Meeting Up In A COVID World

Here in Vancouver and the suburbs, community and recreation centers have been opening in stages since early September. This is a good thing for many but as our COVID case numbers steadily rise, I’m not sure how long it will last.

As part of the re-opening process, my local community center decided to resume in-person creative writing workshops. Our community is one of the few that offered weekly classes, and they’ve been so popular over the last 30+ years that participants could sign up for either Thursday morning, Monday evening, or Saturday sessions. And then COVID came.

Currently, our community center’s offering only one five-week session on Thursday mornings, which I’m facilitating. It’s therefore my obligation to ask my six participants if they’ve travelled, feel unwell, or if they’ve knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID. Before entering the meeting room, we are all required to wash our hands in the washroom just inside the building’s entrance.

We have four long tables. I sit at one while participants sit at either end of the other tables. As customary in these sessions, participants voluntarily read a few pages of their work aloud while we read along from a printed version. Participants hand out and collect their own copies.

So far, we’ve met just once but the system worked well. The question is will we be able to keep it up for the remaining four sessions? If the number of COVID cases rise exponentially, the community centers will be shut down.

The thing is that those who attend these workshops (over half are seniors) do so as much for the social interaction as they do for the critique. Not everyone likes screens. Not everyone works productively when they feel isolated. Introverted as many of us are, we still need to feel part of a community and nothing demonstrates this better than in-person meetups.

Meanwhile, many larger writing events are still being conducted online in our area. I’m not sure how well attended they are and I don’t know if authors are selling any books. I hope they are but something tells me we’re in for a few more rough months. I also know that things will get better and that the best I can do is to keep writing and reading and leaning and improving. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a new Casey Holland mystery ready for release and can actually hold an in-person launch. Won’t we all be ready for a party by then?

Transformations and New Roles

People are works in progress. We learn, experience new things, change jobs, homes, or relationships. Sometimes, as with COVID-19, change is dumped on us.

Retirement has given me a wonderful lifestyle change. But even before it began on June 1st, I felt a transformation coming that went beyond not driving up to the university five days a week. I knew I would become a grandparent, and that I would probably volunteer, and yes, both those things have now happened.

Ellie, shortly after her birth

I’m thrilled to announce that my granddaughter, Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Debra MacNeil was born this past weekend, and that I’m now officially part of the exceedingly special grandparent club. After my daughter’s maternity leave ends next July, I’ll be doing a lot of babysitting so she can resume her career. As a writer, all I need is a laptop, and I can work anywhere, so it’s all good.

Which brings me to my second transformation. As some of you know, I’ve been working on a lengthy urban fantasy novel for some time. Retirement has allowed me to work on it for longer periods each day which has helped me figure out continuity glitches and so forth.

But a new idea for a mystery series has also sprung up and won’t let go, at least yet. I’m making notes and thinking about it, often while doing household chores and yard work. I’m also wondering if it’s time to say goodbye to the Casey Holland series, or perhaps put it on hiatus.

I do have a Casey novella planned for release next year, but after that it might be time to move on. This new series idea, plus the fantasy novel will keep me busy enough, and I do love the idea of exploring something new, so we’ll see. Like most transformations, it will require much more thought and reflection.

Meanwhile, after many years of coloring my hair, I’ve decided to let that go too. I like the silver that started coming in during the first few weeks of  COVID. When I finally got to the hairdresser in June, I decided I want to keep it, so I’m in another transition there :).

Other transformations are coming down the road, but they are too far away to dwell on right now. Personally, I’m not afraid of change, as I believe it’s a crucial part of learning and growing. This grandma’s a lifelong learner, and in some ways I’m just getting started.

Snapshot of Publishing in North America

Author CaptionI’ve been curious to learn how the publishing world has been coping since the pandemic began. It doesn’t seem sufficient to say, “probably not well”, but a recent survey by the Authors Guild answered some of my questions.

Only 940 authors responded to the survey and, as you can imagine, many have seen their incomes drop, mainly by the loss of speaking/performance engagements. The drop wasn’t as high a percentage as I’d assumed it would be. In fact, about 45% of respondents said their income hadn’t changed very much.

Not surprising, although disheartening, is that 52 respondents had their book contracts and/or royalty payments delayed. Most authors with books about to be released are understandably worried about lower sales, yet just over half of them are not doing more marketing than usual. Unfortunately, the survey didn’t indicate why this is so and I’m not sure the question was even asked. You can read the full version HERE.

For my American friends, the survey also includes a link to details about economic relief for authors. It’s important to note that a number of surveyed authors couldn’t work right now because of their own health issues or the health of a family member. You can learn more about the economic relief HERE.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he’s earmarked $500 million to assist the arts, sports, and culture sectors. To date, I’ve heard no further details on who will quality for aid or how the money will be dispersed, but you can read what little information there is HERE.

Obviously, this is by no means a complete look at the writing and publishing world, but just a quick snapshot. I wonder how many small and medium Canadian publishing houses will survive after all this is over. You see, almost all of Canadian publishers are government subsidized in some way and have been for decades. It’s the only way small and mid-sized publishers (and possibly some larger ones) in a large country with a relatively small population have survived. Even with grant money, many established publishers still operate on shoestring budgets. But the government is spending an awful lot of money these days to help out many sectors. While the grants and aid money will be there during the pandemic, what happens down the road after the federal government has depleted its rainy day fund? Will grants eventually be cut so the government can begin to replenish again? Time will tell.

On a personal note, the cancellation of four writing events I was to take part in this spring, plus a large craft fair in June that usually results in $600-$700 in print sales will definitely hurt income. Do I expect to be compensated for that? No, and I learned a long time ago not to depend on writing and marketing events as my only income stream. Still, it’s a downer not to get together with colleagues and readers and discuss books and the biz. But opportunities to get together on Zoom etc. are out there, and book marketing means finding new ways to reach readers.

Meanwhile, I figure it’s best to keep working and looking forward to a less restrictive future. I’m doing whatever writing, editing, and promo work I can from home. When the gates open and we all run out of our houses to gather together again, I plan to be ready!

Art on the Vine-5

Keeping The Routine Alive

skd190324sdcWhen I’m on vacation, one of my favorite activities is to drink my morning coffee outside in the warm sunshine and think about nothing. It’s pure bliss. I have a sundeck at the front of my house, and a patio in back but, even in summer, I don’t use either of them when not on vacation. I’m either editing at the computer, then heading out to the day job, or running errands on the weekend before the traffic gets bad and the stores fill up. And then, of course, there’s the housework.

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to what, if any, routine I’ll have as retirement day approaches. All I’ve really thought about is living a less structured life, where I can do more of the things I want when I want.

Patio, Summer 2019I love the idea of sitting outside weekday mornings this coming summer, coffee mug in hand, and enjoying downtime and taking life easier. As it happens, my current stay-at-home life is giving me a glimpse—probably a somewhat skewed one—as to what retirement could look like.

Aside from being an introvert, one of the other main reasons I’m doing fine with self-isolation is because I’m keeping a routine. I still get up at the same time and after breakfast, head downstairs to my basement office to work on editing before starting the day job. I’m keeping the same hours at the day job and even taking the same break time. All other activities are pretty much carried out along my regular timeline as well.

Without all of the outdoor errands and other excursions, I’ve had time to organize my bookshelves and clear my bulletin boards of outdated papers. This is a project I hadn’t planned to tackle until retirement. It feels great. I’m going through my clothes closet next.

I’ve come to realize that when retirement starts, it’s probably not a good idea to throw my entire routine away. I like being productive and making to-do lists. I just don’t want to fill up every day the way I’ve done these past few years. My retired friends and colleagues assure me that this can happen before I’m even aware of it, so I’ll be mindful of this in the coming weeks.

wine_PNG9456[1]In some ways, retirement won’t feel that different than it does now. On another level, there is a psychological component, a sense of freedom in regaining a large chunk of my day just for me. I picture myself having that coffee on the sundeck, or a glass of wine in the afternoon. Pure bliss.

The Writer and Retrograde Mercury

djfgjf-300x218[1]For those of you who read horoscope columns, you’ll probably know that Mercury is retrograde right now. In simple terms, it means that the planet appears to be going backwards, which causes disruptions, mishaps, and communication snafus, among other things. Astrologers tell us that this is a bad time to start new undertakings and buy expensive items like cars and computers.

It also means that this is a great time to finish projects, such as manuscripts. In fact, you’re not supposed to start any new projects because there are bound to be problems and mishaps. Mercury retrograde lasts about four weeks, but the aftermath can last another two, and some say you shouldn’t start anything new about a week before the retrograde period begins.

During my post-publication hangover (see last week’s post), I’ve actually been editing a couple of manuscripts that have been works in progress for a long time. Editing always helps take my mind off of chores, tough situations, and even the small things that niggle at me.

So, after six months, I’ve just finished the 4th draft of my 135,000 word urban fantasy novel. The past four weeks have gone so well that I was able to finish the last two sections more smoothly than I had with the earlier sections.

Whether finishing this draft is due to retrograde Mercury or sheer avoidance of all the marketing and promotion tasks ahead, probably doesn’t matter. Finishing it does. A 135,000 word book with five sections and seventy chapters is not something I can whip through in a couple of months. It’s a slow marathon. I’ve now put the book away for a few weeks before the next go-around.

After completing the draft of a long work, I tend to gravitate towards shorter works to edit. So, last Friday, I started the umpteenth edit of a Casey Holland novella, which I first started five or six years ago. It’s about 25,000 words and twelve chapters, which almost feels like a short story compared to the urban fantasy.

I don’t intentionally build my writing life around astrological cycles, as there are far too many other components in the decision-making process. But I am saying is that Mercury’s retrograde, I finished a long manuscript, and that makes me happy.

The Last Month of the Year

Ah, December. Never a hugely productive writing month for me, as other priorities take over. Many of you are all too familiar with the busy-ness of shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, and Christmas office functions, etc.

I’m starting a week or so earlier than usual this year, and am already decorating a second Christmas tree. Our home tree was finished this weekend with my sister’s help. It’s a conglomeration of over thirty years of a mixed bag of ornaments, nearly all of which have special memories.

Coffee Table Decorations, 2019The second tree is for our front desk at work (that’s my office). Both were worked on between other tasks, but I managed to get them finished. I also decorated the coffee table in our family room, something I didn’t do when my kids were little and the house full of pets.

I’ve also started thinking about shopping. For the first time in my life, I took part in a black Friday sale by ordering one item Work-2online for my sister, which she requested. The contrarian in me doesn’t normally take part in the annual shopping hysteria displayed on TV, but this is my sister and she event sent me a photo of the item, so I dived in and ordered online.

I don’t abandon writing completely in December, as there’s a fair bit of editing to do, goals to accomplish, and deadlines to keep in mind. My jacket designer has new versions of The Blade Man’s cover for me to peruse (I’m loving their work, by the way) and there are a million other marketing tasks, but the tasks will still be there after the holidays. Because Christmas and family always come first with me, my cover reveal won’t occur until the first week in the new year, and then the tasks will really ramp up. Stay tuned!

Part of all the busy-ness this past weekend was fun stuff, like doing some wine tasting and picking up our case of wine from the Township7 Winery in Langley. Later we took the SkyTrain to LaFarge Lake to see the incredibly beautiful lights all around the lake. It was my first time seeing the display and it was simply wonderful.

From now until Christmas, my writing pattern changes. There will be a little bit of editing every morning (which is when I work best), the day job, then Christmas preparations until the big day arrives, and of course other chores and errands. My family isn’t large, so shopping isn’t too bad. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to fit a little more writing time in than I thought. Or maybe I’ll just sit quietly and contemplate new ideas and opportunities that have been springing up.

Should I Use a Pen Name?

Pen and NotepadThose who’ve been following my blog a while know that I’ve been writing and editing my first urban fantasy for some time. It’s getting closer to completion, but while there’s still work to be done, I’ve started pondering about whether I should adopt a pen name.

The thing is, I’ve been writing and publishing mysteries for years. This blog is called Mystery Deb and my amateur sleuth transit mysteries are pretty much my brand. But I’ve been stretching my wings and am excited about this new creative part of my life. So the question is, do I keep my name or should I adopt a pen name for the fantasy novels?

I’ve read a few blogs over the past couple of years about the pros and cons of using a pen name when publishing in different genres. I don’t remember the details in those blogs, but I do remember some points, and both sides presented good arguments.

One of the main reasons for keeping one’s name is that the author’s platform is already there. If readers like the author’s writing style, then they might be more inclined to try the author’s work in a different genre.

The downside of this is that new readers who don’t know the author could become confused as to what it is they write exactly. They might come across one title in the mystery series, but see another title in the fantasy genre. Does this really confuse readers, though?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have any of you used pen names? If so, what are the pros and cons? As readers, do you find it challenging to follow an author if that person is using different names?

If I go ahead and choose a pen name, should I be setting up a separate platform on my blog Twitter account and Facebook page, or should I keep it all together? Decisions, decisions…

5 Things I Learned From the Great Telus Email Crash of 2019

email-me-clipart[1]As I write this, Telus has still not resolved its email issues after one entire week of trouble. Thankfully, I don’t depend on it for much of my writing business. Every once in a while, I’ll receive notification that money’s been paid by Amazon or D2D, but otherwise most of my emails are blogs and newsletters. A small percentage of emails are from family, though they can text or phone anytime. The rest are review requests or writing event notifications. Of course, another small percentage is spam.

So, I’m looking on the positive side of the great Telus crash, and have learned a few things:

  1. Patience really is a virtue. I can’t control anyone’s inability to fix technical problems, so I’m not losing sleep over it, although I feel terrible for those whose businesses depend on it Telus’s email.
  1. I’m not nearly as dependent on emails as I thought I was. I’m far more dependent on the net in general, and my phone, or even my car. Thankfully, they’re working just fine.
  1. I have a gmail account, which I’ll start using more often. This one sends emails to my phone, so I’ll get them quicker. Not that I want to read blogs and newsletters on a tiny screen, but if someone’s trying to get hold of me, I’ll respond faster through gmail.
  1. Telus’s mess allowed me to catch up on all the blogs and newsletters that regularly fill my inbox.
  1. I’m getting more editing and organizing done.

Because I follow a lot of blogs, it usually takes me a whole week to read them all, and even then I skim quickly or skip the topics that don’t resonate. This week, I took the time to read each one carefully, and even commented on several.

Since I’m spending less time reading newsletters, I’m spending more time editing and organizing files and articles into binders that I’ve been talking about doing. Yay! So, it’s not all bad. Crap happens, but I’m finding ways to make the best of it.