Wishy-Washy About Vella

Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) serialization platform. It’s strictly online and does not result in an e-book.

This is a screenshot of what Amazon’s homepage looks like on my computer. Previously where it says”Kindle Store,” it used ti sat, “Kindle Vella.” Before KDP put up this banner I searched like crazy for Vella and couldn’t find it. My book is under “historical romance.”

Even though I’ve published six chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella, I’m still not convinced that it was my best publishing choice. Vella seems pretty slap-dash, like the staff is still trying to figure out how to set it up and what’s required. 

I found out about Vella because I’ve already self-published several stories on KDP and they sent me an email about Vella coming soon. “Soon” being no more specific than in “several months.” That was back in May. Even though the date was unknown, KDP writers were urged to publish on Vella anyway. I published two chapters, got sick of waiting for further news, and looking in vain for my chapters, which were supposedly “live” I unpublished them. In the meantime, I queried a few agents and publishers about my novel, with no success.

I was still toying with the idea of setting up a premium block on WordPress and serializing my book here. Setting up a “donations/tips” block yielded me exactly nothing. As a friend pointed out, people who use Amazon go to the site expecting to buy things, not get them for free. Of course, there’s also Amazon’s huge number of users, which convinced me to go ahead. Even if only a fraction of them buy my book, I’d have a good size audience.

Another thing that gave me pause is the fact that “for now” Vella is only available in the USA and many of my potential readers are Latvians who live in the UK, Canada, Australia, Latvia, and other places all over the world. But, as the same friend reminded me, I want a much wider audience than just fellow Latvians. When Amazon first started out, it, too, was available only in the USA and now it’s worldwide.

Just because it’s beautiful and I hope to eventually get a few readers outside the USA>

Early in July, I received another message from KDP that the Vella store would be available, “next week.” How silly of me to expect that they’d specify what day. But I published six chapters anyway.

What’s to like about Vella.

It’s easy to use. Enter your name, pick a cover illustration, write interesting tags and a short, descriptive hook, and upload your chapters one at a time.

You can edit your cover illustration and edit chapters at any time.

A large potential audience.

Creative control.

The longshot possibility that an agent or an editor from a traditional publisher will find it. Probably no greater a long shot than trying to find an agent or editor yourself.

What’s not so likable.

Finding the Vella store seems to be a problem for some people. I’ve had Amazon bookmarked for ages and the Vella banner didn’t show up. I unbookmarked it and bookmarked it again and the banner was there.

Creative control is limited. No choice of fonts. The cover photo shows up in a small circle, so the design has to be clean and simple. My first choice for a cover photo looked great when I downloaded it from a stock site but was a confusing mess in the Vella cover photo. Too much detail.

This was my original choice for a cover photo. In the first scene the protagonist is walking home on a snowy day.

Having to wait an unknown time before Vella is available globally.

It’s a popularity contest, but then so are the bestseller lists. I’m not sure a story like mine will ever make the list. No vampires, no werewolves, no Highlanders.

Although their “faves” list includes 250 titles, they’re not categorized.

Every time you edit a chapter or the cover illustration it goes to “review” and is not available to readers. The process is pretty quick, though.

No one has made clear how payments to the author work. Since I set up a payment method when I published my KDP stories, I’m guessing that Vella payments work the same way. I do like that I don’t have to figure out how to set up a payment block.

As with all publishing, it’s a matter of wait and see.

The new cover photo.

A link to “A Home for an Exile’s Heart.”

Writing: The Details

Question for readers: How much is too much? How important is accuracy in small details whether you’re reading or writing fiction?

I’ve never used roses as a bookmark, but this picture conveys how I feel about books.

I love fat novels that have a rich tapestry of detail. Except when I hate it when the book bugs me. I’ve commented about this before when I wrote my review of Ken Follett as a writer. So much detail in a childbirth scene that it could be a manual for midwives is too much. One of my Works in Progress (WIP) has a childbirth scene, but I plan to include only enough to make it feel authentic, not every contraction and scream. Margaret Mitchell did it well in Gone With the Wind when Melanie has her baby.

The book that’s currently bugging me with excess detail and inaccurate detail is The Alice Network. Kate Quinn does not give enough detail to make the characters come to life. The reviewer who said the characters were so vivid she half expected them to walk into her room must have been reading a different book.

Fictional people shouldn’t be like paper dolls with the writer coloring in the surface but the characters remain flat.

Maybe my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart has too much detail–hair color, eye color, what they wear, what they read, what they eat and drink, etc. Readers of historical novels generally prefer more details. Maybe I don’t have to worry.

Even though I’m writing fiction, I sweat the small stuff. Some of it I don’t worry about. I don’t particularly care if Seattle was snowed in on the day after Thanksgiving in 1952 as in the opening scene of my novel. The scene needs snow, so there is snow. 

I hate most 1950s slang so there’s almost none in my book. A few secondary characters don’t speak perfect English, but I try to keep broken English to a minimum. It’s annoying when there’s too much of it. Kate Quinn’s two main characters in The Alice Network have stutters–w-w-w-we have to put up with it throughout the five hundred-page book.

There’s one scene where a character is being tortured. Too much detail of blood, screams, and crunching bones that goes on for pages. It’s surprising how tedious a torture scene can be. If the character was vivid enough to seem like a real person, I might have cried, instead, the scene left me indifferent.

What really bugged me was the small, inaccurate details in Quinn’s book, details I might have overlooked if the book engrossed me.

One character plays with his water glass in a scene set in a cafe in France in 1947. Maybe it’s different now because many Americans have inundated Europe, but when I was in London, they did not have water glasses already on the table when we arrived at a restaurant. We had to ask for water. They brought a pitcher and glasses and diners had to pour it themselves, but nothing like that was mentioned in the novel. In my opinion, it should have been.

Open-faced sandwiches of the kind Latvians would eat–salt herring and diced onions on dark rye bread. Many people would go, “Yuck!” The photo makes my mouth water. I want some!

There are two scenes where characters eat sandwiches outdoors. Despite the Earl of Sandwich’s innovation in Europe people don’t eat sandwiches with two slices of bread. They eat open-faced sandwiches that don’t travel well even when wrapped. If picnicking in France the characters would most likely take a loaf of bread, but probably not a two-foot-long baguette (the French have many different kinds of bread, which come in different sizes), a hunk of, cheese, grapes, or apples, and a bottle of wine.

French bread in its various shapes and sizes.

(If you’re a French picnicker and I’m wrong, please correct me. But only if you picnicked in 1947)

Eventually, the Alice characters travel to Grenoble, which is in the southeast of France. It’s June and twilight falls quickly. Except not. In southern California, where Quinn lives, twilight probably does fall quickly as that part of the USA is on latitude 34. Grenoble is on latitude 45. Where I live, at latitude 47, daylight in June ebbs slowly, twilight arrives gradually, you look at the time and are surprised to see that it’s nine in the evening already. I expect that it’s not much different two degrees of latitude south.

I know. I’m persnickety. I hope my way of writing creates a realistic world in my books and that my characters seem like friends, people you know well and want to spend time with.

Northern twilights in summer are sweet, long, and mellow. My favorite time of day.

John Donne: “The Autumnal”

Even though it’s early these last couple of nights, I’ve felt a tang of autumn in the air. But it seems that everything’s wrong side around these days.

Thought provoking.

Autumnal face

Elegy IX

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
         As I have seen in one autumnal face.
Young beauties force our love, and that's a rape,
         This doth but counsel, yet you cannot scape.
If 'twere a shame to love, here 'twere no shame;
         Affection here takes reverence's name.
Were her first years the golden age? That's true,
         But now she's gold oft tried and ever new.
That was her torrid and inflaming time,
         This is her tolerable tropic clime.
Fair eyes, who asks more heat than comes from hence,
         He in a fever wishes pestilence.
Call not these wrinkles, graves; if graves they were,
         They were Love's graves, for else he is no where.
Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit
         Vow'd to this trench, like an anachorit;
And here till hers, which must be his death, come,
         He doth not dig a grave, but build a tomb.
Here dwells he; though he sojourn ev'rywhere
         In progress, yet his standing house is here:
Here where still evening is, not noon nor night,
         Where no voluptuousness, yet all delight.
In all her words, unto all hearers fit,
         You may at revels, you at council, sit.
This is Love's timber, youth his underwood;
         There he, as wine in June, enrages blood,
Which then comes seasonabliest when our taste
         And appetite to other things is past.
Xerxes' strange Lydian love, the platan tree,
         Was lov'd for age, none being so large as she,
Or else because, being young, nature did bless
         Her youth with age's glory, barrenness.
If we love things long sought, age is a thing
         Which we are fifty years in compassing;
If transitory things, which soon decay,
         Age must be loveliest at the latest day.
But name not winter faces, whose skin's slack,
         Lank as an unthrift's purse, but a soul's sack;
Whose eyes seek light within, for all here's shade;
         Whose mouths are holes, rather worn out than made;
Whose every tooth to a several place is gone,
         To vex their souls at resurrection:
Name not these living death's-heads unto me,
         For these, not ancient, but antique be.
I hate extremes, yet I had rather stay
         With tombs than cradles, to wear out a day.
Since such love's natural lation is, may still
         My love descend, and journey down the hill,
Not panting after growing beauties. So,
         I shall ebb on with them who homeward go.





Albert Einstein

Messing About in Boats

There are few words that evoke sweeter memories than, “summer at the lake.” My family had many summers at various lakes when I was growing up. I long for those days. I totally agree with the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows:  “…there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” 

Some people like to tear around in big outboard motorboats. I prefer to putter around in a little rowboat under my own muscle power, with the only sound the soft splash of the oars as I lower them into the water and the drip of sparkling water drops falling  back into the lake. I can admire waterlilies from up close. The sun is warm. The air is fresh. The water stays clean. Such simple pleasures. That wasn’t something I appreciated at much back then.

This photo was probably taken by my dad who was sitting in the stern and taught me to row.

This was probably my first time at the oars. You can see from my big grin that I took to messing about in boats like those other critters who paddle in the water. Quack. Ducks tend to keep their distance, but don’t get scared half to death by my quiet approach.

On Lake McMurray, Washington State.

During my teen years my family and our friends took over a tiny resort on Lake McMurray for several days of crayfishing parties. If I remember correctly, there were only four cabins. One family had to pitch a tent on the lawn next to the lake.

The use of a rowboat was included in the rent. Unlimited access to a rowboat and being deemed a competent enough rower to be allowed out alone was pure heaven for me.

Being out on the lake with my father at the oars was also fun. I’d sit sideways in the stern and dangle my bare feet in the water. A great way to cool off on a hot summer day? Were the days actually hot? I don’t remember. Washington has a temperate climate. In my memory the weather in July seemed ideal, not too hot, never too chilly.

Even when the little red boat was moored, it was a delightful thing. I’d lie on the seat in the stern, with my eyes closed, dangling my feet in the water, being lulled by the rocking of the boat. Few times have been as fine as those.

This is Königssee in Bavaria, my birth place. Does that mean rowing’s in my blood?

Even though this photo doesn’t go with the summer theme of my post I chose it because in this picture the lake looks more pristine, more magical than in the other photos I found on the internet. I copied it from Microsoft Edge.

Königssee is Germany’s third-deepest, and is reputed to be its cleanest, lake. To protect the water’s quality since 1909 only electric, paddle, and rowing craft have been allowed on the lake. 1909! That also makes the lake a quieter place. Can you imagine what our lakes would be like if we did the same?

When my family spent vacations at Lake McMurray there were never any powerboats on the lake. Perhaps because the lake was so small. I could easily row from one end of the lake to the other. I don’t know how long it took? Who looks at watch, or even wears one, while on vacation? Vacations for dawdling, idling, puttering. Completely relaxing and forgetting about time.

It’s been years since I visited Lake MacMurray, but from what I’ve seen in photos online, it hasn’t changed much. There are probably still no power boats on the water. Going there now wouldn’t be the same. It’s the lake of sweet memories and happy dreams. It should stay pristine, like Königssee.

Magic Sky

Sharing Wonder

My place of peace and bliss is my balcony. It’s where I have my container garden. I sit there every day. I can feel how it reduces my stress. It’s where I watch birds, butterflies, bunnies, and even a coyote. The many trees in the surroundings keep the air fresh. Watching and photographing clouds is something many Washingtonians do. If you live here, you’d better learn to like clouds. You’ll be seeing a lot of them.

Today’s and this evening’s cirrus clouds were amazing. They form in the troposphere, the part of the atmosphere that’s closest to the earth. Ice crystals condense around particles, such as dust and even sea salt. Wind helps shape them.

Even though I’ve lived in Western Washington for many years, I’ve never seen clouds like these. I took dozens of photos. As far as I can tell, I was the only one outside cloud-gazing.

I’ve posted the picture in the order in which the clouds appeared.

In the morning, after the fog burned off, the sky was clear. In the afternoon this is what happened.

Cirrus clouds portend fair weather.
Cirrus clouds can be identified by their feathery appearance.
Shifting shapes.

In the evening, this happened.

Like streaks from a paint brush.
They formed into a fan shape.
More brush strokes.
Angel hair/
Wow!
I love posting photos like these on my Facebook page and wowing friends in other parts of the country. These amaze me, too.

How much beauty do we miss by having our noses stuck to a computer screen, a smart phone, or a TV screen? I spend too much time at my computer, too. Or with my face in a book. Thanks to the view from my balcony I see more of the beauty of the earth, whether it’s a cloud or a bee.

Waiting for Anna,

A hummingbird tale

I think this is a male Anna’s hummingbird. Females don’t have those iridescent red feathers on the head.

The day after Independence Day I sat on my balcony, waiting more anxiously than usual for my friend, the Anna’s hummingbird. The other day I learned from a friend that birds can be frightened to death by fireworks. That doesn’t surprise me. I endured five hours of unceasing misery the evening of the Fourth. If the noise bothered me so much, what might it do to such a tiny creature  (3.9 to 4.3 in., 9.9 to 10.9 cm) whose heart already beats at a rate of about 1260 per minute when it’s in full flight? It drops considerably when the bird’s at rest, in a state of torpor.

When I moved into this second-floor apartment with a small balcony, I decided that I want to feed hummingbirds. I bought a feeder. Right after that purchase, I changed my mind. I’d figured these little flying jewels would be better off getting nourishment from flower nectar than from sugar water. I’d also rather look at flowers than a red plastic feeder. 

I bought railing boxes and filled one with petunias for hummingbirds and planted pansies in a second railing container pansies for my own enjoyment and for bees, too; they love both kinds of flowers.

Hummingbirds love hosta flowers. The plant sits on the floor of my balcony and reaches its long flower spikes between the balusters beckoning birds and bees.

Weeks of waiting and watching passed. I wondered if a hummie was visiting my flowers while I wasn’t looking. What a delightful moment it was when an Anna’s hummingbird flitted up to a blossom and just as quickly flitted away while I sat on my balcony with my journal. Hummingbirds can fly vertically, faster than the blink of an eye. I hoped Anna would get used to me and come back and stay longer. The bees aren’t as shy. They don’t let my presence bother them.

Another hummingbird feeder.

During the last couple of weeks, the little Anna’s has shown up more often but didn’t stay any longer. Then, the other day it flew into my balcony space and hovered for several seconds in front of my face, apparently having realized that I mean it no harm and that a balcony with only two open sides was not a trap. Maybe this meant there’d be more and longer visits. 

On the evening of the Fourth, there were hours and hours of booms and bangs. Five hours of listening to bottle rockets and mortars. I hoped my feather friend had a good place to hide. Had she survived? Would she show up today?

What a relief when a tiny feathered creature flashed vertically up to the third-floor balcony. Maybe all that noise yesterday spooked her and she no longer trusted me. But she’d survived and hopefully would learn to trust humans again. That’s all I ask.

Also waiting for Anna to come feast.

Anna’s hummingbird is one of 360 species, which are native to the Americas, with a range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In the past, Anna’s used to live in Baja California, but have now spread to the entire Pacific Coast. They weigh 3-6 grams (0.10-0.21 ounces) One third of their weight consists of flight muscles. They beat their wings 40-50 times per second and can fly 25 mph (40 kmph) If they’re courting they fly up to 40 mph (64 kmph) They hover, they fly backward, and even straight up, like mini rockets.

 Anna’s hummingbird, named after, Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli. Why anyone would name a bird that’s native to the Pacific Coast of North America after a European duchess, I don’t know.

The hum of their wings is how they got their name.

I Hear America Singing

BY WALT WHITMAN

We often see the same old image of famous people, usually at an advanced age and we forget that they were ever young. Whitman wasn’t always an old man with a long beard and while white hair. I like this picture because he looks dashing and a bit rougish

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman was born on Long Island in 1819 and died in New Jersey in 1892. He is considered the father of free verse and is one of America’s most influential poets.

He self-published “Leaves of Grass,” which was considered to be obscene because of its sensuality.

During the Civil War Whitman went to Washington and worked in a hospital caring for wounded soldiers.