A Quiet Thank You

This is just a brief post to say thank you to everyone who has clicked on one of my “Finding Mister Wright” PDF story links over the last two-and-a-half years, since I started writing them. The characters who live in those stories – Marshall, Daniel, Rob, Paige, and more – have been a source of such bright light and love for my writer self, and it has given me such great joy when one of you has taken a chance on them (and me) and read one of their many tales of family, life, and love (22 and counting!). That said, I decided to take down the links for all of the stories, save the latest one, though that one will probably come down in a month or so, as well. I didn’t remove them because I’m ashamed of them – or of myself – but because I am planning to put them together into a series of short story collections that I will be able to go to on my shelf whenever I’m feeling lost, lonely, or in need of a little pick-me-up.

I’m certain I’ll talk more about that here when it happens, but in the meantime, thanks again to everyone who’s offered their support over the years with likes and especially comments. Many days, even just those little notes have kept me going.❤

I dared to write. Will you?

Chateau des Alpilles - panoramio

I have a handful of writer friends I’ve been lucky enough to find through the wonders of blogging. One of them is writer/editor Kate Johnston, whom you may also know as 4amwriter on Twitter. Kate recently sent out a challenge: dare to write something new this summer. On her own blog – https://4amwriter.com/ – she offers eager participants looking for summertime motivation to send her a poem, short story, or even part of your novel-in-progress, for reading and general feedback! You also have a chance to win one of these fabulous prizes: a free copy of her e-book (Amazon.com buy link here, if you can’t wait), or an in-depth critique of your work!

Personal plug-time: Kate has given me critique on my own work, and I can attest that the insight and compassion in her feedback helped draw out a better writer in me – and it can do the same for you! So, if you need motivation to get that chapter or story down on paper this summer, this is it. Head over to Kate’s blog for more info! While you’re there, don’t forget to check out her e-books, with strategies and stories for writers of all permutations.

Kate’s “Dare to Write” challenge was just what I needed. I’d been struggling through slow rewrites of my science fiction team adventure story, and my writer’s heart was failing for the lack of progress. When the “Dare to Write” post notification popped up in my inbox, I headed over there right away. Partly because I have always enjoyed writing challenges, especially when I’m in a rut, but also because when a writer and coach like Kate says we should dare to do something, it is always worth the risk. This effort proved to be no different.

It took a few weeks to get down on paper all of the pieces and scenes for this latest “Finding Mister Wright” pre-fic, but I finally put together the short story of how being a parent can throw a romantic evening off-course…but also how that new course can lead to a far better destination. It’s a story I’ve had in my head for many moons, now, and it brought me a lot of joy to get it out of my head and into a form more tangible.

This particular story clocks in at just over 6000 words, so I will give folks here the same warning I gave Kate when I sent it in for the “Dare to Write” challenge: the story is not short, so I understand if length is a deterrent. It also features a minor sex scene between two consenting adults of the same gender, so if that makes you uncomfortable, no hard feelings if you don’t click on the link. I will say that the sex is not so important as what’s happening around it. It may sound strange, but these are as close to real people as I can make them, with personal concerns and hangups as well as desires. I’ve also been trying to temper my sex scenes – especially between these two characters – to lean more toward the PG/PG-13 side than some of the explicitly graphic stuff I’ve written in the past. Being my own judge, I can’t say whether the effort is successful or not, but it certainly has been interesting to swing the pendulum the other way. If you’re interested in checking out this story, you can click the link below:

“Sleepover, or, A Taste of Happiness” [PDF will open in a new tab]
~6000 words / 19 pages DS

Summer is a busy time for many of us, but I hope that you are trying new things and exploring new worlds in your imagination. I also hope that you’ll make time to hop on over to 4amwriter.com to join in on the “Dare to Write” summer writing challenge!

What are your writing goals for this summer? Have you dared to write something new? Or, work more on something older? Let me know in the comments – it all counts!

Image attribution: Thomas Julin [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Special: Blog Cover Reveal for Kourtney Heintz’s *Highway Thirteen to Manhattan*

Today’s is a special update, wherein I join a host of other bloggers for the cover reveal of author friend Kourtney Heintz‘s newest novel, Highway Thirteen to Manhattan! Without further ado, here it is!

Highway-Thirteen-to-Manhattan-4-mod1-Amazon

I asked Kourtney how she works with her cover artists, and here’s what she had to say:

The cover artist is Creative Paramita (http://www.creativeparamita.com). I worked with her when Beckett Publishing Group published The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts.

Once I find great people to work with, I do my best to stick with them. I was lucky that she works with both publishers and indie authors.

The process begins with me filling out a questionnaire about the book. I tell her the back cover summary and what I feel are the really important details of the characters on the cover. I also explain all the things I want to see in the initial mock up.

She then delivers 2-3 unique designs to me. I consult with my crit partner, editor, and street team about what works and what doesn’t. It’s amazing what all those extra sets of eyes can catch. Then I pick the one that I like best and the cover designer does several rounds of revisions until I’m satisfied with the cover.

With this cover, I had a very specific concept in mind, but very few people liked how it turned out. The one I picked was something the designer came up with completely on her own. It was quite a surprise. But there was an overwhelmingly positive response to that cover. We only did a couple rounds of revisions. This is probably the easiest cover design ever.

Is your curiosity piqued, yet? There’s more! Kourtney was also nice enough to provide the back cover summary from Highway Thirteen to Manhattan…

His secrets almost killed her. Her secrets may destroy them both.

Kai is recovering from a near-death experience when she realizes something isn’t right. Her body is healing, but her mind no longer feels quite like her own. Her telepathic powers are changing, too. She can’t trust herself. The darkness growing inside of her pushes her to use her telepathy as a weapon.

Oliver clings to the hope that he can save their marriage, even though he was the one who put her life in jeopardy. As his wife slips further and further away from him, he becomes increasingly obsessed with bringing the man who ruined his life to justice.

The sequel to The Six Train to Wisconsin is a genre-defying tale of love and consequences. Once again, award-winning author Kourtney Heintz seamlessly weaves suspense and paranormal intrigue into a real-world setting, creating characters rich in emotional and psychological complexity.

Release Date in ebook and paperback format: November 1, 2016
ARC available on NetGalley: July 15, 2016

Head on over to Kourtney’s blog, or go straight to her Writings page to get caught up on the story of Kai and Oliver with The Six Train to Wisconsin before Highway Thirteen to Manhattan hits the virtual and physical shelves!

That Delicate Scale

Feet on scale

No, not that kind of scale.

scales-backround-rainbow-colors

Not that kind of scale, either.

Scale (PSF)

That’s more like it. Scales as in balance, or, more precisely, the balancing act we all have to find our way to master, to keep ourselves alive and well.

Now, I’m a firm believer in discipline. Back in 2004, I decided I’d had enough of hating my body every time I saw it in the mirror. So, while I was at a work conference and sitting around my hotel room, I made up my mind to start an exercise regime. Just sit-ups and crunches to start, but over time and with research, it grew to include push-ups, weights, squats, leg lifts, and more. Now, I do a variation of my exercise routine every single day, and have done for the last 12 years. I got in the habit of doing it every morning, and it became part of my efforts to balance life, work, health, and happiness.

In 2005, when I was in Japan, I vowed to stay away from my work email. Mostly because I couldn’t be bothered with it, but also because it felt so freeing to be un-tethered from the demands of my job. The freedom and relief I felt from relinquishing that control over work that was thousands of miles away helped me enjoy that vacation so much more. Since then, I’ve made consistent efforts to stay away from work – which mostly means my work email – when I’m on vacation and after-hours. (When I go away, I actually remove the app from my smartphone, so I’m not tempted to check it when I log in.) This is part of my life balance, too, that keeps my mental state healthy.

What feels like many years ago, now, probably around 2005’s NaNoWriMo, I decided to focus a part of my energies more acutely on my writing. Because writing has always brought me joy, and that joy is something I need in my life; it has helped me on more than one occasion to confront, accept, and move past the hardships I’ve had to face. I write every day, mostly on my commute to and from work, because train rides are good for that. But also in the mornings, after I’ve done my exercises and I’m waiting for my tea to steep, when I have a free lunch break, and sometimes when the rest of the family is playing games or watching TV after supper. This is a third part of my life balance, the part that looks after my soul.

Of course, there are other facets to my balancing act: family, work, play, chores, the elusive goal of “mindfulness” and spirituality. They all fall into the daily routine, as well. Because they are responsibilities, though – if we don’t wake up on time, we won’t make it to school; if we don’t wash those dishes, they’ll pile up; if we don’t go grocery shopping, we’ll have to scrounge – they seem to fall more naturally into place on the balance beam. It’s the personal bits that I’ve had to concentrate on, the beats and rests I’ve had to hold myself to with my own willpower, that take conscious effort and dedication. Because the consequences to not incorporating those parts to the balancing act affect me more than anyone else: they’re about my health, my mental state, my joy. Yes, those aspects will affect the people around me over time, especially my family and my closest work colleagues. But what makes me ME is something only I can control, and only I can change. I chose this balance. What about you?

Greater Than the Mundane

Several weeks ago, we took the family up to visit my mom, to help her clear out the old house. As we were throwing away my father’s seemingly lifelong accumulation of magazines (among which we did find some vintage Playboys which, sadly, were not as groovy as we’d hoped upon flipping through them), I started to ruminate on how many stories were in those old National Geographics, Air and Spaces, and even the Playboys, and how many unknown moments had been spent reading them. And here we were, just throwing them into a dumpster like so much trash. So it was during a rest break that I asked my husband:

“Do you think it’s foolish of me to keep things like my stories, when I’m the only one who cherishes them? I mean, nobody’s going to care about them when I’m dead.”

He replied, “Well, since you’ll be dead, you won’t care, either.” That didn’t help my mood any, until he added, “But, they bring you joy here, now, while you work on them and when they’re finished. And, everybody needs that joy in their lives. That’s what art is for: to make people feel things. Even if you’re the only person your work affects, they still give you something greater than the mundane in your life.” He patted my knee and smiled, and pushed himself up again as he added something else: “Besides, most artists don’t get recognized until after they’re dead, so, if that happens, at least you’re in good company.”

“Thanks,” I said, half-snarling at him. But, he was right, in articulating a perspective I’ve often had of my own work: that I need to love my stories. Because nobody else will, but, more than that, because those stories are a source of such great joy for me. Without them, even with so many blessings I already have, my life wouldn’t feel half so full of beauty.

Binder

Pictured above is a 2″ binder holding my printed collection of “Finding Mister Wright” short stories, 21 in all. Each red sheet indicates where a new story starts; my (fuzzy) thumb is added here for size reference. Now, my favorite authors of late have been crime novelists Craig Johnson, Henning Mankell, and not at all least or last, the gifted Ross Macdonald (whose graceful and insightful flair for repeatable descriptions I’ve tried and failed on more than one occasion to emulate in my own fiction), because I believe wholeheartedly in reading other – better – authors not only to enjoy a ripping story but also to make me a better writer in return. But, there are days when I like to go back and read the stories I’ve made, too. To see how far I’ve come, and to remember what conflicts and passions pushed me to write each one, yes…but also because I just plain love those characters. I love finding their stories with them; I love giving them lives that are beautiful and sad and worth every fighting moment. It’s exciting and fulfilling to look at those stories and know I made these. They may have started in my head as floating words, phrases, and ideas, but I made them stories. Nobody could have done that for those characters except me.

Someday, when I’m dead, someone will just throw my stories into a dumpster. I won’t care then. But for today, these stories give me joy. They make me feel greater than the mundane. And shouldn’t that make them worth it?

We all have stories we’ve read that we love. What are the stories you’ve written that you love?