Thoughts on completing my first book series and life

I spent much of January brainstorming and planning, tasks I always find slightly amusing because I “map” my new year every year, but then, pretty much without fail my well-laid plans run amuck because, well . . . squirrel! That said, even knowing much of what I dream or schedule may change, the time spent looking back—and imagining what might lie ahead—felt extra special this year because for the first time in a long time, I’m looking at the start of a brand new series, and that’s not only exciting. It feels symbolic.

The last “official”* River’s Sigh B & B novel (The Catch, Book 8) launched on January 9, and as I think back on the process of writing this series—what I went through and experienced book by book, chapter by chapter, heck, sometimes paragraph by paragraph—I am struck by how it’s a little like looking back at life.

Knowing what I know now, are there things I would’ve done differently? Oh yes.

Was there heartbreak and indecision and self-doubt a plenty? Absolutely. So much at times that I didn’t always know for sure that I wouldn’t just . . . give up.

Did I screw some things up and make some embarrassing mistakes? Uh huh, for sure—though thankfully, with help from people close to me—I rectified the most serious problems. (Or so I hope, LOL!)

During the writing of pretty much every book, I hit a place before it was finished where I felt I’d totally lost my way and that it was hopeless, that I’d never be able to muddle my way out. When that happened, I went for long walks and had big talks (whine fests!) with a few trusted souls—but I persevered. Eventually, as I tiptoed along in the dark, a light would suddenly go on. The way through would be perfectly clear—so clear that I wondered why on earth I hadn’t seen it before.

But the biggest takeaway from completing River’s Sigh B & B (which also echoes life) is that even if it was excruciatingly difficult at times or brought up painful things or my nerve threatened to fail me, there was simultaneously so much joy and laughter and growth (for me, not just my characters!) in the process, so many moments I’d never change for anything. So much fun.

I can’t share a lot of details about my new series yet (because they’re still coming together in my own head)—but even that feels fitting. After all, whoever truly knows how the future will unfold? But eeeei! I’m excited to see what the next chapters of life and writing hold.

New (old?) thoughts on another new year!

I’m often delightfully optimistic at the start of a brand-new shiny year. What will it hold? What will I do? What plans will I make—and which ones will I fail, change, or wildly succeed in? And in so many ways, this year (2020, wow!) is no different.

I’m excited about, and beyond grateful for, all that has occurred in my work life over the past seven years, especially that one little decision, so long ago now, to write a romance novel as an “exercise.” I did (do!) writing exercises all the time. Who knew that specific one would spark the type of writing destined to become my one great love? Book 8 in my River’s Sigh B & B series is just about to launch (eeeeeeiiiii!!!!), which means I will soon have 12 published novels out in the world (still can’t really believe it!!!), and my brain is bursting with ideas for my next series.

In my personal life, my adult children are healthy and self-sufficient, things I don’t take for granted and feel exceedingly relieved and happy for. I have two little grandsons (a fact that still blows me away: my baby is old enough to have babies—and really, they’re not even babies anymore. They’re small children!), who bring me so much joy and laughter that I can’t even put it into words.

I’ve been moving more, getting outside lots, and have taken a few trips (all things that were goals for 2019). We have three feet of snow right now, but as I look across my yard, I’m imagining this upcoming year’s garden (including a green bean fort!) and daydreaming about kayaking jaunts.

There’s always a flip side to my grateful looking back and sunny looking ahead, however: shadows from past months. What year, after all, doesn’t hold hard times or carry some bad news? And 2019 was no exception.

In my personal life, there were (are) tough things to face and hard facts to reconcile with, none of which were fully resolved (because some things can’t really be, or at least not quickly), so no doubt they’ll rear their ugly heads again.

In the world at large, it’s a terrifying, tumultuous time in a lot of ways. I can find it excruciatingly difficult to not get overwhelmed by the news and/or social media, to not just feel . . . afraid.

On January 3rd, contemplating my work in light of current world happenings, I was blasted by insecurity. Is writing stories about healing from personal hurts and wounds and finding love, creating your own family (whatever that looks like), seeking home—such “small scale” ideas, as a renowned author at a conference once said to me about “most” women authors as criticism—meaningless at best, or worse, utterly shallow, in light of “large” concerns?

Even a few years ago, I don’t know if I would’ve had a concrete answer. (But I’m getting better at kicking my inner critic and neuroses to the side.) Today, for now at least, I feel I do.

I’ve always believed that the small things in life are actually the big things—the things with the power to change us, to sustain us, to help us grow and to be a comfort in hard times. Remembering that encouraged me.

Politics change. What we as nations fear might finally, permanently, wipe us off the globe changes decade by decade (and, to date, thankfully, never has fully materialized or succeeded). What society holds dear—and demonizes—morphs radically, for better and worse, back and forth. Atrocities continue, yes—but there also continues to be people who stand up against them. (And may that ever be true, the latter numbers only ever growing stronger and larger, while our collective willingness to quietly accept the horrific mistreatment of others diminishes.)

But from time immemorial, what doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, and is true the globe over, in every culture, regardless of small variances in what the following “looks like,” is that we want our children to survive and thrive. We care about our families’ wellbeing. We value our friends. We want (need, crave) meaningful relationships. We long for connection. And sometimes, when there are no easy answers (and are there ever?), no fixes possible (corruption, illness, death, loss), we need stories that remind us that despite all seeming lost, awful, hopeless, or unredeemable . . . that’s only ever part of the story. The rub of human existence is that it’s all true: the ugly, awful, heartbreaking, atrocious . . . and the beautiful, awing, joy-giving, absolute sweet glory of . . . so many things. I feel challenged to write stories that explore such things, and I’m honored to have people respond to them, be encouraged by them.

On the heels of that rumination, in the lovely way things sometimes appear just when you need them to most, I happened upon two very helpful, affirming reads. One long. One short.

The first, by Anne Lamott, was (is!) a piece I’ve long loved and derived much comfort and encouragement (and laughter!) from: 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.   

The second was a tweet by author Sam Sykes on Twitter: “Sometimes creative endeavors in times of turmoil feel a bit like playing the spoons while a city burns. You don’t feel helpful and maybe kind of stupid, but god damn if art can move the hearts of humans, then you owe it to everyone to play the spoons until the fires die.”

Reading it was like a good cup of strong coffee in the morning. “Buck up, Ev. Get back to doing what you do. It’s the only thing in this life you have any unique sway over.”

I don’t know how you’re feeling as we go into this new year, but I hope your optimism, drive, and hope are strong.

Cheers to 2020, my dears! Let’s all strive to be the change we wish to see in the world, this year and beyond. (I know that quote is used to the point of almost being a cliché nowadays, but I still believe in it so much and find it so personally challenging.)

Wishing you much joy, love and peace—and a whole bunch of fun, too! Happy New Year!

🙂 Ev

We need to remember, lest we forget . . .

remembrance-dayIt’s an especially hard or poignant or painful Remembrance Day for me, as I’ve always been someone who wishes she could identify as a Pacifist, but who is all too aware that throughout human history, there have been times when pacifism couldn’t work (though arguably many things—impossible seeming things—have been achieved through non-violence and acts of peaceful protest). There is a certain kind of person, of evil, that will not be deterred or stopped by anything other than brute force—no appeal to a greater good, to wisdom, to mercy, to conscience, to human decency because there is nothing decent in them. Hitler is the primary example of that, of course.

He could not have been, would not have been, put down by anything other than military defeat—although, that wouldn’t have been the case if he had never been allowed to rise to power in the first place.

And I’m always beyond grateful to live in the country and time that I do (although the random, undeserved good fortune of it stirs up a lot of existential questions—but those are for some other time)—and I do not take the freedom I enjoy because of the sacrifice of so many brave souls for granted. I am very conscious of the gift they gave.

But why is this year’s Remembrance Day harder than others? Because I look to our southern neighbors and I feel afraid—for them and for us. What have we done? What have we allowed?

After every “great” war, there’s always been a pervasive hope that it was, finally, the war to end all wars. Yet that was never the case.

Einstein once said, “I know not with what World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.”

I hated (still hate!) that he acted as if a third World War was inevitable, like we collectively, as citizens of earth, would continue to fail to learn to put hatred, racism, greed, selfishness and entitlement away. Or maybe what I hated was that I feared he was right.

Some people criticize Remembrance Day as “glorifying” war—and too many times in history, our soldiers have returned from atrocious battles, only to be shunned, marginalized, ignored or mistreated by the very governments who sent them out in the first place—as if the soldiers are somehow the ones to blame when a war becomes politically unpopular (Vietnam vets, anyone?). But it is the veterans—and the world’s current soldiers—who most fully understand the true horror and cost of battle—and I’m afraid that the sheer inability we people seem to have to grow in our ideas of how we treat and respect and even see other people as equally human will doom us to repeat our history’s darkest times.

“Lest we forget” gets chanted so often we almost don’t remember what it means: Lest we forget and thus repeat the same mistakes and horrors—and have another war. Lest we forget the massive casualties and stupid, horrific, meaningless deaths and get complacent, not remembering (or caring!) to extend the principles of human decency, respect and freedom that people died to provide for us—and condemn ourselves to another war.

There is this idea that floats around about “holy wars” or “just wars.” There is no holy war. There is no just war. And may there not be another unavoidable one. Please.

My thanks and deep gratitude to all those who fought to protect us from the worst elements of ourselves—those who gave their literal lives and those who came back, forever changed. My thanks also to the people whose lives were (and are) forever changed by living with the fallout from war, not just the death of loved ones, but the return of loved ones who were (or are) altered or damaged by what they saw, had to do, or had done to them.

Let us not forget. And please, please, let us not repeat. Perhaps, in fact, we should change the motto to, “We need to remember and be vigilant.” Hatred, conflict, and war don’t start in some far off, separate from us place. They start in our hearts and homes—in what we let ourselves overlook or justify, what we joke about, what we condone by our failure to speak out against—and they spread.

As Gandhi encouraged, we can be the change we want to see in the world. I truly believe it. For all our sakes, let’s do it.

Peace out,
Ev

p.s. I’m aware that my writing might sound as if I thought the last “real” war was Vietnam. I don’t mean to ignore the military conflicts, genocides, wars, struggles and “presences” that have gone on (and are still going), or to negate their impact. It’s just a massive topic and it’s hard to narrow it down.

Within all this darkness, there is hope?

A good friend of mine, J.H. Moncrieff, has exciting news this month—her novella The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave just came out through Samhain Publishing as part of their Childhood Fears Series.

I almost postponed blogging about it, however, because of bitter, terrible news. My brain tries to skirt it. I feel sick to the point of nausea and wanting to vomit when my mind presses even lightly on the tiniest shards of it. I can’t imagine—and I can. And I hate it and would do anything to change it. Would trade my limbs, my life, if I could. There are types of pain that the brain doesn’t know how to process.

So why on earth post a blurb promoting a horror story right now of all times? Well, for the same reason I write and read. Good stories delve into those most tender parts of the human psyche—parts that, to me at least, seem inexorably linked: what we love and what we fear. When we’re suffering (and we all do at various times in various ways), they offer a much-needed escape—but even more so, they acknowledge and spend time mucking about in the things that hurt us most and can be a form of catharsis.

In an English Lit course once, studying Ann-Marie MacDonald’s amazing but brutal Fall On Your Knees, one of the students—a woman who was so quiet I had literally never heard her voice until that day—spoke up when a bunch of other students were whining and griping about some of the novel’s content, how “dark” it was, and how they shouldn’t “have” to read it. The prof was understandably disheartened by their attitude and said something like, “So why do you think there might be value or a point in reading stories that are hard emotionally?”

The quiet woman held up her hand and even the professor’s face registered surprise. “Yes?” she asked.

“For me . . . ” The woman spoke with a slight accent and turned red the minute she opened her mouth. “When I read stories of what other people have survived through, it makes me think I can survive too.”

Then she dropped her head, picked up her pen and busied herself writing something down. The whole class was stunned silent for a moment.

And her words have stayed with me because she summed up, so concisely, one the reasons I have always read so voraciously. It makes me think I can survive. And it gives me a bruised and bleeding hope that people I love can too.

I’m sorry that my introduction to J.H. Moncrieff isn’t cheerier—but I do sincerely hope you’ll pick up her novella, whether it’s just for a thrill and escape, or whether you have something you wish to forget for a bit, or even if you, like me, have your own demons you’re wrestling with right now.

In a weird coincidence with my thinking about why I write and read, when I was chatting with Holli earlier this month about her book, I asked her if she’d care to share what draws her to horror as a reader and a writer. Here are her thoughts.

Once I learned to read, I couldn’t stop. I was a veritable book addict, and pretty soon I’d worked my way through the children’s section at my local library.

My mom was a reader as well, and her collection kept me going. I loved it all—racy Sidney Sheldon mysteries, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Rosemary’s Baby, even her Jackie Collins bodice rippers. I read anything I could get my hands on, and one thing I’ll say for my mom—she never censored what I read.

In spite of the presence of Rosemary’s Baby on her bookshelves, she claimed to hate horror. It was strange, then, to find a few Stephen King paperbacks among several garbage bags full of books that were hidden under the basement stairs.

I’d always been titillated by scary stories—there was something irresistible about reading books and watching movies that were considered “off limits” for someone my age. Who can resist the forbidden?

Mom claimed not to know where the paperbacks had come from, but as usual, she didn’t care if I read them. So my very first King experience was Different Seasons, and I couldn’t have chosen a better book. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption…Apt Pupil…The Body. They are still some of the finest stories I’ve ever read.

From that moment on, I was hooked. My first published story was about a vampire who ran around devouring everything (I’d recently learned the word ‘devour’ and loved it.) As an adult, I initially preferred to write mysteries and psychological suspense, but all my novels had one thing in common—they were dark. Very dark. I decided to embrace the darkness.

Done well, horror can make us question our preconceived ideas. It presents the worst-case scenario so we can think about how we’d deal with the same situation. A thrilling horror story will grab us and hypnotize us, forcing us to turn page after page until it’s finished. (I’ve lost many nights of sleep to Stephen King.) And there are no guarantees with this genre—horror writers never promise their readers a happily ever after.

Sadly, there is quite a bit of crap cluttering the genre, and it’s given horror a bad name. But there are writers who grew up reading the masters, who truly love horror, and who are determined to keep elevating the genre. So within all this darkness, there is hope. [Emphasis mine.]

J. H. Moncrieff

J. H. Moncrieff

J.H. Moncrieff loves scaring people with her books, and she blogs about the supernatural, the creepy, and the mysterious on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In her “spare” time, J.H. travels to exotic locales, advocates for animal rights, and practices Muay Thai kickboxing.

Her newest release is The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave:

Still grieving the untimely death of his dad, ten-year-old Josh Leary is reluctant to accept a well-worn teddy bear from his new stepfather. He soon learns he was right to be wary. Edgar is no ordinary toy, and he doesn’t like being rejected. When Josh banishes him to the closet, terrible things happen.

Desperate to be rid of the bear, Josh engages the help of a friend. As the boys’ efforts rebound on them with horrifying results, Josh is forced to accept the truth — Edgar will always get even.

J.H. Moncrieff: Website | Twitter | Facebook
The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave: Amazon | Samhain | Kobo | B&N | Trailer