices.

I had long known about this mobile photo-sharing app that lets users edit and upload photos and short videos. I also knew that the typical user was between 15 and 35. Since my demographic skews older, I felt no need to add this particular social media service to my platform—and my time. But two years ago my curiosity won out and I signed up. I intended to simply lurk and see what was what. Within five minutes I had two followers. So I caved and posted a photo. I’m still there, posting, following, being followed.

As for the younger folks … well, Instagram’s no longer just for the Millennials. I’m not sure if they’re leaving in droves (my college-aged niece is still active) but the older folks are arriving in droves.

What’s to like about Instagram?
It’s fun and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Well, it can take a lot of time.

There’s no limit on post length (if there is, I haven’t reached it). 

Authors can engage with reviewers and bloggers. I must admit that I haven’t done this yet, but it’s an attractive option. At the very least, they may post your book cover.

Sonja Yoerg offers book giveaways on Instagram. For a chance to win, she asks interested readers to follow her and leave a comment. For some giveaways she directs readers to her Facebook page. She seems to do very well with this promotional gambit.

What’s not to like about Instagram?
A few things. While you can create live links in your profile, you can’t in your posts. Not a huge problem, but inconvenient.

Then you have to contend with those danged algorithms. Remember when Facebook and Twitter had chronological timelines before switching to an algorithm that shows you the “top stories”—meaning what the social media gods think are top stories. Last year, Instagram followed suit.

But while Facebook and Twitter give you the ability to restore the date/time order of your timeline postings, Instagram has yet to extend that courtesy. Hopefully they will, and soon. After all, Facebook owns them.

What to post
Post pictures of anything and everything: travel, movies, pets, fall foliage, snow, spring blossoms, and, no surprise, food!; promote your writing events, books (yours and others), and blogs; send holiday greetings with a season-appropriate image.    

Many use a theme in their postings, along the lines of sunsets, trees, babies, pets, etc. This approach is fine, but use caution—seeing Florida sunrises day after day gets old fast. 

Use hashtags to reach a wider audience and attract potential followers. But don’t go overboard with the hashtags. It’s easy to do because there are so many of them and it’s such fun to go wild after Twitter’s restrictions on post length. But hashtag mania will make your postings look spammy. I’ve been cutting back on mine.

Here are my cats, Morris and Olive, celebrating National Cat Day on Instagram:   

It seems that my image is too large. No problem, you get the idea. When I post pictures of my two scamps, I typically use these hashtags: #catsofinstagram, #cats, #norwegianforestcat, #manxcat, #oliveannking, #morristhecat. Maybe too many, but I can't resist! On Saturdays, I use the #caturday tag.

Writers have an extensive selection of hashtags: #authorsofinstagram, #bookstagram, #writersofinstagram, #writersofvirginia (pick a state), and #mysteries are just a few. Plus you can create your own, just like in Twitter.   

So give Instagram a try. Follow me at authormaggieking. And, like I said in the beginning, old hands are welcome to weigh in with your experience and advice on how to make Instagram a fun and rewarding part of a social media platform. 

Here's more information on Instagram.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Revision Re-visited

When my manuscript comes back from my editor with the first set of revisions, I get really excited. I’m not sure if this means I’m weird. Does anyone else enjoy getting their revisions back?

I guess I like it for two reasons. Firstly, I get to re-read my story. This will be for the umpteenth time, but it will have been awhile since I last read it. I love to meet up with my characters again. Plus, it’s one more chance to be satisfied, or make that last(!) change.
The second reason is that I really value the input from my editor. Not only does she bring her expertise to the table, she will identify  flaws, amend grammatical errors, and make comments on consistency, realism, and overall enjoyment of the book. Believe me, there will be plenty.
In addition to sending the edited version of my story, the editor will summarise her findings and overall comments. From the tone, I get a good feel whether to expect a lot of comments or not too many. My second book to be published, Guiltless, came back with very few, only needing to go through one round of edits. It was a different story with my first book, The Secret At Arnford Hall, where the story is much darker and some scenes needed to be handled sensitively.
After digesting the editor’s summary, the first thing I do when I open the Word document containing the manuscript, is make two saves, one as the original from the editor, and the second renamed to show it is the copy on which I make any changes or comments. Then, under strict instruction from the publisher, track changes goes on and stays on. This necessity is obvious. I desperately want to see what the editor has done to my original script, and, of course, she needs to know what I do. I may comment that I love the changes she has made, or I may even state that I don’t agree. If the latter is the case, I will justify my reasons as appropriate. There are strict rules in the contract about changes made and accepted, which I think’s fair enough. Although it will always be my book, I appreciate it’s important the publisher knows exactly what they are publishing in the end.
After settling at the island in my kitchen with a cup of herbal tea, I’m ready to read the whole script, going through it with a fine-tooth comb. I begin by scrolling down the “track changes” panel to scan for comments and points of significance. These usually stand out from formatting and grammar changes by being longer notes and tagged as comments.
If there is something significant, I will take time to consider the point raised.
Here’s an example. The editor commented, “If you keep repeating the character’s last name, you put artificial distance between the character and the reader, and that is the last thing you want to do.” This raised an important point for me. I was deliberately using the last name to emphasize the remoteness of Gabriel Black in The Secret At Arnford Hall. But clearly that point hadn’t gotten across to the editor. Therefore it’s very likely it wouldn’t get across to the reader either. It made me realize I had alienated the hero too much.
But like I said, I don’t always accept what the editor does. In another example, before my work went to my American publisher, Black Opal Books, an editor commented on the number of days I had left between a death and a funeral. She thought it was too many. But a post mortem would have been necessary and I had already checked with a policewoman friend who said my time period was realistic. So I explained this in my own comment.
Whenever I disagree with a comment from the editor, I always re-check my reasoning to make sure I’m still happy with my version. Like I said before, what the editor questions, the reader may well question. That may mean I’ve got it wrong somewhere and that’s the last thing I want.
Then there are the times I can’t see the wood for the trees. Once I had a car change from white at the beginning of a book, to silver by the end, without a re-spray.

There’s one more point I’d like to share. Going through the editor’s revisions makes me feel a part of team. Ultimately the editor, and publisher, are on my side – we all want to sell books and we want readers to enjoy them. The life of an author can be a very lonely one and it’s good for me to know someone is there with me, even if they are nearly five thousand miles away.