About Sandra Hutchison

Indie author and publisher of THE AWFUL MESS: A LOVE STORY and THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE.

O procrastination! (a real potential pitfall of self-publishing, and of being me)

There’s one big problem with self-publishing, especially if you don’t require it to pay the mortgage. And that is that there’s nobody giving you any deadlines except yourself.

I decided two, maybe even three years ago to stop being exclusive to Kindle with my ebooks. That meant giving up Kindle Unlimited payouts, which were running maybe thirty or forty percent of my writing income at the time (partly by virtue of running ads on BookBub that were driving that income but also steadily losing me money). Part of this is because I find KU readers have never been as enthusiastic about my quirky-bordering-on-literary stuff as people who read traditional novels tend to be, so the stand-alone read-through was blah.

Yes, you read that right. I made this decision two or three years ago.

Yes, I was writing another book (PRIDE AND PRECARITY, now due out in January), but that hardly took all that time.

And when did I actually start to put my books wide? Well, Kobo got some of them a few months back. But not all of them yet.

Draft2Digital got THE AWFUL MESS finally earlier this month, which means that book is now available at Apple and many other retailers. But I still have to add the rest of that series, plus the rest of the backlist.

Part of the delay was that I wanted to go straight to Apple, but navigating my iTunes accounts and my various Apple IDs (one for an iPhone I haven’t owned for over a decade, connected to an email address I don’t have access to anymore) proved to be beyond me.

I find things like that so discouraging that I will often turn away from them for weeks, or months, or forever. I’ll just go read, or something. (Yes, I’m already at over 100 books this year on Goodreads. Including some really good ones recently.)

Then there’s the paperback, which I took out of expanded distribution years ago because I was making about 25 cents a book, mostly off other vendor’s sales of it, since they could beat my price. I knew I needed to go to Ingram Spark for wide distribution at a better profit level, but that introduced a whole new level of technical agony about ISBNs, covers, etc.

paperback edition of THE AWFUL MESS

Yes, Amazon considers this nudity bad enough to bar this book from being advertised on their platform.

I finally started it with THE AWFUL MESS last month, because Shepherd.com had asked me to write something for them that would feature it. However, it appeared I’d need a new cover first. Ingram has different spine widths and I can’t currently afford to go back to the original wonderful designer (plus his lovely cover gets dinged all the time for being too sexy).

So I polled my newsletter subscribers about two possibilities for that new cover.

And they were evenly split.

Which called for way more procrastination while I agonized about it.

(Also, I suddenly realized how few of my newsletter subscribers are still getting my newsletter, which was a whole other traumatic episode and required a whole lot more stuff to do that I’ve been procrastinating for years.)

But a choice had to be made, and then once I made it (based solely on what would make the best back cover background), I had to actually make the cover. That took another while. Because I don’t use Photoshop often enough to remember how to do things fast. But by God, I finally got it done.

Then I finally went to upload the cover yesterday, and all my earlier work to set up the book had disappeared and Ingram told me the book I’d started to upload COULDN’T BE UPLOADED, only transferred from KDP, because that ISBN had already been used.

This meant I didn’t even need that new cover I’d just slaved over. Unless I put it up on KDP … where it would require a different spine width using a different template.

So anyway. The transfer has been requested for that one and the two other Lawson novels and now we’ll see what happens. Yay for me not procrastinating that for yet another month, I guess. But it could take another month to go through, assuming Amazon doesn’t refuse to do it or something.

Speaking of Amazon, they’ve been terrifying a number of indie authors lately by refusing to believe their books are actually their books just because some random hacker has made a copyright claim, perhaps to extort money or steal books or, who knows, screw with a competitor. The Zon won’t necessarily accept an author’s actual copyright registration or long history of publishing with them as proof, either. It’s a Kafkaesque horror show.

Meanwhile, the only reason I’ve made as much progress as I have recently, I suspect, is that I said yes to teaching a 12-week composition course this fall and can’t afford to mess around any longer. I’ve got to pour all my spare energy into prepping a class I haven’t taught for three years into a very different weekly format that could go online at some point if polio really takes off or something. (Meanwhile, I still don’t have access to the college electronically.)

Wish me luck with all of it, please. Or maybe just roll your eyes and remember that there’s a reason traditional publishing still has a lot of fans among writers.

Onward!

(Possibly quite slowly.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some good books about grieving

Recently, I was able to read a pre-publication copy of a book about grieving by Amanda Held Opelt, and I’m happy to share my thoughts about it here. Especially since Amazon in its wisdom wouldn’t let me post my review because they’d noticed “unusual activity” on the book. (Ah, yes, a strong pre-marketing campaign by the publisher, God forbid. I’m almost glad to see this happens to traditional publishers as well as self-publishers.)

Anyway, as I noted in my longer Goodreads review,

This is an interesting exploration of grief and the rituals associated by … the surviving sister of Rachel Held Evans, the wonderful Christian writer who died tragically young when her case of the flu turned deadly. Opelt has also suffered miscarriages and worked in war and disaster zones around the world, so she’s also familiar with loss in other ways.

If you are a Christian (perhaps especially someone in a liturgical tradition), you may take great comfort in this candid discussion of grieving. If you’re not, you may still find it hopeful and moving, but the religious content may be a bit much for you.

…Each chapter devotes itself to a tradition, one that we carry on today or one that we have lost or that is specific to various cultures 0r times (examples include keening, covering the mirrors, telling the bees, etc.). Sometimes it’s a bit academic; other times it’s heart wrenching to read about Opelt’s actual experiences with actual losses. It’s probably not a book to read all at once, given the subject matter, but to work through over a period of time.

Reading it reminded me of some other books I’ve read on the topic. My favorite is A GRIEF OBSERVED, by C.S. Lewis. I have to admit a lot of Lewis’s popular theology books, like MERE CHRISTIANITY, don’t do much for me. They strike me as glib and smug and full of arguments by analogy.

But in A GRIEF OBSERVED, all that is torn away in favor of telling the painful truth about a devastating loss and what it does to Lewis’s relationship with God. You get to really watch the man wrestle with darkness, and you can’t help but be moved by it. (The movie SHADOWLANDS does a good job of representing this on the screen, though it’s more about the whole relationship.)

A very nontraditional book on the subject, one that claims it is fiction, although I have my doubts, is NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS, by Patricia Lockwood. As noted in my longer Goodreads review:

At first, with this book, I thought I was reading extremely disjointed but often funny, sometimes just glib takes on the internet, here called “the portal.”

…Eventually, however, a heartbreaking and heartwarming story of hope and loss and family and humanity emerged. Ultimately, I found it very moving. Recommended if you can cope with a nontraditionally-told story that is very much grounded in (and commenting on) our time.

Grief for people and also for a community or a way of life is the undercurrent in the beautifully written THE HIRED MAN by Aminatta Forna. It’s about a bleak topic, yet retains a stubborn hope. Also quoting from my Goodreads review:

A remarkable novel about war and its aftereffects, set in an inland part of Croatia that was once part of Yugoslavia and saw some shelling and some genocide. And yet life goes on, until an English family blunders onto the scene years later and unknowingly sparks memories neither the town nor our narrator (their handyman and neighbor), nor the guiltiest parties still present necessarily want to relive. There’s joy but also rising tension.

If by any chance you’re as much of a fan of Tim Farrington as I am, you might also want to check out his self-published novel SLOW WORK (affiliate link), about a man who carves grave stones. I think it is beautiful, if not terribly commercial.

Far more commercial is the recent novel, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES (affiliate link) by Shelby Van Pelt, a warm small town novel about enduring grief, recovering family, and redeeming old losses. Also, there’s an octopus, and it’s wonderful.

So, any recommendations from you? I’d love to hear them.

 

Moving on, we come to PRIDE AND PRECARITY

This Independence Day was so mournful for me, given current events, that I basically just hid out at home reading regency romances. (On the plus side, that meant I had way less chance of getting shot. We are living in crazy times, aren’t we?)

But today is the day after Independence Day, and I need to get some real work done, something I haven’t been doing all that well lately.

So here we go, finally getting the next novel ready for publication. I thought for a long time about querying it to agents (and I did fling it into Berkley’s open submission process, which I can only assume resulted in an extremely deep slush pile). But all the reasons I self-pubbed in the first place are still true – probably even more so in today’s market.

So last week folks who subscribe to my newsletter got a sneak peek of PRIDE AND PRECARITY. It plays off Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but sets the story in 2019 in a small, struggling liberal arts college town in upstate New York, where the heroine is an under-employed English adjunct (something I’m rather familiar with), and the hero, a higher education consultant, has just gotten his pal Bingley installed as the new college president.

I’m going to share that first chapter here, too, but if you want to see chapters two and three any time soon you need to make sure you’re on the newsletter mailing list, not just this blog’s mailing list. That’s because I have no idea who really sees this blog (unless someone comments). It all happens in the background with Jetpack or WordPress or trained internet hamsters.

BUT if you’re a subscriber to my twice-monthly newsletter I’ve got your email address! And we can have private email conversations! And because of that, you might also have a chance to volunteer to be an early beta reader or ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) reader. (IF you’re willing to commit to providing helpfully specific feedback and/or posting an honest review somewhere, that is.)

So now, here’s the current draft (not final) of chapter one of PRIDE AND PRECARITY. If you want to keep going at least two more chapters, make sure you subscribe to the newsletter, which comes out on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. I won’t put you through a traditional “Welcome” automation if you join here, but I may circle around and try to catch up with you later.

Obviously, you can always unsubscribe. Also, you’ll probably need to confirm your email for it to work. (So check that promotions tab or spam folder or whatever if you don’t see it right away.)

CHAPTER ONE

I’m not saying this is my Mr. Darcy, because I kind of accidentally downloaded him from Deposit Photos. But he might be!

(Still a working draft!)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new college president must hold a reception for faculty.

Also true: It would be really awkward to spill a whole tray of chicken satay skewers drizzled with peanut sauce on that new college president.

But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Charles Bingley, the new guy, hired my aunt to cater. And that’s why I’m serving hors d’oeuvres at this faculty reception even though, technically, I’m a member of said faculty.

Only technically, because I’m part-time, an adjunct. I earn less than $3,000 per semester per class, with a strict limit on how many I can teach. (God forbid they should have to give me health insurance.) So I pick up a lot of catering gigs with Titi Sylvia.

I thought about saying no to this one, because of the shame factor. But then I thought about how my car has been making funny noises lately.

Circling the room in my white shirt and slightly faded black pants, I offer my faculty colleagues stuffed mushrooms on the first pass, little chorizo pockets on the second. My best friend Charlotte is the only one who smiles warmly at me. “Izzy! Do you want me to introduce you to anyone?”

I shake my head. No, not while I’m handing out appetizers, thank you.

Charlotte’s an adjunct, too, but as the daughter of Bill Lucas, long-time trustee and current president of the board, she’s comfortable with this crowd. If she’d chosen a more popular major, she’d probably be on the tenure track by now. Unfortunately, she went for a doctorate in women’s studies at the exact moment it was starting to be cut from course offerings everywhere, especially at small, struggling colleges like Meryton. It’s proven as deadly to her career prospects as that doctoral thesis on Barbara’s Pym’s satirical novels has to mine.

At the next little group, that old goat Professor Hart narrows his eyes at me as he helps himself to a chorizo pocket, possibly wondering if he’s seen me or at least my boobs somewhere before. But he’s one of the few to even look my way. I’m the help. I’m invisible. Which is ideal in this situation, frankly.

I come out with the third tray – the soon-to-be infamous chicken satay – and let some hungry adjunct door skulkers scoop up one each, then head around the room clockwise. My baby sister Lidia has the counter-clockwise circuit and is wearing the lowest cut white shirt she can get away with. “Oh, you’re so funny!” she says to some guy, and giggles. I catch my older sister Jane refreshing the beverage service and roll my eyes. She smiles in understanding but doesn’t roll hers – she’s too nice for that, even when it’s about Lidia.

Anyway, as I approach that Most Important Conversational Cluster in the Room, I somehow lose my footing and go flying right into President Charles Bingley’s chest. Tray first.

We both fall to the floor, and there are gasps as every person in the room turns to look.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” I say, and try to leap up, but some tall dude with an excellent grip is already hauling me to my feet.

Jane swoops in and says, “Oh, dear! Come with me, Mr. Bingley, and I’ll help you get cleaned up quickly and back to your party.”

He says, “Please, call me Chaz. Darce, bring me down a clean shirt?”

Tall dude scowls at him a moment, then nods, and asks me, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, perfectly. I’m –”

But he’s already leaving.

I bend down to pick up the tray and the scattered remains of the satay – the hungry adjuncts at the door look on wistfully – and head to the kitchen.

I walk in to find Jane gently sponging Chaz Bingley’s pants and blushing. He’s blushing, too. His shirt is covered in peanut sauce, and he’s already unbuttoning it.

“I’m so sorry,” I say again.

“No worries,” he says. “You have no idea how much I wanted a break from all that terribly, terribly polite conversation!” And then he’s back to smiling and blushing at my sister.

Okay, so maybe he’s a good guy, even if he is admin. He pulls off his shirt and balls it up on the counter. His undershirt fits nicely and he has nice shoulders and nice arms. He’s kind of goofy looking, though. Of course, that may be because of the way he keeps staring at my sister, like he’s dazed or something.

“How did that happen?” Titi Sylvia asks me, under her breath, and it takes me a moment to realize she means my collision out in the reception hall, not my sister and the new college president gazing into each other’s eyes like moony heifers.

“No idea. One minute I’m walking along fine, and the next I’m flying through the air. I’m so sorry!”

“Oh, well, it happens.” She hands me a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels. “Here. I don’t want any cleaning bills for any priceless carpets.”

“Got it,” I say, and take a deep, centering breath before I walk out of the kitchen. Because the only thing less dignified than dropping a tray of chicken satay on your new college president is having to get down on your hands and knees to clean peanut sauce out of the carpet in front of your colleagues.

I’m scrubbing the last stubborn spot when I see Bingley and “Darce” come out of the kitchen. Bingley, restored to full dress, is still smiling a bit idiotically.

Darce frowns and I hear him say, “Must she do that now?”

“Darcy, come on,” Bingley says. So maybe it’s actually Darcy, not Darce? Or maybe it’s D’Arcy? He looks like the kind of guy who might hang on to a pointless apostrophe if it were pretentious enough.

Bingley continues, “You want me to be responsible for staining somebody’s precious historic carpet in my very first week on the job? Listen, you never saw a more attractive bunch of caterers. The one who just cleaned me up in there is the sweetest, kindest, prettiest—”

“Caterer. She’s a caterer, Chaz. And I believe the least you could hope for from a caterer is for them to not splatter you with the very food you’re paying them to serve. Have you met everybody here yet? People are starting to leave.”

Charlotte’s dad Bill rushes up to them. “All’s well that ends well, is that not so? What an inspiring example of graceful persistence you’re giving us!” He sports a kind of pseudo-English accent that I associate with old money. I may be wrong about that, though, because Charlotte’s even more anxious about spending than I am. Perhaps whatever money was involved in forming that accent has been lost. She and I may be best friends, but I’ve never had the nerve to ask.

I try another energetic scrub. Is this last stubborn stain from our peanut sauce, or was it already there?

“Just promise me you’ll hire a different caterer next time,” says Darce/Darcy/D’Arcy.

Asshole. That’s what I’m calling him from now on.

Bill Lucas says, “I don’t recommend that! Sylvia Phillips is the best you’ll find around here. She’s the sister of the wife of one of our most distinguished professors – Professor Bennet, one of the world’s foremost authorities on dung beetles! Sadly, retiring this year. His daughter Isabela there is actually an adjunct professor in our English department. She’s said to be quite brilliant in the field of contemporary women’s literature.”

Asshole says, “And we can see how well that’s working out for her.”

OH MY GOD! Does he not realize I can hear him?

But he probably doesn’t care. Assholes never do. It’s their super power.

I decide the carpet’s as clean as it’s going to be and get up to brush past them. I give Asshole a glare. I wish I could spray carpet cleaner in his face. I don’t, of course, but it’s possible I wield the spray bottle a tad threateningly at him as I go by.

His eyebrows go up, and he smirks at me.

This would be a fab story to immediately regale everyone in the kitchen with, but Titi loads me up with a tray of her famous pastries.

Okay, fine. That is what she’s paying me for. I stop at the hungry adjuncts and take the opportunity to pop one in my own mouth. That’s a big no-no, but I figure I had an invitation to this thing, too. “Go ahead, take two,” I urge them.

“So delicious,” says an anemic-looking young woman I vaguely recognize as belonging to the art department. “What’s that filling?”

“Guava.”

“Guava?” She repeats it with a blank look. We’re pretty far away from any important centers of Puerto Rican culture up here in the hinterlands of upstate New York. For their part, Titi Sylvia and my mom are only half Puerto Rican, but they still like to wow the locals with the flavors of the island. Mom also insisted on Spanish names for us girls, except for Jane, who’s named after Abu Jane because our Puerto Rican great grandparents apparently liked the English version better, too.

It’s all a bit misleading. Mom and Sylvia can roll their r’s and curse people out in Spanish, but don’t ask them to actually carry on a conversation. I have some Spanish because I needed a second language for my master’s degree, but in the four years I’ve been teaching since I got my doctorate, it’s been fading as fast as my hiring prospects.

So I’m not sure my sisters and I really qualify as Hispanic. But we sure know good Puerto Rican food.

I pop another pastelillo de guayaba in my mouth and swallow it down before I resume a slow circuit, carefully watching for stray feet in my path. The idea is to avoid dropping another tray.

Also, to run out of these pastries before I get anywhere close to Asshole.

—-

And so ends Chapter One.

Enjoying it so far? Have some comments for me? You can leave them below or email me at sandrahutchison (at) sheerhubris.com  – or, best of all, join my newsletter list here (if you haven’t already) and I’ll consider you interested in seeing more.

 

 

 

 

Things that won’t wait

I’m not going to get into perishables in the refrigerator or freezer or pantry, because we already know all too well about that. But these days I’m particularly aware of these other parts of life that just won’t wait forever:

Children.

They just keep growing! My grandchildren and niece and nephew in particular seem to be absolutely racing into adolescence and young adulthood. I wish they would slow down, but unfortunately I have it on great authority that it’s not how these things work.

Gardens.

You could still start tomato seeds right now in upstate New York, but you probably wouldn’t get much of a crop before frost arrives. Similarly, leaving plants in tiny nursery containers too long might mean they never flourish even after you plant them. (Sorry, basil.)  Also, if you let weeds set seed before you pull and/or mulch, you’ll be chasing weeds for months. (I will be chasing weeds for months.)

Painting.

At least up north, if you don’t get your house painting done in dry, temperate weather, you’re going to pay a price. Also, prep always takes more time than you think it should. Also, paint gets old. (If only buying paint equaled finishing a job! I’d be golden! Or, more likely, a nice off white!)

A 1350 angel from an altar piece who has folded arms and a skeptical or grumpy expression.expression.

How I imagine an actual angel might have watched our diocesan debate. (Angel by Niccolo di ser Sozzo Tegliacci, ca. 1350. Hyde Collection.)

Justice.

After participating in my (Episcopal) diocese’s annual convention this year, I became very aware of how dedicated some people seem to be to setting aside time for discussion and healing and conversation, maybe even forming committees or task forces, rather than simply removing some hateful and unenforceable canons targeting LGBTQIA persons. The laity was ready to move on, but our carefully curated clergy was not. I could say the fact we had a vote at all and that it was fairly close showed progress…but probably only because it’s not my marriage or my calling that was being strenuously and sometimes quite disingenuously opposed.

Books.

You have to put your butt in the chair and write them or they just don’t happen.

On the other hand, I do find that ideas will wait a bit and might even improve with a little subconscious marination. And sometimes writers need to recharge the creative batteries.

Readers.

It’s a truism in indie publishing that if you really want to make a living at this you need to publish four or more books a year. Some people publish ten or twelve or fifteen books a year (sometimes under various pen names). I am never going to be able to do that. But I’m also older now and don’t actually expect to make a living at this. So I’ll publish when I’m ready. (And I’m very thankful to those of you who are still hanging around for whatever comes next.)

Here’s wishing you the best of luck at not waiting too long to do whatever it is you want to accomplish this summer! Clearly I could use some of that myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Coping with trying times

This morning I woke to news the McConnell-stacked Supreme Court is about to demolish Roe v. Wade. Well, that and howls of outrage about it on Twitter. I joined in the collective fury, but I can’t help feeling an all-too-familiar disgusted resignation already creeping in.

The last five or six years, including the pandemic, have been emotionally exhausting. I’ve noticed in my own reading a tendency to want to escape into happy, amusing romantic comedies. (I even wrote one myself, an update of my favorite romcom of all time, Pride and Prejudice, and am currently trying to decide what to do with it.)

I always aim to keep my own novels light, but they usually also deal with some dark issues.

Maybe that’s why I don’t even feel like trying to market them right now? Because we’re all tired, aren’t we? We don’t necessarily want to “escape” into books about immigration or addiction or racism or whatever, even if promised a happy ending.

I have friends who have been using this time to organize their opposition at the grassroots level and take on entrenched powers. I admire them greatly. I’ve never been comfortable in an angry crowd at a protest, but I have done my fair share of door-to-door canvassing.

However, I’m old enough now to be kind to myself and admit how much I absolutely loathe doing that kind of thing.

These days I can’t seem to bring myself to do anything more than root for and vote for and maybe throw some money at the candidates they support. Who then tend to lose. (Though not always.)

A long time ago I had to read Candide for college, a howl of outrage written for its own day, and the way it ends, “We must tend our garden,” has always struck me as the best comfort in times like these, when so many hard-won freedoms are under vicious, coordinated attack.

a variety of seedlings not yet planted

This year’s somewhat stressed out seedlings, waiting for warmer weather.

Of course, I take that command more literally than Voltaire probably meant it, as I get ready to plant my veggie seedlings (if we ever stop having frosty nights here this spring!).

Such gardening is, of course, a privilege for those who have some land and time and the budget for gardening supplies (which, I’ve recently discovered, have been just as affected by inflation and supply chain issues as anything else).

Another type of tending, the kind of writing that examines our culture and promotes critical thinking about it, has also largely become the bastion of people who have the time and financial means and marketing wisdom and connections and dogged persistence (and, sometimes, just plain luck) to keep doing something that doesn’t pay a living wage to the vast majority of the people who do it.

So I guess I ought to try to make as much of that privilege as I can, right? Or at least more so than I seem to be doing at present.

As well as getting the tomatoes and peppers and eggplants in.

How are you keeping yourself from despair in trying times?

Five reasons why you might want to get my newsletter

  1. I’ll include short reviews of books I enjoyed, and think you might also enjoy.
  2. I’ll keep you up to date on my writing progress.
  3. I’ll catch you up on freebies you might have missed. For example, a recent newsletter included a download link to HUSSY HOSTS COFFEE HOUR, a sequel short story to THE AWFUL MESS.
  4. Cover of Hussy Hosts Coffee HourYou can unsubscribe at any time with that handy link at the bottom of the email.
  5. I won’t be duplicating this blog (except maybe when there’s big news).

The blog is going to post once a month on the first Tuesday. The newsletter is twice a month on the second and fourth Tuesdays. Granted, Tuesdays aren’t Mondays, but can’t they be improved by a little something that’s not the least bit work-related for you?

Okay, that’s all I’ve got, except to suggest that if you do subscribe, you might want to add my email address to your contacts or star the email or something so it doesn’t end up in spam or the promotion folder. (Or maybe nothing works, because I even get my own copy in the promotions folder AND IT’S COMING FROM ME.)

To sign up, navigate to this page and you’ll see a form, as well as a whole bunch of other ways to follow me if you feel like it: Contact / Follow

This is a short one, because I need to go do some work in the garden before it rains yet again. Happy Spring!

 

How marketing your writing can be like surviving high school P.E.

When I was in high school in Florida, we had physical education class every day.

I was bad at it.

I coped well enough with track, aerobics, gymnastics, and even volleyball (only because I was a fairly reliable server), but all the other team sports were nightmares. I could be counted on to let down my team. Softball was especially painful. I hated waiting in the outfield, desperately hoping no fly balls would come my way.

But then I figured out how to get through it: volunteer to be the catcher.

Was I a good catcher? Hell, no. (Not until I watched Bull Durham years later did I learn that catchers are supposed to be strategizing with the pitcher! Who knew?) But nobody else wanted to do it, what with the strained posture and ungainly equipment and chance of catching a ball or a bat the hard way. So they were happy to let me do it.

Sandra Hutchison as an uncoordinated teenager holding two inflatable pool floats

This may be the closest I ever came to being any kind of athlete. Even as a teenager, I looked like a librarian.

And it was SO MUCH BETTER. I didn’t have time to pray no ball would come. OF COURSE it came. Repeatedly!

I spent the whole inning catching and throwing. I had no time to get nervous. Hell, it was even fun.

Yes, once in a while a foul ball popped up or a run headed home and gave me the chance to disappoint my team, but I couldn’t stop and brood about it. Because there was another pitch.

After remembering this recently, I realized that’s the approach I need to take to marketing. Especially the newsletter part, which I’ve been procrastinating literally for years now.

Like a lot of authors, I hate marketing my own books, especially to people I know. Because my mailing list is so small (especially now!), a lot of people on it are people I know. And whether they know me or not, I fear I will irritate them or bore them or look desperate or tacky or clueless, or (most likely now) get marked as “spam” by people with no memory they signed up for my newsletter years ago.

To be fair, I have also repeatedly run into bewildering tech issues. Let me tell you, bewildering tech issues are THE BOMB if you’re looking to put off something uncomfortable. (I ran into more trying to publish this very post, which is why it’s out a day late.)

Restarting the blog last year was my first step in overcoming what had become a case of near-paralysis on the marketing side. Could I write something every single month that at least some people were going to read? Yes, I could! (Okay, always on the last possible day of the month, and I just missed February, as noted above.)

Would this renewed blog ever be brilliant or make any difference to my book sales? Not so far. But it does, at least, suggest that I’m still in the game. This is something, especially if you publish new novels as slowly as I do.

But the mailing list is the thing I really need to do. So… those few of you still on my list at this point and also reading this, which may be nobody … you are about to start hearing from me regularly, on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, with something shorter than this blog ever is.

(Check your promotion or spam folder if you think you’re on the list and don’t get anything – or sign up again at the bottom of this page.)

This frequency is not what I promised when you signed up. So if you find this annoying, I cordially and absolutely without angst invite you to unsubscribe. It’s actually ideal, if you’re not interested. Mailing lists above a certain size cost an author money, after all. (Yet another reason to procrastinate!) And you can reliably hear about new releases or promotions if you follow me on Bookbub or Amazon.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this blog. I enjoy this format, but it takes serious effort to get a post published, and the mailing list will be my top priority this year. I also don’t want to take away too much time from novel writing. (Novel #8 is finally under way!) So that’s something I’ll be thinking about a little more.

As always, I’m happy to hear your opinions if you have any. (Also, I’m curious if you have your own ways of psyching yourself into doing the stuff you find anxiety-producing!)

And now … I need to go play some ball.

A burst of productivity for the new year

January saw me racing through a bunch of things on my list, especially during the week I had hoped to spend with my parents, but had to postpone, because COVID. Part of it was giving myself permission to not worry about the writing. Part of it was if I didn’t get it done I knew it was only going to get worse.

Like the old boiler that was trying to kill me. A new energy-efficient, non-CO-spewing combi-boiler was installed at the beginning of the month. (Thanks, NYSERDA! Seriously, that commie socialist government program helped a lot.) Living with it is a bit different. One, my gas bill is noticeably lower. Two, instead of keeping water heated and standing by, it only heats it as I use it. Water takes a little longer to get hot, and it never gets hotter than the temperature it’s set at. The shower has less pressure because there’s less water flowing, and I also turn it all the way to HOT pretty much immediately and can’t nudge it any hotter even if I want to — at least, not without running down to the basement and setting a new temperature. On the plus side, I never run out of hot water.

I’ve been tempted to put the temp up a little because I am a fan of long hot showers (a lot of writers will tell you they get great ideas in the shower), but I’m resisting because the whole point of this change is to conserve resources.

In order to prep for the boiler and the new basement insulation included in the project, I cleaned and semi-organized the basement. I had not cleaned the basement since moving into this house in 2014. Tidied, yes; cleaned, no. (Feel for that poor vacuum cleaner!)

I tossed a lot of stuff. But since I’ve lost weight after going low carb, I was glad I hadn’t taken some of the old donation bags to a thrift store yet, because now I can wear some of that stuff again and instead get rid of fat clothes. Once in a while procrastination is our friend.

It certainly benefited my spare room library redecoration: I found uses for bookshelves, rugs, baskets, a rocking chair, an ottoman, a mirror, some frames, etc. It also enabled me to reorganize my office closet.

Once in a while a pack rat mentality actually does save some money.

Of course, there’s more to get rid of. I’m deciding between Facebook Marketplace or the Habitat ReStore for the stuff that still has some use, but I haven’t decided yet. (From what I hear, selling stuff on Facebook can be a miserable experience. Any thoughts?)

I bought a newer used car and said goodbye to the old Subaru. I somehow thought I was buying a smaller car, at least until I tried to get the RAV4 in the garage and clean the windshield. Oops. But I’m not listening anxiously to the engine for intimations of imminent disaster every time I drive this one, and that was my primary goal.

Penny the cat and I both got through dental work. Now I need to do something about these old glasses I reverted to during the pandemic because the more fashionable pair broke. My last experience trying to get a pair was so miserable, I’ve been putting it off. There’s also a part of me that thinks I should just wait until cataract surgery, but apparently I’ve got a ways to go.

As for writing? I joined a mini TikTok course. So far, it’s striking me as a needless distraction from what I really need to do. (Especially since most of my new followers each day are generic guys declaring that they’re honest, godly, and good. The same ones as on Facebook and Instagram, only the quantities are on steroids.)

Less than one day of new followers. Cowboy1634 is my favorite for that subtle touch of the wad of bills, but I appreciate shirtless Eric, too.

While I may continue to figure out TikTok, I’ve decided February is going to be Mailing List Month. That’s been hanging over my head only for, like, years now.

Part of that will require deciding on a regular blog post day that isn’t simply the last possible day of the month, which has actually been working pretty well for me. Or giving up the blog and only doing the mailing list. If you have a preference, O rare blog reader, let me know.

February is also Starting to Write the Next Book Month.

Soon needed is Haul Out and Lubricate the Sewing Machine and Finish the Window Treatments Month, but I’m not adding it to the list yet. February is too short for that.

Anyway, here’s a very fast look my spare room redecoration into a library/pantry/inflatable mattress guest room, if you’re interested: https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdhcK2RW/

One of the things I noticed while setting it up is that I’ve become such a big library reader (and also often an e-book reader), that very few of the books I’ve loved in the last few years have actually made it onto the shelves here. Instead, there are old favorites that survived the last move, plus shelves of books I haven’t gotten around to yet … because unlike books I own, library books have due dates.

So, apparently, deadlines really do help.

If you’re reading this, you survived 2021!

And so did I, although it’s been a bit scary lately. There’s the omicron variant; there are tornadoes demolishing entire towns; there are people being shooed out of a Costco into blowing smoke and ashes. And I won’t even get into politics.

For me the last two months have also offered the banal middle-class horror of Lots of Stuff Breaking at Once. I unexpectedly require a new boiler, a more reliable car, minor (but expensive) dental work, and minor (but expensive) surgery for Penny the cat.

Penny irritated at the attention I’m giving a book.

It could be a lot worse. I have savings. I still have a house to put a new boiler into, unlike a lot of other folks. I still have my teeth AND my cat. And I haven’t lost anyone dear to Covid or anything else, knock wood.

It’s good that the new variant seems a little less brutal, at least to the vaccinated, since we’re all getting rather “whatever” about it. Last week I finally managed to get my hands on four home tests, but my stepdaughter agreed that using them was kind of pointless since they’d already had a bunch of exposures that week. We still went, because it was Christmas, and I hadn’t seen them in ages, and those kids were due for some pumpkin muffins. (The tests will come in handy before I fly to visit my folks this winter, assuming the plane actually takes off.)

If the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that I have too long taken for granted the ability to get together with people I enjoy. Like many of us, I want to do more of that in 2022.

Which brings us to RESOLUTIONS…

Yeah, no, let’s just call them GOALS

(Maybe they’re a little less likely to be quickly abandoned that way.)

Besides the getting together: 1) Take care of all the broken-down issues without much more agonizing, 2) Get back in the product management groove with the books, 3) Lift weights at least twice a week instead of maybe once every two or three weeks when I finally stop saying I’ll do it tomorrow, and 4) Work towards giving a full 10% of my income to charity on a monthly basis instead of trying to figure it out at the end of the year when (cough) I might suddenly be facing a whole host of unexpected expenses.

Yes, part of me is thinking but isn’t it a good thing you didn’t spend all that money already? Because you sure as heck need it now! But I don’t think it really works like that. Have two coats, give one away, that’s the ideal Jesus preached. And I still literally have at least three coats. (Four, if you count a really ratty one I ought to throw out.) If I’ve already spent that money, I’ll adjust as I go along. If life as an adjunct and a writer has taught me anything, it’s how to cut back on expenses.

Oh, and while the ten percent goal comes from the Biblical concept of tithing, it’s not all going to my church. I’ve been involved enough with that organization’s budget to know that while it requires my regular support, too, if I want to actually feed the poor, help heal the sick, build affordable housing, etc., I’d better support various charities that actually focus on that and do it well: Feeding America, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, and more, including good local charities. And most of them would benefit from steady monthly donations instead of the usual end-of-year clumps.

So I commend them to your planning for 2022, too.

So that’s it. Maybe I’ll publish the next book, or maybe I’ll hold it until I have a sequel written. I’m planning to read FEWER books in 2022, because I got to 122 I liked enough to recommend on Goodreads this year and that’s ridiculous. (That’s either #123 up there in the photo with Penny or #1 for 2022.)

And tell me your goals for 2022 if you’d like. I’ve changed the moderation on posts so that those of you who’ve had comments approved before will get published without having to wait for me to notice your comment waiting.

P.S. If you’d like more of a catch-up on my writing, I was recently the subject of a lovely interview by Suanne Schafer. Folks are telling me it’s a good read, and I certainly enjoyed doing it.

The joy of a non-traditional Thanksgiving

My favorite Thanksgiving as a girl was spent with my family in a fishing cabin at Horseshoe Beach, Florida, with family friends, listening to the Zorba the Greek soundtrack over and over and having hamburgers for Thanksgiving dinner because we hadn’t caught any fish yet. (Not that I would eat fish back then — the next day I gave the flounder I caught to the adults and had another hamburger.)

This Thanksgiving was spent in Miami and Key West and it was fabulous, too.

Despite being born and raised in Florida, I’d never once been to either of those places. My parents were willing to drive from Tampa to Canada and from Tampa to St. Louis and we also headed up to North Carolina pretty regularly, but they considered the road to Miami way too boring. (Also, my mother — who attended high school in Key West while her dad was stationed there — hates bridges. If you drive to Key West, there are A LOT of bridges.)

But for this Thanksgiving my friend Nandini invited me to meet up with her and her kids and her friend Michelle in North Miami Beach. I hadn’t yet had an official invitation from anyone in the family, so I was thrilled to say yes. (Last Thanksgiving, in the midst of pandemic precautions, I spent waiting for my son to wake up after a grueling night shift at FedEx, but he slept through the whole day.)

It was lovely to get away from the grayness of late November in upstate New York to enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes and smells of a bustling tropical city. On my first full day (their second), we went to the science museum/planetarium/aquarium and later walked from there over to the Bayside Marketplace (a sort of Faneuil Hall, for those familiar with Boston).

On the second day we went to Wynwood Walls to see the street art both in and out of the official facility, and Michelle and I went to the free Miami botanical garden and (eventually) figured out how to take the free trolley back to our North Miami neighborhood. Then we all drove back south together to eat elotes (ears of corn grilled and coated in mayonnaise and cotija cheese and chili pepper) and tacos at HuaHua’s, a wonderful taqueria. (Since I’m still doing the low carb thing, I ate the delicious fillings of my tacos and left the tortillas behind.)

Day three the kids wanted to see the botanical garden, too, so we happily did that again before heading for South Beach, where we enjoyed the architecture and the kids romped in the officially hazardous but not yet red flag surf at the really beautiful beach. Then we went and repeated HuaHua’s, because it was that good. We finished the night with the classic movie The Birdcage, set in South Beach.

Day four was Thanksgiving. We got up pre-dawn and drove Route 1 to quaint Key West. We toured Hemingway’s house with its many cats and their extra toes (and a beautiful garden), spent some time on a tiny beach, visited the cemetery, and had a couple of good meals that were in no way traditional. Then came a fairly grueling trip back in the dark with no coffee anywhere for poor Nandini the driver, since everything had closed by then.

Day five was travel home day. After watching the sunrise at the beach, which we did every day (okay, I skipped one in favor of a shower), it was on to the airport. We landed in the first snow of the season. (Ouch.)

Anyway, my favorite things about Miami, besides being with friends: Excellent coffee (find a Cuban bakery). The beach. The weather. (Mind you, a couple of days were a bit chilly.) Interesting architecture. The tropical plants! Good eating. And having lots to do.

Least favorite things about Miami: Parking. Driving is also tense. And most servers got some things wrong (except at HuaHua’s and on Key West), enough that we began to wonder if it was how they got even with the tourists.

Anyway, it was a great break and I returned with my batteries recharged. I also actually remembered to take everything I wanted and bring back everything I wanted, which feels like a major life accomplishment.

That’s good, because this is the week Sheer Hubris Press finally goes wide again, beginning with Kobo, and if Amazon price matches, I will soon be able to point you to either store for a free download for that prequel A LESS THAN FRESH START, which has a Christmas theme going.

Here’s hoping you had a good Thanksgiving, and will have an excellent Christmas. I highly recommend breaking out of tradition once in a while for an adventure.

If you’d like, tell us about one of your nontraditional holidays. (Don’t panic if your comment doesn’t show up right away — they all have to be moderated.)