Happy Holidays

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d start out by wishing you Happy Holidays. There might be an awkward moment after that while I try to figure out if that was a mistake; after all, you might not celebrate Christmas and it might have been a safer bet to greet you with something about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice.

Maybe I should have just said “Here, take your coffee.”

You know, I think we just make things too hard for ourselves this time of year. There’s no need to take a stand or defend your beliefs or even worry about political correctness. Fighting over whether it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is just pointless because, you see, I’ve got it all figured out.

That’s right, folks, I know exactly what we need to do to get along this holiday season.

We just need to be nice.

Look, I know all about “The Reason for The Season.” I’m a Christian, and I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. I put the star on my tree and I listen to countless versions of Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know” and I get chills at the reminders that my Savior was born in a quiet stable on that Holy Night. I believe. I believe in all of it. I draw strength from that belief throughout the year.

But I also have fun with Christmas and all of the traditions that come along with it that have nothing to do with religion. Decorating the tree with ornaments that have been in my family for years. Plucking my cat out of said tree when he tries to play with those ornaments. I love hiding that stupid Elf on the Shelf and telling lies about having Santa Claus on speed dial, and I adore all the giggling and sneaking around to find just the right gift for the people I love.

I also love it when the school band plays “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” at their Christmas concert. I think the Menorah in my neighbor’s window is just lovely.

I look forward to being invited to my friend’s annual Solstice Bonfire every year.

I say “Happy Holidays” not because I’m trying to be politically correct or because my Christian beliefs are being suppressed in any way. I say it because the traditions surrounding this time of year are fun and beautiful regardless of how you celebrate. I say it out of a genuine desire to wish you happy holidays, period.

When I was in high school, I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church after several weeks’ worth of confirmation classes. There were perhaps a half-dozen of us who attended class every week before church on Sundays, and most of us were pretty grumpy about having to get up that early.

As part of our confirmation class, our pastor required us to attend church services for different denominations and beliefs before we were allowed to officially join our Presbyterian church. We went to Catholic Mass and a Baptist service; we visited a Synagogue where the boys in our group were instructed to don yarmulkes as a sign of respect.

What’s my point here? We were welcomed into all those houses of worship even though we didn’t technically belong. And we behaved with respect and courtesy during our visits. Our beliefs, our traditions, were not challenged or diminished in any way by opening ourselves up to beliefs and traditions that were different from ours.

It’s been more than thirty years since I was confirmed into my Presbyterian Church back in Portage, Michigan. I can’t speak for the others in my class, but I’m still a Christian. I probably lean a bit more toward a non-denominational type of Christianity at this point, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned back then.

A little kindness goes a long way. A little understanding goes even further. And a little respect can mean the world.

So wish me a Merry Christmas. Tell me to have a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Solstice. Say what’s in your heart and mean it when you say it, and everything else will take care of itself. I promise not to be offended because we worship in different ways.

Because when I say “Happy Holidays” to you, I am not being politically correct or having my Christian beliefs suppressed in any way. I am saying, “However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, I wish for you to feel all the joy and love and peace that you can possibly feel all through the year. May you be surrounded by those you love; may your heart be full of happiness.”

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

Of Quests and Walmart

Not too long ago, in the midst of an online discussion among writers, someone asked the question: “How do you define success as a writer?”

People came up with all kinds of wonderfully artsy-fartsy answers that ranged from heartfelt (“when I get my first nice review from a complete stranger”) to the practical (“when I can pay my rent on what I earn from writing”) to the downright silly (“When I can buy my own jet”).

My answer? “When I can see one of my books on the shelf at Walmart.”

Yeah, they gave me a hard time about that. What can I say? I live in the middle of nowhere, and WalMart is about the only place around to buy books. We may be rednecks and hillbillies out here, but some of us are well read rednecks and hillbillies, and there just aren’t a lot of places around here to shop.

For anything.

Well, we have a Mr. Grocery and a Pick-A-Liquor nearby, but I strongly doubt I’m going to find any good reading material at either of those.

A great bottle of cheap wine, yes. The newest treasure from Shanna Hatfield? Not so much.

So now that I have a story appearing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles®, I am on a quest.  It is my new goal in life to take a selfie standing in front of the bookshelves at the local Walmart with my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf beside me. Doesn’t seem like that should be such a difficult task, now does it?

But my local Walmart doesn’t have it.

Neither does the Walmart in Paw Paw. Or the Walmart on 9th Street in Kalamazoo. I’ve even expanded my quest a bit to the local Meijer’s, but no luck.  They all carry Chicken Soup for the Soul in all kinds of varieties, but none of my edition.

Think about it for a moment. What could possibly be more ridiculous than having a major quest in life that involves Walmart?

Not being able to fulfill that quest at Walmart.

I can see it now. I have a long future ahead of me as some sort of crazed creeper in book departments of Walmarts of the world. I’ll devote my days to searching out a copy of my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul so I can take a selfie with it. By the time it finally happens (and it will happen eventually), I’ll be a gray-haired old crazy woman who runs around Walmart with my cell phone in hand, murmuring to myself about selfies and chicken soup.

Of course, since it’s Walmart, no one will notice.

On second thought, it might just be easier to find a different way of defining success for myself.

Then again, I’ve never been one to do anything the easy way.

 

 

 

History Nerd

My son recently had to study for his first really big test at school. It was all about Michigan history, and I’ll admit that helping him study was a lot more fun for me than it was for him.

He’s eight years old, so it’s all pretty boring to him. I am fifty and a certifiable nerd, so I enjoyed it. The experience reminded me of just why I minored in history in college for about two weeks in my Sophomore year, somewhere in the middle of minoring in Journalism, Theater, and Communications.

Okay, I’m an indecisive nerd.

I love history. Oh, not all the exact dates and numbers of famous battles in history or stuff like that. I’m more interested in how people lived ‘way back when. What they wore. What they ate. Who they married. What was it like to travel by covered wagon? And what did it take to make a journey like that, especially knowing that you might never come home to see your family ever again?

I want to read stories about people who lived during exciting times in history. I was amazed to learn that many of the women who traveled with their men on those wagon trains actually walked alongside the wagons for most of the journey. Walked. I could never have done that! Heck, I don’t even like walking to the convenience store.

When I made the decision to trying writing a historical romance, I put a lot of thought into choosing what era to write about and what part of the country to use as a setting. Michigan was a pretty easy choice because I’ve lived here all my life and I know the area. It wasn’t exactly the “Wild West” but it was definitely a frontier in its own right, complete with drama, adventure, and hardship.

And history.

One story that always fascinated me as a kid was the one about Old Lady Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern and starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Now, in reality, the fire had nothing to do with a cow, but it was a huge turning point in Michigan’s history. The lumber industry revved up into high gear to produce wood for rebuilding after the fire, which led to decimation of much of our forests here in the lower peninsula. There were boom towns that grew up around the increased need for lumber; towns that were left in ruins when the trees were gone. One such town was Singapore, which is now buried somewhere beneath the sand not far from modern-day Saugatuck.

Everyone knows about the Great Fire. But what most people don’t know is that Chicago wasn’t the only town that burned from October 8 – 10, 1871. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin claimed anywhere from 1,200 to 2,400 lives. And in Michigan, towns like Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee suffered near-total devastation, while smaller towns were also damaged as well. There is no way of knowing just exactly how many lives were lost during the disaster.

I find it amazing that anything so huge has been basically forgotten in the 145 years since then. So I wanted to build my series around that event, featuring women who come to the town of Serenity for their own reasons– although each one comes because of a promise made in letters she has received. Letters to Caroline tells the story of the days leading up to the fire, while Victoria’s Lessons and Love, Charlotte are all set during the aftermath and rebuilding.

I know not everyone gets as excited about history as I do, but I hope some of you get excited about an adventure and love (of course!) set against a background of American history.

To find out more about my Brides of Serenity series, please sign up to receive my newsletter with information on release dates and maybe a sneak peek or two. I’ll even send you a free short story that takes place a few months before the series starts.

 

Oy , what a week!

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If we were having coffee, I think this might be one of those days when the coffee needs a shot of something stronger than Coffee-Mate. At this point, however, I’m not sure if that “something stronger” should be whiskey or antibiotics.

Yeah, it’s been a weird week.

My son, my ex-husband and I keep passing around what appears to be a case of the plague. We don’t even live in the same house anymore, but the three of us can’t seem to kick whatever this is. On any given day, at least one of us is either coughing up a lung or throwing up our insides.

On those few days when I’ve been somewhat healthy, I’ve had to deal with a dead car battery. Finally had to give in and buy a new battery, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the battery ended up costing me more than the car is worth at this point.

Seriously, it’s a sad statement on my life when the most expensive thing I own is a new battery for a 2001 Kia Spectra with 200,000 miles on it.

It’s an even sadder statement on my life to realize that I had started to feel a bit envious of the old battery because it was getting jumped so often.

One of my co-workers asked me why I don’t just buy a new car. After all, she reasoned, I must be raking in the big bucks with my books, right? I just stared at her with my jaw on the floor as she raved about the millions of dollars she heard that authors make. She wondered what I do with tens of thousands I make every month. I tried to explain to her that it’s really not like that, but she assumed I was being modest.

I finally told her I spent it all on a villa in Italy. “Please don’t tell anyone,” I whispered. “I don’t want the IRS to find out.”

Hey, it wasn’t a total lie. I had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant a while ago.

Okay, it was a Fazoli’s drive-thru ten years ago, but it still counts.

On one of my dead-battery days, my downstairs neighbor was kind enough to take me to the school to pick up my boy for a doctor’s appointment. That particular neighbor’s vehicle isn’t much better than mine, and the passenger door doesn’t open from the inside. He had to run around and open my door for me so I could get out at the school, which evidently caught the attention of the school secretary.

“Who was that who drove you here?” she wondered. I told her he was my neighbor, and she raised her eyebrows at me. “Is he a nice guy?”

Folks, I am possibly one of the world’s most oblivious human beings. “Sure, he’s nice,” I told her.

“He’s a real gentleman, isn’t he? Any man that opens the car door for you is a keeper!” she winked at me.

Swear to God, I still didn’t get what she was trying to say.

So, here I am on a Saturday morning, drinking room-temperature Vernor’s and wrapped up in every quilt and afghan I can find. I’ve got the barf bowl, the Netflix remote, and a box of tissue within easy reach, and I don’t plan on going anywhere except down the hall to the bathroom when absolutely necessary.

Which is apparently every four and a half minutes.

But the high point of weirdness in my life this week is the steady flow of phone calls and messages I’ve been getting all morning from friends wanting to know more about my hot new boyfriend that I am about to run away with to my secret villa in Italy.

At this point, I don’t have the energy to correct anyone. I think I’ll just tell them all to pack their bags and meet me at the airport.

As soon as I’m done in the bathroom.

 

 

 

 

Brides of Serenity: Book One

 

Every time I set up a pre-order for my newest book and have a firm deadline to complete my manuscript, the universe starts screwing with me. Something always goes wrong and I end up stressing myself out trying to hit a deadline while life spins out of control around me. So this time around, I didn’t set a firm release date. I set a date in my mind, but kept it to myself.

I figured I could outsmart the universe.

How’d that work out for me?

So glad you asked.

This happened:

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Then this:

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Followed by a lot of quality time spent with this:

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And copious amounts of this:

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And just when I finally started feeling like this again —

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— I found out about this:

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But somehow, despite all of that, guess what happened?

This:

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Letters to Caroline is now available on Amazon! It’s on sale for only .99 cents for a limited time before it returns to its regular price of $2.99.

So what if I didn’t manage to outsmart the universe? I finished my new book, my first historical romance, and I had an absolute blast writing it!

I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Please check it out and let me know what you think of it.

 

 

Soup and Validation

Since my books are self-published, I sometimes run into people who don’t really think of them as “real” books. Like the co-worker who said, “Oh, so they’re just things on the internet that anyone can download?”

“Yes,” I told her, “sort of like your college degree.”

Snarky responses aside, I really am enjoying being an “Indie Author.” I am constantly learning and growing (and failing from time to time) and the excitement is indescribable. It’s fun, plain and simple. And it’s a challenge to get better, to learn more, to reach more readers.

I am proud of my books. I don’t defend myself to the people who turn up their noses and assume that authors like me self-publish because we’re not good enough to be traditionally published. I honestly don’t believe I’ll ever convince those people to think otherwise, and I’d rather spend my time writing another book. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.

Still, I sometimes wish I had that validation that comes with being traditionally published. The respect. Something to change the opinion of those who think self-published authors aren’t “real” authors.

And then, I got something in the mail that made me feel ridiculously validated as a writer.

I just got my “contributor’s copies” of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles®.

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This is the first time I have sold a story to a major publication, and I freely admit that I am giddy and silly about the whole business. I keep taking pictures of the box of books. I keep talking about it, Tweeting about it, babbling about it until everyone I know is starting to duck into hallways and hide behind fat people when they see me coming their way.

Okay, I may have been a little boastful about it once or twice.

But c’mon, it’s Chicken Soup for The Soul, guys. As in THE Chicken Soup for The Soul. Who hasn’t heard of these books? Who hasn’t read at least one of them?

I wrote the true story of the car accident that changed my life in 2011. This moment is a first for me as an author. I’ve written and published five books, and I’ve sold a few articles to some random publications, but this is my first major sale. As crazy as it sounds, this makes me feel like I am finally a “real” writer.

And I am in great company, with my little story surrounded by 100 others. Please take a moment to check out the newest edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles, available November 1, 2016. This one’s all about Angels and Miracles, and the stories will blow your mind.

Downward What?

I mentioned a while back that I’ve been learning to do a little bit of yoga, and I wanted to follow up here with a little more about that.

For those of you who don’t know me, I should start by explaining a few things. Set the scene, so to speak. First, as should be obvious from my profile picture, I am not a slim person. What is a little less obvious is the fact that I have in my fifty year-old body not one single ounce of either grace or coordination. It’s like living in a machine with mismatched parts that don’t quit fit together.

Something as simple as walking down the street can be a real challenge, what with my right foot often pausing to say to my left: “Why, hello! Fancy meeting you here. Have we met?” To which my left usually throws in a hearty, “No, we haven’t! Let’s shake on it!”

Now just to add to the general mayhem, toss in the facts that I rarely exercise voluntarily and that a big chunk of my Franken-spine is fused with metal.

All of which boils down to the realization that I am not a Yoga person. I am, in fact, the anti-Yogi.

My sister is in the process of becoming certified to teach Yoga, and she’s been willing to drive out to my middle-of-nowhere town to teach me. Since my apartment is tiny and hotter than the surface of the sun, she chose the the pretty little gazebo in the park in the center of town for our lessons.

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First thing I did was remove my glasses so I couldn’t see how many people could see me. Sort of like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. If I don’t see the horrified expressions on the faces of people staring at my giant butt in the air as I “Downward Dog,” then I can pretend that it never happened. Just please don’t ever mention it to me. I am sure there are support groups forming even now for all who have had the misfortune of glancing in my direction at the wrong moment.

She started by throwing out some yoga terms. Drishti. Tadasana. Mula Bandha.

“Now you’re just making stuff up,” I accused after that last one.

“I’m not!” Mula bandha, she explained, is similar to the Kegel exercises I lied about doing during all of my pregnancies. Apparently, it’s all about someday being able to sneeze without crossing my legs.

I’ll admit, I was pretty resistant to the whole Yoga thing at first. When I think of Yoga, I picture a lean young woman in a jogging bra and shorts, stretching and posing slowly on a beach in front of a peaceful sunset. I just can’t wrap my brain around a fat middle-aged woman flailing about on a colorful mat in the middle of the park.

My sister adds a wonderful touch of humor to her lessons. “I brought some bug spray,” she told me one week in her soothing Yoga-teacher voice. “It’s all natural and environmentally friendly and doesn’t work for shit, but you feel really good about yourself while the bugs eat you alive.”

She gives me homework every week between our classes. “How did it go this week?” she’ll ask me.

“I’m getting better at Mazeltov,” I’ll tell her.

“You mean Mula bandha?”

“Right. Mitsubishi.”

In just a few short months, I’ve learned that I love Yoga. More precisely, I love the way Yoga makes me feel. My old, fat, stiff body is feeling so much . . . well, I can’t really describe it. Warmer, stronger, more open. I am standing straighter, sleeping better. Maybe even breathing better. I am, however, still struggling with the Manischewitz.

Yoga’s not about fitness. It’s completely non-competitive and it seems really odd to go to an exercise class in which I barely break a sweat. There’s no cardio, no goal-setting, no pressure. I’m probably not going to shed a single pound by doing Yoga, but I am gaining so much more.

Even if I never master the Manicotti.

So, if you’ve never tried Yoga, I highly recommend taking a class or two. Give it a shot. What have you got to lose — other than perhaps a bit of your dignity? And if you have tried it, I’d love to hear from you. Love it or hate it? And how long did it take you to master the Molybdenum?

 

Remember

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If we were having coffee, I’m pretty sure that at some point our conversation would wind down to one of us asking, “Do you remember where you were when you heard?”

Of course we remember.

But the moment that really comes to my mind actually happened a day or two later, when I stepped outside and sat on the stone steps near my back door. My then-husband was at work and my children were actually getting along for once, playing a game that involved Barbie dolls and Thomas the Tank Engine hosting the Island of Sodor’s first real fashion show. The TV was off, of course, because the kid-appropriate channels had temporarily paused their regular programming.

It was beautiful outside. The clear sky was an impossible shade of blue, and the trees around my house hadn’t yet begun to put on their fall colors. I could hear crickets chirping and birds singing as a gentle breeze stirred my hair around my face. Everything was just so normal.

I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to pretend that it never happened. It was pretty easy to do, actually, out in the Michigan countryside, where the only real change I could see was the absence of any planes flying overhead. No white trails to show where one had gone by.

Everything was normal and beautiful and perfect in my corner of the universe that day.

I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the terrorist attacks on September 11 to affect me directly. For it to be more than a vague sense of impending doom, a shocked disbelief as I stared at horrific pictures of people I didn’t know in places I’d never visited.

It was too much, too big, too terrible. I sat on those back steps for a long time that day, trying to make it all real. Trying to comprehend that the world was not normal any more.

It seems odd to me now, but I remember that I thought back to an event in my own childhood as I sat on those steps that day. I found myself thinking about Jonestown and seeing the pictures on the news of all those bodies piled up on the ground, and I thought the bright colors of their clothing were actually the bright colors of cars in a parking lot. I wondered why the news cameras were showing pictures of the cars of all the dead people, and it took days for it to sink in that I was actually seeing people, not their cars.

I thought about Oklahoma City that day, too. I remember sitting on the couch in front of the TV and seeing pictures of victim after victim after victim, and crying for the babies killed in the day care center.

Kids in school today don’t learn about Jonestown or Oklahoma City in any real sense. Or even September 11, for that matter. To them, those horrible events are nothing more than moments in history. Days on a calendar.

The same way that my  generation learned about Pearl Harbor or D-Day or Vietnam. We couldn’t comprehend those moments the same way that our parents could. I never quite understood why Mom cried when she talked about her little brother going to Vietnam. He came home, after all, didn’t he? Everything went back to normal after that.

Just like everything went back to normal for my generation after September 11, 2001. We buried our dead, we went back to work, and we went on with our lives.  Once a year, we share the pictures and stories on the internet, and we ask each other, “Do you remember where you were when you heard?”

Of course we remember.

And it’s up to us to make sure the next generation never forgets.

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This ‘n That

As most of you have probably figured out by now, my blogging schedule always seems to fall apart during the summer. I could try to make excuses and blame it on oh, so many things, but instead I’ll just say a great big “Thank you!” to all of you who continue to stick with me.

On with the quick update, then.

A Soul Redeemed has been pushed back a bit. I’m truly sorry about that, guys. It’s done, but I’m just not happy with a few parts of it and so I’m doing another round of edits. I’m looking at October for the release date now.  After that, the fifth book in the Beach Haven series will focus on Tara’s brother, Jayson Bartlett, fresh out of the Army and ready to settle into civilian life.

The big news for me is Letters to Caroline, the first book in my Brides of Serenity series. It’s a sweet historical romance set in the fictional town of Serenity, Kansas, and it will be out in September. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover:

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In other news, Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal is being made into an audio book! It’s still in the early stages, so I really don’t have much more information than that. I can tell you that I chose not to do the narration myself because . . . well, confession time, folks. I have a lisp. A very pronounced lisp. When my voice is recorded, I sound just like Cindy on “The Brady Bunch.”

It’s been a really odd experience listening to someone else read my work. She’s doing a fabulous job and has a wonderful deadpan delivery that makes me laugh. Sometimes, I forget that I wrote the words she’s reading!

On a personal note, I just found out that I have tendonitis in both feet, which means I’ve just found a use for those bags of frozen veggies in my freezer that no one was ever going to eat anyway. I also learned that I now officially have high blood pressure (big surprise there!) and have to make a few lifestyle changes.

One of those changes is the Yoga lessons I’ve been taking. I like it a lot more than I expected to, but since we’ve been learning in the park in the center of town, I’m not sure how happy my neighbors are about the whole thing.

But that’s enough for now. Thank you once again for sticking with me despite the irregular blogging schedule these past few months.

Enjoy these last days of summer, all!

 

 

#ComedyBookWeek – A.J GOODE INTERVIEW

Hey, guys, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Matt Drzymala as part of Comedy Book Week! Check out my answers — and then check out his blog, because it’s fabulous.

Matthew Drzymala

#ComedyBookWeek continues apace and today we say hello to A.J Goode, author of ‘Fat, Fifty and Menopausal’.

Hello! Thank you so much for the warm welcome.

pinkprofileSo, A.J, why don’t we start the grilling by telling us a little about you?

I am a single mom with two kids in college and another in third grade. I live in a very, very small town not far from Lake Michigan, and I work as a lunch lady at the local school. I try very hard to be intimidating, but most of the kids just laugh at me when I act stern.

‘Fat, Fifty and Menopausal’, the clue would appear to be in the title, but tell us more about your book?

It’s a collection of essays about . . .. well, about being fat, fifty, and menopausal.  I hate to use the word “essays” because that makes it sound all scholarly…

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