Fifty dead, another fifty-three (the latest figures at the time of writing) injured. Another mass shooting, this time in a social club where members of the LBGT community were known to congregate. And, later the same morning, another man was arrested all the way across the country in a car loaded with explosives and weapons. He was on his way to a LGBT parade. Thank God he was stopped before he could carry out his blood-chilling acts of murder and destruction.
And, speaking of God, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our ideas of God, that Higher Authority, Al’lah—whatever you call it. I’m not arguing whether there is or isn’t a Higher Power. What I have been questioning are the dogma and doctrines of some of our current religions. I’m not delving into the past for any of this, either.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, doesn’t view tolerance and acceptance as a fundamental right of all humanity, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, claims to be the only correct manner to achieve paradise, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues only your god is the one true god and insists on killing those who disagree with your god, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, makes the claim that the being who gave life to you by carrying you for nine months within her body and under her heart is never equal to a male, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that a woman does not have a right to determine what to do with her own body but then turns a blind eye to born children living in poverty, with abuse, and in squalor, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that humanity has dominion over the earth rather than the caretakers of this planet, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that those who slur the religion’s prophets are to be put to death, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, makes your beliefs the sole arbitrators of morality and decency, you probably need a new religion.
If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, promises you seventy two virgins, or fields of flowers, or spending eternity in a candy shop if you martyr yourself by slaughtering innocents, you probably need a new religion.
Religion is a good thing. Belief in a god is also a good thing. Religion and the many god and goddesses which have come from religion give comfort in times of sorrow, hope for a life after this life, precepts on living a moral and decent and compassionate life—but when any religion is twisted, bastardized, and corrupted to fit a certain world view, religion becomes the most dangerous weapon known to humanity.
How about, instead, we actually live the command we have been given—in every major world religion—to love one another as we love ourselves. Maybe, we could surprise ourselves with how gentler, more accepting, and tolerant the world might be.
If you find me in a group of more than two or three people that I don’t know well, I’ll be the one not saying a word, hanging back, and trying to appear invisible. I’m pretty sure if you look up the word “introvert” in the dictionary (does anyone still have an actual, physical, words-on-paper dictionary?), you’ll see my picture. Or, more like the top of my head because I’m slouching and looking at the ground. To this day, I can hear my mother telling me to stand up straight and be proud of my height. “And smile. You have such a pretty smile.” NO! That would bring more attention to me. Nonononononononoooooo.
Those of you who know a little about me know I show dogs. I have for over thirty five years. And, it took me about fifteen years to be comfortable enough in that little community to actually go out with dog show people after a show. More than once I was dragged to a restaurant after a show where the only words I think I spoke were to the wait staff to place my food order. The dog show world is one place where being a painful introvert is actually to my advantage. Because I’m so adapt at blending into the background and not bringing attention to myself, I learned very quickly how to fade away so the focus was solely on the dog(s) I was showing.
A few years ago, not only did I run the writing center at my alma mater, I also taught freshman composition at the college level. Yeah…and amazingly, I enjoyed it, because on that first day teaching, I realized those kids sitting in my class room were as terrified as I was. We got to know one another. I let them know up front what the rules were in my class (it was all spelled out in the class syllabus), told them I can’t spell worth a tinker’s darn (and stressed how much I rely on a dictionary), and assured them that anyone who told them they couldn’t write was full of manure. Everyone has a unique voice and it was my job to help them discover that voice and hone it. Words have power. My comfort level with speaking in front of a group of people rose—at least in that situation.
Back in my first marriage, I started writing. Being an author is great career choice for introverts because writers (for the most part) are really shy people. We’re also pretty darn comfortable with our own company. We better be, because we chose to spend hours a day, locked away in self-imposed isolation, fingers tapping on a keyboard. And, in the worlds we create and populate, the people there know us and we know them really well, so it’s easy to interact with them. I was pretty sure the romance I was writing would sell, so I screwed up my courage and signed up for a weekend conference with the local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter.
I have never been so terrified in my life. And, when I’m terrified, several things happen to me. I can’t think. I stammer and stutter. I slouch even more and talk to the floor, when I can form words. I have anxiety attacks that make it impossible to breathe. I left that conference in tears, without ever sitting in on one workshop and without meeting with the agent I had signed up for a meeting with.
Fast forward to my time at the university which is my alma mater. I was confident enough that I let my husband (who is also my best friend and biggest fan) talk me into going to college as a non-traditional student. I completed my undergrad degree by graduating Magna Cum Laude. I went to work on my master’s at the same university, took over the writing center, and taught freshman composition—to mostly at risk students. And, I was still writing. I signed my first book contract (my publisher–The Wild Rose Press–is the best in the world, BTW!) before I earned my Master of Arts. I had learned coping skills for the anxiety attacks that go hand in hand with the painful introversion.
Since signing that first book contract, I discovered Facebook is an introvert’s best friend. I could interact with other authors and readers from the safety of my keyboard. I built a street team, composed at first mostly of close friends but that grew to other friends on Facebook. And, then I got a burr under my saddle blanket. Why not try a writer’s conference, this time as a published author? I have three books out, I reasoned, and they’ve all done very well. My first, The Devil’s Own Desperado, has a good review ranking on Amazon and is a Laramie Award winner for debut novel. My second, Smolder on a Slow Burn, was RONE nominated. (Yeah…should have seen me dancing around my living room when I got that review from InD’Tale magazine and realized the review nominated the book for the RONE!) My latest, Seize the Flame, has received some really good reviews for the manner that I’ve dealt with the issue of spousal abuse. So, why not try a writer’s conference?
WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?
I took my bestie with me, because I’ve joked more than once she’s my good luck charm. When she’s with me at dog shows, I clean house. So, it was only natural that I take her with me. She’s one of those people who just doesn’t know a stranger. I envy her natural ability to make friends instantly and be able to talk to people she doesn’t even know.
We went the day before to help stuff goodie bags for the readers and authors attending the conference. (Yeah, silly me volunteered us to help with that.) We were back at the conference the next morning when it started at 8:00 AM. I had to stand up in a room full of people and announce what I write. I’m exclusively a western historical romance gal. Just love my cowboys—but hate modernity. (Yeah, I write that on my computer keyboard and will be posting this on a strange thing called the Internet.) And, then, after that opening session, I had to talk to more people in something called “Speed Dating.” Tell people about my books. Say what? Ask me about my hubby, my family, my grandkids, my home in Tennessee, the property we have in Wyoming, let me brag about my collies—talk about my books? Oh, Lord, help me…
And, by the end of the weekend, I’d made several more friends, got to meet authors I’ve been friends with on Facebook for several years, and even though I’m not a NY Times best-selling author, I was treated by the authors and the organizers of this conference as if I was. As a matter of fact, every single author and reader was treated like royalty. The atmosphere was laid-back, the ladies who organized this were wonderfully accommodating and adaptive (something is guaranteed to go wrong when planning an event like this), and all the authors and readers took the one SNAFU in stride.
This little slice of heaven for this introvert was A Weekend with the Authors, in Nashville, TN. (You can find them here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A-Weekend-with-the-Authors-1030606610309225/) I am planning to attend next year’s conference, as soon as I can figure out finances. Even as an introvert, it wasn’t hard to force myself out of my protective shell. And, because I’m planning to go next year, I’ve got a whole year to polish my sales pitch.
Thank you, Sandy and Maranda, for putting on such a wonderful conference.
This past weekend, I accomplished something that I have never done in more than thirty-five years of showing dogs—I completed the requirements for a championship on a rough-coated collie that I bred and every point Dixie earned was from the Bred-By-Exhibitor (BBE) class. She is not the first rough champion I have bred, but she is the first that I have taken from no points to finishing points strictly through the BBE class. As I said, there have been other rough champions that I bred or co-bred.
I’ve finished many champions over the years, most of them for other people, but I can say that I have had a good run with my smooth BBE champions. There have been ten of them. I know that number because of the beautiful medallion the American Kennel Club sends when someone finishes a champion with all points earned exclusively from BBE. I actually counted the number of champions that I have bred over that thirty-five year span and came up with twenty-three. Considering that on average, I breed less than one litter a year, that isn’t too shabby for a small, hobby breeder.
And, what does this have to do with the writing life? On first glance, not a whole lot. But, upon scratching the surface, the similarities start to emerge. Both activities should involve a deep commitment to producing the best product possible (and before anyone starts to flame me, I DO NOT consider my dogs a “product”), both involve a learning curve, both have short-cuts to “success”, and both have a high rate of burn-out when that success isn’t instantly realized.
Like dog shows, being a writer involves what should be a deep commitment to producing the best product possible. Learn the rules of writing (at the very least, proper grammar. PLEASE!), learn the norms of the genre you’re writing in (once you know them, you can push and bend them), and READ. READ A LOT! As Stephen King has said, if you don’t have time to read, you aren’t a writer. Good writers read everything they can get their hands on. They read in the genre they’re writing in. They study how other authors take the norms and push those boundaries. They read in other genres.
Being a writer has a learning curve. That’s where all that reading comes into play. Read “how-to” books on writing. Maybe you won’t use all or much of that advice, but there is something to be learned within the pages of that guide. Just as the American Kennel Club standard is the guideline/blueprint for what a collie should look like, that standard is open to personal interpretation. Dog show judging is highly subjective. So is writing. However, if what you’re writing isn’t selling, just as in the dog show ring if the dogs aren’t winning, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re approaching the guidelines. I’ll never forget a time one very self-important small man announced to me (amidst several insults, as well) that he was going to be the number one breeder of smooth champions of all time. That was thirty years ago and he is still involved with this crazy sport. Anyone care to take a guess as to how many champions he has bred or co-bred? Anyone? Just like him and his inability to adapt and to follow that blueprint for what a show collie should look like, if you cannot adapt your writing you are doomed to failure before you sit down at the keyboard. There is a learning curve and you either learn or die.
That isn’t to say you should be writing to a template or formula. Use those as guidelines. How you color with the words inside that template/blueprint/formula is entirely your choice. Your unique choice of words, your spin on how the story is told is what makes your story different from every other story out there. I read somewhere that there are only about six or seven different romance story lines out there: the Cinderella story line, the Beauty and the Beast story line, Sleeping Beauty…how you tell those tales makes it your story line.
If you aren’t committed to creating the best writing you possibly can, please spare the rest of us. I understand that’s harsh. The lack of commitment to being the best and the ability to publish something as soon as you’ve written the last word in a first draft through mediums like CreateSpace falls into the area of a short cut to “success.” Yes, that’s your name on the cover of that book. And, yes, you’ve probably got a lot of friends to tell you how wonderful the book is and will even post a review for you—but, as a famous politician said a few years ago just because someone puts lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact it’s still a pig. It’s just wearing lipstick, now. It’s still a pig.
That high rate of burn-out is common to both dog showing and writing. How many start NaNoWriMo every November and never finish? How many start November out ready to write, hit a wall at about day 10 or 15 and never go back. Or how many actually get that novel written and on December 1 push “publish” at CreateSpace and when the horrible reviews start to roll in, stop writing. They blame the bad reviews on trolls, on the fans of authors with more name recognition, on the barred doors of the ivory towers of traditional publishing, rather than attempting to understand what it is the reviewers are saying. News flash—if the vast majority of reviews are arguing for a proof reader and a professional editor to look over your masterpiece, you might want to consider such. Pull the book down, spend the extra money and get it professionally edited and then republish it.
For years, I had a sign in my tack box that said “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Too often, I’ve seen people buy a first rate dog, have some success with it, only to find at the larger shows, they weren’t prepared. They hadn’t learned the nuances of grooming a dog to accent virtues. They aren’t as polished in the presentation as people who have been involved in this insanity called a dog show for years. And, instead of evaluating why they aren’t winning, they chalk it up to “politics”, become discouraged and leave. We call them five year wonders…in that we wonder if they’ll still be involved in five years. Even those of us who have been involved for years (decades) chalk up some losses to “politics.” The latest tempest in a tea pot over group placements is a good example of politics, and I’m just as guilty.
And, just as I did something this past weekend that I haven’t done in thirty-five years of showing dogs, this week something happened that has never happened before. My first published book The Devil’s Own Desperado suddenly rocketed up the charts at Amazon and by the end of the day on Wednesday was sitting at number one in Westerns and number four in western romance. And, I was just as giddy about that as I was the day I signed the contract for publication of that book and just as giddy as I was about finishing my first bred by champion. I never want to lose that wonder, that giddiness, that sense of deep gratitude to my readers.
Go do something you’ve never done before. The sense of accomplishment is simply amazing.
All those blog posts over the years about moving to Wyoming…and we’re going to retire in Tennessee. Please, don’t get me wrong. I am still (and will always be) in love with Wyoming, but reality sucks. The reality of the Wyoming property is that the nearest thing that even resembles a town is more than 30 minutes away and that’s only if the roads are dry. A hospital is two hours away. The only way to get electricity in to the property in Wyoming would be through solar and wind power. Now, for Wyoming, that really shouldn’t be a problem, as the state averages 350 days a year with sunshine, and I can honestly say in the all the times I’ve been there, the wind has never stopped. Sometimes, it was a gentle breeze and other times it was a howler, but wind power wouldn’t be an issue. And water…that was also going to be a major challenge.
So, with all that at play, about two years ago, I realized building my happy homestead in Wyoming was never going to be a reality. Instead, we found property right next to some very good friends in Tennessee and we began to plan a retirement home in the woods and hollers of the Volunteer State. Two buildings were purchased, just empty shells really, and they were delivered to the property. Merriweather Lewis Electrical Co-Op was contacted and power was brought to the homestead. A cistern was installed for water.
While I was in the midst of laying out the floor plans for the two buildings and telling DH how we would connect the public and private living spaces of this homestead, he suddenly stopped me and said, “You seem to have this all planned out, already.”
Well, yeah…the homestead was supposed to be in Wyoming, so I just picked up the dreams, plans, and hopes for that place and moved about 1500 miles to the east and a little more south. The homestead in Wyoming had been dreamed of, planned, sketched, re-sketched, and fussed over for almost twenty years.
Thanksgiving 2014 was spent at the Tennessee homestead and work began in earnest on the cabins. The smaller one was used for storage of wood and building materials. That first week our good friends Jacque and her husband Dick helped Ken and I make the first dent into turning a large, barn shaped storage building into a home. We built a small bookcase, constructed a bench seat in the nook of the building, framed in what would be the bathroom with the help of more friends, Tenna and David, wired the building for electricity, fully insulated the building (and installing insulation on sloping ceilings is a bear!), and put the walls up in the nook.
Week one was in the books!
After that, I spent a week a month in Tennessee, working on the buildings. I learned several new skill sets: how to lay flooring, how to put up walls, how to plaster the seams between sheets of dry wall, laying tile, framing in the kitchen counter…in July, the main cabin was as finished as it could be and my attention turned to the smaller of the two buildings and making that into the “private space” of bedroom and my office. Until it was finished, the main cabin couldn’t be finished because I couldn’t move the bedroom out of what was the bathroom space.
The week before Thanksgiving, I went to Tennessee and completed the bathroom in the cabin. Finally, the interiors of the little cabins were finished. Before family arrived, I spent a few days decorating for the holidays. The whole time I did that, I was thinking that one year prior, both these buildings were empty shells without anything in them. Now there is a half wall of glass blocks separating office from bedroom space, a bathroom, an enclosed storage loft, a sleeping loft for guests…all accomplished for the most part by two older women and one older gentleman who are not professional builders of any kind.
We’re not finished by a long shot. The covered dog trot between the two buildings has to be built but that’s for this spring. The landscaping has to be finished. Because of the shade from the trees, a rock garden is the most obvious choice for that. Even shade loving plants won’t get enough sunlight when the trees are fully leafed out. The kennel area has to be built. What I have for the dogs is temporary but it serves its purpose while I down there for a week at a time. However, slowly but surely, the homestead is becoming just that—a home.
Yeah..so after fighting with Blogger for weeks to update something more than a new blog post, I decided I was done. I am going to make WordPress my new blogging home. We’ll see how well that works out. Anyone with any tips, tricks, or cheats on how to move all those blog posts from Blogger to here would be really appreciated.
I’m a member of a group on Facebook that is composed of some phenomenal romance writers. Some of these romances writers write contemporary romances, other write historical, and a few write both. Some of them are USA best-selling authors. It seems that every other month, one or more of these lovely ladies are announcing a new book release. One of them announced three releases in less than a month.
I don’t write as fast as some of these ladies can. I am nowhere near as prolific as they are. Part of me wishes I could be. But for me, putting the words onto the page (or the computer monitor) is a battle. A battle to find the right words. A battle to keep from using the same phrase over and over (my current “favorite,” according to my editor at The Wild Rose Press, seems to be “a moment” for revealing a brief passage of time). A battle to keep from writing the same characters over and over, just changing the window dressing (hair and eye color and sometimes height). Part of me wishes I could have a backlist of ten, fifteen, twenty books in a year from now.
But, when I chose to sign with The Wild Rose Press, I knew that a backlist like that would be impossible for a few years. I knew there would be a lengthy editorial process, a give and take between me and my wonderful editor, Anne Duguid, at TWRP. There would be galleys to read through (at least two rounds of galley reviews), and then when we both signed off on the final galley, the wait in the production que. And, even with this editorial process and review, mistakes still manage to make their way into the final manuscript. There is a typo in The Devil’s Own Desperado and a HUGE glaring mistake in Smolder on a Slow Burn that even the research editor missed. However, only one person has noticed this mistake—or at least commented on it to me in a private message. I still don’t know how I missed that mistake in every single read through of the manuscript. But, all this give and take, this reading and re-reading of the manuscript, of the galleys, means that when that book finally comes out with my name on the cover and the tag “Published by The Wild Rose Press” it’s the very best we could have made it.
Just the other day, one of the authors I follow and am friends with on Facebook put out a call to her followers for a quick read through of her latest novel—find the mistakes, the plot holes, the inconsistency with the characters. But it had to be done in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, because the book was slated to go live in seventy-hours. She had already sent the manuscript to her hired editor and gotten it back.
How can anyone read a book with an eye for that kind of close reading, much less how can an author make the necessary changes in that time frame?
Maybe, I’m a perfectionist and the thought of pushing a manuscript out the door in that kind of a time frame makes me break out in hives. I know what I go through just to get the rough draft of a manuscript written and the time I need to put that manuscript away so I can look at it later with a critical eye. I know when I type “The End” on the last page of a manuscript, I’m still very much in love with the characters and the words I’ve used to describe them and their journey to “happily ever after.” A few months later, I still love the characters—but the words I’ve used and the manner I’ve put those words together into a cohesive (or not) manner to reveal their journey into the sunset, not so much.
Maybe, I’m too afraid to fail at this writing gig to go out on a limb and push out two and three novels in a year (or a month). One bad book with a few bad reviews and my writing career is over.
Or, maybe, I just love my characters too much to ever push out a romance novel that won’t show the world in the best possible manner how wonderful they really are.
Something to think about. And, then, I’m going to look into self-publishing. Under an assumed name. In a different genre. So if I fall flat on my face, I won’t bring shame to the characters I’ve already shared with the world.
Sometimes, a soul enters into our lives and profoundly touches us. Sometimes, that soul which touches ours walks the planes of this life for many steps. Other times, the luminosity of that soul is so intense that mere hours within its white-hot radius is such that we know our lives have been profoundly changed.
I was blessed and honored and granted a few hours with such a soul this past week in Tennessee. While on our way to purchase a few more building materials for the homestead, I saw an injured young hawk on the roadside. I told my friend Jacque to stop and because she’s as much of an animal lover as I am, she did. We went back to where I had seen this young hawk and he was still sitting on the shoulder of the Natchez Trace. I grabbed a blanket off the back seat of the quad cab and Jacque and I very carefully corralled this hawk into a position where I could toss the blanket over him to safely (for both the bird and myself) pick him up.
It was more than apparent he had a broken wing. Not sure what to do with him, we decided to take him with us to the building supply store and along the way we picked up a wooden crate at a fabric store as well as thin sheet of fine veneer to put over the crate so he could sit up without being confined in a heavy blanket in the 90 plus temperatures. We also stopped at a small drug store to get an eye dropper, bottled water and a jar of baby food (all chicken). He was very thirsty and he ate some of the offered baby food. All good signs but also indicative that this was still a very young bird, perhaps just very recently fledged. Some research later in the Audubon bird book and a little more by Jacque on the Internet determined this young hawk to be an immature Coopers.
juvenile Coopers hawk
On the way home, because he was taking food and water, we stopped at a pet store to buy a feeder mouse. By this time, we had named him. He became Merlin. And, I was losing a part of my heart to him. When I turned around to talk to him, he would cock his head from side to side—as if he was attempting to understand what I was saying. Knowing that these birds of prey have not only incredible eyesight but acute hearing, I talked in a low, soft voice to him. He continually made eye contact and there were a few times I think he was trying to figure out how the landscape could be speeding past him while he was not flying.
If you have never looked into the eyes of a bird of prey, add it to your bucket list. Be aware, though, that gaze will cut clean to your soul. There is an intensity there, a piercing quality, combined with an amazing intelligence. And, in the case of this young bird, there was trust. Merlin never once offered to bite either my friend or me. He willingly sat on my lap. When I petted his head, he half closed his eyes and leaned in closer to my fingers. If I stroked his mottled breast, I could feel his heart rate slow. This wild animal took comfort from a gentle touch and a soft voice.
When we returned to Jacque’s home, it was too late in the evening to contact anyone at the DNR regarding this beautiful bird. We placed Merlin in the large parrot cage Jacque had, fed him the feeder mouse and even though it was a little disturbing to know we were sacrificing one life to attempt to save another, Merlin quickly pounced on the feeder mouse and ate it. Within a few moments, I had taught him to drink from the water cup in the cage by offering him water from the dropper and letting him follow the tip of the dropper into the cup.
When Merlin had drunk his fill from the cup, he hopped of his own accord into the parrot cage and up onto the lowest perch and began to preen. Jacque has raised birds for more than fifty years and everything in her experience said this was a bird that would live, in spite of his injuries. Sick or stressed birds don’t drink, eat, or preen. I placed the water cup in its holder in the cage and because it was dusk, wished Merlin a good night.
During the night, Merlin died. An examination of his fragile body revealed his wing was broken from a gunshot. The bullet had entered from below, went through the muscling in his leg and went through his wing in two places, breaking the wing near his shoulder. Jacque and I buried him in a safe place in the woods, where he won’t be discovered by scavengers and where his delicate bones can rest without ever being disturbed.
For twelve hours, I had the trust of this little, young, Coopers hawk. For twelve hours, his sharp gaze looked into my heart and my soul. For twelve hours, his last contact with the same species who had stolen his ability to fly and ultimately his life, was marked with respect, with care, with love, and with honor. If only he had been granted those things prior to being shot.