2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

#NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don’t know what those crazy letters spell out; November is National Novel Writing Month. Or, it was, when it was November. Aspiring writers of all ages and accomplishments set their goals for 50,000 words in the month. This was the first year I participated in this event, and I was hoping to write at least 1,500 words every day in November, and end with a finished first draft.

The good news, is that I did develop the habit of writing daily, bringing me out of the slump I found myself  in. Which put a significant dent towards completing my draft. The bad news is that I officially only ended November with a little under 19,000 words written.

It seems an easy thing when sitting down at the beginning of a new month. To have a word goal. A goal that, on a good day, should only take a few hours to reach. And yet….

This was a strange year for me. I have been lucky enough to effectively remove most obstacles that have stood in my way to write full time. For years, excuse after excuse have helped soothe the fear I feel when I sit in front of a screen, or dream about submitting a manuscript to an agent. If only I had more time….. If only I could focus on just writing….. If only I had less stress….. And yet…..

Since May of this year, I have had the time, and the focus, and removed a significant source of my stress. I have been able to control my schedule and take control of my destiny. And yet, I have not made the progress I wanted to.

The sad truth is, when motivational speakers and mottos tell you that you are the only obstacle you face, they’re right. And that’s a hard thing to face. All of those excuses may have been legitimate but they were also excuses. They were fear, and once removed, I had to face that fear. I had to face myself.

It’s a daunting thing to actually go after a dream. There is no guarantee of success. There is no guarantee it will even be what you dreamed it would be. There is a chance it will be everything you dreamed it would be.

In some ways failure is more manageable. We know what it looks like, what it feels like. We know what to expect. But success, well, that’s a bit more frightening. It could be bigger than anything we imagined. It is infinite in it’s possibility, while failure has a definite bottom. Anything imagined is always harder to face than something known.

Why am I rambling on about success and failure, dreams and fears? Well, because that’s really what my Nano month was all about. I have already committed to writing, and am nearly done with a draft. But to actually face that fear. That pit in the bottom of my stomach that screams all the what if’s, some good, some bad, all unknown. That’s what has been holding me back and making it difficult to write the way I know I can.

I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff of writing for 76,000 words. I’ve flirted with the abyss, dangled my legs, peered over the edge. But I’ve remained on the edge, afraid to commit to the jump. It’s easy to come up with excuses, before writing full time and after. Excuse after excuse, when really it’s all about fear.

So this year, I committed to a website with a word goal. I signed up and put myself out there. I joined a writer group on Instagram and checked in with them nearly daily. Some of them reached their goals, some of them didn’t. I didn’t. But we wrote. And we talked about writing. And I felt more comfortable tackling this project than I have in quite a few months.

I may not have reached my goal, but I’m closer. Writing isn’t always about the word counts I’m discovering. It’s about the moments of terror and triumph, and the thousands of moments in between.

I’ve written another 4,000 in December, and each day brings me closer to the end. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s daunting. And then, I have to face sitting down and editing this draft. With all the fear and doubt and frustration that goes along with that adventure.

I can do this. I know I can. Now to go do it.

#amwriting

I’ve been asked quite a bit lately about my writing. What am I writing? When am I going to be finished? When will I submit? And, mostly, what happened to that other book you wrote?

In January last year, I had a moment, sitting in my office, when I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled. I hated my job, and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. Watching my only son go off to college to pursue his dreams, and attending his orientation where you are in a room filled with people who still believe that anything in life is possible, is probably what triggered this. I realized, at some point I had forgotten how to dream. I had forgotten what I wanted, and I wasn’t happy.

So, I sat down to write.

This was not my first book. I’ve been writing on and off since I was 7. And throughout the years, I had even drafted and almost finished several novels. But none of them worked, for a variety of reasons. When I started writing in January, I had an idea. It was cute. And funny. And the characters weren’t terrible. And I completed it.

I went to a convention and pitched it. I received decent feedback on it. I went in to edit it, and discovered I hated it.

And here’s where I think I had a crisis as a writer before I even began. Do I finish what I hate? Or do I go with my gut and start a new process? There is advice everywhere giving lots of solid reasons to do either choice.

My decision was to shelve the book. I went with my gut. And here’s why.

As a reader, I’ve read countless Indie books where the idea is good, and the plot is decent and the characters are even likable. But it needed work. More editing. More finessing. Just more time and attention. They weren’t terrible, and indeed, many readers and reviewers enjoyed them, but they could have been amazing.

I understand the impulse to want to get your work out there. Publishing is a long, arduous process, which is why I think many people choose to go Indie. A writing dream doesn’t pay the bills. I feel the same pressure.

On top of that, let’s throw in my own mid-life crisis. I’m relaunching a career late in my 30’s. I already feel behind. I already feel like I have to do it NOW NOW NOW! And for good measure, let’s throw in insecurities about writing, and feedback, and not being good enough.

I felt the pressure to submit this first book. Because it probably was good enough. But to me, it wasn’t great. It was okay. There are lots of okay books out there that do well and are well received. However, you can only debut once. And once a book is published, it’s out there forever.

Although it may sound like I think I can write a book to win the masses, I know that isn’t true. Not to say that I can’t be a successful writer, but no one, not even Stephen King, can write a book that everyone likes. It isn’t possible. I know this. The only thing I can control is how I feel about the book I present. And if I put every bit of my heart and soul into a book, and know deep in my gut that it was the best I could do at the time I did it, then I can walk into that world and feel good about it. I need to have that confidence to face the criticism and rejection and bad reviews that will inevitably come.

In my gut, I know that the book I’m writing now is better. I know it fits me more. I know that I get excited to talk about it, and describe my characters, and constantly think about the plot. It’s only a first draft, but I am already proud of it. Of what I’ve created. I didn’t have that the first time.

I don’t want to be a writer so that I can have a shelf full of my own books, pumped out as fast as I can write them. Or, I do want a shelf full of books, but I want them to be my best efforts. The books I can’t get out of my head, filled with characters that are pieces of me. I have those books in me. I feel them in my heart, in my gut, in my head.

It probably seems crazy to have spent a year on a book and then to walk away from it. Some days it feels crazy. It feels like wasted time and effort. It feels like I’m even further behind. But, I know that’s not true. That book showed me I CAN do it. I can write a book. I can edit a book. I can see plot failures and work to correct them. I can. Which means I can do it again. And again. And again.

Writing is a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I walked away from that dream for over a decade. Coming back to it isn’t going to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy.

I’m going to finish this book, and I’m going to submit it. I know it’s a good story. That doesn’t mean it will be picked up. Or even sold. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I have no idea. What I DO know, in the core of my being, is that it’s good. If this doesn’t sell, I will go with my next gut instinct and write the next book. I will write, and I will submit, and eventually, I know I will find my publishing people.

So, for those of you who wonder, I am writing. Thanks for your support, both vocal and non. I feel your support even when you don’t say anything. I feel it even more when you do.

Writing is a process. It’s art. Not everything created needs to be let out into the world. Sometimes, a piece of work is for the artist, intended to help them in some unseen or unknown way. This is my way, and I have to trust my instinct.

Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Thanks for sticking with me!

Head in the clouds

I love clouds. Love them. And not just the insanely cute fluffy marshmallow puffs in the sky. All of them. I love clouds that are dark and stormy, airy and wispy, flat and grey. I love them all.

I have a theory on why.

When I was in college, I befriended a group of exchange students from the UK. Ireland to be precise. And they were enthralled with the cloudless blue skies of Nevada. I’ve always lived in Nevada, my entire life. Even though I now live in the Southern half, the sky is pretty much the same. Desert blue.

To me, seeing a clear sky with nothing but blue from horizon to horizon was nothing new. That’s normal. Sure, we get clouds and storms, but they don’t stick around long. While Mark Twain was speaking of New England when he said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”, this is an adage you’ll hear quite often in Nevada too. It is an apt description of how quickly weather can change here.

 

Once I became aware that blue skies (smiling at me) weren’t the norm in many parts of the world, my obsession with the fluffiness began. Or did it?

Did anyone else used to cloud watch when you were little? There is something so soothing about watching clouds drift by. To lie on the grass and picture whole worlds above you. Perhaps that’s really when my love affair took root. As a little girl, on the grass, imagining outrageous shapes in the sky. It’s a hard habit to break, and even today I still find myself looking for animals and creatures made of clouds.

As I travel around, I notice that other areas are more consistent in their sky cover.

England had a solid slab of grey almost the entire time I was there. Small snippets of blue would peak out to remind you of sunnier days. I didn’t mind the constant clouds though. It did make me realize why my friends were so amazed at the dazzling sun filled days. And, it helped me appreciate the beautiful blue just a tiny bit more.

In Hawaii I saw sun and clouds and rain throughout the day. A beautiful morning can lead to afternoon showers to clear up and show you the infinite stars. I like a flowing sky, ebbing and flowing as we spin.

Many parts of California can have sun filled skies as easily as cloudy ones. Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado all have their own consistent weather patterns too. But clouds don’t seem as sparse. Maybe it’s my timing. Brief visits anywhere can create an illusion of consistency that doesn’t really exist.

I don’t know if I would tire of clouds if I lived in a more volatile climate. Clouds in Las Vegas mean reprieve from the heat. They can also on occasion bring rain. Rainy afternoons are quite normal in many states and parts of the world. And that’s one more reason I think I love clouds.

Rain in the desert is a special event. Rain here means life. The entire desert changes colors with every small downpour. Sage brush turns lush and green with tiny pink and orange and red blooms. Flowers open on cacti, introducing a riot of yellow and orange and red to the pallet. Everything looks greener with the dust rinsed off. And, water brings out the wildlife to play.

Desert sunrises and sunsets are spectacular in their own right. But, add some clouds to really catch the color and the sky simply explodes. They are breathtaking. Clouds catch the sun and ignite the sky. Every second the colors shift and change, going from brilliant reds to the deepest purples and only to reverse the order to welcome the next day. You fall asleep and wake up to an artists brush streaking across the stratosphere.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful blue sky. A day when you can look in any direction and see nothing but infinite space is stunning. I will admit though, that they are more appreciable in the winter months. It’s hard to bask in the glory of that endless sky when you feel like you’re being cooked alive.

Clear winter blue skies are tricky. At least with a cloudy sky you can better predict the temperature. In the desert, even in the middle of winter a clear day can mean ranges anywhere from freezing cold to moderately warm. It’s nice to not feel blistering heat, but it’s also a cruel trick to be so bright and beautiful and so cold at the same time.

It could be worse. I know that. I’m sure if I lived in a city that saw mountains of snow, and blizzards, tornados or hurricanes I would not begrudge a cold, cloudless day. I’m sure I would welcome those days with open arms. They just don’t feel quite as wintery to me as one filled with clouds.

Maybe it’s that I don’t see as many clouds as I would like. That to leave the house and see art in the sky is a special occasion rather than a main occurrence. They draw my eyes up and here is part of the magic. Because when you look up, you dream, at least I do. And dreaming is an art lost on so many of us.

Sometimes it’s the small gestures that spark our momentum. We use symbols all the time to help encapsulate what we want, who we want to be, what we want to do. To imagine, to dream, to create. All of these things require a spark, a tiny nudge off the cliff of reality to plummet into the depths of impossible.

In the end, I don’t think I really care why I love clouds, only that I do. Whether they bring rain or reprieve from the heat or just some pretty decorations in the sky. Utility combined with beauty is the perfect blend. Clouds, to me, will always be just a touch of magic in the sky.

January Wrap up

While February was an odd month, January ended up being a pretty productive reading month. I read 9 books. Hooray!

Now, I don’t know what the rules are, (or even if there are rules), but #bookishconfessions: Two of the books I had started in December. One of the them was mostly read in January (Queen of Shadows) but Tony & Susan was mostly December. Since I tend towards the rebel side, I’m counting them as a January read. RULES BE DAMNED!

Here are the books I read:

  • Tony & Susan
  • Queen of Shadows
  • Empire of Storms
  • The Young Elites
  • The Rose Society
  • The Midnight Star
  • How to Build a Girl
  • Girl on a Train
  • Conversion

I wrote a blog post about Tony & Susan and How to Build a Girl. I enjoyed those immensely. So, I won’t go into anything more about them.

Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms were the last two books in the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas. If I’m completely honest, I was hesitant to start reading these. I don’t know why, I just didn’t ever get around to them. And then there was drama.

I don’t remember exactly when the controversy started, but sometime late last year (I think), I started hearing about all this drama around this series. As I started hearing more, obviously my interest and curiosity was peaked. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense.

There were two pieces to the drama.

The first is that apparently some retailers released the newest in the series, Empire of Storms, early. *GASP* the horror!

Ok, so I get it. If you’ve been waiting an entire year to find out what happens to characters you have become legit emotionally attached to, the knowledge that someone else in the world got to find out before you is a crime of monstrous proportion. I get it. BUT. It isn’t the authors fault. So, there were death threats sent to the author and things on Twitter derailed fairly quickly. (Which, I feel is the general Twitter experience.)

Cue drama storm two.

Now, whether this was because a large amount of adolescent angst was swirling over the early release or if this was brewing before, I don’t know. But, the conversation got fairly heated over her books lacking diversity and that non-white characters were killed off more. This is actually why I ordered the books and settled in for a five book marathon reading. I’m always curious as to what detracts from a book, and to see if I agree.

I didn’t see it. In fact, I was surprised that these claims were even gaining traction. First, these are high fantasy books. There are multiple races of creatures in a variety of worlds along with several cultural variations within these worlds. Most of the characters aren’t human, and within those non-human, there are a lot of races. The main character is fae, not human.

Further, there are several same sex relationships. While they aren’t the main characters, they are prominent enough to be woven into a decent amount of the story thread. I suppose the argument could be given that it isn’t prominent enough, I don’t know. Personally, given the amount of trash talking, I was expecting a much different cast of characters.

Outside of that, I’m glad I read the books. The first book was a slow start. If I hadn’t already ordered the other four books, I probably wouldn’t have plowed forward. Oh. My. God. Am I glad I did. These books are a slow infiltration into your inner psyche. It’s a set of books that I found myself thinking about at random points throughout my day. And the end of Empire of Storms?! Holy shitballs man.

There are less than a dozen books that have left me so emotionally bereft as Empire of Storms. Game of Thrones series. Red Rising trilogy. The Dark Tower series. Very few. I felt like I was sucker punched and then had my heart ripped out. Needless to say, I will be patiently (#whydoIhavetowait) waiting for the next book. If you can make it through the first book, this series is worth the time.

After being left with a book hangover of epic proportions, I turned to an author I’ve previously enjoyed. Marie Lu.

Her first trilogy, Legend, was one I enjoyed tremendously. She did not disappoint in this series. I was excited to read this trilogy because the main character is one that can easily be described as a villain. I dabble in the Dark Side myself, from time to time, so I strapped in for a fun ride.

I don’t know what it is about being a villain that is just so fun. Even when you know it’s wrong, it’s still fun. Maybe it’s the power. Maybe it’s the strength. Maybe it’s just that we all have a bit of Dark Side in us, and it’s circumstance and chance that separates us in the end. I think for me, I enjoy exploring the tragedy that goes into making a villain. Generally speaking, most villains are not evil people. At least, not at first. Just watch Star Wars. I mean, Anakin clearly had a lot of good in him. Until he didn’t. It’s a fascinating process.

There are also some incredible quotes in this series:

“No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

“It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe.”

“The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.”

“Desperation brings out the darkness in everyone.”

“Tragedy follows those who cannot accept their true destiny.”

I’ve always been a firm believer that reading helps us develop empathy. And there can be no greater empathy than to those who turn to anger and hate in response to being shown anger and hate.

My next read was a change of pace, but the movie is coming out soon so I needed to read the book first. #booknerdproblems

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins already had rave reviews, and was made into a movie, so I was expecting a good story. The use of the unreliable narrator was amazing. I mean, amazing. Any book that keeps me unsure of what’s happening until the author is ready to reveal her hand, is worthy of Book God status.

The mystery and intrigue alone makes this novel compelling. But Hawkins doesn’t stop there. She makes multiple observations on how women can view themselves in today’s society. Both women live drastically different lives, yet they both feel their worth and value is dependent on the men in their lives. But these observations, these inner thoughts are so subtle, it’s easy to miss. It’s also not the point, which makes the thoughts that much more poignant. At least, in my opinion. I’m hoping the movie is done as masterfully as the novel.

Finally, I read Conversion by Katherine Howe.

This book was a bit of a miss for me. I enjoyed it until the end. Beware, because there will be some spoilers here.

The book goes back and forth between two narrators in different centuries. It’s set in Danvers, Massachusetts which was originally Salem. A series of unexplained events begin happening to the girls at a prep school, which are eerily similar to the unexplained events that triggered the Salem Witch Trials.

Now, the narration was good, and the mystery behind the plot had a nice pace and build up. We know that the girls in Salem had made the entire thing up. The narrator in the past, Ann, is actually the girl who confessed, albeit years later. She recounts how it began and how they all got wrapped up in the whirlwind of attention. It’s a fantastic reminder of how hysteria can start and blossom into a life of it’s own.

The present narrator, Colleen, is a girl who doesn’t experience any of the symptoms (at first) and is skeptical of the entire thing. But, even with her skepticism and distrust of the situation, she feels the urge to join in. The thing that sort of threw me with this book, is you are led to believe that as opposed to the confession in the past about it all being made up and exaggerated, we are led to believe that her friend Emma is actually capable of the supernatural and is behind the entire thing.

Except, you’re sort of left with more questions than answers. Which is fine, but some of these were so vague I felt they could have been wrapped up a bit better. Emma, seems to have this ability to direct her feelings and cause these strange things to happen to others. Even at the end, her mother alludes to it. Telling Colleen, that Emma is like she is and it’s better that she stays near home for school because she’s delicate. It seems like the entire thing was supernatural.

What I didn’t like, is the confession from Ann doesn’t mention any actual supernatural activities, or anything remotely similar to what happened to Colleen and her classmates. Or leave a hint that perhaps those events too were supernatural. And this is where I thought the story could be better. How could one be made up, and then the other witchcraft?

Usually, when you alternate POV, it’s because those characters intersect in some way. Other than mimicking the same symptoms, its difficult to see how they intersect. Is Emma a descendent of one of the girls? Were the claims of witchcraft true? There just isn’t anything to clear this up. Which was disappointing, because I would have loved the book if it had been just a little clearer.

I will say, ending up on antidepressants is a much better ending than getting hanged. But, I think the end could have been a touch clearer. Whether it was supposed to hint at witchcraft, or hysteria, either ending would have been better than both. Or neither.

In all, I had a good reading month. I set my reading goal at 75 books for 2017. 9 feels like a good start. Happy reading!

**Originally I listed Heir of Fire as the 4th book. I grabbed the wrong book for the picture. Oops. The writing is fixed but the picture stays**