Saturday, October 26, 2013

First draft of Hush Baby and NaNoWriMo

It's hard to explain the euphoric feeling you feel when you finish a first draft of a novel.  It's like you become all bubbly inside like a bottle of champagne.  Relief as the tension is released out of you, POP!
Hush Baby was started in NaNoWriMo last year November 2012.  For those of you who don't know NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and happens in the month of November every year without fail.  I've participated in NaNoWriMo for the past five years and The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8 all had their start in the month of November.
This year I'll be participating in NaNoWriMo again with Diary of a Dancer, but this time it will be more of a biography than a novel.
Back to Hush Baby.  The last few chapters are with my editor now and I must move away from it for a while and start on my next project.  Some space is always good between the first draft and the revisions.

Here's what I was thinking for the back blurb/book description thing:
Kyle Rushton appears to have everything going for him.  His own home, a successful business, a beautiful woman in his bed and an adorable son. 
But when things start to go wrong in his relationship it spreads like a cancer into every facet of his life.  With his life turned upside down, he goes to his sister and some old friends for help.
Sometimes things are not what they seem.

Caught between a need for revenge and a search for justice, Kyle and his friends turn to the past for answers and the more layers they uncover the darker the truth becomes.  Until he finds himself asking – is knowing the truth going to help him move on with his life?

Cindy Vine currently lives in Kiev, Ukraine, and is the author of The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8.  All her books are available on Amazon, Apple iStore, Barnes and Noble, Sony.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Things you Learn as an Expat

Being an expat can be addictive.  The excitement of living somewhere exotic, the adrenalin rush when you venture out alone for the first time, all help make the bungalow and white picket fence back home seem a little boring.  There is no excitement in knowing everything.  Life back home can be a little too predictable.  Here are ten things you learn as an Expat:
1.  How to make friends
The Expat Community is usually a very friendly bunch of people, all having a similar experience to you.  They share similar interests, love exploring and especially love sharing the knowledge they've gained about your new city with you.  Your fellow Expats will tell you about great restaurants that serve real food, where you can buy Marmite or some other favourite food from home, places you really need to see, etc.  You get my drift.  Your fellow Expats are a useful resource and within a very short while (like immediately) you will become a friend and be absorbed into the Expat Community.  Back home you might live next door to someone for ten years and never say a word to them.  But as an Expat, everybody who you can communicate with becomes a friend.  Many of the friends you make as an Expat will become lifelong friends that you keep in touch with over the years, even when you move off to a different exotic location.
2.  How to adapt
Adapt or Die is what comes to mind.  You might have to change what you eat, what you wear, and bite your tongue about what you believe.  Knocking the country that has taken you in temporarily is not a good move.  You can knock it after you've left.  Look on everything as an adventure and go with the flow.  Having lived in many different countries as an Expat, I find that I can adapt very quickly.  Remember that you are earning good money in your adopted country which is why you are there in the first place.  You are earning far more than the average local.  Try not to flaunt it.
3.  How to keep in touch
As an Expat keeping in touch with everybody becomes of prime importance.  All these people, even if they have moved on to other countries or gone back home, become your support network.  Facebook in this regard is brilliant.
4.  How to get around
You soon learn how to get from A to B.  Google Maps on my phone is a Godsend.  Whether it is on foot, by Metro, bus or taxi you will find a way to get around and explore.  And this skill will help you survive when you visit other countries on holidays.
5.  How to plan great holidays
At any gathering of Expats it won't be long before the subject of holidays comes up.  Have you been to...?  Expats know how to plan great holidays.  Exploring your host country is only for weekends, longer holidays are for exploring other countries.  And when people share what was great and what not to go and see, you assimilate all that info to create your own great holiday.  Living back home you can't afford holidays that.
6.  How to cope on your own
Expat living brings out your survival instincts.  If you can't do something by yourself there is no Daddy or Mommy to step in, you have to use your words and ask if you need help.  There will always be someone there who will help you when you ask.  You might also have to become a creative thinker and work out solutions to problems by yourself.  I've got through with Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.  On rare occasions I might have had to go as far as having a Plan Z.
7.  How much your family back home means to you
Absence makes your heart grow fonder.  There are no truer words than that old adage.  When you are away from your family you realise how much you love them and miss them.  You treasure Skype conversations.
8.  How to take risks
Living as an Expat is all about taking risks, leaving your comfort zone and trying new things.  You mght be required to try strange foods, take new forms of transport, find your way home when you are hopelessly lost.
9.  How to communicate with signs and grunts
Not everybody in the world can speak English.  No matter how eloquent a speaker you might be, to a local it might sound like gibberish.  But no matter, before you start picking up useful words and phrases in the local vernacular, you will quickly learn hand signals and gestures accompanied by grunts and sometimes even charades to demonstrate what you want and need.
10.  How to live a great life
Expat life is great if you set it as a goal to make the most of the experience.  Don't fight against things you don't understand or what seems cock-eyed to you.  Go with the flow.  Think of everything you do as a memory you are creating.
Cindy Vine currently lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine.  This is the 11th country she has lived and worked in.  Her children view themselves as global citizens.  Cindy Vine is the author of Not telling, Defective and CU@8, all available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Apple iStore.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How NOT to sell a million books

There are many books, blogs, articles, Youtube videos out there telling you how to sell a million books.  They are written by people who have achieved this goal or would have you believe they have achieved the goal.  Well done to them.  They are a success story.  But I am also a success story.  I have succeeded in NOT selling a million books.  And this is how I did it.
They tell you it is very important to have a blog to build your author platform and your footprint on the web.  It is relatively easy to set up a blog and it's free which is always good.  To get your blog noticed you have to find your niche.  As a very random person with a very random mind specialising in random thoughts and making random connections, my niche is total randomness.  However, this does not seem to be a popular niche for other bloggers and people who read blogs.  Unfortunately that is who I am and I write about things I see and what interests me.  Yes, I am the target audience apparently, or other random people like me who appear to be few and far between.  They also say always put an image on your blog.  I hope you like the image I included of autumn in Chernobyl.  It has nothing to do with the content of this post but that's the way I work, isn't it?
Guest Bloggers
They tell you to have guest bloggers post on your blog to extend your reach.  It's part of the whole networking thing.  I have done this for a couple of years and all it has succeeded in doing is making my blog even more random.
Virtual Book Tours
They tell you this is a great way to market your books.  I have tried this and forked over my hard-earned $30 to pay for other bloggers to advertise my books and host my guest posts on their blogs.  Finding the time to come up with content for my own blog is a mission and trying to come up with content for others' blogs is just putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.  Especially if time is at a premium.  To be fair this did help me sell a handful of books.  But a handful is not quite a million is it?
Commenting on others blogs
They say (and this is all theory) that when you comment on others' blogs they come back to comment on yours.  Bullshit.  Everybody is pressed for time.  Blog-hopping is very time-consuming and aren't we supposed to be spending some time actually writing our books?  When I first started doing my marketing I made an effort to comment on other blogs but don't think this generated any book sales.
Commenting on forums
They say become active on forums and you'll see sales spark.  The only spark is the sales burning up to ash.  On most forums authors frequent, all they are interested in is marketing their own book.  They don't give a flying monkey about your book.  And frankly, I find it difficult to feign an interest in Vampires and Fairies.  I am all about reality which it appears is what most people are trying to escape.  Forum commenting also takes up valuable time which I can ill afford and if you have internet hassles it becomes a lesson in frustration.
Social Networking
Ooo this is the biggie.  Join Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari, Goodreads, Google+, Linkedin etc.  Those that made a million tell you that this was how they did it.  People retweeted status updates about their books and that was how the word of mouth thing spread.  Seriously, have you seen how many authors spam their books on these social networking sites?  Do people really read those status updates?  I am not convinced.  They tell you that through social networking you engage with your readers.  Most people struggle to find the time to engage with all their friends on these sites.
Free book giveaways
They say that this is how you make your name known.  I have not found this particularly successful.  In fact, I was selling roughly 100 copies a day of my book Not Telling.  It even reached the top 500 on Amazon's best seller list.  Then I read some of those How I sold a million ebooks books and got greedy.  I took my books off Smashwords and went exclusive on Kindle Select.  I offered my books for free as part of their free promotion.  Thousands downloaded my free books.  And then my sales dried up.  It was as if my target audience all got a free copy of my books so that they didn't need to buy it anymore.
Pricing your books
When I first started out my books were priced at $2.99 so that I could get the 70% royalty.  After I gave books away for free and my sales started dropping, I lowered the price to $1.50.  This meant that I only got the 35% royalty.  They say if you keep the price low (even 99c has been bandied about) then you get the volume of sales and this makes up for the lower royalty.  I don't find you sell any more books at a lower price.  People will buy your book if it intrigues them regardless of whether it is $1.50 or $2.99.  The trick is just to find people who read the types of books you write.  I can't say that I have been particularly successful in this.
Know your target audience
They say that this is really important.  Some authors write specifically for their target audience.  They are the ones who sell a million books.  I tend to write what I like to read.  Books on the dark side, reality fiction and how people get through terrible situations.  I read books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Susan Lewis, Jodi Picoult etc.  I enjoy writing my books and reading what I have written.  There is a target audience out there somewhere, people who like to read the same books I do but I have not been able to connect with them.  Maybe because I don't have a degree in marketing.  But probably because I haven't made enough of an effort.
This is another biggie.  They say if you want to sell a million books you need to have a lot of reviews.  John Locke has admitted to buying reviews initially.  I don't have the money or the inclination to buy reviews.  My reviews are all genuine reviews from people who read my book.  Personally, I review every book I read.  The problem with reviews is not everybody who reads your book is your target audience.  If it's not Vampires and Fairies they might not like your dark reality fiction.  And then if your books are written in South African English because you are South African, then some readers don't get that you might spell words differently (color vs colour) and you might say things in a different way, and their review will be all about saying how poorly proofread your book was because of bad spelling and grammar.  Seriously.
They say that you need your own website.  I have one  You need to update it regulary and put on new content.  Time....time....time.  But this has not helped me to sell a million books.
Write more books
They say that when you finish one book you need to start on another.  They say you have to be an expert at juggling your full-time job, writing and marketing and probably caring for your family at the same time.  When I write I struggle to find the time to market.  Then again, distractions are my bug bear in life.  I used to be quite disciplined in my writing then I discovered Candy Crush.  There is something relaxing in mindlessly killing candy.  These days I can only start my writing process after I have lost all 5 of my lives.  Then when that is finished I might watch some past episodes of Silent Witness on my laptop.  To NOT sell a million books you have to find a distraction.  Maybe if I stopped all distractions and wrote a million books, then if I sold only one copy a year of each book I'd make a million dollars.  Definitely something to think about.
Cindy Vine has somehow managed to sell 45 000 books in two and a half years through no fault of her own.  She currently lives and works in Kiev in the Ukraine and is the author of The Case of Billy B, Not Telling, Defective and CU@8.  If you think you might be her target audience, you are welcome to join her Facebook Page or befriend her on Twitter.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chernobyl - the true story

Catastrophic is a mild description on what happened at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant at 1.26am on the morning of the 26th April 1986.  Poor communication, the Soviet Government's decision to try and keep the disaster secret, all made the situation even worse as if it wasn't bad enough already.
What sparked the disaster was an experiment to try and see how long the turbines would spin for without an electricity supply.  This was hoped to be an option to cut down on costs.   The combination of hot fuel and cooling water created a lot of steam which caused a huge amount of pressure.  KABOOM!  The two plant workers on duty at the time died that night.  They were later buried in coffins lined with lead.  The six firemen on call at the fire station across the road, arrived at the scene within 2 minutes and attempted to put the blaze out with water.  Water had no effect on the fire which increased in intensity.  The firmen were under the impression it was just an electrical fire and were not aware of the dangers they were facing.  Those 6 fireman were all dead from radiation poisoning within a few weeks.  The official death toll for the Chernobyl nuclear explosion is 30.  All died within a few weeks of the disaster.  27 years after the accident, a fireman's jacket worn at that time still has a reading of 500.  UNSCEAR says that apart from increased thyroid cancers, "there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident."  Probably because those contaminated were already dead 20 years after the accident.
After the explosion the chief of the night shift wanted to shut down reactor 3 as a safety precaution but the chief engineer wouldn't hear of it.  Eventually at 5am the other reactors were only shut down.
On our visit to Chernobyl we were told that the safe radiation readings for humans was 0.30.  Radiation doses on that first day were 20 000.  The guys who went to fight the fire had no chance.  They had no idea of what they were facing.  In the nearby town of Pripyat which was created especially for the workers at the power plant, some people went to a little bridge on the outskirts of the town where they had a good view of reactor 4 and the fire that was blazing.  In the early hours of the morning they stood on the bridge and watched the blaze.  All of them later died of radiation sickness.  They were not included in the official death toll.  That bridge is now known as the Bridge of Death.
Pripyat had a population of 50 000.  Most of the adults were between the ages of 20 and 30.  There were 5 schools and 12 kindergartens.  About 17 000 children in total.  There was a stadium with an athletics track and football field, a sports complex with swimming pool, shopping malls, supermarkets and an amusement park.  Our guide told us that the reason why there weren't any churches, was because it was a relatively new town - only 16 years old, and they hadn't been built yet.
Pripyat wasn't evacuated immediately.  People went about their business and continued with their day as if nothing had happened.  However after a few hours people began to feel sick with headaches, vomiting and complained of a metallic taste in their mouths.
The Soviet Government only sent over a commission to investigate the accident on the evening of the 26th April.  Due to the high radiation levels they found, it was decided to evacuate the people of Pripyat on the 27th April.  They were told it would be temporary and they would only be gone for about 3 days, so they only needed to take their documents and a few belongings.  It took only 3 hours for scores of buses to take away the 50 000 inhabitants.  They would never return to collect their belongings.  Two years after the accident, looters came in and cleaned out the town.
The government of Ukraine were only told that there had been a fire and it was extinguished and all was fine.  Moscow informed the region that there was no need to cancel the 1 May celebrations and parades, they could still continue as there was no danger.  It was only later that a further 220 000 people in about 96 towns and villages in the area were evacuated never to return.  The area in a 30km radius from the explosion site became known as the Exclusion Zone.
The general population of the USSR were only informed 2 days after the accident in a short article on page 3 of the Pravda.  It just said there was a fire, not that the reactor had exploded.
The plume of radioactive fallout drifted over the USSR and Europe.  Because of the wind direction at the time, 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.  The world only became aware of the accident when scientists in Sweden detected high radiation levels in a puddle of water.
The Soviet Government tried to contain the disaster without letting the world know the enormity of the problem.  Helicopters were sent in to drop bags of sand and boron on the fires.  The helicopter pilots received huge doses of radiation as they made up to 33 trips a day to reactor 4.  A new crisis arose as the fires continued to burn under the sand layer and it was feared that a second, huger explosion would destroy a large part of Europe.  There was also a fear that Europe's subterranean water supply would be contaminated.  When the heat from the magma below started to crack the sand layer, lead was dropped into reactor 4.   Young miners were brought in from all over the Soviet Union to dig a tunnel under the reactor and create a room where they could put in a huge cooling machine to cool the magma.  Underground in the tunnel they were digging the radiation levels weren't too bad, but once they exited the tunnel and came to the surface they were exposed to high levels of radiation.   The worst of the radioactive debris on the rooftops had to be moved by young men called bio-robots, as the radioactivity stopped the machines from working.  
Young men from the Soviet army were brought in to build a concrete sarcophagus to try and prevent further release of radioactive material.  The sarcophagus was always supposed to be a temporary fix with a lifespan of 30 years.  It is already starting to crack after 27 years, and there is a large black hole where part of it caved in in February 2013.  After that radiation levels in the area were reported to be 12 times higher but it does seem to be back to where it usually is now.  The new sarcophagus being built 150m away, is scheduled to be finished in 2015 after which it will be wheeled over to cover the old sarcophagus.
After the building of the sarcophagus, the huge clean-up started.  Altogether about 600 000 people were involved in the clean-up, most of them were from the Soviet Army, young soldiers aged between 20 and 30.  They were called the liquidators.  They cleaned off radioactive dust, removed soil, sometimes up to a metre deep which they buried underground.  All wooden houses in a 10km radius were demolished and buried underground, radioactivity markers placed on their graves.  Forests in the immediate area were burned.  The clean-up was huge.  Liquidators showing signs of radiation poisoning were flown to Moscow where they were attended to in Hospital 6, the only hospital that specialised in the treatment of radiation sickness.
It's hard to believe but people continued to work in Chernobyl.  The other three nuclear reactors were still operational.  Reactor 2 was only shut down in 1991 after a serious turbine building fire.   Reactor 1 was closed in 1996 and Reactor 3 was closed in 1999.  Although the town of Pripyat was evacuated the day after the accident, the swimming pool was only closed and emptied in 1999.
Today 9000 people live within the 30km exclusion zone.  Most are involved in continuous clean-up operations and the building of the new sarcophagus.  They work 15 days on, 15 days off, to try and limit radiation exposure.  Over 100 people are living in some of the abandoned villages, having returned illegally.  The government has decided to turn a blind eye as they are all old.  Scientists say the area won't be safe to live in for another 20 000 years.
An excellent photo essay on the effects of the Chernobyl Accident on children in Belarus (the border is about 15km from Chernobyl) can be viewed here.  If this is the effects on children in Belarus which was 15km away, I dread to think the effects on children from Pripyat which was about 1km away.  There are no records of the many miscarriages that occurred after the accident.  The fact is that 400 times more radioactive material was released into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl accident than the bombing of Hiroshima.  The containment and decontamination after the accident is reported to have cost the Soviet Union $18 billion, virtually bankrupting the USSR.  The Chernobyl Accident was huge and had far-reaching effects.  I am pleased that I was able to take the tour and find out more about what really happened.
Cindy Vine is the author of Not Telling, Defective and CU@8, all available on Amazon as both Kindle and paperback.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to write

How to write
a guest post by Richard Welwyn

I am reminded of the wonderful 1960’s film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines where the pilot for the German team goes missing and the brass have to take over, despite having no skill in this particular direction.  With typical Teutonic thoroughness they find a book called How To Fly and the senior officer gets into the cockpit and reads – Number Vun.  Sit down.
What that implies is that, if you wish to be a writer, start with the obvious.  And that means, always have a pen nearby.  Or a pencil, or a mobile phone or a chisel and a rock.  Anything with which you can write, carve or indict ideas.  And the reason for that is very simple.  One simply never knows when you are going to be struck by an idea – and you do not record it at your peril.  Having a memory like Swiss cheese, I bitterly regret all the ideas which have struck me and I simply could not be bothered to write down.  Yes, I know there is a paradox there.  How do I know that I have forgotten things?  By definition, forget means, etc, etc, etc.
The way that I know I have definitely forgotten is that is that I have on occasions done the ‘right thing’ and made sure I had a notebook to hand and wrote down a squiggly note the moment a thought entered my mind (I was at the time in regular correspondence with a friend when I was in Arabia and so many thing were very new to me).  I would get back home, sit down at the computer and look at the scrawls I had created.  Inevitably, I would be struck by how much there was – and how many ideas had flitted fleetingly through my tired, battered and much abused brain – and I would not have been able to recall without the aide memoire.  I was then able to compose long, detailed and (I was reliably informed) entertaining emails.  This was the days of dial-up internet.  If you are too young to remember that, think of a crank-handle winding up an early car.  No, it’s not really like that, but the analogy is apposite. 
OK.  That took a long time to make one point, but it is an important one.  You never know when an idea is going to strike you.  Be prepared for it and record it.  Sadly, the story becomes a bit less clear from then on.  I suppose one can compare it to searching for diamonds.  Not every idea is a diamond.  Many of them are simply gravel.  Do not discard them though!  Gravel can be useful.  Have a drawer with all your ideas in them (I actually have a directory on my computer and I go back to them occasionally).  It is strange how often an idea will take on a different cast at a later date – and can be used in a different way, or ties in with a later idea.
Before I reveal the big one (literally, the million dollar question) let us quickly touch on some practical matters.  Of course you have to have structure to your writing – thesis statement, topic sentences, main idea, second idea, etc, transition words, and so on.  There are many places you can find out about structure.  It is a pretty straightforward issue and there are a number of rules.  They can all be summed up with three words, though, namely:- Don’t be boring.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter how you do it.  Break every rule in the book if needs be.  As long as people find you interesting.
We all know what it feels like to lose a wallet – that horrible empty feeling, the sense of loss.  Even worse is to lose what you have written.  Computers (wonderful as they are) can be fickle.  I write longhand before I type it up, so things tend not to be lost forever, but retyping pages and pages can be a pretty dismal pastime.  The way round it, though, is simple.  As soon as I get to the stage where I feel I really would not like to have to retype this, I email it to myself.  Now, whatever happens, it can be retrieved – from another computer if needs be.  And boy, has than saved my bacon on many an occasion!  A USB stick performs the same function.  Those of you with a more advanced knowledge of the internet will also appreciate the advantages of Dropbox.  An excellent invention.
And so we come limping to the end – and the promised million dollar question.  They are the two most important words in the writer’s arsenal.  Remember that our aim is to create an entertainment – it does not necessarily have to be true.  Life is full of wonderfully funny, interesting, sad, encouraging, disappointing events, all of which could be used in a story.  Sadly, real life rarely throws up genuine finished articles.  They need work.  They need to be twisted into shape so that they meet all the criteria (opening, development, dilemma, rising action, crisis, resolution) so one has got, as the lawyers would say, to apply one’s mind.  How do you do that so that something interesting comes out of it?  Simple.  Taraa (blast of trumpets).  You go beyond the original idea.  You simply ask yourself the golden words.  What if?  What if x, y or z happened?  My first novel was based purely on the premise of an amusing story I once heard about a deceased person’s ashes ending up in a vicar’s garage – on the day of the church fete.  All I did was to say, What if the ashes did go to the fete and were sold?
The answer can be found in the excellent book Angels and Tea by Richard Welwyn.  My wife was editing it recently and it was very rewarding to hear her chuckling as she went along.  If you would like to read more by Richard Welwyn, you could do worse that to start with To Be Decided – a book of short stories; some serious, some funny, some whimsical. 
So there you have it.  If you can meet the above requirements, you are sure to be able to write.  That is the easy bit.  The hard part is shifting your stuff – building up a readership.  But that is another story!

Richard Welwyn currently has one book available on Amazon, namely To Be Decided, a collection of short stories.  At the moment, his life seems to be dominated by the number four.  He has written four collections of short stories, four novels and after four days of being on Amazon he has sold four books!  Sadly, as yet, he has not earned a fortune!