Monday, January 22, 2024

Helen & Me

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

Photo (c) Doris McCraw

Over twenty years ago I received a request to 'portray' Helen (Hunt) Jackson for a tea that the historical society was having. Of course, I said yes and then over the next month researched her life and sewed a costume to match the time period. That was necessary because they were having a period fashion show.

That quick burst of research has led to a lifetime of study. However, that initial performance was one that has stayed with me.

For one thing, while social, Helen focused on her writing. She had also come to Colorado Springs for her health. I decided that the most important part of being her was to focus on her 'hobby' as she called it. So while speaking with the guests I spoke of coming to the region, how the beauty was to be cherished,  and the importance of seeing the Indians as humans. 

Photo (c) Doris McCraw

That may sound strange today, but in the 1800s that was not the case. I hadn't had time to dig deeper, but it was enough to make Helen's point. 

The other thing I learned was Helen was strong in her opinions yet had no problem changing them if she felt it was important to do so. I think that was the biggest part of my desire to find out more. Here was a woman of strong opinions who herself was a contradiction. 

I hope you will continue to join me as I share my lifelong journey with and as Helen.


Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy. 


Saturday, January 6, 2024

Being a Writer vs a Regular Person by Zina Abbott

I am a writer. Even before I wrote American historical romance, I wrote grievance files as a union steward. I wrote family history and other short stories before that. 

The photo of the older woman in front of a computer on the above is not me. However, if she was dressed in a T-shirt or sweatshirt, and her hair was more mussed and auburn (okay, salt-and-red pepper, heavy on the salt), she could pass. However, I have not been writing much since I published my most recent book on December 8th, almost a month ago. 

I spent the first two weeks after publication working heavily on marketing--both for my own books and for the three multiple-author series for which I was then writing. After, with Christmas only a few days away, I started acting like a regular person, not an author with obligations and deadlines. Even my title on this blog header is in a different, more wonky font than my usual "Western" font. I told myself, as soon as Christmas is over, I'll start writing. Then, it was I will start right after New Year's Day. Another week is almost past and other than a few necessary multi-media obligations, I'm still in "regular person" mode--not writing my next book.

Maybe not entirely. Even though I have not been writing, I have been doing author-y tasks. One of my first, which I tackled New Year's Day (After watching most of the Pasadena Rose Parade) was to copy and paste to save for my records how I did as far as sales and royalties for the year. The above, which I shared on my newsletter, shows my ten top books in relation to royalties earned. I was pleased that one of my 2023 publications, Lauren, which had not been out quite a year, placed in the top ten royalty earners.

The all-time top ten as far as Kindle Unlimited page reads pretty much matches the above, except Lauren scooted in front of Otto's Offer and Diantha.

However, it was a different story when I looked at royalties earned by sales--both ebook and print. The smaller covers in front represent the royalties from sales. The books that surprised me were my own little trio of romances for Train Wreck in Jubilee Springs--Two Sisters and the Christmas Groom, Kate's Railroad Chef, and Nathan's Nurse. They did really well on sales. After 2017, I have been the only one writing for the Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs series. I had considered pulling those three books (published in the end of 2019 and early 2021) and put them into a stand-alone series. After reviewing this data, I realize it needs to be done--soon.

Only Kendrick, my most popular book, held the same position on both charts.

I also identified my second top-10 most popular books based on royalties earned--in other words, books number 11 through 20. A Shopkeeper for Christmas surprised me. Then again, I used it often as a promotional book, often at a reduced price. It all added up. Three of my Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs books--Dead Set Delphinia, Aaron's Annulment Bride, and Bargain Bessie, have been around since 2017, and all have done well. I was pleased to see another of my 2023 books, Elise, in my top twenty.

Even though these were not "writing," having this information helps me as a self-published author know what I need to focus on more during the coming year.

Other non-writer tasks that felt like I was being a regular person (but not really):

I have an older Windows 10 computer that I nurse along because (in case you cannot figure out from the graphics you have seen so far, just in this post) I enjoy doing graphics. I have a 1998 Microsoft photo-editing program that they stopped making in 1999. It will work on a 64-bit machine, but nothing higher. When it comes to 64-bit computers, I do not think they are making them anymore. I will not go to Adobe Photoshop because I HATE that program. I guess I have been using Microsoft products for so long, the logic used by Adobe makes no sense to me. I do not find it intuitive or user-friendly.

Therefore, I regularly--especially after a year has ended--back up my computer on at least two external hard drives and delete non-working files, especially the large image files. All my folders with images and research documents for blog posts? Backed up and gone off my computer. All my "snippet" record of receipts for paid bills? Same. I keep this machine clean so my photo-editing works better. Before I did this, I backed up the entire computer--system and all--on a third back-up drive. It takes time--lots of time. However, my computer is working much quicker and more smoothly.

I decided to prepare my writing income and expense files for 2024. I backed up 2023 on all three drives, and I will do taxes on my other computer (my "writing" computer).

Then there is dealing with all the emails. I get them all year, but this time of year, with all the stuff everyone has been trying to sell, they feel personal--like a personal affront. I am getting to this blog post late because I spent over four hours clearing emails. Well--true confessions--that and following my usual "down the research rabbit hole" tendency. 

Example. Ancestry is advertising their six-month subscription on sale again. I finally decided, since it is not as convenient to go my local family history center where I can access it for free, I needed to sign up. It is a business expense. Yes, I expect to use it for family history. Yet, as part of my usual book research for some projects, I also love to look up census records, etc. Need the 1880 census records for Sonora and Copperopolis, California? I've got them. With access to and Fold3 as part of the subscription--both excellent historical research sites--I decided the cost was worth the expanded version. 
Then, also part of the offer, I could add four others to my subscription. I added hubby, two daughters, and a daughter-in-law. Then, I had to text each of them to tell them so they did not think the email they receive is advertising spam and delete it. I was too late with hubby, but we recovered the link to his account. All little tasks like this take time--non-writing time.

After I paid for Ancestry, my "research rabbit hole" tendency really kicked in. I had to get on and check my own DNA results--again. They had a update, including a new feature of traits they projected based on my DNA. Have freckles? Yep, I have plenty. Hair color red? Yep. Well, it was auburn, but still... It even predicted I like the taste of cilantro. The only conclusion it predicted I don't agree with is that I am not more of an extrovert. I see myself as more of an introvert.

It was research, yes, but a very "regular person" type, not much writing done there.

Then another non-writing activity I worked on was developing a new cover design for a personal series I plan to write starting this year. I promised it at the end of Sabrina. That was another reason I needed to clean up my computer hard drive--so my photo-editing program for this project would perform more smoothly.  I keep finding great multiple-author series that interest me, so I have made several other commitments. I must work my own series books around them.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy designing covers, I do not find it to be as intuitive as it seems to be for other cover artists. Either that, or I am more critical of my own work. Instead of spending 2-3 hours and ending up with a cover I am pleased with, I will spend possibly twice that long to get to something I like fairly well. Then, I come back to the project a few weeks--or months--later and work on it some more. I might to that two or three times before I get a cover I decide is the final-final. Some of my covers I've been pleased with, some not so much.

So far, I like how the current cover I'm working on is turning out. I am not ready to share it yet. I plan to have my cover reveal on my next newsletter. 

So, what would I have been doing if not writing this blog post after spending hours clearing emails? I would have been quilting. It is for a friend--a fellow quilter who regularly donates lap quilts to the local nursing home. She is having health challenges. So, it was time she received a quilt.

Two days ago, after completing the main quilt design, I tore my entire house and storage building apart looking for sashing material. For non-quilters, "sashing" is the wide fabric strips that frame the main quilt design. 

My friend and I have different tastes in fabrics. I like muted colors. Autumn colors. Colors that look like they came from the swamp. She likes light, bright, and cheerful colors--lots of florals. Often over the years, when I came across fabric remnants that were her style--not mine--I gave them to her. So now, when I needed something for a quilt intended for her, nothing I had in my stash worked.

Yesterday, instead of doing what I am doing today, I went to my local Jo-Ann's Fabrics. That was a mistake. I found something I thought might work. However, this Jo-Ann's is in the process of being closed for business. They had whatever fabric remained on a bolt on sale for 70% off if a shopper bought at least six bolts. I checked every bolt of quilting fabric, and after I settled on my choices, I spent a fortune. When I got home, I decided the fabric I originally picked out for the sashing did not work. None of the rest of the fabric worked, either, because they were colors and designs that I like.

Off I went to Walmart. I paced back and forth along the single partial aisle that held quilting fabric. Several times, I perused their limited selection. Nothing looked right. I avoided the reds, because I do not have much red in the body of the quilt. Finally, the red with yellow and white daisies yelled, "Hey! I'm bright! I'm cheerful! I'll make good sashing for your quilt." I bought two yards. 

All day that project took. Unfortunately, by the time this regular salt-and-red pepper-heavy-on-the-salt person returned home, she was too tired to quilt or do anything else.

Just as soon as I finish the quilt and give it to my friend, I will get over thinking like a regular person, and I'll get back to my writing schedule. Soon. I cannot put it off much longer--I have deadlines looming.

If while reading this post, you saw any covers of books you have not yet read and would like to learn more, please CLICK HERE to find the link to my Amazon author account. 

Also, if you do not receive my newsletter, but want to sign up in time to get in on my cover reveal for my own series, please CLICK HERE.