Where Christine Betrays Her Inner Nerd

Me, this morning, having driven all the way to my doctor’s appointment with bedhead, a common affliction of the middle-aged and those who don’t give a damn.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m struggling with the task at hand – primarily it is to write 1,200 words for the day, but I’m in the weeds, struggling to kill off a character I like. And while my dark little soul just loves to kill off my enemies, or even 99.6% of the world’s population as I did in G581: The Departure, when it comes time to kill off a character I like, I struggle to do the deed.

So, some 467 words short of goal (not to get specific or anything) today, I am taking a break to write here. It doesn’t count towards the day’s writing goals, but it’s at least some kind of writing. If the struggle continues, I’ll just work on writing a chapter in one of my other projects and accept that I need to get myself in the right frame of mind to get psyched enough to kill the poor woman.

Yesterday being technically a non-writing day, I sat down and geeked out. I listed out, for the first time ever, all of the books I intend to write in the years to come. I’m sure I’ll add more along the way, but for now, I’ve identified a total of 35 books, 7 of which I’ve completed.

Do you want to see them? Sure you do!

Go on, you know you want to say it…

Fine, I’ll say it for you…

“Christine, you are a nerd. A book nerd. A numbers nerd. As if you could bottle that touch of je ne sais quoi into definable numbers and break it all down. As if it even worked that way.”

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But as I look forward to 2020, I hope to stay on course and produce more books than ever before. My goals are:

  • G581: Mars
  • Smoke and Steel (Book 2 of Benton Security Services series)
  • G581: Earth
  • Start Your Own Housecleaning Biz: Full-Time Income While Working Part-Time Hours

Yep, you read it right, I hope to write and publish four books in the coming year. Everything I’ve read/listened to says that at around ten books, things begin to change and move in an upward direction for Indie authors. And I’m ready for that reality. More than ready. With seven books currently out, I need to master the ads on the weekends while keeping a decent writing production schedule during the weekdays.

If I can move myself up to writing 2,000 words a day, five days a week, that’s a half a million words a year – more than enough for me to fill out four books. Heck, that’s more like six books, plus!

I think too, though, about Dean Wesley Smith’s question, “Is it sustainable?” Because of that, I know better than to try and kill myself producing a certain number of words per day. Somewhere in between where I am, and where I want to be, that’s the sweet spot.

I am studying Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid and listening to the podcast by the same name. I hope that understanding the tenets of a well-told story will take my writing to the next level, and with it, give me a following of loyal interested readers in a multitude of genres

I was also over the moon today about something else – ads on Amazon. I have plenty of ads out, but not on one book – The War on Drugs: An Old Wives Tale. For years, Amazon has refused to publish my ads because “they promote or encourage illicit activity” and the marijuana plant on the front cover was also an issue. Today, on a lark, I submitted around 6-7 ads and all but one were approved!

I don’t know if Amazon’s attitude has changed, or whether I just happened to luck into a friendly ad reviewer, but I was excited at the thought of getting so many ads approved. Now I can see which ads are effective and which aren’t!

I turned on a ton of ads, for all of my books, and my dead sales for the month instantly saw a two book sale spike yesterday. Here’s hoping I will see more sales soon.

Okay, time I stopped babbling and got back to work. Either I’ll kill off a sweet lady or begin a new chapter in something else. Wish me luck and have an amazing, tasty, and peaceful Turkey Day, each and every one of you!

Time to go kill off a character!

20Booksto50k Vegas Conference

Craig Martelle in full T-Rex regalia punking Mark Dawson

Prepare yourself, this may be a long post. Written over the last week, it summarizes my daily experiences at the 20Booksto50k Vegas writing conference I attended. I landed in Las Vegas on Monday, attended the early sign-up that evening, and was entrenched in the various seminars from Tuesday through Thursday, before flying back on Friday.

It was a phenomenal experience and I am so very glad I went. It was worth every penny I spent and the lessons I learned, along with the people I met, were pure chunks of gold.

There is something about being surrounded by over 1,000 like-minded creative people that just felt so amazing, so energetic, that words desert me. I cannot properly describe it, but as the first session began, I could feel tears welling in my eyes – for the opportunity, for the feeling of like minds surrounding me, for the potential in all of us.

Our badges said it all – from Romance to Puzzle Books, Sci Fi, Cross-Genre (me!), Urban Fantasy, and an unending list of all of those in between – we all dream of seeing our writing go out into the world and make a difference. To entertain, to educate, to distract. And hopefully, if possible, to also make us money. For some it was a MUST and for others simply a dream. More than anything, though, was the wish to share our thoughts, dreams and ideas with a world larger than our own small bubble – wherever we might be from.

Eye candy Shayne Silvers moderating one of the panels

Monday

I flew out on Monday, but the conference didn’t officially start until early sign-in that evening. In truth, it didn’t start until the next morning. It was on Monday, however, that I allowed myself to finally look at the schedule and begin to plan which sessions I would attend, and which I wouldn’t.

Some of the choices were agonizing, until I realized that, no matter what, I could watch each session on video later. That was an amazing boon – a free one, by the way – that meant that I could look forward to playing, and possibly replaying, all of the videos. That way, I didn’t have to miss a moment!

As I moved through the line of attendees that evening, I realized for the first time just how many people were there. It was a bit terrifying, even for this relatively extroverted introvert. There were people EVERYWHERE and they were all like me – they were writers! It was a very strange feeling. After I had received my lanyard and loot, I retreated to my room in terror. It was a bit too much for this introvert.

Later I ventured out after posting on the FB group that I was interested in meeting other writers. I met two wonderful writers who were from Ink Slingers Guild and we talked over a drink at the Ram’s Head bar in the large atrium.

One side of my conference badge

Tuesday

I was rather emotional at the beginning of the day. Sitting in the smaller group, the 2nd tier which numbered only 500, we watched the start of the conference via live feed (the main room only had 1,000 chairs set up and they were all full) and I was so grateful and excited to be surrounded by so many like minds.

I had spent time at the Dunkin’ Donuts with coffee and great, impromptu conversation with three other writers. One was just starting out, another had an established writing career, and the third had written 55 books in the past six years and just retired his wife from her full-time career.

As I listened to Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle kick things off, I had tears in my eyes. I was there, in Las Vegas, surrounded by Indie writers who dreamed of success, who were actively living their dreams, and I was ready to make mine come true as well.

When Dean Wesley Smith, author of 200+ books, including a record number of Star Wars books, spoke, I listened as he outlined the Attitude of a Fiction Author and listed out the top nine:

  • Sustainability – is what you are doing right now sustainable five years from now?
  • Have Fun – if what you are doing is not fun, it won’t work
  • Never Write to Market – unless it’s a market you truly love
  • Defend Your Work – defend it against yourself and never read reviews
  • Believe in Your Work – do the best you can at that moment in time
  • Dare to be Bad – Authors are the worst judges of their own work
  • Heinlein’s Rules – 1. You must write, 2. you must finish what you write, 3. you must not rewrite, 4. you must put it on the market, and 5. you must leave it on the market
  • Nobody Cares – you have complete and total freedom to write what you want
  • Calm Down – don’t compare yourself to others! Take your own path.

That talk buoyed me like no other during the conference. I needed to hear those words.

Along with plenty of laughs, especially when Craig, dressed in a big T-Rex suit, appeared during Mark Dawson’s talk, I filled my notebook with tons of notes and action items and was excited (and exhausted) by the end of the day.

Brian Meeks, an expert on ads, speaking

Wednesday

The second day of the conference was just as awesome, with my favorite talk being John Truby’s Story Rescue. He dug down into the details and discussed how to “fix” a story that has gone off the rails in some fashion or another. I took copious notes and plan to use it on the Chronicles of Liv Rowan to properly outline the story better and see if I can’t bring it from a feeling of “immaturity” to one of a proper fantasy series.

I met loads more writers in every place in the spectrum from first book in the works to self-sustaining author career. I even got up the nerve to talk to one of the presenters, Shayne Silvers, an urban fantasy author, and get a clarified focus on what genre the Chronicles of Liv Rowan could be. From his feedback, it is not urban fantasy, although there are some aspects of the here and now in the series. Her world, though, and where most of the stories focus, are there in the other world – so it definitely falls under fantasy NOT urban fantasy.

By the end of the day, my brain felt like it was on overload. I was asleep by eight and missed all of the late night festivities that the various groups were having. It was simply too much for me to take in!

Mark Dawson had us in stitches when describing a series of emails he received from a troll. Or should I say artiste? In any case, it was a reminder that haters are going to hate, especially when you are wildly successful. If we look at this on an annual basis, I’m currently a Gracile Creature with hopes see the Short Pants level, or Talentless Hack if I’m truly lucky, by the end of 2020.

Thursday

This was the last day of the conference and I was awake at 4 a.m. thanks to my brain still being on Central Standard Time. Despite this, it was the perfect opportunity to sneak into the full 6 a.m. talk with Craig Martelle. I played a hunch that not everyone who signed up for it would make the early time and I was right!

We learned that there would be one last conference held at Sam’s Town next November 10th-12th, and after that, we would need a new venue because our capacity would have outstripped our current digs.

One of the last panels of the day included four high-powered authors – Shayne Silvers, Mark Dawson, and two others. A question was posed, “How much is your ad spend and how much is your ROI?”

To a one they answered that they spent approximately $500,000 on ads in a year and had a return of over $2,000,000.

Wowza.

One side of my conference badge.

When the conference ended I was exhausted mentally and physically, overwhelmed with notebook pages FULL of information and action items, sad that I had to say goodbye to so many fabulous people, and relieved that there wasn’t anymore to fill up my notebook with until next year. It was a LOT to take in.

And what defines this particular conference, far and above any others, is the complete lack of industry funding. Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle consider this a way to give back to others and they were pretty clear with the industry professionals that were there – “don’t try to sell our attendees on your company” – it was educational, it was full of helpful advice, and I felt supported and buoyed by each presentation I attended.

Lessons Learned

I learned so much this conference. About craft, about attitude, production models, covers, advertising, and more.

I have an action list that would make your head spin. I’m pretty sure I will still be working through it when I attend next year’s conference. And yes, I will be definitely be attending next year’s conference!

My biggest take away?

Making a living as an Indie writer is absolutely possible for me.

There are a number of prerequisites to making this happen, however. An author must have:

  • Good, preferably great, writing (10,000 hours or 1,000,000 words of experience helps exponentially)
  • Proper editing – sometimes for developmental, depending on the author, but certainly proofreading to eliminate errors.
  • Placing the book in the appropriate genre that will attract the appropriate readers
  • A great, professional cover
  • A book cover blurb/description that appeals to their target audience and makes them want to buy the book.
  • Effective ads
  • A steady stream of new product
A view of Sam’s Town from the elevator.

And after seven books, I know one thing. I’m at least a good writer, possibly more. I can become a great writer with practice. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours. The rest of it – editing, cover, blurb, ads and placement – are all areas I either need to work on, or hire out.

I know I don’t wish to design covers. It isn’t a strength or interest of mine, so that means I need to find great cover designers and keep them close! The same goes for editors who could help me if I tend to go off course when it comes to genre.

Lastly, I really need an expert to help me with blurb/description and possibly ad generation. I plan on learning more about this, it’s one of the things on my action list, but I also need to be realistic. If I am not effective at this, I waste a lot of money on ads that could be more effectively spent paying someone who knows what they are doing. Later, I can take over more of this if I find I am becoming more knowledgeable.

Writing goals…for now

The Grand Plan

  1. I’m going to take all of the short stories I have written in the War’s End series and add them to a box set along with the two novels. I plugged in a release date of January 2020, but I might end up doing it earlier. After all, I just need to finish one story and then write the second, run the short stories through a proofreader, get a cover made, and then hit publish.
  2. I checked my calendar and saw that Smoke and Steel, Book 2 of the Benton Security Services series is scheduled to go to Hidden Gems ARC readers on March 3rd, 2020. They are so full that you have to sign up nearly a year in advance for an opening, so I did and now it is looming over me. I’m only 4% done, so as soon as I knock the War’s End box set out of the way, I need to settle in and get this done. Hopefully, by January 1st (or earlier) I will have the 1st draft ready to go. That gives me two months to edit, have a cover designed (as well as re-do Hired Gun in the same style), and have it released on March 1st, just in time for my reviewers to read and review it a few days later.
  3. As soon as Smoke and Steel is done, I need to hit the G581 series hard. I’m not sure if I have three full-length novels on my hands, or two novellas and a full-length, or what. So those due dates of 2/1, 4/1, and 6/1 are pretty much guesses. I’ll know more once I dig down into them.
  4. I have a very difficult time switching from writing mode to marketing mode – so my plan is to focus on writing Mondays through Fridays and handle the marketing and house finances on the weekend.
  5. As far as the writing goes – I am refocusing back on my original plan of 1,000 words per day (no matter how busy my day is with cleanings and appointments). In addition, I hope to increase that incrementally by 200 words per day, per week. So in other words, Week 1 – 5,000 words minimum, Week 2 – 6,000 words minimum, Week 3 – 7,000 words minimum, and so on, all the way to Week 5 and beyond – 10,000 words per week. I don’t know if this is realistic or not when you factor in my heavy cleaning weeks (I alternate between heavy and light cleaning weeks). I may need to do a hybrid where I write 5,000 words minimum on heavy cleaning weeks and 10,000 words minimum on light weeks and get by that way for now. We will see!
  6. I have gone back and forth about when to stop cleaning houses. Right now, that income is desperately needed. Once we have the Airstream online making money (Spring 2020) and I am seeing improvement on book revenue, I plan on closing my cleaning business for good. My hope is that it happens by August 2020. Heck, it could happen sooner and I wouldn’t complain!
  7. My goal is to make at least $2,000 per month on my writing ASAP, $5,000 per month in the near future, and then finally, the goal will be to make enough to retire Dave from his job. How long that will take depends on my writing production and my finding the right connections/learning combo that brings my book sales/ad spend in at the correct ratio.
  8. Lastly, and this might just be a dream, but who knows? In 2-3 years time, I want to be up on that stage myself, giving a presentation about my success as a cross-genre Indie author. Not for the fame, but for the joy of reminding people that success is within their grasp.

I know I can do this. And I’m ridiculously excited about the coming year!

2020 is going to be phenomenal!

Las Vegas, Den of Iniquity and Writer’s Conferences

For the second time this year, I am leaving my family and traipsing off to another conference. It feels positively decadent to do so, and I’m counting the days.

Well, sort of.

I’m sure I’ll be hit with the “Why oh why did I think going to a writer’s conference, which will be filled with an overwhelming number of people, was a good idea?”

My 13-year-old is less than happy at the idea of me being gone for a week. At her age, I would have been over the moon to not have my mom around for a week – it makes me think I’m either doing something very right or very wrong. Really, I doubt there is any middle ground on this!

This will be my first 20 Books to 50k conference. The idea is a cool one. Want to make money writing books? Write a bunch of them and watch the income roll in. And really, it is to some extent a numbers game. This morning I did a quick review of my year-to-date sales. The year isn’t over yet, but my average sales go something like this:

  • Get Organized, Stay Organized – 385 sales – basically a little more than a book a day
  • The Storm (Book 1 of War’s End) – 135 sales – or one every three days
  • A Brave New World (Book 2 of War’s End) – 81 sales – 60% read through or 2 books a week
  • Hired Gun – 60 sales – or 1+ books each week
  • G581: The Departure – 21 sales – or around 1 book sale every 2nd week

I’ve really backed off on Amazon ads and I’m hopeless (at this point) on Facebook Ads. But basically, that is five books out of seven that are showing movement, mostly organic at that. If I had 4x that amount, 20 books performing instead of just five, what would my income look like? Because, after all, it isn’t simply a multiplier of four. People will read one book, and if they like it, look for more, and eventually follow you and buy any new book that comes out. So 4x the number of books might end up being six, or even eight times the income I’m currently making. Hopefully far more than that!

Here’s hoping I get really revved up by the conference and turn into a writing machine.

For now, my goals for the next ten days or so are:

  • Go to the conference in Las Vegas
  • Return to writing regularly (yep, story of my life, I keep falling off the wagon)
  • Go through the marketing/ads course I bought over a year ago and haven’t actually finished!

When All There is to Say is “THANK YOU.”

As I sat down to the computer just a few moments ago, it was to check messages and then to lay down. I’m still in the throes of some weird virus that has me headachy and exhausted. “Just this one thing and then off to bed to try and sleep it off,” I told myself.

But one thing inevitably leads to another and I found myself calculating and transferring the first (of what I hope is many) deposits from our Airbnb earnings into our checking and savings accounts. After I did it, I checked my balance in our main checking for one month from today’s date (I try to make sure we are always at least one month in the black) and smiled at the number.

Not because it was large, but because I suddenly felt like I was resting a reassuring hand on my own shoulder, one that patted me and said, “You’re doing great, you know, this is all going to work out.”

And it was such a relief to hear that voice instead of the one that Marsha Shandur (from Yes Yes Marsha!) calls the Beast, one that is always trying to stop you from doing your best. It’s the one that tears you down, that tells you that you are less, that you are lacking, that you are NOT ENOUGH and never have been and never will be.

Have you ever heard that voice?

Of course you have.

Sometimes I have wondered if it is simply part of the human condition, a mountain we are all faced with, a vestige of our earliest, most primeval days that beats at us, whispers poison in our ears, and stops us from being the people we can’t even dream of being because our heads, hearts and ears are filled with its hateful whispers.

You heard it first when you were young and you did something wrong and got in trouble with your parents, or at school when you were daydreaming instead of listening to the teacher. Every sharp tongue, every correction by another and that nasty little beast would start up telling you that you were worthless, stupid, too this or too that, and you didn’t belong, weren’t welcome, and certainly weren’t worthy.

And maybe, when you grew up, you married someone who knew how to make that Beast talk even louder with their own twists and perversions of reality. After all, humans are also wired to re-create what we learned early on, right? So you marry someone who wants you uncertain, on edge, and questioning yourself. If you are busy questioning reality, or whether or not you are a worthwhile human being that deserves love and respect then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be a little easier to control.

The Beast likes to control you. And so do plenty of humans in this world.

I spent a lot of years listening to the Beast in my head. And a lot of years were wasted thinking that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t okay, and that I wasn’t a good human being, daughter, wife, or mother.

And life happens, and things change, and, if you are lucky (and honestly, that’s what it’s been, DUMB LUCK), you occasionally are blessed with these epiphanies that come along while you are trudging down the road, eyes to the ground, just hanging in there, and they blindside you.

Suddenly, quiet and loud, all at the same time, you realize, “I AM a good person.” Or, “I AM a writer!” or a cascade of realizations…

  • I can be imperfect and still be deeply loved
  • I can have bad and good days as a parent and still be a GREAT mother
  • I am worthy of love and I deserve to have it in my life

Epiphanies are magical, life-changing events. Really, you should try them on for size. I have no idea how they happen, it isn’t like I’ve ever been in charge of sending one in my own direction (because damn, I would have done it a lot sooner if I had known how), but they are fucking fabulous. They take a CERTAINTY, something you have known to be TRUTH and turned it on its ear. I imagine that if I believed in God, it would similar to a light shining down from heaven. If you aren’t gob-smacked by the end of an epiphany then check your pulse, because you might have bigger problems to worry about.

I think it is a shame that epiphanies can’t be ordered in advance. Set up early and often, so that the bulk of our lives are spent in true joy and peace, accepting and loving ourselves and being the best we can be along the way.

Instead, some of our darkest moments can precede epiphanies. And not just moments, but months, even years, and at worst, decades. How much energy do we waste in support of inaccurate beliefs of ourselves? How much does it take from the here and the now?

Today, as I realized with no small amount of appreciation that I did have it together, that I was on the right track, that I was doing well, my thoughts strayed to those in my life who had melded so well with the Beast, the ones who had stood shoulder to shoulder with it and tried to tell me WHO I WAS. Standing on the outside, peering in, judging, hoping to mold or control, so sure they knew me – my motives, my reality, better than I did.

And for the first time, I felt grateful. Not in some snarky, facetious way. Honestly grateful.

Despite being wrong…

Despite trying to push their hurts, fears, inadequacies from their own Beasts onto me…

Despite the hurt they inflicted at the moment…

I choose to see the end result. That the combination of their words, deeds, decisions, actions at some point in my life shook loose a magical WHOMP of epiphany that hit me, changed my course in life, and brought me to a new space in my life.

Some intended good, others certainly intended the hurt they inflicted, but all of them helped release an epiphany, sometimes decades later, that has done nothing but improve my life, my belief in myself, and my value – in my own life, and in those who exist in my little biosphere.

I don’t remember all of their names, some literally are nameless because they were strangers, but that’s okay, they helped all the same. The words they spoke, the actions they took, both are irrelevant. There have been plenty of folks I have had change my life in nothing but good ways, but these people changed my life too. It might not have felt good at the time, but in the end, their actions and words have brought me to this place, a good space where I know my worth, and so, I see the value in having known/met them.

  • Mom
  • Dad
  • Mum
  • Nana
  • English teacher/librarian in 8th grade
  • Walter B.
  • Former landlord
  • James S.
  • Random book reviewers (2 of them)
  • Danielle B.

I’m sure there’s more. But each of these folks brought on serious hard-core, life-changing epiphanies. Ones that both rocked my understanding of myself and changed how I looked at myself – all in a good way. In most cases, it took a while for the realization to hit. That I wasn’t. Wasn’t what?

That I was not the labels applied to me. That I was so much more.

And so are you.

I’m in a good space. Despite being ill and feeling yucky at the moment. I have plenty of people I love, and those who love me in return. And even if could only count on one finger the ones I love as the song goes, I still would have enough.

When all there is left to say is “thank you,” whether these folks are gone from your life, deaf to your words, or blind to the person you truly are, then set it there on the table, bow, and walk away.

Sincerely, with all of my heart, thank you for being the catalyst for who I am today.

Happy and whole, no longer racked with guilt or insecurity, and the best human being I know how to be.

Thank you.

Cleaning…Everything

Time Away from Writing to Make the Final Push on Cottage West

At the beginning of August, when I took a break in writing and dove into working on Cottage West, I had a vision of what needed to happen. There are a few details left, but we already have four, count them, FOUR reservations coming up in October and November. We are on our way, for sure!

Time Away from Writing for Travel

The beginning of this month saw me travel round-trip over 1,000 miles to Franklin, Tennessee. The TRIBE conference was the excuse, but the time away was a catalyst. I realized that I need time away by myself. It was a powerful lesson and when I returned, I was determined to finish the last parts of Cottage West and return to writing.

I guess you could say that I was cleaning my mind – resetting it even – determined to focus on what was important and let the rest go.

Time Away…To Clean My House

This little creature here. She’s awfully cute, isn’t she?

She’s also a lunatic that thinks all plastic bags, pooled on the floor curtains, and baskets full of clothes are the perfect place to pee.

Cats are freaking gross. Another reason I prefer dogs.

BUT, we took her on, so we need to put our best foot forward. And in the middle of my husband telling me for the umpteenth time that he didn’t know what to do about the peeing and me telling him I was NOT going to live with an animal doing such awful things – the possible answer came.

Clean the house, top to bottom, spray all of the areas or potential areas with the stain/odor product that helps keep cats from smelling and then re-applying their pee to areas they aren’t supposed to. I told my husband and daughter – “We can change OUR ways, keep this house neat as a pin, and I think that will stop the peeing.”

The thing is, it really needs to be them. I’m already pretty much there, but my husband and the kids? I clean up a lot after them. Stupid stuff, like the wrappers or keys and shoes left wherever. Empty cans of beer, dishes, empty chip bags, you name it. Clutter too.

I’m tired of cleaning it all up. After all, except for our nearly 4-year-old foster daughter, they are old enough to clean up after themselves and should be more responsible. So I pointed that out, and have continued to do so over the past few days. “Hang up the bathmat. Please put your clothes in the laundry. Your shoes were left in the living room.” And on and on and on. I figure either the house will stay spectacularly clean or they will get tired of all of the cleaning and putting away and we will end up with one less furbaby living in our house.

I also, after years of hinting at it, got assent from my husband to begin tearing up the carpet in the upstairs. I absolutely despise wall to wall carpet. It’s never clean, no matter how good a vacuum you have or how often you use it. I learned just how gross carpets are when we re-did the floors in our Belton house, replacing it with laminate flooring over 14 years ago. It still looks great, whereas the 6-year-old carpet in this house looks horrible.

With my husband’s blessing, I’ll be pulling up the carpet beginning with the library and office, doing one room a time at his request, and then moving on to the rest of the upstairs over time.

Finally, a New Writing Schedule

The other day, I sat down with my journal and asked myself what my perfect day looked like. I chose a Monday for my perfect day and it went something like this:

  • 6:30 – Dave wakes me up and I join him and the girls in the library for coffee
  • 6:45 – Yoga, a nice stretching out before I exercise
  • 7:15 – Begin walking on the treadmill. Now that I’m not cleaning houses, I’ll need the full 10k steps. As I walk, I check email, go over my “to-do’s” for the day and wave goodbye to my family as they all leave together for work, school, and daycare.
  • 8:30 – I’m done exercising and it is time to take a shower with the new shower extension Dave has added to the main level bathtub.
  • 8:45 – time for some meditation and journaling
  • 9:15 – I sit and write. My goal is 1,000 words per day, but I can often do more than that.
  • 11:15 – Time for lunch. A small plate of meat, cheese and fruit fills me up and I read a little while eating before I return to writing.
  • 12:15 – I write a little more, but more importantly, I dash off some notes on what tomorrow’s work will be.
  • 1:15 – time to market. Just an hour, that’s all. Perhaps I’ll focus on one of my books that is underperforming and draft a new ad. Perhaps I’ll blog.
  • 2:30 – time to tidy up. Work on my desk or clean a little bit around the house. Set out meat to thaw for dinner. Perhaps I get in another brisk walk on the treadmill or work in the garden.
  • 4:00 – Time for the family to return home. I’m glad to see them and I have had a wonderfully productive day!

This is an awesome plan. However, I still have to clean houses for income, homeschool my teen until she is accepted into the charter school of our choice, and we don’t have a shower extension on the bathtub downstairs yet!

So the next thing I asked myself was: How does my day look when it isn’t perfect, but I still want to get writing done?

And here is what I came up with…

  • 6:15 – (15 minutes earlier than my perfect schedule) My husband wakes me up and I join him and the girls in the library. After I finish my coffee it is time to stretch and do yoga
  • 6:45 – Walk on the treadmill while I check email and look at what I need to write today
  • 8:00 – Write 500 words, I know I can do it!
  • 8:30 – 11:30 Check in with Em on what she needs to study before I go off to a cleaning. Hey, it’s great money!
  • 11:30 – A quick lunch and a short reading break
  • 12:00 – Write another 500 words, Champ!
  • 1:00 – Another cleaning, but hey, it’s a hell of a lot better than working in an office with a bunch of bitchy, petty co-workers. And better pay, too.
  • 3:30 – Get a little bit of marketing in. Just 30 minutes or so.
  • 4:00 – Dave and Little Miss return home, we cook dinner or go out.
  • 6:00 – Plan for next day’s writing and blog
  • 7:00 – Journal, decompress, take a bath, and hang out with the kids. Watch some tv.

In other words? It might be a little more compressed, but I can still get 1,000 words written a day if I apply myself and keep focus.

In the end, my schedule fluctuates, so I will have a mix of “perfect” day and the “almost perfect” days each week. More importantly, writing 5,000 words per week (I’ll take weekends off due to family obligations), at 50 weeks per year (two weeks set aside for “all hell breaks loose”), means 250,000 words a year. Since most of my fiction hovers at around 100k in words, that’s 2 1/2 books worth of writing per year, folks.

I even went as far as to look at each book project, figure out how many words (this is a average goal, really) I needed to write in each one, count the weeks out (including editing time), and put in some publishing dates for my next few book projects.

Letting Things Go

The other thing I am doing is letting some stuff go. That way I’m not freaking out trying to keep all of the plates spinning and not able to get everything I need to do, done. The monthly newsletter, for example, along with the short story of the month.

My reason for doing them in the first place was the idea of building a platform. Draw readers to you with monthly short stories to go with the ones they have just read. Let them know when books are coming out, and give them cleaning and organizing tips.

And that works if all I am doing is writing. But I’m not. I’m juggling housecleaning biz, homeschool, Airbnb, family obligations and book writing projects. So that means reducing my output in platform-building so that I can focus on creating more content that will bring me income and push me closer to the goal of simply writing for a living.

I’ll still put out newsletters, but not necessarily on a monthly basis. I’ll still write short stories that will be free for my newsletter subscribers, but not necessarily each time I send out a newsletter.

Eventually, I’ll outsource my cleaning biz and the cleanings on the Airbnb’s as well.

In summary? I’m cleaning my house, my mind, my attitude and more. I’m making plans and I hope they will be what I need to move forward.

If not, then I’ll adjust. Life ebbs, flows, and redirects. We can only try to anticipate and flow with what comes next.

p.s. Save me from the spammers, leave a message!

Embracing Travel – It’s Long Overdue

Collecting Obligations

Over a year ago, when my mom was planning on taking my tween daughter to Europe for a month, I said a little sadly, “I want to go to Europe.”

She smiled at me and said, “Well, then perhaps you need to stop collecting obligations that keep you here.”

I will admit, I smarted a bit at that. After all, I hadn’t exactly wanted to take on caring for my ill father. But when I had gotten the call, I had gone to Panama, retrieved him, and, until mid-February 2019, cared for him daily in my home. I had also been the one to push for us to become foster parents – and now soon to be adoptive parents, of a wonderful little girl.

Little Miss and me hamming it up for the camera

It’s not so easy to travel when you have folks depending on you on a daily basis. So eventually I had to admit that she was right, I had been collecting obligations that keep me here.

And for several years, when finances were tight, I would insist that the folks doing the traveling were my husband and tween – after all, I was needed here, and so here I have stayed as they went off to San Francisco without me. I wanted to go, badly, but it was a pain to find someone to care for our pets and keep things going on the home front. Plenty of good reasons, it seemed, to stay right where I was.

Buying a ticket to the TRIBE conference in Franklin, Tennessee was an impetuous decision, but one that I didn’t regret, even as the introvert in me tried to talk myself out of going several times.

I had committed to going to a conference in 2019 and by damn, I was going to do it.

In fact, I had hoped to go instead to Las Vegas in November 2019 for the 20Booksto50k writer’s conference, but even after reserving my room at the special rate in November 2018, I had missed the opening day of sales for the conference tickets. It sold out in 30 minutes. They opened up a second tier and that sold out in less than an hour. I missed both of them.

“That’s okay,” I told myself, “I get to go to Franklin, Tennessee and I’m going to have a great time there.”

And I did. It was fantastic!

This morning I saw an email in my inbox from the 20Booksto50k folks telling me that they had opened up an additional 50 seats. I hit the Buy button so fast my computer could barely keep up. And just like that, I had the ticket, the reservation for a room at Sam’s Town, and I then found a round-trip ticket for under $150 that would take me there a day early first thing on Monday morning and return me on Friday, the day after the conference ended.

Five days…in Las Vegas…at a writer’s conference.

I feel like dancing. I really do.

And while I was spending a little dough, I went ahead and spent a few more on updated business cards. They were long overdue. And I had a ton of fun designing them…

The front of the card
The back of the card

It is, after all, quintessentially me. I’m weird, annoying even, but invariable an author and general malcontent. These cards suit me the best of all of the different business cards I have ever ordered over the years. Just $56 and change for 500 cards. Thanks, Vistaprint!

So what’s different now? I think that, honestly, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that you can love and love and LOVE someone, and they might see it or they might not. They might acknowledge it, or they might tell you to go straight to hell. In the end, at some point, it is best to take care of yourself and stop trading your here and now in order to please others.

I also finally accepted that my life, and my family’s life, was suffering with my dad in our home. That he wasn’t going to get better and that his personality had become toxic. After he broke his arm, and kept falling, it was time for the nursing home. Afterwards, the air was cleaner somehow (and no, not just because he didn’t want to bathe very often and smelled like old shrimp), and we were free to relax once again in our home.

I realized too that, I can have kids and still travel. Sometimes they will come with me and other times they won’t. And not just that, but [gasp] I can even travel places by myself. [double gasp] It’s a thing that happens. Who knew?!

I’ll be honest, I could NOT go to London without my husband. I’m pretty sure there would be an uprising if I did. But the kids? Darlin’, those kiddos can stay home!

And so here I am, edging ever closer to 50 years on this Earth (if you count from conception, it has already been a half century), and realizing it is now or never. I need to stop putting these things off, stop telling myself “Next year I’ll travel.”

So I guess you could say I’m doing my best to remove ME as the obstacle to future travel. There is no reason for me to put it off, and every reason to embrace it, kids and responsibilities and all.

Check it out on Airbnb!Click here: Cottage West

Cottage West is Live on Airbnb

This is a huge deal. For those, not in the know, my husband and I have been renovating a house at the west end of our property. Little by little, through savings and small loans and lots of work – we just added Cottage West onto Airbnb.

There are two reasons why this is excellent for us:

  1. More income means more ability to travel
  2. We all need multiple streams of income

#2 is a biggie. I listen to this great author, futurist, and podcaster – Joanna Penn. She has her finger on the pulse of the future of the writing world. I honestly get more out of her general info at the beginning of the podcast than I do from her guests most episodes. She has given out some fantastic advice to newbies like me that has resulted in book sales (as well as audiobook sales).

Joanna advocates for everyone to have multiple streams of income. After all, if you work full-time for a company, and they go belly up, what do you have to fall back on? It’s the same for authors. If Amazon suddenly changes their book-selling terms (like they did with page reads on Kindle Unlimited a few years back), your income can change, even dry up, literally overnight!

For the past two years I had been listening to her and my simple monkey brain kept thinking, “Well, she means multiple streams of income in the writing biz.”

No.

No, she doesn’t.

And yesterday, as I cleaned a client’s house and contemplated how my first listing of Cottage West was now up (I have three separate listings, one for each room and one for a whole house rental) and live, I now had yet another stream of income in place.

When you look at it that way, my family currently has five streams of income:

  • My writing income
  • My housecleaning business income
  • My husband’s full time income as an IT tech
  • Our Cottage West Airbnb
  • Foster care income (by the way, did you know that Missouri is second to last in the country for foster care reimbursement rates? So no, it’s not much money)

I was so delighted to realize that I had, in fact, secured a new income stream that I sent a tweet off to Joanna Penn…

I love that she writes back. She must get hundreds of tweets a day, but she takes the time to respond back nonetheless.

The Elephant in the Room

And now for the bad news. Because life is complicated, twisty, turny and all that.

I haven’t been writing.

Not at all.

For over two months.

This really needs to change.

As I worked on the Airbnb, my own house, or at a client cleaning – several times in the past couple of weeks I could hear a friend’s words echoing in my mind.

Are you writing anything? The world needs your words.

Right.

Best get on that.

Hey! If you have read this far, comment below. The spammers are coming for me and I desperately require human contact. Tell me I’m pretty! Hell, tell me I’m a pain in the patoot, whatever, just talk to me. Please?

10,000 Steps or Bust

The life of a writer (who also cleans houses and renovates houses to turn into Airbnb’s) is not as easy as folks might think. That said, after evaluating my average daily steps through the Pacer program on my iPhone, I knew I had to up my game.

I typically walk anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 steps a day. I wanted to see that number increase to at least 10,000 steps every single day. My left hip really bothers me when I don’t stretch it out with yoga and exercise, and sitting for long periods of time is pretty much agonizing.

I’ve lost ten pounds since May and folks have started to notice. That’s wonderful, but I could do with another 40 less pounds. It will do wonders for my pre-diabetes and overall health.

I had given away my treadmill. It was a large, overly noisy affair, and even with the treadmill desk my husband had built for me, I disliked using it. But I knew I needed to walk more, and kept wondering if there wasn’t something else out there on the market that could just fit under my desk and hopefully not make a bunch of noise.

And that’s when I found it. An under desk treadmill with plenty of positive reviews. It gives you the option of unfolding it if you want to run. If you leave it folded, you are limited to walking 1-4 miles per hour. And honestly? That works for me. I only run when I’m being chased, and that hasn’t happened for years and years now. Walking a nice, laid back pace was just what I needed.

So I bought this and it came in yesterday and I’m walking away on it while typing this post. A steady 2.5 mph allows me to easily type, think, and exercise all at the same time. What’s not to love?

Here is a link to the standing desk attachment I bought a few months ago. This allows me to change from a sitting to standing position at any time.

And here is the link to the treadmill. I bought it in blue. It’s super pretty and super-quiet. It just whispers along as I walk. Perfect for keeping me on track with my writing and my health at the same time!

Enjoy!

p.s. If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment. I love hearing from readers!

London Calling

I’m going to London! I’m going to London!

I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl.

The Airbnb is booked.

The airline tickets are purchased.

I only have to wait 171 days to get on that plane.

The one and only time I have left the United States was to go to Panama in late 2016 and it was not a happy trip. I was there to bring my ill father back to the United States and it was filled with nursing duties, along with desperate trips to the U.S. Embassy and Immigration to deal with my dad’s expired visa.

This trip will be FANTASTIC.

As I was cleaning a client’s house on Friday, I decided to listen to back episodes of the Self Publishing Show and when the host said that they were going forward with a one-day writer’s conference in London on March 9th and only charging 30 pounds per ticket, I knew I had to go.

I bought a ticket to the conference and began scouting Airbnb’s as well as plane tickets. At first, I was focused on bringing the whole family, hang the expense – me, my husband, and our two daughters, one of which is still our foster daughter (although we hope to adopt her soon).

Friends, and my husband, all talked me out of it. The hubs wanted a romantic getaway for two, and my friends asked me, “Think about how long that flight is. She’ll be four and bored out of her mind.”

Good point.

And then I thought of the other trip I want to take in 2020 – a two-week affair that includes swinging by family in Seattle as well as San Francisco in our Airstream. I’m sure we could find other fun places to stop at along the way.

If just my hubby and I go in March, then we would have more than enough funds to do the two-week trip in the fall 2020, with both the girls, right before school started.

The conference is for one day, and we will be there for a full week. Plenty of time to get a ton of sightseeing in, along with a delight of foods to feast upon.

London is calling…and I have answered with a “Hell, yes!”

All Hail the Ticking Clock

I thought I was done with biological clocks when menopause set in. It had been loud, insistent, and overwhelming at times. At the age of 46, almost 47, the biological ticking clock had silenced, and in a lot of ways, I didn’t miss it at all.

But in its place came another clock.

Retrieving my dad from Panama when he fell ill, and bringing home to live with us for two plus years before transferring him to a nursing home, was a huge change for all of us.

It was also an enormous wake-up call for me.

I had always considered my dad to be quite intelligent, so I was dumbfounded by his lack of planning. He had no savings to speak of, was dependent on his only source of income, a meager amount from the Social Security Administration, and he was incapable of caring for himself any longer.

It struck me, hard, especially as I realized that my own health was at risk. I was edging closer and closer to Type 2 diabetes, and I could see firsthand what ignoring those risks had done to him. I needed to lose weight, get my blood sugar under control, and above all, get a plan in place for years and decades left in front of me.

My biological clock had been replaced with the “you’re going to get old and die” clock. And this bitch was a loud metronome, ticking down the moments of my life like the hand of doom had been set firmly on my shoulder. I began to ask myself, sometimes daily, what vision I had for the future. What would my life be like in five years? In ten? In twenty?

We had little or no savings, no real retirement plan, and at some point, my body will fail me – so cleaning houses would not always be something I could do, even if I did want to do it for years and years, which I really don’t. It has been a wonderful opportunity to make good money and dictate my own schedule. Frankly, I could double my income quite easily if I wanted, but instead, I’ve kept my client list low and turned away work so that I could instead have time to homeschool my daughter and write my books.

My dreams of making solid money writing books were constantly being interrupted and delayed by the housecleaning business, but the savings weren’t growing as fast as I would like.

Coincidentally, a few years back, a neighbor started running an Airbnb out of part of his large old house. I was fascinated by the idea, and Cottage West (which we had purchased in 2014) was the perfect place for us to create a short term rental.

The plan has taken many twists and turns, but I’m excited because the last month of hard, HARD work has taken us most of the last leg of the journey. This morning, after waking up still hazy from a bit too much wine (I rarely drink, so it really hits me hard when I do), there in one of the newly appointed bedrooms of Cottage West, I realized a couple of things.

  1. That ticking clock might have been loud, but more than anything, it has been effective. I’ve lost ten pounds in the past two months.
  2. My vision of a home revitalized from a decrepit house with raccoons as nightly guests has become instead, a beautiful, welcoming home for future guests.
  3. Just because I can’t do it all myself, doesn’t lessen the fact that I had the vision in the first place, and that’s a powerful thing.
  4. This is just the beginning. We have finish work to do to make the house ready for guests, and that will take a couple of weeks at most, but then I want to focus on several more areas (see below). My dream is far from complete, but it is well thought out.
  5. I’ve achieved a decent balance – I set aside all writing priorities in August, and honestly, I’ll probably do the same for September. I need to get the income flowing in. Once I have a decent rhythm in place, I want to sink back into my writing, dig my toes into it, and return to creating. The Airbnb income will give me that freedom. And if I handle it right, it might just give me the freedom to also stop cleaning houses and just focus on managing the Airbnb’s and writing!

The ticking clock in my head requires, nay, demands that I acknowledge my mortality. At the age of 49 years, the chance that I have already lived more than half of my years is a distinct possibility. Now I must focus on what the quality of the next half of my life will be like. It has felt like a race up until now, but I am hoping that as Cottage West begins to function smoothly as an Airbnb (and bring in good money) that I will be able to slow down a little.

I talked to my husband and said, “I see what we need to do so clearly, but I don’t want this to be a punishing race like the last three months have been (first building the front fence and then putting every minute we could spare into Cottage West). How about we discuss objectives for each month so that we have a project, one that moves us forward, but it isn’t an all-consuming ‘git er done’ kind of thing?”

He agreed, and so we continue, in approximately this order:

  1. Finish the main level of Cottage West and place it on Airbnb, VRBO, et cetera.
  2. Have contractor run PEX lines up to attic for a half bath (toilet and sink).
  3. Get Airstream into refurbisher and get it ready to Airbnb
  4. Re-do front entry pathway, side path, fire pit circle, and pathway to Airstream all in brick and mortar.
  5. Open Airstream up for rent on Airbnb and VRBO, et cetera.
  6. Finish out the attic in Cottage West to turn into a 3rd bedroom and half bath for guests. Rent it out on Airbnb, VRBO, et cetera.
  7. Clear out Cottage West basement and seal it so it is dry and not musty. Run electrical, plumbing and create a one bedroom, one bath, living/kitchen layout. Once a path to the back has been laid, open it up as a separate Airbnb.
  8. Begin work on Cottage East to create a four bedroom, 3 1/2 bath Airbnb on the main/upstairs levels that will have two full ensuites along with two bedrooms that share a bathroom. Also work on creating a basement ensuite with a separate entrance.

This is a long-term plan and we won’t be done with everything until around mid-2022. And these plans aren’t all about making money. It is also about creating our future. We are putting into place a legacy for our daughter Em (and our foster daughter if we are able to adopt her). I know too that if we have regular income coming in, where only basic management is needed, that I can finally relax, stop worrying about the ticking clock and our cash flow and instead focus on writing.

Heck, eventually, I hope to hand over the management of the Airbnb’s to someone else so that I can fully focus on writing and life here at home. A business that, with little effort or time from us, will run itself.

The other day I asked myself what it would be like if all I had to do was write – no more homeschool, no more cleaning houses (except, possibly, the ones I own).

I imagined waking up each morning and practicing yoga, meditating, and then filling my day with bouts of writing interspersed with house and home and regular exercise. It felt kind of perfect, to be honest. A future hard-won, but well worth living.

Also, when we are older, do we really want to live in this big old house and deal with stairs every day? Or would it be better to live on one level, in Cottage West, and even have a possible live-in help situation where someone with nursing experience could live in the basement apartment?

I refuse to ignore the future and I hope to plan for it as best as I possibly can. I don’t want to be a burden to my daughter, or blithely go about with no concern about where I will end up. That is a recipe for disaster – one that my father has to live with each day.

The future I dream of includes writing and publishing many more books. Of that I am sure.

Here’s hoping that once we have Cottage West in action, the ticking clock will quiet down a little. I’m ready for a little more peace and quiet!

Transitions

Emily at Apple Camp on The Plaza this summer

“I think I might want to go to school this year.”

It took me by surprise.

A few minutes later and my mind was reeling. I had been in the middle of homeschool planning, a host of nonfiction history books for middle schoolers were already in the mail, my membership with our homeschool co-op had been paid for just that morning, and I had a list of documentaries I wanted to focus on for monthly viewing.

I had hit that high that I get as the ideas of what to teach and what to cover start to energize me and I begin to look forward to what we will learn in the school year to come.

The feeling pretty quickly fades. I’m good at some aspects of teaching, but I suck at others. And while it might seem strange, the subjects that I am good at (English, Writing, Spelling), I think I’m pretty terrible at teaching – and the subjects I suck at (Math, History), I’m actually pretty good at teaching.

Experimenting with her latest concoction in the Art Room

Yet still.

I sat for a moment feeling bereft and Em saw it and asked if I was okay with it. “We can homeschool, if you really want to.” She said it with a worried look on her face.

“No, baby,” I told her and smiled, my heart expanding in my chest. “Just give me a few minutes to adjust, and I’ll be okay. I love you and if this is what makes you happy then we should absolutely do it.”

I got up from bed where I had been browsing Netflix, sat down at my desk, and dug in. I didn’t just want to send her to public school, I wanted to send her somewhere where she could continue to blossom, a charter school, that focused on areas she was interested in.

Hogwarts Camp this summer

It took about an hour for me to find some decent contenders…

  • Crossroads Middle School
  • Citizen of the World
  • Kipp Preparatory Academy

As I whittled it down to just two (Citizen of the World unfortunately only goes up to 6th grade this year), I began to get excited. My sadness vanished as I imagined her going to either Kipp or Crossroads, especially Crossroads, and meeting new friends, and even walking back to my husband’s work each day after school since she will only be a couple of blocks away.

I imagined what my days would be like, especially once the Airbnb income replaces the need for me to clean houses, and I found myself smiling at the thought of the three other members of my family departing the house at the same time in the morning and returning together in the afternoon. How nice that would be to have hours to write, handle housework, and manage the Airbnb properties.

It was one thing I didn’t have to put off – the writing – in order to be present and available for Em during the weekdays. I wouldn’t have to try to balance enough schooling with sneaking in some writing time.

When I became pregnant with Em, I was in the middle of my first semester at UMKC. The first, and only, semester.

I have zero regrets over dropping out of college to have her, and stay with her, these past 12, almost 13 years. She is an amazing girl who is loved by so many, and, even in the throes of adolescence, is full of confidence, kindness, and is well-grounded.

I look at our little family and know that having an intact household, with a mom and a dad who love her, having all the wonderful things we have in our lives, and in this past year a younger sister, has all helped make her into the wonderful person that she is.

Goofy kid!

The sadness of her wanting to go to school was momentary, fleeting, and it turned into happiness at the thought that she was able to verbalize the request and that I was able to hear it not as a rebuke or vote of no confidence, but as a reminder that she is growing and is capable of going out into the bigger world.

The applications are in, and now we wait for one of the schools to contact us. Until then we are doing “homeschool lite.” I hope it is Crossroads. It would be perfect – location-wise, curriculum, and even the athletics department. Above all, I want her to be happy. When I told her that, she laughed.

“Mama, you don’t want me to be ‘just happy’ – because if that were true, I’d never have to clean my room.”

Em with her latest baby, a kitten we named Spice (we have what we believe is her older sister, Sugar, aged 2 years as well)

Okay, kid. You got me there. I want you mostly happy. With a clean room to go along with it!

Me, after Little Miss added a hat that is a little bit on the small side!