Good Bad Luck

I always used to wonder about my dad whether he had bad luck or actually had really good luck and had just been dealt a bad hand in life.

I can’t remember whether I told this story here before, but when I was in high school we were at a track meet and some idiot threw a discus straight up in the air and it came down and hit my dad. Bad luck, right?

Except, it just scraped down the back of his spine and took a layer of skin with it. Hurt like hell and we had to go to the emergency room, but three inches difference and he would’ve probably been dead.

Same with his first transplant. He found out he was rejecting his kidney the same day he found out my mom was pregnant with me. And then there was the second transplant when he got pneumonia and a Hep-positive kidney and almost died. He spent three months in the ICU and lost part of a long, but he pulled through. His whole life was like that.

So was that bad luck that those things happened? Or good luck that they turned out okay enough in the end?

I like to think it was good luck. And that I got a little of it, too.

As I write this it’s two in the morning and I’m sitting on the bathroom floor in my mom’s house crying as I type.

Because that big fire we had in Colorado earlier today? The one that destroyed hundreds of homes? That’s where I moved to earlier this year.

I was at that Target in Superior just this morning. Miss Priss (my Newfie) and I have walked through so many of those neighborhoods on our morning walks. (I figured since we were in an apartment now I’d let her lead our walks and she took us on hour-plus walks all over that area. I don’t know how she does it at her age, but she does.)

So pretty shit luck, right? Move somewhere and five months later the whole area goes up in flames?

Except, we’re safe. I smelled smoke around noon and decided that even though nothing was really on the news at that point in time that it was best if we packed up and got out.

So I took the pup, myself, my work and personal computers, my passport, some food for her, her many many medicines, and a couple changes of clothes and we headed for my mom’s.

I wish I’d known I was possibly leaving everything I owned behind for good. There was a letter my dad wrote that I received this year (27 years after he died) that I wish I’d brought. And this cute hedgehog drawing my mom did for me. And that box of fancy cheeses I’d just splurged and bought myself. And my frickin’ phone charger.

But those are just things. We got out. And we had somewhere to go. We’ll carry on.

Which is pretty damned lucky, really, if you think about it. So, see? Good bad luck.

(And as of now I don’t actually know if my place burned down. So maybe more good bad luck there if it didn’t. Who knows? Although I have to image the smoke damage alone will be ugly. Still, I’d like that letter my dad wrote, smoke-filled or not.)

2021 Recap

I don’t normally do one of these, but it was a busy year and it’s quite possible that I published a few books but never mentioned that I’d done so.

I’m not one for big releases. I put a book out there, throw some AMS ads at it, try to remember to post to my blog and send a newsletter and maybe remember to do a FB post, and then it’s on to the next. If it does well, great. If it doesn’t, I turn the ads off and carry on.

So, 2021:

Let’s start with the video courses. New ones as well as two old ones that had been unpublished and I republished:

And now on to the books:

And some of the non-ML Humphrey stuff as well. The MH Lee title is very short, but I published it so I could publish the audio since that was a little experiment I did this year to see if I’d want to narrate the cozies myself since they’re written in first-person. (Conclusion, probably not because I’d need a better recording space than I currently have although it was interesting realizing how much more dynamic a story is in my head than on the page.):

I didn’t feel like it but I actually got a lot done this year. Keep in mind that about half of what you see above is either a collection or derived from other material so it was less writing than it looks like. But still…Not bad for a crazy up and down year where I also had to go through the process of listing my house twice, the process of selling it once, lived in a hotel for three weeks with my dog, and then had to move into a new place and go through all the fun of unpacking and setting up.

(Which I must find somewhat fun since I’ve already rearranged my office and my bedroom at least once each.)

What does 2022 have in store? I’d really love to dive in on some fiction. I’ve actually on my personal FB declared it the year I “walk into the woods” and basically try to get away from outside distractions so I can really focus in on the projects I want to do.

Of course, just yesterday I wrapped up the second draft of a non-fiction title. And it probably warrants a second title since I’d wanted to do a book about X and Y but only X fit in the first book. So…good intentions and all that.

Honestly as long as I’m moving forward and enjoying myself I call that a win. Hope you all had a good holiday and wishing you as good a new year as it can be.

Do You Really Have to Up the Stakes?

I recently binged the entire series of Cold Case, which was a police procedural that ran for seven seasons in the United States from 2003 to 2010. I remembered liking the show when it initially aired so tracked it down on streaming to watch start-to-finish.

But watching it highlighted something that happens with a lot of television shows for me. They take a good premise with lots of meat to it–in this show it was investigating cold cases in the Philadelphia area–and then they ruin it by trying to up the stakes.

That is my personal opinion as a viewer, of course. But I’m going to use this series as an example of what I mean.

The series revolves around a team of detectives who investigates cold cases, often cases that are decades old. That alone is interesting and has plenty of inherent conflict. Someone died. They were murdered. Who did it? Why?

In addition I really liked that the show incorporated good music from each time period. So, crime drama, yay. Good music, yay. Likeable characters, great. Give me that for years and I’m happy.

But about three years in they must’ve decided that was too boring. Maybe ratings were slipping and they were settling into their long-term audience and it wasn’t a big enough audience for the powers that be. Or maybe some new writer came on and wanted to shake things up. Or the original writer stepped back. Something happened.

And suddenly the lead detective has to get shot.

And then later when they decide yet again that it’s getting too boring they shoot another detective.

And then they have someone run the lead detective off the road and she almost drowns.

And instead of focusing on her cases when she gets back she starts stalking the guy who ran her off the road and we’re made to think she maybe killed him.

None of that has anything to do with solving cold cases.

And this is not the first series I’ve seen do this. I finally stopped watching NCIS when I realized that every major female character who left the show was going to do so in a body bag.

It seems with all of these shows that someone somewhere is like, “Hey, we need to up the stakes. Get a ratings boost. Shoot someone. Or kill someone. Put the major characters in danger somehow.”

Even Law & Order occasionally makes this mistake. The rape cop gets raped. The criminal investigators get bombed by the Russian mob. The prosecutor has to go into Witness Protection.

For me as the audience, that’s not the way to increase my engagement. It’s a distraction from what I’m watching that show for.

That first shooting is when I thought, “Eh, do I really want to keep watching this?” The second one just pissed me off. And the car accident had me seriously debating whether it was worth watching to the end, but I was close enough I did.

If they hadn’t cancelled the series when they did I would’ve probably stopped watching at the whole, “rescue her sister from some random drug dealing jerk” story line they tried to introduce at the end. Like, what? Why?

I just wanted likeable people solving challenging murders. With good music in the background. Is that too much to ask for?

I’ll add here that I also have this pet peeve when it comes to personal relationships in series.

Like, did that character really need to cheat just so you’d have some conflict? Did that other one really need to be an ass? Can’t we have parts of the story that are just decent and good and work fine?

I bounced on Grey’s Anatomy at the exact same point twice for that reason. There’s so much conflict inherent in the setting did we really need the guy who’s supposed to be her one love to reject her when she puts it all on the line? Couldn’t you think of something else to move the story forward?

I think the key in these situations is to understand the audience and what they want. And it’s possible I am not the main audience. My mom still watches Grey’s Anatomy and she had no problem with that issue. So maybe she’s the super-watcher that these shows want. Me, I’m the canary in the coalmine most times and I stop watching a show about five years before it gets cancelled if it makes it that long.

So to tie this back to novel writing since this is presumably a writing blog at times…

If you want to write one of those long-running more episodic series with an investigator or detective or super solider or someone who has to go solve a new problem each book, maybe you don’t need to up the personal stakes each time.

Maybe they or their family don’t need to get hurt by the bad guy. Maybe they don’t need to discover the nefarious secret plot that will bring down their organization. Maybe just having a cool, interesting job with a challenge to solve each time is enough…

Because one of the other issues that can come up is that when you raise the stakes, it’s hard to lower them again.

Someone somewhere said that if you have the protagonist saving the city in the first book, they need to save the country in the next one, and the world in the one after that, and the universe in the one after that.

You don’t start with them saving the universe. And you don’t have them save the universe and then go home to rescue cats from trees–unless you’re writing an entirely different sort of story that most authors don’t write.

To be fair, I will add here that there are absolutely series where the whole point is finding the nefarious secret plot or overcoming the bad guy who’s harmed your family. But those series all end, too.

Maybe the author keeps writing in that world or they try to introduce a new big bad guy, but generally defeating the bad guy or uncovering the nefarious plot is when things run out of steam. So for a never-ending series, that is not the way to go.

Anyway. Just a thought.

You Lose the Callouses

Yesterday I published my final title for 2021. All told it was over a million words of published content although that involved collections and derived titles so actual new words written that were published were about 375K. Mostly non-fiction.

So. Time to turn my attention to COVID for a minute.

First, if you can do so and have not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Second, if you can do so and have not received a booster or third shot, get it ASAP.

It’s pretty clear at this point that the Omicron variant can infect people who previously had COVID and that it is also pretty good at overcoming just a two-dose vaccine regime.

Also, not a bad idea to mask up and keep your gathering small for the time being. COVID is airborne which means that being in an indoor space where a bunch of other people have been breathing out is maybe not the best choice to be making right now.

(See that situation where people who were in the same restaurant but at a later time of night got Omicron because that’s how an airborne situation works. That stuff hangs out in the air for hours at a time.)

And before anyone comes in to tell me this is overblown and all that, I will just remind people that my father lost his kidneys and eventually his life forty years after a childhood illness. And my mother had a heart murmur and ultimately needed open heart surgery fifty years after a childhood illness. And those illnesses they had? Nothing compared to what we already know long-COVID does.

You can live a life with a serious illness, as my dad proved, but it’s frickin’ hard and a lot of people don’t have what it takes to make it through something like that. So maybe don’t test yourself that way if you can avoid it.

But that’s a side point.

The title of this thread is about callouses. Because I am seeing more and more ER or ICU doctors and nurses putting in their notice. And I’m sure there are some of them who think, “I’ll go back in a year or two when things are not so awful.”

Here’s the thing, though, most of us don’t realize it, but we build up the equivalent of mental callouses through our training and socialization to our jobs.

When I was consulting I thought nothing of hopping on a plane Sunday night, flying to my destination, working Monday through Friday often both at the client site and then in my hotel room later, flying back on Friday night, and then going into the office on Saturday to submit my expense reports and catch up on any admin.

I was well-compensated for it, but my life was work first, anything else second. And even the job I had before that was similar. We’d get a last minute request and it was time to work until 10 pm until 7 pm to get it done and it was normal for my boss to send emails at 3 am on a Friday night and expect a response the next day.

That’s not something most people can easily dive into day one. You get socialized into it and it takes some time to not notice it.

There are personal interaction callouses, too. When you’re around a bunch of other personalities it tends to be like being in a rock tumbler. You smooth off the rough edges. You hold things back, you tap things down, you self-censor over time until the work version of you is a more polished version than you’d be on your own.

The problem is, when you step away from that environment, the callouses eventually disappear.

Which makes stepping back into that environment very jolting. It can be the exact same people and the exact same work, but because you’ve taken a breath and let yourself loosen up and expand a bit, it can be really frickin’ hard to put yourself back into that space.

Some women experience this physically as well. At least any woman who has ever worn high heels for work. You develop that spot on the ball of your foot that lets you wear three or four-inch heels every day without pain. But stop wearing heels for six months or so and that goes away. And next time you put on those heels? It’s excruciating. You wonder how you ever did that.

The answer is, you built up to it. Over a long period of time. And then didn’t notice what you’d had to do to get to where you were.

Anyway. I bring this up because if we continue to lose highly-trained individuals from positions that require intense amounts of indoctrination to survive, we are going to have some serious troubles ahead. Because not only can those people not be replaced overnight, chances are the ones who try to return won’t be able to do so easily. We won’t get back what we lost.

Take an already under-staffed system under tremendous stress and replace each piece of that system with an inferior replacement and you get really ugly results. If not collapse.

Anyway. Just something to think about. (And if you want an action that you personally can take today, get vaccinated, get boosted, and be generally careful about the things you do so you don’t add stress to an already breaking system.)

Random New Release Thoughts

These are just random thoughts for the writers out there after I did this latest release.

First, I hate WordPress these days. Ever since they changed to whatever this block thing is it has been a nightmater. Sometimes I can’t edit text in a block. And trying to get images aligned is often painful.

On that last post it also kept resetting my left-alignment of the images and dropping them to their own line until I was ready to scream, which is why the images in that second row are not aligned with one another. I gave up.

I don’t understand why people break things that were just fine the way they were. Probably something about mobile compatibility. All I know is it hurts to deal with WordPress these days but I’m too lazy to do anything about it.

Second, I am also annoyed with IngramSpark and their changes this last year. As an IBPA member I have five free new publications or updates available each month, which seems like it would be enough, but it really isn’t.

As you can see, I just published five new titles. But they were derived from two other titles and in the process of getting these five new titles ready to go I noticed a few minor issues in one of those older titles. So I had to update the paperback and the hard cover version of the old title which then used up two of my five codes for the month.

Since these new titles are not going to be big sellers that means I won’t publish on IS until January now. But that also means I need to be sure to get the cozy finished and formatted and at least submitted there this month. That will use up my remaining three codes for December because with those I do a regular print version, a paperback large print version, and a hard cover large print version.

And that doesn’t leave any room for updating the interior of any of the prior cozies in the series to list the latest title in the Also By section.

Oh and they’ve added some big scary message when you go to update an interior file about how if you want to update your title it’s going to be unavailable for purchase until they’ve caught up with printing all outstanding orders and only then will they send you the file for review which will take 2-3 days. So, do you really want to update this file even though it could be unavailable for weeks?

(This is not actually new. I ran into this a couple summers ago where they didn’t process some updates to files for weeks because they were printing existing orders.)

Here’s a thought: Don’t take the file off of availability unless I ask you to or am changing the cover. Let me approve the changes to the book so that they’re there and waiting. And once you’ve printed the pending orders using the old file, slide right in there with the new one. I don’t think their system is set up for the “I noticed a typo on page 12, it annoys me and I want to fix it, but it’s not a material change” approach to book updates.

I honestly think they made that change to the codes to make more money but they should realize that that’s not really what’s going to happen with most authors. Most will just use D2D or PublishDrive to get there instead or will join member organizations like ALLi and IBPA instead of pay that fee. (And seriously, if you’re paying that fee, see the above list for ways to not pay that fee.)

Third, I can’t decide whether publishing those five titles I just published was a complete waste of time or not. In one of my “dig into the numbers” moments I looked at profit by series by day since release by hour spent. And what I noticed was that using that metric (which levels things out in terms of how long it’s been since a title was released and how much time it took to write/edit/prepare the title) the Easy Word Essentials books had done alright. Well enough it seemed to make sense to go ahead and do the 2019 versions for them.

But I forgot all the fiddly bits about publishing like the uploading to all the platforms. And the getting the Books2Read link. And posting about it here. And adding the title information to Bowker. And making sure it’s listed on Goodreads. All stuff that I don’t count against each book, but that takes time.

Basically what I thought would be a two-day project became a five-day project.

Then again, it’s quite possible I would’ve done nothing but go down internet rabbit holes with those five days because I was giving the latest cozy time to rest before I do a final pass and didn’t want to dive in on a big project until I finalize it.

So was it time wasted? Perhaps. But at least it was time wasted that has the potential to earn something as opposed to getting involved in discussions in FB groups or watching drama on Twitter.

One of the best things I ever did was shut down my Twitter accounts. It was too much angst and drama and judgement on there.

What I have done is bookmarked a few people I like on there and then I use that link to get to their Twitter feed so I can still see what they’re putting up. And if you go in in Private mode on your browser, you can skip all the stupid pop-ups trying to get you to sign up for the site.

So I still get to see what people are saying there, I just don’t participate in amplifying it. But even that I’m going to try to back away from in 2022. Does it help my writing to see round ten of Twitter discourse X? No, not really.

I think I’m going to try to walk away from FB groups in 2022, too. I’m only in a couple at this point but the largest one is losing its value because it got too big and is now mostly newbies derailing threads by asking really basic questions they could figure out on their own with a quick internet search.

In the last week I’ve seen threads derailed by people asking what BBFD means and what Vellum is. (BBFD is a Bookbub Featured Deal, Vellum is a very popular formatting software.) Pretty sure either one would’ve been solved with a quick search because these are not new or obscure.

It’s a little issue, but man does it add up. And that sort of “I wandered into a room, have no idea what’s happening, and expect everyone to answer all my questions for me” thing leads to the eventual decay of good groups. The people who don’t want to stop and explain Self-Pub 101 eventually wander off and you’re left with the people who don’t know anything asking questions of the people who think they know something but don’t.

Hm. Looking back through this post it seems I’m in a cranky mood…Winter does that to me, I think. And bad change. I don’t mind change, but stupid change annoys me. And there’s always lots of it in this industry.

Easy Word Essentials 2019 Now Available

Just a quick post to announce that the five Easy Word Essentials 2019 titles are now available. These are titles that are an extract from Word 2019 Beginner and/or Word 2019 Intermediate and that focus on specific topics.

As with the Word 2019 main titles, these don’t worry about backwards compatibility so sometimes contain more options than the more generic Easy Word Essentials titles.

The Need For Focus

One of the hardest things I ever did in my life was triple-majoring at Stanford while also working full-time and living half an hour from campus.

(For my non-fiction bio I tend to just list the Econ degree but I also completed all of the requirements for a degree in anthropology and one in psychology and all three are listed on my diploma.)

I had taken a year off from college between my sophomore year and my junior year and when I went back I realized that I needed a “real major” that would let me easily get a job after graduation.

Since Stanford didn’t actually offer accounting or business for undergrads, econ was as close as I could get to practical. (I really should’ve done computer science, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.)

By then I had inadvertently made it halfway to both a psych degree and an anthro degree and I didn’t want to just give that up. So I sat down and figured out that if I took a full course load for the next two years, I could complete all three.

(I will note here that I was partially able to do this because I was a transfer student and they didn’t make me do what I think was called CIV at the time and also this was before they majorly upped the units required to get an Econ degree. That year in fact it went from a 60 unit major to a 90 unit major and I had to declare before the switch to not have everything fall apart. Anyway. Back to the story.)

I decided on this plan before I returned to school. So when I got there I got the first job I could find, put my head down, and pretty much didn’t think for the next two years.

I had a goal: complete my degree in that period of time and with all three majors.

There were some bumps along the way. Like them changing the requirements for Econometrics to have two pre-reqs that I didn’t have yet so I stumbled through that class half-blind and only thanks to the mercy of the professor who let me still take it.

And I did not do my best in every class. I for the first time ever had some C’s show up on my transcript. I think I even had a C- which was a horror to me, but at least it wasn’t a D which wouldn’t have counted towards the degree.

And I definitely didn’t see the larger picture, so made mistakes that way. I had an opportunity to do field research the summer after junior year but there was no flexibility in my plan to do that so I missed out on what could’ve been an incredible experience and could’ve put me on a very different path. And I didn’t realize the prep work required to get an investment banking or consulting job so missed out on those opportunities because when it came time to interview no one cared about my triple major.

But because I had set this huge goal and then drove for that goal at the expense of everything else (including, some days, my sanity), I hit it.

Which means I know that when I set a big goal, put on blinders, and drive for that goal I can get there.

The problem is, life rarely gives us the time and space to do something like that.

I was in school during a period of time where I could forget about the larger world for two years. My father had already passed away and no one else in my family was in immediate crisis. I had a six-inch black and white television in my apartment. I didn’t have a computer. This was pre smartphones.

All I had was work and studying. I had almost no idea what was going on in the larger world.

I was also off-campus so not caught up in the ongoing dramas of those around me. (Unlike say, my freshman year, which was awful in that sense.)

And the world itself was stable. I just looked on Google and it seems the biggest events happening around then were the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was more salacious than world-shattering, and the death of Princess Diana, which was tragic but not of impact to me personally.

I could afford to focus because I knew the world was going to continue on in mostly the same shape and form for that two years.

The reason I’m talking about this now is because there is a part of me that wants to do something like that again. Set an incredibly hard goal for myself, put on my blinders, and just go.

No questions, no second-guessing, no changing course. Just…go until it’s done.

I don’t even know what the goal would be. Maybe write a nine-book epic fantasy series in a year? Just dive in so deep the real world has no meaning and my goal becomes everything.

The problem is, I don’t think I feel secure enough in our world these days to do that. The current world is not stable enough to ignore for a year or two.

On the political side things have eased back a lot in the last year or so. I, like others, no longer feel a constant need for vigilance. I can go a week without knowing or caring what the President is doing right now. Whereas for the four years prior to that there was a lot of, “what now? oh dear god.”

But we’re still teetering on the edge there. I mean, if the U.S. defaults on its debt? Holy shit, the world will change in a moment.

And then of course there’s COVID. I got my family through the first year safe, but it is not over and I’m not sure I can get them through the next year safe.

And I’m pretty sure some friends of mine will not make it through the next year safe because they seem to think that these things only go in one direction and so things can’t get a little better and then get a lot worse. Since things got a little better at one point, they are full-on living like it’s over. I cringe every time one of my friends posts about taking her young child traveling all over the country like it’s nothing.

(And maybe they’ll be perfectly safe. That is absolutely possible. I told a friend recently that we’re all playing a game of Russian roulette where we don’t know the number of bullets or the number of chambers. But every exposure is a pull on that trigger. Maybe no bullet this time. But next time? Who knows.)

And then of course there’s just this shitty world sometimes, you know. This week there was a school shooting. In a county where one of my friends lives. Where that friend has a fifteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old. So when that shooting happened, I had to wonder if it involved my friend’s kids. Only when the news published the ages and genders of the kids could I relax that worry.

Of course, the question becomes, how much of that do I need to monitor or own?

If my friend from college twenty years ago has a kid that ends up hospitalized for COVID, is that mine to carry because I see it on Facebook?

Right now I would say, yes, because that’s my friend and as a friend you care about the struggles of your friends.

But how much of that is from social media making our social circles wider than they really ought to be? And bringing in more stress and anxiety as a result? If I didn’t have Facebook would I still be in touch enough with that friend to share in their struggles?

And how much of the wider world do I really need to monitor? If I have no control over what’s happening, then should I be letting all of that into my space to derail my goals?

I could’ve spent the last few days mired in Twitter outrage about SCOTUS. Legitimately so. But what does that actually accomplish? My reading Twitter threads, if they’re not there to inform me on something I didn’t know or to help me gauge risk or to give me an action I can take, what does that actually accomplish? It just ratchets up the anxiety without changing anything.

So why do it? Why do any of it? Wouldn’t it be better to put on those blinders and focus on a goal? But can I? Or do we live in a world right now that is unstable enough that it can all be taken away tomorrow and do I need to monitor for that?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers on this one.

I can’t tell how much is “danger” that requires my attention and how much is just a false sense of immediacy that I could safely ignore that would then let me focus and accomplish something big and great that I will not accomplish otherwise.

I’m hoping to work it out for myself before January. (Haha. Right.) That will let me know whether next year’s goals should be “write a couple novels while the world burns” or “write two million words of publishable words while the world burns.”