Friday, January 18, 2013

Chipping Away At the Fiscal Cliff One Book At a Time

The Fiscal Cliff. It is a term we have all heard a million times before. It is the proverbial dead horse that has been beaten and ground into the mud so many times, there is little left to look upon but a greasy smear. I certainly have grown weary of the debates and the raucousness associated with those two little words. I had pretty much decided to move on with my life and ignore the Fiscal Cliff - that is until I found myself pushed over its edge. 

I got my first paycheck from my day job for 2013 the other day, and I saw in bright, undeniable terms just how real the Fiscal Cliff was to me and how real it would be to millions of Americans across this great country of ours. Frankly, it hurt me in the pocket book. My check was smaller.....much smaller. I discovered to my horror I was bringing home less money than I did when I started my job some 5 years ago. I found myself scrambling to redistribute money I had already budgeted out for bills, groceries, and, yes, the occasional moment of entertainment with a now more anemic pot of money, just to get me through another two weeks before my next anorexic paycheck was direct deposited, so I could start the process all over again.

I resented this process and the shock my sudden fiscal misfortune caused, but it got me thinking. As I worked through the devastating effects of the Fiscal Cliff reality on my life, I knew there would be others who were battling with the same predicaments I was, and they would be asking the same question I found myself asking as I looked through my list of wants and needs, determining what I could actually afford. What expendable item should I cut from my budget first? I knew the answer before I even asked the question. Entertainment items would be the first thing to go. The fun things are usually what suffer in times of financial crisis. The more expensive the fun thing is, the more likely it is to be cut from the list.

It is a shame when you think about it. The fun things suffer when hardship comes. In hardship, aren't we most in need of something to distract us and take our minds off of the difficulties we face, even if it is for just a brief moment? As I thought about this conundrum of finances versus entertainment needs, I thought about my writing and my first novel. I want more than anything to make a living doing what I love to do. In order to do that, I have to have an audience for my first novel. If I have an audience for my first novel, as I work diligently on my second novel, it will create (hopefully) an automatic readership for it. The key to this happening is for people to buy the first book and fall in love with what they read. If the country is locked in a financial crisis where most families are faced with the same dilemma of a limited budget, the likelihood of my first novel being included as part of that budget dwindles.

The thought was pretty disheartening at first; this idea of my potential success as a writer being affected by circumstances in Washington that were out of my control. Then it hit me. I may not be able to control what happens in Washington or even what choices people make in regards to what stays on the budgetary list and what does not, but I can make my first novel more affordable and more accessible to the average reader on a budget. And that is exactly what I have done. I have permanently lowered the price of The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper eBook from $4.99 to $2.99.

When I was a kid growing up, we didn't have a lot of money. In fact there were most weeks where we spent the last few days before payday on a wing and a prayer. I babysat, did mail in rebates (when they were still offered in the coupon section), collected aluminum name it.....just to bring in a little extra money to help my family make ends meet. I never thought of us as poor. I just knew we were cash deficient. My one big treat every now and again was a trip to the used book store that was down the road from our house. It was back in the day when a new paperback book was under $3. This bookstore sold used books for half off the cover price, and I could usually afford to spend $3 every other week or so. I would scour the shelves for my hidden treasures and would carefully count out the change to the man who owned the store when I found exactly what I was looking for. Somehow it always came out just right. It never went over the $3 I carried in my pocket. There was always some 'special deal' that kept me from having to part with one of my treasures and put it back on the shelf with the hope it would still be there the next time I came to call.

I have often thought back on that time and the used bookstore I loved so much. I believe in my heart of hearts the owner knew my financial situation and always managed to find a way to work out the price of my treasures so I could afford to have some distraction in my day to day life. He knew I needed to have those worlds to lose myself in. Those wondrous worlds found only in the pages of my beloved books. I don't think he ever made much money off of me, but I think he gained a lot more from the experience than could ever be deposited in the bank.

In my small way, just like the man at my favorite used bookstore, I am taking a stand for my readers. It is a small gesture I know. It won't make much of a dent on the Fiscal Cliff, and it won't change the reality that so many families will be facing throughout this next year, but it is a chip nonetheless. A single chip that in its smallness, weakens and marrs the face of what had once been a seemingly impervious and unmarred cliff face. And who knows.....perhaps my small act will inspire others to chip away at the cliff as well, remembering always that we rely upon each other to get through this life in one piece. If enough chips are made in the cliff, perhaps it will crumble, and we will discover that together, we can weather the worst. Perhaps we will be scraped and bruised but never overcome, as long as we chip away at these cliffs together.

I sounds like a tall order for a small chip, but it has to start somewhere. Someone has to strike the first blow, and today, my hammer swung. Perhaps tomorrow, you will have the courage to pick your hammer up and see where it lands.

The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper can be purchased for $2.99 from the following retailers:

Apple iTunes
Smashwords (all formats)

Pricing will be reflected at other retailers (Barnes and Noble, Diesel, Inktera, etc.) over the next few weeks as the distribution lines are updated.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing...Blog Hopping With H.L. Stephens

Hello friends! Today is a bit of an experiment for me so bear with me as I muddle my way through it. I was graciously invited to be part of THE NEXT BIG THING blog hop by Vicki Taylor, a fellow novelist and all around generous soul, who coordinated all of this so the rest of us could share our newest projects with the rest of you. Here is how Vicki describes the purpose of the blog hop: 

“THE NEXT BIG THING” is designed to raise awareness of our work, or work in progress. We do that by answering ten questions about it. We graciously thank the person who nominated us, and tag four to six other authors whose work could very well be THE NEXT BIG THING.

So having made the introductions, here we go:
What is the working title of your next book?
The Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of the Wayward Fae
Book 2 in the Chronicles of Mister Marmee Series

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea of the Wayward Fae popped into my head one day when I was showering. (For some reason, I get a LOT of ideas when I shower. Some people sing in the shower; I apparently write. Go figure.) There is a story from my mother’s childhood I have always loved. She was a precocious little girl and extremely bright which is reflected in the events of this particular story. I had been reading quite a bit about fairy lore; more specifically about the historic references to ‘encounters’ with fairies and the like. I started thinking about the story of my mother and about the things I had read involving these encounters. I suddenly had this idea begin to weave itself in my mind, and within a short period of time, the Case of the Wayward Fae took shape. It was rough but that is how it came to be.

What genre does your book fall under?
The Chronicles of Mister Marmee series falls into the crime/mystery genre but with an unconventional twist. It is set in Victorian Era London and in some ways has a Holmesian vibe, but toss out what you know or think you know about this writing style. I like to break the rules a bit.
As far as age group, I don't write with a specific age group in mind. I view my audience as ageless, if that makes sense. I would hate to tell a child in middle school they couldn't handle Pride and Prejudice or an adult they aren't allowed to enjoy Harry Potter. I think each person can decide for themselves whether my novel is something they would enjoy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Although I had not contemplated it before this blog hop, I will take a stab at casting the lead characters ~

Mister Marmee: (voice) Sir Derek Jacobi
Sir Happy Heart: (voice) Orlando Bloom
Lady Jasmine: (voice) Kate Blanchett
Doctor Stephen Hanover: Colin Firth
Charles Hurst: Jude Law
Amelia Hurst: Mia Wasikowska
Inspector Hyrum Farley: Chris Hemsworth
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Upon retreating to the country for a much needed holiday, Mister Marmee and Sir Happy Heart’s investigative skills are pushed to the absolute limits when a series of fanciful fairy encounters are complicated by two suspicious accidental deaths, two attempted murders, an arson, and the disappearance of a young girl who no one knows is missing.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The search is currently underway for appropriate representation for this work.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Mister Marmee has been an old friend of my imagination for many years now. My first novel in this series, ‘The Case of Jack the Nipper’, was an act of love which took the better part of six years to complete from start to finish (including editing and release). I was going to school full time and working so I crammed in what I could when I could. The second novel is much the same. I will note it is still a work in progress, but I got the idea for the second book two years ago while I was still neck deep in the first one. I guess if you pushed together all of the hours I have written on the second book over the last two years and viewed it as if I were writing it on a full time basis, it has taken me a few months to get where I am in the manuscript.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I honestly don’t know of any books that are like mine, although I have been told there are mystery books with cats in them. From what I understand, mine is a unique concept, but The Art of Racing In the Rain by Garth Stein is a book that has the similarity of being told from an animal's perspective.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
If a picture says a thousand words, then, here are four pictures that speak to the amazing little boy who is my Sir Happy Heart. Fifteen years ago this February, we brought this amazing little boy home, and he has taught me so much about the spirit, ingenuity, loyalty, and love these little creatures have. My Sir Happy (or Happydog as we call him) has gotten me through some of the best and worst times in my life. He has been a faithful friend and as true to me as any person I have ever known. There is no greater inspiration I could have for the Sir Happy Heart in my story. Mister Marmee in truth was the perfect compliment to my little boy. I never planned on writing a novel really but I wanted something that would be a lasting testament to the amazing individual Happydog has always been. I wanted to honor him for his love and friendship, and so I started to write the story of a dashing young dachshund who could solve any puzzle and sniff out any clue; a perfect reflection of my little boy.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The Case of the Wayward Fae is more fast paced and action packed than The Case of Jack the Nipper was in many respects. The main characters are well established, and so I was able to do more with them, pushing them to greater depths in this novel than I could in the first novel. There are moments which will leave you reeling from unanticipated twists and turns, yet I promise you, every time, you will find yourself coming back to discover what happens next. This manuscript has been thrilling to write, and I believe it will be equally thrilling to read.....or so says my muse Happydog.
* * *

Here are the fabulous authors I’ve chosen to tell you about their Next Big Thing!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Life Lessons From My Dog: Taking Joy In the Little Things

All it takes is one look at my little girl Peanut to know she has a happy life. She beams her joy from every tuft of hair on her body. It is as unmistakable as the smile on her face. I wish I could take all of the credit for her exuberance in life, but it would be like me taking credit for the brightness of the sun or for the sparkle of an expertly cut diamond. My baby girl shines as brilliantly as she does because she takes joy in the little things in life, and she actively seeks it with every ounce of energy she has.

My little girl can take the mundane in life and turn it into something marvelous. She writes about it on her blog. It doesn't matter to her if I buy her the most expensive toy in the store or the most dazzling haute couture on the web. She is just as easily entertained by a 'happy sock' pulled from the laundry basket (clean or dirty - it makes little difference to her), and she acts as if she is adorned like a princess if she is wearing an ugly sweater I crocheted myself. Don't worry, it is not a task I attempt often. The point is, Peanut finds everything in her world to be marvelously made and wondrous to behold.

And don't make the mistake of believing my little girl is some 'dumb dog' who doesn't know any better. She is in truth perhaps the wisest person I know, because she has enough sense to take joy in the little things in life and savor each moment as if it was a miracle. She performs this ritual of joy and joyness every day, in everything she does. She is the Martha Stewart of dogdom. She can make a toy out of anything....a used dryer sheet, a cardboard paper towel tube (or doopty-doo as we call them), a sock, a leaf, a tag from just about anything, a scrunchie pulled fresh from my hair. Each one has had their day in the spotlight. She can make a happy moment no matter where she is or who she is with. And so as I watch her and delight in her silly-billy ways as I call them, I learn from her and try to apply a bit of her joyful wisdom to my own life.

So what does that mean as a writer? How can I apply this 'happy sock' mentality to my every day living? Maybe it is not the best idea to pull my socks off in public and start whipping them around. That might be the moment they call the men in white coats to come and take me away. What I can do, however, is try to take the joy in the little things, and when the little joys seem few and far between, I can actively look for those joys and hunt them down if necessary.

I will give you an practical an example as I can offer and one which came up just the other day. I was having a discussion with a writer friend of mine and made a comment about wishing my sales were better for my first novel, especially since there is no threat of me quiting my day job any time soon. It was one of those offhanded remarks, but the answer I received made me stop and think. He said, "the (sales) will ALWAYS be smaller than you like. I'm sure Stephen King wishes the other 20% of earth's population would buy his books like the first 80% have. What matters is that you HAVE numbers. If you've sold one copy of your book to a total stranger who bought it because they were intrigued enough to part with real actual money, you're a million light years ahead of the person who's still fretting about whether or not they should write a book." It was my happy sock reminder.

As a writer, there are times when I feel a little impatient for my happy-ever-after-someday to catch up to me. Any writer worth their salt hopes.......prays even......that one day, they get to  do the one thing they love to do for a living and actually make a good living doing it. No one wants to live out of a cardboard box while they are writing the next great novel. So it can be hard waiting........ But there is joy to be found in the little things, like my Peanut has shown me.

Joy number 1 - I wrote a novel! Whoo hoo!
Joy number 2 - People are voluntarily reading that novel and paying good, hard-earned money to do so! (If that's not a happy sock moment, I don't know what is.)
Joy number 3 - The novel was good enough, they are asking about the second one! (It just keeps getting better and better!)
Joy number 4 - I can now afford to buy myself a few more happy socks and scrunchies for my dog to play with.
Joy number 5 - I have just begun my adventures in writing. It can only get better from here.

Life is filled with baby steps, whether you are venturing out into the world for the first time as a novelist, making preparation for a big presentation at work, or running for congress for the ninetieth time. The road itself from start to finish can feel like a daunting path, but there are plenty of joys to be savored along the way - little joys that help lighten the moments when our burdens feel heavier than we would like.

When my heart begins to feel the strain of the journey, I think of Peanut and remember to look for the little joys along the way. Some days it may be harder than others, but I have discovered, the more I seek my little joys, the more able I am to find them when I need them the most. And when I am find myself in greatest need, I look to greatest joy of all.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goodbye 2012 ~ What a Difference a Year Can Make

As I look back over 2012 (as I am certain the rest of the world has already done a million times by now), I am blown away by how much has happened just in my own little life. Were I to try and enumerate the global ramifications of what occurred in 2012, we would be here.....well, through the rest of 2013. And the goal of this post is not to be a periodical to my few readers but more of a reminder to myself that things can change so quickly if you just give them time to do so.

In January of last year, I never could have imagined that by June, my first book would be published. I had been working on my book for many years already, and I had reached the point where I took its state of unreadiness for granted. It wasn't that I didn't put my full effort into it; it's just that when you are going to school full time and then working full time at a job that is over an hour away from where you live, there is little free time to fit in the one thing you love to do. So I was like the whittler with the tiny pocket knife, scraping away tiny curls of  wood from the giant piece of oak. Finally, in 2012, the last curl fell to the ground, and I was finished. It was a work I could be proud of. It was a real accomplishment, and it was the start of a whole different type of journey for me that I never could have anticipated the year before.

I still have my day job and probably will for a long, long time. I still have work to do where my first novel is concerned. 2013 will be my year for agent hunting, publisher submissions, and probably more rejection letters than I care to think of, but I am ready for it. I have 2012 under my belt. It was a year I never expected. I published a book. A real, honest to goodness, full epic length, read-and-enjoyed-by-strangers-across-the-country novel, and that is something that no one can take away from me. There are people who loved what I wrote (and no.....they are not relatives although the three members of my family are very excited about what has happened.) They are actual fans who are anxiously awaiting the next installment of the Chronicles of Mister Marmee. And many of those fans have become friends during the wait. All I can say is WOW! I feel pretty humbled by 2012 and the blessings it has brought.

2012 has been a year of personal triumphs, but it has had its fair share of tragedies too for my family. Every family in the world has faced them, I know. The particulars are not as important in my mind as how I have chosen to view them in the end. It is so easy in the light of heartache and hardship to lose sight of the blessings (both large and small) that are sprinkled in between the hard times, but I chose to remember a very simple principle at those times when I find my heart failing me. A light, no matter how dim, will always burn brightly in the darkness if you open your eyes and look for it.

So as I face a new year with new possibilities, I am looking for the little sparks of light wherever I can find them. I don't know what this next year will bring, but I am determined to illuminate it with whatever wondrous bits of light I can grasp. I wish you all a year of happiness and joy. I wish you all peace and safety, and most of all, I wish you many sparks of light to brighten up the darkness along the way. Blessings to you all my friends!