Showing Some Love

One of the goals I made for myself this year was to publish a novel.  I know the process is long, and if I am fortunate enough to find an agent or publisher this year, I may not have a book released for public consumption until next year.  I do understand and accept that fact.  However my goal will remain in place, with my back up plan of self publishing ready to go at the end of the year. 

Planning the potential for a self published novel made me wonder if any books I read are self published.  I mean, how would I even know the difference?  I do read a decent amount of (gasp!) ebooks, meaning I would never notice the publisher listed on the spine unless they somehow managed to project it out onto my ipad case.  With a little investigation, I discovered I actually had read quite a few self published novels.  How did this happen without my noticing?

Well, I suppose it comes down to one thing: money.  I know talking about money is not done in polite society, but please bear with me for a moment.  Now that I stay at home with my kiddos, my home has one income.  How big or small the income is doesn’t matter; his one is less than our two used to be.  Which means making a few adjustments to spending habits.  One of those adjustments was to my monthly book allowance. 

At our old base, that wouldn’t have been a big deal.  I would have simply made up the difference at the library, which always had a decent selection of new books to choose from.  Our new base however has library problems.  I don’t want to hurt the library’s feelings, but it is the saddest library I have ever seen.  One small room, smaller than my bedroom, with about six shelves of books.  Two thirds of the selection is taken over by either children’s picture books or cookbooks to work with the two book clubs the library runs; children’s story time and a cooking club.  I read all of the books I was interested in in my first two visits.  Now, budgeting issues have come along and the library has hardly been open over the last year.  It is truly the most heartbreaking library I have ever encountered.

Without a library available I had to find my books somehow.  I was an addict who wasn’t getting her fix.  I started searching the kindle book store for free books.  There are surprisingly quite a few free books out there, but of course they are not just going to show me the free books, they showed me the inexpensive books as well.  As it turns out, many of these are priced low, because there are so few people to pay along the way.  Without realizing it, I became a reader of self published books.

Now, I was considering adding a book review section here.  After all, the first word in my site is reading, I should share the reading I do.  But I didn’t want to review the largely known books, or the best sellers.   I might review one of those someday, but let’s face it, they get the love already.  Someday soon, I am going to be a new author, with a novel published.  I might be self published, or I might be the new girl hoping to get people to read my book.  So, I might as well start sharing the love now, reviewing the books that can be overlooked by the huge publications, but are wonderful nonetheless.

The first one I found, is Morning Cup of Murder by Vanessa Grey Bartal.

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In this fun mystery, Lacy Steele is a writer who is returning to her hometown from New York, heartbroken and broke.  She moves in with her Grandmother, who she loves dearly, and tries not to drool over the local police officer who was once the crush of almost everyone in her high school class, Jason Cantor.  Her life becomes more complicated when her sweet Grandmother is arrested for the murder of a woman Lacy has never heard of before.  Naturally, as one does in a novel, she sets out to find out who the murderer really was to set her Grandmother free.

There is a minor stereotype that self published books have a large number of typos, or severe plot holes.  That is not the case here.  The evidence against Lacy’s Grandmother is thin, something even the local police realize.  Some people might be turned off by this, but it serves a dual purpose in the story.  Not only does it help to drive Lacy to find the truth, but it also works as character development for the lazy and jaded police detective who would rather just arrest the first suspect and be done with his investigation than do any actual work.  Some of the characters seem to have a little bit of a familiar ring to them.  Lacy was once a chubby band geek, who has now slimmed down to become the beautiful swan no one saw underneath; Jason was once the star quarterback who didn’t know Lacy existed, but is now a police officer who would do anything to spend a little time with her.  While it could be a bit contrived, the characters to have more layers to them than just the surface show. 

This is not a hard or complicated mystery (although she did manage to surprise me in the end).  This novel is a slightly fluffy piece that is perfect to read curled up on the couch on a rainy day, or to prop open as you cook dinner.  It’s a fun and easy read, and best of all it is the first in a series.  Now only do you get one day with these characters, you can come back for the next book later, and dig into the layers of these characters a little more.

I feel like I should have a cool and unique rating system to give books, instead of the typical star rating system, but I don’t have one yet.  I guess for now, I will give it a rating of one late night of lost sleep, refusing to put it away until I reach the end.

 

For anyone who was wondering, I was not asked to review this.  No one sent it to me, and I was not paid anything.  I read this novel of my own free will and honestly, I will probably do it again when the next book comes out.  These opinions are my own, and have been formed with no coercion or bribery. 

I would however enjoy it if people were to send me copies of their self published or recently published novels.  I would prefer to review books that are looking for the love that is so desperately needed in the beginning, however I cannot promise strictly good reviews.  If someone is willing to take the chance that my approximately 10 readers will read a poor review, please let me know and I will be happy to read and review your work as well!

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How to Make the Least Out of Your Run

Running has been a part of my life for the last decade or so.  At first it was something I did in the middle of the night to try to take off baby weight.  Later it was something I did to try to improve my health.  Around seven years ago, I started running in 5k races at the gym on our base.  Every month they would hold a race, usually completely free.  If you ran three you would get a water bottle, five a shirt, and ten a gym bag.  Over the years I ran dozens, not always making it every month, but most months I was there ready to waddle away with the crowd.  Due to horrible record keeping, I didn’t get my shirt for several years, but I still enjoyed the feeling of the race.  I was never anywhere close to winning, but I was a part of the race and that was all that mattered.  Eventually I moved onto longer distances, distances that required me to actually train. 

Unfortunately I am horrible at training.  I love the race, but I hate the buildup.  It’s the only area where foreplay is a bad thing.

It’s not just the anticipation, or extreme hours of training required to prepare for a marathon.  It’s also the many mistakes I tend to make along the way.  From my mediocre amount of experience (dozens of 5k’s, two 10k’s, a 13k, four half marathons, and two marathons) here are a few things I’ve learned can help to make the least out of your running experience.  While many of them are things I went through personally, many are not my personal mistakes.  To save my dignity, I refuse to tell which is which.

1)      Wear ill-fitting clothing

Make certain nothing fits right.  Your shoes should be too small, your pants too big, and your shirt too short.  Bonus points are given for improper underwear.  Try the scraggy old ones with the elastic going out, or maybe the thong that is a little small and was only purchased to be taken off.  Make sure to stop to adjust your clothing often, especially when a nun happens to be riding silently behind you on her bike.  It won’t be at all embarrassing.

2)      Forget to hydrate

Water really isn’t that essential to a bad run.  In fact water can make a run better.  Hydration means no relaxing rests where you pass out along the road.  Try a nice carbonated soda instead.  The bubbles in your stomach can only be a good thing.

3)      Run long distances on an empty stomach

Exercise on an empty stomach means more fat to burn, and running longer distances means more calories burned.  I read it in a fashion magazine, so it must be true, right?

4)      Use Cheetos as mid-run fuel

Of course you start the long run on an empty stomach, but you might need a pick me up part way through.  The combination of salt, fat and cheese powder will likely combine to become some sort of rocket fuel in your stomach.

5)      Plan your runs with zero regard for neighborhood patterns

So the elderly neighbor checks his mail every day, rain or shine at 6 am wearing nothing but a trench coat.  So the number of buttons closed has varied greatly each morning.  So he recently started bringing his large, unleashed, and aggressive dog out to check the mail with him.  That is no reason to change your run schedule.  I’m sure this morning will be different.

6)      Disregard training schedules

Maybe you have never run a full mile.  That doesn’t mean today isn’t the day to try a marathon.  It’s just running.  No big deal.

7)      Carefully plan your running time allotted in your schedule-then exceed it

Your job interview is at 1 o’clock and it is 12:30.  There is still time for a 30 minute run, right?  You don’t really need to shower first, it’s alright.  If they are runners, they will understand.

8)      Grab a family member’s ipod instead of your own

Not everyone runs with music, but for those who do, it is an essential part of their routine.  But any old music will be fine.  It doesn’t have to be the carefully planned running playlist you worked for months to perfect.  Accidently grabbing your daughter’s boy band filled ipod, or spouses death metal will work just as well.  Music is music.

9)      Run injured or sick

Running through an injury or illness is a way to your body who is boss.  It is not a matter of safety that requires rest like that quack of a doctor says.  Run through the pain.  Vomit in your neighbors begonias and then finish your miles.  Any run is better than no run.

10)   Stay on the couch

You know what?  Just forget the whole running thing.  Those cute running clothes look better without the sweat.  Plop down on the couch and have a Netflix marathon instead.  A marathon is a marathon.  No one needs to know yours was with the television.

 

For anyone who to the bottom of this list and was still not aware, this is a joke.  I do not actually recommend any of these as a way to achieve health, wellness, or happiness.  (Well, maybe a family member’s music.  They might have better taste than you do.)  If you are going to run, consult a doctor, run safely, and listen to your own body.  Everyone is different and has different needs for their body.  Follow your own needs.  Don’t blame me if you missed the joke.  And above all, don’t try to sue me.  I warned you it was a joke, and I don’t have anything worth suing for anyway.

I also do not technically have a personal issue with Cheetos.  I have probably said more rude things about them over the years than they have said about me.  Again, I have nothing worth suing for.  If you have read this list you know my dignity is long gone.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

For a little over half of my marriage I have been a stay at home Mom.  I worked through my first pregnancy, took five years off, worked five and a half years, and have been back at home for about a year and a half.  Each time I either took a job or stayed home we had logical reasoning.  Working with a newborn and no skills usually means a low paying job, and potentially paying to have someone else raise your child.  Having a decent job when your second child is born, means it makes sense to keep working.  Moving to an area that has approximately 6 available jobs and 60 potential employees to choose from means staying home may be the only option.  The upside of being forcibly unemployed of course, is having time to pursue something you are passionate about doing.  For me this was writing.

Growing up I wanted to be an actress.  Well, technically I suppose it was a writer/director/singer/dancer/actress.  Eventually I realized I couldn’t sing or dance, no one listened to me, let alone followed my instructions, and I seemed to lack the ineffable quality needed to make it as an actress.  This left me with the only title of writer. 

It may seem as though I am only pursuing writing because everything else required some form of talent I didn’t have.  The truth is I let the others fall away.  There are many successful people who seem to lack the necessary talent to perform in their field.  Naming people would seem petty, but let’s be honest; everyone has someone who they look at and wonder how they got to where they are.  Talent is a part of the equation, but there is also the need for a large amount of luck and determination.  I could have taken voice lessons, danced until I got it right, or done acting exercises to improve technique.  Those dreams died because they weren’t my true passion, they were byproducts of what I really wanted.

I wanted to tell stories.  I wanted to share how I saw the world.  I wanted to imagine something new, something no one had thought of before.  I wanted to reimagine something classic and turn it into something new.  I wanted to go on exciting adventures, and bring everyone along. 

When you want to pursue something creative, people always tell you that you can’t.  It’s not a safe career.  Most people can’t make a living with a job like that.  You will receive hundreds of rejections.  Everyone wants to do something amazing, but someone has to do the everyday jobs.  Instead you should do something safe.  Don’t quit your day job.

Right now, I don’t have a day job.  My children go to school and I have most of the day to myself.  It won’t last forever.  Someday, maybe soon, maybe not for a few years, I will have a job again.  An opportunity for employment will arise that will fit my skills and I will be the lucky one that time.  When that day comes, I will need to remember, even if you keep your day job, you don’t need to give up on your day dream.

Five Things I Will Read Again and Again and Again.

Books are amazing.  I would hope anyone who would visit me would agree to that fact.  Some books are a little more amazing than others are of course.  I know some people never reread books, but I reread almost every book.  Some stories you hate to have end; you fall in love with the characters or the world, and you never want them to leave.  These are the stories you come back to.  You don’t choose to read these stories for their literary value, or because they are classics.  Just as I would call a good friend in a time of need, these are the books you come back to when times get hard.  While they are not necessarily my favorite books, as a favorite book can change with my mood, these are five books I come back to, over and over again.

1)      The Hobbit  by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a classic, yes, but more than that this is a part of my childhood.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I hadn’t read this book.  This story is as much a part of me as my eye color or my love of coffee.  The journey of Bilbo Baggins is part of my own journey.  Lines from this randomly pop into my head.  I come back to this story not only for the classic work of fantasy, but because I love everything about it.

2)      Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Sometimes I am pretty sure the universe was a bad idea and it may or may not be trying to kill me.  Arthur Dent is the only person I have found who truly understands my plight.

3)      All Around the Town  by Mary Higgins Clark

This was the book that made me fall in love with Mary Higgins Clark.  I have read it at least a dozen times, and loved it more each time.  In 2002, she came to the Arizona base where we were stationed for a book signing with the release of Daddy’s Little Girl.  It was the closest I have ever been to star struck.  My daughter was still a baby, sitting in her stroller in line with me, and she was the first person Mary Higgins Clark spoke to that day.  I’m slightly convinced this is why Joanna wants to grow up to be a writer.  My autographed copy of this book is one of my prized possessions, even more so now that a box of books, including my battered, used book store copy I had owned for about a decade disappeared in our last move.  I cried for the entire afternoon when I realized the box was missing.

4)      Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

Sometimes I need a book that doesn’t make me think too hard.  When that happens, the entire romance genre becomes the perfect outlet.  Most of the time there will be a happy ending, and along the way it allows you to imagine that life really is going to work out all right.  I don’t think all books have to have a happy ending.  Sometimes I am thrilled to read an ending that makes me angry or sad, as long as it is true to the book, not forced.  When real life is a little hard, it’s nice to go back to a story where you know things are going to work out.  One of the best parts about this particular novel is the realistic approach to the main relationship; they are not perfect, things don’t always work how they want, and while they are attracted to each other, they don’t fall in love simply because the other person is so sexy.  There is not much in the world that drives me more nuts than a supposed romance where the only element driving two characters together is sexual attraction.  That’s not happily ever after, that is a hot weekend before you find someone you can be around when you have clothing on.

5)      The Eyes of the Dragon  by Stephen King

All of my older brothers read Stephen King, but as the kid sister, his horror novels were a bit too much for me.  I still wanted to be like my brothers, so one of them gave me this book.  I read this book for a fourth grade book report, and made Dragon Sand out of colored sugar to put in drinks for the entire class as a visual aide.  If I tried to fake poison my classmates now I imagine I would be expelled and sent to therapy.  At the time my teacher found it to be incredibly creative.  Who knows, maybe he really didn’t and my name is on his list of potential serial killers.  Teachers pretend they don’t have one, but trust me, we all do no matter the age of the children there are some names you are certain you are going to hear on the news someday.  To this day I love this book for introducing me to such an incredible writer; however I still cannot read most of his books.  He writes horror too well and do not function without my sleep.  Every now and again I will try some of his darker books, but I never get very far before I wake up screaming.

Something Fishy

Making a goal to finish three books this year is a slightly daunting task at times.  It shouldn’t be quite as difficult as it sounds; all three books have been started, and two of the three books are at 100+ pages.  I know where the story is, and I know where it’s going.  There is no long thought processes left, no story boarding, no major plot points still in development.  I have even planned what I will say when the book hits the best seller list and I am seated next to a perky morning talk show host addressing my millions of devoted fans.  All the work is done save for the writing.  And therein lays the problem.  I need to be, bum in chair, hands on keyboard, writing away.  Unfortunately it is difficult to write when you may be part fish.

Obviously, I’m not really a mermaid; I wouldn’t be blogging if I were a mermaid.  While I imagine a mermaid would have the brain capacity and imagination that comes with the human half, the electrical connection to allow access to a computer and some sort of internet connection would be a potential disaster.  Granted, I would love to read the blog of a mermaid, but the chances of it turning into the short memoir of a fried fish would be too great.

I suspect I am part fish due to my inability to concentrate for long periods of time.  To put it simply, I am attracted to shiny objects, and flit about in my tank looking at whatever attracts my attention at the time.  For example, within the first paragraph of writing this entry, I completed the following tasks:

Write to do list for day

Fill water bottle

Took vitamins

Did “fact check” on fish attraction to shiny objects

Viewed website offering examples of shiny objects

Changed music

Danced to cheesy 90’s song

Made oatmeal

Moved laundry

Changed music again

Tweeted about writing and doing laundry

Checked email

Took turn in Words with Friends

Giggled when only available word to play was “Shit”

Trimmed split end randomly noticed in ponytail

My only defense to the large number of distractions is being shockingly fast at completing menial tasks when I do them in the middle of my writing time.  What would be better of course would be blocking them out entirely until my writing time was finished.

I’m not sure how I became someone so completely unfocused.  Is it a case of undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder?  Could I be a product of a culture that offers instant gratification, making me incapable of waiting for anything?  Is it possible I am simply too busy to work on a novel?  Sadly, no.  I’m fairly certain none of these excuses are even close to correct.

Simply put, my distraction is a product of my fear.  Completing my first novel was exhilarating.  It was wonderful to finally take the step and put the words on paper (or screen as is appropriate here).  Writing my first query letters was terrifying.  Now, as I wait to hear from potential agents, I’m almost too afraid to continue writing.

I’m allowing myself to be blocked with worry.  After all, what if no one signs me? Ever.  What if I receive the worst kind of rejection letter; a personal message telling me that not only does my story stink, but my writing is ill thought out, grammatically grotesque, and derivative of the contents of a toddler’s diaper?

I’m well aware of my own faults.  I know my writing is not perfect.  I have no illusion that I wrote the next great American novel.  I wanted to share a story, hopefully one people will be able to connect with on some level.

While I wait, writing something new may be the best plan.  Maybe I should finish my other stories because they will actually be better.  Not everyone is able to publish their first novel ever written, so I should have other works ready to try publishing as well.

Unfortunately, knowing what causes my limitations does not erase them.  For now, I suppose I’ll do what I can do.  I’ll place my bum in the chair, my hands on the keyboard, and attempt to put the blinders on to block the shiny objects.

Cycling

I had trouble getting out the door to run this morning.  I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with running.  I love the feeling of moving.  I love rushing through the miles, feeling healthy and strong when I’m at the peak of my fitness.  I love crossing the finish line, never first but still a part of the race. 

However, I hate the gritty, salty feeling that comes from a really good sweat on a cold day.  I hate running through puddles and feeling the cold water gushing between my toes.  I hate the burning sensation as I breathe cold air into warm lungs.  Most of all, I hate the seemingly endless cycle of fitness, laziness and rebuilding.

Since my move and my subsequent unemployment, I have had time to pursue many of my other interests.  Writing, sewing, online classes, knitting, quilting, blogging.  Unfortunately many of my interests involve me sitting in one place for hours at a time.  Beyond creating a likely permanent impression on my desk chair, there have been other negative effects.  Weight gain, depression, a lack of wearable clothing without an elastic waistband; every person feels the strain a little differently.  No matter how good a person’s metabolism is (though mine is not good), a sedentary life is not healthy.  Our bodies were designed to move.  When we don’t move, it’s almost as if our bodies forget how.

Over the past year I have been fighting a losing battle with my exercise routine.  At first I fought the good fight, eating as I used to, but working out regularly too.  Unfortunately, the old routines weren’t enough.  I went from a full day chasing a classroom full of kids to sitting in front of my computer for several hours at a time.  My old routines weren’t enough to stave off the weight gain.  As the weight crept up slowly, every run got a little harder.  I was running the same distance, but carrying more along. 

Slowly I began to experience pains; a bit of a strain in my knees, an ache in my back, a shooting sensation radiating through my foot.  Each new injury encouraged me to take a break, and rest it off.  Each day off allowed more weight to creep on, making the pains that much worse when I started again.  I’ve been stuck in a loop.  The extra weight makes it hurt to run; I need to run to help take off the extra weight. 

This loop seems to appear in other areas of my life as well.  Working to publish a novel, agents would like to see an online presence, some sort of collection of readers who might be willing to follow you from the computer into the printed word.  I need a following to help promote a book; I need my book published to help attract readers to my blog and create a following. 

So where do I start to break into the cycle?  The beauty of a circle is knowing it has no end.  But there must be a beginning somewhere, how else does it start?  How do I break through and turn my cycle into a staircase?  I suppose it comes from deciding where you want to be, and making yourself work to get there.  I want to get my health back, which means running through the little pains.  I want my voice to be heard, so I write.  I let each word scream out into the emptiness, writing even when no one reads. 

Maybe the cycle will never break.  Maybe the loop will continue with no end in sight.  If that happens, I have two choices.  I can be swept along, rolling with whatever is given to me or I can strap a seat on and learn to balance, riding my ups and downs to wherever I want to go.  It might not be easy, but maybe it’s time to try riding instead of rolling for a little while.

Why Me?

Starting a blog has been something I have considered for years.  I am continuously fascinated by the concepts of blogs, twitter, Instagram, any form of internet connection with friends, family, and complete strangers.  Honestly, the entire concept seems ridiculous. 

Don’t get me wrong, I read several blogs.  Checking on the wellbeing of complete strangers is as much a part of my morning ritual as my large coffee.  I’m excited to see what they are doing every day.  Have they tried a new recipe?  How are they styling those leather pants they bought?  What adorable thing did their child say today? 

More than just being curious about what they do, I am disappointed when they don’t post.  Sundays seem to be the worst.  No one updates on Sunday.  I am left, coffee mug still full, frustrated that my friends haven’t told me what they have done recently.  It doesn’t seem to matter that we don’t actually know each other.  It still feels as if they have a duty to tell me, a stranger who never even comments on their blog, what is going on in their life. 

It’s as though they are characters in a novel that is still being written.  Each post is a new chapter, telling me the story of this person.  The events of their daily lives are things I could do, if I wanted to.  When a tutorial or new recipe is posted, it’s a link to the reality they live in, allowing me to bring it into my world as well.  Even when I try their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, the same smells wafting through my home as they recently smelled, it still seems as though I am reading a story, something that didn’t actually happen.  These bloggers, they are both real and not real at the same time. 

There is something oddly appealing about that to me.  It makes me want to join in, to become a character in this virtual world.

Before starting this blog I was certain I would have plenty to write about on a regular basis.  After all, I am a writer, of a sort.  If fact I was worried I would have too much to say.  What if I was unable to whittle my writing down to one post a day?  Over the last few weeks, everything I did, I could hear the blog post forming in my head.  Suddenly my workout was the most fascinating program ever.  My tuna salad was a genius idea everyone should consider for his or her lunch.  My cleaning schedule was exciting enough to inspire others.  Even my clutter was fascinating, as each piece that was left out has purpose. 

I was going to have to plan my blog post carefully, making some sort of schedule.  I could only write about craft projects once a week; the same could be said of my cooking, cleaning, exercise, travel plans, and writing.  After all, I wouldn’t want to overwhelm my many, many readers with too much.  I’m sure they are all already scrambling to copy the little I give them.  I wouldn’t want them to make too many changes at once.

Sitting down to write an actual blog post, I am reminded of reality.  I have precisely zero readers.  This is my second post, and I have yet to say anything of value.  It may be months before I have said anything valuable enough to justify a single reader who chooses to return later. 

Attempting to write a post, I am blocked with one thought; why me?  Why would anyone choose to read something I wrote?  I am not teaching anything.  I am not imparting any specific wisdom others need.  Who am I to think others need to read any of my inane thoughts? 

I am no one special.  I’m just a normal girl who was, once upon a time, from California.  I’m someone who married at 18.  I’m someone who had their first child at 19, their second at 25.  I sew things sometimes.  I write stories that are not read by others, yet.  I have finished two marathons, four half marathons, two 10k’s, and countless 5k’s but have never actually trained properly for any of them.  I’m someone who has struggled to discover who they are, who still struggles to know if they like that person. 

I suppose in the end, it is simple.  Buddha was once asked if he was a god, and his answer was to tell them that no, he was not.  What he was, was awake. 

Am I someone special?  Do I have an important message everyone should hear?  No, absolutely not.  But I am alive, and that is something that should be celebrated.