Monday, December 3, 2012

November Lessons

November was a wild month at M.J.'s playhouse, and I'm still playing catch-up, so this month's lessons will be short and sweet:

1. When you're faced with doing unpleasant 'business' involving close friends or family, sometimes the less said, the better. Stick to the facts and give everyone space to process emotionality elsewhere (maybe not in a blog, either!) Things often find a way of working out without a war of words.

2. Murphy's Law of Parenting: If you have a month during which you need every spare minute to get work done, your kids will be throwing up, feverish and/or wheezing during at least 80% of those minutes.

3. Being sick on Thanksgiving makes you appreciate turkey, dressing and canned cranberry sauce even more. It also makes you think of those who are hungry and lonely even more, too.

4. I learned this month that I'm a Sh*tty Mom, and so are some of the best moms I know. It's very liberating to know our kids will have each other to lean on in group therapy later on.

5. Try as I might, I think I am just not a NaNoWriMo girl. I love trying. I love failing at it. And then everything works out better. I can't decide if this is a fun annual project or a very specific mental illness. I'll keep you posted.

Many, many people are kind enough to ask me if I'm working on the next book, and the short answer is "yes." The long answer is "yes, yes, and yes," which means that I'm working on several projects at once. In addition to the NaNoWriMo project I have temporarily shelved, I have three other projects running actively. I work on them whenever I can for as long as I can, in turn, until one gathers enough momentum to warrant my obsessive attention. I'm aware it would be faster to write one book all at once, but that just wouldn't be me. I'm also aware that you guys are waiting patiently, and I thank you. My goal every day is to try to make something worth waiting for!

In the meantime, if you'd like to get an autographed copy (paperback) of one of my current books for yourself or someone else, you can now do that here. Since I don't yet have a fancy publishing house to help me with these things, I am offering these on a limited basis only. The really good news, though, is that if you order one in December, I'll donate $3 to an amazing organization that is truly close to my heart.

So, add it to your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice wish list. (Sorry, they may not be delivered in time for actual Hanukkah). Have a great December, everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do Me a Favor: If You See Me at the Playground, Treat Me Like a Man

Last night the hubs and I cashed in a date night and went to the MJCCA book festival 'parenting edition' with Dan Zevin and two of the four Sh*tty Moms. It was a fun evening, commiserating about the challenges of parenting young children in funny and irreverent ways. With two children in a Jewish preschool, I was in stitches at Dan's joke about how many Jewish holidays keep the kiddos home [Tu B'Shevat, Erev Tu B'Shevat, Tu B'Shevat post-game and analysis, etc.]

Today I'm home with Fozzie Bear, who has an ear infection that is barely slowing him down, but still keeping him out of school. So instead of working on my NaNoWriMo project, I've been chasing a waddling little powder keg of peanut butter, ibuprofen and antibiotics, trying to keep him from hurling himself off the back of the couch.

It has me thinking in a new way about parenting and its many challenges. One issue that was part of the discussion at last night's reading was about the difficulty for modern parents (moms in particular) to accept less-than-perfection. Even though raising children has not gotten easier in recent decades -- in fact, there are many ways one could argue it's become more complex, if not exactly harder -- we seem to be holding ourselves to ridiculously higher standards than previous generations.

On top of the fact that many moms work outside the home, or work at home to bring in income, we also still expect ourselves to: be the primary caregivers, keep immaculate houses (ahem), keep up with our families' expansive social calendars, volunteer, stay in shape, cruise the birthday party circuit, stay involved with our kids' schools, head up the PTA, cook dinner, write a blog, work the consignment sales, take the kids to the doctor and dentist, buy the groceries, update Facebook, limit screen time, seduce your husband, get the kids to eat their veggies.... it goes on. And if that's not enough of a challenge for you, Pinterest has a thousand ways you can occupy any spare minutes by challenging you to create the perfect house, the perfect kids' crafts, the perfect party appetizers.  Did we mention you have to try to look good doing it?

Anyone with an ounce of common sense can look at that list and tell you it's not realistic; but somehow that doesn't stop us from beating the crap out of ourselves on a daily basis when we don't hit all the points satisfactorily. We are constantly criticizing ourselves, and what's worse, we judge other women by the same absurd yardstick.

Dan, who happens to be his family's primary caretaker as well as a hilarious and genuine humor writer, commented last night that "all I have to do is show up somewhere" with the kids and the other moms accept and applaud him. He noted that it doesn't matter if he has shaved in the last two weeks or if he packs the perfect snacks. (One of the Sh*tty Moms complained about having to pack the perfect snack for the soccer team and Dan just laughed).

To my shame, I realized that it's true -- I don't look at Dads on the playground with the same critical eye with which I view other women (or I imagine they turn on me). I also don't hold hubs to the same high standards I hold myself when each of us is caring for the kids. Why? I work hard, I love my kids with all my heart. Together, we keep a roof over their heads and try to teach them to be good people (and to get something green in them once a day). Why isn't that enough?

So what I'm saying is, we women need to be harder on Dads. They're getting off easy.

Just kidding! I think in this case we need to follow the lead of the men in our lives and focus a little more on what's essential (happy, healthy kids), and a little less on what makes us look or feel like the perfect mom. So you're late to carpool and still wearing the tracksuit you threw on for yoga hours ago and your floor is carpeted in crushed goldfish and cheerios -- so what? Is anyone going to die as a result? No! Will the world end if I go to the grocery store without makeup, and stains (yogurt, snot, who knows?) on my jacket? No!  

I say, embrace the chaos. Ignore the messy van (your own or someone else's), and take time for yourself even when the to-do list is still a mile long. If you're a perfectionist mom, channel your inner laid-back dad. Reach out to that other mom on the playground or at the grocery store with an accepting smile instead of a judgmental glare. Let's work together and give each other, and ourselves, a much-needed break. Our kids and our sanity will thank us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fat Girl's Halloween Oath

My Little Pumpkins: So delicious they're a little concerned Mommy will eat them.
I love Halloween. It's an enchanted time, when people temporarily cast aside social propriety, modest clothing and resistance to the supernatural. It's a time to embrace one's inner witch or warlock, feline familiar, or slutty cab driver. Time to go nuts with the spookiest and cheesiest yard decor available, and gleefully take a butcher knife and flame to the nearest unsuspecting gourd.

But in one way it really is scary as hell. Every year, this is the beginning of the unraveling of whatever healthy habits I may have been developing in the previous months, lost to a frenzy of candy wrapper ripping and chocolate rationalizations (they're like regular rationalizations, but soooo delicious).

Halloween seems to be my gateway drug. What starts in mid-October with me picking up a bag of tootsie rolls "for the kids," culminates three days after Thanksgiving with eating pumpkin pie and chocolate cake directly out of the refrigerator in the middle of the night without a fork, glancing around furtively like a starving hyena.

It's been a rough year for self-care, and I am just finding my way back to the gym and developing something of a fitness a routine. I don't want Halloween to be the beginning of the downhill slide for me this year. So with my hand on a bag of caramel rice cakes, I solemnly swear that this year will be different.
  • This year, I will not purchase six large bags of candy for the four trick-or-treaters who visit our door every year.
  • I will not "sample" the candy I purchase, or the candy my kids collect, to "test it for quality."
  • Once Fozzie Bear has fallen asleep in the stroller, I will not continue to collect candy in his bucket "to keep things fair"
  • I will acknowledge that I do not burn off enough calories walking from one house to the next to justify eating 17 pieces of candy at the end of the night.
  • The best way to get treats out of the house is to give them to charity, or send them to Hubs' work break room, not to put them in my mouth.
  • I will set aside a publicly identified number of candies for the boys to enjoy in the days following Halloween. These will be kept behind a locked door requiring two keys and dual thumbprint identification. They will be distributed when the entire family is present, counted and weighed for accuracy, and given only after vegetables have been consumed. No tantrums will be tolerated. The kids should behave themselves, too.
  • For the next sixty days, before consuming any sugary treats, I will require myself to do the "Truffle Shuffle" in front of a full-length mirror. This should not only curb any appetite for sweets, it will also create a state of Goonies-based nostalgic ecstasy. Those trigger the same hormones in the brain, right?
  • Hubs' Spook-o-Lantern: Awesome even in a chocolate withdrawal rage
  • Without a steady supply of chocolate, I become enraged and unpredictable. This year I will channel that terrible power into working out and NaNoWriMo, rather than my usual habit of screaming obscenities at other drivers on the road and noticing out loud every single thing that Hubs does sub-optimally. I will not behave in a way that causes my acquaintances to throw Reese's cups at me as a distraction while they make a hasty escape. 
Well, I think that about covers it. Here's a friggin' cute picture of Monkey and Fozzie picking out our pumpkin, and the super-spooky result Hubs created.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pirate Talk, My Dad's Birthday and How I'm Not Special

Aaargh! Thanks for droppin' anchor at me swashbucklin' blog, matie! Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I always thought it was funny that International Talk Like a Pirate Day fell on my father's birthday. He never saw the humor in it, but if you knew my Dad, you know that overt silliness wasn't really his style. He had a great sense of humor; but it was usually aimed at the ridiculousness of what most people consider normal human behavior, rather than at things people intended to be funny.

He was a scientist through and through: always observing, always analyzing, never taking even the simplest of cultural assumptions for granted. He saw everything with an intensely critical eye and put practicality and rationality above all else. This made him a huge asset to the scientific world and, by extension, to the defense of our country. As you can imagine, it also made him a teenage daughter's worst nightmare. 

Dad would have been 64 today, but last year, just four days after his 63rd birthday, he lost his short battle with lung cancer. I miss him. We had a complicated relationship, but I'm happy to say that overall it was more good than bad, especially in the two years before he died. I could say loads more about him, and my mother who died ten years before him, but maybe another time. Hell, that's a book unto itself, probably....

Today is also AT&T's Pledge Day against texting while driving. Normally my first reaction to these kinds of things is "oh, yeah right, that will fix it." [I *may* have inherited a bit of Dad's cynicism]. But I took the pledge and I think you should, too.

A few years ago, Dad and I made a deal that he would stop smoking if I would stop talking on the phone while driving. He knew I did most of my chatting in the car -- because what on earth would I do with myself if I weren't multi-tasking? -- and it made him nervous. For a couple of months, we both kept our word; but it wasn't long before I was sneaking in a quick call here and there and he was sneaking out for a cigarette. I've been lucky that my use of the phone has so far not resulted in any accidents. Dad was not so lucky.

Ever since Monkey and Fozzie have been around, I've been much more careful about talking on the phone while in the car. I use the hands-free system in the car whenever possible, and I try to avoid talking while in traffic or on the Interstate. I'm extra careful about doing things that require me to look at the screen. So, I pull over if I need to dial a number I don't have on speed dial. I save texting until I'm parked. Or I wait until I'm at a red light. Or a stop sign. Or if I just need to check the map, very quickly, or just see if I still have the e-vite with the directions on it. Or just to see if the person I'm meeting just texted to ask if I'm running late (and let's face it, I am). Or....

And that's where it all starts to unravel.

It happens so fast. Because most of us are not involved in car accidents on a regular basis, the risk starts to seem less real. If you ask, of course, we're not stupid -- we'll say that we understand the dangers. But we don't feel them, usually. Life is busy, and being connected all the time makes us feel almost as though we are not allowed to unplug, even while driving. The perceived urgency of whatever is going on -- being late to meet someone, getting lost on the way to the interview, having an argument with a friend -- presses on us. And our recent experience as a driver -- I haven't been involved in a car accident in years! -- gives us the false perception that the pattern is going to continue, no matter what. [There has to be some brain science to back this up, I just know it!]

So we focus only on what we're trying to do, sweeping the risks under the rug and minimizing them in our heads. We choose, just for a second, to think of the world as though it's a video game, and if we make a mistake, we'll simply start over. We choose not to think about the people in the cars around us, the workers on the side of the road, the child waiting at the bus stop, our own kids in the backseat. Our overwhelmed brain is trying to process too much at once, so it allows us to take a seconds-long break from reality while we just glance at this one little thing.

On top of that, there's this little fact of human nature: we all think we're special. We treasure our individuality so much and have such an inflated view of our own skills, that we believe we are the exception to the rule. No, no, the people who have accidents doing this are teenagers. Or they're stupid people. Or they only happen on the interstate. Or those people text much more than I do, and they look down for longer periods. Not me, I can do it. It's just a quick glance. I'm a great driver. I can handle it.

Well, I might be special to the people who love me, and I might have some special talents, but being able to fully concentrate on moving a 4500-pound piece of machinery down the road when my eyes are on the center console isn't one of them. And I know myself all too well, that if I don't make the commitment today, if I don't promise myself or someone else that I won't do it, it will only be a matter of time before I'm glancing down more and more often, feeling a little guilty but doing it nonetheless.   

So, I'm taking my own personal It Can Wait pledge today. No texting while driving, even when stopped at a red light. No searching the map, or checking my email, or just glancing at one quick thing. Not while I'm alone, not while the boys are in the car, not while I'm on the highway, not on the slow-moving residential roads near my house. Not with a fox, not in a box, not on a train, not in the rain.... It can wait. I can pull over. The world will not end if I am late to an appointment or keep someone waiting on the other side of a text conversation. We all have to die someday, but there's no reason to die being an idiot (or worse, kill someone else). I owe more than that to the people who do think I'm special, especially the two little ones who are watching every move I make.

I'm making the pledge today, for everyone I love, and I hope you'll do the same.

Happy Birthday, Dad.   

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Blog Soundtrack by Kenny G?

Nah, just kidding. 

You'll notice, though, that the blog has undergone some changes in the last couple of weeks - a cleaner look (which will continue evolving) and today, a new name. Yes, the name is partly a nod to my formative years moping in my room and listening to The Cure. And -- to my slight embarrassment -- to Tesla. Remember Tesla? Raise your hand if you're singing "Love is all around you..." right now. You know you are.

You can read a bit more about the name change here, but it comes down to having a shorter title that encompasses more of what I actually do with this blog. I appreciate those of you who've commented how much you like "Doll Hair Doesn't Grow Back" but it is a bit cumbersome. Especially when you're trying to tell people about the blog at a party and they leave halfway through the name to refresh their drinks!

In addition to simplifying this blog, I'm also acknowledging that I have been serving a couple of different audiences here: fans and friends who are interested in my personal reflections on life, love and everything else; and those who are interested in my journey as a self-pubbed author (largely because they might like to begin or continue that journey themselves). So I'm spinning off a writer's blog here: It's called Front Matter and if you're a writer or entrepreneur, or just interested in my take on the whole publishing process, I invite you to follow it. And, of course, share. :)

Meanwhile, hang here for more lessons learned, reflections on current events, funny kid stories and general navel-gazing. I'll post book information in both places for now. And I promise to keep it interesting or fall on my face trying!

As always, this lovesong is for you...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sock Puppets and Ethics

It's funny how things collide sometimes. Lately I've been giving a good bit of thought not just to writing, but to the business of being a writer. I've realized (get ready to point and laugh at someone with too much education and too little common sense) that if I want my books to be really successful, I probably ought to dust off all those marketing and business principles I learned as an MBA and, you know, use them.

In this scenario, I am totally the cardiologist who smokes and eats cheeseburgers. Sometimes you forget to apply your professional knowledge to your own life.

So I started making notes for mission and vision statements, business model, and core values. Along with core values I began thinking about my own personal code of ethics when it comes to my writing, and asking myself questions. Will I ever plagiarize someone else's work or intentionally ride someone's coattails? Hell, no. Will I be okay with writing characters who drink heavily and to make jokes about promiscuity or infidelity -- even though those very things have harmed people I know and love, and will definitely turn some people off to my books? You betcha. Life is not always simple or comfortable, and I don't write it that way -- even in my lighthearted, happy-ending romances. That might alienate some people, and I respect their feelings, but it won't change the way I write.

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Oh, wait. I am selling something. But I digress...

It turns out that there are some ethics and values questions I either hadn't considered or hadn't bothered to quantify as I worked around this new publishing and marketing world by pure moxie and intuition. There are also scores of stylistic and etiquette choices, about which some writers seem to feel so passionate that they almost sound like ethical issues when discussed in the blogosphere. Is it okay to follow another writer on Twitter in hopes that they will follow you back? Can or should people review other authors' work in hopes of receiving a reciprocal review? What about trading blurbs? Are Direct Messages on Twitter inherently creepy?

And, in the midst of my personal musings, the news broke that several prominent authors have "massaged" their public image by paying for positive reviews. These include self-published icon John Locke, who admitted in this NY Times article that he paid for many of his early amazon reviews.

I've read Locke's book on successful self-publishing and do find it interesting that while he was happy to highlight his once-monthly blog and Twitter-friendship strategies, he neglected to mention his "purchasing the first 300 reviews" strategy. As someone who paid to read about his methods, I find the omission annoying and maybe unethical (at least by my personal standards) but not criminal. To his credit, he's not hiding from the actions now that they're public, nor is he apologizing for what I would guess he sees as the fair purchase of advertising. It also seems that he told the now-defunct reviewing company he didn't care if the reviews were positive or negative, he just wanted numbers. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I am pretty sure that no one cares how I feel about that.

In addition to purchasing reviews, positive or otherwise, authors have been outed this week for creating 'sock puppet' identities so that they could praise their own works (eh - more pathetic than egregious). The worst offenders, however, are those who use sock puppets to trash rival authors. This, in my opinion, is particularly disgusting. Unforgivable, actually.

In response to the hubbub, some writers have banded together on this no-sock-puppet statement. I 'liked' it on principle, but I'm not sure it's the right tone or level of thoroughness to address the whole issue. A  cohesive, comprehensive code of writing ethics to which authors could commit and self-certify would be more appropriate. Please don't tell anyone I said that, though, because saying the world needs something is the step before someone appoints you as head of a committee. And, truly, I think said committee should be headed by author Barry Eisler, who posted the most coherent response to all of this here.

For fans, friends and fellow writers, and for the imaginary "record" to which all blogs like this one are permanently and indelibly inscribed, here's my take on all of it:

None of my reviews, on amazon, goodreads or anywhere else have been bought. I have never and will never pay anyone with money, chocolate, or free dog-sitting to review my books. I just don't roll that way. In the few cases in which I have provided free reviewers' copies (a common industry practice) to bloggers/reviewers, I've encouraged those people to disclose this in their review, and most of them have.

Like many first-time authors, I found the blank review section a little daunting when I first published The Marriage Pact, and so I encouraged friends and family who'd read the book to provide an honest review of it. Six of them did. Half were 5-star, half were 4-star, and all were (as far as I know), thoroughly honest. In fact, a couple of my English-major friends were harder on me than the first several non-friend readers who reviewed it.

Full disclosure: As I was trying to drum up more attention for The Marriage Pact, I posted a contest on my Facebook page encouraging people to review it for a chance to receive the sequel free. I was aware that this would self-select toward positive reviews, since people who hated the book wouldn't be on my Facebook page and probably wouldn't be interested in reading the sequel, but I was having a hard time thinking of other ways to encourage people to write reviews. I asked fans to be honest, and since many of the reviews included both positive and critical evaluations, I have to assume they were at least somewhat true to that request.

Following those positive reviews and on the heels of my first free promotion, I also received a rash of negative reviews -- people who were really distracted by the book's problems (of which there certainly were a few), readers for whom it wasn't a good fit, or for whom the subject matter was inherently offensive. It was painful at first, as I've blogged about, but it was also a great learning experience and helped me become a better writer. Honestly, while I'm certainly glad to be more positive than negative on my first work, I wouldn't trade the bulk of those negative reviews for an MFA in Creative Writing. They were seriously that valuable.

By the way, I've noticed that the reviews ebb and flow in little waves. People tend to review things when either they have strong feelings one way or the other, or they think the previous reviewers have been wrong. With TMP, my experience was that some people would read and post glowing but short reviews on how much they liked it; and then a few would come and crucify not only the book itself but all the other readers who gave it 4 or 5 stars. It's a matter of taste both ways, I think.

One big thing that impacts amazon's review system, IMHO, is that you can't leave a simple rating. You HAVE to write a review of at least 20 words in order to rate something, which discourages lazy people like me from rating things -- either because we don't want to take the time, or don't want to be scrutinized and lambasted by other reviewers for whatever we might say. The reality is that goodreads probably has a more accurate rating system, tending more predictably toward a normal, natural bell curve. The basic principles of statistics would say that most books ought to be 3-star books. Most books are average by definition. But that's not how it looks on amazon - because of the review structure and people's attitude about writing reviews.

With Regrets Only, I've been fortunate enough to have only 4 and 5 star reviews, 25 so far, and only 3 of those reviews are from people I know personally. I've been unsure with Regrets whether to hold my breath and wait for the other shoe to fall, or worry that people will think I paid for reviews since they're all positive. Maybe I should pay someone to write a mediocre review for credibility....

In the end, I've decided against fretting over it. Instead, I'll be focusing on my own ethics: working hard to provide my readers with something worth buying and doing so in a way that allows me to sleep soundly at night. I'm happy to subscribe to a thoughtfully created code of ethics within the writing community, or to establish my own and display it proudly. But other than that I don't have much room for righteous (writeous?) indignation in my life right now.

Other people's successes -- however they're achieved -- are not my failures, nor the other way around. I view relationships with other writers as a chance to learn and gain support, not to be artificially propped up or cut down. Healthy competition is great, but frankly I'd rather compete against myself than anyone else. For one thing, I'm always available to respond to my own smack talk. Plus, no socks of any kind are required.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mom, There's a Hooker in My Room (Things I Learned in August)

Here's my top 5 from the month of August:

1. A couple of weeks ago, Monkey came running downstairs. "Mom there's a hooker in my room!" After a sidelong glance at his father, and a little investigation, we figured out he was talking about a clothes hanger on the floor. Bill Crosby was right, kids really do say the darnedest things. What Bill didn't say was that kids are funniest when they are inadvertently R-rated.

2. Sometimes when someone tells you they've had an 'epiphany,' it means they genuinely feel they've received an enlightening message from a diety and/or the universe. Other times, it means they just don't want to take responsibility for their own emotionally-driven, irrational or just plain inconsiderate decisions, so they're blaming G-d. Somewhere, the Divine Presence is out there shaking his or her head. "Don't put this on me, dude. I've been trying for weeks to get you to change your oil and you weren't listening to that."

3. The city of Cincinnati is really a lovely place, with an excellent zoo (among other attractions). Monkey is still talking about becoming a temporary Reds fan when we caught a game at Great American Ballpark. When you're a three year old Braves fan in a new city, it takes some processing to keep your loyalties straight. We are well on our way to visiting all the big MLB ballparks before the boys go to college: two down, thirty to go. (We also want to visit all the national parks, but that's another post). Many thanks to our wonderful friends Nan, Carl and family for hosting us in their new hometown. We'll definitely be back soon!

4. While I'd like to say I'm not a slave to positive feedback, I have to say that having people write/post/tweet me insisting that I write a third book in THE MARRIAGE PACT series is an amazing feeling. Most of the jobs I've worked in recent years have been of the "doing good is its own reward" variety, and while that had its charms, a little praise and encouragement goes a long way toward fueling the creative process. I know there is still so much to be learned and I'll never be "past" the point of needing to receive criticism and improve... but, still. Just one tiny rest? On this teeny-tiny little laurel over here? I won't fall asleep, I promise!

5. Okay, I know everyone older than me is going to roll their eyes at this one, but my body just isn't what it used to be. I don't mean flab or wrinkles (though those are making themselves known, too), I mean recovery time after an injury. I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago, a strained muscle that normally would've just been sore for a day or two, and just when I thought I was out of the woods - SNAP! I re-injured it. Now can't sit for more than a few minutes straight, can't carry the boys up and down stairs, and sitting on the floor is completely out of the question. It is so frustrating!

Some of this is hereditary: back problems run in my family on my Mom's side. But that's part of what is so discouraging about it. For as long as I could remember, my mom had such severe back problems that she spent many, many key moments in our childhood lying on the couch on a heating pad (or in a hotel room at Disneyworld - yuck!). I hated that for her, and selfishly I hated it for me, too.

Well, friends, the minute I can move around without cringing, I'll be starting a rigorous yoga/walking/doing whatever the heck it takes to keep my muscles healthier so I don't have to go down that road. I'll camp out at my chiropractor's office if I have to. I'll buy a Roman bench - as soon as I find out what that is. I'll..... [gasp!] do crunches. If that's not a sign of desperation, I don't know what is.

My point is, I don't want to be the "on the couch with the heating pad" mom. I want to be "hiding in the bathroom with a martini and a trashy novel" mom. Way more fun.


So here's what's on tap for September... My wedding anniversary (six years, and he's headed for sainthood for sure), the Jewish holidays, closing out my therapy practice for now, incorporating business and psychological skills into my writing work, creating a mission/vision statement, and lots of other good stuff.

Technically, I've given myself until October to begin work in earnest on the next book, but I've caught myself making notes when I think I'm not looking. I think that's a sign that you've found your true passion in life, when you have to hold yourself back from doing it to get other stuff done.

Have a great long weekend and a wonderful start to September.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday's Blog and a Couple of Birthday Pictures

Happy Monday, friends!

First and foremost, as always, I want to send out big thanks to everyone for helping make all the recent promotions such a huge success. I am also incredibly appreciative for all the Facebook posts, emails and other messages letting me know how much you guys are enjoying Regrets Only (and for all the requests for a third book! What writer could ask for more? Wow!!)

So here's what's happening in my authorial world, for those who are curious....

I'm taking a break from writing until early October. I know, I know, you guys are chomping at the bit for the next book, which is incredibly flattering. I am very much looking forward to the next one, too. But I have some other things to catch up on first, including some consulting/counseling work, making some changes here in cyberspace, and doing a bit of research for my next project(s). The Jewish holidays are coming up as well - a time of year during which we try to slow down and make room in our lives for spiritual reflection. Of course, with a three- and one-year old in the house, reflective time usually means falling asleep on the couch with an untouched glass of wine on the end table.

I'll be unveiling a new author's blog in the next few weeks; of course, this one will remain intact for those who like to read my more personal ramblings. In the new space you'll find my usual take on the world of self-publishing and writing, with some added psychological perspective for current and would-be writers. There may be some fiction posted there, too -- even a story or two stemming from the characters in TMP and RO. I'm excited about it!

In the meantime, I hope to keep you at least somewhat entertained in this space. Speaking of entertaining, my little Fozzie Bear turned one this weekend, and here are a couple of pictures from the small family party we had...

Fozzie Bear - plowing into his first cake with abandon

Monkey - distracting himself from the challenge of not swiping his brother's gifts

The Brothers Goofy

Have a great week, everyone! I'll be in touch soon. Keep those comments, reviews and emails coming. And let me know what else you're reading and enjoying, too!

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Freakout, Your Free Reads

So, here's the deal. After a restful week of visiting friends, working around the house and doing my best to piss off the literati establishment, it's back-to-school time here in lovely Marietta, Georgia. Since we also just voted to have Sunday alcohol sales (in the afternoon only - no drinking in church), parents in these parts have multiple reasons to celebrate.

I have mixed feelings today, because both Monkey and my little Fozzie Bear are going to preschool three days a week starting this fall. It's a wonderful little religious preschool where Monkey has always been happy and Fozzie is going to be snuggled and kissed all day, so I know they'll be fine, but somehow it's so much harder dropping my baby off in a new place than just sneaking out the front door while he's playing with the nanny in our living room. I'm getting more time to work, and write, which is great and empowering. But still.

How do I handle mixed feelings? Well, it's too early in the day for vodka (or at least, too early to publicly admit to drinking vodka), so I've decided to distract myself with a free book promo. Or two.

That's right, my lovelies. Both books, free, now. today and tomorrow only (until midnight-ish Tuesday the 14th), you can download The Marriage Pact free for your kindle AND Regrets Only, the sequel. If I had a third book, I'd give that one away, too, just for fun, but I haven't started writing that one yet. So this is going to have to tide you over for a while!

Think of it as my back-to-school gift to you. Or an end-of-summer gift for those of you who haven't started back yet. Or a "this doesn't impact me" gift for those who don't have kids in school. Think of it however you'd like, just download, read and enjoy, and please do post honest reviews about either or both if you get the chance.

In the meantime, I'm just going to curl up with a couple of my kids' stuffed animals and have a good cry. And maybe just one screwdriver, for courage.

Get The Marriage Pact here (normally 99 cents):

Get Regrets Only here (normally $2.99):

I'm predicting there will be very few promos for Regrets Only, so share the love with others while you can!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

'A' is for 'Arrogance': Legacy Authors and Ivory Towers

So I was doing my nightly Twittering and I came across this article in which traditional/legacy author Sue Grafton refers to those of us who self-publish as "lazy" and "wannabes," among other uncharitable characterizations. Remarkably ungracious for such an esteemed author, though I guess since she added "I'm sorry," to one of the lines and framed it as a hard truth, it was supposed to sound like tough love and wisdom. What's funny is, I've written maybe five blog entries about other authors, and one of them was this one about Sue herself, and what I was learning from her wisdom about a writer's work ethic and how time-consuming being an author can (and should) be.
Um, yeah.

This isn't the first time in the last several months we've heard legacy authors defending the old publishing system by pointing out how many bad self-published books are out there (because clearly all published works are well-written and worthwhile), and advising young authors to avoid the "career suicide" of self-publishing. But this is the first time I've heard the conversation get so pointed and ugly against self-published authors themselves.

In reality, the world of publishing is changing, has changed, in the last few years. Ready or not, like it or not. The accessibility of eBooks for kindle, nook, PC, iPad, etc. is forcing traditional publishers and authors to compete for your reader eyeballs (and dollars) with independent authors, editors and illustrators who have much lower overhead and nothing to lose. We're hungry, we're motivated, and we don't have a six-figure advance in the bank, a series of overpaid English majors weeding through manuscripts on the readers' dime, or a big shiny building that has to be paid for before we start making money on our work. In this brave new publishing world, we have an advantage.

I can sell you my books for 99 cents and $2.99 respectively because I believe that's a fair price to pay for a few hours' entertainment, and because the openness of the amazon platform and generous royalty structure allows me to recoup my costs quickly. I pay my fabulous designer for her artistry with the cover and my amazing proofreader for catching my mistakes. I pay to have a few early copies distributed to my beta readers and I pay some nominal fees for web hosting, marketing, etc. I don't have to pay an agent (don't need one), a marketing expert (what little I do, I do myself), a manuscript screener (you do that yourself when you decide whether or not you want to take a chance on my book), an assistant (I wish!), a president, an HR person, a custodian, an office manager, a courier, a blue-line reader, book tour coordinator, or an intern to get me coffee. Those are all me, me, me (usually), me, me, me, me and ME. Hubs doesn't even know how to work the coffee maker.

All those costs I just mentioned are built in to the legacy publishing system. Those, plus the costs of all the really bad books they choose to publish that no one buys. [Did you know that sometimes books make it through the many filters of traditional publishing and still totally suck? GASP!] That's why you can't buy Sue Grafton or Jodi Picoult (even the kindle versions, which would appear to have very few hard costs) for less than $7.99 or $9.99. Recent releases and bestsellers are generally $12.99 and up. It's why so many people are choosing to take a chance on unknown authors from the $4 and under lists, based on a few reviews or a recommendation from a friend.

No wonder those old guard authors are coming out swinging at their indie competitors, under the guise of giving 'helpful advice,' as bullying so often is.

But it turns out that while traditionally successful authors might be more polished from years of rejection and more layers of editing, many readers are discovering that they're willing to put up with a few comma splices or regretted purchases for the opportunity to get great reads at a great price, or to be the first person in their book club to discover a new gem. And as much as traditional publishers and authors complain about how the market is glutted with self-published crap, the reality is that truly, universally bad books will always be weeded out by negative reviews and bad press. In this market, readers have power and they're using it to create a credible and reliable system of reviewing. If a book gains any momentum number-wise at all, readers will speak the truth about it; and if it doesn't gain momentum, it won't show up in rankings or be recommended anyway. 

To some extent I understand why legacy authors might be bitter and confused, and why they will defend a system on which they are dependent (and locked in by both contract and habit). I think we can debate, if we're bored, whether the reading public are good enough judges of what 'good' is; or if we really need publishers and critics and academics to tell us what's worth reading. Maybe both views are valid. I'll concede there's at least some room for discussion about that. On the other hand, calling self-publishing 'lazy' and indie authors 'wannabes' shows complete ignorance of the self-pubbing process and, frankly, a professional arrogance that is beyond the pale.

The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.

I'm a self-published author. I had a goal to write a novel by the time I was thirty, and events in my life delayed that until I was thirty-five. I have an English degree, two Master's degrees and a specialist degree (two of those in human behavior), and more than twenty years of work experience, much of which included writing. Not the fun kind of writing I dreamed of doing, but the kind that most of us end up doing when we have a mortgage to pay and people to feed. I've taken creative writing classes, I've done writing groups and blogs and written magazine articles. All in my spare time -- I guess because I didn't 'bother' to do the right kind of work.

Over the years I've experienced rejection and criticism and growth, and I am aware those are a lifelong reality if I want to be any good. I wrote my first novel in snatches of time between graduate school classes, morning sickness, breastfeeding, working, and -- once in a while -- sleeping. I researched, wrote, and rewrote instead of watching TV or talking on the phone or taking a desperately needed nap. I wrote on the bus and in traffic and jotted things down when I got out of the shower. I made notes on a pad while I strolled my newborn around the park. I wrote on my laptop in bed while my husband snored next to me.

I may be a lot of things, Sue Grafton, but lazy isn't one of them.

When I completed my first novel, it was like giving birth. Just finishing it fulfilled what was, for me, a lifelong dream. I was sheepish when I handed it over to my friends to read and tell me what they thought. I was so proud of what I'd accomplished, and a little nervous that people would conclude I'd completely wasted my time doing it. And then there was this seed of hope, this presumptuous little suggestion in the back of my mind, confirmed by the feedback I got from friends and early readers: You know, this isn't half-bad. It's not Shakespeare or anything, but for a first effort, it's not bad.

Holding my finished manuscript and knowing what I do about publishing, I had a choice to make: send off query letters to agents and publishers and wait for months to hear back rejections, or try a grand experiment. Go ahead. Put it out there. See what happens. Maybe nothing will come of it, maybe everyone will hate it. Maybe they'll laugh at me for trying. Maybe Sue Grafton will call me a wannabe. But at least my friends and family will get to see the fruits of my labor in print, instead of just hearing me complain at parties about how misunderstood I am and whining about my latest string of rejections.

I was six months pregnant, chasing a toddler, and working in my other job as a therapist. I knew that for me, this was a now-or-maybe-never proposition. I chose now. Like hundreds of other indie authors, I stood at that fork in the road and decided to take a chance on myself, right then and there, rather than pursuing the elusive approval of the publishing industry. I decided to let readers decide what they thought of my book themselves. (And they did. And they told me about it -- for better or worse!) I didn't expect fame and fortune. I didn't demand attention or start wearing a beret and introducing myself as an 'author' at parties. I didn't ask to play Carnegie Hall with my Five Easy Pieces, as Grafton so condescendingly puts it. I just put it out there and went on my way, hoping only that someone would read it and not regret the experience. What happened a few months later was, as Hubs says, like catching lightning in a bottle. I'm still in awe of it.

My work is not perfect. I am still honing my craft. But instead of hearing the suggestions of someone sitting behind a desk in a publishing house, I get to hear the suggestions and criticisms of readers themselves through reviews and other direct feedback. They are not always as sophisticated, nor are they always as polite, as an agent's form letter might be. But I hear from them. Immediately.

Is it always pleasant? No. Do I learn what I need to learn? You better believe it. My second book is FAR better than my first, thanks in part to reader reviews and feedback, and I believe I will continue to improve. In the meantime, I've had the encouragement of all the positive feedback and the fact that thousands of people have downloaded and read my work, not just a few people to whom I've FedExed manuscripts. Over 100,000 have downloaded The Marriage Pact alone, actually, which is nothing to sneeze at -- considering the average 'published' book sells around 7,000.

And instead of paying my dues by checking the mailbox every day hoping to see publishing house stationery, I've actually made a little bit of money at this so I can re-invest it into my own career and give myself more opportunities to be a better writer. If I were trying to break into traditional publishing, I might not have made a dime yet. And, to be honest, I probably would have given up my dream of writing until we could afford to live on one income (which I would venture to guess is how many traditionally successful authors make it through the lean years before they are 'discovered').

I don't feel 'entitled' to anything, nor do I believe that being willing to stand up in front of the world and present my work for people to judge as they will is 'disrespectful' to anyone. My self-publishing has nothing to do with anyone but me and the people who choose to read my work. In fact, I would say that putting yourself out there to sink or swim in an ocean of unbiased readers takes a hell of a lot more courage than sending a query letter to an agent or publishing house.

When some legacy authors talk about what they've 'earned' by making it through the old system, I'm sure they have no idea how arrogant and entitled they sound themselves, and how little credit for their success they give to the real people who buy and read their books (some of whom are current or future indie authors). Nor do they pay much attention to how much of every international bestseller's success is owed to one big factor: LUCK.

Are many of those authors talented? Yes, of course. Do they work hard? Certainly. Is it grueling to make it through the process of winning publishers' approval, and do they persist when others give up? Of course.

Are they also damn lucky that they got introduced to the right person at the right time, or landed a manuscript on the right desk of the right agent on the right day? Absolutely. Do many of them have connections through friends and family that have helped them along the way? Or spouses or parents who supported them while they were busy getting rejected and trying again? The benefit of socio-economic status and education and time to write rather than working two jobs to make ends meet? Often, yes.

Does any of that matter when you pick up a book? Of course not. No more than it matters whether a person is self-published or traditionally published. I don't begrudge traditional authors their success, nor do I judge them for how they've chosen and/or fallen into their career path. I will continue to read, enjoy and learn from both traditionally-published books (when I can afford them) and self-published/indie authors. But if traditional authors want to continue their success in today's new reading market, they are going to have to do more to adapt than simply look down their noses and make elitist, insulting comments about self-published authors.

Because we are honing our craft. We're banding together and learning from our mistakes and each other. We're publishing and learning and starting over. Unlike traditional authors, we have the necessity of close relationships with our readers. We appreciate emails, listen to feedback, and we take time to tweet back whenever we can. We fight for every sale and we read every review. We're invested with our blood sweat and tears and stand on the precipice of public opinion with no kindly agent or editor to protect our egos. Our readers, bloggers and amateur critics are smart, too, and they know what good reading is -- with or without the blessing of a Big Six publishing imprint. 

So traditional publishers and authors, you'd better watch your back (and your sales figures), because we indies are getting stronger and we're not going away. We don't need to put you down or belittle you. We are not afraid of failure or a little friendly competition -- even if your approach to us is sometimes less than friendly. We don't have time to squabble about whether we deserve our successes or whether you approve of our decisions.

We're too busy working our tails off and bringing our A-game.

And "A" is for Author.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

5 Things I Learned in July 2012

Whoever said you learn something new every day obviously already knew a good bit more than I did to begin with. I'm finding the older I get, I realize the less I know, and I learn an average of about 400 things a day, usually in some comically painful manner. Some of these things are actual new information, others are things I am re-learning. Again. And again.

For example, while I wrote the above paragraph, I learned that my 11-month old DOES fit under my husband's nightstand if properly motivated by the lure of electrical and phone cords. True story.

So I thought it would be fun to try to recap each month with some of the things I've learned, so that you all can learn with me, or at least have a good laugh at my expense. Here goes for July:

1. I learned that my two boys are astonishingly different in so many interesting ways; yet at three and almost-one, they already have a closeness I would never have imagined. Turns out they are even okay sleeping in the same room together, one of this month's grand experiments at our house.

2. That IS poison ivy in the backyard, and yes, I am allergic to it -- far more than I was as a kid. Seriously allergic. Also, taking six prednisone over a six-hour period will keep you up all night so you can format your novel for Kindle.

3. You use "one another" if there are more than two people being discussed, "each other" if there are only two. (Thanks, Faith). It's funny how we latch on to things we're taught, because I once had an English teacher tell me that "each other" is NEVER correct. Even though I learned soon after that she was wrong, and use it regularly in speech, I still cringe when I write it. Even to the point of being incorrect. Teachers, beware....

4. I learned that I have been completely under-utilizing and in many other ways misunderstanding Twitter as a social marketing tool. I'll probably do a separate post about that at some point, so if you're Twitter-clueless like me but want to be able to start using it for marketing or networking, stay tuned.

5. Finally, I learned that when you are potty training a little boy, you are guaranteed to have one bathroom that ALWAYS smells like pee. It doesn't matter how often you clean it, how many air fresheners you use or what kind of hard-core environment-destroying chemicals you enlist. I'm calling this the Law of Urinespraylocity. There's an equation and everything, including variables like distance of reach beyond the toilet, time allowed between "gotta go" and "going," and miles of paper shoved into toilet while parent's back is turned; but trust me, it all ends in PEE. It's a joyous time. Really.

Feel free to post what you've learned this month in the comments section. And if anyone blogger-educated knows how to get blogger to notify me of new comments, would you let me know? I swear I'm not ignoring you guys.

Have a great August!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Poison Ivy and a Weekend Surprise: REGRETS ONLY is here!

The bad news (for me) is that I have a RAGING case of poison ivy, which I got working in the backyard last week. I've always been allergic and our yard is full of the stuff, but this is definitely the worst reaction I've had. It's just gross. For some reason I also got hives simultaneously. So after days of scratching, swelling and ignoring Hubs' pleas for me to go to the doctor, I finally dragged myself in on Friday to get an antibiotic and steroid pack. Since the steroid regimen was supposed to start at breakfast and I picked it up around 4 p.m., I decided to play catch up and get all 6 pills in between then and bedtime. As we say to our boys, "Good idea, bad idea?"

The good news is, I had something to do with myself when I was up all night long! As a result, the formatting and preparations for publication for REGRETS ONLY are done much sooner than I'd planned. So... it's ready for you a few days early! To celebrate, I've decided to price it at just 99 cents for the first 24 hours or so, and then it will go up to the regular price of $2.99. I'm hopeful you will find it's well worth either price, but I wanted to reward my blog & Facebook followers with a deal! 

You can find it here. There might be a few little glitches with the first downloads, so please bear with me and let me know of issues you find.


At thirty-three, Suzanne Hamilton has it all.  A successful party-planning business with an elite client list.  A swank condo in a hot Atlanta neighborhood and a close group of friends – especially her longtime best friend Marci. A list of men a mile long who have tried to win her heart and failed. Plus, she’s just landed the event that will take her career and social status to the next level. What could she possibly have to regret?

Then a freak accident changes everything, and Suzanne discovers that her near-perfect life is just a few steps away from total disaster. She is humiliated and at risk of losing it all… except the surprising support of her newest celebrity client. With nothing else to go on, Suzanne follows him into an unexpected job and unfamiliar territory. Soon she will question everything – her career, her past, her friendships, and even her own dating rules.

But when her catalog of past relationships turns into a list of criminal suspects, she is faced with the horrifying possibility that she may not live to regret any of it…

Friday, July 27, 2012

Countdown to REGRETS ONLY; Cover Art!

For those of you anxiously--no, wait, eagerly--awaiting a first glimpse at REGRETS ONLY (the sequel to THE MARRIAGE PACT), I'm happy to say you can get a little preview for free this weekend!

While I was finishing the sequel this summer, I also invested in some revisions to the original novel. Nothing major, for those who loved it, just cleaning up some editing errors and streamlining in a few places. I re-published TMP to amazon today, and while I was at it, I added the first two chapters of REGRETS ONLY at the end.

 (c) Marla Kaplan Design
But what about those who've already bought TMP? Well, I'm happy to say it will be offered for free from Friday - Sunday, July 27-29. So please re-download, re-enjoy, and don't feel bad about skipping to the end just to get started on REGRETS. :)

The full text of RO is scheduled to be out next Wednesday, August 1st. Make sure that you are following the blog or sign up for the email list to be notified when it hits the virtual shelf!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MJ & The Sunshine Blog

Well, hello everyone! I hope this post finds you having the most super-special day ever!! Are you having a great summer? I hope you're staying cool and working hard and battling against the forces of negativity with a gigantic smile, loud music and your usual razor sharp wit. Because YOU rock! That's right, YOU!!!

Hmm... It is juuuust possible that I had too much coffee this morning. Anyway, moving on!

I am so excited to report that very early Monday morning, while my little guys were eating Cheerios and watching "Curious George," I sent Regrets Only off to the proofreader, who is currently working her magic on all my typos and misplaced hyphens. Yay! I still have a few little minor tweaks to do when I get it back from her, but otherwise it will be ready to be formatted, uploaded and on its way to you by August 1. Don't you love indie publishing?

Since I have a week or so of down time, I am taking a deep breath and trying to hold back the tide of backlogged stuff that is now demanding my attention after being on hold for weeks while I finished writing. Plus I've been folding laundry, like, the SAME DAY it comes out of the dryer. Did you know you could do that? Turns out it doesn't need 48-72 hours to cool off!

Meanwhile, if you're one of those people who's been waiting and waiting and emailing me asking when the sequel is coming out, here's what is coming up:

1. TMP UPDATE: Sometime in the next week or so, there will be a revised version of The Marriage Pact e-book released. It's the same book as before, just a little cleaned up editing-wise. From what I understand, you can re-download the book to your device at no charge if you already purchased it. I will also be sure to offer it for free for a few days as well, so check back for that.

2. SNEAK PEEKS: At the end of the new TMP, you will find a couple of sample chapters of Regrets Only. You'll be able to start reading the book before it's even published! Also, the book jacket synopsis and cover art for RO will be out soon and posted here.

3. LAUNCH: Regrets Only should be available as an e-book on Amazon by around August 1st. (The paperback will follow shortly). My contest winners will get it in their hot little hands a few days before that. It will be priced a little higher ($2.99) than The Marriage Pact ($.99). All the feedback I've had so far is that you'll find it's worth every penny. I hope you agree!

4. LOVE: How is Marci doing three years after turning 30? Did she make the right choice about her marriage pact? Will the beautiful, notoriously picky Southern belle Suzanne ever find the right guy? Or will her life fall apart around her first? She may have more to worry about than missing out on a good man...

5. STAY TUNED: Keep an eye on this blog for the synopsis and a preview of the cover art. If you're not already FOLLOWING me here, please sign up at the left to make sure you don't miss anything. You can also join my email list to be the first to know about everything. I'm going to do a couple of fun little contests there and on Facebook.   

In summary, here are all the ways to keep up with me and the latest news...
Twitter: @MJPullen
Email updates: Sign up here
Blog updates: <-- Sign up over there.

So if you miss out on a free book or a cool contest, or something completely witty from me, it's not my fault.

Have a sunny day!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hubby vs. Mean Reviews, Touched by an Email

I'll be very honest with you, blog reader friends. Just between us, negative reviews about a book you've written can suck. Even though every book gets them, even though you can always learn something from feedback, even though it's part of what you signed up for when you decided to take the self-important step of foisting a book on the world. Even though, even though, even though.

It doesn't matter how you re-frame it or how much you're expecting it; if any part of your fragile writer's ego is exposed when you peruse the one- and two-star reviews that are an inevitable part of the publishing process, you are open to be a little wounded by them. The ones that make valid critical points are challenging enough to swallow, but at least they offer you something you can take away with you to improve for later. Or, choose to ignore and better define who you are as a writer. Both useful behaviors.

More difficult are the reviews that seem just plain mean-spirited. These are definitely the minority, even of negative reviews, and they don't bother me as much as they did at first. I'll admit to being surprised sometimes at the vitriol that some people feel after reading a book that wasn't exactly what they expected, or they felt was wordy, or whatever. But I'm the writer, and I knew the minute I clicked "publish" that one of my new jobs was to work on checking my sensitivity and keeping perspective.

Hubs, on the other hand, is still working on growing thicker skin. He's learned to handle my (often intense) self-criticism and even helps me wade through feedback to pull out themes to improve my writing for next time. But when people are mean, he still gets a bit hurt and defensive. And, you know what? I think it's sweet. At the end of the day, I'd rather have the guy who gets mad on my behalf than a thousand five-star reviews.

All that said, I also wanted to share that I have received some incredible emails in the last few weeks that have been really heartwarming. Several people have reached out to let me know that The Marriage Pact was more to them than just an entertaining read (which was my primary goal), but that it had some personal significance to them. Whether it was something Marci experienced that resonated with them or just a connection with one of the characters, some people have a special experience with the book, and I've been delighted to hear it.

One note in particular landed in my inbox last week while I was taking a break from working on Regrets Only. The note was from someone who would probably not be considered my typical target audience (as he pointed out): a 63-year-old man. I'll respect the privacy of what he shared with me specifically, but several events in his life mirrored some of those in The Marriage Pact; though his real-life story was in many ways far more beautiful than my fictional one.

It meant the world to me that he enjoyed the book, and that he took the time to send such a personal email about it. It means even more, since my Dad -- who was also 63 -- died last year before he could finish reading my first novel. I never got to hear his impressions, but it's nice to know that it's at least possible he might have enjoyed it.

Self-publishing can be both a raw and rewarding process. We get to play a lot of roles: from parent to author to spouse to business owner to editor to marketer. Sometimes in the midst of the chaos, the universe gives us what we need: useful feedback, a supportive spouse, or an encouraging word at just the right time. The trick is being able to look up from the keyboard long enough to appreciate it!  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Enough About Books... Let's Eat!

This isn't a foodie blog, but I just want to do a quick update for those interested: I did a guest post this weekend on my friend Meghan's plant-based living blog. It has a yummy Curried Veggie recipe and some pictures of my kids chowing down. You can find it here.

As someone who's spent most of her life in the "Plus Sized" section of the world, I am not exactly the expert on healthy eating habits. But I get a little better all the time, especially as I try to help my boys not to have the same struggles that I've had. I don't obsess about calories, pounds or size anymore. I've decided I'm too old for that crap. I like myself the way I am, and more importantly, I accept myself for who I am. I don't beat myself up for my imperfections and mistakes, in any area of life, but especially related to weight.

Instead, Hubs and I just try to focus on making healthy choices, whenever we can. This year we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that my best friend has been doing for years, and I'm so excited to get my hands on all the new and interesting fresh veggies. I love to cook, but rarely make time for it, so I think the influx of produce is going to force me to do more of that. You may see more veggie-related posts in the future!

In the meantime, if you are interested in plant-based eating (as a participant or observer), go check out Meghan's blog. She manages to be really informative without coming off all judgmental and crazy. 

And in case you don't have time to follow the links, here's a picture of a kohlrabi. Because kohlrabi is fun!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Two More Free Days for The Marriage Pact

I know many of the folks reading this blog have already downloaded and read my first novel, THE MARRIAGE PACT, but in case you know people who haven't and you think it's worth sharing...

In celebration of Memorial Day, all day Wednesday May 22nd and Thursday May 23rd, you'll be able to download TMP for FREE. This will be the last time it's available for free, at least until the release of REGRETS ONLY later in the summer, so get it while it's hot!! I wanted to make sure everyone is loaded up with something fun to read over the long weekend.

You can read the free download on your Kindle, of course, but you can also read it using a free Kindle app for your PC, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android phone, etc.

Please feel free to share this post with friends and family. The book has done really well since the first free promotion in April, spending 30+ days in the Top 100 Paid for Kindle, and longer than that in the Top 10 for Contemporary Fiction and Women's Fiction. There are more than 65 reviews with an average of more than 4 stars. You know, in case you want some credibility for your recommendation! :) 

While you're doing that, I am slaving away on REGRETS ONLY, the sequel (though it's a bit of a tangent from the original plot line), which I think will be even better than TMP. You'll be the judge!

Have a wonderful Memorial Day, everyone!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Post #160: In which I whine an awful lot and then try to learn something

Did you ever have one of those weeks?

I did. Week before last, actually. Some people would say, "when it rains it pours." I would say, "it felt like our house was on a vortex of crap."

Those of you who have or have recently had preschool-aged children understand that once your kid goes to daycare, you get every imaginable communicable illness, every time it comes around. I used to pride myself on having an iron constitution, but ever since Monkey started bringing home those lovely germs, I'm amazed at how often I am knocked flat by something that barely fazes him.  Two weekends ago, despite my best efforts and loads of Emergen-C, I came down with a nasty little virus that came with a fever, sore throat, sinus infection, bronchitis, and after a couple of days, a double ear infection.

Little Fozzie Bear got it, too, so we were both miserable while Monkey was feeling fine at full blast. Just in time for Hubs to go out of town on a business trip. I got sick Friday night, he left Monday, and the three of us were planning to drive out to New Orleans on the following Friday with my mother-in-law to meet him for a wedding. Over those four days, I was supposed to be packing myself and both boys for the long car ride, working, and writing.

But then I didn't get better, and neither did Fozzie Bear. He was so unhappy, he couldn't sleep, and needed to be held 100% of the time. So I took him to the doctor, got antibiotics for his ears, and then promptly lost my voice. I cancelled my clients and the nanny (to keep from getting her or her other charges sick). Tuesday I got worse instead of better, so I took myself to the doctor -- moms know what a rarity it is, and how BAD you have to feel, to take yourself to the doctor. You pretty much have to be losing a limb or at death's door. More antibiotics for my ears and sinuses.

Cranky baby, no nanny, feeling crappy. Hubs out of town. To top it off, Monkey is brilliantly mastering the art of being an almost-three year old, which means he can annoy you within inches of dropping him off at an orphanage and running like hell.

Times like those, I miss my parents more than ever. Especially my mom. When you're really sick, you just want someone to come stroke your hair and tell you it will be alright. Or to give your kids dinner so you can go get a shower. Whichever. That night, in the midst of trying to negotiate both boys through dinner, medicine and bath, I sat down and cried for my Mom. Big, pathetic tears. Monkey came and asked me why I was crying, and I answered him honestly in my raspy squeak: "I miss my Mommy today."

He said, a little befuddled, "You miss your Mommy?"

I nodded. He knows who my Mom was, in theory, though of course he never got to meet her. She died eight years before he was born. Sometimes, however, kids understand simple things that we have forgotten. "It's okay, Mommy," he said. "You can talk to her. I'll show you where Grandma Peggy is."

He motioned for me to follow him, and feeling a little silly, I did. He led me upstairs to the hallway where we have a black and white picture of my mom, taken around her senior year in high school when she was Homecoming Queen. It's one of my favorites. "There she is," he said simply. "Talk to her."

Needless to say, this did not stop the crying. I held him close, and for a few precious moments, everything was okay. I mean, in a couple minutes, he was back to throwing enormous tantrums for no rational reason, and Fozzie was crying nonstop as I tried to funnel Tylenol down his throat. But still. I got them to bed and called my Mom's childhood best friend, who was nice enough to talk and let me listen for a while.

The next morning, my sinus infection decided to take over my whole face. I woke up with one eye swollen shut and both eyes leaking some kind of disgusting goo. Pink eye. Awwwwesome. Back to the doctor, this time with both boys in tow, where a nice but odd nurse suggested I could've saved myself a trip by putting baby pee in my eye. I took this in stride, and said to her without irony, "That's a good idea. I guess since I'm already here, though, maybe I'll just go ahead with the drops."

My aunt came that evening to help me get the boys to bed and catch up on dishes, which was an enormous blessing. One nice thing about not having lots of family nearby and available to help is that you really appreciate what you get. The nanny was returning Thursday afternoon, and I had a desperately-needed haircut and pedicure scheduled to get ready for the almost-forgotten-in-the-shuffle wedding. Oh, and I needed shoes and jewelry to go with my new dress, too. Plus the packing to leave early Friday morning. No problem. I had five hours of nanny time and a plan to use every minute wisely.

We stopped by the pediatrician on the way to preschool Thursday morning, since Monkey had been complaining about his ears and I didn't want to take any chances on our road trip. It turned out that saying "my ears hurt" was just another fun way to get attention (sigh) because they were fine. So we dropped him off and I went home to try to pull some things together before the nanny arrived. Half an hour before she was supposed to get there, I got a call from the school. Monkey had been hit in the head with a sand bucket by another kiddo, and they thought he *might* need stitches. I think I actually said to the poor teacher, "Are you kidding me?"

She was not, in fact, kidding me. I called the nanny and bribed her with the entire contents of our refrigerator and pantry to skip picking up her own lunch and get to our house a few minutes early. She did, and so I drove frantically to school and picked up my brave but bloody Monkey. I canceled my hair appointment (for the third time in two weeks) on the way to urgent care, where Monkey and I went through the decidedly un-fun process of getting him his first stitches (three of them).

It was around then that it happened. I realized the week had defeated me. I had not packed a thing, I had not seen a single client, had not written a word. No hair cut or pedicure. Nothing had gone as I'd planned. But as I held my terrified, screaming child while the doctor speared him with a fish hook needle, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Woman plans, universe laughs. But maybe for a reason.

Even though I was packing at midnight and had frizzy hair and an emergency stop for accessories along the interstate, the trip was uneventful and the wedding quite lovely. I got to spend Mother's Day in New Orleans with Hubs, the boys, and my wonderful mother-in-law. And I think I appreciated it more for the trials and tribulations of the previous week.

Originally I thought this blog might be about Motherhood, or Mother's Day. And it is. I thought it might be about learning to give up control and replace it with gratitude. It's that, too. But since it took me an extra week to get back to writing it, I've realized there is more to it...

Throughout my frustrating week, I reminded myself that there are lots of parents of young kids out there who have partners whose jobs pull them out of town far, far more often than mine. Some of those parents have great support systems around them to help out, and some don't.

As Memorial Day approaches, though, I started thinking about sacrifice, and it occurred to me that one of the hardest weeks of my cushy life is a standard week for many military families. Parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, give every minute of every day just to keep their families up and running. They do this while their loved ones are not only away from home, but putting themselves in peril for all our sakes. If I'd had to add Hubs' bodily safety to my list of worries last week, or the prospect of not being able to see him for months on end.... well, I can't imagine.

It's a tiny gesture, but I'm going to be offering The Marriage Pact for free for a couple of days this week, to give folks a chance to pad their Kindles for the long weekend and the start of summer. If you haven't yet read it, I hope you'll enjoy it. I also hope you'll have a chance to spend time this holiday weekend enjoying things you love, with people you love.

As for me, I have some writing to catch up on, and I'm looking forward to some down time with the fam. Of course, we will take a few minutes this weekend to honor the sacrifices of those who've given their lives for our country, and those who risk their lives each day. This year, I'm also going to think especially about the families they leave behind -- some for a while, some forever -- who make equally important and difficult sacrifices. I'm in awe of the strength of those families, and grateful for them. "Thank you," seems inadequate, but I'll say it anyway: Thank You.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Procrastination: a Poem

This haiku is for
National Poetry Month,
which was in April.

Happy May! :)