Oy , what a week!

coffee2

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:

thumb

Then this:

flu

Followed by a lot of quality time spent with this:

toilet

And copious amounts of this:

vernors2

And just when I finally started feeling like this again —

14650195_1279964872014605_491808719304975814_n

 

— I found out about this:

tobler

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

This:

caroline

 

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®.

soup

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.

Happy Summer!

 

You know how sometimes you just feel the need to go back and re-read a book that you’ve read many times before?

That’s where I’ve been lately. I don’t know why, but I recently had to sit down and read Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly and all its sequels. They are sweet, easy-to-read stories that I discovered during my first pregnancy when I became obsessed with tales of the American Frontier.

I also watched the movies “based on” the first three books in the series and laughed my ass off over some of the worst book-to-movie adaptations in the history of book-to-movie adaptations. Really, Hallmark? Did any of you folks actually read any of the books?

At any rate, re-reading Janette Oke’s books has sent me off on a reading spree of romantic fiction set during that era. I’ve discovered authors like Shanna Hatfield and Annie Boone. I’ve become addicted to the  Cutter’s  Creek and Pendleton Petticoats series.

Now, I don’t know about any of you, but when I discover some new favorites, I tend to go a bit overboard. Housework suffers. I stay up too late at night reading. I get lost in the fictional world I am reading about.

And because I’m a writer, something else happens.

I get inspired.

So .  . . I am writing my first historical fiction. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but have been afraid to try because I worry that I’m not smart enough to get the historical details right. But if I’ve learned anything in the past few years, I’ve learned that the only way to conquer fear is to face it head-on and tell it to go to hell.

It’s going to be a squeaky-clean romance, without any descriptive sex. Hey, I want to write something my mother-in-law can read without leading to any uncomfortable conversations between us!

Never fear, I’m still finishing up my Beach Haven series, and I plan on continuing to make folks smile with the sequel to Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal. I’m just taking a little detour. So please be patient with me and understand if things stay quiet here for the next few months. I promise, I’m still going strong. I’ve got books to read, books to write, bonfires to attend, and a great big lake to swim in.

What about all of you? What are you reading this summer?

Happy summer, all!

 

 

 

Redemption

re·demp·tion
rəˈdem(p)SH(ə)n/
noun
  1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

The next book in my Beach Haven series is A Soul Redeemed, so I wanted to take a look at the word “redemption” before I share a little excerpt from the first chapter.

I like the idea that redemption can also mean being saved from error, not just sin or evil. Every single one of us has erred in life in some way, big or small. We’ve all sinned, too, for that matter, but I doubt that most of us can relate to doing anything that is truly evil. In this book, I wanted to explore some of those errors and the regrets that go with them.

In short, I wanted to give a couple of my favorite supporting characters a chance to redeem themselves.

Jacqueline’s need for redemption is pretty obvious in light of her manipulative behavior in Her House Divided. To be perfectly honest, this character has really been bothering me since the end of that book. I’ve been wanting to tell her story, to explain why she does the horrible things she does. I wanted to face the challenge of somehow getting readers to like an unlikable character.

Ben, though, seems like a pretty nice guy, doesn’t he? The kind, easygoing, laid-back attorney has been sort of an understated comic relief character throughout the series. But what if he has a secret? What if he is the one who is truly in need of redemption?

That was my starting point for A Soul Redeemed.  I am tentatively looking at Friday, July 15 as a release date, but that date is not firm yet.

Ready to check out a sneak peek at Chapter one?

*****

A Soul Redeemed

Ben Jacobs took a deep breath and resisted the urge to kick the door of his car. It wasn’t the car’s fault that he was having a bad morning, after all. He tried shifting his briefcase, the box of doughnuts, the bouquet of flowers, and what remained of his coffee – having spilled half of it down the front of his suit on the drive to work – but still couldn’t manage to free one hand so he could shut the door.

Grunting, he put the box of doughnuts on top of the car and tried again. The box slid down the windshield, flipped over, and promptly landed upside-down on the pavement.

He closed his eyes. Bad enough that he had dumped the doughnuts on the ground; no man could be expected to gaze upon the tragedy of a fresh apple fritter destroyed in such a manner. The cruller and the éclair were acceptable losses on a day like today, but not the fritter.

Ben sighed. He set everything down on the ground and closed the car door with exaggerated care, after which he gathered his things and slowly made his way to his office. He half-expected the sky to open and dump buckets of rain on him just to continue with the whole theme of his morning, but the bright blue May sky remained annoyingly clear and cheerful, almost as though the universe itself were trying to get on his last nerve.

His assistant looked up in surprise when he dropped the flowers on her desk. “Happy birthday, Beverly,” he told her. “There were doughnuts, too, but they didn’t make it.”

“Thank you. My birthday is next month.”

“Of course it is.”

“The flowers are lovely, Ben. This was very sweet of you.” Beverly smiled up at him, taking in the rumpled and stained suit in one sweeping glance. “Spilled your coffee again?”

He nodded.

“And the white stuff on your shoulder?”

“Seagull.”

“Again?”

“Again.”

She chuckled. “Welcome back. I’ve put your mail on your desk,” she told him. “Along with your phone messages. Tiffany has already called twice this morning about the dog. And . . . I’m about to ruin your day a little bit more. There’s someone waiting for you in your office. I told her to wait out here, but she insisted. I’m sorry.”

Ben swore. His assistant was a deceptively tiny, middle-aged woman with the iron will of an army drill sergeant, and he knew from experience that there was only one person who refused to be intimidated by her. If that person was waiting for him in his office, his day was definitely going to continue with its downward trend.

He took yet another deep breath, squared his shoulders, and marched into his office. That’s right, he told himself. My office. Mine. This is my territory, my turf, and I am not going to let Jacqueline Davis push me around.

Jacqueline was seated at his desk rather than in one of the plush brown chairs that were intended for his clients. She was impeccably dressed as usual, in a mint-green dress that played up her porcelain skin and shoulder-length blond hair. There was an elegant grace in the way she moved when she leaned forward to rest her chin on one delicate hand, her lips curving into a humorless smile.

“Running a little late this morning, Ben?”

“Why are you here?” he asked. “Don’t you have some orphans to evict or something?”

“That’s on this afternoon’s schedule. I cleared this morning’s schedule so I could meet with you.”

“Fantastic. Beverly already told you that I have no interest in representing you,” he said. “Besides, you have an attorney, and you don’t need me.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. Please, sit down so we can discuss my situation.”

“You’re . . . in my chair, Jacqueline.”

Her laugh scraped on his nerves. She stood and strolled around to the front of his desk like a spoiled housecat strutting in front of a captive audience, and he couldn’t keep his gaze from sweeping up and down her trim figure and appreciating what he saw.

She was a tall woman, her eyes almost even with his when she stopped directly in front of him. There was a triumphant gleam in her eyes that told him she had noticed exactly where he had been looking.

 

A Question of Why

“Why do I write?”

That’s a great question, especially since I’ve already been focusing so much on self-doubts when it comes to expressing myself with the written word.

When most people think of being a writer, they picture one of two extremes. At one end, there are the James Pattersons and Danielle Steeles, writers who are ultra-famous and wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. The J.K. Rowlings and Nora Robertses of the world. Successful, well-known, respected writers.

And at the other end, there is the stereotypical artiste. The artsy-fart who wears black and chain-smokes European cigarettes while drinking too much and moaning about pouring his soul onto the page for an audience who can’t yet comprehend his brilliance. He is the starving artist who would never dream of “selling out” or betraying his artistic soul by allowing his work to be chewed up and spit out by the unwashed masses who just aren’t ready for him.

The truth is, I think most writers are just like me. Normal, ordinary people who like to tell stories and just hope that a handful of people out there want to read what we write.

Why do I write?

I like to entertain people. I like to make you laugh. I like to spin a tale that catches your attention and pulls you in, that makes you forget to blink and then breathlessly ask, “and then? What happens next?”

I like talking. Telling stories. I get a kick out of taking everyday occurrences and looking at them upside-down and sideways to find a story to tell. I like to look at the world around me and ask “what if?”

What if those old people over there were actually long-lost lovers?

What if that handsome man over there is actually a killer on the run?

What if (insert random situation) had ended differently?

What if . . . what if . . . what if . . 

Try it sometime. It’s fun.

People have always told me that I should write a book. Okay, I think a lot of those people were probably just trying to find a polite way of telling me to shut up, but I can still find encouragement in their words.

Why do I write?

I write because it gives me pleasure.

Some folks get really dramatic and talk about “bleeding on the keys” or writing because they must. Oh, there are plenty of powerful memes and inspirational posters about having a story within that must find its way out.

Yeah, okay, all that shit’s pretty cool.

But writing — real writing — isn’t just about those bursts of inspiration and manic late-night sessions at the keyboard when the ideas and words are flowing like streams of uncontrollable vomit. It’s not just about waking up with a gasp at 3:28 in the morning because a sudden idea has hit right now and hit HARD and you’ve got to jot it down NOW before it is gone forever.  It’s not just about those days when you zone out in the middle of a crowd because there’s a scene from your newest story playing out in your mind like a movie and you’ve got to watch it so you don’t forget.

Writing can be all of that. And when those things are happening, the best thing you can do is grab the safety rails and hang on for the ride of your life.

But most of the time, writing is hard work. It’s getting up before dawn to scratch out a few words before the day starts. It’s taking classes and studying the greats and attending workshops. It’s reading books and honing your skills. It’s practicing, practicing, and practicing some more. It’s starting out with a tiny germ of something and doing your damnedest to turn it into something better.

It’s about writing when you’d rather watch TV or play on Facebook. It’s about editing and re-writing and editing some more. It’s about accepting that you are not perfect. It’s about swallowing your pride and learning from experience when someone is brave enough to tell you that what you’ve written really isn’t very good. It’s about being willing to “kill your darlings” if that’s what it takes to create a better story.

[Note: if you don’t know what it means to “kill your darlings” please don’t worry about my children at this point. Trust me, it’s a Faulkner thing.]

It’s about knowing when to listen to a critic and when to trust your own judgement and maybe, if you’re smart and very very lucky, ending up at that perfect place between the two.

Why do I write?

Sometimes, I read back over something I’ve written, and I cringe. Yikes, did I actually write that self-important bit of crap called “Had I But Time” back in the ’80’s, complete with a nod to Shakespeare in the title? Worse, did I really send that out to publishers? Oh, dear Lord, may the universe forgive me . . .

But just as I’m ready to haul my mortified self under the kitchen table to hide in utter embarrassment, I’ll read over something else I’ve written, and I think, “Hey, that’s not bad.” Of course, that thought is often followed rather quickly by, “It’s not exactly good, either.”

What can I say? Self-confidence is not one of my greatest strengths.

Why do I write?

I can’t give you one easy answer because there is no easy answer. I write because . . . I’m a writer. It’s not what I do; it’s what I am.

I may never make a living as a writer. I’m fairly sure I’ll never be among the ranks of the super-rich and mega-famous, although I would  be totally okay with being either one. Just saying.  But in the meantime, I’m totally okay with being exactly where I am as long as I am writing.

Why do I write?

Because I love it.

This has been part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog hop, with the prompt “Why do I write?”  Your host is Kristi from Finding Ninee, so please check out her blog and some of the other fabulous writers who participate in this weekly writing exercise. 

 

 

 

 

IWSG: Working Without A Net

IWSG

One of my friends from long-ago is the unrivaled King of Snark. He prefers to think of himself as the Crown Prince, but I think he’s being modest. And right now, even as I write this, I am working my way into a full-blown crisis of confidence because of him.

Okay, well it’s not really his fault. I was already in mid-crisis long before I contacted him.

I just asked him to read a chapter from my newest book and give me honest feedback, and now I’m freaking out while I wait for him to get back to me. Not because I’m afraid he’ll hate it and tear it to shreds, but because I’m afraid he’ll say he likes it and I won’t believe him.

You see, in Fat, Fifty, and Menopausal, I don’t have a lot of filters. One would think that should be fairly obvious from the title, but now I’m not so sure. It seemed funny when I thought of it; it seemed funny when I wrote the first draft. But now? Now I’m starting to have doubts. I’m scared I’ve gone too far. Even the title might be too much, I’m afraid.

 

nervous

I’m from a generation of women who don’t talk about personal things like Menopause. Women who lie about their age. Who refer to themselves as “curvy” or “voluptuous” but never ever come right out and say the “f” word. What the heck is wrong with me? Why in God’s name would I write a book about being fat, fifty and menopausal? I’m afraid this is all too personal, too much. That I’ve crossed the line into an uncomfortable level of self-disclosure.

What if no one finds it funny? What if the King of Snark comes back to me later tonight with nothing more than a patronizing comment like, “It’s cute. Thanks for sharing”?

Part of me hopes the book comes out and disappears without a trace like my other book in the “Humor” category. That no one ever reads it and we can all just politely agree to pretend that it never happened.

At the same time, I really do believe in this project. I wanted to write it because the last five years of my life have been sheer hell, and I feel as though the only thing that got me through it was my sense of humor. There were days when finding a reason to laugh became a survival technique, and that’s what I’m trying to convey with this book —  that it’s crucial to be able to laugh even when things are looking pretty dark.

My inner critic is telling me to cancel the pre-order on Amazon and stick to the relative safety of writing romance novels about people who don’t really exist outside of my  imagination. My inner critic is a bit of a jerk, to be totally honest. I’m not listening to her.

I want to be the kind of writer who takes risks. Who pushes the envelope. Who walks that really fine line between doing something brilliant or something really, incredibly stupid.

I don’t know about the other writers out there, but this — this feeling of terror mingled with anticipation, of pride mixed with panic, of hope muddled with doubt — this feeling that I have right now is why I wanted to be a writer when I was a little girl pounding out short stories on a toy typewriter.

Sometimes in life, you just have to take a risk and work without a net.

If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.  — Seth Godin

This was written as part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. To find out more about this wonderfully supportive group and find out how to join the blog hop, click here.

 

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!