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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

January 2016

"Yankee Reconstructed"--The Pinterest Connection



I have spent this weekend putting together two Pinterest boards to provide a visual element for my newest book, Yankee Reconstructed. One of them contains some random images of various topics that arise in the unravelling of the story. Among them are political cartoons and pictures of early Ku Klux Klanners, a map of the Low Country, pictures of the Marsh Tackies being raised by two of the characters, some odd pieces of 1870's furniture from the Charleston Museum, and several views of the Old Sheldon Church whose ruins play a crucial part in the story.

The other board is set up to help you imagine what the characters might have looked like. Some of them, of course, are real people: Robert Smalls, Wade Hampton, Laura Towne, and Rufus Saxton all have their own portraits here. The other characters are fictional, but I found it useful to have concrete images in mind. So as I wrote, I looked for pictures of real people from the same time period -- people who looked the way I thought my characters might look. Their clothing and hairstyles are authentic. Some of them even bear a slight family resemblance to one another. They are as close as I can come to bringing my fictional characters to life.

I hope you'll enjoy taking a virtual trip into the setting of Yankee Reconstructed. Click on the button below to be whisked to the Pinterest boards.


Preparing for a Blizzard

At his suggestion that we share his article, I am turning this blog over to a fellow MWSA member today.  Enjoy!

As the first snows fall I prepare myself for a blizzard. Having been born in Virginia but raised in Michigan (The Winter Wonderland) I’m familiar with snow. Snow and I go way back. Of course I live outside of Washington DC now and if they get a half-an-inch of powder, local officials and civilians wet themselves out of fear, panic, excitement, and the thought of rednecks driving four-wheel drive trucks and SUV’s at 60 mph on roads covered with ice…oblivious to the laws of physics and commons sense.So, how do I brace for a blizzard?
 Here’s Blaine Pardoe’s tips for blizzard survival:
  • Move the snow often. Don’t wait for it to end to get started.Pretend the snowblower is a tank. It makes driving it much more fun.
  • Be creative…did you know you can spell obscene words in your yard with a snowblower or shovel? Experiment!
  • Torture the dog. Two feet is a shitload of snow. So you have to dig out a path and, shall we say, dumping ground, for your dog. Indulge yourself. Make a maze. See just how smart your dog really is.
  • Avoid individuals with snowplow blades on the front of their trucks. They just put them on and frankly have no idea what they’re doing or how much they stick out.When the dude shows up and offers to plow your driveway for $100…mooning him is a viable option.
  • Your kids are worthless when it comes to shoveling snow. Don’t count on them. The first and last time I asked for their help I saw my son making snow angels and my daughter attempting to permanently bury him in snow.
  • Don’t be in a rush. There’s no place to go even if you could get out.At some point you will have the urge to leave your house. This is the kind of thinking that killed the Neanderthals. Stay at home.
  • Remember this formula one glass of alcohol per two inches of snowfall. Finally math has meaning!
  • Always plow out for the mail. They won’t come, but it creates the illusion that you believe they will.
  • Layers count in this weather. Please use your own clothing.
  • Nothing sucks as badly as the TV schedule when you are trapped in the house. Might I recommend a good book? I can definitely recommend a good author.
  • This is not a good time to try and teach your significant other to learn to play BattleTech.
  • Limit your photographing and posting of photos of snow. We get it. It’s a blizzard.
  • Beware the wind. Ever blow snow into a gust of wind? Don't. Trust me on this one...it doesn't blow - it sucks.Just remember, nature, gravity, momentum, wind, and the laws of physics are all working against you during a blizzard. And those are the fun parts.
  • There is no good way to dress. If you are warm, you're too warm and sweating. If you are cold, you're freezing. I don't make the rules, I just play by 'em.
  • Don't push your snow into the street. That's a douchbag move if there ever was one.
  • Don't curse the snowplow driver when they heap everything in the road in front of your driveway. 1. They didn't do it on purpose (despite the look they gave you when they passed by). 2. No matter how bad you day is going, they are out driving a snowplow in a blizzard. Be cool. Be a dude.

Feel free to use the comments section to add your own tips! Share as you deem appropriate.

The Tasks Ahead of Me

I've been fussing at myself about the total inertia that has settled over my life in the last few days. I have a bazillion things to get done and can't force myself to do any of them.  Part of the problem,  of course, is the fact that it's January and the first anniversary of Floyd's last illness and death. I had expected to feel wretched, but not totally immobile.  

The rest of the problem, however, has to do with the whole business of being an indie author with a brand new book just launched. Knowing that I am the only one responsible for getting it noticed is a heavy burden.  Marketing has never been my strong point, but a new launch brings demands that I've been finding overwhelming. So I have taken comfort today in discovering that I am not alone in this particular struggle. Joanna Penn passed on this link to a blog post that makes the size of the problem more understandable. Elizabeth Craig's suggestion is to start doing more outsourcing of responsibilities, which probably isn't going to happen, but at least seeing this list reassures me that I'm not losing it. I really AM overworked.

Here's what Elizabeth Craig has to say about how indie authors spend their time:

I was reflecting on the past year with a friend and I admitted that a lot of my problem is that I can do (nearly) everything myself.  I can do rudimentary (not cover) design. I can format books. I can update my website. I can create newsletters and schedule updates on social media. I know how to upload to retail platforms, share my calendar, create a slideshow for a lecture.
And, because I know how to do it, because I have the skills, and I’ve a tendency toward frugality, I do it all myself.
There were a few exceptions.  I hit the wall with my own accounting ability and stopped doing my own taxes a couple of years ago.  I’ve always had freelancers to help me out with covers, narrating audio books, formatting print and digital books, and editing. Sometimes I need help with my website issues (or just don’t have the time to figure out how to fix the issue myself).

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m something of a control freak. I don’t think I wasalways this way, but over the past 5-10 years, it’s definitely become more obvious.  I like things done a particular way. To ensure it’s done this way, I do it myself.

I’m frequently advised by both writer friends and non-writer friends to outsource some of what I do.  I have been very hesitant to do this. But, in 2016, I’m going to give it a go.

I made a list of as many different things that I could think of that I do on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, annually).  I kept saying I felt overwhelmed, but I also couldn’t completely account for my time or what I was spending it on. Some of the tasks on my list I almost enjoy. Some I dread doing—and the dread frequently isn’t equivalent to the size of the task….I dread updating Facebook, for instance. Where are my readers? They’re on Facebook.
Some of these tasks overlap. Some take only a minute or two (after I remember to do them). Some can take many hours to complete.  See if this list sounds familiar to you.

Update Amazon Author Central (US and worldwide)
Update my website with new books, new copy, new author photos, new bios.
Update Goodreads books and author info.
Run Goodreads giveaways
Update Facebook
Update Google Plus
Curate and schedule content for Twitter. Collect it and share on the blog.
Blog (3x weekly). Respond to comments. Visit other blogs
Promote my author newsletter
Send newsletters out to readers
Advertise on Facebook.
Respond to reader emails

Create author notes for Amazon and for the backs of my books
Update end matter in my digital books. Keep a copy
Mentor
Respond to guest post requests
Learn new software
Watch webinars for business-related information (promo, learning software like Scrivener, etc.)
Respond to emailed requests for me to beta test software
Connect with and coordinate with editors, formatters, cover designers
Track sales and run promotions
Distribute new books to each platform: ACX, Amazon, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, IngramSpark, CreateSpace, etc.
Update stories weekly on Wattpad
Secure narrator for audiobooks. Listen to finished audiobook for errors. Upload to ACX.
Send promo copies and signed copies to readers.
Participate in Skype/podcast/written interviews. YouTube interviews
Update social media banners
Coordinate speaking engagements
Write guest posts and respond to comments when the post runs
Set up annual headshot and update social media with the new picture
Create PowerPoints for speaking engagements
Count 4 and 5 star reviews on both active series to use in the Editorial Reviews section of my book pages
Write blurbs for other authors
Write cover copy and ad copy
Update series bibles with each book

Pull tax-related items together. Pull year-end things together for accountant.
Organize items on the computer:  Covers in one folder.  Manuscripts in format-specific folders.
Back up. Back up my backups.
Maintain and use Amazon Affiliate links for all my books
Research for books and for promo

The First Ku Klux Klan (1865 - 1873)



 
Here are some crucial dates that may help readers make sense of the early Ku Klux Klan organization as it appears in “Yankee Reconstructed.”
 
Winter 1865 –1866:  The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Pulaski, TN, by a group of six  Confederate veterans. Its original intent was as a purely social organization or a secret fraternity. Its name was taken from the Greek word for “circle” combined with the Scottish idea of “clan.”  Its early members wore masks of various sorts to conceal their real identities.
 
Summer, 1867: They held a convention in Nashville. The presiding officer was Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was given the title of the “Grand Wizard.” This meeting defined the role of the organization as “The Invisible Empire of the South.”
 
1868: During the presidential election of 1868, Klan members unanimously supported the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour, who favored a return to white supremacy.  They, along with other such quasi-military organizations, began a campaign of violence to keep black Republicans from voting for Ulysses S. Grant. Their goals included the destruction of congressional acts of Reconstruction and the re-establishment of white supremacy.  Their methods included intimidation, beatings, lynchings, and murder. They failed to win the election, but they had effectively become the terrorist branch of the Democratic party.

1869: The organization began to spread throughout the southern states, attracting former Confederate soldiers, judges, cotton magnates, and others who wished for a return to the pre-war old South. Grant’s administration reacted by supporting the 15th Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed harsher restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new governments.

1870-1871: The Republican-dominated Congress passed the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime for anyone to attempt to prevent a black man from registering to vote, casting his vote, holding an elected office, or serving on a jury.
 
1871: Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which gave the federal government the power to act against terrorist organizations. Under its provisions, several thousand Klansmen were arrested and tried. Although it proved to be hard to get convictions, the publicity effectively put a stop to many of the Klan activities and scared off those who did not want their membership revealed.
 
1872. Congress declared the KKK Act unconstitutional, but by then the organization was effectively destroyed.  Their goals remained unchanged, but they would find new ways to bring them about.
 
1915: William J. Simmons, a former Methodist preacher, organized a new Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia as a patriotic, fraternal society. This new Klan directed its activity against not just blacks, but immigrants, Jews, and Roman Catholics.  It is this second organization that most people think of today, when they hear the term Ku Klux Klan.
 

An Open Letter to Readers

If there's something all authors HATE to do, it's pleading for their readers to say something nice about a new book. But for many of us, how our most dedicated readers react makes the difference between success for a book and total failure.  So here's my yearly plea for my readers. If you read my books and enjoy them, please don't wait until you see me and then whisper in my ear that you LOVED the book.  That may make me feel good for a second or two, but it's not helpful.  Authors -- and particularly independent, self-publishing authors like me --  need three things from you:

1. Buy the book. Don't wait for it to show up for free (it won't!) or for the paper version to end up in a used book store. Buy the book. It doesn't matter whether you get the paper version or the electronic version. My profit is about the same (and don't ask how unfair that is!)  Readers need to understand that indie authors do not get an advance, and they don't have publishers who are paying the bills.  When I write a book, everything comes out of my own pocket -- 18 months of work, travel expenses to do research, registering with the Library of Congress, registering the copyright, paying the editor, hiring a cover designer, paying the layout and formatting costs, and purchasing copies to send to big-name reviewers and book contests.  And then I wait to see whether my eventual royalty checks will come close to covering the initial costs. And royalties can be skimpy in some cases. If CreateSpace sells a copy of my book to a brick and mortar bookstore, and the store then sells it to their customer, I get a royalty check of about $0.18. (Yes, that's eighteen cents.) I've got to sell a lot of books at that rate.  So buy the book.  It'll last at least as long as that double latte from Starbucks and stay with you for a lot longer.

2.. Tell the people you know about the book. Tell them that you're reading it -- that you're enjoying it -- that you're anxious for the next one to come out. Mention it on Facebook and Twitter and anyplace else you hang out. Name recognition is an author's life-blood.   How many times do you say things like this to people you know?  "Had a great sandwich at that new shop the other day."  "Have you ever tried . . ." "The department store has a good sale going on." "The grocery store just stocked my favorite brand."  "Check out the new movie theater."  It's no harder to say, "I just read a good book."

3. And then, WRITE A REVIEW! I'm not asking for a book report like the ones you had to do in school. Amazon only requires 20 words or more.  Short, pithy comments are great.  And you don't have to give the book five stars, either.  In fact, when I see a book that has received nothing but five-star ratings, I am immediately suspicious. That usually means that the author has paid a company to put up a bunch of fake reviews from people who write the reviews for a living.  I won't do that.  I'd rather have honest ratings of three or four stars than fake ones. Not everyone likes the same kinds of books. So it's OK to say you didn't like the way the story ended, or you're not much into history, or you wish  the book had more detail about . . ." 

Study after study has proved that the more reviews a book gets, the more copies it sells.  Readers are sometimes herd animals. We all want to read the books that everybody else is reading.  That's what Best Seller lists are all about. So if a potential book buyer goes to Amazon and looks up my latest book, he's almost certain to look to see how the reviews are. (Come on. I do this when I'm ordering almost anything on-line. I'm not going to order a pair of shoes that no one else has bought!) Even a really bad review makes other people want to read!

BOTTOM LINE: BUY! TALK ABOUT IT! WRITE A REVIEW!

Thank you.