Posts in Category: Insight into Julie

Difficult Season in Life

This has been a really difficult summer for me. I wrote earlier about the death of my grandmother at the end of June. She was a fantastic woman who was loved by all who knew her. Her smile could light up a room and she always topped to talk to people – even those she didn’t know. I still miss her and probably always will. I was making a dessert for Labor Day weekend and it was the first time it hit me that I can no longer just pick up the phone and call her to ask what I’m missing or how much of something is supposed to go into the recipe. Our family truly lost a gem.

My second loss came at the beginning of August when my dog, Holly, died. She was 22 years old and still had so much spirit in a body that was failing. She was my companion through so much. We lived in several apartments and houses, and two different states. She saw me through heartache when relationships failed. She had such a unique personality that one of my friends affectionately nicknamed her Freek – spelled wrong, because she was too weird to spell it right. Holly even answered to Freek when I would call her in from the yard. She had such a large personality for a little body. Her death impacted my other dogs as well. How do you explain to a dog that her sister has died? I watched Ginny look around the house for her for a week. We would go to bed and Luna would look at me like I was forgetting someone.

Now, I am writing my next book – the first one that will be written without my foot warmer – a white, furry body that lay across my feet as I typed. Her snores will no longer echo through the room. I’ve already written a dog into this story in her memory. It’s small consolation for missing her, but maybe letting her live on in print will help with the healing.

Cover Art

Who knew the process of publishing a book was so involved?  When I started this dream, I thought, “Hmmm, I’ll just write and put it out there.” Wow, was that ever wrong! There’s writing, revising, editing, sending it to beta readers and an editor…and that’s just the book. Then there’s the website, social media, and book covers. Whew, it can be exhausting.

Now, there are several sites out there that offer pre-made book covers, and some of them are pretty good. But I happened to have a friend who is a really talented photographer and graphic artist. I can describe to him exactly what I have in mind and he makes it 100% better than I could have imagined. And then there are the times he just creates a masterpiece from his own thoughts.

church

FtoK thumbnailFree to Kill in the Katie Freeman series was the first book I completed and published. It was also the first time I had to actually think of what to do for a cover. Michelle (my social media guru), Ryan and I sat down to begin brainstorming. I gave them a pretty in depth description of the book and what I had in mind. Ryan asked what the church I envisioned looked like, so I started searching online. I found a church in a small town in Kentucky that was PERFECT! But who had the time or money to go to Kentucky? So I started looking for similar architecture in Tennessee. I found the church on the cover of Free to Kill in downtown Nashville – and BONUS! it even had the red door!! The only problem was that it was on a weird street corner with traffic all around and electrical wires obscuring every view. But Ryan took his camera and somehow made the church look like it was in the rural setting from the story. It was the first time I realized what a master he was behind the lens.

From that time on, we have worked to build a theme between the books in a series. This was something I didn’t really think about in the beginning. Take a second to go look at the covers of your favorite book series. Do you see a similarity? That’s called Branding – and it’s vitally important. Who knew!?

With this information, Katie Freeman covers had a color scheme and a main attraction – that was always red. In Free to Kill, it was the door. In Free to Deceive, it was the fountain. In Free to Live, it was the front door of the house (Ryan actually had this cover designed before I published book 2, but it was so perfect for book 3, that we held off on using it). I can’t wait to see what it is in Free to Believe – book four (no release date yet, but shooting for June…).

The same theory applied to the Devil Mountain Shifters books that I released in October. They all had the same mountains in the background and the same physical look.

The Tip of the Spear series was a little trickier. I said from the beginning that I wanted the large spear on the cover with the main image in the center. Ryan still argues with me to change that, and one day I might let him win. But changing that now would mean redoing all the covers so that they are consistent. I think both he and I struggle more with the Tip covers than any other. He sends me beautiful first drafts that would be sufficient if I used them. But there’s just something that doesn’t hit right. He’s become a mind reader when I say “there’s just something not right about it.” One thing I’ve learned is to actually tell him when something doesn’t sit right. That’s a difficult thing to do for a person who hates to make waves. I’m one of those people who will never send food back in a restaurant, just because I don’t want to upset anyone. I’ve had to adjust that mentality for my books. After all, these are my babies. If I don’t speak up for them, who will?

blog pic

Goofing around during the photo shoot for the In The Wind cover.

Ryan Bukowski

Ryan Bukowski, my cover artist and photographer

 

Comments: the good, the bad, the ugly

review

Thanks Nancy!

One thing I continually hear from other beginner authors is the difficulty in getting reader reviews. There isn’t a good or proven strategy in getting readers to leave feedback – good, bad or ugly. I’m finding myself in the same boat. Comments do so much for an author. They get the word out on what readers really think of a story. They boost an author’s visibility. They allow an author access to certain publicity sites – like Bookbub. Without feedback from you, an author doesn’t stand a chance at getting his/her name out there. Ratings and comments from readers can make or break an author.

Personally, I read every comment made every one of my books. So far that hasn’t been many… I look forward to the day when there are too many to keep up with. With that being said, thank you to all of you who have left a comment or rating. Please spread the word and encourage others to do the same. If you have read one of my books and haven’t left feedback, please do so – even if you didn’t like it. I love hearing from you and would love to know what you think!

 

Three Years and Counting…

My friend, Michelle, and I sat down three years ago and had a conversation about where we wanted to go with our careers. Both of us were in jobs that didn’t really call to us. They paid the bills and paid the bills and provided health benefits – you know, the things people want and need to feel secure. But the long-term prospects for those jobs just weren’t satisfying. Instead of letting this conversation become a ‘woe is me’ pity party, we decided to set goals – with time limits and action steps. My goal for that first year was to write and publish one book. Looking back, that was a very naïve and uninformed decision – good thing I’m adaptable.

During the first year, I went to two conferences, signed up for many courses on self-publishing, and started researching the success of some of my favorite authors. Not only did I learn how much more was involved in being a self-published author, I finished not one, but four books. I had headshots taken, got a website up and running, joined several social media platforms, and, yes, published my first book.

Year two brought some major changes to my personal life. I spent several months in transition between day jobs and finally ended up with a job that is perfect for accommodating my second career. I can now leave work at work and go home to spend my evenings and weekends writing.

The third year is coming to a close with my 40th birthday in June. My original goal wasn’t to become a successful, self-supporting author. It was to see if my books had gained traction and, more importantly, if I still enjoyed the process. I’ve worked in the professional world for over 20 years, and the last thing I want is to be pursuing something that doesn’t bring me joy. So, what have I decided, you ask? I love writing! It still fulfills me every time I sit down at a computer. I love dreaming up new stories. I’ve discovered that even something that I do for fun can strike a chord with a reader. Putting in humor has become easier. And, I’m almost over the embarrassment when my parents read an intimate scene that I’ve written…not sure that will ever go away completely!

Blue TempestWhat about my friend Michelle? Well, she too has made adjustments to her day job. She’s expanded her art to several retail spaces around town, started her own social media campaign (in addition to running mine…), and sold several paintings/mixed media art pieces. If you’d like to see her talent, take a look at the photo attached to this blog – it’s one of many of her pieces I’ve purchased.

We might not be successful by society’s definition, but we made it! We’ve set out to do what we outlined. And we’re going to continue to grow and expand and adapt and learn. Most importantly, we’re going to keep creating. Because that’s what brings joy.

Artistic Advice, Toxic Advice

I ran across this article the other day:

21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors

My first thought was, “Great! Advice from ‘real’ authors.” Then I showed it to my friend and social media queen Michelle. Her first reaction to the opening paragraph derailed my train of thought and knocked some sense into me. After a bit of reflection, I can really see her point.

…having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

What is an artist? It’s someone who writes, paints, draws, sings, or any other form of self-expression. True, not everyone can/will make a living with their art, but does that make them less worthy of the title of Artist? No. However, society has instilled in us an idea that in order to be successful, we must achieve a certain status, usually financially defined.

Well, I am here to say I AM AN ARTIST. I AM AN AUTHOR. I write because I love to do it. I love the entire process. Stressing over plot points. Arguing with characters when they don’t want to behave. Deadlines sneaking up on you. Formatting. Editing. Cover design. And the list goes on… I AM a REAL author.

So much of the various art forms are subjective. When you look at paintings, do you prefer realism, cubism, or abstract? I am sure several of you answered that differently than I did. There are a ton of famous artists whose work I wouldn’t want hanging in my house. I can appreciate them for their appeal – to someone else. The same can be said for different forms of writing. I detest horror and gore, but I love mysteries. I don’t enjoy historical romance, but love paranormal romance. And just as before, I am sure some of you disagree.

All of that being said, the advice in the post does give me food for thought. Here is my favorite of the list:

  1. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

When I finished reading this, I reflected back on my post from a few weeks ago: Passion…or Happiness? Since I wrote that, I have been following Mark Manson’s blog and ran across a few more that have inspired me or made me think. The first was on life purpose (http://markmanson.net/life-purpose) and the second was on dreams (http://markmanson.net/dreams).

What is life purpose? That is an interesting question and one I think has a different meaning to different generations. One of the things that I have noticed over the past few years while working in higher education is that the newer generation doesn’t go into a career thinking in terms of forever. Stop and think about that for a second. Your grandparents and parents went to college or trained for a specific job with the full expectation that they would be doing that until they retired. Plumber, electrician, attorney, teacher, on and on and on. They wanted the security that came along with longevity. College students today have multiple ideas of what they want to do. And they aren’t afraid of thinking that ten years down the road they will be changing professions.

Our parents and the generations before had mid-life crises when they reached the point of burnout. But even then it wasn’t their job that they considered changing. Think about all the clichés you hear: affairs, divorce, sports cars, etc. The newer generations don’t put pressure on themselves to make life-long decisions at the age of 18. That can be scary, or it can be incredibly freeing.

I have seen a larger number of non-traditional students coming back for different degrees. These people are of my generation. Those of us that were raised with the idea that we needed to find a career and stick to it. But we have also grown up with technology and a world that has, and is, changing more than it ever has before. We are now reaching our mid-30s and 40s and realizing we are no longer happy doing what we chose to do at 18. But unlike our parents, we take inspiration from our children. We fall back on the idea that education can take you far and we use that to move forward. We take action to change what no longer makes us happy.

What most people don’t understand is that passion is
the result of action, not the cause of it. 

Discovering what you’re passionate about in life
and what matters to you is a full-contact sport,
a trial-and-error process.
None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity
until we actually do the activity.

Do you see how passion and life-purpose go hand-in-hand? It’s impossible to reconceptualize (yes, David Ogilvy, I used the word you said not to use…) your purpose in life without knowing what you are passionate about.

When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s because they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know what their values are. And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. This is a one-way ticket to unhealthy relationships and eventual misery.

I have been dealing with this over the past several months as I reevaluate my career. I took a huge leap back in June and completely changed career paths. Last year, I also started publishing what I write. Whew! Do you know how nerve wracking that was? When I first started thinking of publishing, I thought I would use a pseudonym – something so no one would know I was the author. I don’t write erotica. I write mysteries and romantic suspense (and surprisingly paranormal romance). I don’t write anything that I would be embarrassed for my mother to read…though the first Tip of the Spear book did make me blush when she read it.

What I discovered was that I was embarrassed about what people would think – of me, of my books, of my beliefs and values, of everything. How would people I have known for years react to my books? Ultimately, having a built in network to start promoting my books is what swayed me to use my own name. Imagine what I felt when I read this:

But if your reasons are, “My parents would hate it,” or “My friends would make fun of me,” or “If I failed, I’d look like an idiot,” then chances are, you’re actually avoiding something you truly care about because caring about that thing is what scares the shit out of you, not what mom thinks or what Timmy next door says.

Embrace embarrassment. Feeling foolish is part of the path to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more a major life decision scares you, chances are the more you need to be doing it.

And every word of that is true. I am passionate about what I write. I still care what others think, but not enough to stop me from pursuing what I enjoy. I am doing what I love. This is my passion. This is my dream.

So when should you pursue your dreams? Again, I refer to Mark Manson:

  • Fall in love with the process, not the result – If your job is drudgery now, then there’s no reason to suspect it won’t still be drudgery when you make partner or when you’re managing your own division. We live in a results-based society, and unfortunately this gets most of us (70% by some surveys) into the wrong pursuits and career paths.
  • What’s motivating you? – Take a long, hard look at what’s really driving you. Is it some compensation for an unmet need? Or is it a genuine expression of enthusiasm and joy? The fact that I fantasized about being on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans and didn’t fantasize about writing or playing new songs is telling.

Working in finance, I always jokingly tell people, “If your idea of saving for retirement is secretly hoping to win the lottery before you hit 65, there is a problem.” The same can be said for whatever dream you want to pursue. Writers always talk about the massive pile of rejection letters they received before ‘hitting it big’. And all of them will follow that by saying how it inspired them to push even harder. When you face obstacles, it is human nature to try harder – if you are truly passionate about what you are doing. It makes us appreciate what we have more than if it was just handed to us.

“When all of your wishes are granted,
many of your dreams will be destroyed.”

–Marilyn Manson

What does all of this mean to me? I love writing. I love being an author. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it draining? Yes. Is it rewarding? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far and I plan to continue to do it as long as I’m able. I am not defining my success by how much money I am making. My success depends on how I feel about the finished product, the reaction of my readers, and the satisfaction I feel if even one person says they loved what I wrote. That makes me happy. That drives me to continue.

So here is my advice to you: If you want to be a writer, write – even if it’s just in your journal. If you want to be a painter, paint – even if it’s just a piece you hang on your wall. If you want to be a singer, sing – even if it’s just in the shower. And, if you are willing to put in the hard work and follow the process, give it a shot.

Giving Thanks

In America, this week is for giving thanks. That is sometimes difficult to do, especially with all that is going on in the world. The recent terrorist attacks show us a dark side of humanity. Instead of dwelling on all the negative things going on in the world this week, take a minute to hug your family and pull them close.

I was fortunate this past weekend to have Thanksgiving lunch with my grandmother and all my aunts, uncles, and extended family on my mother’s side. I spent an entire day over the stove – baking, roasting, cooking, mashing, and all that comes with making a huge meal. But I was able to do it one more time for my grandmother, and that makes it worth it.

My grandmother taught me to bake and make a meal large enough for an army. We spent several years in a row in her kitchen while I cooked and she supervised. Sure, after the first year I could have done it by myself – but where was the fun in that? My grandmother has been in failing health for several years, and this past year she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. We honestly didn’t think she would be with us for another holiday season. So when it came time to celebrate with the family, I was more than happy to be able to cook her a meal.

IMG_0027There were five generations present at lunch this year. The picture here is of the oldest and youngest of the generations. I am so thankful to have family to hold close.

This year has been full of changes. New job, new friends, new house. It has also brought sadness. The loss of some people I held dear. Through it all, I had family and friends that never stopped supporting me. I was able to publish six books this year, with a seventh coming in December. I have also reached a larger number of fans than I could have anticipated.

All of this to say THANK YOU! Thank you to all of you who have purchased and read my books, whether it was Katie Freeman, Tip of the Spear, or Devil Mountain Shifters. I started this journey to let the characters in my head have a voice and you all have surpassed my expectations with the response to my books.

So even if you are not in America, take the opportunity this week to express your thanks or appreciation to those who make your life whole. Then curl up with a good book and celebrate all you have accomplished in 2015!