Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - My Year In Review

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season!

This is the time of year when I always like to stop to take the time to reflect just before we turn the page on the "old" year. Time is a funny thing. In our day to day lives, we measure it with clocks, but I like to measure time with all the stuff that I've learned.

1) Even though I published my debut novel, Dragonfly Warrior, in mid-December of 2013, I still consider my publishing experience to have really launched in 2014. I really had no idea what was in store for me, and the not-knowing was both thrilling and scary.

2) Publishing is not only constantly changing, but it's seriously one of the hardest things to do. Not just the writing - but the marketing and promoting. All of it. Very tough. If I would have known it was this tough, I probably would not have thrown my hat in the ring.

3) I became an Amazon Best Selling author with my three releases this year. That's pretty cool to think, but the reality is, I didn't sell a ton of books. Apparently, it doesn't take much to crack the Top 10 in many categories on Amazon. I averaged a little more than ONE book sold per day for all of 2014. 380 books. From what I've heard from others, that's about average for an indie these days.

4) I love selling my books at shows. Love it. I love everything about it. The best part is getting to talk to all kinds of people. I plan to do more of this in 2015.

5) I turned 42 years old just six days before Christmas. Starting to feel a little old. I really thought I would know more by this age.

6) I made the same mistake twice...I once again devoted a lot of time and energy into mentoring a young writer who just wasn't ready. The ego is something that always gets in the way of us moving forward and improving. A person can only learn when they're ready to learn. Did Bruce Lee say that once? Or maybe Obi Wan Kenobi?

7) I changed jobs and industries this year. I completely underestimated the stress and emotional toll such a move would make. Still trying to get my feet under me, but I'm going to stay positive and keep on truckin'.

8) Just like I did last year...and the year before...I did not see many movies in 2014. I did, however, see the final Hobbit movie last week, and it was awesome. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of films I saw in the movie theater this year.

9) Along those lines, I also neglected television. I did not watch Sons of Anarchy or Walking Dead. I just don't have time. And in my spare time, I'm usually surrounded by little kids. So those two shows are out. I did catch up on Green Arrow, however. And I have been following The Flash.

10) Finally. I have to say that 2014 was a tough year. In recent memory, I can't think of a year where I've experienced such highs and lows all wrapped up in one year. Pretty sure it all has to do with entering the publishing world. I want to thank you for all of your encouragement and support with this endeavor, and I hope to keep learning.

2015 will be my (gasp) tenth year blogging, and I hope to make it my very best year EVER.

Happy New Year, my friends, and I will see you in 2015.

Every new year is like a Phoenix being reborn

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Songs - The Good, The Meh, and The Ugly

Now that the holidays are in full swing, I allow myself to listen to Christmas music on the radio.

Over the years, I've found that there are some Christmas songs I still love. Others are just okay. And then there are the holiday songs that is akin to fingernails screeching against a chalkboard.

The Good... (in no particular order)

1. Christmas Time is Here (from A Charlie Brown Christmas). We watch this animated movie every year. Love it! The song itself is a Vince Guaraldi masterpiece. It's sweet and gentle...and it always gets me in the holiday mood.

2. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole. It's Nat King Cole! 'Nuff said.

3) Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I remember seeing this
video on MTV as a kid, and I was mesmerized. My brain flipped out just seeing these two very different artists singing together. Apparently, David Bowie hated Little Drummer Boy, so the Peace on Earth part was written for him. Bing Crosby died just five weeks later.

4) Home for the Holidays - The Carpenters. To this day, there isn't a voice that possesses as much purity as Karen Carpenter's. So sad how she died, but hearing her sweet vocals makes me smile...and hungry for some pumpkin pie.

5) Star Bright - Vanessa Williams. I believe Vanessa Williams is highly underrated as a singer. This song showcases her talent. I associate this song with my oldest child, as he loved this song when he was little. It's a gorgeous song with a beautiful, smooth, jazzy melody.

6) 12 Days of Christmas - The McKenzie Brothers. It's crude, but it makes me laugh. I know many people hate this song, but anything that cracks me up is a winner. I learned a lot about Canadians from this song.

7) Christmas Eve/Sarajevo - Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This song packs one helluva punch. I imagine Santa on a giant sled being pulled by fire breathing dragons. He raises his battle ax as thunder and lightning fill the dark sky. Yeah, I know. I'm weird.

8) Mary Did You Know - Pentatonix. Yes, this is a brand new song. I've been a fan of this a capella group since they won The Sing Off. This song is simply amazing. It's hard to believe there's no music here; all all five members' voices are perfect. This version blows Kenny Rogers and Clay Aiken out of the water. Especially Clay Aiken.

The Meh...

1) All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey. I used to own her Christmas album. Maybe I'm burned out on it. I don't hate it, but I don't like it like I used to.

2) Jingle Bell Rock - Hall & Oats. I'm a fan of this group, but I'm not as keen on this holiday staple.

3) Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg. This song used to make me stop and listen to it every time it came on the radio. It's just so...sad. It's still a good song, but it's depressing. Don't let sad alcoholics hear this song.

4) Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano. I actually don't like this song very much, but it's fun to scream it at the top of your lungs in the car. It takes 0.231 seconds to learn all the lyrics since there's only about a dozen words. It's the song that never ends.

5) Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid. When this song came out, it was a big deal. I was in the sixth grade, and it was on the radio all the time during the holidays. These days, the song's lyrics are pretty condescending when you think about it. Half of Africans are Christians!

The Ugly...

1) Winter Wonderland - The Eurythmics. I think this song just sounds terrible, and I love The Eurythmics. The whole thing is a mess. Makes me want to throw a sleigh bell at Annie Lennox.

2) Last Christmas - Wham! My daughter loves this song. Me? I hate it. I often stick up for George Michael. Just not here. This is one fart-of-a-Christmas song.

3) Baby It's Cold Outside - Every version of this song. This song is creepy as hell. It's like the guy is slipping Roofies into the girl's drink. Just wrong. Date rape ain't festive.

4) Christmas Don't Be Late - The Chipmunks. I want to jump off a cliff when I hear this.

5) Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer - Elmo and Patsy. I've got a sense of humor, but this song frays my nerves. It's a bad song with bad lyrics...and an equal bad message. When I was a kid, it was funny, sure. But not so much now. I guess it's because I know how expensive it would be to fix a mortally wounded Grandma.

6) Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney. This song sounds like a 7 year old wrote it. The keyboard playing sounds like a horrible video game soundtrack from 1982. Yuck!

7) Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt/Madonna. Gold digger!!!

8) Christmas Shoes - Newsong. I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the worst Christmas songs EVER. Cheesy-to-the-max! It's over-the-top melodrama that makes me physically ill. I'd like to smack the songwriter in the head with my own Christmas Shoe.

So I don't end this post on a negative note, I'd like to leave you with Pentatonix's Mary Did You Know.

I will be taking a little Christmas holiday, but I'll be back before the end of 2014. Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and take care!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December's IWSG

Oh yeah. I'm feeling insecure right now...

So, this is my last Insecure Writers Support Group post for 2014. I'm so glad I decided to join this gaggle of amazing and supportive writers. For a couple years, I shared in everyone's struggles and felt their pain. It's so much more cathartic to jump in and share my own insecurities.

This writing/publishing gig has made me manic. My highs are really high, and my lows are pretty darn low. And my mood about this first year seems to change as quickly as the forecast here in St. Louis.

As I wind down 2014, I'm left with that same tug-of-war of conflicted feelings. On the plus side, my paranormal YA thriller with Miranda Hardy broke into the Top 20 on Amazon's Best Sellers List thanks to a nice little promotion that gave us some sales. On the minus side, sales of Dragonfly Warrior have sputtered. Sales of its sequel, Shadow Warrior, have been pretty abysmal.

Here's what I've learned though fighting all of these insecurities:

1) I suck at marketing online. Despite my 9+ years as a blogger, I'm terrible at promoting myself on here.

2) I suck at being patient. I've only been at this for twelve months now. Dragonfly Warrior came out a week before Christmas last year, so I need to give it more time. Not so easy to do.

3) I suck at pulling myself out of my writing slump. I got burned out right in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and I'm still in that abyss. Nothing creative is coming out of my brain.

4) I am awesome at selling books at events. Seriously. Maybe it's because I'm a sales ninja in my day job, but no one will outsell me at an event. No one. I will toot my own horn here: I kick ass at selling when I'm face to face with readers.

5) I'll be okay. The crazy heights and terrible lows that come with living this life is enough to make me into a drinker. But in the end, I'll be alright.

Oh yeah, I'm still feeling insecure. But that's what happens when you take risks.

Monday, December 1, 2014

City on Fire

I'm sure everyone reading this knows about the Ferguson protests and riots stemming from the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Facebook has been engulfed in all kinds of debates and arguments praising the grand jury's decision and condemning it.

Having grown up in that part of St. Louis, I have a very personal perspective on the whole mess. It was painful to see my hometown being destroyed, but the longer term ramifications are more profound to me. St. Louis is still dealing with racial issues, and my city has become a microcosm for a much larger social problem.

It's too bad people are actually taking "sides" on this, but this is a complicated matter. Is it about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson? Or is it about racism in this city and country? Or does it go even deeper, harking back to deep-seating issues stemming from America's past: from slavery, to segregation, to desegregation, to urban decay, to white flight...we can point to any number of things.

I've taken the time to understand many of the aspects around this matter, and I hope others do the same. I've learned about why prosecutors use grand juries instead of straight up indicting somebody. I learned why cops aren't trained - or even allowed - to intentionally wound somebody. I have not read all 1200 pages of the evidence that was released by the prosecutor, and I doubt any of us will. It's amazing to me, however, the level of unreliability eye witness accounts are.

The day after the first night of rioting after the grand jury decision was announced, I called a couple business owners I know in Ferguson. Both of their businesses were looted and damaged. One of them had to deal with tornado damage just last summer, and now they have to go through it all again. It's sad, since they both employed local people and provided the people of Ferguson with much needed medical services.

With the holiday season in full swing, I hope my city can find a way to learn from all of this and somehow bride that widening gap that has divided us. This issue isn't just a St. Louis thing as evidenced by all the other protests that have sprung up all over the country.

Many St. Louisans are hopeful, are there are signs of love and understanding within this entire hateful mess. It's not easy to ignore all the sensationalism, rash judgments and sweeping generalizations, and the divisive language spoken by a lot of people. I've seen a lot of UGLY here in St. Louis, but I can still hear the voices of those that hope for a better future.

It's that hope we all have left to hang onto.