Assessing Goals, New and Old

keep-calm-and-set-new-goals-257x300[1]This year hasn’t gone by quickly for me, although it has been eventful. I had two main goals in 2018 and neither of them had to do with writing. One was to finally move my mother into assisted living (the decision involved many discussions and was both physically and emotionally draining). The other was to sell Mom’s condo (which required lots of repair). The first goal was achieved on July 29, the second on Nov.  2nd.

Rather than wait for the new year to begin, I’m starting to think about new goals. I’m a big believer in goal setting. It’s the difference between getting something done and plodding along, leaving heaps of half-finished novels in piles.

I do have a number of big, ongoing writing goals that started a few years back. A few of those goals have been met while others are still in the works. Each year I edge a little closer to the finish line.

I probably won’t meet my reading goal of fifty novels this year. I just finished number forty, but I’m not sure I can read ten more books over the next two months. I’d also planned to get the sixth Casey Holland Mystery, The Blade Man, ready for my editor, but I’m behind schedule there as well. I’m just finishing draft #7 and while the book’s much better than it was with draft #6, I need another read-through before handing it over.

There are other writing projects that are not as far along as I hoped, but as you can imagine, real life family issues took priority and will take priority again as my mother’s health slowly declines. So, do I continue to make writing goals? You bet. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

The thing about goals is that they can be adjusted, and time limits aren’t always necessary or helpful. The point is to have at least one that matters, so I’m going to be realistic, as I decide which writing and household projects to spend time on over the coming months. Before this year is over, I just might have new goals ready to go for 2019.

A Great Night of Author Readings

Western Sky Books-2Last evening I had the pleasure of taking part in a reading at Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. With nine readers and an enthusiastic audience, All Hallows Story Night was an entertaining event. I loved the variety of stories the authors read. The horror, dark fantasy, and ghost stories for children and adults offered a wide selection of tales.

I read from the second chapter of my Alex Bellamy whodunit, Fatal Encryption, which opens on Halloween night and added a bit of humor to the mix. With settings near my home in Port Moody, BC, I have a special fondness for this book, and it was great fun to read from it again.

I should have arrived earlier to browse through the many titles Western Sky provides, but I’ll be back. Co-owner Tamara provided refreshments and cool decorations for the occasion, and if you ever have a chance to visit this new and used bookstore do so. The place is packed with bargain-priced books and is a huge supporter of local authors.

If you’re interested in Fatal Encryption, the ebook version is available at the following links.

Kobo: http://tinyurl.com/z5sagyl

Amazon: myBook.to/FatalEncryption

Other links: https://www.books2read.com/u/brdqzm

Stepping Off the Treadmill

lazy[1]Plenty of writers face burnout, but these days mine centers around real-life family issues which culminated in July when I learned that my mother has a cancerous tumor on her pancreas. We learned this four days before we’d arranged (after much cleaning, sorting, and recycling) to move her into assisted living for her deteriorating dementia issues.

Compounding the challenges was the state of the apartment building she’s living in. The woodframe building’s exterior was being replaced when the contractors discovered major rot inside, resulting in more work and special levy fees for condo owners.

My sister, Val, and I dealt with all of this and were doing okay until Val had a bad fall last month and broke her left kneecap into several pieces. A two-hour long surgery occurred the same day and her knee’s been put back together with wire and screws. She’s currently in an enormous leg brace and will need help around the house and to get to physiotherapy, and so forth.

Combined with my day job and the facilitating I do for a writers’ group on Saturday mornings, I’m feeling a tad worn out. I’d already spent many months going out to my mother’s home to shop, cook, and clean on weekends because she was no longer capable. So, with the support and understanding of terrific work colleagues, I’ve just begun a four-month leave of absence from the day job. As you can imagine, it won’t be all fun or relaxation, but it’s a start at the slowing down process I feel is necessary for my physical and mental well-being.

I had one day to train my replacement. After that I went home, and had a nap, exhausted. I’ve been napping a lot lately. As writers and family members, we need to recognize when it’s time to step off the busy-life treadmill we’ve inadvertently hopped onto.

I’m grateful that I’m able to do this. I’m hoping to write and read a little more, as they are calming distractions from real-life challenges. Besides, it’s what I do. And I know I’ll sleep more, and visit my mother and sister more often, and take care of what needs to be taken care of. It feels somewhat surreal to end the year this way (I won’t be back at work till mid-Feb.) but it feels right. I don’t know if four months is too long or not long enough, but time will tell.

The Right to Read What I Want

BooksIn my chaotic life this fall, I missed Banned Book Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read, and to not have any particular group of people take away our reading choices.

After reading recent blogs about book banning and engaging in an insightful discussion with other writers this week, I’ve been giving the issue some thought, and will probably need to do more as time passes. As you can imagine, many of the banned books are centered around diversity, sexuality, and gender. I completely support any author’s genuine attempt to explore these issues in a thoughtful manner.

I cannot support authors who would write about these topics through hate-filled diatribes. But would I go as far as to have any book like that banned from my local library? I would never want to see a book that encourages or glorifies terrorism or sexual exploitation on any bookstore’s shelves, but would I boycott the store? Maybe. Although I’m not a lawyer, I’m told that there are laws against encouraging the intent to commit a crime, such as a how-to book on building a bomb, for example. Happily, I’m not likely to find such material in my local library or bookstores, which is where I find most of my reading material.

But here’s the conundrum. Should I defend another person’s right to read what they want, even if they prefer books that contain graphic rape scenes, a topic which I find abhorrent? That’s the issue I grapple with. I live in Canada. We believe in freedoms and diversity for all, but we all have personal moral lines that cannot be crossed, and sometimes they’re difficult to see and define.

What about the novels written decades ago that depict common racist, misogynistic, homophobic attitudes of the times? Personally, I believe they need to be read because if we don’t learn and understand the past, we are doomed to repeat it. A classic example of this is one of the most commonly challenged books by those who want to ban it. To Kill a Mockingbird. You can see the list of most challenged books in 2017 HERE.

Another interesting blog identifies several banned books that readers read again and again. Those titles include Lolita and 1984, you can see the whole list HERE.

I’m going to read more banned books in honor of the freedom to read, and I’m going to review them and keep reading all types of books, banned or not, because this is my right in this wonderful democracy where I live, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Favorite Reads So Far This Year

Readingabook[1]Back in January, I blogged about new reading goals for this year. The plan was to read a lot more nonfiction and I have, but many of the topics were so heavy and thought-provoking that I found myself needing a breather. So, I also chose fantasy and mystery novels.

Last week (Aug. 9) was Book Lovers Day, which I somehow missed, probably because it was a really busy work day. On the other hand, every day is book lover’s day for me.

By the way, here’s a bit if trivia I got from a newsletter I subscribe to. Those of you who are readers won’t be surprised that to learn that according to a study in Social Science & Medicine, book readers live two years longer on average than people who don’t read. Reading books boosts brain health and lowers stress hormones. Doesn’t surprise you, right?

Among the 27 books I’ve read so far this year, some of my favorite nonfiction is:

  • Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley
  • I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin (Raoul Peck, Ed.)
  • No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula le Guin
  • The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage by David E. Hoffman
  • Feeding Frenzy: Land Grabs, Price Spikes & The World Food Crises by Paul McMahon

Some of my favorite fiction is:

  • Cobra Clutch by A.J. Devlin
  • Give Out Creek by J.G. Toews
  • To Sleep With Stones by WL Hawkin
  • Two Clever By Half by Will North
  • The Forgotten Girls by Alexa Steele

Eighteen of the books I’ve read are fiction, which suggests that the nonfiction choices are making a greater impact on me than fiction, which is probably an issue of content rather than the quality of writing. As a mystery writer, I’m a bit more critical of fiction than nonfiction.

I’m behind in my 50 book goal, but I’m working on picking up the pace. After all, there’s nothing better than sitting out on my deck, glass of wine in one hand, a good book in the other. So, what are your favorite reads so far this year?

When You Find a Good How-To Book

Manuscript MakeoverIn my quest to read more nonfiction and improve my writing skills, I picked up a book that was recommended to me several years ago. It was a good decision. Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon is one of the best how-to books on editing I’ve read in a while.

One of the great things I’ve found about how-to books is that they trigger ideas for improving my plots, characters, settings, and so forth. It happened several times throughout this book, which has caused me to go back and make key changes to the second draft of the urban fantasy I’m working on.

Now I find myself with three sets of notes to type up. One for the book review I’ll post. The second is a quick summary of editing tips I specifically need to address in all of my manuscripts. The third is to incorporate all of those notes I scribbled down about the urban fantasy.

The last section is entitled ‘Marketing’, but it’s not about promoting and increasing visibility. It’s about properly preparing your manuscript to submit to publishers. Lyon offers some really great tips on writing query letters and a synopsis. If you’re a fiction writer, I strongly encourage you to read this book. With any luck, new ideas will spring up for your work.

 

New Reading Goals for 2018

Readingabook[1]As a mystery writer, I read a lot of fiction. This year’s target was 50 books, which I managed to reach in late December. With two part-time day jobs and a busy writing career, it was a bit of a challenge. I read primarily mysteries, but I also read fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, women’s fiction, and humorous fiction.

The older I get the more I realize how little I know about the world, so I’ve decided to choose a lot more nonfiction material. The plan is to delve into history, geography, politics, business, and as many other topics as I can find.

I’m not sure where to start, so I welcome any recommendations you have for great nonfiction reads. This is going to be fun!

#amblogging: My Top 5 Reads So Far This Year

On average, I read one book a week, so after a full year I sometimes forget what I’ve read, which is why I keep a list. Every December, I also read dozens of blogs and lists about top reads of the year, so I thought I’d start early and post my top five reads of the first half of this year.

After only seven months of reading, it’s been a challenge to pare my list down to the top five. As I read mostly mysteries and fantasies, the genres won’t surprise you:

Escape Clause

Escape Clause by John Sandford. This author has at least two mystery series going. Although he’s been around a while, I just discovered his work and I’m glad I did!

 

The ConjoinedThe Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee. This is a different type of mystery, and it’s absolutely riveting. Lee is a superb writer, and the book is definitely on the literary side. It’s not a whodunit, by a whydunit, so to speak.

 

Zagreb Cowboy imageZagreb Cowboy by Alen Mattich is a well-written suspense novel set in the 90’s in Croatia. The setting is so beautifully incorporated into the story that you feel you are there. Incredible!

 

Getting WildeGetting Wilde by Jenn Stark. I’d never heard of this author but the premise appealed to me, so I gave it a try. This action-packed, multi-layered fantasy is amazing! Characters, backstory, pacing, plot are spot on.

 

NightwalkerNightwalker by Allyson James and Jennifer Ashley is another delightful urban fantasy featuring vampires and dragons and a kickass slayer protagonist. Again, the action, pacing, and story are great fun.

 

I’ve love to hear what your best picks of the year are so far!