It’s Official

Last week, we closed on our property in Tennessee. It’s now ours! Part of me still can’t believe it, especially when we went there the following day and it’s even more beautiful than I remembered (that photo does not even come close to doing it justice). We met with our builder the afternoon we closed. He’s a friend of a friend, and we really liked him. He gave us a tour through his current WIP, a 12,000-foot monstrosity being built for a fraction-of-a-1%er who’s moving there from California. Amazing! And a major testament to our builder’s (and his trades peoples’) work. He wants to start on our house when he’s done with the current project, probably in April or May. Things are moving along!

What I’ve been reading: Not going to name the book today, because I don’t have much good to say about it. I picked it up because it’s based on a computer game I recently got sucked into, and it was free. The only reason I finished it was because it was short (a novella), and there were just enough references from the game to keep it mildly interesting. Otherwise, the poorly-developed characters and lack of depth would have had me putting the book down a couple chapters in. There was also an amateurish feel to the writing. I don’t expect a literary masterpiece–I read mostly genre fiction, and simple, workmanship writing is normally fine with me, but this was lacking something more that I can’t quite put my finger on. Most of the reviews mentioned things like this, so it wasn’t just me. On to better things!

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Writing/ROW80 update: As you might guess from my first paragraph, my mind has not been on the writing. Also, we’ve been a bit under the weather here–between our closing, meeting with the builder, and a little walking over the land in Tennessee, we spent most of our weekend there taking it easy at the hotel. Nothing major, just a bad cold/mild flu that took a while to let up. We’re better now, but it’s been slow going. So no, not much has happened on the writing front, other than me working through a couple more sections of The Story Toolkit. I’m not expecting much more this week, as I have to collect all our tax stuff for the accountant, whom I have an appointment with next weekend. But I’ll do my best to spend a little time on The Story Toolkit each day, and see how that works.

What about you–read any stinkers lately? Or how about good books? Have you and your family managed to keep healthy? Seems like everyone I know has had that cold going around here! What else has been going on with you, and how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Priorities, and First Quarter Wrap-up

I’ve been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks, but I have a good reason: my family. While I like writing my blog and chatting with those of you who comment, my family is my priority.

Nothing bad happened–I just had opportunities to spend time with family I don’t see often, so that was more important. Two weeks ago, my daughter arrived home for Spring Break. She had a lot to talk about, so I wanted to spend that time with her, and the blog never got written. I thought about posting it on Monday, when she was off visiting friends, but got busy with typical Monday things. I could have pushed, but being kind to myself is best for my health, so I let it go.

Then last week was Easter, and I hosted the family gathering. My family is small, and Mom and I are old hands at planning ahead for these (we do the same thing every year, food-wise), so it’s not a big stressor. We had the added blessing of hosting my mom’s cousin, who lives on Vancouver Island and was here for the holiday. He’s extensively well-traveled and well-read, and is a fascinating and fun person to talk to, and it was also fun to catch up on what’s going on with his family. So, not a stressful day, but a busy one, between cooking, spending time with my family while they were here, and then cleanup. My mom and daughter help with that, but it’s still a big job. So I decided to let the blog go once again.

Wreck of HeavenGods Old and DarkWhat I’ve been reading: I always make sure to take time to read, and I finished Holly Lisle’s World Gates Series, which I binge-read. Book Two is The Wreck of Heaven, and Book Three is Gods Old and Dark. (Book One is Memory of Fire, mentioned in my last post.) This was one of those series that’s so mind-blowingly awesome it could be depressing for a writer in an “I could never write something this good” sort of way. Luckily, I enjoyed it too much to think much about that. But wow, enormous stakes, heart-rending emotion, and one of the freakin’ best villains I have ever read. You know, one of those that’s horrendously evil, yet so well-developed we can still feel a twinge of sympathy and understanding of how he became that way. And an immensely satisfying ending that didn’t tie up everything neatly into a bow, but where we knew the characters were on their way, with plenty of hope. Flipping AWESOME. If you like epic and/or contemporary fantasy, this series is a MUST read!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: ROW80 Round One ended last week, and I didn’t even realize it at first, LOL! I met some of my goals. I finished the first draft of Time’s Dilemma, and got it to my beta readers. However, I did not finish the revision, because the beta readers found a lot more work it needed than I expected. So I am still working on that. Still working on the cover for it, too. Round 2 of ROW80 starts tomorrow, so my goals for that are to finish Time’s Dilemma and get it to my publisher, hopefully in time for it to be released this quarter. I would like that to happen in time for me to get a start on the next long Saturn Society novel.

What about you–how are you doing on your goals so far this year? Do you sometimes have to shelve one thing you like to do for another priority? How has the weather been in your area, now that it’s officially Spring? (Ours has been all over the place!) Have you read anything awesome lately? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Binge that’s Good for You

I’m talking about reading–but of course!

It doesn’t make you gain weight. It isn’t mindless. It can even encourage physical activity–for example, I stay on the treadmill longer if my book is really good.

For the most part, this week’s been uneventful, and that’s fine with me. I had a chance to read a lot while waiting for a doctor’s appointment (a doctor I’m not planning to go back to, because of that). I didn’t get as much writing done as I wanted, though I can’t really blame the reading for that. My fatigue’s been acting up a bit, so I did more lying around watching TV than I’d have liked.

Critter Update: On the good news front, I have not had to go back to the vet’s office–so far, my gerbil Spaz has not resumed chewing his foot, and it’s finally starting to heal.

memoryoffireWhat I’ve Been Reading: Memory of Fire, by Holly Lisle. This is the book I happily devoured last week. It’s the first in her World Gates series, a blend of contemporary and epic fantasy. And it’s so awesome, I decided to do something I can’t remember ever doing before: I immediately bought the next book in the series. Usually, I read a few other books before going back to a series, but I know a lot of people binge-read, so I figured this was the series to try it out on. These books feature likeable, relateable main characters, and they’re massive in scope and stakes: not only one world’s fate hangs in the balance, but many. These are richly-developed worlds where everyone, including the bad guys, is fascinating and even they draw sympathy. I fully expect to pick up with the third as soon as I finish with the second, The Wreck of Heaven, which I’m reading now.

Something else interesting to note: I picked up Fire for $.99, on sale. It’s not an indie book, but was published by a Big 5 company: HarperCollins. The big publishers get a lot of criticism for overpricing ebooks, and while they do run sales like this, they tend to price other ebooks at $9.99 or more–higher than the paperback version. I fully expected to find that with Wreck, and figured I’d get it from the library, as I don’t like to pay that much to greedy publishers. I was pleasantly surprised: books 2 and 3 are $4.99 and $5.99, right in line with indie fantasy novel prices. So it’s good to see that someone at a Big 5 publisher has their head out of their posterior region, and I have no problem supporting that. 😀

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I did finish the scene started last week, but instead of revising the next two, wrote another (short) new one. So… a semi-win, I suppose. For this week, a third (very short) one is next up, then finally I plan to get back to revising the existing material. I have my writers group meeting coming up next weekend, and some other stuff going on, so I’m going to shoot for just one edited scene.

What about you–do you binge-read? Or binge-watch TV series? (I’ve never done that, either). Have you read any good books lately? And how are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether writing or otherwise? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Pet-pourri

One thing that’s taken some of my time lately has been our pets. Now, I love animals, especially mine, so this isn’t really a problem. I got a new tank for my goldfish a couple weeks ago, and while that took some time to set up, it’s so much easier to clean than the old one–and the goldfish loves it.

Birthday girl is worn out!

Birthday girl is worn out!

Isis had a birthday, too–she’s now officially a terrible two. Well, not really too terrible, as long as we’re throwing the ball to her. For her birthday, a trip to Pet Supplies Plus was in order, where she picked out not one, but three new toys. Now I’m waiting for her to chew the squeaker out of them. After that, we went to the ice cream shop, even though it wasn’t Dogs Nite Out, and got her a doggie cup (and treats for DH and me, too).

But what’s taken more time is one of my gerbils.

It all started back in November, when my dad stopped by after visiting a rental property that was infested with fleas. He didn’t come into the house, but Isis was in the yard, and she brought them in. A trip to Wash Your Dog took care of her, and we thought, the fleas too.

Then I saw fleas in my gerbils’ tanks. I immediately cleaned the tanks, then brought them (and the turtle) to the dining room, and bombed their room. One of the gerbils was fine. But the other one, Spaz continued to scratch like crazy, because hey, freak out and get stressed is what he does, hence his name. A few days later, he’d scratched himself bloody.

So I took him to the vet, who found Spaz had mites (carried by fleas) and mange (carried by mites). He also had an ear infection, and had chewed the toenails off of one foot. Some gerbils do that when they’re stressed, but the problem with Spaz is, even after the mites and mange were cured, he kept going.

This is one ticked-off gerbil

This is one ticked-off gerbil

Now Spaz has no toes on one foot, though a month ago, it looked like he’d finally stopped.

Until I took him to the vet for a follow-up. Right after that, he started back into chewing, and this time, the vet went to what he said was the last resort, short of amputation: an Elizabethan collar.

As pitiful as Spaz was, the vet assistants and I couldn’t help laughing at his antics trying to dislodge the thing. It did its job in that he has not chewed his foot since then, even after he finally got the collar off about ten hours later (by doing somersaults!). Now to see if he continues to leave his foot alone.

What I’ve been reading: This vet is very good–he treats my turtle, too–but the wait times are way too long. Usually it’s an hour. Yesterday was two hours. I actually didn’t mind for once, because I had nowhere else I needed to be, and it was an excuse to read the really good book I’m working on right now. I’m not going to share about it just yet because I’m not finished, but I will next week. I know I’ll finish soon, because this is one of those I can’t wait to get back to–as in, it’s done a great job getting me to the treadmill, but it’s also one I have to fight the temptation to read, rather than do my own writing.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: It took until yesterday, but I finally did get started on my revisions. Still not sure about the new scene I’m writing, but at least I’m having fun again. What I finally figured out: even though revision uses the critical part of the mind, I couldn’t get myself to focus on it at my Internet computer. Only when I went into the critter room and sat at my writing computer did the resistance fade. So I guess that computer is not just for new writing. I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked, but I did get through one revised scene, plus part of a new one done. For this week, I’m going to shoot for finishing this new scene, and revising the next two.

What about you–what has kept you from reaching your goals lately (or what has tempted you)? Do you ever have to fight the urge to read, rather than write? Do you have pets? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Distractions

I got pretty much nothing done on the writing this week, mostly because my focus has been elsewhere. Fortunately, it’s because of something good–my husband and I, after living in this house for 23 years, decided it’s time to remodel the kitchen. This kitchen was the worst part of the house when we bought it way back when, and aside from some new appliances early on, it’s only gotten worse since. It’s very small, and it’s arranged haphazardly, with useless, inaccessible corner cabinets and wasted space. Not only that, the cabinets were not in great shape when we bought the house, much less after 23 more years of use. We can’t change how much space there is, as knocking out exterior walls and adding on is not in our budget, but we can  fix the layout woes and make better use of what space we have. Therefore, much of my week has been taken up in planning, getting ideas, researching, and then creating a fun 3-D diagram in Lowe’s Virtual Designer (don’t know if we’ll buy cabinets there or not, but the software is cool). Even when not actively working on it, that’s what my mind has been on, rather than book cover design and description.

What I’ve been reading: I did find time to read, of course. I even finished the book I mentioned last week. Since I’ve been critical of it, I’m not going to mention the author, title or even genre. It never did get any “deeper” with good setting and description, but the storytelling got better as it went, and was enough to keep me reading. However, I don’t plan to continue with the author’s next book. Too many better stories to read. But it does go to show that depth in setting and character building is important, but good storytelling can make up for a lot.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: Nothing to report here. I’d like to keep the same goal this week (book description and cover design), but that could be stretching it, since I see some shopping in my near future, and I also have my monthly writing group meeting next Saturday. Plus, I have a print book to layout to do for Mythical Press, and also a wraparound cover to design, as the book currently has only an ebook cover (i.e., front only). So with that, anything I get done on my book will be a bonus.

What about you–ever have one of those weeks where your focus was completely elsewhere than where you’d expected? Any suggestions for cool stuff for my small kitchen? And have you read any good books lately–or bad ones? (Please don’t share identifying details on the latter, but do tell us what you learned!) Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Depth in Fiction: Why I (almost) Put the Book Down

This was one of those weeks where I didn’t do a whole lot besides the usual go to work, write, and of course, read. I finished last week’s book early in the week, so picked up another. This book was a type of story I love, so I expected to really enjoy it.

Despite its interesting story and premise, I kept finding myself distracted by all kind of other thoughts, and frequently putting the book down to think about something I’m working on instead. I couldn’t figure out why–it didn’t have any of the typical things that make me put books down, like excessive background information, repetition, or just nothing happening. Then I remembered the online writing workshop I recently completed.

Depth-Workshop-Cover2-e1402637242834Like Stacy commented on last week’s postsometimes we learn the most from the books we don’t enjoy. When I put a book down–or am tempted to, I always try to figure out why. The workshop I took last month was Dean Wesley Smith’s Depth in Writing (highly recommended if you’re a writer, btw). In it, he discussed how the bestsellers–and all good fiction–pull readers down deep into the story, quickly. This is something vital to keep readers reading, and to make them want the next book.

One part of accomplishing this is to draw the reader into the setting through vivid details, using all five senses–yep, even taste. (I’m not giving away any of the workshop either–he’s mentioned this on his blog before.) I skimmed the openings of the book’s prior chapters, and sure enough, this was what was missing. I couldn’t find any descriptions of smells or tastes, which are strongly connected to emotion, and only in a couple places could I find sounds or touch/temperature.

Now, I have never been overly fond of a lot of description in my reading, and it’s something I have had to work on in my own writing. But done right, it’s not a big chunk of bore, and won’t even be noticeable to the reader. This book was a perfect example of how important that is.

Sometimes, lack of depth can be compensated for with good storytelling, and that’s why I haven’t put the book down yet. It’s an engaging and interesting plot, and I want to find out what happens next just enough to keep on.

smithsmonthly15What I’ve been reading: I definitely enjoyed the book I finished early last week. That was Smith’s Monthly #15, by Dean Wesley Smith. The full novel therein was Cold Call, a really twisted murder mystery featuring retired cops who get together to play poker and solve cold cases.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: last week, my goal was to complete my first draft revision, and get the novella off to the beta readers. That is DONE. I contacted my publisher, and they already have my final editor lined up, and expect to have the book out by mid-March, barring anything unforeseen. Since I do cover design for Mythical Press, I also design my own covers, so that’s what’s up for this week–the cover design, and a short blurb suitable for back cover copy, something else the publisher needs. As a bonus goal, I need to collect all the front- and back-matter for the book, which I’ll need to supply to them as well.

What about you—have you put down a book lately, or considered doing so? Do you know why? How do you feel about description in fiction, whether you’re a writer or from a reader’s perspective? And how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Just Do It

No, this is not an athletic shoes commercial. This is what I had to tell myself yesterday to get the job done, the “job” being the scene that’s hung over me for the past three weeks.

Sometimes the hardest part of getting the writing done is just getting started, going to the computer, and overcoming inertia. But lately, my main problem has been staying focused once I’m there. I did some more experimenting with mynoise.net, having decided that Brain.fm was not working well enough to be worth spending $6.99 for a one-month subscription.

My conclusion? Sometimes/it depends. Which soundscape I chose definitely made a difference; some were too bland to aid in focus, as they were mostly intended to be noise-masking. Others sounded great, but made me sleepy (one use for these sounds is in hypnotherapy practice). I might try listening as I’m reading before bed to help me go to sleep. But that’s not what I want to do at the writing computer. I really like the Ice World sound, but this is one of those. However, My Noise lets you combine sounds, and combining it with Ethereal Choir is great, and did seem to help with focus.

I met with three of my writer friends yesterday, and one of them was having focus trouble, too. We talked about what we do when we come to a scene we don’t want to write yet, whether because of mood or something else. “Toss it out” wasn’t discussed, although that’s a perfectly viable option when the scene isn’t really needed for the book. We were talking about those that were definitely needed.

I just skip the scene and move on to the next, as I mentioned in last week’s ROW80 update. One of my friends writes out of order, so that’s a no-brainer for her. It’s easy enough for me to do, as my sketch/outline tells me what happens in the next scene. But one of my other friends does the same thing, and she uses absolutely no outline. She and I both write our scenes in order otherwise. But my third friend said he absolutely can’t write out of order. Lucky for him, he doesn’t come upon this situation very often.

Yesterday, I still had not finished either of the two scenes I’d wanted to for today’s ROW80 update. But meeting with my writing friends is always fun and energizing (at least creatively), and I came home ready to tackle those scenes. I hit the later one first, and finished it without a problem. Then I played computer games for about an hour, procrastinating on that scene I didn’t want to write, until I finally realized I was not going to hit that goal for the third week in a row if I didn’t Just Do It.

So I went back to the writing room, fed the critters, and fired up mynoise.net with a combo of Ice World, Ethereal Choir, and Coastline. I don’t know whether it was the music/sounds, or my determination to just get it written, but it worked. Took about three hours, and 2500 words, but it’s done! 🙂

GodsSwindlersWhat I’ve been reading: I finished Gods and Swindlers by Laura Kirwan last Sunday or Monday. I love, love, love this series, about a fifty-something, non-magical lawyer who lives in a magical town and is the only thing standing between it and magical baddies. This one was a little slow at first, but still kept my interest, and only got better and better as it went (much like the previous two books in the series). I hope the next one is out soon, though I’m willing to wait.

One thing I’ve noticed as a reader is that I can’t tell if something was written fast or slow, in order or not, outlined or written into the dark. Nor can I tell whether the author revised and fixed as s/he went, or did a big revision (or multiple) afterward. A lot of people have strong opinions on these, particularly the speed and revisions, but IMO none of them matter. What’s important is that we do what works for us for that book, at that point in our knowledge of craft. And it can change. (FWIW, I am a nominal outliner, I mostly write in order, my speed varies greatly even within one book, and I am working toward fixing more as I write, and revising less because I don’t enjoy it.)

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: As noted above, I made my goal to finish both the scenes I was working on (barely)! So this week’s goal is to write the last scene (yes!), and then go back and fix the things I know are missing. As a bonus, I’d like to do the read-through and proofread, to get it ready for the beta readers.

What about you–when you read, can you tell anything about how the book was written? What do you do to get yourself to Just Do It when “it” is something you keep stalling on? If you’re a writer, do you ever write out of order, and how do you handle scenes you don’t feel like writing? How are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether or not you’re a writer? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

 

New Year, New Row

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, between holidays and fighting off the crud. Seems like everyone around here has had it: something between a bad cold and a mild flu. My husband and daughter kicked it in three days; it’s taken me a couple of weeks (thanks to Adrenal Fatigue). But I’m feeling better now, just in time to go back to work. Not how I wanted to spend the five days off I’d planned plus holidays, but I am grateful I was able to take the time away from the office, plus three more days.

Christmas itself was fine, other than me and my parents all being sick. We ate Christmas dinner at my house off of paper plates, so no one had to do dishes. That helped a lot. And everyone got gifts they wanted. New Year’s was a laid back evening with friends at my house.

One thing I did a lot of during my sick time was read. I read two unpublished nonfiction books by friends, one of which was pretty rough-draft, but both of which held my attention. I read several published books, too.

spirits of the seasonsmithsmonthly14What I’ve been reading: I finished the other four stories in the Spirits of the Season box set. One wasn’t really my thing, but good enough to finish, and the others were really enjoyable, especially Bandit’s Hollow, by Diane J. Reed. (It was time travel; of course I enjoyed it!). I also read Dean Wesley Smith’s Smith’s Monthly #14. For those who aren’t familiar with Smith, he puts out a monthly magazine that is 100% his original fiction. Each issue includes four or five short stories, a couple of poems, one or two segments of serialized novels, and one complete novel. So each one is a lot of reading, and they are always entertaining. He’s due to release Issue #25–I’m only a year behind. 😀

And now it’s time for goals. In some ways, New Year’s Day seems like a silly holiday–we’re just celebrating turning over the calendar–but that’s also a perfect time to assess, reassess, and set new goals with a clean slate (which is worth celebrating). Like most writers I know, I did not get as much done as I wanted, but I still got a respectable amount of stuff done. I finished and released a new novel in my Saturn Society world, set up a Readers Group newsletter, and actually did a little promotion, something I’ve avoided thus far (and my sales have shown it). I also began a new novella related to that latest release, which brings me to this quarter’s goals–or ROW80, Round 1.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Goals for Round 1: I am going to keep these simple, though I have several other goals not directly related to my writing–things I’m doing for Mythical Press, some website development and related learning, and so on. A lot of writers whose blogs I’ve read want to focus more on writing this year, and I count myself with them. I do want to keep doing promotion, but hope to spend less time on it now that some aspects of it are now setup and running (my newsletter and sign-up process, for example). I also want to keep learning, both craft and business. So here are my writing goals:

  1. Finish 1 craft workshop (I’m currently about halfway through it), and practice what I’m learning there.
  2. Finish the current novella in progress, and get it to beta readers, and if they turn it around in time, turn it in to my publisher.
  3. Review what I’ve already done on Saturn Society Book 3, and sketch out (outline) the second half of the book.

And here are this week’s goals:

  1. Finish two more scenes on the novella
  2. Complete last week’s assignment for the workshop (due tonight)
  3. Watch the workshop lesson videos for next week
  4. BONUS: Start the following scene in the novella.

What about you–how were your holidays? I hope you and your family stayed well, or if you had the crud, that you’re getting better! How did your 2015 goals turn out? And whether or not you’re participating in ROW80, what kind of goals are you working on now? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Holiday Ramblings

I thought about titling this post “Hacking the Holidays,” but that sounds really bad and doesn’t give the impression I want. Some people may not be familiar with the term “hacking” as meaning finding ways to be more efficient, rather than a synonym for chopping, or some other form of destruction.

And yes, I’m always looking for ways to reduce stress and make more time for doing the things I want to do. That’s especially important around the holidays, when we have a bunch of stuff added to our to-do list and may have stress resulting from too many obligations, some of which we may not want to do. I’m lucky not to have that any more, but my time, and especially my energy, are stretched to begin with, so anything to help get through the extra to-dos is good. Because what’s important during the holidays isn’t getting all the things done, it’s spending time with loved ones and doing the FUN things.

I wrote a post about how to simplify some of those to-dos last year, for those looking for some help, though this may be a little late. This year, I’ve added to it.

Probably the first thing to do is pin down what, exactly, causes you the most stress for the holidays. Is it a gathering with people whose company you don’t enjoy? See if you can get out of it! Or at least, come up with an excuse to put in an appearance, then leave when you can.

As noted in the above post, Christmas cards are my bane. I know people who don’t send them at all, even though they do celebrate. As tempting as that may be, it’s not an option for me, because I send cards to people I like, some of whom I don’t otherwise keep in touch with very much. The cards at least push me to do that once a year. Also, I do like getting a few!

So I started buying photo cards from Shutterfly. It may be more money, but my husband likes us to send something unique, and this is so much easier than designing them myself. It was also a relatively uneventful year (in a very good way), so there wasn’t a lot to write about in the annual letter that goes with the cards. So I made it a top ten list instead. Easy! Then this year, I took it a step further: I paid for pre-addressed envelopes with my Shutterfly order. I know at least one of my readers is cringing right now!  😡  But, she had another good idea: a pre-lighted Christmas tree.

I have not put my tree up yet. That will happen this week, when my daughter gets home from college (finals were actually over on Friday, but she’s staying a couple extra days to decompress and see friends). When I do put the tree up, untangling and hanging the lights is definitely a pain. I would get one of those pre-lighted trees in a flash if I could find a slim one with colored lights. But there aren’t any to be found at all around here, so… untangle lights it is. Maybe next year!

mattersmost_300x250-300x250Once-a-month cooking is also a big time-saver, and no more so than this time of year. We’re just about to finish off the meals we froze on Halloween, so we’re due for another cook day, probably this weekend. It takes a lot of time on that day, but wow is it great to have real, home-cooked food for pretty much no effort for the next 4-6 weeks!

Of course, my favorite holiday stress-buster involves shopping. I do not love to shop. I hate crowds, and the time it takes to find just the right thing. But online? Yes! Bigger selection, no crowds, no traffic, and I can do it at 1 AM if I want, from the safety of my own home. I have done ALL of my shopping online this year!

smithsmonthly13What I’ve been reading: Since I’ve been less stressed over holiday stuff, I’m all into holiday cheer with my reading. That started with Heaven Painted as a Christmas Gift, the novel from Dean Wesley Smith’s Smith’s Monthly #13. This is the second Ghost of a Chance book, where ghost agents help save the world. I love this series, and this one was a very different sort of Christmas story, where it was up to the ghosts to find out why people weren’t believing in Christmas spirit any more, and what to do about it before it destroyed the world. Yet despite the stakes, it was a fun, light read. Highly recommended!

spirits of the seasonI then started reading Spirits of the Season, a box set that includes novellas from a couple of my writer friends, Athena Grayson and Diane J. Reed. Athena’s story is fantastic–it takes place in the late 60’s, in Japan, and talk about being transported to a different (and fascinating) place and time! I haven’t read Diane’s yet, but the other three, while more conventional, have been very enjoyable. You can’t beat the price: eight books for $0.99, or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 update: Writing has gone slowly this week, as I’ve been spending more time shopping and other holiday stuff. But I still managed to get a couple thousand words out, and did the same last week. So my goal this week is to finish the scene I’m working on, which is a long, pivotal one. Ideally, I’d get another done too, but between decorating and cooking, that’s unlikely. I can try, though!

What about you–if you celebrate, how are your holiday preparations coming along? Do you find the holidays stressful, or do you have any tips to share to make them less so? Read any holiday stories lately, or if not, what are your favorites? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Very Productive Vacation

Isis waits patiently for playtime

Isis waits patiently for playtime

We’re not supposed to work on vacation, right? Except I did–because in this case, “work” was something fun–writing!–and I didn’t go anywhere.

On Thursday, DH and I saw our daughter off to Germany, where she’s doing a study abroad for two months (Heidelberg and Berlin, if anyone’s curious). Then DH took off on his motorcycle for his annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.,  where he participates in Rolling Thunder, one of the largest rides in the U.S., to honor POWs, MIAs, and other vets.

I took Friday off of work, hence “vacation” for me, too. I took Isis for her daily walk and went out to dinner with my parents, but otherwise, I stayed home and spent time writing. I also played a lot of ball with Isis. Let me say, it’s a challenge to get editing done when a dog is dropping a ball into one’s lap every thirty seconds!

What I read this week: Still working on the novel I started the week before, but also read–wait for it!–MY upcoming release! I will post a cover reveal and tell all about it here once it gets back from my editor.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I finished my revision, and did a read-through. And it was a good thing I did, because this book was written more out-of-order than any I’ve ever written, and there were quite a few piddly little continuity errors. The more I catch before handing off to the beta readers, the better. I actually enjoyed reading my own book, which is good, since I write the books I want to read! It’s now off to the beta readers, so that’s something to celebrate. So the remainder of this ROW80 Round, I plan to focus on marketing tasks. Up this week: rewrite the product descriptions (i.e., blurbs, or back cover copy) for my existing books, as well as the upcoming book. I hope to get more done than that, but I also have a cover design to do for one of my beta readers, so any other marketing tasks will be a bonus.

What about you–did you do anything fun this holiday weekend? Do you consider it a vacation for you, too, when your partner goes out of town? Do you work when you’re on vacation? And if you’re a writer, do you read (and enjoy) your own books? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.