Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Cookin'?

If there's anything I enjoy more than writing, it's cooking.

I love to read cookbooks and I love perusing recipes online. I used to subscribe to three different cooking magazines until I realized that I didn't have time to read them all, much less make all the recipes (plus, how many recipes for lasagna does one need??)

I like to be adventurous in the kitchen, which is why I'll read a recipe and sometimes begin to imagine it with different ingredients. I like to put my own spin on things by substituting favorites. Shrimp instead of scallops, spinach instead of kale, maybe a squeeze of lemon, green chile makes everything better... and it can be hit or miss. Either my husband and son will demand it be made again and again or it will be retired on the grounds that sometimes even unconditional love has some limits.

In a way, that pretty much describes my writing habits. I feed my writing and story-creating by reading a lot of books. This explains why my house has hundreds of books in it, many which have been read over and over. And this is why the flavor of what I love to read permeates my own writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. My beta-readers definitely let me know if it's not tasting good. And thankfully my readers have been telling me that they like what they're getting!

It's good to have a creative outlet that feeds the body and the soul. Cooking and writing do both for me. Both are a labor of love. And once the cleanup is done--dishes and editing--it's always fun to start again!
Migas and beans... comfort food at it's best! You'll find my recipe and many others in the Oak Tree Press authors cookbook:
https://www.amazon.com/Recipes-Book-Tree-Authors-Cook/dp/1610092554/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484523073&sr=1-1&keywords=recipes+by+the+book+oak+tree+authors+cook

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Afternoon at a Book Talk

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at the Capitan Public Library in Capitan, New Mexico. The audience consisted of the library book club and writers' group. It was one of the largest groups I've ever addressed and one of the most fun!

It makes a difference when one is addressing a group of writers. For one thing, I didn't have to worry about sounding crazy or foolish when I talked about the problems a writer encounters--writer's block, editing woes, insecurity about showing our work. It was refreshing to be able to mention, say, the panic that ensues when one is in the shower or at work (work that doesn't require a desk and writing utensils) and a fabulous bit of dialogue pops into your mind or that tricky plot twist suddenly becomes untangled and you need a pen and piece of paper to get it down immediately... and everyone smiles and nods. They know. They've experienced it.

It always intimidates me a little when I do speak to a group of writers. As a published author, they expect me to know all the ins and outs of writing and publishing. It's humbling to admit that I don't have all the answers. The only true answer I can give when they ask, "How did you get a publishing contract?" is, "I got lucky."

That's not to dismiss or downplay the amount of hard work I put into learning to master the craft of writing, coming up with the ideas, writing and re-writing the books, and the number of rejections I received. If being able to get published by a traditional publisher were a sure thing simply because one put in the hours and the work, self-publishing would not have gained such a huge acceptance. Sometimes the answer lies in simple luck. There are probably hundreds of writers out there with more talent and better ideas and even stronger work ethics than I have. Why I am published and they are not is a great mystery to me.

But then, to me, it's always about the writing. I would write even without a contract--indeed, that's what I did for over twenty years. Being a published author, seeing my stories in print, was always a huge dream, but the reality of being able to put words down and make my characters come alive was something I could accomplish without a publisher. I certainly didn't (and don't) do it for the money; there's a reason I have a full-time job decorating cakes. Success, for me, is measured by the satisfaction of doing what I love and finding a readership, however small, is a greater success for me than making the New York Times bestseller list.

Being published is the icing on the cake, but I'm glad I learned to like cake without icing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hello, 2017!

Okay, okay, I admit it... I've been lazy the last few weeks. 2016 did not exactly boost my enthusiasm (at least, the last three months didn't) for anything, but I have resolved (yes, there's that word) to approach the next twelve months with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm and even, dare I say, joy!

Everyone experiences loss in every year. Some are huge, like the loss of a friend or family member. Other losses, while perhaps not as devastating are, nevertheless, energy-draining. Having a long-term goal seem to get, not easier with the passage of time but harder, can sink one into a funk that is equable to being mired in quicksand.

My career as an author (quick note: one does not have to become a millionaire, nor even make any money, to consider work a career) has slowed down. In fact, it seems to be stalling, but even if I have to get out and push, I resolve to make it go forward. My fifth book did not come out as planned in 2016, for reasons beyond anyone's control, and I firmly believe that there was a reason for that. Though I finished out the year less than bubbling over with enthusiasm, I look forward to having the book ("A Summer to Remember") out in the next couple of months and to making a sizable dent in the manuscript for the next book. And whatever happens, I will continue to write.

I am already starting out the new year with an event--a book talk at the Capitan Public Library on Sunday, January 8 at 3:00 p.m. I look forward to meeting new readers and perhaps some new writers as well.

And those of you who have stuck with me through the last year, take heart! You're what keeps me going when it seems like my words are forever being lost on my laptop screen. I may give my characters life, but you give them a purpose.

So onward we go! Happy New Year!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Enjoying the Season

Christmas is coming upon us faster than we expect. Or maybe faster than I, personally, have expected. It seems to me that as I get older, time moves faster. Or maybe I'm just less organized?

Let's go with time moving faster.

Perhaps it's this time of the year, with so many things competing for our attention, that we feel a compulsion to not miss a thing. Time is too short, we think, so we try to cram as much into every moment that we can. The result is that we tend to overbook ourselves and spread ourselves very thinly, trying to be everything to everyone, everywhere.

 As the years have gone by, I've forced myself to stop and take a good hard look at what is really making demands on our time. As we get older, we accumulate more friends, more family, more obligations. We long for a fairy-tale holiday we THINK we celebrated as children, forgetting that we never saw how harried and stressed out our parents and the other people who put those celebrations together really were.

The truth is that stress and a desire to please everyone is what sucks the joy out of the holidays. The urge to make everything "perfect" takes the fun and spontaneity out of the simplest things. And the more obligations we take on, the more pressure we put on ourselves to celebrate the season in full-blown gaiety and excitement.

Doing more things faster isn't the way to celebrate. Peace and joy are the hallmarks of the season. Let's give ourselves a break and take the time to enjoy what we can and savor the moments that creep up on us when we least expect it. Those are the moments that make memories.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sometimes, It *IS* All About YOU

Sometimes I think a lot more people would be happy if they would focus on themselves.

Didn't see that coming, did you?

I know it sounds selfish, but one thing I've observed is that people who are generally unhappy, perennially grouchy, and downright unpleasant to be around are the people who are always watching what other people are doing--or not doing--and how wrong they are doing it. It's no surprise that they are usually blind to the things they, themselves, do wrong or else have a perfectly justifiable reason for what they do or don't do.

A lot of struggling writers fall into this category and I'm not blameless. It can be depressing to see the numbers on amazon when one compares a magnum opus that took a whole year or longer to write, edit, and publish with a traditional publisher with that of a writer who cranks out a new book every two to three months by simply using the search and replace function on their word processing program and changing the title before self-publishing their latest creation. I've succumbed to reading a few that are offered for free and know whereof I speak.

It's not even the money that creates the rumblings of the green-eyed monster (as evidenced by the fact that many of these books are offered for free), but the effusive glowing reviews which number into the triple digits. Where do they find their readers (oh, right... free books) and, more importantly, how do they get them to write reviews?

This is what I've discovered and what's more, it works for every facet of my life, not just the writing part of it.

The answer is this: forget about what "they" do. "They" are not living your life, paying your bills, writing your story. What you are letting "them" do is take your focus off YOUR life and YOUR goals. You are wasting energy, time, and passion worrying about "them" instead of investing your energy, time, and passion in living your life, paying your bills, and writing your story. Learn what you can from them, but then focus on what YOU can do to reach your goals. Realize that not everyone works like you do or wants what you want. Define your own goals; don't let others' successes tell you what you really want. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice one thing to have another, sometimes you may have to take into consideration what is realistic. And sometimes you have to ask yourself if what you're striving for is what is really going to make you happy.

Sometimes, all it takes to be happy is to take the focus off what everyone else is doing and focus on what you are doing.

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Interview with Author John M. Wills about His Latest Novel, "The Storm"

Since I'm still working on NaNoWriMo (supposedly!), I'm turning the Back Deck Blog over to friend and fellow OTP author, John M. Wills, as he tells us about his latest novel, "The Storm"!

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Hi, Amy. I’m pleased you’re hosting me so I can let your readers know about my latest novel, The Storm. First, however, a bit about myself. I’ve been writing professionally since 2004. My credits include more than 150 published articles regarding police officer training and safety; 10 books, both fiction and non-fiction; various poems and short stories; and one technical manual. I also write video scripts for The William McLain Foundation in Atlanta that honors first responders killed in the line of duty. I’m an avid reader and I write book reviews for the New York Journal of Books. I’m also a member of the National Book Critics Circle.


Now a bit about my latest novel, The Storm. Anna’s life in the small town of Heavenly Harbor, Michigan, seems idyllic. Married ten years to her childhood sweetheart, Mark, she wants for nothing, except a baby. Unfortunately, her husband doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Anna has been secretly keeping a journal. She’s recorded her suspicions about Mark’s reluctance to share her dream and his possible infidelity. As she is about to confront him, lightning strikes, literally, causing her to lose her memory. The Storm will not only damage Anna physically, but possibly destroy her marriage as well—and Mark’s secret life is about to implode.

Why write such a story? Well, I was inspired to write this book simply because I’ve had people in my life who’ve suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve witnessed the steady progression, sometimes developing slowly, other time coming on quickly. Either way, the destruction the malady causes is beyond description. After a while, the victim hardly realizes what is happening. Sadly, however, those close to the patients suffer immeasurably. Their once vibrant loved one disappears before their eyes. In the final stages, it’s not unusual for the victim to be unable to recognize family and friends.
So while I was pondering a story involving memory loss, I thought it would be interesting if it centered around a young person. And rather than Alzheimer’s, I thought an injury-induced case of amnesia would make for a compelling story. Thus, the making of Anna’s story began.

The tale required research with respect to injuries resulting from lightning strikes—how they affect the physical and mental well-being. In addition, I wanted the protagonist to be likeable, believable, and strong. Anna is that person, and her tenacity after her injury makes her character even more powerful. The injury transforms Anna’s character, once a one-dimensional teacher and wife, into a strong determined, complex woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

Of course, what would a story be without at least one antagonist that readers dislike right from the very beginning? We have such a character in Vicky, a personal trainer at the local health club. Her chicanery and outright lack of morals wreaks havoc upon Anna’s marriage. Add to the mix a shady private investigator, a couple of fantastic cops, and the recipe for a great novel is complete and ready to serve.

Early reviews have been outstanding and I look for more to be posted. Now excuse me as I need to start the wheels turning and come up with an idea for my next book.


Thanks, Amy, for allowing me to introduce my newest novel—The Storm.




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Monday, November 14, 2016

Links

This post was originally written December 17, 2013. Since I'm still trying to work on my NaNoWriMo word count, I'm rerunning it today. Check out my blog next week when fellow Oak Tree Press author, John M. Wills, will be joining me on the Back Deck to talk about his latest book, "The Storm"!

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Most people believe that writing is a completely solitary endeavor.  They picture a writer in a lonely garret, with an oil lamp for companionship, and their lofty thoughts being turned into words by their quill pens on parchment in peaceful silence.

Not even close.

As the years have gone by, I realize that what makes us writers is the way we see the world around us... and that includes the people that inhabit it.  There's only so much you can learn, however, from just sitting on a park bench (or mall bench) and watching people go by... or the less-socially-acceptable eavesdropping on people in restaurants.  That is where having a "real" job comes in handy.  The normally reclusive writer is "forced" to interact with people which, under usual circumstances, the writer wouldn't associate with.

Lest anyone think I'm being insulting, let me elaborate.  Most of the people we meet at work would probably never answer a personal ad to be our friends. They are people who are very different from the people with whom we would choose to associate--different interests, different lifestyles, different ways of thinking.  Even different age groups.  Come on... how many 40+ year olds would normally "hang out" with 20-somethings (that aren't their children?)  And vice versa?

Co-workers add so much to our lives.  Some good, some bad.  To a writer, this helps enormously in creating compelling and believable characters.  Not only can you actually learn how different people act, speak, and think, you also gain the valuable insight on how you--and others--react to their actions, words, and thoughts.  Sometimes you may disagree, in principle, with your co-workers but because you have been interacting with them on a regular basis and know their kids' or siblings' names, their favorite foods and TV shows, the problems they have with their in-laws or best friends, you are able to look beyond their views to the person voicing them and the story behind what makes them view things that way.



These people are our links to the world outside of ourselves and the world we create on paper.  A world inhabited only by people just like ourselves, or worse, a world populated with the people we THINK are out there, is flat and colorless.  When we know who those "other" people really are, our stories become richer... and so do we.  We shouldn't be afraid to get to know people who, at first glance, are not "compatible" with us.  We all feel hurt, pain, betrayal, hope, joy, exultation, contentment, insecurity, satisfaction, and love.  Examining how other people experience those emotions helps us grow as writers and as people.

I am grateful for the co-workers who have touched my life, become friends, become a part of me.  No, I'm not using you for characters, but I am using you to make the characters I create real, characters that I and, hopefully, readers care about. 

Thank you.