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:

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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.

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Teenager

by Heather Fitzgerald

 

I’m a late bloomer. It took many years of marriage and four kids to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I graduated high school back in *ahem* 1987, I had plans of becoming a model and world traveler. Yeah. I know. Very realistic and attainable. But college was definitely not part of my head-in-the-cloud plans because there wasn’t anything I wanted to do that could justify the cost.

Thankfully, the Lord had other ideas. He brought Prince Charming my way a year after graduation, and we were married shortly after I turned twenty. Billy (aka the prince) was the left brain to my right brain—quite literally—and helped me to keep my feet on the ground without giving up my desire to dream big and embrace life.

But once we started our family, a lot of my hopes and daydreams had to be set aside for a season. This was before the internet and smart phones too, so when I see busy moms that—somehow—juggle school, jobs, writing, housework, and social media, I’m a bit boggled and incredulous. I don’t think I could have managed such an itinerary with any measure of grace, let alone success! Hats off to you millennials that have grown up with social media diversions as part of your norm. I guess it’s all a matter of what you’re used to.

By the time my oldest daughter was seven, we also had a boy, age six, with autism, and two more daughters, age three and newborn. Let’s just say there’s a large chunk of my young married life that’s rather fuzzy. Beyond laundry, meals, school work, and therapy, I don’t have a whole lot of clarity on the day to day. Pretty sure everyone made it through well fed and with clean underwear, but I wouldn’t bet large sums of money on it.

Still … in the midst of our busy family life, I knew there would be another season that would allow more time for creative pursuits. Fanciful ideas always bubbled just under the surface. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t merely biding my time as a mother so I could get to the ‘fun stuff’. No. I loved being a mom, a wife, and a teacher. Creative pursuits just looked different at that time…like learning to cook and enjoying the challenge of decorating on a shoestring budget. Still, my mind constantly came up with ideas, both realistic and impractical.

One thing I had always loved to do, from childhood through high school, was dance. Think Fame and Flashdance—iconic 80’s movies. Although my parents didn’t have the finances to put me into any sort of lessons or program, public school had quite a few outlets for it, between dance team, cheerleading, and talent shows (not to mention hoofing it around my house). However, after graduation I really didn’t have an opportunity to continue dancing.

When my youngest was two, my husband encouraged me to get involved with it again (told you he was a prince!). Being that I could only take classes when he was home in the evening, there wasn’t a wide selection of adult dance classes to choose from. I could take ballet, or ballet.

I chose ballet.

Since I hadn’t any experience with this form of dance beyond a plie, it was a whole new discipline. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as fun as contemporary dance because it’s much more technique driven and all about uniformity among dancers. I’m more of a free spirit. But it was still an opportunity to dance, nonetheless, and I learned to enjoy it.

Around that time, my kids began to take classes at a fine art school for homeschoolers. Eventually, I put my son in their ballet program to help with his coordination. I stayed in class and assisted him since his coordination and flexibility were about as natural as my talent to work quadratic equations (hint, that’s a left brained activity and I don’t have one of those).

Because of my involvement, I was eventually offered a job teaching ballet at this fast-growing school.

What???

Okay, the Lord definitely had a secret agenda for me when ballet had been my only option for dance classes a few years earlier. Someone was actually going to pay me to teach dance and I’d get to choreograph performances—which was my favorite thing ever.

Fast forward fourteen years. I’m still teaching ballet at this fabulous school. We’ve grown from a handful of students to close to one thousand! We’ve expanded from two ballet teachers to five. And choreographing for our ‘showcase’ is still the best part of the year for me. Choreography is storytelling set to music. I prefer to use songs with lyrics so that we can express the story through dance, though certain instrumental pieces can move me in much the same way and I’ve used them as well.

As my children became teens and tweens, I began to see how swiftly our school days would come to a close. When my youngest was in sixth grade and my oldest had graduated, I could feel the fetters of schedules, classes, rehearsals, and performances loosening, little by little, as each child became a young adult. What was I going to do with myself? Ballet classes were only a once a week event. I didn’t want to choose a career path after our final graduate walked the stage. I needed a goal to work toward.

Enter writing. If I could begin a career in ballet in my thirties, why couldn’t I begin a writing career in my forties? I’d always had the desire and the ability lurking just under the surface. Where I had struggled tremendously to keep my head above water in math, I had easily coasted through English and literature courses. And as a homeschooling mom, I enjoyed reading to my kids most of all. “Just one more chapter” was a sure way to take a bite out of my well-intended schedule.

I had already been playing around with writing kids books and venturing into the blogosphere, so writing wasn’t a brand new pursuit. But I made a firm commitment to have some sort of career in place by the time my youngest graduated. Though I had often dipped into creative pursuits only to let projects sit unfinished for eons (if finished at all), I felt like the Lord was calling me to look at the big picture, the long term, and the future of my grown up self.

Well, number four graduated in May of 2016. My first book The Tethered World was published in February of 2016 with The Flaming Sword releasing that November. The Genesis Tree is coming out this June which means my first publishing contract has been fulfilled. Pretty much divine timing, right? Divine indeed because I look back and wonder how my blonde, right-brained self managed to pull this off.

I can’t help but view the past twenty-seven years of marriage with a thrill of awe and thanksgiving over how well the Lord orchestrates our paths. He has blessed me with a wonderful husband, terrific kids that have grown into treasured friends, a beautiful grand daughter, and—amazingly—a dual career doing things that I absolutely love. It’s humbling to look at how little I had to do with any of it. Even the talent to dance or to write are gifts from Him, designed by Him.

I feel like I’m getting some sort of do-over from my graduation in ’87. Probably because I needed to grow up a bit to know what I wanted to be when I actually grew up. Thanks to the disciplines of being a wife and a mother, I’ve matured enough to handle the freedom of self-expression that would have been wasted in my youth (on me anyway).

Yep. I’m a late bloomer. What about you? Maybe you had different opportunities than me and were able to enjoy a career before you reached middle age (okay, maybe you’re not anywhere close to being middle age but, I promise, you’ll be there in a blink). Still, we all have hopes that are deferred for one reason or another. What are your future dreams?

Although there’s controversy surrounding whether or not C.S. Lewis actually said this, it is still a favorite quote and sounds like a tidbit of his wisdom. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” I’m certainly proof of that.

And I’m not done dreaming!

 

Author Bio:

Heather L.L. FitzGerald writes from her home in Texas, while dreaming of being back in the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up. When her four kids were young, she enjoyed reading aloud until her voice gave out. (Her son, who is autistic, would just move on to his favorite audiobook).

Certain stories became good friends—the kind you want to revisit. The kind you wish never needed to say goodbye. Those are the kind of stories Heather aspires to write. Stories worthy of delicious coffee. Stories difficult to leave. Her YA Fantasy trilogy The Tethered World Chronicles will be complete when her third book, The Genesis Tree, releases June 1st. Her other books, The Tethered World, and The Flaming Sword, are available on Amazon or can be ordered at any book retailer.

Heather is a member of the North Texas Christian Writer’s group, ACFW, CAN, and helps with the Manent Writer’s group in Fort Worth, Texas. You can connect with Heather on her website/blogFacebook, Pinterest,(Belongs to her main character, Sadie), Character blog: (Sadie’s mother has a blog pertaining to legendary creatures), Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads.

Confessions of a Part-Time Teleworker

by Gretchen E K Engel

 

My name is Gretchen and I’m a part-time teleworker and a full-time mom. That makes me 1.5 people. Sometimes it seems like it. I’m married to my college sweetheart and have two school-aged children. We moved to a small mountain town in Arizona eight years ago for my husband’s job. When we moved, I became a teleworker.

Five years ago I began writing. My first manuscript was a speculative fiction story with a real-world setting and a supernatural twist. Since then, I completed two sequels, a manuscript for a steam punk story, as well as several short stories that have been published. Currently, I’m writing a steampunk deconstruction of “Beauty and the Beast”. I’m active in Realm Makers, a regular contributor for New Authors Fellowship and the Scriblerians, which stems from my young adult writing group.

By day, I’m a chemical engineer who works as an environmental engineering consultant for a large engineering firm. My specialty is compliance, and my job consists of preparing permits, reports, and plans to keep clients out of trouble with the EPA. Day-to-day I’m a technical writer and Excel spreadsheet ninja.

By night, I’m a wife and mom. We don’t over-involve our kids. It’s sports (one per season) for our son and piano, dance, and AWANA for our daughter. This year I hung up my soccer mom tag and became a football mom, which was a fantastic experience.

 

The Good

My life is ideal. My position is professional and is 20-40 hours per week. My company is very pro-teleworker and work-life balance. In the past eight years, I’ve been promoted and given some exciting projects. At the same time, the less than 40 hours plus no commute gives me time to be a mom, wife, serve in ministry at our church, attend performances/practices/games, and of course write. My schedule is deadline driven and consequently pretty flexible.

 

The Bad

Flexible sometimes translates to erratic by day, week, and month. The first four months of the year are “compliance season.” Federal, state, and local reports for the previous year are due during that window. November and December are sometimes slow. The first of the month is busier. Mondays and most Wednesdays my most structured days. Fridays are quiet.

 

The Ugly

I’m not a flake—really! However, I don’t commit to steady volunteer roles because of my work schedule. It has to be something really special. Lots of guilt when I offer to help friends but have limited availability. Honestly, my day job often has to take priority. Remember, I work for a large company with prominent clients. They don’t understand “I can’t turn in the report because I have to run a sick friend’s errands.” Callous maybe but real. The good thing is with time management, I can usually plan out my week to accommodate making meals, etc. but am not the best person to rely on in a pinch.

 

What does a day in my life look like?

0645-0900 (I prefer military time) – I get up in time to see my son off on the bus. Some mornings I get up earlier to make my son and husband breakfast others I sleep in until about 0700. Coffee is my first priority. Cattle prodding my daughter to get ready and eating breakfast are second. This is my Bible study time at our kitchen island, which includes homework for church leadership training. Occasionally, I write. Recently, I uninstalled Facebook and except for a quick check of work e-mail, I remain electronics free. My daughter gets on the bus at 0815. I continue Bible study or get ready and start my work day. Arizona doesn’t do daylight savings time; part of the year I have calls at 0800 but not until 0900 the remainder.

0900-1600 – The bulk of my work day. I run and exercise, so it’s not unusual for me to fit in a 3-4 mile run or yoga, etc. and a quick lunch. I try to not leave my house for errands. It disrupts the rhythm of my workday, which also includes housework like laundry and dishes.

1600-2200 –  Depends on the day. I work until about 1730 or when one of the kids has an activity. My iPad with Scrivener goes whenever I’m shuttling kids. Piano and dance are great times to squeeze in a few words. Tuesdays I go to the gym after my daughter’s dance class. Wednesdays it’s piano and AWANA. Other days it’s dinner, homework, piano practice, and sports depending on the season; occasionally I work in the evenings. My son is in bed by 2100, but my daughter is a night owl (Where does she get that?) and is hard to wrangle to bed.

2200-0100 – peace and quiet. All are in bed and I do the bulk of my writing. I read for a few minutes before bed.

“It’s complicated” describes my daily life. While not overly busy, I’m constantly “doing something”. Things that keep my sanity: coffee, Earl Grey or cold brew decaf for the afternoon, chamomile-lavender tea for nighttime, slow cookers, and audiobooks for housework multi-tasking. Scrivener is my favorite writing tool. I can write offline on my iPad with the iOS app while my daughter is at her activities, on the way to church, and other bits of time. I have Scrivener on my laptop for home.

 

Author Bio:

In high school, Gretchen E K Engel competed to write her English teacher’s favorite essays and earn highest marks in physics. Science won over the arts, and Gretchen became a chemical engineer. An environmental consultant by day and speculative fiction writer by night, she has authored hundreds of technical documents and several short stories.

 

Links:

https://www.facebook.com/gretchen.engel

https://twitter.com/GretchenEKEngel

http://gretchenekengel.com/

Also blogs at

http://thescriblerians.wordpress.com/

https://newauthors.wordpress.com/

Confessions of a Rail-Jumper

A few months ago I opened an Etsy shop and named it Jumping Rails. Part of that name choice came from an experience in which I’d jumped a fence to cross some train tracks despite the warning sign not to, but the deeper reason has to do with my path as a creative person. You see, I am constantly jumping rails from one pursuit to another.

Pretty much any time before my senior year of high school, had you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said, “Artist.” But after graduation, I honestly had no idea what direction I wanted to go. I still loved to draw, but didn’t like the idea of it becoming “work.” Art stayed a hobby for me, but it didn’t at all stay centered on drawing, even though drawing was the heart of what I considered true art.

Over the years, art has shifted from one thing to another for me. Some examples:

Drawing

Painting plaster figurines

Assembling a multitude of craft kits

Scrapbooking

Refinishing furniture

Building and sewing window treatments

More drawing

Writing

Making wands

Mixed media art

Acrylic painting

I’ve had to shed the strict “artist” label I’d held onto during my childhood and adolescence, but it’s come off layer by layer over many years. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for not sticking to one art form, worried that I was abandoning certain talents. I have wondered off and on what it says about me that I am constantly changing direction and focus. I’ve thought, “I must not be an artist anymore because it’s been so long since I’ve drawn,” all the while not realizing that all creative things are art as well in their own ways. The guilt was never quite strong enough to keep me from jumping, though. I have never been one to force creativity. I found inspiration and it called relentlessly.

It wasn’t until after I started writing that I finally began to see the connection. It finally sank in that I was using the same creative force to write stories as I had to draw portraits. And that same creative force was at work when I scrapbooked, or sewed, or reupholstered a set of dining room chairs. I also accepted that painting didn’t have to mean masterpieces; I didn’t have to be Da Vinci or Van Gogh. I could paint space ships and fairy trees and it still counted as art to me. I could glue burnt paper and brass keys to painted canvas as long as what I created made me happy and counted as art to me.

All of those things, all those art forms, are part of a giant rail system, but for so many years I thought to be a true artist I needed to stay on one track. Now, I’ve had time and life experiences that have shown me all the branches of creativity cross each other. (As we get older, we are more able to see just how complex life in general is, so carrying that over to art makes much more sense.) I’ve gotten to know other artists and creative people who have embraced the different aspects of their own natures, and I’ve learned from their examples. Now I know it’s perfectly okay to jump the rails from one track to another as long as I keep the train moving.

 

 

Author Bio:

Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated from college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles is available in print and ebook. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.

Amazon page for Toch Island Chronicles ebooks on sale for $1.39 each- https://www.amazon.com/s?ref=series_rw_dp_labf&_encoding=UTF8&field-collection=Toch+Island+Chronicles&url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text

Confessions of an OCD Writer

Confessionsof an OCD Writerby Mike Duran

In the summer of 2010, I began experiencing some weird medical problems. I am not a hypochondriac and, on average, see the doctor about once or twice a year. That changed in 2010. I began experiencing severe dizzy spells. Debilitating, occasionally. Sometime after that, it was compounded by tingling and numbness in my hands and feet. Eventually, my entire body. The icing was a visit to Urgent Care one afternoon where I was promptly given a sedative and exhorted to pay attention to my health.

What followed were batteries of tests: bloodwork, MRI, brain scan, etc.  During the process, I’ve seen a neurologist, audiologist, and a dietitian. Along with my regular doctor.  After these tests had rolled in, accompanied by significant head-scratching on the part of the professionals, my doctor asked:

Mr. Duran, is there anything that has changed this year in your life? Your diet? Your work? Your living arrangements? Your schedule? Your routine? Anything that may have triggered this?

And then it hit me.

I said, Doc, I am a writer. I have been contracted for two books, one which I am currently attempting to finish. I work 40 hours a week outside my home. I wake up at 3-4 AM every morning and blog or write until I leave for work at 5:30 AM. When I get home at 5 PM, I check emails, mumble at my wife, and attempt to resume writing. You might also want to know that I am obsessive compulsive, an insomniac, a perfectionist, and I feel guilty when I relax.

He leaned back from his computer and squinted. Mr. Duran, stress does strange things to people.

Stress.

It’s been a humbling admission for me. I’ve always fancied myself as the tough guy who could soldier through all kinds of adversity, pain, and difficulty. They didn’t nickname me Bull Durham on our softball team for nothing. So who would’ve guessed that it was writing that would break me.

Little did I know when I answered the “call to write” that part of the plan would be to help me confront … myself. Like Dr. Jekyll, I was forced to confront a “dark side,” a side of me that obsesses over doing things right, that nitpicks details, that lies awake at night futilely attempting to dot every “i,” cross every ‘t,” and tie up every loose end.

This admission—the admission that my obsessive/compulsive tendencies were killing me—was not that great for my writing. It forced me to slow down. It forced me to think about something other than stories and characters and plots. It made me manage something more important—my health. In the “age of indie,” where authors are repeatedly instructed to crank out novels and expand their back catalog, slowing down is, sadly, viewed with suspicion. But that’s exactly what I needed to do.

It’s led to several admissions and lifestyle adjustments designed to help me stay out of Urgent Care. It’s about juggling two careers without dying. It’s about realizing I have a life outside of writing, and that my literary canon is will never exceed my being. It’s about smelling the roses before I’m pushing up daisies.

It’s led to several significant changes that have helped me cope with my kneejerk instinct to over-analyze:

  • I gave myself permission to not regularly blog
  • I gave myself permission to not answer email in a timely fashion
  • I gave myself permission to write something half-ass
  • I gave myself permission to lounge on the couch and watch TV instead of write
  • I gave myself permission to read whatever I want and not just the stuff in my genre
  • I gave myself permission to turn down some writing and promotional opportunities
  • I gave myself permission to embarrass myself and be brutally honest whenever I need to (like I have here)

Yes, writing this “confession” has taken time away from writing my novel or blogging. Yes, some people may read this and think less of me and my professional advice. Which is fine.

Take that, Mr. Hyde!

 

11078075_1482267868700841_7310025605731169301_oAuthor Bio:

MIKE DURAN is a novelist, blogger, and speaker, whose short stories, essays, and commentary have appeared in Relief Journal, Relevant Online, Novel Rocket, Rue Morgue, Zombies magazine, and other print and digital outlets.

He is the author of THE GHOST BOX (Blue Crescent Press, 2014), the first in an urban fantasy series, the supernatural thriller THE RESURRECTION (Realms, 2011), an e-book fantasy novella entitled WINTERLAND, THE TELLING (Realms May 2012), and a short story anthology SUBTERRANEA (Blue Crescent Press, 2013).

Mike is an ordained minister and lives with his wife and four grown children, grandchildren, and assorted beasties, in Southern California. You can learn more about Mike Duran, his writing projects, favorite music, cultural commentary, and arcane interests, at www.mikeduran.com.

Confessions of a Reluctant Author

by Tracy L. Snyder

youre-invited-to-ababy-shower-forFriends drug me to my first writer’s conference a good ten years ago. While there I talked to an editor who advised me to enjoy the writing journey. “Have fun,” she said. “Make friends. Learn new things. Just don’t expect to be published. Accept the fact that the odds are so stacked against you that it will never happen.”

I loved this advice. It fit perfectly with the messages of my youth.

You’re good, but not good enough.

If you aim low, you won’t have to fall as far when it all goes south.

So I learned what a plot arc was, and how to describe scenes. I went to my critique group, attended more conferences, and was perfectly happy in my anonymity.

Then I started getting a new message. One that worried me.

This writing is good. It deserves to be seen. You should try to get published.

Last summer I sat across from the author Tosca Lee at a writer’s conference. She complimented my writing, then paused. “You seem hesitant,” she said.

My shoulders slumped in resignation. “I just feel as if I’m in so far over my head.”

She leaned forward until our noses were inches apart. “You’re not in over your head. You are a masterful writer. Getting published is well within your grasp.”

Wow, I thought. And then I froze.

For years I have been in treatment for PTSD due to childhood trauma. I’ve gone both inside and outside of the box in my determination get well. Acupuncture is great, and I haven’t shown a single sign of becoming a Buddhist. One of my favorite councilors met me at the door of her office with a fistful of burning sage leaves and proceeded to wave smoke all over me.

Fine. If it will help, then fumigate away.

I’ve worked hard, and have achieved a level of recovery that makes the specialists do Jazz Hands when they see my brain scans.

But when I think of being published, I still I feel the grip around my throat, and hear the details of my impending death should I speak.

I know that every author is dogged by a voice of doubt that whispers in the background. But for those of us who have been scared speechless at some point in our lives, the voice can be deep, and dark, and carry a threat.

Sometimes I grow weary, and I think about how wonderful it would be to stop hammering away at the wall of silence that surrounds me. How easy it would be to stay voiceless, and quit trying, and rest in the shadows.

And then I go get porcupined by the acupuncturist, and smoked by the councilor. I attend a support group at my church, join the Christmas choir, and play piano when no one is listening.

And I write.

I write not for fame, nor money, nor bragging rights. I write to reclaim my voice, which was removed from me with surgical precision.

I do know that I’m not the only author who has had to dig deep to reclaim my voice. And I believe that those of us who have done so, are left with a unique timbre and cadence to our words that others don’t have. I think there is grace to cover the pain, songs to banish the darkness, and laughter to stab the devil’s heart.

And so, I write.

 

tracyAbout the Author:

Tracy L Snyder lives in Salem, Oregon, the wife of one man, mother of two sons, and servant of two cats. She usually writes science fiction or fantasy, but occasionally pens a piece from the real world. By day she is a lymphedema therapist, in the evening she paddles on a competitive dragon boat team named the Angry Unicorns.
You can find her website at www.tracylsnyder.com

Twitter: @tracysnyder111

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tracy-L-Snyder-204665353212426/

 

Books:

realmscapes-cover-websiteRealmscapes Anthology

https://www.amazon.com/RealmScapes-Science-Fiction-Fantasy-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01GZ5NEFQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

The Gold Man Review

Literary Journal

https://www.amazon.com/Gold-Man-Review-Issue-6-ebook/dp/B01MCY4CLG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1479876196&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Gold+Man+Review+Issue+6

Confessions of a Writer with Depression

by Victoria Grace Howell

 

confessions-1I’ve been creating stories for as long as I can remember, but I’ve been struggling with Depression since I was fifteen. I didn’t fully understand Depression until recent years when I finally started taking steps to manage it. For years, I didn’t know why I would feel sad for days on end or abruptly stop being motivated to do things I’ve loved or why I was just so darn sensitive.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. When I get depressed, my thoughts spiral into doubts and kicking myself over every little thing. It’s not just feeling sad. It affects my entire body. I’ve sometimes felt so “down” that it’s hard to wake up in the morning, my back and neck hurts, and I lose my appetite. Some of the things I do to feel better are take walks or drink tea with lavender, chamomile or chocolate or watch a favorite TV show. Sometimes writing out my emotions in my stories is therapeutic. All of this in turn affects how I handle life as a writer.

I know I’m not alone. A lot of writers struggle with mental illness. Perhaps some who struggle with Depression can relate to these confessions.

I Have to Take Breaks – I watch writers able to type out thousands of words a day or write every day for a year, and I think that’s fantastic, but having Depression makes that hard for me. I can get burnt out so easily if I do that much. I usually have to take a mental health day every week or that can make my depression act up and then I’m out of the game for days.

Sometimes I Have to Take Days Off on Down Days – Sometimes my Depression hits me at times I don’t expect. I get so down that I can’t concentrate and just uncontrollably think of anything that could possibly be bothering me on repeat. Therefore I need to take an hour or up to several days off to pick myself back up.

It’s Very Hard for Me to Develop a Thick Skin for Criticism of My Work – I’ve gotten so much advice on how to develop a thick skin for critique. Critique is a wonderful tool, but I still procrastinate for days before I read any feedback of my work, because I’m afraid it’s going to be bad enough to send me into a spiral of Depression. I usually have to spend a good five minutes or more psyching myself up before opening the document. Then if the critique is bad, sometimes I take a day off of writing to recover to make sure it doesn’t cause a down day.

Rejections Hurt A lot – When I see an email from a publisher or agent in my inbox, I feel a rush of cold go down my spine. Then I steel myself for a rejection. I’ve only gotten one acceptance, so this has happened a dozen or two times. Sometimes I can shrug off the rejection, but it usually sticks with me like a parasite for a day. More often than not I have the battle off feelings of doubt that I’m a good writer. Sometimes I have to take days off writing to make sure I don’t get a down day or sometimes because it incites a down day.

I Feel Things Deeper in My Writing – People with Depression feel emotions deeper than the average person. They are more sensitive to feelings of others around them. This in turn can be a writer super power.

This post isn’t to ask for sympathy. This post is to come clean about how it is be a writer and live with Depression. I can’t just eat some chocolate and feel better five minutes later whenever I start feeling sad after an agent made the decision not to represent my work. No matter how much I wish I could yank myself up from being knocked down as anyone not struggling with depression seems to be able to I can’t.

It’s not all in my head. It’s a real thing that affects me. Depression is part of my struggle, but it helps me relate to my characters who struggle with it. I don’t know how long I’m going to struggle with Depression. It could be my whole life. I may have to tweak my schedule a bit to keep it under control, but I won’t let it stop me from being a writer.

Have you struggled with depression? How does it affect your writing? What do you do to cope?

 

vicVictoria Grace Howell is an award-winning, author of speculative fiction, a social media manager, an editor for the non-profit organization, Geeks Under Grace, a staff writer for Geekdom House, and has been published in Splickety: Havok Magazine and Area of Effect Magazine. Since she was a child growing up in the state of Georgia, she’s always had a heart for stories. When not typing away at her novels, she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging at Wanderer’s Pen, practicing Kung Fu, cosplaying, and having a really good hot cup of tea. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.