Sorry, Gene

I am a horrible person. I’ll tell you why. I don’t like Gene Wilder.

Even worse. I think the reason I don’t like him is mostly because he has curly hair. I don’t like men with curly hair.

I am the shallowest person on the planet, and I should suffer accordingly.

I also don’t like him because, in another unpopular move, I hate the Willy Wonka film. The first one, that he was in. Roald Dahl didn’t like it either, did you know, which is why it doesn’t have the same title as the book. When I first saw the film – randomly on television on a Sunday afternoon, I think – I was very excited to find a film of the book I loved so much that I didn’t even complain (much) when I got an extra copy as a tenth birthday present. I’d read it years before that. But the film was a betrayal. I was indignant at the liberties they took with the characters, the plot, the whole damn thing. It was awful. The cringingly seventies-ness of it all only made it worse – this was the mid eighties, you know, by which time we were all wearing fluorescent bat-wing sweaters and drainpipe stonewashed jeans and looking so much better than all those drab brown polonecks and curtain prints. We had spikes and mullets, not bowl cuts. So much better.

(It occurs to me just now that I think of them as curtain prints probably not because they were solely employed for curtains, but because clothes are cycled through much faster than home furnishings. All our houses probably still had curtains and sofas and carpets from the 70s when we were growing up in the 80s. Epiphany!)

(I did not have a fluorescent sweater, though I did have a blue batwing one. I did have jeans with zips at the bottom, but they were not drainpipe or stonewashed. I did not have a mullet, but I still had bad hair. But I still knew that the 70s were the epitome of stylelessness.)

Anyway, my Facebook feed is full of Gene Wilder right now and I feel very defensive about it all. I was actually fine with Young Frankenstein, which I found very funny, but I’ve sort of avoided his other films. I should probably (heaves sigh) do something about that. Blazing Saddles or something.

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In other news, we got steroids for Dash’s poison ivy and they are working miraculously. Second grade is still going fine though there was a very meta meltdown yesterday when Mabel had problems writing a paragraph about how she finds it hard to write a paragraph. (Paragraphs are specific things, as you might not know if you studied, say, my paragraphs. They have an opening sentence, three detail sentences, and a closing sentence. Except rumour had it that in second grade you needed five details. This was causing some angst. Also, openings are hard.)

And I am very busy with book sale things. For details I will refer you to past posts on the subject. Next week I will be delightfully free, except for that book I said I’d edit and that other book I have to market and the one I have to get to at least second draft stage. So, books all round.

Dash just ate most of a grape. He couldn’t eat the whole thing because he says they get too fleshy at the end.

See, closing sentences are hard too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Penguin edition

This was the birthday-present one. 1984 edition.

 

 

In all its glory

Nature, consider this a warning. You’re on notice.

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t pulled a tick off my children all summer. This is probably because they’ve spent far too much time indoors glued unhealthily to a screen, but there are upsides. As soon as they go outside, bad things happen.

Yesterday, Mabel (who had a great first day of second grade, thankyouverymuch), came to me saying there was something stuck in her hair and to take a look. I parted her locks and saw a wriggly thing that instantly made me drop the hair and recoil with a startled “Ew!” Then I had to coax her back to me so that I could be a bit more adult about the whole thing. There was a large tick attached to the back of her head, wriggling away happily as it embedded its front teeth in her scalp. Delightful.

I removed it with my favourite loop-of-thread technique, without pulling half her hair with it, and, for want of a better plan, imprisoned it in a tupperware container where I hope it has expired for lack of oxygen by now. I could have set it free to roam again, or drowned it in alcohol (waste of good vodka) or put it in a baggie and sent it off to be analyzed, but I’ll probably just wait till it’s dead and put it in the bin. Little fecker.

It wasn’t on her long enough to pass on Lyme disease, because she would have noticed it when she brushed her hair that morning, which I know she did because, see above, first day of school, so it’s fine. Probably. I’ll watch out for fevers. I know all about the Lyme stuff. But ticks are gross.

Also yesterday, Dash woke up looking like he’d been savaged by a particularly angry horde of mosquitoes in the middle of the night. As the day progressed and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better he decided that it might be poison ivy, from when he was helping his friend’s dad with some yardwork at the weekend. Indeed it might.

Today he looks as if adolescence has abruptly descended with a really nasty case of acne on his face and neck. I might have to take him to the doctor tomorrow. I bought some stuff over the counter at vast expense and I even think it was working, but he said it stung too much to give it a second try.

Stupid nature. Safer inside playing Hungry Sharks on his iPad Mini. Sure, it’s melting his brain one cell at a time, but at least he’d be outwardly unscathed. (Also, he learns about sharks.) (No, it’s not educational. Don’t get it for your child. It’s quite gory and rated 12s and he shouldn’t be playing it at all.)

Mabel walking along a green path in the sunshine

Walking to school, surrounded by nature, waiting to pounce

Mothballed memories

I wasn’t blogging much ten years ago, what with the move and the baby – a glance at my archives shows one short (but lyrical) entry from early August, and nothing else until the following January. So I never did write down what that road trip was like. I wrote a big screed about the first one, two years earlier, in the other direction, with the television sitting in the laundry basket on the back seat, but I haven’t been able to find it. For some reason I didn’t put it on the blog. So here are my road-trip memories, pulled out of the mothballs of my mind.

I remember that the baby cried and cried on the long highway up from Brownsville to San Antonio and on to Houston, and I made B pull over so that I could give him (the baby, that is) some boob, because apparently he was hungry, and then we’d start driving again and he’d start crying again and I’d look at him in despair because I’ve just fed you so there can’t be anything wrong, and I can’t hold you because we’re in a car, and you’ll just have to fall asleep. Eventually, he would fall asleep, but it was stressful driving.

We gave ourselves five days to do the trip, so that there was plenty of time for pulling over, and so we weren’t imprisoning the poor child in his car seat for eight hours a day. We probably sang “Don’t Fence Me In” to him a lot, because that was his theme song.

I remember thinking that it should be interesting driving through the deep south, but that the Interstate looked like the Interstate pretty much wherever you were, especially when it had those big pinkish sound-muffling walls on either side, as it so often did. We didn’t see anything of the leftovers of Hurricane Katrina even though I’m sure the towns around Mobile, Alabama, where we spent an unmemorable night, were still very much in recovery.

We had a night in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’d never been to Florida so I looked out the window with interest, trying to take it in and see something special or different about it. It was only Jacksonville, which is one of those armpit places, I’m told, so there wasn’t really anything to see. I still feel that I’ve never really been to Florida.

Trees in a square

A Savannah square

We stopped in Savannah, Georgia, because it sounded romantic and like the sort of place we’d like to see. It was very pretty, with its dangling greenery and intricate wrought-iron-work. I remember an ambulance coming past us with its siren going, waking the baby and terrifying him, making me furious at its thoughtlessness. We stayed in a cool-looking retro motel where the person who’d checked out before us hadn’t bothered taking their stuff with them: the closets still held suits and jackets and shoes. We told reception and they took care of it, as if it was a perfectly normal occurrence, but I couldn’t help wondering what sort of person just wouldn’t bother packing before they left.

South Carolina had long sandy beaches, not very wonderful to our eyes as we’d just come from the environs of the similarly long sandy beaches of South Padre Island, Texas. We stopped near Myrtle Beach and got out to take a good look. There were wooden boardwalks out over the dunes, which were pleasantly novel. And it was very windy at the Atlantic. I thought the Atlantic should feel more like home than the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s all the same water really, and it was still the wrong side of the Atlantic from the one that would feel like home.

Beach houses and boardwalks on the dunes

South Carolina coast

We had been planning to head to somewhere like Newport News, Virginia, the sort of area where Dawson’s Creek was filmed, which would probably look nothing like the peaceful inlets and idyllic tiny docks of the show, but we were being tailed by a hurricane (Ernesto, it must have been), so we headed inland instead and stopped in some tiny place whose name escapes me instead. It turned out to have nothing but a very nice Holiday Inn with a restaurant where I ordered shrimp and grits and enjoyed them mightily. I was quite getting the hang of this southern eating.

When we finally got to Maryland, we stopped in a town called Waldorf to stay at a Super8 and eat at an Olive Garden, and I wondered what sort of place this was. When you’ve lived somewhere all your life, the very sound of a placename seems onomatopoeic: you can tell that it’s rough or posh or the back of beyond or the most Stepfordesque of suburbia just from the sound of the word. But all Waldorf said to me was salad. Apples and walnuts in the Home Ec book. I still don’t know what Waldorf is like, because we haven’t been down that end of the state since, but I know the motel wasn’t very upmarket.

We had to take shifts over our dinner that night, I remember, because the baby wasn’t in the mood to sit around and watch us eat. The waiter was very understanding and kept things warm as first one of us and then the other paced up and down outside with the tetchy four-month-old. You poor thing, I thought, whisked away from everywhere you’ve ever known and staying in a new place every night for a week, no wonder you’re grumpy.

But we’re still here. We’re your people, and we’re here. Isn’t that enough?

He was a baby. That was enough.

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Decade

Ten years ago in the last few days of August, the B and I put our four-month-old baby in the Corolla and started the drive from southmost Texas to Maryland, two years after we had first driven all the way there from Pennsylvania. In many ways, driving back north felt oddly like going home, even though Maryland is technically below the Mason-Dixon line (and therefore still in the South, unlike Yankee Pennsylvania). Texas was pretty alien. I’d only lived in Pennsylvania for 18 months before that, but B had been there a whole PhD’s worth of time. Maryland felt reassuringly familiar.

Lone palm tree by the water looking over at buildings in the distance

Buh-bye, Texas

We’d rented a place to live, sight unseen, which is always a horrible way to go about it. It was not very close to B’s new place of work, because we were assured that we didn’t want to live in that particular county. We should live one county over, where it was – I don’t know, nicer, safer, more expensive, something. In retrospect this was a bad decision because with B driving the car off to work every day I was left trapped in the apartment, in walking distance of one set of shops but nothing else. Every day I pushed the baby up to the supermarket, took a look in Sears, stopped at Starbucks if he was either cheerful or asleep, and back home. He’d fall asleep on the walk back, but often wake up when I tried to get him back inside, which involved one flight of steps up to the front door and another down to our basement-level apartment.

Baby having his toes dipped in the water on a long beach

Hello, Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t meet anyone while we lived there. I don’t know who our neighbours were. I didn’t make any friends. I tried to find a moms’ group but the only one I could find was about 30 miles away. We went once, making a game effort, but it was too far. It was lonely, but it was temporary, because we’d only rented that place for three months.

At the end of our three months we were more familiar with the area. We moved to a condo across the road from B’s place of work, in the dodgy county, where rents were lower and everything else, as far as we could see, was exactly the same. (We hadn’t encountered the school system yet. That’s where the biggest difference lies.) But for me, it was the beginning of actually making a life here rather than just pushing the baby around on my own, day after day. I had the car: I could go places. I found the library. I found the community center. I found a local group of moms and dads that met at the playground every Wednesday. I found my space.

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Baby’s first DMV historical site. (George Washington’s birthplace in Virginia, where we stopped for… lunch, or education, or something.)

But ten years. If you’d told me then, as we drove the highways north of New Orleans, along the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama – communities still reeling from Hurricane Katrina the year before – through the panhandle of Florida, into Georgia and up along the coast of the Carolinas, that we’d still be in the US ten years later, I’d probably have demanded that we move home straight away. This was not the plan. (This is why nobody should know the future, even if it’s perfectly good.) The plan was another couple of years in the US and then home to Ireland to buy a house and settle down and send the baby to a nice Educate Together school if possible and be perfectly normal Irish people.

We still have the Corolla, but we have a Subaru too, because we’re true suburbanites now. We bought a house that’s still close to B’s work, but not where they’re out dealing drugs on the stoops. (Apparently that’s what went on in our second rental’s neighbourhood. I had no idea at the time.) Some of the friends I made that first year are still my friends, and their kids are my kids’ friends, and we’re all Americans now. (Even B. has a citizenship application in the works at the moment.)

Oh, we still have the baby too. Sort of.

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*****

I nearly forgot to mention my new stickers. I’m delighted to be shortlisted once again in the Personal Blog – Diaspora category of the Irish Blog Awards – but there’s a public vote element to this round. If you’d be so very kind as to click through here and take a moment to log in (sorry!) and vote for Awfully Chipper, I’d be eternally grateful.

Blog Awards Ireland 2016 Vote Now Button

Summer fatigue

Today for about half an hour I put on a cardigan. The air conditioning was pumping full blast (which makes it nice downstairs and still too hot upstairs) and I was a bit tired after an early wake-up call, so I even thought about putting on socks. I had a cup of tea and drank almost all of it. I enjoyed the feeling of the light wool against my bare arms, and thought how nice it will be when it’s autumn and I can do these things for real.

I know this is no comfort to anyone in Ireland, where the summer usually goes by in a blur of weeks when you thought “I’ll do that when it’s summer” until it’s over and the summer weather never arrived, or arrived for two days and disappeared as soon as you had a chance to take advantage of it; but it’s been hot and humid here for several weeks now and the idea of going outside in something other than beating sun and air that doesn’t seem to enter your lungs at all is nothing short of beguiling.

Also, the mosquitoes can feck right off immediately. This year with added foreboding of Zika, which really is something that you can see in dystopian terms as heralding the beginning of the end of the human race, if you feel so inclined, and if you or a loved one might be pregnant. Luckily for me I’m not in that position, so bites are still a mild annoyance more than anything else, but the ominous ads at the supermarket exhorting me to buy lots of repellant are still anxiety-provoking.

Remember my wonderfully enriching summer activity plan? You have my permission to laugh uproariously about it now, because its moment of glory was that day in the car, all in the presentation and about two minutes in the actuality. I did make a spreadsheet, and it was affixed to the fridge until yesterday, blithely ignored by all of us. Yesterday I crumpled it up and threw it away.

What did we learn this summer? Feck all. What did we accomplish? We didn’t kill each other, is that good enough? The kids’ computer skills came on apace, that’s a thing, right? And I read a few books. This one and this one (both very compelling; not the sort of thing I usually read) and now this one and this one (very much the sort of thing I like to read). Our neighbours got a trampoline in their backyard, which was very nice of them, though I’m not sure how they propose to keep my children off it now that they’ve once been invited to partake.

There’s a week left before Mabel goes back to school; a week in which I’m sure we could do lots of excellent things, but we probably won’t. Dash will be hanging out with me (or staying at home) for another two weeks after that, and maybe then he’ll finally do the summer packet he was meant to do over the break, and return to school all edumacated up after all.

We just had a lovely big thunderstorm that cleared out the air, at least for this evening. Maybe all the mosquitoes got zapped by lightning, do you think?

Large cricket on a chain-link fence

Impressive cricket of late summer

 

Rooms of kittens

 

If you know Mabel at all, you’ll know that she’s wanted a pet for ever. She wants a dog, but has accepted, with some degree of maturity, that we are just not dog people and she’s not getting a dog until she’s old enough to move out and own it herself.

(Don’t hate on me for not being a dog person. I love dogs, I really do. I have opinions about what constitutes a proper dog (sheepdogs, retrievers) and what’s just ridiculous (chihuahuas, yorkies), but I’m nice to all dogs and they generally like me back. But I just can’t imagine having one as part of the family – probably because I didn’t grow up in a dog house, and because apparently I lack whatever gene my daughter has that makes that not matter.)

Dash wants a dog too, not to be outdone, but with him it’s more of a passing whim. With Mabel, it’s a vocation.

Anyway. Since she knows we’re not getting a dog, she opportunistically hops on whatever she thinks might be more likely. If she thought we’d get a lizard, or a turtle, or a budgerigar, she’d madly want one of those. (A while ago she nearly had me agreeing to a fish, out of desperation – and what on earth is the point of a fish? You can’t pet a fish.) Yesterday she saw a guinea pig on an episode of The Cat in the Hat and spent the next several hours chanting “guinea pig” at us in various tones from wheedling to demanding, culminating at bedtime when she sleepily told me that guineapig no sleepypig Daddypig. Indeed. I made an imaginary guinea pig with one hand and snuffled her neck with it. She called it Percy. Things were at a pretty pass.

This morning she had me googling guinea-pig care and habitats and looking up cages. I am, apparently, defenceless against her well-thought-out plans and also her incessant demands. Anyway, I found myself saying that we could maybe go to the animal shelter and see if they had any guinea pigs. I thought they probably wouldn’t, and that it would buy me some time. Or something. I don’t really know what my thought process was – mostly I was just agreeing with things to get her off my back.

This is often a problem I have in life and parenting.

Here’s the thing: we actually live in walking distance of our town’s animal shelter. This is a fact I have closely guarded from Mabel for several years now; all the more so since she learned to read and might some day notice it on the sign as we drove past. (If ever I need to drive up that way I usually accelerate wildly or try to point at something on the other side of the road.) She knows there is an animal shelter in town somewhere, and in the past we’ve vaguely discussed going to see the dogs and cats or whatever they have, but I’ve never gone through with it.

This morning I looked at their website, and oddly enough one of the few times they’re open to the public is Wednesday afternoons. The stars, apparently, were aligning. Four o’clock came and I’d done everything else I needed to do. The kids were fighting and I wanted to introduce a distraction. “Mabel, let’s go to the animal shelter,” I said, rashly. “We can walk there.”

Dash didn’t even want to come. See, no commitment. Fair-weather pet-wanter, that one.

The other reason I’d always resisted a trip to the animal shelter was because I was afraid I’d fall in love with a kitten and our no-pets stance would crumble where it stood. Cats, I can do. We got a kitten when I was ten – a skittish farm kitten that never really warmed to people much, but I loved her. I know how a cat belongs in a house.

So Mabel and I trotted down the hill and round the corner in the sultry afternoon heat and humidity to the animal shelter, where, I was careful to note beforehand, we would ONLY LOOK. There would be no choosing and bringing home of any animals. Not today, anyway.

People, they have ROOMS OF KITTENS at the animal shelter. Really. Two rooms of kittens and one of grown-up cats. There must have been a kittensplosion recently, because the first room had two big cages with six tiny tabbies in one and five tiny grey fuzzballs in the other, all squeaking and scrambling up on each other’s heads in an effort to be first to be petted. Plus sundry other cats of various ages in other cages. The second room had six marginally less tiny kittens roaming free and sleeping in a pile, who were not nearly as grumpy as I would have been when we woke them up to see if they wanted to play. The third room had some very friendly and well-fed elder statesmen of cats who were also happy to be petted. We had to do each room twice, Mabel insisted, first to say hello and then to say goodbye.

And of course she fell in love with a grey-and-white fuzzball, and I found myself quite taken with an elegant pale tabby kitten, and our walk home was filled with her exhortations that I should talk to Daddy very seriously about getting one. Or two. And I was … not unswayed, shall we say.

Dammit, I knew I should have stayed away. But on the plus side, she’s stopped talking about guinea pigs.

Mabel looking up at the camera

Mischief managed

Everything changes

I already feel like this is going to be the summer when everything changed.

Maybe every summer after this will be one of those summers, or maybe I’ll look back and think “I thought that was change? THIS is change.” But the summers when they were little kids, I think those are over.

One thing is the electronics. We sort of fell into the chasm of electronics without really meaning to, which is of course the worst way to do it. All at once, Dash got his iPad Mini because he had to do something with all that birthday money/tokens, and B invested in a Chromebook for Dash to use for homework and the kids to use for other things so they didn’t keep stealing my computer. And Mabel had already started treating my Kindle Fire like her own personal Minecraft machine, since I hardly use it when we’re at home anyway… it all got away from us a bit.

Their obsession with various games waxes and wanes, and device time can be used for bribery purposes. Dash is proving fairly good at self-regulating with his, too, so it’s not all bad. I suppose. Maybe, like having babies, there’s never a perfect time to introduce electronics. Maybe if you think too hard about it you’ll never be ready. Maybe we’d all like to keep our kids little Luddites forever, since we had to be when we were children – but that’s not going to work, is it? We’re a bit like Pooh and the honey pot with it still – sometimes we’re on top and sometimes the technology is running the show, but we’ll sort it out.

Then there’s swimming. For the past six years, I’ve bought a three-month membership at the pool in June and we’ve trotted down there almost every afternoon of the long hot summers. It’s been a lifesaver. The kids learned to swim not really from sporadic lessons, but just from showing up over and over. The tedium of gathering towels and slathering sunscreen was made up for by some social time at the pool – where we’d almost always meet some friends, without needing to make plans to do so – and a good night’s sleep guaranteed.

So this year I shelled out for summer membership, as usual. We’ve gone to the pool maybe three times since then. Dash has had a vendetta against swimming, for no apparent reason, and though Mabel likes the pool well enough, she’s usually happy at home of an afternoon, not going bonkers and needing to be dragged somewhere. Nothing forces me to muster the energy for a pool run, and Dash would probably stay at home alone anyway, now that he can. Bedtimes are getting later and later. Next year I’ll probably save my money and give someone extra camp time instead.

It will have been the summer of my book, of course. My first book, let’s say, optimistically. I don’t expect instant stardom to ensue, so that they look back and say “Well, of course, that happened before Mom was famous…” but I do want it to be a beginning, not just the end of something. And whether I’m writing more or editing more or have a part-time job next summer, one of those things may well be the case, and then it would have to be camps all round, or at least a lot of boring stay-at-home time for Dash (who doesn’t like camps unless I can find some very cool engineering or rock climbing one, he says).

It might just possibly be the summer Mabel started to read books. She’s reading something called The Chronicles of Wrenly, and it seems to be holding her attention enough that she’ll quite willingly read a chapter or two a day, when I suggest it. (All right, there was a bribe involved to start her off, but even though the Playmobil set is already in transit, she’s going to finish the book. And it’s a series!) I think it’s just managing to hit that sweet spot of interesting enough and easy enough, so that reading isn’t remotely a chore.

But more than those concrete things, it’s definitely been a summer of more autonomy for Dash. He chooses to come with us or stay at home more often now. It’s mostly stay at home, but hey, if I could choose to stay home from the supermarket I probably would. He spends too much time on his iPad one day and then voluntarily keeps away from it for all of the next. So it’s been a summer of me figuring out how to let go, loosening the reins, trusting him, letting him be his own person.

This is Dash’s last summer as an elementary school student. This time next year he’ll be a rising middle-schooler. No wonder things are changing. I can barely keep up.

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Self-publishing – the basics

I wrote a book. And then I decided to self-publish it. So I asked a couple of friends who had self-published, and they gave me encouragement and pointed me towards some blog posts that had very comprehensive advice, and then I did it. You can easily google up such blog posts, so this will not be all the information, but it might be a start, if you’re wondering about it. This is as much for my own memory-keeping as anything else, since I forget stuff and I’ll be wanting to do it all again once I’ve got book two finished. It would be nice not to have to reinvent the wheel for myself.

First of all, self-publishing is pretty easy to do. You can do it. I don’t know if you can do it well, and it’s definitely a good idea to get expert help in a couple of areas, but you can do it. And everyone you know will be madly impressed if you do.

Ebook or physical book?

I originally planned to just make an ebook, because a print edition sounded much too real and scary and hard to do. It turns out making a print edition is not a lot more than an ebook, so my advice would be to do it anyway. There’s no upfront cost to publishing a print book with CreateSpace, and if you order physical copies and distribute/sell them yourself, you make more of a profit than you would on the ebooks.

Since mine is a children’s book, I feel like there’s more of a market for the print book than the ebook – and the print version is just nicer. You can do more with fonts and have more control over the end product – with an ebook you’re quite limited because the reader always has ultimate control over font and size.

Where does it go?

There are two places to put your ebook, so everyone tells me – you need to put it on Smashwords and also, separately, on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Amazon will sell the KDP one for Kindles, and the Smashwords version is vital for distribution for any other e-reader like the Nook or as an iBook.

To make the print version you use CreateSpace, which is affiliated with Amazon but is not the same company. People will be able to buy your print edition and your Kindle edition from the same page on Amazon.com and all the other Amazon sites worldwide.

(Of course, there are other ways you can do this. I’m just telling you what I did, but these seem to be fairly standard.)

How do I know how to set the price?

The websites will all tell you what sort of price point you should set your book at so that you make a profit but don’t price it so high that you scare customers off. You can look at similar books online to get a feel for the prices too.

Can I outsource some of the work?

You wrote a book. Of course you can get other people to do other stuff, because you want this to look professional, don’t you? You’ll have to pay them real money, though – none of this “exposure” nonsense.

Editing: You should get your book edited, or at the very least ask someone else who’s picky about grammar and notices that sort of thing to read it. (You can hire me to edit it, if you want. That’s a thing I do.) The more editing you get, the better your book will be.

Design: You’ll need a cover. For the ebook this is just a rectangle with a picture on it, but for the print version you need a spine and a back cover too. The whole thing has to fit certain specifications that you’ll understand if you have some technical design background, but otherwise this is something you might well want to farm out. Nobody will read your wonderful writing if the book cover isn’t appealing, so this is money well spent. (Mine was.)

Layout: And finally you have to set the whole thing up so that the various websites you upload it to will accept it. This is something I was happy to do myself, but it took some trial and error. If you’re terrified of it you can hire someone to do this too.

The websites will point you in the direction of professionals for all these jobs, or you can find someone you know and trust and want to pay. I like giving work to friends, because that’s what makes the world go round.

How do I format it?

Each of the three locations has slightly different requirements, but here are some basics:

  • You don’t need a fancy program – you can work in Word.
  • You’ll need to use the Styles feature, for Smashwords especially, so that your paragraphs all work properly.
  • Don’t use double spaces after full stops (or anywhere else for that matter), and keep your fingers away from that Tab key. Never tab or spacebar to move text across the page. Centre your text or use a style to set consistent tabs.
  • Run spellcheck at the end, even if you have the spelling checker turned off because it’s annoying. (It is.)
  • Follow the Smashwords style guide. It tells you everything you need to know and is easy to read. If you do this one first the others are easy to move on to.

Public relations

The last part, and maybe the hardest, is sales and marketing. For some people, just seeing their names in print is the final aim, but I think most self-published authors are hoping to at the very least break even and preferably even make some sort of profit, eventually – as well as just hanging out for the thrill of hearing that someone read your words and liked them.

Nobody will know about your great book if you hide your light under a bushel, so once it’s up and running you have to tell everyone, and get them to tell everyone, and encourage people to buy it and read it and leave you five-star reviews at all the online vendors. You have to be your own PR machine, which for many writers is exactly the opposite of their dream job.

I’ll let you know how that bit goes…

Connect

Blogging ain’t like it used to be.

I don’t know why. Well, I do. It’s not it, it’s me. It’s me, and it’s my kids. They’re people now. I can’t go whining about them on the Internet, because what they do is no longer unconscious behaviour, it’s not just because they’re a baby, it’s not all about me. It’s about them, and I can’t write about it if it’s not fun and funny, entertainment, light and fluffy and a quick boost for the reader on the bus. Don’t bring anybody down. Keep it easy. Take it handy.

Maybe I don’t have any readers on the bus. Maybe all my readers are people who know me anyway, who care about what I’m doing and how I’m feeling – but in that case I certainly can’t go airing my dirty laundry in public. Anonymity only goes so far.

When my daughter has a screaming fit of rage over something inconsequential, it drains me.

When my son ignores my request – telling – demand – shout – to stop doing the thing he’s doing until I physically remove him from the situation, it makes me angry. And guilty. And angry.

When I’m the one who always picks up the giant mess, I feel like a crappy parent because I got it all wrong.

When I make three dinners for four people, night after night, I wonder when they’ll grow out of it, and at what point I was meant to make it be different, and how that was meant to happen, and whether it was easier for everyone else or if I’m just particularly bad at it.

I don’t want to dwell on these feelings, because I’m mostly a positive person who doesn’t find it so hard to look at what I have done, at the good things, at my kids’ accomplishments and the times when they exceeded my expectations… but it’s all valid. The coin has two sides.

I feel this, and if I do, quite possibly you do too. My blog is not Pinterest perfect, Facebook happy, more than chirpy holiday snaps and snippets of hilarity as I show off my kids for their comedy charm and cuteness.

My blog is where it all hangs out – I tell you how insecure I’m feeling about my writing (hey, guess what, there are two spelling mistakes in the print version of the book, and I’m done with uploading corrections now) or how I worry about Dash’s dyslexia and how it will affect his future, how Mabel bit someone or how much of a double-edged sword tandem nursing is.

Because my blog is for connecting, and if everything’s perfect I can’t connect, except with all the other people pretending everything’s perfect for them too.

That’s not the connection I’m looking for. That’s not why I’m here. Why are you here?

Upside-down "Detour" sign by water.

I knew this would come in handy.


I wrote a book. It’s fiction for children aged 9-12, mostly, with a nostalgic Irish twist. If you want to know more about it, drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com or tweet me at @awfullychipper.

A vacation and a philosophical epiphany

We’ve been away, and now we’re expecting visitors, so I have to shoehorn a post in here somehow. So here is a series of mostly unrelated paragraphs.

Today is my twelfth wedding anniversary. I can take no particular credit for the longevity of our relationship, except that we’re both people who tend to be happy with the status quo so it would take a really big upset to eject either of us. That and having happened to bump into a person who makes me feel perfectly comfortable being me, and who makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery when I make him laugh. Can’t discount that.

IMG_3382

We went to rural Virginia for a week, to the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding area. We saw some impressive caverns at Luray, went horse riding (no, they still didn’t let Dash gallop), and got our money’s worth at a very overpriced water park by staying all day. Mabel turned out to have an affinity for waterslides, and Dash finally decided to try them right before we left. The kids consumed a lot of the Teen Nick channel, which we don’t have at home and is always the mark of a vacation for them, but Dash elected to leave his ipad mini at home, which I was pleased about.

We have lately discovered the joys of The Great British Bake-Off, and it really is something the whole family likes to watch. Who would have thought we’d come together over the correct execution of a pie? Watching the next episode functions as a very palatable bribe.

Reflection of stalactites in still water in a cavern

“Dream Lake” in Luray Caverns

The proof copy of my book in print arrived and I am reading through it, finding places where I missed a closing quote mark or I could really do with removing some commas. I really should have printed the whole thing out before submitting it instead of reading it on the screen, but I am stingy with our printer paper and also very impatient. It will be done soon and I will know better next time.

Also, the sentences are all too long, but hey. That’s me. (There’s a new feature in WordPress that rates the “readability” of my blog post as I write it, and so far I am failing miserably on the sentence-length aspect. I don’t care, WordPress; I don’t care.)

Kids in giant inflatable rings on an artificial "river"

Floating on the lazy river at Massanutten Water Park

The news in the outside world is horrible, and it just keeps on coming. I deal with it by looking away. It’s not good for my mental health to try to take on the suffering of all the horrors in the world; it won’t help them, and it’s certainly not helping me. Being terrified of life means the terrorists have won.

That said, I wonder if every generation reaches a point where they think “This technological advance is just too much too fast; we can’t sustain it and it’s dangerous to rely on it so much.” Because I’m feeling that a bit now. But then, I bet they thought that about air conditioning, and cars, and refrigeration, and the invention of the wheel. Technology brings us wonderful things, like connection and communication and knowledge and friendship – but it makes us forget how to do other things sometimes, like go outside or talk to people, or deal with being too hot or spend three days walking to our destination and die of thirst on the way and have our bread go mouldy.

Yes, if all this technology disappeared, my family would be first against the wall – except B and Dash, who might outrun the rotten-tomato-throwing zombies for a few miles – but on the whole I’m willing to accept that this feeling I have is simply a product of my age rather than THE age. So that’s comforting. I think.

Also, for all the pricey entertainments I had lined up for this vacation, I think what my kids will remember most is messing around in the river at the bottom of the hill – which was free, and they’d happily have spent all day doing. That’s a victory over our dependence on the screens right there.

Kids on/in a small river

Naked Creek, Virginia

(If you want to know more about my book, leave a comment or drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com.)