Living in Holland ~ King’s Day and my personal experiences #ExpatLife #Holland

Last week, on Good Friday no less, I talked about how Dutch holidays are centered around religious holidays. There are two exceptions and one of those is about to take place – King’s Day. King’s Day started out over one hundred years ago (1890 to be exact for the history geeks amongst you) as Princess’s Day to celebrate the fifth birthday of (Crown) Princess Wilhelmina and became Queen’s Day when she ascended to the throne. When Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana, ascended to the throne in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday which was April 30th. When Beatrix ascended to the throne, she kept the April 30th date as her birthday is on January 31st and who wants to have a huge outside party in January?

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King Willem-Alexander, aka Willy but NOT Willem IV

Beatrix abdicated in 2013 and Willem-Alexander ascended to the throne. (He then proceeded to anger the stuffy historians by refusing to take the name Willem IV. His response? I’m not a number!) The holiday then became known as King’s Day and the date changed to Willem-Alexander’s birthday, which is April 27th.

 

I just have to point out – for those who might have missed it – that the reigning monarch of the Netherlands for over one hundred years was a queen – a woman. And, unlike the United Kingdom where hoops had to be jumped through for the ascension of Queen Elizabeth, the Dutch accepted the eldest daughter of the monarch as the crown princess without reservation. In fact, when Willem-Alexander became King and his wife, Maxima, was crowned as queen next to him many protested that she should not have the title queen.

kings day 1I seriously love this country sometimes. Getting upset that the former monarch might be offended by her son’s wife gaining the title of queen? That’s pretty much the definition of girl power right there. And having a century of queens ruling the country? And the 20th Century wasn’t exactly an easy one to maneuver. Oh yeah, I love this country.

Which leads me to my embarrassing moment of the day. When I was researching Buried Appearances, we were living in Germany. I planned a trip to the Netherlands to do some onsite research (and okay maybe visit friends and relatives and have a good time as well). Anyway, I was checking opening times of the Jewish History Museum in the Amsterdam and saw they were closed on King’s Day. I assumed this was some Jewish holiday of which I was unaware and proceeded to spend an hour researching Jewish holidays before I remembered that Beatrix had abdicated the thrown to her son who therefore became king. Major head slap.

So, what’s King’s Day all about anyway? Having a good time and selling crap, preferably while wearing orange. Yes, you read that right. The day is a free market during which anyone can sell their crap … er … gently used goods. This is serious business folks. In neighborhoods, kids will get up hours before the crack of dawn to get a good location. In city centers, it’s a more professional endeavor and taken very seriously. In addition to gently used goods, college students will raise money for their fraternities (these are not just men by the way) by setting up games that usually involve drinking and some form of dare devilness.

Onto my second somewhat embarrassing moment of the day. My first year in the Netherlands, I insisted the hubby take me to Amsterdam for Queen’s Day. It’s The Place to be on Queen’s Day. In addition to the free market, there are concerts, boat rides, food stalls, and all kinds of events. But that’s not all there is because millions of Dutch and tourists descend on Amsterdam for the festivities. I hadn’t counted on that. The early hours were fine except that slowly but surely it was getting more and more crowded. I’m not good in crowds. Not. At. All. At some point, I told the hubby I wanted to go home (it was not a suggestion).

kings day 2The train station in Amsterdam is smack dab in the center. Getting there was not fun. We ended up on the Damrak – the main street leading to the station from the palace – and we literally could not move. It was that crowded. I was in full-on panic mode trying to crawl under tables of wares. Fortunately, I spotted a Dutch policeman – thank god the Dutch are so tall – and started trailing him. Apparently people will move out of the way for a police officer with a weapon but not a woman screaming and carrying on. Whatever. We eventually made it to the square in front of the station with a trail of people behind us – all of us following the policeman as he made his way through the street! Needless to say, I haven’t been back to the city for Queen’s or King’s day.

If I manage to get over my fear of crowds, I’ll post some pictures of King’s Day over on my Instagram account. Stay tuned.

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Easy Formatting for Smashwords #WriterWednesday #Selfpublishing #Smashwords

Like most self-published authors, I use two platforms to publish my works: Amazon and Smashwords. Like it or not, if you want to sell books, you need to be on Amazon. And truth be told, their platform is the most user-friendly of the bunch. But Amazon is not the end all be all. If you also use the Smashwords platform, your book will be distributed to all the remaining major booksellers: Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, etc.

A lot of writers have trouble with formatting. As a lawyer, I’m intimately acquainted with Microsoft Word. Not what you expect, but it’s true. Lawyers are always writing documents, and we use a lot of formatting in those contracts you hate. My former law firm once had one of our clients (we specialized in IT) come and give us a class in Word. I’m not exaggerating when I say we knew more about Word functions than the so-called expert.

smashwords-logoToday’s blog is not about my stellar Word capabilities. Nope. This blog is a down and dirty guide to formatting for Smashwords. I always write my manuscripts in a Word template that is set up to Amazon standards. This guide will show you in just a few steps how to format that Amazon template into a Smashwords document. It’s easy. Annoying, time consuming, and boring but easy. Here are the only five steps you need to take:

  1. Spacing between paragraphs. Smashwords doesn’t allow spacing between paragraphs. (If you want to get nitpicky, you can have spacing in Smashwords but not if you indent the first sentence of each paragraph.) You’ll need to go chapter by chapter and remove the spacing. Like I said – time consuming.
  2. Copyright page. Smashwords requires you to include the fact that this version is the Smashwords edition in the copyright page.
  3. Hyperlinks. You probably have links to all of your books at the end of your book. You’ll need to change these to Smashwords links. In fact, check to make sure any and all links in your manuscript do not link to any competitor to Smashwords. Linking to a competitor is an automatic rejection of premium catalog status.
  4. Table of contents. Frankly, this is a bitch. I don’t care what Mark Coker says. The standard table of contents in Word is super easy – unlike making a table of contents for Smashwords. This will take several steps:
    1. Delete the table of contents you’ve made for Amazon
    2. Make (and title) a new table of contents page. Type out the chapter titles. Yes, by hand.
    3. Add a bookmark to each actual chapter. I just use chapter1, chapter2, etc. There are no spaces allowed when adding a bookmark name.
    4. Go back to the table of contents and add an internal hyperlink to each chapter title to each bookmark.
    5. You can add a return to TOC link under each chapter, but I don’t. I find it disruptive as a reader.
  5. MS 97-2003 doc. Once you’ve done the above, save the document as an MS 97-2003 doc.

I’m not an expert or anything (despite the above bragging), but if you follow the above steps, you’ll find your manuscript is accepted by Smashwords for the premium catalog without issue.

Next week, I’ll tell you how to alter your ebook Word document into a paperback version for CreateSpace. Exciting stuff. Sarcasm intended.

 

Religious holidays in a secular society – Huh? #ExpatLiving #Holland

Today is Good Friday, which is not a public holiday in the Netherlands. Imagine my surprise when I went to walk the dog and discovered businesses and schools closed. Huh? Isn’t the Netherlands a secular society?

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Image by Inez Templeton

The Netherlands is without a doubt a secular society. In fact, more than 65% of the Dutch population claims to have no religious affiliation whatsoever. But the Dutch view separation of church and state differently than Americans. For example, prayer in school is a big no no in the U.S. The Dutch aren’t bothered. If a school – whether religiously based or not – meets the general quality criteria set by the government then it will receive the same government funding as any other school. There are even three political parties based upon the Christian belief.

Being married to a Dutch man as well as having lived in Europe for several years, I was aware of the above before I moved to the Netherlands. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the vast majority of Dutch public holidays are religious based. Here is a list of the official public holidays:

New Year’s Day

Easter

Easter Monday

King’s Day

Ascension

Pentecost

Pentecost Monday

Christmas

Boxing Day

As you can see from above, New Year’s Day and King’s Day are the only two official Dutch holidays, which are not based on the Christian faith. Liberation day (May 5th) is only a holiday once every five years.

So, we have this secular society with almost entirely Christian holidays. How does that work? That’s history folks. Until the Second World War, the country was predominantly Christian and society was based upon the values of this religion – as were the holidays. The holidays are now so ingrained in the culture – and when people take their vacations – that no one really cares to change things. (Of course, with the surge of refugees – most of whom are Muslim – no one would dare to suggest making a change to a Christian holiday at the moment because of the backlash from the far right.)

holidays 1The funny thing is most Dutch people can’t even tell you the meaning of the majority of the holidays. Most don’t even realize that the public holidays in the country are centered on religious holidays. If you ask most young people what Pentecost is, they’ll refer you to the huge pop festival that happens over that three-day weekend.

In case you’re wondering why my neighbors from the Dutch Bar Association are off today, let me explain. Employers are allowed to ‘force’ employees to take a percentage of their vacation days when the employer mandates. (It’s more complicated than that, but you get my drift.) For example, most businesses close on the Friday after Ascension. Good Friday is also a popular ‘mandated’ vacation day as most employees want to take the day off anyway to give themselves a four-day weekend.

Any other expats out there with strange holidays in their current place of residence?

 

 

 

How to hook a blog reader #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #AmBlogging

hook 3Writers love to discuss the ‘hook’. Should you try to hook a reader immediately or have faith in the reader and slowly grab them? Although these discussions center around novels, the hook discussion can – and should be! – applied to blogs and hooking blog readers. In some ways, finding readers for your blog posts is more difficult than for your novels. Before you start calling me crazy and throwing sh*t, let me explain.

When someone buys, or considers buying, a book, they know that they’re going to have to put at least a few hours into reading it. That’s not even remotely true for blog readers. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. Reading and following blogs has to fit in between all the two-hundred other things a person needs to do in a day. Bloggers need to hook a reader quickly before they scroll onto the next blog. But how? In my opinion, there are three ways to hook blog readers to ensure they don’t keep scrolling past your blog.

hook 1The actual hook. Like many blog readers, I have the WordPress App on my phone. The app allows a reader to see – at most – three sentences of the start of the blog. I’m not going to lie. If the first three sentences don’t hook me, I’m scrolling down. This is why I believe wholeheartedly in the hook for blogs (for novels as well, but that’s a different story). There are different ways to hook readers. I’m not an expert, but I usually try one of three things. I make readers laugh, I try to shock readers, or I try to arouse readers interest with an unusual topic. (Ironically, today’s blog post about hooking readers doesn’t contain much of a hook. Oops!)

Sometimes, I’ll keep reading a blog even if the first three sentences don’t capture me. There are basically two reasons I continue to read:

Good graphics. I love a good graphic – as do most blog followers. Humans are, after all, visual creatures. Whether it’s a picture, a meme or even a chart, if it grabs me, I’ll keep reading. What grabs me? Something unique. Not a meme I’ve already seen ten times on Facebook this morning. Any interesting chart about increasing blog readers or selling more books will definitely pique my interest as well.

hook 2Interesting title/topic. In my quest to learn anything and everything about readers, writing, and the publishing industry, I follow a lot of blogs. Like, seriously, I should probably join a support group. I don’t read a ton of blogs, though. Why? Because there aren’t a whole lot of blogs out there, which contain unique material. There I said it. Go ahead and burn down my house, just make sure to bring a fire extinguisher with you. But seriously, I know how hard it is to come up with unique material. Trust me, I try to write three blog posts a week for this blog, not to mention daily posts for my Readsalot blog. It’s freaking hard to come up with interesting topics. Sometimes, I totally cheat and do a blog containing memes. I’m only human.

How do you hook blog readers? Let me know and I’ll totally steal your ideas J

My top 5 favorite reactions to people learning I’m a writer #FridayFun #AmWriting

If you’ve ever read my blog, then you know I’m hesitant to tell people I’m a writer. (There are a ton of reasons – read about them here.) Eventually I stop hemming and hawing and tell people I’m a writer. The responses vary from baffling to outrageous to just plain funny. Here are my top five in descending order:

Uninterested. This is by far my least favorite reaction – people who just walk away or change the subject once they learn you’re self-published. Do they not realize by self-published I do it all? I’m responsible for every single aspect of writing, publishing, and marketing. Yeah, totally not impressive or anything.

response to author 5

Dismissive. I want to write a book too. This one makes me want to tear my hair out and scream. Like it’s so easy to write a book? Nothing to it, I just haven’t had time to get around to it. Grrrrr….

response to author 4

Confused. Like a published author? I seriously don’t know what the deal is with this, but I’m thinking it’s a Dutch thing because this is the most popular response Dutch people have to my saying I’m a writer. They are shocked (not awed) that I publish books.

response to author 3

Curious. Do you write sex? For some reason, everyone is convinced that we indie writers only write about sex. And not just sex but 50 Shades kind of sex. Seriously? I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’m all excited that I managed to talk about a man’s … erm … excitement in my latest book.

response to author 2

Awestruck. Are you famous? Okay, I’ll be honest. This actually only happened to me once. It was THE BEST. Of course, I’m not famous but the idea that someone thought I could be – after an evening of storytelling, drinking, and laughing – made me super happy. I obviously hadn’t embarrassed myself. Go me!

response to author 1

Easy tips and trick for self-editing #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #AmEditing

Before I get started, let me make this clear – self-editing is not a substitute for an editor! You should always – make that ALWAYS – use a paid editor for at least copy editing. There are plenty out there who are affordable. Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about self-editing.

Self-editing is a must. Just because you hire an editor doesn’t excuse you from self-editing. I know it sucks, but that’s life. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it sucks the will to live from you. You do it anyway. Here are a few tricks I use to make sure I don’t fall into a coma when editing. (I’m assuming you’ve heard the standard advice of print everything out, speak out loud, blah, blah, blah.)

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Highlighting overused words. You’ve been told a zillion times to eliminate crutch words. We each have our own crutch words, but, as an example, here are some of mine: even, totally, that, so, just, still, only. Before I print out my manuscript to edit, I highlight (find and replace in Word is a godsend) my crutch words. I also do a word count to see how many times I use each word. While reviewing, I pay special attention to my crutch words. Can I delete it? What about substituting a different word? Trust me, you can delete ‘that’ from your manuscript at least 25% of the time. After my first run through, I’ll do another word count to see how I did. Rinse and repeat.

Think of it as a text. If you’re having a hard time with deleting those pesky crutch words, pretend the dialogue is a text. Make it witty but short and sweet. This probably only works for us ‘older’ writers who text like we talk and have no clue what most of those snappy acronyms mean. (Reading out loud also helps with deleting crutch words, but who hasn’t heard that advice too many times to count?)

self editing 2Re-read last chapters separately. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to concentrate for twelve hours straight. Those first chapters of my manuscript are polished and polished and polished, but the final chapters? They’re often neglected. I’m positive I’m not the only writer who has this problem considering how many novels I read, which contain a multitude of errors towards the ending. The easy solution? Separately edit the final chapters (I take the last five) a few (additional) times.

Make a quick outline. I’m a big fan of making sure that not only the flow of the writing works, but ensuring that characters don’t learn information multiple times or too early or too late. Murder mysteries don’t work if the red herrings and clues are given out at the wrong time. My easy solution? An additional outline I make while doing my editing. This is a down and dirty outline with just the bare necessities: who, what, where.

Read your #WIP through all at once. I save this one for my final self-edit. I also turn off all electronics and basically lock myself in the house all day. The dog is not amused, but he hasn’t bitten me yet so there is that. You’ll be able to evaluate the tempo as well as character development and overall story progress.

I try to go through my manuscript at least four times before sending it off to the editor. More would be better, but, at some point, I can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. While the manuscript is at the editor, I don’t look at it. Nope, not I. That’s my time for working on promotions and maybe catching up on sleep as I tend to put in 12 – 16 hour days while editing. Did someone say beer?

self editing 1

 

Why I’m afraid to call myself a writer but shouldn’t be #MondayBlogs #Amwriting

I’m more than a bit addicted to House Hunters International. Not only is the house porn exceptional (even though the couple NEVER choses the house they should), but I love the back stories. I spend a great deal of time betting whether the couple/family will survive living in a foreign country. (Dear House Hunters, Can you please, please do a five-year follow-up program?) I recently watched a re-run of a show involving a couple moving to Mexico. He was working on his first novel and had never written anything before. Yet, he had no problem calling himself a writer. I’ve just sent my 11th book off to the editor, and I still have an issue calling myself a writer. Why oh why do I have this problem? Naturally, I had to analyze the question. Here’s what I came up with.

writer 2Well of lost plots. One of the most popular responses people have to my telling them I’m a writer is – I want to write a book, too! Like, hey, it’s no big deal! Anyone can do it! They’re not exactly wrong. With self-publishing comes the ability for absolutely everyone to publish their ‘story’. It’s like running a marathon. You feel super proud and accomplished for having finished, but no one else cares. Until (and sometimes even after) you’ve written more than the initial book that absolutely everyone seems to write, it’s hard to be taken seriously as a writer. If no one else is going to take me seriously (besides family and friends that is), then should I take myself seriously? *rolls eyes* Um, yes, Dena, you should.

writer 3Money. Although I now earn a few hundred dollars of royalties every month, I in no way no how make enough money with my writing to support myself. Can I call myself a writer if I don’t live off my writing? Of course, I can! There are plenty of writers who write articles for well-known magazines and newspapers but can’t support themselves from such writing. Now to convince myself of this when people start asking those pesky questions about my ‘job’.

Indie. Indie writers may have been around for a while now, but we still get a bad rap. I literally cannot count the number of times someone loses interest in my writing the moment they discover I’m self-published. Sure, there are several self-published authors who have written bestselling books. Somehow telling people this information doesn’t endear me to them. I know I shouldn’t give a crap what other people think, but I’m only human and it’s hurtful when you meet someone new and they immediately dismiss you because your self-published. (Sure, this isn’t the type of person who I want to be friends with but still…) Now that I have ten published books to my name, I notice the dismissals are less blatant. That may be because I start by saying I’ve published ten books J

My ‘concerns’ about calling myself a writer are somewhat lame – as evidenced above. Maybe I should just get over it.

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