Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 - A Hard Bumpy Road

It was a very good year - NOT!

I can't wait to see the door slam on 2015. For me personally, it was far and away not one of my best, though it was memorable.

I don't want to appear to be a whiner, because I know a lot of people had an even worst year, but here's a quick recap:

The downhill slide started with my having surgery in February. From there I had and continue to have other health issues. Nothing life threatening or serious, but annoying things that got in the way of my usual hard core writing schedule and fun.

My brother Thom died in May from liver disease.

My cat Raffi died in November from cancer.

It was also the first year in ten years in which I did not write a single novel from start to finish. It's true. I finished editing two books and a novella that were already in the works, two of which were released this year - A BODY TO SPARE and THE GHOST OF MISTLETOE MARY. And I finished up WILDE WOMEN, the second Winnie Wilde romance novella coming out in February. But all of those were started last year and finished in 2015.

In a writing career where historically I've cranked out two novels and either a novella or a short story every year, 2015 was a disaster. I had two novels due to two different publishers and didn't deliver either. And I felt/feel like crap about it, adding to my already emotionally beaten-up year. It's definitely not how I roll. But at the risk of sounding glib, life happens.

Both publishers were gracious and kept giving me extension, but here I am in late December and neither book has been completed, although I've made and continue to make great progress, and they will be finished in time to meet the next and final extensions over the next few months. Of that I'm sure, unless I get hit by a bus between now and then, which given my year I don't rule out. And both will be out in late 2016.  As for short stories and the third Winnie Wilde romance, those will have to wait until I get these books to the publishers.

As I mentioned above, I know of a lot of friends and acquaintances who suffered great and serious losses in 2015: the passing of spouses and loved ones, the passing of beloved pets, the loss of jobs, and major illnesses. It's all part of life and life bitch slapped a lot of us in 2015.

Usually I set goals and make several resolutions for the new year. For 2016 I have only one:

I will take better care of myself, 
physically, mentally, and emotionally.

That means eating better, and making exercise a priority. To not do things or make decisions that will add stress to my life. To not overbook myself and to say NO when needed. I have a very busy 2016 ahead of me, but I will handle it all to the best of my ability so that when life throws down a nail strip or two, I can maneuver around it instead of blowing a tire.

Welcome 2016!  But I'm warning you, if you think for a minute you're going to follow 2015's example, think again. It's game on, and this old lady came to play and win!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Simply Christmas

I love Christmas! 

More so in the past decade, than ever before. Why? Because I choose to celebrate it simply. Most of the time I celebrate it quietly at home. I even wrote a blog about Christmas For One five years ago that remains relevant today.  Sometimes I do visit friends or go out of town, but mostly I stick close to home and enjoy the life I've built for myself. It's a simple life and I have simple tastes. In general, I'm a pretty low maintenance gal and I like my Christmases that way.

There was a time when Christmas meant a lot of hassle, trips to the mall, days of cooking, spending more than I should, and running around until I slumped onto the sofa in exhaustion. It was a time of year I didn't look forward to at all, knowing that by New Years I'd be an empty shell emotionally and physically. When I was a kid, Christmas was the time of year when family fights and hurt feelings increased. Usually because of the built-up stress and extra work.

Simplifying Christmas brought back the joy of Christmas.

Although originally a religious holiday, for me, Christmas is a time of remembering my loved ones, giving thanks for my life, and the people in it, and for celebrating good cheer towards others. Something we should do every day, but Christmas seems to bring it out more.

But back to my simplification process:

I don't start celebrating until December. This is a major part of simplification. This doesn't mean I don't buy gifts along the way when I find something fun and on sale, but I do not buy into Christmas beginning in October (or even earlier) and there are no decorations or music or holiday movies or shows in my home until December 1st. Christmas Creep doesn't exist in my life and I despise it in stores and commercials.

No crazy shopping. Come on, folks, this has really gotten out of hand with Black Friday and people camping out in front of stores! I buy few gifts now. Years ago my family decided (wisely) to pick names for the adults and we each buy for all the kids (of which there are only 4).  I also buy for my couple of BFFs, but those are also simple, heartfelt gifts. There is no last minute shopping and buying something just to have something to give. And I stick within my set budget.

I no longer send out Christmas cards. This started when a couple of years in a row I was on book deadline and got all frustrated and upset because I didn't have time to both write and do cards. At that time, my Christmas card list topped 150. After two years of not sending them out, I stopped and never looked back. I've noticed that fewer people are sending cards now. Even at the office, we're getting fewer cards and gifts from clients and vendors.

To party or not to party. I usually get invited to 4-6 holiday parties a year. That's a lot crammed into just a few weeks, and there is no way I can attend them all. This year, for various reasons, I only attended one, my law firm's party. Most years, I manage to make three. I enjoy parties, but again, not when they are going to either stress me out or help me spread germs instead of holiday cheer. I also attend one Christmas program, play, or musical event. This year, I skipped that altogether because my calendar didn't allow it.

Decorations are simple. I used to decorate my home extensively. Now it's a few decorations, a wreath, table cloth, some candles, and a floral arrangement or two to make it feel homey. Again, this started, like the cards, when I had to choose between decorations or hitting a writing deadline. Now I prefer the simplicity.

I know simplification is not for everyone, but it works for me.

Christmas should be a time of peace and remembrance, of celebrating family and friends, not a time for fighting for parking spaces, running up credit card debt, and breaking-point stress.

Christmas is about peace on earth and good will toward mankind.

And there is nothing Bah Humbug about that.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas 
filled with love, peace, and happiness.

Pablo Picasso's Dove With Flowers

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tis the Season ... of Hate?!

If there is one word in the English language that is being way over utilized, and often without an understanding of how and when it should be used, it's the word hate.  It's all over the news, social media, and even in our daily lives.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace on earth, good will toward men. And even if you don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, there is no denying that this is the time of year when most people celebrate family, friends and doing good. It's the time of year when people for the most part are filled with good cheer.

So why all the hate speech? Especially politically based hate speech.

Do you wish your mother Happy Holidays with that mouth?

Several years ago I said to a very wise friend that I hated a certain individual. My sage friend said to me, "Hate is a very strong word. Are you sure the sentence fits the crime?"

Hmmm ... that definitely got me thinking and and I downgraded my passionate outburst from hating the individual to disliking what she had done. See what happened there? I not only put a lower octane emotion on the moment, but steered it away from the individual herself. After all, it was her actions I didn't like.

Very recently a friend started spouting to me about how much he hated President Obama. It didn't matter that he knew I generally supported the President, and even if I didn't I would at least respect the office, something a lot of people are forgetting to do these days. I didn't care for George W one bit, but I would never have disrespected him the ugly way Obama is dissed.

Anyway, when my friend continued to underline how much he hated Obama, I stopped him with this:

Me: "Have you actually met the man?"
Him: "Um, no, of course not."
Me: "Then how do you know you hate him?"
Here I received a grocery list of his perceived Obama failings.
Me: "So it's not Obama the man that you hate, but his position on health care and foreign policy? Those are things, not a human being. You actually hate that so why not say that? And while you're at it, tone it down to dislike or disagree with."
Here I was met with a stony silence, then he moved on to another topic.

I am definitely NOT a Donald Trump fan, but do I hate Donald Trump? No. I've never met him so I can't give an honest opinion on him as a person.  I do intensely dislike and disagree with his inflammatory rhetoric, policy stands, and self-important posturing, but the man himself - meh.

Many years ago I had the honor of meeting John McCain a few times. He always seemed to me to be a lovely man and I still feel that way about him. I do, however, strongly disagree with his stand on most issues. See the difference? When you move away from the person and address the issues, hate seems to take a back seat or disappear.

The same goes for groups of people. To say you hate Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, Christians, Jews, fat people, gays, or any other group of human beings, remember, you don't know them all, and I'll bet the few you do know personally on your particular hate group hit list, you probably like or would like if you got to know them.

Put down the broad brush of hate and pick up 
the finer more useful brush of peace and understanding.

I really dislike the phrase haters gonna hate. It shrugs hate off like it's nothing, like it's impotent and doesn't matter. But it does matter. It matters a lot. We can choose to turn away from people who hate and let them continue spewing their bile and covering us all with their acidic slime, or we can choose to look haters in the face and say STOP IT! To be silent is a form of agreement.

Today is December 16th. We have two weeks until the end of the year. I strongly suggest we all, as individuals, put a moratorium on the word hate and actions of hate from today on.  Who knows, we might even be able to start looking at our emotions rationally and realistically for the New Year, which can only bring about positive feelings and better mental health, and maybe even better physical health.

So before you say I hate [fill in the blank], remember it really just highlights your own ignorance, not the person or group at whom you're aiming your venom.

Change can start with one person. One person leads to another, then another, then another. We can bring about change one loving, rational, and understanding person at a time.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Twenty Years In The Making

I thought this post would be perfect considering that National Novel Writing Month just finished and there are hoards of hopeful novelists out there with fame and fortune in their eyes.

To all of you, I say patience, grasshopper, and use some eye drops. Without patience, you are doomed. Without clearing the stars out of your eyes, you won't be able to keep working.

You see, all of a sudden, after 20 years, people are discovering my books.

Wait, let me start over.

Some of you have heard this story, so humor me while I tell it to those who haven't...

I started writing in earnest about 18-20 years ago. I've been published about 12 years, 10 of those with a traditional publisher. After a couple of non-mystery novels, which are still unpublished, and for good reason, I turned my hand to mysteries and the Odelia Grey mystery series was born. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, as it turned out) my initial agent hated TOO BIG TO MISS and refused to represent it, even though she had represented my initial two novels that were never published. So I fired her ass and moved on, publishing TOO BIG TO MISS and THE CURSE OF THE HOLY PAIL with iUniverse.

My next agent (who by the way is still my agent all these many years later), loved Odelia and was able to catapult the series into the welcoming arms of Midnight Ink, who reprinted the first two and went on to contract for 10 more novels in the series, and it was Midnight Ink who launch both my Ghost of Granny Apples and Madison Rose Vampire series. From there, my agent and I jumped Granny Apples into the Penguin family with success.

Like I said, all of this took about 18-20 years total.

In the last six months, it seems like more and more readers are finding my work. After all this time, my sales on both my traditionally published books and my self-published works are gaining a nice upward momentum. Not rocket speed, but definitely a slow steady upward trajectory.

As one reader wrote in a recent e-mail: "How can you have 10 books and I just now found you?"  She was referring to my Odelia Grey series, of which the 10th book in the series, A BODY TO SPARE, was recently released.

Why? Who knows?  A few months ago I unleashed my street team on the world with over 1,500 bookmarks. I'm doing more regular blogging and my blogs are linked to several reader sites. I'm a solid presence on social media. But more importantly, I am prolific. I stay in the eye of the reading public.

In talking to my colleagues, one thing is for sure, the more good, solid, and entertaining content you have out there, the more likely your sales will be affected in a positive way. There is more for readers to discover, which, in turn, leads them to your other work. It's not enough to have a couple of books out in a single series, or a few stand alone novels. Today, a writer must be constantly feeding the reading machine with new books, short stories, and essays to get any traction. It's the Circle Of Life for authors.

And ... I can't say this enough ... the work must be of high quality. If you think you're going to attract readers by throwing out fistfuls of schlock just to get more out there, you are sadly mistaken. In spite of what I just said above, you are better off producing one or two super well written and edited works than a half dozen thrown together disasters. Nothing will turn readers away from you faster and send your career into the gutter.

Unfortunately, the trend among publishers today is to contract for 2-3 books in a series, then cut the series if the books don't perform to their liking. Decades ago, publishers nurtured a new talent, giving an author time to find his or her voice and build a foundation of loyal readers. Today, publishing is about instant gratification. 2-3 books and you're done, and with it possibly your writing career, unless you find another venue for your work and keep the faith. This is one of the many reasons self-publishing is doing so well. Authors who were fired by their publishers have found new life for their books and their careers by continuing with self-publishing, often with greater financial rewards.

Today an author cannot live in a writing vacuum, thinking all they need to do is write a good book to build a career. You must write a good book, then another, then another, then another. The books and stories must be of high quality. You must be PR savvy. Have the patience of Job. The skin of a rhinoceros. And the determination of The Little Engine That Could.

Do you still want to be a writer?