Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

The Post-Publication Hangover

Publishing a full-length book is a momentous project that often takes years to complete. So when publication date finally arrives, it’s certainly cause for celebration, not to mention some relief. For me, acknowledging release day might involve a dinner out, a book launch, a library reading, or perhaps just a special glass of wine at the end of the day.

The Blade Man, front coverAfter a book’s release, I always feel somewhat discombobulated (I love that word). I have trouble sleeping, feel a bit anxious, lethargic, and can’t fully concentrate on anything for long. I start second-guessing myself as to whether the book should have been published. It’s the kind of niggling that I suspect most creative people suffer.

This has been happening a lot these past two weeks, so I’m not jumping into marketing and promotion tasks with great gusto at the moment. There’s a long list of things that need to be done…approaching libraries, bloggers, and reviewers, for starters. I haven’t had the incentive to do any of those things, which tells me two things. One is that it’s time let my mind and body relax. The other is that old post-publication habits might not work anymore.

1431975253_60f22e0295_n[1]So, I’m now engaging in a little TLC. I read an article a couple days back about self care (you can find it HERE) and there were good tips on inexpensive ways to look after ourselves, and don’t we all need more of that in what’s proving to be a rather stressful 2020?

Until recently, I drank four cups of coffee every morning, which pretty much took all morning. After lunch, it was caffeinated tea right until supper time. It’s no surprise that I recently began to feel like I was carrying a large, hot rock in my gut. I’ve now cut back significantly on caffeine and it’s helped a lot.

I’m also managing to keep to a regular gym routine this month, combining resistance and cardio workouts with core strengthening. Some of the other tips mentioned in the article include meditation, reducing social media time, eating more vegetables, and so forth. I’ve been doing most of the above except meditation, but I keep forgetting about the importance of deep breathing.

The author also offers another great tip called checking in with yourself. For me this means putting writing, publishing, and promotion into perspective. Although writing is hugely important in my life, this type of work doesn’t deal with actual life and death matters. I’m not a surgeon, or a search-and-rescue patrol person, or a soldier, or a cop. I’m an author who isn’t perfect, but who keeps striving to do a little better with every single sentence. And I’m trying real hard not to be a perfectionist but, oh boy, it’s a battle.

The Blade Man is available at:

Amazon: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LDre1

On a Personal Note…

This week, my focus shifts from writing and promotion to share two great pieces of news. I had to wait until my daughter informed her employer, but I’m now thrilled to tell you that I’m going to be a grandma in late July!

My firstborn is having a baby and needless to say, I’m thrilled. In about a month’s time, she’ll have an ultrasound to make sure everything’s okay, but she’s still undecided about whether to reveal the gender, so we’ll see. Once the baby arrives, I’ll be helping her and my son-in-law for those first few weeks. Although both of them are competent, meticulous planners, they have no idea how an infant can blow apart a schedule. When my daughter’s maternity leave ends, I’ll be babysitting part-time. This is a welcome lifestyle-change, and it also leads me to my second piece of news.

8888110788_fb214ca74e[1]I’m retiring from my day job at Simon Fraser University on May 29. As some of you know, I’ve already talked about retiring, but now there’s a real date. I’ve given official notice and the countdown has begun. Because I’m overwhelmed with promotion stuff for the new book and want to complete more projects, I’m taking as many paid vacation days as I can between now and May 29th.

As writers know, retirement from a day job has little to do with living a retired life. It’s about changing time management strategies and priorities, and making time for those things I’ve let lapse.

My daughter is nearly an hour’s drive away, which is why their new home has a guest bedroom and bathroom, so I’m buying a new laptop to replace my sluggish, ten-year-old beast. By the summer of 2021, I’ll be splitting my time between their house and ours, which hubby says he’s fine with. He’s a pretty independent guy who’s more than capable of cooking his own meals. Not so great with laundry and vacuuming, but we’ll work it out.

Keeping Up With Those Reading Lists!

Holidays-Card[1].png

Before sharing my favorite reads in 2019, I wanted to tell you that this will be my last blog until after Christmas. I and my family will be celebrating on the 24th and 25th, so I’ll probably be searching for the nearest gym on the 26th.

Also, production of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, is nearly complete! The cover reveal will be on my January 8th blog. The designer’s done a fantastic job and I’ll be very happy to share it. The manuscript is formatted for the book printer, but I still have to get going on the ebook versions and set up pre-orders. The book will be officially launched on February 12th, but more on that in a few weeks.

As you many of you already know, this is the time of year when lists of recommended books are everywhere. There’s too many to name, so I’m just mentioning a small sampling that’s peaked my interest.

In my quest to read more nonfiction, I was interested to learn that investor Warren Buffet has a recommended reading list (see link HERE) as does Bill Gates (HERE). BookBub’s poll (HERE) has also come up with best books of the entire decade.

If that isn’t enough, Lithub presents a compilation of best reads taken from 37 different lists involving 749 books (HERE). Given how many books were published this year, I find it hard to believe that only 749 are noteworthy, but all lists are subjective, which leads five of my favorites of the 52 books I read this year. I was lucky to find many great reads this year, this time around I’ve chosen books that were compelling and thought-provoking. My top five are:

. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

. The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner (historical mystery)

. Becoming by Michelle Obama

. The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch (historical mystery)

. Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones (urban fantasy)

I kind of surprised myself with the historical mysteries. I chose these perhaps because I would find it extremely difficult to write a historical mystery, and am in awe of those who do it well. Having said that, If I had to review my list again tomorrow, I’d probably change it for different titles. That’s how subjective lists are.

Anyway, here’s to more great reads in 2020, and Happy Holidays everyone!!

Christmas Craft Fair Season Wind-Up

Coquitlam Christmas craft fair, 2019 (2)Following up on last week’s blog about changing writing patterns in December, I’ve spent most of the past six weeks selling my books at various Christmas craft fairs. Happily, it turned out to be a terrific season that exceeded expectations. Expectations are always risky, as the success of any fair is always a gamble. But it’s nearly impossible not to have hopes after investing time and money, not to mention thousands of hours, in one’s writing career.

My first fair was a single-day event at a high school back on Nov. 2nd. The second one was a two-day event a week later. The third was a three-day event over an hour’s drive from home. My booth was next to two booths both selling mustard, which surprisingly brought a fair number of customers to my table. The biggest and busiest show was the three-day Coquitlam Christmas craft fair this past weekend, which is only ten minutes from home.

One of the most satisfying aspects was the repeat customers who’d bought a book the previous year and who came back to buy more. The feedback was exceedingly kind and I couldn’t be more grateful.

If there’s any takeaway from selling at local markets it’s that building an audience and creating word-of-mouth buzz takes time and patience. Still, there are always people who stop to look at the books and say, “I’ve never heard of you.” Some will buy a book while others will walk away. It’s a lot like book signings in that respect, and like book signings, craft fairs create plenty of people-watching opportunities.

I’ve been at the writing/publishing biz long enough to offer tips to those just starting out, and there’s usually a shopper who wants advice about hiring someone to write their story. Others want to know if they should self-publish or look for a publisher. As you can imagine, I’ve had some fairly deep or thought-provoking conversations.

After a total of nine full days of book selling, I’m ready to stop for 2019. It’s always a challenge to spend hours at a table when there are so many other pre-Christmas tasks and errands waiting for me. There’s always the anxiety of wondering if this craft fair will be profitable or a loss (some fair fees are quite steep). Still, there’ve been far more pros than cons over the years, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.

We Need More Mister Rogers

2659-large[1]A week ago, I was composing an email at work when an administer walked by and said something like, “I see you’re wearing a cardigan for Mister Rogers’ Day.” I responded with what was probably a confused stare and said, “Sorry?” At which point she explained that November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day. Who knew? Clearly, the administrator didn’t realize that I wear cardigans pretty much every day at this time of year.

When I got home from work, I did a Google search and, sure enough, according to goodfoodpittsburgh.com, November 13th was Mister Rogers’ Cardigan Day, which encourages people to express kindness by wearing a cardigan in honor of Fred Rogers You can find the short article HERE.

I have to tell you that Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. I watched him a lot with my kids when they were little. The more I watched, the more I appreciated how unique and wonderful he truly was.

Movie trailers about him have been popping up on TV, so I’ve been thinking about Mister Rogers more than usual lately. I’m intrigued that Tom Hanks is portraying him. Based on a New York times article, (you can find it HERE) he’s a terrific choice because he too appears to be a genuinely nice guy.

If there’s one thing this planet needs right now, it’s more Fred Rogers and genuinely kind people…role models that children and adults, for that matter, can look up to and emulate. People with his gentleness and integrity seem in short supply right now, but there’s nothing stopping any of us from following those values and committing acts of kindness wherever we go.

As a writer, I’m thinking why not create an unassuming hero with integrity, gentleness, and kindness? Maybe he, or she, won’t be the feisty, kick-ass, super-human individual so prevalent in novels and movies today. Maybe this hero will have Fred Rogers qualities, but with one or two other unique aspects…and so a new writing idea begins.