Article for Goat Rancher Magazine

Recently, I was contacted by the editor of Goat Rancher magazine and asked if I’d be willing to submit an article about choosing goats for a homestead. In exchange, they ran a free quarter-page ad for one of my books.

I was very happy to comply. Not only to promote one of my books, but also to promote my favorite breed of goat, the Kinder.

You can read the article in the March 2020 edition of Goat Rancher. More information on where to find it here.

Next Step: Images

The text for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel has at last reached final draft status! The next text check will be when I review a printed proof copy. This is important because it’s amazing how things you miss on a computer screen. Yet, they pop out at you from a printed page.

Before I can do that, however, I need to prepare the entire interior book file for print. This includes selecting and optimizing the images for print, designing the book interior page by page, then designing and preparing the cover.

I do all of my image prep with Gimp Photo Editor. After I open the photo in Gimp, I follow these steps:

  • Image > Mode > Grayscale
  • Image > Scale Image > 300 pixels/inch
  • Colors > Brightness-Contrast > Brightness 30, Contrast 20
  • Filters > Enhance > Unsharp Mask > Radius 1.5, Amount 1.0, Threshold 0
  • Image > Scale Image > width 1350 pixels (4.5 inches) or whatever final print size is desired
  • File > Export As > (.jpeg), Quality 100, Advanced Options > uncheck everything. This decreases the image size (kilobytes) as much as possible.

At this point, the images don’t look good on the computer monitor because optimizing them for print is very different than optimizing them for a screen. Anything that looks questionable can be run off on a printer at its desired print size. That gives me a fair idea of how it will look in a paperback and whether or not to replace it.

I organize the images in their own folders by chapter, and number them in the approximate order they will appear in the book. This is important, because when the photos pile up, it becomes confusing as to which one is next.

When I get my first print proof, I will be able to see how the photos turned out. I then make both image and text adjustments in a revised interior file, upload that, and order a new print proof. I repeat this until I’m satisfied with the proof copy. Then the book is ready to publish.

My record for proofs was 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. I ordered seven proofs, mostly because I had trouble getting the cover right. Hopefully, The Sequel will go faster than that!

Haiku Quintet

Clear sky, bright white sun
Brisk wind biting my cheeks and nose
Winter is still here.
Run to the woodstove!
Shivering from outdoor cold
Then I'm warm again.
Puffs of frosty breath
Ice caps on barnyard buckets
Robins heading north
Spring, yet not spring. Birds
twitter and chirp; winter lurks
behind the north wind.
Frost on the rooftops
Sun rises over pale blue
A warm day promise

In Praise of Beta Readers

Getting to the almost-final draft stage of a book always feels like an accomplishment. But that doesn’t mean the work is done. It just means that it’s ready for the next phase, that of making sure I’m communicating my thoughts and ideas in a clear and understandable way. That’s where beta readers are a tremendous help.

Since this book is a sequel to my first, one of my goals is that it read like the first. To make sure the tone and mood of the second book match so that the two fit together as if one book. Because of that, I asked folks who have read 5 Acres & A Dream The Book to have a read-through of its new sequel.

The feedback is starting to come in, and it is wonderfully helpful. My beta readers are catching things I missed and pointing out phrases and paragraphs that need clarification. This is exactly the help I was hoping for.

I’ve been collecting photographs for each chapter while they read. Then I’ll go back through the text and adjust it with the help of my beta readers’ suggestions. Then comes building the pages, one at a time! Step by step I’m getting there.

Haiku Trio

Crisp brown crunch beneath
soft gray paws. Pause. Green eyes fixed,
tail whips — wren beware!

 

Drip speckled cat coat
wet paw prints on hardwood floor
it’s raining again

Chicka-chicka-CHIT!
Scolding chickadee ignored
cat on a mission

Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.

New Year’s Challenge: Daily Haiku

My husband gave me a very nice journal for Christmas. Since I use my homesteading blog as a record-keeping journal, I want to do something special with this gift. I would like to try something more creative thought I’d like to learn how to write haiku.

The following notes are from writing websites: Masterclass, The Writing Cooperative, Shadow Poetry, and The Write Practice. These will serve as my guidelines. I’m sure there are finer points, but this is my start. It’s enough for now and I hope to take in more as I practice the art.

What is it? A traditional Japanese form of poetry. It contains three lines of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 in the third, describing a single moment in the present tense.

Traditional themes. Seasonal nature themes.

Traditional structure. Two parts:

  1. the first line describes the setting (often as a sentence fragment)
  2. the second part describes the subject and action (often as a phrase).

Contains a kigo, which is a word that places the haiku in a particular season.

Frequently uses a kireji or “cutting word,” i.e. a word that creates a pause or break in the rhythm. A common feature in traditional haiku, it is often used to juxtapose two images.

Typically, does not contain similes and metaphors.

How to write

  1. Choose a subject. Observe with your senses. Note small details. Describe in simple terms.
  2. Use short phrases that evoke strong images. Consider a kigo.
  3. Use a kireji to break the rhythm. Punctuate as needed to clarify.

So that’s my challenge to myself for 2020. It’s not a resolution, just something I’d like to do. I don’t know if I’ll post them all here, but probably at least a few of them from time to time.

KDP Conversion Oddness

Anyone who’s used Smashwords “meatgrinder” understands the sense of trepidation one feels while awaiting the outcome of the document-to-eBook conversion process. This is the process of turning a .doc format into the various formats readable by eBook readers, such as mobi and epub. Because meatgrinder spits out a variety of formats, one encounters numerous error messages before finally getting it right! It all boils down to how the word processor document is formatted.

Amazon’s eBook publishing service (Kindle Direct Publishing) only converts to mobi, which is the Kindle format. Because it’s only that one format, success is much easier to obtain. If corrections need to be made, it’s usually small design issues and rarely a problem.

Until now. Until yesterday when I tried to upload my eBook-ready Critter Tales book file. There were major problems. This was especially puzzling because I had used KPD’s own software, Kindle Create.

The file looked perfect in the Kindle Create previewer.

In the KDP previewer, however, something was clearly wrong.

Images were missing as well. Of course, I immediately contacted KDP and they were very prompt with a reply. It’s been passed on to technical support and they promise to get back to me by Dec. 23rd.

So much for getting it out in time for a good holiday promotion. It could still make it for Christmas and Kwanzaa, but I’ll have missed Hanukkah plus any opportunity to build an enticing case to promote gift-buying sales.

Oh well. No one to blame; sometimes things just work out that way. I could have started this project earlier, but I don’t even blame myself for not doing that. I’ve been busy finishing up my sequel, and of the two projects that’s my priority. So while I’m awaiting word from KDP, I’ll get back to that.