Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of PBW 2016

On the last day of every year my tradition is to sort through the archives to see how things went, what I accomplished (or didn't) and get some ideas on ways in which to improve things with PBW and my writing life.

A lot happened with me professionally in 2016. I successfully negotiated my first publishing contract without an agent, and my work will now be published in French, also a debut for me. I went on my first writing job interview in person since 1989 (which I think is also the last time I put on pantyhose.) I booked ghost writing projects with my clients that will keep me busy writing fiction until Fall of 2017, and probably beyond that. As for the interview, I got the job -- I'm now working as a staff copywriter for a design firm -- and I will be part of a very talented team creating a new quarterly print magazine.

Losing 30 lbs. took almost the entire year, but I did it with sensible, healthy changes to my diet and exercise routine. It was slow and tough, but I hope to keep at it so I can lose the last 20 lbs. I need to shed in order to be at a healthy weight. I also successfully pulled off my secret art project for 2016 with Valerean, my anonymous Tumblr blog, which provided a lovely, private creative outlet. Participating in Library Thing's Early Reviewers Program brought eight free ARCs to my doorstep, saving me $149.27 on my 2016 book budget.

Personally I think I failed as much as I succeeded this past year. I put off trying to figure out indy publishing in 2015, and I haven't gotten back to that (and with my clients and the new job, I probably won't have a lot of time this year to dabble in it.) I let the pinheads annoy me so much I had to unplug from the internet and retreat to the ivory tower for a couple months to cool down. After more than a decade of blogging daily, and writing free fiction for my readers weekly for the last couple years, I had to curtail my posting to twice a week and back-burner the latest free story. I didn't have time to participate in NaNoWriMo last month. I didn't support my writer pals as much as I would have liked to.

In the big-picture sense, 2016 wasn't all sunshine and roses for most of us. I'm not going to get into why (that would attract more pinheads) but I'm sorry that the dark and evil prevailed so often.

Since I've taken off so much time from the blog in 2016 I'm going to skip the usual best-of links list. I'm also not heading into 2017 with a theme or resolutions or a huge list of goals. We live in dangerous times, and it's easy to see the new wave of dark and evil looming on every horizon. I'm simply going to focus instead on my family and friends, the work, and being part of the light -- however I can.

How was 2016 for you? Any plans for 2017? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 30, 2016

By Way of Santa

These are the first books I'll be reading in January, thanks to my Library Thing Secret Santa. Some amusing, old writer chick trivia: I haven't read MaryJanice Davidson, but I remember her from the heyday of chicklit back when I started PBW. David Weber I've also skipped, but he and I once both wrote in the same universe, and our stories were published together in Baen's The Ring of Fire anthology.

As for the other two, they're also titles I've never read. I didn't know there was a memoir that inspired the film Awakenings, which is one of my favorite Robin Williams movies. Bonk is a scientific look at sex, which should be fun.

Did Santa drop any new books in your stocking? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Little Reveal

Since I probably won't have time to do any more with it this year, I thought I'd finally share my secret art project for 2016: Valerean, aka my Tumblr art blog.

I started it on a whim, really. I still miss PBWindow, and I wanted to have a space where I could post photos that I took and show what I made during 2016. I also didn't want to be the author me while I was doing it, or do it every day, or feel any pressure.

Of course I had absolutely no idea how to use Tumblr when I first started, and I'm still pretty clueless, so it's very basic. That said, it was fun to be Valerean for twelve months and share my art with people who didn't know me. I could post pictures of my family and no one batted an eyelash. I found some super inspirational photographers and quilters on Tumblr as well, and followed their blogs so I could watch their projects evolve. Everyone was very kind to me, too (which is why being anonymous has its privileges.)

I have removed some posts that had personal/family stuff involved, but the rest show how creative I've been this past year. If you want to see thumbnails of everything I've posted for the last twelve months, the archive is here.

I don't know if I'll continue posting to it now that I've made it public, but it was definitely a neat project.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Wishing You

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last-Minute Gifts to Make

Ten Things that Make Easy Last-Minute Gifts

Books: For the reader on your list, pick up some of your favorite titles from your local used book store, or find some new reads at your public library's book sale room. Stack, wrap or tie with a ribbon, or place in a reusable tote.

Cookie Exchange: This requires some cooperation from your recipient. Agree to exchange as gifts a batch of your favorite cookies. Once you've made them, pack them in a pretty tin or container (the Dollar Store has great holiday tins), add a bow or tie with a ribbon. Be sure to share your recipe on a note card. This idea is also great as a theme for a Christmas party with friends; everyone brings a batch (my friend Jill holds her cookie exchange every year at Starbucks) and you draw names from a hat for the exchange.

Devoted Day: This is a gift of your time -- make up a coupon for you to spend any day with your recipient doing [fill in the blank]. If you need ideas, you can offer to house clean, babysit, go shopping, hiking, visit a local attraction or just hang out and watch TV. Lovers, you can get even more creative and offer a night. :) Place your coupon in a nice card or clip it to a 2017 calendar.

Dollar Challenge: This is great to do with kids -- you agree to buy each other a gift that costs only $1.00, and go shopping together (and you'll need to shop either at a dollar or thrift store, but that's also fun.) One year my daughter found a little pocket manicure set for me that I still have in my purse.

Flowers: This makes a nice gift when you're visiting someone. Find a pretty bouquet of flowers at your local market (mine have them for under $10.00) and put them in a plain glass vase from Dollar Store. If you want a more ornate vase, check your local Goodwill store. Tie a red, green or white ribbon around the vase, or add some pine needle sprigs or a wrapped candy cane to the arrangement to make it extra festive.

Framed Shot: If you've taken a nice photo of your recipient or someone dear to them during the year, print it out in a 5X7 or 8X10 size and place it in a purchased frame. The Dollar Store has basic frames, but if you want something more elaborate try Hobby Lobby or Target.

Instant Music Collection: Bundle together some CDs you record or purchase that you think your recipient will enjoy. One fun variation is to make some mixes for them to play in the car. My mom did this for me one year with Christmas music.

Snack Bowl: Find a pretty serving bowl at Goodwill or the Dollar Store. Add some bags of microwave popcorn, fresh fruit, hot cocoa mix envelopes, small bags of chips or pretzels, cereal snack mix, etc., wrap with cellophane and crown with a bow. You can tailor this to your recipient, too; I do an exotic tea-and-cookies snack bowl for one of my friends every year (World Market is a great place to find unusual teas and snacks, too.) If you want to make a special but easy snack for the bowl, you can find my no-brainer fudge recipe here.

Stuffed Stocking: For that impossible-to-buy-for person on your list, make or buy a stocking and fill it with something they love. The obvious choice is snacks, but you can also stuff it with small toiletries, crumpled dollar bills (college students love that one), two or three scarves, writer stuff, hand lotion and lip balms, kitchen tools or towels, the ingredients for a recipe, etc. This is also a fun gift to make with small toys or treats for the family pet.

Yarn Basket: For the knitter or crocheter in your life, fill a tote or pretty basket with a project pattern and enough yarn skeins to make it. Be sure you know your recipient's skill level and color preferences before you buy the supplies. You can do a fabric and sewing pattern variation of this for your favorite seamstress.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Working the Holidays

In the past I sometimes tried to take off work for the month of December to enjoy the holidays and recharge my batteries, and Publishing generally cooperated because they shut down almost entirely, too. Since going freelance, however, I've chosen to work seven days a week. I do take time for family dinners and events (and I actually gave myself Thanksgiving Day off this year) but other than that I am writing for at least eight hours every single day of the year.

It's no big deal for me; I'm doing what I love for terrific clients who appreciate me and pay me very well for my efforts. That income covers my kid's college tuition, my bills and keeps the pantry stocked. My guy may have to retire next year, so what I can save also will help when we transition to living on his fixed income. It will be another decade or so before I can retire, so I'm determined to make the most of the income-earning years I have left. If that means working through the holidays, I'm on board.

Family and friends with day jobs and/or who aren't writers -- which, let's face it, is practically everyone in a writer's life -- do not always understand a writer's working holiday. We hear things like, "Oh, you can type that up later" or "Shouldn't you take a break?" or even "Can't you get that done already so we can have a good time?" They seem oblivious to the fact that through the rest of the year we face the same harassment from all directions. During the holidays it's also easy to feel resentful because the day jobbers usually do have weekends and Christmas Day to party while we're stuck in our writing space trying to get things done.

Let's remind ourselves of the universal truths about writing:

1. No one but another writer will ever grasp what you do for your job. So why justify it to people who never will?

2. Writers have a long-standing rep as solitary, long-suffering, socially awkward and badly-dressed hermits. I know, you're thinking, "And why is that a problem?" but the nice people who aren't us don't get it.

3. They will never know what goes into the work, and if they did, they might lock us up.

Seriously, you can navigate the rough waves of a writer's working holiday by using your common sense. Unless you're under a crushing deadline, set aside some time for your friends and family. If you can't, make a date to see them after you slay your deadline (for this you will have to apologize, but it's better than a no.)

Send some cards and/or make a phone call. The reason these people bother you so much is because they care about you. Or they want a gift. Anyway, a cheerful card or a quick fifteen-minute conversation may get you off the hook.

Do group things so you can see as many loved ones as possible in one shot. A family holiday party isn't that difficult to throw together -- have everyone bring a dish and make it pot luck; that's always fun -- and you can check off a bunch of names from your to-see list.

Ask for time off from the family fun as a personal favor for you. I have no problem at all saying to my guy "You can handle dinner for the next three days, okay?" or "I'm going to work at the library today; please walk the dogs for me" any time during the year. This week he's been especially wonderful in helping me out around the house and running errands so I can finish a deadline project today.

Finally, put in the time for family and friends when you need to. It's easy to forget the people you care about when you're buried in the work, but it doesn't hurt to make an effort for them, too. For example: I was going to put up another off-to-write post and unplug today, but I haven't been around much. So here you go, fifteen minutes of me. Now I really am off to write.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Off To Write

I'm finishing up another project for a client, so I'll see you all on Monday.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I Thank You No Ten

Since the holidays are upon us, I thought it might be time for my annual list of:

Ten Things I Do Not Want for Christmas

Assembly Required Objects: I no longer have the ambition, patience or motor skills to fit together nine hundred pieces of chipboard with a thousand little screws that require a special tool that inevitably is missing from the package. Even if it means I can't have a Darth Vader-shaped bookcase (and why would you think I'd want that? Batman is my guy.)

Books That Are Not Books: This includes but is not limited to book safes, book boxes, book-shaped book ends, shelves, stands for other books -- look, I know I love books, but the reading kind, people.

Diet Products: I don't use them. I lost thirty pounds because I became more active, watched my portions and stopped snacking. That's it and that's all I'm doing next year. Heartless of me, I know.

Faux Fur Purses: You don't think they're creepy?

Hairdo Tools: I do not crimp, straighten, curl or blow dry my hair. I wash it and towel/air dry it. If this makes me a cave woman, so be it. I still have more hair than most women my age, so I must be doing something right.

One-Cup Coffee Makers: Sorry, tea drinker. Also, I think they're too expensive, the cup things are weird and (unless you're single or the only coffee drinker in the house) using them is a bit selfish.

Political Junk: Please take your soapbox out of my face and my holiday, thank you.

Satin PJs: If I have to explain this to you, you're too young to know why.

Singing Ornaments: I have about ten million ornaments already, but with my hearing problems when they activate while I'm alone I think someone is in the house with me. I then run out of the house, peer in the windows, debate on calling 911 and generally behave like an idiot. Save me from myself and my lousy eardrums, will you?

What don't you want for Christmas? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 09, 2016

PBW's Book of the Month

My book of the month for November is Shadowlands and Songs of Light by Kevin Ott. When the author lost his mom suddenly in 2010 he suffered from depression, and this book is about his spiritual quest to heal and find his way out of despair. That he does that with the novels of C.S. Lewis and the music of U2 is what makes it so wonderful.

This is a Christian inspirational work, but don't expect anything stuffy, bland or patronizing. Kevin offers a fresh perspective on healing and faith, as well as an authenticity that is undeniable. Every page makes you feel as if you're having a conversation with the author. It's also such a thoughtful and joyous book that you come away feeling as if you've found a friend. In times of grief there is no better place to turn than to someone who has found the light through loss, and this author is a spiritual lighthouse.

I should also explain why I'm mentioned in the acknowledgments. Kevin and I have been sharing a journal since August of last year. We send it back and forth as we discuss writing, our lives, troubles, hopes and dreams in the pages. I had nothing to do with this book, but the fact that I've been able to share some of the author's journey as a writer has been a wonderful privilege. So was reading his debut work -- I only wish I'd had it when Dad passed away. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially readers who are dealing with grief.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Off to Write

I'm unplugging to finish up a project for a client. See you on Friday.

Friday, December 02, 2016

This and That

Sorry I'm a bit late posting today. I would like to congratulate everyone who participated in National Novel Writing Month; whether you made the 50K goal or not, you are all winners in my book. My advice is to now step away from your manuscript, take what I'm sure is a well-earned break, and enjoy the holidays (if you're inclined to work on your novel a bit more this month, that's fine, too.)

Library Thing is holding their annual SantaThing, a secret Santa book-giving event for LT members that I participate in every year. Here are some of the details, quoted from their info page:

"Who can do this?

Anyone from anywhere can do this. Unfortunately, for various reasons, we can only ship to countries on this list without extra permission. In order to sign yourself (or a non-LibraryThing member) up, you have to have a LibraryThing membership—which is free. To become a LibraryThing member, go to and click "Join now".

What do I agree to?

You agree that you're doing this for fun. By signing up you agree to take what comes and to be pleasant about it. This is about the giving. Things might go wrong. Unless LibraryThing employees run off to Mexico with your money, you don't have a case against us.

How does this work?

Fill out the form above, including a valid PayPal receipt number.
You can make yourself the recipient or someone else. You can enter as many times as you like!
On Sunday, December 4th at 5pm Eastern, LibraryThing will stop allowing people to sign up for the SantaThing program.
Shortly afterwards, we will tell you who you are matched up with by sending a profile comment. If you entered multiple times, for yourself or others, you will also need to pick for multiple members.
The gifts you pick cannot exceed the total chosen by your Santee. No single item can cost less than $2.50.
You will have until Monday, December 12th at 9am Eastern, to decide what you want to give. We will give you a web form to fill out, with a space for a message.

LibraryThing employees/elves will order everything from the bookseller you choose. We will pay the shipping; if anything is left over, we get that money."

For more information, see their information page here.