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.)

 

 

 

 

Things you get to do as a novelist

Recently I responded to a Twitter question from Jeffrey Perry (don’t ask me who he is) that asked people to describe what they do for a living but make it sound scary.

I responded, “I’ve thrown a pregnant woman down the stairs, crashed TWO planes, assaulted a number of people, caused a jail lockdown, shot a kid who was just hanging out on his front porch, and given four people fatal overdoses.”

I added, “It’s not really much of a living, though.” (It really isn’t, right now. I need to get my marketing self together or decide this is just a hobby.)

Anyway, it nicely freaked some folks out. An author I know from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association responded, “Hahaha, you shocked me for a minute.”

And a pretty good number of folks appreciated my explanation: “(Novelist, dude.)”

It is a pretty shocking list put together like that. It made me stop and think. For one thing, I wondered if I was really writing romantic women’s fiction. For another, why am I obsessed with crashing planes?

But it’s plot. I believe my books are character-driven, but no one can say nothing happens in them.

Anyway, you might find it amusing to try something similar with your own profession or your own art, whatever it might be. Make it sound as scary as you can.

I’m eager to see what you come up with. It IS Halloween, after all. Boo!

 

Two steps forward, a whole bunch of steps sideways

So clearly I’ve developed some sort of deep resistance to marketing my books. I still like to write them and design them, but I can’t seem to make myself do the things necessary to actually sell them.

If I knew why this was, presumably I’d get over it, right?

Right now I have the perfect excuse that these are the last few weeks before winter closes in for painting exterior doors and rooms and radiators. Of course, I have a lot of resistance to doing that, too, it turns out. (I also got seriously interrupted when I discovered a bunch of sloppily-disguised old termite damage in one of the rooms. Now I have to repair that because I made it much worse in my panic that my house might fall down.)

I need more excuses, though.

Can I blame my uncomfortable office chair? It’s an old wooden swivel chair, if that helps paint the picture. But is it really uncomfortable? Do I ever sit it in it long enough to find out? I suspect there may be a whole industry selling high-end desks and desk chairs built on people in denial about the real reasons for their procrastination.

Could it be my current fascination with low-sugar foods? My glucose is now slightly above normal, so prediabetic, and both my father and relatively slim brothers have long had full-fledged Type 2 diabetes, so I’ve become one of those wackos who’s not only tried red lentil penne, but even bought more of it. (It’s not bad, if you like red lentils. There’s plenty of chew.)

I also recently learned that regular pasta and rice have a lower glycemic load if you cook them, refrigerate them, and reheat them. Weird, right? Suddenly leftovers are even more our friend. In any case, I find changing over my entire diet takes a lot of brain space and leaves me looking up things like “What is the glycemic load of ice cream?” (Surprisingly low. I’m sorry I looked.)

My other hobby right now is putting items in my IKEA shopping bag and then checking to see if they will be there when I drive the two or three hours to New Jersey or Massachusetts to get them. You would not believe how quickly a certain perfectly narrow shelf with a single narrow door can fly out of stock. Add on a desire to tack on a visit to the grandchildren if it’s NJ – which requires baking because that’s basically the only thing I’ve got going for me as a grandma – and it’s kind of like playing the lottery.

Meanwhile I also really love to just sit and read other people’s stuff, a habit I got into big-time during the pandemic. Writers can claim that’s “research,” but usually I’m just happily chowing down on a story I don’t ever have to think about selling to anyone.

Caitlin Doughty, from her website caitlindoughty.com

However, one book I read recently was research for the next Lawson novel, assuming I get around to volume four, which I expect to be focused on young, make-up-obsessed mortician Marlena Didsbury (who memorably overshared some dead body details over pot roast with the Jennings in THE UTTER CATASTROPHE). If you can stand the subject matter, Caitlin Doughty’s SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES: AND OTHER LESSONS FROM THE CREMATORY is a pretty amazing read: funny, warm, thought-provoking, and very well-

written. (And as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) Doughty is a genuine, passionate advocate for “a good death,” but she also has a very entertaining YouTube account.

I also wrote a synopsis for the current novel, the one that’s a romantic comedy and thus a bit of a departure, but my synopsis is 1000 words and I need to somehow get that down to 500. That does at least make painting termite-damaged rooms and writing web posts like this sound like fun again.

So there is some slow, turtle-like progress being made. I finally got my web site verified and authenticated. (My primary computer still refuses to visit my own site, though.) And everyone’s panicking about how Apple’s new privacy policy will ruin the way authors use email, while I have the consolation of knowing I never got around to depending on it in the first place.

Anyway. With this post, I’ve officially achieved two blog posts in two months, after years of silence! So yay me, right?

Any advice? What do you do when you realize you’re deeply resisting doing something you really want or need to do?

 

Tap, tap. Does this thing still work?

CONFESSION TIME. For at least two years now, I’ve been ignoring this blog and (most of) this web site and all my email subscribers, too.

The Lent before last I decided I was spending too much time and money trying to keep my Amazon sales rank high, and it was time to detox.

Then I took that to the extreme. I guess I was curious to see just how bad it could get. (Short answer: Bad.)

Also, I wanted to focus on expanding THE AWFUL MESS into a trilogy, which I did. Then I started another book, a romantic comedy stand-alone. (That’s now in first draft and I’m trying to forget it so I can go back and do a decent edit.)

Anyway, the first year of ignoring marketing I made money instead of losing it, mostly because there’s a long lag in Amazon profits if your books were ever popular in Kindle Unlimited, and I’d stopped bleeding ad expenses.

But by the second year I was losing money. This wasn’t such a bad thing in my case since I quit teaching during the pandemic and had lost an easy way to fix my taxes via the college’s payroll system (I’d always had extra deducted). So tax season was less painful than it could have been. Yay, business failure!

Anyway, for the most part the books have been trending down into oblivion and I’ve been alternating between thinking “that’s not good” and “yeah, whatever.”

Like a lot of folks in this pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time doom scrolling. I’ve also been escaping into books written by other people. I read 102 books in 2020 and I’m at 78 so far this year, and that’s only counting the books I feel I can heartily recommend. So that storehouse of recs I hope will allow me to confidently move the future focus of this blog more towards recommending other books (in addition to the usual personal tidbits).

Cover of THE UTTER CATASTROPHE by Sandra HutchisonI have still been writing and publishing. I put out THE COMPLETE DISASTER, sequel to THE AWFUL MESS, in Kindle, way too fast. (Yes, I seriously thought I had COVID-19 and might die and no one would ever get to read it, ha ha.) That was embarrassing, so I kind of ignored it for a while, but then I needed to publish the third book, THE UTTER CATASTROPHE, so I fixed it (with help from my usual excellent proofreaders). Of course, now the back matter is out of date. And all my titles need to go wide, but first I need to comb through them for errant mentions of the mighty retailer that shall not be named.

Because here’s the single most crazy-making thing about being an author-publisher: Everything I need to do requires me to do something else FIRST. For example, it’s not really worth restarting this blog until I get my mailing list working again. But there’s no point in doing that until I verify my web site with my list manager. But FIRST I need to change my list management service … which means setting up a whole new series of automated and landing pages for a whole new set of freebie “reader magnets.” A few of which still need to be set up on the downloading service.

Complicating all this, the computer I do most of my work on refuses to open this website because it refuses to forget the last web host I had and fixing that is apparently impossible without wiping the entire computer and starting over. But it’s a machine I bought used, so it might not give me access once I have to start over because I might not have the right key to unlock it. (I am, in fact, writing this on a new Apple laptop because it’s the only way FOR ME to get into MY OWN web site. But switching from PC to Apple and from desktop to laptop has its own learning curve.)

And this is why, for the last couple of years, I have tended to head back to whatever book I’m reading, or whatever book I’m writing. I get frazzled thinking about what I need to do before I can do other things.

And, in fact, most of you probably won’t get this, because of everything I haven’t gotten around to doing first. But I have to start somewhere.

Do you have things in your life that don’t get done because of all the annoying things that need to be done before you can do them? (Tell me!)

Anyway. Here’s notice that I’m still alive and still writing and publishing, even if the sales rank suggests otherwise. So let me know if you got this, and if you’re an actual subscriber, keep an eye out for an actual email from me one of these fine days, though I pretty much expect to have to start that over from scratch.

Cheers,

Sandra

THE AWFUL MESS gets a wiki video treatment…

Not sure what to think about it, but I was invited to post this link to a video wiki of “13 Charming Books Set in Small Towns that Range from Friendly to Terrifying” that includes THE AWFUL MESS at #3 (at the 2:12 mark). Malwarebytes didn’t warn me off the site, so it should be safe. The narration seems spot-on, but some of the images were surprising. (Palm trees?) Anyway, I’m mostly just happy they spelled my name right.

The sequel for this, THE COMPLETE DISASTER, really is coming out soon, probably in November or whenever the research papers are all graded.

In truth, I have been feeling fairly disgusted by my chances as an author recently, but last Friday, in the course of a single day…

  • My father included DISORGANIZE ME in his weekly newsletter with the note that he and my mother think it’s my best novel yet. (They finally read it, since I sent them the paperback.) Which is nice to hear, since it doesn’t sell worth beans.
  • I got the wiki notice above.
  • I got invited to opt back into a curated library platform, this time with royalties (although said royalties were not specified, so I still have questions).
  • An acquaintance I ran into at a Stewart’s parking lot (she had acted in one of my short plays) told me she’s opening a new store and wants to stock my books.
  • I got two checks from Amazon. Granted, they were refunds for Goodreads ads that suddenly and mysteriously ran out of money years ago when they bought the joint, but I’ll take it as yet another sign from the universe.
  • Bonus sign from the universe: The next day, a guy at a booth at the farmer’s market ribbed me gently for being a “famous author,” and thus not interested in getting involved in their project. (I knew writing was going to be good for something.)

I also just read a really lovely little book called DEAR WRITER, YOU NEED TO QUIT. It’s by a writing coach and about not getting sucked into believing you must do things the way other writers do them (even if it appears that’s the only way to make any money). Highly recommended for anxious author types everywhere.

So, I guess this means I’ve finally updated my blog, after more months than I want to count. Maybe that’s a habit I should get back into. Or maybe not. Let me know what you think. (Deafening silence works as an answer.)

By the way, if you helped me out in a substantive way with DISORGANIZE ME, your paperback is very, very, very slowly coming to you. Apparently there’s a paper shortage out there, and my order of author copies is taking weeks to print and ship as a result. (I paid full price for the copy I sent my parents, before Prime ran out, in case a hurricane might reach them first.)

It’s yet another reason paper is problematic. The most annoying to me, at the moment, is that resellers can swoop in and offer your book for a lower price, cutting authors and small publishers out of any profit. I haven’t been on the Amazon-Is-Going-To-Destroy-Us-All bandwagon, because it’s obviously been good to me, but it does seem to well on its way to destroying the paperback market for authors outside of bookstore distribution. Bookstores should probably take some pleasure in that.

Ribs is FREE this Thursday and Friday

By Sandra Hutchison

THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE is free today (March 29, 2018) and at least in theory on Friday, too, before it leaves Kindle Select (and thus Kindle Unlimited.)

I’ve had a frustrating couple of months with Amazon. I raised my book prices to match some more literary titles I was hoping to compete with, and — to my delight — actually began to compete with them. My “also-boughts” began to include authors like Celeste Ng, Claire Messud, and Gabriel Tallent. My book sales rose steadily.

Then Amazon yanked the rug out from under me, and as a result I’m leaving Kindle Select and going wide again, after a number of years of being happily (sometimes VERY happily) exclusive to Kindle.

What happened? Amazon Marketing Services decided THE RIBS AND THIGH BONES OF DESIRE is too provocative for me to advertise on their platform. This is a literary title, mind you, not erotica. It doesn’t even have any explicit sex scenes. It does have edgy themes, though. This episode might not have raised my ire so much had it not required multiple unhelpful, mutually contradictory emails from their awful customer service over a long period of time for me to finally realize I was truly shut out and not just the accidental victim of some wayward algorithm.

NOT the cover, though I suppose it might be worth testing.

Their communications were so unclear that I assumed at first (as their email said) that it was just the cover that was an issue and designed a new one, thankfully without spending any money (thanks, Canva!). But that wasn’t it (as I finally resigned myself to after weeks of torturous customer service discussions), so I went back to the original.

Anyway, Amazon Marketing Services killed this book’s trajectory so effectively I figured I might as well take advantage of my last chance for easy “free” days and depart Kindle Select with a little burst of something. (Also, I spent Wednesday testing whether you can buy BookBub free downloads by using Bookbub ads without actually getting selected for a BookBub featured spot, which is now something akin to finding the Holy Grail. The short answer: No, not really.)

I also let my subscribers know yesterday, because they’re the ones who should get first dibs on any special deals.

Anyway, there it is. Feel free to tell your friends. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can download it through the 30th, and read it any time you want (I’ll even get paid for those page reads). But it won’t be available to download in Kindle Unlimited after the 30th. And the ebook will still be for sale on Kindle, but not exclusive to Kindle. (This is good news for those of you who’d prefer to buy it on Kobo or iBooks or whatever.)

And, as always, I’m hoping this will earn this book a few more reviews. Believe me: YOUR REVIEWS MATTER — A LOT — for me or any author.

In other news… I’m doing final polishing on DISORGANIZE ME, which the beta readers are excited about, but after this discouraging experience with Amazon I’m going to try to query that the traditional way, and that can take quite a while. I’m also making good progress on a sequel to THE AWFUL MESS called THE COMPLETE DISASTER. That one will, I hope, be available before the end of 2018 or very shortly into 2019.

Cheers,

Sandra

So I can meet other goals in 2018, this blog is going ad hoc

By Sandra Hutchison

My writing goals for this year:

  1. Write 1,000 words a (week) day on the next novel (or two)
  2. Revise and either query or publish DISORGANIZE ME
  3. Try some new promotional techniques
  4. Maybe publish an audio book or two — though it would help if I could stand to listen to audio books myself.

So far I’m succeeding with the first one, slowly getting through the second one, and learning what I need to for the third one. Fourth one may have to wait for next year.

The problem: these goals are not compatible with blogging regularly, even monthly, because it often takes me at least a good day of work to get a decent post up. (Also, I’m a fan of having weekends.)

Mary and Winslow are getting a sequel!

Other than putting up a post when I really need to share some big news, I may try to start a routine of updating old posts, or posting reviews I have up in other venues, or just leveraging what I’ve already got by sharing it better. But right now I’m maniacally focused on the next book, a sequel to THE AWFUL MESS called THE COMPLETE DISASTER, in which new arrivals test Winslow, Mary, and the little town of Lawson.

After that, hopefully, will come another sequel called THE FULL CATASTROPHE. (I don’t even know what that’s about yet.) If I can get them BOTH drafted before next fall, I’ll know I can push my productivity up to where it needs to be to make this writing gig something that could compete with a day job.

Maybe the cover. Maybe not. Either way, sign up for my mailing list if you want to hear when it’s available.

Of course, DISORGANIZE ME still needs (more)  revision and edits and then I have to decide once and for all whether to give the traditional route a try or just stick to my current indie strategy. I’d love the next novel to get wider distribution if it can, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an official credential, for whatever that might be worth. But to be honest, it feels like a gigantic gamble, like farming a child out to somebody else who claims they can raise it better. Can they really? I see an awful lot of neglected children out there. So this is really a tough one for me. (If you want to weigh in, feel free.)

Thanks to the new tax bill, I already estimated my taxes and discovered that 2017 was a surprisingly good year for Sheer Hubris Press, which complicates all this decision making. I priced the books up a bit and right now I’m reaching readers who don’t just read indie books or even just eBooks. Is this a fluke, or something I can build on? Is this a smart strategy for indie publishing, really, or only for gaining a traditional toehold? (If you know, tell me!)

Selling along with Celeste Ng

IN GOOD COMPANY: Ribs is currently selling with a literary title that has a cover I coveted from the moment I saw it.

Anyway, if you’re a subscriber who actually looks forward to these monthly blog posts, my apologies. I’d be happy to simply correspond via email with you. I’m also addicted to Facebook and Twitter, so you can find me there (but I don’t recommend Twitter unless you can stand the obnoxiously partisan version of me).

I’ll let you know when anything major happens, and I’ll be updating the subscriber freebies  fairly soon, too. So please stay tuned!

P.S. I’m also trying a new cover for BARDWELL’S FOLLY. This poor baby is my problem child. I know it needs more reviews, and I’ll be trying to do something to give it a better shot at success, eventually. If you have any suggestions, feel free to pass them along.

 

 

Writing about mental illness when it hits close to home: An interview with Barbara Claypole White

Sandra Hutchison interviews Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of THE PERFECT SON.

Author Barbara Claypole WhiteBarbara, I enjoyed THE PERFECT SON, about a mother coping with her son’s Tourette syndrome, her husband’s undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and her own heart disease. All your novels involve challenges from mental illness to some degree. What inspired that?

I was working on my debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, when my young son was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. After I put the story aside to focus on coaching him through therapy, a character barged into my mind and refused to leave. His name was James Nealy, and he was a brilliant entrepreneur determined to reclaim his life from OCD. James came from my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his quirky behavior and obsessions to love him for the incredible person he is? Infatuated with James, I took the novel apart, ditched the original hero, and rewrote the story with James as the love interest.

About the same time, I joined a non-fiction project—EASY TO LOVE BUT HARD TO RAISE—created by a group of parents raising kids with invisible disabilities. As my fiction and non-fiction projects merged, I found my passion: chipping away at the stereotypes of mental illness. I have my own little niche in the fiction world, which I call hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness, but I credit James with everything. Thanks to him, I went deeper and darker until I found Felix, the hero of THE PERFECT SON. (Felix has undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which is quite different to obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

There’s something I didn’t know. I’ll have to go learn more about it. But to get back to your work, what’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of it?

I see fiction as a powerful vehicle for navigating life and emotions. My hope is that while my characters come from my imagination, their private wars can help educate people about the impact of mental illness on families. There is so much misinformation about mental illness, and it’s time we treated it on a par with any chronic illness that needs treatment, management, and understanding.I see fiction as a powerful vehicle for navigating life and emotions. -- author Barbara Claypole White @bclaypolewhite Click To Tweet

Agreed! My own family hasn’t escaped these issues, either. I’ve actually been a little surprised this semester by how many of my community college students chose to write their research papers about anxiety and depression, which they admit to suffering from. (I ask them to write about a topic they have a personal connection to, so that’s not entirely out of the blue.) I’m not sure if this suggests anxiety and depression are actually becoming more widespread, or if it’s a sign we’re finally putting the stigma it once carried behind us. What do you think?

Such a great question, and after reading a recent article in the New York Times about the rise in reported cases of anxiety and depression among teenagers, I’ve been wondering the same thing. I’m not a therapist or a sociologist, and I’m sure the causes are many, including the increased collective anxiety among adults about the future, climate change, politics, economics, etc.

We’ve made progress—not enough—against the stigma of mental illness, and in part that can be attributed to celebrities openly discussing their own struggles. I’d never heard of OCD when our son was diagnosed, but I’ve seen a substantial shift within the OCD world as public figures—for example, David Beckham—have come out of the OCD closet. There’s even a reality show on English television about OCD, and yet… certain manifestations of OCD still carry unbearable shame, and many people suffer in silence. (Both harm OCD and pedophile OCD fill your mind with intrusive, unwanted thoughts of the darkest, most horrific fears you can imagine—things you know you would never do, but your brain shows you otherwise. Even if you understand that the fear is irrational and comes from messed-up serotonin levels, the anxiety you experience as a result is still real. Yup, OCD is one sick bastard.)

The holidays can be especially challenging for those who suffer from anxiety or depression, and those who love them. Any recommendations to help people enjoy this season despite that?

Think small and be aware of loved ones who need to retreat from planned events. While structure is important—along with good sleep, exercise, and eating habits—even planned family gatherings can trigger anxiety and depression. If you’re a caregiver rather than a sufferer, make time to nurture your own mental health (yes, you can garden in December!).

Think small and be aware of loved ones who need to retreat from planned events. -- Author Barbara Claypole White on helping those who suffer anxiety or depression survive the holidays @bclaypolewhite Click To Tweet

I’m thinking North Carolina is way more amenable to that than upstate New York! But I do start my garden planning when the snow is on the ground.

So far you’ve published with MIRA Books and with Lake Union (an Amazon Publishing division), and I recall you mentioning recently that you are now off contract for the first time in five years. What does that do to your own mental health and personal writing momentum? What do you hope comes next?

Writing to deadline adds a heavy layer of stress to an anxious family, because despite your best intentions, you’re never in control of your own time. Throw two aging parents into the mix—one an ocean away—and I’m often struggling to meet contractual obligations while juggling the latest family crisis. The universe has a nasty habit of throwing me a curve ball at the worst moment!  As I write this, I’m hyperventilating about how to manage another mad dash to England—to see 87-year-old my mother—with book launch looming and a dead laptop. However, my guys are incredibly supportive and know that writing is my therapy. They understand that my novels help me process our world and craft stories that always ends in hope. I need that hope!

Being off contract is both liberating and terrifying. I have more time to excavate my characters and find their story, AND more time to listen to doubt. My poet-musician son and I have talked about co-writing a memoir on OCD, but right now a new idea is chewing at me—the story of an ex-addict who, while on an impossible mission to earn her family’s forgiveness, discovers that her long history of failure has the power to save lives, including her own. It’s a story about social outcasts, teen bullying, and the influence—both good and bad—of social media. Mostly it’s a story about how our greatest triumphs can grow from failure and defeat. The moment I have a functional laptop, I’ll be back to bashing out my daily word count!

As a traditionally published author, what’s your #1 piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Let writing be the cure. Publishing is a tough industry, and books don’t always perform in ways that make you happy. The secret to adapting and staying alive as an author is to keep writing. Write through bad writing days, disappointments, and rejection. Always keep writing.

Tell us more about THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, which releases January 16, and is available to pre-order now.

THE PROMISE BETWEEN US is based on a simple premise: Can you be a good mother if you abandoned your baby? It’s the story of Katie Mack, a metal artist who is hiding a dark secret. Ten years earlier, unable to escape the thought that she was a monster, Katie abandoned her baby—to protect her. What Katie didn’t know at the time, but knows now, is that she was trapped in postpartum OCD, with her brain playing non-stop images of her deliberately causing Maisie harm. Ten years later, when Katie accidentally crosses paths with Maisie, she realizes her daughter is also struggling with the irrational fear of bad things happening to someone she loves. Katie is faced with another dilemma: Should she reach out to the husband she left behind? Should she reinsert herself into Maisie’s life and risk triggering more anxiety? What would a good mother do?

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family. The Promise Between Us, a story of redemption, love, and OCD, releases January 16, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook. She’s always on Facebook.

 

A practical inheritance: A bowl, a strainer, a brush, some tweezers, and sex

By Sandra Hutchison

While helping my mother clean out my 96-year-old grandmother’s house before and after she died at the beginning of this year, I was of course tempted by a number of items, mostly old tools. They became my grandmother’s legacy to me. But my favorite items are not what I would have expected.

My great grandmother’s bread bowl

Thelma’s mother set her bread to rise in this bowl. It’s not in perfect condition at this point but is clearly beautifully made (and easy enough to restore, when I get around to it). I used to make bread before I did the math and realized the increase in my electricity bill more than offset any savings in the bread budget. My current stove is gas, though, so one of these days I may actually use this bowl for its original purpose again. (Of course I have a solar roof now, so electric would save me even more money.) In the meantime, it holds just about anything that isn’t wet. In the picture above, it’s the temporary home for a stalk of flowering balsam my neighbor gave me for next year’s seeds.

This really ugly food mill

I actually bought one of these in shiny stainless steel some years back to help me process tomatoes. Maybe I didn’t know to adjust it or something, but it ended up trashing 90% of my tomatoes, so I happily ditched it in a garage sale when we moved (and warned the person who bought it that it might only be good for applesauce). But I figured I’d try again when I saw this in my grandmother’s kitchen and could see that it had clearly been used a lot. This one works like a dream, so homemade tomato sauce and tomato soup are finally in my repertoire.

A clothes brush

I only recognized this because of Downton Abbey. This is a cheaper version of the brush John Bates would use to clean Lord Crawley’s beautiful wool suits. All I can say is that I’ve finally found something to clean wool and fleece of cat hair that actually works! Yes, lint tape works, too, but it takes a lot and that stuff isn’t cheap. (And in case you haven’t already figured it out, those little red velvet lint “brushes” you may see for sale are just a good way to fill up the landfill with useless plastic.) Of course, the challenge for me is finding a cat-hair-free spot on which to brush clothes down.

Tweezers and scissors

I found a whole set of different kinds for personal grooming. No one ever warned me getting older would mean growing hair in places I never had before (and losing hair in places I had it, not that I mind that when it comes to my legs). I’ve reached the age when I occasionally just take a razor out and shave my face and neck, but plucking is way more satisfying — if I can just get a grip on the little buggers. Over the years I’ve accumulated innumerable cheap tweezers that have proven useless for anything but cleaning dirt from under my fingernails. Most of these hand-me-down instruments from Grandma’s house, on the other hand, actually do what they are supposed to. (Yes, of course, I gave them a good cleaning.)

Sex

Just kidding. Except not really. In the back room we found a stash of relatively wholesome old girlie watercolors that probably belonged to my grandfather. And in the bedroom, near the bed, we found a pretty heavy-duty electric vibrator. My mother was appalled and threw that thing away faster than I could say, “Hey, let me see that!” Still, I thought it was pretty cool that my grandmother’s libido had clearly persisted well into old age.

Of course, I’d had clues earlier, like when she gave me a bunch of really kinky science fiction novels by John Norman back in my teens. And just a couple of years ago she passed along a big bag of old perspiration-stained lingerie, as if she thought it was all too precious not to find new use. Then there was the time she insisted my mother take her recently-deceased last husband’s penis pump back to the urologist so someone else could use it. (Poor Mom!)

The young Thelma Mae Quick

In truth, Grandma Thelma was always a bit more hot mama than doting grandmother. She could be self-centered and manipulative (especially of my mother), and some of her lies stretched far beyond the social lies of the traditional Southern female. Yes, she could cook up great fried catfish or lima bean soup, but she didn’t do much other grandmotherly stuff. I never got the feeling she was aching for a conversation with me. It honestly surprised me to discover she’d carefully saved every card or letter or school photo or homemade gift she’d gotten from us over the years.

So we were never all that close, but she was still my grandma. In the end, she showed me what ninety-six years of fairly cheerful persistence looks like. I think I’ll take that as the most valuable gift of all.

Thelma and Sandra

A peek at DISORGANIZE ME

Some time ago I promised a look at the first two chapters and then … nothing happened. I realized I wasn’t ready to share.

I’m still not, really. These two chapters are so rough I haven’t even opened the feedback from my beta readers on them yet. (For which I deeply apologize, beta readers.) I’ve had a weird reluctance to work on this novel since the semester began, and I’ve been indulging it. Sometimes you just know you need some distance from a project. (Sometimes you are also too busy teaching and figuring out things to do with way more garden produce than you ever expected.)

But I’m already a day late with a blog post this month, and I don’t have time to work up what I wanted to work up, so here you go, in all its glory. Consider it a peek at a writer’s work in progress and know that there may be wholesale changes before the actual book appears, including losing one or both chapters from the final version.

At this point this lovely cover by Damon Za is also subject to change.

What’s it about? Here’s the blurb, also subject to change: Hoping to recreate the serene and beautiful life she remembers before her mom left, Kathy gamely takes on her deceased aunt’s organizing business, not-so-organized house, and favorite employee, the handsome and hardworking Diego. But when their budding relationship triggers a cascade of disasters – including the discovery that he’s not the U.S. citizen he thought he was – Kathy will be forced to decide what she’s willing to let go, and what she’ll fight to save.

And here’s (the current!) Chapter One and Chapter Two:

Chapter 1 KATHY

Katherine White felt that everything in the world had a proper place, and that true happiness would follow naturally – she would attract the right man, have the right children, and live the right life – if she could just get everything put where it belonged.

She wasn’t sure why she believed this so passionately, but in her mind she always visualized the perfect life as a specific moment one Saturday afternoon when she was fourteen. Almost everything in the house had been cleaned that day, even the floors and the windows, and she and her mother were putting freshly laundered drapes back up in the dining room. Through the window her father waved at her and pointed at his pile of autumn leaves, flexing his muscles to show off his manly yard skills. Kathy had smirked at him and gotten down from the stepladder, only to stop, transfixed by the golden square of afternoon sun that lay across the old honey oak table, illuminating a basket of yellow chrysanthemums her mother had arranged earlier that day.

Her mother saw her stop. “Isn’t that beautiful?” she said. “Look at how those petals glow in the light! Doesn’t it just say come in, sit down, stay awhile?

And even though Kathy resented giving up her Saturday for all those annoying chores, she thought: YES. Yes, it was beautiful. Maybe there was even something heroic in cleaning a house and setting a table like that against all the disorder of the world.

Of course, not that long after that, Kathy’s mother had moved out.

Now twenty-four, Kathy was trying to make a living by creating beautiful moments of order and serenity for her clients, even if she hadn’t quite yet managed it for herself. She helped them get rid of what they didn’t need or want and put everything they did need or want in a place where it belonged.

Her phone erupted into the catchy beat of “I Need to Know” by Marc Anthony. Diego. She considered it an appropriate tune for him not only because he was Puerto Rican but because he always needed to know if she had any work for him.

Organize Your Life LLC had been her aunt’s before it was Kathy’s, and Diego had long been her aunt’s go-to for extra help. He was a young man who’d moved up from the city a few years back and, despite being hardworking and personable, had somehow never landed a full-time job. He’d never gone to college, so maybe it was that. Unfortunately, Kathy didn’t have enough work these days to keep herself fully employed, let alone Diego.

So that was awkward.

“Hey, there,” she said. Did he always call instead of text because his old flip phone made typing a pain? Or was it because he knew it would make it harder for her to say no?

“Hey! Just checking to see if you need me for any jobs in the next couple of weeks.”

“Well, I’ve got a couple of estimates today. I’ll know better after that.”

“Oh, good. I’ll hope to hear, then. Everything all right?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. I’ll let you know as soon as I can, okay?” she said, and added “Bye.” She didn’t ask how he was doing because he was probably hurting for money or he wouldn’t have called.

Also, she wasn’t sure how friendly she should be now that she was the boss.

Which was also awkward because they were the same age. Also, technically he’d been doing this work longer than her. After bringing Kathy into the business, her aunt had continued to give Diego parts of any project where it made any sense at all, even when it would reduce their profit on the job. When Kathy questioned this, Lucy said, “Honey, you’re going to need him when I’m not up to this anymore.”

Truth was, if Aunt Lucy hadn’t made Kathy promise to watch out for Diego, she might have taken the lawyer’s advice by now and farmed out all her extra labor to a firm that would manage its own payroll, its own insurance, its own bonding. Of course, those firms were also way more expensive, which could mean losing a contract or making less money. So it probably wasn’t just affection for Diego that had driven Lucy to stick with him.

And she’d been right in one very important way: Diego had been a great help with her aunt in her final illness. And he had refused to take any pay for any of it.

So, really, Kathy owed him.

Obligations were a kind of clutter, too, really.

Chapter 2 DIEGO

She’d sounded a little impatient, hadn’t she?

She was probably going to cut him loose soon. Maybe she already had and he was just refusing to accept it.

Diego wasn’t an idiot. He could tell Kathy was having some trouble getting enough new business. Everyone was struggling in this rotten economy. Supposedly 2010 had brought with it some improvement from the depths of the Great Recession, and supposedly the Capital Region with all its state employees had never suffered the worst, but it was still pretty damned grim. Even more so for someone like him.

He looked at his insurance bill one more time. Maybe he’d misread it.

Nope. It still said he needed to pay over almost a hundred more than last time. And this even though he hadn’t yet done what Lucy had told him to do – let the insurance company know he used the truck she’d given him for business. He’d held off on that. Thank God.

There’d been no tickets, no accidents, no claims, nothing. He’d already had it for over six months, after Lucy had decided it was too hard for her to get into anymore, let alone drive. It was old enough that he’d foregone comprehensive coverage, too.

So why the increase? Was it the address change? He’d only recently moved into his third-floor walk-up in downtown Troy because he couldn’t stand sharing that disgusting garden apartment in suburban East Greenbush for one more month. Both his roommates apparently thought it would be a pussy move to ever wash a dish or clean a toilet. They were always helping themselves to his food, too. And God forbid a man might favor the Mets over the Yankees.

So there hadn’t really been any choice. And this new space was bigger, even if it was mostly empty. Like a lot of the third floor walk-ups in Troy, his apartment had high ceilings, beautiful old woodwork, and noisy plumbing. It was not any cheaper than his old share of the rent, so he was hoping the heat would rise from the lower floors in the winter and save on the gas bill.

But at least it was all his. The landlord hadn’t asked a lot of questions. Even better, he let him park his truck in the driveway off the back alley and let him store scrap there, too, though he wouldn’t guarantee its safety. Diego stood up and looked down through the old rippled glass. Yep, still there. A full load didn’t bring much – maybe $70 bucks on a good day – but that was better than nothing.

In recent months his business, such as it was, had mostly consisted of occasional gigs with Kathy at Organize Your Life LLC, supplemented by driving around on trash days looking for scrap metal, and doing favors with the truck for guys he knew who might buy him lunch or a six-pack and occasionally even give him some cash. The organizing work and scrap metal paid some, and his part-time on-the-books job at a local convenience store paid a little more. Those friend favors were mostly a sucker’s game.

Now the scrap yards were warning him of new record-keeping rules, probably thanks to too many jerks ripping the copper and brass out of houses and parks and cemeteries and whatever they could get into. Once a friend had even asked to use his truck for one of those jobs. It blew his mind: This guy wanted to get paid good money to build a house during the day, and then get paid again by stripping it down at night.

Not a friend anymore, that one.

The thing was, if the yards started reporting his scrap sales to somebody, he was going to have to start declaring it in his taxes. There just weren’t that many different yards to spread the wealth around to. And would it still be worth doing, then? Probably not.

Lucy had been trying to get him to go on the books with all his income and expenses for years. “You need to pay social security taxes on it,” she told him. “If you don’t, you won’t have anything to live on when you retire. I know it’s painful in the short run, but in the long run….”

Poor, sweet, naïve Lucy. She’d always tried to play by the rules. It wasn’t like she ever got back any of the money she’d contributed to her social security. Not even a dime of disability before she died.

Fortunately, Kathy had been around to keep the business from shutting down completely and keep her aunt cared for.

He leaned back in his scavenged chair at his scavenged desk and let a prettier picture replace his memories of a skeletal Lucy. Kathy was a sweet girl. Attractive, in her own way. Not too skinny, not too boyish, with a nice round ass and beautiful long hair, though she usually kept it back in a ponytail. At first he’d thought her nose was a tragedy, but he’d gotten used to it. It had character. Sometimes he even thought it was cute.

Also, it was not like he was so swarmed with adoring women that he was going to get picky.

He knew he had decent looks. He caught women admiring him often enough. But it took money to really get any action. Seemed like they all wanted him to dress to impress. They all wanted to be taken out for food and drink and movies and shit. They all wanted to be given presents all the time. Having a girlfriend was like having to properly impress his mother on Mother’s Day and her saint’s day and her birthday practically every day of the week. Even his last girlfriend, the one he’d thought wasn’t all that demanding, he overheard telling a friend, “Hey, he’s a ride. You know?” He wasn’t sure whether she meant sex or transportation, hadn’t even been certain she was talking about him, but he hadn’t been able to muster any real enthusiasm for her from that moment on.

But, of course, to Kathy he wasn’t even a ride. He was just a convenient laborer her beloved aunt had inexplicably attached herself to. Kathy was always polite to him, always respectful, but she showed zero interest in him as a man.

She had begun to rely on him with Lucy, though. When he’d been there to sit with her aunt, she could get out, run errands, get some business done, tidy the house, or just take a break. She almost never called him up and asked him, no matter how much he told her she could, but she looked grateful whenever he showed up on his own.

And she’d made sure he felt welcome at Lucy’s funeral. He’d even been a pallbearer.

And there was still occasional work coming from her. Just not as much as he needed.

So he hoped those estimates panned out, and that they were big jobs that required some brute strength.

But they might not be. He looked at the city map he’d pinned to his wall. The next day was trash day on the East Side. Some people would already have theirs out. Might as well go see if he could find some scrap.


And I’m putting this out there just to let you know that yes, there really is another book coming someday. I promise. I just can’t promise when, exactly, yet.

If you want any tomatoes, however, come see me right now.