Nancy L. Reed



About Author Nancy L. Reed

My first writing attempt, at the age of four, was a soup-and-sandwich cafe menu. A love of words grew from that time. I wrote poetry during my elementary and high school years resulting in two chapbooks. Numerous short stories and the beginnings of two novels blossomed from the heady days of writing fiction during college. After college I took a variety of writing classes and workshops to further fuel my passion.

My lifelong relationship with words has brought me here — a book of short stories, a collection of memory snippets, and a gift book of poems and songs about dogs. A second book of memory snippets, a second dog-grr-el book, and a children's book in poetic form will be published in 2016, with a novel following soon after.

The power of words to describe the world we live in and those worlds we’ve never seen, to celebrate people we know and those we’ve never met, and to share our thoughts and feelings as well as focus our futures is a gift we give ourselves and others. Enjoy your words.

Musings: The Fun and Fancy of Headshots

I have always wondered, and still do, what authors look like in real life – a life filled with triumph and trouble, happiness and hopelessness, wonder and worry. Life etches our faces, records its impacts on our skin, and broadcasts to the world our passage from first breath to last. Do authors really look like the headshots that grace their web and book pages?  For the sake of a glamour shot, has the evidence of their life’s journey been erased?

Photographs of my face seldom pleased me after my forties, but something changed when I adopted my photographer daughter. I became a willing, albeit somewhat reluctant, participant in family photos. In the first head shots she took of me, although I struck a formal pose, it was against a backdrop of spruce trees instead of a studio or computer-generated background. Still, the result was a static, fly-caught-in-amber, glazed look.

The first time I realized staid, classic headshots bothered me was when I discovered an author I admired, respected, and read devotedly was actually twenty some years older than the photo on her book. I felt betrayed. I’d trusted her to be the author I could see on the back cover, not someone reluctant to show the world how she actually looked.

I discussed with an editor friend what I had begun to think of as the plasticity of many traditional headshots, and she pointed out that one purpose of such a photo was to make the author look as attractive as possible to prompt readers to buy. I understood the principle but felt honesty played an important role in the bond between author and reader.

During a later discussion of the issue with a friend in the publishing business, she showed me her favorite author headshot. The woman appeared to be in her late fifties and she simply looked into the camera with a genuine smile and tendrils of her greying hair escaping her upswept do. She was genuine, herself, and not trying to mislead me with post-photographic-session airbrushing.

When I published my third book, I decided I should endorse my belief about headshots. If I wanted my readers to truly know me – no matter the color of my hair, the wrinkles on my face, the number of chins – I’d use a photo of the timely me in relation to my words; hence, one with my dogs for my dog book, one of me leaning on a huge question mark for my book of rhyming questions, and another of me at the table in the coffee shop where I wrote about two ladies in a coffee shop. Now, I look forward to a new photo for each book and the fun I have deciding what, where, and with whom it will be taken.

I haven’t talked to any other author who has puzzled as much over head shots, but, since it bothered me, I took the time to figure out what I wanted to do. Regardless of how many people read my books, the ones who do will see exactly who I am at the time the book was written. No surprises, no disguises.

Musings: Writing a Novel is Like Flying to Kansas City

On a recent flight, I noticed how similar the experience was to my attempt to write a novel. Both contain the acts of takeoff, flight, and landing.

Takeoff is a dangerous part of flying; mishaps or miscalculations can cause the aircraft to crash. If the launch of the novel’s plot fails in the first few pages or chapters, the whole book can stall. The writer’s talent and the skill of the aircraft crew determine the success of gaining enough speed to get both plot and plane off the ground.

Flight might appear effortless once at cruising altitude; the story might seem self-propelled once plot and characters have been established. However, boredom sets in if no turbulence or plot twists occur to quicken the pulse. Barring episodes of stimulation, the passengers/readers will withdraw from the experience and find other ways to amuse themselves. The middle of the flight and the novel is the longest, and ennui the enemy.

Landing is the final act of flight; climax and resolution for the novel. Tray tables and seat backs are returned to their upright positions, possessions securely stored. Loose plot ends are tied up and conflicts resolved. Like takeoff, landing is a perilous part of flight, and the conclusion of the novel is crucial. Nothing should be left to chance, pilot and author should be as concerned with this segment as the other two – both must be conducted with intent and attention to detail.

I could continue this analogy ad nauseam, but my purpose in making the comparison is specific. I’m attempting what I hope is the last – and tenth – attempt to complete a novel I started several decades ago. I continue to pursue it, because I believe the story contains unique elements and will find readership.

I’ll keep the parallel of flight in my mind as I write this book one more time and hope to reach my destination.

Musings: An Author’s Tiny House Environment

An important design aspect of an author’s tiny house is its environment, including the building site, the neighborhood, and the geographical area.

First, the building site should provide a sense of place – the home’s place on the property and the author’s place in it. The house must fit the space well and the writer should feel simpatico within it.

Second, the selection of a neighborhood must suit. A standard sized lot or acreage? A gated community or one with no fences at all? A neighborhood of varied sized houses or all tiny houses?

Third, the preference in the geographical setting is equally important. Flatland, desert, rolling hills, mountains, or forest? A tiny house on wheels for mobility or on a permanent foundation? Juxtaposition to ski slopes, lakes, rivers, biking/hiking/running trails?

My environmental preferences include: a town with a population under 100,000; an oversized lot in a neighborhood, at the edge of the city, of varied architectural styles; the house situated close to the center of the lot; no sidewalks, underground utilities, and old-growth trees and shrubs. I prefer country in the city. I’d like access to a main road leading to a renovated, historical Old Town, cultural opportunities, exercise areas, and outdoor activities.

These choices are linked directly to my writing – the privacy to concentrate on writing, a community of neighbors to inspire my writing, and access to cultural and physical activities to support the energy of creativity.

Musings: Thresholds

Researchers have found that crossing a physical threshold or going through a doorway can create an event boundary, a mental scene break – the reason we often go to another room to do or get something but forget what it is when we get there. I also believe there are psychological thresholds we cross that cause scene breaks, e.g. leaving the old year and entering the new. Perhaps this is what so often dooms our New Year Resolutions to failure – we may very well leave our intentions and motivations in the previous year.

I’ve decided to adopt a new system. I will no longer make New Year Resolutions; I’ll only make Old Year Resolutions. On approximately the first of September each year, I’ll compile a list of resolves that fit the categories Catch Up, Pay Up, and Rev Up. Consequently, when I cross into the new year and a scene break occurs, I’ll move forward with a relatively clean slate.

Catch Up will include all those projects, e.g. household, craft, social, that are stacked around the house and cluttered in my mind. If I haven’t completed them by midnight, December 31, I’ll allow the crossing of the threshold to delete them. How important could they have been if not completed in twelve months? Of course, this process includes Keep Up which should make Catch Up much easier.

In many cultures, there is the belief that one should never enter a new year in debt – the premise for my second category, Pay Up. For most of us, this can only apply to those debts which aren’t large and ongoing such as a mortgage. It can, however, apply to those one-shot medical bills, credit card balances, etc. 

As a writer, Rev Up is the most important to me. I want to build excitement regarding my writing projects for the coming year. In my case, it’s deciding which of my many “begun” manuscripts I intend to complete and submit for publication. Also of importance is my resolve to make a final decision whether or not to build the Tiny House for a Writer I’ve been designing and reporting on in my previous Musings.

The idea of Old Year Resolutions came to me late last November, but I did my best to institute the new practice and am happy to say I met the deadline for Pay Up and Rev Up. Because of the short time period, I’m allowing myself the freedom to complete Catch Up during the first quarter of this new year.

The major purpose of my three categories is to enter the new year with intent and intention, with purpose and resolve so I can cross the threshold from the old year to the new without undue baggage or regrets of things unaccomplished.

However you enter this hopeful, shiny, full-of-potential new year, I wish you the best – creativity, adventure, serenity, and connection.

Musings: Paper-Glutting in My Author’s Tiny House

Recently, I’ve been trying to complete a project I started over twenty years ago – culling through every piece of paper I own. That includes stacks on the kitchen counter and family room coffee table, storage cartons in my garage and storage shed, and pam boxes in closets and study. The large living room/bedroom unit I illustrated in my previous Musing has four file drawers, and I’m determined to reduce my quantity of files to that space. If I dealt only with file folders, I could make it work; however, I have a 17 cu. ft. cabinet in my study filled with pam boxes of my writing projects. I also have all my archived business papers.

Just visualizing the weight of paper I’m dealing with is crushing, but I remind myself that I’ve already reduced the number of file drawers from seventeen to four. That fact motivates me to continue sorting, shredding, and recycling. Friends and fellow writers have recommended I convert all my paper manuscripts to digital storage, but the task alone would take me longer than it will to figure out where to store the must-be-kept paper in the first place.

I’ve acquired an external hard drive for more secure backup, because I learned a hard lesson this past month. My computer developed problems, and before I could get it wiped and rebuilt – with updated programs and software – it “ate” the latest version of the novel I’m attempting to complete. Since I started working on computers, back in the day, I’ve always printed a copy of each manuscript, just in case. And, of course, I can’t find the paper copy of the novel either, so I’m rewriting it.

The loss of the paper copy of my novel provides additional motivation to deal with my paper muddle. It doesn’t help to have copies if I can’t find them. At this stage of my dream of a tiny house, I’m willing to drastically reduce my clothing and kitchen paraphernalia, among other possessions, to provide more storage for the important things.

The final argument for sorting my paper manuscripts is, when I’m toes up, how will my family decide what might be worth reading and what can be shredded. I’d rather do that myself – now.

The point of this Musing: Besides the four file drawers in the living room/kitchen unit, I’m looking into additional storage possibilities in my 500 sq. ft. tiny house. Such possibilities include: a compartment under the sofa, additional side units for the wall bed unit, hidden caches under the floor, chairs and sofas with storage compartments in the side and back walls, under-staircase drawers and pull-outs. There are many web sites on storage in small places, and I’ll definitely be looking at them.

Musings: Considering Writing Time in an Author’s Tiny House Design

I’ve been slowly developing the art of saying “No” to activities which lessen my creative time, but I can’t always say no to cleaning, maintaining, and repairing my current home of over 1800 square feet.

Example of wall bed with desk attached.
Photo courtesy of Wilding.

Consequently, an important factor in the design of my 450-500 sq. ft. author’s tiny house is the use of sustainable and as-maintenance-free-as-possible materials to allow me more creative time.

I’ve designed two dedicated areas for writing. The first is in the bedroom – a wall bed with desk attached. The unit will have additional side and top pieces to hold clothing and will be built from fire kill or beetle kill lumber.

The second space is in the living room/kitchen area – an eight foot table that telescopes out from the center of a modular unit used for storage of kitchen and living room items. The table may be used for writing, dining, crafts, and multiple other purposes.

Creative example of modular wall unit.

The wall bed and living room unit will be free-standing, on industrial rollers, and could sit back-to-back to form separation between the two spaces.  There will also be outdoor and loft space for writing.

Designing a tiny house around my passion for writing provides more opportunities for me to immerse myself and strive for success.

Musings: An Author's Tiny House

For several decades I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Tiny House or Small House. In the last few years, they’ve become widely touted and seem like a new concept to many people, but they’ve been around for decades in countries around the globe. As a retiree and author, I find my preferred lifestyle changing to gain more time for the important things in my life – being with family and friends, writing, and participating in activities such as walking, reading, and being with my dog. This shift in focus has created a new significance concerning the size of my home.

I’m not as attached to “things” as I once was, and I’m enjoying living more simply with fewer possessions and distractions to take up my life’s moments. For the past three years, I’ve been attempting to reduce my environmental footprint including the quantity of my belongings, and if all goes according to plan, the spring of 2015 will find those items reduced by up to 80%.

I haven’t found any industry-specified definitions for the Tiny House or Small House, but I’m designing mine to be less than 500 sq. ft. I’ve found that many folks think all tiny houses are constructed on flat-bed trailers in order for them to be mobile. My house might be designed to be movable, but my intention is to locate it on a normal-sized residential lot – which brings up the issue of finding a location where a house this small can be built. In many cities and towns, a building that size is considered a shed and can’t be used as a residence.

Bypassing all the possible restrictions and misconceptions about this size home, I’ll be discussing my ongoing design plans from time to time in my Musings. My ultimate goal is to achieve chemical-free, sustainable, off-the-grid living (as much as possible) so I can maintain my independence, have minimal maintenance, and have much more time to write.

I’m not an expert regarding Tiny or Small Houses; I’m simply becoming more aware of how I want to live, healthily and happily. 

Musings: Fiction Style Manual

Style manuals for scholarly, journalistic, and scientific manuscripts are plentiful, e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA, ANS, AP, etc. Style manuals for writing fiction? Not so much.

If you consider proper use of language an integral part of style, I offer these suggestions:

  1. Find 2-3 grammar and punctuation guides that are reputable and timely – ones you can understand and apply.
  2. Based on the first suggestion: Be consistent in applying the rules from the guides you’ve selected. 
  3. Based on suggestions one and two: Occasionally agree to disagree with other writers regarding these rules and maintain your consistent application of those from your preferred guides.
  4. Bottom line: When you prepare a submission or receive an offer to publish, follow the rules of the publisher.

But, is there a universally accepted style manual for fiction? No, not that I’ve ever found. Can there ever be an industry-standard fiction style guide? I doubt it. Therefore, I suggest you:

  1. Be aware of the recommendations and standards for your genre offered by reputable writing authorities and organizations.
  2. Educate yourself on the style preferred by the publishing sources you intend to query.
  3. Be flexible in rewriting your submission to fit the requirements of those sources, if you can do so without losing your individual, unique style. If you can’t, you may be submitting to the wrong sources.

If you keep a list or journal of grammar/punctuation issues pertinent to you, and also jot down ideas regarding your personal writing technique, you might be developing your own manual – applicable to your genre and unique style.

Musings: The Writer-Editor Connection

Writers are often advised to seek the services of a professional editor before submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers or before publishing independently. The price of doing so can often be daunting, demanding a conviction that the cost is worth the investment. There is also the matter of trust which must be considered in sharing original writing with others – trust there will be no intellectual theft, trust the editor will provide useful and insightful observations, and trust the partnership will prove valuable in striving for publication.

When I found myself in need of an editor but couldn’t afford one, I tried other avenues to achieve the same objective. My first go-to readers were the members of my critique group who provided valuable writing insights. I depended on their feedback to help me improve my writing. I also began networking with other writers, editing their work for free – I’ve been a professional editor for decades – and asking if they, in turn, would provide critiques and editing of my manuscripts. I’ve formed partnerships with several writers and editors I respect and trust, and my work benefits from their feedback.

When you look for editors, I offer some suggestions. First, have a conversation with the ones you are considering, to judge whether you want to work with them – personalities can clash as in any relationship. Second, if they offer a free edit of a few pages, take them up on it to see if their editing style will be beneficial to your work. Three, seek referrals from fellow writers you trust and with whom you have a creative affinity. Four, check the national and local rates for editing to provide you a guide on cost.

Developing a relationship with an editor is similar to courtship and marriage. The person woos you through references and referrals, offers services that will make you feel good about your writing, and creates a working association with you through a paper or oral contract. Sometimes, after the contract is fulfilled, you may want to divorce that individual if you don’t feel the partnership works.

Through the years I’ve learned an important lesson : even a professional editor needs an editor.