How are you holding up?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired….and not just because Ed-the-dog has decided to sleep in our bedroom. Or, not-sleep, as the case may be. That’s Q2 hour wake-up calls for everyone. ūüėĎ

He’s a good boy but we’re headed to the vet to see what his issue is.

Beyond sleep deprivation, the list of things I’m tired of goes on pretty long. I’m tired of hearing the name of our former president who still seems determined to shit on our governmental norms and traditions. I’m tired of hearing the name of a certain virus that seems determined to take all the fun out of life. I’m tired of bad news, like Russian aggression, random shootings, and people camping on street corners because they have no place else to go.

If you can find a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle for less than $1000 a month, GRAB IT because the average rent is much higher.

((To clarify, I’m not mad at the people who have so few options they’re living in tents wherever they can find space. I’m angry that I live in a community/city/state/country where housing isn’t guaranteed, and where you can be arrested for being poor.))

Wow, Ranty-Ranterson! Tell us how you really feel.

But this isn’t about me, or I didn’t intend it to be. I’m worried about everyone around me. I’ve got yoga, my garden, my family and friends. A husband who’s fun to be around. Books to write. I’ve got so many resources I almost feel bad complaining about things.

I mean, it’s Australian Open season. I can watch as much tennis as I want…for research purposes, of course.

I can’t reach out and touch everyone who reads this post, but I can practice what my yoga teacher talked about. She said we should inhale caring for ourselves and exhale love for others.

So I am. Exhaling. For all of you.

I hope you’re finding ways to take care of yourself and that you unplug when you need to. Take a walk. Read a good book. Leave the doomscrolling for another day.

The shit’ll still be there when you get back.

It’s Time to Rethink the “Great American Novel”

Yesterday I came across an article by an author who was trying to both define and write The Great American Novel (GAN). It got me wondering about what, exactly, the GAN is, why we are supposed to aspire to write it, and if the idea of the GAN still holds water today. It is something I hadn’t previously considered–I guess because I write commercial fiction and not literary and most definitions for some reason preclude commercial fiction.

Definition
First, how do you define The GAN? According to Wikipedia, it is “a¬†canonical¬†novel that is thought to embody the essence of¬†America, generally written by an¬†American¬†and dealing in some way with the question of America’s¬†national character.” Other criteria that have been developed include:

  • It must encompass the entire nation and not be too consumed with a particular region.
  • It must be democratic in spirit and form.
  • Its author must have been born in the United States or have adopted the country as his or her own.
  • Its true cultural worth must not be recognized upon its publication. (Source)

Let’s break this down:

“A¬†canonical¬†novel”
So it basically has to be a modern classic. But who determines that? Is it academia, critics, the public, or some combination? For the most part, what we define as a “classic” today is what we were told was classic in school. And does a classic always remain a classic? As we’ve very clearly seen over the last few years, culture changes, and with it, so does the definition of what is acceptable, both in subject matter and in regard to the behavior/attitude of the authors. (Let’s face it, the authors of some “classics” were sexist pigs.) Do we allow works with problematic content/authors to continue to be labeled as classic (as products or their time) or does the definition change over time?

“Thought to embody the essence of¬†America”/It must encompass the entire nation and not be too consumed with a particular region.
My first thought is “whose America?” My America as a middle-class white woman is going to be vastly different from that of a Black woman, a white man, a non-binary person, an immigrant, or someone of a class above or below mine. The “essence of America” used to be considered that of the middle-to-upper class white man. But I would argue there is no one essence anymore, nor was there ever–there was simply a prevailing or ruling cultural viewpoint.

As for encompassing the entire nation, how does one do that? Unless you’ve lived everywhere for a length of time, how do you know what it is like to live in a certain place or be from that place? We have different viewpoints, attitudes and values in different parts of the country. If they mean the theme or plot has to be applicable to the entire country and not just, say, the Midwest or South or whatever, I guess I can get that.

Generally written by an¬†American” or “Its author must have been born in the United States or have adopted the country as his or her own.”
Some people argue with this point because it rules out authors from other countries, but I can see it. As I said above, how do you really know a place if you’re not from there or you haven’t lived there for some serious length of time? I LOVE England. But no matter now much of an anglophile I am, can I really write something true to what it means to be English without having lived there? I don’t personally think so.

“It must be democratic in spirit and form.”
I’m not sure what this means. I guess they mean it needs to reflect the democratic system/values behind America. I think I can get behind that.

“Its true cultural worth must not be recognized upon its publication.”
Soooo, does this mean it can’t be a bestseller when it comes out? That it can’t win awards, etc.? That it has to molder in obscurity for 50-100 years? This is just dumb. How can it be a classic if no one at the time thinks it is destined to be? I think this may be an old point that doesn’t apply to an more literate and engaged audience like we have today. I also think it may be a precaution to keep commercial fiction out of the mix because it is what you see on the bestseller lists for the most part.

Why is the GAN important? Is the GAN still relevant today?
If you look at the GAN as it used to be conceived–by well off white men about the white male experience–no, it’s not relevant anymore, at least not to anyone outside of that group. I honestly couldn’t care less what some white dude thinks about American life. We’ve heard their blathering for centuries. They can continue to blather, but I also want to hear the voices of the underrepresented: the people of color, the immigrants, the women, those on the spectrum, the disabled, and those part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

As a concept, I can see the Great American Novel as a kind of guide or signpost about what it means to be American. However, the qualifications given really preclude this kind of book from ever existing. I mean, if it can’t focus on a region, how can it get to the essence of those people? And how can one single book really reflect the essence of a time period? I know some people argue that The Great Gadsby captured the essence of 1920s America. (As someone who HATES that book, I certainly hope not. If it does that means most men were pretenders and most women were featherheads.) But not everyone during that decade was a flapper or a bright young thing, so I don’t see how it can claim or be claimed to represent the whole of a country or period.

Instead, can there be a GAN for each decade, each class or for different parts of the country? It’s certainly more likely than there being one that encompasses everything. As Cheryl Strayed wrote, “the idea that only one person can produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole is pure hogwash.”

However, if we must persist in this idea of a GAN, then I believe we need to include commercial fiction (whether bestseller or not), break the definition into more manageable pieces, and allow for more than one perspective or book to encompass a part of what it means to be American. I actually wouldn’t mind if there was a collection of great American novels (notice I didn’t cap that)–ones that represent what it is like to live in all strata of American society. What it is like to grow up poor, be homeless, be in jail, have your rights taken away (or never granted) by law, to be blind/single/gender fluid/etc. in a world built for sighted/couples/cis/etc. people. What it is like to be an East coast elite or working class person, a Midwestern mogul or farmer, a Southern woman of color or a poor Appalachian. What it is like to rise from one thing to another within your community/culture/race. You get my point. That would be a really interesting reading experience.

If you want examples of books I would include, I would say that Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone and The Four Winds are both great American novels. The Great Alone vividly captures the isolation and beauty of life in Alaska and also what it must of been like to come back from Vietnam with PTSD, but not have a word or diagnosis for it yet. The Four Winds is an amazing portrayal of life during the Dust Bowl in the South/Middle Plains and as an emigrant seeking shelter in California. Both books are extremely immersive and teach as they entertain. I also think The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an excellent example of what it must be like to be a Black teenager in a society where you have to fear the police.

Now, if we could just get the reading and literary communities behind something like this that would be a huge accomplishment. It would also be an inspiration for writers everywhere because it would mean any and all of us have the potential to write the GAN.

A reading journey with many, many turnouts

I was recently invited to promote one of my books on a website, specifically World of Ash, my dear, dear little apocalyptic baby. In the promo they wanted me to share some books I recommend for readers to enjoy that would be shelved next to WOA. Great concept, I love promoting other books, especially if it helps readers understand my books so they know if mine is one they would enjoy,

There was just one problem: I haven’t read any Dystopian, Apocalyptic, or Post-Apocalyptic books in ages.

I realized any books I would be recommending would be 5 to even 10 years old. That really had me hung up for awhile. One, would people want to hear about books that weren’t the hot new thing? And two, when had I stopped reading these genres?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with reading older books. And considering most of the books we read in our formative years are decades, if not centuries old, 5-10 years old is nothing. So I did write my post and I focused on some of the books I read around the time I got the inspiration for WOA, explaining why each of these books spoke to me.

But it got me thinking about how I’ll become obsessed with one particular genre and I’ll consume multiple titles over the course of months or years all shelved in the same places and then, just suddenly, poof! No more.

In high school I read a lot of sword and sorcery. A lot of Mercedes Lackey and her contemporaries. Her Elemental Masters would greatly influence my first series, The Elemental Series. Nothing at all like her books, being modern day and teenagers, but still, influenced. I also read my way through most of Anne Rice’s catalogue, gotta love me some vampires and witches!

In college I found a taste for some contemporary romance, probably because they were a good, easy escape from all of my college texts.

After college I found my way back to vampires and witches, discovering paranormal romance and devoured all of the Laurell K Hamiliton books, Keri Arthur, Jeaniene Frost, Patricia Briggs, and Kim Harrison. I mean. I could have opened a tiny used bookstore with just their books alone.

Then, as my bookshelves sagged under the weight of their lengthy series, I found YA. And yes, it was Twilight. You can hate, that’s okay. I had a very bad flu over the course of two weeks and I needed something I could escape into, that didn’t ask me to think too hard to follow complicated plots, and was long enough to fill the time. My dear husband went back to the store for each books as I finished them. And, thanks to Twilight, I realized I wanted to read more fantasy YA. And thank goodness I did because that would lead to my writing career.

Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Lauren DeStefano, Veronica Roth took me through beautiful fantasy realms, new magic systems, and wonderfully flawed but strong female leads. From there I wandered into Steampunk and with grabby hands added Kady Cross’s beautiful covers to my bookshelves.

For a long time I really only read fantasy but eventually I would find a love for cozy murder mysteries, especially Gretchen McNeil and Charlaine Harris (she does more than steamy vampires!).

Then, of course, zombies became all the rage and I found my way into apocalyptic books, which would lead me to Dystopia, which I would find people tended to conflate the two but they are different!

Somewhere in all of that I still read all the Harry Potters, most of Neil Gaiman’s library, and any number of books that are somewhere in my memory now. But I defintetly get hooked on one genre and read it until I am sick of it.

Surprisingly, as much as I love a murder documentary, a paranormal thriller, and a good horror movie (not gore!), I have yet to find a book in that same genre that can captivate me. I think I need the dark room, the ominous music, the silence, for that magic to work and you can’t exactly do that with a book. So I want the fantastical world, the tension of mystery, and the beautiful words for my books.

It’s strange to look back over a reading journey and realize just how vast and varied our tastes run. Maybe that’s why I have three different genres out there in my works. I’ve yet to master sword and sorcery in writing, and I don’t know if I ever plan to, but I am looking forward to seeing what else my reading and writing muses have in store for me.

Goodbye…For Now

There’s a quote I often hear repeated when people find out I’m writer. It goes something like: “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve heard it attributed to Confucius, Mark Antony, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde. But the truth is, I don’t care who said it, and I absolutely despise hearing it.

It’s a nice idea. It really is. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just not true. Here are some quotes about writing I prefer:

“You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” –Red Smith

“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.” –E.B. White

“A¬†writer¬†is a person for whom¬†writing¬†is more difficult¬†than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann

The truth of the matter–at least for me–is that in choosing a job I love, I’ve made work my life, and life my work. Writing is a terrific, indescribable alchemy. It’s spinning vast, unseen worlds from pure imagination. It’s creating complex characters who I gut and then heal only to gut once more. It’s living a thousand lives, eked out in tiny words and wobbly sentences and overwrought paragraphs and long, laborious, glorious manuscripts. It’s wonderful but it is also exceptionally, extravagantly hard. It’s hard because it’s a part of me–it’s a little bit of my soul made manifest. My blood, sweat, and tears. And sometimes, that’s just becomes too much to handle.

I started writing because I loved reading. Growing up, my local library had no limits on the number of books you could check out, and believe me, I took advantage of that. Reading was solace and escape and security and adventure and wonder. In middle school, we kept monthly reading logs. I think the goal was a book a week. One month, I turned in my log and it was closer to a book per day. My language arts teacher was so taken aback by this that she actually contacted my parents to make sure I was getting enough sleep and keeping up with my schoolwork.

Writing was the obvious spin-off of this all-consuming hobby. I started journaling at the age of 8 and filled up many horse-themed notebooks with the minutiae of homework and meals and crushes and friend dramas. It wasn’t long before I tried my hand at fiction–terrible, derivative fantasies about unicorns and princesses and magical artifacts that went nowhere and didn’t make any sense. Over time, these got (a little bit) better. I distinctly remember being at a house party during my freshman year of college, and having such a vivid scene for a story pop into my head that I set down my drink, walked out without saying goodbye to my friends, and went to sit in my room to write.

Sadly, in the decade since I chose what I loved as my job, I have lost a lot of that love. Reading and writing used to be my two favorite things in the world. Now, it’s nearly impossible for me to read a book without my internal editor picking apart plot holes and critiquing sentence structure. I can’t actually remember the last time I simply lost myself in a story. Similarly, I struggle to write a single sentence without wondering whether what I’m working on is marketable or whether my characters will be likable or whether my world is high-concept. I wonder, sometimes–if I went back in time and asked that twelve year old bookworm or that nineteen year old scribbler whether they’d trade their favorite hobby for a chance at having a book on the shelves at the bookstore and library, what they would choose?

I’m not always sure I made the right choice.

Listen, I realize this is a first world problem and I’m probably being a teeeeensy bit dramatic. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the resources and the support to pursue writing full time. Although the path to publication was slow, I did get the agent and the book deal and the sequel. I have two published books to my name. But that modicum of success doesn’t take into account the many, many books I’ve trunked. The books I’ve written that didn’t make it past my agent or worse, died on submission. Millions of words that will never see the light of day. Months and years of my life that haven’t borne any fruit. I don’t have any forthcoming novels or book deals in the works. I recently parted ways with my agent.

I’m just tired.

We all need breaks sometimes. I’m going to take one now. I’m not sure yet how I’ll spend it. Maybe I’ll find my way back to reading and give my middle school self a run for her money. Maybe I’ll get a fantastic idea for a new story and become so wrapped up in it that I can’t wait to run home and work on it. Or maybe I’ll just play solitaire on my phone for a few months. I’m not sure. I’m not going to worry about it.

This is all to say, I’m going to be stepping back from the blog in the new year. Hopefully not forever. And hopefully, if and when I’m ready to come back, I’ll have regained that spark I lost, and be eager to talk about reading and writing with the same enthusiasm I once did. Until then–keep reading and writing! I can’t wait to see what you all create.

Merry Happy Blessed!

I know we’ve been a little hit and miss around here, but the end of the year, shorter days, holidays, life, and deadlines all suddenly converge and things fall through the cracks. I honestly totally forgot my day on the blog earlier this month, not gonna lie about it, I’m human. I also emailed the other Scribes to ask who missed their day when, whoop! I realized it was me!

So, apologies, dear readers. Never think I don’t love and appreciate you all, because I do.

I know this is supposed to be a writing blog, but honestly, I’m still working on that same book I’ve been posting about and, as I’m usually wont to do it leading up to the winter holidays, I’ve taken a break and plan to jump back to it in January. So I don’t have much to add to that for now.

I thought I’d write something that was a little more holiday-themed for you all this week. And it’s kinda related to writing. Sorta. Okay maybe it’s more about storytelling?

Anywho. Since it is the winter holiday season, I thought I’d lighten the mood and tell you my favorite, yearly must watch movies of the season. Maybe you’ve watched them too, maybe I’ll give you some fun new-to-you movies to check out!

First up, easily one of the funniest movies, IMHO, because of all the quick one-liners: Arthur Christmas.

Not everyone is on board for a kids animated movie, but with a cast that includes Bill Nighy as Grand-Santa, I promise, this is not just for kids. I watch it every year and it cracks me up every time. It’s the classic tale of every single person counts, no one should be left out.

Second up is The Holiday. I know, probably a very basic-witch pick, but damnit, Nancy Meyers knows what she’s doing. I actually love that most of the story and script has held up (like, we all enjoy Love Actually, but imagine how different quite a few of those stories would be if written today).

Yes, it’s a rom-com, yes, it’s about two women finding love, but it’s also about them finding themselves and cutting out toxic relationships and deserving to be happy.

Also, it’s set at Christmas, but it isn’t actually about Christmas. It’s about their lovely holidays.

If you know me, you know I love a good scary movie. I’m not down for slasher, bloody, gore-fest movies, but tense, paranormal, edge of your seat creepiness is my jam, throw in some fantasy flavoring and I will watch that movie! My next favorite ticks all these boxes. Krampus.

This is not a feel-good movie. This is not a family movie (unless everyone is old/mature enough for it) but it is about a family. It’s very much if the Griswolds all admitted they hated each other and then a demigod showed up to punish and reward all of them for their faults.

There is a lot–a lot–of lore around Krampus and I have studied as much as I can. I don’t view Krampus the way Christian’s have portrayed him–much like they portray a lot of pagan deities–but I do think that Krampus does both good and bad and this movie shows that but takes the bad up about ten notches. It shows us how commercialism and selfishness and trying to look perfect on the outside no matter what has hurt us. Rest assured, the commentary is there, but it really is a story about survival and families coming together after trying to rip each other apart. So get your cocoa and a cozy blanket and get ready for a ride!

Three seems like a good place to stop, but it also feels a little weird to end on such a dark note so I will also add a couple of new-to-me movies we’ve caught this year. LoveHard on Nextflix, while very formulaic, was cute and enjoyable. Single All the Way was, again, formulaic, but you still rooted for the ending we all knew was coming.

A few others I will be re-watching again and again:

Klaus

A Christmas Carol (Guy Pearce as Scrooge)

Last Christmas

Elf

Also, if my favorite sitcoms are doing a Christmas Episode, I am here for it! Loved both, Ghosts BBC Christmas Special and Ted Lasso’s Carol of the Bells Christmas Special!

Tell me some of your favorite holiday or holiday-ish movies or shows you can’t miss each season!

How much is my time worth?

This post comes out of a couple different places. One, I’ve been pondering my goals for next year. Two, I made more money from book sales this year than I ever have before. (I also spent more this year, and after almost ten years of publishing, have yet to break even.) And three, I’ve expended a whole lot of time and energy over the last couple weeks making Christmas presents.

See, secretly I’m an embroidery nerd. I’ve done cross stitch, crewelwork, needlepoint, black work, and hardanger embroidery, and to a limited extent, I’ve designed my own projects. Needlework was my main hobby in my 40s, until I blew up a disc in my back and couldn’t sit for long periods of time. I couldn’t sit and stitch, but I could lay on my belly and write. I started with journaling to keep from going crazy, moved on to short stories, and voila! A writer was born!

I also crochet, but that’s more of an addiction than anything else. It keeps my hands busy and it’s less toxic than smoking cigarettes.

This morning as I was putting the finishing touches on some hardanger embroidery ornaments – here’s the link to hardanger’s Wikipedia page in case you’re unfamiliar with the style – I started thinking about how much time it had taken to make each one. The two smaller ones took about four hours each. The larger ones took….longer. The materials don’t cost a whole lot, but even so, for me to earn at least minimum wage, I’d have to sell the small ones for around $75.

The large ones would be…more. Which is why I’m giving them as gifts and not trying to sell them on Etsy.

You can find hardanger ornaments on Etsy, though, and for a lot less than I’d charge. (This one is pretty. And so it this one.) Which means either I’m slow (probably) or the market won’t support what the sellers’ time is really worth.

I mean, if you’re selling a hand-made ornament for $10, either you can finish one in 30 minutes or you’re earning what was minimum wage when I first entered the job market – $3.35/hour.

Which brings me back to publishing. I honestly don’t know how many hours it takes me to write a book, but for the sake of discussion, I can use last month’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I wrote 50,000 words in November, or a little under 1700 words a day. It takes me about 2 hours to write 1700 words, longer if I’m distracted.

My best selling book this year, Soulmates, is about 75,000 words long. Rather than challenge you with a story problem, I’ll just say that, assuming I write 1700 words in 2 hours, it took me 90 hours to write 75,000 words. Cool. I made decent money, if I only count the writing time. That hourly rate gets lower when I add in the editing, with all the false starts and rewrites that went into the final draft.

And after I back out the cost of the editor, the cover artist, and promotion, I’m lucky if I’m making minimum wage….for 1976. ($3.35/hour!)

So why do it? Why spend all the time and thought and energy on a project with little hope of financial reward? We’re only allotted so many hours in this life, and given that I’ll turn 60 on my next birthday….well, you do the math. Is publishing where I want to spend my time?

I’ve talked about retiring from my hospital job in the next couple years, with an eye toward earning enough in book royalties so I won’t have to tap my retirement accounts right away. To do that, I’d need to do more than break even, an elusive goal so far. It means I’d need to keep up the 4-books-a-year pace, and I’d need to pay more attention to the ‘Zon categories so that my upcoming projects align with what’s selling well.

I’d also need to layer on the butter. (See 7 Figure Fiction by T. Taylor for how to use Universal Fantasies, what she calls butter, to sell books.)

But do I want to do all that? I’m still pondering. Over the last ten years, I’ve invested a lot of my time – my self, my spirit, my creative drive – in this publishing project, and I’d like to see it pay off. Or maybe it already has paid off, in the satisfaction I feel knowing I sent some really good stories out into the world.

If you need me, I’m the one with the crochet hook and the wild eyes…

Social Media and Book Sales

So the big hubbub in publishing right now is the old question of whether or not social media sells books. This all started when the New York Times published an article about celebrity books and how these people with millions of followers have books that aren’t selling. Then the wonderful Jane Freedman posted a rebuttal that was, of course, exactly right.

Here’s my take for what it is worth:

The answer is yes and no. I’ve personally bought books because I saw them on social media. Even from quasi-celebrity Christine Quinn of Selling Sunset reality show fame. When it comes out will I have wasted by money? Likely. But I like how she has turned her villain status in the show into an empire and I’d like to see if I can learn a thing or two. Now, would I buy a book by Billie Eilish (whom the NYT article uses as an example)? No, but I barely know who she is.

And that’s the key. Big name or unknown, you have to market to your demographic. And that isn’t everyone. It isn’t even everyone who is following you. Yes, I get that it appears that your social numbers are a built-in audience, but that is faulty logic. First, there can be a lot of cross-over between platforms. When I like someone, I follow them on all platforms. So I may look like 4 or 5 potential sales, when I am really only one. Second, a lot of people follow just to follow, not necessarily to buy books, especially celebrities. I’ll give you an example. I follow Joanna Gaines because I like her and Chip and their show. But would I buy her books? Nope. I just don’t care enough–if I want to read it, I will borrow it from the library where it costs me nothing. Now, if you told me my fav actress of all time, Rachelle Lefevre, was writing a book, even if it was about her experience as a mother (I don’t like kids, much less have them) I’d be like

For all authors, its the level of engagement and fandom that counts. Even as small fish as I am, I have one person who, the second I post about writing something new, says the same two things: 1) write faster! and 2) when can I pre-order? THOSE are the fans who are going to buy your book because of social. (And yes, there are casual fans who see it on social and say, “why not?” But you can’t count on that because there is no way of know when/if that is going to happen.) As an author, I KNOW I have sold books because of social media. It is a huge part of how I hit the USA Today list a few years ago. (Here’s the whole post on what I did in case you want to see it.) People have told me they bought books on Facebook, Insta, etc. However, that was mostly because of personal connections, not ads. I know some people who are masters at them, but that is not me. It is really the personal connection/recommendation that sells books on social when you are not a household name. Because seriously, how often do you see a name you don’t know and go “I may take a chance on that.” It happens, but not often. That is why I was so devastated when FB/Insta deleted my accounts a few months ago. I had put YEARS of work into cultivating those relationships and then they were just gone, literally overnight, and there was nothing I could do.

What I hope comes out of all of this is that publishing stops OBSESSING over an author’s social numbers. People who aren’t good at social (not everyone is and that is okay) or who have had their accounts decimated like I did show up like unattractive prospects when too much emphasis is put on these arbitrary numbers. They aren’t a true indicator of future success, which is the point of the NYT article, at least not when taken alone.

In end, social media is nothing more than a tool in our marketing toolbox. It may sell some books, but no one should rely on it to do all the work. A book is only successful when everyone involved–the author, the publisher, the agent, the friends and fans of the author–does the work. That is why we beg for reviews, word of mouth recommendations and have street teams. That is why BookTok is a thing. Everything we do is in the service of selling our books, not just assuming they magically will. Unless you are Nora Roberts, that is. But even she has a publicity team and an assistant to do her social (she sometimes pops on with her own posts, too) and those HUGE NYT ads are proof that her publisher is still pushing her books, even when her name alone is enough to sell millions.

To get the goods, you have to put in the work. That is al there is to it.

How NaNoWriMo is like yoga.

This is not me. This is a photo by Oksana Trajan from Unsplash.

Today’s post is going to be short(ish) because it’s NaNoWriMo and I have words to write. For those of you who haven’t seen the acronym before, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all levels all over the world set a goal for the month of November. Traditionally the goal is 50,000 words, which will give people who’ve always wanted to write a novel a good start on one.

It’s also fantastic for those of us who’ve written more than one book but just need a little (or a large) push to crank out the next one.

You can set any goal for the month, and there’s a bajillion ways to connect with other authors while you’re working to meet that goal. That’s the thing that makes NaNo fun! There are groups you can join through the NaNoWriMo website, or you can connect with people through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on twitter and pretty much any other social media platform.

So how is all this like yoga?

For those of us who’ve committed to the 50k word goal, that works out to a little over 1600 words a day. Every day. All month long. I find that even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what I will be writing or what I’ve just written and how those pieces fit together. I find that the process of living and breathing the story forces me to get out of my own way.

And that’s how I connected it to yoga.

I took my first yoga class in about 1990, and have practiced off and on ever since. Since the pandemic started, though, I’ve been practicing much more regularly, mostly by streaming classes from Sun Yoga in Honolulu. In a recent class, the teacher said something that really resonated with me. She said that part of yoga was learning to breathe in uncomfortable positions. For me, that idea highlighted how, at its essence, yoga is about developing a connection to the breath. (Even when you’re curled in a ball trying to get your forehead to your knee.)

Yoga is about the process, and NaNoWriMo is about the process. Yoga connects you to your breath, and writing regularly is a way of developing a connection to the words (or to your creativity, or fill in whatever concept works for you.) And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a couple thousand words to write.

Hang on…as long as I’m here, I figure I’ll share the links to a couple of promos I’m involved with….

Over 40 great holiday romances by some of the best in the business! And they’re all ON SALE!


This one’s fun and FREE!!

Writer on a Deadline: Self Care

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I have two books due by the end of the year. Well, actually one is due Dec. 3. I haven’t even started the second one yet. (Research is done, and I know I will get it done on time.) I have a full time job. Normally this would mean I am big ol’ stress puppy shedding cortisol like fur.

But today I woke up in a very “take my sweet time about everything” mood. This is totally not me. I live my life in fast forward. But I’m allowing myself to enjoy this dream-like state. Its what I imagine Luna Lovegood feels like all the time.

I think part of the reason for it is that we are at our peak fall color here in St. Louis. Normally that happens three weeks earlier, but the weather this year has been crazy warm. So now when I wake up and look out the window, I see beautiful orange-red trees; when I sit at this computer I see the gold trees out the front. Fall is my favorite time of year.

So despite being crazy busy, I’m leaning into the idea of self care where I can get it. I’m on a new medicine that my body is getting used to, so on the days it makes me sick, I try to be kind to myself and slow down however I have to while still getting work done. I’m listening to my body about what it wants to eat (or doesn’t, depending on the day).

But I’m also treating myself to a few special things in an effort to keep my sanity:

  • I have a tradition that every fall on the peak color weekend, I order Subway and go to a park to watch the leaves fall while I eat it. That came from my family always going “leaf watching,” and that is what we ate as part of our family picnic. This year I can’t take too much time away from writing and my appetite isn’t what it usually is, but I bought the sandwiches anyway. I’m cutting them into small sections and eating what I can once a day until they are gone to prolong the beauty of this tradition.
  • I’ve recently started journaling once or twice a day (usually when I wake up or before I go to bed) and that is providing some wonderful insights into my brain and my life. Plus, it is a peaceful way to start and end the day, regardless of what comes in between.
  • You better darn well believe that I am going to devour the new season of Selling Sunset when it comes out Nov. 21, deadline or no.
  • Instead of stressing myself over trying to be more active, I’m treating myself to daily stretching and listening to to audio version of A Discovery of Witches, one of my favorite books, when I can get out and walk around the neighborhood.
  • This one is a little odd, but I’m keeping my bathroom clean. I mean do clean it on a regular basis, but I’m doing it more frequently than usual. The idea came from an ad that said something about it being the first place you go in the morning and the last place you see at night (other than your bed, obviously). For some reason that really struck me. I want to begin and end my days in clean.

Before I know it, these books will be done and I’ll be into the new stressors of January, turning one of my books into an audio play and writing and recording a historical fiction master class. But after that, all I’m going to do is write fiction (and the non-fiction I’m under contract for) for the rest of the year.

Once this is all said and done, I’m going in for a big treat–the kind of thing most people think of when they think self-care. Next April I’m going to a conference in Bellingham, Washington. I’ve been to it before, so I’m going up a few days early to use the time for myself. I LOVE the hotel. There is a spa right by it at which I plan to get a massage and mani-pedi. Then I’m just going to write and enjoy myself.

I guess my point is to work little acts of self-care into your life. They can be as simple as going to bed earlier, drinking more water or saying no to a demand you don’t really want to do–anything that you can do for you. I know it is making my crazy time a little easier.

DNF Beta Reader Edition

Your friend wrote a book. Or maybe your sister or cousin. Someone you know and maybe love wrote a book and that’s amazing! You’re so excited for them and proud they accomplished this Big Thing. So many people talk about writing or say they’re a writer but never seem to have any concrete proof of it. But this person does! Amazing!

And they want you to read it.

Or maybe you got a little too excited and offered to read it for them. You love them and want to support them, so why wouldn’t you offer or agree? Here’s the thing. Maybe you shouldn’t offer. Just because you’re related or friends and you may have things in common, enjoy a lot of the same stuff, you might not enjoy their writing. Hopefully it’s just a matter of taste and not a comment on their talent, but there’s nothing so awkward as getting your hands on a loved-one’s book only to realize you’ve made a mistake.

It’s one thing to wait until said book is published and you’ve bought it–buying a book is definitely supporting it and you never have to get around to reading it to show that support. Sales are very important. But so are reviews, so you could just quickly spit out a general, “It was an amazing book! I read it in one sitting. You should buy it too!” review and look like the best friend ever.

But no, you offered to read it in a raw, rough draft form. Now you have to tell your loved one what you thought. But what if you couldn’t get through it? What if it wasn’t your cuppa? I’m not going to address if the work is “bad” because that’s a whole different issue. This is about struggling with a book you’re not enjoying.

The book I’ve been working on over the past year is a fairly dark book. I meant for it to be. I decided to have an MC with a skewed center of morality, who made choices based on what she wanted, not what she was expected to do. She is angry, betrayed, and ready for vengeance. It’s heavy in a lot of places. But it’s still fantasy with magic and mystery. So, if you’re a fantasy fan and enjoy witches and magic, you might think it’s right up your alley.

My mom thought so.

My mom is a big fan of mine and not just in the way moms are supposed to be, she has actually read every book I’ve published. But I don’t usually give her rough drafts. Like most moms she just wants to tell me that she liked it and maybe proof read a little bit. But when you’re a writer and you let your beta readers read your rough drafts, you’re not looking for that kind of feedback. You need details, what worked, what didn’t, why on both counts. What they thought about characters–did they hate a protagonist or love interest? Was the plot too confusing or too easy? Things like this. Yeah, we want to hear “I liked it!” but then we need the meat.

My mom is a fast reader. She’s one of those readers authors love and hate. We spend six months to two years on a book only to have her read it in a day or two. It’s awesome that reader can love and enjoy something so much they can’t help but consume it, but also… slow down? I can’t write that fast?

Well. A month had passed and she hadn’t said one word. I don’t like to nudge people. I tell friends and family not to tell me if they’ve bought one of my books because I don’t want to wonder if they’ve read it and hated it and that’s why I haven’t heard from them. I’d rather think they’re like me and yes, they bought the book, but like so many other titles, I was excited to buy it but it’s been added to my very tall TBR pile. A very prestigious place to be.

But I finally asked her if she’d read it. Turns out, she’d gotten to about the half-way mark and stopped.

“It’s too dark for me.” She hadn’t said anything because she thought that comment would hurt my feelings. When, really, since I tried to write a dark book (which I felt like I could push it farther), that was a compliment. It was a good note. It means I did accomplish what I was going for.

“The writing is good, but I don’t think I’m in the right headspace for it.”

Now, obviously it’s a bummer she couldn’t finish it, but that’s okay. I have a book by an author I like and I’ve been reading it for over a year. A few pages here and there. It’s a heavy book and it was too close to the current world-affairs so I had to put it down for a while. It doesn’t mean the book is bad.

So your friend wrote a book and it didn’t work for you but you gotta tell them something. You have to not be afraid to tell them the truth. So long as what you have to say is constructive, it shouldn’t crush them. And if your friend can’t take a note like their dark book is too dark for them to finish, then they’re not ready for real-world publishing criticism.

Do not offer to read for a loved one if you’re worried their ego is too fragile for real feedback, but also be ready with something substantial that they can take away.

I didn’t think my book was too dark, one of my readers didn’t either, one thought it was fairly dark and I was in a dark place when I wrote it (I wasn’t), one enjoyed it but said they hoped teenagers weren’t that dark, and one couldn’t finish it because it was too dark. All different readers, all different takeaways on the same theme.

So your friend wrote a book and they want you to beta read it. Ask them what it’s about, get some real details from them and decide if it’s the kind of book you would have bought on your own even if you didn’t know them. I offer professional manuscript critique services, but on my website I say that I won’t take on genres I don’t enjoy as a reader because I don’t think I could judge them appropriately. You can say the same thing to your friend. “I think it’s awesome you wrote a novel, and Space Opera?! That sounds great! But I’m not generally a fan of sci-fi so I don’t think I’d be a good fit to read it for you.”

Or, if you didn’t know you wouldn’t be into it, like my mom, until you got into it, just be kind and honest. Believe it or not, even explaining why you couldn’t get through something can be very helpful.