It’s All in the Formula

mathematical formula

Long ago, in a college physics class, the instructor turned to the blackboard and began writing an unbelievably long and complex formula. “This,” she said, “is the mathematical formula for the reflection of a mirror. And I always include it on the final exam.”

Every student in the class cringed, wondering how we’d remember such an unwieldy formula. I thought, Are you kidding me? There’s math involved in a reflection?  Who knew? Well, maybe Einstein or someone. Certainly not me.

Why that thought popped into my head after so many years, I’ll never know. But I was thinking about reflections, realizing there are reflections–and reflections. Two homonyms. The same spelling but different meanings.

So, now you know. The reflection of a mirror is based on math. Many of my writing reflections, those pesky thought processes that never leave my brain alone, are also based on math. Sounds crazy, right? Just like I never really understood the formula for the reflection of a mirror, I’m still struggling with marketing algorithms.

I’m not alone. Many writers, like me, can’t really tell you what formula Amazon uses to place your ads or cull your reviews. Facebook is another enigma. Who, at any given time, actually sees your posts? Likes and follows not withstanding, should you pay to have your posts boosted? And Twitter? #WhoReadsTheTweets?

Anyway, it’s something to reflect upon. And it’s all based on math. Some day I’ll crack the code.


New Beginnings

tree“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” —T.S. Eliot

I feel a sense of closure today. The last of my first books has its professionally-designed cover. (Oxymoron intended.) All of the covers are now attractive and interconnected. Their styles and branding make me proud to present them to others.

Preparing for the new covers gave me an opportunity to return to the stories and make cosmetic changes inside as well. Splitting long chapters or paragraphs and creating better segues make the novels more appealing without altering the story-lines. I’m pleased with the outcome.

Just as a tree develops better blossoms when it’s pruned, my initial books are now free to bloom. My task is finished. I can move on.

I learned a lot in the process. Yes, a book can be judged by its cover. But more than that, I saw my growth as a writer. I came to recognize that my style is uniquely me. And that’s important.

Like a tree, my roots are becoming more firmly grounded. It’s a great feeling, providing a firm footing for what is yet to come.

Fresh beginnings are a gift!


Never Satisfied

Give upIsn’t it interesting how we’re never satisfied? I should speak for myself, yet I think it’s how many of us are wired.

For example, when I was in grade school, I was very tall for my age. I’m not sure why, but my 5th grade teacher liked us to line up by height. I was always last. That might be why I wanted to be petite.

My hair has always been poker straight. I wanted curls. In ballet class, I wanted to be as graceful as a ballerina. I was clumsy. In piano lessons, I wanted to be a concert pianist, but I couldn’t coordinate my left hand with my right. It was never going to happen.

Dad wanted us kids to strive for the best we could give to something. When I’d bring home a test paper, proudly displaying my 96%, he’d say, “Why didn’t you get 100?” I hated that. Nonetheless, I wasn’t singled out. He said the same thing to my brothers and sister. They didn’t like it either.

Dad’s words still echo in my mind. It frustrates me to no end if I find a pesky typo in my published manuscript. How did I miss that? When I go back to read something I’ve written, I’m never satisfied. Could I have done that better?

I’m actually proud that I’m never satisfied, at least with the things that matter. I can let go of the trivial stuff. Who cares that my hair’s not curly or I can’t do an Arabesque? But I can strive for the best in my writing, even if it means lots of revising. I’m not giving up.

Dad didn’t like a quitter.



Weather Forecasters and Politicians

snowman1If you ask me, weather forecasters and politicians are in the same class. I’m sure both careers are challenging, but you don’t know who to trust. I surrender.

Take the weather, for instance. With all of the hype about a new winter storm brewing, I have no idea how to prepare. Today’s forecast was cold and partly cloudy. When I heard the salt truck on my street, I checked the weather app on my phone. No precipitation for today. Tomorrow? Nope. Hmmm.

Regardless, a visit to the grocery store was on my to-do list. Every parking spot was filled. I knew something was up, so I got bread and milk–just in case. By the time I unloaded the car and checked the weather app again, an inch of snow was predicted for tonight. Really? An inch?

Here’s my theory. The head weather forecaster sits in front of his or her computer with a cup of coffee. He or she then looks out the window and sees clouds. Types “cloudy.” Getting up to stretch, notices the salt truck. Types “50% chance of precipitation.” Then sees a snowflake. Types “100% chance of snow.” When the snow begins in earnest, types “1-3 inches.”

How relevant is all of that to my writing reflections? I’m glad you asked.

As a new author, I voraciously read advice about crafting stories. “Don’t write too much dialog,” some said. Others argued that it’s dialog that keeps a reader involved and brings characters to life.

OK, use dialog to move the story along, but simply say “he said,” “she said.” Don’t get all chummy with stupid alternatives like, “he replied,” “she giggled.” And make sure that the characters are speaking as we do in real life. I don’t know about you, but I giggled when I wrote that I bought milk and bread today. That’s as real life as it gets.

So, here’s another theory. Craft a story that moves you. One where you can imagine being immersed in the scene. Make it believable. But make it your own style. Be true to yourself.

“That’s what makes a great author,” she noted.

Throwing Caution to the Wind

caution to the wind

I received a pressure cooker for Christmas. Not the old-fashioned kind. This Instant Pot has 10 tools in 1. Amazing! It does anything you can imagine in the cooking world with the press of a button.

Despite years of teaching cooking classes, I steered clear of pressure cookers. Releasing a pot-full of extremely hot steam was not my idea of fun. Besides, I could make plenty of recipes by just being patient with long cooking times.

After days of watching youtube videos, I finally got the courage to test my Instant Pot. I threw caution to the wind and made a stew with the toughest cut of meat I could find. In 15 minutes, I had moist, tender, flavorful beef. Two minutes later I had completely cooked potatoes and carrots. Did I mention amazing?

I won’t belabor the fact that I was hesitant to push the release steam button and, instead, let it slowly release naturally so it actually took 3 hours to make my stew. But I learned my lesson. Once I got enough courage to press the button, it was no big deal. Throwing caution to the wind was exhilarating. I love my new cooker!

My pressure cooker experience made me think about one of my books that I’m preparing for a professional cover. I worked on Joyful Encounters through the fall, doing a close edit, rewriting the blurb, and looking for possible stock pictures for the designer. When she sent me an awesome design yesterday, I felt that sense of excitement tinged with worry. Should I tweak the blurb some more? Should I read the story again in case a pesky typo slipped in somewhere between the print and e-book? Is it ready for the unveiling?

Such pressure! (Get it?)

I suppose we’re all afraid of making mistakes, of putting ourselves in the public eye, of failing. But it’s time to throw caution to the wind. And, if anything, it will be a learning experience.

Bon appetit!

Auld Lang Syne

New Year

We all recognize the tune of Auld Lang Syne. We may also raise our glasses as we belt out a round of “For old acquaintance be forgot” when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, but what does it mean? Probably something different for each of us.

Technically, the Scottish words mean “old long since.” Loosely translated, we could say “for old times’ sake.” Maybe the old-timers cried in their beer as they reminisced about the good-old-days, forgetting that the old days weren’t always that great.

Regardless, it’s tradition that we reflect on the past year as we look toward the new year. For me, it’s been an amazing time of transition from teacher to author. As an independent author, that includes marketing–which is a mathematical mystery in itself. Formulas and algorithms aside, I find it exciting to find my comfort zone somewhere between where I am and where I want to be.

On this last day of 2018, I know that the future involves change. That’s the nature of our lives. Nothing remains the same unless, I guess, we hibernate on some deserted island. Come to think of it, with the melting of glaciers and rising sea waters, that would change as well. Ergo, nothing remains the same.

As we approach the new year, I’m not setting tangible goals that involve numerals. The number of books sold, the number of Kindle pages read, the monthly income from my books, the number of words I’ve written for my next story–none of those things are on my 2019 list of resolutions. [OK, I’ll probably check on those things, like four times a day, but they’re not going to be given high priority. Of course, that could change.]

Rather, my goal is to bring enjoyment to others through my novels. Maybe help someone who’s going through a rough time or encourage someone who feels alone and dejected. We all need a cup of kindness here and there, and I’m darn proud that readers tell me that I write “feel good” stories.

Yep, that’s my goal for 2019…for auld lang syne.

Mother, I’d Rather Do It Myself

mother and daughter

I must have been a very frustrating daughter. Strong-willed and independent, I knew what I wanted, and figured out how to do it. For example, when I asked for a bike and was told I’d have to earn it, I signed myself up to sell greeting cards around the neighborhood. That was probably in 1959, long before schools took up my brilliant idea of fund-raising. I was only 10 years old.

To this day, I remember the stern look on my mother’s face as she asked what all of the cartons were that had come in the mail for me that day. “I’m going to sell Christmas and birthday cards,” I said, batting my baby blues. “And I’ll buy my own bike.”  And I did.

Around the same time, there was a commercial on TV that became my mother’s mantra. Every time mom would offer her assistance when I was fixing my hair or doing my homework, I’d decline. She’d roll her eyes and chant, “Mother, I’d rather do it myself,” before shrugging her shoulders and walking away.

I don’t know why that memory has surfaced after 60 years, but I want to tell mom that I’ve finally learned I can’t do everything myself. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. That’s because I was trying to do it myself.

I tried designing my own book covers. They looked home-made. I now have a cover-designer who’s awesome! I tried proofing my own books. How do those few pesky typos find their way into the final copy? I now have a detail-driven proof-reader. I tried creating my own marketing strategy to get the word out about my books. I was lucky if I sold a book-a-month. I now have a cluster of readers who have spread the word and sales have dramatically increased.

You were right, mom. I can’t do it all myself. But I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life to help and support me. I’m a lucky gal.


Cold Feet

cold feetDid you ever have cold feet? Literally or figuratively. Probably both at one time or another.

I got cold feet on Thanksgiving night. Literally. When I went to bed, my feet were freezing. Outside temperatures were in the low teens. Fahrenheit. I turned on the electric blanket, raising it up a notch every few minutes until I finally felt warmth. Cozily wiggling my toes, I suddenly realized that the next night would be very different. I was planning to buy a cute springer spaniel puppy on Friday afternoon.

I began to picture myself throwing off the covers every hour or so to take the puppy outside, remembering my first puppy-training efforts years ago. I would remind my first dog, Heidi, to pee, as I stood in my jammies in the front yard, which she would promptly do as soon as we got inside the house. My springer spaniel, Pete, was smart. He trained in less than a week. But we went outside a lot that week.

Even the thoughts of beginning puppy hygiene on cold winter nights gave me shivers. It wouldn’t be much better in the early morning. I knew the new puppy would have me awake and outside at the crack of dawn. The icy crack.

Turning up the electric blanket another notch cemented my decision. Winter was not the time to start puppy training. Not for me, at least. My literal cold feet turned into figurative cold feet. I began to itemize all of the reasons that I shouldn’t get a new canine companion. So, I didn’t.

I’ve experienced the figurative cold feet numerous times. Standing in front of a congregation to cantor gives me cold feet. But I do it. Hitting the upload button when I think my latest book is ready for publication gives me cold feet. But I do it. Giving a presentation gives me cold feet. But I do it.

What’s the difference, I wondered? How is it that we’re able to overcome some fears, but not others? Sometimes our fears hold us back from accomplishing a dream because we don’t think we can do it. Maybe it’s just not the right time.

A new puppy is not in the cards for me at this moment. It’s OK. One of these days, I’ll know when it’s the right time. Or not. For now, I’ll enjoy my warm feet.

Beginnings and Endings


I have been a teacher for 48 years. That’s a long time! It makes me an old bird. A weathered old bird. Maybe a wise owl. That’s a nicer way of looking at it.

I remember the beginning as if it were yesterday. Wet behind the ears, welcoming 45 first graders, I was as fearful as they were on that first day of class.

The ending was yesterday, when I hung up my hat and said farewell to a long career in the classroom. It wasn’t an easy decision to retire, but I knew it was time. Not because I’m an old bird who lost touch with a new generation of students. Given their feedback, they still think I’m “awesome.” Rather, I wanted to devote my time to writing my stories. It’s much more fun than grading papers.

So, here I am, now officially a retired old bird, crafting new beginnings and honing endings. Just as with a stop sign, I need to reflect and look both ways. Watch that my way is clear as I merge with other authors who have the luxury of writing full-time.

My newest book, No Gifts to Bring, is a cozy holiday murder mystery. Readers are telling me that they loved it. Especially the ending. And I re-wrote that ending at least 5 times.

I don’t know what my ending as a writer will be like, but I’m excited about the beginning. There will probably be plenty of re-writes as I hone my craft and continue to learn how to market and find readers. The thought of it all fills me with delight.

“To every season, there is a time and a purpose…”

A Penny Saved…

Ben Franklin

“A penny saved is a penny earned,” Benjamin Franklin said long ago. The concept must still hold true since my father often quoted old Ben. Dad also said, “A fool and his money soon part.” Thomas Tusser is credited for that wise tidbit in a poem he wrote in 1557. Another old guy.

Obviously, neither Ben nor Tom could foresee the future to realize that 21st century marketing discounts their proverbial wisdom. What’s an independent author to do? Let her books languish on the shelf or buy into the global capitalist venture? Even Ben’s expression in his portrait is one of skepticism.

I resisted at first, then took a few courses to learn some basics in book marketing. Taking a deep breath, I placed several sponsored ads on Amazon. The algorithm looked strange to me. I could identify the max spent per day on my ad, and the amount I would pay when someone clicked on my ad. I picked some keywords and kept my bid low. The results were dismal.

Back to the drawing board, I created new ads with clever ad copy. I searched for more keywords, hundreds of them, I increased my bid. Aha! The results were good. Actually rather remarkable. My book revenue was higher than the cost of the ads. At least a little. Then the well ran dry.

I needed new keywords, I figured. A keyword is something someone might have typed into Amazon’s search bar to find a book. Authors and titles of similar books are good keywords. Of course, that meant I needed to click on other authors’ ads, upping their costs per click. Sorry, folks.

Looking at the metrics, I also saw that I wasn’t bidding high enough to show up in many searches. Was I willing to go to $1.00 per click, knowing other authors seeking keywords might inadvertently be raising my ad cost? Taking a deep breath, I submitted my ads.

I’m a trusting person, despite Ben’s and Tom’s nagging advice reverberating in my brain. Maybe I’ll just stick to Ben’s other advice: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

I’m not a morning person.