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

Author Self-Care: taking the time for ourselves

Self-care. We all need it. We hear it all the time. We ALL need to take some time to recharge our batteries. For myself, summer is especially difficult to take some R&R. I am fried. Even though I bask in the sunshiny weather (a welcome break from our loooong winters), I still have a packed schedule while the kids are out of school. There are activities, vacations, travel, appointments/errands/house erupting in Lego bricks and paper, camps/sports, teaching and volunteer work...

...oh, and yes, less time to write. When you work at home, there is quite a bit of juggling in summer! Did I happen to mention that I just signed TWO new book contracts and I'm working on edits, and my audio book to A Hundred Kisses just released? 

Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

That plate is full! And I need to take some me time. I bounced the question off fellow The Wild Rose Press Authors. What do they do for self-care? Here's what they had to say:

My number one way to TRY to stay healthy is to stay hydrated and to get off my butt regularly. One inevitably leads to the other since drinking a glass of water every hour pretty much guarantees a trip to the bathroom in the next hour. Just that short walk down the hall loosens my limbs. -- Luanna Stewart

Mary Morgan's helpful bullet-point list:

  • Shut down all electronic devices (phone, laptops) by 7 p.m. It's too tempting to check social media and/or emails. Making this a firm rule has helped me tremendously. 
  • Exercise 5-6 days per week: Walking, Biking, or Yoga. It helps to stir the imagination, clear the cobwebs, and keep me limber. 
  • Make a 1-2 day retreat day each month to escape the work environment. When you work from home, there is no closing the door on your career. Mine surrounds me and I need a fresh perspective.
  • Working in my garden. Tending to my plants, herbs, and vegetables eases the tensions and helps to center me.
  • Sunday is a day of rest after one hour of line-edits from my current WIP. And I'm firm with the one hour. After I'm done, I'm lazy for the rest of the day.
  • Meditate every morning. It doesn't matter if it's five or twenty minutes, I honor each morning with a positive approach.

I heartily agree with all of those. Gardens are my zen place.

From Jennifer Wilck: Being an author is lonely and isolating. Make sure you have people to talk to and see, both writer and non-writer! Don’t sit all day. Go for a walk, switch rooms, take breaks. It’s good for your mind and your body. No one is perfect and everyone has to revise. Don’t judge yourself on your writing. Put the words down, pat yourself on the back for writing them in the first place, and THEN go back and edit. Set yourself small goals—like word count per day for example—instead of huge ones. That way you have an easier time of attaining your goal and the task isn’t as daunting.

Kerry Blaisdell says, "Like others, I take a physical break. But in my case, I also make sure it's a "tactile" one. Writing is so cerebral, and I'm a tactile person. So in the summer, I get out in my garden -- anything hands on. It's incredibly restorative, and nurturing for the plants as well as for me. I also cook what I've picked, which is another way to be creative while taking a brain break, moving around, and using all my senses. In winter, I also cook or bake, or even do "mindless" chores, like laundry. It's surprisingly satisfying for me, to handle all those clean clothes, organize them, and put them away. It can give me a sense of accomplishment, when I'm stuck on something in my story (or even at work, or in my personal life)."

Kathryn Knight teaches fitness classes: Step aerobics, Zumba, weight lifting, Pilates, and she finds it serves so many purposes: gets her away from the computer, keeps her active, and keeps her mind 100% off anything but instructing the class for an hour, which usually helps dislodge writer's block. She also gardens and listens to audio books. 

Claire Marti also teaches yoga and meditation classes. She states (and I concur!) that they are two invaluable tools to staying sane and healthy! She even has a FREE Yoga Break for Writer's Block class on YogaDownload.com that's only 13 minutes long and doesn't require a mat or stretchy pants or any experience. She also has a free meditation on the YogaDownload.com called Manifesting Seeds for Spring, but it's a great visualization for creativity any time of year.

I agree. We all need a break from the computer. I run. Just finished 12.5 miles. I have run with friends every Saturday morning for the last 30 years. And when I run alone, I dream up stories. It's whatever works for you. The yoga really sounds inviting! -- Cyndie Zahner

Mary Gillgannon recently went to a workshop on dealing with life stress and creative burnout at the PAN retreat of the RWA. She said it was a fascinating experience.

When I am up to my neck and feeling like I'm about to go under, I grab a water bottle, lace up my shoes and head to the mountains. Alone. My favorite summer spot is a ski resort with a lift that ferries me to the top and it's a beautiful, scenic, soul-soothing hike down. By the time I've descended, I'm ready to reengage with the world and my writing. -- Julie Howard

I see a trend here with getting OUTSIDE...sometimes it's a simple as getting outside with the dog:

C. Becker: I walk my dog; the time away lets me clear my head and refocus.

When looking at my computer screen makes me want to scream, I lace up my shoes and take 'Bitsy' my dog for a walk. There is a nature trail near here and being out in the 'green' really helps. Sometimes, depending on how hot it is, I turn on the TV and watch British TV shows... -- Kathy Scarborough

What about being social when we are home (many of us, alone with our computers and our thoughts)?

As an introvert, I have fairly modest needs in that area. Being around groups of people can be exhausting, in fact, even if I'm enjoying it. 
One thing I did like about working in an office was daily chatting with co-workers. Now that I'm retired, though, I'm quite content being at home...church on Sundays, casual chats with clerks at the supermarket and
when I take the dog for her multiple short walks every day, I often have the chance to casually greet other people and dogs out walking. So I have the sense of being surrounded by people without the draining experience of having to interact in-depth more than an introvert enjoys. Also, several times per year, we go downtown to listen to our favorite Irish singer, who performs in the upstairs lounge of a local restaurant almost every month. That's a pleasant evening among a small group of like-minded people. In addition, I go to at least two conventions every year. -- Margaret Carter

Here's what Margaret Ann Spence does to keep herself sane on the writing journey: 

* Buy flowers or pick them from the garden so I have something good to smell and look at while writing. A little luxury but it could be as simple as a vase of blossoms from your tree in spring or a glass of basil in summer.  
* Get up and stretch every hour. 
* Make a date for exercise. Take a walk with a friend or go to a class. Writing is one of the most sedentary jobs and your body will not thank you for your choice of career unless you take care of it over time. 
* Limit time on social media. Schedule it like everything else. 
* Find a supportive writers' group. 
 

Well, there you have it! Advice from a plethora of other Wild Rose Press authors on how to care for yourself while in the throes of writing. I see many trends in those responses.

I'd love to hear from you. What do you do for self-care?

Happy writing...and happy R&R,

Jean

--And by the way, my flower gardens are PEAK this month (ahhhhhh!)--