Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal: Cover Art

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a couple of new projects I’ve been working on, and I told you all about my upcoming book, Fat, Fifty and Menopausal.  I’m not quite ready to share any of the inside of the book yet, but I just couldn’t wait to share the cover so far.

For starters, I have to say that Martha Schwartz is a fabulous artist whose work always makes me smile. I met her through a fan group of The Three Investigators books after a couple of mutual friends urged me to check out her work. (See? Everything in life comes full circle. Everything.)  She works with sculptures, caricatures,  and comic books, and so much more, with a distinctive style that that makes her work instantly recognizable.

I am honored beyond words that she agreed to create the original artwork for my cover. Here are some of her initial sketches:

She asked what sort of things I talk about in the book. Of course, I had to ask her to add the “mom finger” after it was brought to my attention by certain co-workers that I have a tendency to shake my finger in everyone’s face when I talk.

She added colors and gradually filled in a few more details, and this is where we stand right now:

12655987_10205662767633468_1814157195_o

Gorgeous, ain’t it?

I especially like the fact that Martha’s art makes me look much prettier than I am in real life. I was prepared for her to make me look, well, fat, fifty and menopausal, but she made me look so much better than that.  I can’t wait to see the finished results.

I’m looking at late March/early April for the publication date of Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal, although that date may change.  It’s close to being done now; I’ve had an absolute blast with this one, and I almost hate to write “the end.” In a way, I feel as though this book is the one I’ve been waiting my entire life to write.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share a couple of excerpts here, and I hope to give a few of you something to laugh about (and possibly relate to). I’m also working on two other books right now because I can’t seem to turn off my imagination — or my characters! I’ve got Maisy and Connor to deal with, and Ben and Jacqueline, and I’m trying to finish up some research into Michigan’s wine industry for the setting of my Love & Destiny series.

And in the middle of all of this, my daughter has decided to play matchmaker and try to fix me up with someone for a real date. Because I have nothing else on my plate, and dating has always turned out so well for me in the past.

Poor man. He has no idea what he’s in for.

In the meantime, please take a moment to check out Martha’s website and her gofundme page to help her attend the MegaCon in Orlando in May. She’s hoping to debut her new Seed Seekers comic book there, and I’d love to help her get there.

 

Insecure Writer Wednesday

IWSG

 

Okay, it needs to be said.

I write romance because I read romance.

Deal with it.

I am so tired of hearing people dismiss romantic fiction as being somehow substandard. Being a fan of romantic fiction doesn’t mean I am stupid. Nor does it mean that my books are easy to write or that I am in some way “selling out” by writing in a popular market. It doesn’t mean that I am sexually frustrated, lonely, or lost in a dreamworld of unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

It just means that I enjoy stories in which everyone gets a Happily Ever After. So sue me. Okay, so I’m also frustrated, lonely, and lost in a dreamworld of unrealistic expectations when it comes to love, but that’s not why I write romance novels. That’s just a lucky bonus, I guess.

Other writers are the worst. In writing forums, there are those who bemoan their own lack of sales and then say things like, “I should just give up and write romance novels to pay my bills until my REAL books start selling.”

How’s that working out for you?

One of my friends, a man whose writing talent leaves me in awe, has told me on more than one occasion that “You are a really talented writer, Amy; I don’t see why you waste your talent writing romance novels.”

Ouch. He means it as a compliment, but I rank it right up there with compliments like, “You’re really pretty for a fat girl”.

Do I sound defensive? Probably. But damn it, I am defensive.  I could list all kinds of statistics and facts about the popularity of romantic fiction; I could throw out some dollar figures that would blow your mind. I could even take a scholarly route and point out the classic, respected authors throughout history whose works could be classified as romantic fiction. But I don’t think it would change many opinions.

Or maybe I could take a deeper look and ask myself just exactly why I’m feeling so defensive on the subject.

You know, romance novels are not the only kind I want to write. When I was growing up, I wanted to create the next Three Investigators or Trixie Belden series. I still want to write for young adults. I want to write mysteries too. Or adventures. Or historical fiction. I’ve even thought about writing my own memoir detailing my 2011 freak accident and the long recovery that followed.  But right now, I choose to write romance. I’m not settling. I’m not selling out. I’m choosing a genre that I love, and I hope I’m good at it.

I’m still planning on trying all those things. Okay, maybe not the memoir. Nobody wants to read that. Then again, nobody seems to want to read my collection of humorous essays, but that didn’t stop me from writing and publishing it. I’m sure the thirteen people who bought it have really enjoyed it.

The truth is that I have doubts, too. Most of the time, I’m content to set my writing goals at “Have fun, make people happy, try to make enough money to pay my bills.” Most of the time, I can accept the fact that, as a romance writer, I’m a very small fish in a very big sea. Odds are good that I am never going to be a multi-millionaire making guest appearances on “The View” to talk about the billions of people whose lives were changed by reading my masterpiece. I am happy doing what I love, living out my dream of being a writer, making a little bit of money.

I have my bad days when the doubts take my breath away and I wonder if I’m wasting my time writing in a genre that isn’t going to be taken seriously. Like when I just read Wool by Hugh Howey. I have to be honest; I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it was all hype and no substance. Ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong. So very wrong. It was amazing. I don’t think I breathed the entire time I was reading it. I had to follow it up immediately with Shift and Dust, and then I dropped into a huge, deep pit of despair at the realization that I will probably never, ever write anything that good.

But I might. I may still have the Great American Novel churning away somewhere inside me, trying to get out. Then again, that may be gas.

Either way, I want to write the books that give me pleasure. I like entertaining people with the things that I write, and I’m having a blast coming up with ideas to write about in several genres — and yes, that includes romance. It takes effort, practice and talent to write well in any genre, and we all suffer from enough doubts and insecurities on our own. 

Can’t we all, as writers, be supportive of our fellow writers in all genres? Because, to be honest, I sometimes feel like romance writers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the writing world.

respect

 

This post was written as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group, where writers gather to share our concerns and show our support for each other.  Remember, guys, we’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

One thing I’ve learned about being a writer is that my ideas all seem to hit at the same time, usually when I’m buried in one project and struggling toward the finish line. I may be in the middle of a romance novel, flying toward the final chapter, when all of a sudden — BOOM! I get an idea for a great short story. My brain goes, “Hey, what if you wrote about this?”

I could blame it on having ADHD, or I could try to psychoanalyze myself and say it’s a self-destructive urge to distract myself from completing my current project. Or I could whine about it, sort of like I’m doing right now.

But when my project is done and I’m ready to start on something new, I tend to find myself in a completely different situation. I fix a nice hot cup of coffee, put on some comfy clothes, and sit down at the keyboard with every intention of diving headlong into my next idea. I am a writer, I tell myself, and I’m gonna kick some literary butt with this next one!

And then . . . nothing happens.

Nothing.

All of those great ideas that swarmed me a few days or weeks ago? Nowhere to be found. Even though I jotted down notes to remind myself of the fabulousness of everything zooming around inside my head, nothing really grabs me.

Nothing.

That’s where I’ve been for the past several weeks, since I finished Their Love Rekindled. I’ve been floundering along with Love & Destiny, but I’m having a hard time hitting my stride. Just not feeling it.

So I took some time off and did some reading. No writing. I read a lot of romance, of course, because that’s my favorite. Besides, it’s always a good idea to check out the writers in my field. I discovered (and loved!) the works of Cindy Kirk, Staci Stallings, and Gail Gaymer Martin. But I also decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone and read things in genres I don’t usually explore.

I finally read the rest of the “Grace” series by M. Lauryl Lewis (and didn’t sleep well for a week afterward). I fell in love with the “Ruby Danger” series by Rickie Blair. I snickered all the way through Essa Alroc’s The Apology, and I got a whole new outlook on historical fiction from Old Fashioned Values by Margaret Brazear. I read One Silent Voice: The Jeannie Singleton Story by Nicole Du Shane, which is a fascinating and disturbing true story despite some really disappointing editing and formatting issues with the book itself.

And the strangest thing happened: my ideas started flowing again. Just not in the direction I had planned.

I didn’t think I was ready to start the fourth book in my Beach Haven series just yet, but apparently I was wrong because it is basically writing itself. I’ve finished almost half of it in less than two weeks. Those of you who have read the series might be surprised to learn that the hero of this one is attorney Ben Jacobs, who is sort of the anti-romance hero. He’s balding, not traditionally handsome, and a classic “nice guy.” I think you’ll all be stunned when you find out who he’s falling in love with!

I know I was.

I’ve never really tried to work on more than one book at a time, and I’m sure it’s not the wisest decision I’ve ever made. But I’ve got another project in the works right now, one that’s not a romance novel. It’s a lot more personal, and I am having perhaps a little bit too much fun with it. I’m calling it Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal.

I’ve thought about subtitling it: I Have No Filters.

It’s all about staring down the spectre of my upcoming fiftieth birthday and finding humor in the fact that I am not where I thought I would be at this point in life. It’s about dealing with hot flashes and saggy boobs and dating after fifty, with a little bit of empty nest anxiety thrown in. I am hoping to reach an audience of women at a similar point in their lives, and give them a reason to laugh even on the days when things seem the darkest.

As some of you know, I am coming out of a very dark period in my own life, and I’m not sure I would have survived these past few years without a sense of humor. Blogging has helped me discover my “voice” and a sense of humor that I never knew I had, so I’m trying to put that experience to good use in this new book.

In the next few months, I’ll share some excerpts from Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal with you all. I’m also working with an artist who is creating some amazing original art for the cover, and I plan on sharing a few sneak peeks at the progress as it all comes together. This is huge for me, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

So that’s where I’m at right now as I face the first “snow day” of the new year. It’s finally a little chilly in my overheated apartment (until the next hot flash, anyway), and my kids are snowed in at their dad’s house. It’s just me, the coffeepot, and my beat-up laptop with the missing keys.

If you’re a writer, how do you handle it when your muse disappears?  Or better yet, when your muse dumps a truckload of ideas on you all at the same time?  I’d love to hear from some of you!

Dare to Compare

IWSG

Back when I was in my late twenties, I went to a career counseling center and took a personality test that was supposed to tell me what career I was best suited for. When the results came back, I learned that I would make a great cosmetologist. Since I had three successful  cosmetologists n my family already at that time, I wasn’t really surprised.

What did surprise me, however, was the other end of the list, which showed the career that least suited my personality: Writer.

Well, crap. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. I got pretty upset with the whole  Meyers-Briggs testing people and decided that they knew nothing about me, despite their being pretty much on-target with the cosmetology recommendation.

Looking back, I have to say that I understand those results now. I am, after all, a social creature. I love being around people. Talking to people. Making people happy. This is why I thrive in customer service jobs. It’s why I am a fantastic retail salesperson but failed miserably as an office worker staring at a monitor in my solitary cubicle for forty hours per week.

Writing is not a social career. Sure, we can interact with each other in writing groups and online forums, but it’s not the same as that one-on-one personal interaction with others. The act of writing is a solitary, lonely activity that does not bring out the best in me. It brings out the urge to call my friends and tell them about what I’ve just written, or to go post a stupid question in an online forum just because I feel the need to talk to someone, anyone, about anything.

I’ve been lucky in recent months to find a couple of writing groups that seem to understand this need for human interaction. I even got to attend a four-week writing workshop this summer, where I got to meet other writers face-to-face and watch their eyes glaze over in person when I droned on too long about one of my projects.

Oh, yeah, I know it happens. I’m just able to deny it when it happens online.

As much as I love the interaction with other writers, there is a downside. And I’m not talking about things like internet trolls or spite reviews or any of those behaviors. Yeah, I know those things happen, too, but I do my best to stay firmly entrenched in my own denial when it comes to them. Denial is something else I’m very good at.

For me, the downside of all of this interaction with other authors is my tendency to compare myself to them.

For the most part, I can be pretty realistic about my expectations. I’m a slow writer, producing only one or two short romance novels per year. I’m an unknown, and I’m still learning as I go. I can’t afford any kind of extensive advertising campaigns to boost sales, either. I don’t expect to sell tens of thousands of books or hit any bestseller lists (not yet, anyway).. At this stage of my writing career, I have no delusions about supporting myself with the money I bring in from Amazon each month. I’ve had months in which I’ve made a couple hundred dollars, and months in which I’ve made a couple dollars.

True story. June and July of this year brought in almost enough to pay the rent. August and September sales barely paid for my coffee.

That’s to be expected at this point, however, and I’m okay with it.

Until, that is, I  encounter my fellow “newbies” asking questions about the 500+ sales made in the first two weeks. I’m happy for them, of course, but oh, wowza, does that just suck the confidence right out of me! I start comparing myself to them, wondering where I’ve gone wrong. Are my books too short? Too much sex or not enough? Should I have done more editing? Are the plots weak?

And the biggee: Am I really not any good at this at all? Is it time to give up and learn something less painful, like sword-juggling?

Then I start comparing myself to other writers who talk about writing ten or twelve novels in a year. Seriously?! I start doubting my commitment to my craft. I wake up early to write before my kids get up for school. I write during the half-hour between jobs, and I write in the evenings on the days my kids are with their dad. I write in ten-minute increments if that’s all I can squeeze in.

But is it enough?

Seeing the numbers and word counts tossed about by these prolific folks always  chips away at my confidence. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, I tell myself. Maybe I’m wasting my precious writing time on things like blogging or going to writing forums. Maybe I should get up even earlier or  go to  bed a little later. Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.

Those little nagging self-doubts creep in, and I don’t know how to fight them. All the reassurance, all the compliments and glowing reviews in the world can’t stop them. I am my own worst enemy, my own biggest critic, my own weakest link.

I am gradually learning that I have to stop comparing myself to other writers. I can –and should– learn from them, but the only way to restore my confidence is to compare myself to myself and no one else. Is this book selling better than the last one? Is it better than the last one? Am I still getting better at this every day?

Have I done the absolute best I can do at this time?

If I can answer yes to all of those, then it has to be enough.

How about the rest of you? What triggers your own self-doubts and chips away at your self-confidence? And how do you fight it?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people! 

Preview: Their Love Rekindled!

Okay, guys, it’s the home stretch. Their Love Rekindled is going to be released on Friday, November 20!

I am so excited about the way this one has turned out. I even surprised myself with a few of the plot twists. Like the rest of the books in this series, Their Love Rekindled is a standalone story that can be read with or without the others. There are, however, a few familiar names and faces making a cameo appearance or two.

I’m ready to share a sneak peek here, although I am a bit nervous about introducing my new characters to the world. Here’s the book’s description as it will show up on the Amazon page:

Everyone in Beach Haven thought Aaron and Cassie were the perfect couple. Right up until Cassie eloped with Aaron’s best friend, that is.

Now, ten years later, Cassie has been widowed and Aaron is asked to come home and speak at a memorial in her late husband’s honor. He’s got to find a way past his anger and hurt to forgive his old friend, but he doesn’t expect to find that his feelings for Cassie are stronger than ever.

Cassie never expected to see Aaron again, especially since he’s made a life for himself in Texas all these years. She’s got no choice but to keep her distance from him because she knows he’ll never be able to forgive her if he ever finds out the truth she’s been hiding from him. But how can she keep her distance when just seeing him brings back all of the old memories of what they once shared?

Since Chapter One will be available in the “Look Inside” when the book goes live on Amazon, I’ve decided to share a different part. The following scene takes place a few chapters in, when things start to heat up in the kitchen.

***

She whirled. “Why are you here, Aaron?”

“Supper. Your son invited me, remember?”

“No, I mean why are you here in Beach Haven? Why did you come back? And when are you leaving?”

He shrugged. “My sister called me last week and said she needed help taking care of Mom after the surgery and her infection and everything. I took a leave of absence from work and got here as fast as I could, but now . . .”

She waited.

“Mom’s not as bad as they made it sound,” he admitted. “They tricked me. They want me to speak about Mikey at the fundraiser. Mom has this crazy idea that I need to make some kind of peace with his memory. I wasn’t going to do it, to be honest. I planned on getting right back in my car first thing tomorrow and heading back to Texas.”

“Good. Have a safe trip.” She watched the surprised grin pop up on his face, as though there was something funny about her rudeness.

“I said I wasn’t going to do it. Now, I’m thinking about it.”

“Well, don’t. Don’t think about it at all.”

Absently, Aaron picked up a dishtowel and started drying the bowls she had washed. “I don’t want to hate him anymore, Cass,” he finally said. “Or you. You two were my best friends, and I loved you both. I just can’t . . . I can’t get past . . . I feel like I need to stay and say my good-bye to Mikey. I missed his funeral, but I can do this much for him.”

She reached out to take the towel from him, and their hands touched. Her fingertips tingled at the contact.

He was hurting; that much was plain to see. She’d had a year to accept Mikey’s sudden death, but Aaron had somehow managed to avoid dealing with it until now. No matter what had happened between the three of them or how many years had gone by without speaking, the two men had been like brothers. She could see his struggle between grief and anger written clearly on his face.

Without thinking about it, she reached up with her other hand to touch his face. Closing his eyes, he leaned into the warmth of her touch, and she caught her breath as the tingle turned into a jolt of electricity that flared through her entire body.

He slipped an arm around her waist and drew her closer. His body felt warm and firm against hers; she longed to slip her hand inside his shirt and run her fingers across the muscles of his chest, to seek out the familiarity of the body she had once known so well. For an instant, she could almost hear the pounding of the waves and moaning of the foghorn as she remembered again the way their bodies had moved together so long ago in the tiny room of the old North Pier lighthouse.

His lips brushed hers, tentatively at first but growing more insistent. She responded, her tongue meeting his as he pulled her even closer. Their bodies still fit together perfectly, just ast they always had. She could feel his arousal pressed against her and she wanted to feel more of him, even though the logical part of her mind was shouting at her to stop.

Aaron touched her cheek and pulled away suddenly, looking down at the wetness on his fingertips. Embarrassed, she brushed away the tears she hadn’t even realized she had shed.

“Cassie –“ he whispered.

Just then, they both heard Trevor’s footsteps stomping across the room upstairs. The boy was obviously still unhappy about being forced to do his homework, and he was going to let everyone know exactly how he felt about it.

Pull yourself together! She scolded herself. “You need to leave, Aaron. Go back to your mom’s house, and go back to Texas. The fire chief can speak about Miguel at the talent show. You really shouldn’t be here.”

Aaron looked up at the ceiling and then back down at her. The tenderness she had seen in his eyes was gone, replaced by a cold, calculating gaze that she had never seen before.

“I’ll go back to Mom’s tonight, “ he told her. “But I’m not going back to Texas until I find out if Trevor is my son or not. If I have to get a court order for a paternity test, I will. But one way or another, I’m staying in Beach Haven until I find out the truth.”

Their Love Rekindled: Cover Reveal

Well, it’s taken a bit longer than I had anticipated, but I’m almost ready to release the third book in my Beach Haven series: Their Love Rekindled.

If you’ve read Her House Divided and His Heart Aflame, you may remember a young firefighter named Miguel “Mikey” Garcia, who died tragically in the line of duty. My newest book tells the story of those he left behind– specifically, his widow Cassie. It’s a story of healing, of forgiveness, and learning to love again.

My first two books were set on the beach in summer, so it only seemed natural that this one should explore the raw beauty and power of the lake in winter. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year to visit the beach; I wanted to share that appreciation of a Lake Michigan winter through the eyes of Cassie and her former flame, Aaron.

I’ll be sharing a “sneak peek” at one of the chapters soon, but for now, I’m thrilled to share the cover with you. Once again, I went with Jessica Richardson at CoverBistro.com, and I am really pleased with the results. As always, she did a fabulous job.

Their Love Rekindled 1 print

So, whaddya think?

Just

IWSG

Back in the late 1980’s, when I entered the workforce as a secretary, I was told that it was somehow demeaning to refer to myself as a secretary. I was an “administrative assistant” or “office assistant.” Some days, I was a “member of clerical support services staff” or a “word processing technician.” It was supposed to be all about taking pride in my work and demanding respect as an equal, sort of along the lines of not getting the coffee for the men in the office.

I went to a training seminar in Grand Rapids, where the instructor told us it didn’t matter what we called ourselves as long as we left out one very important word: Just. As in “I’m just a secretary” or “She’s the VP, and I’m just her assistant.”

That did more for my self-respect than any of those inflated titles, and I’ve held onto that lesson through the years. In later career moves, I never referred to myself as just a hairdresser, just a stay-home mom, or just a lunchlady. My ex-husband was never just a maintenance man, and in all his years on our local fire department, he was never just a volunteer firefighter.

That’s a big part of why, all these years later, I bristle when people ask me if my books are just self-published.

It’s true that anyone can self-publish a book these days. It’s estimated that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 new books self-published every year. It costs nothing to slap together some pages, create a cheap cover, and upload it to Amazon or Smashwords. Anyone can do it with any book, good or bad, but that doesn’t meant that all self-published books are slapped-together garbage.

Okay, some of them are. Let’s be honest. There are an awful lot of discussions in writers’ groups about a need for standards and gatekeepers and ways to improve the perception of self-publishing in general, but I feel that the change in that perception begins with how we refer to ourselves. It goes without saying that we need to produce the best work we possibly can, but it goes beyond that. If we want to be respected, we need to start by treating ourselves with respect. 

If I agree that I am just a self-published author, I am quietly agreeing that all self-published books are in some way inferior to those that are traditionally published. I’m apologizing for not being traditionally published. I’m dismissing my own accomplishments as unimportant. If I say, “My books are just self-published,” it sounds an awful lot like, “They aren’t good enough for traditional publishing.”

It is an insult to say that a book is just self-published. Here’s a backhanded compliment I saw in a review not too long ago: “It’s self-published, but it was actually good.” As though the reviewer was surprised! Just a wee bit condescending, don’t you think?

As writers, if we want our books to stand out from the flood of self-published works out there, it starts with how we treat ourselves and our work. If we want to change public perception, we have to set an example by treating ourselves right.  We are not just self-published.

For that matter, we are not just romance writers or just science fiction authors. Short story writers, do you tell people you just write short stories? What about those of you who write children’s books — do you say that you just write kids’ books?

Stop that.

I have a challenge for all of you. For the next twenty-four hours, wipe the word just from your vocabulary. Don’t be just anything.  Not just an indie author, not just an aspiring writer, not just a beginner.

You might be surprised to discover how many times each day you dismiss your own importance, your own accomplishments, with that one little word: just

Good Morning!

It’s ten a.m., and I’m sitting at the computer in my jammies. I’ve lost count of how many cups of coffee I’ve inhaled, or how many times I’ve thought about taking a break only to push the thought aside and keep writing until the kids wake up and need me. Don’t judge me for letting them sleep in; it’s summer vacation.

I’m hungry. My ankles are swollen. I really have to pee.  And let’s face it; I’m pretty sure I stink.

This is not my fault.

I blame the writing workshop I attended last night. The instructor has been talking about plotting and structure, and I don’t remember ever feeling so driven to hurry home and write. I was home by eight, and I figured I could “burn the midnight oil” to make a lot of progress before going to bed. I felt like a real writer, like an artist starving to create a masterpiece. Yessir, I had a real fire in my belly.

Have I mentioned that I also have kids? More specifically, kids with nothing in their bellies.

My seven year-old greeted me on his bike at the foot of the driveway, surrounded by a posse of small people on similar bikes. “I’m hungry,” he announced as soon as I stepped out of my friend’s car.

“Didn’t your brother feed you?”

“Nope.”

My sixteen year-old sat on the couch, reading. “Is there a reason you chose not to feed your little brother any supper tonight?” I asked.

Shrug. “It’s not supper time yet.”

“Son, it’s after eight.”

“He never said he was hungry.”

This is the child I have entrusted with his brother’s safety while I work. Honor Student, National Honor Society member, general overachiever academically speaking, but apparently a bit lacking in common sense when it comes to child care. I may have to re-think this particular arrangement.

Out came the Foreman grill and burgers, plates and buns. Thirty minutes later, they’d been fed and the youngest was begging to be allowed to go back outside for s’mores at the neighbor’s bonfire. Which, of course, resulted in a sticky child in dire need of a bath, despite the fact that this child is terrified of my bathtub because he believes the rust stains are bloodstains. Every time he gets a bath at my house, he is absolutely convinced that something is going to climb out of the drain and kill him, so I have to stay in the bathroom with him for the entire bath to ensure his safety.

At one point, I also had to start texting my wayward daughter, who had taken my car to work nearly twelve hours earlier and apparently vanished from the face of the planet. Or at least outside of the calling area. Otherwise, she would surely have called or texted to let me know where she was and whether or not she was safe.

Shortly after learning that the Princess was safe but forgetful, I got a giggly phone call from a friend who thinks she has found me the perfect man. There was talk of a blind date with a handsome acupuncturist she met in the hot tub at the local wellness center; however, she doesn’t know his name or anything about him beyond the fact that he is “book smart” and has some distinguished gray at the temples. She wants me to come with her on the next family night so I can meet him, but somehow I don’t think I’ll be feeling my most attractive in a bathing suit, in a hot tub, or meeting a man who just may want to stick needles in me.

So what it boils down to is that I didn’t even get a chance to look at my computer until this morning, and I have been kicking butt ever since.  Their Love Rekindled is finished in rough draft, but I’ve made the decision to go back through and apply what I’ve learned in the workshop. I’ve been doing some restructuring, cutting, re-writing and –I hope – improving upon what I had already created.  I feel like I’m making it so much stronger, so much more coherent.

I had originally planned on releasing this one at the end of July, but now I want to push that back a bit. I want to make it the absolute best book it can be, and that’s going to take a little longer. I am going to aim for Labor Day Weekend, and I plan on sharing my first chapter here within the next few weeks just to give you all a taste of what to expect.

I’m also seeing a lot of things I wish I had done differently in my other books, although I’m not really sure whether I’m going to go back and make changes or not. To be honest, I’m sort of feeling ready to put my Beach Haven series aside for a while and dive into the new series that’s been percolating for a while.  It’s about three childhood friends, a fortune-teller, and the idea of Love and Destiny.

I’m thinking about making one of the characters an overworked, overstressed single mom who works four part-time jobs while writing romance novels and falling in love with a handsome acupuncturist after a chance meeting in a hot tub.

Or maybe it’s just time for me to switch to decaf.

Climbing out of the Envelope

Just because my life wasn’t hectic enough, I recently decided to add one more activity to my already over-booked schedule. But I’m not allowed to complain because I did this to myself.  Besides, the payoff is already enormous.

I signed up for a free writing workshop taught by one of my new heroes, Ami Hendrickson, and I swear I come home every Wednesday night with my brain exploding with new knowledge while my newest book is screaming to get out of me. After an hour and a half in her workshop, I can see so many places in my work where I’ve done something wrong.

At the same time, though, I see so many places where I’ve done something right.  And then I get all giddy and self-congratulatory because I got it right without really knowing exactly how I got it right.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong believer in continuing education. I will never know all there is to know about writing; I will never reach the point at which I am the best I am ever going to be.  Being a good writer is all about learning and growing, evolving into something bigger and better with each story or book that I write. I am constantly working my way through workbooks and how-to manuals and I take every RWA class I can jam into my schedule. I read articles and blog posts by people like Kristen Lamb and Ryan Lantz, and I absorb every possible bit of information I can find.

But I haven’t taken an actual sit-down creative writing class since my college days. And to be perfectly honest, Dr. Schiffer was more of a facilitator than an instructor. He would sort of throw topics at us and then sit back and nod sagely when we read our assignments aloud the next day. We were a bunch of college kids who went a little crazy with the lack of structure or rules, and I seem to remember that we wrote some really bad stories and poetry with a lot of swearing and sex simply because we had no one telling us that we couldn’t.

The greatest thing I learned from Dr. Schiffer was his insistence that “you can’t climb out of the envelope with your work.” When we read our work out loud in class, he wouldn’t let us spend any time on setting it up. It had to stand on its own, without any introduction or explanation.  Over the years, I have remembered that bit of advice every time I complete a story or novel and put it out there for critique or review.

Now, thirty years later, I’m attending a workshop that is absolutely blowing my mind. And not just because I’m learning about ways to structure my books better. I’m learning how to better mesh my blog with my books, how to turn a “great idea” into something more, and how to write faster, more efficiently. Even more important than all of that, Ami Hendrickson is teaching us about networking with other writers at our same level so we can help each other and grow together.

Once again, I’m delighted to discover that truly professional and successful writers are all about support, all about raising each other up, all about helping each other and learning to accept help when we need it. Our work may have to stand on its own, but we don’t have to. We stand with each other.

Yeah, I have to say it again: I love being a writer. If you love it too, take the time to find a workshop or class or some kind of in-person experience with other writers. You stand to gain so much more than just a little bit of knowledge.

Give a Little Bit

IWSG

As a member of the Insecure Writers Support Group, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my insecurities and worries with like-minded people. It has been so refreshing to discover that other writers are feeling some of the same things, fighting some of the same inner battles.  Two things I keep hearing over and over: we’re all in this together, and we are not alone.

So what’s my freak-out for this month’s IWSG post?

I worry that I take more than I give. After all, what have I got to offer other writers? Who am I to give advice? Let’s face it; I’m a self-published romance writer who doesn’t earn enough to support myself with my writing. I’m part of a crowd, lost in a sea of self-published authors in a huge genre. I’m not exactly a glowing success with heaps of wisdom to bestow on others.

Some folks might even call me a failure as a writer.

I work three part-time jobs on top of writing and still can’t make my rent, but I’m optimistic enough to keep writing anyway. Or stupid enough. I’m not sure which. Depends on how much coffee I’ve had on any given day, I guess.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet one of my writing heroes. She treated me with respect as a fellow writer; she gave me useful advice and some great writing tips, but she did so much more than that. She believed in me. She didn’t mock me or condescend to me, or treat me like someone chasing a stupid dream. I don’t think I would have finished my first book without her encouragement.

Since then, I’ve encountered so many others who have given me that same gift. The kindness of my fellow writers has been nearly overwhelming. These guys give, give, give. Sometimes they give great advice, and sometimes they merely dispense a heartfelt “attagirl” at just the right moment. There are days when my fellow writers tell me something I really need to hear at a time when I really don’t want to hear it, and they care enough to tell me anyway.

How many times can I say thank you before the words begin to lose their meaning? How do I give back? In the grand scheme of things in the writing world, I’m pretty much a nobody at this point.

I worry that I’m wearing out my welcome among writing groups by always taking, taking, taking the good stuff and having so little to offer in return. If the time ever comes that I can truly call myself a success, I’ll do everything I can to reach out for those who are struggling in all the ways I’m struggling right now. But until that day, how do I pull my own weight among my peers?

I’m interested in hearing what some of you do to support each other, no matter what your level of success. I’d welcome any tips or suggestions on what I can do to give little something back to the writing community.