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2021 in Review

It’s the new year, and I’m easing myself back into work mode. The work I’m doing now is mostly thinking rather than sitting at the computer and coming up with words, so it’s perfect for this time of year, when I really just want to huddle under the electric blanket on the sofa and doze. I can do that and plan a book.

When I’ve ventured out of my blanket cocoon, I’ve been doing some record keeping and analysis of last year to help me with my business planning for next year. It was a pretty productive year, writing and publishing-wise. I got four books out, wrote two of them entirely during the year and revised/edited one and proofed one. I also wrote a novelette for an upcoming project and did a lot of development work on some things that I hope to write this year. I spent less time writing than I did the year before, but was still pretty productive, so I’m happy with that.

Financially, it was one of my better years in a long time, but most of that came from older projects and traditional publishing. I got some foreign sales and royalties and some other subsidiary rights sales. The new projects were barely a blip. The new mystery series isn’t making that much money. If I only look at those sales and how much time I’ve spent working on those books, I’d have done better if I’d gone to work at the grocery store. However, since that work has been done, as the books continue to sell that hourly “wage” will continue to rise. I’m going to try doing some promo things and see if I can boost those books a bit before I decide where to go with that series. I don’t think the problem is that people don’t like them because the sell-through is pretty good. People who read one book tend to go on to read the rest. The trick is to get people to read the first book.

That’s actually the issue with all my books. Once people read the first book, they tend to read the whole series. I just don’t have that many people reading the first book. The first Enchanted, Inc. book is nearly 17 years old, and people are still just now hearing about it. In a way, that’s good because it means I have a steady stream of income from books I wrote ages ago. But it also means that these books have been flying under the radar. Most of my income still comes from that series rather than from anything new I write.

And that makes it tricky to figure out what to write next. I’m not that interested in writing more Enchanted, Inc. stuff right now. In general, I haven’t been into contemporary-set books for the past year or so. I’ve been almost entirely reading secondary-world fantasy — stories taking place in imaginary worlds. And that’s what I really want to write. That’s what made me fall in love with fantasy fiction and want to be a writer in the first place. It may be a bit of a leap to go from my contemporary fantasy/romantic comedy stuff to imaginary world storybook kind of stuff, but that’s where my brain is right now, and trying to force myself into something else just led to some massive burnout.

And thus the huddling under a blanket and creating an imaginary world. I’ll do some promo to see if I can boost the sales of books I’ve already written while I play with this idea and see where it takes me. That’s my plan for at least the early part of the year. I’ve reached the point where this world is starting to take shape and solidify, and I need to start filling in the specifics. Then I’ll flesh out the characters who have been forming in my head, and from there I can start plotting.

Long Holiday and Holiday Movies

I got an extra-long Thanksgiving holiday. I started early, going to my parents’ house on Tuesday, and then Monday morning I got my COVID booster shot, so I’ve been taking it easy the past couple of days. Actually, though, I’ve probably spent more time than usual doing work-related stuff, since “taking it easy” meant reading some books that are research for a project and watching relevant documentaries. I just haven’t been sitting at my desk. I’m now at the point where my arm is still a bit sore and I get tired easily, but I don’t feel so bad as long as I don’t try to do too much.

I started the annual Christmas movie viewing last night, since there was a movie that had been offered as a preview for a paid channel that would be leaving Prime that day, and after watching it, I’m not sure how many of these I’ll manage to watch this year. I’ve realized that most of my viewing the last year or so has been either historical or fantasy-related. In other words, not at all realistic. Not that these movies are truly “realistic,” but they look enough like real life that seeing large groups of people gathering closely without masks made me a bit anxious. Then there was the scene of characters in a restaurant that made me simultaneously wistful and anxious. Maybe I’ll limit myself to the ones with fantasy elements. If they’re repeating the same day over and over again or having wishes come true, I don’t have to worry about it taking place in the real world.

While I unironically enjoy some of these because they’re basically romantic comedies with snow, I’ll admit that I watch to snark for most of them. The one last night was supposed to be more of a drama than a rom-com, since it was a “something bad happened to me once around Christmas, so now I don’t really celebrate Christmas but when I visit a small town for some other reason and get roped into all their local celebrations, I can see how magical Christmas is” story (Hallmark plot #12). This chick just about lost her mind at the town tree lighting event. It wasn’t anything too elaborate. They just turned on the tree while singing Christmas carols, and Santa was there. My neighborhood does something more elaborate than that, so it was hard to buy that she’d never seen anything like it or that this town was so special that it celebrated Christmas in a way that you don’t experience anywhere else.

I once wrote a script for a Christmas movie, which I turned into a book. I’ve been pondering drafting another one this year as a way to stay in the writing habit while I’m doing the development work for a series. I have a few ideas I’ve been playing with in my head, but most of them are kind of spoofs on Hallmark, like merging the Christmas disaster movie the Sci Fi channel used to do with the Hallmark holiday rom-com movie, or finding the town where all those Christmas movies take place and uncovering their dark secret. I may wait a day or two to decide about that. Right now, it sounds exhausting, and typing makes my arm a bit sore. I also need to get my Christmas decorations up to set the proper mood.

Metaphorical Cleaning

My house cleaning and office organization project continues. So far, I’ve got the downstairs except for the kitchen cleaned (the kitchen is going to take extra time, not so much because it’s dirty but because there’s more to do, like wiping down the inside and outside of appliances, cleaning the oven, etc.) and I’ve organized the area under my desk.

My desk is deep and doesn’t have built-in drawers. It’s basically an L-shaped table with a keyboard drawer, and that means there’s room under it for storage. I’ve got a stack of plastic drawers on one end. Under the corner is a unit with a big drawer/bin and a shelf, and then I have the printer cart from a previous desk, from back in the day when you would put your tractor feed printer on top and your paper below, and you’d feed the paper up through a slot to the printer. That cart is now where I keep my printing supplies. I sorted through all that stuff, so now I can easily find the printer paper, writing paper, and all the various kinds of stationery I’ve amassed, including notecards and postcards that can be run through a printer. I also organized and sorted through all the notebooks that go on the shelf of the corner unit. The area looks so nice now that I find myself just gazing at it.

Then I made a big change on the top of my desk. My desk is a bit tall for me. I put my laptop on the keyboard drawer and it’s more or less at the right height if I keep my chair high enough, which means I need a footrest. But I was feeling really hemmed in by the desk and was pondering if I needed to get something different. Then it occurred to me that the problem was really that one of my printers, the inkjet that’s also a scanner and copier, was sitting right in front of me on the desk, making the desk look even higher and blocking part of my view out the window. I’d put it there because when I was using my office previously it was before I got Wi-Fi, so I had to be able to plug the printer directly into the computer. Now it doesn’t matter where the printer is, so I moved it to that cart behind my desk.

And it was amazing the difference it made. It cleared a lot of space on my desk and opens that whole area up. I have a clearer view and feel a lot less “trapped.”

I think there’s a metaphor in there. I was feeling trapped by something that had served a purpose at one point in my life. Things had changed so that it no longer needed to be where it was, but I hadn’t realized that or thought about it until I looked at things in a new way. I think we tend to do that in life a lot, let something that doesn’t have to be the way it is anymore keep us feeling trapped because we don’t stop and think about why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them. It’s worthwhile to question things every so often and consider whether a change would work.

Or something profound. I just know that now I can see more of my plants and out the window instead of having a big, black thing right in my face.

Since I have a book releasing next week, my progress on the office is going to have to slow down. But I’m determined to get it done this year, even if I do only a little bit every day.

Break Time

I finished a draft of a book last weekend, and I’ve spent most of this week trying to catch up on the stuff I was supposed to have been doing while I was working on the book, so I’ve decided I need some recovery time. I’m not taking a real vacation, but I’m going to try to be deliberate about taking actual downtime for a long weekend.

Change of pace is rather important for keeping the brain sharp and for being creative, and that’s been hard to come by in the past year or so, which means I’m making an effort to create that effect at home—not always successfully. Mostly it means shaking up my schedule. I may let myself sleep a little later (if I can. My body wakes up early in the summer, like it’s in touch with my inner ancestral farmer and thinks I need to be in the fields by six). I’m going to try to stay away from the computer as much as I can (I have a couple of freelance projects in the works that will require me to check e-mail). I’ve done a library run to stock up on books, and now I’m going to allow myself some time to just sit and think and sit and read. There may be some yoga to work out all the knots that come from sitting over a computer. I’m working on getting my singing voice back after getting really out of shape from more than a year without choir rehearsals and with barely even speaking, so I may do some singing.

Yeah, I really know how to relax.

And then I’ll be ready to dive in to the next draft of the book.

Familiar Things

I’ve found myself pondering the tug of war between the familiar and the new. I’d planned to make an effort this fall to try new things. I couldn’t go anywhere on a vacation, but I could create a change of pace at home by doing different things, like cooking new recipes. But when fall hit, I was so excited to get back to some of my favorite fall recipes that it was hard to fit in new things among the old favorites. I was looking forward to those soups and breads that I know I love and haven’t had since early this year, so I made those instead of the new recipes. I did make a couple of new dishes, but I didn’t like them as much as the favorites. I tried a new scone recipe yesterday, and that one’s going in the regular rotation, so it wasn’t a total failure.

I run into the same problem when it comes to watching movies. I start scrolling through the streaming menu, and the familiar ones jump out at me, so I end up rewatching things instead of watching something new. I haven’t had great luck in trying new ones. They tend to be not what I was expecting, and that’s not good when you’re expecting a romantic comedy and get a depressing drama. Now that Christmas movie season is upon us, there’s the tug between the ones I know I like and the new ones that may or may not be any good. Then there are the ones that are traditional, the specials and movies I watch every year, even though I just about have them memorized. They’re more background noise than something I really watch, but it’s comforting to absorb them in the background.

I’m doing better about reading new books instead of re-reading favorites, though there is a strong temptation to reach for the comfort reads.

There is a known bias toward familiarity. You’re drawn to the familiar. That’s part of the point of advertising, to make something more familiar to you so that when you see it in a store, it jumps out at you and you choose the most familiar thing.

I’ve decided to balance things. I’m making an effort to try new things, whether it’s new recipes or new movies, but when I want something reassuring and comfortable, there’s no harm in going with the familiar.

And maybe this is part of my problem when it comes to book promotion. I’m bad about not wanting to bother people with repeated messages, but it does take repeated exposure to things before they become familiar enough for people to accept them.

Blog Fatigue

I was lamenting on Twitter yesterday that I don’t know if anyone actually reads my blog, and it seems people do, even if they’re not commenting, so I guess I’ll keep up with it. My problem right now is that I have no idea what to write about. I haven’t been watching much TV or movies, so I don’t have anything to discuss there. I’ve been reading from my to-be-read pile, and I’m finding that there are reasons I didn’t read those books for so long, so I haven’t had a lot of books to recommend. Otherwise, my reading is for research for a future project, and I don’t really want to talk about what I’m reading there because the idea is that I’ll throw all that information into the mental blender, and what comes out won’t be recognizable from the source. But if I tell people what the sources are, they’ll be looking for chunks in the smoothie that they can identify, and that may lead to them misinterpreting the book.

I don’t really have a life outside the house now because I only go out to go grocery shopping. There’s no choir, no children’s choir, no getting together with friends. It’s too hot to go out hiking. Basically, I spend my days writing and researching, listening to classical music, and cooking. I don’t have much to say about the music because the very point of it is that I don’t think about it. I can just listen and let it flow over me, and sometimes that’s the only time when I don’t have words swirling around in my head.

So I’m not sure what to talk about. What do you want to hear? This is your chance to ask questions, and the answers may turn into a blog post. Ask me about the writing process or the publishing business. Do you have questions about how to write a book or get it published? Or ask about my books, where ideas came from, some of my research, etc. (though, to be honest, it’s been so long since I wrote a lot of my books that I might not remember anymore). Anything else?

I may take the rest of August as a kind of holiday to stockpile ideas and have something more substantial to say when I start up again in September. To keep up with me otherwise, follow me on Twitter. I mostly put book info on Facebook. Or there’s my mailing list.


I had a nice, relaxing “vacation” of the sort that actually seems to have boosted my energy, unlike the travel sort that tends to leave me tired. I remember something from back in my medical writing days in which a psychiatrist reminded us that the rood word of “vacation” is “vacate,” and that in order to renew yourself, you needed to empty the things you carry around so you have room to fill up again, and you need to break your routine to really relax.

One thing I realized is that the bad side of being the sort of person who’s never bored is that it may mean you never really relax. If there’s always something you could (or feel you should) be doing, then it’s hard to make yourself just be still. Even though I like sitting and thinking, it’s really hard to let myself do that. I did manage it a few times this weekend, and it’s amazing the difference that makes.

I found a new project when I was going through some sewing stuff and found an abandoned embroidery project my mom started before I was born. It’s a tablecloth that’s just the size I need, and I like the pattern, but the colors are all wrong. I’m going to get some embroidery floss in the right colors and redo it. Since I haven’t done embroidery in decades, I got out some plain muslin, found some online tutorials, and used the floss from this project to practice my stitching. It’s weirdly hypnotic once you get going, almost like meditation.

I was trying not to think about work or business all weekend, and that made me realize how much headspace I devote to that. My brain always seems to be spinning with to-do lists or ideas of things I could be doing, fretting over what’s happening, doing mental calculations, etc. Not only does that hamper my relaxation, and possibly my creativity, but the real problem is that I don’t seem to act on much of the stuff I come up with. It’s wasted fretting. Today’s project is to write down all the stuff that’s in my head and try to organize it into an actionable plan. I’m also going to try to make more of an effort not to think about this stuff after the workday or on weekends. I have a really bad habit of mulling over business-related plans at night before I go to sleep, and that’s not conducive to restful sleep.

So, in general, it was a productive vacation in the sense that I learned a lot about myself and have come up with some ideas for ways to make all this work better for myself going forward. I also think I need to do this sort of thing more often. At one of my old jobs, the boss came up with an incentive program in which we came up with a project/task list at the beginning of the week, got our supervisor to sign off on it, and on Friday when our supervisor signed off that it had all been done, we got to leave early. I may start doing that monthly to give myself a long weekend every so often when I’m caught up on my work. I just hope I’m a better boss to myself than that boss was. I think I managed to leave early once, not because I wasn’t getting my work done, but because once he realized that it was working too well and people were leaving early, he started planning all-hands meetings on Friday afternoons, or he’d arrange for clients to come meet with us on Friday afternoons (which the clients were okay with because they generally got to go straight home after the meeting if they came to our office on a Friday afternoon).

I’m easing back into work by spending the day doing all that planning, getting it out of my head and on paper so I can do something about it instead of just fretting and stewing.

Summer is Flying

I can’t believe it’s already August. This summer is doing a weird thing in which it seems to be flying at the same time as it seems like it’s been years since June. I realized this morning that I’ve had my new refrigerator for a whole month. I thought of that because I finally had to make some ice this weekend. Since I don’t use a lot of ice, I opted not to get an icemaker with the new refrigerator. The night before I got the new fridge, I ran the icemaker in the old one and put the ice in a freezer bag. I finally got near the bottom of that bag. That would suggest I made the right decision. An ice cube tray and a freezer bag take up a lot less room than the icemaker that’s usually empty and idle. I finally have plenty of space in my freezer for food.

This is the week when I’d usually be doing Music and Art Camp, but they’re doing a modified version of that online this year, so they don’t need me to herd kids around. We’d normally also be gearing up to go back to the regular “fall” schedule, since school usually starts in mid-August around here. We’d be starting choir rehearsals. It feels weird to go into Target and see the back-to-school sales, like is that happening already? We didn’t really have a summer yet!

We’ve actually had cooler than normal weather so far this year, with just two 100-degree days before August. Theoretically, we’re in the warmest span of the year, but we got rain and a really cool day last week, then a cold front this weekend, so it’s been pleasant. It’ll get hot again next weekend, but I’ve been enjoying spending time outdoors. The patio makes for a slight change of scenery.

I’m still looking forward to fall and truly cooler weather so I can get outside more and take longer walks. I endure summer. I revel in fall.

Ice Cream Days

As part of my attempt to change my attitude about hot weather (I hate it), I decided that I would “celebrate” 100-degree days by having ice cream only on those days — according to the official temperature at the airport. I even bought a pint, since at that time they were forecasting a 100-degree day.

Quite abruptly, the weather pattern changed, and we went through a spell of below-normal temperatures and rain. I’m not complaining.

Now, though, they’re forecasting 100+ temperatures from tomorrow through Tuesday, so unless there’s an unexpected twist, I’ll get my ice cream. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do. I got vanilla so I’d have more options. I could make a fudge sauce, or I could make a strawberry sundae, or just have it with fruit. I figure the more I dwell on it and look forward to it, the less likely we are to actually hit 100, though I guess it’s not much of a victory if it’s only 99, since it’s still hot and I don’t get ice cream.

But there is hope not too far away. Last time I was in Target, they were setting up the school supply display, and this week’s ad included a sale on school supplies. Fall is coming! We just have to get through the rest of July and August … and most of September.

I’m telling myself I really don’t need more notebooks. I don’t need to shop the back-to-school sales. Really.

But I am about to head to the library to pick up all the stuff I had on hold. Then I can hunker down in my cave and wait out the heat.

This is a little later than average for our first 100-degree day, so that’s some consolation. Last year we didn’t get one until late in July, but then the hot weather lingered a lot longer before abruptly turning cold, so there was no real fall. We went from 90-degree weather straight to a freeze before the end of October. I know it doesn’t really work this way, but maybe having our summer on schedule will mean it ends on time.

Isolating Times

I had a nice little holiday, though it ended up being fairly busy, as my new refrigerator was delivered Friday, and that meant spending Thursday preparing and Friday putting everything back in order. Now I’m going to dive back in to work before I take my next holiday around my birthday in early August. I did a lot of cooking, listened to a lot of classical patriotic music on the radio and on TV, and watched a livestreamed fireworks show.

Now, though, I’m determined to wrap up these mystery books and get them out into the world, and then get the next one written. Three books should establish the series, and then I can space them out a bit more and write a few other things in between those books. I know most of the advice is to have one series with a lot of books, but I already know that’s a recipe for burnout for me. Maybe I can get by with juggling a few different things. July isn’t good for much around here other than huddling indoors, so I might as well spend the time productively. Then maybe in the fall when it’s cooler (and possibly safer to be around people) I can ease up and let myself play some. Right now, there’s no travel from around here to the rest of the country or to most of the rest of the world because I live in a hot zone and I’d have to quarantine for two weeks. I just hope that comes under better control within the next month or so. Even I’m starting to miss people. Not necessarily large groups or people in general, but there are specific people I would like to see in person again. Though it is nice to not have to come up with excuses not to have to go to social events I’m not super keen on.

This summer has reminded me of a summer I had as a kid. The summer between fifth and sixth grades, my mom had a job and my little brother was in nursery school. I was too old for the nursery, and my parents figured I was mature enough to stay home alone. I did have some rules about not having anyone else in the house and needing advance permission to go to anyone else’s house or to leave the neighborhood, but otherwise I was pretty free, and I recall riding my bike to the next village to go to the swimming pool with a friend quite often, so I don’t think permission was denied. And this was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language! I have fond memories of that summer. While I did go out and do things with friends, I also spent a lot of quiet time at home (since we were in Germany and the weather wasn’t always ideal for going outside). We had one TV channel in English. During the mornings, they showed old TV series like Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies and (my favorite that summer) Daktari. Then there was a block of soap operas, and that’s when I’d go outside or do something else. In the late afternoon, they tended to show British science fiction things, and I believe that was where I first encountered Doctor Who. We went to the library a lot and I had a good supply of books. I also created an entire city for my Barbie dolls in the basement playroom. I completely remodeled the Dream House and built on additional things, and I sewed clothes for my dolls.That was long before the Internet, and even the phone wasn’t an option because they charged by the minute even for local calls. The phone was only for emergencies.

Although I did get a lot of social interaction when I played outside with friends, and my family was home in the evenings and on weekends, that was a lot like the current lockdown. But now at least I have the luxury of Internet access and phone calls. Although the daytime television programming on broadcast TV isn’t as good as the one channel we got then, there’s so much streaming (even though I don’t watch much). In addition to getting books from the library, I can get just about anything I want electronically.

That summer made me very self-sufficient. I learned how to manage my time without any kind of externally imposed structure, and I got good at amusing myself. It was good training for being self-employed and working at home, and it prepared me for this time.