Small Town Feed

Upcoming Appearance: Author Reading at Ferris State University

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Personal appearances are one part of the author life I enjoy immensely, as I get to leave the writing cave and talk in person with readers and potential readers. I especially like university talks, as it's always refreshing to speak to students. I'm inspired by their energy and am always impressed by their thoughtful questions. Last year I spent a week at the University of Florida as a guest lecturer in game design classes and speaker at a summit sponsored by the school's Digital Worlds Institute. Last fall for the launch of book three in the Dreamslippers Series, I spoke at Seattle University for the third time in three years. This February I presented on a panel at the Associated Writing Programs conference, attended by many students and writing faculty. And next month, I'll be at Ferris State University in Michigan as part of the Literature in Person series.

Ferris is distinguished by a small faculty-student ratio of 1:16, which means the courses are taught by professors, not graduate students. The university prides itself on its offering of in-demand majors, more than any other school in the state of Michigan. 

My host for the event is Dr. Deirdre Fagan, assistant professor in the Department of English, Literature, and World Languages. We met back in 2001 when I was in graduate school at the University of Miami, where she was a lecturer in the composition program. We lost touch for a time, but have reconnected through the magic of social media. She's a talented teacher and poet, and it's an honor to be her guest.

If you're near Big Rapids, MI, where the college is, please come by for the event, which is open to the public. Details in the image above. Besides the public reading on April 5th at 7 pm, I'll also be a guest in Deirdre's Creative Writing class that week, which is a private event.

A huge shout-out to Great Lakes Book & Supply, an independent local bookstore in Big Rapids. They will promote the event and stock my books as well.

Wish me luck at the reading and classroom visit, and I hope to see some of you in Big Rapids!


What's the Motive? Martha Crites

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Debut author Martha Crites is a fellow finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. She handles the tricky topic of mental illness with great care and intelligence in her mystery novel Grave Disturbance. Here she discusses how motive can shift and change over the course of the writing project.

Martha Crites:

Lisa asks, “What’s the Motive?”

I can only answer, “Motives change.” 

Did I intend to take on the stigma of mental illness when I wrote my first mystery, Grave Disturbance? Not at all. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. So, in the time-honored tradition of write what you know, I gave my sleuth a job in the mental health field, like me. Not my exact job, but one a little more exciting. Grace Vaccaro is a mental health evaluator who sees people in the field to determine if they need to be hospitalized as a danger to self or others. I now know that writing a novel is a big project, and my motives have changed over time. 

Here’s what happened: When Grave Disturbance was first published, I found myself, like all new authors, needing a little elevator speech to tell about my book. Something like: After a filmmaker working on a documentary about native land rights is murdered, mental health professional Grace Vaccaro realizes that a woman she evaluated may have been a witness. Grace and Liz must sift truth from delusion to unmask the murderer before he kills again.

I had no idea that I would observe the stigma of mental illness first hand when I began to mention my protagonist’s career as a mental health evaluator. People became quiet and uncomfortable at the topic. So, I gave a lot of thought to how to talk about it and decided to mention the issue of stigma up front, at the beginning. Somehow, it helped my listeners find a new lens through which to view the story. 

Since Grave Disturbance came out, I often give presentations at libraries. We talk about how I wanted to portray Liz, the character with mental illness, as fully human, a person with talents and hopes, dreams and disappointments. But more than that, I tell them about my current novel-in-progress, which is now taking the stigma head on. I tell stories about the inspiration for a character in my work-in-progress: Marsha Linehan, the University of Washington therapist who bravely faced stigma by telling the story of her own illness to the New York Times after years of silence.

The result? Now instead of silence, audience members ask questions about psychosis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. They tell me about their experiences with family members. We have a conversation I never anticipated, a conversation that is helping me form my second Grace Vaccaro novel with a much clearer idea of my motive.

What I love about the mystery genre is that it can combine entertainment with important issues like mental health, homelessness, and the history of treatment of Native Americans in our region–all in a fast-paced novel that keeps the reader turning pages. And afterward we can talk about it.

Review Grave Disturbance on Amazon or Goodreads

Follow Martha Crites on Facebook or Twitter

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Martha Crites has worked in community and inpatient mental health field for twenty years and taught at the Quileute Tribal School on the Washington coast. Grave Disturbance was a finalist for the 2016 Nancy Pearl Award. 


Call for Reviews!

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 In honor of the new year, I'm offering a free book to anyone who posts an online review of one of mine on the web sites where the books are sold or discussed (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the App Store, Goodreads, etc.). So if you're new to me, this is a great time to pick up a copy of Cat in the Flock. It's the first book in the Dreamslippers Series, which has been praised by Kirkus Reviews and a whole lot of other trustworthy critics. First post your review online, send me a link to it, and then I'll send you a copy of the second book in the series for free.

 This is the standard industry courtesy granted to professional book reviewers, by the way. But today's marketplace equalizes the critics, so that a review you post online can have just as much impact as any pro's, whether you're a blogger in your spare time or just someone who loves books. A free review copy is hence not in violation of any retailer's review policy.

 Once you've posted the review, send me an email linking to it, and I'll send you a coupon code for any book of your choice from my catalog. Be sure to let me know in the email which book you want.  If you've already read book #1, or even the whole Dreamslippers Series, look over this list of my other published work, and pick whatever title suits your fancy.  

 Super-special Lewis County deal: If you're in my geographic area and we can meet in person, I'll give you a free print copy of either book #1 or #2 in the Dreamslippers Series or the poetry collection, Broom of Anger. Otherwise, due to print and shipping costs, it'll be an ebook. As an indie, I don't receive any free copies from a publisher to use for promotion. All of my books come with a cost.

 Some readers feel intimidated about writing reviews, but it's really very easy. First, if you don't like the book, feel free to send me your thoughts instead of posting them. I personally don't post reviews for any book I can't give at least 3 stars. Second, all you need to do is pick a star rating and write just one or two sentences to give your impression. Be yourself. Say what you'd say to a friend. Here's a recent review I posted of Martha Crites' novel Grave Disturbance, by way of example.

 A word of warning: Amazon recently deleted a review I posted for another author, James Desborough (read the details here). There's no way for me to know whether or not any of the reviews readers have posted about my own books have been deleted, but based on what I've heard from other writers, it's very likely. Reviews are deleted in a seemingly arbitrary, haphazard fashion.

 So there is a possibility that if we're connected online in any way, maybe even simply including your subscription to my email newsletter, Amazon's bots will remove your review. This is egregiously wrong, and it unfairly penalizes indie writers who rely more heavily on social media to get the word out about their books. Traditionally published authors have the advantage of expensive resources such as Net Galley and the like that are cost prohibitive for those of us who foot the bill ourselves. This all makes your support--as a reviewer, word-of-mouth advertiser, and social media sharer--all the more crucial.

 But hopefully, you'll be able to post your review with no problems. ;) I hope you enjoy my quirky characters and unique settings. As always, I'd love to hear from you.

 Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!


The Big, Fat Book Tour!

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 It's rare that authors are treated to headlining book tours these days, if there ever was a day when that happened. Especially as an indie, my marketing budget comes out of my own (very small) pocket. So there was no book tour for the first installment in the Dreamslippers Series, and for the second book, the tour was almost entirely virtual, meaning online-only.

 While this is all well and good economically speaking, I craved the opportunity to connect with readers in-person. We writers live a solitary existence, going through our days mainly alone, talking only to the cat. So when it's time to turn our book babies out into the world, it's only natural we'd want to interact with others.  

By the time I was ready to release the third book in the series, I'd built up enough momentum that in-person opportunities just showed up. Here's a run-down of what became my big, fat book tour for the release of Bound to the Truth.

Nia Jam to Benefit Standing Rock

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 I dance at a local studio, Embody, which has not only given me a beautiful new practice in Nia but a supportive community as well. Nia features prominently in Bound to the Truth, so when I found out there would be a Nia Jam and fundraiser, I donated five copies of the book, which were awarded at the event by raffle. Separate from the studio itself and hosted entirely by Nia teachers who gave generously of their time and talent, the jam raised more than $1300 for Standing Rock. We danced for two hours straight that night. I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate the book's release date. It's exactly what Granny Grace would do.

Book 'n' Brush Author Event

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 Honestly, I can't say enough about how terrifically supportive the community here in Lewis County is. As an indie, I completely struck out trying to get my books into Seattle bookstores, even ones in my own neighborhood I'd frequented for a decade. But the owner and manager at Book 'n' Brush here in Chehalis have been enthusiastic supporters. They carry the whole Dreamslippers Series as well as the poetry collection, and in turn, I drive customers to the store whenever possible. It's a win-win. I felt honored to be included in their recent author event, along with others I've come to know, some of whom also have new books out.

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 Authors Julie McDonald Zander, Texie Gregory, Kyle Pratt (who wasn't part of the event but stopped in to buy books), and me.

 Book 'n' Brush is a gem of a store, anchoring downtown Chehalis. As the name suggests, they sell both art supplies and books, for a perfect mashup of creative pursuits. We had a great write-up in the local paper about the event, and The Chronicle also covered my book's release.

Human Response Network Masquerade Ball

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 My husband and I, incognito for a cause.

 A good amount of what you might call spiritual, humanitarian intention went into the Dreamslippers Series. I've written female-centered narratives peopled with a diverse spectrum of characters. I've tackled homophobia and tried to explore organized religion with humanity and compassion. I shed light on corruption in the art world and illuminated a corner of darkness that is the illegal child pornography industry. And finally, I celebrated sexual liberation and told the stories of those harmed by sexual abuse and repression. All while honoring the importance of plot and pacing, and I hope, without ever coming across as preachy. Everything I write is in service to the story.

 I always want to do more than this. I tied sales of Cat in the Flock to a donation to Jubilee Women's Center, a highly effective organization in Seattle that helps women transition out of homelessness and into independence. Here in Chehalis, I support the Human Response Network, which provides advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Masquerade Ball was the organization's first major fundraiser, done in an attempt to ramp up service in response to an overwhelming increase in requests for help.

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Copies of the books on auction.

Seattle University Talk 

 I've presented at Seattle University twice before, and it's always a pleasure to meet creative writing students there. This time, I discussed what it takes to get credits and bylines in three different arenas: books, games, and journalism. I related tales from the trenches in all three and managed not to bore them. While it feels odd to call myself a master of anything, the below slide did garner a few smiles.

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 The students asked great questions and seemed encouraged by my career transitions from one arena to another, AKA the survivor mentality that has kept me consistently employed. Props to the university bookstore for carrying the Dreamslippers Series in connection with the event, and to the creative writing program for their incredible hospitality.

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 Seattle U souvenirs: Reflections picked up for free in the campus chapel, and the student lit mag, Fragments.

 An Evening with the Authors at the Lewis County Historical Museum

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 The last in-person event on my schedule for this book launch was the only repeat for me, as I'd attended the same last year. Located in a former train depot, the museum features local history displays and a gift shop. The authors event is a great party and opportunity to meet other writers as well as new readers. Poetry seems to resonate best with this crowd.

 So there you have it: This is how we do things in indie land. My family and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house in the midst of this, so I'm hoping December is a bit less eventful? Or not. I really did enjoy myself. Welcome to all the new readers who stopped by my tables, came to the talk, or danced by my side. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.


Join the Book Launch Party!

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 This Friday, Bound to the Truth releases across all ebook platforms and in print with select retailers. Consider this your invitation to join the launch party--either in person or virtually.

 In this third book in the Dreamslippers Series, Cat and Grace aren't sure they believe their client's claims about who killed up-and-coming Seattle architect Nina Howell. Did she really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host? Bound to the Truth picks up with all three dreamslippers living under one roof in the Emerald City--and trying to date. The sexy theme gets readers up close and personal with Seattle's at times wacky sex-positive scene.

 Read more about Bound to the Truth and the first two books in the series here.

 Here's how to join the party.

Dance with Me

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photo credit: Regan House Photo

 Yeah, that's right. On release day, I'm attending a Nia Jam at Embody Studio in Centralia, where we'll dance the routine Soul. This holistic dance practice figures prominently in Bound to the Truth, and in honor of that, I'm giving away five signed print copies at the event. If you've never danced Nia before, never fear! It's designed so that anyone at any level can drop into a class anytime. For more information, see the event Facebook page. Proceeds benefit the Standing Rock Donation Fund.

Come to the Book Signing

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 The day after the book's worldwide release, I'll be in person to chat and sign books along with five other local authors at Book 'n' Brush in Chehalis, Wash., located at the mid-way point between Portland and Seattle. That's two hours from either city.

Here's a write-up in the local paper about the event. Come on by between 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12 if you can. I'd love to see you.

Tell Your Friends

Share

 Our marketing budget is small and based on word-of-mouth, which is the best way to market anyway. Here are a couple of ready-made social media posts you can copy and paste to help spread the word. Of course, writing something in your own voice is always best, but we like the easy-button, too.

Facebook Post

 Like strong female leads and a good mystery? Try Lisa Brunette's Dreamslippers Series. The third book releases this Friday, and all three books are only 99 cents till then! Link: http://www.catintheflock.com/dreamslippers-series.html

 Note: You can tag my author page if you want me to chime in: https://www.facebook.com/LisaBrunettePage1/   

Tweet

 I recommend the Dreamslippers Series by @lisa_brunette - book 3 releases this week - all books #99cents till then! http://tinyurl.com/oqmyvwy

 Other Social Media

 Post the book covers to your Pinterest page, Instagram a photo of a Dreamslippers book, share blog posts to Google+ and elsewhere. Feel free to tag or hashtag me, too. I live for the online connection.

Review the Books

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 It only takes a few minutes to post a book review online, but the support this provides an author could last a long time. Reviews are absolutely crucial to a book's success, and they make authors feel good, too. After all, the reason we go through all the trouble of publishing is to share our words with readers. When you review a book, we know we've reached you.

 All it takes is a star rating and a one- or two-sentence impression. If you don't like the books, please email me your thoughts. I'm always eager to improve and gobble up every bit of feedback. 

Hit the Buy Button

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 Seriously, 99 cents is a steal for 5-star, full-novel-length reads. All three ebooks are priced this low in honor of the third book's release, so get 'em while they're hot! You can give ebooks as gifts, too. The first two books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook, and you can pre-order the third on ebook to lock in the 99-cent deal. Print is also available, with audiobook coming soon.

Buy links for Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and more!

Thanks so much for your interest in and support of the Dreamslippers Series. It's been a wild ride putting out three novels in two years, and I'm the better writer for it.

 

 


An Interview with New York Times-Bestselling Author Robert Dugoni

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Robert Dugoni is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite Series: My Sister's Grave, Her Final Breath, and A Clearing in the Woods. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed David Sloane series: The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, Murder One, and The Conviction. Dugoni has twice been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction, was a 2015 International Thriller Writer's finalist for thriller of the year, and the 2015 winner of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction.

After I accosted approached him at a recent PNWA conference, he agreed to participate in this back-and-forth interview, which unfolded over several weeks, suspended briefly as we both took vacations. A fan of his Tracy Crosswhite series, I'm thrilled to bring Dugoni to my readers.

Lisa: I just finished reading My Sister’s Grave, and wow. You took a tremendous risk with your twist at the end. What compelled you to go that route? At what point in your process did you know that’s how it would end?

Bob: With this book I knew at the beginning. I really was playing with an old legal maxim which is at the start of the novel. I wanted to point out that a maxim is never 100 percent accurate. There’s a key moment in the book, after the reveal, where this is spelled out.

Lisa: The legal maxim first appears in the quote you use to open the book, right? From Sir William Blackstone, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Tracy Crosswhite upholds this maxim, though, not to stop the suffering of an innocent man but out of a driven quest to find the truth. You portray her sharp instincts so well—that scientific truth-seeking is my favorite aspect of her character. Do you think of her as the hero of the novel? Or is someone else? I don’t want to give the ending away, but she has a counterpoint in the story, like yin and yang. Are there two heroes in your mind?

Bob: No, I really see her as the hero. She’s lived with this case for 10 years and had the courage to follow through on it when most others would have given up. She’s heroic in many ways. 

Lisa: Fair enough. Another risky aspect is writing in a different gender than your own. Tell me about the challenges of pulling this off.

Bob: First, I decided not to try to write from the perspective of a woman. I thought that would be a huge mistake. Instead, I wrote from the perspective of a person who has been wounded, trying to survive, day to day, with that wound. That’s a universal existence not dependent on gender. On the other hand, I have four sisters and a strong-willed mother. I’ve worked in a profession with a lot of strong-willed female attorneys.  I tried to draw from those experiences.

Lisa: What tipped you over to creating Tracy? She’s pretty badass all the way through, so kudos to you for the portrayal. At what point did you move from “that would be a huge mistake” to “this is the way I have to write this story”?

Bob: I never worried that it would be a mistake. Years ago I wrote the story Damage Control with the protagonist Dana Hill. I did the same thing. I never tried to write like a woman, just a person going through a difficult time in their life. Men and women are not the same, I recognize that, but I think in many ways we’re similar when it comes to the basic things in life we want and how hard we will fight to achieve those things.

Lisa: You mention in the acknowledgments section conversations with two researchers who gave you insights into the minds of sociopaths and psychopaths, but I note that your general idea for the novel preceded these conversations. Where did the idea come from, initially? Did knowing you were going to use that twist to show the maxim isn’t absolute mean you had in mind there would be a psychopath in the book from the beginning?

Bob: Actually, Tracy Crosswhite is a character in Murder One, a David Sloane novel. She has a very small part. When I was deciding to start a new series, I went through my old novels searching for a new lead character. She was really an unlikely choice, but she made me curious. I wanted to find out more about who she was and how she went from being a high school chemistry teacher to a homicide cop. I know that sounds odd, since I created her, but I really had to stop and explore who she was at her core. I do a lot of research, and it often comes up in a different book than intended, or in more than one book. Unlike some books, I knew in this book I wanted a psychopath because of the nature of the crime and the location and setting.

Lisa: I enjoyed the town as a sort of character in its own right in the story. Why is that important, both in terms of and separate from Sarah’s murder?

Bob: Because of what the police told me about a murder. They said a murder is rarely about one person. A murder impacts an entire family. When I mentioned she lived in a small town, they said the murder would impact the entire town. Everyone would know Sarah, and everyone would live life a bit differently after she disappeared. It’s a scary thought.

Lisa: What are your future plans for Tracy Crosswhite? How long will you keep the series going?

Bob: I’m just going to follow ideas that come to me. I’ll write Tracy stories until I feel as though I’ve exhausted her and I’m no longer excited to get up in the morning and continue on with her journey.  I’ve written four, and I’m a long way into book five. I really enjoy the people I’ve created to surrounded Tracy and my intent is to explore each of them.

 Check out Robert Dugoni's web site for videos, book links, and more.

Dugoni book stack


The Goodness of Gathering

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It's tempting, when you're freelancing or otherwise working from a home office, to become a hermit. You're finally free of the crowded bus; you no longer have to endure the cutthroat competition for the microwave at lunchtime. Even pants are optional.

But after you've soaked up scrumptious solitude for a good while, you start to crave communication. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Alternative answers to the questions you ponder silently every day. 

That's where writing conferences come in. As a writer, editor, and teacher with 25 years' experience, I've attended many conferences over my career, and I always learn something new at each one. At this year's Southwest Washington Writers Conference, there was plenty to absorb, from the art of cover design to the craft of villainy.

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Author Kyle Pratt, who presented at the conference, with his mug on a cookie.

Having recently completed a cover vote-a-thon, I found Gorham Printing rep Kathy Campbell's presentation on cover design very interesting. I hadn't realized that male readers prefer blue covers or that Millennials have a thing for vintage photos from the 60s and 70s. (Hmm... wonder what that's all about... ).

Memoirist Jennifer Lauck's presentation served for me as the perfect follow-up to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I'd re-read right before the conference. Both Lauck and Dillard present a vision of the writing life that requires strong commitment, a dedication to the work, and an active reading practice. I loved Lauck's advice to read a book looking specifically for a particular aspect of structure, such as where and how to turn a scene or develop a character.

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Author Carolyn McCray, me, and Kyle.

I felt more in the mood for craft discussions over business talk, but when I read Carolyn McCray's bio, I realized I couldn't miss her showdown with Kyle Pratt over whether or not to publish exclusively with Amazon. The two presented equally compelling models for how to make it as an indie writer. They've both achieved great success but with radically different approaches.

Which brings me to this: There are so many different ways to be a writer. Sure, you can get advice and take a lot of rules to heart, but the writing life is as wide open as the sky. For example, there's writer Terri Read, who's published more than 40 books with Harlequin since 1993. She thinks of writing in terms of layers of cake, and her process is very structured, to the point of adhering to a set formula. Another conference presenter, Jill Williamson, takes a less structured approach with her self-described "weird books." She devoted her whole talk to villains, pointing out cliches and arguing that "the best villains are the ones readers actually like."

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Speaking of villains, get a load of these two. Just kidding - Kyle* and Pat are my fellow members of the Lewis County Writers Guild.

The most rewarding aspect of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet other writers. While there are always plenty of published and veteran authors in attendance, most of the people I meet are noobs just dipping a toe into the writing waters for the first time. So if you're holding back because you don't think you're experienced enough, let go of that right now. I hope to see you at the next one.

*I realize from the pics here it looks like I'm stalking Kyle Pratt. But I'm not. At least I don't think so. I think it's just that we're both becoming less camera-shy. ;)  


Upcoming Event: The Other Side Reading Salon

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Next month, I'll be featured with several other writers at a reading salon near Portland, OR. The theme is "heat." So of course I'll be reading from Framed and Burning. Or maybe I'll share some in-progress bits from Dreamslippers Book Three, offering a different kind of heat altogether!

It's at Happyrock Coffee Roasting Co. in Gladstone. I've never been before, but I'm told it's a lovely place, and one should make a day of it and have lunch first in Oregon City overlooking the river. Our host is Nancy Slavin, author of the poetry collection Oregon Pacific and a past guest here on the blog.

For more details and to RSVP, see the event's Facebook page


A Hotel for Geeks, Complete with Joystick Sink!

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Last week my husband and I took a short trip to Walla Walla and stayed in a hotel room that at first felt to me like stepping into an airplane in the 1960s. The furniture is built-in, curved, and modular. Case in point: The microwave is behind this abstract cupboard (above pic). Then I realized this is a safety feature: Everything is attached to everything else, so even if you wanted to steal the beside-the-bed lights, you couldn't, as they are built into the cabinets.

But THEN I realized the hotel was actually designed with nerds in mind. Behold, the sink handle is a joystick!

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Also, this is definitely a Lego toilet.

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 That is all. Oh, if you're planning a trip to W2, and this looks fun to you, the hotel is the Courtyard Marriott. We went because the man had a business meeting, so we got the government rate, but I suspect it's pretty pricey otherwise. On that note, is it becoming impossible to travel now? I mean, who can afford a couple hundred a night for a hotel? I don't know what I'd do without Airbnb.

 

 


Writing Locally

Debbie Rosas at Embody
 I covered a local fitness guru's master class for our local paper.

Over the past year I've really been drawn to unique stories in my newly adopted small-town, rural community. I've published pieces with both LewisTalk and The Chronicle, on topics ranging from a 65-year-old yogi to the story of how two guys took their family inheritance and used it to open... a bong shop.

I found through this process that it's generally good to be friendly and invite conversation, especially if you're a writer, as you never know where a good story is hiding. My thing has always been to ask a lot of questions, no matter where I am or with whom I'm talking. Not many people do this anymore--sometimes I think conversation is a dying art--so when you do, it really stands out. And you uncover stories.

Like this one about a mom-and-pop organic, grass-fed cattle ranch. If my husband and I hadn't asked around about local sources of protein, we'd have missed out on their story--and their beef.

The bong shop story grew out of another one I wrote, about a yarn-and-cheese shop. I noticed a sign that said, "Coming Soon: The Jackal," so I asked the yarn-and-cheese shop owners about it, since they're across-the-street neighbors. They of course had heard the rumors, and in the polite way people have here, they said it would be "interesting" to see how that experiment worked out. I was intrigued. When I interviewed the owners, I kept asking questions in my non-threatening way to get into how they came up with the funds for the bong shop, which turned out to be the story's lede.

Some writers might turn their noses up at this kind of work, but I have nothing to prove. I wrote regularly for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when it still published a print version (interviewing celebrities, even), and I've been told my bio is impressive. Both outlets paid me for the work, I enjoyed writing the stories, and I'll likely use that experience and material in another way sometime, too.

What stories have you uncovered lately? 


Guest Poet: Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific #FridayPoetry

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Nancy Slavin, Author of Oregon Pacific

Today I'm thrilled to have a guest poet on the blog, Nancy Slavin, who indie-published her collection last year under the Bay City Books label. She's detailed her decision on this, including the costs to print the books herself, in the post "What You Love Has Value." It's a story that resonated with me since my own poetry publication is 100% a labor of love. Reading the exquisite poems in Oregon Pacific, I can't help but wonder at the voices we lose with so few opportunities for poets like Nancy. Working with traditional forms such as the sonnet, sestina, and ode, she calls to mind both the subtle and dramatic rhythms of the Northwest coast, a place where "the foghorn alone has discipline."

Here's a sample poem from the collection.

Fireweed 

– for Angela 

You are a new soul 

sprouted like a seedling 

that for eons wind has blown 

on white fluffy wings. 

Abandoned on earth 

bereft of your home, 

left only the hurt 

of blood-red rhizomes 

rooting in plots 

of industrial waste. 

You wonder if this lot 

is a perennial mistake. 

For the ache of your body 

stretched toward the sun 

with primroses budding 

positively burns. 

But all around, each hour, 

more are being captured. 

Bright pink flowers 

swell into capsules 

which, in spite of fear, 

by the light on which they feed 

open to the air 

millions of angelic seeds.

Oregon Pacific front cvr.no spine

You can purchase a print copy of Oregon Pacific through Nancy's Web site, and she will send you a signed book if you do.

Nancy and I met in an online writing community and have been each other's editing coaches for the past few months. I value her feedback on my early drafts and pitches. In addition to Oregon Pacific, she's also authored a novel, Moorings, which won the first place prize for the Nina Mae Kellogg Award for Graduate Fiction at Portland State University. She is an English teacher and violence prevention educator who lived on the Oregon coast for twenty-plus years.


Embodying Good Health

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My husband and I, at the peak of our acroyoga practice.

I've been writing weekly wellness articles for a local "movement studio" where students can take yoga, a sensory-based dance class called Nia, tribal belly dancing, and meditation. I'm a member of Embody and can be found there nearly every day. The owner is running a 90-day fitness program, and the articles I'm writing are part of an exclusive newsletter for those who sign up for the challenge.

Ironically, I've been sick nearly the whole time I've been writing these. Along with a number of others I know in the community, I succumbed to a bug that doesn't seem that bad at first, just a cold, but then it takes up residence in your lungs and won't leave. 

The struggle to write about wellness while feeling not-so-well aside, I've enjoyed tackling topics that are near and dear to me. These have ranged from how to create a network of support for your physical practice to the health dangers of sitting. Because I've practiced yoga in studios for about 15 years now, I bring that experience to bear on my subjects. For example, in this piece on the emotional component of integrated movement practices, I reflect on the multitude of expression I've witnessed and experienced in my classes:

Once a woman who reeked of cigarettes plopped down on her mat during a Bikram yoga class and refused to get back up. She lay there, heavily breathing through the rest of the 90-minute sequence, tears streaming down her face. In vinyasa yoga, I've heard people giggling uncontrollably, or making satisfying 'mmm' noises. I once shared a class with soldiers who'd recently returned from war, and there was an audible moan coming from more than one of them. I've seen--and I've felt--anger, sweetness, pain, happiness, struggle, release; in short, the full spectrum of human emotion.

It's something to be tasked with providing health advice to others. As I've researched, interviewed, and thought about wellness issues, I've learned a lot, too. For me the biggest challenge is in the area of self-acceptance. I should give myself the assignment to read my own article on this topic at least once a day, because it's easy to forget that skinny does not equate to healthy and that weight might actually be a sign of health. It's kind of ridiculous that we have trouble wrapping our minds around this since other cultures embrace these concepts naturally. But damn, is it hard not to judge that body in the mirror when it doesn't conform to societal stereotypes.

The best part of writing that piece, by the way, was including my stepson in it. He LOVED the tribute.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I've discovered the benefits of living close to my food source here in rural Washington, where I've purchased grass-fed, organic beef, pasture-bred lamb, and of course, organic vegetables right from the producer. I've spent more time than most thinking about food due to allergic sensitivities, and it was gratifying to share my insights in the newsletter devoted to healthy eating. I think it really is as simple as these five rules: 

  1. Avoid Food Fads
  2. Eat Close to the Source
  3. Go for Variety
  4. Lifestyle Changes, Not Diets
  5. The Key Is Prep

Since I'm not a biological mother myself, I had to step outside both my comfort zone and my own experience when I wrote about how your physical practice can carry you through the life stages. It was fascinating to hear Embody Owner Christina Wolf discuss how she juggled opening her studio and becoming a new mother at the same time. Because I'm here at life's middle stage facing the aging process myself, that one was more accessible.

We have just a few weeks to go in the challenge. Next I'll be writing about the histories of Nia and yoga, as well as the importance of sleep and how to keep going once the challenge ends.

There's a true sense of community at Embody. While I've been a part of yoga studios in the past where the owners and teachers pay lip service to "community," but you could practice there for years and not really feel it, Embody's community is genuine. Maybe that's because the small-town setting fosters it naturally, but I also think it's because people here really mean it.

 


My So-Called Freelance Life*, Week One: From Belly Dancing to Rosie the Riveter

View

The view from my home office is not exactly the ocean vista I always imagined. Think of it as 'American Gothic.'

On Friday, I said good-bye to my crew at the day job in Seattle and turned in all my equipment and official access cards. It had been five years, my longest stint at any one company. I shed a tear as I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time.

Or maybe not last time. I'll still have a contract relationship to work with Big Fish on games. Who knows what will happen with that as the industry continues to evolve?

I pretty much hit the ground running this first week of independence. I had a two-hour meeting on Monday with a new client and then an interview with a real 'Rosie the Riveter' that evening. Sara Bowles was a shipyard worker who got laid off during the big recession. A single mom, she went back to school, earned a degree in the energy conservation and now holds her dream job at Tacoma Power. It's one of many stories I've got on the docket for The Center of Excellence for Clean Energy.

After that, it was back up to Seattle on Tuesday to give a presentation on how marketing is all about storytelling.

My other two interviews this week? A tribal belly dance teacher, on the subject of female adornment, and her daughter, a Nia teacher, on the subject of dancing before, after, and during pregnancy. Nia, for those of you who don't know, is a joy-centered barefoot dance practice that incorporates martial arts and the healing aspects of yoga, Feldenkrais, and others, as well as established dance styles like jazz and modern. I've been practicing Nia myself since last spring and love it. And for the past month, I've been writing a weekly wellness newsletter for Embody Studio, where I dance. It's a fantastic community, and I really feel 'in the zone' on this new work.

I also submitted an application for a writing residency at Mineral School (wish me luck) and wrote articles about healthy ways to celebrate and how to cultivate a wellness practice that carries you throughout life's stages.

This all happened in the midst of continuing to battle a cough that's plagued me for weeks. And then I got some upsetting news, something personal I'm not ready to write about yet. I am focusing on the best possible outcome, though, and I have mobilized my support system.

Then, because life is a roller coaster, I found out this morning that my first novel has made me a #1 best-selling author. Read more about that here.

Next week I'm in D.C. for a book event, as well as to conduct some research for a secret project and meet up with a few old friends.

Week one of freelancing, no regrets yet! Thanks for caring.

*My So-Called Freelance Life is a book by my friend Michelle Goodman. I've reviewed it here and recommend it to anyone considering the life.


Why for Me the New Year Begins in February

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I think I might be the one in the back. (Photo source: New York Public Library.)

My new year doesn't officially begin until February this year. No, it’s not a Chinese New Year thing.

February for me is in fact the newest new year of the past eight years because February is the first month in all that time that I won’t have an official employer.

That’s right. At the close of January, I will no longer be beholden to The Man. Or fish, in this case. (Then again, maybe I was the man.)

After five years at Big Fish, I’ve volunteered to take a position elimination layoff effective Jan. 28. It's a mutual decision driven by known declines in the niche premium casual segment of the gaming industry that I've served and by my own diverging creative pursuits.

I’ve opted for a return to full-time freelance writing. I’ve made a living on my own before and know I can do it again. I once paid a Seattle mortgage—during the last boom—on my freelance income.

If January is any indication, I’ll be doing just fine. I’ve got three local freelance clients already, which is no small feat in a sparsely populated county with an unemployment rate over 7 percent. I’m writing and consulting for The Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy and for Embody Movement Studio and Lifestyle Boutique. I have an open invitation with the newspaper here to write regularly, too.

And of course there are my books. I just launched the second book in the Dreamslippers Series, and the reviews so far are glowing. I’m encouraged by the healthy momentum I’ve already seen with what I’ve been able to do around my Big Fish work. Who knows what I’ll get up to with more time.

Will I continue to work in games? I hope so. I've been in a HOPA tunnel for the past five years, but I'm excited to play games purely for fun again (my husband and I just launched a regular game night) and discover what else is out there. I'm exploring.

This February, the man and I are also coming up on our first anniversary in Chehalis, Wash. We moved away from Seattle to explore a better employment opportunity for him and enjoy a much less expensive cost of living. The upside to our choice is that there’s less pressure on me to bring in a Seattle-level income.

Not that I won’t be shooting for the stars, mind you. I just know the landscape pretty well at this point. Less pressure means I can take more risks creatively and pursue a tremendous backlog of ideas without having to say yes to every opportunity there is to earn some dough.

It’s exciting to be in this position for the first time in my twenty-five-year career. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t nerve-wracking, but I feel like I’ve got a good start on what should be an interesting, and I hope fruitful, journey.

So wish me luck. You can support my slow climb out of relative obscurity by reviewing my books and telling your friends about them. Like I said on Friday, it's a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference


What I'm Reading: Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and MoneyLost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money by Geneen Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never suffered from an eating disorder or been a compulsive shopper, but I can see how this book would be a godsend for those who have. And it can have wider application, if you take Geneen Roth's conscious, practical spiritual work as a model. Roth calls us all on our false narratives and coping mechanisms to get to the root of our problems around money. While it could be hard for many readers to relate to Roth's basic position of privilege, the lessons here are worth the effort. For example, Roth describes the "what-the-hell myth," which is when your budget gets derailed by one indiscretion, so you throw your hands up and decide you might as well give up the budget and go on a spending spree. Since Roth's primary work has been with one's relationship to food, the myth applies there as well.

One of Roth's most powerful moves is her debunking of New Age "affirmations." She says:

You can repeat 'I am lovable' a thousand times a day, you can put 'I am successful beyond my wildest dreams' on your mirror, your computer, your dashboard, you can sing it to your yourself when you go to sleep and think about it the minute you open your eyes, but if an earlier belief or conviction of being unlovable is installed in your psyche, you will be wasting your time because you won't believe yourself. If you don't do the actual work of deconstructing your fundamental beliefs, the affirmations have no place to land or stick; they won't work.


She also takes to task those who wish to be "saved" when it comes to money and being responsible with it, whether that's by a mythical parent or actual higher power. Rightly, she asserts:

Being saved implies staying small and willfully blind. But it also implies one more thing: Since not everyone can be saved, the saved one must be imbued with something different, something extraordinary. To be saved, you must invest in being special.


Roth might have connected her lessons in the private sphere to our collective insanity in the wider economy, and that would have given the book more heft. It can also at times feel as if the reader needs to be more familiar with Roth's previous works on food to get the lessons here about money, which seem at times overshadowed by the food discussion. Nonetheless, it's a useful hybrid between memoir and self-help that has likely already made a difference in the lives of many readers.


View all my reviews


For All the Knit-Wits

Knitters

A gathering of knitters at Ewe & I.

I'm not a knitter, but I'm fascinating with the tribe. The craft is very popular with women, young and old, and some men seem to find the work soothing as well. 

Cheese, though, I'm all over that stuff. So when a new store opened up in my small town that paired yarn and cheese, I had to check it out. They're both the products of sheep, so it totally makes sense to pair them, if you keep animal products close to their source. 

Here's my latest article for LewisTalk:

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To the uninitiated, yarn and cheese might seem like an odd pairing for a retail space. That is, until you realize that the two come from the same animal.

Meg and Brad Gregory have been raising sheep on their Adna farm for 11 years. This husband-and-wife team is best known for the Black Sheep Creamery cheese label, which can be found in Lewis County stores and farmer’s markets.

But now you can buy the signature sheep’s milk cheese at their store in downtown Chehalis as well, where you’ll be treated to tasting samples, a full coffee bar, and of course, a wall of yarn. Read More

 


Born-Again Meat Eater

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An old friend came to visit recently and was shocked to find out that I eat meat. Back when we met in the early 1990s, I was the first vegan he'd ever known. 

My friend had recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle himself, but when I offered him beef made from grass-fed, organic, humanely- and locally-raised cows, he accepted. A nice, juicy hamburger is hard to turn down once you've removed the ethical stumbling blocks.

My food journey has been a bumpy one. I grew up a meat-eater like everyone else I knew and didn't meet a vegetarian until my high-school best friend became one. She was a strong influence on my decision to give up meat entirely, once I left home for college.

It was easy for me to make the transition. I'd always felt "meat squeamish," and considering the low-quality meat my struggling family of six could afford, such as cheese hot dogs and hamburger with bits of bone, it's not hard to see why. Away at college, I had access to an astoundingly good vegetarian restaurant called The Sunshine Inn, and my activist friends were either vegetarians themselves or at least flirting with the lifestyle. I went from vegetarianism to veganism, only missing the cheese.

But the problem was, those 13 years of the no-meat lifestyle were my sickest years. I bounced from one upper respiratory infection to another and constantly struggled with hay fever. I was diagnosed with asthma and went on an inhaler. Heartburn and acid reflux were regular occurrences. I suffered digestive issues as well.

By 2002, I wound up in an allergist's office after a severe reaction to soy. He put me on a restrictive diet, but without meat in the equation, that meant only vegetables and rice. He urged me to eat lean meat, a little turkey and chicken.

So I did.

And I immediately felt better.

Most of my symptoms went away for a time, but then they came back as my diet broadened again. It wasn't until recently that an acupuncturist had me keep a meal-by-meal diary and pointed out I still wasn't getting enough protein. 

This time I went whole hog, so to speak, working to get protein at every meal. I found out on my honeymoon in Barcelona that I felt better than ever on a diet of sustainably-produced, mostly local meat, cheese, yogurt, vegetables and fruit, with a few whole grains.

This year, for the first time in my life, I got to experience spring without hay fever, and I've stopped needing to use an inhaler. The digestive issues have mostly cleared up as well. Admittedly, there are other factors, such as the fact that I now work from home where I'm less exposed to fluorescent lights and the toxins of the average workplace. But I believe diet has a lot to do with my greater equilibrium.

When I moved to farm country, I realized I could buy meat right from the producer, and that's helped ease my squeamishness. Fascinated by their long-term commitment to sustainability before that was even a thing, I wrote a piece for LewisTalk about my source for local beef:

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Paul and Dalene Olson have been in the organic business since before there was one. The husband-and-wife team have lived and worked on their family farm near Chehalis since the 1970s. “We’ve always followed safe field and animal practices,” Dalene explains. “We only used treatments when absolutely necessary and stayed away from commercial fertilizers and herbicides. We’ve never used hormones.” Read More

I sometimes get snide looks or comments from vegetarians who think they're superior or smarter or stronger for being able to adopt a diet I can't, even when I can see they might be suffering from food-related illnesses as well. It's ironic. I spent the first half of my life dealing with conservative bullies who criticized my vegetarianism, and it looks like I'll spend the next half dealing with liberal bullies who criticize my meat-eating.

As for the ranchers and I, we're well aware of the poignancy in the circle of life here. Being able to meet the cows that will be your dinner puts you ever mindfully in touch with it, and raising them yourself does so all the more. Folks here often say they are "harvesting" animals, the same as the squash. Both are tended to with care. In the words of the rancher:

“Probably the hardest thing for us is sending the animals for processing,” says Dalene. “A person works so hard to keep the animals alive and healthy, and it can be hard to finish the process by turning them into meat for consumption.”


Why Is It So Hard to Finish?

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Revision notes for Framed and Burning. This was after I received BETA reader feedback and needed to revise the draft.

At last month's meeting of the Lewis County Writers Guild, we chose our programs for the year, starting with a list of brainstormed interests and then voting on our top picks. The most popular topics were 1) finishing drafts and 2) making a living as a writer.

These would seem to be in obvious conflict with each other, for if you can't finish the draft, you're a long way from making a living as a writer. But the group is the affable sort, its members up front about their own strengths and weaknesses. Thus "finishing drafts" garnered more votes than the latter.

I have to admit, this surprised me. I had not had occasion to think about it before, but I guess I'm what you'd call a "finisher."

It took me two years, but I finished my first novel around a demanding day job that required me to put in sometimes as many as 70 hours per week. I did it by using every three-day weekend and all of my vacation days to write and revise. This was a sacrifice, and I had the support of my husband and stepson, or I could not have done it. I also saw my friends a lot less and gave up fun Seattle activities, such as happy hour and live theater shows. 

For my second novel, I rearranged my life drastically in order to make space for both writing and the business of writing. I stepped down from management, scaled back to 32 hours per week (with a commensurate cut in pay and benefits), and moved to a small town where I could buy a house with room for a home office. Of course, things don't always go according to plan. The day job demands have sometimes meant I end up working 40 hours in four days so that when Friday comes, I'm pretty exhausted.

But the struggles and small sacrifices aside, I finished a draft of my second novel in only two months. I got up at 6 am and finished my day job duties by 3 or 4. Then I shifted over to the novel and worked till I went to bed that night, stopping only for dinner. I used Fridays to write, and I took a much-needed break from social media. I also wrote every weekend. I got to 90,000 words in record time.

But this isn't something I'd recommend. Sitting that much, as science has told us, isn't good for us

Part of the reason I pushed myself so hard is because I was passionate about the project. It had to come out. And I would say that if you aren't passionate about what you're writing, then of course you won't finish it. Why would you? We writers come to this because we have something burning inside us to share with the world. And if you aren't feeling that, then simply being able to check off the "done" box won't drive you to the page.

There have been projects I never finished, but it was right for me to abandon them: A novel I started in the summer of 2002. Another I began in the summer of 2003. When I look at both drafts now, I don't feel the passion in them. They didn't need to be finished the way other works have. Knowing when to abandon a project is key. I never think of these as losses. It was good practice, writing them.

I also have a finished manuscript I'll forever keep in a drawer: the memoir I wrote between 2006 and 2008. My agent at the time couldn't even get through it, it was so dark. But that writing wasn't wasted. It was a powerful catharsis, at the very least.

And I have one long-term project, a magnum opus of sorts, that I've finished half a dozen times in various incarnations, as a short story collection and then a 'novel in stories' and most recently as a straight-up novel. I might be periodically doing what amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or perhaps it will end up being my greatest work. I could also end up abandoning it for good. But for now, the passion is still there, just not the understanding of what to do with it. And that's okay. I've got plenty of other works to sustain me in the meantime.

So here are my first couple of tips on finishing:

  • Write where your passion is. Don't sit down to write a romance novel just because you think the genre sells. But if you read romance novels and think you can write them better, that's great! I chose to write mystery after working on the story lines for more than a hundred games in the mystery genre, reading mystery novels, and interviewing a crew of popular mystery authors for a magazine.
  • Don't be afraid to abandon a project if you can't finish it. All writing is practice, and if you've lost the passion for your novel, maybe it was just your warm-up draft. Do not read this as failure. All writing practice is useful.

The other reason I pushed myself to write 90,000 words in two months has to do with that other topic the Writers Guild chose to explore this year: making a living. My goal is to be a self-supporting independent writer by this time next year. That's a hell of a motivator, let me tell you. It makes me nervous just to write that here, because what if I fail? But I have a good plan in place for how this will happen, and writing it down is part of my goal-setting.

There's one among us in the Guild who's already making a living as an indie novelist, and you can see how he set the goal and then achieved it, his focus undeniable, his passion palpable.

At the day job, I spent five years on nothing but finishing things. Our deadline-driven, high-volume work was so focused on finishing that I had to design a digital queue to manage the projects and then hire a team to complete them all. My team routinely finished rewriting games with content equivalent to your average novel in about a week's time. When your job's on the line, you finish.

And that's the same level of urgency, I believe, that it requires to get to the finish line as a writer. Otherwise, your writing is what amounts to a hobby, something to be done at leisure, for the sole pleasure and enjoyment of the activity. And that is more than okay. It's wonderful, in fact.

Which brings me to these tips:

  • Consciously decide what your intention is. If you want to earn a living at your writing, that will lead you down a different path and set of choices than if writing for you is a hobby or sideline. For example, if you are a poet, you are not going to make a living at your writing. End of story. But like I said, that's more than okay. A great many writers would actually be happier if they relaxed and accepted their writing as a hobby. Writing and publishing my poetry collection was 100 percent a labor of love.
  • Set realistic goals either way. For my third novel, I've set a goal of getting to 20,000 words by the end of October. I'm at 2,800 words currently. That's a bit more reasonable than finishing a novel in two months around another job, and this will be better for my health and sanity, too.

If you're new to writing as an activity, which means you haven't actually done a lot of writing in your life, then you will need a great deal of training and practice, and that should be your mini-goal. While I completed a first draft of my novel in only two months, that was the tip of the iceberg you're seeing. What's underneath the water? Training through my English bachelor's degree, a certificate in writing, and a Master of Fine Arts in writing. After that comes my twenty-five-year career as a writer, editor, narrative designer, and teacher of writing.

I'm not saying you have to have all or any of that to be a writer who finishes drafts, but I suspect that a good deal of "not finishing" comes from encountering problems while writing and letting that stop you. Knowing how to tackle problems on the page takes instruction, training, and experience. And that definitely helps you finish!

Here's my last two bits of advice:

  • If you don't have the experience or training, get it. But if a degree program is not in the cards for you, there are lots of other ways to get the training you need, such as feedback groups, how-to books, conferences, workshops, and so on. There's an endless pool of resources available to you. In fact, a lot of writers end up making their living telling other writers how to do it. Beware that pyramid scheme, but do get the help you need from reliable sources.
  • Know what helps you finish other things in your life, and use them. I started off this post with a photo of the wall in my studio, which I've covered in clear whiteboard paint. I'm a list-maker and a visual brainstormer, and I know I have to see it "up on the wall" to get it finished. But for you, it could be something else.

Now let me turn this over to other writers out there: How do you finish? Please share your thoughts, tips, and techniques.