Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

There is a cost

by Rain Trueax

For years, I have belonged to Romance Writers of America, which promotes romance novels and helps to bring writers together in local chapters. I am a PAN member there, which requires having sold a certain number of books to indicate the writer is treating it as a profession. Many romance writers earn a living with their books, but most are lucky to make car payments. In 2017, quite a few experienced fewer sales and began to look for why. 

With all the things an indie author must do, learning the ropes of the business end, is maybe the hardest. Most writers, at least of fiction, do not have an MBA. They may take their writing very seriously, as a business, but most are not knowledgeable in sales or marketing-- at least to begin. The author can hire services from those who are professionals like a publicist, review services (these are sometimes a little shady as reviews are supposed to be from real readers not paid apps), editors to determine if their work is marketable, and pay for advertising sites. Each service costs money. Some are better than others for being effective. The author can also elect to go it on their own and start reading and listening to what has worked for others-- or not.

Since in late December of 2011, when I brought my first book out on Amazon, I have done very little advertising. What I have done has taught me a few things. For instance, advertising, on a site that is not filled with readers in your genre, is probably a waste of money. Facebook has ads and I have used those, keeping the listing away from my friend list and trying to target readers of romances. I also have used the free services of Twitter. Personally, I think none have garnered a for-certain sale. Sales come from mysterious forces. While the Internet is very connected, it is also often unknown. What we can control there is debatable. That said, word of mouth is a very good way to see sales-- as is networking. Community once again is needed if one isn't doing a lot of expensive ads.

In those six years, there have been ups and downs in sales. This summer, sales plummeted. I blamed it on not advertising. Experimentally, I moved all of my paranormal romances into the Kindle Unlimited subscription service for borrowing. They are still available for sale, but can only be at Amazon. Books in KU earn a small amount per page read. For some it works out to be a good deal. I am still uncertain whether it will for me, as again-- no advertising but I plan to do some.

The thing is many readers only want free books. You can see where that isn't going to make a car payment, least of all support the writer. Readers though see eBooks in particular as not having substance; so why not free. Some of that is encouraged by writer giveaways. These are done with the hope the reader will get a free sample and then buy books. I guess that works for some. There are also contests or places where readers are rewarded by gifts. These are all at the writers' discretion and always intended to go somewhere. There is another way to get free books.

In January of 2012, I had my first free days for my new book (Amazon let an author do that for a few days back then). I hadn't expected many would want it-- after all, not many had bought it in the week or so it'd been out. It had over a thousand takers. I was in shock. A few months later, I was in an Amazon forum for writers. At the time, I had more of my books out (previously written through many years). One women said she liked my books but would wait until they were free. Think about it for a minute. How would a writer make a living if all thought this way?

In those early years is when I learned of another way readers get books for free-- buy them and return them after reading or transferring them to their computer. This was happening to one book after another in one of my series. If someone hated a book and returned it, why would they buy the next one? One reason-- Amazon’s generous return policy. Now, if a reader does this too many times, Amazon will revoke their right to buy books. In the meantime, the writer is out the money, as these readers go on to another author with a new email.

I have long known that pirate sites are all over the Internet, most from outside the United States. They make themselves look professional and aboveboard to get subscribers. They are professional thieves but not aboveboard. If a reader stopped to think, they'd probably realize their books were not gotten legally (the sites admit (in the small print) they don't check if an offered book was legally acquired). A thinking reader might wonder if they'd get a virus or malware from such a site... a thinking reader.

Taking books (music and DVDs) that were not offered for free by the author is theft but probably not seen that way by the one going to a pirate site. I think the logic there goes to ‘there are free books out there - -why not this one?’ I also suspect they don’t think they are stealing because they don’t know all the cost that went into writing a book that to them doesn't feel real. No paper after all-- as if that's the most costly part of creating a book. Most indie books are fairly inexpensive. Why steal what costs less than a cup of coffee in many places?

Last week, I was following an author thread where someone was talking about their plummeting sales and their discovery that their best selling book was on a pirate site with reader reviews as to how much they loved getting it for free. Someone else wrote-- use Blasty. I had never heard of it and previously thought the only way to get books off such sites was to write the company and demand it-- which since most are in other countries-- can be fruitless.

Blasty finds the books and takes them down for the writer for a monthly fee. We signed up. It took a few days to find out there were over 7000 with more than 2000 reviews (which might've been as fake as the site) on some books that have had few legal sales or giveaways by me. After seeing how many places readers could get my books for free-- one that would only be $3.95 from a legal site-- I had only one consolation. Although my sales are way down, readership apparently is not...

The problem is that as fast as Blasty cn take down a book, it can be put back up-- one main reason for paying them to do it. I see it as something for those writers who must make a living as much as for myself. If all the writers, who could afford the $12.95 would do it, it might destroy those sites-- maybe. It is frustrating that is needs to be done, but so goes life. If you are a writer with books out there, check Blasty to see if yours are on unauthorized sites and get them off.

When someone takes a book for free that was never offered by the author, they might be forcing that writer back to a full-time job and no writing. For more than a few writers that I know, they are able to write full-time-- if their books aren't stolen. In my case, it means money does not go into the college account for my four grandchildren. That is how I use all profits from my books, as I see education as so key to a good life. Education is part of not only getting jobs but maybe learning to see beyond the short term to the long term for what an action costs or benefits.To understand that--

those supposedly free sites are not actually free!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Help, Help!!! Human Debree tossed in by Hurricanes Threatened to Drown Me and Reef Criters at Turneffe Atoll, Belize

The disappearing beach at one of the mangrove islands
 on Turneffe Atoll,
the largest Atoll in the second largest coral reef in the world

Last year's hurricanes dumped plastic trash  on the beaches of Turneffe Atoll. At one of its islands, pictured above, I saw a plastic baby doll and a pair of  goose barnacle covered flip flops amazingly within a foot of each other.

Last year's hurricanes were the strongest recorded sucking away the sand in the atoll's beaches. The roots of palms were exposed. Some trees fell or will fall in the next hurricane. Some red mangrove trees also were lost reducing the distance between the shore and interior brackish water ponds where crocodiles mate and live.  all along the narrow strip of sand new mangrove shoots poked above the sand. They grow remarkably fast to become the lung of the reef and the most protective plant of the fragile reef. But as remarkable as they are, will they stand a chance if these storms and higher tides are more frequent and pull more sand away from the shore?

I am looking with binoculars across the pond at crocodiles. My granddaughter is in foreground.
Behind me are the black mangroves with roots in the brackish water beginning to be stressed.
Also the distance between the pond and the reef shore is half what it was in 2016.
 Without dry roots the black mangrove trees started dieing.  Not only that the sea level has risen in recent years according to Turneffe Flats Lodge. The atoll is 30 miles long and 18 miles wide at the widest point. The whole system is threatened  including Turneffe Flats Fishing Lodge and Ecotourist Resort.  When we were there for one week the place looked in fine shape. They said within a few weeks after the storms the owners built a new dock, fixed the wood buildings, replaced some of the sand and planted red mangrove trees.  The owners were still in the process of building a much stronger two story cement structure partly to increase the number of client rental rooms and partly for their new home.

Me in my 180 degree snorkeling mask.
The mask worked fine when on the surface
but near the end of snorkeling I attempted to dive down.  The  mask started to fill with water.
To make the water flow out I simply looked down and lost track of the group resulting in an interesting  but unpleasant experience.  I became a little separated from the group.

My sympathy for all critters of the reef was made greater after this unpleasant experience.  The currents around the atoll created a trash line about a hundred yards from open ocean with higher waves.  I swam through the trash accidentally when I was left behind and didn't look up enough to see where I was going. I was fascinated by a big jelly fish. I was pulled a little off course by an increasingly stronger current on my way to the boat pulling me closer and closer to the colder ocean. Then I got to experience first hand how fish and critters could be trapped surrounded by plastic bags,  broken floating sea weed and the little box jelly fish I feared.  I told myself not to panic, but just go with the flow gradually shifting directions towards the boat.  When I was parallel to the starboard of the boat, I  made a right turn and started swimming hard towards the boat.  My plan was to  pass the boat and go around the anchor rope and head back for the ladder near the aft on the port side of the boat.  Making headway was difficult.  My daughter saw me and thought I was lost and came around to me and tugged at my hand to get me to turn towards the stern instead.

 I welcomed our role reversal and am so grateful my daughter is so wonderfully caring.

What is being done and can be done?

A big part of being able to experience being on a remote atoll is consumption of energy like petroleum. To reduce the amount needed, some have tried wind and solar power. But unfortunately there isn't a good way to protect  the delicate machinery from high tides and winds of hurricanes. At least a method hasn't been invented yet.

There is a little house on the tip of one of the mangrove islands where adventurous people come to stay without electricity, or a supply of water or any food other than what they can collect, catch or gather - survival tourism anyone?

Turneffe Flats had their own green house where they grew herbs, onions and peppers. Many of their foods were purchased from organic Mennonite farmers from the mainland of Belize.

Our adventure guide, Abel Coe, wants to educate Belize school children to value their natural resources by taking them out in the morning to help pick up the trash and then take them snorkeling in the afternoon. I hope he is supported in his mission.

The owners of Turneffe Flats are trying to make Turneffe Atoll a Belize National Monument and Nature Preserve. A portion of the money we paid for staying at the fishing resort went to ecology efforts. They do not use micro-wave and other high powered appliances. use solar pannels to heat shower water. Limit hours of air conditioning. They also recycle black water, and collect rain water, use salt water in their infinity pool among other eco friendly practices..

Surge, a marine biologist, and the dive guide is promoting ecology world foundations.
Call to scientific inventors: design equipment for atoll dwellers to convert plastic to fuel. Anyone, can you make a small island friendly machine to convert algae to biofuel?

Brainstorming anyone for more ideas!

Saturday, January 06, 2018

questions where I don't have an answer

 Image from Stencil

We've all seen them. They can be on street corners or in doorways. Sometimes they ask for money. Sometimes they just watch as we go by. Some seem unaware of what's around them. In the United States, when we are just leaving two major holidays, and in the cold season for most of the country, there have been multiple articles on our problem of growing homelessness. This is just one such article.

What do we do about this? It's not new, but it's growing more significant for multiple reasons. I've seen many articles in the last months. Most blame us as a people-- suggest it's a problem of corporate or personal greed. Is it?

Is this the fault of our culture and we are heartless? 
Is it a product of many who don't fit into a modern world where jobs, even service jobs, require some strength or skills? 
Have some chosen it as they don't want to follow rules? 
Is it mental illness? 
Is it an influx of those from other cultures where they don't know how to fit in ours-- or don't want to? 
How much is PTSD from wars?
How about believing society owes everyone a living and if they don't get it, it's society's fault--  hence the fault is someone else's? 
Would a reverse income tax, where money is transferred from those who work to those who do not-- would that fix it or make irresponsible living worse?
When is irresponsible living a product of an irresponsible society? 

These are only a few of the questions from both sides of our partisan and cultural divide. I can come up with more possibilities but the idea of someone dying in a dumpster to get food is heartbreaking to me. If the food was left on the streets, which evidently France has been requiring, will that lead to more rats or spoiled food that sickens someone leading to lawsuits? 

My concern on the homeless being allowed to live on the streets, defecate wherever they want is historical memories of cholera and other diseases that come from not having sanitary systems. When cities allow tent camps, who maintains safety and sanitation in those facilities-- or is it maintained? If food is left to rot, rats flourish leading to plague. Does anyone seriously believe people today are immune to plagues, when we return to practices that led to so many of them?

One town has threatened, with a criminal charge, a church for providing free, home-cooked meals for the homeless. The local government charges that it encourages them to be there. If not there, where?

When I am in large cities or even our local towns, I see the homeless, some on bicycles provided to help them get around. They often have packs with them-- or their bike is filled with stuff they have scavenged. Vividly, I remember some of my experiences where the people were clearly mentally ill or high on some drug. That usually is not threatening. I've had a few times where it was. 

What leads someone to end up like the man in the article? What can we do about it in a country that has considerable wealth-- but with a valid question to be asked: what really helps? Currently, many of our cities have decided the answer is to allow homeless camps. Those are not new for those of you too young to remember them. I recall going to my grandmother's home in Portland and seeing the fires from the encampment down along the rails in a nearby valley. Those were the years where the men rode the rails and their encampments were not downtown. Today it's different.

Despite what some might think, this is not a partisan issue. It's a cultural one. What can be done-- dumpsters with lighter tops allowing anyone in them to get out even if sick or weakened? Tiny homes with the hope that whoever lives in them will clean up their act, with a real address, and get work? Many things have been tried-- what works? The blame game does not if it's not accompanied by some real solutions. I don't have them. Do you?

Friday, January 05, 2018

Family fun and seeing as a painter at Turneffe Flats, Belize

Grandma planned to take each grandchild on a trip when they graduated from high school. Madisen wanted to swim with sharks. We did see a lazy nurse shark but we had a whole lot more experiences with grandpa and with Madi's mother.
Grandpa Don fished for three of the days.
Diane and Madisen
Here we are looking at crocodiles in brackish water.  In the background there are black mangroves. During slower moments, I shared my painter's eye by inquiring of Madi and Madisen how many colors they saw in the leaves of the red mangroves. We all see differently so there was no right answer only what you perceive.

After our family Christmas trip to Belize, I brought home this abstract painting from a four month exhibit at Albany Public Library.

To my surprise I realized I had painted the lighting like what I saw with my uncorrected myopic eyes while snorkeling. The first day I did not bother to put contact lenses in my eye. The second time I had a contact corrected for far vision. The third time only a contact corrected for close vision and the fourth time I bent the frames of an old flexible sports glasses frame so it would fit inside my 180 degree snorkel mask.
What I saw was amazingly similar to the more organic abstracts I paint. Just goes to show me what I see as a painter is already what I look for when I paint.
To the left  is one of  our guides, Abel Coe's photos with his new Olympus underwater cameras. He could find the candy colors and exquisite patterns in a variety of reef habitats. He gave all of us permission to use his photographs.
Madisen and Melinda
 This was my granddaughter's first experience snorkeling and my daughter had not snorkeled since she was 10 or 11 when we were in Hawaii. I went snorkeling 4 times and my daughter and granddaughter went out 8 or 9 times. I was happy to see them enjoy so many new experiences at the atoll They also enjoyed special excursions on the mainland including the Mayan Altun Ha ruins, the tube float through the caves, and the Belize Zoo.
Don after his three days of fishing joined us once on the snorkeling adventure boat. Also with us is to the far right Tash now from Saskatchewan, Canada. Like Madisen who is considering secondary education and a sophomore at Concordia University in Oregon, Tash is a university student. Tash is currently interested in many things including anthropology psychology.
Next Wednesday I will post some pictures about the ecology of Turneffe Atoll.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Eight more pages from the watercolor book of my Turneffe Flats Adventure

The last eight pages include memories of the last half of our week including a night time nature walk and more snorkeling. If I should paint from memory, I am prepared as these on site, small pictures remind me of my interest in how the light rays entered the choppy water covering coral, sponges, and algae in uneven illumination. We saw porpoise, black and red mangroves, frigate birds, royal turn, and a cormorant rookery. On the night walk, I became aware of how many eyes reflect light including the crocodiles, snakes, iguanas, brown spiders and tarantulas. I tried to eat termites but probably only tasted the shell they made for their colony. The illusive boa constrictor was not found.

I have been asked if I plan to frame my watercolor book, the answer is no. I fold it in accordion style. Notice where I cut and folded into a compact index card size book.

  I will keep it in a shoe box for reference as a way to remember the energy of being there. The quality of my paintings doesn't come up to all I saw. Some pages are overworked. But what I like about the book making process is looking for lighting and life flora and fauna detail that I wouldn't have noticed except that I was painting. The process heightens my awareness.

Tomorrow I will post some photos of our adventurous trip

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Dec. 24 - 29th adventures at Turneffe Flats Atole in Belize

When traveling and on vacation, I like to make accordion folded watercolor books devoting a couple pagess a day to what is memorable to me.  This is a 16 page book with memories from a week's stay. Eight more pictures will be posted tomorrow.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Welcoming a new year

by Rain Trueax

This is the week where I take some time (usually) to consider my life in the previous year. This naturally reflects some on what I will want in the year to come, despite the fact that I am not one for advance planning-- one of my personality quirks. It complicates vacations in places like Yellowstone, where if you don't plan in advance, you don't go-- so sometimes I must plan ahead, like it or not.

There have been years where I took the time between Christmas and New Years to write goals for the coming year. Those got increasingly complex, divided into categories like spiritual, emotional, and physical. I rarely looked at them as the year would go on. Mostly, I'd look at them when I got to this week where I could see if writing them down had changed anything.

During my fifties, with my kids raised and new possibilities out there, I created soul collages aimed at visualizing what elements I would want in my life. In my sixties, I did less considering what I wanted. Maybe I was doing what I'd wanted or simply recognizing some of those things were never happening. Until my seventies, even subliminal goals didn't relate to aging. The truth is as you go through middle age, things don't change a lot. Once you get into old age, there are more differences that realistically must be taken into account in lifestyle choices.

I think there is some virtue in living each day with intention, but too often I don't. I just live them and don't think much about it beyond what I want for that hour or maybe what to eat or watch or read. 

In my fifties, when I made vision collages (3 of them), I didn't realize I was creating collages about my books, not my life as such. I kept thinking they weren't doing anything until I saw they had-- just not as I'd expected. That's kind of familiar in terms of how my life works out. What I think is for one reason often turns out to be not so much.

When I look at 2017, it was a tough year for so many people. Some of that was those on the left who were disappointed in the country and that the goals they had believed more shared had not been by those on the right. With many of us living in bubbles, it's easy to think that's how the nation is. The truth is we are very divided for what we believe is good. Many Americans felt we were going the wrong way for 8 years and 2017 was a needed correction. Many found that horrifying and it has led to a lot of name-calling with a chasm that can divide a family and end longtime friendships. 

Exactly how 2018 will shake out is uncertain. I wasn't as upset about the political changes as some, mostly because as someone in the middle politically, nobody does all I want; so I'm always wishing it was different. For a moderate, we often wish for a 'none of the above' option, which we don't get.

In 2017, on a personal level, things went in ways that don't make me very happy but that I can't impact or even see what is right-- so I won't be discussing any of that. I'll stick to discussing my work-- writing. It was not a productive year, with only one new book. If had been writing novellas, with my word count of 140,000, I'd have had three or four books, but mine are longer. I've been writing on the fourth in the Hemstreet Witches series since September and only hope to get the rough draft done by the end of the year-- with editing to come. 

In 2016, there had been five-- the year before that even more. I can't explain the reason for the drop in production-- and writing does involve production. I read what other authors produced and felt like-- seriously, what went wrong with me in '17? There are a lot of possibilities. Maybe it was just one of those things-- not my year for creating new books. 

I am hoping 2018 will be a stronger year for work. I hope it'll be kinder to people where life has dealt some heavy blows in '17. I hope that the world will look for solutions to problems that help and don't hurt. I have a lot of hopes. I always do at this time of the year.

When I made the decision to add Diane to this blog as a co-author, I didn't realize it would be for me as much as for the readers here. I like the contrast in thinking-- how she writes what I would never think about. I hope blog readers also like it. There have been some big ups and downs in readership numbers, but if you do something because it feels right, it has to be for how it impacts you, as we can't guarantee anyone else will feel the same-- with books, paintings, poetry, photography or any other creative endeavor. It's about feeding the inner vision, and we do that by doing that.

This is the first painting we ever bought from Diane. She gave us a very affordable price since we were still in graduate school. She had painted it from a 1966 trip the four of us had taken to the Mogollon Rim in Arizona for an Easter break. Good memories from that trip where we rented a log home, which we shared (along with our black cat of the time, Sheba)-- one of many such trips through the years (the others minus the cats).