Category Archives: Family

PIECES OF ME

Today is my younger son’s birthday. I’m away at a conference in Florida and so won’t celebrate with him this day.

Yesterday, someone said to me that he ought to write his memoirs.

Shouldn’t we all?

Or, as writers, don’t we, already?

How many times have you written an incident that’s happened to you? Or used a trait of a relative to define a character? Or made the neighbor next door a peripheral character in a book?

Come on, confess. I’ll start. I made my in-laws major characters in one of my early books. Here’s the thing. Members of my family read the book and nobody recognized them.

Really. There was also a cousin, a neighbor, people I’d worked with — not so you’d recognize them, but I’d written to their personalities or family history, or something in their current livesused

My husband and sons — I won’t go there. Maybe, maybe not. But the cat — I featured our Calico cat in one of my books because I promised her, before she died.

And aunts and uncles — fair game, where I could reorder life with them to my taste and say what I should have said thirty years ago.

Writing, as it were, pieces of my biography entwined with fictionalizing them.

I shouldn’t write my memoirs. I should say, read my books. There, you’ll learn all about me.

Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart is available now as a Pocket Star eBbook.

My Three-Year Journey to the 10K Cake Club

spice-cake-su-1673099-lIf you’ve never heard of the 10K Cake Club, it’s the name given to that elusive group of authors who reach the milestone of selling 10,000 copies of their book(s). Now, given that statistically, most authors will never sell more than a hundred copies (no kidding), reaching this milestone is an amazing feat. But we all know how numbers and milestones are relative, and our own expectations can often derail even the most wonderful achievements.

PJ Sharon here, celebrating with you, my dear friends, my three years as an independently published author. I released my debut novel, HEAVEN is for HEROES in September of 2011. (In celebration, I’m giving away an audiobook copy of HIFH over on my website blog. Stop by and leave a comment to enter and feel free to share the post with friends on FB or Twitter. Contest ends September 30th at midnight. )HIFH_audiobookcover (2013_06_07 00_53_00 UTC)

Now, I recall being asked, while on a panel of Indie authors, what my sales goals were as a newly self-published author. At the time, self-publishing was on the rise, Indies were on fire, and sales were through the roof for newcomers. Being the ambitious and overachieving sort, I replied with confidence that I wanted to sell 10,000 copies a year, netting me about a $20,000 dollar a year paycheck from my writing–what I saw as realistic and an amount that would make all the hard work worth the effort.

This was a reasonable goal, but one that I soon found was more or less beyond my control to achieve. I did not foresee the effects of market saturation, the need for endless promotion, or the ever-changing Amazon algorithms that would make it nearly impossible to gain traction on the discoverability front. Basically, I could not have predicted the “luck” factor.

When, in the first year, I sold over 5,000 books (I had three titles out by then), I was not unhappy with my results. After all, goals are merely guidelines…a star to shoot for. But in the second year, when I had the brilliant idea to switch from Contemporary YA to writing a Dystopian trilogy, and sales dipped to half of what they did the first year, let’s just say I was less than thrilled with the results of my ongoing efforts. I shuddered to consider my hourly wage as a writer and decided it was best to stop looking at daily sales reports, screaming into the wind about my books, and beating my head against a wall trying to figure out what the heck the secret to success actually was.

My third year hasn’t been any more profitable than the previous two, despite the fact that I–at the suggestion of Indie superstar Bella Andre no less– went back and wrote another Contemporary YA. In fact, I’ve spent more on covers, editing and formatting on PIECES of LOVE than I have on any of my others simply because I’m trying to compete in the market and feel that others do a better job of these things than I can do myself. Added in is the cost of producing a theme song for POL (thinking that this might be a novel idea and help with sales, but has as yet, not appeared to make any difference at all). With production costs up and sales down (thanks to Kindle Unlimited and the insane amount of new product coming into the market), I’ll be lucky to recoup my costs over the next year.

I’m hopeful that once I finish the Dystopian trilogy, add a boxed set or two to my cybershelf, and get back on the promotional wagon in 2015, that I might see some real return on my investment.

Lest you think that any of this is sour grapes on my part, think again.

I went into this with eyes open that it would be a LOT of hard work, gave myself five years to turn a consistent profit (this is typical for any new business), and expected that there would be a steep–and ever-changing–learning curve. I’ve had to adjust my expectations for financial success, but am hopeful that with perseverance, the pay-off will be worth the continued effort. This is, after all, my retirement plan, and being that I have another fifteen years until retirement, I’ve got plenty of time to make it happen, right?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that success is measured in many ways. Positive reviews and happy readers who are excitedly awaiting my next release are priceless in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that over two and a half million readers have enjoyed SAVAGE CINDERELLA on Wattpad thrills me beyond words. And the awards and accolades for my books tell me that I’m doing something right. Reader reviews continue to average 4.5 stars across the board.

Another important lesson for me–one that continues to be challenged daily–is about finding balance. I worked around the clock that first year and a half, typically putting in 80 hours a week between my two jobs. I finally decided this past year to set myself a schedule. Knowing that I need to work my day job at least 20-30 hours a week to earn a  guaranteed paycheck to cover expenses, I set a limit on my writing/publishing time to 25-30 hours a week. Perhaps that’s partially to blame for the decrease in sales numbers, but I will say, I’m much happier and healthier these days. Time with family and time to take care of myself are far more important to me than sales figures and financial gain. If I’m in this for the long haul, that’s the way it has to be. I’m good with that.

It’s taken me three times longer than expected–and I’ve stopped comparing myself to others who have done it seemingly effortlessly–but I’ve finally made it into the 10K Cake Club.

Cake and ice cream all around! And perhaps a bottle or two of wine…

What milestone can you celebrate today? I hate to eat cake alone.

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

Suze here, wishing you the happiest of St. Patrick’s Days.  Am I Irish? Yup. Some of the names in my family tree are Higgins, McBath, Kearns, and Morrison.  But of course it doesn’t really matter. No matter your background, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating with the ones you love–even if it means drinking green beer!

Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of www.pdphoto.org.
Beltany Stone Circle, photo courtesy of http://www.pdphoto.org.

So today, in honor of Ireland’s most famous little round thing that grows underground, I thought I’d share a recipe with you. Enjoy!

Suze’s Mashed Potatoes

  • 6 Medium Size Potatoes–My favorite is Yukon Gold, and yes, the type of potato really does make a difference. You want a waxy potato, not a baking potato like a russet.
  • 1/4 to 1/2  cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sour cream or cream cheese (lite versions are fine, but don’t use the fat free stuff–yuck!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and quarter potatoes, rinse with cold water, and place in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until fork tender. This will probably take around twenty minutes, but keep checking them. Drain the potatoes immediately–don’t leave them sitting in the hot water or they’ll turn to mush.

Return potatoes to hot saucepan (off the heat). Mash the potatoes with your favorite mashing tool, then add the remaining ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup of milk that you’ve warmed in the microwave along with the butter. Mash everything together, adding more warm milk if necessary to make a creamy consistency.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with more butter and gravy if you have it. This ain’t lo-cal. Get over it, LOL!

Variations:

  • Add a cup of grated cheddar cheese during the hot mashing process
  • Sprinkle cooked potatoes with crumbled bacon and chopped scallions (Bacon? Did somebody say bacon?)
  • Drain a can of corn and mix into potatoes along with ground beef or turkey that has been browned with some finely chopped onion and drained. Place mixture into a casserole dish, cover with shredded cheese, and bake at 350 until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  • Leftover potatoes? Place in a saucepan the next day and stir in chicken broth until your desired soup consistency is reached. Season with a bit of thyme and some more freshly ground pepper.

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? I’ll leave you with a classic Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields  and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

And may you all find your pots of gold!

SEEKING CHRISTMAS with Brenda Maxfield

Welcome Scribers and Readers, PJ Sharon here. I have with me as today’s guest, Brenda Maxfield. Her short story, SEEKING CHRISTMAS hit home with me since neither of my two sons has a relationship with their dad. Brenda Maxfield’s perspective from the minds of teen siblings, Courtney and Dennis, truly reflected how I imagine my sons dealing with this situation. And may I also say, I LOVE this cover!

Blurb for Seeking Christmas (an Ocean Mist short story Two):

Brenda Maxfield-SeekingChristmasCover

The Christmas season has eighteen-year-old Courtney crossing the state line with her little brother Dennis to rendezvous with the man who deserted them years ago. Courtney remembers him only as the tall man who ran away. Dennis doesn’t remember him at all.

Courtney is furious, but Denny is curious. Will their meeting result in a happy Christmas memory or another miserable disappointment?

I asked Brenda what made her write this as a short story. Here’s what she had to say.Take it away Brenda…

Thanks PJ!

My first thought is that “Short Can Be Sweet”. But there was more to my decision than simply wanting to write a short story. Here’s what happened.

Open Call for Submissions: Such musical words of opportunity to any writer’s ears.

Except when such writer is buried deep in her latest work-in-progress and stretched thin between a day job, family, and uh, well, trying to stay sane!

That’s where I found myself a while back when my publisher put out a call for submissions. Sometimes emails are ripped open like paper envelopes showing checks through tiny little windows — and that’s how I opened that one. Yet even while my eyes flew downward over the content, censuring comments such as, “Who are you kidding, Brenda? You’re insane. All you need is another project…” coursed through my mind.

You know how it goes, scolding yourself even as you continue with whatever you were doing. (Hmmm, now I’m thinking about that luscious half-eaten piece of dark chocolate cake. But I digress.) My scolding continued until my eyes landed on the phrase, “Short stories only. No longer than 5,000 words.”

I major perked up. That I could do! That I could find the time for!

I’d never considered short stories as part of my writing career. I love the YA novel, the joy of unfolding a character’s crisis, angst, redemption, and growth over the course of chapters. I didn’t realize the fun of writing a short story: the smaller time frame to completion, the opportunity to give readers a taste of your style, and the possibility for those same readers to get hooked and become fans of your novels.

I did answer that open call and send a short story to my publisher. I’ve also self-pubbed two other short stories. The first was Player, which introduced the characters in Buried Truth. (Writing about two-faced Daniela in Player turned out to be a blast. Oy, I couldn’t stand the girl!) And this season, I’ve released Seeking Christmas, dealing with the aftermath of Cornered, which is releasing in a few weeks.

Christmas in September

I couldn’t bear to let the Christmas season go by without a release. So in September, I started playing with the characters from Cornered in my mind. I wondered what would happen if Courtney heard from her jerk of a dad — the guy who deserted her and disappeared like so much water down the drain years previously. Would she want to see him? Could she swallow her anger long enough to hear him out? And what about her little brother? Would taking Denny to meet the guy result in a disaster? What kind of Christmas would it turn out to be?

The characters wouldn’t stay quiet, yet I knew I didn’t have time to write another full. Thus, the short story Seeking Christmas was born. (It’s @ 8,000 words.)

I loved it. I loved the whole process. We writers are fortunate to have many avenues to get the stories out of our heads and onto the page. Short stories are just one of those ways. I heartily encourage all writers to give them a whirl!

And of course, I’d be totally thrilled if you’d give Seeking Christmas a read. During this season, take a bit of time to curl up with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and take a trip with Courtney and her little brother in Seeking Christmas.  I hope you enjoy it!

Seeking Christmas Purchase Links:

Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/ky7oxzu

Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/jvktfxz

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/373439

Ocean Mist Books:  http://brendamaxfield.com/ocean-mist-series.html

Author Bio:

Brenda Maxfield author PhotoMy passion is writing! What could be more delicious than inventing new characters and seeing where they take you?

I’m a teacher so I spend most of my waking hours with young people. I love chatting with them and hearing their views on love and life. My students are magical, and I am honored to be part of their lives.

I’ve lived in Honduras, Grand Cayman, and Costa Rica. Presently, I live in Indiana with my husband, Paul. We have two grown children and three precious grandchildren, special delivery from Africa.

When not teaching, I love to hole up in our lake cabin and write — often with a batch of popcorn nearby. (Oh, and did I mention dark chocolate?)

I enjoy getting to know my readers, so feel free to write me at: contact@brendamaxfield.com . Join my newsletter at: http://mad.ly/signups/85744/join. Visit me to learn about all my books and some smart and sassy, clean teen reads: www.brendamaxfield.com  Happy Reading!

Contact Links for Brenda Maxfield:

Website:  http://www.brendamaxfield.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AuthorBrendaMaxfield

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6570620.Brenda_Maxfield

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/BrendaMaxfield

Blog:  http://www.brendamaxfield.wordpress.com

Email:  contact@brendamaxfield.com

Amazon Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/psj82bj     

Don’t Miss any News! Join my Newsletter Ganghttp://mad.ly/signups/85744/join

Thanks for joining us today, Brenda! Readers, if you have any questions or comments for Ms. Maxfield, please don’t be shy!

How about you? Do you like to read short stories? Have any favorites you’d like to share? Are you reading any wonderful Christmas stories right now? We’d love to know!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hey folks, Suze here. Happy December! Hope you’re celebrating with friends and family in whatever way is meaningful to you.

We haven’t revealed a secret in a while, so here’s one about me: I’m a big ole baby when it comes to Christmas specials. I always cry at the end. Always. Of course, I have been known to cry at Cialis commercials too–Oh, that poor, poor man! And his wife! *sob* But now they’re happy again! *sobbing more vigorously*.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas specials, in no particular order of loved-ness:

We still love you, Uncle Billy!
We still love you, Uncle Billy!

It’s a Wonderful Life. This one goes without saying. Jimmy Stewart is goofy, charming, and way over the top with his performance of the beleaguered George Bailey. Favorite character? I’m going to go with Clarence Oddbody. And seriously. How long has this movie been around? Sixty-seven years and Uncle Billy still loses the sack of money at the bank every time. And I blat like a baby at the end. Flaming R-r-r-um Punch for everyone!

I'll have some of that eggnog in a Wallyworld cup, please. And a dickie for my sweater!
I’ll have some of that eggnog in a Wallyworld cup, please. And a dickie for my sweater!

Christmas Vacation. I just can’t get enough of the Griswolds. Will Clark get his Christmas bonus? It’s always a nailbiter. Not that I’d really want to have him over for dinner or anything, but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like Eddie to stand up for you and fight for what’s right by kidnapping your cheap and clueless, jelly-of-the-month club-giving boss? My tears during this movie are tears of laughter. Jell-O mold for everyone!

Sing, it kids (and dog!)
Sing, it kids (and dog!)

Charlie Brown Christmas. No list of holiday specials would be complete without the Peanuts gang, dancing and ignoring poor Charlie Brown while he’s trying to direct the Christmas play. Rock on, Snoopy. You’ve got the best display of lights in town. Here, I cry when the pathetic little Christmas tree is transformed by love. Tens and twenties and real estate for everyone!

You're too much!
You’re too much!

Anything by Rankin and Bass. Except The Little Drummer Boy. I’ve always hated that one. But all the ones with Santa are good. Remember when Kris gives the Burgermeister Meisterburger a toy? And when he common-law marries Jessica (shocking, really! No officiant? Are Kris and Jessica living in sin?). Both scenes make me cry. Favorite character has got to be the Heat Miser and all his little Mini-Misers. Ba-dum-ba-dum, ba-a-a-ah-dum! Oh, fine. Here’s a link to the song. Remember you asked for it when you can’t get it out of your head for the next few weeks.

Get in the holiday spirit, man. Seriously.
Get in the holiday spirit, man. Seriously.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My all-time, never-to-be-supplanted favorite. I’m talking about the animated version, not the Jim Carrey movie. Don’t get me started on that one. But when the Grinch saves that sleigh full of tartoofas and stuff–even when it’s clearly impossible for him to do so, the sleigh having slipped way too far off Mount Crumpet–I bawl at his transformation, every time. Rare roast beast and Who Hash for everyone!

How about you? What’s your favorite Christmas show or movie? Feel free to leave quotes or to sing the songs!