Publishing to Nook (Barnes & Noble ePub)

In my last post I outlined how to create a good, clean Word 97-2003 document formatted for the Kindle (Amazon KDP).

While generally most writers enjoy better digital sales on the Kindle platform than the Nook, it’s worth investing the time to make work available in as many formats as possible for readers who may prefer one platform over another.

A place such as Smashwords can greatly facilitate getting work into the various formats for the respective platforms.

For the do-it-yourself types, here is my guide.

Amazon utilizes a proprietary AZW format that is compatible with the larger-file-size MOBI format.  Both formats can be read on a Kindle device or using one of the free Kindle Reading Apps.  You can upload a Word 97-2003 document and Amazon’s Kindle upload process will convert it to a MOBI file which you can review before publishing.  After publishing, it’s further converted to the AZW format.

Barnes & Noble’s Nook uses the ePub format.  The file you have to upload is typically best when it’s already in ePub format, although their process can sort of convert a variety of other formats (including HTML, .DOC, .DOCX, RTF, and TXT) into ePub with varying degrees of success and completeness.  Barnes & Noble’s guide for formatting and publishing appears on its main PubIt page under PubIt! program details, FAQs, and marketing toolkit.  If you’ve already registered, the same page appears under the Support Tab of your control panel when you login.  Their formatting guide is fairly simple and straightforward – especially Microsoft Word formatting – although their ePub Formatting Guide may be too esoteric for the average person.

For this guide, we’ll be using the ePub editing tool Sigil (free download).  An online guide is here although what we’ll be doing is fairly straightforward.

I do not own a Nook, so I cannot attest to whether the Nook devices portray ePub books exactly the same as the free Nook Reader Apps or similar e-reading apps such as Adobe Digital Editions Reader.  I will say that with the latter apps, I have seen that certain Font and Line Spacing decisions are reflected in what those readers portray on-screen.

I’m going to assume you already have a clean Word document from your Kindle upload.  If not, I’ll again refer to my last post which explains how to get a clean and well-formatted Word 97-2003 document – and specifically one with “sticky” punctuation (em-dashes, hyphens, and ellipses), only single blank lines between paragraph titles and text, and flags such as four centered-and-spaced asterisks to denote scene breaks.

Starting with such a document:

Part 1 – Basic Prepping for Nook

1)  Save a copy of the Kindle document with a new name since we will be modifying it slightly.  Make sure to save as a Word 97-2003 format.

2)  Delete the 600×800 Cover image.  Nook uses different sizing than Kindle.  Unfortunately, Nook is also inconsistent with what sizes are best since there are different styles of Nooks with different viewing sizes.  See Natasha Fondren’s excellent and comprehensive post about Cover dimensions for the various platforms.  It’s simpler to convert an existing 600×800 image into 600×730 (which will size for the Nook and have some space above and below on the Nook Color) than to convert to the 600×1024 used solely by the Nook Color (and that will be shrunk to fit in the Nook).  Basically, using whatever Cover editing program you have available, lop a little off the top and bottom to get the right size.  My covers are usually 6″x8″ real size with however many dpi (dots per inch) required for particular Kindle covers.  So I simply take 0.35″ off the top and 0.35″ off the bottom to get a 6″x7.3″ cover which I convert to 600×730 pixel size.  Insert >> Picture to get the new picture formatted for the Nook onto the first page of your document.

3)  In the Kindle document, all text was Times New Roman 11-point and all Titles were in Times New Roman 14-point.  We want to change the text size to 12-point.  So Edit-Replace by selecting Format >> Font from the search box for both the “Find what” and “Replace with” fields as below (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  And now we want to replace all Titles with BOLD Times New Roman 14-point (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Change all Line Spacing to 1.5 Lines.  The spacing from your Kindle document may have been either set to Exactly 14-point spacing or to Multiple 1.15 spacing.  This can be quickly changed with an Edit-Replace by selecting Format >> Paragraph from the search box for both the “Find what” and “Replace with” fields as below.  Be sure to clear any previous formatting from prior Edit-Replace searches (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

6)  Change any hyperlinks in the document that may have directed to related works sold on Amazon to those sold on Barnes & Noble.  Right-click on book titles in the bibliography section (if you have one) and select Hyperlink and update the hyperlink.  Obviously, if no books are yet on Barnes & Noble, you’ll need to upload them all first and then edit the files with the links after they’re published.

7)  Insert Section Breaks after each page of Front Matter and after each Chapter.  This is where ePub diverges from Amazon’s Kindle process.  The latter utilizes Page Breaks.  But ePub relies upon Section Breaks instead.  While inserting Page Breaks occurs naturally in Word 2010 under Insert >> Page Break, Microsoft elected to make Section Breaks a little less intuitive.  Go to Page Layout >> Breaks >> Next Page to do this.  Insert each one exactly where a Page Break would be (at the end of each page).  We’ll clean up the no-longer-needed Page Breaks in the next step (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

8)  Search for and delete all Page Breaks.  Edit-Replace using the following search fields, replacing ^m with nothing (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

9)  Save the document in Word 97-2003, just so you have a reference copy.

10)  Save the document again as Web Page, Filtered which is the format we’ll use in the next part to create the ePub.  Note that when the document is saved as Web Page, Filtered, it creates a nearby folder containing the cover image.  Do not delete this folder or move it.  Close all Word and Web Page-Filtered documents and prepare to use Sigil to create the ePub.

Part 2 – Creating the ePub using Sigil

1)  Open Sigil (which can be downloaded here).  Open the Web Page, Filtered document after browsing to it.  It will resemble a Word document as far as its “W” icon – but when you pause the mouse over it you will see “HTML document” denoting it (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

2)  Insert Chapter Breaks.  There is a “Chapter Break” button in Sigil with a stylized “Ch” for doing this.  You’ll need to scroll carefully through the document, placing your cursor in the blank line between each page of Front Matter and between each Chapter, and then click on the button.  As you proceed, you’ll notice that Sigil is chopping your document into numerical sections that are tabbed.  Do not insert a Chapter Break after the last page of the book or you will only produce a blank page.  Below are images of the process.  The first image shows the first Chapter Break being inserted.  The second image shows it completed for all sections. (click on images for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Tag Front Matter and Back Matter.  In the “Book Browser” pane on the left in Sigil, right-click on each section of Front Matter and Back Matter, choosing Add Semantics and an appropriate Tag for that section.  Typical ones will be: Cover, CopyrightPage, Dedication, Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, Foreword, or Bibliography (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Add MetaData tags for Title, Author, and Language.  Select Tools >> Meta Editor and enter the Title, Author, and Language (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Generate Table of Contents.  Click on the Generate Table of Contents button on the right.  From the pop-up window, deselect any item that you do not want to be in the Table of Contents for users to be able to jump to.  Do not skip this step.  Even though a “Table of Contents” already appears in the right pane of Sigil, from my experience it requires actually clicking the Generate Table of Contents button to activate (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

6)  Click on the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

7)  Before fixing the errors identified by Sigil (and there will be some – hopefully just minor ones), save the document now.  It should automatically prompt to save as an EPUB format file.  This is what you want.

Part 3 – Fixing Errors Identified by Sigil

If you began with a clean document following my Kindle instructions and the instructions above, there is a good chance you will only see two types of errors in Sigil:

attribute ‘clear‘ is not declared for element ‘br

attribute ‘name‘ is not declared for element ‘a

You’ll probably see one ‘clear‘/’br‘ instance for each piece of Front Matter.  And one instance each of both ‘clear‘/’br‘ and ‘name‘/’a‘ for each Chapter.

I’ll translate what these actually mean in plain English:

The divisions between pages didn’t translate well into Sigil.

The automatic hidden link bookmarks to the Word-generated Table of Contents didn’t translate well into Sigil.

As far as why this happens, I’m not entirely certain, as I haven’t experimented enough with the HTML or variations of document.  From what I can discern, the HTML Error Line of:  <p><span><br clear=”all” /></span></p>  which you get to when you double-click the first instance of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ relates to the breaks between pages (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

1)  Double-click on the first instance of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’

Delete the HTML line that appears.  It may be something like these:

<p><span><br class=”sgc-3″ clear=”all” /></span></p>

 <p><span class=”sgc-19″><br clear=”all” /></span></p>

Be very careful when running your mouse over the lines of HTML code.  Sigil allows drag-and-move of text, and it can be very easy to modify the HTML code.  And Sigil’s “Undo” button does not appear to undo changes to HTML code.  In any event, these instances of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ are artifacts and safe to delete from my experience at least.

2)  Double-click all other instances of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ and repeat with deleting the HTML line that comes up (and they should all be a clear=”all” line with variations of class=”sgc-xx”).

The other common error was attribute ‘name’ is not declared for element ‘a’ which is simply attributable to the hidden bookmarks that Word uses to construct the original linked Table of Contents.  I experimented with deleting the hidden bookmarks, which seemed to create new errors, as well as not using Sigil to generate the Table of Contents – which resulted in the Table of Contents not being right in the ePub result.  The links could probably be coded in HTML from the beginning to remedy the situation, but the fix itself is actually easy.

In this case, it isn’t the entire line of HTML code that is bad, but only the reference to the hidden bookmark itself.

In case you don’t understand what I mean by “hidden bookmarks,” open the Word 97-2003 document that you saved earlier.  Go to Insert >> Bookmark  When the following pop-up window appears, un-check “Hidden Bookmarks” and then re-check it again so they appear (click on image to see full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Word creates links from the Table of Contents to each of the Chapter Headings when you auto-generate a Table of Contents as we did in the Kindle Publishing Guide.

What we need to do is to delete only the reference to these hidden bookmarks which will be only part of a line of HTML code that’s otherwise fine.

So if we click on the first instance of attribute ‘name’ is not declared for element ‘a’ it should take us to the Chapter Header for the first chapter, and highlight a line such as:

<h1><a name=”_Toc314183869″><span class=”sgc-21″>ONE</span></a><a id=”start”></a></h1>

Only the parts in Red:  <a name=”_Toc314183869″>  and </a> need to be deleted.  Be very careful when highlighting and deleting these instances.  Notice that in the above example there is also <a id=”start”></a> which is where the “start” bookmark denoting the beginning of the story appears.  If you accidentally delete </a> the associated with “start” the line will be errored.

Subsequent chapters will be simpler:

<h1><a name=”_Toc314183870″><span>TWO</span></a></h1>

See screenshot below (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note that as you fix these errors, the error codes remain in the pane below until you re-run clicking on the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub.

It’s wise to save as you go along – but save as a copy of the initial ePub that you already saved in Part 2 above.  The ePub you saved in Part 2 should have all the formatting done, and if the HTML code gets mangled accidentally due to an inadvertent drag-and-move while trying to delete part of a line, you would at least have something to go back to.  So keep the backup ePub from Part 2 until you’re certain you have fixed the HTML errors without introducing new ones somehow.

When you have clickedon the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub and you get a message of “No Problems Found!” you’re ready to upload to Nook (click on image to see full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

The ePub you upload to Barnes & Noble will probably be identical to the preview file they provide for downloading to verify.

When you upload, there is a Preview button that takes you a screen where you can see very rudimentary representations of what your book will sort of look like on either a Nook Color or a Nook (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Feel free to click through a few pages just to get an idea.  But you won’t be able to actually verify how everything worked – particularly the links from the Table of Contents – until you click on the link I circled to download your converted ePub.

If you have a Nook or Nook Color, you can probably copy the downloaded ePub file to your Nook device.  Make sure you identify which ePub you downloaded so you don’t accidentally open the ePub you created with Sigil.  To be honest, the downloaded file appears to be pretty much identical to the Sigil-created one, from my experience.  Same file size and nothing appears changed.  But I haven’t done an in-depth look at the HTML to see whether any small things were added, deleted, or modified during the upload to Barnes & Noble and subsequent download of their test ePub file.

You can download the free Nook Reader Apps or similar e-reading apps such as Adobe Digital Editions Reader to preview the ePub.  I personally prefer Adobe Digital Editions because Barnes & Noble made their Nook Reader App a genuine irritation for adding a deleting eBooks.

Example:  If you were to right-click on your downloaded ePub file and select “Open with Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader” you would normally assume that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Reader App would open the file so you can read it.

You would be wrong.

Instead, all that happens is that the Nook Reader App launches, and opens to whatever book you might have last been reading.  You will now have to manually add the ePub book.  And this is not an intuitive matter, because whoever designed the App (and I use the word “designed” in as kind a manner as possible while biting my tongue) helpfully forgot to make the App actually simple to add or remove books.

Sometimes oversights happen.

Here’s how to add an ePub to your snazzy Nook Reader App so you can read it (and if you’re already losing interest, feel free to right-click on the downloaded ePub and select “Open with Adobe Digital Editions” – you’ll discover the folks at Adobe designed their software to surprisingly open up documents when you select it that way.

Fancy that!

The developers of the Nook Reader App did, however, include a User Guide.  Here it is (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

“What should we put in a User Guide?”

“I dunno.  Just put some marketing stuff in there about how cool it is.  Like how you can go “ape crazy and enlarge the words to give your ailing eyes a break (because we all know they aren’t what they used to be!). It’s not rocket science, it’s just a better, easier way to read.”

It also isn’t rocket science to create an actual User Guide.  But that’s just me.  And yes, the Nook Reader App really is intuitive at its most basic core functionality.  Just not when it comes to adding or deleting ePubs.

How you add ePubs isn’t by right-clicking on the ePub and opening them – like Adobe Digital Editions can accomplish.  Oh, and KindlePreviewer and Kindle Reader App can both also open a MOBI or AZW file by right-clicking to open it.  Instead, for Nook Reader App you must go to My Library and then click again on My Stuff and you’ll see a little button at the top for Add New Item.  You can click on it to add the ePub (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

In case you’re wondering how to actually delete ePubs from Nook Reader App – such as if you realize there’s a mistake or something you wish to add, remove, or change in the document and re-upload – it’s almost as simple and un-obvious as adding an ePub.  Here’s what you do:

If you’re using Windows 7 like I am, navigate to the following path in Windows Explorer:

C: \ Users \ (Your Name) \ My Documents \ My Barnes & Noble eBooks

You should see a list of any ePubs you manually added.  You can click on them to delete them.  It’s really that simple!  Just a click of a button (and a bit of navigation).  A shame no one added such a button to the Nook Reader App!

I’m quite sure Barnes & Noble was simply matching features with Amazon’s own effort in providing an e-reader App for users.  But to be sure, let’s see how Amazon’s Kindle Reader App deletes eBooks (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Barnes & Noble can now proclaim that Amazon did not provide a button to delete eBooks either.

They, um, allow you to right-click on any eBook in your Library and choose to Delete, Go to Last Page Read, Beginning, Table of Contents, add it to a Collection…

To be fair, while Barnes & Noble didn’t think of right-click functionality for their Reader App (or helpful User Guides or Delete buttons) they did provide an “Options” button for each book.  It…allows you to “Read Now.”

This is the essential difference between Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and it’s a shame – because adequate competition makes a market healthy.

But on the one hand you have Amazon allowing easy uploads of native Word 97-2003 documents and Barnes & Noble preferring users to go to a bit of extra work converting and formatting ePubs.

We have Kindle providing not only Reader Apps but also a more simple Kindle Previewer.  Barnes & Noble provides a Reader App as well, but its functionality is limited and usability crippled by oversight of basic abilities to add or remove eBooks.  It was obviously designed solely to work with eBooks purchased from Barnes & Noble’s own store, and it probably does that quite well.  But while it had the ability incorporated into it to manually add ePubs, either someone overlooked making that a simple matter, or they were reluctant to make it easy.

Amazon’s KDP site has a clean design friendly for people to upload.  It includes a link to an extensive user guide,  another to the KDP forums, and a few more useful links.  Barnes & Noble’s PubIt site features more space devoted to trying to encourage visitors to buy the most recent bestsellers while hiding its user guide with an extremely tiny “view” link.

I hated that Borders Bookstore’s initially promising online store was allowed to wane and give way to just trying to let Amazon handle their online presence.  I don’t like when companies essentially hand over advantages to their competitors.  There’s nothing wrong with imitation being a form of flattery and Barnes & Noble occasionally accomplishes this – such as their effort with the Nook Tablet.  It would be great if they were seen as anywhere close to as viable platform for self-publishers.  Instead, they’re seen as a consideration for a few sales but not typically anywhere close to balancing Amazon.

Publishing to Kindle (KDP)

There are a lot of guides on how to publish to Kindle (including Amazon’s own) with a lot of conflicting information and varying degrees of completeness.  With many of them, it’s a case of piecing together a puzzle from disparate parts that overlap, supplement, or contradict one another.

There are definitely different paths people can take.  Some guides recommend just doing the manuscript in HTML to be certain of formatting and cleanness in the document.

Most people aren’t gluttons for the punishment of steep learning curves and want something simpler – and some of the simple guides are often too simple.

I’ll take a middle approach.  It’s still simple – because it relies upon the basic Word 97-2003 document.  But what I also include are the nuances that make a Kindle effort better – by dealing with formatting issues that can inevitably arise when converting to the Kindle format.

A clean document is the first step.  Ignore all the complex guides that tell you how to fix a potentially and randomly screwed up document.  The effort in fixing an 85,000-125,000 word manuscript that was written over a period of four months with another four months of revisions and countless saves will sometimes take more time than just taking a fresh start.

A fresh start is copying the entire text to Notepad, and then copying back into a fresh, new Word document.  And then applying formatting to get it ready.

Although this sounds daunting, it really is not.

The formatting required for most documents (we’re not talking House of Leaves here) is pretty basic for Kindle:  Times New Roman font, page breaks after each page of front matter and after each chapter (so maybe a few dozen page breaks that take a few minutes to apply), paragraph style for the front matter, text, and Header styles for chapter headings, Bookmarks and Table of Contents, and re-applying any italics, underlined, and bolded text that the writer prefers.  This might take half an hour to an hour for many people.

A heavily written and revised Word document that has gone through many months of iterations may end up with such a jumble of styles and hidden formatting code that it may be virtually impossible to ever get it consistent.  The Word program delights in “guessing” formatting styles, as well as reinstating or balking at changing styles to “Normal” from whatever it decided fit at a particular time.

So let’s try the simple way.

I’m using Word 2010 for this guide.  Word 2007 will be similar.  Note that documents will be saved in Word 97-2003 format and not in DOCX format, per Kindle requirements.

Part 1 – Clean document

1)  Copy the text from your manuscript into Notepad ( in Windows, this would be located in Start >> Accessories >> Notepad typically )

2)  With Notepad open and your text now copied, close Microsoft Word completely.

3)  Open Word again and highlight all the text in Notepad ( CTRL-A can do this ) and copy, then paste into a new Word document

Part 2 – Viewing document

1)  Everyone likes to see their documents in a particular way.  For this kind of work, I prefer Print Layout view.  View >> Print Layout

2)  If you have a 24″ widescreen monitor, you may like to see three pages displayed side by side at a time.  Or only two with a smaller monitor.  View >> Zoom and click on the Many Pages button, and click on the small “Monitor” icon directly below the Many Pages button and drag to the number of pages (usually two or three) you would like to see displayed on your screen at a time (click image for full-size).

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Page Layout and Setup is up to you for making the document more readable for you to compare to the original for double-checking.  For illustration purposes, I’ll use a CreateSpace Page Setup.  Page Layout >> Page Setup (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Select all the text in the document ( CTRL-A ) and make it “Normal” style (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  While all the text is still selected, set it to Time New Roman 11-point.  Kindle devices allow a user to change font to a variety of styles and sizes, and Times New Roman 11 is a good neutral font for getting the file uploaded.  Whatever fonts you may agonize over for a physical book fly out the window for eBooks.

6)  While all the text is still selected, set the Paragraph style so first lines are indented automatically.  An indent of 0.34″ works nicely.  As long as you had hard-returns after every paragraph in your original document (and did not use manually inserted spaces to indent originally), your paragraphs should all now be nicely indented.  Line spacing is for viewing purposes of the Word document.  Kindle devices allow users to set custom spacing.  The two line spacings I show below are similar and very readable when you are reviewing your Word document.  Also be sure to de-select Widow/Orphan Control so pages remain with consistent lines for reviewing purposes.  Page Layout >> Paragraph (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 – Basic Formatting

1) Format your Front Matter however you wish.  Normally, the text on your Copyright Page and Dedication Page will be centered-text.  Do not create a Table of Contents yet.  We will do that in Step 5 below

2)  Insert Page Breaks after each piece of Front Matter and after each Chapter:  Insert >> Page Break

3)  Select each Chapter Number (or Chapter Title) and set their Style to Heading 1.  Depending upon your default style setting (which may make Heading 1 in Cambria 14 Blue Bold font, for instance), you may need to then change the font to Times New Roman 14 Black (Bold or non-Bold – your choice) for consistency.  And you may wish to set Line Spacing as well as Spacing Before / After since some Heading Styles may add a lot of extra space you don’t need.

Note 1:  The reason you are setting Chapter Numbers (or Chapter Titles) to Heading 1 is for Table of Contents purposes which the Kindle will utilize so a user may click on a chapter heading in the Table of Contents to jump to a chapter.  A Table of Contents is not required for a Kindle document although Amazon recommends one and some users may prefer the option of being able to jump to a chapter without scrolling through the book.

Note 2:  Heading 1 for the Table of Contents can only be applied to either the Chapter Numbers or the Chapter Titles.  So if you have both Chapter Numbers and Chapter Titles, with one of them above the other – such as:

Chapter One

Where It All Began

Then you should apply Heading 1 to whichever is first – in this case Chapter One since it’s above “Where It All Began” (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Apply Heading 1 Style to any other places you would like in your Table of Contents.  This may include a Foreword, Afterword, and Acknowledgements.  Usually the Copyright and Dedication pages would not appear in a Table of Contents, but it’s up to you.

5)  Now we can insert an automatic Table of Contents that will direct-link to anything with a Heading 1 Style.  You can also manually create a Table of Contents and create your own hyperlinks, but the automatic way in Word 2007/2010 works perfectly for Kindle’s purposes.  

Insert a Page Break to create a page where you want the Table of Contents to appear.  This is often between the Dedication and Acknowledgements.

Type the words:  Table of Contents (or Contents or whatever you wish).

References >> Table of Contents >> Insert Table of Contents (click images for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note 1:  Formats should be set to “from template” in order to be able to access the “Modify” button.

Note 2:  Show Levels should be set to “1” (which will only pick up anything with a Heading 1 Style for the Table of Contents) and Show Page Numbers should be unchecked (since there are no page numbers in Kindle due to the ability to re-size fonts).  Make these settings after you have modified the Font to Times New Roman 11 and modified the Format for the Paragraph Style to set Line Spacing to something appropriate (with or without Spacing Before / After).  If you initially uncheck Show Page Numbers and set Show Levels to “1” and then modify the font, when you return to the initial screen Word kindly reverts some of these settings (usually showing page numbers) back to the default.

6)  Set any remaining headers to Heading 2 (Two) Style.  This would normally be Copyright PageTable of Contents, Dedication, and possibly Acknowledgements, Foreword, and Afterword as well as any Chapter Titles that fell below Chapter Numbers (since the Chapter Numbers are in Heading 1 Style).  As with when you set the Heading 1 Style in Steps 3 and 4 above, make any Font and Line Spacing corrections needed.

7)  Kindle requires both a “Catalog” Cover (the thumbnail seen on the website) and an “Embedded” Cover (the cover seen when you view a book on your Kindle).  We only want the Embedded Cover for this step.  It can be no larger than 127k per Amazon Kindle requirements, and it should be a 600×800 JPEG in order to properly fit the Kindle screen.  Normally, you should be able to save your cover at 150dpi at 600×800 at Medium, High, or sometimes Maximum Quality while remaining under 127k.  Less often, you may be able to do a 300dpi 600×800 Embedded Cover, although that is very difficult to remain below the 127k limit, so I’ll advise 150dpi.

Insert a Page Break to create a page for the Cover.  Obviously, this will be the first page.

Insert >> Picture to insert the Embedded Cover (under 127k in size, 600×800 JPEG at 150dpi and Medium, High, or Maximum Quality)

Click on the Picture and Center it on the page (Left to Right Center)

8 )  Insert Bookmarks for the Cover, Table of Contents, and Start of the book (where the actual story begins – either Chapter One or Preface typically).  Kindle uses the Bookmarks along with the Chapter links in the Table of Contents so users can navigate.

Put your cursor to the Left of the Embedded Cover (it will probably be at the Bottom Left which is normal).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word cover (all lowercase) and click Add

Put your cursor to the Left of the Name for the Table of Contents (however you titled it – either Table of Contents or Contents or whatever).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word toc (all lowercase) and click Add

Put your cursor to the Right of the first Chapter Number or Title (this one is done to the Right because when you insert the bookmark to the Left, the link doesn’t work correctly).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word start (all lowercase) and click Add

Part 4 – Kindle-Required Formatting

1)  Eliminate multiple (three or more) hard-returns after Paragraphs or anywhere else they appear (including between Chapter Titles and text).  Amazon doesn’t want multiple hard paragraph returns all over the place.  You should have only two returns after each Chapter Number/Title so there is a single blank line between it and the following text.  The same goes for Copyright Page, Acknowledgements, Foreword, Afterword, etc.  You can scroll through the document manually and delete extra blank lines, or do it with an Edit-Replace, by searching for:  ^p^p^p and replacing with ^p^p (which would replace triple returns and two blank lines with double returns and one blank line).

2)  Make Scene Breaks easy for readers to discern.  Since the Kindle allows users to change text size and style as well as line spacing, you will never know when a scene break will happen at the bottom of someone’s Kindle page.  So when they turn the page, if there wasn’t an obvious flag that a scene change occurred, it may be confusing – particularly when a scene ends with dialogue and the next scene begins with dialogue.  A blank line is NOT a good scene break for the Kindle.  Go through the document and insert a good flag for scene changes.  For instance, you may use Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks, like this:

*    *    *    *

While you may search for Scene Breaks by using Edit-Find and searching for ^p^p (which would be double returns and one blank line), you unfortunately will have to manually  replace the blank line with the Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks.

This is tedious, but it will make the document much easier for readers.  Again – do not use Blank Lines for Scene Breaks.  Manually replace those blank lines with a visual flag such as Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks.

3)  Add Hyperlinks wherever you need them.  If you list a website, or want clickable links to your other books mentioned in your bibliography, add the Hyperlinks now.  Select the text that should be hyperlinked, right-click and select Hyperlink, enter the Hyperlink, and hit OK.

Part 5 – Final Formatting

1)  Add back any text formatting you require.  So if you have things that should be in Italics or Bold or Underline, now you have a slightly more tedious step than came before.  The easiest way to do this is to open a copy of your original document (which had all the text formatting) and Edit-Replace searching for text that’s in the format you are looking for, and replacing it with Blue Font-Highlighted In Yellow for example.  Something eye-catching in other words.  And then you will need to go back and forth between the original document (with all its highlighted Italics/Bold/Underlined text) and your new Kindle document.  This is a manual step, unfortunately.  But unless you have tons of instances where you italicized, bolded, or underlined words, it really should not take long.  For most fiction, it should be tedious but not too time-consuming.

2)  Make sticky Em-Dashes.  Em-Dashes need to be made “sticky” so they remain associated with the word preceding them (they cannot easily be made “sticky” to both words before and after).  The reason you’re doing this is again – Kindle allows users to make all kinds of text customizations so you have no control where a line will wrap to the next line.  Your text will look more professional by keeping your em-dashes sticky.  And even if they were sticky when you originally wrote them, they lost that when you copied the document into Notepad and then into a new Word document.  Fortunately, this can be done automatically using Edit-Replace and is fast.  You probably have two possibilities – either two dashes () or an existing em-dash () that you will replace with ^+ which can also be found under Special in Edit-Replace (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Make sticky Hyphens.  Same as with em-Dashes, although sticky hyphens stick to both the word before and the word after.  If you don’t make hyphens sticky, it’s possible a Kindle user may see a line that has an example of two connected words breaking with the hyphen at the beginning of the next line.  Do an Edit-Replace and search for hyphens (-) and replace with ^~   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  If you ever need to manually insert sticky hyphens, you can type this wherever one needs to occur:  CTRL-SHIFT-Dash (don’t type the word “Dash” but use the hyphen symbol)

4)  Make sticky non-breaking Ellipses.  Ellipses are where you have those three little dots…   There are all kinds of rules about ellipses as far as dot sizing or spacing (some style manuals prefer them to be a different sized dot than a following period, to distinguish them – because no way we could recognize a sentence that just ended…. ).  This is Kindle, so keep it simple.  If you do not make Ellipses Sticky and Non-Breaking, you will have instances where a user will see the three dots broken up onto separate lines when they come at the end of a line, or following punctuation (end-quote, question mark, or period) will end up on its own line.

You can Edit-Replace like before, but care must be taken because there are four variations.  So do not do a “Replace All.”  Also, depending on how your ellipses already appear in the document, you will probably first have to locate one and put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.  This is because your Word template may originally have auto-corrected any instances of three dots into an ellipsis which technically is a single object (whereas three dots are three different objects).  So searching for three dots (…) might not find anything in this Kindle document.  So scroll through it to where you know you have an ellipsis, and copy it so you can put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.

Variations:

  • Ellipsis before end-quote (space-dot-space-dot-space-dot)  ^s.^s.^s.
  • Ellipsis between words (add another space ^s after last dot)  ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis before Question mark (add another space ^s after last dot) ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis at end of plain sentence (add another space-dot ^s. to end sentence)  ^s.^s.^s.^s.

Examples:

  • “I was thinking . . .”
  • “I thought . . . you weren’t going to leave.”
  • “So what exactly were you . . . ?”
  • The sky was gray, and the snow began to fall . . . .
The last example is where style guides would prefer a definitive period rather than an equal-sized dot.
What you will do is an Edit-Replace search for each of these instances, so you will have to go to each one and decide whether to replace, depending on which of the four situations you encounter.  Note that both Ellipsis Between Word and Ellipsis Before Question Mark use the same solution of ^s.^s.^s.^s
So you will technically have three possible solutions (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  You can create these manually by variations of the following:

CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period

5)  Get rid of any instances of two spaces between sentences.  Books only have one space between sentences, even though many of us were taught to use two spaces between sentences.  Easy to do:  Edit-Replace and search for however many spaces you think might have happened.  If you feel you might have even done triple-spaces, start with those and replace with a single space before doing an Edit-Replace for double spaces.

6)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the end of paragraphs.  Sometimes you may have decided to break a longer paragraph into two smaller ones and there is a hanging space at the end of the first one.  This can potentially cause an extra blank line between paragraphs if a user has configured their Kindle text such that the space makes a line a little too long.

There are four variations and you can automatically replace them with Edit-Replace.  They’re easy to find because it will involve punctuation, a space, and a hard return:

Old New
. ^p .^p
? ^p ?^p
! ^p !^p
” ^p ”^p

7)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the beginning of paragraphs.  Same happenstance as above but two easy variations of Edit-Replace.

Don’t use the word SPACE or NOSPACE.  Those are to show what is or isn’t there for this example.  The second variant with quotes probably won’t be needed, but just in case:

Old New
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE

8 )  Fix any instances where Word decided to use an end-quote rather than a begin-quote at the start of a paragraph:

Old New
^p” ^p“
. ” . “

9)  Fix any instances of straight-quotes with curly-quotes.  Per this link:

Microsoft Word automatically changes straight quotation marks ( ‘ or ” ) to curly (smart or typographer’s) quotes ( Smart single quotation marks or Smart double quotation marks ) as you type.

To turn this feature on or off:

  1. On the Tools menu, click AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  2. Under Replace as you type, select or clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box.

 Note   You can find and replace all instances of single or double curly quotes with straight quotes in your document. To do this, clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box on the AutoFormat As You Type tab. On the Edit menu, click Replace. In both the Find what and Replace with boxes, type or , and then click Find Next or Replace All.

To replace all straight quotes with curly quotes, select the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box, and repeat the find and replace procedure.

10)  Make sure you save the Kindle document as Word 97-2003 and not DOCX.

* * * Please read the comments – as I have added one that includes many links to more complex guides (including those that delve into HTML or utilizing tools like Sigil or Calibre) for those who enjoy digging under the hood.  For Kindle it isn’t necessary to employ such extra effort if the Word 97-2003 document is pretty clean as I discuss in this guide and is a typical book that most people would be uploading to the Kindle platform.  If it’s an extremely complex Word document with tables and embedded pictures and charts – anyone’s mileage may vary.

* * * When uploading to the Kindle platform, I highly recommend going to the section called “Enhanced Previewer” and downloading the “Book Preview File” which will be in MOBI format.  This preview file is FAR SUPERIOR to the “Simple Previewer” and can be read on either a Kindle device – by attaching your Kindle device to your computer via its USB cable and copying the file into the “Documents” folder on the Kindle.  When you open it on your Kindle, it should look exactly like it will when Amazon publishes the book in its compatible AZW format.

If you do not have a Kindle, you can still view the MOBI file of your eBook on any computer, tablet, or smartphone and see how it will actually perform on a Kindle by simply installing the *free* Kindle Previewer (which is the simplest way):

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?docId=1000765261

or by installing the *free* Kindle App which tends to connect itself to your existing Kindle device’s Library so may make it less fluid to review files quickly:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

The reason I recommend downloading the MOBI file is because it will look and perform the way it will on the Kindle.  The “Simple Previewer” is a decent emulator but does not usually handle the bookmark for the Cover, nor sometimes other bookmarks.  It gives you a decent idea of how the book will look, but isn’t anywhere as good as utilizing the MOBI file with either a Kindle device or the Kindle Previewer or the Kindle Reading App.

Vinegar and Conservation

Sometimes you’re in the grocery store, about to buy something on your list, and you think, “Wow – this crap is really expensive.”

Our dishwasher keeled over last year (figuratively speaking – it was bolted underneath the countertop so keeling wasn’t an option – although had it had the chance to do so I’ve no doubt it would).  So we got a new one.  And we discovered that the new ones are a lot more efficient with water and energy use – which is kinda cool – but take much longer to run a cycle.  And along with the reconditioned detergents being phosphate-free due to contamination of rivers and other bodies of water, we discovered that glasses tend to come out pretty cloudy unless you use a rinse agent.

The sample one that came with the dishwasher worked fairly well.  And it does last awhile.  When it ran out, I tried a store brand whose ingredients seemed the same.  Cirrocumulus clouds yielded to cirrus – a pretty design on glasses but not quite what I had in mind.

So I decided to try vinegar, and boy does it work.  It’s less expensive by a wide factor, and let’s face it – the fewer chemicals we splash over the things we eat and drink with, the better.  A lot of folks have caught on to filling their rinse agent dispensers with vinegar.  If glasses are already cloudy and need a fast fix, you can also put about a cup of vinegar standing up in the bottom rack with all your glasses on the bottom shelf as well so they receive the best effect, and running a cycle.

If the inside of your dishwasher is stainless, it’s also going to come out quite shiny each time, which is a plus.

And vinegar, as smelly as it is, washes quickly away in the rinse after it does its work.  You don’t end up with smelly glasses, dishes, or silverware.

Along with this, I decided, what the heck, I’ll try vinegar in the clothes washer since people have been doing that for a century or longer for washing clothes.

You add about 1/2 cup vinegar to your rinse cycle.  Some clothes washers have a fabric softener dispenser that will dispense softeners during the rinse cycle.

Your clothes will not smell like vinegar – the vinegar washes away after doing its work.  And here’s what it does do:

* Gets rid of any smells clinging to clothes – stale, mothballs, create your own

* Eliminates a need for fabric softener sheets in the dryer.  Fabric softener sheets have all kinds of exotic chemicals, while vinegar is just…vinegar.  A big jug of vinegar is also a lot less expensive than a box of dryer sheets.

* I’ve seen a huge reduction in lint produced in the dryer since we began using vinegar rather than dryer sheets last year.  I assume the dryer sheets would strip off a lot of the surface of clothes as part of their action.  End-result – clothes last longer.

* Vinegar is safe for colors

* Clothes have come out softer than they ever did even with dryer sheets

I’m pretty practical at heart, and I’ve definitely become a believer in vinegar.  We’re talking distilled white vinegar, of course.  If anyone wants to experiment with balsamic, be my guest.

Here’s an interesting factoid – we generate less than a 13-gallon bag of trash every two weeks.  We recycle plastic, cans, paper, and cardboard.  Food waste goes outside on the plants if it’s vegetable matter.  Otherwise, the few leftovers we might have are shared with whatever possum or raccoon wanders by during the night.  We use dishtowels a lot more than paper towels as well.  So the only thing we have in the single bag of trash we put out every two weeks ends up being mostly plastic packaging and a little waste paper that can’t be recycled.  So there is no smell to the trash.

We don’t drive Priuses or live in a solar powered off-the-grid home, or anything.  But these are a few things we do, for whatever it’s worth.

The Gift of Test Readers

Finding the right test readers for your writing can be a challenge.

A good test reader has to be capable of devoting time on either a fairly regular or irregular basis while you’re writing each chapter – or be available to read the entire first draft after it’s done.  And preferably both.

The ideal test reader represents your intended audience, and will already be familiar with and have a feel for the style and genre you’re working in.  They’ll be able to tell you how you are succeeding or not, compared with their experience with similar works.

Test readers also need a flair for grammar and an appreciation of language that comes close to what you’re doing with your writing.  More versatile readers are even better – those who have read a wide range of works and can adjust their reading style to fit the prose.

They need to be both able to encourage and willing to nudge, cajole, and outright argue whenever the need arises and they feel something needs to be addressed because it still isn’t quite right.  And they need to be able to acknowledge that sometimes a writer won’t take all their advice.

I’ve been blessed with great test readers.  But it’s still hard for all involved, with factors of time and timing, tastes, and even communication – sometimes when a reader or the writer feels something isn’t quite right, even while discussing it neither can quite come up with what it is or how to make it better.  A little or a lot of back-and-forth, brainstorming, and experimentation may be involved to get past such points.

I think it’s preferable, for me at least, to have a test reader following the progress of a novel as it unfolds, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.  What a reader gives me that’s as important as all the other parts I mentioned is perspective.  I can’t know how any reader will approach anything I’ve written.  And I know all too well that every reader will have a different perspective than anyone else.

But it’s still interesting to discover how others see a story that a writer can mainly see in the way they’ve imagined.  Insights like these strengthen plot points the writer didn’t realize needed just a bit extra.  They help a writer uncover and cultivate nuances that hadn’t been considered – the way a reader sees some characters or believes where a plot is heading, things like that.

The relationship between a writer and a really good test reader is like a dance, but one with two leaders – taking turns when needed while keeping the rhythm going and following the music together.  It’s very much a partnership and a valuable part of the writing process.

A writer has to have a feel for what their test readers enjoy, and choose the right one(s) for the right story.  Everyone has their own tastes, and sometimes a perfect test reader for one style of work isn’t the right one when a writer is using a different style or genre for another story.

I do feel it’s also very important not to limit test readers solely to the “target audience” of the writing.  While my initial test reader(s) will be closer to those I feel will like the work, I also have several other readers who prefer different styles entirely or who are literary omnivores and will read across an extremely wide range.  It’s helpful to discover the perspectives of a range of readers and not just a more narrow audience.  It helps to reinforce what is working or what may be weak points that can be addressed during revision.

When you look at reviews on a site like Amazon, you first realize that only a small fraction of readers will ever review any given book.  The overwhelming majority of readers don’t write reviews – due to time constraints, or a feeling that others may do a better job, or not being certain what to say, or any number of reasons.  And even among the reviewers there is an extremely wide range of skill and style, depth of review, and perspective.  Any piece of popular fiction that has garnered a couple hundred or more reviews will reveal some who absolutely hate particular aspects of a story (prose style, plot points, particular characters) and others who love those specific things.

Taste is a unique thing, and predicting or even reaching a consensus is as impossible as asking what the “best” color is (my favorite color happens to be deep green, for what it’s worth).

Discovering a really insightful review of a book that communicates its points to you and with which you mostly agree – or at least respect the points the reviewer made – is a rare thing.  Finding a test reader is like that.  You want them to be honest, you want them to be able to cheer you on, to help improve weaknesses in story and characters and details and plot, and you want them to make time for and like what they’re reading enough that you can feel it isn’t a chore for them.

Test readers are a gift.  And they can can never be thanked enough for all that they do, and all that they share.

Rattlesnakes and Longhorns

Rattlesnakes are one of those things you come to expect in an unexpected way when you’re in many parts of Texas – including far out in isolated parts of the Hill Country where everything has a thorn, stinger, horns, or fangs.

So you encounter mostly plants like mesquite, prickly pear and jumping cholla cactus, and other thorny bushes.  Insects such as scorpions, wasps, black widows and a myriad of other spiders, kissing bugs, blister bugs, and the like.  Lizards like the horned lizard (sometimes called a horned toad, although it is a lizard).  And snakes, of course.

Here’s a rattlesnake I found under a piece of tin in about 40 degree weather one April.  I scooped him up with a broom handle and relocated him, since I didn’t want him close to where I was working, even in a sluggish state.

 

 

 

 

This one came into the open garage, probably hunting for mice.  It was about four feet long and I nudged it outside which it did with a little reluctance but eventually moved.

 

 

 

 

 

Here it is heading to the front of the house to go back under.

 

 

 

 

As I see it, I don’t live in the old house that was once my grandparents.  I only go up there occasionally.  Rattlesnakes are there – even if I only rarely see them – and they’re there because the location gives them shelter and food.  I’d rather have the snakes than mice.  I can avoid the former by watching where I’m stepping and not walking outside at night.

Rattlesnakes can be quite dangerous and unpredictable.  Their venom can certainly do considerable tissue damage at the very least, and can be fatal at its worst.  Normally, the younger snakes have a greater likelihood of being more dangerous in their envenomation.  Rattlesnakes are born live, fully fanged and already venomous.  Older snakes develop an ability to inject some or all of their venom during a strike – some “warning” strikes might contain no venom at all.  But that’s never a certain thing.  However, the chances of a rattlesnake emptying its full venom in a surprise bite are greater with a younger snake.

Rattlesnakes tend to be encountered in surprise situations – surprise for both the human and the snake.  They try to avoid humans or any other large potential predator or danger to themselves.  But if they’re coiled beneath cover and a human passes too close, they may very well strike as a reflex action to protect themselves.  They can be encountered in the middle of the day sunning themselves, or at night and especially at dusk when they’ll often emerge to hunt prey like rodents.  While they may hibernate for several months during the winter and colder weather, they can quite easily emerge if the weather warms on any given day.  I’ve encountered rattlesnakes in November and December.  The four-foot rattlesnake in the pictures above was seen in December during cold but not freezing temperatures.

One well-known aspect of Texas is the Texas Longhorn, a species that developed from Spanish cattle introduced into the new world and adapted to the rough and arid foraging conditions of the territory it became associated with.  Some ranchers still maintain longhorns – either through sentimental or specialty reasons.  Here are a few I’ve taken pictures of through adjoining fences.

Wildflowers where you least expect

Our back yard is only about 600 square feet.

Yet since we put out seeds and other things to attract birds (as well as the myriad squirrels and other critters) we often see a surprisingly wide variety of wildflowers and other plants when spring arrives.

Some of these flowers appear at a glance as weeds – and maybe they are in a yard dedicated to the lush green of St. Augustine grass.

Still, we like to see the variety – unexpected and always different each year.

Here are some we identified over the last couple years:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbit’s Tobacco – stains a bunny’s buck teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s also always at least one you can’t quite figure out what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

This Sunflower rose to the height of the fence (7 feet).  We had two others, but the squirrels got rambunctious chasing one another and knocked them over.

 

 

 

 

I’ve always liked False Dayflowers, which have a gorgeous blue color.

 

 

 

 

 

And Morning Glories are one of my all-time favorite flowers.  We have them growing in several places but this group have tended to grow the best, owing to a good mix of sun and shade.

 

 

 

 

A lonely Yellow Squash plant (I believe this one is a male) took up residence and stayed for several months, blooming over and over.  Absent cross-pollination with a female, there wasn’t anything we could do for the little guy other than enjoy the blossoms and run the lawnmower carefully around him all through the summer and into the fall.

 

 

We often don’t really notice the little bits of color that are so small they’re almost lost within the whole of the fabric of our lawns.

It’s kind of like writing, which is really about about finding nuances to bring a description to life.  A writer doesn’t have to paint all the details of a picture – because a picture will always be drawn by a reader’s imagination.  All the reader needs are a few cues, a few little brushstrokes done in the right way that they can recognize.

Symbolism in Your Writing

I am a big believer in using symbolism to breathe just a little more life into a work.

The best kind of symbolism doesn’t have to be noticed by readers in order to accomplish what it needs.  Sometimes it’s a secret that may only be shared between the writer and the prose itself.

When I wrote Glowstar, I wanted to infuse this particular story with some light fairytale elements as well as weave symbolism throughout the work, but in a very subtle way that doesn’t necessarily have to be seen to be understood.

People form moods by the secrets we keep for ourselves.  Sometimes it’s the clothes we wear on a given day, or a fragrance chosen for a particular reason known only by us.  Most people may neither notice nor even know what it is, but they sense its presence by the subtle pickup in our moods that inspires empathy and communicates a slight flavoring to the everyday-ness of our lives.

So you can think of symbolism like that.  Like a perfume, perhaps – it can be such a slight infusion that some might barely notice while speaking with you yet still sense its intangible presence in the taste of your words.  And others will sense something even from across a room where all they may discern is the way your eyes have a certain depth of knowing.  This is all assuming the perfume hasn’t been judiciously applied and isn’t a cloying scent.

Let’s take a look at the first three pages of Glowstar as an example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several pieces of symbolism on these three pages that help describe a mood without revealing their nature.  One of the meanings of the name Alannah is awakening while another is harmony.  Eamon can mean guardian or protector.  The names themselves are lovely within the context and fit inside the prose, bringing an otherness to the story opening as the characters are initially revealed with this first peek.

Water is a common symbol for birth and renewal.  Water itself is such a powerful thing that all people recognize its place in our lives.  It’s all around us as well as a part of our own selves.  It’s a vital necessity and yet still much more than that.  We see its power when it moves in a river or running body or falls from the sky in its different forms.  And we sense that despite it being so ever-present, it still holds mysteries that are hidden beneath its surface.

The lights of traffic moving across the George Washington Bridge are compared to diamonds (headlights) and rubies (tail lights).  It’s a compelling piece of imagery that is immediately identifiable to anyone who has watched lights of traffic moving far away in the darkness.  Diamonds symbolize purity of love and enduring.  Rubies define passion and devotion.  The entire first chapter of Glowstar is excerpted on my website, by the way, for anyone who would like to read just a little further to see more glimpses of the strange and rather beautiful relationship between Alannah and Eamon.

The moon is another piece of imagery that casts a certain mood with the soft light of its presence.  It’s often associated with femininity, mutability, and emotions – feelings that may churn within some of us like the tide, shifting our own moods.

Snowflakes are described as fireflies chasing one another.  Fireflies are an ethereal creature, almost like little backyard fairies.  We see them only so briefly as they flash and disappear, and reappear again somewhere else.  There is an intangibility about fireflies that I like, and they can mean different things, including awakening.

An oyster and pearl are alluded to when Eamon discovers Alannah within the depths.  Pearls have many associations both with the moon, due to their resemblance, and to water.  They include meanings such as harmony, femininity, devotion, and many others related to love and beauty in form.

Stars in the night sky are described as patterning the darkness like a field of early snowdrops.  Snowdrops are a flower associated with spring, being one of the first to arise to herald the awakening of life with the release of winter.

As Eamon kisses Alannah, his lips are described as warm like coral while her own cold lips are the color of topaz.  Coral can symbolize longevity, while topaz can mean love and devotion.

The three pages of the opening scene reveal a scene of an awakening and hint at a strangeness between the relationship of Alannah and Eamon.  Any reader can read this passage and visualize the scene while discerning all the subtleties flowing beneath the surface – and without needing to see what they all are.

The entirety of the story doesn’t contain quite the frequency of symbolism as appears in the opening scene, but it’s always handled in a very similar manner – lightly so it can fade into the background of any described scene.

Here’s an allusion to cherry blossoms which are always richly symbolic (feminism, love, mutability of life) and interlacing circles which can symbolize eternity, done within a scene that evokes contrasts of the conflicting moods that Alannah finds within herself:

CENTRAL PARK spread out before her in a scene of dark and light, shadowed trees with snow like cherry blossoms ringing their boughs, and underneath a blanket of pure white as inviting as any bed for one who wearied of what life had chosen for them.

Alannah sat on a bench staring out across the Lake. To her right, Bow Bridge spread its long arch across the frozen water, its iron adorned with designs of interlacing circles that knew neither beginning nor end. She pulled off her cap and shook her hair out, feeling confined. Her paper bag sat untouched in her lap, the warmth of the pastry inside already lost to the air.

Symbolism works best when it’s just a faint dab of perfume to inform a certain mood and communicate without needing to explain.  It’s interesting when we recognize where it’s being used and why, but it isn’t required if it finds its way into the tapestry to become a part of the overall picture.

Annual Arrivals

Cedar Waxwings are a very sociable bird, preferring large groups as they partake of various berries.  They’re fairly widespread although they follow migration patterns with winter and berry supplies.

We have one tree (and I have no idea what kind it is, to be truthful) that produces a fair amount of purple berries.  This is a picture I managed to capture of one cedar waxwing at work.

They’re a beautiful bird, with a crest resembling a cardinal’s and bright coloration.

They’re a little difficult to photograph because they’re in almost constant motion.  But since they tend to form such large groups, sometimes the easiest thing is to point the camera at a likely bunch of berries and simply wait for one to stop long enough to get a photo.

Around this time as well, many birds will begin to think about raising young.  While most of them will wait until the weather warms a little more, the Eastern Screech Owl prefers laying eggs in the cold weather and having its young emerge when spring is beginning to signal its arrival.

A neighbor has had a nesting box for screech owls for a few years and just put up a new one, so I’m hoping they will nest once more.  They hadn’t the past couple years, as far as I could tell, although there was a period of three years in a row when they were very successful.  One year resulted in four owlets (although one died during a heavy thunderstorm after already leaving the nest).

Eastern Screech Owls are fairly accustomed to humans and unless approached too closely may simply watch as long as they feel they’re beyond reach.

These youngsters (there were often three but this picture only caught two together one early evening) would allow me to come close enough to photograph them.  Sometimes their mother would be close by as well.  Note the slight “horns” (raised feathers) which they use to make themselves appear larger.  When they rise tall on their feet and puff up their feathers, they are in more of a warning mode of alarm.

This is a very young owlet that has just learned to fly.  One evening I opened my front door and this one flew down to the porch to check me out.  It remained there for several minutes, long enough to have my wife bring the camera and take a few pictures.  Its mother was in a tree nearby, calling to the baby to return, which it eventually did.

A screech owl’s call can best be described ( at least by me) as similar to a horse whinny, but more eerie and higher like a whistle.  Mated pairs will usually roost separately from one another during the day, and then call to one another as dusk falls.  So when you hear one calling at dusk, it may be trying to call its mate to meet up prior to hunting.

They’ll eat a variety of small prey – including moths and other large insects, geckos are a favorite treat, small goldfish from outdoor ponds, anoles and other small lizards, small birds if possible, and an occasional small garden snake.

Blue jays and similar birds in the corvidiae family (ravens and crows) will mob screech owls if they discover where one is roosting during the day.  Corvids recognize predatory birds like owls and hawks and will relentlessly harass them.

There is a gentleman who has maintained a nesting box with cameras for many years now and provides considerable insights into the raising of owlets by their parents.  It’s a very good site and I hope he does it again this year – assuming he has the time, the equipment can be kept in working order, and the owls cooperate.

Owlets are precocious and leave a nest quite early, before being capable of actual flight.  During this time, they rely on their formidable climbing skills – using their already powerful beaks and claws to climb to safety where they experiment with short glides from one limb to another.  Their parents maintain a watchful vigil over the youngsters during this critical time.  For a few months after learning to fly, the youngsters will remain close to at least one parent (usually the mother) to learn foraging and hunting skills.

Eastern Screech Owls readily adapt to urban environments and the unfortunate downside of this is that some of their losses are due to collisions with cars.  Screech owls tend to hunt beneath the canopy, soaring down in a long glide and occasionally this happens low across a street.

If a young owlet is ever encountered, its parents are probably close by, watching.  Unless it  appears to be injured or in danger for some reason (such as far from any tree with potential predators such as cats around), it should be left alone.  They’re very adept climbers and will get back into any nearby tree fairly quickly.  Try to approach a young owlet may trigger a protective response from one or both parents.  And handling a young owlet is something best done with heavy gloves, since their claws and beaks can cause damage to any exposed skin.

Write With Feeling

I mentioned in a prior post that I begin a book or a story without an outline or a list of characters – although considerable research into settings and time period so I don’t have to worry about that part while I’m writing the story.

But one thing I always do before writing is to ensure I have real passion for what I’m about to uncover in the story.

Whether it’s a new main character (as has been the case for Winter Fade and Glowstar) or a returning character in a different setting and place within her own life (as with Firefly Kiss, Snowflake Promise, and the stories in Becomings) I need to be able to feel what this character is feeling, and feel it deeply.  In doing so, I gain insights into what she will do, how she will respond, and where she will go from there.

All of my books and stories begin with feeling.  Winter Fade opens with a glimpse of the main character’s isolation and loneliness, the helpless feeling she has at not knowing anymore which way to go, and afraid to choose a direction for fear it may be wrong.  The entire story is centered around this theme – events overtake her that force her to make choices – for good or ill – and to live with the consequences.  As she confesses near the end to a human she has enraptured, “It’s been really hard for me. It’s not a life I chose for myself, but I’ve made the best I can from it.”

Firefly Kiss picks up only a few weeks after the end of Winter Fade, and Imoen is far different than she had begun in the prior book.  Yet a sense of loneliness remains, even if its cause has changed.  Her feelings are more complex, stirred by memories and fears of loss of people she loves, and a growing awareness that she has more lessons – including some very hard ones – to be learned.

Snowflake Promise finds an even more mature Imoen.  As self-assured in some ways as she was in other ways when Firefly Kiss began, she is at a different stage in her life and faces new feelings of doubt and new challenges to overcome.

All of these feelings tie into the external crises Imoen faces through the course of the three books.  She ends each book a very different person than she began.  And I’m also speaking internally rather than tacking on special powers or the like – something that happens with some frequency in the genre.  One facet of heavily plotted books that I have seen is that some – not all – show little character development because too much focus was placed on lining the plot elements into place and not enough on developing themes and the characters themselves.

Readers love to see a character grow and end a story different than they began it.  We see ourselves in these characters and want to believe that the crises meant something – that they brought about changes within the characters who experienced them and in ways we can imagine happening within ourselves.

I made a deliberate choice not to have the vampires in the Winter Fade books gain strength and power with age.  As Lucan tells Imoen early in the story, “Age gains our kind nothing more than experience, and only for those who are receptive to it.”

When you add power, you lose weakness – and you find yourself forced to discover ever-more-clever ways to manufacture “flaws” so the super-powered character can be endangered enough to still present an enjoyable reading experience.  This is a trap some authors have fallen into, partly from a desire to “grow” a character and partly I think because authors have a tendency to fall in love with the characters they’ve begun to know so intimately, and there is a desire to nurture the character and protect them.

But an author’s responsibility is to make characters face dangers – and not token ones that the author can easily write the character out of – and particularly not in a deus ex machina manner where the author’s hand can literally be seen dipping into a story, plucking up a character and rescuing them in some unlikely manner.  Imoen has the same powers at the end of the third book as she showed by the third chapter of the first book.  What she develops over the course of all three books are experience, practice, and a deep and abiding trust in her friends.

Back to feelings – I began Glowstar with an understanding of Alannah’s deep despair, a feeling that comes alive from the first chapter along with the unusual nature of her relationship with Eamon and the divided feelings it causes within her.  The story continued with these feelings as they evolved along the axis of the plot, all the way through its resolution.

Isabel began on a different note.  I understood her character but I wanted to know where she really came from and what shaped her.  What I found out was rather fascinating, and made sense.

A similar story happened in Darya – where the origin of her character is explored and the events that made her what she came to become are seen.

Katharine I felt was closer in the story to the person she is in Winter Fade, because her character has always struck me as possessing an inherent sureness beyond her years, even as a human.  The story gave the reader a chance to see how some of that sureness was tested by the events she experienced in Chicago in 1863.

All of this is one reason why I don’t prefer to do a detailed outline for stories.  I’ll usually have a fragment of an opening scene in mind, and often a similar fragment of an idea for an ending crisis – but I have to know the main character and what she’s feeling inside before I have the seeds of a story.

Rachel Raccoon

We’ve had a periodic visitor who has been coming by more often lately.  She – I’m only making an assumption, although Baldy Possum was indisputable a male – has had the moniker “Rachel Raccoon” since we first saw her and her sibling (who we nicknamed Raquel) last spring.

Raccoon siblings will often remain close and forage together even after reaching early adulthood, although eventually they tend to separate and forge their own lives.  Raquel was the more openly curious of the two, while Rachel was the more shy one.

I don’t have pictures of them, as unlike the possums, they have only come by late at night. And while possums don’t even appear to notice the shine of a flashlight, raccoons are very sensitive toward anything that might signal they’ve been noticed, and will slip away fairly quickly.

Urban raccoons have a tendency to be more potentially destructive to dwellings than possums, due to their formidable problem-solving skills, persistence, and teeth and manipulative paws.  Raccoon Willie shows one example (caution: some of the language is profane).

On the other hand, raccoons tend to have a greater tendency to be seen as “cute” than possums – particularly younger raccoons (kits).  Raccoons exhibit playfulness and inherent curiosity that makes them do unusual things.  Here’s one stealing a small rug through a dog-door.

There was a recent show on PBS on urban raccoons that noted how they had been imported into Japan and Germany due to their cuteness, which unfortunately didn’t last.  Japan’s passion for baby raccoon pets was apparently sparked by a popular animated show featuring a raccoon named Rascal.  Since kits become full-grown raccoons, and cute young male kits become more aggressive boar raccoons, many were released and have subsequently been very adaptable – apparently sowing destruction on centuries-old temples in which they have chosen to take up residence (after making various entry places and doing other modifications).  They’ve done similar such home-remodeling in Germany – with Europe’s most dense population of the non-native raccoon – up to 400 per square mile – in the city of Kassel.

Raccoons have different eating habits than possums in an urban environment.  Possums are foragers and even with a plentiful plate of food available they will usually only sample some, wander off for a few hours and return for a little more, and so on throughout the night.  A raccoon will gorge itself whenever food is available, until either it can’t eat any more or the food is all gone (usually the latter).

I’ve enjoyed having the possums come by the backyard – although it’s been over a month since I’ve seen one now, after having almost nightly visits by up to three possums.  Possums will spend a lot of time around a yard chasing cockroaches and eating slugs and  grubs and other insects.  Raccoons are roaming opportunists.  The raccoons kept grabbing the edges of one or the other of the two birdbaths and flipping them over – even after I put a ground-level birdbath down in case they were looking for water.  No, they suspected the water just above their heads must be somehow more interesting than the one at their feet.  I had to put steel rebar supports around the birdbaths to halt the tipping.  As heavy as a birdbath can be, the raccoons were also risking injury for their curiosity, and despite their intelligence and memory capabilities, they probably managed to do it four or five times altogether for whatever reason they had.

While possums are timid creatures – their open mouth hiss is their hope to make something scared of them so they can slip away – raccoons can be very good fighters and can certainly take on a dog, even a larger one, if cornered.  That isn’t to say that a dog might not still win such a fight, but the raccoon will try to wrap around the dog’s head with claws and teeth sunk in to discourage it.  Raccoons are also one the creatures that have a higher potential as a rabies vector species – while possums are considered to be almost immune to the virus.

Still, raccoons are fascinating animals for the way they adapt around humans, and seem able like dogs and a few other creatures to be aware of how humans may react to them.  So it’s easy to find videos of raccoons begging for food from humans – a behavior you wouldn’t see many other wild animals adopt so easily.  From what I understand about various mammals being “tamed” – skunks may actually be one of the ones that may take on expectations of what humans usually have, while most others – including raccoons, possums, ringtails (cacomistles), etc. will always exhibit a greater tendency toward their wild nature.