Sunday, December 5, 2010

books, digital or paperback?

For some people in the elder generation, electronics are a mystery, maybe even something akin to witchcraft and dark magic. "Computers scare me. I don't even want to turn one on," someone said to me. I even know of people who have trouble getting used to a cell phone. Technology is expanding so fast that each generation has a different view of the world and how to do things. The learning curve for baby boomers is greater than that of our children and grandchildren, who take each new electronic gadget for granted and quickly learn all of its nuances and capabilities.

For some of us, then, the idea of replacing our beloved books, richly bound pages with the smell and feel of paper and ink, with an electronic devise is nothing short of sacrilege. I may have felt that way myself when Amazon introduced its first Kindle.

But come on. If we are to live and grow and compete in the age in which we live, we must keep up. That is why Raven Publishing's books are now available as e-books. We at Raven want you to read them no matter which format you prefer.

Will you be getting an e-reader for Christmas? If you do, be sure to download your favorites. Each of the six Miranda and Starlight books are now available on your Kindle at and on many other e-readers or your computer. They can also be found at, where thousands of books are available in several formats, you will find the Miranda and Starlight series and other books ready for download. Absaroka: Where the Anguish of a Soldier Meets the Land of the Crow is the most recently published book from Raven in Amazon's Kindle Store.

At a writing workshop, yesterday, we discussed the pros and cons of e-books. A digital book may never have the same intimate feel of a bound volume with pages, but wouldn't it be convenient to carry your entire library with you in a small, hand-held device for long hours spent in travel or in waiting rooms. I'll always treasure taking a book to bed with me and turning the pages eagerly as the story unfolds before I go to sleep at night. That doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy having a Nook, a Kindle or some other e-reader in my bag as I travel. Yep, I could be happy to have both.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Writers, Are You a Planner or a Pantser?

And is one better than the other? After a rich learning experience at the Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana, I have a new way of looking at my writing. Two of the presenters claimed very opposite methods of writing.

Larry Brooks, bestselling psychological thriller author, screenwriter, and instructor ( advocated that a writer, if she wants to be published, must plan. Lorna Landvik, a successful novelist, strictly listens to the voices of the characters in her head as they present themselves and writes what they tell her. According to Brooks definition, she is a pantser. He is a planner. Many bestselling authors plan their novels and know the beginning, middle and ending before they begin to write. There are others authors who say they have no idea how their novels will end when they start. So who is right?

As Brooks explained, neither method is right or wrong, as long as your end product is one that readers will read. In order for an agent or publisher to be interested, however, there are criteria you must follow, whichever method you use. And as far as method is concerned, its not black and white. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle along the continuum between the "anal retentive," plotting-every-single-scene-before-you-start planner, and the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, no-forethought-whatsoever pantser.

As I see it, and judging from my experience, the degree of "pantsing" you do will probably determine the number of rewrites you will need to do in order to shape a well-crafted novel that will meet success in the marketplace. On the other hand, the completely anal retentive, plot-driven story will end up stilted and unrealistic without the "heart" that draws the reader in with empathy for the characters.

Which is better? The method that works for you. Whether you plan every detail, just roughly outline before you begin, or run with the ideas as they flow, aim for a plot so gripping and characters so believable and sympathetic that the reader will have no idea which method you used in getting there.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Manuscript submissions

As publisher for a very small press, I receive frequent submissions of manuscripts from hopeful authors. Some of them are very professional and indicate that the author has studied my publishing website and read my submissions guidelines. Some do just about everything wrong.

My advice to authors: After putting a lot of time and care into creating your manuscript, take time to learn the proper way to present your manuscript to the right agents or publishers. Research. Make sure you know to whom you are addressing your query and that it is someone with an interest in your genre, target audience, and writing style. If you do not, you are wasting not only your time and resources, but the time and resources of the people to whom you submit your work. They will not waste a lot of time, however, as a glance can tell them whether you were unprofessional, impolite, and/or ignorant of the publishing protocol. They don't have to read the entire submission to tell whether your writing is amateurish or that your work does not fit their needs.

I present workshops on manuscript submission that goes into greater detail and gives opportunity for practice in writing query letters, cover letters, and synopses. After receiving two submissions yesterday, I just want to point out a couple of the basics. First and most important, be sure you have a well written manuscript, synopsis and query. Secondly, don't waste your time sending to those who will obviously have no interest in your subject or genre. When you find a good fit, use professionalism. Address the agent or editor by name, spelled correctly. Give them what they ask for. Submit by the means they prefer.

As stated in my submission guidelines, I prefer queries by e-mail and I want a synopsis and the first chapter. Yet, I often receive entire unsolicited manuscripts via snail mail. Too often they come without a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you send anything by mail always include a SASE, a reply postcard, or both.

Like most editors or agents, I'm pleased to receive submissions of well-written queries introducing the type of books I publish, and I'm disappointed and/or irritated when I receive unprofessional queries. My name is not "To Whom It May Concern" and most likely what you are sending to that name will not concern me at all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To scold or not to scold?

I once read in a Christian-published book on parenting that parents should NEVER scold their children or raise their voices in anger. I was surprised and confused by the admonition. I'd been scolded and whipped by my parents. My husband yelled at our kids, and I found myself doing the same—out of habit and frustration, perhaps, or because I believed it was what parents are supposed to do. 68 years of life have taught me why the advice from the parenting book is spot on. I've seen the results of scolding, effects that linger long into adulthood, if not throughout life. And I've seen effects of nurturing without scolding: well adapted children and young adults. Wow. The Golden Rule applies here, folks.

Every time a child is attacked with the sharp edge of an adult's rebuke, a piece of his or her self-esteem is whittled away. Soon the child has no self-confidence left. He doesn't trust himself or his elders and withdraws. He or she develops defensive strategies such as hiding, sneaking, stealing, and lying.

So what is the alternative to scolding? We can't just let them get away with bad behavior, can we? No, of course not, but take a look at what you are judging as "Bad." Make sure it is not the children. Kids will make mistakes, but that doesn't make them bad. It just means they're human—little human beings that are learning about life and about themselves as best they can with what they hear, see, and experience.

I like the advice that Kedric H. Cecil, Ph. D.* gives in his book, "Wisdom from the Streets." He says, and years of experience and observation back it up, "As parents we must use every opportunity to help our children feel good about themselves. In the middle of any interaction with them, we need to ask ourselves if our actions will enhance or detract from their self-esteem.
"The easiest way to accomplish that is to treat them the way we would like to be treated. Even though our parents may have done the best they could, if something did not feel right to us as children, it may not have been right, and we need to treat our children accordingly."

* Dr. Kedric H. Cecil specializes in working with at-risk children and their families, as well as those who have suffered physical and emotional abuse. He is adjunct professor in the Graduate Program in Counseling at Montana State University-Northern and is in private practice in Havre and Great Falls, Montana. See more about him and his book at

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reading and Writing for Kids

With summer vacation beginning for children across the country, kids and parents may be looking for activities to keep active young minds occupied. They'll want to enjoy plenty of outdoor sunshine, of course. For days when they must stay indoors, how about reading and writing, not only for something to do, but to keep them from losing reading ability.

According to an article in the Marshall News Herald, Formal research and common sense shows that summer reading retention is a key contributor to student success. Like any skill, reading is maintained and enhanced with practice. Students who don't read over the summer might see as much as two months of reading ability slip away. This reading loss is cumulative, and by the end of sixth grade, non-summer readers might be as much as two school years behind their "summer reading" peers. Reading as few as four books during the summer break helps children retain their reading levels.

Miranda's Book Club is one place that kids can go online to find reading and writing activities. This dynamic site explores ways to interest kids in reading and writing and provides rewards for doing so. Still under construction, more activities will be added daily.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Electronic publishing, the future of the book?

Books have always been close companions. It find it unthinkable to go anywhere without a book or several books along. I love the smell of paper, the feel of the book in my hand, the adventure awaiting on the next page I can turn. I go to bed with a book every night, reading until I fall asleep. I've been kept awake, reading through the night because the story was too exciting to put down. I can't resist buying books, nor can I bear to part with the ones I have. I need books for entertainment, enlightenment, inspiration, comfort, information, and education. What would I do without books?

I am delighted when I see young people, especially my grandchildren, have the same love and reverence for a book that I do. I am also in awe of kids who navigate the latest electronic devises with ease and comfort. They are growing up in a different age than I did, an age of exploding information and technology. My grandchildren have known and operated computers from toddler-hood. Cell phones, iPods, and all kinds of electronic reading devices are familiar to them.

With the variety of e-readers on the market and the ability to read a book on a cell phone, I wonder whether the book as I know it is on its way to becoming a relic of the past. I guess my biggest concern is that people continue to read, whatever method they utilize. If a child wants to take a Nook or a Kindle or an iPad to bed instead of a bound book, at least they are reading. Whatever the device, as long as it gives access to entertaining stories, inspiration in the written word, information, enlightenment, and comfort, it's a good thing. I'm grateful they have choices. For this reason, I'm determined to make all of my books, those written and those still to be published, available as e-books. So far, I have four books available this way on, and one on

Happy reading, everyone, any way you like it!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Think You Can!

Henry Ford so wisely said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't—you are right."

Even though we may know this to be true, slipping back into negative thinking about our abilities is as easy as falling off a log. Well, it is falling—falling back into the rut formed as a child when both peers and adults found it easier to point out faults and failures than our goodness, talents and skills.

Depending on how deeply our self-doubts were ingrained, it may take just one little thing or an accumulation of problems to push us over the precipice into the aforementioned rut. It could be debt, declining revenue, loss of support, loss of a loved one, an accident, injury, health problems, or even something as little as steadily increasing clutter in both our physical and mental environment. Any one of these things may be enough to derail the best of intentions and restart our negative self-talk. Negative self-talk leads to an "I can't" frame of mind. And the result? Sinking back into the rut so deeply that makes the challenge of climbing out feel like scaling Mount Everest—more than the average person is willing to attempt.

"Life balance is like a seesaw. It has it's ups and downs and the occasional perfect midpoint." (Linda Samuels, from her book, The Other Side of Organized)

I have often compared life to a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other as I sought the perfect balance. The seesaw simile works just as well. The encouragement I found in reading Linda Samuels' book, is the assurance that I don't have to be perfect all the time, nor do I have to solve all my problems or finish all my projects at once—like right NOW.

Goals met are an encouragement; a motivation to keep thinking positively about life. It is self-defeating to make goals that are too big to be completed in the designated time frame. To emerge from the self-defeating rut of negativity, start with small, specific goals. "Reduce stress and increase focus by singletasking rather than multitasking." (Samuels)

Each small goal met will help you think you can. And the more you believe in yourself and your dreams, the more you will achieve.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fun Games to Get Creative Juices Flowing

Just for fun—and to create ideas for stories and poems—play these games. For added fun, play with them with friends to see how many different results can come from the same words.

1) Pick five random, seemingly unrelated words. This can be done by pulling whatever first comes to mind, or by opening a book to the first page that falls open, closing your eyes and putting your finger on a word. Then open another page for the next one, and so forth. Use the five words in a sentence.

2) Pick five random words, but instead of using them all in one sentence, weave them into the first two paragraphs, and then continue with the story you've begun.

3) Pick five random words and create a rhyming poem. This works well for a limerick which consists of five lines.

For example:

1:I'm choosing five words by opening a book and pointing: Get-together, giving, outfits, passivity, school.

With obvious passivity, I went to the get-together where participants were giving outfits to the local school.

2: I'm choosing a different set of words by the same method: Slamming, complimented, relatives, long-term, spread.

Startled by the loud slamming of the door, I held my breath, waiting for my father to scold me. When I heard no forthcoming rebuke, I peeked into the living room to see my parents sitting around a card table with visiting relatives. Cards were spread in rows in front of Dad and my uncle. Canasta.

I turned to leave, but Dad saw me and called me over to the table. I braced myself, but instead of delivering a reprimand, he told my aunt and uncle about my success at a recent spelling bee. I hadn't expected to be complimented, and I smiled my relief. Walking away, I wondered if this new attitude of Dad's heralded a long-term change in our relationship, or if I'd receive a lecture on lady-like conduct when the relatives were gone.

3: Picking more random words: miseries, thank, soaring, worth, minute

The miseries of love and life
Should make you want to thank the strife
When soaring you see what it's worth
the minute you find second birth.

OR a limerick

When miseries try to confound you
Thank the stars they do not impound you,
For when you are soaring
With minute throngs adoring
Your self-worth will certainly ground you.

More word game ideas next time. Have fun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

War and Peace

I'm going to share a couple of poems that I've written as I contemplate the civil rights movement as well as current conflicts on Martin Luther King Day. Much was accomplished by this remarkable man, but so much remains to be done in the fight against inequity and ethnic hatred. It seems that mankind as a whole just can't learn from the past, and greed and intolerance shape the world we live in.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing can bring peace but the triumph of principles."

Here are my poems:

War and Peace

Life and love and joy and peace

and happiness abound;

Yet so does hatred, war and strife

and fighting on the ground.

War and peace and good and evil

seem married to each other.

From day one through history

Man has sought to kill his brother.

Mothers weep for children slain

Wives mourn their spouses lost.

Heads of State when war is done

Don’t like to count the cost.

For soon it all begins again

Upon some foreign shore.

Never learning from the past

They just commit to more.

Sacrificing not themselves

But mothers, dads, and sons

Daughters, wives, and husbands

Are armed with bombs and guns.

Those who long for peace and pray

That common ground be found

Cannot staunch the flow each day

Of blood that soaks the ground.

It’s in the heart of every man

And woman and their brood

To wage an endless battle

‘Tween evil and all that’s good.

Until there is a victory won

By tolerance over greed

Love and peace will never win

O’er hate’s insidious seed.

We each must fight the battle

In our own heart and mind

And to our inner selves be true

If peace and love we’d find.

How Long Must the Darkness Prevail?

How does the world go on turning

When hurting and grieving, we fall?

The incredibly strong human spirit

Rises to answer the call.

The pain and the suffering around us

We notice when we feel the blow,

But the sorrow and pain of today is

Not new to the world as a whole.

As long as the world’s been in motion

And people have felt hate and fear,

Violence has been perpetrated

In both faraway places and near.

Just one thing can possibly stop it

As long as the world goes around:

Hearts filled with love and compassion

In all of mankind must be found.

Respecting the rights of all others,

Considering each others’ pain,

Allowing to each his own tenet

Would permit peace and freedom to reign.

Both poems written and copyrighted by Janet Muirhead Hill

P.O Box 2885, Norris, MT 59745

The poems may be reproduced and shared for free. Please give credit to the author when doing so.