Category Archives: Thoughts

Update on the New Year’s anthology and some end of the year thoughts

For those who don’t know, The Stroke of Midnight anthology is now available on Smashwords for free in all formats (here’s the link).  Hope you all enjoy the story I included in it, Tempting The Moon.

I would also like to thank all the fans who have been so enthusiastic and supportive.  My first year in publishing has been amazing.  I released Darkness Haunts in January not knowing how things would go, but believing in myself and my novel enough to give it a chance.  Those early months were not easy.  I promoted it in every way I could think of, but after less than three months my husband was looking at me like maybe I should give up.  At the end of March, it had only sold 219 copies total.  He was trying to be supportive, do not get me wrong, but he felt maybe I needed to concentrate my efforts doing something more reliable.

The thing is, I’m stubborn and I don’t give up easily.  I also knew that a very tiny fraction of authors succeed with their first book soon after it publishes.  There are millions of books out there and it takes time to get discovered by readers.  So I buckled down on the next book, Darkness Taunts, and gave up promoting the first novel.  Now that’s where things got weird.

I was doing absolutely no promoting whatsoever and had not for over a month when I noticed sales were starting to climb.  Little by little, but a small spark of hope began to light inside me.  Darkness Haunts had 348 sales in April–more than I’d had in the previous three months combined.  In May, they were more than double that.  You couldn’t call it a bestseller, but I was finally reaching readers even if I had no clue how I’d done it.  People would ask and I couldn’t tell them.  My only guess is that those early readers had started to pass the word around and it had begun to spread.

By the time Darkness Taunts released in July, I had sold 2,000 copies of the first book.  I hit number 1 in dark fantasy with the new one and its daily sales were far more than I’d ever seen before.  It was crazy.  People were emailing me and telling me how much they enjoyed the series.  I had no idea until then.  Honestly, just about no one wrote until I was close to releasing the second book (and had to delay it for a week due to some personal setbacks).  Finally, my husband stopped nagging me and stopped questioning my writing goals.  In fact, now he tells me I need to write faster, lol.

It’s almost the end of the year and only a couple of weeks away until the anniversary of the Darkness Haunts release.  It’s now sold over nine-thousand copies.  If the sales trend doesn’t take a huge plunge it should hit 10k by the end of January.  I would have never believed it when starting out, but I have all my readers to thank for helping spread the word.

I also have one other person to thank who has never been included in my acknowledgments.  My mother.  Okay, I’m going to get teary-eyed while trying to write this, but stick with me.

When I was very young, she read to me a lot.  Later, when I started learning to read she would sit on my bed and help me read books every night.  We had a contest in my first grade class for who could read the most books that year.  At least one parent had to sign off, verifying that we had actually read all the books we listed.  My mother stayed by my side as I read 271 books that year.  She always encouraged me and never made me feel like I was an inconvenience.   In fact, she didn’t even shoo me away when I’d try to read along with her romance novels (that were clearly above my reading level).

In January of 1989 when I was eight years old she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  The tumor in her head was growing and it was inoperable.  All they could do was treat her with chemotherapy to slow it down.  I watched my strong, beautiful mother slowly weaken before my eyes.  She lost her hair and eventually had to use a walker just to get around.  Her skin became sallow and she spent a lot of time in the bathroom hugging the toilet thanks to all the medical treatments.

It didn’t stop her from being a mom, though.  She checked my homework regularly and quizzed me every Thursday night before my weekly spelling tests.  Every day she put a personalized note in my lunch bag and ordered me not to read it until lunch break.  Some days, I admit I didn’t wait that long and snuck a peek early.  As she got worse, we had other relatives come stay with us, such as my granma who I lost earlier this year.

Did a debilitating illness stop my mom from checking my school work or making special breakfasts in the morning?  No, it didn’t.  She made every moment count.  It’s not to say she didn’t have bad days where the chemotherapy wore her down too much to do more than rest in bed, but she honestly tried to be there for her children.

Then one Friday I came home from school and my brother and I were told that we were going on a trip to see my father’s parents who lived two hours away.  We didn’t question it.  I gave my mother a hug and kiss goodbye.  I told her I loved her and would see her Sunday.  She was in a wheel chair by this time and wearing a scarf to cover her mostly bald head, but even now I can still remember that moment.  She smiled and waved goodbye as we left.

Sunday morning I woke up to discover my father sleeping on my grandparents’ couch.  They wouldn’t explain why, but told us to wait for my dad in the bedroom.  I still remember seeing his face when he walked in.  There is a look in a man’s eyes when he has lost the love of his life and it’s not one that can be mistaken for anything else.  I began crying as soon as I saw it.  He took my brother and I in his arms and we mourned together, huddling close and crying.

She’d died during the night and he’d come straight to us, needing to be near his children.  I was told later that she’d fallen into a coma shortly after we left on Friday.  Despite that, she’d been calling my name and my brother’s.  The hospice nurses said they’d never seen someone fight so much to live.  She’d tried so hard not to leave us.  My other relatives had thought it best to spare my brother and I the grief of watching her last hours.  To this day, I disagree, but there’s nothing I can do to change that now.  At least I did get my goodbye, even if I hadn’t realized it was my last one.

At her funeral, I insisted they let me see her body.  I think part of me never would have accepted her death without seeing it for myself.  She was so still in her coffin, but she was peaceful.  The pain she had endured for most of that year was gone.

I honestly believe she is with the angels now and has probably taught them a thing or two.  Over the years, I’ve done some crazy things in my life.  She had to have been watching over me because I’ve survived some things I probably shouldn’t have.  But the point I want to make after telling my story is that she gave me my foundation for reading.  She encouraged me and she inspired me.

Maybe her time in my life was short, but it had a huge impact.  I can never thank my mother enough for all the things she did for me.  For any success I’ve had as a writer, it’s because she planted those early seeds.  For those of you with children, read to them.  Don’t miss your chance to give them that same encouragement my mother gave me.  It’s worth every minute and will give them memories to last a lifetime.

December 10th was the anniversary of her death.  It’s been twenty-four years now since I lost her, but I want this to be the time where I thank her.  She deserves my gratitude more than I can possibly put into words.  Thanks mom.  You will never be forgotten.

 

If you set your mind to something the possibilities are endless

Woman watching sunsetRecently, I’ve been reading a lot of author bios on their impressive writing experience.  They detail how they were writing from the moment they could hold a pen in their hands.  I sometimes wonder if that somehow makes me less because I can’t claim the same.  Oh sure, as a child I jotted down the occasional short story for fun.  As a teenager I wrote tons of poetry.  Then came adulthood and responsibility.

I joined the military at seventeen years old, and let me tell you that profession leaves little time to write unless you get one of those rare assignment that requires little of you.  None of my duties were ever easy.  There were a lot of long hours that drained me physically and psychologically.  The little time I had left was spent reading everything I could get my hands on.  Heck, I was trying to read romance novels during my off time in Iraq (which was usually ten hours a day) as nearby explosions rocked my sleeping quarters.  Talk about a distraction.

Needless to say, putting time into writing a novel or much of any kind of story wasn’t there.  When the urge to write did strike, I grabbed my journal and recorded my current thoughts and experiences.  At least that way I could look back on those crazy times and see what on earth was going on in my head.

For the first decade of of my adult life, I was living it in ways most people can’t imagine.  If there was an exciting opportunity the military had available, I usually grabbed it.  One example would be Airborne school.  Many people don’t understand what could have possibly inspired me to want to jump out of planes, but they couldn’t understand the idea of what a rush it offered.  Not to mention the challenge.  Among the very small number of women who are in good enough physical shape to even be eligible for the school, less than half actually graduate.

It is far more brutal and demanding on a female’s body than a male’s.  Let’s put it like this.  When a soldier has to do a full combat jump, they will have to strap at least one hundred pounds of gear (maybe more) to themselves.  Not just that, they have to wear it for hours before they even leap out of the plane (let me tell you I was usually glad to leap out at that point just to get a brief break from the weight).  After a paratrooper lands, they have to trek through a rutted out drop zone (sometimes up to half a mile) to dump their gear at the nearest turn in point.  How many women do you know who can do that?

In order to be sure, they test you in every way possible before getting to that scenario.  When I went through the school in 1999, we were not authorized to walk AT ALL during the duty day.  Even after you ate, they made you run back to the company area.  Once you arrived there, you had to do ten pull up and push ups before entering further (that part was required even during your off time). They pushed your body hard by forcing you to jump off all kinds of random objects during training so that you were also very bruised and sore.  I came back from that school with about as tight and toned a body as it was possible to get.  We must have done thousands of push-ups during our few weeks there, but that’s not all.

There is a final five-mile run just before jump week that you must pass.  For the experienced runner, that distance might not seem too bad, but it’s tricky.  Your body is already broken down and sore.  One top of this, they have to make the pace meet a nine minute mile average.  That is relatively slow, but the instructors want people to fall out so they do all they can to make that happen.  Keep in mind if you get more than an arms length distance from the guy in front of you in that run, you fail the whole school.  They use this to their advantage by speeding the whole formation up to what is pretty much an all out sprint for a quarter of a mile.

It is painful for most women because this is often done after you’re well into the run and already growing tired.  A surprising number of trainees won’t be able to keep up and they’ll fallback.  More instructors wait behind the formation to grab them immediately and pull them off the track.  Only once they think they’ve gotten enough of failures do they slow down again.  They have to end each mile at the nine minute mark, so you do get a breather for a bit.  Then the next mile starts and they speed it up again.  It’s painful and very effective at testing your endurance.  I know many women who failed.  Only sheer willpower got me through.  No one was going to stop me from the opportunity to jump from a plane, despite the fact I was never a great runner.  The trick is to want it bad enough to endure the difficulties.

Now back to the subject of writing.  Maybe I got a late start by not getting into it seriously until a few years ago, but I’ve done everything I possibly could to study the craft, practice at it, and learn the industry.  I wrote my first novel knowing I’d never try to publish it because that was my practice round.  It was meant to get me into the swing of things.  After that I started several more before ditching them part-way through because they weren’t working and I’m not one to waste my time on a lost cause.  Now I’ve got the novel I believe in.  I’ve worked as hard as possible to get it polished and I’m proud of it.

Every experience my characters have are drawn (in some form) to what I’ve gone through.  In the more than a decade I served in the military, I saw and dealt with a lot.  I know what it’s like to have my life in imminent danger.  To wonder when I lay my head down to sleep if I’ll wake up or die from a random rocket sailing into my bunk.  The feeling of being shot at isn’t foreign to me.  Looking ruthless killers in the eye and knowing they’ll take my life if given half the chance is not unfamiliar.  I’ve seen and done a lot.  Now it’s a matter of using all those things and putting them into a fiction story that can come alive for readers.  Capturing the emotions of danger and death all around, losing people you care about because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the enemy got them.  Maybe worse because now they’re missing an arm or leg, or their face is disfigured and surgery can only fix so much when your entire bottom jaw was blown off.  Those are the things I’ve seen and hope that it comes across in my writing so anyone who picks up my book(s) will feel those emotions and believe they are real.

Maybe I don’t have the experience of writing fiction since age five, but I do have a lot to offer now that I’m in the game.  Just as that five mile run could have been the end of my Airborne aspirations, so too could doubt in myself now.  I’m not going to let it get to me.  I have faith in myself that I’ll reach that finish line, just as I have many times before.  The sun set on one career, but it can still rise on another.