Personal

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this writer’s gig and I’ve realized …

I march to my own beat!

Oh, quiet all of you who know me well. Pick yourselves up off the floor, stop laughing, and let me explain this revelation.

Yes, it’s true … I’ve never done it the easy way. I’m the middle of 5 kids and if I wanted attention I needed to do something different. When everyone rolled their tongue (which is genetically impossible for me) I taught myself how to flip my tongue in odd directions. When my siblings would sing (which is sooo not one of my talents) I taught myself how to say the alphabet backwards. Then I memorized the original “Big Mac” (two all beef patties, special sauce..) song … backwards! I can say the tongue twister “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?” and switch the chucks for the woods and woods for the chucks “How much chuck can a chuckwood chuck?” kind of thing. (I can still recite the list of prepositions we had to memorize in 7th grade! I’m such a geek.)

When I went to college I ended up in a male dominated major. (Which was really fun.) One of three women in a 20 person oceanography class out in the middle of the ocean studying squid is an absolute blast with all that testosterone flying. And so as not to be bested by the guys, I pushed myself to not only succeed, but rose to the top of my graduating class.

Yeah, I’ve always done it my own way.

But then I had kids and I wanted to be like all the other moms. Just bake cookies and do Girl and Boyscouts, go to the kid’s plays and sporting events. I chose to step back and let the kids shine. I had part-time jobs that kept me out and about … and sane. I would have liked things to go this way. I was very happy.

But life had other plans for me. Enter multiple sclerosis.

For about 10 years following the diagnosis, nothing in my life changed save for the many doctor’s appointments. I will be forever grateful I had the younger years with my children as a vigorous and healthy mom. But then, just as I was looking ahead at a job I loved and a house with young adults, my disease reared its ugly head.

I had to give up my teaching job. I still cry about the loss. I absolutely loved teaching. It was the job of my heart.

But I’m a firm believer in making lemonade.

So, the door closed and I opened a window. My mobility continues to become difficult. I use an electric wheelchair a lot of the time and I walk with a cane … and not well. (Think Aunt Martha with 3 too many glasses of sherry. 😉 ) Anyway, I wasn’t going to sit home and twiddle my thumbs. I want to be responsible for myself which meant I needed to find something I could do that didn’t require anything more than my hands and my mind, but bring in some income.

Enter writing.

See, when you hear the story of most writers they talk about how they started writing when they were in elementary school. How stories chased them until they finally sat down and put pen to paper. Now they eek out writing time around jobs and children and other mom duties. Man, do I admire them. Those authors when asked if they would stop writing if they won the lottery said “no way, I’d just have more time to write!”

That is so not me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always loved to write. But not things that required my imagination. I LOVE research and writing papers that compare and contrast. I spent 3 months doing a research paper on Ernest Hemingway that most of my high school classmates did in two weeks.  In college I loved the science classes where we had to do scientific papers on animals or fishing industries.

Yeah, I’m sick like that.

But the kind of writing I’m doing now is a whole different ballgame. I have to dig deep within myself to let the story free. After nearly seven years, I’m finding it’s getting harder, not easier. But I’m learning what works for me. And that’s what it is for me … a learning process. But see, as I get older, I’m figuring out what makes me tick. I can’t change how I’m wired. I love to figure things out, set them in logical order and present them in a way that makes sense to everyone. It’s why I loved teaching. Taking something ordinary and presenting it in a way that makes people step back and say “wow, I never thought of it that way”.

I guess that’s why I’m so drawn to the suspense end of writing. It’s like putting a puzzle together. How can I give you, the reader, the corner pieces and a couple of edge pieces and then begin filling in the middle, carrying you along as the picture comes to life, without giving it all away. Then springing an ending on you that perhaps you had suspected, but totally weren’t expecting. 

Now, that’s a challenge and one I realize … I’m really enjoying!

Whew! You know … it’s nice to have figured this all out. Since this looks like the direction my life is headed (and happily I travel this path) I’m glad to have gotten it all sorted out. Thanks again for letting me ramble.

This is going to turn into a rant. I have no doubt about it. I’ve been winding up for a couple of weeks, so seriously … if you don’t want to read about my melt down over the American college system, you should just walk away now.

You see, my son, Little Boy Blue, is in college. He has a cousin in college.

The first thing that is pissing me off is that they both going to a STATE university. It’s not private. It’s the university every kid in the state should be able to afford. Yet both of them work fulltime during the summer and part-time during the school year and still … they can’t afford to pay outright for school. Both of them take out loans every semester to pay for college. (My oldest daughter went to a different state college, but worked as an RA for two years AND had a major that got her in-state tuition and after 4 years, her loan payment would cover the mortgage payment for a small house.) There’s something VERY wrong with this picture.

Not only do both of these kids fork out a tremendous amouunt of money, but both of them are struggling. First I want to share my neice’s story: She went into college thinking she’d like to go into nursing. A third of the way into her freshman year she began having medical issues. She couldn’t eat. Still can’t. Doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong. (Three years later.) She’s missed a lot of school due to doctor’s appointments and sick days. A year ago, she decided to change her major. But you know what? Her grades don’t meet the minimum requirements for the major she’d like to transfer into. (Education) Because of that she isn’t allowed to take certain classes because they don’t fit the “nursing” major she declared when she first entered the university. Are. You. Kidding. Me?

She could have declared an education major as a freshman and despite her grades, would have continued in that major and been able to take all the classes she needed, even if, due to medical reasons, her GPA was low.

Now … Little Boy Blue. He’s majoring in engineering. Because he’s a foolish boy, he basically lost his freshman year to a girl. (Whatever … what do parents know when it comes to college advice?) He realized he was in trouble midway through his third semester. His study habits were poor and he had to retake several classes over again to learn the information he didn’t get the first time around. No problem. That’s his fault. But Mr. Nina and I have convinced him he needs to look into tutors and speak with his professors about confusing lessons and speak to his advisor. But you know what? He’s tried. But nothing. Professors don’t keep their appointments and those that do, don’t “teach” students who don’t understand their lessons. And guess what? The university doesn’t offer tutors for upper level classes. My son has no learning disabilities, he’s quite capable of doing the work in the engineering program. I think he just needs someone to point him in the right direction. But no one seems to want to help. Now he’s looking at LEAST taking an extra semester if not TWO! (Think of the money.)

PLEASE don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to make excuses for these two kids. What is upsetting me is that they’ve screwed up and they’re trying to rectify that situation and NO ONE WILL HELP THEM. Both of their advisors are saying “sucks to be you … have a nice day”. WTH?? They’re trying to get through college. They’re paying BIG bucks to get an education. They’re looking for help and not getting it. Where the hell does the buck stop? Who’s supposed to help these students?

When Mr. Nina and I went to college there were many people available to us who helped with both financial and educational issues. These two kids are in their third year in college. One of life’s skills is figuring out how to help yourself through difficult times. But when you go to the first level of help … shouldn’t they help? I’m working really hard not to step into this whole thing. I REALLY want to go over the advisor’s head to the department chair and scream “HELP!” Shouldn’t someone give a sh!t about these kids? But who?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m way out in left field on this one. But I’m so darn frustrated about this issue. Have any of you run into this same issue? Do you have an advice for a mom who’s ready to come unglued all over the university system?

A very wise priest once told me “Emotions are never right or wrong … they just are”.

Ain’t that the truth? We have no control over how we feel about a situation. But we DO have control over how we behave in light of receiving bad news or discovering offensive information. Too many people forget to step back and reassess a situation and their own reaction before pushing forward and steamrolling over someone else’s feelings. There is no need to attack a person/people when in reality it is a situation that is really the root of the problem.

At the end of last week a decision was made by an RWA chapter that caused a firestorm of controversy. I was the unfortunate witness to the degradation of professionalism by writers who chose to make the discussion a personal crusade rather than a discussion about bringing about change. I’m not saying everyone mind you, but I was surprised at how many people lost their focus and allowed emotion to overrule their common sense and understanding of others’ feelings.

Am I saying that we should walk away from controversy? Hell no. I love a lively discussion (what others may consider an argument). I don’t shy from conflict … or stating my opinion. I honestly believe if more people spoke their mind there would be fewer people feeling like they are never understood. Nothing burns my butt more than people asking for ideas and I’m the only one to speak up and the group thinks they have to do something my way because no one else says anything. So no, this isn’t about sharing your opinion or ideas. This is about doing it constructively. When my emotions are tangled in a situation I know it’s important for me to step back and make sure what I am saying is adding something to the solution, not just fueling the controversy. Nothing ever is solved by people fanning an ember of discontent, it creates nothing but a conflagration of mean-spirited finger pointing.

And finger pointing never solved anything.

Fortunately, the RWA chapter in question has backpedalled and solved the problem for themselves. I’m just not sure how long we’ll feel the repercussions of the personal attacks by many who chose not to remain professional. This past weekend has certainly been a sad lesson in human behavior for me.

This picture says it all about the state of my life right now. Mr. Nina and I had hoped 2012 would turn the corner of our transition phase and we would finally be able to get settled. Weeeellll, let me just tell you, it’s only managed to become more complicated and unpredicatble in the last couple of days.

Now, I consider myself a “go with the flow” kind of woman. And even in the last 18 months when we’ve been bumping over the rocky bed of white water that has become our life, we managed to stay fluid and bob along in the ebb and flow of a wild ride. But it’s getting more crazy and unpredictable even as I write this post.

The end of the year brought the wonderful blessing of our first grandchild. We were fortunate enough to be with our daughter when she brought our grandson into the world. He’s beautiful isn’t he? Okay, so I may be a little bias when it comes to how wonderful he is. Unfortunately, we worry about the situation our daughter has chosen to live in, but she’s an adult and all we can do is let her know every day how much we love her. She’s got a hard road to haul and no matter how much parents would like to make the road easier for their children, that isn’t the way of life lessons, is it?

Our oldest daughter also got engaged before Christmas and is looking to getting married this year. We love her fiance and know they that will be amazing together. But seriously? A wedding? Okay … add that to the to-do list!

I also turned 50 on the New Year. The number itself doesn’t bother me so much as it surprises the hell out of me! I remember celebrating my parents’ 50th birthdays. Hard to believe I’m now celebrating my own. I had just thought by the time Mr. Nina and I reached this milestone we would be settled in our lives. But, with the exception of when our children were brand new babies, our lives are the most chaotic they’ve ever been!

And now, ANOTHER wrench has been thrown into the cogs our lives and as I write this I’m not sure what the next chapter looks like. I’m trying to stay upbeat, but it’s getting really hard when we’re just not seeing how things are going to turn around at this point in our lives. *sigh* Now the pressure is on for me to really push forward my writing. It’s time for something to work for us!

Sorry for the rambling post … but there you have it. All you ever really didn’t need to know about the current state of my life! 😉

*Nina slides in breathless*

I know I’m very late getting back to my blog after the holidays. It just seems I’m having a hard time rolling into 2012. I don’t have any more excuses reasons than any other woman who has a family and holiday responsibilities. Yep, Mr. Nina and I managed to have a wonderful Christmas morning with our kids. They are adults, but we still keep up all the *Santa* traditions we’ve held on to since they were children. It was fun.

We drank a lot of wine. Ate too much food. And laughed continuously.

Now it’s time to settle into 2012. So here I am, sitting before my computer and a blank calendar. As 2011 came to a close I realized I needed to reassess and really look at what I hoped 2012 would bring. One of the things I’m already doing is cutting back on the number of RWA Chapters I belong to. Though each one was wonderful, I found there were more emails than helpful information coming through. Out they go.

As I always do, I’m looking at my blogging time. With the explosion of social media, I think fewer and fewer people are finding time to stop by blogs. But it seems I go ’round and ’round this ride and keep coming back to the fact that I enjoy it for the most part. I think more than anything it’s my opportunity to spew about my life. Whether it’s good or bad, I can kick sand or jump for joy with people who understand the publishing journey. So for now, I’m sticking to my Mon-Wed-Fri schedule. I hope to fill the year with some fun and humor, introductions to new authors, and keeping up on the latest in the publishing world.

But the biggest decision I’ve come to is about my writing. I’m an analytical person. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at the market and studying other successful authors. I’ve tried to emulate them, not in their writing style or voice or anything, but how they handled their career. And after six years I’ve come to realize in the end it’s done nothing but frustrate me. This BLOG POST really opened my eyes. Especially numbers 17, 18, and 19. There is just too much I can’t control. And many times something one author does that skyrockets their books to the bestseller list, rarely translates over to another author’s success. Trust me on this one. I know it from experience.

So my goal this year is to slow down. Stop chasing the money and just write what works for me. I’m convinced the money will follow. Does this mean I’m rolling over and not being logical about my marketing? No. It just means I’m going to stop trying to recreate other people’s success.

Oh, and I’ve also decided I’m going to figure out this weight situation that has gotten out of control. Not sure how it’s going to work since I’m spending more time in the electric wheelchair, but I’m thinking there’s got to be a balance between feeding my body and expanding my waistline when exercise isn’t an option. Hmmm, wish me luck on that one.

So what about you? Do you have goals for 2012?

Since many people are still riding a Christmas overload (and I’m actually still vacationing in Maine with family … don’t you love scheduling blogs?), I thought I’d take this week to share a little more about me. (Like you didn’t already know more about me than you ever needed to know. 😉 )

So here’s six more random facts about Nina that I hope you find interesting or perhaps a little amusing…

1) I love the sound of my own voice. I can talk about anything — for a very long period of time. I once won a bet that I couldn’t talk nonstop for a complete roadtrip from Maine to Connecticut (a 4 hour drive)… did I mention I won? Mr. Nina has never dared me to talk for a specific amount of time!

My mother told me when I was growing up she had to keep reminding herself to “tune back in” to my jabber because I might actually say something important.

Yep, I do love to talk… I’m sorry, did you say something?

2) I’m a bit of a daredevil. I’ve been solo skydiving. Yep, I stepped off the wing strut of a perfectly good plane and trusted the parachute would open with the fall. It did and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve done. I’ve also been in a hotair balloon, took a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon and ridden an innertube down a river, including over a busted dam. That was an interesting day!

I’d still like to do a freefall sky dive tandem and go white water rafting down the Colorado river.

3) I really admire George Plimpton. You never heard of him? Most people haven’t. I’m going to reveal my age when I tell you I watched George Plimpton as I was growing up. The man was an author who believed the best way to write about something was to experience it first hand. He has been a bullfighter, an orchestra conductor, a trapeze artist (my personal favorite) a baseball and football player, a boxer, a circus performer and a tennis pro. I had the thrill of listening to him speak when he came to the university I attended. I dragged a good friend who had no idea who he was and wanted to hide under the chair when I kept asking him questions.

4) Referring to the above, I’ve always kept my employment opportunities open. I’ve had no less than 50 different jobs since I started working at 15. My least favorites include: janitor in a girl’s dormitory, working alone in a mortgage office, and substitute teaching in middle school. I think my all time favorite had to be the summer I spent on an island off the coast of Maine as a camp counselor. Looking back, I can’t imagine how those parents let three college aged woman ferry their 5th, 6th, and 7th graders out to the island by canoe (along with all the food and camping gear for 20 people) for 4 days. I was too young and stupid to realize what kind of responsibility I had!

5) English was one of my worst subjects in both high school and college.

6) If I could be anything (education or talent aside) I would like to be a stand up comedian or a singer in a band. I’d love to be able to perform in front of all those people and help them forget about their lives for a couple of hours. I’d love nothing more to leave them with smiles and feeling really good. (And the picture below has nothing to do with anything, except this is boxing day and people are returning all those unwanted gifts … and I definitely wouldn’t return this guy!)

I’d love to hear an interesting fact about you … ah, come on, share!

When I approach something new I look at it from all angles. Analyze. Re-evaluate. Change directions and tactics as needed. I repeat this process until I’ve met the objectives I set out to achieve. Hey, I’m a scientist at heart. It’s how I operate.

That being said, the whole thing seems to go out the window in the publishing world. All things being equal, genre, length, level of writing … books are never equal. What formula worked for one writer and gleans huge sales, does NOT necessarily translate into a winning combination for another author. Why? Who the hell knows. Trust me, if there were a formula to guarantee success I would have it for you and happily share it.

In the grand scheme of things I haven’t been a writer very long. Six and a half years to be exact. By that I mean, I was a voracious reader of fiction, but never saw myself sitting down and actually writing a novel. Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed writing papers, but writing a novel hadn’t been a life’s dream. Now I live for it. And it’s not that I should complain because I have had many books published, but I’m not making a living by any stretch of the imagination. And that fact is driving me INSANE!

Because writing for me is first and foremost a job. (And probably the hardest I’ve ever had … and I’ve had A LOT!) It’s not something I started because my heart was aching to put words on the page. It was a business venture. And I’m not the most patient A-type personality. I expected by now that I would at least be earning a teacher’s salary and the contracts to be lined up as I happily sat at my computer penning masterpieces.

Ummm, yeah, not so much.

Which brings me back around to that whole analyzing thing. The “What am I doing wrong?” or “What is X author doing right?” questions that plague me. I write. I market. I keep abreast of the latest publishing news without obsessing over it. I analyze and reassess. And then I market some more. And I’ve finally figured it out. There’s one key thing missing. Any writer would see it in my statements above. Figured it out?

Write.

There’s just not enough of that in my equations. Ask me the last time I wrote a new paragraph on a blank page. No don’t. I’d be embarrassed to admit it to you. But last week as I was preparing a short story for THIS post, I realized … holy crap! this is FUN! And it made me wonder if that’s what’s been missing for me. Have I been so intent on analyzing the market and seeing what genre/heat level/length successful romance writers are selling that I’ve completely missed what makes my heart sing? Have I been pushing my muse in specific directions because it fit a submission call or seemed like the latest hot genre? Hmmm…

But now I’m thinking it’s time to hand over the reins. Time to let her tell me where she’d like to go. I suspect I’ll be much more productive in the long run. So I’m making an early resolution to myself. First and foremost. Write. I know … DUR. But hey when your muse is fighting you every step of the way and your personal life is in flux … it’s really easy to not open that manuscript and stay busy blogging and answering emails. It’s amazing how a day can be frittered away working without working.

So the books at my publisher aren’t a big seller. And though the books I’ve self-pubbed are slowly making enough monthly sales to treat Mr. Nina to a chain restaurant dinner … no dessert, I’m thinking that figuring out why that’s not working isn’t going to help me find new readers. Only writing another book and another book and another book is going to do that.

And you know what? My muse is happier already.

So how’s life going for you? Are you already setting new goals for 2012 or just trying to survive the final push of 2011?

I’m going to admit right here that I’m horrible with history. I remembered enough of it in high school to do well on the tests and promptly forgot it. As an adult I regret not seeing the value of understanding my country’s history. But eh, what does a 16 year old know about a 50 year old woman’s regrets? LOL!

But Pearl Harbor Day has become a personal experience for me that has touched my heart. Ten years ago today, I was in Hawaii visiting Mr. Nina’s great uncle. Though the man wasn’t in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, his boat was the first to arrive in the harbor. I can’t imagine the horrors he saw that day. He doesn’t talk about it.

But the morning of December 7, 1991, he pulled a ballcap out of a box in the hall and reverently placed it on his head. It was embroidered with the name of his ship. He wore it only one day a year. We bundled into his car and parked with all of the other visitors and stood in the very long line with the general public at the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Uncle Caesar didn’t think he was anyone special. But as sailors walked by, they stopped and saluted him. Every. Single. One. At one point someone offered to escort him (and his guests) into the VIP area, but he refused. That section was for the real survivors of that day he said.

We sat through the memorial with the rest of the general public. And though I don’t remember the details, I do remember realizing how history was coming to life for me and how moved I was by the number of lives sacrificed that day. We went from there to a small pavilion where plaques for each of the ships and their crews were displayed. Uncle Caesar walked from stone to stone, standing at each for long quiet minutes. I was so moved by the respect the general public offered these men who very obviously were doing the same. I was in tears watching all of this unfold.

We didn’t go out to the memorial. The line was too long and Uncle Caesar and his wife had been out many times. Instead, he drove us to the military base nearby. We drove around looking at the buildings that still stand as a memorial to the attack. Broken windows, scarred brick walls, destruction everywhere. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like on that day. We did stop at one of the lesser known ships that is still in the harbor and spend time there. Uncle Caesar would not talk about that day. He didn’t share what happened when he arrived in the harbor. But I felt it in his solemnity.

I am grateful we got to share this day with a sailor who was actually there. I feel blessed I got live history on that day. Uncle Caesar is still alive and living in Hawaii. His health is not good and though he is not at the memorial today, I have no doubt he is spending time remembering.

As you’ve heard me say, I’m one of the few writers I know who don’t write to music. Quiet. Silence. Dead air. Anything rocking near me completely scrambles my wiring. My thoughts completely short circuit.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love music. I listen to it while I’m cleaning (which I’ll admit isn’t very often *g*). I play it in the car while I’m driving. (Which keeps me focused because it drowns out all the other “channels” running in my brain.) And I having it playing during dinner.

But when I have to concentrate, I can’t even have instrumental music playing. Annnnyyyywaaay … that’s not really the point of this post. It’s just the prelude to a conundrum that has me going hmmmmm…

When I slow down to focus on all the “channels” in my head, there is always a song playing. And since it’s not a conscious thing, it is very random. This morning I woke to the “Truvia commercial”.

It’s not always a jingle playing, sometimes it’s a complete song including backup singers. Which is even funnier since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and keys to me are only something to start a car and unlock the apartment.

I wish someone could crawl into my head for a little while. Perhaps like the alien in Stephanie Meyer’s book “Host”. (Awesome book by the way.) You know, just hang out, get the lay of the land and tell me where I fall on the weirdness scale. Are all tortured artists several frenquencies shy of a full bandwith? I’d like to know.

Or am I quietly singing to the universe solo?

I want your attention. I can’t help it. I’m a middle child. It comes with the territory. I’m also driven to be a perfectionist. That means I want to be number one. The best.

No, these aren’t positive traits, but hey, it’s who I am and I embrace it.

Why am I telling you this? Weeellll … I’ve been writing fulltime now for six years. Not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but enough that I’d like to have found a following. And yes, I see the three of you out there jumping up and down. I know you love my books and I appreciate it more than I can say. I was just hoping to have a couple more by now so I could at least say I have a “crowd” of fans. Not a “mob”, mind you, but a number of peeps that are chomping at the bit waiting for my next book.

I know an author whose debut novel went viral, even though it hadn’t been edited well. (Her zillions of reader reviews mentioned this fact. It’s the only reason I know.) It was in a subgenre of romance I’ve written in. Every subsequent book has increased her readership exponentially. I can’t lie. I want to be her. Since my reviews from review sites and readers alike are all positive and sport a significant number of stars, I figure I craft a pretty good romance.

I market myself, but do try to walk the fine line of not annoying people. And yet … I feel invisible. Have I crossed the line from a friendly banter about books to “oh, my God, here she comes … quick get the delete button ready”? I don’t know.

I do know there are a hell of a lot of books being made available to readers DAILY. I scroll through the 100’s of my feeds on Goodreads and rarely see the same cover twice. I’d just like to know what made one book stand out from another. Good writing? I don’t always think that’s the case. I’ve seen very good books bomb in sales and poorly crafted books rise to the top. Good marketing? Perhaps. But again. I’ve seen two authors do exactly the same thing. One with amazing results and the other … not so much. (Speaking from experience, Nina?) Genre? I’ve got to nix this one as well because books in all genres are both flying off the virtual shelves and gathering dust. A great book cover? Again, that’s personal taste. Both ugly covers and beautiful covers can be found on the best seller lists of Amazon.

So what is it? That Je ne sais quoi that gets a book to the top 100? If you’ve got the magic answer please share. There are LOTS of us trying to figure out the secret.

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