I love announcing publishing news. This is another collection published by one of my writing chapters, The Salt City Genre Writers. It contains the first of several stories I have releasing this year and represents the creative triumphs I eeked out from the overall bleakness of 2020. If you’re like me, you’ll take positives from 2020 wherever you can find them.
My story, “Fog of War,” is a scifi/dystopian tale about the last remnants of the human race who no longer fully believe the mythology of their history. It was a cathartic tale I wrote during the height of the social unrest during 2020. I look forward to the catharsis you will hopefully feel when you read it and see the echoes of our world in this fictional one, if you look hard enough. For long-time fans, you’ll recognize the world and several of the characters from my story “Reflections” in Secrets and Doors. i hope you’ll like revisiting this world and seeing another point of view. This collection, focused on dreams, encompasses many different genres and hopefully has something for everyone. Available in both eBook and print HERE.
I was hopeful enough about where the world is heading (out of the pandemic I hope!) to order physical copies in anticipation of local author signing opportunities for those of you in Utah. Once details are known, I’ll announce them here as well.
It’s officially been a full year of pandemic and living with all the things that have come with it. 2020 both feels like the longest year I’ve ever lived, and that it sped past so quickly that there’s no chance it has already been a year, right? I look back on my post from the six-week mark and it is laughable how we thought it was somehow going to end soon. I’m somewhat at a loss for words of how to adequately sum up what the last year has brought but feel like, as a writer, I must try.
Many feel that 2020 was the worst year ever. Certainly there are many reasons to think that way. 500,000+ Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, and people are still dying. That’s a lot of people grieving the loss of friends and loved ones. In America violence and hatred abound, politics are like a dumpster fire, and the new adults joining the scene believe they will see another Civil War in their lifetimes. But all that aside, I’d rather look at the positives and silver linings of what living through this experience has taught me.
Dear god, is there anything more toxic in our society right now? I argue, no. I remember many weeks last year where I thought I was being helpful and sharing legitimate science and research as things were shared with me by medical experts – remember, my day job is in healthcare – only to be met with rage and conspiracy theories and general negativity from many of my “friends” on social media – particularly FaceBook. I got so spun up and would sit around the quarantine dinner table venting about the drama of the day, feeling all the anxiety and frustrations it brought with it. Around the same time, I watched the documentary “The Social Dilemma” which rocked my world. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer HERE!
Go on, I’ll wait….
See what I mean?
Sometime mid 2020, I got really clear on the effects that social media was having on my sanity, and my health and wellness overall. This led to what I refer to as The Great COVID Purge where I took my social media back for myself. For years – since I became a published author – I had been juggling this weird dichotomy of “needing” to be a public figure and still somehow protecting my private life. Gone were the days where I didn’t connect on social media with people unless I would both recognize AND stop to talk with someone if I ran into them in a public place. Now, I had a completely segmented audience with “Acquaintances” that were separate from my “real” friends and family. That way, I could limit who saw posts with my kids and my intimate private life. What I realized was that this is merely a manipulative way to measure self worth by external validation and that instead I had become this weird pseudo public view of myself. I deleted hundreds of “friends” who over the years I couldn’t even remember where I had met them and who I didn’t ever interact with. These strangers got to see details of my life just because we had attended the same writing conference at some point and met.
My new motto: if it doesn’t make me happy when I see your posts or I wouldn’t be happy to run into you in real life, you don’t get to see me and what I post on social media. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that many actual people I know and even people I share DNA with in some way are not in that category. For those, it was harder but not when you look at people like my husband who isn’t on a single social media network and still maintains quality relationships. It doesn’t make us not connected in other ways, just because we aren’t connected on social media. Read that again because I’m pretty sure a lot of people have become so consumed and manipulated by social media that they don’t know how to do that anymore. Myself included until this epiphany midyear.
It felt like an extreme weight lifted off my chest and I’ve never been happier on social media minus those early days when it was all brand new. I also have completely changed my social media habits. It used to be that it was the first thing I checked in the morning and constantly checked in throughout the day. Now, I could go all day without popping on. I’m still trying to find the best balance between all the different platforms but overall I have really enjoyed being more authentically connected to people that uplift me and add to my joy in life.
Quality over Quantity
I have always been a very social person with a lot of friends and colleagues in circles that I participate in. But I’ve now been super high risk for DYING if I contracted this COVID-19 virus (remember my shitty kidney disease? Yeah, that has been terrifying!) I couldn’t be with people safely and I literally stayed home to stay safe. For a year. As an extrovert, this was hard when it was happening. It required me to set and maintain boundaries with people who weren’t at risk like I am. Coming through it on what I hope is the tail end, and as with anything, hindsight is much clearer than life as it unfolds around you.
Over the course of the year, it turns out that while I didn’t get to see a lot of people, the people who found ways to stay connected to each other did it in very creative ways. My social circles shrunk, but the quality of my relationships improved – even without social media, go figure. This was also true of my little family – my husband and kids and our pets. We watched a lot of people talk about how their lives were worse because it was so hard to entertain their kids or be with their spouse ALL DAY or whatever it is that lots of people struggled with. Our world became each other. We continued to build on achieving our dreams together. We grew as people and as a family. We laugh and we talk and we connected in a deeper way than we would have if pandemic life hadn’t been forced onto us. For this alone, where we are almost to the phase of life where our children are grown and will soon launch into their own lives, I’m grateful for this silver lining. There’s still no one I’d rather spend time with more than the guy I married over a quarter century ago. That makes me happy.
I also have a shiny new therapist… in case you’re wondering. I argue now more than ever every single person in the world needs one of their own.
So here we are, a year later, lots and lots of people dead, vaccines rolling out across the globe, and hopes rising that it might be over soon. I am re-emerging from this year that happened with not a lot to measure its passing and reconnecting with all the things that make me feel like I’m living rather than merely surviving. Most notably, that includes my website, which has been woefully neglected while my job supporting and innovating in the healthcare IT industry to support frontline workers took far more of my time than it ever has before. I hope your “lost year”, as I think of 2020, brought at least some things you can classify as positive to outweigh the trauma and stress we’ve felt on the global stage as a society.
How is it already time to look back on and recap another year of reading? 2020 started out so beautifully, and hopeful, and quickly went down the pandemic drain for basically everyone on the planet. The only “normal” activity I did last year was reading – an activity which I did a whole lot of. Fifty-seven books of the super-aggressive-stretch-goal of sixty books I set for myself. Here’s my rundown of all the books I read, mostly for my own benefit, but also presented as a way to share high level book review details in case anyone is looking for their next read. Also, a plug for GoodReads if you are an avid reader who likes to keep track of such things like I do. Their yearly Reading Challenge keeps me motivated all year, year after year.
The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin – one of the many I hauled home from a writing conference that also focused on reading widely. Great family drama with lots of diversity that lived up to the recommendation.
A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1), Arkady Martine – a very political, not-based-in-our-world and science fiction read, also hauled home from a librarian/bookseller recommendation, I picked up in an attempt to read outside my preferred genres. It was a difficult read to get into but paid off greatly. If you’re into the genre, it is a great one.
One Small Sacrifice (Shadows of New York, #1), Hilary Davidson – also hauled home from librarian/bookseller recommendation in the crime/thriller genre. I really enjoyed it.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy – I picked this one up since it had been on my list forever and is considered a must-read. It proved just as difficult to read as I had assumed based on the movie they made from it but it is also in my preferred horror/dystopian genres and I enjoyed it.
The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy, Erica Layne – the first nonfiction of the year. I’ve been trying to declutter my life according to the recommendations and concepts ever since. A great place to start on this very popular trend lately.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman – book club pick that I didn’t know what to think about in the beginning and which turned out to be hauntingly good with a very satisfying ending. We had a great discussion about it as well.
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1), Neal Shusterman – I typically don’t love YA books, but I couldn’t get enough of this one that was recommended and co-read with my daughter.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng – a haunting read about a child who doesn’t connect with her family and their discovery of this fact in the aftermath of her death. This was a great read!
Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2), Neal Shusterman – See, I liked the first one so much that I had to keep reading!
The Toll (Arc of a Scythe, #3), Neal Shusterman – a very satisfying conclusion to this YA trilogy with just enough politics and morality to satisfy my adult reader tastes. If you haven’t read this series, I recommend it.
Trail of Broken Wings, Sejal Badani – a book club pick which was amazing. About an immigrant family and the abuse the women of the family share in looking back over the course of their life when the family patriarch falls ill. A great book club pick.
The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel, Erin Macdonald – this was an Audible Original that satisfied my inner sci-fi geek who wonders just how much of the stories and movies I love could ever be plausible. Very entertaining and accessible.
Tell Me Lies, J.P. Pomare – another Audible Original that I listened to as a distraction from all the things going on in the world. Psychological thriller has apparently become my go-to genre. This was nothing memorable but was not terrible either.
November Road, Lou Berney – I wanted this to be so much better than it was. I picked it up during the holidays and, while it had promise, the end was just dismal and bleak. I don’t regret reading it, but by April of 2020, I needed something that was far more hopeful.
The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen – another psychological thriller that kept me guessing until the very end with a twist even I didn’t see coming. Highly recommended.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott – if you’re a writer, this is a fantastic and frank look at what it means to be creative with honest and straightforward advice.
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, K.M. Weiland – I keep trying these craft books and occasionally I can come away with some nugget of possibility that might improve my own process, but usually it’s just another writer telling us what works for them without anything concrete to take away from it. I fear this one is in the later category.
ITIL Service Transition, Cabinet Office – I’m a glutton for all things process and this was a textbook/certification book that I read just because I needed a deeper understanding of building processes at work. Yes, I know I’m crazy!
The City We Became (Great Cities #1), N.K. Jemisin – I wanted to read something from a Hugo Award winner and this one looked interesting. It did not disappoint! I loved this book. Great SciFi/Fantasy with tons of diversity.
Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success, Jennifer Probst – read as part of my exploration of other genres and to get a glimpse into this whole romance thing. It wasn’t anything super earth-shattering or memorable this far down the road after reading it, unfortunately.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng – a book club pick and an amazing book. Family secrets and intrigue might be my new guilty pleasure genre!
Bird Box (Bird Box, #1), Josh Malerman – I loved the movie on Netflix and wanted to see if the book gave more depth to the story. Unfortunately, it didn’t. I’m not sure I would have loved it as much if I didn’t have the images of the movie to fill in some of the blanks. Kind of disappointing.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown – I love everything Dr. Brown does and recommend this book to anyone looking for ways to feel like they truly belong in a see of judgement and societal pressures. I will definitely re-read this one.
How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi – part of my journey this year to be an ally and to check my own inherent bias. It was a hard read in many ways because it spoke so much truth and exposed a lot of things I hadn’t even considered. Highly recommend this one!
Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones – another book club pick that was fantastic. Raw, real, and hard to put down. This story stayed with me long after I was done and I even told my kids about this one. Highly recommended.
The Mountain and the Sea, Kwame Dawes – an Audible Original when I needed something light between college assignments. I loved this one but only because I had no expectations going in and found it about a mature woman who finds herself in the context of her encounter with another person. Very literary and very good. Don’t expect a romance, but definitely read this one.
Even Tree Nymphs Get the Blues, Molly Harper – an urban fantasy, also a quick Audible Original between school assignments. It was good but not memorable.
Starsight (Skyward #2), Brandon Sanderson – my kid loved this one more than I did but it was a well-written YA like only Sanderson can do. If you love the genre, then this one is a good one.
The Whisper Man, Alex North – super satisfying psychological thriller with a side of serial killer. Suprisingly, my kid bought this book for herself and I stole it to read one weekend in the woods this summer. It was so good! Spoiler: I’m going to pick this one for my book club to read in 2021!
By Virtue Fall, Bryan Young et all – disclaimer: I have a story in this one. I read it cover to cover and am amazed at the level of talent there is in this collection. The editors were amazing and the writers are all very talented. If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a collection to sample local Utah authors, this is one I recommend for everyone.
City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert – a book club read that I absolutely loved. Women’s lit at its finest and a period piece on top of that. We had an amazing discussion. Disclaimer: there are some very mature themes so if you’re sensitive to sexuality be aware you’re in for some with this although it is not on the scale anywhere near erotica.
Mindtap Business Communications, Mary Ellen Guffey – textbook for my Master Degree. I’m counting it anyway since a book is a book!
The Institute, Stephen King – after so many years of being a King fan, his novels all start to tie together and his universe is vast. This one had a lot of things to make you think about the current world we are living in with a side of horror thrown in. I liked it, but I wonder how many brand new King fans there are born every year and how much someone who wasn’t already a fan would think of this.
The Roommate, Dervla McTiernan – a crime story Audible Original. They kind of all are just okay and something to entertain. I use them to keep reading without derailing myself in the middle of other large projects.
Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1), Tamsyn Muir – This came highly recommended and it is in the fantasy genre which I don’t read widely in. I really enjoyed it but it took me a while to really wrap my head around the world and what was happening. The learning curve is a little steep for those who don’t read the genre often. I’m very glad I stuck with it because it was very good overall.
Managing Human Capital, Jean M. Phillips – textbook… need I say more?
The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (re-read) – I loved this book so much that I made my book club read it when it was my turn to pick. They all agreed that it was a good book with lots of twists that left us all satisfied. I thought it was super predictable in the beginning but I was very wrong so stick with this one if you pick it up.
The Decision: Overcoming Today’s BS for Tomorrow’s Success, Kevin Hart – hands down, one of THE BEST books I’ve ever read when it comes to personal development/self-help. Yes, it’s by THAT Kevin Hart. It is super entertaining, very authentic and real, and hits you in the gut with reality and tools to eliminate the bullshit everyone has in their life that holds them back from achieving full potential. I wish that this came in physical book because I would have it highlighted and dog eared and flipped through all the time. Unfortunately, it is only available on YouTube or Audible and is read by the author. Highly recommend this one to everyone!
The Forgetting Time, Sharon Guskin – fascinating book club read about what happens to us after we die. It was so interesting to watch the story unfold and it wasn’t until the book club discussion that we all realized it was rooted in someone’s actual theories.
The Outsider, Stephen King – I’m a sucker for Stephen King – have been since I was a kid. This one was one of his better ones from recent years. How do you discount a crime when there’s indisputable evidence but also proof against it? A story of being in two places at the same time.
White Trash Warlock, David R. Slayton – the debut novel of a friend and also an amazing urban fantasy about witches and warlocks and magical realms. It was also super diverse with LGBTQ+ characters that was refreshing to see done so well. I devoured this on Audible!
Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute – a leadership self-help book that doubled as a textbook for a class. A pretty good concept but lots of anecdotal stories to lead you by the nose to the point.
As Bright as Heaven, Susan Meissner – book club read set against the backdrop of the Spanish Flu in America. It was fascinating to watch this historical piece (written years ago and not recently) play out and see the parallels to the current pandemic we are living through. A poignant family drama period piece that was well done.
Leadership 2.0, Travis Bradberry – another leadership book for a class
Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, Edgar H. Schein – and another leadership book for the same class. Although I thought this was a nice approach to looking at some aspects differently.
Feed, M.T. Anderson – a disturbing look at our future where people have hardware jacked into their brains to see social media feeds and the evolution that young people take. It was written several years ago and is very relevant today.
Dune, Frank Herbert – I’ve seen the movie years ago, it is a classic, and they are doing a new movie. I finally made time to put it on the top of my to-read pile and finally see what all the hype was about. It was good, although the style is very 1960’s science fiction which has become a little hard to read and enjoy for me.
The Cuckoo’s Cry, Caroline Overington – an Audible Original set in Australia at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. A family drama/thriller that was entertaining but a little difficult to read since it was so close to current events. If you read to escape reality, this one isn’t for you.
BattleTech: Honor’s Gauntlet (BattleTech Novel), Bryan Young – a novel written by a friend in the BattleTech licensed universe. I was told you didn’t need to be a gamer to understand or enjoy this and it was true. It was a fast read that felt like Pacific Rim in space/on other planets. If you like scifi, this one is worth picking up.
The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M. R. James – Volume 1, M.R. James – an Audible Original that was supposed to invoke terror and which was a childish ghost story collection at best. I was disappointed.
Ink, Jonathan Maberry – horror and tattoos, what more does anyone need? This was a fascinating take on the concept of someone stealing your memories that I really enjoyed.
The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch – a memoir I stumbled across on a Twitter feed of recommended books. I listened to this amazing and literary treasure while I wrapped all my gifts one weekend and am so glad I found it. Very heavy read, but beautifully written, raw and real.
Mars One, Jonathan Maberry – I liked this author so much that I picked up another standalone about the first trip to Mars. It was more of a YA that was not as gritty or satisfying as the last. Still an entertaining and fast read for scifi fans.
King of Sting: The Story of Australian Conman Peter Foster, Justin Armsden – an Audible Original that sounded like a podcast that was packaged together about someone I never heard of and who didn’t do anything all that unusual. Kind of disappointing.
Silverswift, Natalie Lloyd – had a fascinating premise about mermaids and their hidden island but turned out to be more of a middle grade. An Audible Original that would appeal to kids or someone who wants a whimsical little adventure story.
Evil Eye, Madhuri Shekar – a surprisingly good Audible Original about an Indian-American with a fantastic twist at the end. This one is not what you think and is well worth the read/listen.
Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2), Tamsyn Muir – It took me two attempts to finish this sequel because it was SO confusing at the beginning. I think I liked it but probably would need to read it again to fully grasp all the things that happened and the complexities woven into it. Probably why I don’t read this genre very often. Still glad I read it.
2020 appears to be the year of publishing announcements without release parties, since here is yet another for me that I’m super excited for but won’t get to celebrate with a book signing or in-person celebration. However, in the midst of all the pandemic divisiveness and fear, I’ll take the bright spots wherever I can get them.
This collection is a collaboration with fellow Utah authors and another story that benefitted greatly from amazing editors. My story “The Last Yoga Class” is a horror tale about the end of the world. I first wrote it as part of my Advanced Creative Writing class back when I was finishing my undergrad degree – which feels like a million years ago given all that has happened in the eight months since I graduated. Available in both eBook and print HERE.
There are all kinds of genres in this collection, not just horror. If you’re looking for a good read that is easier than a novel to pick up and put down amid summer activities, a story collection like this one is a great option. I’d love to hear what you think if you do end up picking up a copy. I’ll be celebrating and pretending we are doing it together.
Have you ever done something on a total whim and surprised yourself? One of my writing groups does a flash fiction contest every month and the top four stories are featured in their online magazine. In May, I went to one of the meetings where a perfect storm of things came together.
It was the last day before the deadline
The theme resonated with me and immediately a story idea popped into my head
The President of the group said “It’s only 1000 words, just sit down and write it – what do you have to lose?”
It was like he was speaking directly to me, although he was in fact talking in generalities to the entire group that day. Call it procrastination because I truly needed to be working on a paper for my class, but it felt so good to just let myself write something.
It was the submitting it to the publication that was the whim. Like fiction writing so often is for me, just the act of writing something cleansed a little piece of my soul that has been suffering amid all this pandemic and social unrest of the last few months.
This whole global pandemic has preoccupied me… I blame my day job in the healthcare industry for the loss of the last three months which seemed to fly past in a blur of overwork and stress. Amid all that distraction, I failed to share one of the coolest things I’ve done in quite a while.
I was a guest on my favorite new podcast – one that I was witness to the birth of. It was so much fun to record and see behind the scenes of a creative outlet that I enjoy as a listener as well. If you ever wanted a glimpse of what makes me tick and secrets to my overachieving – or just wanted to hear what the sound of my voice is like for those who only know me from my online presence – here is your chance! Joni and I chatted and she knew just the right questions to get to the heart of me. Her podcast, Say What is Truth, is a bright spot to my weeks since it began, so check out the other episodes, too!
It’s been a while since I had a story released in print. I’m thrilled that my story “Fly On The Wall” was included in this collection. It’s a quirky story that has taken a while to find a home. I had an amazing editor who helped me transform it into a better version than ever before, and this collection was a perfect fit for it. Disclaimer: it is kind of creepy since it is horror science fiction. Hopefully readers of my writing already know what to expect from me, but if you’re new, I kind of tend to write dark stories.
This release feels anti-climactic since this crazy pandemic has postponed all plans for in-person celebrations. Nevertheless, it is available now on Amazon in both print and ebook formats HERE.
I’m making my way through the whole collection and the first few stories are great. From romance to contemporary to horror, you’ll likely find something here to enjoy! I can’t recommend enough picking up a short story collection right now. The world feels on edge and settling into a full length novel is likely difficult for many readers. Plus, it’s a great way to find new authors you like.
The very best way you can support authors is by leaving reviews so if you pick up a copy, I would be ever so grateful if you take the time to leave one. Happy reading!
It has literally been six weeks of quarantine due to COVID-19 – a novel coronavirus spreading mayhem and death across the globe. The first weeks everything happened so fast and we all scrambled to adjust as quickly as possible. So much so that March and much of April was essentially lost in a roller coaster of emotions and reactions. Highs and lows and everything in between.
How will history remember this time where the entire world shut down and economies shed all the non-essential and superfluous trappings of society in an attempt to slow the infection rate, so hospitals could treat and save as many lives as possible? It depends – like it always seems to – on where you lie on the political and religious spectrums. And in the US, it also depends on which state you live in, since there has yet to be a coordinated national response.
The US is divided along party lines. One side focused on responding to a pandemic threat to public health – one they saw coming as far back as January and to which Federal government did nothing to respond to until over a month later. The other side focused on responding with cries of civil liberty violations and lamenting the collapse of an economy built on the need for people to spend every last dollar they earn while unemployment numbers skyrocket. It is a vicious circle where no side is completely right or wrong as most moral and ethical dilemmas so often are.
Here in Utah, schools were closed on March 13, 2020 for initially a three to four-week timeframe, later extended to last until May 1st, and finally through the end of the current school year by the Governor – the only thing consistent across the state. The same day, March 13th, my work embarked on a capacity test of how many people we could support working remotely. The next day it was declared that if you could do your work from home you should – until further notice. It has now been six full weeks of 100% remote working. The county I live in has designated essential businesses that are allowed to remain open, everything else ordered to shut down to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of this contagion. Only one other county has similar orders to stay at home. Where so many people live and work in different counties, this feels like chaos or a non-response for many.
I work in heathcare. I see and am privy to the emergency and crisis planning happening for the communities we serve, and it inspires me
I personally have a kidney disease (of the autoimmune kind) which puts me at extreme risk, with loved ones in all of the highest risk categories for which contracting this disease would also likely be fatal
I’m watching friends and neighbors lose loved ones, unable to bury their dead with the type of ritual and gatherings that one would expect. I can say I’ve attending a virtual graveside service via video conference
I have two kids adjusting to schools that were cancelled for the remainder of the school year, with zero notice, who three days later started learning online with teachers who are not nearly appreciated for what they do in normal times but who are now not only caring for and focused on my kids and what they are learning but are themselves having to adjust to a new normal
The first month was hard. But now is much harder as the economy crashes around us and the divides that have existed in our society are exposed for the crisis they should always have been. While leaders debate about the right time to ease the quarantine restrictions to stay home, I wonder why we aren’t focused on the larger problem: why our economy is so broken that this many people can’t afford to miss even one paycheck without facing financial ruin. I’ve seen articles written that call this proof that we are living in a failed state. I both hope that isn’t true long-term and fear that it will be.
I find myself in the middle ground on the current stay-home vs. reopen-everything debate. Because, as usual, it is in the gray area (aka the hardest area) where most fall. There are no easy answers right now. There is nothing black and white about choosing life over money because we are all so entwined with the various aspects of the pandemic response. My wish is that people who protest, or gather together in a way that goes against social distancing, had a way to fully own that right by also waiving their privilege to healthcare when they blatantly disregard the recommendations from experts trying their best to give us all the best way to achieve those middle-ground options. How difficult is it to stay home as much as you can and socially distance when you don’t? To do otherwise is literally a slap in the face to those who will suffer as a direct result of large scale gatherings. Don’t believe me? There’s already reporting of spikes in confirmed infection cases in the states where large-scale protesting occurred in the last few weeks. You can’t argue with epidemiology, no matter how hard you try.
I will continue to observe and report. These are historic times, friends. I hope everyone I know is staying safe – and has enough toilet paper to meet first-world standards. (Will this be the joke of 2020 when it is all over? I wonder.) I have personally left my house a total of 5 times in six weeks and foresee that trend continuing for the majority of summer – or until we understand this disease more. I wonder how history will see this in hindsight and hope I’m still around to witness that as well.
It’s been a while since I had news to share in the publishing realm. Which makes it that much more exciting to share that I have two short stories poised for publication in the coming weeks. Both are stories that I wrote a while ago and were either super weird or not quite ready for a home without some rewriting. It’s amazing how you can think your story is overworked, and as good as you can ever possibly make it, but still be completely wrong.
I’ll share details when I have them, including when and where you can order a copy – which would thrill me immensely if you did.
I have struggled for a long while with the clashing of two very strong ideals I have for myself, long instilled in me and dating back to childhood, which actually contradict themselves once life becomes super complex and full of competing priorities. (If you are not an overachiever, this may never get to be a problem for you.)
I am an overachiever, motivated by achievement and driven to high performance. Meaning I take pride in the mere accomplishment of something. I am also a perfectionist – not in the sense that I can only do a thing if I do it perfectly, but rather in the sense that I have to strive for perfection in all I do. Short version: Half-ass is not acceptable, and neither is saying no to things.
What I’ve come to know about myself in the last three years of being stretched to the max in all arenas of life is: I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything.
These are pretty words… truly meant for a needlepoint to hang on a wall or an inspirational poster. But if you’re like me, how the HELL do you reconcile this idea with the reality of being driven to do it all and kill yourself trying to to it all well all while not disappointing those around you?
Here’s what works for me:
Give yourself permission to pick the things that are most important
Manage expectations of others to eliminate guilt and resentment
These are two sides of the same coin. First the mind shift inside yourself, and then the external manifestation that others will see. For me, the internal shift took the longest – all wrapped up in the struggle of saying No when faced with new things or making commitments.
Here’s my secret weapon…
I only say yes IF:
No one else can do it
The consequences of not doing it means derailing my goals
It means saying no to things I’m okay not doing
The first one is a serious game changer. I never thought I would be so efficient at delegating but there are so many things that I now can say no to automatically if someone else could do what is being asked. I also realized that I was saying yes to things that were inherently someone else’s responsibility if I feared that they wouldn’t do something the way I would, or I feared their dependability was lacking. Guess what, turns out that neither of those things reflects on me ever except in the arena of me being stressed and overworked doing things other people should be doing.
The second two are where it gets down to nitty gritty, when it is serious-level prioritization. They also help to clearly articulate for myself what my priorities are. Which is super important for the other side of the coin… other people’s expectations.
I learned the last couple of years that as long as you are up front and honest about your intentions, and what you are and aren’t committing to do with the people in your life, even saying no can work. It much easier to let someone down by saying straight out that you can’t do something. When the commitments you make are so closely aligned with your intentions or what your own success looks like, it is much easier to lay it out straight.
I am living proof. No rolls off the tongue as effortlessly as Yes once did. It is often easier if you can articulate the why behind your no if it is particularly sensitive, but in the end you don’t owe that to anyone either.
If you are steering your ship toward what you want for your life, no one else’s disappointments need to weigh on you enough to change course. Your goals… your dreams… your intentions for what a successful and fulfilled life looks like… are all up to you and no one else. Don’t feel guilt for having dreams and goals and doing (or not doing) whatever it takes to get them. You are worth it and you deserve to make those dreams and goals come true.
It’s officially 2020. A new year. A new decade. A new chapter. The past week has been full of those end-of-year, search-the-soul, write-something-witty-and-inspiring (or gritty and real) to share online from seemingly everyone.
Not me. I’m still not someone who does resolutions. Plus the last half of 2019 was one of the hardest six months I’ve ever endured and I’m not sure I really want to do anything but celebrate that I survived with my family and my sanity intact. You know, put the whole last half of 2019 in the rear view and never look back.
That’s what I I told myself anyway. I wasn’t going to be just another end of the year looking to the future blah blah blah among the masses. Turns out I can’t help myself. Although I am going to be real. Vulnerable even. So bear with me…
There was a little re-vitalizing of this site midyear 2019 – you might have noticed (if any of my readers are still with me after the recent neglect of my website) but appearances can be deceiving. The reality is that was part of a class at school – one of the last of my degree program. Which means I wasn’t slaying anything, just scraping by with what I hoped was at least a passing grade that term. It is an apt metaphor for my year…
Here’s the biggest thing I want to take away from 2019, and why I can’t help myself from this post. I am a college graduate – with a Bachelor of Art in Creative Writing and English and a minor in Communications. I never want to look back. Further, I want everyone reading this to stay in school and understand the importance of an education. I’m glad I did it. Even more glad that I did it on my terms and got a degree I wanted rather than the easy one building on my IT experience.
Truth is, I almost immediately am reaping the rewards with a shiny new promotion at work, managing a technical support team, which was the exact reason behind my doing it in the first place. Everything works out for a reason. I just wish I didn’t have to go through such a shitty three years because I had better things to do thirty years ago when I graduated high school. But I digress.
What also happened – the flip side of the shiny degree coin – is that I didn’t write anything of substance for the past year while I was working on reading and analyzing/deconstructing literature others have written. I am publishing two stories in 2020 but both are stories I wrote originally more than two years ago before college consumed me. Worse, it feels like I am starting over since I’m so damn rusty. My daily writing habits? They are as good as gone. Most days I waffle between the urge to give in and veg on the couch in front of whatever show my family is currently binge watching and the self-doubt and imposter syndrome telling me why bother.
The two extremes – successfully finishing my degree but also losing so much ground with my writing efforts – are currently at war within my psyche. 2020, I’m looking at you and am vowing to end said war.
It isn’t all sadness and despair, though. We took an island vacation and for two glorious weeks I read for leisure and slowly regained both connections to my family (it’s hard to maintain deep relationships even with those you live with when you’re as consumed as I’ve been trying to finish as quickly as possible) and myself. Specifically that piece of myself that creates something from nothing when I nurture it.
Suffice it to say that I was successful in comparing less last year as I set out to do and I finished what I started. As for the rest of the shit show that can be chalked up to 2019 (including the torn meniscus I suffered with for most of the year), I say good riddance. 2019 will always live in my memory as the year I hit the bottom while achieving my greatest measurable accomplishment – all at the same time. Here’s to the future – may it be brighter than last year!
Time once again for an old favorite… the recap of what I read last year so I can look back on it with satisfaction and celebration. And what is this? Also within the first week of January? Yes, life is slowly getting back to normal in every area of my life. As always, this list is mostly for myself but if you’re looking for recommendations or get ideas of what to put of your list, then I’ve paid it forward for a fellow author, too. This year in books in chronological order looks like this:
Where Should We Begin: The Arc of Love, Esther Perel – an Audible Original that I found fascinating.
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1), Patrick Ness – a YA read that Big Sister (who’s an actual adult now) recommended. It was entertaining but not enough to read more.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – assigned reading for my Lit class. I’m sure I read this as a kid (also as assigned reading then) and it was interesting to have an adult perspective this time. A classic, but I’m not sure why it is still held up as the best example of literature when so many other books have been written on the topic more recently.
Power Moves: Lessons from Davos, Adam M. Grant – another Audible Original that was very political and fascinating. A very quick read.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer – a book club pick that at first I didn’t think I would like but which grew on me and stuck with me after I finished. Recommended read.
Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks – requiired read for Lit class. This one I really liked. Gritty, real, relevant. Highly recommended.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, Mark Manson – I thought this was the book by an author I saw on a TED talk but wasn’t. It was still a good book, but not the one I was looking for. A great topic for anyone – especially if you suffer with the “what will other people think” syndrome.
Brave, Rose McGowan – I devoured this book and found it a fascinating look into all the things in our society that came to a head with the #metoo movement. If you’re political and a feminist, this is a must read. If you’re not, why not start your journey with this book?
The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, Lex Williford (editor) – required reading for Lit class. I didn’t read the entire thing but liked what I read.
Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane, Brett King – for the tech geeks and the futurists among us. This was a recommendation from one of the ladies in my book club and it was a very eye opening look at the technologies that exist today and how they are predicted to change our experience of the world in the future. Highly recommended.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford – book club read that was not especially noteworthy. Another wartime novel if you’re into that genre.
The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides – one of the best books I read this year. The structure and pacing added depth to a fascinating premise and left me completely satisfied. I couldn’t put it down.
McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook, Laura Killen Anderson – textbook for my Copy Editing class. The logical and detail oriented part of me actually really loved this class even though it is a LOT of work. Not that I ever have, but I will definitely never take a copyeditor for granted!
This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations, Doug Newsom – textbook, obviously. For a class I ended up getting a ton of relatable information out of. I have zero regrets about my Communications minor.
Out of My Mind, Alan Arkin – an Audible Original that I thought was going to be about mental health but turned out to be new age meditation nonsense that didn’t resonate with me.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – book club pick that I would not have read otherwise. I had tried to read it before unsuccessfully. While I don’t regret having read it, I can’t say I totally enjoyed it. There’s something about irony and British humor that just doesn’t resonate with me.
The Last Days of August, Jon Ronson – Audible Original that was like a train wreck you just can’t look away from. Don’t waste your time.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley – book club pick. It was my first cozy mystery and I can safely say that I’m not a fan of the genre. I need my murder on the page and bloody or I am not satisfied, I guess.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Dr. Brene’ Brown – I love everything Brene’ Brown. Each book builds on each other as her research grows and evolves. If you haven’t read anything by her, start with this one. It is amazing. Big Sister had to read it for her English class and she loved it, too.
Sometimes I Lie, Alice Feeney – a book club pick and a great thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Lucky Suit, Lauren Blakely – a romance novella that was a quick and satisfying read. Pretty sure this was also an Audible Original.
Educated, Tara Westover – I’m not always a fan of the memoir but this one was fascinating about a woman who was home schooled by a conspiracy theorist and religious extremist. Highly recommended read!
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., Dr. Brené Brown – another great one with the focus on working relationships and leading effectively while being vulnerable from my favorite shame researcher. Seriously, if you haven’t read Brene’ Brown you really need to fix that.
The 3-Day Effect, Florence Williams – a quick psychology-based study about how getting into nature and away from constant connection to the world can affect us.
Profit First, Mike Michalowicz – a fantastic business book for entrepreneurs who want a way to be profitable in their business from the beginning.
Mala, Melinda Lopez – another Audible Original that I think was actually a screenplay that was acted out.
I, Jedi, Michael Stackpole – a Star Wars book not based on any of the movies. I’m a Star Wars movie fan but had never read any of the tie-in books. This was one of our keynotes at Quills and is said to be one of the best. It felt to me like what fan fiction must be like – a story that feels familiar because the world is familiar but it isn’t any of the characters you know.
Social Media for Writers, Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine – assigned reading for my New Media class and a great reference book for writers. I’m distilling this down to key takeaways for a class I want to teach to other writers because it was invaluable.
Create Your Writer Platform, Chuck Sambuchino – also assigned reading for my New Media class and a great book to establish what people actually mean when they talk about having a platform as an author.
Social Media Communication, Jeremy H. Lipschultz – textbook for class of the same title
Becoming, Michelle Obama – I admit, I had no real opinion (good, bad or indifferent) about our former First Lady. After reading this, I am a huge fan. Highly recommended especially for working moms. I loved this book. It was also a book club pick after I read it on my own.
Eat Fat, Get Thin, Mark Hyman – my new healthy lifestyle approach grew from the basics of this book that did an amazing job explaining why American’s are more obese and sicker than any other time, and how to correct it. At the risk of sounding like a keto-obsessed freak, everyone should read at least the first half of this book for all the science.
The Murder House, James Patterson – book club pick that was a very satisfying thriller.
It’s Not What It Looks Like, Molly Burke – an Audible Original that I can’t even remember much about.
The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders, Michael D. Watkins – nothing earth-shattering about this book except that it takes concepts you can get by reading several other business leadership books and boils them down into an easy to consume summary. Truth: I saw the senior leadership team reading it while I was going through the manager interviewing process and wanted a leg up in speaking their language. Maybe it helped?
Skyward, Brandon Sanderson – a surprisingly good YA book that the whole family loved – listened to on our summer vacation road trip.
The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides – re-read when it was picked for book club. Even better the second time!
I Know Who You Are, Alice Feeney – I picked this one up because I liked the first book by this author. It was a pretty good thriller but not as good as the first I read by her.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert – recommended to me by a coworker. One of the best books about effective approaches to nurturing creativity. If you’re a writer, this is a highly recommended read!
Three-Fifths, John Vercher – I loved this book and the ending still stays with me. Highly recommended contemporary drama #ownvoices read.
Organizational Behavior, Talya Bauer – the last textbook I will every read for my undergraduate degree!!! Surprising timing: getting to take away HR concepts to apply immediately as a new manager.
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron – a craft book for writers. One of the better ones that started very strong and resonated with great ideas and approaches to story but which then derailed (for me anyway) when the author tried to then tell me how exactly I had to execute said ideas. I loved the first half and skimmed the second half at best. Still a great read for writers.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver – book club pick that was extremely difficult to get into but which finished amazingly.
Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine – a great strong female character thriller that came highly recommended by a friend. I loved it and will definitely read more in this series.
The Luminous Dead, Caitlin Starling – a great mix of horror, science fiction and thriller that I picked up at a writers conference and loved.
The Ninja Daughter, Tori Eldridge – the first book I’ve read specifically because of who the editor was so I can decide if my books would be a fit for them. It was good!
The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon, Todd Zwillich – very cool insider NASA story for the space geeks among us which sadly took a turn in the middle. The ending made up for the whiny middle section and I am overall glad I read it.
Polaris Rising, Jessie Mihalik – holy shit this one was good!! The best of so many things that I love all rolled into one: space-based science fiction with a strong female lead and a steamy romance that was well done and didn’t detract from the fact that this is first and foremost a scifi action story. I can’t recommend this one enough. Another of my top reads for the year.
Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn – an okay book but which I thought was going to be about something that it wasn’t (based on the cover blurb). Kind of disappointed by the ending but overall not sad I read it.
Sleeping Beauties, Stephen King & Owen King – so long but reminiscent of the old Stephen King with a giant cast of characters that all contribute to the story in meaningful ways.
You might remember that I almost broke myself–mentally–last year trying to do everything and that I started getting real with myself in order to deal with it. None of it is easy, the work of self-healing or self-reflection, but I found a little secret that grounds me when I’m struggling.
Every year, I start off not with resolutions but with intentions. This year, a late entry to the list was something I heard from a wise friend.
Two little words. A ton of power.
No one gets from point A to point B in exactly the same way. No one.
One example for context. I have a friend who lost over 80 pounds in 2018 and is super happy–feeling better than ever as she heads into her 50th year. It was a lifestyle change that I followed along with but had zero time for even the super simple “rules” for success: drink a gallon of water a day, sleep 8 hours a night, and eat a high fat-low carb diet of real food. The realities of my life, where I’m working full time, have a stake in running a small business, plan conferences, AND am finishing my degree, has no room for “sleep 7-8 hours every night.” And by “has no room”, I mean it is not something that’s even remotely possible. Nor is “eat dinner before 6:30pm” when I’m not even home by 6:30 from my day job.
Of course I can do my best. But that doesn’t yield amazing results in my health. Logically, I know this. But when my efforts yield very slow and small results in comparison to my friend who doesn’t have the same lifestyle or challenges I do, I feel like I’m not doing enough. Which leads to feeling inadequate. Then spirals quickly downward to feeling like a failure.
Comparison is an evil thing.
Here’s where the intention of Compare Less comes into play.
When I’m wallowing in the abyss of comparison – whether it’s my friends who are changing their health and their overall wellness, or my friends who are writing and publishing more than I am and finding success – I have to stop myself and be objective without comparison. And make no mistake, it is an abyss!
Tell that voice inside my head – the one who’s telling me shit like “you’re not good enough” and “you’ll never be as [blank] as them” – to shut the fuck up.
That voice is an asshole. It never shuts up and is like a broken record. But once you hear it and can call it on it’s bullshit, sometimes it quiets down long enough for me to get clear on the fact that its message is just that: bullshit.
Look critically at the facts.
Facts are logical and ordered. They are not emotional. They don’t compare. They just are. Facts are the opposite of the bullshit asshole voice. Reminding myself that I am productive every waking hour of every day (no Netflix bingeing for me!), that I’m making the best food choices at every meal, that I have well-rounded children who don’t think I’m failing them when I don’t bring cupcakes to school every week, all keep me grounded in what I’m actually doing. My goals, my measurements, no comparisons.
Make positive and productive statements grounded in facts.
These are the antidotes of comparison for me. The moments that keep me grounded in the non-comparison zone.
If I’m wallowing in the “I’m a terrible mother” moments, I state the facts that both my children are well-rounded, healthy and happy. They know I love them and we have great relationship. If they see me struggling, they are the first to remind me about how great I’m doing at all the things, because they are my biggest cheerleaders. If I’m struggling with the FOMO (fear of missing out) moments when others are having launch parties or presenting at conferences, I state the facts that I’m getting an education that will aid my ability to do these things, but not right now. Right now my focus is on the right thing and for every thing there is a season. When I see friends on deadline because they have a publisher who wants the next project and I start to fear that those things might never happen for me, I remind myself that even if that had been offered to me, I don’t have the time to actually make a deadline with all the other things currently prioritized in my life. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, but right now isn’t the time. Frankly, I’m a better writer because of my Creative Writing and English degree and once I have the time to devote to writing fully when I graduate in October, I’ll have just as many opportunities. The time spent on my education IS WORTH IT. When I fear that I’m a shitty friend/sister/daughter because I’m so busy with school the last three years, I remind myself that my friends and family love me and as long as I reconnect with them, and do the best I can to stay connected during this finite time of finish-your-degree, the relationships will remain intact.
This intentional way of not comparing myself to others has so far made a world of difference in my 2019. It’s only half of the equation I’ve found the most successful, but it is sometimes the hardest part to master. Next time I’ll tell you all about how I manage expectations. These two activities make me a super woman.
Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others? If so, what strategies do you have that work which I might not have considered and could add to my arsenal? Drop a comment so I can steal your secrets, too!