End of Year Writing and Marketing

2017 was busy; hence, my long silence on my blog. Two of my books were published this year: THE POWDER HORN OF MACKINAC ISLAND (MG time travel, published in March) and WAR UNICORN (upper MG fantasy re-published in October through Books We Love Publishing). Both books need reviews, if you’re so inclined, since reviews on Amazon are like golden nuggets to a book.

I took a sabbatical this year from my War Unicorn series (I’m now working on the third book) to write what has turned into my memoirs. Hopefully, it will come out before Christmas. Yes, I’m talking Christmas of this year! It has the shockingly long title of THE ROAD LESS-TRAVELED OFTEN INVOLVES SMACKING FACE-FIRST THROUGH SPIDER WEBS (subtitle: A Life of Animal Encounters). It includes wild boar, bear, moose, otter, cattle, ticks, snakes, hawks, and bees, to name a few…and me, of course…and often my family. The book is 50K (50,000 words). That’s a lot of animal encounters!

Each of these books require a different marketing plan, different bookstores to contact, online sites, blog hops, ways to promote, etc. I am so foolish, and would never, ever recommend another author to do so. Why, oh, why didn’t I stick to just one genre and age group of readers? Why?

My end of the year writing and marketing tip: Stick to one genre and age group of readers and keep on writing.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Part 5 — Wisconsin

In the continuing examples of thinking of plot twists pulled from personal experiences, here is another story of a character (me) trying to reach a goal (a river) with a twist and conflict thrown in.

I’m an early bird, rising with the sun and watching the world awake, while my husband’s a night owl, thinking best in the evening or night when there are fewer distractions. We’ve learned to work around our personal clocks.

The spring of the first year we were married (1979), we took a week’s trip to state parks around Wisconsin. We camped one night at Merrick State Park along the Mississippi River. That next morning, I heard a bird call I’d never heard before. It sounded like a cat stuck in the tree above us. I got dressed, left my sleeping husband, and grabbed the binoculars and bird book. Only one other person was awake in the campground, and he was several sites away. I sat at our picnic table and located the bird crying so pitifully and uniquely from its nest and then looked it up in the book. It was a cat bird. Well named!

I looked through the binoculars back at the tree to confirm the markings, following the trunk up towards the nest and noticed movement. A snake was climbing the tree. Who knew? I’d always thought they were ground creatures. Then I recalled that snakes ate eggs. No wonder the cat bird cried so. I could have thrown a rock to knock the snake off the tree, but it would then be on the ground, near me. Besides, there was always the next morning for the snake to make another egg-snatching attempt when I wasn’t there to be guardian of the eggs. I decided not to watch that horror unfold and took a walk alone down to the Mississippi River.

A narrow trail went out through waist-high grass and over mushy, swampy ground to the point extending out into the river. It wasn’t a long trail, about one hundred yards. I imagined that fishermen took this trail to get to the river. I watched the beautiful sunrise-lit bluff on the western side, and stretched up occasionally on tip-toes to try to catch a glimpse of the river. I let my feet be my ground eyes, feeling and judging when the soggy ground would become too wet to support me. I was nearing the end goal and my hiking boots were suddenly sinking in deeper, a couple inches, three inches, uncertain ground. I stopped. I didn’t want to sink up to my knees and be unable to get out with no one knowing where I was so early in the morning. I sadly acknowledged that I wouldn’t reach the very edge of the river, that it was flowing under the tentative ground upon which I stood. I remained still in the soft earth for a quiet moment, reflecting on God’s glory of the early morning, of the quiet, of water all around me, being both a part of water and land. Then, for the first time of the soggy morning hike, I looked down. I needed to turn around and get my bearings of the trail direction through this swamp grass.

To my horror, there at my feet and stretched across and all along as far as I could make out through the curved grass trail were brown snakes with thick diameters of two inches…and long. Hundreds of them, and those were only the ones I could see crisscrossing the narrow trail. What about in the grassy sides to my left and right?

I didn’t pause to measure exactly how long the snakes were. I didn’t even pause a heartbeat to tell God what glory there was in his variety of creation. I did a high-step, sploshy run back to the campsite, only occasionally looking down to try to not step on one—a nearly impossible task. I bolted up the dry hill to our campsite and sat cross-legged on the picnic table until Jeff finally woke up.

Finding out that snakes climbed trees had been difficult enough to swallow. Discovering from a park ranger later that day that these are harmless bullsnakes didn’t calm my heart much. Imprinted in my mind for a thousand years to come was the image of hundreds of large slithering brown snakes, blocking my way to non-snake safety.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Part 3 – SD Black Hills

Plot twist are the unexpected. They are what keep the story interesting. A plot twist happens when a character is heading toward his goal when suddenly something or someone unexpectedly appears and changes that course.

Opportunities for plot twists can be observed in real life. This is a story which happened to my husband when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

He had a day off when I did not, so he decided to do some mountain biking in the Hills. (Consider this a character goal.) He drove about 45 minutes from our house, got on his bike, and started on a remote mountain trail. He had  the only car in the two-car parking spot along the side of road near the trailhead, and to his knowledge, the only human on the trail that day. Peaceful. At one point the rocky trail became quite steep, so he got off his bike and walked it upward.

A bit of background: When he was a young teen he had hunted with his father and brothers. He was used to being left alone in the forest and listening to the minutest of wilderness sounds. The slightest scratch on tree bark, the sound of moving stones or the soft crunch on pine needles would make him aware that he was not alone.

Back to grown-up Jeff, alone, walking his mountain bike up the trail…

He heard a quiet sound and stopped. He expected to discover a tree which was creaking or spot a squirrel or chipmunk. Those rodents often stop for a first moment of freeze, and then return to their tree climbing or nut searching. But nothing sounded nor caught his eye Since the scurrying had stopped he continued up the trail. He heard a noise again and turned in that direction, but still saw nothing. He was getting a little disturbed when it sounded a third time. He stopped and determined he would not move again until he could identify what made the noise. It certainly wasn’t from a single tree. Then he saw it. About fifteen feet from him. Cougar eyes peeking from behind a boulder.

Jeff’s first thought was how beautiful the animal was, and so close to him that he could see the individual whiskers. His second thought was that even though his mountain bike was between them, that he, walking alone in the hills was in the process of getting stalked by a wild, maybe hungry, certainly overpowering beast.

With this second realization came action. Jeff spun his bike around, leapt upon it, and raced down the trail towards the car. Rocks and pebbles spun out behind him as he swirled around larger boulders. Riding speedily over the rough terrain made for an awfully lot of ruckus in the normally quiet hills. He only looked back after he’d reached the vehicle and strapped the bike on the carrier in a few seconds record-time before climbing into the safety of the car. But there were no more cougar sighting. He figured the noise and the flying pebbles might have discouraged the feline.

In this real life story, our hero didn’t reach his goal of mountain hiking to the top of the hill on little-used trail. But the reason for him not reaching it makes for a great story and was an adventurous twist. A plot twist. He waited for another time to do that particular trail, and to take with him a traveling companion. The cougar’s goal was foiled once. With more human company along and support, the cougar’s goal would mostly likely fail again. Long live wise heroes!

Now as a writing challenge, go think up some plot twists you can toss in the way of your character.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, part 1 – NY

Lately I’ve been recalling several wild animal encounters our family has had over the years. I started writing some of them down. I’m only to 10K so far, so not sure it would be enough to make a book. But I thought I’d share one of the encounters here. It made me realize how wild animal encounters are similar to plot twists in our books: they are unexpected.

In the late 1980s and early 1990’s, we lived in Cheektowaga, NY. We were a fifteen-minute drive west to a bridge to Canada, and a half-an-hour drive north to Niagara Falls.

There was a lovely eatery in Tonawanda called Mississippi Muds. It overlooked the Niagara River. We went there a few times for their fabulous ice cream. The entire other side of the road was dedicated to a riverwalk park with several playground areas scattered throughout. Next to the path on the river side, the bank was piled with large rocks to keep the water back and keep the land from slipping into the river. Bikers, runners, strollers, fishermen…the path and park was well used.

We’d gone to Mississippi Muds for an after supper dessert treat. We decided to walk the pathway at sunset while we ate our ice cream. We walked the path in the growing dusk. As it got darker, people began leaving the parkway. We kept on walking, appreciating the time as a family and the fact that there were less and less people to avoid. After a while, we were the only people on the path.

One of the boys spotted a black creature along the rocks which they had been earlier leaping from one to another upon. It looked like a small dog or large cat. We naturally stayed away from it and kept walking, telling the boys to stay on the path now. We came to a small arched bridge going over a narrow runoff leading into the river. We stood on the top of the arch and looked around us in the gathering dark. It felt great to have the park entirely to ourselves. Then I looked down and found we were not alone.

The bank edges and the water below us was alive with movement. It took only a few seconds to realize the movement was not running water, but scrambling animals. The gully was alive with rats, big black rats.

We turned and started jogging the mile or two back to our car. We no longer stuck to the path, for more and more rats appeared from the rocky barrier next to it. We ran parallel to the path, about twenty feet inland, jumping through the playground areas, keeping ever alert and minding our distance from the nighttime creatures of the Niagara River. They were not small dogs. They were not large cats. They were very, very, very big rats.