Liven up your blog post with photos

Nothing is more boring than opening a blog and seeing a bunch of black letters on a white background. People are attracted to nice-looking sites and having a picture or image (or two) to break up your copy improves not only the look of your site but can draw readers in.

So where do you find these photos or illustrations?

CIMG10361.) Take your own photos – The easiest place to get pictures is to take your own. This especially easy if you are writing about family-oriented topics such as kids, cooking, or crafts.

I have taken a few photos to accompany my blog posts – blurb on the back of a book, my kindle, my kids, our dog and even one of my dragon statues. And of course I always take pictures to accompany my recipes (featured the first Wednesday of each month).

2.) Find them on the internet – You can also search for royalty-free images on the internet to use. LEGAL NOTE – you need to use ROYALTY-FREE photos and illustrations or get permission to use the images before you use them to avoid copyright infringement. Always check the site you are downloading images from to see if there are any use restrictions, especially if you are using them on a commercial site.

There are so many places to get non-copyrighted images, there is no excuse for stealing someone’s copyrighted work.

One of the easiest websites to use is Flickr.  You can find millions of images on this site. To find ones available for your use, do an advanced search. Scroll down the page and select “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.” Be sure to review the guidelines before using any of the images as some are not for commercial use and some require attributing the image to the photographer.

You can also check out Stock.XCHNG which offers free stock photos if you create an account.

I have only once used this option and that was to add a picture of the San Antonio Riverwalk to one of my quotes.

twitter3.) Take a screen shot – Another way to get an image for your post if you are talking about perhaps your ranking or another personal website would be to take a screen shot (by pressing the “print screen” button on the upper-right part of your keyboard and then pasting that image into image-editing software and saving it as a jpg.) I did this with pricing your novel and my experience with KDP posts as well as a few others. (The one on the right was a cropped screen shot for a post on Twitter.)

Transportation 03544.) Use a clip art disc/subscribe to a clip art site – You can find a large collection of images and illustrations on such sites as Dreamstime, iStockphoto and BigStockphoto where you can buy credits or a subscription to download their images. I used a these sites to create my book trailer for Summoned but have never paid for images for my blog.

One of the cheapest ways to get thousands of images for your blog is to buy a royalty-free clip art disc. I have an older set of eight discs called ClickArt that has 1.5 million images. fightNow while some of the images are already outdated (this came out in 2008 but technology advances fast), I still find quite a few good images to use. The one above is from my Pantser vs. Plotter post and the one on the right is from a post on writing fight scenes. I also used it on writing your first draft, developing minor characters and many more but honestly there are too many other posts to list since this is where I get a majority of my images. bad reviewI even sometimes edit an image in Corel Draw to create an image to fit my needs as I did for the importance of book reviews and  handling bad reviews (shown to the left).

Too many photos and illustrations can slow down the load time of your page but adding these items can certainly make your blog more interesting.

Violent media and my kids

In the wake of the shooting last month in Connecticut, violence on TV, movies and video games is once again in the spotlight (though not as much as guns). I do not know if watching violence on TV and in the movies or playing shooting-style video games leads to violent behavior. But I do think that as a society, we have been desensitized to violence.

Often my husband will be flipping channels and stops to watch part of a movie or TV show. As soon as the kids come in, I have to remind him to look at how violent it is. It is amazing some of the things we accept as “normal.”

Now, I am not one of these parents who wants to shelter my kids from every little thing. Heck, there is even a lot of violence in cartoons designed for kids. My four-year-old daughter loves Batman, Justice League, Super Hero Squad and Phineas and Ferb. All those shows have violence. I think I would have to limit her to Max and Ruby, Doc McStuffins and Dora the Explorer to be violence free. Even Disney movies have violence and death in them. It sometimes is surprising how much violence is in a simple cartoon. But I recall watching Tom and Jerry as a child. Talk about violence.

My seven-year-old son loves the Clone Wars and has seen all six of the Star Wars movies. He also loves playing video games. It started out with Go Diego Go but then moved up to Star Wars Legos and from there he has already advanced to playing some games that I wish he had waited until he was older to begin playing. It was really my husband’s influence that got him interested in shooting games like Star Wars Battlefront and later Halo.

Halo-10

Scene from Halo video game for the XBox

Yes, he is playing games that are rated for teenagers. But before you say anything, just look at the local arcade or Chuck-E-Cheese and you will find many shooting-style games. They may be for the older kids, but I see many 4 and 5 year olds playing them and enjoying destroying the aliens.

Even with Jase watching these shows and playing these games, he is not a violent child. He does what I consider normal boy stuff, which does include pretending to shoot bad guys. Even the neighbor whose children rarely watch TV, don’t have cable and don’t allow their children on the internet pretend to shoot each other. I always took it to be something little boys – or even little girls – did. As a child we played cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. There was always pretend shooting and even playing with cap guns. The lack of a toy gun hasn’t stopped my son and his friends. Their fingers work just as well but so does an empty paper towel roll or a stick.

We have had many discussions with both kids about how the stuff they see on TV and in the movies is not real. We have talked about how the video games are just that – games – and that you don’t do that in real life. We have talked about guns and how they are best left to police officers and the military to use, and that you never play with a real gun. In our society that is riddled with violent images, I think it is better to do that then try to ban them from ever seeing or experiencing those things because no matter how hard you try, they are going to see it somewhere. What better place to address it than at home.

Today’s Featured Author: Kerry Dwyer

Today I am pleased to have author Kerry Dwyer on my blog.

Interview

How did you come up with the title of your current release?

The title came before the book. I thought of it during our walking holiday in Ireland. It seemed logical to me. We were walking or rambling and I was rambling on to my husband about everything and nothing.  I saw the title as very relevant as the subjects are somewhat tangential. The Freudian use of the word ‘rambling’ means talking using free association which is a therapeutic technique. People in this type of therapy say whatever comes to their mind. That is exactly what I do in this book.

What was the most difficult thing to write in this book?

I started to write about accents and the way that they can separate or join us. It brought back memories from my childhood of moving from the North to the South of England. My accent isolated me from other children who laughed at my northern tones. As a young girl I quickly picked up the southern accent in order to be accepted into this new peer group. I worked hard to do this very quickly. This new southern accent then separated me from my cousins and other family in the North of England. I don’t think I had thought about how painful that time was before I started writing about it. I made light of it in the book but it was a difficult thing to write about for me.

Have you started your next project?

Yes I have. It is a very different book. The working title is ‘The Book Exchange’. It is a fictional book based around an English book club in France. I regularly attend such a club and found the idea of people coming together and sharing small snippets of their lives, some of them quite intimate, intriguing. The book is still in the early stages but has grown considerably from first conception. I wrote the first fifty thousand words for NaNoWriMo in 2011, the word count has almost doubled but I think some of that will have to come out in editing.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

For Ramblings In Ireland I just started writing. The story was already there. I had the holiday as the basis and I knew pretty much what I wanted the end product to look like.

For The Book Exchange I planned it. I have the time line on a white board and I have also drawn a rough sketch map of the area where the characters live. The time line helps me to see gaps where there is nothing happening and I know I need to put something new in. It also helps me to relate one characters activities to another’s, to the season and to what is happening in the background. The map is a visual aid when I am moving characters from one place to another. I would like to include the map at the beginning of the book but it will have to be drawn much more professionally than my rough sketch.

Do you write full time?

Sadly no, although I would love to. That is one of the things that I find the most difficult, finding the time to write.  I have a full time job and I also have my family. Writing has to be fitted around those two important commitments. My family are not very demanding but I like to spend as much time as I can with them especially at weekends. I write when I can which is mainly in the morning when the house is quiet and before I start work. Although I also have time at the end of the day I find that I am too distracted by my day to concentrate on writing very much.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?

For me the worst thing is marketing. This is because I am an independent author. Authors published by big companies have a lot of resources to push their books forward. I read some advice recently on the internet about promoting books. It gave as an example The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Publicity included poster campaigns, a publicity day with jugglers and Tarot card readers and a circus tent, the list went on. Well that is great when you have the backing of a publishing house. Most independent authors need to do it themselves on a limited budget primarily through social networking channels. That is not what I want to be doing with my limited free time.

Marketing does have its positive side. I have found that guest posts and interviews on blogs are fun and allow some creativity and certainly interaction. I have met some lovely people through blogs and I am in regular contact with many of them. I like to read blogs and interviews or guest posts with authors. They give insights into their lives and you can see if you enjoy the writing style and will engage with their work. If I am interested in an author I will look for articles they have written. It is so much better to do this than to watch all the ‘Buy my book’ posts on Twitter.

Is there a place you like to write?

When the weather is warm and dry I like to sit out on my terrace with my laptop. My garden is quiet and there are a number of birds that come to feed. Whilst they can be distracting they give me something to focus on that can help inspire. The other place I like to write is on a train. On long journeys, and provided there are not too many noisy people, I can get quite a lot written on a train as the world swishes by.

What book are you reading right now?

I rarely read one book at a time. My mother gave me ‘Why be Happy When you Could be Normal?’ by Jeanette Winterson. It is quite tragic but also darkly humorous. I enjoyed her book ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’ the author has a gift for weaving humour into the most tragic of stories. Last week whilst waiting for a delayed flight I bought a book by Donna Leon called Drawing Conclusions. I enjoy these detective novels set in Venice particularly for the descriptions of Venetian life. This is the first one I have bought as I got the others from the English book exchange.  I am also about two thirds of the way though Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I thought this would be about the Seymours but so far it is mainly about Thomas Cromwell and a lot about politics of the time. I have enjoyed Mantel’s books in the past but I am not getting on very well with this, I am finding it heavy going and finishing it has become a bit of a challenge.

Book Description

Ramblings in Ireland - Kerry Dwyer‘Ramblings in Ireland’ – a memoir of sorts.

This is not a book about rambling in Ireland.

It tells the tale of one particular walking trip and the memories and musings it inspired.

Exploring the West of Ireland is a time for meditation, spiritual reflection and strengthening the bonds of life. More practically the ability to read a map might have proved helpful. The tourist office in Ireland has all their paths clearly marked. You can’t go wrong if you follow that little yellow man. Or can you?

As British ex-patriate Kerry Dwyer leads Bertrand, her trusting French husband, astray once more, they reminisce and reflect upon accents and accidents, family and friends, love and what it means to be alive. Bertrand doesn’t mind getting lost – he loves Kerry all the more for going off the beaten track.

This is a book about ramblings in Ireland. Walk with Kerry and Bertrand and follow where your thoughts lead you.

Author Bio kerry dwyer

Kerry Dwyer is a writer and teacher of English as a foreign language. She was born in the north of England and educated in the south. She has lived in various parts of the UK and worked throughout Europe. She now lives with her family in Charente Maritime in the southwest of France.

You can find out more about Kerry on her website. Or you can follow her on Twitter or check her out on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Ramblings in Ireland is available from Amazon or in any e-book format at Smashwords.

Writing your first draft

So you have decided to write a novel. You have already developed a rough plot and built credible characters and now before you is a blank white page on the computer screen. Writing your first draft can seem a daunting prospect. So how do you get started?

The answer is to just begin writing. Let your ideas and thoughts flow freely. Even if you know the passage seems rough or feels clichéd, just write. You will go back later to tighten up your story. The key here is to get the story written down.

man at a computer desk uid 1053387As you write, don’t stop to edit as you go. Don’t worry about getting everything perfect. If you wrestle with perfectionism, you will never finish your first draft. Turn off your inner critic and just focus on writing. You can always add or delete things later.

If you are working from an outline, realize that as you write your story, it might develop in a different direction. Characters may do and say things that you did not plan. Be prepared to take these interesting detours. Just go with it.

Try to keep your writing plain and simple. Don’t worry about detailed description or flowery phrases. It is much easier to go back and add to the story then to cut it down. Use simple words. Don’t use uncommon or “big” words just to show that you know them. Write so your readers understand.

And you don’t have to write your book in chronological order. If a scene sparks your fancy, go ahead and write the bar scene before they have even arrived in the city. You can always connect the scenes later. While writing my trilogy since I flip back between several character points of view, I would sometimes get caught up writing from one of their point of views. I would just go with it. Write when you are in the mood and write what you’re in the mood to write.

Accept before you begin that you may throw out a lot of what you write. I have noticed in my first drafts I end up being awful wordy. But on the next draft, I tighten up the sentences. The only time that I have had to throw out or majorly change something was on my first novel, Summoned, where I struggled on what should be the opening scene of the story. (Hmm, that might be another blog topic.)

Anyway, the best advice for writing your first draft is just to go ahead and write. Get that story out of your mind and on paper (or into a computer file).

Choosing a Facebook Page to keep in touch with readers

Facebook is a great way to keep readers up to date with your author news. So if you don’t have a Facebook page to promote yourself and your books you should definitely set one up.

Now while you can allow your readers access through your personal profile (by offering them a subscription rather than accepting them as “friends”), I like having a Facebook page instead.

facebook-logoA Facebook page is a public page that anyone can see even if they don’t have a Facebook account. Those with a Facebook account can “like” the page, and then they will receive updates from your page in their News Feed.

The main reason I like the page over having them subscribe to my personal profile is that I like to keep my friends and family separate from fans. I don’t want fans to read all my personal posts about the kids or family life (though honestly, I post very rarely on Facebook in either account). Basically, I consider friends/families and fans as two different audiences which I don’t care to mix.

Creating a page really allows you maintain separate presences. It will allow you to avoid spamming your friends with all of your book stuff or your blog. It is helpful to have a place that’s just your book/writing/blog stuff and then you can save your personal posts for your personal profile.

Of course, the main benefit of having fans subscribe to your profile is that you have only one presence to maintain on Facebook rather than both a profile and a page.

Now, in my opinion, when you decide to set up a page, you should make it an author page rather than a page devoted to one of your books. You are building your brand, and that is what you should focus on. Maintaining Facebook pages for each book will become cumbersome with each additional book published (and we are assuming you plan to publish multiple books).

Fans and readers really need one place to go. Basically, if you have people who like your author page and others who like your book page, you are splitting your audience. If you post updates to the people following your author page, you might miss those following your book page. If you post on both, you could annoy anyone who follows both with duplicate or too many posts.

To set up a Facebook page, you must have a personal profile first. After you have a personal profile, go here to set up your page. Click on “Artist, Band, Public Figure,” choose author and follow the instructions.

Once you have your page up, you will need to let everyone else know about it. Go ahead and mention it on your blog, website and Twitter. Encourage readers to “like” the page. Then start sharing your author and book news. You can announce book releases, link to reviews of your books, let readers know about sales or updates on your current work in progress.

The key here is post on your page regularly. Keep your posts interesting and preferably one that can provoke responses. (I am bad at this last one.) And remember that every post should not be about trying to sell your books. Feel free to check out my Facebook page and “like” it.

Allowing kids to just be kids: Limiting their extracurricular activities

School, homework and just normal play time takes up a great amount of time but I still like for the kids to have an organized activity such as a sport or music class to join.

I try to keep their extra activities to just one each for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to spend my time chauffeuring them around every day. Second, I don’t believe in over scheduling their time. No one needs an extra activity every day of the week. I want them to be able to just play with their friends too or read a book or just do nothing. They don’t need every minute of their day scheduled.

I don’t dictate what activities they join but the only stipulation is that once they start something, they must continue through that season/session. If after that they don’t want to continue, then they are free to stop and pick a new activity. And of course, they don’t have to do an activity, but I want to encourage them to try new things.

Lexie has had way fewer opportunities to do organized activities. I think that is because we found out many of them didn’t work for Jase at such a young age. But now that she is about to turn 5 (in just two months) we signed her up for dance class last week. Lexie has always liked to jump and twirl around the room. She also likes to tumble so we debated between dance or gymnastics. Then I found the perfect class – it is a combination ballet, tap and gymnastics class. They spend 30 minutes on dance and 30 minutes on gymnastics. I also like that the class is centered around having fun rather than preparing for a recital at the end of the session.  (No expensive outfit that she will only wear once.)

IMG_0481Lexie has also expressed an interest in karate and soccer – two sports that Jase has already done. In fact, tomorrow Jase will resume karate where he currently is a green belt.

Jase at age 4 did basketball, which consisted of him mainly standing around looking lost. That summer he started swimming lessons but after a year of lessons I didn’t feel he had advanced as much as he should and discontinued them. Lexie would like swimming lessons but after all the money spent on Jase, it has soured me to using that swim studio, and I have yet to find another one that I like.

Jase also took a sports trial class at age 5 where they spent each class on a different sport. That Fall he began a two-year music program which Lexie has expressed a desire to take too. (You have to be 5 to start so she would start in August if she is still interested.) Jase also did soccer that Spring along with the music class. It is the only time he has had two activities.

I have noticed that Jase does best with individual sports like karate, which he began last January. With both soccer and basketball, he seemed lost and a little timid. I get the feeling that he really isn’t into sports but last year he asked for karate and seems to enjoy it.

So for this semester we have our activities. I will strive to keep their activities to just one each but definitely no more than two and that is something I know I will be able to enforce because after all kids need time to just be kids.