Kudos Go to The Creative Penn

I’ve been listening a lot to The Creative Penn podcast and it has made a serious difference in my outlook on many aspects of my writing business. It still feels strange to say that, writing business, when you consider how little income I will collect for all of 2017, but still. Keep in mind that I didn’t consider myself an author until after my second book.

In any case, if you are jonesing to make your writing pay, you really need to check out The Creative Penn website and start listening to her podcast. You can also follow her on Twitter. My only trouble now is in how to get all of the things I have learned in the past four weeks into some kind of action plan that doesn’t blow my circuits.

An example from the newly formatted Gliese 581: The Departure

New Interiors!

A recent blog post by Joanna Penn on formatting sent me on yet another mission to upgrade what I’ve already got out there. I realized, upon clicking on some of the links, that I could do a lot better with my interior formatting. The professional covers pull them in, but I want my readers to have an eyeful when they get inside of the book as well.

This led me to check out Book Design Templates, ooh and ahh over the look of them and decide to get my crap together and make my own version. If only because I’m dollars poor and time-rich.

A chapter from Schicksal Turnpike, which I placed as an excerpt at the end of Gliese: The Departure. Schicksal will hopefully be available in mid-March 2018

Another way to look at it was this. I spent TWO DECADES in offices – creating templates, and working closely with Word and other word-processing software. Sure I could pay $89 for a template, or I could spend a little bit of time to create my own.

I dabbled with finding the perfect “chapter art” as I am calling the designs within. Adding lines, breaking up the chapter number, the title, and even increasing the size (and changing the font) of the first letter of the text.

A chapter in Gliese 581: The Departure

I’m very excited about the new look!

The newly formatted War’s End: The Storm

Each book will have its own unique chapter art. I may even do some Zentangle mandala and use that.

Take a Step Back

I realized this morning that I’m burning the candle at both ends and need to focus on one thing at a time. So, first things first, get ALL of my books I have written whipped into shape, inside and out.

Then, and only then, will I resume my writing projects.

I just desperately need to get this housekeeping work of formatting and engineering the best look possible out of my books before I jump into any more projects.

I’ve also determined, based on sales data for nearly two months, that I need to branch out to other host sites for my non-fiction books, and possibly for Gliese 581: The Departure. Right now, I’ve committed myself to Amazon only by agreeing to the KDP program, which demands exclusivity. For War’s End: The Storm and War’s End: A Brave New World, this might make sense. But for my other books? I’m not selling ANY of my non-fiction books.

So Step 1 is get my formatting done. Step 2 is branch out to other ebook and print sellers. This also means another learning curve and days spent understanding the different online bookstore and even (hopefully) finally learning how to put together all of the different versions of epub, .mobi, kobo, nook, et cetera.

Build It and They Will Come

Back in 2005 when I started my housecleaning biz, I struggled with getting my name out there. With no budget for advertising, I had to somehow market my business without spending a ton of money.

And thank goodness for Craig’s List! The site was relatively new at that time, and I got a ton of business by just having a smart, and simple, ad in place. I stopped advertising on Craig’s List a couple of years ago. Honestly, all I need to do these days is to post occasionally on Facebook if I am in need of more clients. More often than not, they find me.

Today was one of the latter – a potential client who had met me while on a garden tour (Our garden The Deadly Nightshade was on the tour three years ago, folks!) and asked if I had any openings. I did, and I’ll meet with her next Saturday and probably start cleaning her house in January.

It was a reminder that, if I build it, if I keep working at this day in and day out, that the wave will continue to build and I will begin to see a steady income from my writing.

It might be slow-going, but it is already building and that’s an exciting thing to see.

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A New Perspective

Six weeks have passed since my altercation with my neighbor. I wrote about it here.

Since that time I’ve managed to say “Hello” to him twice. The first time he just stared at me like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The second time he actually answered and said, “How’s it going?”

So, despite my dour prediction that he would cuss me out, he has not.

It has all been extremely uncomfortable for me. I am in uncharted territory with this neighbor and I fear I’m about to step off into the deep end.

I will explain.

On Wednesday, I returned home from a cleaning and Jay (my friend and contractor) and her truck were missing. I walked inside and learned from her wife Michelle that there had been an incident and that my neighbor had collapsed and needed to be rushed to the emergency room.

Yes, this is the very same neighbor I have been so challenged by. The one who has called codes on us (and us on him in retaliation), the one who has caused me time, energy, money, and no small amount of indignant fury and angst.

This is the very same one who I, when slapped with two parking tickets I would not have gotten had he not called to intentionally harass us, marched over to his house and told him to “do us all a favor and just drop dead because no one would miss [you].”

Yeah. I said it. It was mean, and over the top, and wrong and I said it when I was angry and resentful.

So here is my contractor and her wife loading up this stinky, drunk, hot mess of a guy into their truck, driving him to the hospital, and staying with him. Jay especially, since she stayed there for hours, talked to nurses, and talked sense into my neighbor (and got him to admit to personnel that he had downed multiple beers before accidentally ingesting an overdose of a medication at ten in the morning). Jay, amazing human being that she was, who then returned not once, but two more times over the next day and a half, and then drove him back home on Thursday evening.

She gave me, and consequently my husband and children, a new perspective as well.

We want to see people in black and white terms – good or bad, black or white, kind or mean, asshole or saint.

We want to justify our own actions – to somehow make it okay for us to say, “Fuck you too, dude, you just cost me $135 in parking tickets. I hope you drop dead.”

But in the end, no one is two-dimensional. God, it would be so much easier if they were. I could label him so neatly and easily.

Asshole. Misogynistic prick.

I could say, “He harassed us. He sicced codes against us left and right.”

And it would be true.

But I would be remiss to leave it there. To say, “He’s a jerk, no one likes him, and he’s been a pain in my side.”

Because that is one-sided. There is more to this story. For the past few months, and especially the past few days, I’ve been getting a crash course on the other side of things. And the picture I have been getting is that my neighbor is lonely and alone. Aside from two dogs, my neighbor has no one to love him or care for him in any way. I learned about his medical issues, and his fear of his own mortality, and how that might impact the lives of his two best friends, who both have fur and walk on four legs. I came to understand that his situation is one of abject poverty and that he is afraid of everyone – how they look at him, interact with him and judge him.

A human being who has, like all of us, faults, shortcomings, and fears. A human being who un-like most of us has no one he can trust, depend on, or who cares for him.

I listened to Jay describe someone who has spent years without another human being to care for or love him in return.

I listened, I thought about how that would feel, how it must be for him.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t like this man. I don’t want to be his friend. And perhaps I never will.

But I mixed up a batch of bread dough, let it rise, and shaped it into loaves for us, for Jay and Michelle, and for our neighbor who has been such a thorn in my side. I baked it in the oven until the crusts were a deep golden brown and the smell crept out of the oven, filled the kitchen, and made my friends smile as they fixed my creaky old dining room table. I wrapped up one of the loaves, and my young daughter wrote a short note to him, wishing him well and hoping he felt better. She drew two dogs on the card, his dogs, and signed her name. I added a short note, wishing him well, and signed my name, and Michelle and my daughter walked over to his house and delivered the bread, still hot from the oven, to his door.

Call it a peace offering. Call it being a good neighbor. Call it what you like. Michelle described the look on his face, the wonder on it as he felt the bread, warm, in his hands. She said he teared up, and that he called out to my daughter, waiting on the sidewalk outside of his front fence, and said, “Thank you.”

I can’t expect it to instantly fix the bad blood between us, but I hope that it is a start in the right direction. I have often said that a great deal of loyalty can be bought in this area simply with a few farm-fresh eggs or fresh tomatoes. Perhaps in this case it will be home-baked bread.

If so, it will be a small price to pay for peace.

I know that I am blessed with a loving family, a beautiful home, and more opportunity than most. I have so much to be grateful for. A few short months ago, two women came into our lives that have changed the atmosphere, and possibly the future of that “one bad neighbor” into something that could change, could improve, and could even blossom into something far better. All it took was being open to it.

I’m Working on NOT Salting the Earth


This post has nothing to do with writing. I would have used The Deadly Nightshade, but I already posted there today, so here I am.

My eldest daughter, Danielle (Dee), has repeated a saying she has about me a number of times, “My mom doesn’t just burn bridges, she lays down napalm and then salts the earth.”

And this was never more true than yesterday.

The morning started off like a typical Saturday around here. A laundry list of “to do’s” to be done. On the top of the list? Cleaning up any stuff we hadn’t gotten around to taking to the dump before the roofers put on the new roof at The Cottage, our current renovation project.

What is it about renovation projects, anyway? My pocketbook is screaming bloody murder every time I go near it!

In any case, I was working in the back yard of The Cottage, picking up pieces of lumber, building materials, and no small amount of roofing materials as well, when I looked over and saw the neighbor, Dale, tossing stuff into our yard.

And here is where the napalm and salting the earth started. I demanded to know “what in the hell” he thought he was doing.

He snarled back that he was getting “the shit your roofers left in my yard” out.

Now, here is the moment when I had a choice. And I chose badly. I will freely admit that. I could have defused the situation. I could have said, “I’m sorry, it looks like they left a mess over here too. Here, let me get something for you to throw that in, or would you prefer I come over there and clean it up myself?”

They say hindsight is 20/20. I just think it is a bite-you-on-the-butt kind of bitch.

Yes, he was being a classless jerk by throwing crap over the fence into my yard. And yes, he had also been throwing his beer cans over into my yard prior to this.





That’s pretty much what went through my head and that is exactly how I reacted. Pretty soon we were trading “fuck you” and “alcoholic freak” on my end and “goddammed cunt” and other aspersions as to my reproductive habits (or lack thereof) on his end. And more. It culminated in him inviting me over to his side of the fence to “settle this” and me suggesting I would bring the 2×4 in hand and knock him “up side his head.”

Although I was 20 feet away, he ran like hell for his house. I do tend to get the crazy eyes, so I can’t blame him. I would have backed away too. He yelled something about assault and disappeared inside.

By now, if the entire neighborhood hadn’t heard us, I cannot imagine how they had missed it.

My husband asked if he should call the police. “Are you kidding me?” I said, “I’m sure he’s already called them.”

It was time to drop my youngest off at music class, so I left with her, my heart still racing and my adrenaline pumping. By the time I returned, there were two police officers on the scene.

My husband had spoken to them, and explained the issue, offering to come clean up the yard. Dale was busy trying to get me arrested for assault, and I walked into The Cottage to try and figure out what would happen next. I knew I hadn’t assaulted him, and he had begun the confrontation, so I figured we would both be told “Cut that shit out,” by the police. They weren’t interested in taking sides.

Inside was Jay, my contractor, who is a friend of a friend, and pretty much an awesome human being in a lot of different ways. Jay shoots straight, something I appreciate deeply. In the few short weeks we have worked together, I have come to consider her a friend. Each day we sit down and eat lunch together and share stories. I hope we will continue to be friends long after The Cottage/Money Pit is done and behind us. Jay and her wife, from the moment I met them, struck a common chord with me. I talk sometimes about how Dave and I collect folks – cool, smart, funny, awesome people – and Jay and Michelle definitely qualify in all of those categories.

And so I listened when she turned to me and said without any mincing of words, “You need to go and tell him you are sorry and you need to do it right now. That roofing material was in his yard. You handled it wrong and you know it. If you want to have a business here, then you need to start acting like you are in business and apologize to him right now. This is not going to get better until you change how you react to him.”

And damn but that was a VERY hard thing to hear. And at that moment it also felt like such an impossible thing. Apologize? To that shitty old man? After he had thrown stuff in my yard?

But she was right. And I knew it. Whether it had been the roofers or not, stuff with nails had gotten into his yard. Did he handle it right? No. But that didn’t give me license to be an asshole back.

I walked back out of The Cottage. By now, the cops, my husband and Dale were all standing in the back yard. The cops were noticing Dale’s beer cans on both sides of the fence. I did the best I could to apologize. And honestly? I’m pretty sure I did a rather crappy job at it.

But her words wouldn’t leave my head. They still haven’t over 24 hours later. “You need to change how you react to him.”

We talked about it at lunch that day, long after the cops had left. “You need to say ‘Hi Dale’ and ‘Good morning, Dale’ to him. He’s scared, he’s lonely, and he’s medicating his problems with alcohol. You need to learn to not say exactly what is on your mind. You are in business, you need to lie a little to keep the peace.”

Those weren’t her exact words. But they are close.

Her words, especially about him being lonely and scared, those hit me the hardest. I had to leave the room for a moment, because I remember being that – lonely and scared – for a lot of years of my life. People don’t see that when they look at me now. They see smiles, grins, scrappiness, friendliness (hopefully), and a genuine willingness to be a friend. That’s who I am now. But I wasn’t always that way. And hearing that someone else was stuck there in that lonely and scared cycle, it hurt, and I realized that I had to change. Jay reminded me that his aggressive behavior, his acting out, these are all symptoms of something else. Anger is a secondary emotion to fear and hurt.

And I have thought and thought and thought about her words and about how he must feel.

As I moved bricks and pulled weeds today, I thought about what she said. I sat there in the front yard of The Cottage and dreaded him coming out. Because I knew that when he did, I would have to turn to him and say, “Hi Dale.”

And I know what his response will be for now, and probably the next dozen encounters. “Fuck you, bitch.”

He didn’t come out. Which made it harder still. Because I’ve run through the scenarios – I could explain the situation to him, that I want to start a business, that I want him to just leave us alone, or that he needs to come to terms with the new reality of people right next to him.

But Jay’s words keep flitting through my head. And I know that I need to a) keep it simple, b) say little or less than I normally do, and c) be civil no matter his behavior.

And ‘c’ is really difficult, a bitter pill I’m staring at and trying to figure out how to swallow.

I am not sure how I’m going to do it. I’ve survived for 46 years using the napalm and salt method. I won’t say that it has worked particularly well for me, but it is what I know. It is the thing I jump to, the flaming sword I attack my attackers with. It isn’t easy to walk away from something like that.

Dale Ott and I will never be BFFs. But I hope that we can at least, at some time in the future, at least hope for more cordial relations. As The Cottage blossoms under our renovations, and the yard is cleared, I hope that I will be able to say “Hi Dale” and not worry about him trying to sabotage our B&B venture. And if I can manage to do that, then I think I can finally turn away from the napalm and the salt.

Life would sure be more peaceful that way.

Jumping Into Orbit with an Astronomer ROCK STAR

I’m feeling like I have just attained super-geek status right now. Giggly, “Oh my God, he spoke to me” kind of feeling. Step into a room and find greatness, kind of thing.

So let me explain.

When the news that a possible earth-like planet in the Gliese system was announced back in 2010, I was instantly captivated. Dr. Steve Vogt was in the news as he described his team’s findings. Fascinated by the idea, and with a story of a trip to this unknown and distant planet bouncing about in my head, I emailed Dr. Vogt.

Despite his busy, busy life fielding press and probably other dreamy-eyed writers like me, he wrote me back, which was amazingly kind.

When news of a Swiss team disproving his findings broke, and the news pilloried Dr. Vogt, I’ll admit, my project came to a standstill. I know it sounds silly, considering I’m a fiction writer and  all, but I actually wondered how I could write a story about Gliese 581g if the planet itself did not exist!

There was also the pesky problem of not knowing what the conflict point would be in the book, either. I had thought of a saboteur, but I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was.

It would be a couple of years before I saw the news of the James Webb Space Telescope and its scheduled launch date of 2018. I latched onto it immediately, changing the date (due to the conflict of The Collapse and the Second American Civil War in my War’s End books) to 2030. At that time, the increased abilities of the new telescope would “re-discover” Gliese 581.

I combined that with another story that was languishing in my Snippets folder, the Plague Tales, and combined them. The result was Gliese 581: Departure.

On a lark, I sent a second email to Dr. Vogt a few days ago. I wrote:

Dear Dr. Vogt-

Years ago, I emailed you when news of Gliese first broke. You kindly responded to me. I appreciated that, considering how inundated you must have been at the time.
It took a while for my vision of the book to fully form. But I wanted to share the news with you that it finally did. Along the way I spoke with a virologist, two nurses, and researched Chinese burial customs and proper autopsy procedures. Fascinating stuff. Gliese 581: Departure is slowly accumulating reviews. I will admit, that the reports that your findings could not be repeated saddened me – and caused a full stop for a little while on my literary endeavors.
That said, I am pleased to inform you that eventually you will be vindicated. I have attached my book for your reading pleasure. I would be happy to send you a paperback if you would prefer.
This is my first foray into science fiction, but it won’t be my last. I write cross-genre, so I have a Twilight Zone ‘esque novella to finish, and then a [oh dear god] TWELVE book fantasy series after that. But then the way will be free and clear for a sequel to this book.
I wish you well. Please forgive any assumptions this poor author has taken when assigning you descendants. I assure you they are of the highest character.
Best Regards,
Christine Shuck
Author, Community Educator, Homeschool Mom and General Malcontent
And today I received a lengthy response back from Dr. Vogt! I’m so excited to see this, and to learn, to my delight, that the possibility of Gliese 581g is still there!
I will admit to not understanding most of what is surely a dumbed down explanation of astrophysics. I’m including the entire email for your reading pleasure…
Hi Christine,
Nice to hear from you again. Yes, those were some crazy days back in 2010 when we announced GJ581g. I’m glad you decided to go ahead with your Sci-Fi novel. Thanks very much for sending me an advance copy. I will peruse it as soon as I can get some free bandwidth.
You needn’t be saddened about reports that others could not confirm my findings. Let me give you a bit of history and an update that you won’t find in the public media.
We worked on this result for many, many months, playing Devil’s advocate with our data and errors, to convince ourselves that we were on solid ground for claiming the detection of GJ 581g. We then submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal, the world’s premier journal of record for work in my field. It passed two independent peer reviews, both with flying colors. Indeed, our editor was/is also one of the world’s pre-eminent experts in statistical analysis, and literally “wrote the book” on statistical techniques in science. Even he agreed that our detection was rigorously significant using all the usual metrics for false alarms, etc. He even advised us that we were under-selling the confidence level of the detection. It was only after passing this rigorous peer-review process, and the paper was accepted, that we then organized the NSF press release announcement.
Several weeks after our announcement, the Swiss team from Geneva (the only other group then, and now, capable of providing confirmation of such a difficult detection) gave a talk at a conference in Trieste, Italy. At that conference, they verbally stated that they had an additional bunch of 60 new points of data, data that was also superior in quality to ours, and that they saw no evidence of GJ581g in their expanded data set. They did not provide that data in their talk, nor make it available to the public.
We were a bit disappointed in this, but could not respond in any way as they did not divulge any of their data. But we were skeptical, and so we simulated up a data set (actually we simulated 1000 data sets) using Monte Carlo techniques, that had the exact same cadence characteristics (they Swiss HARPS team doesn’t get to observe every day of the month, only in lunar bright time, etc) and signal/noise characteristics as their typical HARPS data. In these mock data sets, we inserted real signals at the periods of all the 4 known planets (b,c,d, and e) plus the ones we had claimed (f, and g). In doing so, we quickly convinced ourselves that, even if the Swiss had 60 more high quality data points, they would not have been able to either refute or confirm GJ581g. So we knew that their claim (that they would have been able to see GJ581g with their expanded, superior data set) was untrue. But since we did not have access to their data, we did not feel we could write this up and get it published in the peer-reviewed literature.
So we sat back, and waited, while we were roundly pilloried in the media about our GJ 518g claim being a false alarm. It was rather frustrating, and we were accused of being scoundrels, of grand-standing in order to get grants renewed, etc. etc. I was accused of making a “mistake” by assuming circular rather than eccentric orbits. All of this was complete and utter nonsense, but that was how it played out. And we just could not join the public discussion to defend our conclusions and data.
So we kept acquiring further precision velocity data on this system, and waited for the Swiss to eventually publish their data set. It took about a year of waiting for the Swiss to submit a preprint to the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, their equivalent of our Astrophysical Journal. That preprint by Forveille et al 2011 is attached fyi. Once we had their actual data set, I set about combining it with our data to do an extremely careful analysis of the joint data set and see what was what.
In doing this detailed analysis, we learned several things. First, the Swiss’s 4-planet Keplerian model was dynamically unstable, and was therefore manifestly unphysical. Secondly, we could not reproduce their values of Chi-squared, and RMS from using their 4-planet Keplerian model as fit to their data set. Digging in further, we realized that this was because they had omitted 5 of their data points from their analysis. These were specifically the 5 data points which had the worst fit to their model. They did this omission without disclosure. Indeed, they even stated in their paper that they had omitted no data points in their analysis.
Once we realized this, we re-did their analysis, including all of their data points, and omitting none. We also included the effects of planet-planet gravitational interaction, something the Swiss had not done, but that is critical for properly modeling this system. That kind of fit is called a dynamically “self-consistent” fit, and is generally not done as it requires a much more sophisticated level of numerical modeling. Anyway, our self-consistent fit, using their expanded data set, combined with our full data set, revealed that, after accounting for the 4 “known” planets b,c,d, and e, a statistically significant signal for planet g still emerged from the data set, with a period of 32-days, and consistent with a planet of minimum mass 2.2 times the mass of the Earth, and smack dab in the liquid water habitable zone. Furthermore, our 5-planet model was statistically superior to that of the Swiss, and was completely dynamically stable.
I wrote this all up and submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal to finally join the debate. Again, it passed several peer-reviews at ApJ, and was soon accepted for publication. Unfortunately, the Swiss’s Forveille et al paper had yet to be accepted by A&A, and to appear in print. So the ApJ editor put our accepted paper on-hold until the Forveille paper appeared in print. So we waited another 6 months.
Eventually, we gave up waiting for the Forveille et al paper to be accepted and to appear in print. And the ApJ editors just would not relent and let us publish until that happened. So we pulled the paper from ApJ and submitted it to Astronomische Nachrichten, a European journal in Potsdam. It passed peer-review and was published in only a few weeks. I attach a copy of that also fyi.
The Forveille et all paper was never accepted nor published. No doubt the A&A editors rejected it and they never re-submitted. They know they were wrong, and we called them out on it publicly. There is little they can say to change that. At the same time, the Swiss have had a habit of making their mistakes just disappear conveniently from the web. So, just in case they did this, I included all of their actual data in our A.N. paper, for all to see, for all time. Anyone can repeat my analysis, with all of the available data, and will come to the same conclusions I did.
So, even though the press has long since moved on and forgotten about GJ581g, the scientific peer-reviewed record shows that our result still stands, our analysis is the last and best word on the reality of GJ581g, and the available data and most sophisticated analyses all indicate that planet g exists, albeit with a slightly smaller period (32d instead of 36d) and slightly smaller mass (2.2 Mearth). What will it take to firmly confirm this planet? That’s a tough one. We already have many hundreds of data points. We’d need more than twice that data set to even begin to make further improvements (as I discussed at the end of our rebuttal paper). Also, this is a particularly complex system in that the 67d orbit could be either circular or eccentric. Slight amounts of eccentricity in the 67d orbit could be used to mask the signal from the 32d. So the reality or not of planet g is coupled to whether or not the 67d planet’s orbit has a small amount of eccentricity. This is a very tough thing to assess, even though we now know from KEPLER results of thousands of exoplanet orbits, that it is most likely that all of these GJ581 orbits are very nearly, if not perfectly circular.
So GJ581g still lives, at least according to the present set of available data, and the best and most sophisticated analyses of those data. But we have moved on to many other systems that are much simpler and easier to confirm. These are systems such as Kapteyn b, GJ 667Cc, GJ667Ce, and GJ667Cf. FYI, a list of these nearest potentially habitable Earth-sized planets can be found here:
Sorry for the long-winded reply. It is not an easy story to tell, and the version that played out in the public media would have one believe that GJ581g was merely a flash in the pan, another debunked result for the dustbin of history. Quite the contrary, it is still alive and well according to the official record, the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
I will read through your novel as soon as I can get some time. In the meantime, I wish you much success with its release. And I’ll keep my eye on the NYT list for its imminent arrival.
With all best regards,
Steve Vogt
So, yeah…My inner fan girl is squealing with excitement.
Let’s be honest, my husband can attest to hearing several squeals of excitement from me. What an amazing guy. He wrote a fantastic, long response and I’m so damned excited – to hear from him, to know that the non-existence of Gliese 581g was erroneously reported, and so much more.
Dr. Vogt, you made my week. I swear I’d hug you if I could.


Feel Free to Ignore This Post


Because I’m going to bitch.

/cue rant

I don’t do it very often (well, at least not publicly, my family would probably have a different view) and I’m sitting on the fence, frustrated and peeved.

In the past week, I have had five review requests from “authors” needing reviews of their books.

As an author, I have a hard time saying no. After all, I know all too well just how hard it is to get reviews on a book you have spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours crafting, editing, and polishing.

Sometimes I feel like a supplicant on my knees as I politely, and then with increasing desperation, ask, “Would you read my book? Would you review it? Can I send you my book? Tell me what you think.”

Believe me, working in an office surrounded by catty, bitchy women seems rather appealing at the moment. In fact, the marketing side of writing is just a short step up from working in a call center with angry, pissed off BCBS customers reaming my ass for something I didn’t do while having to follow rules I didn’t make.

But I digress.

These “authors” – and yes, I feel the need to use quotation marks for two reasons. One, because they are anything BUT authors. Seeking to cash in on the self-publishing revolution, these jerks write (or plagiarize) the crappiest junk they can, as fast as they can, and then toss it up onto Amazon in the hopes that some idiot will buy it and they will be rich.

I was sent a pdf of a “book” written by a non-native English speaker (without any discernible editing that I could see – and folks I’m NOT editor material) about how to lose weight practicing yoga. Not only did the “author” NOT include ANY pictures of yoga poses, he also basically insulted anyone who is even slightly overweight by suggesting that the way they would discover it was because when out at bars and public venues people who are given your number don’t call you back.

The next one I fell for had a GREAT cover. It was purported to be a self-help book and the person billed themselves as a “bestselling author.”  They sent me a pdf that was 14 pages long and rife with errors, including brackets that literally had [Insert book title here].

Better yet? That pdf was actually sent with the following message: “Just a sidenote, I didn’t have time to get this book to an editor because I got in a huge rush with my launch, so it will not be absolutely perfect text, but I’d say it’s still pretty well written 🙂 ”


If that person is a bestselling author, then please, go ahead, shoot me in the head now because the literary world has truly become a mammoth mountain of horse dung.

Now all of this bitching is rather two-faced of me. I’ll admit it.

My first forays into self-publishing were rife with errors. I did my best with the skills I had, and I did have family members or friends help me with editing considering I had no budget for such things.

I still don’t have a budget for such things – so I have a content editor (my eldest daughter) a line editor (my friend Kerrie) and my husband serves as my auditory beta reader. I read the entire book to him, editing as I went. And that is how I managed to whittle down the errors to around 15 (so far, there may be more). One of my first readers was kind enough to send me a list of fixes, 14 in total, and then I found a repetitive word in one of the first chapters when I received a proof copy.

I’ve put out books that had lovely artwork by my eldest daughter but weren’t considered “professional” covers.

And I’ve put out books that I now want to revise since my writing skills have improved exponentially since.

But there is one thing that I absolutely do not share with these other “authors.” And that is this – I’m not looking at writing as a way to make quick, easy money. Sure, I would really, really like it if one of my books went viral and people started reading it on the subways of New York and then hunting down every other book I’ve written because they just couldn’t get enough.

Do dollar signs dance in front of my eyes? Rarely. It is why I am putting other passive income streams into play – like overhauling The Cottage and making it into an Air B’nB. I hope for more income on writing, and teaching, and cleaning houses, so that I can put that money into The Cottage and then it will turn around and become a money maker that gives me regular income while I continue to work on the writing. I’m shooting for that whole 10,000 hours thing.

I’m not a one-trick pony and I’m in this for the long haul.

But in the end, I can’t help wondering if I’ll be that pretty shiny gemstone sitting somewhere on a mountain of feces. Fighting that is frustrating to say the least.

/end bitchy rant

Back to work I go. I’ve got three projects to choose from, best get to it.

Each Blow Pushes Me Closer

I’ve never been a one-trick pony. I’ve never had just one love, to the exclusion of all others.

So it isn’t surprising that I’ve spent the past ten years (or more) spinning plates…

  • Plate 1 – cleaning houses
  • Plate 2 – home and family
  • Plate 3 – arts and crafts
  • Plate 4 – reading and learning…voracious and unending
  • Plate 5 – writing
  • Plate 6 – teaching
  • Plate 7 – gardening

I’m sure there are more.

But when it comes to pulling my weight, and earning money, I’ve also done whatever I could. Especially in the past ten years where, with the small exception of a part-time job in a woman’s home office, I have not stepped foot into the corporate/”working” world.

I haven’t missed it…the bickering, the manipulation, the high school days revisited in dozens of unhappy desk jockeys who hate their lives.

Now I’m not saying that everyone hates their jobs or lives…just all of the ones I encountered!

I tried building the cleaning business…and was met with monumental ups and downs. So much so that, when I would acquire a new cleaning client I would mentally review all of the clients I currently had and try to figure out who would be next to lose a job, move, retire, or otherwise upset the apple cart of income I was receiving. With every ‘up’ in income, I would see a corresponding ‘down.’

And let’s face it, cleaning toilets is no one’s dream job. I derived a sense of satisfaction from it – making something clean out of a dusty mess – and I wasn’t having to punch a time clock or deal with women who acted as if they were still in high school cliques, but it wasn’t my lifelong dream and desire.

So in 2007 I began teaching classes. This grew, and grew, and GREW.

Except when it didn’t.

Last year it was last minute RFID implementation in one of my main host sites. They canceled classes willy nilly, not rescheduling, just canceling. This would happen a few weeks or a month before the class – far too late to fill with anything else that could make me money.

This past January, when I received a request for 34 classes, I was over the moon. It meant doubling my average monthly income from last year. Something I desperately needed because I had finally given up on my cleaning biz. I have three dedicated clients, and for as long as they need services, I’m up for it. But I’m not looking for new ones, not even accepting new ones, and I had already made the decision to focus on classes and writing.

Then last week dealt me another huge blow. My biggest client decided to remove 21 classes from the roster. Not because I had done anything wrong, or because there were any problems with my performance in any way. It was simply a change in policy on the types of classes they would host. Even in light of offering them a long list of other possible classes, they chose to cancel instead of substitute. This cost me nearly $2,800 in income.

And then yesterday, another blow came. I had scheduled five classes with a site I use off and on. It meant, according to my figures, the possibility of about $1000 in additional income. Last night I received an email that, due to the director of programs leaving after 30+ years, they were canceling their summer classes and would resume in the fall.

Again it seems that for every step forward, I end up taking two steps back.

I won’t get into the HOURS I spent scheduling all of these classes on the Google Calendar, creating invoices and even preparing future posts in TDN that would automatically post five days before a class to remind folks. In fact, I scheduled so many that I broke my database. It refuses to let me in to delete them now! (This means I get to check TDN every day for the next four months and delete the post as soon as possible. Fun, fun, fun!)

I have always shied away from the abstract. And to me, writing is nothing but abstract when it comes to income. I love it, but will it pay? I love to write stories, and those who have read them have had good things to say, but that doesn’t pay the bills folks. Not at all.

Yet, with each blow I receive, I find myself inching closer and closer to just dropping it all and saying, “Screw it, I’m going to write. I’m going to write, write, WRITE and just see what happens.”

Last night, with the TDN database not working, locking me out, giving me errors, along with a recalcitrant child who doesn’t want to do her chores, less and less money earned each month, et cetera…I just broke down and cried. I’m angry, frustrated, and so much more. I feel as if I have done everything right, been professional, given good quality classes, and yet, here I stand.

So I took the night to work it out and here is what I decided…

  • I’m raising my prices – I’m not leaving my house for less than $200 (a few exceptions apply on this…women’s groups, some charitable organizations)
  • I’m adding in a cancellation clause with my class hosts – cancel with less than one month’s notice and pay 75% of the class fee, two month’s is 50%, three months is 25% (this won’t apply to classes that are not happening due to lack of sign-ups)
  • I’m restricting our homeschool outings to less than three or less per week – I feel like I’m never at home anymore!
  • I’m reducing my teaching availability to no more than eight classes per month
  • I’m damned well FINISHING my book projects I have planned
  • I’m going to venture back into the world of writing for gardening, parenting, homeschooling magazines

So, that’s the story, folks. I’m pissed, frustrated, sad and stressed. But I’ve got some ideas in place and now I’m going to put them all together and see where we end up. Change isn’t easy…but each experience has been leading me to this place, this moment, where I stand now.

Shock, Awe, and…Thankful

I stand at the crossroads…as if I have woken up from a deep sleep and found the answer staring me in the face. Of all the things I have tried – cleaning business, making earrings, working in offices, leasing apartments, bookkeeping, teaching, professional organizing – it has all fallen short somehow.

Although I do truly love to teach. I doubt that will change anytime soon.

And what fills my head, what occupies my thoughts in this moment at this time are…


This dumbfounded, “Wait, I could write AND make money? ME?” still keeps knocking me in the head. Perhaps because I had been drinking my own Kool-Aid for far too long and listening to that awful little denigrating voice that said, “Sure, you can write, but you’ll never make any money at it. You just don’t write the right stuff, honey, and besides, that cover letter always stops you dead.”

And shock too that, after making so many attempts at writing a stupid cover letter, all of a sudden, I’m over it. And I do mean, completely over it. Like the Bio that I used to dread writing, now I can whip out a cover letter, no problem. I wrote enough different bios over the years and it stopped being scary/egotistical/embarrassing. I just reeled off a cover letter to Parents magazine. Without fear, just WHAM there on the page, but smooth baby, oh so smooth. It doesn’t mean I’ll get a “yes,” but it does mean that I tried.


That overwhelming feeling over, “Oh my GOD, someone said yes, and I can do this, I can do this!” combined with, “Holy crap, I forgot about all of these miscellaneous writings!” It turns out I have dozens of nearly ready to go articles. A quick review, some editing, and then, “Gee, who shall I send THIS to?”

I’ve forgotten about more pieces than I remember. And I’m finding them now, gliding through the files, burrowing into ideas and random thoughts and deep, dark memories. It’s a friggin’ gold mine over here. I just need to polish and submit, rinse and repeat, and then keep writing.


The shaping of a human being does not end with adulthood, nor with our parents. Every person we encounter, positive, negative, thought-provoking, and more – they change us, affect us, and move us in some big/little/great/small way. And I find, at this moment, I have such profound gratitude for the people who I have met and seen move on, those who exist in my life at this moment, and those who I have yet to meet.

I would not be the person I am without each one of you. Each experience, good, bad, even the simplest of comments, I find they have moved me in ways I didn’t think possible.

As much as you may not realize it, every person in my life right now, and before this, and yes even those to come, have guided me here, to this moment. And that is an amazing, humbling feeling. If you are reading this now, then you probably had a part in the me that is now over the moon, excited and jazzed and pumped full of life just thinking about writing and making a living out of it. So…thank you…collectively. If I tried to list everyone out, I would miss someone terribly important.

So thank you for being you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Making Connections – Finding New Friends

When I was in my early 20s and facing the very real specter of an impending divorce, I said to someone, “I’m 22, and I feel like my life is over.”

He shook his head and said, “I’m 32, and I feel like my life is just beginning.”

That stuck with me for years, obviously, and I took it to heart during many trying times. But it still struck me that the last ten years of my life have been among the best I have ever lived. I understand now what this acquaintance meant when he said his life was just beginning, because at 43, I am happier than I have ever been.

It isn’t just being married to a wonderful man who understands me, loves and accepts me (even when I’m a pain in the ass). It isn’t just having two wonderful daughters who fill my heart with such joy, happiness and pride. Nor is it this amazing home (120 years of history!) and area that I live in.

These are all huge, and they have conspired to make me a happier person, more grounded, loving, and accepting of life with all of its quirks and unexpected turns.

But recently I have stumbled upon what I can only describe as the secret to happiness in life.

The living of it. And the people I have met who make it so worthwhile.

Last night we were up until 2:30 in the morning. 2:30…a.m. Me. The person who is asleep by 9:30 most nights and up at 5am in the morning. I had so much fun, drank a bit more than I usually do, and laughed and talked for hours with a couple we had met recently at a neighborhood association meeting.

As we sat out on our wraparound porch and the rain poured down, I realized how amazingly lucky I am. How blessed my life is. I don’t use that word lightly – as an agnostic with atheist leanings – that word doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. It is the friendships that we make, the lives that intersect with ours, that makes each day new and more special.

We spent eight hours laughing and sharing stories of our lives with Andy and Blake.

I think of other new, or recently new friends.

Bethany, who approached me a year or more ago and said, “My daughter has informed me that she is best friends with your daughter and so we need to arrange a playdate.” She, and her husband Lee, are funny, and intelligent, and humorous and creative. I anxiously await the birth of their baby daughter this week.

Kristin, and her husband Tom, who we met at a garage sale, saw their book collection and simply HAD to be friends with. Funny and intelligent, kind and sharing.

Or Jim and Sherry, the couple who rehabbed this amazing house and sold it to us – innovative, creative, thoughtful and generous individuals.

Our friends Victoria and John, and their two wonderful kids, Zach and Aliyah, down-to-earth, green-living, earth-conscious, homeschoolers and kind, good people.

Melissa and Dave, kind and fun people, homebrewers, kid-oriented, wonderful human beings.

And so many others.

These connections, these intersections where our lives cross and we share moments, hours, days and more together. That is what makes everything else possible in our lives. The happiness, the connectedness, the opportunities.

I guess what I’m saying is that, I’m really, really looking forward to the next forty years of my life. I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.


So a completely weird thing happened to me – no matter what I tried, I couldn’t access the Admin panel on this website for about four months. When it occurred, I was in the throes of gearing up to move, moving, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to prep my new home for an Open House in late March.

Every time I tried accessing the Admin section in order to post something new, it gave me a “php header line 881” error message and I just threw my hands up and thought, Later, I will deal with this later.

Then last night, after posting an update on The Deadly Nightshade that really should have gone here (but that I thought I couldn’t access) I checked the site and was dumbfounded, no error message.

What the heck?

In any case, I’m back and feeling jazzed and ready to take on the world. So much so that I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning and try as I might I could NOT go back to sleep.

So what has me so excited? Three things really…

  1. This website is miraculously back up – hooray!
  2. I watched a very inspirational TED talk by Amanda Palmer last night that had me grinning and nodding – her crowdsourcing concept of having people pay what they want for her music is the way I want to handle my writing from now on.
  3. Today it will be in the low 60s and by this weekend it will be in the 70s. I have scheduled a delivery of three cubic yards of dirt to be delivered this morning and Katie from Lincoln University Extension is visiting this afternoon to discuss/mentor me on our planting and garden planning. I will be able to dig into dirt, plant seeds in the next few weeks and begin planning our new urban farm. Spring has finally arrived!

It’s now 5 am. Time to take the dogs out, eat some breakfast, fix a lunch for my wonderful and loving husband, and get to work on the house and yard. I plan to put all three of my completed books up for free download soon. Details to follow, stay tuned!

Acknowledgment and Inspiration

I have both my girls to thank for today’s renewed sense of purpose.

Talking with Dee regularly about AOWT has gotten me revved up to write after a bit of a dead spell, in which I have been focusing only on the blogs and house and home stuff.

And yesterday Emily asked, “Mama, tell me a story.” As we drove to a friend’s I began to recount Book 1 (what I have written thus far) of the Chronicles of Liv Rowan. I stopped at one point to make sure she was getting it, and she definitely was, better than I had hoped, “I LOVE your story, Mama, it’s AWESOME!”

There’s nothing like a young child’s encouragement to make me feel good about things and raring to write some more.

So a big thanks to both. Now it’s time to get to work.