Supporting Indie Authors

Image of rock climbersGenerally speaking, many mainstream published authors dislike Indie authors and self-publishing. They are inclined to believe that traditional publishing is the only viable means through which the best and brightest authors get represented, published, and get their books sold.

A candid quote from mainstream author Sue Grafton during an unguarded moment in an interview with Leslea Tash for LouisvilleKY.com is one example of that view. For those who may not be familiar with Sue Grafton she is a contemporary best-selling American author of detective novels perhaps best known for her “’alphabet series” novels (“C” Is for Corpse, etc.) featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Here is what she has to say about Indie authors and self-publishing:

“The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.”

It isn’t my intent to take Sue Grafton to task here for her unflattering comments towards Indie authors and publishing. There is no argument that she did the hard work she spoke about―suffered early rejections of her manuscripts, learned lessons the hard way, and worked hard to master the writing craft before earning fame and fortune. It’s quite easy to understand why she has the views she expressed. The fact remains however that her views expose not only a serious lack of understanding about Indie publishing but perhaps the current state of traditional publishing as well.

It may have not been easy to break out as in author in the 1960s when Sue Grafton first got into the business, but it’s imminently more difficult today. Along with the growth of the Internet and Amazon came plummeting profit margins and declining sales for legacy book publishers along with a decline of the primary drivers for those profit margins and sales, brick and mortar bookstores. In response publishers cut staff and marketing support to lesser known authors.

The days of generous advances and book tours are over for all but a select few. Publishers are less willing and financially less able to make bets on new, unproven authors. It takes more than a great manuscript to get a book deal these days. Many publishers won’t even look at a new author without an established audience, social media savvy, and the willingness to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing their own book. Then along came viable self-publishing in the form of print on demand and eBook publishing platforms that permit virtually anyone to economically publish and offer for sale his or her own book. The Indie author/publishing movement was born. It filled the void, the growing gap between the huge number of writers who wanted to publish books and the relatively small number of writers that legacy publishers were willing to acquire.

The phenomenal growth and success of self-publishing has put even more pressure on traditional publisher’s sales and on their outmoded pricing models. Indie authors have become real competition for the legacy publishers. Not only has self-publishing attracted aspiring authors but many mainstream authors who haven’t reached star status but who have an established fan base are choosing to migrate to Indie publishing due the favorable economics and better royalties. That has resulted in a good bit of chaos in the publishing industry that has already yielded significant benefits not only for budding authors but for readers as well. From a reader’s viewpoint, what’s not to like about being able to pick from an almost infinite number of good novels in your favorite genres that are available at a fraction of the cover prices demanded by traditional publishers?

As Sue Grafton observed, some self-published novels are amateurish. Some are definitely bad. But not all, not even in my opinion most. In fact there are self-published books every bit as good as their traditionally published counterparts as the sales numbers prove. Indie author John Locke sold over two million copies of his books before signing a limited book deal with Simon & Schuster to gain wider distribution for some of his novels. Hugh Howey, an Indie science fiction author sold more than 200,000 copies of his dystopian novella Wool in the U.S. alone. He has since sold overseas rights to the novel in fifteen countries and the novella has been optioned by Ridley Scott for a movie. Many Indie authors these days regularly make best seller lists.

While economical self-publishing opportunities abound today and literally anyone could publish a book and get it listed for sale on Amazon or one of the many other eBook retail sites, it certainly isn’t easy to become a break out novelist as an Indie publisher. Anyone who believes that he can simply write a great book, publish it, and then sit back and watch the royalties roll in is in for a shock. It is after the book is published that the real work begins. To sell books an author regardless of whether a book is traditionally or self-published must find an audience. To be successful he must grow that audience.

While there is a plethora of book promotion companies that promise to help Indie authors grow an audience and sell books, for a price of course, the truth is advertising is not really what drives book sales. Primarily book sales are driven by personal recommendations from satisfied readers. This may be a simple as one person recommending a book she liked to a friend. But today, thanks to social media―Twitter, Facebooks, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc. a person can recommend a book to lots of friends all at the same time.

All of us self-published independent writers need your help and support to grow an audience. For most of us, success is not defined as much by royalties earned as by the number of people who read and enjoy the stories we tell in the books we write. Certainly buying and reading our books is one means of help and support, and we all deeply appreciate that. But there are some other ways that you as a reader can help and support your favorite independent authors that don’t cost anything beyond a few minutes of your time. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Post a book review on Amazon or Goodreads.

While all authors love getting positive reviews, I’m not suggesting you write and post a glowing review of a book you didn’t like. If someone doesn’t like a book I’ve written I want to know that too and why. I appreciate the opportunity to learn what others believe I’m not doing well as much as I appreciate hearing about what they think I got right. Experts say that other readers give more credence to book reviews written by their peers than to those written by professional reviewers. That’s why reader reviews are so helpful to independent authors.

2. Recommend books you enjoyed to your friends.

As mentioned that can be as simple as a recommendation from one friend to another but recommending a great read on your Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, or Pinterest board will go much further towards helping and supporting your favorite Indie author. Social media is sort of a two-edged sword for authors. Tweeting a “buy my book” advertisement, no matter how tastefully done by an author runs the risk of alienating potential readers. Tweet too infrequently and your book may not even be noticed in the noise of all the other tweets in competition for people’s attention. Tweet too often and people can actually become annoyed. We would all rather see a satisfied reader of one of our books tweeting about it than to tweet about it ourselves. That goes for all the other social media platforms too.

3. Visit, follow, and subscribe to author websites.

These days nearly every author maintains a web presence in the form of a website or blog. Authors love to connect with their readers and that is one reason these websites and blogs exist. Visit the sites, follow them, post comments where you can, and subscribe to author newsletters. It helps to build visibility for your favorite authors and really helps him or her build an audience.

If you really enjoy reading a particular independent author, it is really just as much in your interest as their interest to help and support him or her. Most everyone longs to be successful in something they are passionate about and for authors that means gaining readers. The failure to attract an audience can make a writer feel that all the hard work that goes into crafting an entertaining novel is just not worth it if no one is going to read it. So if you enjoyed your favorite author’s last book and you would like to make certain there is a next book, why not take a few minutes of your time to lend them your support? You can be sure he or she will be grateful for your help and support.

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Have you visited my official author website, www.larrydarter.com? If not, I hope you will take a look and I’d love it if you sign up for my newsletter.

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Expanding Your Reading List Beyond Your Favorite Authors

Image of a stack of books
Expand your reading list

In any given year I manage to read about 25 novels. In past years nearly all of them have been written by recognized, established authors. This year that has changed. That has been the result of a small challenge I set myself―not to exclusively read novels by renowned authors whose work I’m already familiar with and in some cases love. The things I have discovered during this year of more selective reading has made me pretty happy with my decision.

Rather than restricting myself to reading only novels written by my favorite contemporary and classic authors I have actively searched for, purchased, and read novels written by authors I’ve never heard of, the majority of them new, self-published authors. As a result I’ve read and enjoyed a number of books in my preferred genres I ordinarily would not have bothered with in the past assuming I would have even heard of these novels had I not deliberately sought them out.

I have discovered there is a practical problem that must be overcome when it comes to finding novels by new authors to read. For the most part, all the high-profile venues that exist to alert readers to new books and their worthiness are skewed heavily toward the popular writers.

Publications like the New York Times for example review far more books by established, traditionally-published authors than those written by Indie authors. Certainly the problem is not limited to the New York Times. If the majority of books being held out and endorsed as good and worthy reads are by prominent authors it’s easy for readers to slip into thinking that the only books worth reading are those by authors who fit that description.

Finding novels by new authors worth reading is not however an insurmountable obstacle. Beyond perusing books summaries by genre on Amazon I’ve also found some good reads through my Twitter feed.

I am so glad I made the decision to expand my reading list this year by choosing to read new authors. In part, my decision was motivated by the fact that I had already read everything that my favorite contemporary authors had written and was in the position of impatiently waiting a year after finishing their last novel until they published the next one. Those of you willing to make a similar effort to expand your literary horizons might be as pleasantly surprised by what you find as I’ve been. But allow me to add a small caveat.

While the addition of Indie authors to my reading list has significantly improved my enjoyment of reading, that’s not to say I haven’t come across bad books or novels that actually felt painful to read. I have. But I came across books like that far more infrequently than I actually expected when I decided to take on the challenge of finding new authors to read.

Think about your own favorite author. Regardless of how famous and widely read he or she may be today, they were once an obscure, unknown, new author publishing a first novel. No matter how compelling the characters they create or how gripping and entertaining the stories they tell, he or she would not be a renowned and perhaps best-selling author today had someone not taken a chance and read a novel by a new author. Those first readers were impressed sufficiently to recommend the book to others who also found the novel a good read and as the say, the rest is history.

At least from an economic perspective, it isn’t really that much of a risk to buy and read a novel from a new, unknown author. In comparison to the novels by known authors which typically command cover prices of close to $30 for hardback editions and $10 or more for electronic versions, eBooks by new, Indie authors are widely available for $1.99 and less. That is less than I spend for the cup of Starbucks coffee I have at least once each day.

Even if on occasion you end up feeling that even such a paltry sum has been wasted because you purchased a book you really found awful and perhaps couldn’t even make yourself finish, what have you really lost? And on those occasions when you come across a real gem of a novel that provided you hours of reading pleasure, getting the book for such a pittance and discovering a new author you like in the bargain simply adds another layer to an already positive experience.

I’ll wait just as impatiently for the next novels from my favorite present-day authors and I’ll fill the unavoidable 12-month voids by reading some of the classic novels I’ve not gotten to, but I also intend to persevere with my challenge to expand my reading list with a generous helping of novels by new authors.

Are you up for a similar challenge? Why not expand your own reading list to include novels by new authors and see what you discover? You might be glad you did. I know I am.

Monday Motivation: Overcoming the Procrastination Demon

Cartoon image of Pacman demon
Demon Thy Name is Procrastination

I’ve always been terrific at making goals. Unfortunately I’ve also always been even better at procrastinating and as a result many of my goals were never realized. I’d write endless to-do lists but then never get around to the follow through. It happened again and again and I could never quite grasp what the problem was. Why was I so great at establishing goals but so terrible when it came to executing a plan to achieve those goals?

Any of this sound familiar? Are you given to procrastinating? If so, perhaps some of things I’ve discovered recently that have helped me in my own battle to overcome the procrastination demon might benefit you in your own personal struggles with it.

Recently I became aware of entrepreneur Natalie Sisson and her “15 Days to Freedom Blog Challenge.” While Natalie’s primary focus is on helping people with an entrepreneurial spirit build successful online businesses, I immediately had a sense that her challenge might be something very useful in helping me to become more successful as a writer and aspiring novelist. So I signed up for it.

To large extent, Natalie aims to help people become more productive because quite obviously being more productive can often translate into becoming more successful. One of the first things I learned from her about becoming more productive was the importance of identifying and eliminating those things that made me less productive.

It’s been my habit for a long while to check my email first thing in the morning after getting out of bed. Since I always want a timely reply from people I email, I of course have the tendency to feel an obligation to reply timely to emails I receive. Thus, a good bit of my early morning hours were spent reading and replying to email.

Also given that I’m a voracious blog and news reader, many of the emails I receive relate to breaking news stories and new blog posts from people I follow. So checking email predictably ended up with me spending a lot of time reading news articles and blog posts.

In principle, nothing wrong with that of course. I love keeping up on current events, learning new things, and reading the perspectives on a variety of topics from people I find interesting. Yet thanks to Natalie Sisson, I came to see my morning email reading habit was a problem in one sense. The exorbitant amounts of time I was spending each morning on what essentially was little more than some entertaining reading was just a creative form of procrastination. Instead I might have been spending that time on something much more productive, like writing for instance.

An hour here, two hours there, over the course of a week can really add up to a lot of lost time, more importantly a lot of lost productive time. I came to realize that reading my email first thing in the morning meant I was devoting at least the first hour of my day to the goals of someone else instead of my own. My own objectives were being hijacked by whoever decided to randomly show up in my inbox.

I decided to change my morning habit. I stopped reading email first thing in the morning. By doing so, I literally gave myself 7-8 extra hours of productive time each week. I also struck a blow in the fight against the procrastination demon. Just this past week I wrote several of the scenes in my current novel during the hour or so each morning I formerly devoted to reading email and following the links I found in many of them.

Do you know when we procrastinate the most? Researchers tell us that it is when we are in a bad mood. We are wired as human beings in such a way that we cannot ignore our emotions. Feelings are such a fundamental and unavoidable part of the human experience they do impact on our productivity. When I’m in a bad mood, productivity is the last thing I’m thinking about and I easily slide into the procrastination mode. That leads me to another thing I learned from the 15 day challenge.

I needed a strategy to overcome bad moods. In a very real sense procrastination-management techniques are mood-management techniques. Again Natalie Sisson provided some ideas. She encourages those who take her challenge to identify something they find promotes a sense of well-being, focus, and a positive outlook and to make that a daily morning habit―whether it is a Yoga routine, meditation, or physical exercise.

For me, I’ve always been a life-long recreational runner. For me there is nothing like a good run to lift my spirits and pull me out of those inevitable little ruts we all find ourselves in at some point or another. While there is some disagreement among scientists about whether it is the increased release of feel good endorphins like dopamine and serotonin or some other causative factors, researchers do agree on one thing.

Runners and other habitual exercisers have better moods and suffer less depression and less anxiety than people who don’t exercise regularly. They experience more general feelings of positive well-being. Some researchers believe that people who are physically active on a regular basis simply reap the benefits of active relaxation―that moving the body and focusing on the sensation of moving the body and getting into a rhythmic activity and motion produces a relaxation response. That they believe contributes significantly to the feelings of psychological well-being observed.

In spite of how much I’ve always loved running, I’ve never loved running first thing in the morning. Candidly, I’ve just never been a morning person. During the many years I served in the Army, running very early in the morning was always one of the things I most disliked. It wasn’t the running I objected to but the time of day we were made to do it. So previously it was never something I’d chosen to do when the decision was mine to make. But recently I’ve made the effort to do what the Army made me do, go for a run first thing each morning. It hasn’t been easy but I’ve been making progress and I’m already seeing the benefits.

First of all, consigning running to later in the day invited procrastination. Frequently it meant I skipped doing it because some other competing priority came along during the day that I felt I had to give my attention and efforts to. By running first thing, that problem has been solved. As a result not only have my moods generally improved, I feel like I have more energy and am more focused the rest of each day, more eager to attack those to-do lists I’ve made for myself. Speaking of to-do lists leads to my next point.

While I’ve always been terrific about setting goals and making to-do lists that would facilitate me accomplishing them, as mentioned I’ve often fallen short when it comes to the execution step. Ever made a detailed grocery list only to arrive at the supermarket and realize you left it on the dining room table? That sort of explains my experience with to-do lists. I never had a system. Sometimes I’d save them on my computer as a word processing document. Sometimes I’d scribble them on a handy scrap of paper. Sometimes I’d enter them in the reminder app on my iPhone. But invariably, when it occurred to me to actually check-off something on the list, the list was not accessible at the time. Procrastination was the natural result.

Besides advice, another thing I love about Natalie Sisson is that she also provides a wealth of tools you can use to become more productive and most of them are free. Asana is one of the tools she recommended that I am taking advantage of. In a nutshell, Asana is a web and mobile application designed for everything from creating simple to-do lists to enabling teamwork on complex projects without email. It was founded by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein, who both worked on improving the productivity of employees at Facebook.

I now use the application exclusively for not only creating my to-do lists in a place that is always readily accessible to me wherever I happen to be, but I also use it to schedule my daily running sessions, writing projects, and even use it to schedule “me time.” Information that helps me avoid procrastination is always as close as my computer or smart phone. There is a premium pay version of the application but for my purposes I find the free version is more than adequate for my own needs. Asana has provided me the personal system I’ve always needed to get things done.

Another useful technique I want to touch on that I’ve learned from the 15 day challenge and that has helped me become less prone to procrastination and more productive is eliminating distractions. Put succinctly, focus is nothing more than the elimination of distractions. As mentioned, reading email first thing in the morning is an example of one of the distractions I personally identified and eliminated. But there are lots of others. Social media is a huge distraction for many people. Text messages and time spent talking on the phone are other examples. Actually any list of potential distractions that contribute to procrastination can be virtually infinite. All of us I think at times can readily identify with what it means to be driven to distraction.

We are more connected today than at any time in history due to the proliferation of mobile communications. Some have termed this constant connection as “culturally generated ADD.” We’re also seemingly always busy with never enough hours in our day to get everything done. We have a daunting list of responsibilities, we spend hours in meetings, our boss needs us for something and something else after that, our friend or partner calls to chat. We just can’t hide.

Modern life provides the environment for the perfect storm of procrastination. The most effective way to remove distractions is to change your environment. Find a place where you can be alone. Disconnect from the Internet and turn off your cell phone. The degree to which you can do that and systematize it is the extent to which you will improve focus and gain productivity.

Some top executives who were never able to work uninterruptedly for more than twenty minutes at a time—at least not in the office, found that their productivity soared when they started spending just 90 minutes a day working at home every morning before going to the office. You don’t necessarily have to do it at home. Anywhere that you can shut off the electronics and where no one can bother you will work and will allow you to reap similar dividends.

Even if you can’t manage 90 minutes at first, try a half hour or even just 20 minutes. Chances are whatever amount of time you invest in removing distractions will pay off so dramatically in terms of increased productivity that you will become motivated to actively look for ways to expand that uninterrupted time.

The last technique for stopping procrastination I want to discuss is rewarding yourself. Rewards not only make us feel good, they actually motivate us. I’d used this technique in the past but made one mistake that mitigated to large degree its usefulness. I would never reward myself until a project was completed. That might mean I waited days, weeks, or even months before I enjoyed the reward which wasn’t very motivating at all. For example, in motivating myself to write a sufficient number of words daily to finish my novel in time for the scheduled October release date I might have told myself I’d indulge in a nice reward once I’d completed the first draft. No matter how large and enjoyable the planned reward might be, it would always seem so far in the future before I’d get to enjoy it. That just wouldn’t be very motivating at all. Instead, what I am actually doing is this.

I now reward myself more frequently. If my goal is to write x number of words per week until the novel is completed I break that down into smaller x number of words per day. Each time I achieve a daily goal, I indulge in a little reward. The rewards are smaller of course but they are more frequent and as a result I sustain my motivation more consistently. When the first draft is actually finished then I’ll indulge in a larger reward more in keeping with the significance of achieving a larger more difficult goal. The rewards are up to you. Choose things that you like and know have the power to motivate you. Just enjoy rewards frequently instead of viewing a large reward from a distance while waiting until a large goal is accomplished.

To sum up, five techniques to avoid procrastination and to increase productivity are:

  • Avoid reading your email in the morning.
  • Manage your mood.
  • Develop a personal system using something like the Asana app.
  • Eliminate the distractions.
  • Reward yourself and frequently.

Do you have your own techniques that help you increase your productivity by overcoming the procrastination demon? If so, please share them in a comment.

The Draw of Los Angeles for Crime Fiction Writers

Image of downtown Los AngelesA friend asked me yesterday why I chose Los Angeles as the setting for Come What May, the novel I’m currently writing. “Why not Dallas,” she asked.

Frankly I sort of side-stepped the question by replying with something along the lines that I felt readers would find the story more interesting set in Los Angeles than in Dallas.

It wasn’t that she hadn’t asked a good question but more that I had hadn’t really thought about my decision enough to come up with a more intelligent answer.

One of the great pillars of wisdom when it comes to writing is “Write what you know.” So why use a city you’ve never lived in or even visited more than a few times as a setting for your novel? Doesn’t it make more sense to use a city you have more personal knowledge of?

I do believe I can be very effective using your own city as a novel setting. Robert B. Parker has long been one of my favorite crime fiction authors. I’ve read all 40 of his Spenser novels and Parker’s writing definitely has been a big influence on my own.

One of the things I really liked about the Spenser novels was that they were all principally set in Boston, a city that Parker was intimately familiar with as was very evident in his writing.

Admittedly, I did choose Los Angeles as the setting for my book without really giving it a lot of thought. After thinking about my friend’s question I think a part of my decision was motivated simply by the fact that ever since the days of Raymond Chandler, Los Angeles has featured prominently in crime fiction with countless numbers of crime novels set there.

That of course begs the question, why? Is there something about Los Angeles that causes the city to come to mind for those writing tales of murder and mayhem? Do Americans consider Los Angeles to be a particularly dangerous, crime-ridden place perhaps due to much-publicized crimes like the mysterious 1947 Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) murder, the Manson murders, and the O.J. Simpson murder case?

Factually, Los Angeles does have significant crime but that isn’t surprising for a city with 3.8 million inhabitants. But the truth is Los Angeles isn’t really as dangerous a place as many people might think. In 2010 for example, the total number of murders in Los Angeles dropped below 300, the fewest number of homicides since 1967 when the United States was at war with Vietnam and when Elvis married Priscilla. The number of 297 murder victims was still a significant number of corpses of course, but keep in mind the population of the city in 2010 was almost 4 million people.

Breaking that number down a bit, the total number of 2010 Los Angeles murders translates into about 7.8 homicides per 100,000 residents. That number actually compared quite favorably with the numbers of major American cities with some of the lowest homicide rates in the country.

In fact, the 2010 murder rate in Los Angeles was lower than that of Dallas for the same year. In 2010 there were 148 homicides in Dallas which was actually a 43-year low. The population of Dallas in 2010 was roughly 1.2 million which works out to a homicide rate of about 12.3 per 100,000 residents, higher than that of Los Angeles which is something many people wouldn’t have guessed.

Regardless of what some people may think, Los Angeles is statistically no more crime-ridden than other major U.S. cities and it can be argued, a safer city than many. So at least in my view that doesn’t explain why so many authors use Los Angeles as the setting for their crime fiction novels. The explanation I think is found more in myth than reality.

Los Angeles simply has so much to offer a crime writer. There is the vast and varied landscape to use as backdrops. There is the Pacific Ocean, palm trees, film industry, mountains and hills, and the desert. There is the continued draw of Hollywood for the imagination. There is the L.A.P.D., the famous police department immortalized by popular television series like Dragnet and Adam 12, not to mention its thousands of unsolved cases for writers to draw inspiration from. Los Angeles is simply a fascinating city revered as much for its shady underbelly every bit as present today as in Chandler’s time as for its glitter and glamor.

Not to say that a compelling crime novel couldn’t be set in a city like Dallas, but in my opinion the imaginations of crime fiction enthusiasts are simply more readily stirred by a tale set in Los Angeles with its seductive blur of artifice and reality.

At the end of it, I think that explains why I chose Los Angeles as the setting for the Malone novels. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Countdown to my journey to Middle Earth

Scenic photo New Zealand South Island
Middle Earth beckons

Let me preface this slightly embarrassing admission with a small disclaimer. Geography was never my strong suit during my formative primary school years.

A number of years ago I was planning my first trip to Australia. Early in the planning stages I decided I’d devote a day or two to visiting New Zealand while I was in that part of the world.

While my knowledge of New Zealand at the time was quite negligible, I was aware that New Zealand was located just mere centimeters to the southeast of Australia on the world map. Surely I’d be able to catch a ferry or something to get there from Sydney.

Imagine my dismay when I subsequently learned that New Zealand was some 4,155 air kilometers distant from the east coast of Oz, about a 3.5 hour flight. Sadly, I had to scrap the idea of visiting New Zealand on that trip due to both a lack of sufficient time as well as funds. I already had a rather ambitious plan for seeing Australia.

Still I never forgot about New Zealand. As the years passed and I came to learn more about the country my resolve to visit there only grew. In fact visiting New Zealand became firmly established on my travel bucket list.

In the meanwhile, it has been my very good fortune to meet and make friends with several Kiwis and that of course heightened my desire to visit New Zealand all the more. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of visiting the homeland of dear friends?

Then along came the Lord of the Rings movies. Middle Earth bade me visit all the more.

With regard to one of those Kiwi friends I mentioned, a romance kindled and love blossomed. What better reason to visit New Zealand could anyone ask for? While we have spent time together outside her country I have yet see her home or to meet her family and friends there which I am very keen to do.

My partner and I had sort of planned that I would visit this past June but complications here at home prevented those plans from coming to fruition. Mid-August has since presented itself as a likely time for several weeks of traveling and so I started watching airfares. Just last week I found a great deal on an Air New Zealand flight. So at long last I’m finally headed to Middle Earth in just mere weeks.

To be sure, the chance to spend time with my partner and meet her family is what I’m most excited about. But I do plan to see a bit of Middle Earth too while I’m there.

Not long ago I discovered Young Adventuress, a blog written by a nice young lady named Liz. In one of her posts she detailed her visit to Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata in the North Island of New Zealand, the set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. Certainly I’d not miss a visit to The Shire while in New Zealand. After all if you are going to visit New Zealand, you may as well make an epic adventure of it.

So sometime in September, look for me to share with you my Kiwi experiences and hopefully a lot of great photographs of a truly beautiful country. I’m so ready for the trip. At least now I know what a “dairy” is in New Zealand and more importantly how a dairy differs from a dairy farm. That little nugget of information should come in quite handy. And who knows? Perhaps, like Liz did, I’ll have the opportunity to channel my inner Hobbit while visiting The Shire.

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Got Milk?

cartoon image of a cow
Who knew?

Not long after meeting my partner Suzanne who lives in New Zealand, I developed the daily habit of reading the online edition of the New Zealand Herald newspaper. I thought it would be a great way to learn more about Suzanne’s country. Now she actually teases me about knowing more about what is going on in her own country than she does. While it has been a good way to learn about New Zealand, it has on occasion produced some humorous moments.

It seems according to the paper that there has been a rash of dairy robberies in New Zealand recently. I was somewhat mystified by that. My paternal grandfather owned and operated a small independent dairy when I was a child. Based on that I couldn’t begin to fathom what would make them such an attractive target for armed robberies. I had visions of a criminal arriving in a gleaming tanker truck, jumping out brandishing a firearm, and telling a hapless dairy farmer, “This is a stickup – give me all the milk and no one gets hurt.”

I’d been meaning to ask Suzanne for a long while about the disturbing popularity of dairy robberies and what she made of it before I finally remembered to bring it up. I was met by a sudden outburst of laughter. Once she was able to compose herself sufficiently to stop laughing she patiently explained that the dairies I had read about being robbed from time to time are not the dairy farms I had in mind. Instead a dairy in New Zealand is what Americans would call a convenience store – a place where you can buy bread, fizzy drinks, lollies (Kiwi for candy), and well…milk. She assured me that it wasn’t necessary to wear gumboots when visiting a dairy nor was there any risk of stepping in cow poo.

Obviously I have much to learn about the Kiwi version of English. I didn’t really need the dairy robberies gaffe. After all it isn’t as if Suzanne doesn’t already get heaps of entertainment from my lame attempts at pronouncing New Zealand place names that have Māori origins. Oh well. At least I keep her laughing and that’s always a good thing isn’t it?