Adapting and Adjusting is an Author’s Life: Mine Might be Titled “Survivor”

If there was one skill set or one set of tools I would recommend every author carry in their author tool box, it is the ability to adapt and adjust.

I would go so far as to say it is the one set of tools every person needs to survive and to succeed in life. I am blessed to have acquired these abilities or skills and very thankful for them.

If there is one constant in the author world today, or in our modern world today, it is that things change and they often change fast and unexpectedly.

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As an author I’ve survived more things than I can count. I’ll attempt to list the major ones.

I’ve survived many rejection letters, and competing for a publishing contract with a major publishing house (Dorchester Publishing) during the American Title II contest. Similar to American Idol, readers voted online and each month two authors were kicked off the island. During that contest, my husband flatlined for three minutes. They were to put a stint in (a simple surgery they said) and he reacted to the dye. I nearly lost him. Three minutes is a long time to flatline. Seeing him on total life support in the operating room (the Dr took me inside without having me gown or wash my hands – the first shock of that before seeing him – and then the nurse saying ‘You can touch him if you want to’) shook my world. Split it in two.

My world split into the before, and the after. When this happened during the contest and my focus moved to sitting by his side in the hospital, instead of asking for votes, my writing world shifted. I had made it to the second round of the contest but was soon “voted off the island.” With all the other authors pushing for votes, I suspect I had very little chance of winning at that point. The before and after of my life pushed my writing career into the background. When life happens we do what we have to do.

This period of time in my life is part sharp focus and part blur. Somewhere during that time I obtained an agent who had been enthusiastically pursing several of us who were competing. Three of us signed with him.

The agent sold my book to Samhain and I survived receiving “the call” for the sale of my first book, while looking at the letter on my desk which would sever the contract with my agent. The list of reasons to split from him had grown too long to ignore. I later learned from my editor that she had never received the last chapter of the book. They bought A Desperate Journey though it was missing the last chapter. They must have liked my writing enough to take a chance on me. I’m still surprised by that. This experience made me gun shy of agents and I didn’t pitch my books to any others. It’s true that no agent is better than a bad agent. The least they can do is submit the full manuscript for you.

I then survived what I call the editor revolving door, as I was passed to five different editors at that house and the house sitting on two of my books before being orphaned at my publishing house. Being orphaned is hard because you no longer have an advocate in house and communications slow til you don’t know what is going on at your publishing house. With no agent, I also had no advocate anywhere. I was going it alone and that is no easy road.

I’ve survived firing two PR people, one after my father passed after eight months on hospice. They had done nothing to promote my new book launch. My new book came out, it was release day, and there was no promo beyond what could be done that day at the last minute after my frantic messages.  When I asked where my promo was, I was told my PR person had left the company. She’d left and no one had told me. Though the company tried to make it up to me, the lack of promo did hurt sales. I decided no PR company was better than one who didn’t do what you paid them for. Once again I was going it alone.

I survived being with five publishing houses, juggling deadlines. Not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket so as not to be orphaned with no books coming out again, I tried writing for too many houses. It was a lot to keep up with. It also meant I had many different kinds of stories out there and would not be branding with just one type of romance. I could write what I wanted, and at one house was able to sell on proposal. My publisher said she would publish anything I wrote. That was a far cry from being turned down more than once at my first house as editors revolved. I was riding the roller coaster author life up and down. I learned to adapt and adjust quickly and to write fast to meet deadlines. I often met them by missing sleep. (Not something I advise doing as it will affect your health.)  I was proud of never missing a deadline, a carry over from working at the Collierville Herald newspaper.

Of those five presses, three are no longer in business and one discontinued the line I was writing in. In some cases I was never paid my royalties. I never received my advance from the first house. Though the royalties covered that advance, so it’s not like they robbed me, the advance would have helped.

I’ve survived internet trolls and bad reviews, slings and arrows, things people fling at you when they want to pull you down. I refuse to be pulled down and focus on staying up and staying positive.

Through it all, I survive. Beyond that I am determined to thrive. To succeed. To do what I love and to share my stories with the world. I write because I love to write and I love stories. I protect my writing with a ferocity few realize and which has even surprised my husband at times.

Recent news reminded me it was time to adapt and adjust again. And that is exactly how I see it. Kindle Worlds is closing. We just got the word this week and my email came while I was in the hospital with pancreatitis. Boy, talk about timing. I had three more books scheduled to come out in two different Kindle Worlds. This affects my writing and publishing schedule for 2018. It affects my today and my tomorrow. The next book was to be out in June. I’m now readjusting my planner and turning to work on a different story.

This is what authors must do if we are not only to survive, but to thrive. Not just on a financial level but on an emotional level as well, for our happiness as writers.

Happiness is important and life is short.

Minutes matter.

How much time do you spend on the negative curve that has just been thrown your way?

Change can propel you to better things or it can bog you down. Don’t let it. Adapt and adjust as quickly as you can. The past is the past and needs to remain there. You are in charge of your tomorrows. Make them good ones.

Today I am working on book three which will be in this box set, tying my first two westerns together. Tying them together and wrapping up the past into the future where good things can and will happen. Desperate, Dangerous and Deadly: A Western Collection containing A Desperate Journey, Dangerous Ties, and Deadly Adversaries. Look for it soon.

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Writing During Difficult Times

Writing during difficult times can be a blessing but it can also create stress. I experienced this during 2014 when my father was on hospice for eight months and then in June when he passed. This was a time when I put into practice much of what I teach my writing students.

To write is to release words we carry inside of us. Thoughts and emotions but also the words themselves. Words that we do not speak or write will lodge in the body. So it can be cathartic to write about the difficult times. This is why it can feel so good to write in a journal.

It can also be cathartic to block everything about your current reality and escape to your fictional world for a while. The tricky part is that stress can make it hard to focus on that fictional world.

So how do we move through difficult times when we want to be writing? How do we navigate a writing life when the river currents have shifted and nothing is as it was?

First, you must always take care of yourself. You come first and the writing second.
If you need to take time off then do so. If you need help, then ask for it. You might not want to write. You might not want to get up in the morning. You might feel you are the only one in the world with this problem. You might feel that no one understands. But the fact is, this is a common problem. It’s just that not many writers talk about it. We tend to go into our writing caves and remain silent. This I believe is a mistake.

Take time off from the pressure to write and don’t be hard on yourself about it. Do what you must do. You are allowed a long lunch break during these times. You are allowed a vacation. Taking a break does not mean you have failed any more than taking a vacation from a day job means you are not doing a good job. Be kinder toward yourself, not hard on yourself. Remember that you are more important than the writing. The writing will be there when you return. Your life matters and your health and happiness matter. Without you, your writings would never exist.

This is not the time to disappear into your writers cave like some mysterious author who never communicates what is going on with anyone. If you have an editor, an agent, a publicist, or anyone else that you work with to produce or promote your writing, let them know what is going on. You might be surprised how supportive they can be.

Come to the page and write something, anything. Getting the words out will help you to move through whatever you are dealing with. The something you write may not be the story you’ve been working on. It may be the thing which is bothering you today. Sometimes we need to get those words out first, before we can move on to working on that story. But write something. Five minutes a day. Set the egg timer. It may seem like an insurmountable task making yourself sit there for five minutes to write, but once you manage it, you might be surprised at the feelings of relief you will have. Give yourself small manageable goals so you can succeed instead of tackling a long project which could leave you with a feeling of failure.

It is okay to write something you never intend anyone to read. You are doing this first for yourself. Whether anyone will read it is a secondary issue. Your task is to get those words out. It is okay to write something and then delete it later. It is okay to put it into a drawer and not look at it for a year.

It is okay to only write for that five minutes a day when you are used to writing pages and pages. It is okay if you cannot produce as many pages as you are used to. You may be tired, you may be distracted, you may have interruptions you would not normally allow. Avoid putting pressure on yourself about your writing.

Are you full of emotion? If so, good. Let that flow out onto the page. If you are working on fiction or poetry let it flow into your work. Emotions are one of the ways we connect with our readers.

Allow your writing to bring you joy. Everyone goes through difficult times at some point in their lives. But you have been blessed with the urge to write and it’s there for a reason. Your writing is something that will always be yours. You take it with you wherever you go and you can write through anything if you teach yourself how. Let your writing give back to you as you give to it.

Writing through difficult times has taught me so much. I am thankful for those lessons, just as I am thankful to be nearing the end of these current difficulties. I am thankful to know that just as I have moved through this trying period of my life, I could move through the next if need be and emerge stronger and wiser on the other side. I will emerge stronger, wiser and ready to write.

A Writing Exercise – Dedicated to My Father

Two weeks ago, on my birthday, I treated myself to a Writing and Yoga Workshop taught by Valentine Leonard at Delta Groove Yoga in Memphis. It’s been a long time since I took a writing workshop. Usually I am busy writing my novels, short stories and poetry and teaching and coaching my writing students. So this was a nice treat for me, to be on the other side of teaching and to be a student once again.

One of the exercises given was to make two lists, one of places we knew well and the other of things we no longer did. Then we were to match the unlikely ones together, to pick one and to write about it. From those lists I chose my fathers house and escorting  travelers overseas.

This is what I wrote:

I no longer escort travelers overseas on long trips to my father’s house.

He is on hospice now and mostly sleeps. So I would not have time now for travelers who need escorts because they don’t know how to get their passport or what to pack and who have never stepped beyond the borders of their own country.

I used to have so much time and patience for so many people and never minded helping. They simply needed someone to go beyond pointing the way and saying this is how you do it.

Sometimes a person just needs another hand to hold and for them to say come on, it’s going to be okay. I wonder who is holding my fathers hand now and if he will be escorted in a group to the other side. He does not seem afraid, merely confused. Perhaps this is why he is lingering so long.

It’s harder to be the watcher when you are used to escorting people. I have no road map for where he must go. I do not know these border crossings. I can only stand on the shoreline waving goodbye and sending my love.

For me, this is a journey of sitting when I am used to being in movement. I should not complain. He is the one confined to a bed, never going outside to breathe the fresh air. No wonder he sleeps so much. I would sleep too if my gaze could not reach up to touch the sky. I would close my eyes and travel in my mind. Perhaps this is what he is doing. It is impossible for me to know.

Perhaps he is waiting on a slow VISA to the place he has never gone before. I hope and pray his passage is smooth, his escort kind and firm of hand. I hope his new country welcomes him like a long lost son and celebrates his coming home.

Dedicated to John (Jack) Bishop

Oct. 15, 1933 to June 20, 2014