Friday, May 22, 2015

Adventures in Audiobooks

My first audiobook just came out this week, and I’m thrilled! ACX (now owned by Amazon) made it pretty easy to do at no up-front cost.

I first checked with my publisher about the project, and she was completely behind it. She said she’d wanted to see how the process worked. However, for several of our other books, the publisher owns the audio rights, so we are unable to create audiobooks for them.
ACX is like a dating service for authors (rights owners) and voice artists. Authors can choose to record their own books, but professional equipment is required. The final book is reviewed to make sure it meets ACX’s standards.
Here’s how it’s done:
1.   Create an account and add a book. Then designate how you want to record it.

2.   If you choose to use a vocal talent (producer), indicate your book is available for audition and upload a selection from the book.

3.   When you receive an audition, listen to it and decide if this is the right person to read it. We had three auditions for our three books. Two were fabulous, but the third wasn’t a good match. (Even she agreed.)

4.   Once the sample is approved, negotiate the payments. In the case of both our books, we chose to split the royalties, but it is also possible to agree on an up-front payment to the vocal talent. The royalties on the audiobook then belong to the author. (We agreed on a royalty split with both our producers.)

5.   Create a contract. This spells out when the first fifteen minutes of the book and the final book are due. Both parties must agree.

6.   Provide the manuscript to the producer. And wait.

7.   The producer creates the first fifteen minutes of the book for approval. The process is one of dialogue between the parties.


My book, Ghost Writer, is set in Laguna Beach, California and contains quite a few Spanish words. The ghost has a pronounced British accent. I had to correct the pronunciation of a couple of words, but her voicing of the ghost was spot-on.

The producer for The Memory Keeper had me on the third sentence with his pronunciation of San Juan Capistrano. He used just a hint of accent, and the correct pronunciation rolled off his tongue as if he had lived here at the time of the book. However, we threw him lots of Spanish and Acjachemen words as well. We located an expert on the Luiseno language, who recorded a guide for the producer to use. This book took longer, in part, because we have had to discuss how certain words are pronounced.

8.   After the first fifteen minutes are approved, the producer has time (usually several months) to complete the recording.

9.   Meanwhile, the cover art has to be addressed. ACX requires a square image, but it cannot have any colored borders or frame. The book cover is rectangular:

The CD cover must be square. So it took some work in Photoshop to create the one for the CD, and some of the cover art had to be eliminated:

     10.   Finally, the producer began to upload the chapters. I reviewed each of them and found a few minor issues. A flurry of correspondence took care of the problems.

11. At last, we both agreed on the final version. Then we waited while ACX reviewed the project.

12. After a couple of weeks, they approved the audiobook for sale, but it took another two weeks for it to appear on Amazon.

13. Now we wait to see how many copies we sell.
I’m excited because I have several friends with macular degeneration who have not been able to read our books. Now they can listen to them.
Ghost Writer is now available and The Memory Keeper should be finished in June.


Do you like listening to audiobooks? When and where do you listen to them? Please let me know if you have listened to the book and how you liked it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

End of an Era

I think my ‘career’ as a web designer is now officially over. I taught myself to do web design in Microsoft FrontPage when we took over the Universal Studios Japan Alumni site (www.usjalumni.com) in 2001. We’ve maintained it ever since.

This was, without a doubt, the easiest software in the world to use. Everything was WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). I didn’t have to learn HTML code, and I could preview exactly what the site would look like when it went live. I began building other sites, including our author site, using this tool. They weren’t fancy, but they were user-friendly and provided information.

Unfortunately, in 2008, Microsoft in their (IMHO) questionable wisdom, decided to stop supporting the product. However, it kept on working, and I continued using it.
I built the site for our writing group (www.lagunitawirters.com), the one for our friends Len and Luanna Rugh (www.rughfamilywriters.com), and the one for our artist friend, Bob Schwenck (www.schwenckart.com) using it.
For quite a few years, we maintained our church website (www.sjcpres.org) on it as well. Fortunately, a couple of years ago, the church hired a professional to redesign it, and we got out of the web site business—at least for that site.
We tested the website for our high school class on FrontPage, but a friend designed the final version in HTML code. (www.ahs64-alumni.com) I am very grateful, not only for her friendship but also for her considerable skill and talent!
I also built our original writing website on that platform (www.lornalarry.com), but several years ago, our Japanese son twisted my arm to let him redesign it. Thank God he did, or it would be going the way of the dodo as well.
When I chose hosting for my sites, I picked GoDaddy. They were one of the few hosting sites to continue to support FrontPage extensions after Microsoft abandoned the program. They have continued to run my sites. That will stop next month for several of them (www.usjalumni,.com, www.lagunitawriters.com, www.rughfamilywriters.com, www.schwenckart.com). We’ve been notified that they are shifting to a new hosting platform and will no longer support FrontPage. I don’t know whether this means they will all go away as of that date or some of their pages won’t look right or what.
I spent all morning (starting at three a.m.) exploring the alternatives, but none of the existing programs will allow for straight conversion from FrontPage, and all of them would require a substantial learning curve.

Six years ago, I took a class in Dreamweaver. I received an A, but discovered I loathed the program. It was much too complex for the kinds of sites I worked on. And it also would not allow for direct conversion.
I am now retired—at least I’m supposed to be—and I have no desire to take on mastering a new program. So I guess those sites will just go away unless I can find someone to take them over.
I won’t pay anyone to be webmaster for these. It's not worth it to me. Two belong to groups with numerous other members, and the other two belong to friends.

Does anyone have any suggestions for going forward? I’d still like to be able to tweak the group sites from time to time or at least make suggestions or contributions. Has anyone else faced this issue?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sharing Memories

On Saturday, May second, thirty friends from three Alhambra grammar schools met at our house in Dana Point to renew old friendships and share memories, fifty-five years after we graduated from eighth grade together.
Not everyone who attended is shown in the photo. A couple arrived late, two left early, and a few others didn’t want to be in the picture.
I hadn’t seen one of the guys since sixth grade. He moved away in the seventh, but I was able to track him down. I’d stayed in touch with several over the years, and I’d found more of them last year when preparing for my high school fiftieth reunion. But this fellow wanted to reconnect with several of his friends—and he did.
One unexpected benefit was the mini-reunion of my husband and two of the guys he graduated from high school with. They were all two years ahead of the rest of us, but they competed in track and field together, so they had many shared memories and mutual friends. One was the older brother of an attendee, and the other was a husband.

Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant in Capistrano Beach provided the fabulous food: pollo verde (chicken in green sauce), beef in red sauce, and fish in white sauce. I’m not a great fish fan, but this was incredible. Along with the meat, they brought tostada shells (bowls and flat), soft corn tortillas, beans, rice, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, and (as if that weren’t enough), lots of fresh tortilla chips with huge bowls of fresh, hand-made guacamole and salsa. They als o sent their delicious dessert “Raquelitos”: flour tortilla pockets filled with pineapple, deep fried, and covered with cinnamon sugar. Yumm!
A couple of people brought additional salads, chips, drinks, and desserts. No one went home hungry! In fact, we packed large bags of food for several to take home. We took a few desserts to church the next day, and we still had far too much left. So we’ve invited friends for lunch nearly every day to use it up. The food was far too good to waste!
Some people live fairly close, but a few traveled long distances to attend—from Oregon, Northern California, Nevada, and Missouri!
Several of us shared our grammar school photos and compared how we looked as kids with how we look now. We’ve held up pretty well!
During the afternoon, laughter echoed through the yard as a few people (mostly the guys) told tall tales. As he left, one of them said, “It felt like we were right back in fifth grade again.”
Although the event ended far too soon, plans are already underfoot for the next get-together.
Some of us gals got together near the end for one last photo of our feet. Mine’s the bare ‘baby’ one on the left. The shot shows the diversity as well as the closeness we share. Amazing! After fifty-five years, friendships endure and memories remain fresh.

Have you ever attended a grammar school reunion? Did you recognize each other? What surprised you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Turning Back the Clock

This Saturday, we will host a party at our house for a group of friends I’ve known for a very long time. I started kindergarten with most and attended high school with many of them. Who are they? Grammar school friends. We’ll celebrate the 55th anniversary of our elementary school graduation.

These are the people who graduated from Marguerita Elementary School in June of 1960. We had two classes. Both teachers and our principal, Mr. Charles Clark, are also in the photo.
Pictured are:
Row 1: Larry Miller, Bill Boller, Dennis Anderson, Jim Macnider, Tim Washburn, Cherie McMillan, Kathleen Huber, Ann Stephenson, Pamela Nassief, Peggy Boone, Diana Dean, Mrs. Anderson (teacher).
Row 2: Joe Samson, Mike Eldridge, Mike Holahan, Ray McCollum, Larry Poe, Jill Carlson, Pama Pace, Jeanne Kohl, Joyce Thomas, Pamela Ball, Elaine Ellis, Kathy Nisbett, Janie Comer.
Row 3: Mr. Charles Clark (principal), Stan Schobert, Fred Bunge, Fred Morzov, Hector Ferreira, Jack Nester, Rebecca Rocha, Rochelle Ramirez, Elaine Nelson, Jane Harrison, Kay Doebler, Barbara (Bege) Davis), Mary Ann Schildknecht.
Row 4: Mr. Lamont (teacher), Donald Sloggy, Michael Tabulara, Larry Lavender, Louis Gargaro, Tom Onstine, Willie Gibson, Betty Spindler, Susan Maxwell, Jo Anna Romick, Marie Stratton, Deanna LeRoy.
Row 5: Andy Weiss, Dick McKeown, Bob Van Dermolen, Chuck Smith, Michael Poe, Chuck Usher, Suzanne Van Clief, Joanne Bellino, Jackie Harris, Trudie Suerth, Janet Woodfield, Victoria Hanner.
Row 6: Bill Sasz, Bill Tully, Gary Benjamin, Bob Rosecrans, Dennis Morrison, Walter White, Ray Manthorne, Tom Stelzreid, Jannie de Krieger, Jane Griffith, Mary Jane Jewel, Lorna Lund, Helen Cloos, Susan Tabulara, Jo Anne De Petro.
In some ways it’s sad to look at the photo. Several of these folks are gone: Jim Macnider, Tim Washburn, Pam Nassief, and Helen Cloos. Mr. Clark, Mrs. Anderson, and Mr., Lamont have also passed away.
We located most of the rest for our high school reunion in September of last year, but a few remain elusive.
Saturday’s party will not only include those from my school but also graduates from two other schools in the area: Fremont Elementary and St. Thomas More.
We all lived in close proximity to one another, swam at the park, took part in Little League and other sports, and attended church together.
Judging from last year’s high school reunion, you can’t go home again. Actually, there’s little left in Alhambra, where we grew up, to bring back childhood memories. But it is possible to reclaim precious friendships from the past.
Many of those who will attend on Saturday also came to the high school reunion last September. We discovered we still like each other and have enjoyed learning about what has happened to us during the intervening years.
Not so long ago the idea of a grammar school reunion seemed pretty strange to most people, but they have now become pretty commonplace.
Those of us who have planned this one have already had a lot of fun. We’re excited to see everyone and to share our common memories of a bygone time. Many of us started in school together in kindergarten and continued through high school. In those days, folks were less transient. We lived in the same houses for many years. Some of the group still live in the homes in which they were raised.
The house is ready. The catering order has been placed. The invitations and responses have been sent and received. Come Saturday, it will be party time!

Have you stayed in touch with your friends from early childhood? Have you attended a grammar school reunion? Would you like to?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

About Pauline Collins

Today I’d like to talk about an often overlooked and under-appreciated British actress, Pauline Collins (no relation). She can hold her own against the likes of Dame Judy Densch, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Helen Miren, yet American audiences don’t seem to be aware of her.

I first discovered her years ago in the film Shirley Valentine. Shirley is a bored middle-aged British woman whose life is turned on end when a friend invites her for a holiday in Greece. Pauline originated the role in the one-woman stage play, for which she garnered several awards. The movie retains much of the wit and most of the terrific lines of the play, and Pauline Collins shines as the mousy woman who discovers herself while on a break from her everyday life.

I next remember her stealing the spotlight in the movie Paradise Road as Mrs. Drummond. This film is the true story of women prisoners of war during WWII who form an orchestra using only their voices. The music in the film was created using the actual scores written in the camp. Mrs. Drummond is heartbreakingly real. She is the most memorable character in a cast of phenomenal actresses. The story is a powerful tale of hope and survival.
This film with its ensemble cast of acting powerhouses was Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and one of my favorite films of 2012. Quartet tells the story of senior citizens who now live in a home for retired musicians. 
Billy Connolly plays an elfin character whose stroke has left him with no governor. He speaks and behaves without thinking. But the twinkle in his eye makes him charming and a delight.
Tom Courtenay and Dame Maggie Smith’s characters were briefly married many years before. They are now faced with living in close quarters again and are forced to deal with the issues that ended their marriage.
But the most memorable character for me is Pauline Collins’s Cissy. This character suffers from senile dementia. Watching her took me back to the years when my mother left us a bit at a time with the same affliction. Pauline’s performance is spot on—heartbreakingly so. At the end of the day, hers is the character I remember.
This is an absolutely joyful film about triumph over adversity. If you see it, be sure to watch all the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD. Most of the actors in this film are former and current performers, and the music is phenomenal. I loved it so much I bought the CD before the DVD was released.
Of course, I had to own the DVD. In fact, I own all of these and have to re-watch them periodically.
If you have not seen these three films, rent them. Every time I see them, I am reminded how much I love them. These are only three among Pauline Collins’s impressive filmography, but when you see them, I’m certain you will understand why I respect and appreciate the talent of this under-valued actress.

Have you seen her work? Do you have a favorite?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ghosts and Why I Write About Them

Today I welcome one of my favorite authors and good friend, Marilyn (F.M.) Meredith. I asked her why she wrote about a ghost in her latest book, Violent Departures. Since my own book Ghost Writer, features a ghost, I wanted to know why she chose one as a character.

My host for today posed this question, and it’s a good one.

Stories in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series often have ghosts in them. Tempe is a Native American and she’s quite open to the spirit world. I’ve done a lot of research about spirits and ghostly visitations for this series and other books I’ve written.

I’ve never had a ghost in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series before, but there is one in ViolentDepartures. I’m not going to tell you about it because I don’t want to spoil the story.
I’m not sure how I feel about ghosts, but the idea has always intrigued me. Perhaps they are just a residue of a person, a remembrance that remains in a place, or maybe as some have said, they are not ready to move on or have unfinished business that is keeping them here.
My grandkids think the house hubby and I call home is haunted. Yes, doors do open and close on their own, and our two big cats have always acted like they see things we don’t. Does it bother us? No, because I don’t think ghostly beings can do any harm.

Hubby and I have stayed in a few reportedly haunted places. The Menger Hotel in San Antonio is one. It’s a beautiful old hotel built in 1859. My experience with a ghost there happened at night. Someone kept knocking on a nearby door. I finally stepped into the hall to see what the problem was. The knocking continued, but no one was there.

Room 17 in the Bella Maggiore Inn in Ventura CA is supposed to be haunted by a prostitute. Of course we asked for that room—but no ghost. Daughter said it was because I was there with my husband. Because it’s an old hotel, it does have the ambience of having ghostly residents.

And then there’s the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. We’ve stayed there several times. It’s fun to take the ghost tour where you can see manufactured ghosts. One time when I left an event and came down in the elevator to my deck, I was completely disoriented. Nothing looked the same as it had earlier. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. I couldn’t find my room. I went to the center of the deck, turned around and walked back and everything returned to normal.

That’s as close as I can come to telling you why I write about ghosts.

If you’ve had a ghostly encounter, do write about it in the comments.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith

Blurb for Violent Departures:
College student, Veronica Randall, disappears from her car in her own driveway, everyone in the Rocky Bluff P.D. is looking for her. Detective Milligan and family move into a house that may be haunted. Officer Butler is assigned to train a new hire and faces several major challenges.
F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of over thirty published novels. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Besides having family members in law enforcement, she lived in a town much like Rocky Bluff with many police families as neighbors.

Contest:

Because it has been popular on my other blog tours, once again I’m offering the chance for the person who comments on the most blog posts during this tour to have a character named for him or her in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.

Or if that doesn’t appeal, the person may choose one of the earlier books in the series—either a print book or Kindle copy.

Links:

I tackled the topic of reading reviews of my books at http://jlgreger.blogspot.com/ and you can read it tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cliffhangers

Did you ever go to the movies on a Saturday as a child? If you’re old enough, you might remember seeing several cartoons, a double feature (two movies), and a serial for your fifty cents. Okay, that officially makes me old!
Larry went nearly every week with a friend as a kid. His favorite serials were the Flash Gordon ones. Each week, the theater would show a new ‘chapter.’ At the end of each one, Flash was left in an impossible situation. Larry felt compelled to return the following week to see how Flash escaped.

In writing classes, most instructors teach their students to make the beginning of each chapter a ‘grabber’—a sentence constructed to make the reader want to read on. The end of each chapter should be a ‘cliffhanger’ to force the reader to turn the page and start the next chapter.
Larry learned these lessons well from all those old movie serials. In his latest books, The McGregor Chronicles, he embraces both devices.

The first sentence in Book 1 – Saving Mike is:
Wake up, Matt, wake up,” an insistent voice repeats in my head.
The reader immediately asks, “Who is this? Is he talking to himself? Is it a dream?”
As the chapter progresses, even more questions arise, and some are answered.
The last sentence in the chapter is:
“Okay, let’s see if we can get this ship moving.”
The sentence implies the possibility of failure. The reader has to move on in order to find out if the ship will fly.
Several people who read this book have said they read it in one sitting, or they stayed up too late to finish, or they couldn’t put it down. Our beta readers for Book 2 – Escape From Eden (to be published this summer) have had the same reaction to it.
As writers, we all need to learn how to construct our chapters in the same manner. As readers, we love writers who are able to accomplish it.
The proviso, however, is that the reader should never be aware of the use of the devices! They must be part of the story and invisible to the reader.
Are you a writer? Can you use these devices effectively? Are you deliberate about how you encourage your readers to continue reading?

Are you a reader? How do you feel about compelling writing, which makes it impossible for you to stop in the middle?

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Only a Number

Recently friends were discussing age differences in dating and marriage. One thought the same age to three years’ difference was ideal. Another said she thought less than five. Both of them had a difference they considered too great—one was ten years, the other twelve.
I learned a lesson on this subject from my mother’s experience.
When she was eighteen, she was engaged to a friend’s brother who was thirty. Her parents felt he was much too old for her.
“When you’re fifty, you’ll still be young and want to go out and have fun. He’ll be sixty-two, retired, and want to stay home. The age difference is just too great,” her father told her.
She finally decided he was right and broke off the engagement.
She married my dad in October of 1942 when she was twenty-four. He was twenty-five.
Dad was home on leave before being deployed in WWII at the time of their wedding. They were apart for the next three years. Dad finally arrived back in the US in 1945.
He died of arteriosclerosis in 1954 at the age of thirty-seven.
In 1970, she married again, this time to a man who was sixteen years younger than she. The difference didn’t show in their appearances, however. The marriage lasted for eight years before they were divorced, but their ages had nothing at all to do their issues.
I’ve always believed one reason she married this particular man was so he could outlive her. She didn’t want to be widowed again.
After their divorce, they saw each other regularly and even traveled and vacationed together. They were each other’s best friends.
Twenty years after their divorce, he died at the age of sixty-three. Mom was seventy-nine, walked at least a mile and a half every day, and stayed active.
Through the years, she kept track of her friend’s brother. He married, and he and his wife went dancing once or twice a week. He continued dancing well into his eighties. My grandparents’ concern simply wasn’t justified in the long run.
When she died at age ninety-three, Mom had outlived both of her husbands.
So what is the ideal age difference?
Larry is two years older than I. That was pretty normal for the time we were dating. It works for us. But is it ideal? Is there an ideal?

I’m inclined to believe age is just a number, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a person’s energy or enthusiasm for life. What do you think?