The Dutch response to non-Dutch speaking Dutch ~ Thoughts on Less from Andrew Sean Greer #MondayBlogs #PulitzerPrizeChallenge #PulitzerPrize #amreading

less book coverI was still stuck in editing hell last week and didn’t have much time for reading. Oh, the horror! As we’re leaving on vacation soon, I did make time for a hair appointment and pedicure. Priorities! Luckily, my hair takes several hours to color (I went with bright, red highlights), which gave me at least some time I had to read last week.

Although I’ve found Less a bit difficult to dive into, I enjoyed the segment I read last week while Less was in Germany. Arthur Less thinks he’s fluent in German. He’s not. But he must be hilarious to listen to. The jokes Greer shared with us were hilarious, especially for someone like me who speaks German (hopefully, better than Less does!). The Germans Less encountered were very tolerant of his language skills. In fact, only as a sort of epilogue did anyone even mention his language skills (or lack thereof). This, of course, reminded me of speaking Dutch in The Netherlands.

board-64269_1920The Dutch, unlike the Germans in Greer’s book, have no compunction about correcting the Dutch of non-native speakers. One the one hand, they are super excited if someone tries to speak their language. But, on the other hand, they actually discourage this by switching to English and brutally correcting mistakes. Most foreigners I know don’t bother to learn Dutch. “Why bother,” they say. “Everyone speaks English anyway.”

This reminded me of a story. Several years ago, I was working in Amsterdam. The city was overrun by tourists as the European Cup was jointly hosted that year by The Netherlands and Belgium. I worked in the center (on the Prinsengracht, if you must know). One day, I headed to the bakery to get a sandwich for lunch. A horde of English tourists left the store as I was entering. When I walked in, the workers immediately began to complain about the tourists to me – the Foreigner! It was at that moment I knew my Dutch was up to snuff.

We’re off on two weeks of vacation tomorrow. I have Less packed in my carry-on baggage and plan to finish the novel on the plane ride. That’s assuming I don’t become obsessed with the movies. It’s a concern.

See y’all in three weeks!

On Vacation 2

When are you old? Thoughts on Less from Andrew Sean Greer #MondayBlogs #PulitzerPrizeChallenge #PulitzerPrize #amreading

less book cover with arrowTo be completely honest, my Pulitzer Prize challenge is not going well this month. I’m stuck in my novel, trying to finish editing and hand the manuscript off to my editor before I go on vacation next week. This doesn’t leave much time for reading. *Pouts* I have started Less, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but I’m only 19% finished. *Yikes*

One thing that strikes me about Arthur Less, the protagonist of Less, is how his age – he’s on the eve of his fiftieth birthday – is considered old. Sure, the fact that he is now middle-aged is a main theme of the novel. He’s having a crisis of sort now that his lover of nine years is getting married to another man. But still, I have to ask – is fifty old?

when are you old 1

I admit to approaching the age of fifty at a speed with which I’m not entirely comfortable. I will, however, deny I’m old. In fact, I’ll scream it among the rooftops. Excuse me a moment. *Yells outside her balcony thus proving to her neighbors once again that she’s eccentric*

I admit this is a sensitive issue for me. I’ve written several novels with protagonists who are in their forties. They use words like awesome and BFF, drink more than they should, and get into all types of embarrassing or dangerous situations. I’ve received more than one nasty review declaring that forty-year-olds don’t act like that. What? That’s exactly how I act (although dangerous is a bit of an exaggeration unless we count my tendency to think I can outrun trams when biking while drunk).

when are you old 2When someone is old has changed over the decades. The lifespan of an American male is seventy-nine years. That’s nearly ten years longer than when I was born. (Yes, that’s a very vague hint as to my age.) When I was growing up, forty seemed old. Most people I knew who were forty were grandparents. Grandparents!! Even though I’m on the flipside of forty, I have hardly any contemporaries who are grandparents.

People also tend to remain active longer. My gym is full of men and women in their forties and beyond. And some of them look darn fine, if I do say so myself. (No, not me, I’m referring to my buff hubby.) So, sorry, Andrew Sean Greer but late forties/early fifties is not old.

*I hereby reserve the right to change my mind about Arthur Less and any ideas about his age upon finishing the novel Less*



How not to edit #WriterWednesday #Amwriting #WritersLife #Humor

There are tons of articles to help the indie author to self-edit her manuscript. I’ve written several myself (here and here and here). Today, I have something different for you. How NOT to edit.

*insert tongue in cheek*

how not to edit 1Do not buy color ink for your printer when you need black ink. Your manuscript will become unreadable and, more importantly, you can’t use a bunch of pretty highlighters.



How not to edit 3Do not forget to buy paper when you are ready to print your manuscript for editing. Although store opening times are more liberal now here in The Netherlands, stores are still not open at 3 a.m. when you are most likely to run out of paper.



How not to edit 2Do not turn on the Do Not Disturb function on your phone and then check your phone for messages. Hint: The Do Not Disturb function does not work if keep using your phone. (Learned this yesterday myself.)


how not to edit 5Do not think you can have a social life by planning several evenings out during your editing period. And definitely don’t drink any alcohol (certainly not too much alcohol) on those nights you do go out. Editing with hangover is definitely a do not do.



how not to edit 7Do not take your coffee machine apart to clean it while taking a short editing break. The chance you can figure out how to put it together while your brain is full of your manuscript is miniscule. Just don’t do it.



how not to edit 6Do not spend all night awake with a sick dog, thinking you are superwoman and don’t need sleep during your editing phase. You do need sleep. Yes, even you.



how not to edit 4

Do not forget to stock up on all the essentials for editing: coffee, milk, snacks, etc. You may find yourself screaming at the refrigerator at 6 a.m. when you realize you have no milk, no food for breakfast, and the store isn’t open for another two hours. Eek!



*This has been a short commercial break from our regularly scheduled program of editing, editing, editing*





Geluk bij een ongeluk ~ A Personal Update #TrueStory #Itdoesnotgetmorerealthanthis

I’ve been more than a bit upset with life lately. I’m talking crying jags where snot runs out of your nose and you make that scary hiccupping noise, followed by eating copious amounts of sugary sweats and pizza while drowning my sorrows in vats of wine. (When I fall off the drinking/dieting wagon, I like to do a swan dive straight into sinner heaven.)

geluk bij een ongeluk 1

Actual footage of the distance I jump off the wagon.

What has got me all twisted up in knots? Being told at the not-quite-young-but-definitely-not-old-enough-age that my knee is beyond messed up and there is nothing the doctors can do about it. Cue: crying jag. I haven’t had a great knee for a long time. I had an ACL repair when I was fourteen (quick translation: there’s a screw and button in my knee to sew one of the ligaments back into place along with a piece of bone). I always have pain in my knee, but recently the pain’s been unbearable. So, off to the doctor I limped. Turns out I tore my meniscus (in two because I don’t like to do anything half-ass). After two months of tests and doctor visits, the decision was final: Nothing to be done. WHAT? Cue: drowning sorrows in vats of wine.

geluk bij een ongeluk 3

Actual picture of the aftermath of drowning my sorrows.

After it’s all said and done, however, I’m actually glad I ripped my meniscus. Before you scream I’m crazy (although that’s not entirely untrue), let me explain. The doctors didn’t only discover a rip in my meniscus, they also discovered I have hardly any cartilage left in my knee. Turns out you need that cartilage stuff. Without it, your bones rub together creating bone spurs. Bone spurs limit your range of motion, which means you start limping and eventually walking with a cane. Yikes!

In addition to being addicted to tennis, I’m a runner. My therapist explained that if I continue to run on the knee I have, I’ll have bone spurs within a few years. At my age? No thanks! Thanks to the MRI I had because of my torn meniscus, that won’t happen. That’s what we call Geluk bij een ongeluk (luck by an unlucky occurrence). So, I’m drying my eyes (mostly) and putting away the wine glasses. I also bought a butt ugly brace for my knee, so I can continue to play tennis. The doctor may say ‘no’ to tennis, but my therapist said yes. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which advice I followed.

*You may now return to your regularly scheduled program*


What does a self-published author do all day? #WriterWednesday #AmWriting

The other day a friend of mine said my writing was just a hobby. Granted, we’d been drinking, and she thought she was being witty. Still, it hurt. The next day, after I’d recovered from my hangover, I calmed down a bit. I also realized that the average person has no idea what a writer does. At least not a self-published author like myself. This is perhaps what they think I do:

authorpreneur 1

First, let me clarify that writing (and all the stuff that goes with it that I’ll detail below) is my full-time job. Now, don’t go thinking I make tons of money from my writing or anything like that. No, I’m in a very fortunate position that I don’t need to pay the bills with my writing. Huge relief on that one! So, what does a self-published writer like myself do all day?

Coming in at first place is writing. (Duh) Although you’d probably be surprised to hear that working on my current manuscript takes up only a few hours a day. My goal is to write one chapter (approximately 1700 words) a day at least four times a week. Why not five? Because, life, that’s why.

bloggingBut, Dena, what do you do with the other five hours left in a work day? *Snorts* If only I could keep my work days down to 8 hours. What a dream! On top of writing my novel every day, I also write three blogs a week. A blog can take anywhere from an hour to a full-day to write. And don’t get me started on all the blogs I start to write and realize are total shite after an hour or so. *Sigh* I also try to interact with other bloggers by reading and sharing blog posts. This can turn into a rabbit hole real quick.

guest blogging 2That’s it for writing stuff. Unfortunately, I can’t just write books and expect people to buy them. Oh no, there are way too many books out there. The competition is fierce! So, it’s up to me to create an author brand. How to do that? Mostly via social media. I spend at least an hour every day on twitter interacting with readers, writers, bloggers, etc. I also spend quite a bit of time going through articles to find stuff to share with my followers. Instagram is less time-intensive. I try to post a picture every day. This is not always easy to do if I’m holed up working and editing all day. Several times a day I’ll scroll through my feed to like and comment on other posts. Finally, there’s Facebook. I’ve nearly given up on Facebook as a writer. Every time I turn around, they’re making it more and more difficult to reach followers. Ugh! I now post once a week and try to always include a picture. This leads to the best results – for now.

But that’s not all! I also need to market my books. Pffff… is it not time for the day to be over yet? Um, no, sorry Dena. What’s involved in marketing my books? There are a variety of ways I market my books from guest posts to interviews to advertisements (think Facebook, Amazon and Bookbub) to a monthly newsletter to running a sale and advertising the sale to various email services. Of course, for every marketing campaign, I need to create eye-catching graphics and catchy ad copy. And then there are the hours and hours of researching marketing techniques and listening to podcasts to get new ideas. Have I mentioned the rabbit hole?

rabbit hole

Not an actual rabbit hole.


Because I think I can do it all, I also try to help other indie authors by reading and reviewing their novels. I spend at least a few hours every week reading novels for other authors. Trust me, when you promise an author to read a book, it suddenly feels a whole lot like work and not recreation.

That’s nearly it. This year I added attending writer’s conferences and courses to my load. I get a lot of energy from these events. It also helps to get out of my day-to-day routine for a while, even if going to a huge conference by yourself is scary!

There’s a heck a lot more to being a writer than writing a book. Bummer but true.

My review of The Sympathizer, the 2016 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction #MondayBlogs #PulitzerPrize #PulitzerPrizeChallenge #AmReading #BookReview

the sympathizer 1Today, the 2016 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer, takes center stage in my Pulitzer Prize Challenge. I purchased this novel after our trip to Vietnam, and I devoured it. The Guardian reviewer claimed: “The Sympathizer reminded me of how big books can be.” I wholeheartedly agree.

I remember the first training exercise (after basic and AIT) in which I participated. It was confusing as all get out. It was nearly impossible to figure out who was friend and foe. I grew up on stories of World War II in which the different sides were painted in such a way that it seemed obvious who was who. And if all else fails, you can judge a person based on their language. German? Bad guy. French? Good guy (for the most part). But what about a civil war? How do you tell good guy from bad buy then?

The Sympathizer explores this issue in depth. The starting lines tell the reader:

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds.

From that point on, we follow the narrator through the war in Vietnam and to the shores of California; always wondering on which side he will fall. We learn a valuable lesson through our reading. Good and bad are not black and white, but rather shades of grey. The good guys can do very bad things, and the bad guys can do good things.

As a child of the Vietnam war era (my godfather is a Vietnam vet) and a student of history, I thought I understood the Vietnam war. But there are so many angles to this conflict that American students miss in our high school history classes. Those angles were forced, loud and clear, into our faces when we visited the war museum in Saigon, where the war is termed “The American War of Aggression”. Viet Thanh Nguyen introduces the nuances to the war in a language we can understand without being confrontational.

The Sympathizer is superbly written. The kind of book that forces a reader to stop and re-read a paragraph just to enjoy the language. It is also a surprisingly easy read for a 500-page literary novel. While I’ve grown tired of the use of first person, it not only works here but is essential to understand the nuances of the identity crisis a Vietnamese army captain undergoes.

Like all great novels, The Sympathizer has it all: love, friendship, and espionage as well as historical lessons from which we could learn. I highly recommend this novel!

sympathizer 3

Update: My copy of Less, the 2018 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction arrived Saturday (two weeks early!), and I’ve already dove in. I’m not promising I’ll have a review for you next week, but I’ll at least have some observations.

sympathizer 2


Who is your reader? Finding your audience #WriterWednesday #AuthorMarketing #Marketing #AmWriting

who is your reader 2I recently blogged about how my latest advertisement on Amazon totally tanked. (You can read the article here or just pretend I never said that. I’d actually prefer the second option.) In that blog, I concluded my ad failed as I didn’t properly target my audience. The projected audience of the ad was in the hundreds of thousands. Yikes! As much as I’d like to think my books appeal to all one and half billion people who inhabit this planet we call earth and speak English, that’s just not true. Not even close to true. *Sighs*

who is your reader 1

But how do you find those potential readers who are actually interested in reading what you’ve written? Based on several blogs I’ve read and lectures I’ve attended, I’ve come up with the following system.

Step #1

Find two or three established writers whose books are similar to the genre in which you write or the book you wish to promote. If you’re feeling lazy, go to your book on Amazon and check out the “customers also bought” section.

Step #2

Study reader reviews of the writers’ works. I prefer Goodreads for this as finding information about readers is fairly easy. Find a review that resonates with you by a reader with an online presence.

Step #3

Dig into the reader’s personality. Review her profile to see what other books she’s read. Does she have a website? Check it out! Questions to ask yourself to develop the portrait:

  • Where is she located?
  • What nationality is she?
  • What type of educational level does she have?
  • Is she married or single?
  • How old is she? To what generation does she belong (millennial, X-gen, etc.)?
  • What religion is she, if any?
  • What other books has she read?
  • What other products does she buy on a regular basis?

Step #4

Repeat steps two and three with a few readers until you’ve been able to develop a clear picture of your target audience. Based on this portrait, you should now have an understanding as to where your readers hang out, what types of media they consume, and where they shop.

Now you know who you are approaching and where you can reach them. With many platforms (think Amazon and Facebook), you can target specific keywords or specific products. Using the portrait you’ve developed, you should be able to choose keywords or products that are aimed at your target audience.

Disclaimer: I haven’t put this information to use yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you know how it turns out.