Values Live On

This post isn’t meant to be preachy. Family has been on my mind a lot lately and how proud I am of my son and grandson.

What do we do that would make our ancestors’ hair curl? Granted our descendants manner of living was much more strict than today’s traditions. In many, many ways. We have grown as a culture, good or bad.

Maybe it’s the way we style our hair. Maybe it’s our choice of clothing. Could it be our choice of speech? The way we treat others? We can pray we’ve taught our children from an early age to choose well, to be at ease with life’s options.

And…there are options. Right and wrong choices.

Guidance and encouragement will teach our children to, hopefully, choose the right role models. Perhaps they’ll opt to model their lifestyle in the way we’ve demonstrated, perhaps it’s someone else.

Children do observe everything we do or say. The way we behave towards others. It’s our responsibility to instill good values in our children and grandchildren.

It isn’t our role to judge. When we engage, offer encouragement and support in their choices, we stand by the person they’re becoming. Right or wrong. Though we hope they choose effectively. Choices they make are part of their growth.

Yes, perhaps they’ll make mistakes, who doesn’t? How else are they to learn?

I’ve certainly gathered much knowledge from my own mistakes. We can only hope they learn from theirs.

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands!

Happy People

Happy People

If you’re over 50—or if you’re currently enrolled in kindergarten—you’ll know the title is from a song. Though whether we’re happy or not may not be  so simple to know. We all clap our hands anyway. Myren, my curmudgeonly chauffeur, says he never clapped his hands in kindergarten when his class sang that song. Big surprise. Myren aside, we all want to be happy.

But how do we know if we’re happy, technically speaking? Well that’s a matter for experts to examine, including Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author on the subject of living long, healthy & happy. I’ve read Buettner’s articles and many others about happiness—took a whole college course in psychology focusing on what makes happiness tick. Myren is rolling his eyes and I’m ignoring him because I’m happy—and sane.

After all that reading and studying, I’ve come up with my personal list. Check it out (everyone except Myren) to see how happy you are.

Top 7 ways you know if you’re happy:

  1. You laugh a lot. Like every day. Multiple times a day. Sounds simple, right? But really think about this one before you answer it for yourself. How often do you laugh? (Also, how often do you cry?)
  2. You like going to work every day. Especially if you’re like me and you don’t have to go anywhere! It’s no surprise that a long commute can be a big negative in people’s lives according to Buettner. It’s also no surprise that liking your job can make you happy.

You don’t even have to like your job if you like the people you work with. In fact, according to Buettner and others, liking your fellow employees and having friends at work is more important than making more money.

I can personally attest to the truth of this! (Myren is suspiciously quiet on the subject of workplace happiness. His mouth is clamped shut. I think he may be asking me for a raise later. But I digress…)

3.  You have a great social network and get together with friends/family often. Everyone agrees about how important the people in your life are to your happiness, right?

4.  You are healthy.

5.  You make a decent living. No need for riches. But just in case, I did buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot went to $625 million yesterday. It would be a kick to play Santa Claus with all that money. Which brings me to the next tellfor happiness.

6.  You focus on others with acts of kindness, helpfulness, care, donating and/or volunteering. Or maybe you’re there for someone with a shoulder to cry on in a tragedy.

7.  Life Balance. You have the right amount of work, social and sleep—and all those other healthy things like staying active. This is no news for anyone who spends too much time at work, or too much time sitting around. Or not enough time sleeping!

Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?LadySleeping

I’m going to work on getting more sleep!

(And I’m going to give Myren a big hug because he needs it.)

Tell me what you plan to do to improve your happiness.


“Super Worm Moon” and the Vernal Equinox

isThis morning, I’m typing this while on Spring Break with my son. He wanted to go to Williamsburg, VA to do a very free form kind of Revolutionary War and Civil War tour. Odd for an almost 20 year old, I know, but he’s a remarkable young man—and yes, I’m incredibly biased. So is his father (both biased and remarkable). Our apple didn’t fall too far from that tree.

is (2)Today is the Vernal Equinox. That is a day of celebration for me, since balance in all things is something I try to achieve. Great for me, since I’m a light loving woman and tomorrow the days continue getting incrementally longer and my days become (hopefully) more productive.


I carry a small pocket calendar in my purse. That calendar has a quote—meant to be is (3)inspirational—in the right-hand top corner. The quote for this week reads: “To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage.” (Confucious). Fits right in with the American Revolution theme as well as the Civil War theme. It also has something vital to say about today’s political landscape. We can argue about who is right, and who is fundamentally misguided—history/herstory will ultimately have insight none of us can see while immersed in it, but, what is not arguable is doing the right thing. Whatever that may be for each of us.

Seeing living history this week with my son has shown me the world has changed dramatically. Yet, the things that move us, that drive us to action, are the same things our forefathers and foremothers struggled with and tried to get right. I’d flip that quote on its head. It seems far simpler to me than Confucious made it. I’d rewrite it (and yes I get the hubris in daring to rewrite one of the world’s great thinkers—I get the abject irony as well, I simply don’t care) to read: “Have the courage to do what you know is the right thing.”  Stand up and be heard, or sit down, shut up, and let others speak for you.

is (4)Guess I’ve got a Revolutionary heart. Maybe it’s the venue. Maybe it’s the fact that Spring is here and it’s time for new growth. Here’s hoping we all stand up and do what we believe is right, each and every day.

COOL STUFF: In the Northern Hemisphere tonight if there are clear skies we should be able to see a, “cosmic triple play”. A full moon hasn’t landed so close to the first day of Spring since 2000. Tonight, according to we’ll see a full moon dubbed the “super worm moon” on the equinox. What’s really cool is that the moon’s orbit is egg-is (5)shaped (here’s that smile inducing irony again) its perigee is especially close to us. It’s going to look huge. By 9:43 p.m. ET the moon will reach its “full phase”. As a result of all the cosmic greatness happening tonight, the moon will appear 14% larger and 12% brighter. A “super-moon”.

I know I’ve been all over the place with this blog. I’m okay with that. It all boils down to, enjoy the time you have with those you love. Be aware of your surroundings and your place in history, because you have an obligation to those who came before and those who will come after. Do the right thing, because there is no alternative. Enjoy the light. Howl at the moon. Love our planet and our fellow inhabitants.

is (1)

Happy Vernal Equinox!



Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is my dad’s 79th birthday. He’s almost and octogenarian, but I certainly don’t think of him as elderly. He still has that sharp physicist’s mind and he hasn’t slowed down – he hikes, canoes and camps in the summer and skis in the winter, and he goes to the local climbing gym every week. He looks after my kids often and bounces on the backyard trampoline with them. He’s all kinds of amazing.img063

Dad’s birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day, so when I was a kid, we would usually make him a green birthday cake. My sister and I would cut out leprechauns, tape them to metal skewers and use them as cake decorations. Here’s a photo from about 1975. I’m the cutie on the right.

All these years later, I’m so blessed to still have my wonderful dad around to talk to or see just about every day. Hope your birthday is awesome, Dad! You’re the best.

What have you learned from this experience?

I’ve been on this fiction journey now for four and a bit years, and I’ve just typed THE END in my seventh novel, with novel number eight more than three quarters done. I have a heap of novellas under my belt, too, including three for Authors of Main Street.

So, in the immortal words of my own personal romantic hero, “What have you learned from this experience?” (Not, incidentally, what you want to hear when you’ve just bumped your toe or broken your heart. But I love you, darling.)

I’m still learning, but here are my top five lessons from my experience in the wild and wonderful world of Indie publishing.

Lesson 1: We do better together than apart

Since joining various Facebook groups for fiction, I’ve ‘met’ many wonderful authors. My to-read list has expanded at an alarming rate, but I’ve also been privileged to share their insights, tidbits from their research, and their encouragement as I’ve dipped my toes into the indie publishing water.  I’ve also joined three collaboratives of writers, the Bluestocking Belles, the Authors of Main Street, and Speakeasy Scribes.

These are people I can depend on to cheer my successes and commiserate when I feel defeated. I love you guys.

Without the retweeting and sharing of my friends, far fewer people would have heard of my books. And I am keen to return the service whenever I can. Readers are not a scarce resource to be hoarded; an enthusiastic reader will devour the books of many authors. When we share, when we support one another, we grow a larger market to benefit us all.

Lesson 2: 20 December is a terrible date to launch a new book

The 1st; maybe the 10th; maybe the 30th. But I launched my first book on the 20th.

The 20th was a really, really, bad idea, and very nearly did me in. So many competing demands. We have a habit of giving the grandchildren a craft day, and the year I published my first book we did two (one full Saturday for the older children, and one for the younger). At the time, I worked full-time in commercial publishing (I’m now down to three days a week), and 30 years of experience should have taught me that clients pile on the deadlines in the three weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Zealand summer holidays. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on Christmas shopping and baking.

I did all my own editing, cover design, proofreading, formatting, marketing, and so on. The week leading up to 20 December was insane, and the next week, as I publicised the book, even crazier. And that week included Christmas Day.

Let’s not do that again, okay?

Lesson 3: Don’t leave the cover till the last week

I’ve done a lot of research on covers, and looked at hundreds trying to work out what I like and what I don’t. I downloaded Pixelmator for the Mac, and my PRH transferred across a heap of fonts from the ancient version of InDesign on our old publishing company’s computer. We experimented with fonts till we found some we liked. But – with final tweaks on the image — the cover I actually used wasn’t completely ready until 12 December, just a couple of days before I uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon.

More pressure than I needed. Since then, my covers have been done before the book goes on preorder. In fact, I’ve just sent off for a quote on a cover photo for the four books that come next in the series I’ve just started.

Lesson 4: Distribution takes time – preorder is the way to go

I uploaded the first book on 16 December my time. The book began to be downloaded from Smashwords straight away. Somehow, I’d managed not to take that into my calculations, but hey — a download is a download, right? It took several days to filter through to the resellers from Smashwords. Apple finally started showing the book on 27 December, and didn’t really pick up speed for several days.

Amazon started selling immediately, too, but didn’t really begin to move until they made it free (see Ask for what you want, next).

Putting Farewell to Kindness up for preorder five weeks before release definitely lightened my stress load. And Baron for Becky went up nearly three months in advance. Since then, I’ve always tried for three months if I can.

Lesson 5: Ask for what you want; it’s less stressful than waiting

Ask for reviews. Ask for ratings. People can say ‘no’. But you lose nothing by asking. One thing I asked for was a free listing on Amazon. I was giving the novella away to give people a taste of my writing style, but Amazon insisted on a price of 99c.

I’d been told that Amazon would price match, and that I should ask people to request price matching. So I did. And nothing happened. I read discussions on forums where authors talked about how hard it was to get price matching. But then I thought ‘why not ask’?

So I emailed Amazon, told them that the novella was free at Apple and Barnes & Noble, that my strategy was to give it away free to publicise the next few books, and that — if they price matched — we’d both benefit in the long term. Within 24 hours, it was free on Amazon to US purchasers, and that slowly spread to their other stores.

So ask. People just might say ‘yes’.

Author Visits and Book Clubs

rose arbors ghostAs an author, it’s always a thrill to have your book chosen by a book club. Today, I was to speak to the Goleta Book Club about my novel, A Ghost of a Second Chance. I also had an appointment to tour a private school in Santa Barbara County. (My Canterbury Romance Series revolve around a private school in Santa Barbara, you can read more about this coincidence here.) Sadly–hopefully, not tragically–my tour of the school had to be canceled because they had to be evacuated because of potential mudslides. And given the spotty weather conditions, we decided it would be best if I stayed at home and meet with the Goleta Book Club via Skype.

Which seemed like the perfect solution, until due to difficulties on their end, they were able to see and hear me but not vice-a-versa. So, I talked and they sent me questions via text. This seemed less than optimal until I realized it gave me the unique opportunity to capture our conversation and share it. If you’d like to read A Ghost of a Second Chance, you can GET YOUR COPY HERE

So, here are some snippets of my discussion with the Goleta Book Club. Of course, the questions will be different for every author and every book, but this might provide some insight on what to expect if you ever get the lucky opportunity to meet with a book club and discuss your book. (I took out the praise and boiled it down to just the questions.)

Do you have a set writing schedule?

Yes, I try to write/edit/market every day between ten a.m. and four p.m.

How long does it take you to write a book? This one in particular?

I published this book nearly five years ago, so I can’t remember, but I do remember that I loved writing this story. It was the first book I wrote knowing I would self-publish it so it was like a free-fall of my imagination. I wasn’t thinking of genre or publishing houses or agents. I just wrote the story I wanted to write. At about four hundred pages, it’s the longest book I ever wrote. (That’s not completely true, my first draft of The Rhyme’s Library was more than 105,000 words, but it needed to be pared WAY back.)

I’ve written a book, start to finish, in less than a month, but in general, it usually takes me about three months to write a book.

How many edits does your book go through? And do they look very different after you’re finished?

Typically, each book has about four to five revisions, but the basic plot of the story remains unchanged. I may add scenes to further illustrate a character’s motivation or address a plot hole, but in general my stories end up pretty much how I envision them from the beginning.

Why did you decide to make Laine’s father kind of creep? She seems so put together and kind–unlike her dad. And she doesn’t ever really get mad at him, but just brushes him off.

This wasn’t an intentional decision, but I do believe parents are human and they make mistakes. As adults, we make our choices that may or may not reflect our parents’ and their values.

Did you intentionally include your own beliefs in the afterlife?

Of course I didn’t set out to preach a sermon on the afterlife, but to tell an entertaining story. Still, I’m not sad, unhappy, or apologetic with my choice. I personally believe our deceased ancestors are watching over us. And do I think the world would be a kinder, gentler place if everyone recognized this? Absolutely. But still, I didn’t set out to write a story that reflected that belief. Also, I don’t consider myself a great scriptorian. Even though I do have a daily habit of studying my scriptures, I do so for purely selfish reasons. I would be horrified if anyone wanted to use my works for spiritual guidance.

I loved when Sid told Laine that had he known he would be reunited with Madeline after this life he would have made better choices. I thought it was a powerful teaching moment. Was that intentional?

No. It’s usually during a rewrite when those ah-ha moments occur to me. The first draft is like the basic construction of a house. I’m building walls, installing windows, making sure the plumbing works, but it’s in the rewrites where the epiphanies happen. That’s where the house becomes a home.

You refer to your characters as if they are soooo real to you. Are they? Do you talk to them and see how they look?

I do love my characters, especially my heroes. The longer I spend with them, the more attached I become. When I had to kill a character in my book Seadrift, I was sent into a black place for about a week and was unable to write. Maybe that’s why I stepped away from mysteries (that, and because they take a lot more mental acrobatics.)

Do you ever get writers’ block?

When I get writers’ block it’s usually because my story has somehow gone off the rails. Either my characters are misbehaving or I’ve written them into an impossible situation. When this happens, I usually work on something else like my blog or another book. If I really need to get my book in motion, sometimes I’ll brainstorm with a writer friend.

Do you aspire to have one of your books made into a movie?

I don’t really see myself on that path so I don’t give it a lot of thought. When I think about others reading and evaluating my books, it usually stymies me. I’m much better off to enjoy the writing process and forget about how the books will be received. If I had to think about the book being turned into a movie, I’d be terrified Hollywood would twist my book into something embarrassing. Mentally, I can’t even go there or I’d never write a thing.

Who are some of your favorite authors that have influenced you?

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Wallace Stegner, Anne Tyler, Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, Lauren Willig, Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie, Brene Brown, Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t pretend to be in their company.

You obviously spend a lot of time writing, do you also spend a lot of time of reading?

I’m not sure if I spend more time reading than writing, but if not, it’s probably close.

What book am I reading now?

Currently on my nightstand I have The Husband’s Secret by Laine Moriarty, Emma by Alexander Mccall Smith,and The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. Also, by Thursday, I intend to read Newsletter Ninja, by Tammi Labrecque because my writing partner is going to help me revamp my newsletter.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I won’t say that I like it, but I do exercise every day, mostly because if I don’t I’ll start to cry and have emotional break downs. Don’t ask me why, but when I run everyday, I’m happier. I should probably be medicated, but since medicine frightens me, I deal with my depression by spending time outside with friends nearly every day. I also enjoy painting and making crafts, but since they tend to make a mess, I try not to indulge very often because I dislike the clutter. I’m lucky that I have a friend who hosts a monthly craft night where I can make crafts at her house. And then I generally give them away. (Again, clutter.)

Speaking of F-bombs…I have book that I’ve loved but can’t recommend because of language. What can we do to let authors know we find bad language very distasteful? Is there anyway to make a difference?

Personally, I think profanity is stupid. Swearing is just a way to emphasize strong emotions, and there are a million ways to do that without being crass or sacrilegious. Also, how sad is that we’ve taken the sex act and turned it into curse word? But to answer the question, what can we as readers do? Support authors who reflect your values. Leave reviews. Tweet reviews. Writers and publishers will notice.

You said you like self-publishing. What specifically do you like about it? What do you dislike about it?

What I love best about self-publishing is also what I dislike the most. I love the freedom to write what I want when I want. Conversely, I would love to be able to work with a team of editors who could elevate my work. (Not that I don’t love my editor–she’s wonderful and I consider myself blessed to have her in my camp.)

How do you get into self-publishing?

I have several blog posts on my decision to self-publish. You can read them here:

Self Publishing Myth

When the Hooray Goes Away

More on My Decision to Self-publish

An Argument for Self-publishing

The Signs of Spring – Reno style

To say that learning the ways of a new place is an adventure is an enormous understatement. From the San Francisco Bay Area to Reno is a major adjustment. And at no time is that more clear than the beginning of spring.



Signs that Spring is coming…someday.

  1. The trees are getting buds and little red-breasted birds are appearing in the bare branches. The birds may think it is spring, but the weatherman forcasting snow this weekend is of a different mind.
  2. The weather is getting warmer. If I had ever, in a million years, thought 40° was going to be warmer I would have fallen over laughing. I was a teenaged summer girl, slathered in tanning lotion with Sun-In in my hair.
  3. I am happiest on my computer or reading a book or just about anything indoors. So when I start feeling that urge to go outside and feel the breeze and smell the great outdoors, spring must be coming after all.

Hope you can feel spring coming, or your next season on the other side of the world, wherever you are.

Jill James, romance writer