Friday, March 25, 2016

Terror Sucks.

I was planning to talk about self possession, self love, and positive thinking/affirmation today, but I can't. I have to talk about Terror instead, at least for today. This morning when I went to drop my kids off at school, it was just a regular day, mostly. But it changed quickly, morphed into something deeper, something much more meaningful. Let me share with you a little taste of what my week has looked like.

You know that on Saturday, I teamed up with a number of other authors to have an amazing time at Romancing the Smokies. I was charmed by Tonya Kappes, fell in insta-love with Suzan Tisdale, who knew what a Selkie is, and shared a fun and beautiful table with Andre Renee Smith. I was given a beautiful and unexpected gift basket from Dona Minton (as yet unpublished but with a WIP that I'm already DYING to hold in my hands), and I met a ton of sweet new readers who all seemed like beautiful people. I enjoyed dinner afterward, with Andrea, her husband, and the always entertaining Felita Daniels, and I giggled my shocked way through a conversation about -- of all things -- dinosaur-on-human sex books. Seriously, did y'all even know that was a thing? Because it is. We googled it. It was gross.

Sunday, I rested. I slept in, I hung out with my kids, and I thought back on what I learned at RTS. I tried not to think too much about the snippet I saw online from that one story called "Taken By The Raptor." I began to formulate ideas for a meet-and-greet style event I'm thinking of hosting next year (to help plan that event, click here). I called my printer, with whom I've been having a minor struggle over some seriously terrible printing errors (the covers on my last book shipment were printed with MUCH too much red ink ... everything looked a bit roasted).

Monday was productive -- being well-rested from a much-needed day off, I got lots of writing done on my current WIP (Selkie II, which I am SO ready to share with you!!), cleaned my bathroom a bit, decluttered a bit, cleaned all of the bedclothes, and did some other little stuff. Then I rested a bit after picking the girls up from school, made a giant pot of cheesy potato soup for dinner, and sat down to enjoy the first episode of this season's Dancing With The Stars. It was a happy couple of days.

Then I woke up on Tuesday to hear about Brussels. To hear about the bombing there. To listen to the news continue to recount the slowly growing count of the dead. To listen to various politicians use that tragedy to further their agendas. To look at my own family with grateful eyes because they're still here, still solid and living and touchable. Tuesday morning, Jo (12) asked me about Isis, and (not for the first time) why it feels like Muslims hate everyone, why so many of them want to kill everyone who isn't like them. She asked me why they are the way they are, why they believe what they believe.

We talked (again) about how one type of people is not always represented by one or two or many of their kind. We talked about how white people aren't all racist, black people aren't all criminals, asian people aren't all smart. We talked about how all dogs aren't vicious, all cats aren't hunters. All snakes aren't deadly. We remembered going to see Zootopia a few weeks ago, and talked about the underlying lesson in racism and wrong it is to judge others without truly knowing them.

We talked about the differences and similarities between Christianity and Islam, and we talked about how even though we are conservative as Christians, we aren't hateful or extreme in our desire to see other people come to Christ. We talked about how some Christians ARE hateful, and how that works against what we believe. We talked about how important our mission is as Christians, to share the love of God with the world, while also gently teaching about His desire for our lives and our behavior. We talked about the strict and sometimes merciless Levitical teachings of the Old Testament, and we contrasted those teachings with the gentle loving way of Jesus, who taught the way of God with His heart and not His fist. I used that as a teachable moment for my daughter, who was hurt and confused about the tragedy in Belgium, and the kind of men who commit such crimes all over the world.

Then we talked about hate, and we talked about that one big fundamental difference that separates Christians from Islam. The one big difference that started it all, that tore two groups of people so far apart that they've been killing each other for centuries. We talked about Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and how they fathered Christianity and Islam through Jesus Christ and the prohet Muhammed. We talked about what that difference means to us, and what each religion believes of other religions. We talked about how every religious group has a level of extremism, and she said, "Not like Islam, though."

We talked about a girl I used to know, that I was close friends with for a long time, and what a peaceful, sweet person she was. We talked about how soft spoken she was, how funny she was, how fun she was to be around. We talked about how she is the general Muslim, and how jihadists do not represent the whole. She told me about a friend she has at school, a Muslim girl. Curious, I asked her, "Oh. So she's nice, right?" Joey said she was, and I asked her, "So ... how do you know she's Muslim? Do you talk about it, or does she wear a hijab to school or something?" And my daughter, my twelve year old sixth grader, said to me, "Yeah we talk about it sometimes. She said they probably would wear those, but they don't now."

It made me sad to think that a person is afraid to be what they are, at twelve years old, because of someone else's fear and intolerance. We talked all the way to school about understanding and prejudice, about injustice and death.

That was yesterday, for me. You won't see this for a few days but I'm writing it on Wednesday morning, and today we talked about hate on the way to school again. We talked about the pictures we saw on the news this morning of some of the Brussels bomb victims. And then we got to the middle school, where the entryway was filled with police, and I had a strike of fear jolt through me -- not because there were police at my daughter's middle school, but because if they were there, they were there for a reason.

They were doing a random weapons check. At my daughter's middle school.

In an instant, it made me remember Columbine and how I felt the first time I went to school with the stench of fear all around me, how it felt to sit across from one of "the trenchcoat kids" and remember the horrors inflicted by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It made me remember the first time I felt a personal sense of prejudice against someone else because of the way they looked or the way they carried themselves.

So with tears in my eyes that I hoped my daughter wouldn't see, I opened my mouth, speaking with a thickened voice I hoped my daughter wouldn't notice. I told her to stop by the group of police officers as she walked into her school, to tell them good morning and to tell them that her mother thanked them for being there. I told her to be safe at school, to be a good girl, and that I would see her this afternoon. And just like I do every morning when I drop my children off at school, I told her I loved her. And I hoped it wouldn't be the last time.

Because terror is everywhere, and it doesn't just wear one face. It doesn't come in just one color, it doesn't speak with just one language. But the world we live in now is not the same as the one I grew up in.

It saddens me to know that my child will one day be randomly chosen for a weapons search, that she'll watch someone search her backpack for knives, for guns, for signs that she might be a danger to the students around her. It saddens me to know that they'll search her friend's bags, that they'll search other children's bags. It saddens me that I'm glad they do that, to protect my daughter from herself, from her friends, from her fellow students.

But for now, I'm going to schedule this post for the twenty-fifth, trusting that nothing will have changed again by then. I'm going to go dry my eyes and wash my face. I'm going to pour myself a glass of Starbuck's Iced Caramel Macchiato, and I'm going to bury myself in the fantasy world of Selkie II. I'm going to write until my heart doesn't hurt anymore, and then I'm going to comfort read for a while.

Or maybe I'll just call Dana.
Either way, I wish you Happy Reading.

P.S. Don't forget to check the sidebars on both the blog and the newsletter. On the blog, you'll see interesting things like featured posts and what I'm reading lately, and on the newsletter, you'll find the monthly giveaway winner(s), as well as the winners for any contests I'm currently holding. And speaking of the monthly giveaway -- it's going to be changing! Please fill out this quick form to find out why and help me decide what changes to make.

P.P.S. I'd also truly love to have your input in planning my first annual reader event in 2017. Help me out with this form, too.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Romancing The Smokies!!

Okay, I just have to tell you guys, I love events. The time leading up to an event is stressful with all the book prep and outfit planning and endless worries about the possibility of forgetting something or saying something totally stupid, but the events themselves? Usually, they're wonderful -- at least, in my experience -- and this one was no exception.

Let me break in here to warn you, this newsletter will not be proofread. I'm writing it at midnight -- there will probably be unnoticed typos and errors. Please don't fault me for that.

Most of us were at the hotel (venue) around 8am, setting up books and things in the signing room, setting out the gifts we brought for our guests in the luncheon room, and generally getting acquainted with each other. We had breakfast, chatted back and forth, and the set-up time gave us all a while to let the nervousness wear off (because I don't know about anyone else, but events always make me nervous).

Registration opened just before eleven; the luncheon officially kicked off just before noon with a short introduction from Donna Wright and Mallory Kane, and then a word from Nancy Naigle, who served as the welcome speaker. The luncheon seemed to be mostly authors in various stages of the publishing journey, but there were a few very sweet readers sprinkled in among us, which was a fun change to the writer dynamic. The lunch itself was of course delicious -- probably made more so by the interesting conversation. My personal table was a mix of Southern belles and western beauties, so we chatted about our travels, our writing adventures, and our various roadblocks. We defined the differences between "y'all" and "all y'all," giggled over the way speaking dialects can change in just the space of a few miles in the South, and teased the one man at our table relentlessly. Lucky for us ladies, he was a great sport and a charming addition to our table.

Tonya Kappes was the keynote speaker for the event; she spoke for around an hour after lunch, and I found myself tearing up several times as I listened to her talk about her publishing journey and what books and reading have come to mean to her. The inspiration and heart behind her story had most of the audience totally captivated, and by the time she finished speaking, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

It wasn't just Tonya, though; the entire event was filled with wonderful people. After the luncheon, we made our way over to the book signing room, where I shared a table with Andrea Renee Smith. She's a somewhat new author, but definitely a girl with a passion for writing! We met some new readers, sold some books, and even found some new authors to try! I added a few new people to my email list (welcome, new readers!), wrote down a new book idea, tried out a new display style, and gave away some little gift baskets. The photo of the gift basket to the left of this article is of one of the baskets I gave away to my luncheon guest, filled with a few of my most favorite things: there's a candle that smells absolutely divine, a wineglass because I love wine whenever I can find an excuse to drink some, and a lipstick that has recently become my personal favorite nude. I also tucked a few bookmarks in there, and stuffed the wine glass with truffles and Hershey kisses. 

I gave away one of these baskets to the event raffle, too, and now I'd like to give some baskets to you guys too! On my next newsletter, I'll be choosing winners for my usual monthly drawing, AND I'll be choosing TWO winners to receive one of these little baskets of goodies! Winners will be announced in the left sidebar of the newsletter on the 25th.

But now, as much as I'd love to tell you all more about how much fun I had at RTS16 and the little idea I've been brewing lately for my 2017 schedule, I'm really really really tired.

I'm exhausted, and I've written this entire newsletter with a charlie horse from hell that won't let up.

I can't even think of a good way to end this one. (No, I'm really not kidding. But if you want to see something more like what I usually write when I have the ability to make complete and coherent sentences, check out this post, where I talked about self confidence. Or this one about body positivity, where you can also enter a mystery gift pack giveaway. Or this one, where I share ten of my favorite authors and why you might want to check them out. Oh, or maybe even this one, where I get a little bit more personal about myself and my life.)

Seriously, though. That's the best I've got.

So until next time, when I can hopefully form coherent sentences again,
Happy Reading.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Almost Time!

In the last few posts I broke from the recent topic of self confidence to catch you guys up on what I've been doing this month -- along with my plans for the rest of the month. Just one more time, I'd like to update you on three major happenings.
  • Click here to listen to my most recent appearance on the Hummingbird Place (You'll have to listen to an ad either way, but to skip directly to my segment (after the ad), begin playback at 19:52). To hear a full hour of me speaking with Donna Wright about my books, my passions, the Rock, and my upcoming appearance schedule, click here (this one was last month though).
  • Romancing the Smokies is now only days away, and my luncheon table is sold out! This week I'll be putting the final touches on the gift baskets I'm putting together for each of my luncheon guests, the basket I'm donating to the event to be given away as a door prize, AND the basket I'll be keeping at my signing table, to be given away to new newsletter subscribers at the end of the event. Missed your chance to attend the luncheon but still want to see what all the fuss is about? You can still come say hi to me and get yourself a signed copy of any of my books at the signing after the luncheon. The book signing itself is on Saturday, March 19th at the Airport Hilton, Alcoa, TN -- and the best part? It's free to come through and meet everyone from 2-4pm!
  • I'm moving deeper into Selkie II, and I am IN. LOVE. with this story. The new characters are just ... I love them. I love how they support Malik and Annie in the middle of everything going on, and how well everyone fits together! I've started playing around with thoughts for the cover design, too, so that's exciting.
Next week, I'll tell those of you who couldn't be there all about Romancing The Smokies; I'll share my most and least favorite moments and happenings, a little more about who was there, and hopefully some photos of the event itself. In the following newsletter, I want to revisit the self confidence and body positivity theme with some posts about happiness, mindfulness, and self-ownership. If you think you might know someone who'd like to see posts of that nature, or someone who might be as interested in my newsletter as you are, feel free to send them this link and invite them to subscribe. My mailing list is coming very close to meeting this year's goal already (I think we're about 25 subscribers away), and once we meet that goal, I intend to DOUBLE my monthly giftcard giveaway.

Some of you know I'm in the process of building a street team of reviewers. I'm calling my team the B.K. Bookies (thanks to Dana for being clever and thinking that one up on the fly like she did), and I'm going to keep it pretty small. I want it to be an intimate group that I can really get to know on a personal level. All I'm asking is that members be willing to read and review all of my books, and once a member is all caught up on reviews, that's when team member perks begin. You'll receive a welcome package with a few thank you goodies, some swag to share with your book-loving friends and family, and a few other little surprises. Eventually, you'll also help vote on covers, titles, character names, and other things that even newsletter subscribers won't have quick access to. Interested? Just fill out this form, and we'll get back to you once your initial review is verified.

Now, with the business end of our chat out of the way, I wanted to ask you something, too. What do you think about the idea of authors who host public readings of their books? Often, this type of event involves cookies, coffee, and a library or bookstore setting -- the featured author comes up and reads a bit from one or more of their books, and you get a rare chance to hear the way the book sounds in the author's mind. Well, maybe it's not so rare now, with the growing number of authors who record their own audiobooks, but ... well, you get the point. The idea is that it's a way to meet the author in a less formal setting, hear the way the characters sound in the mind of the person who created them, and ask questions of the author if  you wish to. So I guess my real question is this: What would you guys think of a sort of virtual reading? I'd read maybe a chapter or two of one of my books, post it online for you to listen to, and maybe attach some kind of fun giveaway for you to share with your friends in hopes of winning a signed paperback and some book-related items. Feel free to leave a comment below to share your thoughts on this topic; suggestions are also welcome.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Real Reason I Chose Independent Publishing

Some of you may not know this, but there used to be a certain amount of stigma if a writer chose to publish a book independently. In those days, independent publishing was generally a nice way for determined writers to get around the fact that they'd been rejected by publishing houses more times than their hearts could handle. They saw the end of their dream of becoming a big time "real" author, but they needed, for whatever reason, to see their words in print. Most paid quite handsomely for this sort of vanity printing, quietly accepting the shame of not being "good enough" to strike a lucrative deal with a "real" publisher.

Eventually, vanity printing became somewhat more common and, rather begrudgingly in the literary world, somewhat more accepted. Somewhere along the way, someone had the nerve to be unashamed. Somewhere along the way, one of those unashamed "vanity"-published authors managed to make some decent money, perhaps enough to fund the writing as a nice hobby. Then another one did it. And then another. Soon, self published authors like Amanda Hocking, Barbara Freethy, and Liliana Hart were taking their turns turning the self-published stigma on its head. (And we'll just leave E.L. James out of this, shall we?)

Now, independent publishing is a much more respected business, dominated by success stories of independent authors not only doing well on their own, but choosing to continue as self published authors long after contract offers have begun to roll in. Some even choose to do a little of both, and have great success with their own hybrid combination of independent and traditional contract publishing (Marie Force)! However, even with so many wonderful changes and so many spectacular examples, there are still a great many hiccups in the world of self publishing. Due to the relative ease of the process, it often seems that anyone can be an author now -- but is that true?

What makes an author a "real" author? Is it the six figure contract everyone is dreaming of? Is it the name of a publishing company listed inside of a book?

I don't think so. I think the thing that transforms a "writer" into an "author" is passion. You have to love this -- in some ways, it has to mean as much to you as the air you breathe ... otherwise, it won't work. It's not a quick buck.

"Alright then, what makes an author a real author, then?"

Heart. Love.

Did you ever read The Velveteen Rabbit? It's a story about a fake bunny, a stuffed toy given to a child. The bunny is beloved, but of course he is only a stuffed bunny. Through the course of the story, the bunny finds out he isn't real, and he wishes with all his little stuffed heart that he could be made real. In the end, of course, he is made real ... by the simple power of love.

"What's that got to do with the topic at hand? I thought you were gonna tell me why you self publish."

But I just did. I self publish because I love my stories. I love my books. I love my covers. I love the interaction I have with my readers. I love being in charge of my own schedule (even when I fail at it because since I know I won't fire myself, I sometimes slack off too much), and I love knowing everything that's going on with each of my projects at all times. I love having personal trust relationships with my team. I love having self published heroes like Skye Turner and Felicia Tatum to look up to.

Those things make this real to me. They make you real to me, as tangible as the keyboard under my fingertips.

I don't need a "real" publisher. I've never even attempted to attract one -- and I'm pretty sure I'll turn them down when they come sniffing in my direction. Why? Because I don't need a contract to make me real.

I've got you, my readers. And that's all any writer needs to make them real.

And now, I'm off to keep prepping for Romancing The Smokies. Less than two weeks -- eek!!

Happy Reading,

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Busy Month

Today I'm taking a bit of a break from our recent talks about confidence and what body positivity really means; I'm taking a minute just to say thank you.

Thank you for reading my work, for buying my books, for supporting me in whatever way you've done so. Thank you for your encouragement, for your kind reviews, and for your appreciation of the characters that came to life inside my mind.

It means so very much to me. Thank you.

Upcoming news:
  • Monday, March 7, 2016, I'll be live on the Hummingbird Place for another interview with Donna Wright. Always a delightful experience, and I can't wait to finally tell the secret of what's going into my RTS gift baskets.
  • Saturday, March 19, 2016, I'll be joining with an amazing group of authors at an elegant luncheon and book signing. Romancing The Smokies promises nothing less than an event to be remembered, and I'm so excited to be meeting new readers there! Still want to come? There are only seven luncheon tickets available at last count, so grab yours while you can! Missed your chance to attend the luncheon but still want to come? That's alright, the book signing (to be held after the luncheon) is free!!
  • In the meantime, I'm still working hard on Selkie II, and this story just may be my best yet! I am in love with the characters, the development, and the adventure! I can't wait to see it all play out, and I'm anxious to begin sharing it with you!
  • My street team, the B.K. Bookies, still has seven slots available for 2016! If you'd like a chance to read all of my books for free, and you think you can commit to reviewing all of them, check out the application link on my website's welcome page. I'd like to warn you that in order to join the team, you must have reviewed at least one of my books -- but that's easy, since Fat Chance is now FREE on all platforms!

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What #BodyPositive Really Means (To Me)

Body positivity and the importance of self-confidence are not new topics for me -- not as a woman, and not as an author. I've struggled to find and maintain my own sense of confidence and self-worth all my life, right from the very first moment that something or someone told me that I'm not good enough as a person because my body doesn't meet someone else's standard of health or beauty.

I've been hurt. I've been called names. I've gotten the side-eye more times than I'd like to admit. I've been turned away, turned down, rejected, insulted. I still get that, actually, and I'm betting you do too, regardless of what you look like or what your personal life choices are.
  • I get treated wrong because I'm white so people assume that means I'm a racist (Not True).
  • I get it because I'm a Christian, and people assume that means I'm a "close-minded bigot" (Not True).
  • I get it because I'm a plus-size woman, so people assume that means I guzzle soda by the gallon and don't care enough to take care of my body (Not True).
  • I get it because I'm perceived by many to be "just" a stay at home mom, so they think I don't do anything all day and I just sit around enjoying unlimited free time with no demands while my children are at school (Not True).
  • I get it because I'm self-employed as an author, and people tend to assume either that I'm filthy rich and can therefore blow off working whenever they want me to (Not True),
  • or that I'm lazy and destined for failure and can therefore blow off working whenever they want me to (Also Not True).
But let's be honest right now, in a way that most people don't want to be. Only one of those things really matters in today's society, right? The one about being plus-sized, the one about not being as thin as most of the world thinks I should be -- because FAT is the worst possible thing someone could ever be, right? That's the one thing on that list that makes most people jack their eyebrow up in surprise or disgust or disapproval -- or maybe in a defiant moment of agreement with the sentiment they feel as they read what I'm saying.

That's why we have the whole body positivity movement in the first place. It's why we have stuff like #bodypositivity, #effyourbeautystandard, #honormycurves, #daretowear, #bodylove, and #imnoangel, hashtag campaigns that catch on and go viral because women are beaten and battered by the world until they're desperate for a way to feel good about themselves again, without feeling guilty for feeling good. The world tells us that we're never good enough, that we can't ever be good enough. We're too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too loud, too quiet. Too opinionated, too laid-back.

And there is no middle ground, because what one person thinks is way too much, another person will think is not nearly enough. That's why you have to have your own standard of self, and you have to give yourself permission to live by that standard, regardless of what standard someone else is living by.

So how can I look at myself in the mirror every day, with breasts that aren't perfectly even and eyes that are different colors, a body that's lumpy and bumpy and striped with stretch marks and scars, skin that's imperfect, toes that are kinda crooked ... the list goes on and on, and that's just with my body -- we're not even touching the things that are wrong and have gone wrong in my personal life during my thirty-two years of trying so hard to be someone worthy of ... something.

How can I be body positive? How can I love this body, and this body, and this body, and this body, and this body? More importantly, how can I possibly love MY body, in spite of the constant influx of societal opinion that nothing about my body can ever be good enough?

And even more importantly, how can I love my body, in spite of the common perception that since my body is less than perfect, I am somehow inferior as a person?

It's hard. I have to start over again every day. I have to tell myself every single day, that I'm good enough. That I'm beautiful. That I'm strong. That my body is beautiful -- even when I'm looking at pictures taken from bad angles or in unflattering clothing, even when the lighting isn't right and I have no makeup on and my hair looks awful. I'm still beautiful. I'm still worthy of love and respect, still worthy of kindness and good treatment as a human being. It doesn't matter what my body looks like -- I'm still human.

But don't get me wrong. This isn't about pretending that it's okay to be so fat you're killing yourself. It isn't about pretending that your health isn't affected by your weight, or any of that.

However, it is never okay to put your nose in someone else's business, especially if you don't know their struggle. It is never okay to pretend to be concerned about someone just because the way they look makes you uncomfortable. You don't get to assume that someone with a larger body also has a general lack of anything (like self-control, right?) or an abundance of anything else (blood sugar and cholesterol, anyone?). It's about the simple, basic human respect that we all owe each other.

And you know what? We owe that to ourselves as much as, if not more than, to anyone else. Because it's true what I said earlier -- the world will always tell you that you aren't good enough. You owe it to yourself to be that one voice in the back of your mind that says something nice to you, especially because sometimes that's the only nice voice you'll hear. You owe it to yourself to be kind to you, to be positive about you, to be affirmative to you.

You are beautiful. You are strong. You are successful. You are amazing. You are worthy. You are enough.