Timing: Fur-babies and Flower-babies

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, the saying goes.

Timing.

Hundreds of quotations exist on it.

We’re working through a rough season in our home. Like my two characters in one of my books, I ponder whether things happen for a reason (fate/universe/God), or by coincidence. I lean toward the first camp in fate vs. coincidence. Does timing have meaning?

IMO, yes.

Last year, I lost a loved one at Thanksgiving, and a close friendship dissolved shortly before then, too. Some anxiety challenges in our home with one child, transitions galore, job challenges…It was a rough fall.

Then came spring/summer.

Last day in the sun. Saying goodbye to our beloved Indy.

Last day in the sun. Saying goodbye to our beloved Indy.

I was supposed to have been out of state this weekend on a press tour/writing media trip. It got delayed (for some reason by the PR company). Then our 15-year-old cat, our beloved Indy (named after yes, Indiana Jones) took a sickly downward spiral while we were away on vacation over Independence Day. We rushed home while our cat-sitter took Indy to the vet on July 5th; thank goodness they were open! She just happened to be checking in on my cat and gardens when he got very sick. I was grateful she was here. Indy was our son’s BFF and one of my fur-babies before human-babies. My son had to go away to a camp two days later. Thankfully, Indy came home from the vet and made it to see his bestie again. Another week later, after diligent hospice care and TLC, Indy joined the warrior cats in the sky. Now we are all processing the grief. But the timing…we are thankful we were here for him.

15 years of love…

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Well, hmm, that timing thing? We had planned to adopt a new cat for the kids—a three-month in-the-making surprise. It was all planned ahead of time. When Indy fell ill, we told the kids about the surprise, and the new cat arrived last week per the already planned schedule…and such a joy she’s been to add to our family. Not meant to be a replacement, but rather a companion for Indy, here she is, my new buddy sitting beside me while I write, and a youthful spirit for the kids. She is chatty, sweet, affectionate, and frisky! Another interesting point: the cat’s name is Tres (she was found and fostered; a young 1-year-old momma with three kittens, hence Tres). I am revising a new book where the protagonist has cats; one is named Tres. I do not lie. This naming happened BEFORE we even knew of our new cat’s existence. Eerie…or fate? Timing?

Tres looking out her favorite spot, and over my petunias.

Tres looking out her favorite spot, and over my petunias.

Mother Nature, usually a BFF of mine (as I love everything nature…landscapes, wildlife, exploring our world’s gems), served me a cold dose of reality this summer. My flower gardens are my third love (after family/pets and writing)…they even come before coffee! This year, the rabbits, voles, ants, beetles, fungi/microbes and God-knows what else have decided my numerous and bountiful gardens are their all-you-can-eat buffet.

How can a person become so attached to flowers? I don’t know. Flowers are my utopia. They bring me joy. I baby them. To see meadow sage and phlox I planted ten years ago and have nurtured since, be taken out in one fell swoop—heart-wrenching. Catmint nibbled. Day lilies devoured from the ground up. Raspberries chewed by beetles (still holding hope for a fall crop…), apple trees that have struggled since their planting years ago once again dropping leaves and unripe fruit. Asiatic lilies gave up the fight against the beetles this spring. So much loss.

…I replanted some flowers, repeatedly, only to have the voles delight in another a la carte meal. I hired the Vole Whisperer to come and do his magic…and I *hope* we’ve taken a positive turn after the carnage. I’ve got zealous voles apparently. So-many-holes.

Why all this ramble? Well, it’s been a rough year. But it all comes back to timing. Things happen when they are supposed to…at least I think so. Bummed over my missed trip, I was grateful to be here for Indy’s final days. My cat sitter happened to visit Indy at just the right moment. This weekend, my children’s grandparents had planned to come, in time to help ease the kids’ balms (though that was not the original reason for the visit). Tres joined our family at just the right time. Another missed trip that worked out for the better. Indy waiting for his BFF to return from camp before he passed on to the next life.

Timing.

Now, I am still trying to figure out my timing on the flowers. Hindsight. Maybe this fall I’ll know why. Or next summer.

Timing of course passes over into other parts of our lives, too. I’ve seen it on my road to publication (and still see it while running the course). Hindsight really is twenty-twenty. Until then, I keep doing what I am doing.

Into the Wild: An Extroverted Introvert's Day Out

I’ve been delinquent in keeping up with my blog posts as of late, while on the heels of three new book releases. I still have a topic floating in the back of my mind about “Life on Plan B.” That one will come. Today, something different stirred me. I was going to post about the “writer’s life” as I work from home and juggle family, house, and all the stuff life slaps at you. Instead, I want to write about being out in the wild. As in…home-bound authors who venture out! (p.s. yes, I’m talking to you other writers who hole away in seclusion for too long…I personally go a bit nutty being home with just me, myself, and I most days.)

I’m an extroverted introvert meaning I prefer to stay home for some R&R with family, gardening, writing, TV, or books but I do love to go out and talk with other humans. I miss the camaraderie of an office (but not the drama). Not big parties or loud events (though I can navigate those just fine), but rather if I do go out, my #1 place is to enjoy nature either by boot, paddle, or pedal. If needed, I can also rock it in the extroverted world. Hence I’m an extroverted introvert. I write in cafes, waiting areas, doctor’s offices, coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, my car during parent pick-up at school or at the bus-stop….the list is long. If I can tote my computer with me and I have some down time, I write…with or without noise and distractions. I can filter them out (or pop in earbuds).

I also observe in the wild.

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Newborn baby crying next to me…momma ushering her two or three little ones through the door: both tug at the heartstrings because I have been there (and I’m still there sometimes). They aren’t distractions to me (perhaps because I’ve been writing around the “chaos” in my house for the past ten years). Instead, they are reminders of life. My observations of the world outside my house.

Out in the wild today…I visited a new mechanic’s shop to deal with a recurring problem. I was at my wit’s end with this ongoing issue with my SUV. At 180K miles, it has kid stickers plastered on the windows, stained seats, and ground goldfish on the floor (okay, those were vacuumed up yesterday). It has also seen many years in my family’s life. I arrived at the mechanic’s shop with Plan B: I wore my sneakers in case I needed to go for a walk while waiting, and I brought my laptop in case the shop had a waiting area. Score! My first choice prevailed (writing).

I sat, dug into edits, but soon found myself chatting with the mechanics. One talked all things books. He loves to read and I am a writer: instant chitchat! The other one and I conversed about travel…we’ve ventured to a few similar places such as Yosemite and Yellowstone. Though I came prepared to work (or walk), I ended up working for just a fraction of the time, carrying on lively conversations instead. Car fixed, I now have a new mechanic’s shop to go to. And for a writer who spends most of her time at home or talking to her children, it fed my need to socialize and connect with others.

What finally spurred me to write the post today was what I saw today at lunch. After the mechanic detour and some errands, I needed to eat before heading off to an appointment. I stopped at a fast food joint (nicely remodeled with comfy chairs and service). I located a cozy spot (watching the door) and prepared for a 45 minute editing power session.  

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Beside me sat a middle-aged man with his two senior parents. Maybe it’s because I am a mom to two sons, but I found myself drawn to their interaction. Part of being in the wild is people-watching. The man tenderly, lovingly took care of his mother and father. Answered their repeated questions. Treated them with respect, nurturing, and compassion. I’ll be honest, I got teary-eyed. It tugged at my heartstrings. I can only hope I will raise my sons to be the same gentle-spirited, kind adult souls.

[Side tangent: My 12-year-old son with special needs patiently taught me how to ride a bike this weekend after he just only got his training wheels off at age 11 this fall—wow, he is a sweetheart! And what a humbling, heart-squeezing moment. “Mom, this is how you change gears…” he said as I made him promise to not let go of my handle bar while he walked beside me. The display of the older man with his parents reminded me of my son and fed my wish that he will grow up to be that type of human being.]

Where am I going with this disjointed ramble? Not sure. All that I know is some days, when we are harried by frustrations like overbooked schedules and missing our editing deadlines and dealing with the same old car issue, life shows us the beauty of the wild. Friendly chats, tender adult sons, snapshots of life among the chaos.

My power session flew quickly and I wrote this blog post instead of editing. Then I rushed off to the appointment, dealt with the kid after-school-hustle, yada yada. I hope to snatch a few crumbs of time here and there to keep editing this evening (around the chaos).

Did I enjoy my venture into the wild, away from the isolation of home? Yes, yes I did. And I highly recommend that we all take a break from the workload, even if we need to force it (I know this can be more difficult for some people) and get out into the wild.

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I’d love to hear from you. Are you an introvert, extrovert, or some mishmash between? How do you get out into the wild, explore the world, and feed your soul?


Crossing Genres: Finding my Thread

Recently I attended a writer’s conference and one session addressed crossing genres and how to market yourself. What I took most from this informative talk was that we as authors can find a common thread when we cross genres…or stay in the same genre.

Then a friend asked questions about my writing and it got me thinking.

What is my common thread?

A thread is hard to define. It’s your “brand”: what readers expect when they pick up one of your books. It’s not just your voice or your style, but it’s what makes your books uniquely yours. Your footprint. Elements, revolving themes, character types, etc. And once you have a handle on it, you can grip that brand/footprint/thread and take it through each book. My threads came about organically, subconsciously. Does this mean we are boxed in by predictability? No! It’s just our signature…our footprint. Each story is unique.

My writing is spiritual, emotional, as well as a form of therapy and healing, all tied up nicely with bow blooming with hopes and dreams. I take difficult aspects of my life (grief, loss/death, experiences) and weave them into my books. I love hope.

I write romance (historical and contemporary) and women's' fiction. Toss in travel magazine articles.

With my wheels turning, I dug for my threads. What did I find?

Love (parental, partner, or sibling),

spirituality, hope, journeys & nature.

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My Threads

Love

Spirituality

Nature

Hope

Journeys

(Life experiences)

Note: A few spoilers below but I won’t give away plot twists!

Love, Spirituality, Loss of a mother, Hope, Journey:

In A Hundred Kisses I delve into different religions (medieval Christianity and a "pagan" one of the isles). The heroine's mother is deceased and Deirdre misses that maternal connection with her kin. She wants a mother and to find her roots, get answers, figure out why she has this special ability. My mother passed away when I was 25 and I never had that adult-maternal connection a daughter yearns for. Furthermore, in the book, the hero and heroine learn that even though they have different beliefs, they are still on the human experience and can appreciate the other's journey.

Spirituality/Religion, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature:

The prequel (release date TBD, early 2019), A Hundred Breaths, tells the story of the mother of the heroine in A Hundred Kisses. I took a big leap into her family's religion, one that relies on nature and the gifts they’re bestowed by their deities. Her family uses the power they get from the earth and natural elements for good. The hero is a firm Christian, so enter a collision of beliefs…but they also begin to see how their beliefs and spirituality can overlap. Throw in some ruthless, exploiting Vikings/Nordmen and their gods (and a villain with a complicated, wounded past—oh how I enjoyed writing him!), and there is a boatload of spiritual exploration in this book. It's also a story of healing for the hero, as he has guilt over something that happened to his mother. The heroine also seeks protection for her brother. This is a big story of redemption, healing, and acceptance (of others).

Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Nature, Journey:

My contemporary women's fiction (also early 2019 publication date) is a journey of a grieving widow raising an autistic son, on a road trip across the country to find her other missing son, in the wake of a natural disaster. She also struggles with anxiety. I took care to include the point of view of the autistic son. She meets a man along the way struggling with his own inner demons. I don't want to give away the twists, but her journey brings her to a point of learning to forgive, heal, and accept/embrace. It's an emotional book. It delves into philosophical questions about why things happen, too. Why autism? Why the natural disasters? Why pain or suffering? Why do we make the decisions we do? Why death/fate? It’s laced with spirituality, love, and hope.

Spirituality, Love, Hope/Healing, Loss of sibling, Nature:

The final book in my examples (I’ve been a busy writer this year!) is set to publish early next year. It’s a contemporary romance novella. The woman, divorced from an abusing ex, has extreme guilt over her sister's death while hiking (my sister died in an accident different than the type of accident in this book). The heroine meets a man who feels like an outsider in his world and misses home. For her, it's a story of healing and moving past her past (guilt and trust), and for him, it’s journey of self-acceptance. There are also overlaps of spirituality and the hero opens the heroine’s mind to exploring answers to life’s big questions.

I really love the emotional (and physical) journey and the spiritual elements in all my work. We all have emotional wounds and are on our own journeys of healing, growth/hope, and spirituality. So those are my threads.

Even if you write consistently in ONE sub-genre, you have a few threads in your writing, too. We all have unique footprints.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your threads?

The Road to Publication: A bit about Small Press

On the heels of the 2018 Writer's Digest conference in New York City, I returned home rejuvenated, riding that post-conference high. I had networked, conversed with talented writers (shout out to #5amwritersclub on Twitter!), participated in informative and motivational sessions, and listened to inspiring keynote speakers. Writer's Digest offered a commendable conference and it was 100% worth going [plus a few days in NYC with no kids, yup!]. At this stage in my publishing career I chose to attend mostly business and motivational sessions rather than craft  (though we could always hone craft and I swapped notes with other writers).

I left also feeling a bit meh. Why meh? Because not one session in the dozens offered addressed small press publishing. There was plenty of information on the agent to big publisher route (the dream of many an author) and the indie/self-pub route. But the hybrid in between the two? Nope. Shaking off my self-doubt and negative self-talk (hey, there was a session on that!), I decided why not share a bit more about the small press experience. I've had a wonderful journey with The Wild Rose Press and I've learned in life to turn struggles into opportunities. If I was feeling a bit down, I guarantee there may be others who felt the same way OR don't know that small press is an amazing route for publication.  So here's my take on it! (Keep reading, it's good)

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking.   Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking. 

Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait. Not that. Leave that to Chuck Wendig, one of our keynote speakers. Okay, a long time ago, in years far, far away (circa when I was ahem, 20, uh like twenty years ago)...

I had just written my first two manuscripts. Not knowing much on the biz, I researched and jumped into the querying trenches. Back then, it was mostly by snail mail with a SASE (anyone remember those?). I dabbled in querying agents and directly to editors at publishers (at a time when that was a more common method). Got some rejections, feedback, and a few requests. Ultimately, it went nowhere. Enter my blooming science career, parenting, and on and off writing for a decade. I finished a third manuscript. Did the same, but this time, email was the way to go. I even met with agents at conferences. I honed my craft, took in feedback from agents/critique partners, and filed away more research on the biz. Despite more queries and more requests, that book was still not "there" yet.

On to manuscript #4. Rinse and repeat the above, but at a more intense level. I was wearing my game hat by now. I had skills, was refining my craft, learning, growing. I got so close I could taste the offer! Still after close to 40 rejections (a small number, I know), I grew frustrated. The traditional route of agent to big publisher was not in my stars (yet...there is always a yet, for we don't know our future). I'd gleaned knowledge through the rejections/feedback but was still not capturing the eyes of agents. Yet, in the words of my always-first-to-read beta, "this manuscript was IT!" Yes, she texted that after reading my polished, revised version number 100 (or it felt like it). 

I took a leap and queried two small press publishers. The Wild Rose Press, a publisher with a very good reputation and who has been around for over a decade, said yes! That book, A Hundred Kisses, is now out in print, e-book, and audible/audio book.

What is a small press and what do you get working with one?

I will tell you because I did a lot of web-searching on indie vs. self vs. small press. Even Google searches lead to conflicting definitions.

Small Press highlights:

  1. Direct queries to editors, deleting the middle person (versus finding an agent).

  2. No agent fees/percentages (you get your full percentage of royalties).

  3. You earn royalties on sales, but with some you may receive advances, too. Royalties vary, and as a new author, don't expect a bestseller. Publication and developing readership is a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. Quicker turn-around time on all aspects of publication from query to release date. The Wild Rose Press prides itself on publication within a year from contract date.

  5. Niche markets -- many small presses specialize in and cater to one or a few genres. Those romance readers are dedicated and loyal (and I read a stat somewhere that romance is nearly 35% of the fiction market). The Wild Rose Press started as an e-book/print book publisher for romance, but has now branched out to other fiction genres, and audio book formats.

  6. You build a network of like-minded and cheerleader authors (I've established great relationships with many of the authors at The Wild Rose Press).

  7. Personalized support from the editors ( = TLC!). The Wild Rose Press has writer/promotion forums, weekly author chats (open to public), and makes efforts to meet with the authors at conferences or meetings. No question is too big or too small to your editor.

  8. Cover design, copy-edits, assistance with promotion.

  9. A team of editors and staff that are quick to respond and support you in your publication needs. Okay, this is like #7, but I just had to say it again.

  10. No-up front out of pocket expenses.

  11. Though supportive, be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion (this is even expected from big publishers, as I've been told). But also be prepared to have a team ready to support you in those efforts.

  12. Numbers of books published per year vary by publisher. The Wild Rose Press has published thousands of books by hundreds of authors in its 12-year span.

Enter manuscript #5. I had spent a year writing a contemporary Women's Fiction book, different from my usual historical romance. I queried the heck out of it with agents. By now, I knew my stuff (disclaimer: we are always learning and improving). I attended conferences and workshops, delved into the Twitter world, read books. I had my A-game. But over 70 rejections later, still nothing. And for the agents that did request it, the feedback was surprisingly vague. As painful as rejection is, getting specific, detailed agent feedback on a full request is gold in your hand! Though it's subjective, I find it to be the best information on what to do with my book: edit it more, change up the plot/characters, or follow my gut and leave it be? After another year of revision and input from countless beta readers and critique partners, I honed that baby the best I could. Feeling a bit defeated and hesitant, I sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Though started as a romance publisher, they also publish other fiction genres, including Women's Fiction. I thought, "Why not?"

Guess what? My editor LOVED it. In fact, I need to go work on my first round of edits right now...

They are also publishing the prequel to A Hundred Kisses. So now I have one book published, and two more in contract. I have another manuscript pending decision. And you can guarantee that this fall, I am going to get working on the sequel to A Hundred Kisses, turning that series into a trilogy. My momentum is on...and it happened with a small press. Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. Can any author say where they will be in a few years? Just a few years ago I was in the query trenches. Now, I'm overwhelming satisfied and happy with the support and care I've gotten from my editor and fellow "rose" authors! Right now, I've found my publishing home.

I'd love to hear about your publishing experience.

Best,

Jean