Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Love September!

bear, animal, fur, face, nose, ears, mouth, eyesGoldilocks found Papa Bear's porridge too hot and Mama Bear's too cold, but she found that Baby Bear's was just right. We probably all heard that story as we drifted off to sleep accompanied by the voice of our mom or dad or grandparent or whoever it was who told us bedtime stories. At least I hope you had someone who loved you enough to do that for you. But this post isn't about bedtime stories or happy childhoods. It's about September. Partly it's about September in general, but it's also about this September and why I'm particularly excited for it. 

Ironically enough, I wasn't a fan of school as a child, especially at the end of summer. But I always still loved September for several reasons, chief of which being that it's the month of my birthday. Yes, at 51 (going on 52), you might think birthdays would stop being special, but not for me. This is probably because in my mind I'm perpetually eight years old. I still love having a day where everybody greets me with a happy birthday and I get cards and gifts and emails and lots of Facebook well-wishes. It's just fun. I've never understood people who don't like birthdays. Not celebrating it doesn't make you stay younger, so why not have a hoopla?

girl, woman, blonde, long hair, clothes, fashion, shoes, pants, denim, shirt, watch, tree stump, forest, model
Another reason I like September, to borrow from my opening paragraph, is that it's the beginning of that Goldilocks time of year when it's not too hot and not too cold, but just right. I can sleep with my window open and we don't have to run the air conditioner as much. Best of all, it's the beginning of the time when I start putting Ellie's top down regularly. Lots of convertible drivers think that summer is when you do that, but I prefer it when it's just a touch cooler so I don't feel like I'm baking in the sun like an earthworm on a sidewalk. And that first night when the temperatures drop into the forties, it feels almost like a requirement to build a campfire and sit by it with a hot chocolate in one hand and a S'more in the other.

NOT the official cover art!
Though I see every September as worthy of celebration, this one is doubly exciting because this In The Shadow. That's momentous for a number of reasons. First, I feel like it's my best book yet. It's a bit of a departure from the previous two in that it goes in a much darker direction than the previous pair. The book itself is finished, so this month I'll be writing the acknowledgements and formatting all the pages that go before and after the story. I'll also be working with some wonderful folks (thanks Charlie, Michele, and Courtney) on the cover photography and design. This is stuff I hadn't even thought about when I opted to self-publish, but I find I actually enjoy it. I even like maintaining my webpage and going to events to sell my books. The social media end of it is, in my mind, a necessary evil, but I don't hate it like I used to.
month is when I ramp up publicity and do all the other activities in preparation for launching Shalan Adventure #3,

Why the launch of this book is distinctly meaningful for me is that it's my third one. I have this (possibly crazy) idea in my mind that I wasn't going to be a real author until I had three books out. Maybe it's that three is a good round number. Or maybe it speaks to having stuck to the task for the long haul. But I think it's mainly that now I can say I've written a trilogy. Nobody says, "Yeah, I read that author's duology." Nor does two make a series. Three is a trilogy and after that your books become a full-blown series. So, on October 1, I'll be Joe Stephens, author of the Shalan trilogy. That just has a ring to it. And even if I don't get that fourth book written (barring an act of God, I will--I'm already almost 5500 words into the rough draft and I like it so far), I'll have made it to that just-right level.

So here's to a month in the Goldilocks zone.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Joys of Getting Older

old, man, elderly, senior, people, bench, sitting, pigeons, birds, animals, sidewalk, city, urban, buildings, lifestyle, Portugal, flagI remember an incident from when I was a kid--preteens maybe. Somebody mentioned how we were approaching a new millennium in a few decades. They talked about how it was going to be a big event. I distinctly recall doing the math in my head and realizing that I was going to be in my late thirties and much too old to really enjoy the festivities. It didn't occur to me that my young, energetic parents were older than that already.

In a little less than a month, I'll turn 52. I've lived on this Earth for more than half a century. Yes, there is a downside to that. My bones are getting creaky and I walk with a slight limp. I can't stay up as late as I used to, though I think that has more to do with my finally having sense enough to know I never could stay up as late as I did. But there is a much larger upside than I ever imagined. Here are a few of the perks of being a geezer, or at least a geezer in training:

  • I don't feel like I need to impress people anymore. I remember when I was younger how I wanted people to like and respect me and I did stuff that I really didn't like to get them to do it. I now see the irony in doing things that go against my personal code to gain respect. I have this neat relationship with God and myself now and, while I hope folks like me, I like me and, if you don't, well, that's your loss. Besides, I have the most amazing set of friends anyone could ever hope for, so any more would just be gravy. Mmm...gravy. 

  • I have perspective. I used to see every negative event in my life as a disaster on a scale only Irwin Allen could depict. For all you young whippersnappers, look him up. You'll understand what I mean. But now that I've seen a lot more of those events come and go I now see that they're gone and I'm still here. My old speech teacher, seeing me do my Chicken Little imitation (look him up while you're at it) would look at me in the middle of a rant about how my world was coming to an end and simply say, "And the sun will come up tomorrow." He was trying to point out to me that life would go on and things would get better. Or they wouldn't. And either way it was going to be okay. 
sunset, sun rays, beach, sand, ocean, sea, shore, waves, horizon, summer, sky
  • I feel like I have a new role. When I first started working at my school, I was the youngest teacher on the staff. Somewhere along the line, though, something happened and I became one of the oldest. I used to be one of those young pups that constantly looked to the veteran teachers, especially my mentors, Dan and Becky Daniel, for ideas and guidance. Well, this year, an amazing first year teacher who happened to be my student teacher last year is working right across the hall from me. I have the honor of giving her my perspectives when she comes to me troubled with something that happened in her class or looking for guidance. Yes, she's been to school more recently and may have some innovative ideas that I've not heard of, but I know what's important and what can be left alone for a bit. And in my circle of friends, my nerd night buddies, when I joked that I was the DOFF (Designated Old Fart Friend) of the group, my good friend Jonathan said he sees me as the wise intelligent one. When the heck did that happen? 
  • I'm more comfortable in my skin. I've lived my whole life in a battle against my gut. I don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't either dieting or breaking my diet. From the time my mom took me shopping in the husky department at Sears & Roebuck (yes, it was once called that), I've been aware that I'm fat. And for the first time ever, I can live with that. Yes, I try to walk (not run--see previous creaky bones comment) and lift weights when I can and I generally eat a healthy diet because I just feel better when I do. But I also have some pizza when I want to with not even a little regret. I'm trying to lose some weight so my bones will creak less and the doctor won't be so insistent on putting me on cholesterol medications, but not because I'm worried that I look fat. When I used to look in the mirror, I always saw a fattie. Actually, I still do, but I don't try to suck my gut in and pretend I'm skinny anymore. 

There you go. I would add more, but I'm old and I forgot them. I guess that is a joy. I can experience things for the first time over and over. So forgive me if I accidentally write this post again next week. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Writers are Jugglers

I knew going in that writing would be a hard job to do, but I sometimes wonder if I had known all that was involved in trying to be a successful independent author whether I would have published that first book. I like to think I would have, but I think it's probably the ignorance of just how monumental a task sometimes is, is the only thing that makes people start out trying to do it.

notepad, pen, paper, writing, business, desk, officeFirst, there's the writing part, but that's not as simple as just sitting down to write. At this moment, I have three different works in progress in various stages of completeness. I'm polishing Shalan book three, which comes out on October 1. I'm about to start the second draft of the prequel novella. And this week I started the initial draft of book four, which is so preliminary that I have no idea even what the title is. And then there's this blog, which I write once a week, as well as contributing to Writing Wranglers and Warriors anywhere from one to three times a month. I also write a book review every month for ClutchMOV, an online lifestyle magazine for my area.

Then there are the various other things that go into the creation of a book. There's cover art and design to think about. Do I do it myself or do I have someone else do it? If so, do I go to my friend the art teacher whose life is probably ten times as busy as mine and hope she has time to work me in? And then there are blurbs and calls to action and the back cover's layout and acknowledgements to think about.

laptop, computer, macbook, apple, business, desk, internet, technologyBut that's not all there is to being an indie author either. You're also your own publicist. Most of what I do is electronic, though I do make occasional appearances in the meat world and, in actuality, most of my sales are face-to-face. But every day I do the rounds electronically speaking. I check my Facebook page, adding items regularly to remind people that I'm here and I have books for sale and a mailing list to join and a blog (sometimes two) to read. Then I head to Twitter to follow and promote other indie authors so they'll follow and promote me. And when I can, I also post there. And then I check Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, and CreateSpace to see if there are any new reviews to tout or any new sales. I also check my mailing list distribution program to see how many people have or haven't opened my weekly email blasts or if anyone has joined or quit the list. And finally, there's my website to maintain. As a little-known indie, I can hardly afford to pay someone to do that for me. And there are even publicity flyers to be designed and printed and distributed. When I have time to do more than that, I try to contact librarians and booksellers and organizations about scheduling a signing or reading or getting my book placed with them. And that's not everything. There are dozens of other little things that go into creating an audience and getting reviews and getting my book in front of people, but I won't bore you with the list.

And then there are the personal appearances. I have launch parties every time I come out with a new
book and readings and signings whenever I can. But, after the first launch, I've found them to be, at best, break-even propositions financially. Because of a recent financial setback, I've had to start really watching every penny I spend, so I have to seriously consider whether something is financially viable before I do it now. So I'm also a bean counter. Yes, ultimately, there's a return on that investment, but you have to have it to spend it and my pool of spendable cash is now much smaller than it was just a month ago, so I have to decide between projects sometimes.

In looking back on this, I realize it probably sounds negative. I don't mean it to. I really do love writing. And I love the idea of someone reading and loving my book. And I'm also aware that I would probably be doing a lot of these same things if I had an agent and a publisher. I just thought it might be interesting to take a look behind the curtain, so to speak, at all that's involved in the indie author life.

Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Amazon!
I'm the author of two novels, both Shalan Adventures. Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies are both available in paperback and ebook format (Kindle only at the moment). In the Shadow will be available around October 1. A prequel novella, "Harry and the Redheaded Angel", will be free to mailing list members at the beginning of November and for sale in Kindle format the week of Thanksgiving for everyone else. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Preview of IN THE SHADOW

Here's a brief glimpse at the beginning of the new Shalan Adventure, In the Shadow. It comes out this fall in paperback and ebook. Stay tuned for occasional short previews in coming weeks. Members of my mailing list will get the first four chapters free a couple weeks before the book comes out, so don't forget to join!

This is an EXTREMELY preliminary version
of the cover art.
Once I got inside, the wall of heat brought to mind the second reason I looked forward to our new home. Being on the third floor, or what used to be the attic, of what they call a "historic" home, a great air conditioning system would be challenged. And no one could accuse our AC system of being great. Or even a system. It was a large window unit in the far end of the apartment, where the bedroom was. When it worked well, it kept the bedroom comfortable, the living room livable, and the kitchen like a Turkish bath. At the moment, it wasn't working well. Basically, it was a noisemaker.
When I got to the bedroom, however, I was reminded of what really mattered. My wife was closing the last box to be packed. Deanna Shalan, Dee to me, had been the center of my being since the day I heard her singing in church. Now, she was carrying the other half of that center. Our little girl. I technically didn't know the sex of the baby, but Dee had told me a couple of months earlier that it was definitely a girl and that her name was to be Emma Grace. As Dee started to lift the box from the bed, I ran and grabbed it from her.
"Hey, now, you know you aren't supposed to be lifting."
"It's not that heavy." She readily relinquished the box despite her protest.
I carried the box to the front room where what I hoped was the last truck load of boxes was assembled. After that, it was just furniture. I chuckled to myself at the idea of just furniture. I couldn't figure out how we had fit all that stuff into a tiny attic apartment. It would probably really seem like nothing when we unpacked it all at the new house, though. Dee was standing with her shirt pulled up, allowing what little coolness there was from the AC to wash over her belly.
"That may be the sexiest thing I've ever seen you do," I said, putting my arms around her, placing a hand on each side of her rounded belly.
"Very funny."
"I'm not joking. I've never found you as desirable as I do now."
"I feel about as desirable as a beached whale."
"You look beautiful. Whoa--she's going to be a soccer player!"
"I think she's trying to kick her way out. Been like that all morning." She turned and wrapped her arms around my waist, placing her head on my chest. I kissed her auburn hair, soaked with sweat but still smelling of her expensive shampoo.
"Maybe she's hungry. What does she want for lunch." I broke the hug and headed for the door, Dee a step behind me.
"What can I say? She wants what she wants," she said, checking to make sure the back door was locked. "Actually, she really wants Chinexitalian if you can find a place like that."
Halfway down the steps, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a number I didn't know, so I let it go to voicemail.

Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Amazon!
I'm the author of two novels, both Shalan Adventures. Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies are both available in paperback and ebook format (Kindle only at the moment). In the Shadow will be available around October 1. A prequel novella, "Harry and the Redheaded Angel", will be free to mailing list members at the beginning of November and for sale in Kindle format the week of Thanksgiving for everyone else. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

I Need to Live on the Outer Banks

Today is the last full day at our condo overlooking the ocean. Tomorrow morning, we get up early, stop for breakfast on our way out, and by tomorrow night we'll be back in the real world, the world of appointments, deadlines, work, and shoes. There are so many things about this place that I will miss. Enough to know that a single spindly week each year is simply not sufficient.

First, I'll miss the dazzling sunrises. Every year, one of the main highlights for me is that first morning when I get up a little before six to await, coffee in hand, the appearance of that first red sliver over the horizon. It never doesn't quicken my pulse. No matter how many days I'm here, I never tire of seeing it. I remember when I was younger and went to the beach, I had to set an alarm one morning to make sure I got up to see at least a single sunrise. Now that I naturally go to bed early and get up with the chickens, it's a normal daily experience. And I'm glad. Even when I was younger, I felt like morning was the best time of the day and I always felt like I was wasting the shank of the day by sleeping. So now my body is finally in agreement with my mindset.

Second, I'll miss the constant low roar and never-ending movement of the ocean. I can literally sit for hours on the porch just taking it all in. There wasn't a screen in my bedroom window, so the first trip for me away from the condo was to buy an expandable screen so I could go to sleep to the tranquilizing thrum of the waters pounding against the shore.

Third, I'll miss the togetherness of family being here in one place. We're all here in every sense of the
word. No running off to work or spending time with other folks that aren't part of the family. We do everything together. We cook and eat together, we go to the beach together, we go out to dinner together, we go to tourist events together, we sit and watch TV together. I could go on, but whatever it is, it's together. Trips like these (and I know this isn't unique to the beach, but the time we do this is always at the beach in our family) are the only time each year that this is true for an extended period of time. Even when everyone comes together during the holidays, someone's always having to leave early go off to see someone else or do work.

Fourth, I'll miss hours of uninterrupted reading time. Even though I kind of get paid to read and write, I still feel like there are more "productive" things I could be doing while I'm at home. Here, I feel no such impediment, so, as a result, I'm on my third book of the week.

There are many other things I could list, but I don't want to spend any more time writing. Breakfast is almost ready and then it's off to the beach. Or maybe some porch sitting. Or taking a walk. Or reading.