Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Coming Home

Lunch with my daughter and BOTH her grandmothers
Generally, I visit my parents in my childhood home of Bellevue, Kentucky at least once a year, for a longish visit in the summer time. But in 2018, I hadn't made it up there at all yet. I was extra super busy with writing related events, and Mom and Dad came down often to my neck of the woods often enough that I wasn't feeling like I hadn't seen them.  But I hadn't visited home yet this year.

So, when my school district closed down in anticipation of storm effects from Hurricane Florence, I decided this would be a great time to visit my parents, who live considerably further north and inland. That would keep us safe from any ill effects of the storm and relieve my worried husband by getting two of his girls out of harm's way, and maybe get us a little spoiled at the same time.

Because I live so far away (by the standards of a family that nearly all lives in a single 1 hour radius), coming home is often a pretty big deal, full of family gatherings, trying to see everyone I grew up with. It can be exhausting. But not this time. It was a last minute decision to come. It's a short visit. I hardly told anyone.

It was nice being home and not scurrying around to see everyone, but just relaxing. I saw only my parents, my husband's mother, and one cousin and her family (that last bit was a coincidence: she came by to talk to my dad about her car).

Coming back home to Mom and Dad is an opportunity to hand over some responsibility for a little while. Let someone else drive the car, make the meal decisions. We did little things like get coffee at a local coffeeshop that had sprung up sometime since I last visited, revisit a favorite lunch place, get ice cream at the local handmade ice cream shop, and make sure my daughter got her feline affection fix at the Kitty Brew Café. We also just sat and talked a lot.

You'll be relieved to know that we've developed all new plans for world domination. We're thinking we'll achieve it with cannis. Simple, beautiful, and pervasive.

As much as I love my extended family and old friends, it was super chill, sneaking in a little daughter time with just my parents. In 2019, I think I want more simple, quiet family time like this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shifting Balance

I've hit the season again where I am desperately jealous of writers who are able to be ONLY writers.

School started, and I'm back to the three way pull of home-school-writing. It becomes this constant shifting of balance from one foot to another, like trying to stand on a boat at sea in a storm.

I'm grateful to have interest in my writing at all, of course. And I know I'm in this for the long haul, so it doesn't have to everything all at once.

But (you knew there would be a but, right?)…

there's not enough interest yet to pay the bills, which means that I'm straddling worlds: teaching to hold up my end of the bills-insurance-mortgage game AND building a writing career at the same time.

When I'm trying to fit my writing life into one or two hours a day, I struggle with how best to spend that time.

  • I need to write new things. 
  • I need to promote what I've already written. 
  • I need to connect with the writing community. 

Here lately, I'm trying a rough every-other-day approach. If I write on the WIP today, then tomorrow is a "business" day in which I handle emails, make arrangements for things, and contribute to social media.


One of the tricks is that I love social media.

( Seriously: I mean look at all these links for all the social media play-lands I visit: )
FacebookTwitterGoogle PlusInstagramYouTubeTumblrMeWeKit

They keep making more platforms, and they're all fun! Plus I maintain this website and my author pages on Amazon and Goodreads. Jeez Louise. That's a full time job in itself.

I want to be on social media every day for at least a little while because besides being business, it's also fun. My friends are there. They are funny and clever, or they need support and I want to be a good friend. But you can lose entire days down that tube, let alone the whole two hours a day you have for writing stuff.

So, I have to protect me from me.

Other creatives out there, especially if you have a day job or other serious time demands, how do you decide where to focus your time and energy from day to day?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

IWSG: Paths to Publishing



It's the first Wednesday of the month! Time once again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop.  Today's question: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why? After you read my thoughts, please be sure to visit this month's fabulous hosts:  Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!
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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was only one path to publication: the one we now call "traditional." It was a murky one sometimes, too. Not the bright and cheery yellow brick road you might have been imagining. 

You'd submit your work to a publisher who either would or would not accept it for publication. 

If your work was rejected, you could submit to other publishers, but there really weren't that many, and eventually, you might just have to accept a life as an unread author. 

But this is no longer the case! Now you can publish independently, work with a small publisher, or put your work out as a serial. You can develop a podcast, produce content for YouTube, or put it up on your own website. In fact, there are so many ways to get your work out there that it can be hard to choose. 

When I first started submitting novels for publication (around 2012), I started with what was known as "The Big Five": Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Books & Random House (merged), Simon & Schuster. 

It was a frustrating process. So slow! I'd send my work off, and not hear anything for months. Then, even if the news was good (they want more chapters! they want a full manuscript), I'd wait months or even a full year just to get to "no." Usually, that "no" didn't even come with any feedback or advice, just a form letter thanking me for allowing my work to be considered. 

I played that game for only two years before I decided to go smaller, looking into small, independent publishers. 

I still wanted a publisher (as opposed to becoming my own publisher). I wanted that feeling of validation that comes from someone else valuing your work enough to invest in it. I wanted a team behind me that could serve my book with skills I hadn't developed: formatting, professional editing, cover art, marketing, etc. I wanted to see my book on the shelves of physical bookstores, and that meant finding a publisher with the right kind of distribution networks. 

Other writers I know value complete control over their product more than the things I've listed above, or have a skill set I don't possess that allows them to handle things that seem like problems to me. So, they've chosen to go indie. I don't see that this makes any significant difference in the quality of the product. I've read traditionally published books that were badly edited and had terrible covers. I've read indie published books that were beautiful and near-perfect. There's a range of work regardless of venue. 

I was pretty lucky. Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, my first published novel found a home within a few months of my beginning to shop it around to smaller publishers. The process was much faster! Most rejections came within weeks rather than months. The space between signing a contract and holding a paper copy of my book was less than a year. That's lightning speed in the publishing world. 

I found my eventual publisher through another writer I knew online who was already published with them. I did my research and liked what I learned about the terms, so I decided to take the plunge

They published my debut novel in 2015. 

We're still working together. They've published two more of my novels and a collection of short stories since then. It hasn't been all roses and love songs. The company has had growing pains and staffing changes that made for tensions at times, but my books have sold consistently and remained available for purchase, which is the point!

I've learned a lot about how the industry really works since then. The biggest surprise was how much of the onus for marketing still falls on the shoulders of the author, even when you have a publishing house behind you…even if that publishing house is big. 

Another surprise was that finding a publisher doesn't mean that you're set for life. Publishers have niches and markets, and you might write something that doesn't fit with the catalogue. For example, I have a women's issues historical fiction trilogy I'm working on, and when I'm ready, I'll be taking it to different publishers. It's not right for this publisher. 

These days, I'm moving toward becoming a hybrid author. I've put out a couple of indie-published collections with friends, and am considering making my next novel entirely indie. I still haven't learned much about book formatting or cover art but I have made connections and learned about how that work can be hired.  

So, whether you take the road less traveled by, or throw your hat into the three-ring-circus of traditional publishing, it's entirely possible to find a path to publishing that works for you. We're so lucky to live in such times!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Summer Viewing

Summer is my window for television viewing. During the school year, I get an hour or so a week of TV time, so it can take me a loooong time to watch something. Especially during the age of Netflixing, I'm so behind on my media consumption!

But in the summer, the living is easy…and gives me a lot more time for television, so I do some catching up.

So, here's what I watched this summer: 

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 2: I started watching this one while school was still in, so I finished the rest in a rush in my first few days of vacation. I'm a fan of Neil Patrick Harris as far back as Doogie Howser, though I love him best for Dr. Horrible.

I've enjoyed these books with my children, and this series captures the feel so much better for me than the movie attempt of a few years ago.

Campy, but sincere. Funny, but dry. Intelligent, but silly.

Patrick Warburton's deadpan narration as Lemony Snicket is perfect and the contributions of Joan Cusack, Nathan Fillion, and Lucy Punch have been such fun!

Stranger Things and Beyond Stranger Things (all of it). I had already watched the series (I FOUND extra TV time to make it through the series unspoiled), but my 11 year old daughter really wanted to see it.

I decided it would be best if we watched it together in case it raised questions for her, since it's a little more mature than anything I've let her watch up till now. No hard sacrifice to watch it again on my part. :-)

Of course, she became a hardcore fan, just like her mom. She plans to be El for Halloween this year. We even watched the accompanying interview show and are keeping our fingers crossed that the third season will be just as good when it comes out.

I used this as my excuse to introduce her to some of the material the show riffs on, so we also watched The Goonies, The Lost Boys, It, and ET. Stand by Me is still on the TBW list.  

Grace and Frankie: Season 3 and part of 4. I started watching this one this past spring when I had the flu and spent almost a week in bed. Overall, I really like it, though each episode is quite short and that can make things feel jumpy and disjointed at times.

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda make a great "Odd Couple" set of roommates and the story offers a lot of poignant and thoughtful moments surrounding issues of aging, even if it does veer into an "afterschool special" sort of feeling from time to time.

It's been like a who's who of actors over 60, and it's been fun to see some actors whose work I know playing something outside their usual. Sam Waterson, Martin Sheen, Peter Gallagher, Craig T. Nelson, Sam Elliot, and Lisa Kudrow, among others have turned in some stellar moments.


Jane the Virgin, Season 4: My older daughter recommended this one to me a year or two ago, and I was happy to see that there were new episodes out on Netflix. It's a little outside my usual watching preferences, but I've come to love the characters, and watching them grow from season to season.

The show has a lot of fun playing with telenovela tropes running rampant through the life of Jane, who would like to be a straightforward, sensible woman, but keeps being thrust into over-the-top dramatic situations. I enjoy the switching between English and Spanish representing the way a lot of folks live their lives in two or more languages (the Spanish is subtitled, if needed), and the universally positive potrayals of family life, even in the middle of hyperbolic turmoil.

I'm especially fond of Rogelio, her father and telenovela star, as portrayed by Jaime Camil, and season 4 gave Abuela Alba so much more to do!

Killjoys, Season 2 (most of it). I'm watching this one with my husband, which means we need two adults available, awake, and in the mood for this show at the same time. So, it'll probably be a few more months till we finish.

We're not thrilled with the going-behind-each-other's back stuff that's going on with the main three right now (feels like false tension for writer convenience instead of anything character based with real motivation), but we still love Dutch and are invested and seeing her win.

We've got no doubt she eventually will.

Wynona Earp, Season 2: Since I loved Lost Girl even when it got really
crazy, Netflix suggested this one to me.

It was right.

I'm a sucker for a good reluctant hero, and Wynona foots the bill. Add some demons, a curse, and a revision of her family history to include the supernatural, and I'm in! The Scooby Gang springing up around our heroine has a lot of fun characters as well.

It doesn't hurt that this version of Doc Holliday played by Tim Rozon is so very charming.

Jessica Jones, Season 1: This is another one my husband and I have been watching together and we finally finished a season. The Marvel-verse on TV is the part I feel the most behind on, and anxious to catch up on.

I still haven't seen all of Daredevil, the rest of Jessica, any of the Punisher, or Luke Cage. I've only just started Agent Carter. They produce this stuff faster than I can watch it!

Not sure if I'm ever going back for Agents of Shield (the character Skye drives me up a wall and even the magnificent Ming-Na Wen can't save the series from her). I saw and was underwhelmed by Iron Fist.

Anne with an "E": All of Season 1 and some of Season 2. This is another recommendation from my daughter. It's interesting that she knew I'd like it, when she doesn't even know Anne of Green Gables. It wasn't one of those childhood classics that grabbed her, like it did me. Little Women, either. She doesn't generally like "period pieces" like I do. But we both love this show.

I read the novels as a child and loved them. Maybe not with the passion that some do, but still, they stuck with me. I LOVE this retelling. It's like someone took this pastoral fantasy and decided to tell it more realistically, with some of the grit and baggage that must come into any life that has involved difficulty.

Anne's relentless optimism plays very differently (and, in my opinion, more powerfully) when framed with more background on the difficulties Anne faced in her life before coming to Green Gables. And AmyBeth McNulty (who plays Anne) is utterly amazing. I hold out hope that the rest will be just as strong.

Wow! That's a lot of TV.

Believe it or not, I still did other things with my summer, too. Writing it all out here, it sounds like I was a total couch potato. But school starts this week, so I'm back on my feet and in the classroom again. Let me know in the comments what I should catch up on next summer!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ages and Stages


Well, that went fast.

Eighteen years sounds like a long time, but when you spend it raising a daughter, it goes by in a blink.

I delivered my girl to college on Saturday.

I know she's embarking on another adventure, but I don't get the ringside seat I've had for her other adventures and that's leaving me a little sad.

But I know how fortunate I am.

She's healthy, smart, and capable. She's found a college that seems like a great fit that will prepare her for a future doing what she wants. Bursting with pride and feeling melancholy is a weird combination of feelings. A hard one to describe, which is an odd feeling in and of itself for a wordsmith.

So, here's a verse I wrote for her when she was still very small, and I was struggling with my feelings after divorcing her father. She still saves me all the time.

For my daughter 
You save me from bitterness, sweet girl.
Without you,
how I might rail against heaven
and rue the days I spent
in your father's company
as wasted days, lost time. 
But if it took all those sad, difficult days
to make you,
it was little enough to pay.
If I had to cry
to bring the joy that is you into the world,
it seems a fair price,
a bargain.
I would have given so much more
had it been asked. 
When my heart wants to brood
on might-have-beens,
my breath stops
to think
that you
might never have been.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Guest Post: Balancing on the Road by Megan O'Russell

It's my pleasure to host Megan O'Russell on my site today. Her day job is a little different than most, and the story of how she balances that against her writing life is a fascinating one. Enjoy! -SB
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I have the privilege of two very wonderful careers. My “day job” is as a professional performer traveling across the country with different shows. I get to play on stage for a living. It’s pretty great. I’m also a writer with three different Young Adult series currently in progress and another contracted.

I am incredibly privileged to be able to work in areas I truly love. But balancing two competitive and time-consuming careers can be a bit testing at times.

As I write this blog, I’m riding in a car as my husband (and fellow performer) and I drive to Florida to put our car in storage for a month while we fly up to do a show in Alaska for a month. Once we’re done in Alaska, we’ll be flying back to our car in Florida to hop straight into rehearsal for the next show. Earlier this year, I performed on the national tour of The Wizard of Oz, where I split my time between the tour bus, stage, and whatever hotel room I had landed in.

It’s a hectic life, but I love it.

I talk to my fellow authors and so many of them have these routines for writing. They sit in the designated writing spot with their favorite beverage and tunes ready to help them find inspiration. I honestly don’t even know what that kind of routine would feel like.

While I was on tour, I spent my afternoons on the bus writing and editing. There was no desk or comfort involved. I looked like a typing pretzel. There was no quiet or soothing music. The movies playing on the bus were beyond my headphones’ ability to block. I spent time in hotel rooms and backstage writing. Any spare moment I could grab.

While on tour, I finished three manuscripts. It wasn’t always easy, but I knew what I wanted to accomplish so I powered through even as the soundtrack of Trolls played in the background.

But as hard as I worked, I had some amazing experiences as well. Landing in a city and trying to find your way to food and adventure presents a unique challenge. I needed to get my word count in, but I lack the ability to resist a Christmas market in Detroit. Having a morning off the tour bus where I could sit at a desk and work was a rare privilege. But what’s the point in being on tour if you skip a trip to world famous pancakes?

Finding a way to keep the career goals pushing forward while taking full advantage of the
experiences offered by touring was not always easy. Not going to lie, there was a brief phase when someone tried to restrict my time on my computer, and I just about hopped on a plane and flew straight home. But aside from fighting for my right to work as I choose, the ability to forgive myself and create a work budget became the most valuable tool that I have.

Burn out is very real. FOMO (fear of missing out) is incredibly real.

Life becomes a budget.

If I want to write a 60,000 word book in a month (Not that I’m implying that’s how fast something of that length has to be written), I’ll aim for 2,500 words a day. That’s 75,000 words after thirty days. With a surplus of 15,000 words, that gives me six-to-seven full days where I wouldn’t have to write any words at all. One full week of being able to say that I want to explore a new city instead of staying with my computer, taking a sick day to rest, dealing with editing coming in from my publisher.

With that freedom, I’m not panicked about running behind. I’m not freaking out about hitting deadlines. Plan to work with a surplus, not to survive a deficit. Do the numbers always work out? Not at all. But it’s a healthier base line to begin with.

And when your website crashes so you don’t have time to write and your publisher needs seven guest blogs in two days, forgiveness is the best tool you can have.

Forgive yourself for desperately wanting to find locally caught lobster instead of pounding out the rest of the chapter. Allow yourself to choose a full night’s sleep instead of pushing into the wee hours to get caught up.

We’re all only human. All the details, obligations, and wonderful experiences this insane world has to offer are larger than we could ever hope to be. It’s okay.

What my schedule and allowed writing time will look like when I get to Alaska, I have no idea. The next nine months are packed with huge amounts of performing work for me.

The 2,500 words a day will probably be cut down significantly. I don’t know what my wifi situation will look like. I don’t know how many hours a day I’ll need to be at the theatre.

But that’s okay. I’ll survive. I’ll get my edits into my publisher on time, my blogs posted somehow, and if the word counts don’t line up, I’ll forgive myself.

I’ll keep writing grand adventures and keep living my own.

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Megan is a Young Adult author who spends her time traveling the country as a professional actor. Megan's current published works include the Girl of Glass series, How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' Days (The Tale of Bryant Adams, Book One), and The Girl Without Magic (The Chronicles of Maggie Trent, Book One).

When not on stage or working on her books, Megan can be found blogging on LifeBeyondExaggeration.com For more information on Megan's books, visit MeganORussell.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Making My Peace with the Kitchen

I didn't cook when I was a young woman. In my first marriage, my husband did most of our day to day meal preparation.

I used to brag about that.

I think I thought it proved something about my feminism, that our house hadn't fallen into that particular traditional gender role. (Even though we fell into plenty of other typical patterns).

I definitely didn't want to be the little wifey, slaving away in the kitchen. No way, no how.

I only cooked if we were having a party or trying something I thought was ambitious or fun. That started to change when we had a child since there was a greater need for a variety of food preparation, but when we divorced, he was still the main cook in our house.

So, there I was, thirty-two years old, temporarily back in my parents house with a preschooler. My mom and dad are wonderful people, who really came through for me when I needed it. But I wasn't enjoying eating with them.

They weren't very adventurous eaters (I am), and my mom was pretty burnt out on meal preparation. She'd been making meals for one kind of family or another since she was nine years old, after all. Most meals involved a lot of boxes and cans, and I found them pretty darn dull.

So, I started cooking.

I was looking for a way to contribute to the household, since I was draining their resources, and unable to contribute any dollars (even an amicable divorce is expensive), so I could contribute my labor. I'm not very good at accepting help (especially if I can't reciprocate), and my parents were thrilled to have someone else take over cooking for a while, so it was a good arrangement.

I learned something other cooks have known for a long time: preparing food for people is an expression of love and care.

Like I've always done when I wanted to learn something new, I looked for helpful books, and found the wonderful world of cookbooks. My mom had a lovely basic cookbook on the shelves at her house. I think it was a Better Homes and Garden offering. The good thing about it was its specificity. It didn't assume that you knew the terminology or would automatically know how to tell if the carrots were done cooking. It was explicit and complete, and so useful for a novice cook!

Soon, I had mastered some good basics and started expanding. After a couple of years, I was a basically competent cook. I wasn't angsty about cooking or anything. It was a new and exciting skill; it meant I got to eat better; and it let me pay back my parents for the huge favor of taking me and my daughter in, when they should have been enjoying their empty nest.

And then I married again.

And it was time to negotiate.

In our courtship, Sweetman and I had each cooked for each other. There was that time that we learned I didn't understand peppers yet and nearly killed him with habañero peppers, and he still loved me afterwards. There was the time we had to order takeout because his meal plan took longer than he thought it would and my blood sugar tanked.

We really didn't know how we were going to handle food in our new shared life. We didn't walk into our first home knowing who would handle what household job.

I was superstitious in a lot of ways about this second chance at love and marriage. I wanted to do everything differently.

Since I didn't have a wedding the first time, we had a wedding. Since I didn't change my name the first time, this time I did. But I was not sure about taking on the cooking. I didn't want to shackle myself to the kitchen just because I was a wife again.

It's hard to remember now how it went at first. I think we tried taking turns. But it quickly became clear that my day job as a teacher got me home a LOT earlier than his job as a UX guy (like 2-3 hours!), and that we could have dinner a lot earlier if I cooked it. That was better for the flow of day, getting the kid (and later plural kids) to bed timely and getting enough rest. 

Luckily, Sweetman has always been great to cook for. He's willing to try things and shares the labor: helping choose menus, grocery shop, and prepare the food when he can get home in time. Most importantly, he's genuinely appreciative of the effort it takes each and every time. Ask anyone who cooks: an appreciative audience makes a difference.

So, now I've been the primary cook in our family for the twelve years we've been married. He cooks from time to time (usually once or twice a week). It's not about an unwillingness: it's just about time. On holidays and vacations, he often takes on more because he can. And now that I've been doing it a while, the kitchen is more my space. I don't always like to share it.

This summer, though, I hit a wall. I've hit a few of them over the years: just these periods when I can't get invested in the process, when I don't care what we have for dinner or even if we eat. I just want to be done.

It's a kind of burnout. Usually my burnout periods are short. This one was longer. About two months long. I definitely blew the take-out budget. I'd feel deflated just thinking about spending time in the kitchen. There were so many other things I wanted to do instead.

But, we needed to eat, so I had to find a way around my own roadblock.

So, what worked?

The same thing that always works on me: I tried something new.

I was bored as much as I was burnt out. It had been a while since I upped the ante by pushing myself with a new kitchen skill or new recipe. So, I broke out another cookbook and started trying the things in it we hadn't made yet.

It's kind of funny that I didn't think of it. I mean, that's what I do when I'm teaching or writing and things start to feel stale and uninteresting. You'd think I would know.

This week we had five things I'd never made before.

Sure enough, the family was re-engaged because the meals were interesting, and so was I. I guess the kitchen have made our peace again (until next time!).