Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

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The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

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I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

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Random Thoughts

The complete title for this post is actually Random Thoughts of a Romance Writer at a Book Festival and I collected them during my latest stint at a local Indie Book Festival. Not my first rodeo but same outcome, lol. The only thing that has changed is my attitude. I no longer feel depressed after an event, deciding to laugh about it instead.

Note to self: bring a fan next time. This is fall in the South. Holy crap, it’s hot!

Did I bring enough books? Did I bring too many books? OMG, am I going to sell ANY books?

My banner is crooked. I am not going to look at it. I am not going to look at it.

My table display looks too cheesy. My table display doesn’t look cheesy enough.

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The porta-potties smell like crap. Can’t wait to see how they smell after a couple hours in the sun.

This dragon pen I’m writing with is so freaking cool. OMG, I’m such a geek!

Forgot the sunscreen. Where in heaven’s name if fall weather?

Coffee! Yes, yes, yes. God is good, there is a coffee stand.

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No, it was not this big! Just a table with thermos.

Please, stop by my table, please, please…shit! Walked right on by.

One hour in, zero interaction… Do I smell bad?

Will I get to use my new Square? I want to play with it.

Look at it from the bright side: I’m getting a lot of vitamin d today.

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No, it’snot me!

OMG, I’m so hot. And not in a good way.

Yes, someone has actually signed up for my newsletter. Score!

Great informal romance panel. Made me feel better.

Awesome meeting other authors. Lots of romance writers. Represent!

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Yes, they were all there!

What a cute little guy. I wonder if he would like one of my books when he grows up? Oh,no, he’s trying to eat my book.

I sold two books. I sold two books.

I was told my display looks very professional. Proud little moment.

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Yes, it’s me.

Why are my book earrings always a lot more popular than my books?

I have no moisture left in my body. I think I may be slowly mummifying.

Aahhh…air conditioning. Another rodeo done!

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Also not me.

Hooray For The Characters

I recently had to write the acknowledgment page for my latest book and I realized that I have never thanked my characters. “What?” you may say. “Have you totally lost your mind?” Possibly, but in this case I mean it. I owe my characters a serious token of my undying gratitude.

Characters are more than made up people in a story, figments of an author’s fertile and often feverish imagination. Once created and developed into the pages of a book, they become real–real to the author who made them up and real to the readers who love them. Most of my friends growing up were fictional characters in books.

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Likewise, the characters I created in my romances are very real to me. I feel toward them with the same intensity that I feel toward flesh and bone people. Some I love, some I hate, and some may even leave me a little indifferent.

Marcy, the witch, from Blind Magic has carved a very special place in my heart. I’ve written about her before, about how she started as just a funny side kick on Loved You Always and developed such a big personality I had to write her story. Well, it is written. Blind Magic, which will be released in November, tells Marcy’s story.

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Marcy is at first glance very different from me, but if you dig deeper you’ll find that there is a lot of Natalina in the quirky witch. Like her, I was always the oddball growing up, even within my own family. I never wore the same type of clothes my school mates were wearing, admired artists who everybody thought were weird, and was always the one people came to with their problems. I was a good listener, a problem solver, and yes, I even liked polka dots just like Marcy. Believe it or not I even had strawberry blond hair when I was younger–and not from a bottle.

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Me aged eighteen.

Her man in the book, the dashing Oliver Dawson, reflects–without going into details so I don’t give up any spoilers–a deep, irrational fear of mine. One I still often have nightmares about. Writing it into the swoon-worthy and oh-so-brave detective helped me face and fight that fear.

I may just begin adding my characters to the list of people I often thank for their support because they so deserve it. They fill my world with friendly faces, something to look for, and they are the best therapists a girl could ever wish for.

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What do you think? Do you ever feel strangely attached to a fictional character and find yourself thinking of her/him as if a real person?

Monster – A Poem

I don’t do poetry. I’m not good at it, simple as that. But once in a while there are feelings that seem better expressed with a few words.  I wrote this during one of those moments when your heart is bleeding and you don’t know what to do to stop it. I’ve said it often, writing is my therapy and somehow just writing it down makes it feel a little better.

The Monster

Loneliness is a monster

That chews on your heart

Sucks up your brain

And swallows your soul.

Nothing worse than this fear

Of being alone in a crowd

Succeeding but no one to share it

Passionate and nobody caring

Talking but no one listening

Crying and nobody seeing it

Hurting and no one noticing.

Loneliness is a monster

I want to slay but can’t fight

A monster who’s winning

My joy for life as the prize.

 

P.S.- If you feel like this, know you’re not alone and that even though that’s no consolation, there is a strange comfort in knowing someone else somewhere understands how you feel. Never hesitate to reach out to a friend, a therapist, maybe even a stranger…and when everything else fails, write it down. There is magic in the written word.

 

Finding balance (Or How Not To Go Bonkers)

Finding balance

(Or how not to go bonkers trying to make it as a writer.)

I was reading a friend’s post recently where she mentioned having dreamed all her life of becoming a writer because as an introvert it seemed to be her dream job–on her own, quietly writing away, never having to interact with others.  Like her, I found out how fanciful that dream was. Being a writer may have been at one point an introvert dream job but today is nothing but.

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If I was still wondering whether the madness that has become my life since my first book was published was a normal occurrence in this profession, every panel I attended at RT-Atlanta confirmed it certainly was.  Ever since RT I have attended another workshop for authors and the refrain is always the same: market, promote, interact, do, do, do…

Being a writer, it turns out, is not that different from being a parent–nobody ever tells you that after that baby’s born you’ll never have another moment’s peace.

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Don’t like to interact with others? You’re in the wrong business.

Don’t like to toot your own horn? Wrong business. No one will do it for you (unless you pay them handsomely)

Never been much of a salesperson? Well, honey get ready to become a salesman extraordinaire.

There are promos to post, reviewers to chase down and win over. Adverts, teasers, banners to design, set up and post. Giveaways to organize, swag to either buy or make, signings, symposiums, workshops, and conferences to attend… are you tired yet?

Oh yeah, and there’s the small matter of actually writing–editing, revising, blurb and synopsis drafting, submitting it to publishers or, if you’re self-published, formatting, finding a cover designer… holy crap, it never ends.

There are online takeovers, interviews, blog tours, newsletters… it’s truly insane.

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So how do you keep from going totally bonkers? Several writers at RT mentioned a schedule. “A schedule? What’s that? I thought us authors were supposed to be a wild bunch that go with the flow, allowing the muse to determine our path, no deadlines, no commitments.” Right!

So a schedule, as simple an idea as it is, it’s the perfect little tool that may stand between sanity and total madness. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but I fully intend to. Here are some resources that may help you–and me–find that much needed balance in your life as a writer. In the meantime, don’t be shy and share your wisdom in the comments. What does your schedule look like? What things do you do to keep sane among the chaos?

Advice on how to plan your writing day

Useful forms and templates 

Inspiration from famous writers 

An Introvert In The Crowd

My New Year’s resolution was to be more outgoing and challenge myself to attend lots and lots of writing-related events.

Let me explain why this is important and difficult to me. I’ve always been an introvert. I love people and I do like socializing, but when that involves crowds bigger than two or three it all becomes too stressful for me. Even in small groups, socializing always requires at least a few hours (a few days being ideal) of decompressing and quietness afterwards. I lack the self-confidence that would allow me to feel comfortable hanging out with people I don’t necessarily know very well. My anxiety makes me question everything I say or do constantly (it’s exhausting) and if I decide to just be silent–which I do more often than not–then I chide myself for being unsocial and unnoticeable. Such is the life of a true introvert; we don’t want to be noticed but also don’t want to vanish into the background–and we envy those who always seem to so effortlessly steal the limelight.

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I have challenged myself all my life in this arena. As a young woman I chose a profession that wouldn’t give me the option of NOT being around people and speak in public. I was a tour guide, in charge of large groups of people. I not only had to “herd” them from one place to another but also deliver long, detailed speeches about the places we were visiting, often in more than one language. I loved it, but everyday I had to go home and bury my head in the sand for a while.

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Before that, I worked in a ClubMed-type resort where I had to crawl out of bed super early and–oh the horrors–sit and make small talk with the guests during breakfast (in French). I also had to get on stage every night and perform some kind of skit–sometimes a lip-synced musical, a mime, or a comedy skit. So out of my comfort zone.

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I’m used to being always uncomfortable in social situations–doesn’t mean I have to like it–but I now fear it is hurting my writing career. So I challenged myself again and booked myself into various writing-related events. I just came back from RT Atlanta, one of the biggest romance writers and readers convention in the US.  I had a lot of fun meeting and getting to know my publisher and all the ladies that work for her–editors and writers. What an amazing team I’m part of.  I’ve been back for three days and my neck and shoulders are still recovering from the tension of meeting new people.

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Yesterday I attended an outdoors book sale where I met two other romance writers and in spite of my lack of confidence I actually interacted with the public and even sold a couple books.

In August I’m sitting on my second panel of the year. It’s not an easy thing for me to do even if I will be talking about one of my favorite things in writing–world building–but I’m hoping to put myself “out there”, make myself recognizable and network.

I have signed up for meetings, workshops, book signings…I’m doing the branding, marketing “thing”. It’s exhausting and gratifying all at once. Take my word for it; it’s not easy being an introvert in a very extrovert world.social battery

How many introverts out there? Do you ever challenge yourself? Share your experiences with us.I’d love to hear from you.

 

The Vexing Issue of Time

The great J.K. Rowlings once said, “Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.”

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It’s heartwarming and validating to know that even the great writers of our time, those who have met with immeasurable success and I would kill to have as my best friends (well, most of them) and/or mentors still struggle with the same problems a writer of little or no renown like me. Unfortunately it doesn’t make the issue any less vexing to the likes of writers who like myself have to actually fight for a few minutes of sacred writing time in a world that demands your attention 24/7. And when you do stand up like “a Hungarian Horntail” to defend that time you are viewed as selfish and/or neglectful of your responsibilities (even when those so-called responsibilities comprise of watching your husband sleep in the recliner with the news blaring on the TV) .

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I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I had to vent. I have had one week of what should have been blissful free time while my students are enjoying their Spring break, and for the most part I did manage to write a bit (and edit), but I was looking forward to a great many days of having nothing else to do but catch up on my long overdue reading, great TV shows and movies, and yes, time to indulge in my two WIPs without guilt. It didn’t happen quite that way.

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I had family over for most of the break. Don’t get me wrong: it was great to see and get to interact with these ladies. I had fun. Just not the writing “fun” I so yearn for–you know, those peaceful moments when you can write without feeling (or made to feel) guilty you are not being the good host, or washing the dishes, or cooking a healthy meal. The moments when you can reach out to your laptop the minute you get an awesome idea, or that instance when you figure out that character who’s been bugging you for weeks.

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Tomorrow I go back to my day job and my sweet (however energy-sucking little creatures they may be) students which leaves me with a very short daily window to get any writing done and no time or energy to read or do other activities that inspire me to write.

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I’m already looking forward to Memorial Day Weekend! Who’s with me?

Becoming a Writer- A Journey of a Lifetime

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Or maybe just wiser. But I found myself philosophizing my path into becoming the writer I am today and what I hope to be in the future.

I have always loved writing. And I do mean always. I have been creating stories and characters since I first learned how to write. I think I was probably making up stories in my head even before I knew how to put them down on paper (I’m ancient. There were no computers back then).

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Many years ago (I won’t say how many but it was before the advent of the electronic mail) I decided to try the publication route. Until then I had written for fun, for myself. But I wanted to share my stories with the world, as terrifying as that was. So one day, when my oldest son was still a newborn, I wrote a novel, went to the library to check out a copy of the Writer’s Market, and began spending the little money we had on good quality paper, copying, and stamps. I still have the records from back then when the rejection letters came one after another, ripping my heart and my dreams to shreds.

I know now I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t. I realize in hindsight that my whole life has been a long practice run for what was ultimately that moment in time when I decided to submit something during a PitMad on Twitter and got published.

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My childhood years when my father took me and my sister on road trips around my country, visiting different places and learning new things were all research trips. Those years that our family lived in different places in Africa, learning new languages, new ways, news perspectives on life? Research. My days as an animateur at a Club Med-type resort were nothing else than groundwork for characters and plot twists. The earthquakes I lived through, the hurricane, the tornado scares…fodder for stories. Losing my dad, my grandmother’s many strokes, my c-section, yoga lessons, medieval re-enactment events, being bullied as a kid and as an adult, having a son with a mental illness…you get the point. Every step of my life is now a piece in a rather vast bank of ideas and resources for my writing. I feel blessed I had such a rich life so far (even though I always thought it was a boring life) and I pledge to use it in all my stories.

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Some people take years to finish one novel. Others take years to gather enough material to write many stories. Which type of writer are you?

P.S. -Here’s a poem I wrote a while back about the sounds of my life (I’m almost sure I have posted it before but I’m too lazy to go look for it) that sort of summarizes the sources of my inspiration. I’m no poet so I apologize in advance. I hope you enjoy it at least a little bit.

The Sounds of My Memories

How does a memory sound?

My memories sound like ocean waves breaking against the sand,

Christmas songs sang out of tune,

Hail Marys and Our Fathers whispered at night.

My memories sound like my father saying goodnight

Or the last time we said goodbye.

They sound like my mother’s voice calling us to the table,

Teaching us to be kind.

My grandfather doubting men ever walked on the moon

And my grandma reminiscing about her honeymoon.

The sound of the Chestnut Man yelling

Quentes e boas!” in the cold of the street.

The whistle of the Knife-Sharpening man,

Early in the morning, drawing us in.

An old pop song playing in the background,

The sound of pots and pans in the kitchen,

The national anthem playing on TV at midnight,

What’s up doc?” and “I tawt I taw a putty tat”.

My memories sound like jet planes

Landing and taking off,

Tighten your seat belts” and “Please, don’t smoke.”

My memories squeak like airport dollies

And old airplane rolling stairs.

They are thunder and wind of an African storm,

The roaring of the fast waters of the Congo River,

The incessant bartering of women at the market,

The pleads of the beggars in the streets,

The moaning of the sick and the lonely.

My memories whistle like the wind on Scottish muirs,

And growl like the Puffins at Dunnottar.

The crystalline sound of my baby son’s laughter

And the Scottish accent of my four-year old.

Carolers singing throughout the night,

A medieval tune played out of sight.

Whistle and “Captain Aboard”,

Crowds of Navy families crying goodbyes,

Or celebrating hellos.

The silence of a Pacific Mountain,

The peace of the Puget Sound.

My memories have so many sounds.

They whisper in my ears,

Quietly, soundlessly sometimes.

They yell at me,

Loud and piercing other times.

They are echoes of my past,

Little souvenirs of feelings, thoughts, impressions,

Tiny mosaics that made me strong enough to last.

 

 

A Constellation of Stars

I hung out with a constellation of stars this past weekend. Okay, maybe not exactly real stars (like in the heavenly bodies) but certainly with stars in their eyes. I speak of the fellow romance writers and all around amazing women I met during my stint at pretending to be a famous author at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Last year I came across (can’t even remember how) information about this yearly festival and that there was a chance–however slim–my books may be picked to be represented there. Nobody can blame me of being unenthusiastic. In fact I am at times stupidly optimistic. At the time I had one book published and one under contract and nobody knew who the hell I was (that part still holds true today, I’m afraid). But I had to try. I have missed so many good things in my life for being overly-cautious or just plain not confident enough, that I have decided in recent years to be brave even when it seems I’m just being impulsive. I went for it. The worst thing that could happen was none of my books would be picked and I would be out of four softcovers.

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I entered both the book I had out and the one that would be published before the deadline of November. As it turned out I sent copies of Desert Jewel after the deadline already. Imagine my surprise when not only was D.J. picked for the Festival but I was picked to be a speaker. A speaker! You know, talking in front of people I don’t know.

Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep the week leading to my panel. Especially after I received the questions the moderator, Her Awesomeness herself, Madeline Iva, who gave me an awful lot more credit than I probably deserved. Those questions were hard!

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I relaxed significantly after talking to my co-panelist, the fabulous Pintip Dunn and equally amazing Margaret Locke. Knowing that they had both dubbed it the Torture Panel because of the difficulty of the questions made me feel a whole lot better about it, strangely enough.

I could not have asked for a better moderator or co-panelists. What a fantastic group of women writers. I hope I didn’t sound too stupid because I definitely had a lot of fun.

Even though I didn’t sell one single copy of my book (kind of used to it) I had a proud moment when the winner of  a raffle picked the poster of the cover of my book over these other great books and told me she was going to try and convince her book club to read it. Score!

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All in all it was a great weekend. The other authors, the city of Charlottesville, the panels (who would have thought that listening to the male voices of audio romance books would be this exciting?), having two of my friends there to cheer me on…it was out of this world.

Note: If you’d like to hear (because you won’t be able to see us since it was recorded from a distance) our panel, Heroines of Destiny hop on to my Facebook page where I have posted it and some other pictures from the event.

Challenging My Introvert-Self

If you follow me you probably know by now that I’m an introvert. I love people, but I need my quiet and alone time. I love meeting with my friends but if I meet with more than a couple at time, I need a day or two to recuperate. It physically drains me.

I don’t go to concerts (unless it’s a classical music one and  I can sit in the dark while listening to it) even though I love music because I can’t handle the crowds, the noise, the constant movement…I hate being like that sometimes!

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Now that I am a bona fide published writer I discovered that I must try and do what does not come naturally to me if I want to make an impact with potential readers and/or potential publishers. It’s not the first time that I’m called to challenge my introvert-self. My first career, a tour guide in Portugal, required me to speak to a bus full of people (in different languages) on a regular basis. So, my new year’s resolution for 2017 was to put myself out there.

My first chance is coming up this Saturday as I will speak in public to a room full of people (hopefully it won’t be empty) as part of  a three-author panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. My partners in crime have a lot more experience than I do.One is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction and winner of a RITA award (not to mention she’s a Harvard graduate) and the other is a full PAN member of the Romance Writers of America which requires the author to have sold quite a few books. I am neither.

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I am a second language learner who has always loved to read and write. I have a couple degrees in two countries and I have sold very few books in spite of having three out. Needless to say I’m a freaking nervous wreck.

In May I will be travelling to Atlanta for the great RT Book Lovers Convention where I will meet my amazing publisher and a bunch of other authors. I’m so excited to meet them all but very nervous as well.

And to further challenge myself I just applied to be a speaker at another big writers’event in September (not sure my proposal will be accepted but…hey!). Apparently I’m a sucker for punishment, lol.

Moral of the story? Not sure there is one but, if you’re an introvert like me, know that you can do it. It’s not easy and you may not sleep the week preceding the event (yeah, I’m pretty exhausted) but you CAN do it! Introverts of the world unite…even if in a different place and by yourselves (paraphrased from a FB post I saw a while back. Sorry I can’t remember the author’s name).

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