Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Goodbye’s All-Around

Halloween has come and will soon be gone.  Goodbye Halloween, goodbye October and this weekend we say goodbye to daylight savings.  Today also happened to be the day we said goodbye to my boss, who decided to retire and move on after giving 22 years to the job.
Saying goodbye means change.  Here it means moving onto the next holiday.  Hello Turkey Day!  We also begin a new month and count down the days until Christmas and the end of another year.  We change our clocks and adjust to darkness arriving earlier in the day.    

For my boss, it means moving onto another phase in her life.  It will involve life without the stress of the daily grind, no forced schedule and moving at her own pace.  It’s what many of us wish we could have now.   I wish her well and I expect she will very much enjoy her relaxing new lifestyle.
When you say goodbye to those who have known you for quite some time, you should always try to go out with style.  Style is likely more of a subjective term but in this case, her retirement party was full of fall flair.  That’s what happens when your last day is on Halloween.   A haunted office just wasn’t in the cards, unfortunately, so fall flair it had to be.

Here are a few shots of some of the decorations, first the table with the goodies:

 Here is a close up of the cookies and how they were served.  I really like this set up for treats:

Pumpkins with character

The retirement party was a success, I believe everyone enjoyed themselves and it was a terrific send-off for my boss.  I would expect nothing less myself if I ever stick with one job for more than 20 years.
After all the goodbyes, I now look forward to the next holiday, I welcome a new month and I will enjoy the extra hour we get when we turn the clocks back this weekend.  As I say hello to November, I am also saying goodbye to a somewhat relaxed writing schedule compared to what I am in store for beginning tomorrow. 

What I am in store for is a new challenge. 
I am preparing myself because this challenge will be very difficult. 

Admittedly, the challenge is possibly beyond difficult but the results will be worth it in the end. 
I’ll write more in the next post about this latest challenge I have decided to literally bury myself in but for now, enjoy your evening or your day depending on when you read this, and expect to hear more soon about the challenge I am undertaking. 

Until next time…



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ghouls, Ghosts and Goodies

I missed my mid-week post because it has just been one of those weeks.  The day job, my writing, time with the family, family from out-of-town who stayed for a few days, a family birthday, and more Halloween get-togethers left little time to add blogging to the list of to-do’s for the week.
Sometimes days get too busy or they are just too full of fun and other distractions, especially around the holidays.  For most households, the fun and distractions for this holiday include dressing up and carving pumpkins.  Dressing up in ghoulish get-ups is not something the kids in my household can resist, especially when it marks the beginning of a prank. 

Imagine these two ghouls hiding outside at night behind a vehicle in the driveway: 

The mission?  To stay hidden until an unsuspecting family member arrives home in order to jump out and scare the crap out of them.  The mission was accomplished.  The target, my oldest son, is a good sport.  He joined the fun by dressing up as a ghoul himself.  I think this mask is definitely one of the creepier ones:

From ghouls we move on to ghosts, the Grim Reaper, bats, wolves howling at the moon, spiders and…a Chinese pumpkin?

We all had a lot of fun carving pumpkins and each design was even more intricate than the last.  The Asian pumpkin was my brother’s contribution, complete with a hat from China which did not photograph well since a flash could not be used to make the designs stand out.

We have used the pumpkin carving designs for a number of years now and while the task itself can be a real chore, especially if you choose a challenging design, the final results are always worth all the time and effort.

Goodies may be a word synonymous with Halloween but while I do love candy, especially dark chocolate, candy is not the type of goody I’m talking about.  I received two special treats this Halloween season, both of which were received from two very special aunts. 

First, in the spirit of Halloween, I was given this very cute box shaped like a book:

I absolutely love this box and in my opinion, it is the cutest Halloween decoration.
Second and not even closely related to Halloween but in the spirit of giving “just because,” I received this beautiful handmade quilt:

This gift is a treasure for sentimental reasons but it is more than beautiful; it is also very effective at keeping me cozy.    

There are still a few more days left before Halloween with many more activities to choose from for all ages.  Kids will be looking forward to a jaunt around town to fill up their Halloween baskets, teens will visit the best haunted houses or haunted corn mazes and many adults will attend yet one more Halloween party.  I don’t know if I’m in store for any more ghouls, ghosts or goodies but at this point I can safely say I need nothing more to make this holiday complete…
Well, except for maybe a bit more chocolate…   

And time to watch at least one more scary movie. 
Hope your Halloween is a treat!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

October Festivities

I truly enjoy this time of year.  I enjoy the fall colors, the change in the seasons, even the chilly morning air and threat of oncoming rain.  Eventually, we get a bit tired of the rain but it is what it is in our neck of the woods.  However, with the change in weather we are compensated with the holidays…Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  It is a time for family gatherings, decorating, get-togethers with friends, a lot of baking and cooking and the reason, I’m certain, many diets begin on New Year’s Day.

Halloween is, of course, the first on this list of holidays.  While some may skip this as a real holiday, those with young children probably can’t ignore it.  Children have active imaginations and the idea of dressing up as their most favorite hero, cartoon character or animal is not something they want to pass up.  Of course, they don’t want to miss out on all that candy either!

I miss the days when my boys were young enough to go trick-or-treating; although, I don’t miss those cold and oftentimes wet nights walking from house to house.  We did have a lot of fun letting the boys dress up in all sorts of costumes beginning with cute cartoon characters or a favorite super hero and graduating to the scariest movie villain costumes.  Some might not be fond of this holiday but it is all in the name of fun. 
Now that my boys are older, there is no trick-or-treating and they hardly ever dress up but we still enjoy decorating the house, carving pumpkins and spending time with family and friends.  We enjoyed our first Halloween party just this past weekend.  Some dressed up but it was mostly the younger kids, so it was a treat and a hilarious surprise to see two of my cousins disappear for a short time only to emerge as giant Teletubbies.  Costumes aside, the party was fun and also a great excuse to gather the family together…not to mention other guests...

She was just a tad bit freaky but a great addition to the decorations.
Halloween parties are not only a great reason to come up with fun costumes but they also give everyone a reason to cook and bake various amounts of food.  There were a lot of different food options to add to our dinner plates as well as a smorgasbord of choices for dessert.  With food options you also have various beverages to choose from.  One of my favorites and the most fun was this choice of beverage…the witch’s brew:

It tasted like orange sherbet and was very good.

After eating, drinking, handing out awards to the kids for best costumes (they all received awards by the way) and eating some more, the night eventually had to end.  My aunt was a sweetheart for thinking ahead and it would appear she bought out the local pumpkin patch with the number of pumpkins she had hidden throughout the yard.  She offered a pumpkin to every kid present, from 3 years old to 20 years old, it did not matter; as long as they were a grandchild or a great niece/nephew, they deserved a pumpkin. 
At the end of the night as we lingered to say our goodbyes, one of my cousin’s kids decided it was a great time to experiment with the dry ice (don’t worry; he wore rubber gloves to stay safe).  He began with dry ice in cups filled with warm water, soon moved on to bowls and eventually the experiment took on larger proportions in the kitchen sink.  Here’s the creepy results…

See the spider on the side of the bowl to the right?  Eww...that's all I can say.

Whether you enjoy Halloween as a holiday or not, I hope you enjoy the fun it can bring among family and friends.  Making memories is what the holidays are about and I see no reason not to use Halloween as a great reason to create enjoyable memories.
I hope you are also creating your own fun memories with your family and friends.

Trick or Treat!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“The End” Means another Beginning

So you have an idea for a book.
You then decide to write a book. 

You spend days, weeks, months, maybe even years, working on the idea and the book until you have something worthwhile to show others.
Throughout this phase you may drink a lot of the liquid of your choice, you will use a lot of paper, write early in the morning or late into the night, you put off things until tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that, and you feel guilty about spending less time with your family while proclaiming to your conscious it will all be worth it in the end.  You may feel the guilt but it is overshadowed by the excitement of what it means to create, to bring life to something, to live out a dream.

Once you have finished your manuscript, you spend even more time with the edits to prep it for publishing.  After many changes and much tweaking, you finally publish the book.  You hold a book signing, trusting the event will help get the word out, promote the book and help with sales.  And after the book is made available on-line to just about anyone under the sun, you hold your breath…wait for sales…wait for reviews…watch the stats…and wonder just how far this whole adventure will take you. 
After spending so much time on one project, it is quite a high to finally complete the project and it is exciting to promote all your hard work, receive feedback, and hear from those who want to see more. 

But then it is time to turn your attention towards your next project.
It is time to write another book. 

To start the process all over again.
To begin, you have to release your hold on the first project in order to submerge yourself in the second.  It is admittedly somewhat difficult to let go of the excitement and feelings of accomplishment from the first project in order to bury yourself in the next.  In doing so, you know your focus has to change because you are starting the process all over again and you must be prepared for the uphill climb towards “the end.”

So the focus must change and the creative process must begin again. 
It is not a difficult process when you have a strong creative idea; it is just a lengthy process.  The trick is moving away from the first project, now a comfortable place to be, and moving onto the next project, a foreign land to be mapped out. 

When you do that, there is no doubt it will all be worth it again in the end. 
You will feel inspired during the creative process.  You will feel accomplished after finishing another book.  You will feel the excitement once again after the book is published and you gain feedback during the promotion period.

But you have to start at the beginning to reach “the end” once again. 
So submerse yourself in the writing, in the characters, in the story.  

Let the process begin and watch the magic happen. 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Signing Event…Check!

My very first book signing for No Mother of Mine was yesterday.  If anyone who reads my blog posts can read between the lines…I’m sure they’d be able to tell I was a mess of worrisome thoughts the past week or so.  Not only was I worried about the rain and whatever else could go wrong, I finally discovered I was worried about the unknown.  I had no clue what to expect and for me, that whole concept just causes more anxiety.
But I should not have worried so much.  The rain was not something I had control over but we were able to snag a few tents to help keep us out of the rain when it did come down.  And the venue we chose turned out beautiful.  It was very inviting and a comfortable area for people to hang out, browse and also visit with each other.

Donna's Eco-Scapes

As I was running around my house, attempting to gather and pack everything we’d need for the day, I received a phone call to inform me someone had arrived early hoping to purchase a book.  It was only 11a and the event wasn’t supposed to begin until 1p so you can imagine my surprise at hearing someone arrived so early.  Is this normal?  I don’t know but for a new author, I would not expect it to be.  It is kind of cool, though. 
When it was time to officially begin the event, I think I probably held my breath.  I could not stop myself from wondering how the event would be received.

Again, I worry too much.    
Throughout the day, I felt like the sand at the beach might feel…with the rush and the ebb of the waves as they advance and recede.  A handful of people would arrive and I’d lose track of time as I signed copy after copy and then suddenly everything would quiet down as the flow would recede.  Those who remained would visit with me or each other for a bit and then just as suddenly another wave would advance and again I’d be signing books and chatting away.  It was fun, exciting and overall very exhilarating when I actually took the time to think about it. 

During the event we received a surprise visit from a local group who had helped launch the opening of a business a few doors down.  It’s not often you are welcomed by bagpipes and I’m sure it was a bit unexpected by those who entered the garden, but it was a unique experience most of them probably won’t forget. 

Olympia Highlanders
With a good mix of family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and strangers who either heard about me before yesterday or just came in off the street, this book signing was a great experience.  I am so grateful to not only my family for helping me pull this event together but also to everyone who stopped by to take part in the event, support me in my new venture and share with me their best wishes and excitement overall.   

All the worry, all the anticipation and all the planning have led up to what was one of the best days I can remember for quite awhile.  Each new phase in this adventure is just one fantastic experience after another…completing the book, publishing the book, making it available for sale and getting great feedback from those who have enjoyed the book.  Each experience has included a sense of accomplishment but overall they amount to a great sense of fulfillment. 
And more importantly, each new phase also confirms I made the right decision when I decided to realize my dreams and fulfill my passion to write.  Now it’s time to finish another book!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mother Nature’s Not-So-Perfect Timing

I almost forgot it was Wednesday! 
This week has been an odd one.  It has been going by at a snail’s pace, really, even though each day my head is filled with more details than I can manage.  Which is why I almost forgot to type a blog post today.

What types of details are filling my head more than normal? 
I have been sidetracked with the details surrounding my first book event scheduled for this weekend.  A book signing event.  A celebration event.  Or both.  Whatever it is called really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that it goes well.  Or at least well enough so that I don’t feel like it was all for nothing.

So what do I have to worry about? 
If you write it, they will come…

Seriously, I know I worry too much.  The event will go well and I’m sure I will enjoy myself and I certainly hope those who attend also enjoy themselves.  There have just been a few issues here and there which keep me on my toes and make it difficult for me not to worry.

There was the issue about the books and whether they would all arrive in time.  That idea came from the publisher who informed me the books might not arrive until six days after the event!  Of course, they probably give the shipment date a cushion but I was very nervous about the awful possibility of having no books at a book signing. 
Thankfully, the books arrived with plenty of time to spare.  So I crossed that off my list.

Then there were the marketing materials…
Flyers.  Check. 

Postcards.  Check.  Except for the fact that there was a mistake on the cards.  Something others may or may not notice or even care about but I just about became unglued over because there was no time to order more.
Moving on…

A news article in the local paper.  Check.  And overall, not too bad except for one misprint about where the paperback book can be located.  Rats!
Deciding on a venue for the event was easy.  I did not choose a bookstore; unfortunately, we don’t have one in my home town.  No, this event will be held at an outside courtyard, decked out with beautiful plants, metal sculptures, a coi pond (although they don’t seem to be moving much…they may be sleeping?), seating areas and a little shop in the back with garden and gift ideas.  It was, at the time of my decision, the perfect spot for a nice gathering to celebrate my new book.

Donna's Eco-Scapes
Until we received the most recent weather report.
And now, the fretting really begins.

We have not had hardly any rain for months.  Months!  And it would appear we will be getting our first bit of rain very soon.  When?  I’m sure you can guess.  This weekend!
*Big, long, chest-filled-with-air sigh.*

Once I get my breathing back to normal, I’ll have avoided a panic attack. 
For now. 

I realize the anxiety I feel can’t change the fact that there is little I can do other than expect the worse, hope for the best and know that no matter what, I just need to keep my chin up becuase all the fuss over when, where and how an event takes place will not take away the true joy and celebration of my first book.
So, the event will go on as planned. 

Rain or shine. 

Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Small Town Characters

Whether you live in a small town or a very large city, there’s no doubt you will run into a number of characters on any given day.  But when it comes to small towns, the same characters are seen on a regular basis.  You become accustomed to seeing them.  Some you may like.  Some you may try to avoid.  But either way, the cast of characters in any small town make up its own little quirky community and you either come to love it or, if you just can’t bring yourself to leave the community you admittedly feel tied to, you might love to hate it.
This is why I decided to make a small town the scene of my Jorja Matthews mystery series.  It may be why many mystery writers do so.  I am a small-town girl so it is easier for me to write about small-town living, but I also enjoy writing about the small-town characters.  While it is far-fetched to believe crimes happen on a regular basis in any small town, you have to take into account the fact that this is fiction.  And there are many of us who absolutely love an enjoyable story with a believable character who lets you tag along as he or she investigates a mystery.    

Case in point is my protagonist, Jorja Matthews.  She moves back to her home town where she opens a bookstore and coffee shop called Books ‘N Brew, and eventually becomes involved in a mystery or two.  There are many ways to describe Jorja:  she loves a good challenge, is reliable and determined, she is giving and it is in her nature to help others, she does not like change or conflict but will stand up against anyone who she believes is doing wrong, she is patient, loves coffee and tea, she is organized and loves to make lists, and she adores her Lab-mix named Piper, who she rescued and adopted.  As Jorja investigates a matter involving a missing mother, as well as a mystery surrounding her own family, the reader enjoys tagging along with Jorja while she attempts to solve each mystery. 
Of course, no one should be without a BFF so we move on to Taylor Bishop.  She is a barista who is strong willed and loves to argue to prove her point, she is impulsive and sometimes impatient, she enjoys playing tricks and scaring others, she loves vampire movies and hates spiders, and she has a cat named Bella (go figure).  She also dresses according to mood and would do anything for her best friend.  Taylor plays devil’s advocate with Jorja but is also very supportive of whatever Jorja decides to take on, even if she’s not able to hide her concern for her friend.

Throughout the story the reader is introduced to a spattering of characters:  
·         Jorja’s parents, Helen and Rick Matthews, are very loving, extremely caring and probably the type of parents anyone would love to have, minus a few secrets. 

·         Jorja’s nemesis, Lydia, is an old high school classmate who never forgave Jorja for the fact that a boy they both liked in high school chose Jorja over Lydia. 

·         Brad, the boy who chose Jorja but moved away their senior year, is now back in town after accepting the high school football coach position.    

·         Kathleen, also known as Kat, is a high school senior who enlists Jorja’s help to solve the mystery about why her mother ran away when Kat was only five years old. 

·         Sandra, an old high school friend of Jorja’s mother’s and Lydia’s boss, is also a complete busy-body and owns the local hair salon. 

·         Dylan, a fairly new resident in town, bakes sweet creations in his local bakery called Dylan’s Sweet Delights and delivers not only sweets but also charm.       
Other characters include Chief Douglas, the gruff, no-nonsense Chief of Police and his front desk clerk, Betsy; Jim Cooper, who is Sandra’s brother and a police officer from a neighboring town; Nurse Willows, who holds more secrets than even she realizes; Cheryl, a county records clerk who assists Jorja on a case they will soon discover is much more than meets the eye; and Ruth, Jorja’s best friend from high school, who became a missionary, moved away and then returned to town with her husband, Pastor Pete, and their baby.

Some characters will stay, others will go and there are yet a few I have not mentioned who will likely continue on into the next story.  Officer Fritz, another character introduced in my book, is one example.  I like him but haven’t quite figured out what his character is up to yet and how his role will affect the next story.  That’s the exciting part about writing, believe it or not.  I don’t know how the characters will pan out, whether or not they will stick around or exactly what they have in store for Jorja or the story. 
These are characters you will get to know when you read No Mother of Mine and many of them will continue on throughout the Jorja Matthews mystery series.  I have made every effort to make them feel, sound and appear as real as someone you might just happen to meet on any given day and I hope you enjoy meeting them and look forward to reading more about them as the series continues.




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Beat the Clock

I had a writing prompt the other day asking that I write about time not marked on clocks.  Usually this doesn’t happen but…my mind went blank.  What time is not marked on clocks when clocks will always ever be about time?  Especially in this day and age.
I’m sure the prompter knew just how difficult of a question this would be for the prompted.  So much of what we do is bound by time…it’s not very often someone can say they don’t know what time it is.  Not being a slave to the clock is one of the reasons we enjoy vacations so much.  It is why leaving behind all the time requirements of daily life is so necessary.  It helps to rejuvenate us.  We can’t always be a slave to the clock.  We must also know what it is like to be able to enjoy the day as our body, mind and spirit see fit.

But back in the real world, after vacation and relaxation, it is the clock that rules us. 
So how do we beat the clock?

With a club, of course!
Okay.  Maybe that won’t work, although I’d love to take a club to my alarm clock in the mornings.  It is very annoying.

Realistically, the clock can be a menace or it can be your ally.  I have been working on my time management skills over the past year since I began writing my book and I’ll admit the clock is usually more of a menace and not so much an ally.  I have had to work very hard at figuring out what works for me so that I am the most productive.  For the most part, I’ve done pretty well and I just have to catch myself when I realize I might be slipping back into bad habits. 
Research has taught me many things when it comes to time management and I have attempted to make use of one trick or tip after another to find what helps me the most.  Some tips work better than others but overall, together they all work very well.   

Here are some examples of the tips I’ve learned:
·         For at least a week, keep track of everything you do to see where your time is actually spent.  It can be very eye opening and it won’t be difficult to see where your down time is being wasted. 

·         Make appointments with yourself for the tasks you really wish to accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.  For me, I schedule time to write and I do my best not to break those scheduled dates with myself.

·         Set goals but do not make it so you can easily fail at reaching those goals.  If you have a long-term goal, write it down, but then make a list of the short-term goals necessary to help you reach the long-term goal. 

·         Make lists.  I adore lists.  I have them everywhere.  Whether you have a good memory or not, keeping lists helps keep track of what you need to do (or want to do) and as you are able to cross each item off your list, it gives you a sense of accomplishment.  Having a master list helps and from there you can create timeframes on when you hope to accomplish each task.

·         Figure out where your peak time for productivity actually falls.  For me, mornings are not my best.  Early afternoons when I’m home or the evenings after I’ve spent time with my family are best for me and when I’m able to accomplish the most.

·         Try to focus on one task at a time, rather than getting sidetracked partway through and ultimately only barely tackling a few of the items on your daily to-do list.  Whether the to-do item is a chore such as cleaning or an enjoyable task like checking updates on Facebook, take a shot at timing yourself.  Give yourself only a short block of time for each task, say 15 minutes or a half hour, if necessary.  If you have a competitive spirit, you could think of it as a way to beat the clock by trying to complete as much as you can in your given block of time.  You’ll be satisfied with what you are able to accomplish before you move on to the next task.

·         Probably the most important tip is not to beat yourself up if you aren’t able to reach all your goals or you aren’t able to stick with a game plan.  Most likely, the goals can still be reached; it just might take more time.  The game plan might need to be tweaked but it might also better accommodate you and your life style.  It is something you just have to learn as you go.
Each of us has our own to-do lists, our own goals and most importantly, our own dreams.  While we might not be able to beat the clock, we don’t have to be a slave to it either.  We just need to work with the clock, manage the time we’ve been given and learn how we can make the most of each day. 

What about you?  Are you a master at managing time or are you currently working on your own time management skills?  If you have any tips to share that might help others, I’d love to hear them.