Advent Devotional


I know I’ve been posting a lot about the baby lately.  I mean, he’s the guy I spend most of my time with these days.  And I promise that this is writing related, but unless you haven’t guessed yet, it’s also about the baby.

My church decided to put together an Advent Devotional this year – twenty five stories (one for each day of Advent) on what Christmas means to the congregation, one for you to read each day.   A fun writing assignment for church?!?! I submitted.  And of course Christmas means a different thing to me now that I’m mothering, which I started during the Christmas season.  I’m December 6th in the booklet, so I feel good about posting it here.  Especially because the only way for you to get one yourself is to go to the church and pick up a copy in person.

(Before you continue, here is also your warning for uber-religious sentimentality.  It happens sometimes.)

What Christmas Means to Me:

My first son was born last Thanksgiving, and so my family charged into Christmas a little more filled with joy than usual.  He’s the first grandchild, after all, and the result of many years of prayer. My entire extended family rallied to my side like Wise Men as I recovered, sharing the holiday season with us and bringing gifts of clean laundry, lunch, and naps.

I imagine that any family would feel a deeper connection to the Christmas season with an infant to share it with. I had expectations of what that would be like. I expected to feel new respect for Mary, for her tough journey and frightening birth.

But what I didn’t expect was the wide and tangible aura of potential in the air. It hovered like a halo around my son, Asher. In every moment friends and family spent with us, I saw the deep love that Asher inspired in everyone he met. He seemed to belong not to me, but to the world. And the love that he gathered and then dispersed out again was deeper than anything I had previously experienced.

The song “Mary Did You Know,” is a favorite one around the holiday season. I used to wonder the same as the song, if she knew what that small baby in her arms would become. But now I can guess. A few simple words in Luke 2:19 tell the story, in a paragraph filled with shepherds and prophecies, the whole world rallying to her baby’s side: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

If I could look down at my swaddled son sleeping in the dim light of the Christmas tree last year and see the possibility he holds, how much more did Mary look down at the Christ-child in the lamplight of the manger and see the divine love that filled her own son up full? Couple that with the miracle of his conception, and I’m sure she at least guessed at the transformation her son would give to humanity.

Because with Jesus, of course, all things are possible.

And nothing represents that more than a small and sleepy child who belongs firmly to us, but not to us alone; a child who belongs to the world.

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A Mothering Year


The baby is one today.  Which means that I also have been a mother for a year.

A few things stuck out to me today when I was pondering it all.  I remembered clearly sitting in the hospital bed on one of the top floors.  My sister and Brian were passed out on the little built-in couch in the room, and my own mother was sitting beside me for a bit.  The two sleepers stirred and I pulled myself back from the drowsiness I had sunk into when they gave me the epidural after thirteen hours of labor.  It had now been almost twenty hours since the contractions started.

Someone pulled back the vertical blinds and together the four of us watched the sun rise over the hills in the distance, knowing it wouldn’t be long until we met the fifth person in the room.

Motherhood is hard, mostly because you have no idea what to do and there are a million conflicting “methods” out there to make it even worse.  I still have no idea, I’ll be honest, but I have a set of mores in place that allow me to review the options, evaluate them against our goals, and then make a gut-call.

Here’s what I strive for:

  1. Respect the baby’s wants, needs, and bodily autonomy when you can
  2. Be compassionate when you can’t
  3. Don’t leave him alone to cry (even if it means you’re sitting in his bedroom crying together)
  4. Arrange things to avoid fighting as much as possible (climbing on that table?  Replace the table with something he won’t climb on)
  5. Have him do as much as he can for himself

I find that if I weigh what’s happening currently and all the methods that are out there against the following five criteria, I end up with a solution that usually works pretty well for everyone.   Sometimes it takes more than one try, but often it doesn’t.

I’ll be honest when I say that I’m worried about next year.  I hear things about Two tantrums that make me think I might not handle it well.  But I guess this year has given me a process for figuring it out.  And that’s not nothing.

Cheers – to another year of becoming better at this mothering thing…


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A Plug, A Nano Update, and Thankfulness

It’s Small Business Saturday, and it just dawned on me that I probably count as a small business now that I’m self-publishing myself via Amazon.  At least I remembered before the day was over?  This advertising part of being an author is hard, guys…

Anyway, here is a link to my books.  If you’re in the mood for weird fantasy and want to support a self-published gal working hard, this is the place to go.

On to Nanowrimo…

I am 7000 words behind in Nano now and trying not to panic.  I’ve been down more than 10,000 now and still won, but I also feel like I only have another day or two of this magical interlude where people aren’t working and I have help around the house before school and juggling get real again.  The baby has officially dropped his first nap, too, which means I get to cram in school and writing in the space of time where I used to only have to cram in one.  Still, I have 33,000 usable words that I would not be ashamed to show an alpha reader.  Not too shabby!

Also, I am determined to win.  I have never lost the November event except for last year, when I had an emergency c-section in the middle of it.  I think I get a pass for that.  This year I don’t have major surgery and new parenthood as an excuse, so I’m being hardcore about it.

Lastly is my Thanksgiving report:

Our holiday was an epic celebration several days long, where we visited with my dad and husband’s side of the family on Thursday, and with my mom’s side on Friday.  I am thankful for many things this year, but top on my list are Asher (who makes me laugh every day), Brian (who insists on being a full partner in taking care of our small boy while still managing to make my heart go aflutter), my amazing family and friends (without whom I would go stir crazy), and you (for being interested in this author journey I’m on).

Happy season, and I’m sure I’ll be back to blogging more regularly soon.  The end of the semester tends to fry my brain and so does Nano, so I’m extra crispy right now…

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A Nano 2018 Update

Nanowrimo is going well, I guess… I’m a few thousand words behind at this point but finding that catching up is fairly easy since I’m rewriting and not writing from scratch.  When I get to it. Although I realized halfway through that somehow the file had dumped the ending of my story and I DO have to write at least part of it again from scratch.  Sigh.  Such is the burden of bad organizational skills, though.  I’m sure I did it to myself.

The new system I’m using has been working beautifully, in case you were wondering.  I have the whole novel down on note cards with a description of what needs to be fixed, and they’re in a strange order since I moved things around quite a lot.  Scene 32 comes right before scene 24 now, for instance.  But it’s been nice to just drag that stuff around in Scrivener and then consult the card on what needs fixing, and not worry overmuch about reading through the entire document for the millionth time.  Pretty prose comes later.

What’s really been keeping me from Nano are two things.  One is that it is the end of the semester, and I’m going crazy trying to in fit my fieldwork hours (observing a school and teaching a week), and writing lesson plans for a group of students who is already behind where they should be (what will I be actually teaching in 3 weeks?  No one knows…).

The last is the baby.  I know he’s supposed to start skipping his morning nap sometime between now and eighteen months, and he fights me HARDCORE on going down in the am.  But he’s sleeping for, like, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so I feel like he probably still needs it?  His afternoon nap is still long, too. I don’t know.  But by the time I’ve spent an hour lying on the floor of his bedroom being yelled at, I’m usually too frazzled to want to pull out the manuscript.

All contributors to why I’m so behind.  But lets be honest, I’m always behind at this point in Nanowrimo, and I seem to have somehow missed the week 2 loathing, too, so perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining.    I’m still well poised to win from behind.

Just keep writing, right?

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Plotting and Revising


It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’m gonna say it’s because I found this REALLY awesome book by Cathy Yardley called Rock Your Revisions.  Her proceeding book, Rock Your Plot, detailed a first draft process that is REALLY similar to the one I already use.  That gives me all the hopes that Revisions will work for me as well as Plot does.  And we all know I’ve been looking for a way to streamline things.

So far, Revisions has lived up to the hype.  I feel much more in control of Easterbay than I ever have, and I know what I need to do to move forward.  It feels freeing, and I’m moving through things rapidly.  Yardley claims that her revision process takes twice as long as writing the first draft.  So if I go by her estimates, I should be ready for alpha reads in two months.  To say I’m excited about that would be an understatement.  All we can hope for now is that I stay motivated enough to make it happen.

I’m mentioning this for two reasons.  One reason is because if you’re looking for a writing process, Yardley lays out a good one.  The second reason is that it is Nanowrimo time, and we could all use a little extra help in the planning process before diving into a novel.

That’s basically all I have to tell you.  I’m also diving into Nano this week, and expect updates to the blog to remain intermittent until December rolls around.  We’ll see, though.  Sometimes avoiding the morass of a Nano novel leads to more blogs instead of less…

Hence the need for motivation.  As always come November, cross your fingers for me.

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Writerly Things


It’s that time of year again when I have to decide if I’m doing Nanowrimo.  I am, as usual, swamped beyond belief.  And I am, as usual, planning to do Nano anyway.  I’m slightly worried that my loss last year broke my 6-year streak.  But since I failed due to giving birth, I think I get a pass.

How will you Nano with a small baby in the house, you ask?  Well, he’s recently started napping in his crib (!!!!!). It’s a small miracle, I know, but it has given me my life back.  Or, you know, 2-4 hours a day of my life back, depending on how much he sleeps.  I now have time for daily writing.  As an aside… I had no idea how much it was affecting me to not write until I started again.  Wow, do I feel like a human being again or what?

Besides, this year I’ve decided to be a rebel.  I won’t write a whole new novel from scratch. I’ve been thinking HARD about my writing process and how I can streamline it a little more.  Blue Gentian was five diligent years in the making and taught me a lot about my writing process.  But even if I were to get out a book a year, that’s not quite best for a Self-Published author…  I should be aiming for a book every six months.  While I’m not in it for the money, I have grand visions of bookshelves filled with my titles.  That means I’ve gotta get on it.

So, Nano this year is going to be an experiment on how I can get myself working faster.  Here’s what usually happens:

I do Nano, and then return to whatever manuscript I was working on previously.  A year later (maybe… sometimes it’s longer), I pull out the manuscript.  It’s not in order. My plot has gone off the rails from the original outline.  I have weird placeholders instead of names and the pacing on everything is Wrong.  Obscure things don’t work correctly because I didn’t do any research.  It’s disjointed and wrong. The story is also, at best, the main plot line with no other deeper meanings woven in.  And sometimes you’re like “uh, wow.  That main plot line sure took a nosedive into a dirty, dirty swamp…”

So, I do my best to take the thing about 5 chapters at a time, and basically rework those chapters until they’re polished.  Then I move to the next set.  I stop a lot of the time, sometimes for weeks, to ponder deeper meanings.  I read history books about the time period, I realize that I need xyz foreshadowed in earlier chapters or that I’m off the revised outline.  I go back and fix the beginning again before moving onto the next few chapters.  It takes FOREVER, and there’s a lot of down time while I’m faffing with things.  It results in a good book, but it takes a long time to get there.

So, for Nano this year I’m trying something else.  I’m going to print out and completely re-type a novel.  I’ll put the scenes in order and expand or rewrite when needed (without excessive polish).  I’ll add blank “scenes” in Scrivener when I need to add a piece of the story that isn’t there yet.  I’ll get from start to finish as quickly as possible.

I’m hoping this new method will do several things.  First of all, I won’t be tied to language I’ve already written.  I’ll be free to retype whatever words I want.  Second, I will have the main story line all laid out nicely so that when I do start to polish, I won’t have to worry about forgetting elements or about the story line changing on me.  Third, I will have the main story line firmly in my head from start to finish, making secondary story lines and deeper meanings easier to weave through. I can ponder that stuff while I type, hopefully doing away with the weeks of faffing.  The weeks of research will still probably have to remain…

Right now, it takes me about 6 months to go from draft 1 to draft 2.  Subsequent drafts are faster, of course, but I needed about 10 for Blue Gentian… I am hoping that I can cut draft 2 down to a month (maybe 2) with this new system.  You know, if I can make it work.

In about two months, we’ll know how I fared.  I picked Suffrage because it’s the only novel I have that’s currently untouched.  Everything else has either been through a bit of edit or I have deemed it too bad to be salvageable.

I will, as always, report on how it’s going as I’m doing it.  Cross your fingers for me.  And if you have any tips of your own on how you streamline your writing process, I’d love it if you’d forward those along.  I need all the help I can get!

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Self Publishing: September

Self Publishing Update

Well, I had a much better September than I did an August.  I realized after reviewing the data for my August ads that I was getting many more hits on keywords that tied to authors or book series that were similar to my book, instead of tags like “fantasy,” or “sword.” I also upped my bid on each keyword to be $0.76 instead of $0.66.  For some reason, that made all the difference.  Instead of being in the hundreds of views, I’m now in the tens of thousands of views and I can make some decisions based on actual aggregated data.  Amazing!

My first ad (runaway and subversive print shop copy) didn’t do so well.  People were clicking (31 of them), but no one was buying.  I actually ended this campaign early since it had cost me almost $15 and had brought me no book sales.  It seemed a waste to keep running it.

My second ad (epic fantasy with a strong female lead copy) did fairly well.  I had 42 clicks and sold 3 books.  Since almost 80,000 people saw my ad before clicking this is the data I was able to get: someone would click through to my page after about 1850 people had viewed the ad. Once people viewed the book, about 11 people visited for every one person who bought.

This isn’t great.  Most click-throughs cost me about $0.50, which means that I need my numbers to be more like 5 click-throughs for every buy to just break even.  I’m getting closer to that on my third ad.

Ad number three (LOTR/Little Women mashup copy) is almost where I’d like it to be.  I had 58 click-throughs and sold 8 books.  81,000 people viewed the ad, and so I’m looking at about 1400 people to visit before I get a click-through, and 7 people to look at the page before I get a sale.  Still not where I want to be, but MUCH closer.

I’m rejiggering a few things, per normal.  First of all, I’m only running ads 2 and 3 this month.  I’ve added keywords, too: Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown, Jessica Day George, Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted, His Dark Materials, Narnia, and CS Lewis.

Second, I have changed my book blurb to be a little more punchy.  We’ll see if that works out to equal more clicks.  The great thing about self-publishing is that I can change it all back if the other was working better.  Nice.

Lastly, I put up an ask for my friends who have read the book to please leave me a review.  I ran the free promotion almost two months ago, so I feel like people have probably finished the book and maybe just haven’t remembered to review? We’ll see if that’s actually a thing.  Over 100 people downloaded the book, and right now I have 5 reviews, so either people take a really long time to finish things or most people aren’t review-leavers, or they forgot.  We’ll see…

That’s all for this month.  I’ll report back on how that all did next month per usual.  I have modest goals.  I’d really love to have 7-10 reviews by the end of the month, sell more than 11 books, and have a better click-through to buy rate on both ads.

I hope this helps!

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Baby Racing

Last week we took the baby to the LA County Fair. And by “we” I mean my dad, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt. Brian hates the fair with a passion that is irrational, but I’m resigned to it.

Asher is pretty good in the car unless you’re stopped for any reason. Then he frets and complains, and sometimes starts to cry. On the way into the fair there were many stops and starts as we navigated traffic.

“Unghhh!” said Asher at all of them.

“What’s wrong?” said my dad.

“He’s just upset we’re waiting,” I replied.

“Oh,” said my dad. And then he started making vrooming sounds.

Asher stopped fussing almost immediately, totally content with the facsimile… “Good enough, and thank you for the attempt,” he seemed to say. “You efforts at infant placation have been accepted.”

Of course, this is not the end of the silliness. Part two of this story involves school. Both Brian and I have class on Monday nights, so Asher goes over to have a grand old time with Grandma. I don’t have enough time between drop off and school to go get food, so I usually run through the drive-through with Asher in the car throwing a fit because we are WAITING at a window, mom!

So tonight, instead of sitting through the crying, I am in the line for the drive-through making vrooming noises. My window is down, and there I am with a silent baby in the back who is unobservable because of the tinted windows, and I’m pretending to have some sort of stock car race with my mouth. I may not have been the weirdest thing those drive-through workers had seen, but I’ll bet I at least received a “you’ll never guess,” when they went home that night.

The things we do for our children…

In other news, the baby has realized that if he runs off with his pants in the morning, it takes me much longer to put him in them. He’s usually so proud of himself about it, too, waving them in the air with a smile on his face as he stalks around the kitchen and growls.

He’s trouble, but he DOES make me laugh.

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Fairyland Temptation


I’m half-convinced that not only are there Fairies at the University of Redlands, but that they’re actively trying to get me to join them.  Observe the evidence:

Asher and I walk Brian to work most mornings.  I was walking home a few weeks ago, and I passed a tree which had step stools of mushrooms leading up to its trunk.  I thought it was funny, and it made me wonder what kind of nyad would willingly live on a college campus near Frat Row.  The debaucherous type, I suppose.

I passed by the next day and the stepping stones were gone.  Closed for business was Fairy Land, I guess.

But then the lilies started to appear in strange places, big pink clusters of them peeking out of the ivy, no visible leaves but just a stalk rising from the dirt.  There is no rhyme or reason for their placement.  We’ve seen feathers falling from the sky, and a secret mailbox ensconced in a bush by the alumni house.  Half open, for temptation, of course.

This week I found a mushroom doorstop clinging to a tree, the joint where the roots meet making a perfect semblance of a door.  It’s been tempting me every day since, and that one hasn’t closed for business yet (probably because it’s not in the path of the mowing gardeners).

All of this, of course, can’t be just coincidence.

My question is, though, what kind of Fairy thinks that a 36 year old lady with a baby would go rushing off to join them?  What would I do with the baby?  He’s formula fed, and I wouldn’t know how long until we could get back so I’d be loathe to go without some assurance that he’d be fed.  I can picture myself loading up the stroller with eighteen canisters of formula, falling out on the sidewalk as I try and inconspicuously walk around campus to the tree.

Or worse… “Don’t worry,” the Fairies would say.  “We’ll feed him.” but we ALL know what that means.  I’d never be able to take him back to the mortal realm again.

I suppose I could leave the baby with Brian and go alone.  But I’d be forlorn without that boy.  And time passes differently in other realms.  I’d never take the chance that I’d miss seeing Asher grow up.

So I’ve been viewing it all with quiet amusement before going home to get the baby a bottle and put dinner in the crock pot.  Maybe do a few loads of laundry while I’m at it.

I’m writing a book about Fairies right now.  Maybe they’re just telling me they approve of my next novel?

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Self Publishing: The First Month – Amazon Ads

Self Publishing Update

So, I’ve now been the self-published author of a novel for a month.  Aside from the free promotion, I haven’t done anything except run ads via the Amazon system.  I feel like I’ve learned something? Maybe?

I think the book is doing pretty well, actually, for being a first novel in a genre that doesn’t typically sell in the indie market.  And for being a book with only four reviews.

I have sold 4 books since I ended the free promotion.  3 of those were hard copy and another 1 was a Kindle copy.  Kindle copies are where I make my money, so it was nice to have one.  The profit margin on the print book is slim (although not nothing, and I’m not really in this for the money anyway at this point).

I also had several Kindle Unlimited pages read, though that’s also hard to break down.  The reports tell me how many pages, since I get paid by the page.  But is it the same people re-picking up the book, or is it new readers?  We’ll never know…

My ads haven’t been working okay.  I’ve never written copy before, nor do I have any experience with advertising, so I’m being gentle with myself about it.  I’ll be rejiggering the ads today to make them better.

You may already know this, but with Kindle ads, you bid on a keyword.  If you’ve bid the most, whenever someone visits a book that’s classified under that keyword, they see your ad.  You pay if they click on it, otherwise it’s free.

I currently have 4 ads running.  On the first, I let Amazon pick my keywords. Hardly anyone has seen the book on this one – about 74.  On two other ads, I have about 450 people who have viewed it, but only one person on each ad has clicked on the ad and the report estimates I haven’t had any sales.  They don’t take Kindle Unlimited into account, though, so I think this might be where I’m getting some of those extra Kindle Unlimited pages from. On my third ad, about 650 people have seen it, but no one has clicked.

I ran the same exact keywords for all three ads I set up myself, so I’m not sure why everyone’s seeing the one and not the others.

So, I have two goals this month.  The first is to re-do the book description on the ad so it’s a little more punchy.  The second thing is to pick better keywords.  Right now, the ones I’m getting the most hits on are the names of other authors.  I plan to add in a greater swath of authors who I think write things that are like this book.  I’ll leave the Amazon auto-target ad alone, probably.

That’s a rundown of the basics.  In addition to redoing the ads, I’m considering a blog tour.  Most authors I’ve seen who have done it say they basically break even – they make about as much in book sales as they paid for the tour.  Still, I think it might be worth it for me from a review perspective.  The blog tour I’m considering would have 15 stops, so that would be 19 reviews on the book once I’m done if you add the ones that are already there.  I’d definitely consider buying a book with 19 reviews, where I’d look askance at 4.

That’s mostly all I have to say. For those who want to get into the nitty-gritty with me on the ad portion, I’ll post a little more detail below.

The book descriptions I went with on the ads are as follows:

  1. What do a spy, a runaway, a subversive print shop, and a queen have in common? Blue Gentian. You won’t be able to put this book down. (450-ish views)
  2. “Love at first page!” Looking for something new to read? You just found your next favorite epic fantasy with a strong female lead. (450-ish views)
  3. Traditional fantasy gets a makeover in this epic coming-of-age tale about leaving home to find it. You won’t be able to put this book down! (650-ish views)

I went with these descriptions partly because I read a book that told me that ads with “you” in them tend to do better than ads that don’t.

In this next cycle of ads, I intend to run descriptions 1 and 2, but not 3.  I also intend to run one that says “If Lord of the Rings and Little Women had a baby, Blue Gentian would be it. You’ll love this epic fantasy about leaving home to find it.”

I ran the following Keywords:

action, adventure, caravan, coming of age, council, epic, fantasy, female voice, gentian, healer, intrigue, kwed, little women, low magic, medicine, mission, notlimah, printing, queen, quest, shaman, spy, strong female lead, sword, tolkien, traditional fantasy, travel, travelers, traveling, wise woman, young adult

BY FAR Tolkien got me the most views.  Wise woman, shaman, and travel got me the next most, although I’m not sure travel is really doing for me what I’d like it to do.

This month I’ll add:

Shannon Hale, Le Guin, Dianna Wynne Jones, Chrestomanci, Uprooted, Naomi Novik, Wheel of Time, Rothfuss, Jane Austen, Jeff Wheeler, Veronica Roth, Sarah J. Maas, Harry Potter, Patricia C. Wrede

I may also take out some of the others that are probably deceptive (like travel), although it doesn’t cost me anything to bid unless the ad gets clicked on.  We’ll see where that gets me, and I’ll report back in another month!

Here we go…

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