Tuesday, August 15, 2017



The end of a series…

A few months ago, I published the final book in the Hidden Springs series, three and a half years after I published the first.  To say that the town and its inhabitants have been part of my life for that long is no exaggeration.  Some of the characters existed in my mind long before I knew I wanted to write about them - nagging at me over the years to bring them to life on the page; others appeared in the moment - springing to life when I needed them most.

I breathed, ate, slept, and dreamed of Hidden Springs, immersing myself in that fictional town as completely as if it were my own reality.  I laughed and cried; celebrated new life and wept for those lost.  I seethed with anger at a friend’s betrayal and swooned under a lover’s caress.  And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over.  The last word was written; the final chapter recorded.

I could have continued with the series.  There are always more stories to tell.  New generations are born, friendships develop into something more, loved ones pass away and the living carry on.  Yes; there are plenty of stories to be told about Hidden Springs, but just as life changed for my fictional characters, my own did as well.  Different voices began shouting at me, clamoring to be heard.  They have stories, too, after all; stories only I can tell.  And it’s my duty to tell them.

So, while I miss my friends in Hidden Springs – Kate, Sam, Jack, Landry, Carly, and so many others – it was time to say goodbye and journey down a different path.  I may return one day, if the spirit moves me; begin a new chapter in the lives of the characters who started it all.  I owe them a lot; a new career, and even more than that, new real-life relationships I’ve forged along the way.  For that, I say, thank you my friends.  Thank you.

You can find all eight books in the Hidden Springs series on your favorite platform beginning with the first one (it’s free).  While the books don’t need to be read in order, I recommend it, as the characters’ personalities develop with each book as their stories intertwine. 

In order –

Wondering what other series are coming down the pike?  Look for Reservations for Two, the second in the Celebration series, sometime in September.  (If you haven't read the first book in the series yet, it's called By Dawn's Early Light.  You can find it here.)  And the first book in the Seasons of Love series, Dogwoods in Springtime, is available now as part of the Lucky in Love anthology, proceeds of which benefit the March of Dimes. 

That's all for now - my characters are calling...

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why the distinction?

A photographer take pictures, builds a portfolio, and opens a studio.

An artist paints day and night, assembles a collection, and hosts a showing at a local gallery.

A musician rehearses for months in his band mate's garage, records an album, and releases it under his own label.

An author writes for hours, agonizing over every word, edits and polishes the manuscript, then self-publishes and... wait.  What?  They self-publish??  Shock and horror abound.

When I tell people I'm an author, the first question I'm almost always asked is "Who's your publisher?"  Why does that matter?  I'm asking; in the general scheme of things, why does the name of the publisher I list on my creation matter any more than the name you put on yours?  Why is what I create deemed inferior because it lacks the stamp of approval from a recognizable publishing house?

Your picture is slightly out of focus.  There's a smear on the right hand corner of your canvas.  That last chord was off-key.  You adjust, you fix your mistakes, and your next project is better than the last.  Humans learn by doing; by pushing themselves to evolve, to master new techniques, to perfect their masterpiece. 

Authors are no different; self-published or not.  We make mistakes, and we fix them.  We hone our skill and write a better story.  Being self-published does not make us less than.  Rather, it takes an immense amount of courage to release our creations to the world, to have them studied and critiqued and, oftentimes, ridiculed.  We're no different than any other artist out there, yet self-published authors are looked down upon, even by those in the same circles. 

So, I ask again; why the distinction?

Yes, the process for publishing a book has become, for lack of a better word, easy.  Anyone can do it; and it doesn't necessarily have to cost money, depending on the product the author is comfortable selling.  But artists sell their paintings on Etsy and musicians sell their music on CD Baby.  What's the difference?  Outlets for creative work are available for a reason; because real talent was going unrecognized by those guarding the gates.

Are my books all that?  I leave it to my readers to decide.  Will I, one day, be able to add the title of best-selling author to my books?  Time will tell.  It would be nice, don't get me wrong, but that's not the reason I self-publish.  I discovered a hidden well of creativity inside me, a true enjoyment for writing, and, truth be told, I like just letting the words flow.  More importantly, I like writing them my way, without someone standing over me critiquing this or deleting that.  I had enough of that during my school years. 

I believe creativity is subjective.  Different is good.  Writing a story shouldn't be like fixing a carburetor.  It's not the formulaic process many believe.  It's an art form; words are the medium rather than film or paint or notes. 

So, do me a favor.  Please stop equating self-publishing with less than.  Please stop undervaluing the time and effort I put into my art.  Will what I release ten years from now be better than what I released last month?  I sure as hell hope so.  I have no desire to churn out the same thing over and over.  I want to learn new techniques, apply them to my work, craft something beautiful and worthy of awe.  What artist doesn't?

Good or bad, I'm shaping my own future, and the responsibility as such lies squarely on my shoulders.  You know what?  I can live with that.

Now, go create something beautiful ...  

Monday, July 24, 2017

It took me 50 years...

On the eve of my fiftieth birthday, I've come to the conclusion that it's time for me to stop living life how I perceive I'm supposed to and start living life how I want to.  Having reached middle age - yes, I'd like to live to be one hundred - I appreciate how quickly time goes by and recognize how wasteful I've been with it over the years.

Let me explain...

My mom is a great cook.  During my childhood, family meals were prepared from scratch.  I remember many summers snapping bushels of green beans or shucking ears of corn as Mom whipped up delicious meals; our freezers (yes, plural) and pantry stocked full.  It was a huge treat to eat Kraft mac and cheese, and I used to trade homemade cookies for Oreos at school because that was the only way to get them.  To this day, Mom is happier in the kitchen than anywhere else.

I didn't inherit the cooking gene (although I do love to bake).  It's not that I wasn't taught.  Many a fond memory is of spending time with Mom as she chopped and stirred and baked.  The thing is, I have simple tastes, have since I was a kid, and since becoming a vegetarian they're even simpler.  I can (and have) eaten the same meal prepared over and over for weeks on end.  And my hubs likes different foods than I do, so we rarely end up eating the same thing.

Despite my inadequacy preparing haute cuisine, I've spent decades attempting to follow in my mother's footsteps, stocking my pantry full of ingredients that anyone other than me could whip up into a delicious meal with their eyes closed.  I've wasted countless amounts of money dumping those same ingredients into the garbage years after I bought them, having never touched them from the moment I placed them on the pantry shelf. 

Enter Amy's Kitchen.  Delicious, vegetarian meals straight from my grocer's freezer.  Yup, you read that right - they're frozen.  And they're microwavable. And they're delicious!  Did I mention that already?  Plus, low in fat, sugar, and calories, and high in flavor!!  Best of all, they're convenient!  And I've come to the point in my life where I value convenience over spending time doing something I don't want to do - cooking!

So, mealtime is now Amy's Kitchen time in the Raymond household.  There are tons of varieties to choose from (including vegan and gluten-free) so both the hubs and I are happy.  I haven't tried a single thing yet that I haven't enjoyed.  And not spending hours in the kitchen has freed me up to spend time doing what I do like.  Writing, hanging with the hubs, playing with the fur babies, experimenting with Photoshop. 

Do I feel guilty?  Nope.  Not anymore.  A week ago I would've given you a different answer, but as I turn the page on a new year I'm leaving that particular emotion behind.  Life's too short to waste time and energy trying to be someone I'm not.  And I'm not a cook.  Sorry, Mom.

Wherever you are in your life, be true to yourself.  If I've learned anything in fifty years, it's that.

 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

When setting goals isn't enough...

One of my favorite books is "Write It Down, Make It Happen" by Henriette Anne Klauser, and a year ago I did just that.  I took colored marker to whiteboard and recorded three (lofty) goals that I wanted to achieve before my next birthday (which is in nine days); all of them, to quote a colleague of mine, 'doable'.

Only I didn't.

I didn't meet a single one of the goals I jotted down; missed them by a mile, in fact.  Make that ten miles, and the reason is quite simple.  While I wrote my aspirations down in intricate detail, I didn't incorporate any strategy to reach them.  Duh!  Just knowing what I want isn't enough; I have to know how to get there.

Let's use this as an example - if I want to be in California, I can't just wish myself there.  I have to map out a course, navigate obstacles, increase or decrease my speed based on external conditions.  It's common sense.  Hell, if I want to go to the grocery store, I have to choose a route and follow it.  I may have several options, but I still need to pick one in order to move forward.  That's the crucial step I forgot when I wrote down my objectives.

So, here I am, a year later, no closer to the goals I set, but at least I realize why I didn't meet them.  Do I view it as a year lost?  Not at all.  For while I didn't hit those particular targets, several others were bulls-eyes.  I completed the Hidden Springs series, something I set out to do three-and-a-half years ago.  I hosted a successful book signing (Pages in the Caves) and am in the midst of planning a second one (Pages in the Caves 2.0).  I made new friends, interacted more with my readers thanks to my new and improved newsletter, wrote a new story for a yet-to-be-disclosed boxed set, and am halfway to completing the second book in the Celebration series.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

What's next, you ask?

Well, the first thing is to make new goals for the next year - or maybe recycle the old ones - and include the steps I need to take to get me there, because without planning, it's all for naught.  Whatever I decide to do, I'll keep moving forward; meeting new challenges, side-stepping obstacles in my path when I can, and plowing through those that block my way. 

One of my favorite quotes is -  

Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it.  The time will pass anyway.   ~ Earl Nightingale 

And it does pass.  Quickly.  Oh, so quickly.  So make a plan, write it down, walk your path no matter how long it takes, because one day you'll look up and find that you've arrived at your destination, and THAT will be a day worth celebrating!

Now, where did I put my dry-erase markers?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A thought to ponder...

When does the cost of a service outweigh the time and effort spent looking for, setting up, and using a less expensive one?

Here's what I'm talking about.  I use MailChimp as my email marketing provider.  I like their products, I know my way around their website, and I create pretty cool newsletters, in my humble opinion.  I'm also balancing on the precipice of needing to upgrade to a paid plan.  Yay!

Now, their pricing plan is good, but there are other email marketing providers whose pricing plans are better.  And, like many indie authors, I have to watch my pennies.  Literally.  I stack them up into little towers of shiny copper and...oh, sorry, got distracted there for a minute.  Back to what I was saying.

There are other providers out there that charge less than MailChimp.  I've looked at their plans, perused the websites, chatted with other authors who use those providers, even set up an account at one.  And while $15 or $20 a month may not be a fortune to some, the difference in cost between these service plans adds up, eating into an already meager marketing budget.

Which brings me back to my question.  At what point does the cost of paying an extra $15 a month to send my newsletter outweigh the time and effort it'll take me to learn how to create a new template, transfer my subscribers, change all of the 'sign up for my newsletter' links floating around (including in the back of my books, which I'll have to have updated), and learn how to analyze the data?

I guess the simple answer is, when I don't have the money to pay the difference.  Yeah, I get that.  But here's what it comes down to.  I like MailChimp.  I know how to use MailChimp.  I make pretty newsletters with MailChimp.  And I HATE learning how to use new products.  There!  I said it!! 

While I recognize that change is inevitable (the fact that I can no longer buy Bare Elegance body wash attests to that), I despise it.  I like what I like and I want to use what I like for the rest of my life.  I'm not a new-and-improved kind of gal.  (Do you hear me, Facebook?)  I'm the person who orders four pair of the same exact shoes so that when one pair wears out, I'll have a replacement.  Why not find a different pair of shoes, you ask?  Oh, the horror!!

So the thought of switching marketing providers in order to save some cash gives me cold sweats, especially when I'm perfectly satisfied with MailChimp.  Yeah, I know, I'm weird.  But I doubt I'm alone.  I think (hope) there are others like me out there somewhere who will gladly shell out a few extra bucks for the convenience of keeping the service they like.  What's that saying?  "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?"

I'm sure there's a tipping point, when the cost of service will be more than I can manage, but for right now I think I'll stay where I'm at and pay the difference.  I'll call it a 'cost of convenience' charge.  And hopefully, MailChimp won't get any bright ideas to change what already works because, honestly, I don't want an additional reason to leave them.

Now, back to my pennies...


Sunday, January 22, 2017

How many moments have you wasted?

Me?  I've wasted plenty.  Too many!  Moments spent wondering if this - this right here - is what I want to be doing with my life.

Granted, the 'this right here' has changed definition over the decades.  At one point, it was opening my own day care center.  Another, it was photography.  At the present moment, it's being an author.  But whatever I call it, it boils down to the same thing - not being satisfied with where I am in life.  More importantly, not being satisfied with WHO I am.

Ah...the gotcha moment.  Not being satisfied with who I am.  The only problem is, I'm the one who made this person that occupies my skin.  See my dilemma?

I've decided that I need to put an end to this behavior, this time-wasting, non-productive way of thinking...and living.  I need to appreciate who I am right now and stop worrying about if it's where I should be.  Because if I'm here - it's where I'm meant to be.  I'm meant to experience each moment, good and bad and in-between.  Maybe I'll be led to a new destination and maybe I won't.  But this single moment is all I have that's truly mine so I need to learn to embrace it.

Sheesh.  That last paragraph is full of stuff about what I 'need' to do.  Forget the 'need' part.  I'm doing this!!  I'm changing my mindset - right here, right now.  I'm living each moment for what it is.  Am I meant to be an author for the rest of my life?  No one knows the answer to that question.  Do I want to be an author for the rest of my life?  Maybe.  Yes.  I'm not sure.  Take your pick.  But I'm an author right now.  Might as well enjoy the ride.

I'm through procrastinating my life away.  I may not be the most happening writer out there.  I may not be a trendsetter but who cares?  I write what I like, what's in my soul, and that's enough for me.  Hopefully, it'll be enough for the millions of readers out there, too.  Cause I kinda like where I am at this moment and for the first time in my life, I don't want to think about who I might become.  It's time to love who I am.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Just say no...

The most destructive question we can ask is "How did she (or he) do it?"

"How did she become a USA Today bestselling author?"  "How is he selling 5000 copies of his book a day?"  "How did they become so successful?"

We need to stop asking these questions.  (And the dozens of others we repeat mantra-like on a daily basis.)  You know why?  It doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter how 'they' did it because they aren't us.  And to be quite frank, they might not know themselves.

Okay, for clarification purposes I'm not suggesting we stop asking questions altogether.  Learning from someone who's been down the same road we're traveling is a gift.  One we should never take lightly.  All of the education in the world doesn't hold a candle to real-life experience, in my opinion.  And listening to other authors' suggestions on the best way to get a Bookbub deal or which cover designers do the best work are worth their weight in gold (or whatever the standard is today).

However...

...we need to stop comparing ourselves to every other author out there.  Because what worked for them won't necessarily work for us.  While we all share a similar vision, the journey (and destination) for each of us will be ours alone.  And that's a good thing.  We're supposed to create our own experiences.  Be responsible for the victories - and mistakes - we make.  And we need to stop beating ourselves up when we discover we're not standing on the same square as that author who just (fill in the blank).

Wondering what we're doing wrong is counter-productive.  It eats at the very soul of who we are, creating doubts where none should exist and crippling our creativity.  And we're the only ones to blame.

I've used possessive pronouns throughout this post because I've spoken to several authors who indulge in this mindset but I'm also able to own these thoughts.  Hell, I might as well charge them rent for as much space as they take up in my head.  I need to stop being self-destructive.  I need to stop worrying about what and how other people do what they do to get where they are.  I need to make this journey my own.
  
Picture and quote courtesy of Kristine Raymond

So that's about it.  My two cents for the day.  It won't buy you much but maybe, just maybe, it'll help lighten your load.  I wish I could tell you to follow in my footsteps but our feet are different sizes.  You'll have to walk this route on your own.  But when you reach your destination, I'll be waiting with open arms, just as those who went before welcomed me. 

Just remember, instead of asking "How did she/he get there?" ask yourself "How do I get there?"  Carve your own path.  Create your own destiny.

See you at the top!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I have a new best friend...

Figuratively speaking, that is.  (Not to worry, Monica, you’re safe in all the ways that matter!)

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my post a few days ago about how I stumbled upon my lost digital voice recorder.  I love this piece of technology for so many reasons, the foremost being that it's handy.  I frequently have ideas pop into my brain without warning and it’s important for me to get them down before they’re lost forever.

You see, my stories are written one line at a time.  I know, I know, how else would I write them?  But entire plots have been formed around one single sentence; a sentence that usually comes to me at the most inopportune time. While driving, or at the doctor's office, or as I'm drifting off to sleep.  You know, those times when paper and pencil aren't handy and I'm miles away from my PC.  (Not literally in the case of sleeping but mentally).

And before you ask, yes, I do have a smartphone with all its fancy voice memo and notepad features.  But by the time I unlock the phone, find the app I need and activate it, I've either gotten a ticket for distracted driving or the thought has evaporated into the beyond.  (To be clear, I've never actually gotten a ticket for distracted driving but the possibility's there if I use my phone).

The cool thing about this recorder is that it's voice-activated.  So when that line which everyone and their brother will be quoting next month hits me, I can preserve it before it's replaced with "I need to pick up ten bags of kitty litter."  No fumbling to unlock anything or blinding myself (and the hubs) with the harsh light of the phone in the middle of the night.  Just a few whispered words and I'm back in dreamland, the beginnings of a new story waiting for me on the nightstand to be spun into gold the next day.

Yes, Diva and I are inseparable now.  Stop laughing.  It's a good name.  Derived from DVR (Digital Voice Recorder).  It sounds much sexier than Olympus (her brand).  I predict we have a long future ahead of us.

Now if only I could find some batteries.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!!

It's going to be a great one - I feel it in my bones.  Actually, what I feel is miserable and achy due to a cold front that's headed our way but that's beside the point.  I've vowed to do my upmost to make this an outstanding year.

Yeah, I know, I can't control life, not even my corner of it.  The only lives I control are those of the characters in my books.  And man, do I have some awesome plot twists in store for them!  But I also have plans for me - for my life.  Plans I can implement no matter what the universe throws at me.

You see, over the years I've learned something.  Well, I've learned lots of things but this particular lesson applies to this post.  I've learned to let go of the outcome.  That's the thing so many of us get hung up on.  I always have.  I thought that by following certain steps, plotting things out in just the right fashion, I had power over the end result.

(**giggle - choke - snort**  Excuse me for a moment while I wipe away my tears of laughter.)

It's been a hard, hard lesson to learn - even harder to accept - but I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE RESULTS OF MY ACTIONS.

There.  I put it in print so it must be true.  Actually, it is.  I have no say in how things are going to end up.  Basically because I'm not an island of one.  There are other people involved in my processes, whether directly or indirectly.  And illnesses, falling outs, relocations, new employment, bankruptcy, marriage, death, the stock market, gas prices, the rain in Spain, just plain indifference - all of these things affect my end game.  But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try my damndest to make whatever I've working on at that moment be exactly what I want it to be.  Because for all the times my objective is circumvented there will be many more times it's not.  And those are the moments when I shine.

So Happy New Year to all of you.  I hope 2017 brings you everything you wish for and more importantly, everything you work for.

Now where did I put my to-do list?