Featured Writer on Wellness

Colleen Story invited me to be this week’s Featured Writer for her blog on Writing and Wellness.  When I get together with other writers we bemoan how ailments, like carpal tunnel etc. slow us down!  If we’re writing for many hours on end this can cause all sorts of issues…Colleen lists: sore back, dry eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome, weight gain etc. Here are some tips.IMG_1523ps-crp

Get Up Every 30 Minutes

I’ve had trouble with neck pain.  For awhile I couldn’t work for more than 30 minutes at a time.  I also developed wrist pain. Apart from the computer I sometimes lose my voice after a presentation—and could never do two in a row.  (Hey, I have dry eyes too but didn’t realize it was a “writer’s symptom!”)

My neck trouble forced me to learn to use software that allows me to talk to my PC—but it is just not the same! Now I set a timer for 30 minutes and that makes me get up and stretch, or at least reminds me to watch my posture, and that helps with both the hand and the neck issues.

A hot tip?  Change your chair 2-3 times a day—or at least vary the angle and height slightly.

writing_ps0540For the throat problem I drink slippery elm tea, and take it with me to a talk.  I rest my voice the day before and have started taking voice lessons with exercises that seem to be helping me use my voice box differently.

Social Life? What Social Life?

I get overwhelmed by all a writer has to do besides writing.  I feel like social media etc. has taken me away from actual writing (story-telling).  My real social life has gone downhill—it was better before I “retired” to this second career!

Several things help in dealing with life’s ups and downs: exercise is the main way I deal with stress, and secondly,”meditation” is calming (in quotes because in my case I just carve out some quiet time, close my eyes and think of nothing – or concentrate on breathing).

Cinda welcomes distractions from her dog, NAME.

Taking a break with my walking companion.

I find that walking in nature is when I get my best ideas and work through problems; the other time seems to be in the middle of the night! I keep a notepad next to my bed now.

For for the rest of  this post (including writing advice) and information on Writers and Wellness click here.  Do you have any tips for working on your computer etc?

Indie/Self-Publishing (Publishing 101 Part II)

Recently I wrote about traditional or commercial publishing.  This post addresses the pros and cons of indie or self-publishing.

Writers are turning to self-publishing after running the gauntlet of publishers and agents – it’s an exciting time. In the strictest definition this means you will handle not just the printing, but also the editing, distribution and marketing; you will be in charge of every facet. That said, there are so many companies out there that will handle different aspects of this for you.  At a minimum everyone will tell you to hire a good editor – and they are right. An editor can help make the difference between a mediocre book that never takes off and a scintillating read.

In the old days there was the stigma of “vanity presses” and that was just about an indie author’s only option outside of traditional publishers.  In fact they are still out there: beware being talked into paying thousands of dollars for books that could end up in your garage (unless you have a stellar marketing plan).

But times have changed and the quality and reputation of self-published books has gone up. This is where the greatest growth in publishing is occurring. The grand prize winner at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year is a self-published book, A Chair with a View by David Sabine. (And I can’t bypass the opportunity to say A Place in the World came in second in the Indie category). 12756072   thumbnail cvr

Actually there is a history of self-published writers ranging from James Joyce and Gertrude Stein to Mark Twain. Even Margaret Atwood has joined the group. Authors are publishing their own books because of opportunity,  speed (relative to the year{s} it takes to publish traditionally)and to garner a bigger share of the sales.

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There is a veritable gamut of companies ranging from strictly print-on-demand (POD) printers to Indie publishers who are a bit more selective and offer a menu of services similar to the traditional (“Big Gun”) houses. The costs are as varied as the companies so you need to comparison-shop. One book I found thorough and helpful is: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine – which by the way is a highly successful SP book.Fine Print of SP

Not only will he teach you the basics of self-publishing, but he gives information on over two dozen companies, rates them and tells you what to look for in a good POD.

With traditional publishing you send a query letter to agents and the smaller publishing houses (the big ones will not look at a query unless it is from an agent) – fish around for awhile – perhaps a long while in what Levine calls the “black hole.” Let’s say you land your fish and give your rights to a traditional publisher for 5-8% royalty – then if you are very lucky (or famous) they will give you an advance. But an advance  must be paid back through book sales before the author receives more money –like a loan you are given against future royalties. Next you will probably get the bad news that the marketing rests with you as they do not have the budget – although they do have the contacts for you. Marketing can be expensive. Thus to my mind, IF you are paying for your own promotion, you might as well go the indie route and keep a much bigger royalty.

Will you get rich with a traditional publisher? Probably not. Will you get rich in SP? Probably not.  It’s difficult to earn even a modest living from writing.  A newbie author might have a more realistic ambition to try to break even, for the joy seeing her/his book in print and sharing it with the world.

So to sum up, the bad news is that you have to do practically everything yourself or hire professionals to help you. Make no mistake: it is a lot of work to do it right. You have to invest money as well as time; while it is possible to publish a book for less than $500 it isn’t possible to have a professionally edited, designed and marketable book distributed for anything like that. Although shop around, because there are deals to be had – I found professionals who were not out to gouge people (in fact in two cases I felt like telling them “you could charge more”!)  Alternatively you can hire a publisher who offers a complete range of necessary services (and usually pay a bit more). I opted to hire my own editor and book designer (but I had contacts, so I knew mine would be as good and I thought probably better, than the in-house ones) although my publisher, Virtual Bookworm would have done these things for me. (BTW I choose this small company a year ago because the owner was willing to hold my hand and walk me through the process – many will not even speak to you by phone.)  I even got my own ISBN so technically I am the publisher – known as Multicultural Press. I have been pretty happy with the decision and A Place in the World has won two modest awards recently.

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Contented indie author.

On the plus side SP gives you an option to traditional publishing (see my post Publishing 101 – the Three Routes from July 17, 2014,) you have a larger slice of the pie, independent control and almost anyone can do it – I say “almost” because it does take drive and organization – but hey you just wrote a whole book didn’t you?

So you have your decisions and work cut out for you (and you thought writing was the hard part?). Before you  give up any rights and/or money  please do your homework – it will pay off in the long run. Another book I can recommend (this one covers all your publishing options from traditional to SP) is: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Eckstut and Sterry.     519UsIKw2gL._AA160_

Please share your experiences and opinions. If you have questions I will endeavor to answer them. (Please comment below rather than on FB).

Good luck!


Is it possible that I’ve been blogging for almost two years? I’ve met so many amazing people online from all over the world. Please stay in touch – it is so interesting reading about your lives and stories. And a big thank you to those who contributed guests posts to the “Expat Files.” Before I get to the wishes, I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for my life, my family and my friends.


At my desk

dog distraction_pscrp-e0538

A distraction – dog needing attention.

Looking at last year’s wishes I see that not much has changed.  So here are SIX NEW YEARS Wishes – from the Trite to the Serious:

  1. Less commercialism of the holidays. I know, I know everyone says that – I think everyone WANTS that (well maybe not the bargain crazed – but there are other days) so why can’t it happen? The workers should be home with their families and friends at least for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I read Ohio was considering making employers pay triple wages for this type of overtime.)
Madness (image by global.factiva.com)

Christmas Chaos (image by global.factiva.com)


  1. Please let’s limit people talking on their cells phones on planes and public transport. Flying is bad enough these days without having to sit with someone shouting inanities (or even interesting conversation) at length. While we’re at it, how about people being quieter with their cells phone in public places by walking away to a more private place? And please could people drive hands free – or better yet wait to make that call and concentrate on your driving? (I witnessed a nasty accident last month between an aggressive and a distracted driver.)
(Credit Fioravanti,PC)

(image credit Fioravanti,PC)


  1. One Password. I can’t possibly remember them all and it is such a nuisance to search through the many possible combinations I have used. As one journalist wrote, “I long for the days when my memory was sharper and the only combination I had to remember was the one to my locker.”
  1. Could we have more Tolerance and Compassion for people who have different religions, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual preferences or live in poverty? For that matter I wish we give the middle class a break in this country? Enough with the rich getting richer.                                                            Remember when being a millionaire was a big deal? The richest are now worth Hundreds of Billions – it boggles the mind!
Cartoon credit Khalil Bendib

(Cartoon credit Khalil Bendib)


  1. Could the U.S. Congress get some work done and not be so obstructionist? While I’m being political, I’ll wish the Affordable Care Act a healthy future. It takes time to iron out a complicated new system – witness Social Security: how people yelled about that, but who turns it down? Ditto Medicare.
  1. A few of these items are very American, but I wish you all a Happy New Year  where ever you are  –    May your dreams come true.

Feliz Año Nuevo

Bonne Année

Please add a few more wishes from around the world! (Maybe we  can get a few more languages into this multicultural blog?)

Author Profile: an Interview in the Contra Costa Times

Excerpt of Interview with Cinda C. MacKinnon by Janice de Jesus of the Contra Costa Times:

An author profile based on this interview was published 5/16/13  in the CC Times – which is good timing as my book launch is this Saturday May 18th at Orinda Books.

JdeJ: Your background is a little unusual and colors your writing.  You grew up in a number of places. What countries have you lived in?

CCM: In chronological order: Greece, Germany, Colombia, Costa Rica and New Zealand.  My formative years and by far the longest time, was spent in Colombia and Costa Rica

JdeJ:  What was your motivation for writing A Place in the World?

book cover

A Place in the World by Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon

CCM:  Well like all writers the story was simply in my head and wanted “out”.  Contrary to what I’ve been told to do, I write for myself – without the idea of publishing – at least when I began. But I guess there were three motivating factors:

1) Growing up as a girl without a country – the ex-pat experience – of coming “home” for the first time to the States for college and feeling totally out of place. Writing gave expression to some of this unexpected culture shock.

2) I originally wanted to be a rainforest biologist and so I was able to live this dream through Alicia.  This gave me an excuse to visit and study rainforests and cloud forests in several places.

3) I love Latin America – the setting and culture are comfortable to me.  There were people who were enormously kind to me and experiences I never would have encountered anywhere else.  I wanted to write about them.  I have a thing for romance languages too.

JdeJ:  Your characters are well developed and Alicia “evolves” gratifyingly.  Was this done consciously?

CCM:   Yes and no. I wrote detailed personality descriptions for myself of each character – even though ½ these features wouldn’t go in the book – I really needed to know my characters.  I realized the protagonist had to grow from a naïve young woman uncertain about her future into a capable and confident person,  but that part  just happened on its own. After I finalized the book I found myself wondering what Alicia, Carmen and Peter were doing now and wishing them well, as if they were real people.

JdeJ:   You lived with the characters so long they became real  to you.  Can you share more about your writing process?

CCM :  I started out just writing scenes as they came to me and at some point developed an outline to organize the plot.

It was a slow process as I was still running my environmental consulting business full time.  I did a great deal of work on my once a year vacations and also while I was out hiking or walking the dog – I would “write” in my head.  Then I would come home and try to find time to actually put these scenes on paper (or rather on my pc screen).  I would get cranky if this was not possible and was known to tell my husband I wanted to walk by myself so I could think/create.  He was pretty mellow about it. Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea and I would jot it down.

JdeJ:  So consulting and writing  consumed you.  So how did you find the time to finish?
CCM : I retired!  I sit down and write in the morning and usually again in the evening.  But one of my problems about finding time is that I fancy myself a “Renaissance person”.  I focus on my writing, but I have a  family, I  play recorders in a music group ( and I need  to practice), I study languages because I just find them fascinating, I’m interested in botany, geology, biology and early man.  Every spring I go on wildflower expeditions photographing wildflowers – which keeps me active with the Native Plant Society.   I also dance (mostly Latin of course!) at least twice a week. Oh and I volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and try to remain active in my community.

Every now and then I think I should give up one of these passions or at least clean-out my closet.  My life is still full and my closet is still packed with clothes – some I’ve owned more than a decade.   I have the fantasy of having a clone who goes around and interacts with family, friends and obligations – while I sneak around writing and indulging in all of my hobbies.

But the shorter answer to your question  is: find a routine and sit down and do it. You must be persistent and disciplined – or maybe slightly obsessive!