State of the Author: Somewhat Improved

Hi, everyone. Just a quick update to let you know I’m still around.

I’ve been speaking to a counselor once a week, which has helped. I’ve also started asking two things of myself beyond doing my day job: getting dressed (makeup is optional, but I have done it more days than not), and taking 15 minutes of exercise using Youtube videos (I really like a channel called Yes2Next, in case you’re curious).

I have found that doing these two simple things sometimes makes me feel better enough to do other small things. I keep those other things deliberately small so that they don’t overwhelm me … and I’m careful not to put too much pressure on myself. I’m doing this to try to promote self-compassion. I’m good at looking after others, but not so great about doing the same for myself.

Well, according to my counselor, it turns out that what I decided on my own to do is a therapeutic method called behavioral activation. You can read more about it at the link … but the upshot is that accomplishing even small goals helps us have the energy to tackle the next thing.

And guess what else happened? I’ve mentioned that I’m struggling with creativity. Well, last year I agreed to be part of a progressive story, Codex of Quills, with my old author gang from Clockwork Alchemy. I got the story on Sunday so that I could write my episode. As I read what had been written previously, my initial thought was “I’m not up to this after all.” Then, about three quarters of the way in, I thought “I can do this … as long as I don’t make perfect the enemy of good.”

And I did it. Episode 15 is in the bag.

You can read the first four published episodes here

I also had a breakthrough about Pompeii Fire that will help move the story forward … but that’s going to mean some editing of what I’ve done so far to “make room” for it. I’m excited!

2017: The Year in Review

I debated about whether to do a post like this. No, I really did. There has been so much unpleasantness in the world that I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit any of it. I finally concluded that there were three categories into which the post could fall, and so here we are. Ladies and gentlemen, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good:

We adopted two kittens who were brought to us by a feral mama we named Savannah. She was pregnant again before Memphis Tom and Figaro were weaned, and presented us with the Million Dollar Quartet kittens. We got all four kittens into rescue at the shelter where I volunteer. As I write this, three of the four have been adopted and the fourth, Elvis, is in medical foster. Mama Savannah continues to evade the trap, but we haven’t given up.

M&M frt Verson 1Bayou Fire was published and, to date, has garnered two awards.

I visited Memphis and Tupelo to do research for the new book, and discovered some things inside myself that I didn’t know were there. I heard great music, ate some excellent food, and had my eyes opened in a way I didn’t expect.

I finished the first draft of It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories, and am in the editing process right now. However, it’s early days; more on that below.

I did three author appearances this year, and met a lot of wonderful readers in the process. I also made the difficult decision to step down from the staff of Clockwork Alchemy after six years. I am already planning my calendar for 2018; watch this space for news.

I read 124 books, ranging in length from 22 (Enchanted Tiki Room #5) to 784 pages (Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley). GoodReads kept track of the statistics for me.

My charitable giving was greatly increased, as I made donations to different organizations each month. I gave to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, Humane Society Silicon Valley, World Vision, Save the Children, the National Civil Rights Museum, Texas Diaper Bank, and Planned Parenthood.  I also helped friends with medical emergencies.

My day job company was sold off, and I still have a position. In fact, it looks as though I’ll be taking on more responsibility and will have additional travel as a result. I had only two business trips this year, and there is one coming up in January. We’ll see how that all pans out.

It Happened in MemphisSpeaking of travel, I’ve already booked my first-ever trip to a rockabilly convention called Viva Las Vegas for 2018 (I’m counting it in my review because the booking happened this year) and am looking forward to seeing live performances by Narvel Felts, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Duane Eddy. There may be another story or two for It Happened in Memphis as a result; we’ll see.

The Bad:

My Hashimoto’s disease was much worse this year, and my joint problems increased. I now use a cane part-time, and have orthotics to help as well. I need to do better with self-care, because I am easily frustrated when I can’t do whatever it is I’m attempting with the same ease I had in the past.

My best gal-pal from high school developed complicated diverticulitis and had to have major surgery. She and I spent some time together traveling early in the year, which was nice.

I visited my folks during the summer for PixieFest, and my dad (who just turned 80) is not doing too well. I had an enjoyable visit, but that was hard to see.

Book sales were down across all channels. I know that this is happening for a lot of authors, but it’s still disappointing. One interesting thing: for the second time since I’ve been keeping metrics, Kindle sales ran neck and neck with ePub sales. Historically, 80 percent of my sales have come from ePub format readers.

The Ugly:

I try to keep politics out of this blog. However, if I really want to be honest about this year, I have to say a couple of things.

You can’t turn on the news without seeing the ugly. My most popular blog article of 2017 was What’s Happening in Charlottesville. The unfortunate displays of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are ongoing … and are the primary reason my charitable giving has increased so much. I have been entirely conscious of my white privilege in a lot of this, and I believe in using my privilege to help those who have less than I do.

Thing is, we see the same kinds of behavior in the history books, when we read about the Civil Rights Era. My privilege allowed me to think we were doing better as a country, and now I know we are not. And here’s the thing: we must do better. Diversity of thought, ethnicity, faith, etc., are the foundations of our country. We need to remember that in all that we do.

Furthermore, we seem to have returned to the age of the robber barons; I can’t help thinking of Jay Gould, Russell Sage, John D. Rockefeller, and a host of others who were immune to consequences of their actions because of their personal fortunes. The same kinds of abuses are being revealed as happened in those days, and they must be stopped.

How, you might ask? At the ballot box. This nation cannot afford voter apathy, and we must ensure that all eligible voters are both enfranchised and motivated. Attempts at voter suppression must be overcome, just as in the 1960s.

We have been placid and passive for too long. Rise up.

How to be a Convention-Goer that Vendors and Authors Love

Well, another year of Clockwork Alchemy has wrapped up.  I’ve been selling books there for six years, and on the staff for five.  Over these six years, I’ve made some observations and hope that my thoughts will be helpful.

Right up front, I will say that I understand that not everyone is neurotypical.  Some of the things I will write about may be considered challenging because of that.  Not everyone gets social cues, or understands what is appropriate.  However, I think it’s worth talking about these items.  So, there’s my caveat.

As sellers, we all appreciate our customers.  Every last one of you.  Make no mistake about that.  However, there are some things you can do at shows that will make us love you.

  1.  If you have small children, please prevent them from abducting our props and/or product.  Hold them by the hand if necessary.  I had to rescue both props and product from the hands of passing children this last weekend, as they just grabbed them while passing by.  I get that a little kid is going to be excited about a rubber alligator or plush crawfish (hey, my latest book takes place in Louisiana …) … but I think most kids can understand “don’t take things that aren’t yours.”  If you do notice your child has taken something, go back and find out where it came from so that the item may be recovered.  I was fortunate that I had someone else who could cover my table … and that all it took was me standing up and asking somewhat loudly that the items be put back for them to be returned.  This time.
  2. If it is on the table, please do not presume that it is a freebie.   One of my fellow authors had to write off product a couple of years ago because of this one.  Please ask.  If the author/vendor is away from their table (as was the case in this instance), come back.  Don’t just take things.
  3. If a vendor has convention ribbons, please ask before just reaching across and grabbing one.   Sometimes people have only a few ribbons.  They may be giving them out as gifts with purchase, have a special word you have to say to get one, etc.  A fellow author says ribbons are a privilege, not a right.  And … they cost us money.  Someone may only have been able to afford a few ribbons, and purchased them only for friends.  You never know.  It’s okay to ask, but please be gracious if you are declined.  I actually had one teenage boy a couple of years ago, after receiving the ribbon I was giving out to all and sundry, come back to my table demanding to know why I had not given him the second ribbon which was behind my materials:  a ribbon that was a gift with purchase only.  His argument was that he could see the ribbon and had a right to it (yes, he said that).  No.
  4. Which brings me to my next point.  Do not go behind the table without being invited.  Ever.  Vendors have their cash and stock there.  The reason I bring this up is that my husband later caught this same young man going behind my table while I was teaching a panel, trying to take one of the ribbons that were for purchasers only.  Please be respectful of the vendors’ space.  Think of anything “behind the table” as backstage.  The audience doesn’t go there.
  5. Please do not buttonhole the vendor or author.  We are unable to leave our site … but also unable to do more business … when this happens.  I had a woman interrupt my conversation with a customer this past weekend, to start ranting about an issue that concerned her mightily.  She went on for nearly 20 minutes.  I lost a customer and I was stuck in a position where I could do and say nothing.  She’d found her captive audience, and I cannot possibly know how many sales I lost.  She also went away without buying a thing.  This is an awkward situation for us as sellers.  It’s okay to make chit-chat for a few minutes, of course.  We enjoy chatting with people.  But please, do not make us the audience for your grievances.  This also goes back to item 4 on the list; a couple of years ago a customer went behind the table and sat down next to one of our female authors and started making really inappropriate remarks to both her and some of her potential customers.  Because he was “backstage” and seated, potential customers assumed he had been invited to be there.  Sales were lost.  We were unaware until after the problem had already occurred; the author told us she was basically too shocked at the time to confront the convention-goer (women are also taught to be polite at all times, so that played into it).  That person has been spoken to and not been a problem again, but the damage was done.

I really debated about writing this, but it occurred to me that some people really may not know the etiquette, for lack of a better way to put it, of these things.  I hope that this list is helpful.

Clockwork Alchemy, Day 3

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I was in a little bit of a funk yesterday before the show, I admit.  Foot traffic to the Author’s Alley has been markedly lighter than in past years and my sales are far from where I had hoped they would be.

A couple of things helped.  One of them was a chat with my “next-door neighbor” at the show, Harry Turtledove.  When even a guy who is at that level of success sometimes feel discouraged, it helps to know you’re not alone.

The other thing that helped was my award.  My fellow authors and I decided to have a little decorating contest for our tables, to encourage people to make their displays nice.  I came in third, receiving the ribbon and a signed book from one of my fellow authors, Mike Tierney, The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday.  What made this particularly special for me is this:  during the first year of Clockwork Alchemy, we offered mentoring appointments to aspiring authors.  Mike chose me … which surprised me, because he was working on something steampunk, and I do primarily historical fiction.  I said as much, and he told me that he wanted someone who focused on the history to tell him whether his concepts would work.  I very much thought that they would, and told him so.  The result was Mike’s debut, To Rule the Skies.  You can find Mike’s fact- and fun-filled blog at https://airshipflamel.com/.

Clockwork Alchemy 2017 closes at 1 PM today.  I’ll be in the Author’s Alley until at least 12 noon if you haven’t had a chance to stop by yet.  Thanks!

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