How important is the frame?

A few years ago, as I walked the Crystal Bridges Art Museum grounds, I spotted a single picture frame set on posts in the middle of a soccer-sized field. Intrigued, I walked out to look closer, reasoning that this frame must be quite important to command such a space.

Framing nature at Chrystal Bridges Museum

Framing nature at Crystal Bridges Museum

As I circled the nondescript structure, I realized that the frame gave form to whatever you saw through it. The frame and what it held were equally important.

My friend Mary recently enclosed an open air deck with windows. She found that the window frames focused the way she looked at the trees, buildings, and landscape beyond, causing her to appreciate the views from her deck in ways she hadn’t before.

Framed for drama and impact. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Framed for impact. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Frames are, of course, nothing new. They show up everywhere in everyday life – movies, TV, computers, pictures on the walls, windows – each one encouraging us to focus on, to look at, something in a particular way.

As writers we make decisions daily on what story to tell. We choose the frames with purposeful intention.

Memoirists choose what parts of their life to share. In my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, I picked stories from those formative years when I was between 8 and 12. Years when the values my parents taught us kids came into focus (and conflict) in my young mind. The very same events depicted in my childhood memoir could have told a much different story if I’d used them to frame a look into the sometimes unhealthy ways I existed in my first marriage.

As I wrote my novel Go Away Home, deciding the time(frame) was one challenge. If the story began in 1900 and the main character Liddie was 10, the story would be entirely different than if the story were set in 1913 and Liddie were 16. The technological, political, and social differences between 1900 and 1913 change what might be included in the frame, not to mention the differences between how a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old would view herself and her actions.

In my work in progress, literary fiction set in Iowa, the main character is forced to face her own prejudices when she sees life through the frame of immigrants working in a meat packing plant.

Recently, I joined several authors at a retreat where I read a paragraph synopsis of my latest work. Because I mentioned one relationship in this synopsis, the listeners jumped to the conclusion the novel is a love story. It is not. Clearly, the frame I had chosen for my story was wrong.

In the wrong frame, a beautiful tree is blah. In the right frame, something mundane comes into compelling focus. Change the frame, change the story.

Dressed up in a new cover – Go Away Home

A drum roll, please … When my novel Go Away Home re-launches on July 7, it will sport this brand new cover.

Bodensteiner-GoAwayHome-CV-FT-v1

As an indie author responsible for all aspects of publishing, I have to say cover design caused me the most anxiety. Still, I felt I found great designers for both my memoir Growing Up Country and for Go Away Home. Booksellers and readers told me in both cases I’d made right decisions.

So when Lake Union Publishing picked up Go Away Home, I asked, “What about the cover? Will we keep it?”

“We think we can do more to convey the time period and sense of the story,” they said.

I put my faith in their knowledge of what would appeal to readers, and we went to work. As with editing, cover design with Lake Union Publishing is a team effort. I worked with my editor and the designer to find the right clothing, landscape, and color. The right “feel.”

In addition to the images, size of elements came into play. The larger title on a light background ensures the title will show well in digital thumbnails. Smaller elements – the scissors and sewing machine, stitching and buttons – are surprises hinting at story elements for those who look closer. We went through several rounds to come to a decision we all liked.

Getting the right cover – one that grabs a reader’s attention and makes her want to read the blurb, then open the book and keep on reading is critical. As a marketer, I know there are generally several right answers. I liked the first edition cover, and I like this one, too.

I’m excited to see how readers respond. What do you think?

Are You a Book Reviewer? – Advance review copies of Go Away Home are available. If you are a blogger or journalist who reviews books, let me know so I can get you a copy.

It’s “I Grew Up Country Day” – How will you celebrate?

We expect you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Hopefully with enough restraint to leave room to celebrate a far newer day.

What country stories could you tell?

Have country roots? Let’s celebrate.

Since Iowa Governor Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day,” 50+ folks have joined our Facebook page where we encourage, collect and celebrate stories of growing up country. If you have a story to tell or would like to hear from other country folks, please join us.

We don’t have enough folks all in one place this year to stage a parade – maybe next year. Which doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. My fellow country girl memoirist Shirley Showalter and I offer a few suggestions:

1. Do something you did growing up country:

  • Bake cookies or bread,
  • Invite a neighbor over for coffee,
  • Take a walk in the Back 40 or a nearby park,
  • Visit someone in the hospital.
  • Spring is almost here so get out in the yard or garden – reconnect with the land.

2. Pull out the old photo albums, trigger some memories, and share them with someone – a family member, friend, neighbor.

3. Jot down a memory or two about your country life.

4. Join us at I Grew Up Country, our new Facebook page, and share those memories with others who have country roots.

5. Take a walk down Main St. in a small town. Enjoy the fact that you can smile and say ‘Hi’ to everyone you meet and not feel in the least strange.

6. If you have older relatives – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins – who grew up country, ask them to tell you a story.

Shirley's sugar cookies - appropriate for St. Patrick's Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

Shirley’s sugar cookies – appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

7. Spread the word about I Grew Up Country. Here are a few ways we’re doing that.

I will spend much of today caring for a friend who recently had surgery. Shirley is baking cookies to share with neighbors, using the sugar cookie (“cakes”) recipe in her book.

Please do celebrate I Grew Up Country Day and tell us what you did. We’re eager to hear.

I Grew Up Country – New initiative encourages storytelling

On Monday, March 9, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day” – in Iowa and wherever food is produced.

Governor Branstad lent his support to "I Grew Up Country"

Governor Branstad lent his support to “I Grew Up Country”

Haven’t heard of “I Grew Up Country”? Let alone a day to celebrate it? Not surprising. The day and the concept are brand new, the brainchild of fellow author Shirley Hershey Showalter and myself.

Last fall, Shirley and I shared the podium for a reading from our memoirs at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.  Afterwards, over a latte, we discussed the fact that every time we shared our own stories about growing up on farms in the 1950s, people were eager to step up and tell us their stories.

Prairie Lights Bookstore - where "I Grew Up Country" began.

Prairie Lights Bookstore – where “I Grew Up Country” began.

Readers of my memoir Growing Up Country told me the stories made them think of their own growing up years; they also told me reading these simple stories made their own lives and their memories more important somehow. Shirley heard from people who read her memoir Blush and remembered butchering day, baling hay, milking cows, swimming in farm ponds, and downing food from tables loaded with fresh produce, meats, and homemade desserts.

We agreed we needed a place for all these people to find each other, to share their stories, to take pride in their collective appreciation for the country way of life.

The seed of an idea began to germinate. Over the weeks it took root, and this month, Shirley and I are kicking off “I Grew Up Country,” an initiative to encourage, collect, and celebrate stories of growing up country.

Here’s how we’re spreading the news:

We’d like to hear from you.

Our collaborator Millie had a great idea. She encourages any one who grew up country, to tell us how you’d complete the sentence:

“I know I Grew Up Country because …”

She even suggested a few answers, which brought smiles of recognition from Shirley and me. Here’s Millie’s contribution to start us off.

“You know you grew up country: If you bring home more stuff from the dump than you went with … Or you know you grew up country if you can sew on a button or hem a skirt … Or, You know you grew up country if you have ever stood barefoot in a garden eating a sun-ripened tomato — the juice dripping down your arm and off your elbow.”

Leave a message here and click on over to Facebook to meet other country folks and share your stories there. And, please, spread this news to anyone you know who grew up country.

Growing Up Country now an audiobook

Changes in the publishing industry have made life easier for indie authors with every evolution helping us reach more readers. As I launch the audiobook version of my memoir this month, it’s been fun to go back and look at the journey of my first indie publishing venture from the beginning.

Growing Up Country Audiobook Cover

Growing Up Country – Audiobook Cover

In 2008, I published Growing Up Country – Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl in paperback. To my surprise, printing after printing sold, and the paperback version continues to find reader interest eight years later.

In 2010 – after digital books were more than a gleam in someone’s eye – I jumped on the ebook bandwagon and converted Growing Up Country to an ebook format. New marketing opportunities abound.

Now I’m pleased to announced that Growing Up Country is available as an Audible audiobook.

While I know many readers enjoy audiobooks on a regular basis, I’m most pleased about this new format because it makes these stories available to people who have low vision, as my mother did.

The conversion to audio was far easier than I expected. I chose Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to do production. If you haven’t checked into ACX, I recommend it. There are two key questions you’ll have to answer as you get started:

  1. Do you want to pay for production or do a revenue share with the talent? Cautious soul that I am, I chose to share revenue so I didn’t have to go out of pocket. I will make less on each sale, but it’s a new revenue stream for me, so I’m okay with that. Of course, I hope my narrator makes a ton on this one.
  2. Who will narrate? To find a narrator, you put a sample of your book up on ACX. Interested narrators do a sample read. You can choose one of them or if you don’t like any who apply, you can put the request up again. I found a narrator who was just right on the first try. You can also find a narrator independently of ACX and upload the finished piece through ACX, but staying within the system is much easier and can be less expensive, even free, as it was for me.

Once you choose a narrator, the two of you agree on a production schedule. My book took about two months, start to finish.

While production is turnkey, the author is responsible for making certain the final product is perfect. I listened to each chapter, following along in the book, noting any errors using the time code. I told the producer who fixed the errors and sent me a corrected file to review. Easy.

When you and the narrator are finished, the project goes through ACX review. That can take a couple of weeks. Once ACX approves, they set the price and post the Audible version on Amazon. They also send codes for free copies you can use in marketing.

Back in 2007, I had no expectations of what would happen with this memoir – other than that my mother would read it. So, it’s been fun to see my stories reach new readers as each new format opens the door to more folks.

Speaking of reaching more folks, on to marketing. This is where you, dear readers, come in.

  • Do you know someone who enjoys listening to memoirs, stories of family and childhood, Iowa, history? Please tell them Growing Up Country is not available as an audiobook.
  • Do you know anyone who would be interested in listening to Growing Up Country and doing a review? I have a limited number of audiobooks to give away for just this purpose. If you do, please let me know.

Finally, if you’re an author who’s looking at an audiobook conversion, what questions do you have? I’m always happy to share whatever I’ve learned.

Journey to publication began with NANOWRIMO

Writer at work

Writer at work

Writers worldwide recently passed the half-way mark of National Novel Writing Month. By today, a writer who is on the NANOWRIMO track will have logged at least 30,000 words on their work in progress. Each year when NANOWRIMO rolls around, I itch to join in. There’s something about the sweet smell of a challenge and a deadline that calls me.

In 2006, I was there. With the finish line for my memoir in sight, I joined the tens of thousands of writers worldwide who signed up for NANOWRIMO to try my hand at fiction. At the end of the month, I had 55,000 words, a few characters I liked, and some scenes I thought I could use.

Though it took a couple of years before I returned to that first draft, this year I published Go Away Home, my novel that got its start in 2006.

In celebration of novel-writing month, Webucator asked authors to answer a few questions about their writing careers. I am participating because of the good fortune that led me to NANOWRIMO eight years ago. Here are my answers:

What were your goals when you started writing?

My first goal was to write about my parents’ lives. In the course of interviewing them – about life during The Great Depression, jobs they held, military service, and life on the farm – stories of my own childhood kept coming to my mind. Eventually those stories took center stage and became my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl.

What are your goals now?

Regardless of what I write, my goal is always the same: to tell the stories as well as I am able. To that end, I regularly take classes that add to my writing tool kit. I hope the result is that each subsequent work is better than the one before. Now that I’ve written both memoir and fiction, I feel I could go in either direction for my next book. The idea that’s got the most traction at the moment is a contemporary novel. Though a sequel to Go Away Home is getting legs, too.

What pays the bills now?

Years of saving accumulated a nest egg that allows me to indulge my interest in writing. That nest egg is augmented by freelance writing and consulting projects and royalties from my books.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I enjoy the process of writing, and when I have an idea, I’m inspired to puzzle out the story arc, the characters, the place and time, and see how well I can tell it. Writing is hard work, so I’m inspired to complete projects by deadlines and my writing group partners. Also, I buy butt glue by the gallon to keep me in my writing chair.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. Don’t give up.

So there you have it, friends. It is with delight and gratitude that I lift a glass to NANOWRIMO, encouraging others to realize their writing dreams.

Write On!

How did transportation open up your world?

As a farm kid, getting my driver’s license was a huge step. Without it, the bus to and from school was my only option. With a license, I could participate in cheer leading, sports, choir, speech contests, and a multitude of other activities. A license was my ticket to the outside world.

Janet Givens

Janet Givens

Since she lived on the Kazakh Steppe, Janet Givens has been exploring cultural differences and how they are bridged. She’s invited me to her blog to talk about how transportation plays into bridging those gaps as they did for me growing up on the farm and for Liddie, the main character in my upcoming novel Go Away Home.

Transportation: The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner

Posted by Janet Givens on May 21, 2014, in Crossing Boundaries, Life, Travel

I’m pleased to have Carol Bodensteiner join us this month. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that for nearly the first year I was active in social media, I got Carol confused with Shirley Showalter. They both wrote memoirs of growing up on a farm, both had blond profile pictures, and both were from somewhere west of me. But I’d read Carol’s memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl early on, so when Shirley announced the launch of her book, Blush, earlier this year, and I realized she’d grown up in Lancaster, PA, I figured it out. 
I came to see these two remarkable women for what they truly are: twins separated at birth … (Read more)

How has transportation figured into expanding your world? Or restricting it? We invite you to join the discussion – here and on Janet’s blog.

Transportation – The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner – See more at: http://janetgivens.com/transportation-the-path-between-worlds-carol-bodensteiner/#sthash.pVZLCbLP.dpuf

How real are your memories?

Research indicates our brains edit the past to accommodate present views.

Brain

When we build a new memory, we gather little bits of information and store them together, say researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Then, when we bring up an old memory, those bits of information are melded with new bits relevant to present life. The resulting “memory” may be far from the event that actually happened.

The research, shared in an article in USAToday this past weekend, makes me re-think the accuracy of memoirs.

When I wrote the stories of a happy childhood in my memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY, many of the memories were as clear in my mind as if the events had happened last week instead of fifty years ago.

Though I have no doubt my childhood was happy and I’m comfortable with that picture, another memoir I wrote but didn’t publish covers the years of my first marriage. My first marriage included plenty of happy times, but the memoir dealt with those times that were not.

When I began to write those stories, I couldn’t remember much at all. The process of pulling those memories out of the deep recesses of my mind was difficult and often painful.

I felt devastating conflict between what I remembered and the way I viewed myself. In the course of the writing and with the caring support of my writing partners, the memories – and perhaps more important – my interpretation of those memories, adapted.

According to the Northwestern researchers, the brain’s ability to edit to current circumstances may explain why we can be convinced something happened when it didn’t.

In writing about my first marriage, I came to realize that certain things that I was convinced had happened could not have. They were a logistical impossibility. Yet, I was as convinced that those stories were true as I am that my childhood was happy.

Our memories are “a record of our current view of the past,” says Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Addis suggests the Northwestern University research has implications for understanding imagination.

I would say so! As a writer, I recognize there are many “truths.” I realize that each of us gets to tell our own story, yet I feel an obligation to be as close to factual accuracy as I can when I write memoir.

With research like this shining a light on how the brain works, I am left to wonder: are the memories I’ve had stored in the dusty corners of my mind accurate? Are the adapted memories that emerged as I wrote accurate? Or have I simply created a memory I can live with today.

What do you think my friends? How accurate can our memories be? How accurate do you believe writers need to be?

Good things come to those who don’t wait

Trigger a trip down memory lane with Growing Up Country – On Sale!

Growing Up Country by Carol Bodensteiner

“Even though I grew up in suburbia, it left me nostalgic for my own childhood …” Goodreads reviewer

We’ve all been told that “good things come to those who wait.” But this week, the best deals come to those who act fast.

If you have a Kindle, a wealth of happy memories can be yours at a super low price. From December 10-16, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, eBook version, is available for anywhere from $ . 99 to $2.99.

Dec. 10 & 11 — $ .99
Dec. 12 & 13 — $1.99
Dec. 14 & 15 — $2.99

If you’ve wanted to buy Growing Up Country for yourself or if there’s someone on your gift list who enjoys memoirs and reminiscing, now’s the time.

Don’t wait. At 8 a.m. California time on December 16, the deal is over. This promotion is part of the new Kindle Countdown program. For additional great book deals, check out that link.

If you know someone who would like this deal, please SHARE!  Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Trusting my “baby” to beta readers

The Prose Crows book club knows how to make an author feel welcome!

The Prose Crows book club knows how to make an author feel welcome!

Sound the trumpets! Strike up the band! Last month I reached a milestone in writing my novel. I had a draft that was as good as I could make it. The story was complete. The characters were developed. There was lots of conflict. The historical setting and facts were in place. It felt good.

But not so fast. What do I know? Just because I like the story doesn’t mean anyone else will. The real test is in what readers think.

So I took the next step and put my manuscript in the hands of two groups of beta readers – people I’d gauged to be thoughtful readers, representative of my target audience. One group includes members of my own book club. I looked to balance the fact that these women know me really well with other readers who were not so familiar. The second group was the Prose Crows, a lively book club that had invited me to join them last February when they discussed my memoir Growing Up Country.

Along with the manuscript, I gave these volunteer readers a list of questions for reaction. Questions that ranged from overall reaction to the story, to story structure, and character development. Because I’m writing historical fiction, I also probed whether there was too much historical detail or too little and if they spotted anachronisms. I encouraged candor, assuring them I could take it. Whatever “it” was.

Letting go of the manuscripts made me anxious. My stomach roiled. My blood pressure rose. The feelings were akin to watching my five-year-old walk off to school alone for the first time. For the past month, my heart has been pushing out of my chest and into my throat. Anticipation – eager or anxious – can be uncomfortable!

Over these five weeks, I’ve lived with my vow not to revisit, revise, or rewrite even one word of the manuscript. Instead, I’ve focused on marketing, gardening, the incessant rain, pretty much anything to keep from thinking about reader reactions. By next Monday night, I’ll have received all the feedback. Then my baby will be back in my hands again. Then I’ll know what has to happen next. I am excited!

I know many authors use beta readers for that first level of market reaction. How have you chosen them? What guidelines have you given? What has been your experience?