Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

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There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

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Cheat sheet to Crissi Langwell’s books

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Every now and then, I like to send out a reminder about the different books I’ve written over the years. I’m currently writing my next book (more on that later!), but for now, here are some of the books you may have missed. Click on the links to purchase.

 

BOOKS BY CRISSI LANGWELL

 

Contemporary Fiction:

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The Road to Hope (Hope Series, Book 1)
A chance encounter between two mothers changes the course of their lives in a story that addresses issues of child loss, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and more. This series has mature content.

Hope at the Crossroads (Hope Series, Book 2)
Teen mother Maddie is ready to turn her life around. But when her past intersects with her present life, she has some hard decisions to make…and her choice will change everything.

Hope for the Broken Girl (Hope Series, Book 3)
He promised to take care of her. He promised to be a good father to Hope. He promised she’d have everything she ever wanted. He lied. Maddie’s story concludes with the third book of the Hope series.

(Buy the entire Hope series by clicking here)

Symphony Forever

A Symphony of Cicadas (Forever After, Book 1)
Rachel and her son died in a tragic car accident, weeks before she was to be married. Now she’s in a tug-of-war between life and death, trying to hold on to the man she loves and the life she left behind. (Note: Mature content)

Forever Thirteen (Forever After, Book 2)
13-year-old Joey is stuck in the afterlife, wedged forever at the awkward place between childhood and teenager. But when his best friend’s grief turns dangerous, Joey realizes he has a purpose worth dying for.

Cupcake Release Tease

Come Here, Cupcake (Dessert for Dinner, Book 1)
Morgan Truly discovers she has a knack for baking. What she doesn’t know is that her talent with sweets comes with a sprinkle of magic.

Young Adult:

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Loving the Wind
Take a trip to Neverland with the island’s princess, Tiger Lily, as she fights to be seen as the warrior she was born to be.

Non-Fiction:

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Reclaim Your Creative Soul
The secrets to making room for your craft, even if you live a full-time life.

More coming soon. Stay tuned!

Finally, I can breathe

Things are different in my reality right now. Slower. Calmer. Happier.

Make that immensely happier.

You may have noticed I was going through a terrible time a few months back. Then you may have noticed how quiet I’ve been since. That’s because this year of confidence has included a lot of change with it:

1. I started caring for my mother-in-law full-time in January.

2. I went on family leave from my job.

3. I questioned every single thing in my life, including my writing career.

4. I quit a few things that were once very important to me.

5. I went back to work with a new attitude, and felt lighter after my time away.

6. My mother-in-law moved into a new apartment, and life went back to normal.

7. I quit my job.

breaking freeWait, what? Yep, you read that right. I QUIT MY NEWSPAPER JOB! For those of you following along, you know this is huge. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. When I published my first book 6 years ago, I was certain I was only steps away from leaving my full-time job and writing for a living. It didn’t happen with that first book, but I figured maybe it would with the second. Then the third. Then the fifth, the seventh, the ninth… When I published my tenth book, my hope was lost and I stopped seeing the point.

Here’s the thing. I was putting so much weight on my success as a writer that I stopped feeling joy in it. I was miserable at my job and I was desperate for my writing career to save me. But it just wasn’t happening. I stopped enjoying writing, which was kind of like not enjoying breathing. Writing is everything to me. I love the shape of words, how they sound to the ears and feel in the mouth. I love the way they look on paper, the swirl of cursive or the nobleness of typed fonts. I love the way you can string words together in ways that evoke powerful emotions or breathless moments. I love reading these strings of words, and I love creating them. So when I stopped seeing the point in writing, I stopped seeing the point in life. Couple that despair with the immense weight of stress from my job, and I was absolutely miserable.

And then there was that mental breakdown thing. All that angst I was feeling served as a monumental block against all my creativity. This was not only devastating, but a blow to my ego because I’d stepped away from everything I preach about when it comes to staying creative, including the tips I’d laid out in Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

In other words, I was human.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental breakdown was just me reaching my breaking point when things were about to change. EVERYTHING was about to change, and it all started when I took time off work to care for my mother-in-law. Not only did it help my mother-in-law and me to develop a much closer relationship, but it also gave me the space I needed to BREATHE, to put things in perspective, to figure out what I wanted in life, and what I didn’t want. I began letting go of things that were no longer feeding me. I slowed down. I prayed more, and sat in silence more. I felt the grip of fear release its hold on me, and began experiencing moments when I knew what I wanted out of life, and it wasn’t at my job.

This wasn’t a new revelation, but for the first time, I experienced what it was like to not have to know everything that was going on in the world, keep my eyes open for trending stories, think up new ways to grab people’s attention, be on at all times… I experienced what it was like to move at a regular pace and do one thing at a time, and I liked it. And I realized that I could no longer move at the pace I was going at my job. I also realized that it wasn’t my job, but me. All this time I had been hating this job and feeling like it was the job’s fault for being terrible. But really, it was that I wasn’t meant for this job. It just stopped being the right fit, and I’d tried to make it work for far too long.

Taking 7 weeks off work helped me to not only see my current job a lot clearer, but it also helped me figure out what I would enjoy instead. During my time away, I found that job and applied. After I’d been back at work a month, that other job contacted me. I gave my two weeks’ notice a few days later. I’m now the marketing coordinator at a local real estate company, where I’ve been working for a month. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I love the work I do, and feel like I finally get to utilize the skills I have…many of which I actually gained at the newspaper.

Even more important, I feel the sunshine when I go outside, hear the birds, smell the roses, feel the ball of happiness expanding in my chest. I feel joy. I feel light. And…I feel like I can write again, which means I can finally breathe.

And it feels really, really good.

The day I met Anne Lamott…and choked

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Seven years ago, I waited in line to meet her, Annie Lamott, the author whose books I had devoured in a frantic kind of way, as if reading everything she’d written would somehow make me a better writer. I’d discovered her years before by accident when a friend told me that my confessional way of writing reminded them of her. I wanted to see what that meant, so I picked up her book, Traveling Mercies. Instantly, I was drawn into her world, at her coffee table, beside her and God and her son Sam as we compared imperfections, the wonderful sucky miraculous life of single motherhood, and how our own mothers drove us crazy and probably gave us our imperfections. I was hooked. I went on to read every other book she wrote, then followed her on social media where I gleefully witnessed her tell it like it was with no apology. I wished I could be that brave, to write out exactly what I was thinking without ever worrying about what my church thought, my coworkers thought, my mother thought. I lived vicariously through her, thinking that maybe I should have a stronger opinion on political figures and refer to God as a woman, just like she did. I wished my flattened hair was kinky enough to do something as bold as the dreads she wore, and wondered if I’d be as cool as she was when I reached my 60s.

I’d just finished hearing her tell a crowd of us “everything she knew about writing,” which only took an hour to tell. It was enough to further inspire my writing dreams. I had several unfinished novels collecting dust under my bed, and aspirations to one day be published. I wanted to ask how she gathered the courage to share unflattering stories about her family. It was one thing to share about one’s own mistakes and disparaging attributes, but to reveal the flaws of others was a thorny situation. Did they forgive her for outing them because she was the Anne Lamott? Did the pleasure of seeing their stories in print supersede their shameful shortcomings made public? Or did Annie simply step around their wagging fingers and high-pitched complaints, holding her head high on her way to writing a new bestselling, must-read novel?

“Are you nervous?” my husband asked, lacing his fingers through mine as I craned my neck toward the front of the line. I’d studied her outfit, the casual way she wore a scarf draped around her neck, the moon and star necklace I’d seen her wear on several different interviews, and how even her casual appearance seemed elegant in a way. In her writing and on stage, she’d mentioned her struggle with weight, but I saw no sign of it. Her pants were loose on her slim figure, her clothing like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog where men and women danced on beaches in colorful fashions as breezy as the wind.

“No,” I answered him, even though it was a lie. I was more aware of my stomach the closer we got, the words I wanted to say to her swimming around my head like a school of herring in an underwater tornado. My questions were starting to fade into statements, ones that told her how much she meant to me, how she inspired me, how her words made me want to be a better writer. Judging by the way the line kept inching forward, I only had a minute or two to convey my appreciation. Would it be enough? I grasped my copy of Traveling Mercies in my hand, trying to bend the curling cover so that it lay flat once again, and thinking of the other books I’d left behind. Was this really the one I wanted her to sign? It was the first book I’d read of hers, but there were others she’d written that touched me in different ways. Bird by Bird, in particular. Why hadn’t I brought that one?

One person stood between Anne Lamott and me, and my tongue was suddenly as dry as the Sahara Desert. Everything I thought I’d say to her disappeared. All my visions of her asking me out to coffee, maybe even her house, so we could discuss our shared profession of writing and my future success as an author…it all evaporated as the person in front of me ended their turn and she turned to me.

“Uh,” I started, which is always a good place to start when talking to your idol. “Uh hi.” What was wrong with me? I thought I should at least mention the book I was working on, the one that would make me famous. But then I realized she might not care, or worse, she’d ask me what it was about. “Um, my name is Crissi.”

“Nice to meet you, Crissi,” she said, her kind eyes meeting mine. This surprised me. She looked at me as if I were the only person there, giving me her full attention like I was someone important.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said. “I wanted to tell you, uh…” What did I want to tell her? How could I put it in words, how she’d voiced every single feelings I’d ever had, and mentioned things I’d felt shame over as if they were no big deal? How could I tell her that the love letter she wrote to her thighs, who she called “the aunties,” made me love my body a little bit better? Or that the way she wrote about her son made motherhood feel that much more special? Or how her honest way of talking about the pain of writing made me feel so much less alone?

“I wanted to tell you,” I began again. “I want you to know, uh, how much your writing has meant to me.” She smiled, seeming unrushed despite the line behind me. If I was wasting her time, she never made any show of it.

“She’s read almost all of your books,” Shawn offered, nodding at the book in my hands. Anne looked down and motioned at the book.

“Can I sign that for you?” she asked, and I handed it over. I knew I wouldn’t say anything else. I couldn’t. It was enough that I was there, standing next to Anne Lamott as she wrote my name next to hers inside the very first book of hers I’d read.

“Can I get a picture of you two?” Shawn asked, and I was so grateful he was there. Anne turned and we pressed our heads together as if we’d known each other for years. On my face was a smile, but in my head was a million cannons, firing off t-shirts into the crowd stating that my head was touching the famous dreadlocks of my favorite author, the knotted hair holding years of history I’d read about in her books—the loss of her very best friend Pammy to cancer, her difficult relationship with her mother and then losing her to Alzheimer’s, the day she let a black woman and her daughter make a religious experience out of dreadlocking her hair…the very hair that was touching mine.

“Thank you,” I breathed, and she gave me a gracious “you’re welcome” before turning to the next lucky person in line.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned it, but it was enough. Plus, I still had her words written down in her books. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever got the chance to meet her again, I’d have better luck telling her how much she meant to me.

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

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At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

Truth telling: 5 years into this author journey, I need a change

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Five years ago this March, I published my very first book, A Symphony of Cicadas. I wrote that book on the heels of my wedding and honeymoon, sent it off to an editor, learned all about self-publishing, and then released it on a hope and a prayer, and lots and lots of expectations. Oh, I fooled myself into thinking I didn’t expect anything from this novel. I’d read plenty of blogs from frustrated authors to know that success wouldn’t be instant. I told myself that this book was just getting me a place on the map, and it would probably take 3 or 4 more books to reach the kind of success I wanted so I could quit my job and write novels for a living.

Now I have 10 books, and I have still not cracked the code for reaching the kind of success I once believed in. My expectations are different now, more pessimistic. I write the books out of love, adoring every part of writing and creating. But as soon as I near release day, my love becomes conditional. I place a heavy weight of expected failure on the books, and wonder how much less each book will sell than the last.

I haven’t been wrong.

I know that sounds terrible. I’m ruining the romantic notion of being a writer. Thing is, I’m a writer with a full time job and busy life, and my energy is wearing thin. The past few months have been especially trying. The beginning of this year involved my moving in with my mother-in-law for a few weeks, away from my husband and family, until we could move her into our home so I could care for her full time while on Family Leave. This is where I’ve been devoting most of my energy, and you guys, I’m tired. Some days are good, but some days I question everything I’m doing. I ended up leaving a volunteer position with my church I’ve been a part of for the past three years, just to free up some space in my life. I’m now thinking of a few more things I can clear off my plate. And my constant question to myself is “What’s the point?”

The arrival of my MIL is only one small part of this equation, though. Truth is, I’ve been struggling for years. When I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, it was because I’d gone through a crisis of the soul over three specific things: my health (diet), my job, and my writing career. I had a mental breakdown, in a way, and didn’t see how I could keep going at the rate I was going. I wrote that book, sharing all the things I’d learned that allowed me to write books at a fast pace, even with a busy life. And I stand by what I wrote in that book, completely. But when, after that book, my life didn’t magically feel more peaceful, and when the things I was grappling with didn’t magically resolve themselves, I went into a major funk that has basically continued until present day. I have so many disappointment over the status of my book career, and have spent so much money on this dream, it’s ridiculous.

But my idea of success is ridiculous, too. I compare myself to big name indie authors, wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t have what they have. But then I see the things they’re doing, and I can’t even wrap my mind around doing the same things. Regular book festival appearances in exciting places like London. Facebook Live chat sessions with fans. Daily giveaways. Being perky all the time. Never airing grievances. Basking in awesomeness. And I’m over here feeding my misery with calories and wishing I could have something for “nothing,” because being successful as an author takes so much more than just writing a book.

And so, I’m taking a break from publishing. I don’t know how long this break will be. It could be a few months, it could be a year, it could be several years, it could be forever. I don’t know. I’m focusing my energy on learning to write, taking a creative writing class, and seeking out other opportunities where I can improve my skills. I’m also figuring out if writing is even my thing. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, believing this is the path I’m supposed to be on. All I know is that when I look through my journals over the past few years, all of my lamentations are the same, and nothing has changed…I just have more books under my belt.

In the meantime, I’m not going away. I have 10 books, dammit, and I’m still pretty proud of them, even if they still haven’t given me financial freedom. I’m most likely returning to publishing once I’m more confident with my writing and much less burnt out. Besides, any books I sell will go toward any future sibling books.

Thank you for standing by me. There are a few of you who have been so faithful in buying and reading my books, cheering me on, and just being an incredible support team. I hope you know who you are, because your encouragement has sometimes been the one thing I needed to keep going on this crazy, soul-sucking, wonderful writing path. If I go rogue for a while out of necessity, I know I can come back and count on your love and loyalty.

I love you all.

Goodreads yanks giveaways from small-time authors, and I’m mad

GoodreadsWhen I first became an author, one of the most vital resources I found to get my books out there and connect with readers was Goodreads. I loved that you could join or create groups to connect with other readers who liked the same kinds of books, find new books through friend suggestions, review books, and so on. I found this platform awesome for book lovers, and I made a lot of friends there.

One of my favorite features on Goodreads was the giveaway section. As a reader, I could enter giveaways with hopes to win (haven’t yet), or just discover new reads. I’ve even bought several of the books I’ve entered to win.

But this section was even more valuable to me as an author. It was my most valuable asset to get my book in front of other people who may not have known about it. I used it to encourage people to put it on their “To Read” list, to test out new descriptions, to gauge how well my books do compared to each other (when I did simultaneous giveaways), and so on. Plus, it just feels good to give your book away to someone who wants it. It was a fabulous marketing tool, and I utilized it with every book launch. Plus, those people who shelved my books (which are in the thousands for some of my titles) are notified whenever I publish a new book. The Goodreads Giveaway was the perfect way to spread the word about my books.

That all changed this year. In January, Goodreads did away with free giveaways and now charges a minimum of $119 for each giveaway. As a small-time author, I was already feeling the pinch giving my books away, plus paying shipping and handling. Each free book runs me around $15, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but each book adds up when you’re still struggling to turn a profit. So to add $119 onto this feels like a slap in the face, and a clear message to those of us who aren’t making thousands off our books – we’re not wanted.

I get it. Goodreads is a business, and an Amazon-owned business, at that. The service they provided for authors with these giveaways was incredibly valuable, and it was quite generous that we could do it for free for as long as we’d been allowed. However, to go from $0 to $119 is a bit high, especially since I don’t believe the outcome will be profitable. I mean, I’ve been disappointed before by giving my money to Goodreads ads. Just look at their poor excuse for advertising. Spend all you want on those little tiny self-serve ads; if you’re not shelling out major bucks for banner ads, you might as well give Goodreads your wallet for nothing and call it a day.

So it looks like my Goodreads giveaway days are over. However, I am due for another giveaway, and would love your suggestions. If you’re an author, what have been some of your favorite ways to give your books away to readers? If you’re a reader, what kind of contest would you like to see? Your answer could result in a new contest, and you’ll get a mention!

P.S. J. L. Greger guest-blogged about this topic on Thonie Hevron’s blog, “Just the Facts, Ma’am,” and offered a few alternative contest ideas. Check it out here.

Book number ten is in the bag

DEMO underwater girlWell, hello there! It’s been five days since Hope for the Broken Girl published, so I naturally did a bit of a disappearing act. Being my 10th book, I’m finally accepting that about myself. I put all my soul and energy into a book, and then want to hide under a rock once it’s out (see this post for reference), simultaneously hoping everyone reads it and no one reads it.

This book was a bit different, though. I’m not shy about this book, at least for the most part. I’m reluctant to suggest this book to anyone who is a sensitive reader or gets offended by hard language or tough situations. This book is gritty, and I didn’t mince words in the story. I couldn’t, to do so would hurt the story. However, I think most readers would appreciate that about this book. I hope it reaches plenty of people, as the story is so important. It addresses domestic violence in an in-your-face kind of way, and how something like that can even happen. Why does a girl stay when her boyfriend hits her? I hope this story helps people reach the answer.

Note: Hope for the Broken Girl is the 3rd book in the Hope series, and is available here. If you haven’t started the Hope series yet, here’s the link to all three books. The first book, The Road to Hope, is free for Kindle for the rest of today, so no excuses!

coffee
Behind that coffee cup is the forest view at my mother-in-law’s magical home, where I lived for two weeks before moving her into our home.

Still, the disappearing act did happen, sort of, but for different reasons. Things have been different on the home front. As most of you know, my day job is in the newsroom at my local newspaper. However, I haven’t stepped foot in the newsroom for several weeks, and won’t for several more. I’m taking some time off to care for my mother-in-law as she regains use of her hands and feet after spinal surgery. The experience has been both rewarding and frustrating. The wonderful part is that I’ve come to know her in a whole new way, forming a friendship with her. This is a miracle in itself as I have never felt close to her, and we didn’t really know each other all that well. The frustrating part, however, is just spending time with one person day in and day out with little reprieve. I admit I’m getting a bit stir crazy, and long for the time when our family has our house back (she’s temporarily living with us) and all of our routines are back to normal (though the time away from my more-than-stressful job is incredible). I know my MIL is also wishing for her regular routine, and can’t wait to have her independence.

In the meantime, we’re hanging out daily. She sits in one corner of the living room binge watching shows in between therapy sessions, and I sit on the other with my homework all around me. I got her into “This is Us” (oh my God, that Super Bowl episode!!!), so it’s been fun re-watching the 1st season with her. And she’s becoming more independent so that I can step out of the house for an hour or so without worrying she’ll fall.

That’s what’s going on with me! What’s going on with you?

Sneak peek at Hope for the Broken Girl, releasing Feb. 5

DEMO underwater girl.jpg5 more days! Hope for the Broken Girl releases Feb. 5, and completes the Hope series trilogy with the rest of Maddie and Hope’s story. Are you as excited as I am???

Just a warning, this series deals with some heavy topics, including domestic violence. This is not a G-rated book. Read more about the book here.

Also, here’s a super secret hint: The Road to Hope will be FREE for Kindle on Feb. 5. This is a gift from me to you to celebrate the series’ completion! If you haven’t read The Road to Hope yet, wait until Monday, and then download it at this link.

Here’s another exciting tidbit: the paperback version of Hope for the Broken Girl is already available on Amazon! If you like paperback books, purchase it today here. Not only that, if you buy a paperback book, the Kindle version is FREE!

That’s a lot of freebies. Want one more? Below is a free sneak peek at the opening pages of Hope for the Broken Girl. Enjoy!

Chapters1Chapter 1: Broken

The engine whines as I turn the key, but refuses to turn over. I pull the keys out and throw them across the dash in frustration. The noise is louder than I expect and I glance in the back seat to see if Hope is still sleeping. She is.

With my phone in hand, I get out of the car, walking over to the passenger side so that I’m not next to the busy highway. The ocean spreads out in front of me in both directions, seeming to take up my whole world. I look down at the phone screen. My sleeves have hiked up my arms, and I pull them down out of habit to hide the bruises.

I don’t know if he’ll answer. He has no reason to answer. I’m afraid he’ll ignore my call. Worse, I’m afraid he’ll answer and give me hell for the way I disappeared. But I had no choice, just like I have no choice now.

His name isn’t on my phone. I’m not that dumb. But I know his number by heart. I touch each digit, pausing with a deep breath before I hit the final one. Then I hold the phone to my ear and wait. He might not answer. He might not pick up the phone because he doesn’t recognize this number. He might…

“Hello?”

I say nothing for a moment, closing my eyes at the sound of his voice. I hadn’t realized how much it would affect me.

“Hello? Anyone there?”

“Jace.” I keep my eyes closed, listening to him breathe in my ear as the coastal wind whips my hair around my face.

“Maddie?”

“Yes, it’s me. I’m sorry it’s so early.”

“Oh my God, how are you? Where are you? Is everything okay?”

“No,” I whisper.

“I can’t hear you. There’s a lot of noise on your end. Are you all right?”

I open my eyes and look out at the ocean. It’s funny how something so large and dangerous can look beautiful and inviting from far away. Right now, it appears like glass under the first rays of the morning sun, despite the wind. It’s deceptive—how could something so monstrous appear this peaceful?

“I need you to find me. I need you to bring me home,” I tell him. He says nothing for a moment, and my doubts flare up, once again. Please don’t let me down.

“Where are you?” he asks.

“I’m not sure. Hold on.” I pull up a map on the phone. “I’ve just passed Crescent City.” I glance down the highway. Cars whip by on the narrow road, and there doesn’t seem to be anything close. “I’m out of gas and can’t go any further.”

He’s quiet, and I know he’s looking up my location.

“Crescent City is more than five hours north from here,” he says.

“I know.” I clench my hand against my jeans, praying he’ll come get me. If he refuses, I don’t know what I’ll do.

“Are you on Highway 101?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, sighing. It’s way out of the way. I should have driven down I-5, but a detour at Grants Pass got me confused. I know I’d be closer to home if I hadn’t gotten turned around. Now, I’m still too close to the Oregon border…too close to danger.

“Okay. There’s a motel called Seaport Inn along the highway. Can you find it and tell me how far you are from it?”

I pull the phone from my ear and punch the name in.

“About three miles,” I tell him.

“Can you walk that far?” he asks. I look in the back seat. Hope’s still asleep in her car seat. I’ll have to leave it behind, along with anything else that’s too heavy to carry with Hope on my hip.

“I’m going to have to,” I tell him. “But bring Kayci’s car seat.”

He tells me he’ll call the motel and reserve a room with two beds, and to just show up and give them my name.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he assures me. He’s quiet for a moment, but I hear him breathing. “Will you be okay?” he finally asks. “Are you in any kind of trouble? Is there anything I should know to prepare myself?”

I don’t know how to answer. I look up to the sky. The cloudless blue is deceiving. The wind stills for a moment, and my breath comes out in small clouds. I pull my jacket closer to my body.

“No,” I lie. “Just hurry.”

___

Hope for the Broken Girl releases Feb. 5, available in both print and eBook. This is the 3rd book of the Hope series. To see all books, visit bit.ly/HopeSeriesKindle.

Writing exercise: Using all 5 senses

I’m reading “Make Your Words Work,” by Gary Provost, an essential book for every writer. This is a book I wish I’d read before ever attempting to write a novel. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and already I’ve learned so much.

One of the exercises in the book was to write a paragraph using all five senses. I did, and came up with the following scene.

Btw, try this exercise yourself! I’d love to read yours in the comments.

The Coffee Shop

I opened the glass door of the Java Hut with a jingle of the bells, which made way for the low murmur of conversation, along with the occasional clink of China. The rushing sound of the espresso machine served as background noise, a sweet symphony of sound as I took my place in line. I’d skipped my morning coffee when I woke up, and my mouth salivated in anticipation of the earthy brew.

I reached the front of the line, taking in the cashier’s colorful dreads, a rainbow of pink, purple, and turquoise, paired with blue eyes lined with kohl and a black painted mouth. If it weren’t for her smile, I’d have assumed she was unfriendly.

“What can I get you?”

I ordered my usual – two cups of drip, one with extra cream, and one black. She took my crinkled dollars and replaced them with a couple cold coins, which clinked in her tip jar as I dropped them.

With coffees in hand, I took a seat by the window, placing the pale coffee on the opposite side of the table, and holding the heated ceramic of my own dark brew. I breathed in, inhaling the roasted air mingled with the scent of bacon from my neighboring table. Then I raised my cup toward the empty seat in front of me.

“Ten years is a long time,” I murmured. “Think you’ll ever give up the charade?”

I clinked the cup of milky coffee, then brought my brew to my lips, sipping the scalding liquid. When I lowered my cup, the other was already empty. I picked it up and looked inside, reading the words in the bottom of the cup.

“Not yet.”