How, Why, When, Where or What to do about Publishing

20180212_164333Sometimes circumstances conspire, or coincidences contrive. Personally I have a firm belief in “God-ordained coincidences,” but mine aren’t so exciting or world-changing as the ones in Exodus – plagues don’t follow the laws of nature (luckily, God has even spared me, so far, from catching the ‘flu); mountains don’t erupt into columns of fire and smoke (I shall be extremely disturbed if Mount Hood begins to rumble); and nobody’s giving me directions carved in stone, though perhaps that would help. No, my coincidences are small: the much-maligned doors that won’t open till you push them (but why do two open at once? Did I push the wrong one?); the possibility that raises possibilities that raise unwarranted terror and freeze me to the spot; the quiet balm of a friend who whispers (can emails whisper?) “I’m praying for you.” All of which leave me wishing I were someone I’m not — well-published, well-read, much-admired-and-requested for speaking engagements, an author who can truly answer the “Will I have read anything of yours” question with “Sure!”

All of which leaves me… with the how, why, when, where and what to do about publishing (or republishing) my books. So here’s my dilemma: The publisher of the Five-Minute Bible Story series is preparing to close. There are twelve books so far in the series, book thirteen currently being written, and surely eleven more still waiting in my head. How, why, when, where and what shall I do with them?

  • How? I can self-publish: I’ve done it before, with Bible picture books, spiritual speculative novellas, a poetry book, and several anthologies for our local writing group.
    • Why? I’m good at it; I would have total control of my books.
    • Why not? Without a publisher saying they were worth investing in, why would a purchaser choose to invest in them?
    • When? It takes time, and I’ve lots of other demands on my time, including writing (do I have enough years left in me to write those eleven?). But I’d have to self-publish quickly or I’ll lose my reviews when the original versions disappear from Amazon.
    • Where? All my experience is with Amazon – KDP and Createspace both. Neither of these is a good option for getting books into bookstores because… well, if you were a bookstore, would you want to pay Amazon every time you sold a book? So…
    • Where else? Ingram Spark is the recommended option. It looks very tempting except it costs money (which might be avoided by joining the right societies, using the right coupons, timing things right etc… but see “When?”). Also, I’d have to buy my own ISBNs instead of using Amazon’s free ones… and individuals buying ISBNs get to pay rather significant fees while huge organizations can get them for a dollar apiece (which is why Amazon gives them away free I guess).
      • Why? Better sales opportunities with Ingram Spark — more professional.
      • Why not? Greater expense. Bigger initial financial and personal commitment. If I’m going to do, I have to plan to stick with it.
    • What? Should I publish the books exactly as is? The publisher is willing to give me the files and the covers; as long as I can remove the original imprint I could use them as they are. Or I could re-edit while re-issuing; I could extend those ones that are really more like three-minute stories and make them five. I could add anything new I’ve learned from more recent research (I love making the stories scientifically and historically accurate as well as Biblically inspired). I could combine volumes (thus reducing the number of ISBNs needed). I could… Oh, so many decisions. Or…
  • Going back to the How — I’m also trying to find an agent or a publisher
    • Why? Because an agent would have access to more publishers (lots don’t take unsolicited manuscripts) and a publisher might already have a market of customers who like their books.
    • Why not? Finding an agent willing to take on 12 books at once… I’m told they like series, but one shouldn’t be surprised to learn they prefer shorter ones.
    • When? Send a query letter: Wait a couple of months: See if you get a reply… Actually, the agent I tried first said no in one day, which was good I suppose (a very personal rejection, to be celebrated with red wine and chocolate). But lots of agents only want personal recommendations. Lots don’t want children’s books. Lots aren’t taking submissions at the moment… and if I wait too long I’ll lose those reviews: Should I self-publish while waiting… or not? Query letters take lots of time and energy too.
    • Where? I have lists of agents – I check them one by one on the computer. I have lists of publishers too. I have lists that have only just come out, just as my problem arose — coincidence or guidance? My lists have lists… And my friends might have connections, maybe, sometime, perhaps…
    • So what… what shall I do?

A few days ago I imagined I might have to decide straight away. A wonderful (but limited-time) coupon appeared for self-publishing deals. I calculated where I’d get the money to finance the ISBNs. Then a friend delighted in the possibility of finding a publisher — maybe a real connection coming soon? Did I push the wrong door? Next, I learned I could get another less time-limiting coupon for self-publishing, so I can wait, at least a little while (still worried about those book reviews going away). I can wait. I will wait. And I will pray…

Because, if I’m not actively asking and watching and waiting, how will I know when God sends me an answer to prayer. No plagues, no volcanoes, no stone tablets please, but if you believe, please would you pray for me.

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I am not a Typo!

In one of those “good news/bad news” events last week, I got an email from someone who wanted to buy one of my books. I considered this most definitely good news.

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She wanted a copy of “Subtraction by Sheila Deeth,” and guessing, very sensibly, that “Subtraction” on its own might not find my book on Amazon, she typed the whole thing in. Her search returned the message “0 results found for Subtraction by Sheila Death,” and her email asked why my book wasn’t available on Amazon–definitely bad (oh, very bad) news. I proceeded to panic.

After getting the same result on several other of my books (including Divide by Zero), I read the fine print, specifically the fine print that mis-spelled my name in Amazon’s reply. I hadn’t mis-spelled it, and neither had my potential customer, but Amazon generously corrected a supposed “typo” in my surname, changing Deeth to Death and resulting in “0 results.”

I complained. They fixed it. For one book.

I complained again. They told me I shouldn’t expect my books to appear at the top of any search until they sell better, which didn’t help. So…

I complained again, with examples. They fixed the examples. But for any other book, Sheila Deeth still gets “corrected” to Sheila Death. Unless Amazon is inspired to try a second correction (e.g. Infinite Sum to Infinite Sun) they won’t offer the option to search for what was originally typed in the search bar, and the message “0 results found” will discourage my rare (very rare) and invaluable (greatly valued) customer.

I know I can fix this (and no, not by changing my name). I can send Amazon a complaint listing of all books and they’ll correct all the searches, each in turn. Then I’ll have to remember to beg whenever another book comes out and they’ll fix that for me. But the QA engineer in me wants to tell their programmers, “Stop! If the search yields a result, offer the result or at least path to the result.” Meanwhile, the Prisoner in me (remember that TV series of my youth?) wants to scream from the rooftops, “I am not a typo,” just as he screamed, “I am not a number.”

So… if you’re ever searching for a book on Amazon and get the result “0 results found,” make sure to check what Amazon actually searched for. I can’t be the only author with a name that’s only one letter away from a dictionary word. And I am not a typo!

I tidied my library

20170810_183141The best thing about getting flooded last year is the fact that one of our sons’ bedrooms has now turned into a library. I’ve always wanted a library of my own and, being somewhat of a book hoarder, I’ve always dreamed of having enough space to organize my books. Of course, the fact that my library’s shelves are (in many cases) stacked two deep and two high (and bending) does make it a little hard to find anything. I lost Brooklyn. Then I found it and lost A Man Called Ove, which surely should have been next to A Long Way Down. Then I forgot where the Ursula Le Guin paperbacks had been filed, though hardbacked Malafrena and the Dispossessed were safe on the top shelf. While looking for them, I realized I now had Asian novels on two different shelves, mixed up with The Thirteenth Tale and Olive Kitterege. So… I tidied my library, again. Each book like a much-loved friend, long-forgotten, long overdue an email or a letter… each character reminding and begging me to read me again… each shelf ever heavier while I cleared all the volumes from the floor.

Oddly, the empty spaces on my shelves seem to grow and shrink with no perceivable logic. But at least space exists, so new friends can join the old. I love my library!

20180212_164333Then there’s that secret shelf upstairs, where I hide my dream that someone might file my books in a library one day. Novels of small-town characters together with Biblical fiction for kids and novellas mysterious and strange… short stories in anthologies… even poetry and picture books! Would they ever go on the same shelf as each other?

New characters beg me to write me again and I turn to the computer… Write a blogpost, write a novella, enter a contest at our local writers’ group… Open up a page and…

… well, this is what we did for our Writing Exercise at the Writers’ Mill …

  1. Write the number 1. This is the Beginning of your story. Ask who, what, where, and when is your character? What does your character’s heart want? (This is an exercise in character development.)
  2. Next write the number 5 (NOT 2) This is the End of you story – how will your character and/or world change? (How will your character develop?)
  3. Write the number 3. This is the Middle – how is your character struggling to effect that change?
  4. And now you get to write down number 2. How did your character get into this mess and why (internal and external reasons)? (And our writing exercise morphes into the realm of plot development)
  5. Almost done: write the number 4. How did your character successfully resolve his/her/its problem.
  6. And finally, put things back in the right order and WRITE, from beginning to end.

 

What are your New Year Resolutions?

Last year–last December–my mum, aged nearly 90, crossed the Atlantic to spend her winter with us. One plane was cancelled; the rescheduled one was late; she missed her connection; she changed planes in half an hour; she struggled with middle seats because of her new schedule and finally played the “nearly 90” card to beg for an aisle seat; and she arrived 12 hours late! As we drove home in the car, my husband played a CD of Christmas carols and Mum, aged nearly 90, surely worn out from the longest day ever of hassles, sang Oh Come All You Faithful. It was nearly midnight–a midnight to remember!

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So now it’s 2018. Mum will stay with us until February, and we’re delighted to have her. I shall take her to see cats at a local cat cafe. We’ll visit the sea again with a friend. We’ll shop like mother and daughter–a treat since we’re so rarely together. We’ll enjoy discovering that Alexa is as obedient to Mum as she is to me. And we’ll laugh together when Mum says “You can’t print my story out; it’s only on my tablet.” “Mum, we have a printer downstairs.” Oh yes, and we’ll go to our local writers’ group–TOGETHER!

So those are my January resolutions. I know I’ll keep them. But as to February, that’s a whole month away, and the rest of the year even further. I’d resolve to catch up on book reviews, but I’m always getting further behind as I find new books I’m offered and “can’t wait” to read. I’d resolve to finish my next novel, Imaginary Numbers, but I’ll need my writers’ group friends to keep me on track. I’ll go to Mum’s 90th birthday party, come hell or high water, no matter how many planes get cancelled or delayed. And I’ll grow a year older–now that’s the sort of resolution I really should keep.

But maybe I should resolve to complain less, sing more in the back of the car, and enjoy the moment, like Mum! Maybe I should learn from her. And maybe we should all do something like that.

Meanwhile I’m persuading Mum to resolve to write again–an essay a month for those contests we run monthly at our writers’ group. This month’s challenge is to answer “Why am I here?” and Mum’s formula for a great essay is:

  • Think of someone else that you care about, and an event that might have taken them from you, or from the world.
  • Think of another someone else.
  • And finally think of yourself.

It seems a good recipe for a good attitude to life, or for new year resolutions! Thank you Mum.

How Was Your 2017?

20151206_170537I should be writing one of those Christmas letters – you know; the ones where I list my children’s accomplishments, our wonderful travel experiences, the glorious decorating job we did on the house, great tasks undertaken with marvelous success … etc. etc. It’s just this year’s been, well, one of those years. And I thought 2016 was bad…

20170118_121746 (2)Children’s accomplishments include their truly adult, generous and amazing help when our home flooded in January. They sliced and diced soggy carpet (plus, sometimes, hands and knees) to get it out the door. They carried tons of heavy furniture upstairs to the garage to dry out. And they assured me young muscles really aren’t that much better than older ones. Either that or our sons are rapidly ceasing to be young–not a thought I want to pursue.

20160806_173543 (2)2017’s travel experiences were very enjoyable. We had a great trip to England. Spent lots of time with family and friends, and visited Bath, Beachy Head, Bletchley Park, Cambridge, Chatham Dockyards (where Call the Midwife is filmed), Cleveleys (just me visiting Mum), the Devil’s Punchbowl (and the former A3), the Harry Potter studios, Manchester (just me, Mum and my brother), Rochester and Windsor. Took lots of photos… Later we had a week in DC visiting the nation’s capital with our oldest son. But now, as I sit writing this, we await my mum’s annual traveling achievement, her arrival from England… flight cancelled due to snow, flight rebooked, new flight delayed and connection missed, new flight rebooked, new connections, more connections, more time and more delay… She should arrive by midnight, maybe, we hope. And travel finds itself added to the list of this year’s disasters.

20170810_183141We are definitely enjoying our redecorated basement. It took two thirds of the year to get from bare walls and concrete floor to liveable rooms again. It took more visits from those generous sons to bring the furniture back down from the garage. Our cars finally reclaimed their domain in late October! And I can now sit on a chair at my computer to write blogposts … and Christmas letters?

51ryws67wolTasks undertaken included great joy at being part of the Oregon Historical Society’s  50th Holiday Cheer book-signing. It was a fantastic event, very well organized, well attended, and great fun (especially listening to the Dickens Singers). I felt less happy at selling only one book there, but I sold seven at our local craft bazaar, so I shouldn’t complain… In other achievements, I saw my third novel, Subtraction, come out from Indigo Sea Press, and Paul’s Purpose, my twelfth Five-Minute Bible Stories book, was released in print by Cape Arago Press. Plus our local writers’ group, the Writers’ Mill, released two new anthologies! That’s surely success, unless you ask about sales.

So… was it a bad year with some good points, or a good year with some bad points? I’m not sure just now. I’m probably stressed, still neurotically checking the internet for delays with Mum’s flight every five minutes. And perhaps I need to work on having a more positive point of view.

I should write that Christmas letter too, so thank you for inspiring me to try.

How was your year?

How was your day?

“How was your day?” I ask as my husband returns from work. Sometimes he asks me the same question. Friends ask. Neighbors might ask. But what should I say? How was my day today? And what’s productive anyway?

  • Productive in washing, cleaning, tidying up…? It all has to be done again next week.
  • Productive in yardwork? Well, my herbs are still surviving and being eaten by husband, self and squirrels.
  • Productive in work that I actually get paid for? I don’t earn a lot, but I do get paid to edit novels sometimes, and I almost finished the final edit on one today. That’s a productive day.
  • Productive in editing my own work perhaps? I worked through the publisher file (from my publisher, Cape Arago Press) for Paul’s Purpose–number 12 of the Five-Minute Bible Story Series. That was productive, and depressing. You can find the e-book of Paul’s Purpose here, but maybe you should wait to buy it until I’ve worked through the the errors I found.
  • Productive in writing? I wish (from which you may deduce the answer is no). But I did log onto Amazon author central to see if I’d sold any of my Halloween short stories (Not the Night for Murder). They don’t list sales from the current week though, so the answer was no.81fqd96jwml
  • Productive in producing books? I finally released the Kindle version of an anthology (the Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 6) for our local writers’ group. If they paid me for this (minimum wage? how many hours?) I’d earn as much producing as I do editing. But they don’t. It’s my gift back to those who give me so much encouragement.51o8flzwugl
  • Productive in drawing? That’s what I do (on the computer) when my brain’s so fried I can’t see words anymore. It doesn’t count as work, I suppose, but it illustrates books sometimes for that writers’ group. There’ll be quite a few of my pictures in our next release–Carl and June: Tales of Two by Matthew McAyeal and the Writers’ Mill.Carl in spiderman pajamas 2
  • Productive in cooking? Nah, I had some good leftovers so we ate them. Really good was the leftover birthday cake from the Writers’ Group. If they pay me in cake I’ll be happy… so I’m happy.
  • Productive in shopping? I still can’t fathom how I fitted it in today, but yes; I bought gluten-free bread, real bread, fruit and vegetables, milk, beer and cheese–the essentials of life (except for chocolate, and I still have chocolate leftover from my own birthday–Yum!).
  • Productive in blogging? What do you think? I even sent out a newsletter earlier this week. Click here for my mail-chimp sign-up  if you’d like to receive it… please 🙂

So, “How was your day?”

Mine was productive it seems.

How Many Books Can You Fit In One Garage?

If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know our basement flooded six months ago. One month ago our kind and generous sons started moving our furniture back down to the newly refloored and redecorated rooms. Two weeks ago I started moving boxes of books. There were… er… rather a lot of boxes of books…

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Soon there were… er… rather a lot of books all over my floor…

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But look at it now!

20170810_183141My reading room/library is full to the brim with new friends and old, all waiting to be read and re-read. And my world is back to an even-better kind of normal.

But how many books are there? How many could you fit in your garage? And have you added Subtraction to your book collection yet?

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What is Subtraction?

Subtraction, third in the Mathemafiction series, is here, there, and everywhere good books are sold, or at least it soon will be, because all booksellers will surely want to know what happens to a subtracted life. Subtraction is here anyway–just click on the link.

But what is Mathemafiction? I’m a mathematician, so mathematical ideas come naturally to me. But not, mathemafiction is not about learning to do math.

51xcie2u2blThe first novel, Divide by Zero, told the story of a strong community divided by tragedy. Why Divide by Zero? Because division by zero results in an undefined answer–it all depends on the initial conditions and the details of the equation. Divide x by x and you’ll always get 1. Divide 2x by x and you’ll get 2. Divide x squared by x and you’ll get x, which is 0 when x is 0. But divide 1 by x and you’ll get something that grows infinitely large as x grows small. When the subdivision of Paradise is divided by a violent crime… will it explode or unite around a finite solution?

512bbjmvzuflThe second Mathemafiction novel is Infinite Sum. It tells the story of a mother weighed down by the “infinite sum” of her troubles. She has a troubled past. She paints troubled pictures. And her perfect family and marriage might fall apart. The thing is, some infinite sums add up to nicely finite solutions. Try adding 1 plus 1/2 plus 1/4 plus 1/8 plus 1/16…. The more terms you add, the nearer you get to 2, which isn’t infinite at all. Will a mother’s sum of troubles sum to something manageably finite as well?

51ryws67wolThen there’s Subtraction: A man whose had everything subtracted from his life… a man alone, who’d rather keep it that way since relationships only end in someone being hurt… a man who trusts no one, teaches math, and despite everything cares deeply for his students… What happens when this last thing that matters is threatened, when an autistic child is subtracted from his class? But subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive, and this teacher’s negative attitude just might change over the course of the novel.

Will you read Subtraction?

Can you help me to advertise it?

Please search for my tweets on twitter under #Subtraction and retweet them, or cut and paste them from below. And please accept my thanks! I hope you like the book!

 

What happens when a girl with no future starts to grow up? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when the man who’s lost everything starts over &starts losing again? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when the art teacher’s not quite as young as she looks? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when a nobody tries  being somebody & disappears from school? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when the world falls apart, falls apart, falls apart…? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when the autistic child disappears? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when everyone looks the wrong way? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when everyone looks the wrong way? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

When family deserts you and children disappear, is there still hope? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

When only the least expected take your side, is there still hope? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Life is serious. Why is he talking to cats? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Life is serious. Why is she following the cats? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Will the missing child be found in time? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Does the past have to repeat itself? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is every stranger dangerous?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Does “stranger danger” apply to cats?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What if the cat might be haunted?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What if the cat is a guardian angel?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Do guardian angel cats have wings?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Would you follow a guardian angel cat?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Would you follow a man who follows guardian angel cat?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Subtract the past. Trust the present. Find the future.  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Evolution of a back cover blurb

The novel’s called Subtraction. It’s going to be released on August 1st. And it needed a back cover blurb. (Watch this space for the real cover, coming soon!)

subtraction copy

I spent a day with many Facebook friends working on this, and I am hugely grateful to them. I’m grateful for links to great “how to write a blurb” sites – especially https://kindlepreneur.com/back-book-cover-blurb/. I’m grateful for advice, for revised sentences, new ways of looking at the storyline and words, and … everything. And here’s how it worked out.

Version 1: On a road trip to look for a missing girl, a schoolteacher finds himself. Love, cats and colleagues remind him the world’s not all evil, but can he truly forgive the darkness it hides? Is trust just weakness in disguise, or is it a gift, a freedom and a hope that things subtracted might yet be restored?

Comments –

  • doesn’t really tell the reader anything: road trip, yes, but what happens on the trip
  • on the other hand, does kind of give away the ending.

Version 2: Can subtraction be a positive? Can loss be a gain? And can a lonely schoolteacher find himself (love and cats) on a cross-country road trip in search of a missing child? Subtraction is a story of love, loss and hope as strangers prove to be sometimes kind, dark places hide light, and middle-grade schoolchildren learn about math, acceptance, and generosity.

Comments –

  • Too existential
  • why is he looking for her?
  • Starting with the inciting incident will focus readers on what’s going to happen

Version 3: When a misfit student disappears from math class, her teacher embarks on an epic cross-country journey to find her. But who is he really looking for? Why is the pretty new art teacher so keen to help? And where do all the cats come from?

Comments –

  • too short
  • needs names
  • tell enough of the story – to the middle say – to hook your reader.

Version 4: When autistic Amy goes missing from her special ed math class, teacher Andrew Callaghan is desperate to save her… or save himself. Stella DeMaris, the new art instructor, offers to help. Soon the two erstwhile strangers set off on a road trip across America, held back by memories of Andrew’s past and spurred on by mysterious cats. Andrew imagines Amy’s dead body in every passing shadow, but Stella’s determined to prove there’s hope for everyone, including two misfit teachers and misfit kids.

Comments –

  • Don’t use easy labels – don’t say she’s autistic
  • Try “and save himself” instead of “or save himself,” or it might sound creepy
  • Why does he think she needs saving
  • Readers forget about Amy by the time they get to the cats.
  • Remember, the person reading the blurb doesn’t know the story.
  • Think about 3 sentences
    • Goal
    • Disaster that keeps him from his goal, and potential consequences for him
    • Sum up the journey and what he’ll have to overcome.

Version 5: Andrew Callaghan suspects that his student Amy, who has gone missing, has been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats, and the path grows harder to find.

Comments –

  • The end is just as important as the beginning, so find a better ending.

Version 6: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats. But Amy is speeding ahead of them. She’s not the sort to understand “stranger danger.” Can they find her in time?

Comments –

  • Amy’s danger belongs at the start, not the end
  • How do they know she’s ahead of them?

Version 7: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella, ever hopeful, sees cats. But where will the cats lead them, and will Amy be dead or alive at the end of the trail?

Comments – it’s the winner! (Well, I always like 7s.) So what have I learned:

  • Ask myself what genre my book is, even if the answer is multiply-defined.
  • Pick out the most important thread in the story and include it in the first sentence of the blurb.
  • Leave out any unnecessary information
  • Provide enough motivation for the main character’s actions.
  • Make sure the ending makes readers want to know more.

Coming soon – August 1st, Subtraction by Sheila Deeth

and here are the blurbs for Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, the books that came before it. (Each one is standalone – related, but not contiguous.)

Divide by Zero: It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks. Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost. Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people, Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might takes a child to raise the subdivision-or to mend it.

Infinite Sum: A slash of red; a slash of black; then Sylvia’s paintbrush turns beauty turns into terror and darkness again. Her youngest child is almost ten, but Sylvia’s world seems destined to fall apart. Her therapist believes the answers lie in her art, but will they be found among boxes and frames in the attic, or in the angry colors she pours onto canvases in class? As memories new and old pile ever higher, Sylvia learns life is more about the infinite promise of joys to come than the sum of things done. Even so, will her nightmares let her go?

And for a writing prompt –

  • write a blurb for the book you’re writing, want to write, or wish you’d written
  • Does the first sentence describe the most important storyline?
  • Is there enough information to motivate the characters?
  • Is the information clear enough to avoid its being misunderstood?
  • Does the last sentence give too much away, or entice the reader to want more?
  • Then rewrite your blurb.

How Soon Is Soon?

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to advertize my new novellas soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

subtraction copy

Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received.

As to those novellas, perhaps they’ll be fodder for another blogpost, coming “soon.” But for now, here’s a taste of Subtraction, following the writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:

Our writer’s group’s experimenting with different points of view – it’s amazing how they can feel like different authors when you let them on the page. So…

  1. Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom. The students stare.
  2. Start the story in first person from the teacher’s point of view. “New class. New students. What do I do? Will they listen?” and write for just 5 minutes.
  3. Continue in 3rd person omniscient – what does the teacher look like? What about the students. What are they thinking? What does the teacher think? How does the lesson begin? 5 minutes again.
  4. Then finish with nothing but dialog between teacher and students, and see where it takes you.

When you’ve finished, meet Andrew from Subtraction, as he meets his new class:

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

 

reading, 'riting, 'rithmeticking

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