Monday, May 16, 2011

Marshmallows and Grain

I am content: the night may fall

And brood with more than ebon wing,

But at the appointed time and call

The sun shall rise, the lark shall sing.

John H. Boner
(January 31, 1845 – March 6, 1903)
American editor and poet.

Marshmallows and Grains:

It was time for Mary (my co-writer/daughter) and I to make the final edits on our book, SPARROW ALONE ON THE ‘HOUSETOP, prior to the printing of the ARCs. It was also time for those awful storms to blow down two large trees at my home while I was in town with my husband. The trees destroyed a sizeable section of pasture fence, so when we got home, two horses ran free: my son’s horse, Rogue, and Mary’s horse, Apache. Naturally both Mary and Frank were out of town.

Now we live on this little rise above Highway 45, which is similar to an Interstate. It maintains a constant flow of tractor trailers and other anti-horse type vehicles. I immediately pictured crushed horse flesh and million dollar lawsuits, so when I actually started out after the horses, I prayed and trembled with equal vigor.

My dear husband, who is 91 and has failing eyesight, had to wait in the car since I couldn’t spare time to help him into the house. Rogue wasn’t difficult to lure home. I called him and beat the grain cans, loudly. That was enough – he loves his grain.

When I had him secured in a small, unbroken area of corral, I went after Apache. Now Apache is a different matter. He loves to pretend he’s wild, and if he gets free, those proclivities intensify. No grain would lure him in when he’s having so much fun. I ran for a bag of marshmallows while he ran all over creation, bucking, kicking out his hind legs, and whinnying something that sounded like, “I’m free, I’m freeeeee!’

Meanwhile, Rogue became horrifically excited watching his buddy run loose. When Rogue works himself into that state, he can break out of almost any confinement. He goes sort of crazy and either uses his weight against whatever’s in his way or else he pretends he’s Superman and tries to leap over tall objects much too high for him.

My forgotten husband got tired of waiting for me and was making his way slowly up the front steps. I decided he wouldn’t sue me if he tripped, so I went after Apache with the marshmallows. At that point I was shaking so much I was dropping marshmallows all over the ground. That helped. Apache immediately identified them and after tasting a couple of samples, he followed the marshmallow bag into the corral with Rogue.

My husband had made it to the front door so I breathed a sigh of relief, sat down on the steps, and ate the rest of the marshmallows. While I ate I contemplated the editing that awaited me. Then I contemplated the broken fence, which would have to be repaired or history would repeat itself. The fence won my mental battle and I spent the next couple days with hammer, saw, and posthole digger. Come Saturday evening I had the horses secure and had 94,000 words that needed to be edited before Monday.

Sunday, Mother’s Day, I got up at 2 in the morning and started editing. I worked nonstop (except for a couple half hour breaks to fix meals) until 3:30 Monday morning. At least now I know I can edit 94,000 words in twenty five and a half hours. Of course I had a complete book’s worth of edits Mary had already marked, so I had to do those first before I started at page one and made my own edits.

Is there a moral to this long story?

Yes, there’s an important moral, (beyond the fact you need to keep a bottle of eye water nearby if you intend to edit 25 hours straight). The above story tells us how important food is to our prospective client, reader, or audience. I caught the horses by offering food. One horse was lured by substantial fair, the other caught by sweetness, and we need to be sure we offer a little of both in anything we do, but that still isn’t the moral.

Those horses were stopped by offering them food, but the reason they followed me into the corral was because they thought they would get more of the same. So whether we are writing a manuscript, drawing a picture, making a book trailer, or promoting any type business, we need to offer something that will actually catch our prospective client. That’s why the old TV shows would end an episode with the heroine tied to a railroad track and a train coming.

We don’t just want someone to tell us how great our production is and then walk away. We want them to buy the object, so they can learn what happens next. We want them hungry to know whether the “sun shall rise” and “the lark shall sing.”

Today’s application:

Though this moral applies to almost every kind of business, today we’re applying it to our live action book trailer. No book trailer is very beneficial if it doesn’t tempt someone to purchase the book. So before we start on the very first step of video production, we should be sure we have at least one scene aimed at intriguing someone to buy. We probably don’t have a railroad track scene, but surely we have something useable in our book. If we tell a tiny piece of that story, and tell it well, we’ll tempt someone to hear the rest.


In last month’s blog we mentioned the benefits of making a live action video for business promotion or for a book trailer. Below are some special notes before you begin.

Use your imagination!

It doesn’t take a lot of money to make an interesting scene. For an illustration of how imagination can save you money, below we give a YouTube link to a music video we made: Mean Mary’s Funny Horse. Music videos are made exactly the same as promo videos or live action book trailers. The only difference is that the audio is slightly more complicated on a music video because you have to line everything up perfectly with your recording. You have much more leeway on a regular video with just background music or talk.

Regarding this video:

The horse (Apache) is the one mentioned in the story above. The scene where Apache steals the drink actually happened as shown. Apache loves to steal people drinks and then rush to drink them before they can take them back. The guy who destroyed the tent stage and the purple gown is Frank James (my son, Mary’s brother, and one of the other James writers).

In the Video’s opening scene you’ll see an example of imagination replacing money.

           We needed: a generator that sounded like it was on its last legs.

           We had: an old broken generator that wouldn’t start, a cheap fogger that musicians sometimes use    
           on stage, and a lawnmower that barely ran. With those three items we created what we needed. For 
           the audio, I pulled the choke in and out on the lawnmower to get the dying generator sound. For 
           smoke we hid the little fogger behind the broken generator.

Check list before video production:

1) Camera: Any type recording device will work, even the one in your cell phone. Of course, a better quality camera will make a clearer picture.

2) Scenes: You can’t have too many, because many won’t work at all and some won’t come out like you imagine them. We usually start with about 20-30 possible scenes.

3) Locations: For each scene, pick where you plan to shoot it. Remember to plan for the right time of day. Sunrise and sunset are best. You want to avoid hot spots and shadows (unless for effect).

4) Other people: Plan whether you need other people for any scene and make sure of their availability. If you use someone you’re not closely related to, have them sign a simple release.

5) Props: Collect your props for each scene. You can’t have too many. Just like scenes, some props won’t work like you planned. Small props don’t show up well on camera.

6) Costumes: Plan extra of these too. One may get ruined or may not look good on camera. Stay away from busy prints. They don’t tape well. It’s usually better to avoid red (which bleeds on screen).

7) Software: There are many cheap brands of video editing software. Most are easy to use. You may already have one on your computer. We use Pinnacle Studio (it costs around $100).

8) Music: If you’re not a musician and can’t make your own music, check out your editing software. Some of them offer free audio samples (Pinnacle has free samples you can use). If you have a friend who’s a musician, often they’ll be glad to give you free background music in return for recognition.

We hope to have a live action video trailer for our new novel ready by June’s newsletter (June 20th). We’ll present more video production information then.

Jean James

Mary James


  1. What a great analogy, Jean. Also, what an unneeded experience.


  2. Thank you, Vivian. It's an experience I hope isn't repeated any time soon.


  3. Every bit of this article was a delight. From the horse corraling to the collapsing tent. It really sent many messages and has great advice for the illustrator as well as the author. Thank you so much!