Category Archives: Writing

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Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from Kodiak Island! For many people, this is a busy time of year filled with holiday events, family gatherings, shopping in crowded stores, and long-distance travel. It’s an exciting season, but it is also very hectic. For many, the holiday season is a happy time, but for others, it is stressful and even depressing. Most of us experience all these emotions to some degree throughout the holiday season.

I won’t say I escape the psychological highs and lows of the season, but I think my holiday experience is unique because I spend it in the middle of the Kodiak Wilderness. I haven’t been to town since early June, and I don’t plan to fly to town until late January when we leave for our vacation. For me, the holidays are quiet! I find myself missing Christmas music and sometimes even the hustle and bustle of stores before Christmas (this is only a fleeting feeling, though). I miss family gatherings, and I’m sad when I remember past Christmases spent with my family. We only get a mail plane once a week in the winter, so we wait each week eagerly for Christmas cards and presents to arrive. We have to ship out our Christmas cards and presents by mid-December, so the first two weeks of December are busy, but then everything slows to a crawl. I take a deep breath and relax.

I spent the last two weeks of December and plan to spend the first two weeks of January doing what I want to do. This year I am editing my next novel and finishing the rough draft of my wildlife book. I take the time to fuse glass jewelry in my kiln, weave baskets, and make metal jewelry. I walk on the beach and through the woods with my cats, always with a downcast glance, hoping to spot a recently-shed deer antler. I read, write, watch wildlife, and enjoy the beauty of a Kodiak winter. This may not be the customary way to celebrate the holidays, but I have learned to love it. In a season when we talk about peace on earth, I truly do have two months of peace and quiet in my world, and I remind myself every day how lucky I am.

I don’t forgo all the holiday indulgences. We decorate the house, I make candy, we open presents, and we have a special dinner on Christmas day. I have a wonderful friend in Anchorage who sings with the Anchorage Concert Chorus, and he has sent me several CDs of Christmas music performed by the Chorus, so I enjoy those while I remember Christmases past and relish the present holiday.

Wherever you are and whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year, I wish you peace, quiet, and love in your world.

I recently published a new Mystery Newsletter.  Check it out here.  You can subscribe for my newsletter either in the upper left-hand corner of the link or on my home page.  Anyone interested in our summer season at Munsey’s Bear Camp can read that blog post at the Munsey’s Bear Camp website.

Facebook Launch Party Recap

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This week, I decided to write a post about my Facebook launch party for the release of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak. For frequent readers of my blog who enjoy reading my wildlife posts, I apologize for this divergence. I’ve had several people, including other authors ask about my virtual, book-release party, though, and instead of answering everyone separately, I thought it would be easier to write about my experience in a blog post that anyone can access. When I first thought about having an online launch party, I found some helpful blog posts, and now I would like to return the favor. I’ve been asked how I planned the party, how I invited guests, and what it was like during the party. The question I’ve been asked the most is, “Was it successful?”

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who either came to my Facebook party last month or signed the guestbook on my website. 180 people attended my Facebook party, 99 signed my guestbook, and 63 signed up for my newsletter. Honestly, my party was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I hoped at least 25 people would show up, so I was quite surprised. I learned a great deal during the planning process for my party, especially about the technical aspects of Facebook and my website, and since I am not the most social creature, I had to drag myself out of my shell. Still, a virtual party was less painful for me than a physical party would have been; I am not comfortable being the center of attention. I’ll break down the process for you and tell you what I learned (good and bad).

Why Facebook and Why a Launch Page on My Website?

I’m sure you all know that Facebook is by far the largest social media website, and it is difficult to be a successful author today without having a presence on Facebook. I don’t love Facebook, but I realize it is necessary for me to use it. I originally planned to have my launch party on my website, but I soon remembered that I am not a technical genius, and I live in a remote area with only satellite Internet. It would have been impossible for me to do a party on my website in “real time.” I began exploring my options and soon realized a “Facebook Event” would be the easiest alternative. The biggest problem I had with a Facebook Event was that a guest could not attend my party unless she had a Facebook account or was willing to sign up for Facebook. I know several people who hate Facebook and would never sign up for it for any reason, so I decided that in addition to the Facebook party, I would also have a “Book Launch” page on my website, complete with a guestbook that visitors could sign. This page had links to the synopsis of my novel as well as to links to where the novel could be purchased. Several people thanked me for offering an alternative to attending the Facebook party, so I was glad I had the launch page on my website, plus it was a good way to get people to visit my website, and by signing my guestbook, they gave me permission to add their e-mail address to my newsletter list.

How Did I Create My Facebook Event Page?

Creating a Facebook Event page is as easy as clicking a button. I made a banner for the top of the page, and then I started to get nervous. In all my research, I noticed several businesses that, for a price, would help you with your Facebook party. I thought I probably could do the party by myself, but during a moment of panic, I hired a party planner who specialized in virtual book launches. I don’t know if the money was worth it because I did most of the work myself, but she was there to answer my questions, and that was nice.

To create a Facebook Event, look at the left side of your Facebook “Home” page. Under the heading “Create,” click on “Create Event.” You now have an Event page! Next, you will want to make a banner for the top of your Event page. The banner needs to be 784 x 295 pixels. It takes only a few minutes to design your own banner in a program such as Photoshop or Canva. I used Microsoft Paint to design my simple banner. If you don’t want to tackle designing your own banner or if you want an intricately designed banner, you can hire a graphic designer to create it. Perhaps the designer who created your book cover could design your event banner. You can visit my Event Page to see the simple banner I designed. It has a background scenery photo, a photo of my book cover, and photo of me. A graphic designer or artist would have created a more eye-catching banner than the one I designed, but I was on a budget, and I didn’t think a fancier banner would be worth the cost. Don’t forget to include the date and time of your party on the banner. Also be sure to state the time of your party for various time zones, because you will have people from across the U.S. and perhaps from around the world wanting to attend your party, and they will need to know the time of party where they live. I thought it was most important to include Eastern and Alaskan times for the party. Be sure to post a description of the event under the “About” tab.

How Did I Invite Guests to My Party?

To invite friends to your Facebook party, go to your Event page and click on the “Invite” button in the lower right-hand corner of the banner at the top of the page. Checkmark the friends you wish to invite, and an invitation will be sent to them. I also posted an announcement about my party on both my personal and author Facebook pages and asked my friends to invite their friends. They invite their friends in the same way you invited them. They simply go to your Event page, click on “Invite,” and choose the friends they wish to invite. Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds and perhaps thousands of people invited to your party. Approximately 1400 people were invited to my party.

I sent e-mails to acquaintances who were not Facebook friends, told them about my book launch, and invited them to attend my Facebook party, sign the guestbook on my website, or better yet, do both. To sweeten the incentive to sign my guestbook, I told everyone to enter my drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card on my website once they signed my guestbook.

A few days before my party, I reminded my Facebook friends about the date and time of the party and described some of the prizes I would be giving away. I also posted about my party on Goodreads in the groups I belong to that allow that type of post (be sure to read the rules for each group; some do not allow authors to promote their books). I tweeted about my party and pinned the invitation to my Pinterest board. Those are the only social-networking sites I use, but if you use others, be sure to promote your party on those as well. I did not pay for any advertising, but the party planner I used sent invitations to her list, and that was helpful.

A few days before the party, I began posting comments on the “Event” page. One of my friends told me she would be hanging out by the pool, so I posted about that and let everyone know there was a large pool at the party venue. When I reminded my friends about the party on my Facebook page, I told them there was no dress code, so they could wear whatever they had on or nothing at all, and a few guests joked about that.

Any time you want a post to stay at the top of the Event page and not get moved down the page by subsequent posts, you can “pin” the post. Write the post and then click in the upper right hand corner of the post and click “pin”. You can only pin one post at a time, so if you later write another post that you want to pin to replace your previous pinned post, you must first click in the upper right hand corner of the pinned post and “unpin” it. You can then “pin” another post.

How Did I Plan My Party?

I chose to have a two-hour party, and I spent many hours planning my two-hour party. I worked out the details of every post I planned to make, found a corresponding photo for each post, bought two cartoons to use, and even planned the posts for after the party when I would list the answers to the questions I had asked. Most of my posts were questions, and I awarded prizes either to the guest or guests who answered the question correctly, or I drew a name from the list of everyone who commented on that post.

My party was mostly a fun quiz, and I had very positive feedback on this format, but there are many other options, including simply chatting with your guests and posting funny photos and videos. No matter what you do at your party, the party should reflect the novel you are promoting. I write mystery novels that take place in the wilderness of Alaska, so I did a series of posts I titled “Test Your Wilderness IQ,” where I did such things as post a photo of two berries and ask my guests which berry was safe to eat. I also created a few wilderness scenarios and asked my party guests what they would do if they were in this situation. The answers were fun, and several of the guests interacted with each other, discussing the correct answer. For my wilderness IQ posts, the top ten guests who answered the most questions correctly won an e-book of my novel. I also posted two bear photos and asked my guests to write funny captions for them. I had folks still posting captions two days after my party ended! For the funny caption posts, I randomly drew winners.

I live in the wilderness and have satellite internet which can be slow, so my biggest concern about this party was how long it would take me to post and upload each photo. As the party progressed and got busier and busier, I spent nearly all my time preparing the next post, while my husband sat at his computer and ran interference for me, telling me who was commenting on each post. The more questions I posted, the more hectic it got, because each of my posts was receiving comments at the same time. When someone commented, my computer dinged, and the dinging was non-stop until one hour after the party ended. When it was over, I had a headache, but I also had a smile on my face. The party had been fun and a success. I’d pulled it off, and the two hours were over in a flash.

How Did I Hand Out Prizes?

This is the part of the party I would do differently next time. I promised to post the winners two hours after the party ended, and that was not enough time. I think next time I would announce the winners the following day. At the end of the party I was exhausted, and then it was a race to draw the names and post the winners. Besides choosing the winners from each post or question at the party, I also drew names from the list of people who signed my guestbook, people who signed up for my newsletter, and people who “liked” my Facebook page, and researching all of that and randomly drawing winners took awhile to do. It took me several minutes just to figure out where to find the list of people who “liked” my Facebook page.

By the end of the party, I gave away 40 e-books, two signed copies of my novel, three $10 gift cards, and two $25 gift cards (including the one I gave away on my website). I chose mainly to give gifts I could e-mail, because I live in the wilderness, and mailing items is a hassle. Also, I wanted to spend my party budget on prizes not postage. My favorite prize was when I told my guests I would use the name of the first person to answer the question correctly for a character in my next novel. I also asked if anyone knew the title of my first novel and then told my guests they were all winners, because for the next two days they could download that novel for free on Amazon.

Would I do another Facebook Party?

I absolutely would do another Facebook party, and I hope to help plan a multi-author Facebook party this fall with other Alaskan authors. It would be much easier to do an event like this with other hosts. Not only could they help with the planning and share the expense of the prizes, but each author would bring his or her own friends to the party, introducing them to the other authors, and hopefully, each author would gain new readers from the event. A multi-author event could also last for several hours, with each author in charge of a certain time period.

Were there glitches in my launch party? Of course, but what party doesn’t have glitches? My internet connection slowed down toward the end of the party, and I couldn’t post all the photos I’d planned. Worse still, the code for the e-books I gave away didn’t work, and it took a few days to straighten out that mess. All the winners were patient, though, and didn’t seem to mind the delay.

An event like this is a way to reach potential readers around the world. It’s a promotional event you can control, unlike buying an ad and hoping for the best. I’ve tried advertising on Goodreads, Facebook, and with numerous online book newsletters, and I have never had good luck. With my Facebook party, I sold books, connected with friends, signed up people for my mystery newsletter, and gained new readers who I feel as if I know. Several people e-mailed me to tell me how much fun they had at the party, and that made me smile, because having fun was my main goal!

I have a series of wildlife posts planned for the next several weeks, so be sure to check back weekly to see what’s new.

My latest Mystery Newsletter is about the true crime of the murder of two brothers at their fish site on Kodiak Island. If this sounds interesting, sign up for my Mystery Newsletter and read this story and other tales about true crime in Alaska.

 

 

The Reunion

Tyler and Nick: the Graduates
Tyler and Nick: the Graduates

In late May, I traveled back to Minneapolis, Kansas for a family reunion and a class reunion. Thomas Wolfe once said, “You can’t go home again,” meaning reality never matches your nostalgic memories. This may be true, but I did not return to Kansas, expecting things to be the same as they were during my youth. My main reason for my trip to the small town where I was raised was to celebrate accomplishment and change. Two of my nephews were graduating from high school, and a niece was being promoted to high school. There was much to celebrate, and I wanted to be in the audience to applaud their accomplishments. As a bonus, I stayed for my high school reunion and reunited with high school mates I hadn’t seen in a long time.

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Russell, Melanie, and Nick

I admit, the trip was a bit stressful for me. I am a solitary, introverted person. At our lodge, I host a variety of guests throughout the year, but the groups are small, and I would classify the interactions as conversations rather than large get-togethers or parties. On my trip to Kansas, it seemed as if I had one large function after another to attend. My sister-in-law teased me when she noticed that I took every opportunity to escape to the peace and quiet of the library, but I had to recharge my batteries for the next event!

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Kaysie

My trip was wonderful in so many ways. I managed one-on-one time with several of my close friends, spent a good deal of time with my brother, Russell; his wife, Melanie; and their son, Nick. We laughed, shared memories, and looked forward, imagining what the future would hold for us. I spent time with my oldest brother, Bruce, and his wife, Karen. I chatted with my nieces, Gisela, and Andrea, and enjoyed talking to Gisela’s husband, Steve, who recently retired from the Air Force. I loved getting to know Gisela and Steve’s children, Tyler and Kaysie, better and was amazed by their artistic abilities.

 

My class reunion was a little overwhelming but otherwise perfect. I saw friends I hadn’t seen since high school, and some of us struggled to recognize each other. We talked about kids (or in my case, cats), grandkids, spouses, marriages, divorces, illness, and deaths. We had all seen each other at the best of times and at the worst of times, and of course, we didn’t hesitate to remind each other of those “worst of times” situations. I was excited when a classmate told me that he was writing his first novel. We sat and talked and have corresponded several times since the reunion. I think we can help each other with editing, promotional ideas, and technical advice (his – not mine!).

High school friends Barb and Rich
High school friends Barb and Rich

My trip was going well. Russell, Melanie, Nick, and I took flowers to the cemetery on the Sunday before Memorial Day to place on my parents’ grave, and then Melanie invited the family to their house for Memorial Day dinner. Since I was scheduled to depart the next day, this would also be my farewell dinner.

Life has this way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it, and at 7:00 am on Memorial Day, Melanie knocked on my bedroom door to tell me that my oldest brother, Bruce, had died unexpectedly, probably from a heart attack. It was, of course, a terrible way to end a trip, but I reminded myself how lucky I was to have been able to see him one last time. I was even happier that his daughter, Andrea, had flown back to Kansas from her home in Nevada to attend the graduations, and she had been able to spend time with her father before he died.

Bruce
Bruce

Graduation in Kansas takes place in May, and May is the height of thunderstorm and tornado season. I love lightning and thunder and looked forward to experiencing some storms since thunderstorms are a rare event on Kodiak Island. On Kodiak, a storm with soft thunder and dim flashes of lightning usually makes the newspaper. Unfortunately, I was reminded to be careful what you wish for. It was stormy nearly every day I was in Kansas, and when I tried to leave, my flight was cancelled due to thunderstorms in the Dallas area where I had a connecting flight. Since flights to Alaska in June are packed, the ticket agent couldn’t rebook me on another flight for three days, so I sat and waited and wrote.

Gisela and Andrea
Gisela and Andrea

You can go home again, but It won’t be the same as you remembered it. Some changes will shock or disappoint you, but others will delight and amaze you. Life moves on and is always changing. I was exhausted after two weeks of friends, family, laughter, and tears, but for many reasons, I am thankful I decided to make this trip back to my childhood home. I have to admit, though, after being stuck for a couple of days, fighting with crowds, and being crammed into packed airplanes, I craved the wilderness of Kodiak Island.

Karen and Bruce
Karen and Bruce

Launch Party

It is party time! I want to invite all of you to the Launch Party for the re-release of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak! As I posted a few weeks ago, I self-published this novel last year, and then it was picked up in November by Publication Consultants, a publishing company in Anchorage. If you have already read a copy from my first release of Murder Over Kodiak, the story has not changed. It does have a new, glossy cover, and we’ve done some minor interior editing. More importantly, the novel now has the force of a publisher behind it.

My publisher, Evan Swensen, wanted me to have a release party, but I live in the middle of the wilderness, and I doubted even my cats would show up for my party. My husband would be there, but he doesn’t have a choice, so I studied my options and decided to do an online launch party.

This party is a Facebook party, and I know and understand that many people do not like Facebook and do not want to go anywhere near it. That’s okay! For those of you who hate Facebook, please go to my Launch Party page on my website and sign my guestbook. You can stop by my website anytime to sign my guestbook, and while you are there, sign up for the Rafflecopter drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card. Between my Facebook party and my website, I am giving away over $500 in prizes to celebrate the launch of my novel

I hope all of you will attend my party, and please invite your friends to come with you. I especially want to invite those of you who have already read one or both of my novels. You have no idea how much I appreciate you and your support, and this is my chance to show you how I feel!

Here are the details:

What: Facebook Launch Party for Murder Over Kodiak

Where: Facebook (click on this link)

When: June 20th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm EDT (6:00 pm to 8:00 pm CDT, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm PDT, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm ADT)

Why: It will be fun!!!

You will have to provide your drinks and snacks, but there is no dress code. Wear whatever you have on or nothing at all!

See you at the party! Don’t forget to sign my guestbook on my website. You can sign it any time; just click on the guestbook link.

A doe and her three fawns stopped by this morning to say hi and to wish me luck.

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Mystery Newsletter

I have been ending my blog posts for the past few months with a reminder to sign up for my Mystery Newsletter, but I haven’t thoroughly explained what that newsletter is and why I write it.

Two of my main interests are biology and mysteries. In my novels, I try to combine these interests. My main character, Jane, is a fisheries biologist, and my mysteries are set in the wilderness of Alaska, where wildlife abounds. My blog posts mostly focus on the wildlife of Kodiak Island, with a few posts on my writing, my novels, and living in the Alaskan wilderness. I enjoy exploring these subjects, but I also wanted to write about mysteries and crime, and since I don’t have time to do another weekly blog post, I thought a monthly newsletter might work out well. Next, I had to think of an idea, and I decided to either write a short mystery every month or write about true crime. From all the true crime shows on television, I think there has to be a big audience out there intrigued by the evil deeds and misfortunes of others. I’m not criticizing; I watch Dateline and 48 Hours too, and I am relieved at the end of the show when the bad guy or gal gets locked away for a life sentence or two. True crime seemed like a good option for my mystery newsletter, at least for the first several months.

Since I live in Alaska, I decided to write about true crime in Alaska, but I wanted to do more than just report the brutal details of deadly crimes. I remembered a show I enjoyed that was on A & E several years ago called City Confidential. Each week the show profiled a murder in a U.S. town, usually a mid-sized city. The story was not only about the murder but also about how the crime changed the city, or why changes in the city created the right environment for this particular crime. By the end of the show, you learned the details of a crime, but you also learned something about the city where the murder was committed and the history of that city. That show made me realize how murderers can change the lives not only on of their victim’s families and friends, but they can affect a community and even a state.

This past month in my Mystery Newsletter I wrote about the crimes of serial killer Robert Hansen. Hansen preyed on women in and around the Anchorage area in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This was the time during the construction and early operation of the Alaska oil pipeline when hordes of people moved to Alaska to either work on the pipeline or to find jobs that supported the pipeline employees. In addition to all the legitimate workers, this influx of people included mobsters, drug pushers, and prostitutes. Law enforcement in and around Anchorage was not equipped to handle the huge rise in crime. Conditions were perfect for a predator like Robert Hansen, and due in part to mistakes made by law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, he was not caught and prosecuted as soon as he should have been. Hansen was smart, but he was not a criminal mastermind. He was simply in the right place at the right time. My newsletter about Hansen has as much to do with Alaska and the turbulent changes during that time as it does with the killer himself. Alaska did not have a decent crime lab before the Hansen case, but it now has one of the best crime labs in the country. Before the Hansen case, no protocols were in place for dealing with sexual assault crimes, but developing those protocols became a priority for the troopers while the Hansen case was proceeding. These changes would have happened without Robert Hansen, but there is an obvious cause and effect between his crimes and the immediate improvements in law enforcement in the state. Next month I will profile a case that happened just three years after Hansen was sentenced, and in this case, the Anchorage police force, crime lab, and FBI were at the top of their game, working together in perfect harmony to capture and prosecute the perpetrator.

I also try in my newsletters is to profile crimes that I think have an “Alaskan flair.” In other words, these are not crimes you are likely to see in New York or Chicago. In my first newsletter, I wrote about a crime where the neighbors in an isolated area of Alaska were gathering near an airstrip to meet their weekly mail plane, when one of the men opened fire on his neighbors. That crime directly relates to the rugged environment, long winters, and brutal isolation of living in the Alaskan wilderness. In my second newsletter, I told about the massacre of the crew of a fishing boat and a murderer that seemed to vanish into thin air. I hope in a couple of months to profile some murders that happened here on Kodiak, including one that took place this winter when a caretaker of a remote lodge murdered another caretaker. That crime hits close to home for me, but as with so many things that happen in the Alaskan wilderness, few facts have been reported.

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter and these stories sound interesting to you, you can sign up at: http://robinbarefield.com.

 

The Fisherman’s Daughter

The Fisherman’s Daughter is the working title for my latest novel. I’ve plotted the story, but I still have some questions and issues to work out along the way. Authors debate over whether or not to use an outline for a novel. Some write outlines that are hundreds of pages long while others just start writing with only a whisper of a story idea in their minds. I fall somewhere in between those two extremes. If I don’t have an outline, I get sidetracked and lose sight of where I’m headed. I think a mystery novel needs to be tightly written, and the reader will not be happy if the author leads him down too many blind alleys. On the other hand, an in-depth outline can lead to a plot that is rigid, making it appear contrived. It is a cliché for an author to say that the characters take on lives of their own, but there is some truth to that statement. I’ll often be in the middle of writing a prepared scene when it occurs to me that a character would never do what I’m about to have her do. At those times, a different but usually much better action occurs to me, and that action sometimes sends the story in an unexpected direction. I don’t want to plot my books so rigidly that I miss those “Aha!” moments because they always make my story better.

Writing a mystery is a challenge because the murderer cannot be the obvious choice, but when he is revealed, he must be the logical choice. I want the reader to say, “Of course, why didn’t I consider him? I should have known.” That’s not an easy trick to pull off since I know who the killer is from the very beginning of the book. The highest compliment a reader can pay me is when he says, “I was so shocked she was the killer. I never suspected her.” The twists and turns that keep the reader guessing are the meat of the novel, and I try not to outline those areas too tightly because the best plot twists often happen when I write myself into a corner.

The Fisherman’s Daughter takes place on Kodiak Island and starts out with a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat (a skiff) heading back to her family’s commercial fishing site after she attends a Fourth of July party. Here is an excerpt from the prologue.

 “No!” She slammed the shifter into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

 “Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.

 “Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured into it. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves. She realized that her parents had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.

 Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something else. She opened the tool box that was secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands trembled as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could just bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and studied it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think. She grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, a wave hit and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.

Did I have to use my imagination to write this scene? Not really. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that. It was not at all difficult to imagine how terrified Deanna would be in that situation, but this is nothing compared to what happens to her next! I’ll post more excerpts as the novel progresses.

Don’t forget to sign up for my Mystery Newsletter. I’ll send you a copy of the latest edition about Alaska’s most notorious serial killer.

 

 

 

Writing Projects

Last week I posted that my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released, and this week I’ll tell you about my current writing projects. As I mentioned recently, I never have enough time to get everything done, and sometimes it seems as if I never complete anything. I am guilty of tackling massive projects with no end in sight, and then I start something new before I complete the first project. I am presently working on a technical non-fiction book, a cookbook, and a novel. I also write this weekly blog and a monthly newsletter. I’m not a patient person, so I would love to finish all these projects by next week. I know, though, that writing a book is a long, slow process, and once I finish the rough draft, it needs to be edited, re-edited, and edited several more times again.

Six years ago, I started writing about the animals of Kodiak Island, species by species. My original plan was to post the information on our Munsey’s Bear Camp website, and I have been doing that, but it occurred to me a few years ago that if I put all this information together, I would have an interesting guide book. Since then, I’ve been compiling a rough draft along with photos. I find researching this book interesting, but writing it is hard work, and it moves forward at a snail’s pace. Each fact must be attributed to its source, and too often, the sources do not agree with each other, so I must research other sources until I’m satisfied I’ve reported the best information available. I plan to cover the mammals endemic to Kodiak Island. These are the Kodiak Bear, the little brown bat, the short-tailed weasel, the tundra vole, the red fox, and the river otter. I’ll also detail some of the introduced mammals, including Sitka black-tailed deer and mountain goats, and I’ll cover marine mammals, including harbor seals, Stellar Sea Lions, sea otters, porpoises, and whales. In addition to mammals, I want to include a few birds, such as bald eagles, puffins, oyster catchers, and arctic terns. I still have quite a bit of work to do on the book, but it is beginning to take shape. Many of my blog posts about wildlife are a product of the research I’ve done for this book.

My second book project is a cookbook that my friend, Marcia, and I are working on with Mike’s mother, Pat, and Mary Schwarzhans. Marcia was the cook at our lodge for many years, and Mary is our current cook. Marcia is the driving force behind this project, and I feel as if she has done most of the work on it so far. Little by little this project is also taking shape, though. Marcia has a vision of what the book should look like, and when she talks about it, I get excited. In addition to being a cookbook, it will tell the history of Munsey’s Bear Camp with short stories, and we also hope to give the reader a feel for what it has been like over the years to cook at a remote Alaskan Lodge. Our working title for this book is Tales from the Kitchen at Munsey’s Bear Camp.

Book number three is my next novel. I love writing fiction, and this is my project of choice. To write fiction, though, I need a large chunk of uninterrupted time, so I can let my imagination roam, and those chunks of time are difficult to find. I hope to spend more time on this project over the next few months. Next week, I’ll post an excerpt from the prolog of this novel. Its working title is The Fisherman’s Daughter, and as with my last novel, it will be set on Kodiak Island.

My blog is fun, but it takes time. So far, I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, but I worry that won’t last. My Mystery Newsletter profiles a different Alaskan crime or criminal each month, and it is a great deal of work, but I find it fascinating as well as disconcerting and creepy. I’ll write more about my newsletter in two weeks.

Speaking of my newsletter, I just sent out the latest edition. If you are signed up for it but didn’t receive it, check your spam filter. If you would like to receive my newsletter, go here to sign up, and I’ll send it to you. As always, let me know if there is anything about Kodiak Island you’d like me to write about on my blog, and I’ll do my best to fulfill your request!

Murder Over Kodiak

NewCoverAs I mentioned last week, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, will be re-released soon. I self-published this novel a year ago, and then I signed with a publisher this past fall, and he is now in the process of distributing the new edition. Before I published the book, I edited it numerous times and then had it professionally edited. It has now been re-edited; although, not much was changed this time. The biggest change in this edition is the cover, which I think is a huge improvement and will hopefully result in more sales. I have Publication Consultants, the publishing house I am now working with, to thank for the eye-catching design.

These are tumultuous times in the publishing business. Self-publishing a book has become easier and easier to do, and if an author works with Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing or an e-book publisher such as Smashwords, it costs nothing to self-publish an e-book. The booksellers make their money by retaining a percentage of the book’s sales. Print copies are also fairly easy for an author to produce. Companies such as Create Space allow an author to design and upload the cover and text of a book for no charge. Once the author correctly formats the book to the website’s specifications, the book can then be listed for sale at any online bookseller. The book is printed on demand and shipped to the buyer within hours. Of course, a physical book is much more expensive than an e-book to produce, so the list price must be higher to pay for this service.

The wonderful thing about self-publishing is the author has control over her creation. Of course, I have learned that it is wise to get help with the cover design and to have the text edited at least once by a professional editor. It’s a good idea to have it proofread by as many volunteers as you can find, and unless you are a computer whiz, formatting can be a headache. In my opinion, though, the real downside to self-publishing is that you also must self-promote, and that is not easy! Following the boom in the self-publishing industry are numerous legitimate businesses as well as scammers with their hands out promising you they will help you sell your book. These businesses include everything from high-end publicity companies who will manage your writing career for you to individuals who, for five dollars, will tell everyone they know about your book on Twitter. I couldn’t afford a publicity company, but I did sign up for several publicity opportunities, mostly newsletters that promoted my novel to their readers. It’s depressing to remember how many I tried, but only a very few produced results. I read every book, blog post, and newsletter I could find on promotion, and I tried most of the suggestions that didn’t cost me anything and too many that did. I have an author Facebook page, and I even tackled Twitter and am now taking an online course on how to better use Twitter. It is overwhelming, but I have learned a great deal in the last year about what works and what doesn’t.

Last September I attended the Alaska Writer’s Guild Workshop in Anchorage, and that is where I met Evan Swensen from Publication Consultants. He was interested in publishing my book, and I was thrilled. Rightfully or not, I felt validated as an author, because someone in the business thought I was worthy of publication. Evan told me right away, though, that I would still be the one primarily responsible for advertising and selling my book. That’s just the way it works anymore. Publishing houses can’t afford to spend time and money promoting an author unless that author has already proven himself, and the publisher knows he will be worth the investment. “So why am I doing this?” I asked myself. I’m giving up control of my creation – my baby – for what? I will get a lower percentage of the profits, and I can’t really expect to sell more books. Of course, Evan and the folks at Publication Consultants will help me, and with their resources, hopefully, I will be more successful. Probably the most frustrating part of working with a publisher is that things happen on his schedule instead of on mine, and I must exercise patience and trust his expertise. While I wait for my novel to be released, I keep busy working on other projects, such as my next novel. The best advice I’ve heard is that to be a successful author, you must keep writing books, and that is something I enjoy doing.

I noticed last night that the new edition of Murder Over Kodiak is now available on amazon.com for presale, and that is an exciting step forward. I’ll invite you all to my online book release party once my book is released. I plan to give away some copies of my book, as well as other prizes, including gift certificates. The best part is that you don’t have to dress up for this party. I don’t care if you arrive in your underwear!

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my other writing projects. Don’t forget to sign up for my mystery newsletter if you haven’t already done so. This month’s letter will be about the most infamous serial killer in Alaska’s history.

 

Spring

Bald Eagle in Flight

According to the calendar it is spring, but in Alaska, we won’t see much evidence of spring for another six weeks. The days are getting longer, and when the sun shines, I can feel some warmth in its rays, but it easily could snow six inches tomorrow, and no one would be surprised if the temperature dropped into the low twenties or even the teens.

After an abnormally warm winter this year, I don’t mind waiting until late May for wildflowers and leaves, but before the first forget-me-not blooms, other signs of spring will be evident. Bald eagle pairs will soar, circle, dive, and even cartwheel during their mating rituals; schools of herring will arrive to lay and fertilize eggs; and baleen whales, seals, and sea lions will follow the tasty herring into the bays. I dream about sitting on our dock on a sunny day, watching whales and other sea mammals chase and feed on herring. Some years the show is spectacular, and other years, the herring run is insignificant, and the whales are absent. The red foxes are also active in the spring, and their haunting mating screams often awaken me. By early June, we should start seeing does and their newborn fawns. By then, the eagle pairs will be tending their nests as their eggs hatch and the chicks depend on them for a nearly constant supply of food.

I am busy this time of year getting the camp ready and the meals cooked for the spike camps for our spring hunting season. I also have a trip planned to visit my family in Kansas in mid-May, so I can watch two of my nephews graduate from high school. Meanwhile, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released by a small publishing company in Anchorage, so I’m preparing for another round of promotion, and that is hard work. The first thing I’m planning to do is to host a “virtual” book-release party on Facebook. I’ll write more about this next week. For now, I’m trying to learn everything I can about hosting a virtual party. It’s overwhelming, and I hope I’m not in over my head! I admit that I have an uncomfortable relationship with social media.DSC_0168

Between my day job, promoting my novel, keeping up with my blog and my mystery newsletter, working on my next novel and my other writing projects, and getting ready for a trip to visit my family, my spring will be busy. No matter how rushed I am, though, if the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, you can find me sitting on our dock, craning my neck to watch eagles circle and soar, and inhaling the sweet, salty scent of the low tide while scanning the beach for foxes eating clams and mussels. I’ll also be glancing hopefully at the ocean for roiling schools of herring, and listening for the powerful exhalations of large fin and humpback whales. Spring is my favorite time of year, and I am never too busy to enjoy it. I’ll let you know what I see.

Fin Whale near Kodiak Island

Tell me about your spring. I want to hear about the beautiful tulips, daffodils and other flowers already blooming in most places, or if you live in New Zealand or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, how is your autumn?

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for my mystery newsletter. I am working on my next edition. Also, I apologize to anyone who has recently tried to order my novel Murder Over Kodiak. As I mentioned above, it is currently being re-released, and it will be available again soon with a bright, new, shiny cover. I’ll give you a sneak preview next week and tell you about my mixed emotions going from an indie author/publisher to working with a publishing house.

 

New Year’s Resolution

It’s New Year’s resolution time again. I used not to make resolutions, because I thought they were a sure way to set myself up for failure, but over the last few years, I’ve decided resolutions are a good idea for me. A few years ago I made a resolution that I would be more diligent about going to the doctor. I ended up having two surgeries and countless floatplane trips to Kodiak and flights to Anchorage for medical care that year, so since then, I’ve focused my resolutions on my writing. After all, these resolutions are apparently powerful things, and I’d better be careful what I resolve!

Last year I resolved to finish my second novel and to reach the editing process on my wildlife book. I did finish my novel, and it will be re-published in a few weeks, but I didn’t do as well on the wildlife book. That book is hard work, and progress is slow, but I’m getting there. On the other hand, I couldn’t have imagined last January 1st that in one year, I would not only have my website up and running, but that I would have written 40 posts by the end of the year. I hope to continue my weekly blog posts and to begin my monthly mystery newsletter soon.

I plan to set a lofty writing goal again this year. I know it may be unrealistic, but it is where I dream of seeing myself one year from now. I once again hope to have my wildlife book ready for an editor, and I would like to have the first draft of my third novel finished.

Writing goals are easy to set, and in a perfect world, I could reach these goals, but there is more to life than writing. Not only is there my day job, but promoting myself and my books is time-consuming and makes me uncomfortable, and then there is social media!!! An author today must have at least a Facebook and Twitter presence and preferably also accounts on Linked-in, Instagram, and Pinterest at the very least. There’s barely enough hours in the day for all of that, even if you don’t have another job, but it’s overwhelming if you do.

I think the best resolution I can make this year is to prioritize my writing and promotional goals. What do I want? Do I want to be popular and sell a bundle of books, or do I want to finish some projects that make me proud? I’d love to do all the above, but I think, for now, I’ll focus on doing the best job I can on the books I’ve already started. These include not only my next novel and my wildlife book but also a cookbook/history of Munsey’s Bear Camp that I am writing with my friend, Marcia, and my mother-in-law, Pat. As long as I make progress on these three projects this next year, I’ll be happy, and who knows, maybe I’ll learn how to tweet too!

Happy New Year!!! Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly Mystery Newsletter. It is almost ready to go!