Monthly Archives: September 2014

Goodreads Giveaways!

I have just made autographed paperback copies of each of my forthcoming books available as Goodreads giveaways. Both giveaways end on Sunday, November 23rd and are open internationally. You can visit the links below to enter:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Stories from My Memory-Shelf by Lori Schafer

Stories from My Memory-Shelf

by Lori Schafer

Giveaway ends November 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Good luck and good reading!

EBook Formatting Troubleshooting – Style Issues

Recently I got into a discussion with some fellow writers regarding eBook formatting. Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject – far from it – but as I am in the process of finalizing the eBook files for my forthcoming books On Hearing of My Mother’s Death and Stories from My Memory-Shelf, I guess I figure I must know a little something about it, especially when it comes to troubleshooting.

Because I had trouble. Oh, I had big, big trouble. When I first started writing about two and a half years ago, I knew nothing about “styles” or the proper way to format a document for eBook conversion – I just started typing. I manually indented new paragraphs and used hard returns whenever I felt like it. When I wanted to change the font, I changed it. These methods work fine for creating ordinary Word documents, but they spell disaster for eBooks.

It isn’t uncommon, of course. Many writers are just like me – they know more about writing than about technology and screw up their files just as badly. And often the best way to fix those files is simply to create a copy, eliminate all of the formatting, and start fresh. The problem for me was that these first two books weren’t written like novels, in one single file, but were rather compilations of individual pieces that I wrote at different times and at different stages of my formatting re-education. In addition, the structure of each book – particularly Stories from My Memory-Shelf, which features author commentary on the individual pieces included in it – meant that I had already spent a lot of time formatting, and would have to redo all of it if I started over.

So I opted to fix my errors one by one, which worked out fine until I got to one last problem that I just didn’t know how to solve. Most of the mistakes were easy enough to find once I did the conversion because they were items I had simply overlooked, but these last few were incomprehensible because when I went back to examine at my original files, everything seemed fine. The file looked perfect. The font was correct, the spacing was correct; there was nothing in the document to suggest that there should be a problem, except that in the converted .mobi file, there clearly was.

Well, I finally started looking at good paragraphs side by side with the funky paragraphs to see if I could spot a difference, and Hallelujah, there it was, a little blip of movement near the top of my screen that caught my eye. Even though I hadn’t used styles to begin with, by the time I’d worked my way through this process, the bulk of the document was coded to “Normal.” The funky paragraphs were not. So even though I had manually adjusted all of the text to read properly, the underlying code (or whatever’s going on down there) was still transferring into the .mobi file under Microsoft’s default of Calibri Size 11 with 1.15 spacing, which, I’m convinced, they invented just to make our lives difficult, because who actually uses that?

Now it isn’t my intention here to go into all of the details on prepping a file for eBook conversion, because there’s an abundance of great literature on that already. I particularly recommend Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide , which will tell you almost everything you need to know about proper file formatting. However, you can see how a small but nagging little issue like mine could be very difficult and frustrating to trace when there’s absolutely no visible indication that there’s an error, and therefore I thought it would be worthwhile to record my process of how I found and uncovered it.

Hence these two videos. I made them using CamStudio, which is open-source software that permits you to record visually what you’re doing on-screen, as well as add audio through a microphone. I discovered it when I was leaving my last job, which was incredibly difficult, complex, and involved heavy use of a very obscure software program. Since I was literally the only person on the planet who knew how to do my job, I thought it would be nice to make a library of training videos before I left that could be used as backups, just in case. It took me well over a hundred hours, but what a great resource to leave behind! More informative and way faster than trying to write out procedures, too. And although the software has some practical limitations – I’ve had errors making recordings that were too long or with too high a refresh rate – it’s tremendously useful for a little project like this, where you want to be able to both demonstrate and describe something on your computer while. You will notice that if I move the mouse too quickly – I tend to use it as a pointer – the screen blurs because it doesn’t refresh quickly enough, but then it settles out again.

I know that this specific situation probably won’t apply to most of you who are reading this, but I’m curious – is it helpful? I’m considering making more recordings like this for other common “modern writer” situations like audiobook editing, print book formatting, etc., if those would be useful to people. Apart from the video management, it isn’t all that much additional effort – basically I’m just talking my way through my own work – so if there’s interest, I’m happy to do it.

You can also access my training and other videos via my new YouTube channel:

Why I Write

Finding freedom through writing!

Penny Wilson Writes


First of all, I’d like to thank Lori Schafer for asking me to participate in this blog hop.


Like many of you, there is no single reason why I write; there are several. 


As a teen I wrote the mushy poetry that I think most young girls do.   That was put aside for the most part when I grew up.  I would have the occasional moments of inspiration and set pen to paper, but nothing that really amounted to anything was ever written. 


It was not until just a couple of years ago, I started writing about different events in my life.  At first it was a way to share part of my life with my family that they may not have been aware of.  But then, something different started happening when I was writing.  I found these writings to be very therapeutic.  It was…

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I’m a #1 Bestseller! (In a VERY Small Category on Amazon)

Yes, that’s right, folks, my short memoir “Detention”  has beat out eight – count ’em, eight! – other FREE short memoirs to rise to the top of the Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 15 minutes (1-11 pages) > Biographies & Memoirs category.


Check out my latest ranking!

Although technically can you call it a bestseller if it’s free?

I know better than to attach too much importance to these rankings – particularly on a brand new release – but I’m actually quite pleased. “Detention” is a self-contained excerpt from my forthcoming memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened, and I’m hoping that the free eBook will drum up some interest in the book itself. And while being number one out of nine isn’t all that impressive, holding the #81 spot in the far larger category of Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Biographies & Memoirs means that some people may actually read my book. Yay!

If you would like to read my “Detention” eBook, you can find it here:

Amazon U.S.
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
Amazon Germany

This eBook – and several others that are still working their way through the system – are currently available through and will also shortly be available on ITunes, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. You can find the full list on my “FREE EBOOKS” page here, which I will update with the proper links once I have them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and do my little happy dance while I fold laundry. Those shirts won’t know what hit ’em…


Still Searching for “A Safe Place” – Nonfiction in The Write Place At The Write Time

My short memoir “A Safe Place” has been published in the Fall issue of The Write Place at the Write Time: (Mine is the third entry down.)

My memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened originally evolved after the fact from a series of short pieces, some reworked into fiction and some written as straight nonfiction. “A Safe Place” was the earliest of the latter.

The short-story structure suits my memoir because so many of my recollections of that time are themselves splintered into fragments, into individual episodes rather than one long continuous tale. I couldn’t tell you, for example, what happened in the hours leading up to the events of “A Safe Place,” nor could I describe with any accuracy what transpired the morning after. Why are those memories missing from my mind while others have remained?

There are times when I should like to know. I should like to know, for instance, what happened when my mother finally decided to let me out of my step-grandmother’s coat closet, in which we had been sitting for hours. I should like to know where we went then, and how we got home, and I’d like to have a firmer timeline etched into my mind of exactly when that incident occurred in relation to the many others. Instead I have a series of loosely connected pieces, and at times I wonder about the nature of the connections. Did I forget them because they weren’t noteworthy in the grand scheme of that period in time? Or were there points at which my brain simply refused to continue recording?

Perhaps I am better off not knowing, yet, still, I wish I did. But there is no one to ask; no one to tell me. No second party to whom I can turn for clarification or confirmation – no, not even my mother. Especially not my mother.

But I do wonder – what did she remember after it was over? How were the events of “A Safe Place” or “Poisoned” or “Hide and Seek” framed in her recollection? Did they even exist in her memory, or were they instead replaced by stories and segments that are now missing from mine?

It’s even possible that those events that are the most memorable and disturbing to me didn’t register with her at all.

 * * *

If you enjoyed “A Safe Place,” you can download “Detention,” another FREE eBook excerpt from my memoir on

Detention Cover Lulu

To learn more about On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, scheduled for release in paperback, eBook, and audiobook on November 7, 2014, please visit the book’s webpage or its listing on, where it is now available for Kindle pre-order.

Like to party? Hop along the Hump Day Blog Hop on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog. Click here to return to the Hump Day Blog Hop.

Border Crossing – Part I

This morning I crossed the border into Canada.

Canadian Flag with Bridge

Does everyone feel as nervous as I do when making that subtle yet formal transition into a foreign country?

It isn’t bad enough, seeing that big, ominous gate looming before you; the guards cloaked in near-invisibility in their shadowy booths.

Border Gates

It isn’t bad enough, being subjected to those increasingly suspicious questions, the ones that make you feel as if your privacy is being invaded, but legally, so that there’s nothing you can do about it.

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

“How long will you be in our country?”

“Where will you be staying?”

And my personal favorite, uttered with furrowed brows and an accusatory pointing finger: “What’s in those boxes?”

“None of your damn business” never seems like a particularly smart answer. But sometimes it sure is tempting to give it.

No, the worst part of crossing a border is the fact that no matter how many miles you have already traversed with seemingly boundless impunity, suddenly you have to obtain permission to move from one bit of land on one side of some imaginary line onto another bit of land on the other side of it. It seems a rather illogical affront to one’s freedom of movement. And, of course, anytime you have to request permission to do something, there is a chance, however unlikely, that that permission will be denied.

I don’t like being forced to answer questions I don’t want to answer, but that still isn’t as galling as being subjected to the whims of some random authority figure who gets to decide, based on the uprightness of my carriage and the shiftiness of my eyes, whether my truck or my person gets searched or whether I need to be detained for further questioning. What happens if the guard doesn’t believe my highly implausible tale of a memoir-in-progress – or doesn’t approve of it?

“Nope, sorry; we don’t want your kind up here in Canada. Turn around and go back.”

But then at least you’re stuck on your own side. What really fries my nerves is not wondering whether they’ll decide to let me come in. What if they won’t let me back out?

Return to Canada

I don’t do well with confined spaces, even when they’re the size of the Great White North. I don’t think I could live on an island – even a very lovely one, like Hawaii – because there would be no other place to which I could escape. It’s silly, right? Practically speaking, in my everyday life I rarely travel more than thirty miles from my own home. But I would absolutely flip out if someone told me I couldn’t. It isn’t the amount of space; it’s the fear of being trapped that I find so disconcerting.

(This, incidentally, is why I’ve never wanted to get married. I’m not opposed to commitment. I just don’t understand why I would ever want to form a legal attachment to someone that would make it difficult for me to disentangle my life from theirs should the need arise. There are two terms for spending all of your time confined to a room with one other person. If it’s voluntary, you’re in love. If it’s involuntary, you’re in prison.)

Detention Cover Photo

Photo by meeshypants at and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0:

Perhaps I’ve simply watched too much film noir, but it’s hard for me not to wonder whether I might be detained on some technicality; perhaps a case of mistaken identity. What if I’m “The Wrong Man”? What if I took the wrong “Detour”? Even worse, what if there’s a decades-old warrant out for my arrest?

I learned something in my senior year of high school that – much like the opening scenes in a fatalistic film noir – would set in motion a seemingly inevitable chain of events. My friend C. dropped this particular tidbit on me so casually that one would never have guessed that it would hit me with all of the force of one of those nuclear weapons we kept expecting the U.S.S.R. to send screaming into our midst.

“Yes, Canada,” she repeated, her voice muffled by the gargantuan chemistry textbook into which her nose was solidly stuck. “My cousin’s going to have a party in Montreal for his birthday. I guess you can drink there if you’re eighteen.”

My own chemistry tome clattered from my hands and onto the unfortunate tail of the family dog, sending him yowling under the bed. “You can?”

I wouldn’t say that the plot formed immediately in my mind. In fact, I’m not even sure that it was my idea. But somehow I knew that we were onto something here, something truly special. So I tucked that magic lamp back into some dusty corner of my brain and let my subconscious go to work on cleaning and polishing it.

And perhaps this was why, some time later, the plan sprang forth so simply and naturally from our collective minds; a fully formed Athena who turned and thumbed her nose at the older and wiser Zeus the second the proper opportunity arose.

“Are you guys going to that thing in Boston that Key Club’s doing?” C. said one day over a cafeteria lunch of warm tuna and cold pizza.

I set down my sandwich – my non-rodent teeth needed a rest from gnawing on that tough roll anyway – and shrugged. “Wasn’t planning on it. Plus I seriously doubt my mom would let me.”

“I don’t want to do the event,” my friend A. mused, tilting her pizza sideways in a futile attempt to drain the puddles of grease the pepperoni had deposited on her slice. “But I wouldn’t mind making a trip to Boston.”

“It would be neat to go,” I admitted. I had been to Boston before, but never on my own. “I dunno, maybe I should ask… Mom’s been less of a control freak since her surgery.”

My mother had had the first of two planned foot operations and for weeks had been largely confined to the rocking chair in our den. Not only had she been forced to consent to me getting my license, but she had also had to ease up on the discipline. I suppose that, even in her mental state, she realized that being physically incapacitated gave her a rather tenuous hold on a teenager with access to a car.

Still, I was surprised when, scowling, she nonetheless agreed to let me go. So much so that I began to wonder whether I was taking full advantage of this unanticipated grant of liberty.

“Seems like such a waste… spending the whole day in Boston,” I complained after telling my friends the good news. “Too bad there isn’t somewhere more exciting we could visit.”

“Hey, if we were eighteen, we could go to Canada and drink!” C. joked.

It was true; none of the three of us had hit that magical eighteen-year mark, which was undoubtedly the passport to a garden of earthly delights – in Canada, anyway. But did it matter? I wondered. I had already had some success in passing for twenty-one – the legal drinking age in the U.S. – so how hard could it be to pretend we were eighteen?

Now, of course, it’s impossible for me even to conceive of selling booze to any teenager, because anyone who is under the age of thirty looks ridiculously young to me. In fact, I’m continually wondering who keeps handing out driver’s licenses to all those middle school kids. But as a high schooler, my frame of reference was not other adults, but awkward and pimply freshmen. And next to them we looked mature, indeed.

“Don’t you think we could pass, though?” I said thoughtfully.

A. perked up instantly. “Bet we could!”

I could see my friend’s mind working, her eyes sparkling at the thought of hatching a plot of unadulterated evil that was guaranteed to get us in a heap of trouble.

“I wouldn’t want to drink there,” I added hastily. “Not when we have to drive home the same day.”

We all agreed that partying it up over the border was not the most sensible idea. But the seed had been planted, and, wetted by the drool dripping from our tongues, it would naturally grow – into a weed. We would be doing something in Canada, all right – something far more illegal than trying to weasel a drink at a bar.

I don’t recall who said it first. I don’t know who to credit or to blame for the harebrained scheme that flowered from that idle discussion. But two weeks later, we were leaving Massachusetts with a few hundred dollars and a plan to smuggle a boatload of booze back over the border.

To be continued…

 * * *

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