Relaxing Ferry Rides, Effective Marketing Workshop

One of the many really big BC ferries
One of the many really big BC ferries
Beautiful waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island, BC
Beautiful waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island, BC
A recent trip across the water to Vancouver Island and a terrific author marketing conference was both enjoyable and exhausting. Thank goodness for the restfulness of the ferry rides coming and going over calm water. Alas, I saw no orca pods. I suspect they were elsewhere than along the route of the big ferries.

Each of the hands-on workshops put on by Promontory Press were excellent, giving me pages of ideas to implement over the next several weeks and months. I’ve found that tackling too much at once nets me nothing but frustration, but taking a one-step-at-a-time approach works better. Meeting other authors who admitted to similar struggles with the marketing end of book publishing left me feeling that I wasn’t alone. Rather, we can help each other in myriad ways, including simply nodding knowingly with a quiet comment, “I know what you mean. I feel that way, too.”

Working with the different staff at Promontory Press helped me feel that they were there to help me and all the other authors, that our struggles are their struggles and that their successes will be reflected in our successes, too.

I look forward to my next invitation to visit with them as we celebrate having met our mutually-determined goals.

Feathered Friends and Frenemies

The angry Blue Jay

My bird feeders have generated hordes of new visitors this year. In the spring, I was pleasantly surprised by yellow finches who seemed to have realized that my finch feeder was full and waiting for them to partake—which they did, sometimes four and five at a time! The brilliant yellow of the males made for a delight of bright colors against the more drab coloration of the females, who tend to prefer solitary dining.

Then this fall, after lots of rain that refilled the usually-muddy pond behind my house so that it now resembles a small lake, I suddenly was bombarded by an aggressive blue jay, who expressed his frustration by dive-bombing me when I dared to venture onto the back deck. He tried numerous times to partake of the largesse at the wooden feeder, but it swung too vigorously when he attempted to land on either side. The only time he remained on it was when he realized he could cling to the roof, but that meant he was too far away from the food and whenever he leaned toward it, the feeder nearly tossed him on his head! The other feeder (not pictured) is set up for small birds and is spring-loaded to close whenever a larger bird or a squirrel attempts to steal the food. After several such attempts, the local squirrel population has learned to leap wildly for the little wooden feeder and then to hang from the roof and scoop up the food, scattering lots of it on the ground for later gathering forays. But the blue jay just couldn’t keep trying to get at the food from the tray.

More amazing was the willingness of the red-winged blackbirds, males and females alike, to gather on the smaller feeder, sharing what it held, flying off, alerting more of their kind and then coming back for more. I’m having to refill it at least once a week, and we’ve yet to have snow. Perhaps the cold weather is just enough to have limited their usual foraging so that they now depend more on what I put out than what they would otherwise have to search for.

Regardless of their reasons for seeking out my feeders, it is fun to watch them, including the ferocious blue jay, who squawked irritably at me until I set out a small bowl of food in the now-empty flower container. So there, Mr. Jay! Now be nice and stop dive-bombing me!

Red-winged blackbirds
Red-winged blackbird

Real Estate and My Novels

sold signOne of my several careers over the years has involved real estate sales and service. It’s hard to believe but sixteen years ago, I considered myself an original “April fool” for jumping into the real estate game—one reason related to my love of reviewing open houses when I was a teenager dreaming of what my house would look like.  That dream probably related to the fact that my dad was in the service and we moved around a lot—always renting since we were rarely in any one place more than two years. In one case, his duty station lasted a mere nine months. I think that was the year I was in one school for 13 days!

Back to the realty gig: like most totally green realtors, I knew nothing when I began, even though I’d taken the requisite pre-licensure course and passed the state-administered test. Each transation thereafter became a learning experience, one that ensured I would seek, and eventually obtain, several advanced designations, the better to know what I was doing and to serve my clients.  As important as that advanced training was, remaining open to the needs of each client—seller or buyer—informed my work.

The stories of other realtors and their experiences with their clients also added to what I knew. And all these encounters—the good, bad, ugly, funny, gruesome, dangerous, and just plain stupid—all became grist for the particular mill in Granddad’s House. Some of the realtors who appear in that story are also found in Just Friends, and in another book called Choices, which won the Grand Prize ( in the Chanticleer Book Reviews and Media Contest for 2013.  It remains to be seen if those same realtors show up again in as-yet-unwritten stories in the series taking place in the fictional town of Evergreen, Washington.

People often ask if I miss my work as a realtor since I retired from that role. Yes and no. I still remain open to answering questions my friends ask, usually for their relatives or acquaintances. But, I don’t miss the often-frustrating actions of banks since the 2007-2010 Recession, whose decisions buyers and sellers still hang on with often too-long bated breath. Requiring that buyers prove they have the money to buy a home has always been wise, something some lenders forgot in the craziness of the period 2002 through 2008. But triple-checking bank accounts and demanding to know about every little thing is going way too far in the direction of total mistrust.  Would that the happy medium is soon achieved.

To-Do Lists

Kate ValeI’m in shock! I prepared a “to-do” list yesterday, the better to organize both my thoughts and my writing work schedule. That list now exceeds four pages!

Have I been laying back lately, playing instead of working? Or am I simply anticipating what I want to accomplish before the holidays and family obligations intervene?

In checking over that list—which may become longer before items can be crossed off with a satisfying “so there!”—I discovered that numerous items are not in themselves big jobs. It’s just that there are so many. Thus, the entirety of the list is off-putting.

My garden calls, the bulbs need planting, and the sun is out. But although I yearn to grab my spade and head outside, that dratted “to-do” list glowers. Get to it, it repeats, a litany that threatens to overwhelm my desire to take a break.

A friend just called and I admitted my schizophrenic urgings to be two places at once—outside and inside, planting my bulbs, completing and then shortening the everlasting list.

Oh, joy! What I couldn’t do for myself has been provided by another.

I now have permission to take a break in favor of the bulbs, knowing the inside chores will get done later today or perhaps even tomorrow and throughout the week. The garden needs my attention before I can put it to bed for the season under a warm pile of mulch.

Bye-bye, list! I’ll see you later.

My Characters: I Can’t Let Them Go

Someone at a recent writer’s conference reminded me of something that I thought was a personal problem. After the book is finished, I miss talking to my characters, thinking about them, wanting to know more about them, imagining how their life thread will spool out after the story is over. I can’t seem to get these people out of my head.

Suzanna in Dream Chaser continues to remind me that second chances at love can occur, and remaining open to the possibility is something I should consider. Gillian in Gillian’s Do-Over repeated the same message, even as her son—unlike mine—tried to run her life instead of trusting that Gillian could take care of herself. Her white-water rafting adventure was far less fun for her than it was for me when I tried my hand at avoiding getting thrown out of a raft. But having experienced it meant it was easy to imagine her there.

Another single title, Package Deal, allowed me to relive through Amanda what it’s like to be a newly-minted college professor, intent on building a career while raising a child. In Amanda’s case, two men complicate her life, one I loved to hate (Carlton), I adored (Marcus). And so does spunky nine-year-old Cecelia, who is convinced from their first meeting that handsome Marcus would make the perfect dad. After all, like her, he has blue eyes!

Dannilynn in Concealed Attractions, a New Adult Novel, allowed me to relive how scary college can be when one is away from home for the first time and how events there can impact one’s life far into the future. Making her home on an island, set apart from the more sophisticated mainland, mirrored how her family sheltered her. Thus began the Cedar Island Tales series.

Meeting long-time lovers Joel Taylor and Angela Wright in that same story compelled me to focus on their evolving story in Heartstrings precisely because I wanted to know if they would ever get together again and, later, if they could weather what often is thought to destroy marriages. Theirs is an example of the statistic that most marriages—after such betrayal—remain intact.

Jane in Family Bonds, another New Adult Novel, was the compilation of several young women I knew in college who had to go it alone following their parents’ death, and who then found love but lost it when they unearthed unexpected, often ugly, family secrets. Jane deserved a happy life in the face of those discoveries and the support Chet provided endeared him to me. I so wanted them to be happy, which is why their story ends with an unexpected twist. In Family Bonds, I also fell in love with the delightful little town of Evergreen, Washington—a fictional place that became the setting for the On Geneva Shores series, where so many different characters have added flavor to the town.

A friend encouraged me to write what I know and at the time, I was still deeply involved in the real estate industry. Evergreen seemed the perfect place to explore one realtor’s experience. Thus was born Granddad’s House, set in various neighborhoods of Evergreen, where Olivia Brown, a real go-getter realtor, thinks she has life by the tail until she agrees to list and sell her beloved grandfather’s home. The man who intrudes in her dreams and her office, Beau James, swept me off my feet, too, when he entered that big Victorian. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, wishing at times I’d met someone like him: Southern accent, sparkling eyes, and all.

Olivia and Beau were such a great couple that I was compelled to follow Sally, Olivia’s best friend, and Paul, Beau’s younger brother, in Just Friends when several women I know—nearly all survivors of breast cancer—begged me to tell their story through Sally’s eyes. I couldn’t let her miss out on the life she’d always wanted and feared she’d never have.

Melanie in Choices was brought to life again after a brief introduction in Granddad’s House because I couldn’t leave real estate agents alone, particularly those new to that particular game. Her children, too, like so many of the younger set in my stories, captivated me. Melanie’s teens and her 5-year-old tagalong enabled her to experience a happily-ever-after with Sam, the detective with a heart of gold, who was just too darn slow to propose. Thank goodness for Jeffrey’s “goof” in stating his and his siblings’ unanimous decision!

The men in my novels have intrigued readers and several have asked me what I thought of them. Jonathan in Dream Chaser was the kind of man—a rancher and an academic—whose complexities immediately captured me. That he was good-looking was an added bonus. I’ve already mentioned southern charmer, Beau. His brother, Paul, was less a romantic heartthrob than someone whose demons drew me closer as he struggled to heal, emotionally and physically. Then there was Matt in Gillian’s Do-Over. Sigh. Another man I’d love to meet in real life. He had to deal with big issues, too. Fortunately, Gillian took the initiative when I was afraid he would hesitate. And, in spite of his big mistake, Joel Taylor remains a favorite of mine. He’s always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Angela and his children. He’d die for them, those sweet twins and baby Grace.

Which brings us to my most recent book, Safe Beside You, soon to be published. Like me, Carrie thought she knew what she wanted in a relationship with a man. Brian’s friendship kindles feelings that cause her to question her future. I could easily see Brian’s shoes under my bed. But will she?

My characters are a part of me. They live on in my head, prompting questions yet to be explored in future stories with new characters not yet identified or only briefly mentioned in previous stories. The ones that appear in more than one title are a clue to those men and women I feel most close to, even as those in the single titles remain cherished friends. Perhaps they, too, will surface elsewhere.

I am a serial careerist!

What is retirement? Am I now retired? The question arises out of my most recent action, in which I chose—a key word, I think—to stop doing what I had been doing in favor of other work that has occupied only a portion of my waking day, but numerous dream nights for several years.

Ruminating about my experience, and that of others who’ve had similar adventures, convinces me that I haven’t retired. Rather, I’m simply in my newest career.

Think about it: in my parents’ and grandparents’ time, they often began a career and ended it in the same business or occupation. If changes occurred, it was to climb the ladder from a junior to a more senior position. But they continued to be defined by that same occupation.

Among my peers, a different pattern has emerged, what I prefer to think of a serial careering. We began our working lives slinging hash or selling souvenirs at a summer job and went on to our first “real” job; that is, one that had at least an inkling of a future that included more pay and benefits and a climbing of the corporate, or similar, ladder. Whoohoo!

Many of us, however, also learned—often, the hard way, as we endured recessions and cutbacks—that working for the same employer was unlikely to be our life experience. Some of us began second, third, or fourth jobs with other employers, often in occupations unrelated to where we first began. And still others of us decided to create our own futures in our own businesses, one of the reasons why small business is the rule rather than the exception in these United States.

So, where does that leave us? With serial careers, which we will continue to enjoy far into the future, well past the usual retirement birthday of sixty, or sixty-two, or sixty-five, or later.

I now count myself among those who have enjoyed a series of occupations. I’m on my fifth and am happy to report that each of my career experiences informs my view of the world. A bonus: my fictional characters’ occupations are often ones I, too, have enjoyed at one time or another!

Fall is finally here!

After one of the longest Indian Summers on record (and 81 days without a drop of rain!), I no longer have to water my garden. The rains have arrived, along with heightened color in the woods. The birds have returned for free lunches at the bird feeder and squirrels–still hopeful they can grab a snack, too–have again begun doing their best to outwit the spring-loaded feeder. They must be slow learners.  No such luck, guys.

Will the owls be heard again at night as they look for game scrambling through the still-crisp leaves that give away their location?

I love the seasonal changes and my flowers and shrubs are now enjoying almost daily drinks even as they begin a winter rest before they bloom again. What remains to be seen is if the new bulbs recently planted will come up or be eaten by the moles, and whether the rescued rose bush, a mere woody stump last year will, next year, set blooms. I hope, I hope.

What is it about flowers?

There is something about my garden that soothes my soul, particularly on days when nothing seems to have gone well… characters in my latest book draft are sailing off course, insisting on engaging in behavior I never expected; my cats insist on attention when I’d rather they leave me alone; the laundry is piling up and I’d rather not deal with it; the car needs gas and I forgot to fill the tank before hitting the road and where IS the next turn-off; I can’t get my check book to balance and a big bill has just arrived.  In short,  I’m having a bad day.

But when I go outside for a breath of fresh air, those blooms I planted in the spring and faithfully watered and talked to are now nodding in the breeze, happy just to be alive and thriving, an example of the simple life–being fed water on a regular basis, enjoying the sun on their faces, waving their leaves in the breeze well into the evening.

I need to take a page from their playbook and just chill for a moment.