The Silliness of Butterflies

There’s something a bit magical about butterflies, isn’t there? The bright colors, the paper-thin wings, the way they glide and flit across a summer glade like broken rainbows… I find them fascinating. This little guy (gal?) had an injured wing and was crawling through the grass near a playground full of kids. I took a few pictures and found some nice bushes safely away from small feet. This is a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, native to Canada and Alaska.

Look at that cute furry body! Aren’t butterflies extraordinary?

What are the little things in life you find magical even though they’re ordinary?

 

 

 

 

How To be Successful

It’s been said before by far more brilliant people than me, but there is a single key to success in any creative field: DON’T QUIT.
The difference between every bestselling author and everyone out there who says they want to be those authors is one person hit that goal already and one person hasn’t yet.
People complain about mediocre writers and wonder why their amazing work isn’t getting published, and then they give up. And that’s the answer right there. The writers who give up because it’s too hard, or no one understands their genius, or they aren’t selling well, or they can’t find the market are giving up.
 
Stick with it. Keep publishing. Eventually your backlist will be “discovered” and you’ll sell.
 
People talk about GRRM, and Tolkien, and McCaffery like they always sold well. They didn’t. GRRM has a zillion books. Tolkien wrote short stories and essays on fables before Lord of the Rings. McCaffery has at least three series that only die-hard fans have even heard of.
 
Harry Potter wasn’t a phenomenon until Book 4.
 
Twilight wasn’t big until Book 3.
 
Harry Dresden took 5 books to become huge.
 
The authors people talk about being bestsellers don’t realize most those authors published 5-10 titles before they became recognized, and usually have 20 failed projects unpublished before that. Most of them have been doing this for 10 years before you even know their name.
 
If you quit because your first book was rejected, or you’ve only sold two and your agent can’t sell three, or because it just seems so hard you won’t succeed at publishing. You can’t. The odds are not in your favor.
 
What you have to do is roll with the rejection and write the next book. Find a new way to market. Maybe switch agents. Or genres. Or pen names.
 
Kim Harrison has a wildly successful career that most people say started with DEAD WITCH WALKING. Did you know she published two fantasy novels before DEAD WITCH WALKING and the publisher refused to buy the third? She could have quit writing and done something else, but she didn’t. She switched genres, switched pen names, rebranded herself and came out even stronger. I don’t know her personally, but I know there had to be tears and doubts. I know she was tempted to quit, but she didn’t. 
The path to success is littered with the people who fell down and quit.
If you want this: KEEP GOING.
Keep writing. Even if your progress is slow. Even if there are setbacks. KEEP WRITING. KEEP WORKING. KEEP GOING.

The Great Escape… Leaving Alaska

Getting ready to travel always puts me in a reflective mood. Did I learn anything from being here? Did I do any good? Am I going to bring something better with me on this move that I didn’t have before?
Alaska has been a really interesting trip outside my comfort zone. It’s beautiful. I traveled through most of the United States and good chunks of western Europe, and there’s really nothing that compares to Alaska. The sky is a brighter blue. The vistas stretch for miles. And Alaskan summer is lush, green, and lively in a way that even the tropics can’t compare to. I can here not really expecting to love Alaskan summers, but I did. It’s so charming you can’t help but love it.
While I was here I picked up some new skill sets. Nothing strictly Alaskan, but I found the long winter nights and gray, bleak days left me craving color and I started painting. I failed art in grade school and always hesitated to go back and try again. But my daughter wanted a paint party for her birthday, and youtube had painting tutorials (a lot of painting tutorials). It was a lot easier to paint than I thought.
Am I great at it? No.
Are my paintings original? Not really, they’re more like fanfic of a youtuber’s painting. But it’s a start.
Will I ever be an amazing, museum-worthy painter? I could be if we knocked off a bunch of artists, or I practiced more, or the zombies in the apocalypse ate all the good art… there are options. But, to be great at painting I would need to spend a lot more time on it than I have. And my goal really isn’t being museum-worthy, it’s not even to be etsy-worthy. I’m painting because I enjoy painting. Because I like seeing bright colors and learning new techniques.
Am I a better person leaving Alaska than I was when I arrived? I like to think so.
Just career-wise I made a lot of big jumps while I was in Alaska. I was here when my first novel hit the stores. I did my first book signing at Fireside Books in Palmer. In more personal matters I think I grew up a little, learned to be a better parent, spent more time with the love of my life, spent more time exploring the world. I hope it’s all adding up to making me a better person, even if I still haven’t learned how to get to bed at a decent hour.
And what’s next?
I’m moving 3000 miles at the end of the month, headed for Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be landing in the Seattle area, which I’m told is beautiful and full of farmer’s markets. What’s waiting there for me? I’ll let you know when I find out!

The Path To Failure

I have another secret to share, come here. Closer… closer… STOP! Right there.

Look around. Do you see everything around you? This, my friend, is the path to failure. This is where dreams are broken. This is where it all falls apart. We call it life, sometimes adulthood, but what it really is the graveyard of our hopes.

Okay, you can back up now.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Shake that negativity off. Take another deep breath and look around. You see this?

This is the path to success. This is where all your dreams come true. This is where everything works for you like you are a Cinderella whose fairy godmother took over the mob and took out those two step-sisters years before you ever had to scrub a floor.

Do you know what the difference is between the path to failure and the road to success? There is none.

There is only one road.

Some days it looks like you are careening towards failure. Everyone else took the express route and found their Prince Charming, their book deal, their million dollar dream and you are still scrubbing floors and writing books by candlelight as you weep into your ink-stained hands.

Suck it up, Buttercup, this is what success looks like before they photoshop it.

It’s hard work, long nights, gut checks, honest chats with friends, and getting knocked back on your butt ninety-nine times. And then you stand up for that hundreth time and punch back. Failure is success that quit. Failure is what happens when you stop standing up when you get punched down. Failure is a step on the long road to success.

Cry if you must. Take a deep breath, look out at the scenery. Take a detour and check out the little things. Then get back on the road and keep going because that’s what turns failure into Success.

If you quit because of a rejection letter, or because you didn’t get the job, or because you failed the first test in a class you aren’t giving yourself a chance to be brilliant. Believe in yourself a little bit longer. Stand back up. You’re getting there.

Where have all the knives gone?

This post is 5 years old, written during out family’s sojourn in Florida. It’s worth sharing because it still amuses me. 🙂

Have you ever seen Sinbad? Not the old black and white (I loved those!) but the animated movie from a decade or so ago? If not you can check out some clips HERE. The thing is, it’s currently Bug’s favorite movie of all time. Especially the opening fight scene where Sinbad has two swords.

At this point that’s the only part of the movie he watches. Once the fight scene is over he runs off to play outside.

On a completely unrelated note (or maybe not) I’ve noticed I’m losing butter knives at an alarming rate. I mean, sure, sometimes you lose a knife or two to kitchen mishaps. You might leave one at a picnic or a church potluck. But I bought new butter knives not two months ago to replace the casualties of last summer’s BBQ season and this morning I couldn’t find a single one!

Enter the three-year-old, running as if his life depended on it, “Hiyah!” He kicked an imaginary foe and light twinkled off his twin blades.

My eyes narrowed. “Son, are those mommy’s knives?”

He blinked, startled by my demand that he re-enter reality. With three years of experience dealing with mom he went with honesty. “No, these are my swords!” And off he raced to save the day.

Every single time Sinbad is on Bug moves his favorite chair in front of the TV and attends the viewing with his trusty swords in hand, a devotee of swashbuckling agog at the animated prowess. And every single time I trail after him trying to find where he stashed all his other weapons.

I finally gave up and sat down on the much-abused recliner to watch with him today. For my pains I was stabbed in the head. By a butter knife. By a butter knife hidden in the stuffing of the headrest. You see, the recliner is ripped open, the stuffing is visible and Bug just couldn’t resist hiding his treasures there.

While he was distracted I emptied the secret hidey hole and hid the hoard in the dishwasher. I have my knives back! At least until he watches Sinbad again…

Isn’t imagination a wonderful thing? It can transform a square patch of grass into the surface of Mars, the depths of the ocean, or the tower of a castle. Imagination can turn dull butter knives that can’t damage a banana into the sharpest swords. Imagination turns a blank page or an empty screen into a life filled with wonder and emotion.

What have you imagined today?

Do I need to buy your book? A Quick Guide To Supporting Authors…

I originally published this list in April of 2012. A new friend had found out I’d written a book but at that point the only books I had out were romance. She wanted to be supportive, but didn’t want to read romance. Not every book is for everyone, so here are some (updated!) ways to support the authors you know and love even if you don’t want to read their books.

Here’s the thing, every author wants you to buy the book they’ve written. It’s how authors work. We write things down, edit like frantic marmots on meth, and then beg, plead, and cry until someone publishes our work. Then we set our hair on fire worrying if everyone will hate our work. What I’m saying here is: authors are lunatics. We really are.

And because authors are lunatics, we’ve set ourselves up with the expectation that no one will buy our beautiful book. Why? Because we know there are millions of wonderful books out there and readers only have time (and money) for a small percentage of those wonderful books.

In this instance, this person is a good friend from my writing group who doesn’t like romance or e-books. She likes mysteries and hardcovers. I get it. EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE isn’t a book she can buy and donate, it isn’t a book she wants to read, it isn’t a book she wants to recommend. I’m not going to hate someone for not loving my book.

I’m not going to be angry because someone I know doesn’t buy my book.

If you know an author and can’t buy or don’t want to buy their book, but don’t absolutely hate them, there are ways to support an author for free.

– Leave a Review – You may not know this, but Amazon doesn’t recommend a book until it has 50 reviews. I imagine Barnes & Noble and Kobo have similar algorithms. This is even more important if you’ve read the book for free (library copy, loaned by a friend, ect), leave the author a review somewhere. It makes us happy.

– Give A Tweet – Unless you object to the book, recommend it to friends. Word of mouth us how a majority of books sell. If you don’t have Twitter, mention the book on Facebook, tell someone at work, or casually drop the name. It’s okay to name drop authors, if no one else knows who you’re talking about, tell them the author is a fabulous up-and-coming writer you liked before they were cool. Go Hipster You!

– Be Nice To The Author – You’d think this would be a given, but it’s not. I’ve seen more than one author snubbed because they were finally published. It doesn’t matter who they are, they are still a person and you can be polite.

– Request The Book – If your library is like mine you can suggest books for the library to purchase. This now includes e-books. Most books are in the library catalogs, and libraries take patron requests seriously.

– List It On GoodReads – So this is slightly sneaky, but it makes authors happy anyway… List the book as To-Read on GoodReads even if you never plan on touching the book ever. I get giddy every time that little number goes up.

– Give The Author A Cookie – This might only work if you’re my friend from my writing group and you happen to make these delightful little lemon cookies that are addictive. But, if you are, cookies! I like cookies! I’m easily bribed like that. If you can’t bake, socks are an acceptable alternative.

Really, most the authors I know are chatty, happy people who just happen to spend half their life in an alternate universe. If you can’t buy a book, don’t stress it.

Don’t Embrace The Boulders – Keep Chasing Your Dreams

The highway of life is filled with mole hills, bumps, potholes, and occasionally boulders. Big, fat, road-blocking boulders that fill all six lanes of your highway and stop forward momentum at fatal velocities.

Potholes are someone else’s choice interfering with your forward progression, like the CEO embezzling a few billion dollars and your company going bankrupt. You have no control over this, and it’s definitely going to throw you off your stride for a bit.

Mole hills are little things that may look big, like losing those last three pounds or remembering to get birthday cards in the mail by Friday. At the end of your life a mole hill is a trivial thing that’s easily forgotten. Bumps are also small. They rattle you, but they won’t kill you.

Boulders… those are a different beast entirely. Boulders are huge things that stop you from moving. Career-ending decisions. Dead end jobs. Addictions that throw you out of the loop of life and down to the sidelines.

Boulders take many forms. Sometimes they’re an addiction. Sometimes they’re a lifestyle choice. Sometimes the boulder is something we have very little control over, like a cancer diagnosis or clinical depression. Sometimes the boulder is something entirely of our own making.

Whatever the case, don’t embrace the boulders.

I see too many people who see a boulder on the road of life and assume it’s the end of the road.

The teen mom who’s life came to a screeching halt because she had a kid, and fourteen years later she’s never dated, never left home, never done anything but let one choice dictate her entire life. She’s embraced the boulder and refuses to move on.

Or my alcoholic uncle who has lost his family and friends to his abusive drinking, who lives on the edge of poverty because his paycheck goes straight to the liquor store, and who doesn’t understand why no one is excited that he’s decided to try home brewing. Alcoholism is his boulder. He’s embraced it. He has decided that alcohol is more important than anything else in life, and that he can’t cut back on it because being an alcoholic is what he is.

The author who throws in the towel because on publishing house rejected their novel that came over the transom. ONE. Not hundreds of rejections. Not dozens of rejections. ONE REJECTION, and the author wants to quit because Sad Author wrote the book with that publisher in mind.

It makes me want to set my hair on fire!

I get it, I really do. Some of these are very hard things to deal with. Addictions aren’t something you can always handle alone. Certainly a cancer diagnosis isn’t something you can shrug off. Depression sucks, I know, I’ve got it. But, Dude! YOU ARE NOT DEAD.

It’s a boulder. It’s blocking your way. But it is not the end of the road.

Don’t embrace the boulder. Don’t sell yourself short and let a mistake or a low point in your life define you. You are so much more than the obstacles you face. You have infinite potential to do good and help others. You have the unrivaled ability to create something wholly unique and wonderful. Don’t throw that all away because of a boulder.

Previously Published November 2012

A Season of Change

The first green of spring.

Spring break up is here, bringing black ice, snow melt, and 15-hours of daylight. I’m finally shaking off the seasonal depression and have packed my happy lamp away.

Which means it’s time to assess the damage depression has done.

We sometimes think of depression solely in terms of emotional damage. People focus on lost happiness, lost relationships, lost time… but there’s a very physical toll to depression. The lethargy and the fight to survive a period of depression means that the physical body is neglected most of the time. This results in either unhealthy weight loss or unhealthy weight gain, loss of muscle mass, loss of routine. And those things matter.

For me, it’s very stressful looking at what I’m left with physically after a bought of depression. Last fall – before the seasonal depression hit – I was walking a couple miles several times a week, my only major dislocation problems were on my right leg, and I was inching closer to my goal weight. Winter hit, I survived, but the physical toll is severely damaged ribs that have been subluxing and dislocating almost daily since December, loss of shoulder stability, and my sedentary habits of winter have led to weight gain even while I was trying to eat healthy. That’s depressing all on it’s own.

There’s also the psychological toll of depression, which for me looks like higher susceptibility to stress, anxiety, and negative self-talk.

So, while Alaska is shaking off the last chill of winter, I’m looking to take back control of my life from depression. I want to shake off the lingering ills of winter and move forward with more focus.

One of the things that I do fairly regularly when not dealing with depression is yoga and meditation. For whatever reason, when I hit a depressive state I lose me-time very early on. The depression tells me I’m selfish to take time away from work and family and friends for quiet time. There’s an overwhelming guilt that always accompanies my depression, and it always becomes this crippling belief that nothing I do will ever be enough.

Depression looks different for everyone, and so recovery will look different for everyone, but for me I need to bring back the element of control to my life. I need barriers between work and home. It’s so easy to let the two lives stream together when you work from home, but it isn’t exactly healthy. At least not for me.

I need to find an end of day for work. I need specified times for writing and editing for myself and editing for clients. I need time for my kids, time for my husband, and time for myself.

But not time for dishes, because I have kids and they are old enough to clean house without me. We all have our hard limits, and that’s mine. 🙂

Obviously this is a struggle-point for me. I’m not good at managing my time and making time for myself. This is step one: setting a goal. Feel free to follow-up with me throughout the week and see if I’m actually taking time off from work.

This is the first step of recovery: recognizing the problem and making a plan to address the problem.

Wish me luck!

The Scent of Memory

It’s wrong to say I woke to the smell in the pre-dawn light, because mid-April in Anchorage means 15 hours of daylight and the sun was up well before I was. But it was the wee hours of the morning when I woke to a familiar smell. The memory of cold, wood smoke, and the lingering aroma of last night’s fajitas remind me of my grandfather’s house.

There’s a scent missing though. Under the familiar smells the bitter note of coffee is absent. I don’t drink it. I don’t like the smell of fresh coffee, but the fading scent of coffee brewed before dawn and long finished is part of my childhood.

Today, with the chill of winter crawling along the tile floor, the house smells like my grandfather’s in Texas. We always visited him in winter. A quiet Christmas on an island outside Houston where luminaries lined the walkway and chilies hung on the tree. A few years later it was Christmas in lake country outside Austin, with skittish deer leaping over frosted grass. But always the scent of wood smoke, grilled food, and the memory of coffee.

It’s been years since I traveled back to his adopted homeland to visit (grandpa was born somewhere in Europe between the wars… all he remembers is barbed wire and empty trenches). Alaska is too far away for him, although he’d love the views. Texas is a lifetime away from me, a place of blue bonnets and sorrows. But for a moment, in the cold of the morning light, our worlds touch and we share a breath even though we are a world apart.