Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Kindle Vella

This spring, Amazon announced a new serialized story program called Kindle Vella. Authors will post a new serialized story on a regular schedule and readers will purchase tokens. Programs since as Wattpad and Radish have used this approach to serialized fiction for awhile.

Kindle Vella’s genres include science fiction, fantasy, romance, and children’s.

Many years ago, I started writing stories about my Cocker Spaniel, Stormy and I training to become a reading therapy dog team. I had great dreams of me as the author and my cute Cocker Spaniel reading with kids in schools.

It didn’t happen. Stormy didn’t pass the final test. A car door slammed and he stood up and barked. We didn’t pass. Barking was forbidden. I could have retested him in a few years when he matured but it was a lot of work to keep his all his training skills current.

But the training program was not wasted and many of his new skills made him a very wonderful off leash beach dog on the Oregon Coast. Every walk he greets people, never jumps up on anyone, knows how to stand still while children jump around and try to pet him, and stays under voice control as we walk the wide open beaches.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what type of book I was writing. It seemed to just be snippets of Stormy’s training and he’s a dog. We all know where pet stories end up–with the dog at that final vet appointment. I really didn’t want to write that type of book.

But I kept working on the stories.

And then this spring I attended an Eastside RWA virtual meeting and an Amazon rep was there talking to us about publishing with Amazon. In the last few minutes suddenly the tone shifted from how to upload your book with KDP to this new program, Kindle Vella.

They were rolling Kindle Vella out for KDP authors to try for a few months–upload a few stories, see the format, the layout and then this summer Amazon would roll out Kindle Vella to readers.

The spark caught. This wasn’t the first time I had been on the cusp of an Amazon rollout with publishing. I heard Jon Fine talk about the KDP program at a conference on Whidby Island as it rolled out. The spark in the virtual room was the same as it was at that conference on Whidbey Island.

Stormy’s story! My heart beat fast. Stormy’s story was episodic. It was a story that could easily be rolled out in short bits of a serialized story. And I had kept adding to those original stories. Not only did I have the stories of him in training but I had years of our beach stories. I had drafted enough content to feed a serialized story for a very long time.

I got off that meeting and set up my Kindle Vella page. I uploaded a picture of Stormy for the cover.

Kindle Vella creates the format to be a small circle which readers will see as the cover. I wrote my blurb.

Stormy. Born for greatness as an agility dog. But greatness slips out of Stormy’s paws when he flunks his first puppy agility test and is reassigned as a pet dog, Now, Stormy must learn the rules of backyard dog barking contests, how to coexist with a pesky cat, and most importantly, how not to steal other dog’s treats in weekly training classes. A humorous and joyful journey told through the eyes of a dog who is trying to teach his Human how to see the world one sniff at a time

And then I stopped. I needed to do some editing of the first stories. I had just finished an editorial map so I had a strong direction of how to revise each story.

But it took me awhile to get back to the revisions.

And then this week, I posted a picture to Stormy’s Twitter feed of him in front of our first sandcastle for Cannon Beach’s Virtual Sandcastle summer festival. (Usually this is a day in June but because of the pandemic it’s been a virtual event the last two years. Sandcastle builders can build at any time and take a picture and enter it in the contest).

Stormy’s sandcastle tweet went viral. Quickly the likes and retweets came in. I knew for the rest of the summer, I will be taking pictures of Stormy with sandcastles and posting them on his Twitter account. But I also knew he was doing a better job on his social media accounts that I have done as an author.

And I got back to revisions on his stories. I spent the week working in the morning before I had to log into my online teaching role–one of the huge perks of my job. I don’t have a commute and often use that time as my writing time.

By the end of the week I had the first five stories uploaded to Kindle Vella. According to Kindle Vella, the first three stories will be free to hook readers into the series and then readers will purchase future stories with tokens.

There is no official launch date yet for Kindle Vella to readers–but the buzz seems to be it will launch before the end of July and in order to go live in that first roll out, authors need to have at least five serialized stories posted.

Kindle Vella recommends authors know the roll-out for their serialized stories. Will it be every day? Every three days? Once a week? And then keep it consistent.

I’m not sure what my roll out will look like. I’ll be curious to see how the first five stories go.

But I know somewhere in those stories will be one or two about sandcastles!

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How I Use Canva

My day job for over the last year has been teaching at an online high school in Portland, Oregon area. I got the job right before the pandemic and was given a fabulous mentor who trained me for about six weeks in all things online including; using our LMS, Canvas, how to teach on Zoom while asking kids to work on Google Jamboards, Docs and Slideshows at the same time as I was teaching, and how to maneuver my way through Google spreadsheets–something which has been necessary to keep all the data we use but one of my biggest challenges!

We often use various apps and programs with kids to help them work on line such as Kami to annotate documents, SlidesGo to help jazz up slide shows, and Canva.

Canva was something I heard mentioned at my Rose City RWA group when we got a mini-workshop in Book Brush. I was enthralled with Book Brush but didn’t want to commit to the full price just yet–which includes making book covers, creating box sets and videos. (There is a free version and you can do quite a lot to see if you want to buy the full version).

And then Canva popped on my radar at school. My tenth grade advisory students were working on their semester end projects and I was helping them do some time management with those projects. I knew a couple teachers were using Canva to create worksheets that could be turned into PDF’s and then annotated with Kami online but I hadn’t really needed to do that with the creative writing class or my GED students.

And then Some Stories Are Not Seen launched and I needed bookmarks, postcards, and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram graphics. So I popped onto Canva and gave myself a little tutorial.

It’s a pretty easy program to use and once I got the hang of it, I did a Zoom lesson with the tenth graders to help me solidify my learning and see if they knew of any tips or tricks. Only one student was using Canva so it was new to them but a lot of them loved the card making feature. As an educator, my school account has all the bells and whistles but the free version of Canva has all I need for my author role.

Here are some of the things I’ve made so far for my book launch: (All of these have been made with my free author account).

Instagram/Twitter Graphic:

Instagram Image. I also posted this on Twitter.
Postcard–Front and Back
Bookmark. I uploaded these to Vista Print for printing and they have a nice glossy front and back. I have been inserting one into every book I sign for the Cannon Beach Book Company who has been fabulous with promoting my book!
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A Tribute to a Dear Writing Friend

I lost a dear writing friend this week to a battle with cancer.

I met Jennie in our Vermont College MFA Writing for Children and Young People program. We attended the low-residency program and two times a year–January and July–we’d fly to Montpelier Vermont and attend ten days of lectures, readings and workshops.

Immediately Jennie popped out to me with her bright smile and great laugh. She wrote poetry and picture books and was sharp and quick witted. But it wasn’t our writing we bonded over, it was our location where we lived.

Both Jennie and I were from the West Coast and not the East Coast. And it made a difference in that low-residency program. Our flight to residency took an entire day. We often arrived tired after two plane rides–one usually a small plane from Chicago to Burlington, Vermont. We would speed down the hill to the nearest pub with our other far traveling friend, Rhay, from Cyprus. The two of them would order beers and try to chase away jet lag while I sipped on cokes and tried to calm my nervous flying stomach and anxiety while gearing myself up for ten days of residency which could often be long and intense.

During residency Jennie and I would often talk about the difference in teaching styles from West Coast to East Coast writers. West Coast writers were often more schooled in the language of free writes from Natalie Goldberg and exploration and process while East Coast writers were more of the traditional teaching style with what seemed like little room for play and exploration in process.

In the winter, the West Coast group of us complained that we didn’t have the heavy coats, mittens and scarfs it took to trek across the campus to lecture halls and dining rooms. We hated the heaters that blasted at us while we struggled with keeping our body temperatures somewhere in between sweltering and freezing.

Jennie and I often had gates next to each other in Chicago, she to Arizona and me to Seattle. We would sit in between the two gates while we waited for our flights to be called and discuss how glad we were to be going back to the West Coast. She to sunny warm winter days and me to rainy cool Pacific Northwest winters.

After we graduated, Jennie and I visited each other. I flew down to Arizona in February to see her and get out of the cold and damp Seattle winter. We sat by her pool and wrote. She toured me all over Phoenix and showed me the coffee house where she wrote, as well as some tourist attractions.

A few years later, Jennie came to visit me with our friend Rhay. The two of them sat on my sweeping porch overlooking Lake Stevens and talked and laughed–loudly. So loudly that as I was in the bathroom above them their words carried up to me. I was in the middle of some not so nice disagreements with neighbors and suddenly, I stormed downstairs and threw open the door and told them to be quiet! Both of them looked at me like I had lost my mind and started calling me the Noise Police–a name which stuck and would often be referenced as the years went on in Facebook posts.

Jennie often felt like my soul sister in writing. We both struggled with finding a path in traditional publishing for years. Jennie worked tirelessly in Arts Councils and bringing art workshops to schools, similar to the paths I was trying to carve in Snohomish County. For a long time after graduation we had long email chains with Rhay about our writing process. We critiqued each other’s work, gave advice and encouragement when the rejections came and sent each other places looking for submissions.

Jennie moved to San Diego at the same time I moved to Portland and I felt our friendship drift apart. I got lost in the survival of restarting my life, trying to find a job and trying to get settled in a new town. Sometimes Jennie would pop up and we’d have a moment of how hard can it be to find a grocery store in a new town! And then we’d drift back apart.

When Jennie was diagnosed with breast cancer, it hardly seemed possible. And some part of me thought, she’ll get through this. Jennie gets through everything! It can’t be that bad.

And she did. She got through the first round of it.

But then, the cancer came back.

And through it all Jennie never got quiet on Facebook. She seemed to tag me in every writer post or resource there was and again, I thought she’s doing okay.

Last fall, I reached out to Jennie when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I hadn’t been a good friend during Jennie’s own breast cancer journey and half expected her to ignore my request for support. Of course she didn’t.

She sent my sister a long email with helpful tips and resources and messaged me that she understood.

She had far greater grace then I might have if the positions had been reversed. But that’s who Jennie was–she was always there for you.

When the email came she was in hospice with her family around her I felt the rage. No! No! She’s still young. She’s only early 50’s. She has lots of life in her. She has lots of stories in her to tell! No. Just no.

But the Universe doesn’t listen to us and cancer is neither fair or kind. A few days later, the message was posted on her Facebook page that she had gone peacefully.

All around me the world blooms in full spring. Glorious pink rhododendrons in my backyard. Green trees everywhere. And as it once did in May eight years ago, when my Dad died, the world stands still and I wonder how everything can be so ALIVE when someone who always felt like one of my soul sisters in writing is gone.

As I took a walk on the beach the night I learned she was gone, I heard her in the waves and the wind. She was all around me. Her voice. Her laughter. Her strong sense of play. It was fun, she called. It was so much fun. And it was. With Jennie she reminded me that the best creative spirit comes from play and fun.

Jennie wrote under the name Jennifer Grym and has two published books. Fairy Tales for Bad Girls and Witches and Bitches. Both are lively and for adult audiences.

If you are so inclined, I know she would love for you to check them out!

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Some Stories Are Not Seen Release Day

Can Lucy save the sea stars before it’s too late?

Some Stories Are Not Seen is now available at your favorite bookstore! If you have a favorite local independent bookstore the book is available for them to order for you. It is also available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo as both an ebook and print book.

Twelve-year-old budding scientist Lucy Lavender loves exploring. After Dad dies, Mom pieces jobs together and struggles to provide a home for Lucy. When Mom is offered a job managing a set of vacation cottages in Sea Rock Cove, the small coastal town where Dad grew up, Lucy hopes this is her chance to have a home and pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist. On Lucy’s first day at her new school, she is excited to take a field trip to Sea Rock and see Dad’s beloved sea stars. When Lucy learns the sea stars have a wasting disease and are dying, she is devastated and becomes determined to save them. But as Lucy gets involved with the people of Sea Rock Cove, she learns there is a lot more beneath the surface of the town than just the sea stars at low tide.

Some Stories Are Not Seen Facebook Page

This story is inspired by the Haystack Rock Awareness Program in Cannon Beach. To learn more about the program please visit their website here. or the Haystack Rock Awareness Program Facebook Page

The Haystack Rock Awareness Program offers field trips to Haystack Rock–both in person and virtual. To learn more and find curriculum study guides about Haystack Rock visit the website here.

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS) is the largest marine disease outbreak ever documented in a non-commercial species. It occurred from 2013-2014 and stretched from Alaska to Baja, California. SSWS affected over twenty species. The ochre sea stars, found in the Oregon Coast intertidal zones, have not recovered, although there are some areas which are showing an improvement. The sunflower sea stars have become non-existent. Marine biologists are working to find answers, but the cause of sea star wasting syndrome and the outbreak are still unknown. For more information visit the Sea Star Wasting MARINe site here

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Cover Reveal

I’m happy to reveal the cover for my upcoming middle grade novel. (April 2021). The cover is created by Su at Earthly Charms and Designs

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NaNoWriMo Author Panel

Picture

This week, I’m speaking on a panel of authors with the Northwest Independent Authors Association about NaNoWriMo. It takes place on Wednesday, October 28 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

The event is virtual with the Tigard Library and if you are interested in attending, please leave a comment and I can get you the Zoom link!

If you are thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this is a great chance to hear about different authors’ experiences in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month where you write a 50K word novel in a month. I use it as a way to get the first draft on the page and challenge myself to write about 1600k words a day. This year, I’m using it to draft a romance.

My young adult romance, WEAVING MAGIC, was written during NaNoWriMo many years ago! This is always a very special book because the cover was designed by a student who I had in my very first student teaching 9th grade class! The tulip fields are the ones in Skagit Valley, WA where the story takes place.

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Middle Grade Recommendations

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been waiting on my developmental edits on my middle grade to be returned from my editor. While I waited, I did a little more reading in current middle grade novels. This helps me with my own story as I study how other authors do things like increase the stakes and develop secondary characters (two of the areas which came back as needing a little work in my own middle grade)

Two of my favorite middle grade books were Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a perfect middle grade road trip story. After Scoob gets in a little trouble and finds his spring break plans canceled, he ends up on a road trip with his mysterious Grandma. The two travel through the South, tracing a route white Grandma once wanted to take with black Grandpa in the late 60’s with the help of The Green Book. I’m not usually a fan of road trip stories, but when Scoob opens the old treasure box and pulls out the Green Book (which I honestly knew no history about the Green Book so this was really interesting to me) and Grandma steals a license plate from another car, I was hooked wondering: Who is this Grandma? And who is Grandpa who is in jail and Dad has never wanted to talk about with Scoob?

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a middle grade in which twelve-year- old Jerome has been shot by a police officer when holding a toy gun and mistaken for having a real one. He becomes a ghost and watches his parents walk through the grief of losing him and the trial with the police officer. The only person who can see him is the police officer’s daughter, Sarah. When Jerome becomes a ghost he is met by other ghost boys–namely Emmett Till who at first helps him negotiate this new ghost world and then encourages him to interact with Sarah so his story and others who have also been killed due to racism can be told. The story is very well plotted and moves quickly. The story is a great read that weaves historical fiction with our current times.

I would add both of these to any middle school classroom for either classroom libraries or as books to read in a literature circle/book group. (I am not a fan of whole class books as I think it’s hard to reach all readers with one book and encourage the use of literature circles/book groups where readers have a choice of books based on a theme)

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Summer Sale!

It’s summer and I’ve got two of my “summer” books for free at Smashwords this month as well as one of my non-summer books on sale for half off! The Smashword summer sale runs all month!

The first free summer book is Sweetheart Summer, a sweet contemporary small town romance. You can download Sweetheart Summer from Smashwords here.

Can small-town business competitors set aside their differences and find love in the second book in the Cranberry Bay sweet contemporary romance series.

Cranberry Bay sewing shop owner and activist Katie Coos campaigns tirelessly to preserve the community feel of the town she loves. Savvy and successful developer Sawyer Shuster, meanwhile, seeks to provide a future for his beloved childhood community through large-scale developments. When Katie reluctantly purchases an auction certificate for Sawyer’s handyman skills, both are determined to keep their distance. But as summer heats up, Katie and Sawyer’s feelings ignite until both must find a way to trust each other or risk losing not only their businesses but also their chance at love.

My second free summer book at the Smashwords July sale is Stained Glass Summer, a middle grade novel. This was my first published book and very dear to my heart! You can download Stained Glass Summer here.

Twelve-year-old Jasmine adores her photographer Father and wants to be an artist just like him. But when Dad abandons the family, Jasmine is sent to spend the summer with her Uncle on a Pacific Northwest Island. Soon, Jasmine is learning stained glass from island glass artist, Opal, and thinking she might just be developing a crush on Island boy, Cole. But, can she truly let go of her Father and call herself an artist by her own terms? The story will appeal to young readers between the ages of 8-12.

And my third book, Kids In Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention is available for half off! This is a memoir about my experience running a poetry workshop with kids in juvenile detention. You can download that book here in the Smashwords sale. Happy reading!

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Writing the Picture Book Class

I’m offering my Writing the Picture Book Online Class again through WOW–Women on Writing.

The class runs from July 2 to July 29 and all work is posted on a Groups.IO chat group–so very easy to access. You can see the class outline here.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Picture Books are the most beloved story form of children’s writing. But how easy is it to write one? In this class, we’ll look at how to create a memorable child character, how to craft a simple plot to be read multiple times, explore pacing, and do a little researching into the current picture book market. The class includes instructor feedback on all assignments, and a draft of an 800-word picture book. Students will be encouraged to spend an afternoon at their local library or elementary school reading picture books. The class is designed for those interested in learning how to write a picture book story and is very beneficial for illustrators wanting to know how to write a picture book.

I hope if learning to write a picture book is one of your goals, you will join us!

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Reading Middle Grade

I sent my middle grade manuscript off to my developmental editor, Sarah Cloots, Sarah and I have worked on four books together–including two of my middle grade novels (Stained Glass Summer and Seymour’s Secret) and my memoir, Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention. This is our fourth book and although I always know the developmental edit will give me some work to do, she has a great sense of how to keep the story intact as I envisioned it and encourages me to draw out more of the story.

The developmental edit is when Sarah will look at the elements of the story–character, plot, flow. After I work on revisions, we’ll do another round for copy and line edits. When I am producing a book, I always have both a developmental edit and a copy edit as two separate edits. It’s not enough to just have critique partners. I need a professional editor to read the story from start to finish and work on it with me for a couple rounds to make sure everything is the best it can be. All of my spring and summer festivals and speaking events were canceled and thanks to Portland Literary Arts who awarded me a Booth Emergency Writers Fund payment due to all my canceled events this sprig and summer, this is a good time to work on taking a few more books to publication!

I’m also doing a little work on learning Adobe InDesign for a couple picture books, one which I hope to release later this fall–but that’s another post!

Due to COVID 19, I have been reading a lot more. For the last two months I’ve been catching up on some of my middle grade reading. As a writer, it’s always important to read what is current in your genre. It helps to study the books for not only what works well but also what didn’t work so well.

A few of the middle grade titles I’ve read lately include:

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is a story told from the point of view of four children. In a nutshell, the story is about  the class bully who tosses Virgil’s pet guinea pig to the bottom of a well and the other children have to find him and get him out. It’s a friendship contemporary story without a lot of hit you over the head action like so many middle grade books have become recently.

The thing I loved about this story was the diversity of the characters. One girl was deaf, one is Filipino-American living with a Grandmother and one is Japanese American who thinks she is a psychic and has a strong relationship with her sister. The characters each are fully fleshed out and bring a lot of complexity to the story.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert popped on to my radar when I attended the virtual Everywhere Bookfest this spring and heard Brandy Colbert talk.

The story is a coming of age friendship story about two twelve year old girls. Alberta loves to surf and is the only black girl in her California mid-Coast town until Edie moves in next door with her Mom to run a B and B. The story involves a mystery about some journals the girls find in the attic, navigating middle school friendships, and first crushes. But it’s also a very true to now story as Alberta lives with her two Dads and her very pregnant birth mom comes to live with them for a few weeks before they have the baby, issues of systemic racism in the small white town at the school as well as a mean white girl who lives in the same neighborhood as Alberta and Edie. All the pieces layer together and make this book a fabulous read!

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo is not a new book. But when my Mom read it for our Mother/Daughter book group and sent copies to my sister and I, I devoured it in one sitting. Orphan Peter wants to know what’s happened to his sister and how can he find her, so he goes to a fortune teller who tells him to follow the elephant. Peter is confused. There is no elephant in town. But then..a magician’s trick goes wrong and an elephant appears–right in the lap of a woman watching the show and the elephant breaks her legs. What follows is a tale about multiple characters all caught up with this elephant and getting him back to where he belongs. It’s a great story with a message of hope–especially for the time we are in right now!

Let us know what you are reading in the comments below!

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