Switching This World With That One

thinking-writing[1]Many writers who celebrate Christmas probably find December the busiest, most stressful time of the year. I know I do. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas and spending time with friends and family. It’s all the work that leads up to it while trying to balance the day job, and family responsibilities with writing time.

It’s especially challenging for writers with younger kids and/or aging parents, who depend on us to do their Christmas shopping and wrapping, and for those of us who also step up bookselling opportunities.

This year, I find myself preparing for Christmas while editing my first fantasy novel. The novel focuses on Wicca, witches and the proverbial battle between good and evil. Divided into five sections, the one I’m working on takes place in York, England in 1953, a drastic contrast to my real life.

Having written nine mysteries set here in Vancouver and in current time, I’m used to editing in familiar surroundings that deal with real-life types of crime. So it’s a little strange to switch from craft fair bookselling, tree decorating and other chores to writing about spellcasting and run-a-muck serpents. It’s also rather fun.

Although I’m living in two different worlds these days, I usually manage to find myself fully engaged in both. With a lot of practice and not a lot of writing time, I’ve learned to switch gears fast. Within sixty seconds of sitting down and propping my fingertips over the keyboard, real-life tasks fall away and my fictional world takes over.

To be honest, I don’t want to live in a fictional world full time, especially one that deals with the death and destruction that comes from my imagination. From 2010 to 2013, I did write full time, and I’m grateful for those days because the extra time helped me finish projects. I have to admit, though, that I only wrote a couple more hours per day than I had while doing a day job. After writing full time for a year, I missed daily interaction with the real world, not to mention the steady income, and the challenge of writing efficiently while getting everything else done.

For me, it’s not about having more time to write, it’s about making the best use of the time I do have. It’s about quick switches and ensuring that one world doesn’t overwhelm the other, and somehow it works for me.

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Why Reading Is More Important Than Ever

Readingabook[1]Whenever I sell my books at craft fairs, I know that only a small percentage of attendees read novels. People generally don’t come to craft fairs to buy books, and some even tell me that they don’t read period.

How folks spend their free time is of course up to them, but a growing number of studies show that non-readers are not only missing out on great entertainment, but losing out on an opportunity to improve their mental state.

I came across a blog about a study that showed the positive impact of reading to combat loneliness, mental health issues, and dementia among seniors. You can read the blog HERE, and another link will take you to the full report (it’s 50 pages long, so I didn’t read it all), but the bottom line is that reading matters a great deal to one’s overall brain health.

In Canada, we do a good job of encouraging young people to read. Almost every parent I know read to their kids when they were toddlers and during their elementary school years. Reading and books are a big part of school life, but what about the other end of the age spectrum? What happens when real-life demands take people away from reading, and they’ve long forgotten the joy of immersing oneself in a good story?

If you know of someone, of any age, who’s suffering through loneliness, memory loss, depression, or other mental health issues, give them a good book, or take them on a trip to the library, or maybe even read to them. It’s a simple way to improve the quality of one’s life and might just help revive the joy of letting one’s imagination escape into brand new worlds. The more readers there are, the better off the world is.

My Latest Craft Fair Experience

Launch Mar2012-21One of the most interesting things about selling my books at craft fairs is the people I meet, and this year’s Creative Chaos experience in Vernon, BC was no exception.

The fun started on day one when a volunteer in a clown costume slapped a happy face on my shirt because I apparently have a nice smile. She and her cohorts were spreading cheer and goodwill everywhere, as I saw plenty of pink stickers all over customers and vendors that day.

One attendee who spotted my first book, Taxed to Death, said she has a signed copy at home, only hers was written by a man. I assured her that I’m the author, but she didn’t believe me. I then suggested that perhaps someone else wrote a mystery called Taxed to Death (not impossible here in heavily taxed Canada), but she assured me that the cover was the same as the one she had at home. She drifted away from my table, leaving both of us confused.

I met a lovely woman who came to the fair with a handwritten note, listing all of my books that she owned, so she wanted to purchase the titles she didn’t have. Writers live for readers like that. I also ran into a customer who had purchased all five of my Casey Holland titles for her mom at last year’s Chilliwack Christmas craft fair. Here she was in Vernon, (roughly a four-hour drive from Chilliwack) telling me that her mom loved my books. I live for moments like that too.

The most extraordinary exchange occurred when I was chatting with a woman whose friend joined her and said that she used to know a Debbie Purdy, although it probably wasn’t me. The woman didn’t look familiar to me either, but when she asked if I had a sister named Val, which I do, she and the other woman yelped. They were sisters and our next door neighbors back in Surrey, BC (a five-hour drive from Vernon) nearly fifty years ago. When I was fourteen, my parents split and we moved away, losing touch with the sisters. It was great, but somewhat surreal, to reconnect with them after all this time.

There were many other lovely, and sometimes odd, conversations. There was an exchange of business cards, and I was happy to meet other writers while I was there.

During the quieter moments, I watched the people go by, some wearing T-shirts stenciled with the names of places they’d been to…Paris, New York, Gettysburg, New Orleans. It occurs to me that people have become more colorful over the years with their pink, blue, and green hair, the tattoos and facial piercings. It was really fun to watch.

The seniors loved to share stories, and I heard a number of great ones. One kind gentleman even gave me one of the homemade butter tarts he’d bought from another vendor.

Craft fairs are always a gamble. The fee to participate can be steep and sales can be slow, but I can always count on stimulating conversation and even one or two ideas for my next mystery novel. I can’t wait to go back next year.

2017 Craft Fair Experiences

Craft Fair 2017After participating in several craft fairs this year, my anecdotal observations pretty much confirm the experiences of previous years, which are:

. Print still sells. My books won’t sell nearly as well by sitting on a bookstore shelf with thousands of other titles. Also, some of my customers said that they tried ebooks but didn’t like them. Sure, a few use iPads and Kindles, but people just don’t seem as excited about them as they once did.

. Customers are shocked to learn that the Chapters chain here in Canada collects 55% of every book sold. It’s the main reason I prefer to sell directly to readers, along with the fact that, in the past, my returned books have been damaged.

. The overwhelming majority of young families understandably don’t have time to read. Those pushing strollers rarely stopped by my table to browse unless they were shopping for a mystery fan in their family, which leads to point four.

. Mystery reader demographics haven’t changed in the 20+ years I’ve been selling books. The largest purchasers, and readers, of mysteries are women between forty-five and seventy-five years of age.

. New or would-be writers are still quite confused about whether to self-publish, find an agent, or look for a traditional publisher. I try to give sound advice without going into a long pros and cons list. Mainly, I ask them to think about what they want out of the publishing experience, and to do some research.

Since fees are charged (and they can be quite steep) to acquire a table at craft fairs, and there is often a jurying process, selling at these venues is always a gamble. You never know until the fair is well underway if you’ll earn your money back. As a vendor recently said to me, it’s always a rush when things are going better than expected, but you can’t count on the same results every year. It’s risky to base your expectations on previous year’s successes. So, we’ll see what happens next year because I’ll definitely participate again. I guess it’s the gambler in me.

My Own November Challenge

I’ve often been tempted to participate in the amazing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where writers commit to writing 50,000 words from Nov 1 – Nov. 30. It appears to be a great way to start a novel, but November is absolutely the worst time of year for me to attempt it. You see, I have my own writing challenges every November, especially this one.

This fall I’m releasing two books (more about the second one next week), promoting both through extra blogs and social networking, plus selling print copies of my books at four different craft fairs.

All this is being done while maintaining the day job and starting Christmas preparations. To keep myself sane and happy, I also spend the first hour of every day writing. After all, it’s what I most love to do.

Keeping all these balls in the air can be difficult, yet I need to test myself, not just as a writer, but as a business person. I want to see what I’m capable of and to learn where I need to cut back. I’m in the thick of things now. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and I can’t say there’s a lot of peace of mind at this point, but I’ll be able to assess this a little more clearly at the end of this year. Meanwhile, I wish all those who are attempting Nanowrimo the best of luck!

Knock Knock, front cover

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