The reality of great expectations

I think the biggest trouble with going into a situation with expectations is the risk of being disappointed.

I started November with high hopes about Book 8 and things didn’t turn out as I planned. Last year, I knocked out about 30,000 words in the month; this year, I got to 18,000 (and because I’m an idiot, I forgot to post my final tally on Nov. 30 on the National Novel Writing Month website so technically I didn’t even reach that).

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Can I just say how much I love this movie?

Things went sideways on Nov. 1 – not necessarily for bad reasons but just life. I had applied for a new position at the University where I work. I had heard nothing for such a long period of time that I assumed I didn’t get the job. I was fine with that and was geared up to start writing Book 8 in earnest because while I like my job and it works extremely well for my family, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love being a full-time writer again.

But on Nov. 1, I found out that not only did I get the job but that my new boss had asked my former boss to allow me to start right away, with me still working a few hours at my old job each week to help with the transition. So things got crazy really fast and unfortunately my writing time suffered.

To make matters worse, I got a nasty cold that sucked up all my energy, probably from the stress of a new job. Then things just started to snowball until I finally had to let go of my expectations. I love writing but it’s not my first priority right now even though I wish sometimes that it could be. I worked when I could and am still plugging away. Because I had some of Book 8 already started before November, my total word count is still more than 30, 000 words so there’s that. And for some reason that I don’t understand but am not complaining about, I figured out what’s going to happen in Book 9. Random, I know, but I’ll take it.

So while I’m disappointed, I’m trying to find the positives. For one, last year I was so tired after November that I did almost no writing in December. But this year, I’m still cruising along to make up for lost time.

Once I get the first draft done for Book 8, I’ll be posting excerpts here on my blog and on my Facebook page so follow or like one of these if you want to receive updates. I still plan to put out Book 8 in 2018, and I still think that goal is doable.

I hope I don’t sound like a whiner; the new job will offer me some great opportunities. I’m glad being sick was just a cold and not something more serious. I have much to be thankful for, even when things don’t go the way I want. I’ll start posting again on my blog, including my random thoughts, if you care to read them. It’s good to be back!

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Book 7 is here!

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“Hidden in Darkness” has been uploaded! (breathe a sigh of relief)

It’s available now at Smashwords and will soon be live at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other online book sellers.

I’m super excited about this book because it’s the first time I started a novel with no idea how it was going to end. I’ve definitely changed my mind before mid-stream, but this time, I had no clue going in. I tend to think about my plots a lot before I actually start writing so this experience was unique.

I’m starting Book 8 tomorrow for National Novel Writing Month so I hope to have some excerpts to share in the near future. I already have some scenes plotted so I’m hoping to make lots of headway in November.

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Happy reading!

It’s almost NaNoWriMo time…and an update on Book 7

So here’s the situation.

Last week, I started what I hope to be the final round of edits for “Hidden in Darkness.”

I have a cover, even.

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(Though I’m still tweaking it so please don’t be shocked if I scrap it and go with something completely different.)

If all goes according to plan, I really want to upload this to Smashwords and Amazon no later than Oct. 31 because I plan on doing National Novel Writing Month in November. Don’t know what that is? Check it out here.

I was a first-timer last year, and it really helped me carve out “Hidden in Darkness.” Last November 1, I started with a few scenes and a basic premise. I knew an accused killer was going to ask to see Emily, but I had no idea what he did, why he did it or whether he was  guilty or innocent. By the end of the month, I had a real plot and new characters that were emphatically telling me what to do next, way more than I had expected.

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I’m in the same boat for Book 8 so I’d love a repeat of last year’s performance.

With that goal in mind, I’m going to tentatively plan to release “Hidden in Darkness” in October. But if my month gets sideways, the release date will get pushed back to December so I can properly work on Book 8 in November. Sorry to do that, but there was something about posting my word count online daily that really kept me on track. It’s the deadline thing.

But the good news is I can’t see the release date extending into 2018. It’s so close to being done. I’ve really enjoyed writing this book and can’t wait to get it into your hands so you can let me know what you think. I’ll post more updates as the month moves ahead. Thanks for reading!

So this is Kitty….

This is a picture of my cat, Sassy, who died this past weekend at age 16. I can’t even describe how much I miss her. Really. After ugly crying a good portion of Sunday, I’ve had tears in my eyes off and on for the past four days.

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My kids named her after the cat in the movie “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.” Yes, she had plenty of attitude, but I never was a huge fan of the name. So I always called her Kitty. That way I wouldn’t hurt their feelings because she was a kitty, right?

But after awhile, no one called her Sassy except the vet. She’d come running if I called her Kitty but wouldn’t budge for the name Sassy. Of course, sometimes she wouldn’t come at all if she wasn’t feeling it. Like I said, she had loads of attitude. But that’s probably what I miss the most.

I’m sharing this because Sassy was the inspiration for Emily’s Kitty in my books. I added her to the stories on a whim, and now I’m glad I did. It makes me feel like she will still be with me whenever I’m working on my books. And that makes me smile.

I’m not a perfect mom and — wait!– what did I do with the cat?

I read a news article the other day that linked to this heartbreaking blog post, a confession from a mother who accidentally left her child in the car for about 20 minutes on a warm day. Thankfully, the little girl was fine. Poor Mom was the one with the scars.

I give the author a huge amount of credit for sharing this story. I knew before even clicking on the comments associated with the news story that some people – mostly other moms – would be spewing judgment and hate. I seriously don’t understand where that level of superiority comes from. Because I’ve never met a perfect mom.

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I never accidentally left my kids in the car. But I remember plenty of incidents I refer to as “bad mommy moments” when I failed. I can make jokes about them now because my kids were fine but if I think about those moments too long I can still feel the fear and self-loathing created by my mistakes.

Ironically, the blog’s title is “This is Motherhood.” And, yep, it is. Motherhood is full of triumphs and failures, learning and growing. And sometimes those lessons are painful. No one is born with the perfect mom gene, knowing exactly what to do all the time. It’s why we lose sleep and cry and commiserate with other moms. And it’s time we cut each other some slack rather than looking for a chance to stab another mom in the back.

There is a big difference between a mother who deliberately decides to leave her kids at home for the night to go party, and a mom who in a moment when she is tired, overwhelmed or stressed makes a bad call among a thousand good calls. But as women, we beat ourselves up when those bad calls impact our kids. We will be harder on ourselves than anyone else could be. So why do other moms feel it necessary to pile on? Do you think you are really helping the author – who is clearly still processing what happened – by saying “I would NEVER…?” Does anyone really benefit from you publicly patting yourself on the back for your perfection while putting down the author for her mistake?

Um…sorry. You’re human so never say never. It may not be a hot car. Maybe your kid gets away from you and runs into traffic. Or your kid stuffs too many Cheerios in his mouth and chokes. Or your kid wanders out of the backyard when you go to sign for a package from the UPS guy. Or your kid races ahead of you at Disneyland and gets lost….I could go on with a thousand scenarios. Kids are notoriously unpredictable and our society is horribly judgmental. I’ve seen kids on leashes and people judging the parents, but I think, hey, if they know their kid is a wanderer, they are making the right call. But in the eyes of society, you’re screwed either way.

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I’ve read a lot recently about “the mental load” that moms carry, those thousand things that are forever running through your mind: I need to make my son’s dentist appointment. Did I sign the permission slip for my daughter to go to the zoo? We need more milk and bread from the store. That credit card bill is due on Friday. All that thinking can take its toll.

I used to drive my kids to school sometimes on my way to work and almost invariably, they would have to remind me to drop them off because I was just on auto pilot, thinking about what I had to do that day. I left the house and followed the path to the office, not the school, even though they were sitting right next to me.

Just last week — and both my kids are at the local college now — I got to work and couldn’t remember what I did with the cat before I left. Usually she stays in our (finished) basement when we are gone because she’s naughty if left alone upstairs. But the last I’d seen her, she was lying behind the couch. It took me a good five minutes to determine if I had put her downstairs or if I’d left, closing the basement door and cutting off access to her litter box. In the end, my son had put her downstairs but I had to really think to remember that because I’d been rushing to make coffee, pack my lunch and gym bag, clean up the kitchen, turn up the thermostat, check the locks, etc.  before heading out the door.

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So, I get it. I do.

So much of what we see online is false. Photoshopped images, Facebook posts gloating about perfect families, Pinterest projects that make life seem wonderfully organized, food blogs with mouth-watering pictures that just aren’t doable in a 30-minute window. But while it’s fine to aspire to improvement, it’s not OK to judge others, or yourself, too harshly. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad mom. It makes you human. And, conversely, publicly spearing someone else for a mistake doesn’t make you better. In fact, it takes away a piece of your humanity.

This is what happens when I don’t get my book fix…

I’m in between books right now, waiting impatiently for the book I ordered from the library to arrive. That makes me cranky and more than a little obsessed with reading. Hence, my post today.

I just finished reading “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” Ruth Ware’s debut novel, and enjoyed it quite a bit. You can see my thoughts here. But overall, reviews were mixed. One of the complaints I noticed on several reviews was that the characters, including the main character, were unlikable. That’s not the first time I’ve read that complaint about a popular book.

It made me wonder. Is it necessary for characters to be likable in order to tell a good story? Of course, it’s ideal when we love the quirky and fun characters on the page. Those are the best books to read. But will readers keep plugging along if the protagonist is a jerk? For me – here’s an ambiguous answer – it depends.

First, it depends on whether it’s a series or a standalone novel. For a series, then yes, the main character and most of the supporting characters need to have some redeeming qualities. I’m not going to keep tuning in if I don’t like hanging out with these folks. There is one series of books I’ve tried reading but I keep putting off finishing the series because the characters have become insufferable. I love the plots and the writing is perfect, but the main character is arrogant and has too many snobby quirks for my liking. Not that the protagonist has to be nice. I love Sherlock Holmes even though he’s severely lacking in the human interaction department. That’s why Watson is so important to the stories. But in this other series, all of the main characters are annoying. I’ll probably finish the series eventually but I keep finding other books to read first.

My biggest pet peeve with series characters is when they don’t evolve over the course of the series. That to me is a deal breaker because it’s just not real. People change and their experiences make them better or worse human beings. So if a formula works for Book One, I don’t want to see that formula repeated ad infinitum or I’ll quit reading. (Stephanie Plum books, I’m looking at you. But what do I know? These books are still bestsellers.)

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For standalone books, however, I am much more forgiving of horrible characters as long as you give me a good plot. I’m not talking about characters that kick puppies or abuse children being the hero of the story; that’s not going to work. But deeply flawed characters, especially when the flaws are born out of suffering, can be good protagonists as long as they move the story forward. In Ware’s second novel, “The Woman in Cabin 10,” her main character is a hot mess. But that’s the only way the story would work. The plot revolves around a travel reporter who thinks she witnesses a murder on a luxury cruise ship but no one believes her. Heck, I didn’t believe her. That’s why the story works. If Lo had been a Diane Sawyer clone then, of course, everyone would believe her. And if the crew didn’t take this Diane Sawyer clone seriously, the other guests would wonder why. Instead, we see evidence that Lo tends to drink too much, is not the world’s best reporter, and could be suffering from PTSD after a burglary in her home right before she left for the cruise. Would I want to take Lo for coffee? No. But her weaknesses work well with the story.

Books like “Girl on the Train” and “Gone Girl” have also found success even though the cast of characters is largely unlikable in both books – but the plots still work to the point readers overlook the characters’ flaws. At least for most readers. If you look at the negative reviews on both books, “unlikable characters” is usually cited as a big reason why.

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It’s a fine line for authors. If they create a character that is too good and always makes the right decision, then readers will call that character a Mary Sue/Gary Stu or complain the protagonist is bland. But make the character too unlikable and readers may reject the book altogether. It’s subjective, really, at what point the character becomes too unlikable. I’m normally a John Grisham fan but quit reading “The Chamber” when I realized I gave not one iota about anyone in the book. Not caring whether someone is executed or not is kind of important to the momentum of the story so bailing out made sense for me.

So what do you think? How important is it that you like a book’s characters? Any favorite characters you love to hate?

And remember, my books are still on sale this month at Smashwords. Check it out here.

Happy Reading!

It’s summer reading time! Sale at Smashwords and an excerpt from Book 7

Hey all,

Hope your summer is going well. Just wanted to let you know that my books will be on sale for the month of July at Smashwords as part of its annual summer promotion.

“Vengeance is Mine” and “Flesh and Blood” will both be FREE! all month, and the other four — “Buried Truth,” “Foul Play,” “In the Presence of My Enemies” and “Extreme Measures” — will be 50 percent off.

You can find my books here on the Smashwords site and the discounts are good all month.

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Bookbub Blog

And…. just because I’m finished with round one of editing, and I’m super excited to share, here’s another excerpt from the upcoming Book 7:

I started the Jeep and went back to work. Bill was in a meeting so I went to my desk and started cranking out other work, any work that didn’t involved murder. When I saw Bill go back to his office, I got up and poked my head in.

“Got a minute?”

“Sure.”

I closed the door. “It’s about the Potter case.”

“And the door is closed. That’s not good.”

I told him about my discussion with Potter. When I was done, he sighed. “This isn’t good.”

“I know.”

“I agree that we need to wait for the competency hearing to see what the finding is. This could all be a delusion.”

“I know.”

“You can still cover that. Then we’ll go from there. I’m not telling the publisher anything until we know where we stand. Maybe Potter will plead guilty on a deal and it will all go away.”

“He’s still talking about defending himself so I’m not sure how likely that is. But we can hope.”

He nodded and let out a deep breath. “Well, go home. Enjoy the weekend. When’s the hearing?”

“Not next week. The week after.”

“Let’s lay off this in the meantime. I don’t care if we get scooped by the Manaqua paper. I’d rather be careful and have Pence sitting in the witness stand or getting sued rather than you.”

“Me, too.”

I wished him a good weekend and left, going back to my desk to gather my things before heading home. I had my Saturday rotation duty tomorrow and planned to finish up a few things then. I was glad to not be thinking about Potter and his crazy world for the next few weeks. I had let some work slide, and it was time to catch up.

The Saturday shift was pretty easy. No odd ball stories that came in, just the usual obituaries and police blotter. I got home just after one, having stopped at the grocery store, gas station and car wash on the way. I threw in a load of laundry and was working on my bills when my cell phone rang. It was Brian.

“Hey.”

“Is this Emily?”

It was not a voice I recognized. My stomach dropped. “Who is this?”

“It’s David. Brian’s brother.” I could hear something in his voice, a wariness I didn’t like.

“Oh no. What’s wrong? Was he hurt? Is he okay?” My voice squeaked, and my hands were shaking.

“Physically, Brian is fine. But…”

“What’s wrong?”

More to come later. If you want to check out what I’ve been reading — and I read a lot — visit my author page on Goodreads for some suggestions. Happy summer reading!

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