Monday, May 25, 2015

Why I Love Having a Second Job

The title doesn't refer to my writing; though I don't give it the priority in my life that I should, I really consider it my first job. And I'm not talking about my cake decorating job, either. In the "real world", that is considered my first job since it's the one that pays the bills and dominates most of my waking hours during the week.

A few years back, out of necessity's sake, I took a part-time job at Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso, New Mexico. I didn't know much about wine but, having visited the place a few times, it seemed to be a fun place. And the wine was good, much better than the stuff I occasionally bought from the supermarket. Looking back, I see that my employers took a much bigger chance by hiring me; I was older than most of the other employees and I was basically clueless about what we were selling, plus I couldn't give them full-time hours since I already had a first job.

Four years later, neither of us seems ready to give the other up!

Never has "on the job training" been so rewarding and fun. Where else can you get called to the manager's office and be told "bring a wine glass with you"? Not many businesses have employee meetings that start with, "Grab some pizza and a glass of wine and find a seat." But there is much more that I love about my second job than just the "perks".

I've learned a lot and those of you who know me well know that this is always something I love! I may not know everything about the process of making wine or all the facts and figures about the different varietals, but I do know that I've had a lot of fun learning what I do know and sharing it with customers who are, like I once was, too intimidated by wine to really enjoy it.

I've also had the privilege and pleasure of working alongside a fun group of people who have helped me learn along the way. The group has changed over the years, many have come and gone, but each one has touched my life in a unique way. Make no mistake; there's a lot of hard work involved but when everyone pitches in and helps each other out... well, at the risk of breaking into a rendition of "A Spoonful of Sugar" that no one wants to hear, I'll stop there and know that you understand what I mean!

One of the best things about working in the winery has been meeting new people. I've met many others in the industry, winegrowers, winemakers, and tasting room workers, and most of them have been the friendliest people I've ever known, all of them eager to share what they know and love. The same goes for many of my customers. Sure, there's the occasional wine snob who won't find anything they like, no matter what you offer them, but most visitors to the winery are looking for fun. What better place to find it?

It's that type of work experience and atmosphere that feeds me as a writer. It's true that many times it's very tiring to hold down just one full-time job, let alone a part-time job with very little "down time". But I love to stay busy. The creativity required by my cake decorating job feeds the creativity I need to be a writer. But the interaction with the people that surround me in the winery makes my creativity easier to relate to. Just as I want to "de-mystify" wine so that others can enjoy it, I want my stories to be easy for other people to enjoy by creating characters they can identify with. That's a skill I practice every time I set a glass down on the bar and strike up a conversation with a new customer.

Maybe that's why I write better with a glass of wine by my side....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

By the Numbers

Today's blog is a day early and a little shorter than usual. Today I celebrate my forty-eighth birthday and I'm thinking about what is encompassed in that number.

In the 48 years since I was born:

I've been an adult for 30 of those years.
I've worked a forty-hour job for 28 of those years (17 with Walmart.)
I've been married for 27 years and lived in New Mexico for 26 1/2.
I've been a mom for 21 years.
I've lived in 12 or 14 houses (depending on whether you count two moves back into the same house.)

It's easy to reduce a birthday to numbers, but the things that have made those 48 years so precious are the things I can't count.

My love for my husband and son and the joy they bring me.
Ditto for my family and good friends.
The satisfaction I find in my work.
The fun I've had in going new places, learning new things, meeting new people.
The pain and suffering and losses that have made me stronger and more grateful for what I still have.
The peace I find in all things, knowing now after all these years, that no matter what the crisis, everything will be all right.

I hope I have many more years to look forward to... there are many more stories to live and to write. This one has been pretty good so far!

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Praise of a Small Publisher

Telling people I'm a published author often inspires this reaction--"So are you making a lot of money from your books?" In their minds, if you're a published author, you're in league with writers like James Patterson, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and others who make a cushy living from their book sales. Their interest quickly wanes when they discover that your publisher is a small, independent company.

Let me define "small and independent"--this is a publisher that pays royalties (like the big guys do) but is not affiliated with big distributors. It's not the same as self-publishing or vanity publishing. There are drawbacks, as there are with almost any job or employer, but there are many benefits as well.

I've worked for a large retailer, Walmart, for many years, but I've also worked for small, "mom and pop" retailers as well. Being an author for, say, Simon and Schuster I'm sure brings a much higher paycheck with lots of exposure and a great deal of promotion--kind of like working for Walmart gives you benefits like paid vacations and holidays. However, like the retail giant, working for a big-time publisher also means that, when all is said and done, it's about the bottom line. If sales are down, regardless of whether it's directly your fault or that of the general economy, out come the pruning shears. Naturally, the management team (or the James Pattersons, if you will) are fairly safe; it's those of us further down the food chain that are usually on the chopping block and it doesn't matter how hard we work.

With a small publisher, there is a more direct correlation with how hard you work and how much success you have. A small publisher gives you the chance--yes, I'll publish your book, I think you've got something, but you have to be willing to work to make it a success. Some authors, unfortunately, only hear the first two parts of that sentence. They completely miss the part about working to make it a success.

"But I wrote the book!" they'll whine. "Isn't that enough?" Well, no, not really, unless just writing it and getting it published is enough. If you want it to be read and if you want it to sell, you need to do quite a bit of legwork (unless your name alone is big enough to sell it, but even the big-name authors had to do legwork in the beginning.)

A small publisher cares enough about you to give you the opportunities to find your audience. Like a parent helping a child learn to ride a two-wheeler, they hold you up until you find your balance and then they let you go to find your own speed and your own path. What this means is that a small publisher will rarely tell you what to write. Plain and simple, if they're willing to publish your book, they're willing to do it "as is". This doesn't mean that even if it's rife with errors or other problems they'll overlook them. They'll either work with you to fix it or decide not to accept it. What it means is that you're not locked in to writing the book "their way". It's YOUR, the author's, book, not the publisher's, and you're not expected to write to "spec".

A small publisher lets the author's true voice shine through. A small publisher gives a fledgling author the chance to let that voice be heard. A small publisher treats you like a real writer AND a real person. And a small publishing company becomes a family--other authors offer encouragement and support and we all work together for the good of the company and each other.

Oak Tree Press and Billie Johnson gave me that chance and, by extension, gave me the readers who love and appreciate my books. For that, I am eternally grateful and truly blessed.

It's all in how you define "getting rich" from the writing. By my definition, I'm a millionaire!

Publishers, big and small, gave me a chance to read stories I love!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Library Love

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of having a book talk and signing at our local public library in Alamogordo, New Mexico. And I was honored to have it in the Eugene Manlove Rhodes Room or, as it's more simply known, the Southwest Room which is dedicated to all fiction and non-fiction that deals with the southwest or, more specifically, New Mexico. Rhodes was a writer who was born in Tecumseh, Nebraska in the late 1800s but fell in love with New Mexico at a young age and lived in Alamogordo for a while. The Rhodes room at the Alamogordo Public Library houses a collection of his writings.

Shortly after I was married in 1988, my husband and I lived in Alamogordo and, since money was tight for movies and other forms of entertainment, one of the things I used to do was spend hours at the library, especially in the Rhodes room, reading and falling in love with several New Mexico books and authors. It was there that I took my first "baby steps" in writing a book. There in the Rhodes room, I could feel the whispers of those authors who had made New Mexico their home, in real life and in the pages of their books--Rudolfo Anaya, Willa Cather, Tony Hillerman, Aimee and David Thurlo, Steven Havill, among many others. And I dreamed of sharing a space on the shelves with them.

Almost thirty years later, that dream has come true. I've stood in that same room talking to groups of people who have read my books and signing copies for them and listening to them tell me how much they love the characters and scenes I've created. My appreciation for the library has grown with every book I write.

The librarian confided to me that they had hosted another author some time ago and the author was aghast to see his/her book on the shelves. Instead of feeling honored that the library had found the money in their tight budget to add that writer's book to their collection, he/she was furious that the library was allowing people to read the book for free--in other words, the author was more concerned about book sales than readers.

Book sales are important, no question, but the readers must come first. For that reason, I have made it a point to donate my books to any library that has hosted a book talk for me. Our libraries usually end up on the bottom of the list for additional funding, so anything I can do to support them is but a mere gesture of thanks for all they have given to me and to the communities they serve. It's an even bigger honor that the library does find funds to purchase my books (the librarian said they needed more than one copy to keep up with the demand!)

I suppose, like that other author, I could be disturbed at the thought of the number of sales I'm losing to readers who wait impatiently for a copy to be free for them to read at the library. But that's not what I'm counting. I'm counting the readers.

So this is a love letter to the libraries in our communities who nurture a love of reading and books in people of all ages. And maybe--just maybe--they help to inspire another person to pick up a pen and find their own place on the shelves someday.