Beanie Baby Meetings

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In the picture above you see a treasure trove of Beanie Babies I found a couple days ago. When I opened a box in the garage, they were all looking up at me. They’d been sitting there for years, frozen in time, just waiting.
When our kids were little, if they were well behaved when we went shopping, they would each get to pick out a Beanie Baby. These little stuffed animals made by a company called Ty, were popular then, and always near the check-out counter. The notion was that they’d be collectible some day. Right. They’re worth about what we paid for them, I suspect.
So, what were the boxed up Beanie Babies waiting for? Well, when we bought our kids a new Beanie Baby, the second they arrived home they ran to the bedroom and had a Beanie Baby Meeting to introduce the new ones to the old ones.
My daughter ran these meetings like the little drill sergeant she was, is, and always will be. I will have to ask her if there was a hierarchy among the babies. Probably. I’m really mad at myself for not taking a picture of these meetings. That would be a treasure, too. A video of them would be like gold to me now. I’m pretty sure my son, a few years younger than his sister, was probably only there because he was at my daughter’s mercy. Bless his heart, he did what she told him to do like the good soul he was, is, and ever shall be.
It makes me smile to think that my daughter is still running meetings, and I suspect my son is still going to them because someone makes him. And me? I’m just enjoying a memory, frozen in time, waiting for me to open the lid, like the box of Beanie Babies in the garage.

Casting Stones

cross coverBack in 2009 I decided I’d try my hand at writing. This is how addictions begin, folks. Some things dare not be tasted.
My first book, like a first love, is a wonderful memory. I dove into it like a wild child into a dark blue lake, without a worry if the water was deep enough, or even if I could swim. There’s something to be said for that kind of naïveté. It’s a thrill ride—a new discovery at every turn; every sentence surprised and delighted me. Commas be damned.
I’ve now written eight books and my writing has become a whole different animal. It’s no longer a kitten, springing from couch to chair, pouncing on every loose speck of fuzz. It’s now a cat who saunters into a room and sits down in a pool of sunshine to groom.
And it’s this constant grooming that takes a little something away from the sparkle of writing. Still addictive, yet now it comes with a hangover, perhaps. The sentence, first written with relish, is then dissected and fussed over until it’s finally cut completely from the page. Those ideas, first thought to be golden, ultimately deemed useless.
But it’s all good. Casting Stones began as a wild fling. After I’d had my way with it, I shoved it out the door like we’d broken up. Not everyone loved the story and I began to second guess my desire to write about emotions and ideas. Who did I think I was, playing with literary fiction? A novelist?
I slipped on something more comfortable. Thrillers and mysteries. Some say anyone can write these, but I disagree. A good story can’t be yesterday’s supper regurgitated. The line cook who griddles a great burger is just as knowing about creating that meal as a skilled French chef who makes a fine Coq au Vin.
I made Coq au Vin once. Took two days. My husband and son picked at it. They’d have rather had a burger.
Having said that, Casting Stones is still my favorite book. I like what it has to say. I like that it offers the reader something to think about. Although the message is simple… don’t judge… it’s also complicated… if you loathe me for being judgmental, which of us is standing in the deeper mud? And, of course, the underlying theme asks who is the real sinner? The character who is so easy to hate—the obvious villain? Are you sure? Could it be you?
It’s for the reader to decide. The book provokes thoughts, but doesn’t hand out answers. I’ve always liked that kind of story. I’m not one who enjoys being spoon fed. So, although it was the first book I wrote, it’s still my favorite.
Have you read it? Would you please? I’d love to know what you think.

Heads Up, Indie Authors!

Are you an Author? An Indie Author? Then this blog post may interest you.

At the lower end of your Amazon Author Page, you’ll see an offer saying, “Set up an Amazon Giveaway.” You click the tab and it takes you to this page: Amazon Giveaway Details. You can, by following the steps provided, create a book giveaway.

The reason for doing this is to create buzz, reward your audience, and grow your followers and customers. From what I can tell, you can give away anything sold on Amazon. A free Kindle. A gourmet food basket. Whatever you want to give your customers. For me, I want to give away my book in hopes of more sales, more reviews, and more readers knowing who I am.

CoverThe process walks you through setting up your giveaway. You get to choose how many books you want to give away (I chose 20). You get to choose how the winners are selected (every 3rd, or every 20th). Then, Amazon takes care of everything. They put the deal up. They monitor the entrants. They pick the winners. They notify the winners. They give the winners the prize. They notify you. And you say, “WOW. That was easy!!” You may also say, “Wow, that was fast!” My book giveaway had 100 entrants within a half an hour. I didn’t even finish writing the email to go out to notify my email list! So, congratulations to anyone who snagged the free book.

When I do this promotion again, there are a couple of things I’ll think through a bit more. First of all, I will drop the price of my book, or even set it to go free. No reason I should have paid for it! That was silly, and I should have done some more reading before I jumped in the pool. But, my mistake can be your lesson. It still only cost my $39, and I’ve spent that much on a mediocre meal.

The next thing I’ll do differently is to put URLs for my website and Facebook pages on the ad. I’m not sure any of these things will really make a difference, but I will try it and let you know if I see any positive results. I do know the giveaways did show up as purchases on my sales charts. It’s not enough to change rankings on my books, though, so that fact may not be significant.

I decided to offer Dark Works free starting tomorrow through KDP Select since the people who won the book were not people I know and came to the giveaway from the far reaches of Amazon. (which is cool.) But I also wanted to make the book available to friends, family and followers. So, starting tomorrow, anyone can snag the book for free. Click this link tomorrow.

In a delightfully perfect world, everyone who picks up the book for free, including the twenty out of one hundred who picked it up from the Amazon Giveaway today, will consider leaving a positive review. Maybe even checking out my other books and buying one. We’ll see. Advertising is just another form of gambling, I guess. They key is not to play more than you can pay.

Have you done this promotion with Amazon? What were your results? Share the knowledge if you’ve got it.

 

 

Welcome to Catching

So, I’m writing a new book. The title is, Welcome to Catching. Maybe if I can get my act together, it will be done by the end of the year, and I’ll be ready to publish next spring. We’ll see. I’m not going to rush it.
Thanks to a workshop I took on how to structure a novel, I am writing this book differently than I have done in the past. My usual modus-operandi is what writers call “Pantsing.” Writing by the seat of your pants. Just let it rip. That’s kind of my general personality, so it’s really no wonder I lean that direction.
Some very fun things happen when you just write and let the characters go where they want to go and say what they want to say, but to make that work, I really need to get deep into the story and characters—absorb them and become them. So, yeah… that’s a little weird, right? But it is cool. Because people who are avid readers know they get lost in a really good book and even mourn when characters die or the story ends. It’s why some people love to read long-running series; the places and people can stay in their lives and the reader can live in that world.
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When structuring a novel, though, we look at things like plot points, midpoint, inciting incidents, points of no return, dark moments, and climax. We write the story to get to those places. And if a writer is really good (my constant goal) a writer does this at very specific points in the story. See the picture at the top of the page.
So, with this new book, I’ve plotted it out. I’ve created the three act structure and know what my first plot point is, where the midpoint is and what the second plot point is. I know what’s going to happen at the climax and how it will end. This is really kind of new for me. I visited with a book club last night and told them that when I wrote Thorns of Rosewood, I didn’t know the very ending until the fourth rewrite and about three chapters prior to writing the last chapter. I actually discover the story as I’m writing it.
So, we’ll see if this works, this organization thing. Hey, Aristotle invented it. It’s withstood the test of time. What’s not good about that, right?
Oh, what’s Welcome to Catching about? It’s about the relationship of a father and daughter, and their fight to save a small town that’s dying. Why is it dying? Because the town’s young people go off to college and then move away to live in bigger cities. A town needs young blood to keep it alive? And Catching is way past due for a meal.
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The Internet is Awesome?

145Have you ever checked your search history? Last Saturday night it occurred to me that I had really crammed a lot of information into my brain over the weekend, so I checked to see exactly what I’d researched.

Here was one weird afternoon and evening for me: I looked up the lyrics of several songs by Meatloaf. Not a singer I enjoy, but we have been invited to go to the concert coming up on April 1st, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the songs. Check and see if maybe I could find a new appreciation for them. Nope. But, I’m still really looking forward to going. (I’ll take earplugs.)

Somehow that led me to a youtube video of Iggy Pop. He has a new song out called Gardenia. Watched that. Thought it stunk. I then searched what in the world he sang back in the day. Wild One, Passenger... songs I’m familiar with and don’t mind. But oh, the videos of him performing live. Yikes. Yikes and Ew. He really doesn’t like clothing.

Then I stumbled onto Jim Morrison. Must have been on Youtube. I enjoyed remembering how handsome he was and listening to Doors songs. I really like the Doors. Their music IS that era. But again, the videos—I didn’t love those. I watched him doing what he called Shaman dancing, and oddly enough, it was pretty darned reminiscent of what Iggy Pop did. Thought that was weird. I figure they maybe did some of the same kinds of drugs. I ended up watching a documentary about Morrison. He was a case of being a creative genius. He couldn’t get out of his own head. Drugs killed him, but I think the darkness in his mind led him to that end.

I searched the Zika virus and it has me troubled. Mosquitos, the filthy little blood suckers, are once again spreading disease. I looked at how to make a facebook page serve as a website. Felt fairly apathetic about what I found there. Researched the movie, The Revenant. The meaning of the word Revenant. The actual history of Hugh Glass, the man the movie is about. Tried to figure out how to create a Wikipedia page. Decided that was a project I’d have to save for when I had more time. Stumbled on an essay by an author I’ve heard of. Read it. It was nasty. Tried to wash it off my eyeballs, but it’s stuck in my brain. Very unfortunate. For Lord knows what reason, I looked up Dutch names and found some to be pretty likable. Might have to call one of my cats Coen or Hans. Read about the differences between Indo-European and Germanic languages. Tried once again to commit to memory all of the countries in Asia. Didn’t work…once again.

AND after I crammed all of that additional knowledge into my brain, I ended up liking stuff on Facebook, watching a few cat videos, and playing solitaire. All the wisdom of the world at my fingertips, and that’s what I do with my down time. And now I can’t figure out which of the opposite ends of the spectrum were actually a bigger waste of my time! Oh, and here is my very favorite cat video. Makes me laugh every time.

Resolution

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On New Years Eve, we were with a group of friends playing the game, Apples to Apples. The game involves cards with a word, and below the word, there are examples of the word’s meaning. This game made me think about how many nuances a word can have in its meaning.

For instance, the word Resolution, by one of its definitions, means to decide to do, or not do something. This is the kind of resolution many of us are making now that it’s the beginning of a new year.

Resolution can also mean, the action of solving a problem—similar to the first meaning, yet a little different.  In Physics, resolution can mean the conversion of something abstract into another form. Yet another definition for resolution is, the degree of detail visible in a photographic or television image.

That last definition is the one I think of, because as a kid when the TV screen went wonky, it was always me who sat in front of it, turning the different knobs for color, contrast, or tint. The various knobs controlled the ultimate resolution of the picture we saw. How clear or steady it was.

In the end, it’s how I adjust my picture that will truly improve the show that is my life. True, first I need to say, “Hey… I want a clearer picture!” But before I can resolve my static, I have to figure out what knobs to adjust. So it’s ineffective to just focus on the end result I want to achieve. I need to figure out how to come to the solution. I need to adjust my set.

I think I’m going to fuss with the knob to adjust for more time writing and less time talking about it. The one for more time cleaning and less time complaining about my house being dirty. And especially, I want to adjust the knob for more time thinking about others instead of myself. Yes. That’s the one I need to fiddle with the most.

There is an awful lot of static out there in the world right now. I can’t fix all of that… but I can certainly adjust my own set.

FROM OUR HOUSE TO YOURS

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Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, I worked very hard to get everything done at work, home, and for the holiday. Food is prepared, two houses are ready, and even the animals seem to know it’s a special time.

Thanks to help from the hubs and Ibuprofen for my aching back, this morning I have had the luxury of sleeping in, then sitting quietly in my clean living room, cats on my lap, and dog under my chair, while I swoon over a cup of hot coffee with real cream — a Christmas treat. (1% can wait. This is the time for little indulgences!)

As I listen to the scrapes of the shovel clearing the patio and sidewalks – Thanks again to my glorious and manly husband – and gaze out the window at the frosted yard dotted with those little red sheds, I thank God for all of the blessings I have and which are coming.

My daughter is home from St. Louis and snoozing in her room. It warms my heart to know when she wakes up, I get to hug her and hear her sleepy voice. My son and his special girl will be here later today and then I’ll get to enjoy the sounds of people chattering and laughing. Church tonight, presents tomorrow, plenty of food and love.

I wish the same for all of you. Merry Christmas from our house to yours. Enjoy the blessings of the season. Give someone the gift of your smile and a kind word. It’s something everyone can give.

Reviews—The Good and Bad

When readers review my books on Amazon, I’m a happy author. Having numerous reviews allow me the ability to promote my book in certain places, such as BookBub. But what other leg-up do reviews give a book? Well, I’m on the fence about that.

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Honestly, when I buy a book, whether it be an ebook or print, it’s because the cover rocks, and the blurb is intriguing. Then I read the first page. Good writing is always evident within the first few paragraphs. I’m currently reading Alex Kava’s, Stranded. This is an excellent example of knocking you off your chair good stuff right from the get-go.

Regardless of my perch on the fence regarding benefits of review, I have a real love/hate relationship with looking at the reviews on my books. Particularly, Thorns of Rosewood, book 1 in the Rosewood Series. When I see I have a new review, I’m excited. Then my stomach knots up, because sometimes, reviews are a mirror reflecting the moles and messy hair of my book.

I ran a Bookbub ad a couple of months ago with nice results in sales, but even nicer results in reviews. I believe I started with around forty reviews on that book. I now have 247 reviews, 228 of which Amazon deems positive, and 168 of which are 5-Star. Hey. I like those numbers. And I comment on every single review. Most often I just say, “thanks for reading,” but I do feel if they took the time to review my book, I should take the time to acknowledge it.

What about bad reviews, you may wonder. Oh… I’ve got them. Six of them. Three two stars and three one stars, so far. My very favorite bad review is the one titled, “?” The review is, “I never ordered or received this book!” I read it now and then because it makes me chuckle.

So how do you pick a book? Do you review books? Do you like cookies? (just checking to see if you were paying attention with the cookie question.)

Have a good weekend.

Dogs are “HE” and Cats are “SHE.” Or, are they?

 

I’ve recently found myself in conversations with other writers about male vs. female wording in writing. We’ve discussed what dialogue or point of view narrative sounds male and what sounds female.

I have a female “voice,” and so my male characters suffer with gender identity. I’m working on it. I’m also a little fussed by it because part of me doesn’t want to profile males or females that way. I think women can think in clipped, unemotional, factual ways. I believe men can be emotional, feeling, and long winded. I could look up poems by Longfellow and Frost or Nebraska’s own Kooser, and it would point out nicely how emotional a fellow can be.

kooser11But I’d only prove myself wrong. Read Ted Kooser’s Tattoo. http://www.tedkooser.net/excerpts/tattoo.html See if this doesn’t make the point for men writing like men even when they write with feeling and emotion.

I got thinking this morning about cats and dogs. I do this every day because they surround me. I have many theories about how these two species and their personalities, quirks, and little lives can so often be compared to our own.

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I’m one of those people who have always identified cats as female and dogs as male. But, upon deeper thought this morning over my bowl of cereal, I decided for lo these many years, I’ve been wrong.

You see, I think most men seem to be born with some kind of inborn confidence and inner respect for themselves. They lean to the understanding they must be right. They believe they can solve the issue at hand (that they have the ability). Even when they end up being wrong, they don’t beat themselves up about it. They shrug it off. Say it probably wasn’t their fault. Fault doesn’t seem to be a part of their DNA.

I don’t think this is the case with most women. We doubt ourselves. Constantly. It’s as though we’re born apologizing. We assume we have a lot to learn, and we mix emotions in with every issue, complicating things. Fault is innate. Thanks a lot, Eve.

Of course, this is just my humble opinion and could be right or wrong and only applies to some and not all… (Not something a man would say, I suspect.) I’ll just go ahead and take this moment to apologize. (I’m guessing you expected me to say those things, but I could be wrong. Sorry again.)

This is my new take on the issue of cats and dogs and what gender pronouns I should be giving them.

Cats are actually far more like men than dogs. Cats don’t seem to have guilt or remorse. You can’t shame a cat. I can shake my finger and speak sternly to my cats when they knock over a glass of water or dump a potted plant on the floor or dismantle an entire Christmas tree. All they do as I scold them is lay on the floor with a smug expression as they twitch their tail. They then raise a leg and lick their private parts in comment… “Yeah, Lady. This is what I think about what you’re sayin’.”

If a dog made a mess, he’d (note the gender pronoun I chose there?) be hiding under the table with the most regretful expression. All you would have to say is, “Did you do this?” I know my dog would avert his eyes in humiliation. He’d probably hide under the bed all day just thinking about what he’d done.

So, from now on when choosing a pronoun to describe cats and dogs, cats will be “he” and dogs will be “she.” I will try to think more like a cat when I’m writing my male characters. Or I could just ask my husband, “What would you say in this situation?” That would work, too.

 

A Dream Too Special to Ignore

Last night I had a dream so real and comforting, I have no choice but to wonder if it wasn’t a sign or a truth of some kind. Something the universe wants me to pay attention to.

I’m not sure I did it justice, but the scene and feeling the dream left me with was so incredibly powerful, I jotted it out this morning. I want this image, this idea, saved forever.

Snow On The Leaves 11192010I wake in a pile of cold wet autumn leaves. As I look around, I have a sense of pain and isolation. Thrown here like trash, is what my heart remembers. Left like the core of an apple—the heart of me still strong, yet my flesh battered to exhaustion.

Plucking away the damp leaves pasted to my skin, I force myself to rise, weary, but sensing I must go. Something pushes me on.

Snow falls lightly from the gray sky, and winding around a distant corner in one direction, long and straight in the other, an open road is before me. Both choices are a mystery as to their destination.

Which way should I go?

I know choosing one path will take me forward and the other will take me back. Something in me tells me which way is which. I choose forward and go toward the curve—somewhere I’m sure I’ve never been.

Each step leaves a footprint, black in the dusting of newly fallen snow. When I check behind me, I see the trail of steps I’ve taken disappearing, covered by flakes now falling steadily. Life goes on as though my paces didn’t matter. It occurs to me that maybe the destination is what has always been most important. 

But, I am not cold to the bone. If anything, I become more renewed with each step. The moisture in the air refreshes me like a drink of cool water, and the sight of purest white on evergreen cleanses me—erases the memories of being discarded and alone.

The walk is long, but I finally approach the bend in the road. I’m about to see my destination. 

A sparkle of music touches my ears. A rhythmic beat. Soulful voices. Quiet, but growing as I go forward. Not just one voice, but three, do I distinguish. I recognize the sound of a guitar and piano. The strings and keys played by fingers that know the tune like an old friend.

The song grows strong and true in its honesty. It’s a genuine greeting, a welcome made for me. The music hugs me and holds me so tight and so lovingly, my heart swells and my throat tightens. This is a love so true and pure, so consuming and deep, it warms me more than any sunshine.

I stop and stand in the path, big round flakes falling around me, and I bask in complete acceptance.

It takes my breath away.

It becomes the breath I take.

It’s so much more than air.

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The snow creates a dense fog, but then the scene opens before me—pine trees heavy laden with wet pillows of snow on each bough. A small house sits in the clearing, abandoned and old, weathered, but still standing strong.

On the front porch, is a small band. An old man playing guitar, a girl in a woolen red coat, clapping her hands and singing with all her might, and a young man at an old upright piano, playing with big hands and long knowing fingers, his voice sure and loud. Conviction and truth belt out in his warm tenor and his bluesy melody grabs my mind and holds me in a trance as I gaze through the big wet flakes.

I don’t know what he’s singing, but I believe every word without a doubt. It’s Gospel. It’s the only tune, the only lyrics I’ll ever need again, and I know this is where I want to be—in this wood, at this place, on this road, where I can hear this powerful song of truth.

The young girl’s face shines, and the old man nods, wise and knowing. The younger man beams with joy as he sings the words the old man surely taught him. These three exist forever here, welcoming anyone who can feel the song deeply in their heart.

I am home.