It is no secret that I love food. Just bounce over to my Insta, Facebook, or Twitter accounts, and you will see that the social media pages which were created in order to drum up support for my books in fact contain far more pictures of food than just about anything else. Though not a conscious plan, I think that my purpose behind this is two-fold: not only is food necessary for our physical survival, but it is also pertinent to our social well-being and is a universal part of our collective human experience. Indeed, we use breaking bread as a way to share traditions, negotiate accords, celebrate, and mourn. It is a common and relatively easy way to show that we care for others when they are ill, hurt, or recovering.
Food has had a special meaning in my life for as long as I can remember. My dad’s mother, from Sweden, made the most amazing meals, and I fondly recall being in her kitchen while she cooked up yet another amazing Swedish dish. Her Mjuk Pepparkaka, or gingerbread cake, was to die for. I always got excited when I saw that big iron frying pan out on the counter with the circle of parchment paper on the bottom. She also made many other delicacies, from her hand-rolled Köttbullar (Which ironically were fried in that same huge iron frying pan. I remember my grandma had some serious guns from shaking that thing back and forth over the stove over the course of many, many years to ensure even browning on all that meaty goodness), to her méringue cookies- delicate and crispy on the outside, while somehow still chewy on the inside. I learned early to appreciate good food in large part thanks to her.
Ironically, I don’t remember my farmor (father’s mother) making many American dishes, though I am sure she must have. Instead, what has stood the test of time and fading memories of my youth is her finesse with Swedish cooking. She grew up on a farm in Northern Sweden, and always appreciated the “farm to table” mentality that is popular now. In my home town, we had a local farmer’s growing stand, and I remember wandering through there, helping her pick out the fresh options. She always prepared healthy and balanced meals, and she was “crunchy” before being “crunchy” was really a mainstream thing. Even with all her talent to replicate Swedish staples made with American ingredients, however, she sometimes still had to settle; I fondly recall how she so missed her beloved lingon and Filmjölk so much that she made do by trying replicated it with canned cranberries and buttermilk from the local dairy farm.
Farmor made sure that her two sons knew how to cook, so my dad entered into marriage with my mother with an already-established love and appreciation for both good food and cooking. My mom in her own right had learned to be a very good cook, as well. Due to family circumstances, she had been cooking full family meals from the time she was about twelve, when her own mother had re-entered the workforce. Together, my parents only expanded on their appreciation for food. My mom often told me growing up about how when they were poor newlyweds, they would save their pennies for a special occasion and go out to eat at a restaurant. They would then come home and write down everything they remembered about each dish in order to recreate it at a later date.
Therefore, I grew up in a house where both my parents had adventuresome palates and a love of good food: any food. Growing up in my rural Nevada town, we had cuisine from every corner of the world. The continuation of the tradition established early in their marriage lived on: if my parents ate something and loved it, they would later make it at home. As a result, it was not out of the question that our weekly fare would span the globe, from variations of egg foo young to chicken cacciatori, with a stop midway in Cajun country for some gumbo, then a take on spicy and fresh Mexican albondigas soup, before ending with a mean Indian-inspired vegetarian curry.
So, it is really no surprise at all that I have inherited an enormous affinity for food. I, too, have almost perfected the art of deconstructing a dish in order to recreate it in my own kitchen. A first, this became a habit of mine for much of the same reason it had been one for my parents: it was about wanting delicious food on a college student budget. I knew that with a little effort, I could conceivably make whatever we would get at a restaurant for a fraction of the cost. Then, it became a source of pride to be able to make many varied and delicious dishes from around the world. Eventually, as I began to no longer tolerate cows’ milk and eventually wheat, and having four children with their own various issues with different foods, it became the only way I could still eat what we liked in a way that wouldn’t make anyone sick. Now that we have both milk and wheat intolerances in our family, making our food at home myself is about the only way I can truly guarantee what goes into and may come in contact with it. From dairy-free Hollandaise sauce to gluten- and dairy-free copycat Goddess Dressing, gluten- and dairy-free Chicken Cordon-Bleu, apple fritters, and birthday cake, reinventing recipes and trying endless substitutions is now my norm.
When I posted pictures of my pretty ugly, yet deliciously satisfying gluten- and dairy-free apple fritters to my various social media accounts last night, I wrote that Kat, from A Good Kind of Crazy, would be proud. I think she would be, too. Just like when she patiently taught Ian how to make Greens, or bake biscuits, I think she would have been thrilled to know that I share her passion for making delicious and interesting foods for others to enjoy.
I guess it was no accident that I made Kat into a caterer when I wrote A Good Kind of Crazy, rather than the millions of other jobs that she could have done while on location of a TV film set. While not a conscious decision, it is a pretty striking example of the old adage that most authors write what they know.
‘Tis the holiday season again, and what a year it has been! To say that this year has been different than just about any other in the history of anyone currently alive, and maybe even ever, would be an understatement. This year kind of feels like we have gotten stuck upside down in a roller coaster loop: we have sat pretty much suspended and helpless, and all we can do is wait for the world to set itself to rights again.
As we navigate these unprecedented times, one of the small silver linings, at least as an author, is the overwhelming consensus from many people that they finally have had a chance to start reading for pleasure once again. Indeed, this is not surprising, as “Life Before the Pandemic” tended to be overbooked and incredibly busy. We often overextended ourselves to the point that it felt like we were home only long enough to sleep, change clothes ,and throw some food down our gullets. This year, though, in the crazy turn of events, we are now faced with being home more now that ever before. The four walls we before saw as sanctuary and longed to retreat to may now feel more like the walls of a prison of sorts, trapping us inside as we yearn for an escape, even if only metaphorically.
I recently read about a practice in Iceland when among gifts given on Christmas Eve, people receive a book and chocolate. This sounds like the world’s greatest presents to me! So, that got me thinking that as an author, I had the ability- and maybe even the duty- to figure out a way to combine the sudden resurgence of people finding solace in reading with the Icelandic idea of giving books for Christmas.
Therefore, together with my publisher, Solstice Publishing, I decided it would be great to reduce the price of my books for the month of December. Unfortunately, we don’t have much control over the cost of the printed editions; however, we have a bit more flexibility when it comes to the price of the ebook versions of books for the holidays, which we have happily utilized!
So, to whet your pallete, without further ado, I present to you the first chapter of my debut novel, A Good Kind of Crazy, with the hopes that it will pique your interest, so that you may find respite from this crazy world, and maybe will even want to share a copy with some of your friends and family as an easy, inexpensive, and responsibly socially distant holiday gift!
A Good Kind of Crazy
Katherine, or Kat, as she was affectionately known to those who loved her, awoke with a start on her forty-third birthday. She glanced around and wondered how she got there: not her bed, nor her house, but her life. She turned her head and looked over at her husband’s side of the mattress, finding it empty as usual. He always left at some ungodly hour to beat the traffic in from their suburban neighborhood to his job downtown. She smiled to herself as she thought about him. James had always been a good man and he took his responsibilities of supporting her and their three children seriously. He was a good provider, but as an accountant, he had slowly begun to develop more of the “typical” accountant behaviors through the years. Never very bombastic, he had become even more subdued, almost distant, especially in the last year or so.
Funny how the things that had attracted her most to him when they had met at university—that he was mature and responsible, especially compared to the frat boys on campus—were the things that now made her long for something more. Sure, they had built a good life together. They had a neat and tidy typical suburban home, though it wasn’t particularly large. Maybe a little too small even, especially when their three kids were younger. He had been a good, albeit somewhat hands-off, father, relying heavily on her to handle the day-to-day minutia of their lives. Of course, he would listen and offer his opinion when she struggled with any big issue, such as if the kids needed braces, which colleges would be the most feasible, or when she was worried about one of their love interests, but he did not get bogged down in the details of their existence. That
was Mom’s job. All of the doctors’ appointments, school meetings, broken hearts, sports, and dance practices fell to her. She was happy that he didn’t fight her on much of anything, but sometimes wished he was a little more passionate and involved… with all of them.
Kat rolled over and looked at the clock; 7:30 a.m. it mockingly said. Though she wanted to sleep more, she sat up with a small groan, knowing that she needed to get moving or she would be tempted to stay in bed all day. Then, for a fleeting second, she wondered why; the most exciting thing about her day would be what she made for dinner. She then remembered that it was her birthday and wondered what James had planned. He was far from a romantic, but he always tried to do something he thought she would like on her special day. She had a bit more spring in her step as she walked to the bathroom and turned on the shower. While the water heated up, she stood looking in the mirror, taking stock of how her now forty-three years had treated her physically.
I still have beautiful hair, she thought as she admired her best asset. A little longer than her shoulders, it fell in soft waves around her face. It was a nice chestnut color, shiny and thick. On her last visit, her stylist had recommended that they add some blonde highlights. “Chocolate chip cookie” she had called it, assuring Kat it was the latest thing.
Her eyes caught themselves in their reflection. They were okay. Still a mix between green and hazel, they just looked brown from far away. “Not too many crow’s feet,” she said aloud.
Her skin was still lightly freckled even as an adult; she couldn’t deny her Irish heritage even if she wanted to. However, they weren’t terribly noticeable anymore, especially when she put on some foundation. Her lips were still red and full, another of her better attributes. She knew
she was lucky in that department. She looked at her chin and neck. Though still fairly taut, she was beginning to see the faintest beginnings of “turkey neck.” Her hand flew instinctually to her throat and she silently wondered what could be done for that. Surely by now, there has to be some sort of magic cream or procedure, right?
Her eyes moved down to her breasts. Still okay too, in her opinion, though a bit saggy from nursing three babies. They definitely looked better in a bra under a shirt, though, that was for sure.
Her hands slipped down to her stomach. Slightly pudgy and lined with a few stretch marks which she absently fingered, she thought back to her three pregnancies and recalled how large she had gotten and how she had wondered if her body would ever go back to the way it was before. It hadn’t, of course; bodies never do. No matter how much exercise one does after having a baby, there will forever be physical reminders for every woman who went from maiden to mother.
Her eyes scanned her rear and legs. Definitely more defined than her upper body, they still looked okay, except for some spider and varicose veins: more physical reminders of the three times she had carried another life inside her own body. Still slim, strong, and flexible, her body required very little “leg work” at the gym, when she actually bothered to go.
The shower was steaming now so she climbed inside. As she was soaping her body, she wondered when her older two kids would call from school. Derrick was studying engineering. Always an overachiever, he was in his last year, having somehow magically done his degree in three years instead of four, and thriving. Olivia was at school, too, though she seemed more interested in gaining her “MRS” than in earning any kind of degree. Kat wasn’t even sure what her major du jour was this week. As a sophomore this year, Kat hoped Olivia would finally start
to pay attention to her studies and not to all the boys around her. But Kat had known since Olivia was small that her focus would be on being a wife and mother. Why that was, Kat wasn’t sure. She certainly wasn’t like that. She loved her children, but she never recalled having the strong desire to have a family that she observed in Olivia.
Kat shut off the water and her thoughts turned to her youngest son, Andrew. Now a senior in high school, he was such a player: cute, funny, smart, and part of a champion lacrosse team, he had the girls and world falling at his feet. Every day brought a new phone call from some recruiter or another.
His grades were excellent and his participation in everything from drama to chess club had pretty much sealed his future. He definitely combined the best of both herself and James, Kat thought while drying off.
As she wrapped her towel around her head, the telephone rang. Kat looked at the caller I.D. and saw the L.A. area code. Jen, she thought as she grabbed the phone and said hello. It was only five a.m. on the West Coast, she knew, but Jen’s job as a caterer for various Hollywood movies and T.V. shows often meant an early start for her friend. She absently turned on the T.V., having habitually turned it on in the morning for years as background noise to fill the silence of her empty house while listening to Jen talk.
“So, happy birthday, old fart!” Jen blurted. Kat let out a sound somewhere between a grunt and a groan.
“Thanks!” Kat responded wryly. “Just you wait… You’re just three months behind me!”
Jen laughed and replied, “Heck, no! I live in LA. It’s against the law to get old here.”
Kat glanced over at the screen. Some western-style drama was on from what she could gather. Hmmm… Who is that guy? she thought as an incredibly attractive, tall
actor came on scene with black-brown hair, sparkling eyes, and an infectious grin. He is yummy! I might just have to start watching this show with eye candy like that!
“Kat… Kat? Earth calling Kat!” Jen broke into her thoughts.
“Huh? What? Sorry! I got distracted by the T.V. for a second.” Kat reached over and hit the mute button on the remote.
“Really? Anything good?”
“Nah… Just some western show. One of the actors is kind of hot, though,” Kat replied. “Sorry…. What were you saying?”
“Well,” Jen said. “I have a new job but I’m not quite sure what to do about it. It’s actually on location in Canada, which would be fine if it weren’t for Lucy. I’m trying to see if David would be able to take her full time during filming the season.”
Jen and her ex, David, had a good relationship. They shared custody of their seven-year-old daughter, Lucy. However, he also worked in the entertainment industry, so his schedule, like Jen’s, could be very unpredictable.
“I hate that I would have to spend such a long time up there during filming, but the off-time between seasons is so long, I’d get a nice long break in between if they liked us and wanted us to come back. Plus, the money is good enough, too, that I wouldn’t have to work as much during their offseason. This is a great opportunity and I was specifically asked to come. I don’t know why they couldn’t find someone up there, but apparently, word about me is getting around. If I say no to this, it could really throw me back a step.”
Kat knew how hard Jen had worked to build up her business. She and Jen had worked hard in their teens and in college in the food industry. They decided the summer
before college to experiment with a new take on making Southern food healthier as a way to make some extra cash.
Their endeavor had grown steadily before Kat decided to stay in college, close to James, while Jen ventured to try her luck in Hollywood. It had been such a boon to L.A. to have comfort food that the actors could actually eat while maintaining their diets that it had gone from an interesting hobby to a booming business within just a few years and was still continually expanding. Other companies had tried to duplicate it, but no one was quite able to get the flavors right. It took true Southern girls to make the recipes taste like home.
“I really need to think about hiring a partner,” Jen said. “Hey, you interested?” she asked, only half-joking.
Kat sighed. This conversation was coming up more and more. “You know I would love to help out if I didn’t live across the country,” she replied.
“I know,” said Jen. “But you can’t blame a girl for trying!”
Jen started in on telling her all of the latest gossip she was able to glean through her inside track on the L.A. scene. She was a better resource than People magazine and TMZ put together. Apparently, food was not only the way to a man’s heart, but also a key to open the mouths of celebrities. Jen not only overheard the deepest, darkest conversations between people on meal breaks, she was also the type of person with whom others instantly felt comfortable, so she often became a confidant as well when people would wander over to her for coffee, snacks, and a visit in between scenes and takes. If Kat ever heard anything juicy about a star or a new project, all she had to do was call Jen and she would get the real lowdown long before the details were public knowledge.
“So… what’s Mr. Boring doing for your birthday today?” Jen asked, moving the focus back to Kat.
Kat smiled to herself. Jen had never really gotten over Kat’s decision to stay home rather than going with her to Los Angeles. Even though the reason she stayed wasn’t all about James and their relationship, Jen had forever held a grudge against him for ruining her dreams of running a successful business with her best friend since seventh grade.
Kat burst out laughing. “Nice… Mr. Boring? Come on! Are you ever going to let go of the fact that I married him instead of chasing our teenage dreams?”
“Nope! He’s the reason that you didn’t come with me so that we could meet Johnny Depp. I’ll never forgive him for that.”
“Jen, didn’t you meet him years ago now?” Kat
“Sure. But that still doesn’t change the fact that you
weren’t here with me when I did,” Jen replied. “Too bad, too. He’s actually pretty cool.”
Kat rolled her eyes. “I’m sure he is. Is there anyone you haven’t met there?”
Returning to the original subject, Kat continued, “I honestly haven’t got a clue what James has planned this year. He was gone before I woke up this morning and he didn’t say anything last night when he finally came through the door after eleven.”
“Wow! Eleven?” Jen asked incredulously. “Why was he out until eleven?”
“Some work thing. It has been happening more and more since the merger last year. Traveling a lot more, too; more clients to woo, new bosses to impress. In general, just a lot more work to do, I guess. You know the drill,” Kat replied.
“Weird,” said Jen. “I would have never guessed being an accountant would be so… adventuresome.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s really only an issue about once a month when they have their corporate meetings with the
executives from New York. Honestly, I don’t mind. Gives me some time to binge-watch all of my ‘girl shows’ without any guilt” Kat said. “Like this one. Wow, that guy is really good looking! I may have to add this show to my queue…”
“What is it called?” Jen asked.
“I don’t know. Don’t have time right now to figure it out, either—I’ve got to run. But, let me know what you decide about Canada. Sounds like a great opportunity.”
“Okay,” Jen said. “Enjoy your birthday. Hope Mr. Boring doesn’t disappoint! I’d love to have you come out for a visit soon. It’s been too long”
“I know, I know. I’ll try to come again soon. You know, just with it being Drew’s final year of high school, things are crazy.”
“Man, the last year of high school for your baby! Where has the time gone?” Jen asked sadly. “There’s no way we are old enough to have kids in college already.”
Kat laughed, “Well, no… Not if you are thirty-six when you have your first baby.”
“Only baby,” Jen corrected. “Better than twenty- one, my friend! At twenty-one, I couldn’t even imagine taking decent care of myself, let alone another human being. When you had a husband and a baby, I was still having nights at the club that resulted in one-night stands. I couldn’t even keep a plant alive back then!” Jen retorted.
Suddenly, it sounded like Jen was out of breath. “I need to run now. I didn’t realize it was already five-thirty. I have to be on set in forty-five minutes and I haven’t even showered yet. Wait… Why did you have to get off the phone before?”
“Oh! Nothing, really. I’d just gotten out of the shower and was in my towel when you called. I was getting cold,” Kat responded lamely, not wanting to admit she had sought to get off the phone so she could ogle the handsome
actor without distraction. “I’ll let you go. Watch that crazy traffic. Love ya!”
She clicked the off button on her phone and stood up to get dressed, her cell immediately starting to ring again.
“Hi, Mom!” Derrick said from the other end of the line. “Just running to class and wanted to tell you ‘happy birthday’ and that I love you. Hope Dad has planned something nice for you. Gotta go. I’m going to be late!”
“Wait! Derrick…,” Kat heard the phone click off. “Well, at least he remembered,” she thought,
She got up off of her bed and started to straighten the covers. She accidentally hit the mute button on the remote and sound blared like a foghorn through the silent house. Her eyes were once again drawn to the T.V. just as the actor had a close-up.
Wow! Kat thought as she settled back on the bed’s decorative pillows. It’s my birthday and I can indulge myself with a little eye candy for a few minutes.
Thirty-five minutes later, she realized she was hooked. The story based in a western gold mining town in Colorado at the turn of the century had captured her attention. The scenery was breathtaking, and the acting was decent. The writing was also pretty good, though a bit sappy and corny. The lead male character who had initially caught her eye was adorable as the town’s sheriff, with his western twang, and his female counterpart, the unmarried town seamstress, was gorgeous. Their chemistry was undeniable. She checked the menu to find out what she was watching. Western Skies it read.
I haven’t enjoyed a western show like this since I was a kid watching Little House on the Prairie, she laughed to herself. Kind of an old-school, feel-good show. Of course, whoever that guy is certainly helped!
Kat hurried up to finish getting ready for her day before heading downstairs. The usual boring chores were soon done. There was a time when she didn’t have enough hours in the day to keep up with all the tasks revolving around being a stay-at-home-mom. Now, she seemed to have too many to fill.
She looked around the room and decided that since she had nothing better to do, she might as well hit the gym. She grabbed her bag and headed out to her car. As she fought her way through the morning traffic, she blasted her music loudly. A young man pulled up beside her and started laughing at her obvious singing-along. At first, she was mortified, but then remembered that one of the great things about being over forty was that she really didn’t care what people thought anymore. She threw her hand up next to her head in an awkward sort of salute and speed off as soon as the light changed. I may be old, she thought, but I’m not dead yet!
My husband and I just celebrated our twenty-third wedding anniversary in July, and it is crazy to me that the time has gone by so fast! I certainly don’t feel old, but when I perused back through our wedding album a few weeks ago and saw how young we looked, I couldn’t deny that we are now much older and quite a bit more wizened than we were back then.
Like any other couple, over the years, my husband and I have worked hard to build a life together, and as in any marriage, there have been times when it has been far from easy. During the tough times there were many opportunities when one or both of us could have thrown in the towel, and admittedly a few times we almost did. The good news is that our marriage has also been tempered with many happy times, too, as well as help in the form of many blessings along the way that have made the really hard stuff much more tolerable to endure.
Looking back now at the pictures from our wedding day, I can say that like most young couples, we certainly had large helpings of ignorance, idealism, and naivety in our youthful relationship recipe. Challenges such as infertility, job losses, economic setbacks, and illness are all part of the long list of what has schooled us on our journey together.
Kat’s experience, though she is a fictional character, is not unusual. I know several couples who have looked up and seen each other clearly again for the first time after over two decades of raising the kids, and said, “Now what?!” I am not going to lie: it can be tough to remember, after years of focusing on raising children, building careers, and paying student loans, car payments, and mortgages, why we fell in love with our partners in the first place. I have often had times when I needed to consciously stop and remind myself that my husband is not just my coworker and we are not just trying to bang out a twenty year plus group project together; that he is actually someone who I knew and enjoyed long before little humans, who can at times seemingly suck their parents dry, showed up on the scene.
Four years ago, when writing A Good Kind of Crazy, I often found myself contemplating what makes some marriages work, while others fell apart. Kat thought that she and James had a good marriage, and their life together had been fairly steady and predictable. She and James seemed to get along, enjoy the same things, and have common goals. Even so, before James’ infidelity came to light, Kat knew that she felt unfulfilled, as though she had lost herself along the way. Nevertheless, she would have never fathomed that her anxiety about not knowing who she was anymore would have ever culminated into everything she had worked hard to build coming crashing down around her, nor that was what it would take in order to rediscover herself.
When I first realized that my husband and I were entering into our twenty-third year of marriage, I have to admit that I spent a good deal of the year waiting with bated breath. I had no reason to feel any more vulnerable during this past year, except for being superstitious: I wrote a book in which the main characters divorced at this point in their marriage, and I know that sometimes life can be stranger than fiction. Therefore, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would discover that I had somehow unwittingly foretold my future by writing A Good Kind of Crazy, as if my existence would suddenly become a case of life imitating art.
Even with our paltry twenty-three years of marriage compared to the really pro couples like both my husband’s, as well as my own parents, for example, who have made it to fifty years and beyond, some people do sometimes ask us how we have made this far, especially with all the difficult terrain we have traversed together through the years. It never fails, though, that every single time I am confronted with this question I feel woefully inadequate: I should know the answer why neither of us have thrown up our hands and slammed out the front door, but I don’t. All I know is that it hasn’t been for lack of opportunity, I can say that much.
Every time someone poses that question to me, however, I know that I can say that friendship and mutual respect are both imperative components to the answer. While important, even those aren’t always enough, as I know other couples who had that, too, and it wasn’t a guarantee.
Nevertheless, knowing that my husband and I were quickly approaching the same milestone year that Kat and James were in when everything fell apart for them, I felt compelled to write something helpful and good about marriage to perhaps combat the crazy “What ifs?” that would creep into my mind. Thankfully, my dear friend, Ms. Joanna Ortega, fellow author, as well as owner of the company Every Day First Class, has been much better at analyzing the data behind the “How?” and “Why?” some marriages survive for the long haul than I have, along with many other helpful tips about how to get the most out of this experience we call life, and so I knew she was the perfect person to tackle this issue as a guest on this particular blog post on the subject.
Just as a little background, on her website, http://www.everydayfirstclass.com, Ms. Ortega clearly states that her organization is “…committed to helping you learn to expect, demand and receive quality in every area of your life. By elevating your life on the inside and the outside, you can truly begin to live the life of your dreams, starting today. You don’t need anyone’s permission to live your best life now. It all comes down to your daily decisions. If you can learn to make better choices, many of the hassles you deal with on a day to day basis will start to take care of themselves. You don’t have to live a pattern of letting yourself down. You don’t have to settle. If you’re ready to say goodbye to mediocrity and start living the good life now, Everyday First Class is here to help. Better thoughts, better attitude, better choices, better every day. Join me in living a life of classy bliss!”
So, without further ado, please allow me to present some of the keys to a successful and fulfilling marriage Every Day First Class Style.
“What’s your secret?”
Couples who have been married for forty, fifty, even sixty years or more are often asked this question. What is the secret sauce that holds them together? In a time and place where divorce is common, even in longer term marriages, what is the magic that lets them weather the storms of life as a team? What makes a marriage truly a First Class experience?
While I endeavor to be happily married for that long (to the same person), my husband and I have only been married for eighteen years. But during that time we’ve noticed some things that do seem to make us different than couples we’ve known who have split up during this time. We collectively scratch our heads when people talk about how hard marriage is and how you have to fight for it. Why does this come so easy to us?
While I believe that “secret sauce” is going to be a little different for everyone, here are some factors I believe are part of the common denominator for any marriage to both last and to be happy. I’ve concluded that it’s not fiery passion or partner worship (you do not have to be Morticia and Gomez Addams). Instead, it’s the boring stuff; it’s the little daily things that make the difference.
A basis in friendship. Yawn. Everyone says this, right? Many couples claim to be best friends, then the next thing we know the relationship is over. What does it really mean to have a romantic relationship with its foundation on friendship?
For us, it means we make each other laugh. We have enough common interests to keep a conversation going all day long if we wanted, but silence is just as comfortable. My husband is the first person I want to share good news with. We celebrate together. We are tired together. We share the burden of life without ever blaming one or the other for any challenge. But most of all, we trust each other. If you cannot trust your partner (not just in sexual fidelity but in other ways as well) it will put a strain on the relationship that I do not believe can be successfully overcome long-term. True friends are always on the same side – a team of two.
Because we are friends, one of us is always willing to give in to the other in a conflict. If something is really important to him, I’ll relent. If he knows I’m passionate about this or that, he lets me have my way. The big problems show up in a relationship when being right becomes more important than being happy and neither party will defer to the other, or when only one partner is always the one giving in. Without balance, the teeter totter ceases to give joy to the riders.
Mutual Respect and common courtesy. Our society has become increasingly casual (in my opinion maybe a little too much so) and a lot of that attitude has been incorporated into our romantic relationships as well. It has creeped in to the extent that we seem to take each other for granted and lose the little things that are reminders that yes, this person does still value my presence.
It’s incredible to me how rude some couples are to each other. I’m not talking about playful banter or teasing, I mean straight up I-wouldn’t-treat-a-line-jumping-stranger-that-bad rude. My husband and I were once told that we didn’t have a “real relationship” because we didn’t straight up rip farts in front of each other without so much as a “brace yourself” to prepare the other person. While this may produce a fair amount of hilarity in a family setting (especially if you have little boys) being polite with your partner matters.
It’s the basics: please and thank you. Would you like a drink while I’m up? I know you got to bed late so I took care of the kids so you could sleep. You’ve had a rough week – let me do the cooking tonight. What can I do to help you? These simple demonstrations of respect and consideration are worth a whole garden full of roses, and they don’t cost a thing.
We have our own things. The first time I entered my future husband’s home, I was blown away by all the things we had in common. From his love of renaissance style anything to owning cats to all the CDs I saw in his music collection that I also had, it seemed we were two peas in a pod. But even though we had many common interests at first and then developed some of our own together, we still have our own things that are just for us.
My husband is a night owl and I own the morning. He loves online gaming with family and friends around the world and I’d rather learn something new with an e-course. He reads science fiction and fantasy and I dig a good self-help book. Again, I think striking a balance is key. Not enough together time can tax the bonds of any relationship, but familiarity can breed contempt.
In the same way, there’s no confusion about which of us is doing what job at home. Barring extreme circumstances, I do the dishes and he takes out the trash. If something needs fixed (especially one computer related), it’s his job, while I handle the finances and manage the family schedule. When we know and stick to what we each do best, teamwork really does make the dream work.
We are a team, but even on a team each player has their own job to do. It’s okay to not do everything together, and even better when you know exactly what to expect in the division of labor.
We finish each other’s sentences but we don’t read minds. My husband and I crack each other up when we are sitting in silence for a while and then one of us randomly says, “Oh, did you get that taken care of last week?” And the other somehow knows exactly what they mean without any meaningful context. We are just tuning into the same psychic radio station, the same station that makes us laugh at the same stupid jokes before we even get to the punch line.
Even with the ESP that comes with a long term relationship, our brains are not actually one in the same. It’s more of a Venn diagram, with me, him and the overlapping part in the middle where we are connected in a sometimes freaky way. It’s important to remember the other pieces – the parts that are uniquely me and uniquely him. That overlapping part is not 100% of the equation. Those other pieces do not talk to each other on their own and that requires us to use our other communication skills.
Many marital problems come about because we expect our partner to be a total mind reader. This is very detrimental, and this was a lesson we had to learn the hard way. Once we understood that our assumptions were not correct and mind reading was not part of each other’s skill sets, it was time to start talking. Now we get the importance of stating our expectations and needs, even if it’s awkward. More often than not, the honesty is appreciated and the information used appropriately.
If my husband asks me what I want for my birthday and I tell him I want a bottle of port and a two-hour bath, I am not disappointed when he doesn’t show up with a dozen roses and sapphire earrings. He gets me a nice bottle and takes our son to the game store while I chillax in a bubble bath all afternoon. Women are often the worst at this, expecting that our spouse “just know” what we really want. I recommend telling him what you want and saving him the stress of trying to perform a magic act and pull exactly what you want out of a hat. This works both ways – go easy on each other.
Marriage can be the most wonderful blessing of your life, or the most miserable curse. By remembering friendship, courtesy, managing expectations and having good open communication, your relationship can truly become – or get on the road to – a First Class Marriage.
Anyone who has been alive since the last century (gasp!) knows that publishing has changed quite a bit in the last twenty years or so… and one of those “new-fangled” changes is the advent of the “Book Trailer”. But first, a little background.
Picture courtesy of Pexels.com and Pixabay
Self-publishing, once considered to be “out there”, has now become mainstream. According to the website selfpublishingadvice.org, self-publishing first appeared on the scene with the advent of Desktop Publishing, when the American parachutist Dan Poynter wrote and published The Self-Publishing Manual in 1979. A few brave and adventurous souls then jumped on board and started printing out their own creations and selling them to bookshops and/or via mail order. Eventually, as technology continued to advance, digital Print-On-Demand made it possible for more people to professionally print smaller batches of publications to order.
The concept of ebooks really started emerging during the 1990s. As technology advanced, the ability for publications to be created and distributed in electronic form grew. It wasn’t until 1998, however, due to a prior lack of payment mechanism, that digital publishers could actually start collecting money for their works via the internet, and a true market emerged.
Though Sony produced an ebook reader in 2004, it wasn’t until Amazon released the Kindle in 2007 that electronic publishing began exploding onto the market, and with it, the ability to easily create, publish, and sell on one’s own works, without a publishing company. By 2012, when the Alliance of Independent Authors launched at the London Book Fair, self-publishing was already quickly dismantling the publishing world that had dominated the production of reading material since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1493.
Example of a Printing Press- Courtesy of PsPrint.com and The International Print Museum
So, now that everyone is up to speed on the circumstances that brought us to where we are today, I can get to the point of this blog entry. (Personally, Trade-publishing or Self-publishing- it is all the same to me. I see the pluses and minuses to both options, and all I can advise anyone is to do the research and find the option that will work best for you. I have friends who have done it both ways, and success is possible either way.)
As the publishing world is forever changing at lightning speed thanks to modern technology, self-publishing is making it possible for many more books to potentially reach consumers, and competition is fierce. Seemingly every day, smaller traditional publishing houses are going under, while the more well-known staples of the traditional publishing world are trying to roll with the punches. As a result of this unprecedented flood of books to the market, according to author legend, no one really knows just how many books are for sale on retail giant Amazon.com on any given day, but the internet reports that the number is 32.8 million books. Therefore, the biggest modern challenge for any author is the sheer volume of books we are competing with for readers’ dollars.
As with everything else in this increasingly digital world, where traditional industry giants are finding themselves usurped by “startups” jumping into the market and taking an ever-larger bite of the profits, finding a way to stand out is key. For authors, that means creating ever-growing ways to attract readers to our books, and one of the most inventive ways is the “Book Trailer”.
Just like a movie trailer, a book trailer is intended to pique the reader’s interest and whet their appetite to experience more. I will admit that at first, it seemed a bit odd to me that authors would use film, a multi-sensory inclusive media, to introduce their novels as if they were already in a cinematic format (A bit like putting the cart before the horse, really. It is every author’s dream, optioning their book for a movie, but it felt a bit presumptuous and premature.) After watching many, however, I have to admit the concept has grown on me, and it was armed with this information that the following book trailer was born.
Full disclosure here: I have to admit that I worked myself into a frenzy about how to make a book trailer happen. I confess here and now that while I am fairly savvy with most basic computer functions, creating and editing videos is not one of them. A Good Kind of Crazy was released in October of 2018, and I have been freaking out about getting this done for over eighteen months. Recently, however, I was finally introduced to the wonders of Fiverr.com, and a lovely woman from Pakistan worked with me over the course of a week to produce my very first book trailer. I think she did a fantastic job, and she captured the spirit of the story without my having developed an ulcer or ripping my hair out.
So, now I guess the next step is to make a book trailer for WesternSkies, as well. This time, I will NOT panic for eighteen months first, now that I know that there are incredibly talented people who can do this for me, and I can help them make a living in the ever-increasing gig economy in which the world is engaging.
I hope you like the trailer! I also hope that it piques your interest to read (or listen) more about Kat and her journey. (Believe me, Jen Carmody, the narrator of the Audiobook version of both A Good Kind of Crazy and Western Skies is another one of those very talented people who can do what they do so much better than I ever could!) Feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think!
Right now, the world waits. Ever single person on the planet is watching as a microscopic entity with the power to destroy us silently, stealthily, sneaks undetected, waiting for its next host to infect, and all we can do is wait.
By this point, much of the world is experiencing a quarantine of sorts. Of course, we don’t call it that. We say we are “social distancing”, and are trying to limit contact with other human beings who don’t live under our roof, while some of us are deemed “essential”, and have to venture out from the relative comfort of our homes and families to care for other who we don’t even know, and who might not even appreciate our sacrifices.
Photo Credit: Vlada Karpovich- Pexels.com
We are waiting in lines to get into stores that we used to walk into without a care in the world. We are quickly learning how to estimate in our heads just exactly how far six feet is, and that in reality, it isn’t far enough to feel even remotely safe. In the United States, we are quickly getting accustomed to unfamiliar and uncomfortable scarcity as we check back day after day for daily essentials that we took for granted before. I don’t know about anyone else, but I honestly would have never guessed in a world that seemed to laud oil and gold as the modern currencies of kings and dignitaries that toilet paper and hand sanitizer would be some of the hottest commodities on the market, let alone that people would actually get into physical fights over the stuff. I have also had a personal epiphany that I have been taking something as simple as soft paper on a roll granted for my entire life; save, perhaps, when it ran out in the washroom, and I had to holler for one of my family members to bring in some more. It also makes me chuckle how damned determined we are to ensure a hearty supply of something that our ancestors survived for millennia without, since it was only commercially available since 1857. All I can say is kudos to those branches on my family tree who came before me for their ingenuity and hardiness, in more ways than one.
Photo Credit: Majken Selinder Nilsson
On that note, however, and not to make light of anything, I am not naive. I know that there are many bad things happening right now. Domestic violence is up exponentially around the world as people are forced to spend time cooped up together, sometimes in confined spaces, under extreme duress. I know that people have lost their jobs, are worried about their livelihoods, and are terrified about if they would survive being infected with the dreaded COVID-19 virus. People who are on the front lines- first responders, medical professionals, grocery store and pharmacy employees, truck drivers, the military, and many more- are walking out the door every day wondering if today is the day they get infected. Single parents are trying to do it all with no break. I get that things are tough.
Personally, I especially understand and commiserate with those who are facing layoffs and furloughs. Job loss, and the incredible stress that comes with it, was one of the main driving forces behind why I started writing. When everything in our financial house seemed to be careening out of control, and nothing I did seemed to make any difference, is the time I first escaped into a world in my head that I could dictate as I pleased. So, believe my sincerity when I express my sympathies to those who are struggling right now with how to keep the lights on, gas in the car, food on the table, and get medicine and health care for those who need it. It isn’t an easy row to hoe, and it definitely takes a toll on one’s well being, emotions, health, relationships, and family. Speaking from personal experience, make sure to take some time for self-care, and give yourself a break now and then. Find something that gives your soul a chance to recharge, whatever that might mean to you.
That being said, there is a reason I did not call this blog entry “The Simple Life”, because there is nothing easy about what we, as humanity, are undergoing right now. There is fear, trepidation, worry, anxiety, stress, and too many other negative emotions currently collectively swirling to ever imply that existence is a breeze at this point in time. In fact, my kids keep saying that they wish we weren’t living through a defining moment in history, and I have to say that I quite agree. Instead, I am hoping that amidst all of the struggle and difficulties, we can come out of this with a greater appreciation for the simple things that had perhaps gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of modern life, and discover those little hidden gems of tenaciousness in the human spirit that we have heard about from our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, but maybe thought never made it any further down the genetic line to us.
My dear friend, Maytha Smith, who made an enormous amount of masks for local hospitals and healthcare workers
Personally, I am amazed by that indelible human spirit I am witnessing rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I see people getting up every day and going to work to ensure that others- strangers- have what they need. I have watched as people saw a need for personal protective equipment for our medical professionals, and got out their sewing machines to help, using fabric they had saved for reasons special to them, constructing mask after mask. These women (and I am sure some men) behind their machines are party akin to a modern-day revival of Rosie the Riveter, rising to the call of service to give their fellow man what they otherwise wouldn’t have in order to fight the battle. When the supplies of fabric or elastic have run out, I have witnessed others donating what they have to the cause, and once that was used, people using incredible ingenuity to make due with what they had left- ribbon, strips of fabric, etc.- and made it work, a la the Great Depression, when our relatives repurposed and reused everything they had. “Waste want, want not” has quickly become a revived battle cry that was thought unfathomable only a few short months ago in a sea of consumer abundance.
I have observed people buying extra groceries at the store for neighbors who can’t leave the house, or couldn’t find what they needed on the day they went, but it was available the next. When people are desperately searching for the ever-elusive toilet paper on social media apps like NextDoor, my heart has been warmed by the multiple generous offers from strangers “to spare a roll” when all they share is the same zip code. There are reports of Shipt and Instacart employees going above and beyond to find specialty items for those on special diets, and people leaving signs and treats for the hardworking delivery drivers who are bringing us the items we need from places like Amazon.com, where the workers are continuing to show up everyday and getting it done.
So, if any of us were wondering if some of that genetic chutzpah of our forefathers trickled further on down the line, I would shout a resounding, “YES!” Life is stressful, complicated, and uncertain right now, but it has also given us an opportunity to get in touch with our simple, beautiful human side that longs to connect with others, and perhaps felt largely lost before this event in our highly competitive and sometimes self-absorbed world. We have become connected in a way that only happens when something unprecedented makes us realize our collective fallibility, perhaps for the first time, and we lift our heads up and realize that we really do need each other to make a functioning society: 9/11, WWII, The Great Depression, and so on.
My family’s attempt at making Vietnamese Spring Rolls
We are also coming to terms with the fact that many modern conveniences are just that-convenient. They are time savers: ways for us to cram even more into an already overly-crowded day. However, now that it is no longer easier to just jump into the car to buy items we were too busy to make before, I am seeing people all over my social media proudly showing off their homemade breads, cakes, pies, cookies, pastas, meals, artwork, and just about anything else we had laid to the side in our crazy modern lives. This return to the basics has been fueled by necessity when we couldn’t find what we would normally buy on a store shelves, or even when we are looking for a way to get our mind off of what is happening around us. While it takes us longer, that has also been the point: it has also given us the gift of time. Because we don’t have anything more pressing to do, we are spending time with our families making fun memories, pushing ourselves to try something we wouldn’t have spent the energy on before, and taking the opportunity to develop hobbies and talents that may have otherwise lain dormant because we wouldn’t have had the time to “waste” on something that we could have just picked up somewhere.
So, while life as we know it has been turned on its ear, and things are stressful and worrisome, when we step back and look around, perhaps we can see the small silver linings amidst the chaos. Maybe when we go back to “normal”, whenever that happens and whatever it looks like, we will be able to better appreciate this time of stepping back to a life of simplicity, and remember that there is great value in spending time and energy on more than just the Rat Race.
You know how they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Yeah… well… I have been on the Highway to Hell for a very long time, apparently.
I never intended for it to be so long since my last blog post. (Seems like this is becoming a pattern…) Life, though, has this insidious way of sneaking up on me.
As much as I love being an author, first and foremost I am a mom: a mom to four kiddos, to be exact. And, while they are always my priority, this fall they made sure to test my utter devotion to that statement (as well as my sanity) at every turn. From someone missing school for the whole month of November with pneumonia, to all other kinds of “fun” pediatric adventures, including kidney stones and multitudes of testing, we persevered… but barely. While thankful we all survived, which in the thick of it, I wasn’t entirely sure was possible, my resemblance to a victim in the Walking Dead was astounding.
Photo collage of my book signing at Liberty Books in Lawrenceville, GA
However, good things happened, too, and on December 14, 2019, I was privileged to have my first formal book signing at Liberty Books, in Lawrenceville, GA. The event was amazing, and I am especially grateful for having the support of a such a wonderfully supportive local bookseller. If you are in the Atlanta Metro area, I highly recommend that you check them out. The store occupies a great historical space, housed in a quaint and quirky old building in the heart of old town. One can even make a day of it, with delicious restaurants, and other great shops, including a spice seller, and even a comic book store. The Aurora Theater is also in the vicinity, and speaking from personal experience, their comedy shows are always entertaining!
The holidays were a blur, as the holidays always are. Somehow, I missed the fact growing up that the holidays are when moms become super heroes, operating only on hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, and very little sleep. I guess I owe my own mother a big “Thank you” for never letting on that she was about ready to drop to the floor in a coma in the middle of a supermarket aisle come the final push before “show time”.
Because life wasn’t crazy enough, I had surgery at the very end of December- nothing terribly serious, but once again I was reminded that “minor surgery” is often a terrible misnomer, as it rarely feels minor while recovering. Mom duties were still in full swing, though, so all periphery energy went into keeping the younger humans under my roof alive and thriving; therefore, I still feel like I am playing catch up.
However, I am excited to report that while things were insane and it seemed as though I dropped off the face of the planet, some exciting things were still going on.
Jen Carmody voice over logo
First and foremost, I’m so excited to report that the amazing and talented voice actress, Jen Carmody, agreed to narrate Western Skies after doing such a fantastic job with A Good Kind of Crazy. Y’all- (I guess after living in the South for almost seven years, I can legit start using y’all…) in speaking with Jen during the development phase, I learned so many incredible things about her, such as she researches each of her brilliant dialects thoroughly, even dissecting them by time period. I, as a novice, had never really thought about how dialects evolved through time. Of course, I am aware that there are several different dialects in our country, but didn’t realize that the nuances are so finite that ten years could make a significant difference. Anyway, Jen, in her pleasant way, did her part of the bargain thoroughly and on time, and was still nice to me when I did not because of my recovery, the dreaded influenza hitting our house (twice) within a one month period, and the general chaos that is life. She is the quintessential professional… and I was not… but together, we got it done, so look for the release of Western Skies on Audible coming soon!
The talented Ms. ML Ruscsak
In the midst of everything else, I also had the pleasure of connecting with Ms. ML Ruscsak, fellow author, owner of Dove and Dragon Publishing, and podcast host for Author Talk with M-L-Ruscsak on Dove and Dragon Radio at BlogTalkRadio.com. After several attempts of trying to get our schedules to sync up, I’m happy to report that on March 3, I was a guest on her show, and it was great! You know how you meet someone and you can talk like you are long-lost friends, reunited after many years? That’s how our conversation went.
I don’t usually remember much about podcast interviews because I am busy trying not to be nervous, but when I hung up the phone, I knew I had fun, because my cheeks hurt from smiling! It is always nice to meet a kindred spirit, especially while doing a podcast, because there can be a whole lot of dead air time if people can’t connect. I have attached the link to the interview below, both from Dove and Dragon Radio on BlogTalkRadio.com, and Ms. Ruscsak’s YouTube channel, in case you want to check it out. (Mom’s on YouTube! Take that, kids!)
You know how “they” say that life is what happens while you are busy making plans? Well, “they” are correct! This fall turned out being completely different than I had planned.
I spent the early part of fall editing my newest release, Western Skies. For some unknown reason, I was really struggling with getting my editing done this past summer. We had a few health issues pop up in the family, we had a visitor for a few weeks; but even without these happenings, my head just wasn’t cooperating by getting in the game. I did look at the book every day, but with everything going on, plus having four children home from school for the summer, I admit that I moved at slower than a snail’s pace for far longer than I would have liked to.
School started and I thought it would mean that I could bang out the last bit of editing, but, again, life had other plans. It turns out that when you put things off for the summer months, they kind of come back and bite you in the butt a few months later. Queue the face palm.
Picture courtesy of karatara on Pexels.com
Thankfully, my publisher was gentle with me when the consequences of my procrastination reared their ugly head, and I was able to finally sit down and get the novel completed.
The summer wasn’t a complete loss book-wise, though, as I did a podcast interview with British author Mark Antony Raines, aka Ghostman, on August 22. (I still owe you a blog post with the writing prompt you gave me, Mr. Raines. I promise I haven’t forgotten; it was just another thing that fell victim to my push to finish the edits I should have done sooner than I did!)
I also learned a valuable lesson this fall. My children have had various health challenges on and off in their lives, as children often do, but we had experienced a nice, long lull. Therefore, as they went back to school in August, I (stupidly) thought to myself that it was so wonderful they were all older now and had seemingly grown past many of their childhood ailments and issues. Of course, Mr. Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, heard me in my gratefulness and told the universe, “Here- hold my beer.” At least I am grateful that the storm that followed happened after my edits were done- and that the waters are calming again.
Western Skies debuted on Amazon.com on October 9, 2019. Borne from the pages of A Good Kind of Crazy, I like to tell people that Western Skies is not a sequel, but rather a companion book. Sometimes, I like to go all Star Wars on people and say that it is actually a prequel to A Good Kind of Crazy. Honestly, though, Western Skies is the name of the TV series in A Good Kind of Crazy that I had written as having come from a book, but that book hadn’t even been written… yet. I still haven’t decided if that was Divine Intervention or just dumb luck…
Thankfully, my publisher is still on speaking terms with me, though I fell into life’s abyss for a few months. In fact, they arranged for a *FREE* ebook for Kindle giveaway of Western Skies on Black Friday. It did so well that they are even allowing me to do the whole process again FOR BOTH BOOKS tomorrow, Cyber Monday- December 2, 2019!
So, if you are looking for a little free self-care to help you survive the holidays, click on the links above and hook yourself up as my gift to you. Believe me, this fall has done an amazing job of reminding me that self-care is important, because you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself!
Thank you all for the amazing support! I appreciate you all more than I can express. (And that’s saying a lot, because as two 500+ page books demonstrate, I am a very verbose person!)
Happy holidays! I hope that you get a chance to relax and just enjoy the season now and again!
Sometimes, hometowns and best friends afford us the opportunity to obtain unique insight into people who are successful and well-known in their particular sphere. I am no exception to this rule, as thanks to the lucky break of growing up in my small Nevada hometown, as well as being “besties” with my friend, Charmaine, since we were three years old, I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing author Tammy L. Grace before she was an author!
There are a few people who were exceptionally helpful when I decided to embark on this crazy foray into the world of fiction writing, and Ms. Grace was certainly one of the most helpful of all. She graciously took the time to answer my questions and help guide my decisions about if I wanted to pursue the self-published route, or would rather instead try to find a literary agent and go the more traditional route. In the end, I found my publisher, Solstice Publishing, through direct submission, but Ms. Grace’s advice was well-heeded while I contemplated signing the contract or not. So, it came as no surprise when I finally got up the moxie to ask Ms. Grace if she would be willing to participate in an interview on my blog that she said, “Yes.”
Ms. Grace has a very impressive showing, having effortlessly (or so it seems… authors know writing and publishing are never as easy as it appears) secured her place as a successful author of women’s fiction with fifteen books under her belt, and counting. Even more surprising, Ms. Grace didn’t even start writing until her first career concluded.
So, without further delay, I hope you enjoy this interview with my fellow author and gracious mentor, Tammy L Grace, as much as I did conducting it!
Majken: Hello, Tammy! Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you! I am lucky that as you are from my hometown, (and the fact that you are related to one of my best friends!), I have had the pleasure of meeting you before. But, I don’t know what made you decide to take the plunge and become an author! Was this a spur-of-the-moment-I-wonder-if-I- can kind of thing, or have you always wanted to be a writer?
Tammy: I’m thrilled that you’re an author and so honored to be included for an interview! I had an incredible middle school teacher who introduced me to creative writing and that’s when the bug bit me. I wrote for our local newspaper when I was in middle school and junior high school, but never considered it for a career. When I was getting ready to retire, I decided to see if I could follow my dream of becoming a novelist.
Majken: I saw on your website, www.tammylgrace.com, that you had a career in local and state government, but didn’t realize that you had written for the local paper, or considered writing long before retirement!
After discussing with you which teacher was so influential, I can say that I had the same teacher and a lot of what I know today was learned from him!
I know that when I reached out to you when I started my writing carrier you very so kind to mentor me, and we discussed the differences between self-publishing and going through a publisher. I know that until very recently, you chose to go the route of self-publishing and have been doing very well with it. Do you have any secret “tips of the trade” you would be willing to share for those who are facing the same decision of self-publishing?
Tammy: I’ve learned that the author community and especially the self-published arena is welcoming and full of writers who are willing to share and help others. I always recommend authors attend a writers’ conference and learn all they can before they decide on a publishing path.
I’m not sure I have any secrets, but would stress that authors need to consider their strengths and do what they do well and hire someone to do the rest. You can do it all yourself, but your book needs to be polished and compete with the bestsellers in its genre, so you need to research, join online groups, talk to other authors, and decide if you want the responsibility of it all or are capable of doing it all and get help with things you don’t do well. I’ve read statistics where many self-published authors only sell a few hundred copies and that’s not enough to make you successful, so make sure you understand the business before you make a decision.
Majken: I can certainly agree with that. I know when I was deciding which route to take, cost was a big factor for me in my decision to pursue traditional publishing. Editing and the graphic designing of the covers can be significant (and daunting) costs, especially if you don’t know someone already in “the biz”. Speaking of which, your covers are adorable! Have you designed them yourself, or did you turn to a graphic designer for assistance?
Ms. Grace’s first novel of her Hometown Harbor series
Tammy: Thanks, Majken, you love them because I didn’t design them. I hired cover designers and have been lucky to work with some very talented individuals. Early on, I listened to the advice from several authors who recommended hiring a designer, unless you had experience with graphic design and specifically cover design. I think it’s fascinating to see a designer ask a few questions about a book and chat a bit and produce something that showcases the novel so well. It’s my favorite part of the process and only wish I had the skill.
Majken: I have absolutely heard that a cover can make or break a book in some cases. But, yours are great and your designers did an amazing job with capturing the essences of your stories. My publisher is primarily an ebook publisher, so their goal is to have the title, etc., easily distinguished in a thumbnail for online retailers, like Amazon.com, but I do sometimes wonder what a cover designer would have come up with for A Good Kind of Crazy.
Changing gears, you recently informed your fans that you have signed with the British publisher, Bookouture. What made you decide to make the jump from self-publishing to a publisher? What is the biggest difference in the two experiences you have noticed thus far?
Tammy: I’ve signed a two-book contract with Bookouture, both of which are emotional dog-centric stories about the connections we have with our canine friends. The biggest reasons I elected to do it were based on Bookouture’s stellar reputation within the author community, I get to write about dogs, and the fact that they approached me. It differs from the idea of querying agents or publishers to try to entice them to take a chance on your work. The biggest change between the two paths I’ve noticed is the length of time from start to finish. I am able to publish two books a year myself, but their process is elongated. They have a schedule and many steps the book goes through with regard to different edits and proofreading, not to mention dozens of authors to juggle. I’m curious to see how their marketing strategies differ from mine and hoping to learn things I can apply to my other work. I know their reach far surpasses what I can do, so am anxious to see the results next year.
I’m writing for them under a pen name, Casey Wilson, which is also new and interesting. If anyone is interested in these books, they can follow Casey on Facebook and Twitter to be kept in the loop.
Majken: That’s exciting! I am looking forward to those stories! I have to say that publishing a book takes much longer than I think most people ever would imagine.
Meanwhile, you, like me, grew up a native Nevadan! What is your favorite thing about living in the desert? What is your absolute favorite thing to do in Nevada that you would recommend everyone should do while visiting our great home state?
Tammy: I love living in my small hometown because of the sense of community, lifelong friends, and the idea of walking in the footsteps of my great-grandparents, not to mention the quiet and relaxed vibe. I’m not a big fan of heat, so the desert doesn’t appeal to me as much as our gorgeous mountains. I think we have some of the most beautiful sunsets and I love to go for a ride and see all the gorgeous green fields in our little valley or venture out in our side-by-side and explore areas you can’t get to from the road. So many people who are unfamiliar with Nevada only think of Las Vegas and so I make a point of explaining that vision of Nevada is nothing like where I live. My favorite thing to do is to spend time at Lake Tahoe and it’s where we always take people who come to visit. It’s gorgeous and calming – a perfect place to relax or plot a story.
Lake Tahoe- Picture courtesy of Pexels.com and Griffin Wooldridge
Majken: I so agree. I no longer live in Nevada and miss both the mountains and Lake Tahoe so much! I really hope that people who live there appreciate just how blessed they are to have the magnificent mountains and glorious Lake Tahoe in their backyard!
Though I could write a lengthy blog post on the attributes of Nevada, I guess I had better get back to focusing on the writing aspect of this blog post. Therefore, I am curious about what you feel is the single best thing about being an author?
Tammy: There are so many, but I’ll limit myself to one. I love hearing from readers. There is nothing quite like getting a note from someone who read my book and loved it or who read it during a tough time and it was the perfect escape for them. Writing is a lonely endeavor and hearing someone tell me my book entertained them or got them through an illness is so rewarding.
Majken: I agree that hearing that someone enjoyed, or even benefited, from reading our books is amazing! I never tire of it, but I have just written one… You have written at least fifteen books since 2014. That’s amazing! What is your writing process? Do you set aside time to write, or do you write when “the muse” hits you?
Tammy: I tend to write each day, usually in the morning, but sometimes all day. When I’m starting a new book, it takes a bit to flesh out the story and the characters, but once I have an outline, I sit at the computer and write. It typically takes me about three months to complete a novel. When it’s off to the editor, I work on marketing tasks and when I am done with the project, I like to reward myself with some time off to binge-read or splurge on movies or a series, since I tend to focus most of my time on writing when I’m in the midst of it.
Majken: I certainly understand that! Writing and editing can be all-consuming. It is a strange feeling to come back to the “land of the living” after putting a book to bed. With all that writing, though, one has to be comfortable. I am sure your fans would love it if you would describe your writing space. Do you have a dedicated office with a desk, or do you write in a favorite comfy chair, or by the dining room table? Every author I have spoken with has a unique setup for their writing space and I love to hear about them!
Tammy: I write on a desktop computer in my home office, but I always start with a notebook and ideas. There’s something to the actual holding of a pen and writing on paper that appeals to me and helps the creative juices flow. I write out lots of random phrases and ideas related to the story I’m working on, brainstorm character names, settings, and plot points. I dig into the characters and really try to nail down their motivations and backstories, so that I feel like I know them when I start the actual writing.
At another writers’ conference I attended several years ago, I listened to author talk about their processes and was drawn to the idea of a white board and sticky notes and that’s what I use now. The movable notes make it easy to plot out scenes and move them or keep ideas handy. I know many authors use software to do this, but I really enjoy the visual board and paper.
Majken: Thank you for sharing that. I find it fascinating how everyone does it just a little differently!
Your books always have an adorable dog on the cover, and I know that dogs play an important part in your stories. How did you decide that you wanted to have animals as such an integral part in your novels?
Sweet Izzy, Ms. Grace’s newest writing buddy. Photo courtesy of Facebook page Tammy L. Grace, Author
Tammy: My own golden retriever, Zoe, was my writing buddy when I first started this new adventure and the inspiration for the dogs I’ve used in my books. I think giving my human characters canine companions adds to their depth and lets the reader see more of them than is sometimes visible to others. I lost Zoe two years ago and have welcomed a new golden retriever, Izzy, who I am training to be my writing buddy.
There is almost a universal love of dogs and I think they make the books feel relatable to most people. I also enjoy the bit of humor they always add to the story.
Majken: I agree! Dogs are amazingly intuitive and make writing much less lonely. They are great feet warmers, too!
Your “Hometown Harbor” series is a reader favorite! Has the series concluded, or are there more stories on the way? Will your new publisher handle this series from here on out, or will you continue to do as you have done thus far?
Tammy: It’s a total five books, plus a prequel novella and while I think it’s concluded, I’m not opposed to adding to it or creating a special holiday book at some point. I truly love the characters and like many readers have told me, they feel like old friends. I just have too many other ideas at the moment! I’m focused on the Bookouture project this year and will move back to my new Glass Beach Cottage Series and another murder for Coop to solve when I wrap up A Dog’s Hope and A Dog’s Chance.
Majken: Thank you so much for taking the time to allow me to interview you! And, of course, I thank you, too, for your kind guidance and suggestions while I got started on my own journey into publishing. I thoroughly enjoy your books and find them entertaining and refreshing. Here’s to many more years of creating!
Tammy: Thank you, Majken, for reaching out to interview me. You ask great questions and it’s been quite fun. I’m so excited for your next book to release and can’t wait to see what you do next. It’s such a fun and rewarding process and I wish you continued success.
Wonderful! Thank you so much!
Below, find Ms. Grace’s Bio and all media links. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I would highly suggest checking out her stories!
Tammy L. Grace is an award-winning author who entertains readers with perfect escapes in women’s fiction and clever whodunit mysteries. Her works in women’s fiction include the best-selling Hometown Harbor Series set in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and her latest release, Beach Haven, the first in her new Glass Beach Cottage Series, set in coastal Washington. She also writes the Cooper Harrington Detective Series, featuring a quirky private detective and his faithful golden retriever. Her heartwarming Christmas novellas are perfect for readers who enjoy Hallmark Christmas Movies.
She is and fan of dogs and includes furry companions in all of her books and is presently presently working on two dog-centric novels for Bookouture, under the pen name, Casey Wilson, to be published in 2020.
Born and raised in Nevada, Tammy L. Grace loved reading at a young age. With the help of her middle school teacher, she discovered the joy of writing. When Tammy isn’t working on ideas for a novel, she’s spending time with family and friends or supporting her addiction to books and chocolate. She and her husband have one grown son and a new golden retriever puppy.
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Subscribe to Tammy’s monthly newsletter and get a FREE interview with the dogs from her Hometown Harbor Series: https://wp.me/P9umIy-e
A few weeks ago, I was give the opportunity to be a guest on the Brian “The Hammer” Jackson’s podcast.
Photo Courtesy of BlogTalkRadio.com
It was a marvelous experience, and as my fist foray into the world of being interviewed, I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better experience! Mr. Jackson and Ellen J. asked great questions, and I was thrilled with the amount of time they gave me to talk a little bit about myself, but also my debut novel, A Good Kind of Crazy!
Photo courtesy of Pexels.com
Photo courtesy of Pexels.com
I am not going to lie: at first I was crazy nervous. Mr. Jackson’s show boasts 2.5 million listeners, which is quite a daunting number. Perhaps I shouldn’t have looked up this information beforehand, because when the interview first began, I could hear my voice quaking in fear. But, soon, I was babbling away like I was having a kaffeklatch with two old friends. It wasn’t until the interview was wrapping up that I realized that I had momentarily forgotten that there were more than just Mr. Jackson and Ellen J. listening to me.
One added perk of the podcast was that I discovered I really enjoy speaking about the book, my characters, and how societal and cultural norms play a huge part in our personalities, experiences, and outcomes. I often say that when I am writing a book, the characters become like friends. I really get to know them, their experiences, and all of the idiosyncrasies that come together to form who they are. They may be fictional, but in mind, they become people who occupy my head space, just like real people do, and it is fun to get to know them.
Attached is the edited version of the podcast that the Brian “The Hammer” Jackson show prepared for me. If you are interested in learning more about me, my books, or my characters, give it a listen. Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any other podcasts that are looking for guests, I have been bitten by “the bug”, and would love more opportunities.
One of the craziest things about being an author is that it is so much less competitive than I would have ever thought. Not in every aspect, of course: it is still extremely competitive to find representation or a publisher. But, most of my fellow authors have been very kind and supportive. In fact, the overwhelming attitude from the beginning has been along the lines of, “People read new books every day. If they pick up yours before mine, so be it, because tomorrow they may pick up mine when they are done with yours!” And while it is very true that people don’t just read one book in their lifetime, it has been very refreshing to me to see how much of a community authors truly make.
Photo Credit: Pixaby
However, before I was actually thrust into the world occupied by my fellow scribes, I never would have guessed that a highlight of my foray into becoming a published author would be the incredible people I have met along the way. From the people in my two writing groups, to already-published authors who were so generous with their time and advice, to the people publishing/producing and editing my books, to my fellow authors, I have been extremely grateful for the part they have all played on my journey. There are a few, however, who stand out above the crowd. There are those who have not only been extremely helpful, but also a lot of fun, and have moved past “mentor” over to the “friend” category. So, I decided I would like the opportunity to discover what makes them the wordsmiths they are, and thankfully, some of them have agreed to let me share with my readers what makes them tick.
My first guest interview is with fellow Solstice author, David W. Thompson. David was one of the first authors who reached out and mercifully took me under his wing. From answering my bizarre questions, to helping me figure out Twitter, as well as always tagging me in Tweets and entering my name into contests, I can truly say that I don’t know what I would do without his friendship. But, even better, his writing and subject matter are both intriguing. So, without further ado, please allow me to introduce you to Mr. David W. Thompson
Majken: Thanks, David, for joining me on my blog! I appreciate your time, and I am excited to introduce you to readers who perhaps typically read a different genre and may not know yet how incredible you are as an author! So, let’s hit the ground running! My first question is how long have you been writing?
David: First off- thank you so much for doing this interview. As you know, exposure means everything when you are hoping to be read. But to your question (yes, I’m easily distracted) …it’s hard to define an exact time. I’ve often said I started writing fanfic of Dick and Jane stories, but I’m not sure if those stories are still part of the 1st grade curriculum. Younger readers may not be familiar, so I may have to update that! When I worked at a 9-5 job (actually more of a 5 to 5), I still managed to get a few short stories published over the years. When my kids were grown, and after I left the aviation industry, my love of writing was brought to the forefront again. I found more time to carve, fish, hike and of course—read and write.
Majken: I certainly understand that sometimes scheduling and the desire to write don’t always mesh well. But, jumping from the aviation industry to author is a big leap! Have you always wanted to be a writer?
David: Yes! At various times of my life, I’ve wanted to be an astronaut-writer, a military-writer, a natural resources writer and even a short stint as a fireman-writer. I’ve always been an avid reader: books, sure, but even cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. I remember when I read my 1st cuss word! I’d sounded the “F-bomb” out on the tagged wall of a store (long before “Hooked on Phonics”). Seeing my Mom’s deer in the headlights look, I asked what the definition of said word might be. She suggested it might be something I should ask my Dad about. Words have power! Anyway, writers are like readers on literary steroids. Don’t you think? Writing feels like a natural progression to me.
Majken: You are so right in that words have power! Do you write full-time now?
David: Coming from an industry where a “full time” 40-hour work week was a pipe dream (or meant you’d taken vacation), I’d have to say no. I’m not one of the super organized and driven writers who do so. It’s not me. I write for the love of writing and whenever that wonderful mystical muse cracks the whip, I bow my head and obey.
Majken: I get that. The muse is hypnotic sometimes. What do you do for a living and/or fun when you aren’t writing?
David: I was offered a chance at early retirement and grabbed it. I highly recommend it to everyone! On the fun end, I love reading, of course! I also enjoy winemaking and wood-carving. Kayaking is a passion, though I find a flat river with time to relax and enjoy the scenery draws me more now than Class III rapids. My bride enjoys these pursuits also (well not the actual wine-making…but she helps me empty the bottles). I have a wonderful family and most live nearby, although my baby daughter lives on he opposite coast with her family.
Majken: Wow! It definitely sounds like you are living your best life! It’s wonderful that you are able to engage in so many creative and fulfilling activities. Your books are fascinating, but certainly take a bit of a different direction from your hobbies, dealing mostly with the paranormal, more specifically witchcraft. What piqued your interest in this subject matter?
David: Thank you, Majken (and back at ya). I write the sort of stories that I enjoy reading myself. I don’t know what the draw is to dark fiction and horror—perhaps it’s because when a person is afraid, that’s when they feel most alive? Blood racing through their veins. Fight or flight! Witchcraft is a means to that end. It’s something that’s an unknown to many and some see as a threat, whether to their lives or to their beliefs.
You might also notice that the theme of many of my stories is societal injustice, good people cast as pariahs due to being different. What better demonstrates that than the history of witches (and those cast as such) in supposedly civilized societies?
That said though, for me, it isn’t witchcraft per se, but rather a particular witch, specifically Moll Dyer! She was a colonial era personage in my neck of the woods. Her story is legend here and I grew up hearing stories about her around childhood campfires. It seems every local family has an oral tradition associated with Moll. It’s said that the Blair witch story is based on her life, but to take her colonial roots and community out of the equation seriously distorted the tale.
Although the various renditions of her story are intended as cautionary tales, as far back as my memory stretches, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t feel empathy for the tragedy. I’ve long felt it was time to cast her in a different light. I hope Moll is pleased with my tales.
Majken: I love how committed you are to give voice to those who faced social injustice and I am sure she is pleased with your telling of her tale! But, I can’t help but think it could feel a little eerie and creepy to write these stories… Describe your writing space. Do you have an office? Do you use a desk? Do you feel safe from any wandering apparitions who may be reading over your shoulder?
David: HaHa. Well, I do indeed have a desk. It’s in my “man cave” and is mostly covered with Native American artifacts and books. I do most of my writing on a reclining sofa facing our log home’s façade—a wall of windows overlooking a 100-acre Old Order Mennonite field. As I type, I often glance up to watch the horse drawn plows and hay rakes or see a family going down the road in a horse drawn buggy. It’s easy to place myself back in time (or in a future dystopian time).
Majken: Wow! That sounds magical! I think I would find it hard to do much else but stare out at the view. But, obviously, you don’t have this problem, as you have written several novels. Describe what a typical writing session looks like for you. Do you write more during the day, or at night? Do you write every day? Do you set aside a specific time to write, or do you write when you feel the urge?
David: I have no set schedule, but do find that I write mostly in the early morning hours before the world wakes up and the necessities of life pull me away. Late evening works for me also, although I find more typos and grammar snafus after a late-night session.
Majken: I can certainly relate to that! I tend to write at night, when everyone is in bed and the house is quiet, but sometimes I find the craziest mistakes when I have been writing late into the evening and my brain is tired. So, what are you planning for your next project? Are you currently working on a new novel? If so, what’s the timeline before release looking like?
David: I’m currently working on an anthology of short stories that are focused on the different holiday periods. I’ve recently released the third book in the Dyer series with Solstice Publishing: “Sons and Brothers.” “Haunted Southern Maryland” is due to be released in September from the History Press.
Majken: Wow! That sounds great! I am looking forward to reading more. Thanks so much for allowing me to interview you! I hope that those who haven’t read your books yet will become as intrigued as I was when I first got to know you and your work. On that note, where can people learn more about you and your books?
David: Below is a list of the carious places people can find out more about me and my books.