"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Here’s a rough idea of what I want to accomplish with my new book. Last fall, I published Henrietta’s Journal. It took the form of a diary written by a young English woman who came to Charleston, South Carolina as a bride. The story was set in the 1830s and focused on Henrietta’s struggles to adapt to a society based on the peculiar institution of slavery, an economy based on a single crop—cotton, and a strict patriarchal social order.
The new book, tentatively called Henrietta’s Legacy, jumps ahead some 25 years, landing the reader at the outbreak of the Civil War. The family has undergone some changes, of course, and there are secrets and closeted skeletons galore. The keys to some of the 1860 problems lie hidden in the 1830s diary. I want each book to be able to stand alone, but I’d also like the reader to be able to jump back and forth between the two. In chapter two, for example, Henrietta’s brother-in-law is contemplating becoming a smuggler, a latter-day pirate, and a blockade runner. Henrietta reminds him that he’s been talking about this crazy idea for 25 years. I would like the Legacy reader to be able to jump to the relevant episode in Henrietta’s Journal and read the letter he wrote to his father about the same idea during his first trip to Cuba in 1835.
For those readers who will purchase the trade paper editions of both books, it will be a simple matter to add the appropriate page numbers to the new text. But what about the Kindle editions? Digital versions of the two books should make this possible, but I’ve never seen it happen. Which of these formats do you recommend?
1. The reader has both books separately on the same device, and uses the section numbers to jump back and forth. But how would that work? Can you keep two books going at once on a Kindle?
2. The new book uses footnotes at the end of the new book to show nothing but the relevant quotes.
3. The two books are published in an additional format—as a boxed set that contains both complete manuscripts with internal connections between them. The Journal, by the way, has approximately 83,000 words; I’m guessing that Legacy will come close to 100,000 words. That will make a file of nearly 200,000 words, but will leave the choice up to the reader.
4. Is there another way to handle this?
A month or so ago, I posted several Christmas resolutions
about not using the holidays to sell more books, or to insist that I knew what
your family and friends wanted to read, or to bribe you into donating to my own
favorite charity. Those resolutions
worked (all too well!) for the entire holiday season. I quit posting about my
books, and you quit buying them or borrowing them to read. Maybe that’s because you just didn’t have
time for reading between batches of cookies and last-minute shopping trips.
Fortunately, I’m now seeing a reversal. In the past few days, several people
have started reading again, which warms both my heart and my bank account.
I also promised myself that I would try to enjoy the season
and take a break from writing. That one worked well, too. I’ve lapsed a couple
of times, but my total output for the past 35 days has amounted to less than
5000 words. I filled my days with household chores, decorating, shopping (much
of it on-line), cooking, and vegetating in front of the TV. I came close to
becoming a reality-show addict—baking contests, remodeling demolition derbies,
silly quiz shows geared toward offering lots of money in the early minutes and
then yanking some or all of it away at the end of the show. Most of these were
reruns but ones I had never seen. I’m
ready to push the OFF button and get back to work, although I fear I’ll be
side-tracked by the upcoming Olympics, as will many of you.
Still, if you’re reading again, it’s time for me to start
writing again. I have the outline of a
new book and files of research materials to fill in the historical details of
the start of the Civil War. I also have the germ of an idea to make this new
book an innovative reading experience.
The problem? I know what I would like to see happen, but I’m not sure
how to get there. I’d like your suggestions. I’ll explain the tentative plan
and its problems in tomorrow’s post. For
now, I need to stop blogging and start recreating the world of 1859.
I first wrote the post below two years ago, but it still resonates within me more strongly than anything I have written since. With just a couple of updates, here's what's in my heart this Christmas Eve Morning.
This has been a difficult month for me. I expected that. It's been almost three years months since Floyd died, and between Thanksgiving and January come too many special occasions to count -- memories of trips taken and planned, his birthday, our wedding anniversary, holidays, the "heart attack" day, the hospital stays, the hopes built up, and the hopes dashed and trampled into dust. I'm trying to survive each day, one at a time.
Today is Christmas Eve, although there's not much here to remind me except for the wreath on the door, a scrawny little artificial tree, and the reindeer antlers on the car. Still, I awoke this morning with a dozen memories struggling for recognition -- each one from a "Christmas Without . . ."
1958 -- the first Christmas after my father died. I'm home from college, my mother is barely speaking to me because I dared to pay my own way to go back to college instead of staying home to mourn with her, and the empty, undecorated house is a stark reminder that she feels she has been left with nothing.
1962 -- Christmas far from home. I'm married, and my new Air Force Second Lieutenant husband has just been assigned to his first posting, a radar installation in Moses Lake, Washington. We are living in a single room in the BOQ on base, waiting for housing to open up. No tree, no gifts, no family, not even a cat.
1963 -- Housing care of, I have a teaching job, but Floyd has been whisked off to a remote in Alaska for a year, leaving me alone here in the middle of the desert. My mother is unsympathetic. "You chose to get married," she says.
1969 -- I'm in Panama City, Florida; Floyd is in Pleiku, Vietnam. My mother tries to be more sympathetic since its wartime, so she has arrived to celebrate the holidays with me. I've put up an artificial tree and tied Christmas bows around the cats' necks, but we spend most of the time watching TV reruns while I wait for the phone to ring.
1977 -- The first Christmas since my mother died -- still trying to explain to my six-year-old why Grandma Peggy is not around anymore (and why it matters that we keep remembering her.)
1980 -- I'm in Colorado Springs; Floyd is in King Salmon, Alaska. He's the base commander now, and I'm finishing up a master's degree, but the sense of "Christmas without . . ." is no less sharp. I'm trying to assemble a cat climbing post that uses a tension pole to hold it upright. Next door is a shiny new bike waiting for me to assemble without help, once Doug is asleep.
1982 -- The first Christmas without Grandpa Schriber, who died on my birthday last spring. We go back to Cleveland for Christmas, but my mother-in-law is in no mood to celebrate anything. (Now I know why.)
1985 -- The first Christmas without Grandma Schriber. Doug asks, "We don't have to go back there again, do we?" and is relieved to be told that there is no longer any "there" to be returned to. I feel oddly bereft -- Floyd and I both orphans now, both only children, so adrift without family.
2000 -- The first Christmas since Doug's shocking death from cancer. We can't bear to be home, so we fly to London for the holidays. We're in a cold hotel room, huddled around a little space heater, a spindly poinsettia on the end table and a packet of mince pies for our Christmas. But outside there are the makings of beautiful memories: carolers in Trafalgar Square, "The Messiah" at St. Martin's in the Fields, midnight services on Christmas Eve in Westminster Abbey, and Christmas snow falling on Old Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
2015 -- And now Christmas without Floyd. The first of however many I have left, and I pause to wonder what the last half century has taught me. What I see this morning, as I look backward, is that I have few memories of the carefree years, the holidays full of decorations and cookies and fruitcakes, Christmas cards and Secret Santa packages, parties and turkey dinners. They were happy times, I know, but I let them pass without fully savoring the moments. And those memories fade from lack of notice. It's the "Christmases Without . . ." that fill my mind and my heart.
We've all been reminded to "count our blessings," and I'm totally in favor of that, but I don't think it goes far enough. We also need to stay aware of our losses. The losses, the Christmases Without . . . the things we grieve for . . . these are the most important moments of our lives. There's no hiding from them. They are part of our core. So I'll count my losses, too, and be grateful that I've known them.
As we make our way through the first days of the Christmas
season, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our ideas change as we get older. Now
that I’m officially “old,” I’m happy with a small (4-foot) artificial tree, decorated
with just a few bells, some beads, and a several bows. I asked a friend to get
my big cookie jar off a top shelf, but when I think of what it would take to
fill it, I’m happy to open a package of Voortman gingerbread men. My
decorations have shrunk to a single poinsettia and some candles, interspersed
with sprigs of pine and several pine cones. No dinner plans, no family to
visit, no parties. I can’t hear music anymore, and I can’t think of a single
gift I would want or need.
What am I most enjoying? A couple of strands of tiny white
lights that are not really bulbs but simply a wide spot on their wire.
Holiday-wrapped chocolates as a special treat. A good book. A small chunk of
fruitcake, frozen from last year and resuscitated to add its rum and brandy
charm to a few more cups of coffee. Cold nights, clear skies full of winter
stars, and a cozy fire in the fireplace. Notes of love and remembrance from friends
in faraway places. And memories—of my high school choir performing the entire “Messiah”
from memory after practicing for three years to get it perfect, of a little boy’s
fascination with the train that ran around the base of his Christmas tree, of twin
kittens greeting my mother’s Christmas visit with bright red bows around their
necks, and one magical year when we spent Christmas in London, attended Christmas
Eve services at Westminster Abbey, and came out at midnight to discover a soft
snowfall burying the city.
I’ve been incredibly lucky for most of my life, and I would
be embarrassed to feel anything less than total contentment in my later years.
But there are a couple of things I’m determined to do to make this season even
better. So here are my Christmas resolutions. I will NOT spend any time this
month in trying to sell you my books. Readers know the books are out there and
available. I assume you are all as sick of sales pitches as I am, and I refuse
to offer you another “deal you can’t pass up.” Books make great Christmas
presents, but only you can choose the ones your friends will like. Nor will I
dedicate this holiday to my favorite charity. I assume you give whatever you
are able to whichever charitable cause touches your heart. I will NOT demand—or
even suggest--that you support my choice. And I will NOT parade my grief over the
things that make me sad. We’ve all experienced both losses and blessings. I
will count the blessings and tuck the losses away in my heart.
What remains? The switch that turns off the news. The
unexpected hug. Coins in the Salvation Army’s kettle. Lions pecans. Smiles for
those shop clerks who appear tired and stressed by multiple responsibilities.
An extra scratch or two for a purring cat willing to sleep on my lap. An open
door and an open heart.
And if you are looking for me? That’ll be me—the one in the
little red car with the reindeer antlers on it!
One last announcement:
The trade paper edition of
The Second Mouse Goes Digital: Self-Publishing Comes of Age
is now available on Amazon.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I am a big fan of electronic editions. I love my Kindle, and I'm even fonder of reading books on my iPad. I really like being able to carry a whole library full of great literature in my purse. But once in a while, only a real book will do the job. I suspect that is the case with my current book.
The Second Mouse Goes Digital is a fun read. You can whip through it in a day or so, and you'll end up with a much better understanding of what self-publishing is all about. It may even convince you that you want to give this publishing avenue a try for yourself. But if you're a serious writer--if you want to put all these mousey tips to work--if you're ready to become a published author rather than a would-be writer--then you're going to need the paper version.
You'll want to remember the name of that grammar-checking software we recommended. You'll want to find a good writer's conference to attend. You'll need to review those tips about identifying a scam. You'll need to check up on one of those confusing pairs of sound-alike words. You'll want some help in re-writing a sentence with a passive verb or a dangling modifier. You'll have to decide which of Amazon's promotions will best fit your needs. A "How-To" book is not much good if you can't find the details you need at the moment you need them. And, honestly, digital books just aren't very easy to search.
The most useful books are the ragged ones--the ones that sit on your desk day after day. The pages are dog-eared. The important points sport neon highlighting. The margins may be full of your own notes. There's a coffee-ring on the cover, and the spine is starting to show cracks. But that's how you know that this is a book with important stuff inside.
And here's the best deal of all! Purchase the paperback Digital Mouse from Amazon at the list price of $16.95, and get the Kindle version for just $0.99. Then you'll never be without this important new guide through the mysteries of self-publishing. Happy reading!