Confessions of a Geyser Hunter

by Grace Bridges

 

There’s a city in New Zealand, where my father was born, where as a child he bathed in backyard thermal springs and steaming ponds in the public park. These days I live a few hours away. Imagine if you will, after a short roadtrip, cresting the rim of a caldera and coming face to face with a crater lake containing an island formed by later eruptions. Imagine descending to the town at the lakeside and blinking at steam that rises from the roadside drains and gardens. Imagine wandering a path by a boiling stream that leads to a grey pumice beach; dig your toes into the rough sand, encountering hot water that surges from just below. Imagine sleeping on grass warmed by thermal currents underneath it, to the lullaby of a blubbering mudpool. Imagine the inescapable scent of minerals weighing down the air. This is Rotorua. And this is why its utter strangeness has captivated me since I was small.

My country is full of thermal excitement, from the hot crater lake on top of snowy Mt. Ruapehu to the Coromandel beach where one is well advised to bring a spade and settle into a warmed sandhole for the day; from the Waiwera spa near my home, to Lake Taupo’s huge crater and nearby geothermal power plants. But nowhere is it so concentrated as Rotorua. Springs bubble all around its lake, on its island, through the suburbs, pockmarking Kuirau Park by the hospital, appearing and disappearing in yards and streets and concrete alleys. Several of the geysers are reliable, shooting off every hour or so – others erupt from the lake’s edge to frighten nearby residents with towering fountains at uncanny hours. Sometimes a hotspot in the park explodes, splattering the vicinity with ashy mud. Locals brag of boiling an egg in thirty seconds, when lowered into certain springs. Not far out of town there are strings of thermal arenas with jewel-coloured pools, self-combusting stones, pathways warmed not by the sun. Hot rivers, secret swimming holes in deep forest, myths and legends surrounding the spirits who watch over the springs.

I suppose it was inevitable that all of this should lead me one day to create a story where these thermal forces, these spirit guardians, bestow supernatural powers on certain humans when they come into contact with mineral-laden waters, gases, or mud. Each spring with its own unseen creature and its own flavour of gift for the initially clueless human. I took all of the most mysterious, most fascinating facets of Rotorua and made them into the story that I wanted to read. As someone said to me while I was working on it, the setting was totally begging for a superhero tale. Not of the usual kind; here we have no capes, no flying or immense strength, but a gentler kind of natural gift that helps our heroes use their minds more fully, connecting with nature, with the earth they live on.

When I had written three local stories for my gang of unlikely worldchangers, my thoughts turned to what else they could do. The answer was right in front of me: there are geothermal hotspots all over the world, along with volcanic and seismic action, all things now linked to the spirit world in my stories. The Pacific Ring of Fire, of which we are a part, where new islands even now rise from the sea as bare black lava. Tonga. Hawaii. Iceland. Italy. Yellowstone.

And thus I became a geyser hunter. It was Yellowstone that proved the next most attainable goal. I wanted to see how America’s primary thermal area compares to Rotorua, which I know so well. A few days was all we could manage; we signed up for bus tours, because we had no clue what to see and wanted to trust some expert guidance. I knew it would be different, but just how different…

Yellowstone blew me away. Not literally, thank goodness. But where we in New Zealand have planted a myriad of towns and cities over our live thermals, Yellowstone is empty of civilisation except for tourists and those who provide for them. Vast wild hills threaded through with only occasional roads; strict instructions not to touch the thermal waters. Some of the sights reminded me of home, like the coloured pools and terraces, the geysers and steaming rivers. Other times, it was all I could do not to let my mouth hang open, such as at the incredible Mammoth Terrace site – the biggest single thermal feature I’ve ever laid eyes on, dwarfing man and beast alike and set in a mind-boggling mountain gorge.

Wyoming’s thermal features are more dangerous than ours, which our people have used for centuries to bathe, to cook, to heal. Eruptions and earthquakes are the actual danger rather than the springs in most cases. The caldera in Rotorua is about one-third as big as Yellowstone’s rim, and Taupo two-thirds, although the active area is comparable in size, spanning from the mountains south of Taupo all the way up to Tauranga, Miranda and Ngaruawahia. Each caldera could erupt again at any time. Ours are smaller, but then, they say they heard it in China when Taupo went off.

They’re all only dormant, these volcanoes and faultlines of ours around the world. A perfect illustration of the fragility of life and just how dependent we are on their continued silence – but also a source for imagination. If the forces in the earth have such powerful physical effects on the land, why couldn’t the same be true for people?

I have many more geysers to hunt down and write about, all around the world. But for now, I’ll visit Rotorua again, imbibe its unique thermal urban atmosphere, and dream of the gifts that minerals might bestow.

Links & files:

Earthcore: Initiation (free story with video): http://www.gracebridges.kiwi/fiction/earthcore-initiation

Rotorua slideshow embed code:

Geyserlands

 

About the Author

Grace Bridges is not only a geyser hunter, but a semi-professional cat herder and kitten adoption facilitator. Indie publishing and freelance editing have been her focus for the past ten years, including 40+ titles in her Splashdown Books brand. She has written several novels in space opera, Irish cyberpunk, and in 2017 the EARTHCORE science mythology YA series set in New Zealand. Her short stories and non-fiction appear in various anthologies and online magazines. See www.gracebridges.kiwi for more information.

 

Confessions of a Lovelorn Romantic Novelist

by Kristen Stieffel

 

In the 1984 film Romancing the Stone, mousy Joan Wilder braves the jungles of Colombia to help her sister. After a bus wreck, she meets adventurer Jack T. Colton and introduces herself as a romance novelist. Later, when the villains come for her, he says, “Romantic novelist my —”

As much as I’d like to give the whole quote, Ralene runs a clean blog here.

The point is, without my intending to, I seem to always wind up writing romantic stories. I may start out with a science fiction idea or a fantasy idea, but the romance always winds up in there. One time I got an idea for a story that was just pure historical romance, and after I sketched out the plot, Jack T. Colton’s voice rang in my head. I never actually wrote that story. Still have the synopsis, though.

The romance in my first published novel, Alara’s Call, is one of my favorites. Alara and Dorrel are friends as well as sweethearts, and their relationship is built on mutual respect as well as affection.

I once wrote a novel that, for all I tried to make it science fiction or women’s fiction or something else, is honestly just a straight-up contemporary romance. It even won first place in the Inspirational Romance Unpublished category at the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary awards.

“Hi, I’m Kristen, and I’m a romantic novelist.”

Hi, Kristen.

The crazy thing is, while I was doing all this romantic novel-writing, my marriage completely fell apart. My second marriage.

So now I’m trying to reconcile myself to the cognitive dissonance of being a romantic novelist who has two failed marriages on her resume. I’m not here to point fingers at my exes or dissect why my marriages failed—if I did, we’d be here all day. Besides, that’s what I pay my counselor for.

I told her I felt like a failure at marriage. She asked me to reflect on why I feel that way. I still haven’t come up with a solid answer. I mean, I did all the things I knew to do. I read the books and followed the advice and still came up short. But ultimately, what it really comes down to is that I somehow know how to craft lovely relationships in books, but I don’t know how to craft them in real life.

When I was trying to decide whether to leave my second husband, a friend who had an up close and personal view of our marriage was helping me talk it through, and at one point she said, “You’re young. You could marry again.”

I’m not sure I want to. I’m not sure I should. Because even though I could technically wear the label “award-winning romance novelist,” I’m apparently really lousy at the whole marriage thing.

One of the last things my second husband said to me before I moved out was, regarding our dysfunction, that “we will always be this way.”

I had no words for that.

Later—don’t you hate that it’s always later you think of the right thing to say?—I realized I should have said, Speak for yourself.

I don’t want to always be that way. I don’t want to shrug off my dysfunction as if it were an inescapable part of my personality. I want to overcome it. I want to improve in relationships.

Maybe, by experimenting on paper to see what functional relationships look like, I can get better at relationships in the real world.

 

Bio:

Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor specializing in science fiction and fantasy and is associate editor of Havok, a flash fiction magazine focused on the speculative genres. She provides a full range of editorial services and has worked on all sorts of projects, but she is a novelist at heart. Her first novel, Alara’s Call, comes out September 19. Kristen is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection and is a Word Weavers International mentor. Website: kristenstieffel.com.

Confessions of a Bridesmaid Author

The dream to be published is at the heart of most writers in their journey. But what happens when everyone around you sees their dream come true, and you’re still waiting for the right opportunity to come along?

I’m Jason, and sometimes I feel like the bridesmaid, but never the bride. I’ve been writing for over ten years building toward publishing, and I’ve been really serious for the last five years. There are so many awesome people in the writing community. It has been a joy to share stories, laughter, and sadness with my fellow authors on this road.

Many times I’ve been able to rejoice with a friend when they get a publishing contract. It has been a privilege to be part of a launch team for others when they release their books. I’ve seen a lot of dreams happen during this time.

But a thought dogs me at times. Like a stalker at night, it sneaks around and waits for the moment to strike. It hits when I’m vulnerable. Maybe I’m tired. Or it’s another rejection. Perhaps I’m stuck on a passage and I can’t see my way through. That’s when this dark thought tries to break in.

When is it going to be your turn? Maybe you’re just not good enough for this. Who wants to read what you write?

I hate it when that thought tries to worm its way in. It tries to steal the joy I have for friends who are having success with their writing. Sometimes it is a challenge though. Will I ever experience the excitement of a book contract? Will I have the satisfaction of seeing my worlds and characters in the hands of new readers?

What do I do then?

In my journey, I’ve learned the best thing I can is double-down. I do this in two ways.

First, I remember that my stories won’t write themselves. Even with all the awesome stories out there, no one will write this story, because it needs me and my experiences. King, Koontz, Sanderson, or Dekker can’t do it. It takes me.

Secondly, and more importantly, I look for ways to serve. I get back to helping my writer friends. Whether it’s supporting a friend in their book launch, or giving critique or advice for someone behind me in the journey, it makes a huge change in my attitude if I can get my eyes off of me.

Many people have helped me along the way. When it’s my turn, I’ll need even more assistance. But even if I don’t make it to my ultimate destination, I’m a part of everyone else I help. The attitude of helping others lets me share in the joy, and realize we’re all in this together.

 

Author Bio:

Jason is a physician assistant working in the high desert of Idaho. When he’s not treating patients, he loves telling stories that encourage the heroic in all of us. He’s been published in the Splickety group of flash fiction magazines, but he’s looking for a home for his novels. When he’s not writing, he enjoys sports, bacon, and hanging out with his family. He may have watched Star Wars one too many times. And he isn’t sure why he’s using the third person right now…

Find Jason:

www.jasoncjoyner.com/blog
Twitter – @JasonCJoyner
Facebook – @jasoncjoyner
Instagram – @jasoncjoyner

Confessions of a Master Perfectionist

by Zachary Totah

 

Everything has to be right. Better yet, perfect.

Or else panic, chaos, the end of the world.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration (emphasis on “slight”), but so much of the time it seems all too true.

Welcome to the life of a perfectionist.

Did you know Perfectionism is one of the leading diseases afflicting otherwise healthy humans? It afflicts young and old, male and female.

I fell prey to perfectionism at a young age. Through my formative years and now into young adulthood, I’ve become a master at demanding nothing less than the absolute best. Which leads me to today’s confession.

 

Pains of Perfectionism

Usually when somebody says they’ve mastered a skill, we consider that a good thing. After all, deep down I think we’re all jealous of the “masters” (Paula Deen, Gandalf, Yoda). However, when I say I’m a Master Perfectionist, it’s not really a badge of honor.

Let’s face it. Perfectionism is a bane on productivity, happiness, and most other useful things in life.

Sure, aspects of it can be helpful. For example, my perfectionism means I have a high attention to detail and am inclined to focus on quality. If you’re a fellow perfectionist, try nurturing those habits without letting the Big Bad Beast gain the upper hand. We know it’s there, lurking, eager to undermine our goals.

I’ve struggled with this in many areas. As a writer, I’m always comparing myself to other (and, without fail, more successful) writers, thinking I’ll never live up to the required standards, viewing my work through a lens tainted by the persistent demands of perfectionism.

It’ll never be good enough. Why would anyone want to read my work?

So the thought process goes.

Another huge problem with letting our perfectionism rule our lives is that it erodes our willingness to take risks, try new things, and get outside our comfort zones.

I present to you Exhibit A: my blog.

As a writer, I knew I wanted to start a blog to build an audience (because of course I needed a way to become a wildly successful author *cough* idealist *cough*). I’m going to be frank. I waited WAY too long to start that puppy. I researched, read other blogs, scoured the internet for options and choices.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It took me two years to start. Even though when I finally began I felt more equipped to launch into the blogging world, that was two years I could have spent actually writing, learning, improving, building my audience.

Lesson learned.

If you find yourself nodding and thinking, “That sounds like me!” here’s some chocolate.

In all seriousness, I get it. I’ve been down the path more times than I care to remember. And the thing is, when you let perfectionism run wild, what happens to the opportunities that come your way, the hopes you have, the dreams you want to chase?

Chance after chance passes by because it’s not the perfect fit.

Hopes become jaded because your expectations are set too high.

And the dreams—they slowly die. Because with perfectionism whispering in your ear, telling you it’s never good enough, you never start chasing those dreams.

It’s all too impossible and big and scary. What if you fail?

 

Should We Fear Failure?

So many times, I’ve let that fear be the driving factor behind decisions I make. Fear of failure and perfectionism go hand-in-hand. We don’t want to fail, so we try to be perfect. At the end of the day, such thinking doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s like planning the perfect vacation (touring Europe, anyone?) and then never leaving because what if things go wrong?

That’s my default mindset, and it’s crippling.

I love how Seth Godin puts it:

If failure isn’t an option, then neither is success.

Think about that. You can’t succeed unless you’re willing to accept failure at some level. Which means we need to face this beast called perfectionism.

All too often, conquering it seems like an impossible mountain to scale. Mount Doom perched atop Mount Everest…on the moon. As I said, I’ve found perfectionism crippling. I don’t take risks, pursue potential opportunities, or follow my dreams as well as I could.

Let’s flip the situation around. Instead of considering the problems, focus on the possibilities. What would happen if you pushed aside your perfectionist tendencies and went for it, whatever “it” is for you?

Would you trip up? Yep.

Would everything go according to plan? Nope.

Would you learn and grow and do things instead of living in a try-to-be-perfect but boring bubble? You can count on it.

 

To all my fellow perfectionists out there…

Try new things.

Take risks.

Get messy.

Learn from your mistakes.

And most importantly, don’t let perfectionism keep you from following dreams.

 

Author Bio:

I wear many creative hats, one of which is to write speculative fiction stories. This allows me to roam through my imagination, where I have illegal amounts of fun creating worlds and characters to populate them. When I’m not busy with a thousand and one responsibilities, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, digging into a good book, and watching movies.

I live in Colorado and don’t drink coffee. The two aren’t related.

I love connecting with other readers and writers, so don’t be shy. I keep my superpowers in check. Promise.

Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter

 

 

 

Confessions of a Quilter Who Also Writes

by Pam Halter

I started quilting before I began writing. Both activities give me a creative outlet, but I have to admit, designing and sewing a quilt is much faster than writing a novel. I also write and have published picture books. They’re fairly fast to write, although can be tricky to revise.

I confess there are times when I enjoy quilting more than writing. Writing novels is hard work! Let’s break it down and compare:

TIME

Sure, there are folks who can hammer out a novel in a month, and maybe I could, too. Except then there’s the revisions, which can take the better part of a year. And rightly so. It takes time to know a real person when you first meet them, right? Same thing for your characters. Not so much with a quilt. The quilt I made that took the longest was the labyrinth quilt I made for a friend. I researched designs online, found one that was doable for a quilt, copied it on graph paper and started cutting squares. It ended up taking 10 yards of fabric, all in 3 inch squares. Then I had to sew them together! I sewed every day for about 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for a solid 3 months! It ended up a king sized quilt, but it was fabulous! I also had researched labyrinths and their purpose. The center is called The Rose, so I put fabric with roses on it in the middle.

My fantasy novel, which will be coming out late next year, took me a good 10 years to write and revise, as I was learning about novel writing. I’m a picture book author! Writing novels is waaaay different. I’m sure the next novel will take less time.

PLOT

As you can tell from the labyrinth quilt, I like to plan and design most of my quilts, although it depends on what’s needed. And like the plot for a novel, things have to come together to make a pleasing design. One of my strengths in quilting is taking fabric that doesn’t seem like it goes together and finding a way to make it work. Plotting a novel is just like that – but it takes a lot longer. Still, it’s so satisfying when it happens! It comes down to what the quilt/story requires. Sometimes, a quilt requires a specific design and detail. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using a panel. And sometimes, it comes down to a delightful surprise. Like the Halloween quilts I make. I love quilting a spider web (free hand) over the quilt design. It shows up great on the black back of the quilt because I use white thread. So much fun! Stories need that, as well, but usually, it isn’t so easy to plan.

CHARACTERS

When I’m piecing a quilt together, it’s important for the fabric to be, at least, compatible. If I’m using fabric that has patterns or designs on it, they shouldn’t clash. If they do, and I’m determined to use them, I need to find fabric that joins them together in a pleasing way. And I’m even happier if it’s unexpected, but beautiful. Same thing when creating characters in a story. And just like a story has main characters, secondary characters, and cameos, I can do the same thing with fabric. Light, dark, designs, contrast. Squares, triangles, rectangles. Top stitching, appliqué, tie it off. Baby quilts, twin, double, queen, king. So much to choose from! My favorite size is what I call Back-of-the-Couch. It’s about 2 yards long and 45″ wide. Perfect for the back of your couch or recliner.

KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE

Just like knowing and understanding the readers we write for, I also need to know my “audience” when I’m quilting. Well, most of the time, anyway. I pray as I sew. Each quilt I make is prayed over. If I know the person I’m sewing for, I can pray more specifically. If it’s for a fundraiser or someone hires me to sew a gift, I still pray. I’ve been told people can tell when they’re under one of my quilts. They feel peaceful. Blessed. Comfortable. That makes me ridiculously happy. When one of my best friend’s husband was dying from cancer last year, she told me he could only rest peacefully when covered by the quilt I made him. Yeah. I cried.

 

All this to say, it typically takes less time to design and sew a quilt than to write a novel and I confess I sometimes wonder if I should stop writing. But I get joy and satisfaction from both. And I believe quilting only serves to help my writing and writing helps me create more interesting quilts. So, I’ll still do both.

Any other fellow quilters out there?

 

About the Author:

Pam Halter was a home-schooling mom for nine years and has been a children’s book author since 1995. Her latest picture book, Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch, released in March through Fruitbearer Publishing.

Pam is a freelance editor and the children’s book editor for Fruitbearer Kids. She was selected to attend the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy, May 2010, won Writer of the Year at the Philly conference in 2014, and Reader’s Choice for her short story at the Realm Makers conference, 2015. She’s in contract negotiations right now for a YA fantasy novel, and is waiting not so patiently to announce it to the world!

Pam lives in the farmlands of Southern New Jersey with her husband, special needs adult daughter, mother-in-law, and 2 crazy grandcats while her youngest daughter is traveling the country with the New Life Drama Company. She enjoys quilting, gardening, cooking, canning, crafting, playing the piano, theatre, Bible study, and looking for evidence of fairies.

www.pamhalter.com

Confessions from a Fictional (yes, you read that correctly) Author

by Serena Chase

 

My name is Serena Chase and I am not a real person.

I am an invention. A pen name. The secret identity of an author who, for reasons ranging from personal safety—due to a scary series of incidents—to shelf placement, chose not to associate her real name with her public career. But even though I’ve—no, she’s—ahem, we’ve coexisted for a long time now, it sometimes gets confusing. For both us.

More for her than me, probably.

Like now, when I realize I’m talking about the true me—the Social Security Number-bearing individual, the real me, the one responsible for the creation of “Serena Chase” and her associated products—in the third person.

Oh, boy.

When I (the real me) first made the decision to safeguard my work by writing under a pseudonym, I was revising my first two novels, The Ryn and The Remedy while blogging regularly for a popular Christian fiction blog . . . which soon led to becoming a regular freelance contributor to a USA Today blog. “Serena Chase” was gaining momentum, fast—not as an author of fiction, unfortunately, but as an influencer on behalf of other inspirational and YA fiction authors. (Ah, but that’s another “confessions” post.) The career wheels were turning, but it was becoming questionable as to whether I could keep both the pen name and my sanity. Every time I signed a blog post or an email with my pseudonym, I obsessively struggled with the idea that I was a BIG. FAT. LIAR.

Long had I bemoaned the absence of authenticity and vulnerability within the Christian community, but here I was, forming professional and personal relationships within the publishing world under an assumed name and, to some extent, personality. Through those early years, some of the authors I met became dear friends to whom I eventually stuttered through a pen name confession, but all the while, my natural leanings toward anxiety and depression screamed, “Liar!” like Miracle Max’s wife in The Princess Bride.

One moment I would be writing a draft of the apology post that would reveal my real name . . . and the next I would be deleting it, paralyzed with fear that the nasty people responsible for me actually considering a pen name in the first place would discover my secret and cause more damage.

I sought council from those who knew me by my “real name” and were aware of my situation. As a rule, the writers in that small circle saw the pseudonym as a career necessity, not a moral dilemma. My non-writing friends, however, while expressing understanding for why it felt necessary to me, either shrugged off or added to my fears and/or my feelings of being a liar. I was at a moral, philosophical, and business impasse.

Was my struggle, as one friend suggested, only a symptom of an overweening pride that wanted to claim the words I wrote under the name that was truly mine? Or, as another friend offered, was I a slave to fear, not trusting God with my family’s safety? Was I making a mountain out of a molehill? Was having a pen name a lie, and therefore sin? Or was it a solid business decision? Was it right? Wrong? A gray area?

It went on like that for a long time. I obsessed. I prayed. I cried. I hated myself for all of it. I hated “Serena Chase” for being cooler than me. I couldn’t sleep. When I could, I woke up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. I was a mess.

Sometime around the release of my third novel The Seahorse Legacy, however, there was a shift in my thinking. During a conversation with another author, we spoke about a newly released book, both us referring to it as an addition to “The (insert Famous Author Name) Brand.”

In the context of our conversation, we did not necessarily discuss the merits of the work produced. We spoke of a business model, a strategic campaign. Yes, it was Famous Author’s name—her real name, as far as I know—but we were not discussing it as a part of her human identity; we spoke of The Famous Author Name Brand as exactly that: a brand—a label attached to a specific collection of intellectual property and all connected marketing efforts.

It got me thinking . . .

As authors, we are told to “build your brand” and to “be brand-consistent across all platforms.” Could the “brand” concept justify the existence and proliferation of “Serena Chase” in the moral center of my mind? Instead of “Serena Chase” being the “big fat lie” I’d been losing sleep over, was she—er, it—, instead, a brand under which my creative intellectual property could safely reside?

Yes.  Yes, she—it—could.

It was a life-changing revelation.

Yes, it is still awkward sometimes, operating under one name in “real life” while using an entirely different identity when I need to be the human representation of “The Serena Chase Brand” online or at an event. Sometimes, I talk about myself in the third person and it weirds people out (including me, to be honest!) Sometimes, my worlds collide. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing. Sometimes, it’s scary. Sometimes, I just need more coffee so I can remember which name I’m using that day (*winks at Ronie Kendig.*)

But most of the time . . . I’m okay with it. I’m okay with building The Serena Chase Brand and representing it in the flesh when necessary.

Sure, sometimes I wish I could move far away from my hometown and legally change my name to “Serena Chase” because it would make life easier. I’ve realized I often feel more comfortable operating under my brand identity than the one I was born+married into.

Is that weird? Yeah, that’s probably pretty weird. Ah, well. Another confession for another day.

What do you think about the use of pen names?

 

Author Bio:

SERENA CHASE is the (pseudonymous) author of the critically-acclaimed Eyes of E’veria epic fantasy series and Intermission, a contemporary young adult romance. She believes readers expect a novel to be an immersive entertainment experience and seeks to provide that experience through her stories. When not writing, she can often be found assisting other authors with manuscript critique and marketing copy creation through her business, Reviewer’s Eye View, or teaching workshops on the art of crafting immersive, entertaining fiction. Connect with Serena on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and through her website and newsletter.

 

Confessions of a Small Town Mountain Girl

by J.M. Hackman

People hear “author” and immediately conjure up a glamorous life, full of book signing-days and jet-setting nights. That’s not me. Or they imagine days filled with writing The Great American Novel in cute little bistros and cafés. That’s not me, either.

The reality is I’m a small–town girl (population 774 and counting). Always have been, and probably always will be. I live in the same small town where I grew up and have lived in for my forty-plus years (cue the John Mellencamp song Small Town). I got married here, had my kids here, and am expecting to die here (although I have no plans to do so anytime soon). I married a small-town boy from Vermont who lived on a dead-end dirt road, so rural living suits both of us.

We live in the mountains not far from Pennsylvania State University where I commuted to and graduated from after four years. (Go Lions!) As I was growing up, I was convinced this town would smother me. State College, the closest “city,” seemed much more cosmopolitan than my small town. I couldn’t wait to get out and start living my life. Live here? Why? There was nothing to do.

I spent a year at Messiah College, only eleven miles away from Harrisburg. After seeing a drug bust complete with SWAT vehicles in the state capitol one night, I was able to appreciate the quirks of my small town life a little more.

 

Everyone either knows everyone else or is related to everyone else. If they don’t know you, they’ll ask. I went to a private high school in a different school district so upon being introduced, I often reeived a perplexed look and a “Who’s your… are you Kenny’s?” (My dad will always be “Kenny” even though he’s in his sixties). This used to irritate me. I wasn’t anybody’s. I had my own name—why couldn’t they remember that? I do it myself now to people I meet here, realizing it’s a way people establish connections.

We don’t go “over the mountain” on a whim. The closest Walmart is twenty-five miles away. The closest Starbucks is fifteen miles away. (Yes, yes, I know—coffee addicts are gasping with horror. This is why I like tea.) Most of my doctor offices are twenty-five to thirty miles away, so every round-trip is at least an hour driving time. Therefore, I’m having two launch parties. As much as they love me, my church family and local community will not go “over the mountain” just to buy a book.

Winter storms don’t scare us. After living on the mountain for twenty years, my husband has learned we have our own weather system. When I call him to come home from work, it’s usually because we’re getting accumulating snow or freezing rain. His response? “Really? It’s raining here.”

We’ll take “the long way,” thanks. Many of us prefer the mountain road over the interstate. Before I-80 was constructed (finished in Pennsylvania in 1970), the mountain road was the only way to get to the towns east and south of us. It’s a two-lane road, with steep drop-offs, twists, and turns, and I could drive it with my eyes closed. All of the school buses still use it.

Instead of cul-de-sacs, we have gorgeous recreational land. Our community relies quite a bit on hunting and fishing. At the beginning of the fall hunting season, an influx of hunters move in from the city to stay in their cabins for a long weekend. Three- and four-wheelers are common. Instead of summer beach houses, some families have a hunting cabin they use for hunting season or for occasional summer weekends. A wooded area borders our backyard where we’ve seen deer, wild turkeys, and evidence of a local bear (claw marks on our white birch tree and teeth marks in our now-ruined inflatable pool).

 

So small-town life in the mountains doesn’t seem so “small town” anymore. My husband and I are content to raise our family close to nature, far from the glitz and glamour of busy city life. After all, there’s truth in the saying: “You can take the girl out of the mountain, but you can’t take the mountain out of the girl.”

 

Author Bio:

J.M. Hackman has held many positions: assistant librarian, office assistant, office manager, substitute teacher, writer, wife, and mother. She still holds the last three. And loves it. She received a degree in Elementary Education from Pennsylvania State University and now spends her days writing stories, consuming massive quantities of chocolate, and looking for portals to other worlds. You can find her at www.jmhackman.com.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://jmhackman.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jmhackman/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jm_hackman

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15648309.J_M_Hackman

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jillmhackman/

Google+: https://plus.google.com/100069873149516870326

Amazon Author: https://www.amazon.com/J.-M.-Hackman/e/B01K9PJMPE

Purchase Link on L2L2 Website: http://bit.ly/2mf4Iwg

Spark is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook, Kobo, and any other online retailer, and Spark can be requested at any bookstore or library.

Spark Back Cover Copy:

Brenna James wants three things for her sixteenth birthday: to find her history notes before the test, to have her mother return from her business trip, and to stop creating fire with her bare hands. Yeah, that’s so not happening. Unfortunately.

When Brenna learns her mother is missing in an alternate reality called Linneah, she travels through a portal to find her. Against her will. Who knew portals even existed? But Brenna’s arrival in Linneah begins the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, including a royal murder and the theft of Linneah’s most powerful relic: the Sacred Veil. Hold up. Can everything just slow down for a sec?

Unwilling yet left with no other choice, Brenna and her new friend Baldwin (Um, hello, Hottie!) pursue the thief into the dangerous woods of Silvastamen and beyond. Exactly what Brenna wanted to do for her sixteenth birthday. Exactly. When they spy an army marching toward Linneah, Brenna is horrified. Can she find the veil, save her mother, and warn Linneah in time? And more importantly, why on earth doesn’t this alternity have Belgian waffles?

Confessions of an Insta-Mom (PLUS a Giveaway!)

by Tosca Lee

(Stay tuned at very end of post for information about how to win a copy of FIRSTBORN by Tosca Lee.)

 

Last year, in the space of “I do,” I married the man of my dreams, became a farmer’s wife and insta-mom of four.

And so this city girl who’d once sworn off marriage and had long given up the dream of children moved out to the farm and into my new family’s lives.

My confessions, to this end, are myriad:

 

  • I own three crockpots. I’m not afraid to use them all at once.
  • I now understand why my mom hid her Russell Stover candy under the chair in the living room.
  • I may or may not have several caches of goodies stashed around the house.
  • And there might be more hiding behind the vegetables.
  • I have never downed so many energy drinks in my life …
  • Or gone to bed before 9:30pm more than once in a single year—until now.
  • No one other than these kids has ever had the propensity to make me cry with a hug.
  • This blog was late because I was catching a neighbor’s visiting chicken.
  • I gained 15 pounds last year because of Totino’s pizza rolls.
  • I fantasize about clean refrigerators.
  • I’m still trying to beat my kids in Black Ops III.
  • I threw a sweet pass for a TD in last night’s football game.
  • They were right: I can’t tell the difference between deer meat and beef.
  • I keep a list of funny things the kids say to use in stories. Or for blackmail.
  • My kids are totally unimpressed with what I do for a living.
  • I had no idea that the treads on the bottom of boys’ sneakers were so diversified or important.
  • Who knew exploding targets could be so fun?
  • When one of my kids said he didn’t want to try brussel sprouts I said that’s fine and that I hoped he wouldn’t die from rickets. He now loves Brussels sprouts.
  • When you refuse to teach the kids your secret French toast recipe so you’ll always be needed.
  • When your life is suddenly made because the grocery store delivers to the farm.
  • The night I saw a tick crawling across my comforter I nearly burned the place down.
  • I’m ruined for store-bought eggs.
  • I still aspire to vegetarianism. In theory.
  • I live in a house of four boys and a dog that drinks out of the toilet. Every time I sit on a wet seat, I don’t know who to blame.
  • I’m the only mom I know who openly weeps when her son runs 50 at trapshooting meets.
  • I literally had a debate with my son one night about who should run into the possibly skunk-infested barn to grab the raccoon trap to catch a tom cat and who should cover the other with the pellet gun.
  • My son offered to video me going in in case I got sprayed. “Just think how many views you’d get,” he said.
  • I actually considered it.
  • I still have not received my motherhood manual from the Office of the Comptroller of Parenthood. I’m flying blind here.
  • I have now actually seen a piece of lunch meat come out of a kid’s nose.
  • A year later, I still have no idea what I’m doing.
  • I have never loved life so much.

The other day, one of my boys came up to me and handed me a dollar bill. “What’s this?” I said, figuring it was something he found in the wash.

“It’s a tip.”

Me: “A wha—?”

Him: “Because you’re doing a good job.”

Me: “I do my best, honey.”

Him, petting my hair: “You don’t need to try. You are.”

Oh man. (Also: do I need to report this as income?)

Last week, as my ninth novel released, I spent several hours writing guest blogs, many of which touched on all these life changes. I wrote about being a new farm wife, the grace my kids show me, and boo-hooed through it all.

Probably my biggest confession in this new parenting journey is how much these young faces have become as mirrors to me. By the time I start lecturing one on having patience, I’ve already lost mine. It’s convicting and challenging. And I worry that the one who lost his electronic privileges for the day is going to yell that I’m not his real mom and hate me the rest of his life, but when he emerges later from his room, he pets my hair.

“You’re a good mom, Tosca,” he says.

I’m not sure if that’s a gimme or not, but I’ll take it.

 

About the Author

Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of THE PROGENY, FIRSTBORN, ISCARIOT, THE LEGEND OF SHEBA, DEMON: A MEMOIR, HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker (FORBIDDEN, MORTAL, SOVEREIGN). A notorious night-owl, she loves watching TV, eating bacon, playing with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband.

You can find Tosca at ToscaLee.com, on social media, or hanging around the snack table.

The sequel to THE PROGENY, FIRSTBORN, is in stores now.

 

GIVEAWAY OVER!!!

And speaking of PROGENY and FIRSTBORN, how’d you like a chance to win a copy? All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. That’s it. In addition to being entered in the giveaway, you’ll get a copy of the first part of Bellanok (my own novel). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2017 Goals

I can’t believe it’s already May! The first 4 months of 2017 have flown by in such a blur, I can hardly remember anything that’s happened. Of course, a lot of that has to do with my medical issues. Ack! But enough about that.

May is a fun month for me because it’s my birthday month! I like to celebrate hobbit-style, so I have a bunch of giveaways, sales, and other fun coming up.

But first … let’s talk goals!

It’s been a few months since I had a goals post. That should tell you how disorganized I’ve felt. But, along with my health, I’m getting my life and work organized! I have a lot going on in my life between writing, editing, social media, homeschool, and regular life stuff. The more disorganized I am, the more stressed I get; the more stressed I get, the more apt to get sick I am; the more sick I am, the more disorganized I become. Vicious cycle!

I’m working with my doctor to get my health on track and working with my husband to get home life more organized. I will get on top of things!

In other news, I launched my first newsletter last Friday. My plan is to use this tool to keep everyone updated on all things fiction (mine and others) as well as adding in fun and encouragement. You know, typical Ralene. If you haven’t signed up yet, you should do so! I’ll be making an exciting announcement in the next issue!

My Goals for May:

  1. Get into a routine where I can better balance work and homeschool. I already have my schedule laid out, so it’s a matter of getting everyone on board and sticking with it!
  2. I got my first round of edits for Aletheia back, so I need to get those done before my birthday. That’s my goal. I’ll continue getting up early in the morning to edit for a couple of hours.
  3. Do a shakedown and reorganization of my work layout. I’m going to be focusing more on social media and book marketing (instead of editing). So, there’s going to be a learning curve. Plus, I’ll be changing my daily focuses to reflect this change.
  4. Get my homeschool paperwork organized!
  5. The first step to getting my health under control is to plan better meals! My husband and I are working together to plan out menus and find meals that we all enjoy.

So there are my goals for May. What about you?

 

What are your goals for May, work or personal?

 

Share your goals below so we can keep in touch. If you haven’t already, head over and like my Facebook page, which is where we’ll check in during the month.

Confessions of an Insecure, Falsely Confident Weirdo

by Deanna Fugett

 

I could write something lighthearted and typical. Something like, I’m a speculative author, and I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings books or the Harry Potter books. While both these are true and blasphemous for a spec writer, it’s not what I want to focus on for this post. I’m going to dig a little deeper.

That confidence you see on Facebook? It’s a lie. Not all of it. But definitely some of it. I tend to compensate for my insecurities by portraying an overly confident persona. I’ve developed a strong, confident demeanor for the most part, but not all of it’s true. I still struggle with doubts, with failures, even with being paranoid.

Paranoid that people don’t like me.

I constantly worry that I’m annoying people. And I’ve been told my whole life I’m annoying. I push back at this idea by acting overconfident. Sometimes I’m an opinionated loudmouth who acts like she doesn’t care. But I do. Sometimes I care too much.

My problem is I want everyone to like me. You see, I try my hardest to find the best in everyone, and likeable things about everyone I meet. I’ve rarely ever hated a person in my life. It’s less than a handful of people who I can claim a strong dislike for in my entire 33 years. I guess I expect those around me to extend me the same courtesy. And when it doesn’t happen, it crushes me.

My husband tells me not everyone has to like me, and while I know it’s true, I still want it to be so.

I know I’m different. Always have been, always will be. I’m okay with that. I never really fit in anywhere growing up. I was the weirdo.

I was the cheerleader who sucked at cheerleading. The one who the other cheerleaders hated. I was the basketball player who was terrible at basketball. I wore combat boots and fishnet tights, and hung out with the non-popular kids. I didn’t care. I wanted to be friends with everyone.

Now that I’ve become a writer I really feel like I’ve finally found my people. People who think like me, and people who ‘get’ me. It’s nice to finally feel like I belong somewhere. I think I missed out on that growing up because I hadn’t really found myself and didn’t really know what I wanted.

I know now.

I know I’m in the right place. It took years to get here. Years to figure me out. And I’m glad I finally have.

If you see me at a writer’s conference, or at church, or the park (anywhere really), know I would love to talk to you. I love people, and hugs, and friends. And believe me when I say I want to be your friend. Because it’s true. I don’t care who you are or where you’ve been, I’d love to get to know you.

Please, don’t leave me hanging. There’s nothing worse for an extrovert than to feel lonely and like there’s no one willing to talk with you. If you’re lonely too, come talk to me. I won’t turn you down. Promise. Unless I think I’m annoying you. Then I might run away screaming.

 

About the Author:

While Deanna Fugett isn’t writing or connecting with others via social media, she can be found dancing around the kitchen with her four kids. She has a dog named Westley, a cat named Buttercup, some rabbits, a rat, a parakeet, and some newly acquired chickens. She resides in the Denver area with her high-school-sweetheart-husband of fifteen years, who thinks they live on a farm. (They don’t.)

She secretly enjoys writing more than reading. (Author blasphemy!) Deanna has an endless TBR list, and has numerous books she’s started reading lying around the house, none of which she can find time to finish. (Four kids and constant chaos will do that to you.)

Deanna is off-the-wall excited about her debut novel coming out with Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing in July of 2017, a YA Dystopian novel called Ending Fear. It’s the first novel in the Gliding Lands series, and she really hopes you will enjoy every second of it.