Writing

Want to be a Serious Writer? Be prepared… it’s Expensive, But There are Some Tricks to Save Money

I have been honing and practicing my writing skills for nearly a decade. Along the way, I’ve had to spend money on editing, cover design, and marketing services. It cost a lot. I am not kidding.

I also fell into the trap of using “self-publishing” services, which were actually vanity presses. They offer publishing packages from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. And those books sell few to no copies. I would avoid those at all costs. And not just because of the pricing, but because of how they treat authors, take their money, and result in poor sales of their books. Try to use legitimate services where you just upload your materials, such as Amazon KDP or Draft2Digital. Both are free to publish on.

But it’s more than just that. I will return to the publishing and marketing topics after I discuss editing and cover design.

Editing can be pretty expensive. Some editors will even charge thousands of dollars for their services, especially if they’ve worked with big-name, bestselling authors. So, unless you already have the money, I would suggest avoiding those. There are editing services that charge moderate amounts. There are also beta readers, who are usually quite affordable. Many don’t price their services over $100. It may be worth using them for content editing.

Also, a lot of editors will be willing to split the payment plans. That might be useful if you don’t want to spend too much money at once. Another approach is not to get every single draft of your manuscript edited. I don’t just mean the sloppy first draft, but any draft you may feel needs more work… from you.

Everyone’s writing process differs, so the editing necessities will vary, too. If you’re new to writing, it may be challenging to improve your writing abilities without customized feedback. You can read books on the writing craft and more, but they could only take you very far. My suggestion would be to spend less on any unnecessary items outside of your writing time. Or take a side job and save your earnings for book production service.

Which brings me to the next part: cover design. Unless you have a great reputation in graphic design or illustration, it’s best to hire someone. But like editing, some may split the payment segments. Keep in mind your book’s genre and what cover design would be appropriate and attract more people. Regardless of that saying, everybody judges books by their covers.

Now back to marketing. If you self-publish on Amazon, you can price your book as low as 99 cents. If you do the select program, you can run a free promotion for up to 5 days. However, if you do KDP select, your eBook can’t be available anywhere else digitally, like your website or blog. You can also ask Amazon to make your eBooks perma-free by publishing them on sites like Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and making them free. This is an option if you publish through Draft2digital. Amazon may or may not price-match your book to other retailers. If you write a series, Amazon might be more likely to allow you to make the first installment free.

There are a lot of eBook promotion sites that will share free and 99-cent eBooks. And they usually cost less than $100. Maybe even $50.

So, there you have it. While being a writer won’t prevent you from spending a lot of money, you can still use these techniques to pay less.

travel

Is DisneyWorld Worth it for Every Disney Fan?

Like many, I absolutely love the Disney franchise, from the classics, such as “The Little Mermaid” to the kinds like “Hocus Pocus” and just about every Pixar film. I’ve even been to Walt DisneyWorld twice in my life. Once when I was 5 (almost 6) and once when I was 13.

Unfortunately, when I went to DisneyWorld the second time, I didn’t really have fun. My family went to the Magic Kingdom and my dad, then 11-year-old brother (he’s now 24), and I just walked around. We had gone to other parks, such as Hershey Park, where there were lots of roller coasters and rides friendly toward adults and older kids. At the Magic Kingdom, there were mostly smaller rides. There was an indoor roller coaster, I believe called “Space Mountain” (I don’t remember 100%). However, you had to get a special pass and come back later. So, basically, the experience wasn’t the best for me.

But that was back in 2007. DisneyWorld has changed drastically since then, excluding the restrictions put in place due to the covid-19 pandemic. At that time, checking in was simple. You just paid your ticket, went through those wheel turners (I’m not sure what they’re really called), and you were all set. It’s not like that anymore, though.

Despite not going to DisneyWorld since 2007, I know how their check in-process has changed, based on research and what others have told me. It is now like going through security at the airport in a post 9/11 time. Bags go through scanners, people go through metal detectors, and get patted for anything unsafe.

Another aspect to be aware of is that the prices are drastically expensive. I think each ticket is now at least $100 per adult, and maybe a little cheaper per child. During this pandemic, the park has removed a lot of special amenities, features, and more, including what people usually go for. Those are the parades, character-meet-and-greets, dining, and possibly others. Not suprisingly, many folks are not visiting. But it could be more than just the removed specialties. DisneyWorld has to limit the capacity, reduce hours, and enforce things like social distancing and mask-wearing. Some people might not go because they’re concerned for their health and safety. It also may not be worthy, especially for families with young children. They can’t meet Mickey, their favorite princesses, or any other characters. I have to agree with one of my Facebook friends when he said that going to DisneyWorld now is worthless.

Don’t let this discourage you, though. At some point, those limits mentioned will go away, and DisneyWorld will return to normal. While I personally wouldn’t want to pay $100 for a day to one of their parks, others will. There are also items the parks do not allow, such as selfie-sticks (I don’t own or know how to use them, anyway), lounge chairs, and wrapped gifts. So, if you’re attending an occasion, such as a birthday, put the presents in a gift bag instead. These guidelines don’t bug me, though. I don’t carry those things regularly, anyway.

So, as long you’re okay with the airport-like check-in process, price, and rules, you could go at some point. But I would not recommend visiting DisneyWorld until the pandemic is fully over in the US, or in your country if you’re don’t live in America. I’m hoping that’s by summer of 2021 for the USA. Hang tight.

movie

I’m Going to Review “Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian” from 2009 Right… Now!

Warning: contains spoilers***

The items at the Museum of Natural History in NYC are being packed away to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, night guard, Larry Daley, is promoting something to a live audience.

Not long after, though, Larry is whisked away to Washington D.C. for the museum figures. The enchanted tablet brings the things in the Smithsonian to life, including a villainous Egyptian Pharoah named Ahkmenrah. Danger begins from there.

Like the first and third films, this movie had great humor. One of the funniest moments was when the other bad guys on Ahkmenrah’s side asked about his “dress,” which it wasn’t. It was a tunic. I laugh at when another person asked if he and everyone had to wear that, too. Lol. 

Another amazing aspect was when Oscar the grouch and Darth Vader tried to convince Ahkmenrah that they could be bad, but Ahkmenrah calmly turned them away. There was also a clever twist where Sacagawea made a point about how alerting the dark side about their attack could endanger them. So, when the time came, the good guys yelled, We are not going to attack right… now!”

Let’s not forget about the thinker and when he went “Fire power,” while developing strong feelings for a nearby female statue. Which brings me to the romance between Larry and Amelia Earhart. It wasn’t conventional at all. Amelia wanted leadership and helped Larry a lot. I found that to be fantastic since it was quite unique.

That being said, when Larry told his son, Nick, about her, his reaction was a little too casual. He asked in a neutral way, “You found Amelia Earhart?” 

Aside from that, though, everything else ruled. The Einstein figurines and their little song as well as their advanced knowledge cracked me up. I also appreciate the twist where Octavius encounters a squirrel on the white house property and then rides it.

The review ends here. I would rate this film 5 out of 5 stars.

fiction

Review of “A Horse to Love” by Marsha Hubler

I haven’t read this book in years. However, I do remember enough to review it. I must also admit that I loved horses as a child and still do. In fact, I used to ride regularly from ages 8 to about 14.

Anyway, let me get to the review.

Thirteen-year-old Skye Nicholson is in court for something. She is assigned to a foster mother named Mrs. Chambers, who makes Skye do farm work, go to church, and has many rules about her home facilities. On the bright side, Skye develops a passion for this horse called Champ.

This book has a lot of memorable moments. Aside from the strong and engaging writing, many scenes stand out to me, such as when Mrs. Chambers comforts Skye and when Skye and Morgan, a physically disabled girl, ride horses together. Another moment that I have strong feelings about is when Skye hurt another girl at school, ran away, and got punished by her foster parents, where she couldn’t use any of the facilities or see Champ the horse. This was obviously wrong for Skye to do.

There are also some parts that I felt were flawed. One is how Mrs. Chambers only allows Christian music and makes Skye go to church. What if Skye were another religion? I considered that insensitive of Mrs. Chambers. It would have been better if the music allowed was something else, such as clean music with no explicit lyrics. 

Another moment that stood out to me was when when Mrs. Chambers first met Skye and said, “You can call me Mrs. Chambers or Mrs. C, but never Eileen.” The third part felt unnecessary to me, especially when an adult talks to a thirteen-year-old. 

Speaking of which, Skye won’t join a teen club Morgan offers her since she still thinks she’s only a kid. But thirteen is a teenager. Plus, most thirteen-year-olds are excited to finally be teens and not younger children anymore.

Other than those issues, I really enjoyed the story and would rate it 4 out of 5 stars. 

cooking

Very Delicious Oreo Pudding

I’ve wanted to make an Oreo dessert for a while. In fact, my first idea was to make a no-bake Oreo mousse pie. The recipe sounded promising. However, something about the steps in that formula made me too lazy to start. So, I kept postponing until I decided on something simpler. That is what you see in the picture above: Oreo pudding.

There were a bunch of exciting recipes in the Google results. But I desired something quicker. I chose the option where the preparation time was 30 minutes. I made a cream cheese frosting with more cream cheese than butter, which the instructions called for, anyway. Then I made the vanilla pudding from a mix, followed by the whipped cream. I then crushed thee Oreos in a bag. At some point, I removed the cream filling from the inside since it was kind of interfering with the smashing of the cookies. After that, I mixed the cream cheese icing with the pudding and placed it in a pan. I then covered it with the crushed Oreos, and repeated the process until I topped it with the whipped cream and sprinkled the remaining cookie crumbs on top.

After chilling it for a half hour, I took it out and ate some. It tasted good, but not as delicious as the next day. I guess it needed more time to be in the refrigerator.

One thing I used less of was sugar. Not that it was a choice, but because I was low on the powdered kind. Therefore, I had to made do with what I owned. Despite that, it still came out great. The Oreos already contained lots of sweetness to begin with. What also matters is that I came back for more. That is a sign of success.

I don’t remember what site I got the recipe from, but if you do a web search for “Oreo pudding,” just look for the one that says it’ll take 30 minutes. If you make it, I would recommend chilling it for at least an hour or 2. That way, the ingredients blend better. I hope this helps.

movie

I’m Spelling Out This Evaluation of “Hocus Pocus” (1993)

Warning: contains spoilers***

There are so many aspects of this film that stand out to me. It begins where a boy named Thackary is looking for his younger sister, Emily. He finds her being cursed by three witches, Winifred, Mary, and Sarah. They turn Thackary into an immortal black cat, but are then executed by the community shortly after. Three hundred years have passed (which surprised me) and the focus is now on a teenage boy, named Max, in his history class at school. The Halloween adventure begins.

I found Max to be very believable, especially since he moved to a new town from Los Angeles and really missed his old home. The bullies who picked on him made me feel even more sorry for him. However, at some point, the bullies were in danger, and Max wouldn’t save them, which was irresponsible. Just because someone is not nice to you, that doesn’t mean you can leave them in peril.

That being said, Max was a good guy. Although he resisted taking his eight-year-old sister, Dani, out to trick-or-treat at first, and she even screamed about it at some point (which was also irresponsible and could have misled her parents into thinking she was getting hurt), he did it and showed loving care with her as the movie progressed. He also dressed as a “rapper.”

Speaking of loving care, it was so sweet how Dani developed strong feelings for Thackary in his cat form. She even held him while sleeping and fed him cat food. During the part where the curse got broken and the witches perished, unfortunately, Thackary passed on, too, and his last sound was a meow. However, he returned to Dani in his human form as a ghost and comforted her until he was reunited with his sister, who also came back as a spirit. This happened at the very end, and I was expecting Max, Dani, and Max’s love interest, Allison, to get in trouble with their parents eventually. Instead, the adults are partying somewhere, unaware of what the kids did to save the day.

Earlier, though, after the witches have been revived and are performing at the Halloween bash Max and Dani’s parents attend, Max, Allison, and Dani try to tell them that the witches have been resurrected and are dangerous. But the mom and dad won’t believe them, which I didn’t expect. In fact, everybody found the children crazy when they attempted to warn them about the witches. Even a bus driver acted casually with the sorceresses when encountering them.

Even though this is just a movie, I found it odd that the witches were able to function okay in modern times after being dead for centuries. They should have been confused like crazy. Another flaw is how they broke into Max’s school and no one caught them. Yes, it was 1993, when school security was likely more relaxed. But shouldn’t there have been surveillance cameras or even a guard?

When Max, Allison, and Dani celebrated the witches’ “deaths”, I figured that it was the midpoint and knew that they hadn’t really been defeated. This was based on how I studied story structure for years and past movie-viewing experiences.

A couple of moments that also shocked me were when Max was willing to sacrifice himself for Dani when the witches tried to jinx her with a potion and a clueless zombie who had no idea what to do. I have to admit, the zombie who didn’t know much felt more credible to me. It also satisfied me since it was a way to stray away from the traditional approach for zombies, where they’re scary and try to eat peoples’ brains.

I would rate “Hocus Pocus” 4 out of 5 stars.

fiction

Interview with Author, Tara Gilboy

As someone who enjoyed her book, “Unwritten,” I am interviewing the author, Tara Gilboy. See the questions and answers below and enjoy!

What do you find the most enjoyable about writing?

I think for me, brainstorming and coming up with new story ideas is always the best part of writing. I love looking at the world as a potential source of story ideas, and I love doing research on them. Of course, after that, the hard work sets in, as I then have to develop the plot and characters in those ideas. But I am always happiest when I am imagining new worlds and possibilities.

What genres do you like to read in now?

I am a very wide reader: I read in pretty much every genre! Right now, since it’s fall and getting to be Halloween time, I have been reading a lot of scary stories, but I also am a huge fan of historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, you name it. I do tend to read a lot of middle grade and young adult books more so than adult novels, partly because that is what I like to write, and partly because I love the way they focus on good, old-fashioned storytelling.

Who is your favorite character in your book?

It is so hard to pick just one! Gracie, my protagonist, is of course my special favorite, but I loved writing Cassandra because she is just so complicated and evil! And Gertrude Winters and I have a lot in common, so I have a special place for her too. And then Walter, of course…. I love them all!

Who is your favorite fictional character in general?

I think if I had to pick just one, I would say Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. When I was a kid, I was always happiest reading, so I think I am drawn to her because she reminds me of myself when I was younger.

Where do you get your ideas?

I wish I knew the answer to this! Ideas come to me all the time. Sometimes I’ll get an idea from something I read or from people I know. If I am searching for ideas, I will often visit a place like a museum or art gallery, because I always leave feeling inspired. The trouble for me is not finding ideas; it is selecting the right idea, the one I am excited enough about that I am willing to commit to it long-term. I often start stories and then put them aside halfway through because I lose interest in them. But I would say that my number one source for ideas is reading. Reading other books by writers I love always inspires me and makes me want to write. 

What other genres would you ever want to write in?

I have always wanted to write historical fiction, and in fact, I have probably started and stopped nearly a dozen historical fiction projects in the last few years alone. I love to read historical fiction and so have always wanted to write it, but somehow I always find myself either stalling or getting bogged down in the research. I feel confident, though, that I will finish one of these historical projects eventually! I also have an idea for a true crime story that I would like to work on, so I have been doing research on writing true crime narratives lately as well.

What was your favorite book as a child?

It is tough to pick just one! I was obsessed with both Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess

What types of scenes do you enjoy writing most?

My favorite kinds of scenes are ones that make me laugh. Sometimes the scene itself isn’t even funny, but I find myself laughing because I am so taken aback by what a character just said or did. I like writing scenes where the characters surprise me and go in a direction I hadn’t expected when I first sat down to write. Those are usually scenes with a lot of emotional intensity.

What did you struggle most with when writing your book?

I think in my first book, Unwritten, I struggled most with making the “rules” of my magical world clear. The concept I had undertaken, writing of a girl who is a character in a story, ended up being a lot more complex (and potentially confusing to readers) than I had anticipated when I started. I was really lucky to have a great workshop group and critique partners who helped me along the way. I also always really struggle with plot and structure. I find that plotting gets easier, though, once I have my character’s main goal or drive figured out. Until I know what my main character wants, I don’t really have a story.

What character can you relate to most?

I think I relate to Gertrude Winters the most, perhaps because we both share a love of writing. And in Rewritten, Gertrude is struggling with a nasty case of writer’s block, something I can definitely relate to!

Are there unique details you pick up on in fiction, either visual or written?

It depends on what and why I am reading. Reading is my absolute favorite thing in the world, and so I try to just let myself sink into the story. I don’t want to always be looking “behind the scenes” at the way a story is constructed. That said, after I’ve read a book I love once or twice, I will often go back to it and look at what specifically makes it work so well. And when I am struggling with something in my own writing, I often look at books or scenes that are similar to mine to see what strategies the author used to handle various issues that came up. For example, when I needed to write a scene about a fire, I read a lot of different books with fire scenes (for example, the fire scene in Jane Eyre, where Jane puts out a fire in Mr. Rochester’s bedroom) to see how other authors had handled it.

Do you ever notice elements in fiction that others don’t?

I think so, but then again, many of my students and friends notice things in fiction that I don’t too. I tend to look a lot at plot and structure when I am reading, and I have some wonderful friends who are always reminding me of the beauty of language and lyrical prose. I think we all look at slightly different things as readers and writers, and so we always learn from each other.

What is your writing pet peeve?

My biggest writing pet peeve is writers who show off at the expense of the story. It is something I used to struggle with when I first started writing, and I had to train myself not to do it. The plot and characters come first and foremost: writers can’t be afraid to cut paragraphs and scenes, even if they love the language, if they don’t contribute to the overall story. Also for some odd reason I dislike the word “myriad.” I’m not sure why, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine.

Thank you so much for having me!

cooking

Making the Frosting was a Tough, But Happy Journey

That you see there is a frosting I made from scratch. It looks liked whipped cream, and yes, it does contain heavy cream. However, it is whipped buttercream icing.

The process of this was no easy task. In fact, it took time to get right. I don’t just mean that for the specific one pictured. I also am talking about other moments I made icing, whether it was buttercream, cream cheese, or just whipped cream frosting.

You could tell me to just buy a premade frosting from the grocery store. However, my family doesn’t really like that. Not only do those kinds contain ingredients that don’t exactly please my parents or brothers, but they think I can do a better job. After all, I know what goes in the icings and any food I make from scratch.

In fact, this is one of the cases where less is more. Homemade frosting consists of softened butter, powdered or confectionery sugar, vanilla extract, and milk or cream. Of course, you can also use food coloring to dye the icing or cocoa powder to give it a chocolate flavor. You may use shortening or almost extract, as well. That is, if you are not allergic to nuts, nor is anyone you serve the dessert with the frosting.

But one thing that you should take seriously is the amount of liquid you put in your homemade icing. Otherwise, it won’t mix well and the thickness might not please you. What happened to me when I added lots of heavy cream to my buttercream frosting was that there were chunks in it, even though I used an electric mixer. It also tasted sour. My goal was to make a whipped buttercream icing. And what I discovered is that in order to get the right consistency, adding a little at a time is absolutely necessary. I start off with the butter, sugar, and vanilla, followed by two tablespoons of heavy cream. Then I mix them for a few minutes. If I want more, then I add a little extra. The process repeats until the thickness is where I want it to be.

The message you want to take home is that you should take little steps at a time when making icing, even when following a specific recipe. I wouldn’t recommend pouring a lot of liquid with mixed butter. In fact, the only time you should really pour a large amount of fluid is if you are cooking whipped cream icing, and without butter. You would stabilize the whipped cream with unflavored gelatin. But that’s another topic.

Anyway, I hope this post helps. Also, take your time when making frosting. It could take several minutes for your icing to satisfy your desires.

art

Food is Hard to Draw Formally

That you’re looking at is a steak I drew from observation. But it was not from a real one… a photo of one. I know it doesn’t really resemble a steak. That is when I discovered a surprise: food is hard to draw.

It is so weird, because I can usually draw pretty much anything. And no, not because I’ve been doing art since I was very little. In recent years, I took a lot of still-life drawing and painting, figure drawing (which I received an A in in college, not to brag), and much more.

Up until maybe a few weeks ago, I hardly ever did any art. Not because of the stress I’m experiencing during this stupid pandemic, but because I am discovering that I am more of a writer than an artist. That being said, I do enjoy art. I would just rather keep it as a hobby rather than a career focus.

I don’t know if that’s the reason why food is hard to draw accurately, or at least not in an ameteurish manner. I looked up tutorials on how to sketch food. However, the results I received from Google were not exactly the right kids for people like me. They targeted more beginner or naive “artists.”

I guess my approach will be to draw actual foods in person from observation. But not just any kinds… the simple fruits and vegetables, like apples, oranges, and eggplants. I will save drawing things, like steak, pasta, and other complex dishes, for when I feel ready and I have improved the traditional still-life food items.

Writing

Why I Don’t Title Chapters in My Novels

Contrary to what others have said, novels don’t need chapter titles. Okay, that may sound amateurish and you may be looking at me like I have five heads. But I did a Google search and the answer was that novels do not have have titles for their chapters.

That being said, it’s still a good idea, especially if you’re writing chapter books for younger kids. I write middle grade books, which is for mostly 8 – 11-year-olds. And now here is the answer to why I don’t title my chapters: too much effort.

Coming up with titles for anything, whether it’s a book, chapter, blog post, and so on, can be difficult. I struggled with brainstorming strong titles for my two published novels. Book 1 of my series has had two different titles while book 2 has had 4. Book 1’s original title was “From Frights to Flaws”, and many said it was weak or made no sense. So, after republishing the story as a new edition, I considered changing the title as the sales were still not satisfying. I came up with “The Frights of Fiji”, which received more popularity in a poll than “From Frights to Flaws.” 


Book 2’s original title was “Wizardry Goes Wild.” Like book 1, I republished it, but three times since when I published a second edition of it as “The Uncontrollable Curse”, despite the changes I had made, the reviews were unsatisfying. So, I made major edits to it and then republished it as a third edition titled, “The Unruly Curse.” Once again, sales weren’t good, in spite of the better reviews. That was when I finalized on the current title, “A Curse of Mayhem.”

Basically, I feel it’s too much work to give my book chapters titles. If you’re writing fiction, chapter titles are optional, unless you work with a commercial publisher and they make you title your chapters. However, I think chapter titles are necessary if you are writing non-fiction, whether you submit to a traditional publisher or you choose to self-publish. If you title your chapters, remember to be creative and don’t be afraid to ask for help, even privately.