Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Path of Imagination

Eons ago, before the written word, stories entered the world by mouth and not by hand. Tales of the great hunt were shared orally and passed down the same way. Eventually language was converted into symbols and some of these tales were chiseled into stone or painted onto papyrus. With the advent of voice technology software, we have come full circle. Stories can enter the world via the voice before they're converted into symbolic language. Voice activation software still has a few bugs, but it keeps getting better and better. It won't be long until it's darned near perfect. When it gets to that point would I stop writing novels and convert to talking them instead? Probably not.

Intuition tells me that typing words activates a different part of my brain than speaking them out loud. I write more elegantly than I speak. Call me crazy, but I feel like the pathway from my imagination to mouth colors my words differently than the pathway from my imagination to my fingers. A story begins in the author's imagination, but surely, how it's filtered into the world affects the end product. Or does it? 

Unlike my talented ancestors who didn't have the luxury of computers, typewriters or even paper, my brain isn't wired for long verbal feats of memory, organization and story creation. It's just not. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Very First King Size Bed

Away in a Manger 

First published in 1885 in a Lutheran Sunday school book, the poem is often mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther himself, but in actuality the author is unknown. In 1895 William J. Kirkpatrick put the words to music:

Away in a manger, 
no crib for a bed, 
the little Lord Jesus, 
lay down his sweet head. 
The stars in the sky 
looked down where he lay, 
the little Lord Jesus, 
asleep on the hay.

Simple and sweet, this song takes me back to childhood. My parents didn't have a lot of money, but I felt rich with joyful anticipation. On Christmas eve, during the car trip home from my Great Aunt Josie's cozy little house in the city, my four sisters and I would sing carols. We knew a ton of them, but someone always requested Away in a Manger. Ahh, the memories.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Writes From Readers

Fan mail is a rare treat for a relatively unknown author like me, so I thought I'd share:

Dear Ms. Verhoff, I enjoy reading about teen girls who have interests outside of dating and clothes. Glory isn't a wizard, she doesn't fight vampires or zombies, but kicks butt in her very own way. Her weapon is never giving up. Glory rocks! ~ Nicole* from Boulder, CO (12-4-2012)

Hello Nicole:

You are right about Glory Alley. While she's not immune from fantasizing about nice clothes and dating, most of her energy is focused elsewhere. As you know, her dream is to become a geologist, but her first priority is simply surviving her dysfunctional family. Like all teens, Glory Alley is a rich and complex individual. She is stubborn to a fault, yet insecure about her place in the world. As a daughter, grand daughter, sister, friend, rock collector, student, budding geologist, spelunker and a dreamer--she must learn to balance her strengths and weaknesses within these many roles.

Some readers have come away from the book calling her selfish and labeling her the bad guy. Others see her as the selfless hero. I find the range of reactions interesting, but not surprising. We're all part saint and sinner. Whichever category others decide to place us in depends on their unique experiences.

By the way, I love the way you defined Glory's weapon as never giving up. If you don't mind, I'm going to borrow some of your comments. Your email made my day. I really appreciate the time you took to contact me. 

*Last name was removed to protect the reader's identity

Monday, November 19, 2012

Quirky Quotes

1.   If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.

2.   The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

3.   How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

4.   A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work    

5.   I’ve gotta stop saying “how stupid can you be?”. Too many people are taking it as a challenge.

6.   Scientists say the universe is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. They forgot to mention morons.

7.   I’ve lost my mind and I’m pretty sure the kids took it.

8.   The best way to a man’s heart is to saw his breast plate open.

9.   My car doubles in value when I fill up my gas tank.

10. A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing. Hoo yah!

11. The fly that doesn’t want to be swatted is most secure when it’s sitting on the fly swatter.

12. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

13. Always remember you're unique, just like everybody else. 

14. Those who criticize our generation seem to forget to who raised it.

15. Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Weird Stuff You Might Not Know

Weird Stuff You Might Not Know

Knowing my love of useless information, a friend of mine sent me a list of strange facts. Just so ya know--I have not verified their authenticity.

1.    Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks or it will digest itself.
2.     The dot over the letter "i" is called a tittle.
3.     A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and
             down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.
4.     A female ferret will die if it goes into heat and cannot find a mate.
5.     Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying.
6.     A 2 X 4 is really 1-1/2" by 3-1/2".
7.     During the chariot scene in "Ben Hur," a small red car can be seen
              in the distance (and Heston's wearing a watch).
8.    On average, 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily.
(Perhaps this explains a few things!)
9.    Sherlock Holmes NEVER said, "Elementary, my dear Watson." (Tell me this ain't true!)
10.  Because metal was scarce, the Oscars given out during World War II were made of wood.
11.  The number of possible ways of playing the first four moves per side in a game of chess is 318,979,564,000.
12.  There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with orange,
purple and silver. (You mean to tell me that "nurple" isn't a real word?)
13.  Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a spacesuit damages them. (I'm not sure I believe this one. Surely, beans or not, astronauts fart too?)
14.  The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin in World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.
16.  If one places a tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion, it will
instantly go mad and sting itself to death. (Who wants to test this out?)
17.  Bruce Lee was so fast that they actually had to s-l-o-w film down
so you could see his moves.
18.  The first CD pressed in the US was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in
the USA."
19.  The original name for butterfly was flutterby.
20.  The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which
stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If you count 'round' as a shape, I'm totally buff!

I've seen this going around the internet, thought I'd share. 

"Sage" Medical Advice

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true? 
A: Heart only good for so many beats, and that it... Don't waste on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap. 

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake? 
A: Oh no. Wine made from fruit. Brandy distilled wine, that mean they take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer also made of grain. Bottom up! 

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio? 
A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your ratio one to one. If you have two body, your ratio two to one. 

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program? 
A: Can't think of single one, sorry. My philosophy: No pain...good! 

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you? 
A: YOU NOT LISTENING! Food fried in vegetable oil. How getting more vegetable be bad? 

Q : Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle? 
A: Oh no! When you exercise muscle, it get bigger. You should only be doing sit-up if you want bigger stomach. 

Q: Is chocolate bad for me? 
A: You crazy?!? HEL-LO-O!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It best feel-good food around! 

Q: Is swimming good for your figure? 
A: If swimming good for figure, explain whale to me.

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle? 
A: Hey! 'Round' is shape!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Experience With Booktango

The ad caught my eye, so did the generous royalty structure, so I decided to give it a whirl for my book, Wakeland’s War (renamed: Red, The First). 

The initial setup process at Booktango was easy to follow--far simpler than Smashwords. I would put it on par with the ease of setting up a book on Amazon. The focus of this article, however, will be on my experience with booktango after I created my cover, uploaded by manuscript, and input all the necessary information. I kept a journal on my short journey with them. Keep in mind these are merely the fallible observations and opinions of the author.

Here are some of my journal entries:

September 10th (Monday Night)
I push the publish button. Now I wait.

September 12th 
It says the status is TITLE LIVE, but it is not showing up anywhere, not even on booktango's bookstore. I talk to booktango's customer service, they say "Live" means "Complete", not . . . er, uh, "Live". They say it will be another 24 before it shows up in their store and another 2-4 weeks before it makes its way to their distributors. Okay, I can live with that.

Same day - site is down at ~3:00 pm. Two hours later it is still down. I don't know how long it was down because after a few hours I stop checking. ?????

September 13th
My book is up at booktango’s bookstore, but nowhere else. That is fine. I know these things take time.

September 14th
I notice my bio is missing a word (my fault). While I'm at it, I will change a word in my book’s description. I am in the “Details” section, trying to make the corrections, but when I try to save them, I keep getting the message:

“Something went wrong while you were trying to save. 
Please, try again, and thank you for your patience. 
For additional assistance, our reps are standing by on Live Chat.

I press the Live Chat button (awesome feature). Customer Service is prompt as usual. I inquire about the message. Customer service explains that too many people are using the system at the same time. This is on a Friday morning, 9:50 a.m. EST. I ask why there is so much traffic at this time. She says people are logging into booktango all around the world. They have recently had a large influx of new users due to their promotion. I check out said promotion . . .the Windmill Promotion . . .looks like a sweet deal. The winner gets all kinds of expensive services, from book covers to an author video, plus advertisements, all for FREE. I’d love to win, but I’m not holding my breath. It is sure to make someone a very happy author.

Anyway, an hour passes, but I still can't save any of my changes. Getting frustrated. The system eventually times me out, and my edits are lost. Now I'm irked off.

September 15th (Saturday afternoon)
I keep getting that same stink'n message message. I can't save any changes to the details, the cover, or the manuscript. Can you say frustrated?

September 17th (Monday)
I try again. I am able to input changes to my cover, interior files, book details and submit the changes. The book will be inaccessible for several days as it goes through the submission process. That’s expected though--right? So no big deal.

September 19th
I am able to access the book again, but the changes haven't gone through. What? The old cover is still there today, mocking me. Bwah ha ha, it seems to say.

September 21th (Friday)
I realize that I am missing information on my copyright page. I dread “going in” again, but I have no choice. This time I decide to try out their online edit feature. One of the cool features booktango brags about is the fact that you can make changes directly to your manuscript without having to download it again. On the surface that sounds wonderful, but in hindsight it’s nothing special. First, most authors aren't going to leave a mistake in their manuscript if they can help it, so they're going to edit the manuscript anyway. I go ahead and make the fixes in my Word Document. I also try out booktango's online edit feature, just because I want to test out this intriguing new feature. I go to my dashboard, where the entire manuscript is on display and available for editing. I made the change, try to save it and . . . guess what happens. I get that stupid message again!

“Something went wrong while you were trying to save. 
Please, try again, and thank you for your patience. 
For additional assistance, our reps are standing by on Live Chat.

Whahhh, this was the same issue I had last weekend! My changes cannot be saved and are eventually lost. Apparently, If I have anything that needs uploaded, I better not plan to do it on a weekend. Later, something else that comes to light, furthering my frustration. I need to vent--where's that darn chat feature? One of  their representatives informs me that every time I make a change it’s like starting over. This means from the date of the change, it will be another 4-6 weeks until my book goes out to distributors. All this time I thought the system would look at my original publish date of September 10th, but if I have been told correctly, that’s not the case. Knowing me, I’ll find something else that’s begging to be changed inside my book.

In hindsight, I suppose the best thing to do would have been to hold off making any changes until it gets to the other distributors. Every time I make a change, I move my book to the back of the line, and the re-submission process stars over again, which means another 4-6 weeks until it goes live with distributors. Hanging in my mind is this . . . once it's available on iTunes (or Kobo, Sony, etc.) how long will it take for an edit to go through?

September 25th
I am removing my book from booktango.

To do this, they tell me that I must complete their special form to initiate the process. First, I must request their special form in writing. I send my official request by email. They send me their form as an email attachment. I have to sign it in blue ink. I can snail mail it back to them or scan it and sent it back to them as an email attachment. It's not like they're asking me to climb Mount Everest, but it's a hassle.

My book hasn’t found its way to any of their distributors yet, so hopefully taking it down will be a simple process. I emailed them the cancellation form yesterday afternoon. Since they were fast about sending me the form in the first place, I hope this is a sign that they will be timely about taking my book down from their website.

(Edit: they were not, which created some hassles with Kobo).

Overall, Thoughts On Booktango

I focused on the negative here, but honestly, there’s much that is good with booktango. Their royalty structure is hard to beat. Uploading the manuscript is a relatively painless process. Their selection of book covers is abysmal, but most authors use their own artwork anyway. If you have a picture you want to use, you can add your title and name to it through their program. It's easy and fun, but I uploaded my own cover that had the title on it already. If you're a patient person, receiving a larger percentage of the royalties will surely offset the delay in getting my book out to the distributors. Their LIVE CHAT feature is dependable and amazingly helpful. They’re always there 24/7. I think booktango is a great option for more experienced authors, or for authors that are able to refrain from making changes to their manuscripts and covers--at least until it lands on the bookshelves of all the distributors. 

Unfortunately, I have never been able to work that way. I’m never satisfied with my writing. I’m constantly fussing over the details until the last minute. My obsessive-compulsive editing doesn't mesh well with booktango’s methodology, but I think other authors would be perfectly happy with it.

I published to Smashwords and my book was up there almost immediately, but I'm already missing booktango's Live Chat feature. It takes at least ten days to get any sort of response from Smashwords and I really needed to talk to them. Meanwhile, my URGENT!!! e-mail awaits one of their ticket numbers.

In the end, no eBook publisher is perfect. Each author must weigh the pros and cons to decide what features are most important to him or her. Personally, I'm pleased to see other companies get in the game. Competition between them can only help indie authors.

Wakeland's War
(renamed: Red, the First)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Insidious: Free Flash Fiction

John Swamp leaned against the wall at the back of church, trying to look nonchalant. He had worked as the groundkeeper here for one month before getting fired. Could he help it that his car broke down and he missed three days of work in row? Weren’t religious people supposed to be understanding and forgiving, especially pastors? People walked past him as if he were invisible and took their seats in the pew.

Nobody suspected the insidious plan brewing inside his head. He despised all religions, but these quixotic Christians were the worst. Their conservative ideas were an infestation on humanity, responsible for everything that had gone wrong in the world. He listened as the pastor gave a banal sermon about loving your enemies. A smug grin curled the edge of his lips as he fingered the gun inside of his jacket. “After I'm through, everybody here ought to love me." He savored the thought of sending each and every one of them to the celestial choir.

Two years later, John sat in his cell, watching the newscast. The reporter was interviewing survivors of Bayside's Bloody Sunday. A young couple stood in front of the church. 

The husband spoke first, “We were reciting the Our Father when the gunman attacked. I remember him shouting,'Burn in Hell all ye hypocrites'.” 

The woman added tearfully, “I tried to shield our little boy, but it happened so fast. He died in my arms.”

The reporter paused as the camera panned in on the couple’s interlaced hands.

“What do you think of the killer being given the death penalty?” the reporter asked.

The couple shook their heads, and the husband responded. “The first weeks after the senseless rampage, I wanted to administer the death penalty myself, but the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that it wouldn’t bring my son back, or solve anything. John Swamp needs to stay in prison so he can’t hurt anyone else, but I wish him no harm. In fact, I’m praying for his conversion.”

“And you?” the reporter turns to the wife. “This man killed your little boy, how can you possibly forgive him?”

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others,” she said. “I am a sinner. How can I not forgive him?”

John had been expecting them to cry out for his blood. This lackluster reaction was a total let down. He sat on his cot, scratching his head, perplexed by the entire interview. 


The above flash fiction was inspired by my local writing group. We get together once a month to schmooze over our craft. Before we conclude each meeting, a piece of paper is passed around and each person writes down a word. For the next meeting, anyone with the inclination, shares a short story that includes all the words from the list. It's strictly voluntary and just for fun. 

These were the words that had to be worked into the story:


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Weird Hat Club

The other day my kids informed me that there's 100 shopping days left until Christmas. As I'm writing this (9-19-2012), it's now 97 shopping days until Christmas. Oh, boy, where does the time go (and the money)? It's easy to buy for my nieces and nephews--gift cards!  I prefer to spread out holiday expenses over the course of the year, but I'm having trouble figuring out what to buy ahead of the rush. I have no idea what the HOT ticket items of 2012 are going to be. Sure, the newest i-gadget, but my kids will definitely not be getting one of those. Often times I have to veto items on the list because they're not age appropriate or they're too expensive. Regardless, this year it looks like I'm going to be hitting the stores during the "official" shopping season. I hate that.

The one thing already on the list for this year is this crazy-looking hat. It's the coveted Stony Purple Laplander (see photo below) from Spencer's Gifts. As a kid I wouldn't have been caught dead in something so undignified, but styles change. Last school year when I picked up the kids from school I noticed all kinds of wild hats bopping around the school grounds--from bears to sock monkeys, from Sponge Bob to Angry Birds. I did find it amusing, but I never expected my kids to join the Weird Hat Club. They're going to look back at those hats someday and cringe. Then again, maybe it will give them a good laugh.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back To School Nostalgia

The smell of a fresh markers lingers in the air. The sound of the school bus roars down the lane. Mom shouts, "Get your shoes on it's almost here!" She looks down at two pairs of bare feet. "Where are your socks?" I yell.  

Yep, school is in session again. As a kid I LOVED summer vacation, but I secretly looked forward to that first week of school. Like my bag of new school supplies, it was a chance to start fresh, a symbol of change and new experiences. My own children enjoy shopping for supplies and can't wait to permanent marker their names onto everything. This year my daughter decided to permanent marker her name onto all her brother's supplies as well. Needless to say, that didn't go over very well.

The kids are now back and class and come home full of stories about their day. It's interesting to listen to their perspective on things, ranging from the quality of the school's chicken nuggets, to tectonic plates and the Civil War, and how so-and-so picked his nose. 

I remember elementary school as a happy place--mostly. Preparing for re-entry meant an exciting trip to the local Ayr-Way (which is now a Target Store). I'd come home with brand new school supplies in anticipation of a new year. There were erasers, No. 2 pencils, glue, binders, book bags and the way cool supply box. In my day the supply box was always made of cardboard and came wallpapered in a dizzying array of styles. Choosing the design was the highlight of my school supply shopping experience. Often the lid was torn off my month three. 

Nowadays the essential supply box is made of tougher stuff. So is the curriculum, which is both good and bad. I like to see kids learn, but don't get me started on the homework! Up until the 6th grade I didn't have it, but my kids are drowning in it. I'll save that topic for another post. In the meantime, how about a box of crayons with new and pointy tips? Lovely! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Do Cows Think About?

The other day I was trading amusing stories about our kids with a friend. A conversation I had with my son sprang to mind. 

I had just dropped off his sister at school and was pulling away from the curb when he started telling me about his big adventure with Dad the night before. They had visited a dairy farm to pick up a load of manure. I’ll fast forward to the funny part, which is pretty much word-for-word.

He says, "And the cows, they were looking at me, and they were thinking, 'We haven't seen that kid before, he sure looks cute!'"

I ask, "How do you know they weren't thinking, 'He sure looks ornery!'?"

"Mommy," he replies, shaking his head as if my ignorance makes him sad. "Cows don’t know that word."

He was four-years-old at the time. Now he's a 3rd grader, but he still says the darndest things. Kids, they make you gray, but they keep you young. How is that possible?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stray Kitten In Need

On a sweltering day this July, I was out on the back patio watering my flowers, when I heard a pitiful meow. I glanced around and saw a little fluff of white at the edge of the woods. 

Before I continue, let me explain first that stray cats are a real problem here out in the country. I usually try to ignore them in hopes they'll go away. Yes, that sounds cold, but if I took in every stray cat that came around they'd overrun the place in no time. Then there's the fact that I'm allergic to cats....anyway, back to the white fluff at the edge of the woods. 

As I got closer, I realized it wasn't a cat, but a little kitten. The temperature was close to a 100 F (38 C), so I brought her a bowl of water. She lapped it up in no time flat. Then I brought her crunched up dog food. She ate ravenously. Hubbie was grilling chicken. Against my protests, he called kitty over and gave her a piece of fat. Big mistake. Kitty stayed on that patio the rest of the evening. The kids were dying to hold her, but me being me, I was worried about diseases. Her ears were covered with scabs and missing their fur. I also reminded the kids that I'm allergic to cats. There was no way, NO WAY, we could make her a pet. 

The next day I called every animal shelter in the area, several rescue centers, the vet office, the dog warden, and knocked on the doors of the nearest neighbors. You would think there would be at least one place that would take in a stray cat. I'm telling you, there wasn't. The shelters were full. The dog warden only takes dogs. No neighbors had lost a cat, etc. The plight of these animals is heartbreaking. It makes me want to shout from the rooftops, "People, get your cats spayed or neutered!"

It's the end of August now. The kids have named her Twinkie. I took Twinkie to the vet, where we found out kitty's a he, not a she. He has a nice place out in the garage. I was worried about Casey, our black lab mix, getting along with her, but they're actually starting to like each other. I bought him a cat tower, which he loves, and the usual kitty necessities. He's been dewormed and his ears have been treated for mites. They estimated him to be six weeks old when we took him in for his first appointment. His ears have since grown a nice new coat of velvety fur. The kids smuggle him into the house several times a day when they think I'm  not looking. Twinkie is here to stay, I guess. AH-CHOO!!!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Building My Own Website

All my writing pals tell me I need my own website. I believe them, but it's difficult to know where to begin. I had many false starts, but on the bright side, I know a lot more than I did starting out. I've learned about domain names and web hosts. I purchased my domain name from GoDaddy. I was told a good host for authors is HostGator. I checked them out, but I found the whole thing too complicated for my blood. This is in no way a reflection on HostGator. I'd probably have the same trouble with whatever company I went with. I know just enough about computers to be dangerous to myself and others.

I made an executive decision today. In the interest of keeping everything on the cheap, and relatively simple, I'm going with Blogger/Blogspot for the time being. In hindsight, I wouldn't have needed to purchase a domain name at all, saving me a few bucks. I looked at Wordpress after-the-fact, and I really liked what I saw, but I had already set up my account here. I might as well give Blogger/Blogspot a whirl. It's pretty simple, but I'm wondering if will support everything I want to do. Time will tell. It always does, eventually.  

For your convenience, read a sample right now.