This picture captures some of the emotions I’m feeling. The churning waters are deep, hiding the vast life forms below the surface. As I begin my journey as a fiction author, I wonder if I can reach into the depths of my being to find the creativity, imagination, and style that will make me a good writer.

Darkness overwhelms. I’m not good enough. I have so much to learn. My stories aren’t page-turners. The list can go on and on. And yet, as in the photo, it is the rising sun that becomes the focal point. A new day reinforces the opportunity to begin again.  To shine anew.

All of us have the capacity to become bogged down by our challenges, just as we have the ability to reach upward and outward. Together, we see the light from above.  We see the sparkle within. Let us be a dazzling ray of hope for those who may be stuck in the shadows.

My Writing Process

Every writer has his or her unique style, process, and speed. For me, I have the general idea for a story, the conflict for the main character, and how it will end, all told in first person because I can immerse myself in a scene.

My mind doesn’t awaken fully until I’ve had a few mugs of tea and eaten breakfast, so I check email and social media in the morning, then head to my work-in-progress which I write in Word. With the read-aloud function, I re-read what I wrote the day before, and pick it up from there.

I’m not a fast writer because I edit as I go along, so I may only write 500 to 1000 words a day—but I write every day, including weekends, which is why Maggie finds me quite boring.

Her time, though, begins at four o’clock, so I save what I’ve written and we go outside. We walk after supper and, occasionally if she takes herself to bed, I’ll write a little more before I call it a night.

For the last several years, I’ve published three books a year, yet I’m behind schedule due to two surgeries this summer. I may still accomplish my self-imposed goal—or maybe not, because I’m also reliant on my editor, beta readers, and cover designer, and they have their own schedules.

I’m in awe of those who can publish a book a month, but I don’t need to put myself under that kind of stress. For me, writing is uplifting, especially when readers find my stories so enjoyable. That’s all I ask.

Cinco de Mayo

Let’s celebrate! During my convent years, the Sisters sent me to teach 1st grade at St. Aloysius Academy, a private school for boys which included a boarding option. Most of the boys in my classroom were day students, though the majority of boarders, who resided in the historical Drexel Mansion with the Sisters, were 7th and 8th grade students from Mexico, whose parents sent them for one year of immersion in American culture.

I fondly recall picking up the boys at the airport in our trusty school van, and listening to their chatter of excitement in Spanish, of which I knew only a few words. As I helped them unpack, I’d remind them that they needed their camisa blanca and pantalones grises (white shirts and gray pants) for school. In addition to hola and gracias, they were the extent of my Spanish vocabulary and the boys knew few English words, as well. But we made it work, and by the end of the school year, they conversed in English as if it were their first language.

One of the Sisters at St. Aloysius had learned Spanish in high school and we often had her translate for the rest of us, but even she had trouble occasionally. One of the Mexican boys in her dorm cried every night and begged to call his mother, which she permitted for the first week or so, until she feared that his mom would worry about him. As she tried to explain her rationale, she didn’t know the Spanish word for “worry,” so she said his mother would “fear that he was sick.”

Suddenly, the boy’s tears turned to giggles and he readily went to bed. I met her as she exited his room with confusion lining her face. She grabbed her Spanish-English dictionary, then said, “Oh, my gosh. I just told him his mother would ‘shit’ if he called her.” Apparently, she said “mierda,” instead of “miedo,” so I suppose I could say I learned two new words in Spanish.

For those of you who have read my Poustinia series, you should know that I based the setting from memories of my boarding school days when I lived in that historic mansion, which included an original bowling alley in the basement, directly below our Chapel. Although the boys had to set up the pins by hand, they loved challenging each other to a game, and we cringed with the racket they made as we tried to pray.

Be My Valentine

I’ll bet each of us has a memory associated with Valentine’s Day. For me, I’d wait in anticipation to see who selected me as a recipient of a coveted Valentine because, back then, we didn’t send Valentines to every student in the class. Rather, we picked those we wanted to honor as our friends, and made sure the sentiment on the card matched the receiver.

Obviously, those weren’t Hallmark cards. My earliest recollections include Valentine booklets, similar to paper dolls, where you punched out the simple Valentines with different messages from the front and the envelopes in the back. Later on, we could buy them in a cellophane-wrapped box, which made the process much easier. Regardless, I’d spend hours deciding who warranted which card, and wondering if I’d receive a similar message in return.

Our teacher’s role included decorating a large carton with a mail slot on top, and placing it on her desk in the front of the class as a reminder for us to “mail” our Valentines during the week before the special day. When Valentine’s Day arrived and we finished our classwork, she’d rip open the box with great fanfare, and deliver our cards up and down the rows of desks, with us waiting in anticipation for our Valentines.

Of course, the popular kids had mounds of cards on their desks, and reveled with delight each time our teacher dropped another on their piles. Unfortunately, I didn’t fit into that category, leaving me to wonder why this one or that one didn’t pick me as a Valentine. I suppose those feelings don’t leave us, even when we’ve long forgotten whether we’d ever won any popularity contests, or not.

I sometimes muse about how some authors achieve best seller status, and others don’t, even though their books have similar high qualities. Is that success tied to networking? …or visibility? …or luck?

If we compare the popular kids and their mounds of Valentines with successful authors of best sellers, I have a feeling that networking and visibility play a huge role. We gravitate to those who invite us to get to know them personally and to those who readily share their gifts and talents. Perhaps that’s part of what Valentine’s Day is all about. We think about those others in our lives who mean so much to us, rather than focusing on ourselves. Looking out, not looking in, so to speak.

In reality, it’s all about what we give, not what we get.

What Life is All About

“Is it good enough?” I ask myself constantly. I have a tendency to second-guess most decisions, especially when I’m not sure of the outcomes. Sometimes I need external validation, such as someone telling me that I made the right choice. Other times, I close my eyes and leap into the unknown, hoping for the best.

As an author, I cautiously await the return of my manuscript from my editor, the reactions of beta-readers to my latest story, the book cover my designer created, and… reviews of my books. Of course, the last is the scariest. All the while, I try to improve what I’ve written before beginning the entire process again.

Occasionally, while I wait, I’ve gone back to my previously-published books. I’m not sure that’s a worthwhile task to do while waiting because I end up revising. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my insecurity, or maybe a sign of my growth. Regardless, in every single case, I feel a sense of pride. I absolutely love the story!

I suppose, in the end, that’s the important part. No story will strike all readers in the same way, but if writers don’t fall in love with their own characters or what their imaginations have crafted, there’s something wrong.

As I gear up to begin my next cozy mystery, I know–in my heart–that I’m on the right path. The journey is an adventure in itself, even if I’m not sure of the outcome. That’s what life is all about.

Try, Try Again

Amazon ads (1)We all know the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s what comes to mind when I think about advertising for my books.

Advertising is expensive, especially for independent authors with lean budgets. Is it worth the money? I believe it is.

Last month, I conducted an experiment using Amazon ads with my latest novel, Murder in Aspen Notch. I found 300 keywords that seemed to best fit my book and genre, then set the cost per click higher than I ever had before.

Experienced ad users may laugh at my parsimonious 51 cents per click. My $10 a day, didn’t cover the number of clicks I was receiving so, with a throw of caution to the wind, I upped it to $26 a day. Clicks increased astronomically; sales rose nicely though not to the extent of my ad cost. My Kindle Unlimited reads were thousands of pages per day, more than I’d ever had. Those, however, are not included in the income-generated report.

When my ad cost reached $300 and my sales $200, I shut it down. My ad costs were too great, and I was operating at a loss. Immediately, sales dropped to $0; KU reads hovered around 200 pages. Obviously, my ad had worked.

After a week of no sales, I decided to try again. I stayed with the 51 cents per click, but set my daily budget to $15. I used some keywords that were successful previously, but found another 200. I culled those that showed I had no chance of competing with the more costly sponsored ads. I didn’t have the resources to extend to $1.50 or more per click. As soon as my campaign went live, book sales and KU reads increased. Amazon ads work.

Experts advise that something’s wrong if people click, but don’t buy. The cover may be enticing, but the blurb isn’t. A keyword may be generating an ad in the wrong genre or I haven’t attracted the right reader. There may also be other authors searching for keywords, clicking on my ad to see if the book fits as a keyword to use in their ads. It’s complicated, for sure.

One of these days, I’ll get it right. If anything, I’m persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Mise en Place

mise en placeBy definition, Mise en Place means “putting in place.” The skill is exemplified in the world of cooking where chefs are taught to have all of their tools and foods ready before a recipe is started. Knives are sharpened, the cutting board is clean, herbs are ready, vegetables pared, and the meat is prepped. All that’s left is putting it all together to make a delicious meal.

As an author, I hadn’t given much consideration to the term. I suppose my preparation was more academic. I had learned the rules of grammar, took creative writing courses to know how to craft a story, and read thousands of books through the years to understand what captivated me as a reader. In a sense, I thought that I had put into place what was needed to be a writer.

As an independent author, however, I was far from prepared. My story was written, but I’d put nothing in place for it to be successful. Julia Child would have been appalled with my lack of mise en place.

I watched tutorials, read writing blogs, and listened to podcasts to learn what I needed to do as an indie author. Step by step, I began to build my author’s platform–Facebook, Goodreads, AllAuthor, and Amazon author’s pages, a website, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I learned how to find keywords, create ads, and write a newsletter. All were time-consuming, taking me away from making progress on my next book.

Why is mise en place so important for an author? Regardless of whether he or she is traditionally-published or goes the independent route, books don’t reach bestseller status without a following. Publishers make sure that all of the required elements are put into place before a book launch. Independent authors need to do the same.

I’m working on it, slowly but surely. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I even enjoy some of the marketing elements, though not all. I don’t like watching the cost per clicks on an ad increase without a corresponding rise in sales. I don’t like to beg for reviews of my books on Amazon or Goodreads, though I know we all read reviews before we purchase anything on-line. I don’t like to spend time trying to expand my mailing list despite being told that I need at least 10,000 subscribers. Really? 10,000?

What I love most about being an independent author is that I can connect directly with my readers. Their support and encouragement keep me writing. I’ll get better with the mise en place stuff. Julia will be proud of me. I promise.




Time Flies

I don’t know about you, but I find that the hours in a day are gone before I’ve accomplished all that I had intended to do. Is it because I get sidetracked, flitting from activity to activity? Is it because I don’t plan well? Is it part of the aging process?

My father used to talk about being on the “slippery slope” when he was up in years. I’d assumed he was referring to how slowly the years pass when we’re young versus how fast they speed by once we’re old enough to talk about the good-old-days.

Sand in the hourglass seems to drop more quickly after a certain age. As a child, waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve seemed like an eternity. We’d count the days, then the hours, until the magical morning dawned. Now I blink, it seems, and a month is gone.

Three afternoons a week, I take Maggie, my springer spaniel puppy, to doggie daycare for four hours of socialization and play. Of course, I’ve mentally scripted a list of things to do without an overly energetic puppy interfering with incessant demands. It would be my time to write, work on marketing, blog, open the mail, pay bills, shop for groceries, swim, read, fold the laundry, put the toys away, use the dustbuster to pick up the bits of leaves and sticks that Maggie managed to bring into the house. You get the picture.

I blink, and my four hours are gone. I’ve slid down the slippery slope, wondering how time could fly so swiftly.

I’m not alone, I know. I hear my friends complaining about the same thing. There are just not enough hours in the day. Maybe there comes a time in our hectic lives to step back awhile. Enjoy each moment, rather than filling each moment. I’ll think about that. In the meantime, I have to go pick up Maggie.


Can’t See the Trees for the Forest

forestApparently, the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” was noted in John Heywood’s glossary, dated back to 1546. It described someone who is so taken with details, he or she doesn’t see the whole picture.

I’ve come to a new awareness that I’m the opposite. I can’t see the trees for the forest. It’s an astonishing admission on my part. For all my years, I’ve considered myself to be detail-oriented. How could I have missed such a mind-boggling character flaw?

My mother fully admitted that she wasn’t observant. When dad pulled into the driveway after her one day, she was surprised to see him. He laughed, saying that he’d been driving behind her for at least 5 miles. At the time, I thought it was funny. Now I’m not laughing. I must have inherited her genes.

I’ve been known to say “the ink is never dry before I find a mistake.” That usually referred to a report or flyer that I’d just printed, requiring me to fix it and print it again. I hate wasting time and paper.

But now I’m an author, and pesky typos show up in every manuscript. How does that happen with editors and beta readers helping me find those hidden gems? I use spell check and grammar check, and re-read the entire book at least a zillion times. Still, a misplaced to or of creeps in.

Now that Murder in Aspen Notch is published, a friend called to say that she found three typos. “Are you kidding me?” I screeched. Unbelieving, I went back and read the entire book again. I didn’t find them. Not one.

She assured me that they were there. It wasn’t until she supplied the page numbers and phrases that I was able to locate them. Yep. I missed them. I’m my mother’s daughter.

On top of that, I also replaced the name of the puppy in my story with my own puppy’s name. Only once, thank goodness. That was a freudian slip, not a typo. Oops.

Rest assured, I’ve gone back and fixed the errors. In the future, I promise to focus on the trees, as well as the forest.


Somewhat the same, but simply different

First day home 5.6.19On May 6, 2019, I welcomed an 8-week old springer spaniel pup, Maggie, to my home. It was important to me that it was a springer with a docked tail and that he or she would pick me. I wanted a puppy, not a rescue, so that I could bond early, using my training tactics.

It was good, I thought when Maggie picked me, that she was female and tri-colored. I wouldn’t constantly compare her to my Pete, who crossed the rainbow bridge in March of 2017.

Still, it’s only natural, I suppose, to expect similar traits between two pure-bred springer spaniels, especially since they were born in the same geographical vicinity. How wrong I was! Maggie and Pete are somewhat the same, but simply different.

Pete's sofa

Springers are smart and loving. I learned early on that Pete spoke with his tail and Maggie is following suit. Their vocabulary is remarkable, even at a very young age. They’re not called velcro-doggies for nothing. They will lie at your feet or on your lap, and follow you from room to room, including the bathroom. You won’t find a more loyal dog. Maggie and Pete both shared those characteristics.

But, my-oh-my, Maggie’s personality is totally different from Pete’s. She’s feisty, independent, headstrong, adventurous, and afraid of nothing. She has yet to bark at a storm or fireworks or a vacuum. But she’ll bark if I move a toy to a different location from where she left it or if a drop of water from her water bowl got into her food.

When I told Pete that I was the boss, he’d settle down immediately. Not Maggie. She’d go into attack mode, nipping or clawing me. Of course, that wasn’t acceptable behavior. I’d react in anger, voice raised, which only escalated the situation. With feisty Maggie, I’ve learned to redirect and give the silent treatment. When she calms down, I can softly say “You have a screw loose, but I love you.” She wags her little tail, probably saying “You’re the one with the loose screw, but I love you too.”

I can compare this experience of Maggie and Pete’s similarities and differences with my writing. I’ve just completed a manuscript for Murder in Aspen Notch, a sequel to No Gifts to Bring. It surprises me that my style is the same in all of my books. There’s always an element of history and mystery, regardless of the genre. There’s always a feel-good aspect with likeable characters, even though the story is different from the one before. These things aren’t planned. They just happen. I think that’s cool.

You can’t change the stripes on a zebra, they say. But patterns can vary. So it is with my books. Somewhat the same, but simply different.


Needing a Sign

Maggie3Whenever I have a big decision to make, I have to mull–and I need a sign. This can be a very lengthy process since I’ve learned over the years that some of my choices based on impulse were totally wrong for me. Big time.

Finding the sign isn’t easy. I mean, I literally pray for the sign and then wait patiently for it to appear. Kind of like the joke about the guy who asked God to save him from drowning. When he got to heaven he asked God why he didn’t save him. God replied, “I sent a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

So, anyway, I’ve mulled for two years about getting a new puppy. I wanted a springer spaniel like Pete but wondered if I was too old or too set in my ways, or if I’d find one with the characteristics of Pete that I found so endearing. I wanted the right pup to show up on my doorstep–literally. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.

For two years, from time to time, a thought would pop into my head. Call the farmer. Quite honestly, it was as if I could picture my dad standing next to me. Call the farmer. Since I’m not totally crazy, I ignored the image.

Those of you who know Pete’s story realize that my dad picked out Pete from a farm in Lancaster. Call the farmer. Dad’s no longer with us, sad to say, but I’m sure he’s watching over me. Call the farmer.

So, last week, I went to Pete’s file and found his original papers. The farmer’s name and address were included, but no phone number. I googled the address and the farmer’s phone number popped up. When does that ever happen? With goosebumps, I called the farmer.

You’d think that was my sign, but it wasn’t enough. Nor did the farmer raise springers any longer. But he put me in contact with another local farmer, who put m contact with another one. Eventually, I spoke to the owner of 8 new springer pups. Wow.

But I still needed a sign. I went to visit the pups, with very clear expectations. I wanted the same markings as Pete, a docked tail, and no tan eyebrows. They make the dog look like Groucho Marx. And the pup would have to run toward me.

Darn if the first pup to come to me had the eyebrows and totally different markings than Pete. But she was a sweetie. Still, I was ready to walk away until the owner told me that she had worked with Native Americans out west for a year. They believed that those eyebrows were a marking of the Great Spirit. That was my sign.

So, I introduce you to Maggie. She will soon be old enough to come share my home. Don’t be surprised if someday there’s a companion book to Pete’s story. If anything, I know that Maggie will be an adventure.

I had a sign.