Sunday, November 30, 2014

Feeling the Love!

I was at work today, at the other job I really love. I was at Noisy Water Winery, working the cheese counter which means offering samples of the 20-some varieties of cheese we sell, and doing a lot of what I do whenever I get a chance: people watching.

So, in a sense, I was doing the REAL job as well, since a lot of writing comes from observing.

Anyway, a group of people came in, an older couple with a younger man and woman. I set them up with a cheese and cracker platter and they sat at a table, enjoying each other's company and some great wines and cheeses. It became apparent that they were regulars and were in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and had chosen to spend the afternoon at Noisy Water. Near closing time, my husband walked in and sat at the table they had just vacated, waiting for me to finish up. The people were shopping and the older gentleman and his wife struck up a conversation with my husband. I wasn't really listening to what was said, since I was busy helping customers, but I did hear my husband say, "Yes, that's my wife at the cheese counter. She's a published author, too, and that's her book for sale over on the counter."

Immediately the couple rushed over to the counter to tell me that they had bought my book and LOVED it, the man being especially careful to tell me that he wasn't a reader, but that he loved the story and the characters. When they found out that there was a second book, and soon to be a THIRD book, they were beside themselves with excitement. The woman promptly plunked "No Lifeguard on Duty" on the pile of merchandise they were buying and asked me to sign it.

I won't bore everyone with the details of their praise (which was beginning to embarrass me after awhile... not that I felt any need to discourage them, however!) but I'm still floating on that little pink cloud their kind and enthusiastic words had put me on.

Often when people find out I'm a published author, one of their first questions ends up being, "So how much money have you made from your books?" I don't know if they believe me when I say I don't do it for the money. I guess they figure that I have to keep it a secret. But the truth is that the real rewards from writing and being published don't come in a check (although the checks ARE nice!) The real reward comes from the connection: hearing a reader say how much they enjoyed the story... how they couldn't put it down... how they loved the characters and felt like they wanted to meet them in real life... and how they hoped the next book was a sequel because they really, REALLY wanted to read about those characters again.

I got my reward today. It's better than a big royalty check. It's the real reason I keep writing.

What a great way to wrap up a weekend of giving thanks!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Attitude--What Makes or Breaks Just About Everything!

As many of you know, I had some problems with my computer in the last few weeks. A vicious ransomware attack necessitated the removal of my operating system and the installation of a new one This pretty much left my poor laptop with an irreversible case of amnesia... all my files were corrupted beyond recovery, leaving me and my computer tech no choice but to delete them all.

What did that mean, specifically? Well, all my word files are gone... including the first 22,000 words of the next book in my Black Horse Campground series. Yes, I know, I should have backed them up on thumb drives (and thanks to the many friends who gifted me with thumb drives after the meltdown!) My e-mail addresses and all e-mails prior to last Thursday are gone. Some of my photo files are intact, others are gone. Pretty much I am starting over with a completely clean slate, which is simultaneously exciting and devastating.

So why am I not sobbing and pounding my head against the wall?

For one thing, it would accomplish very little except, perhaps, making me feel a little better (at least until the pain from hitting the wall kicked in.) All the panicking, despair, wailing and keening, and overall freaking-out in the world isn't going to bring my files back. It would, however, be an enormous waste of time and energy... time and energy best spent reorganizing, regrouping, and (wait for it!) rewriting.

Secondly, what have I really lost? Not my laptop--the hard drive is perfectly fine and my computer tech assures me I'll get another year or two of use out of it (it's almost five years old) and I just don't have the money to shell out for a new one. That's a win! And I haven't lost my story, despite the 22k words that I wrote and didn't save. I still have the story in my head and in my heart. It will be rewritten. Perhaps it won't be the exact same story I wrote down a few weeks ago... but it might just be better!

Third, and most important, I've learned that your attitude says a lot about you. It's one thing to tell people you're going through a hard time or had some problems. But unless they are in a position to do something about it, besides offer sympathy, going on and on about it and dragging your little black cloud around with you is not going to accomplish anything except maybe thin out your social contacts. It's not that people are mean or unsympathetic; it's just that they, too, might have problems as well and when you do nothing but complain and bemoan the universe's conspiracy to destroy you, it becomes clear that your world has no room for anyone but yourself. That doesn't make you someone a lot of people want to be around.

Writers do live in their own little world populated by their characters and sometimes it's hard to leave the safe confines and venture out into the "real world" populated by real people and their very real problems. But like everyone else, we do rely on the rest of humanity to make a living and live in the world. There's no reason to make everyone's life more miserable than it already might be. Many people, perhaps more than we suspect, carry a very heavy burden that few people know about. You know who they are: they're the people we enjoy talking to, the people who always seem to have a positive energy emanating from them, the people who make us feel better just by coming into contact with them.

What is important is to decide which kind of person you want to be. And in this season of giving thanks, it's a good time to focus on developing an attitude of gratitude for what we have and not focusing so much on what we have lost or what we've never had. Because sometimes, being richer and better off has a lot more to do with our attitude than with what we have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cozy--In Writing and In Life

Fall seems to have taken its sweet time arriving here in southern New Mexico. The trees are still holding on to their leaves and many of them are still green. A warm sweater or jacket is welcome in the mornings and evenings, but a short-sleeved t-shirt feels just fine in the middle of the day. And a bowl of hearty stew sounds perfect for dinner, but for lunch, something much lighter feels called for.

Still, there's one word I find myself using to describe this time of year, and that's "cozy". Whatever your definition of cozy might be, here's mine:

The smell of pumpkin bread baking.

The crackle of a fire in a woodstove or fireplace.

A hand-crocheted afghan.

Marshmallows melting in a swirl of hot cocoa.

The glow of a porch light as you pull into the driveway after dark.

These are just a few things that I use to describe "cozy", but they all convey the same idea: "cozy" means something familiar, comforting, welcoming. A feeling of being home in a place you love and where you feel loved.

It was no accident that the mysteries I write are labeled "cozies". There are many genres of books and many sub-genres as well. I write mysteries, but they aren't police procedurals, or thrillers, or suspense. They are cozies. What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, for one thing, they generally take place in a location that feels very much like one's ideal of a home should be. Many times they take place in a small town, like my Black Horse Campground series does, and the mysteries involve a cast of characters that can be best (or worst) described as ordinary people. Of course, "ordinary" can be a compliment or an insult, but many "ordinary" people are actually quite extraordinary or do extraordinary things. That's what makes them so interesting.

Also, in cozies, there is usually a rather large cast of characters that the reader becomes familiar with; in fact, they become old friends, in the sense that the reader knows exactly how they're going to react in a given situation and which ones will be helpful, which ones won't, which ones are good for a laugh, and which ones make you grit your teeth in frustration. Very much like real life, right?

That, really, seems to be the defining feature of cozies--reading them seems to be like reading about your own life, your own home. Even before I began writing my stories, I looked forward to reading stories like them. When I'd see a new title in a cozy series, I'd be as excited as someone who had just booked a trip home for the holidays. It meant that soon I'd be in a place that was familiar and comfortable, with people I knew well and who knew me. That I'd soon be very much involved in the lives of those people and following the events of their day-to-day life as a problem would appear and we (myself included) would band together to solve it and restore order and peace to our little corner of the world.

Soon, I hope, I'll be booking (pun intended!) a trip back to Bonney County for my readers and I hope they are just as eager for the visit as I am.

Happy November, everyone!