monday-blogs

What we can learn from the Dutch elections #expatlife #MondayBlogs

We’re gearing up for elections in March here in the Netherlands. My voting card (stempas) came in the mail the other day, and I was reminded of just how easy it is to (register to) vote here. This, in comparison to the pain in my behind it was to register to vote as an absentee voter in Ohio. And, let me tell you, it’s gotten a lot easier since e-mail communication is finally allowed! I’m no political expert, and I’m an advocate for keeping my blog a politics-free zone, but I think I can allow this one little blog about the differences in voting between the Netherlands and the U.S. I think…

stempasNo need to register to vote. Except for a few exceptions for UN workers, you must register with your local government when you live in the Netherlands (and most other EU countries). This registration is not only to ensure you are legally allowed to live and work here, but also registers you with various local and national tax authorities and takes care of those important pesky items like a parking permit. And, if you are legally allowed to vote in the country, you are also automatically registered to vote. Every single person who lives in the Netherlands and is allowed to vote receives a voter card on the same day. No need to take any additional action whatsoever. Easy peasy!

volmachtProxy voting. If, for whatever reason, you live in the country but won’t be around on election day, you can give a proxy vote to just about anyone. It’s super easy. There is a power of attorney/proxy authorization on the back side of your voter card. Just fill it out, give the person voting on your behalf a copy of your identification, and that’s it. I know it’s possible to vote by mail or absentee ballot in the U.S., but having lived overseas for most of my adult life, I also know the absentee ballot takes time to arrange. If you suddenly need to leave town (like finding your schedule changed so that you have to jet off for an overnight trip), you’re out of luck.

Identification. I’m not going to go into a legal treatise about voter identification laws in the U.S. Suffice it to say that there are problems that need resolution. In the Netherlands, I do need to present a passport, identification card, or Dutch driver’s license. BUT none of these has to be valid. It’s sufficient if the form of identification has been expired for no more than five years.

Easy to vote. The polls are open until 9 p.m. in the Netherlands. Although polling station opening times in the U.S. vary widely, the vast majority close at least an hour earlier. And there are quite a few more polling stations as well. There is one polling station per 1,700 Dutch voters as opposed to one station for 2,796 US voters. I realize that’s not really a fair comparison as the U.S. is a huge country with lots of remote areas, but it does give you an idea of how easy it is to find a polling station in the Netherlands. Mine is literally a block away.

Multi-parliamentary system. The Netherlands has a multi-party system, which is pretty awesome since two parties with diametrically opposed ideas doesn’t always work. Okay, to be honest, the Dutch have gone a bit overboard with this recently. 81 – yes 81! – parties tried to get on the ballot for the March elections. This is – obviously – a record amount and not all of these parties made it to the ballot (28 still did). To give you an indication of how strange this is, there are currently 11 parties represented in the parliament.

What about the other expats out there? Any other positive takeaways from your home away from home?

vote

writer-wednesday

Does a murder mystery novel suck if the reader figures out whodunit too early? #WriterWednesday #Mystery #Amwriting

Something kind of strange happened the other day. One of my faithful reviewers indicated that she knew who the bad guy was in Self-Serve Murder early in the story. Okay, that happens, but then I was chatting with her about something else and she told me it was the best novel of the Death by Cupcake series. After I stopped dancing in my chair and spilling my coffee to boot, I started thinking about her comment and that’s when I wondered – Can a mystery still be good read if the reader figures out whodunit early on?

whodunit

Part of being a mystery writer is trying to figure out a way to fool your readers. We add red herrings, plot twists, and false suspects all in the hope that the reader won’t catch the real clues we’re giving them until it’s too late. At which point the reader should palm their face and shout something like Duh! I should have seen that coming! Having a reader say that the villain is obvious is akin to a slap in the face. It hurts and is shocking.

First of all, let’s get rid of those readers who always figure out whodunit. My mother-in-law and I have this one thing in common. We love watching BBC mystery series and reading Agatha Christie. We’re also both convinced we figure out the entire mystery within the first half-hour of the television show. My mother-in-law swears up and down she figures out the Agatha Christie murders as well, but we all know that’s just craziness. As a murder mystery writer, you have to ignore these wet noodles who can’t seem to help themselves from shouting out I figured it out! before you’ve even managed to plant your second plot device. After all, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

But what about other readers? Is a murder mystery a – gulp – failure if the killer is too obvious? Sometimes but not always. That’s about clear as mud, isn’t it?

unravel-the-mystery-with-miss-marple-miss-marple-30128274-800-600One of the reasons readers enjoy reading mysteries is to unravel the mystery. They enjoy solving the murder just as much as the writer enjoys writing about it. But solving the mystery and figuring out who the killer is, is not the same thing – not always. In fact, some writers will tell readers who the killer is early on, but then the reader is left wondering why him? The mystery concentrates on the motivation behind the killing, chasing the killer down, and perhaps the proof necessary to incarcerate the bad guy. In this case, knowing who the murderer is early on does not equal a bad novel.

In some cases, not knowing who the killer is until the very last second can be just as frustrating as figuring out the killer too early. A mystery ought to be fair. Readers should have all the information that the sleuth does. If the writer is hiding information from readers in an attempt to keep the mystery going even when the sleuth is perfectly aware of the information, this can backfire into reader resentment. In that case, there’s no way the reader can solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. That’s not fair and, frankly, no fun for the reader.

red-herringSome murder mystery writers will use a red herring or false suspect throughout the novel and only ‘reveal’ the true murderer at the last moment. Neither the sleuth or the readers have figured out who the killer is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mystery is a good story. Readers may be angry and feel cheated out of trying to unravel the mystery because they’ve wasted too much time reading about a lead that went on way too long and didn’t pan out.

It would appear then that there needs to be a balance between unraveling the mystery too early and waiting until the very last second to reveal the murderer. And finding that balance is where the fun for us writers begins.

fun-ahead

monday-blogs

Thankful post #MondayBlogs #amwriting

I went on a bit of a rant the week before last. Shocking, I know. The name of the blog post (I’m funny not worthless) kind of gives away my malcontent. But then something strange and wonderful happened. Not only did people read my blog (Yeah!) but several writers/bloggers responded with words of encouragement. (Double Yeah!) In order to balance out the universe (interpretation: make it seem like I’m not always whining), I decided to do a thankful post. And yes, I realize it’s nowhere near an appropriate time in the year to do a thankful post. Things like that don’t stop me. Christmas socks rock all year round.

Anyway, here is an obviously incomplete list of things/people for which I am thankful.

  1. I’m thankful for every single blog follower I have. I’m sure that there are bloggers who are way cooler and more interesting than me, although I wouldn’t know who they are 😉
  2. I’m thankful that some of those blog followers actually take time to read my blog posts and don’t immediately unfollow me after reading whatever drivel it is I’m going on about now!
  3. I’m thankful that bad reviews are always virtual so that I don’t have the opportunity to throat punch someone who says my ‘clean’ read is smut. It’s so much easier to NOT throat punch someone when they aren’t standing in front of you. (Don’t worry. I wouldn’t ever seriously throat punch anyone. A right hook on the other hand …)
  4. I’m thankful that I’m in personal contact with my A-team reviewers so that I can personally e-mail them to profusely thank them and promise them my first-born child for being supportive.
  5. I’m thankful for every single reader that gives one of my books a chance even though my name is not well-known (not sure why not).
  6. I’m especially thankful for those readers who gave one of my books a try and then went ahead and read another one. Seriously, you guys totally rock!
  7. I’m thankful to all the tweeters out there who tweet my blog posts or re-tweet my tweets. Sometimes it’s downright shocking how supportive tweeters are. I feel like after several years on Twitter, I still have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. Thankfully, there are those who do know what’s going on.
  8. And – not to piss anyone off or anything – I’m thankful that giant internet book seller (that shall remain nameless) makes being self-published easier than continuing to hide manuscripts in the attic, which is a really good thing since I no longer have an attic.
  9. I’m thankful for all the people who put up with my grumpiness when a book is just not going my way. I really didn’t mean to hit anyone with that tennis ball. I thought it was a ‘safe’ way to get rid of my frustration. Really, I did.

Thanks for reading! Keep being cool.

thank-you

Grammar is the set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language.

If you do any of the following, you’re probably over 40 #Grammar #Justforfun #AmWriting

I was just working on a document a fellow writer sent me for review, and I couldn’t help but notice all those spaces between sentences. Ah, I thought, she must be over forty since she’s using the old-fashioned two spaces after a sentence rule. That got me to thinking about grammar rules that have changed and whether it’s possible to guess someone’s age from their grammar. So, just for fun, let’s have a look at grammar that gives away your age.

 

grammar-3Two spaces between sentences. If you use two spaces after a period, you’re probably over forty or use a manual typewriter. And I really hope you don’t use a manual typewriter. There are actually people out there who do. Yes, it’s true. I once took a job at the Province of North Holland to replace someone who was retiring. Not only did the man use a MANUAL typewriter, but he had a big cartoon taped to his dusty computer that said computers were for cave dwellers. I never did understand that joke.

 

grammar-4His or her. Welcome to the new century, where we are now using the singular they. I know, I know. It feels wrong, but – admit it – it’s also easier and kind of makes sense. The Brits are totally okay with the singular they, American sources are still clenching their teeth and wondering why we have to follow the stupid Brits anyway.

 

And or But. If you are violently opposed to starting a sentence with and or but, you’re probably over forty. Unless, like me, you like to write in first person and have realized that a lot of thoughts start with BUT. If you’re one of my characters, you probably use the word ‘but’ way too much, BUT you don’t know how to stop.

 

Split infinitives. Oh gosh, where to begin with this one. We all learned in school that splitting infinitives was bad – equivalent to having sympathy with those Ruskies. (In case you didn’t guess it yet, I went to school during the Cold War.) Unless all your characters are over forty and speak using perfect grammar (or are Sheldon Cooper), you’re going to need to get over your irrational fear of split infinitives.

 

Fun is a noun. Apparently, fun is now an adjective and we mere mortals are allowed to use it as such. I’m still violently opposed to ‘funner’ and will continue to fight the good fight against the use of that word in anyone’s vocabulary. Good thing I live in a country that does not have English as a first language, because you just know I would stop people on the street and correct them for use of that word. (Free has also morphed into an adjective, but one new adjective a week is all I can take.)

 

I’m not going to get into the defunct use of whom. Whoever did the research indicating its use was declining obviously hasn’t read any fiction lately. For my thoughts on the whole who or whom debacle, read this blog post.

 

 

 

writer-wednesday

Is it past or passed? #WriterWednesday #Amwriting

It’s a miracle my Kindle survived yesterday’s read. I kept seeing the same mistake again and again. Obviously, it was driving me nutso. Unfortunately, the mistake is a common one. I see it being repeated in book after book. (Yes, I’m repeating myself, but I’m seriously annoyed.) What’s the error? Confusing the word past with passed and vice versa. I get where the confusion is coming from – the words are pronounced the same after all. My Dutch husband often struggles with how to write words in English that sound the same. Funny enough, I have the same problem in Dutch as the past participle often ends in -d or -t and you can’t hear the difference. There’s a whole mnemonic device (which they call a donkey’s bridge) to remember whether to use the -d or -t. I can’t even remember how to spell the donkey’s bridge (‘t kofschip), which makes things a bit complicated. Thank goodness this is one of the few things Microsoft Word grammar control actually gets right.

But I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent there, haven’t I? Back to passed or past. In this case, it’s not a question of remembering some bizarre mnemonic device. You simply need to look at how the word is used in the sentence and you’ll be fine. First, let’s define the words.

define-past

define-passed

Looking at these definitions, there is an obvious difference that will eliminate mistakes 95% of the time. Past is an adjective, noun, or preposition whereas as passed is a verb. Look at your sentence, if you are using past as the past tense of (to) pass, it’s an easy fix as passed is the past tense of pass and not past. The trouble arrives when past is used as an adverb or preposition. But just remember, prepositions and adverbs are nouns as well.

Remember diagramming sentences? Don’t worry, I won’t make you diagram a complete sentence, but it is helpful to be able to determine the subject and verb. (Okay, that is part of diagramming a sentence, but I said I wouldn’t make you diagram a complete sentence and this is only step 1.) Because past is many things, but never a verb.

Let’s look at some simple examples: Is it past or passed?

I walked past the post office.

Determine the subject and verb. I is the subject. Walked is the verb. In this case, past is a preposition and therefore past is correct.

The danger had past.

The danger is the subject. The verb is had past. Past is not a correct past perfect form of the verb to pass. (FYI: every past tense form of to pass is passed) Therefore, past should be passed. The danger had passed.

I am not a grammer geek. Really, I’m not. I make just as many mistakes as the other writers, but I do try to learn from not only my mistakes but mistakes from others as well. Write on …

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billede-til-writing-resources-for-clinical-research-writing-in-scrabble-letters-kis-hjemmeside

I’m funny not worthless #Amwriting

Although I have categorized my two murder mystery series, The Gray-Haired Knitting Detectives and Death by Cupcake, as cozy mysteries, I often tell potential readers that my books are mysteries with a dash of romance and a heaping portion of humor. And that’s the moment I lose a lot of them. I can see it in their eyes, which sometimes even roll as they hear the word ‘humor’ as if adding humor to a novel makes me less of an author or my books less worthy. I’ve published ten books and yet people will turn away from me at a cocktail party to listen to an unpublished author talk about her work because it’s more ‘significant’. Yes, seriously.

hollywoodNot all books are ‘significant’. In fact, the vast majority of books published are meant as entertainment for the masses. Nobel prize winning novels, on the other hand, are rarely best sellers. Does it matter if your book or my book is not literature? If it is meant to ‘merely’ entertain? The U.S. media and entertainment industry, made up of film and music, video game, and publishing sectors, is expected to reach $771 billion by 2019. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Even if it was something to sneeze at – so what? Entertainment is important for our mental well-being. You may even argue it’s important for our physical well-being as well since it often calms us down. In case you missed it, the world is in a bit of a bind at the moment. Political strife within ‘peaceful’ countries is at an all-time high. Terrorism seems to be happening in new and more terrifying ways on a daily basis. Do we not need more humor in this world gone mad? At a time where a trip to a Christmas market or a night club can end in a blood bath?

And as I sat mulling over this post (because I wrote those first two paragraphs right after that party but didn’t know where to go from there), I realized something else. We are way too busy with judging people. Everyone – every single person – contributes to society in some way whether it’s by cleaning toilets, protecting prisoners, or balancing the books of a company. I refuse to believe that some people are more important than others based solely on their job description because even if you’re saving lives someone needs to clean up the blood and gore when it’s all over. I’m done with that. Who’s with me?

judging

 

writer-wednesday

Should you do a marketing push instead of a blog tour? #WriterWednesday #AuthorMarketing

A few weeks ago, I got up on my soap box (man, that thing gets used A LOT) and preached about why I still do blog tours even though they are getting less and less popular. You can read that article here. Just to be contrary, I’m now going to discuss why a blog tour isn’t always the best option for a ‘new’ release.

Let me first explain what I mean by a marketing push because there are a gazillion different ways to market your book. In this case, I’m referring to discounting your release and signing up for a newsletter service that sends news of your discounted book out to its email subscribers. And, before you ask, I don’t use BookBub. Not that I don’t want to. I’d loooove to use BookBub and I continue to try and use BookBub, but they don’t like me. *Sticks out bottom lip in pout*

As I explained in my earlier blog, I use blog tours for four main reasons: gaining a social media following, increasing the amount of Goodreads readers who add my book to their TBR, increasing the number Amazon followers, and reviews. That sounds pretty good. Why wouldn’t I always want to do that? Boxed sets, that’s why.

I recently released the three books in my Death by Cupcake series as a boxed set. This release came fairly quickly on the heels of the release of the final book in the series. For that reason, I didn’t want to do a blog tour. I didn’t want to bore book bloggers and readers with material that wasn’t new. I also didn’t want to ask for reviews of the series as that’s a HUGE ask. Instead, I’ll ask those reviewers who have been kind enough to read and review all three books separately to write a review for the series.

So, how did it go? I released the Death by Cupcake series at the discounted price of 99 cents (regular price $3.50) on Amazon as a part of the Kindle Unlimited program. The marketing push was over 6 days (I usually do a 3-day weekend marketing push, but I had some issues finding enough newsletters in which to include my set). I sold 587 books and there were 11,669 pages read. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

To compare, I did a blog tour for the release of Bring Your Own Baker in June and only garnered 31 sales during the first week of release. Obviously, this comparison is somewhat flawed as a set of novels that have been previously released and have several reviews as well as being deeply discounted can’t really be compared with a brand-spanking-new release with no reviews. But it does give an idea as to what you can expect from sales during a blog tour as opposed to a marketing push.

Why was my marketing push successful in sales compared to a blog tour? First of all, the price is sharply discounted – 70% instead of my usual 50%. Secondly, although the set is new and doesn’t have reviews, readers can take a look at reviews of each individual book. And don’t forget – the purpose of a blog tour is not to make sales. That’s just a lucky byproduct.

Should you do a marketing push instead of a blog tour? Based on the above, I’d definitely recommend it for a boxed set. I also believe a marketing push can be helpful for re-releases of previously published material. It can also be an alternative when you just don’t have the time to prepare the materials for the blog tour, although you may have to search for newsletter services that don’t require a minimum number of reviews.