The best reviews

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Today’s question is: “What is the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?” 

What an awesome thing to consider. 🙂 I don’t often think about the positive responses my writing garners, and I really should.

The things I treasure most are the e-mails readers have sent me. Mainly because they are unsolicited (as opposed to a review on a book blog or an ARC review, which I’ve outright asked for) and so I feel much more strongly about those little encouraging notes, even if they are short or vague, because I know they represent a genuine appreciation for my work. Those are probably the best things anyone has ever said about my writing, really. If you are a reader who has written me, or another author, thank you. ❤ You are fantastic.

The best line from a review I ever received publicly was this one:

 It’s hard to say why I gave it five stars, other than I just really enjoyed it completely in a way I rarely do.

I know that doesn’t seem the most glowing recommendation, and indeed I have better lines (even from that review there are more positive lines) but this one little sentence was the most flattering thing to me. Maybe because this person is a reviewer who reads a lot of books in my genre, maybe because it was unsolicited, maybe because this line is just so honest and simple and real. I don’t know. But when I need to feel better about myself, I pull up this review, and that one line always makes me feel best.

How about you? What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your work? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Adventures in meal subscription boxes

Okay, I know I haven’t shared any “Sunday Dinner” posts for a while. What can I say, life is hectic! So hectic, I decided to try one of those food crate subscription things. After looking through some sites and talking to some people, I settled on Marley Spoon as a first try.

I went for the “family” plan, which is intended to serve two adults and two kids under 12. So far we’ve done three meals (one week) and here, dear readers, are my findings!

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The ingredients for meal #1: skillet beef & rice
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My kids LOVED this!

First, the negatives:

  1. Small serving sizes. Now, I have spoken to other people who say they have plenty of leftovers, but those people are on the “2 adults” plan, not the family one. Maybe my family are just big eaters? I don’t know. All I know is, there haven’t been any leftovers and I kind of like leftovers. Also, it’s only been one adult and 2 kids eating these and there still were no leftovers, so I’m not sure the servings are “full meal” size. At least not for us.
  2. A bit pricey. I could definitely go to the store and get the same ingredients for significantly less money.
  3. Not a ton of vegetarian options. Possibly other services have more though. My kids and husband eat meat, and combined with the fact the servings are small so it really only serves the three of them it works out. But I’d like more veggie choices.
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Meal #2 prep: tomato & feta bake. One ciabatta roll for 4 people??? I added another one from my own stash, and it was still a small casserole.
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This looks kind of gross but it was fabulous. I will absolutely make this again.

The positives:

  1. New ideas. I don’t know about you, but I cook the same dozen things over and over and over. This subscription has given me some new ideas and pushed me to try some new techniques.
  2. Fun family activity. I decided if we were going to splurge on this it was going to be a family activity. So I’ve pretty much been having my kids cook these meals, with me as supervision. They’ve been loving it! And because they’ve made it, they are more willing to try these new foods, which is pretty awesome.wp-1466718186141.jpg
  3. Easy and fast to prepare. Nothing has taken more than 35 minutes to make, and everything is super easy to do. My 9 & 11 year old have been cooking this stuff, if that tells you anything. Clear step-by-step directions and everything is pre-measured, with just enough prep to make you feel like you’re actually cooking.
  4. No “what’s for dinner” stress. This is possibly the biggest “pro” of these things. God, I hate having to figure out what to make every night!! This takes a few of those decisions away and eases the stress a lot.
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Meal #3: sausage & beans with greens
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This definitely didn’t come out as good looking as the recipe card photo. But everyone seemed to enjoy it.

So overall, I think I will keep this subscription for a few months, and maybe try another company, too. It’s not something I’ll do forever, but for now I’m enjoying it.

How about you? Have you tried any of these? Blue Apron? Hello Fresh? What did you think?

Pride… and Prejudice

When I heard of the Orlando massacre, I was at a bridal shower, celebrating love. At a table with my daughter and in-laws, I put the news aside, because I could. I talked instead about the bride’s new family and the beautiful cake and the lovely weather. The tragic news was glossed over in a “that’s so sad” kind of offhand way. I was glad. I knew when I got the chance I would take to social media and the news sites and learn all the horrible details, but I admit I was happy to retreat into my privilege for the moment and speak of lighter things.

Then the conversation turned to politics, and I found myself trying to keep calm while I explained that no, men pretending to be transgender women are not a problem in our bathrooms, and yes, I know this for a fact. I think I shifted their opinions a bit, but it’s possible they agreed just to keep me quiet.

Later, bile rose in my throat and my face was hot as a table full of well-dressed and well-to-do ladies spoke about how they’d consider voting for Trump “if he could just keep his mouth shut!” I would like to say I was brave and spoke up again, but I just drank my mimosa and kept quiet. I’m sorry. I wanted to, but I couldn’t find any words. I was afraid.

Not afraid of my in-laws, but afraid for my daughter and the world she will inherit. Afraid for all of us, those marching in pride parades and those walking to classes and those in the “wrong place at the wrong time” everywhere. Afraid because I saw hate. Not loud, violent hate, but a much more dangerous hate: quiet, refined, and confident. Hate backed up by money and power and privilege, hate that does not believe it is hate at all. I wish I had spoken up. I would have pointed out how all these things are connected: the violent crimes against gay people and the targeting of transgender bathroom rights and the bigotry of political candidates. I wish I could have made some intelligent argument or insightful quip, but I had nothing except fear and sadness inside me.

Later, I went online to learn all the horrible details of the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history. A little less secure in my privilege, I cried at the pictures and details, and got angry at the ignorant bigoted comments I saw. Again, I felt afraid for all of us, at the hate and fear in our world right now. Terror is a good word for what happened, and for what I feel. What will happen at the upcoming pride events around the country? What will happen at the gay clubs downtown? Who is an enemy? How can we tell? Is there any way to stop these attacks against the LGBT community?CkwpDbnW0AAa6FV

I don’t know, of course. But I do know that we all need to stand against homophobia. And we need to call this massacre what it is: a hate crime against LGBT people. Not a random attack, a targeted one. Fed by hate and nurtured by the kind of political ideologies that preach bigotry and xenophobia. This massacre was a horrifically violent expression of homophobia, but unfortunately homophobia is all too common.

The first Pride parade was a reaction to Stonewall, a commemoration and continuation of the bravery demonstrated by the rioters. Pride might be a celebration, but it is not all party, it is also -still- an act of bravery. A time to stand up, afraid but not alone, and show pride in something widely condemned. It seems to me the strength of Pride, and the solidarity of the LGBT community it represents, is needed now more than ever. I know the LGBT community will stand together in this time of sadness and fear, but I hope (so hard) that non-LGBT people will, too. If ever there was a time to be an ally, it is now.

Equality Florida is offering services, and raising money to support the victims, if you are able to donate please visit their page. Rather than reading post after post about the murderer, consider learning about the victims, and celebrating their lives instead. And if you are in a position to speak up against homophobia, no matter how casual or “harmless” it appears, please try to do so. Maybe with love we can fight this hate. ❤

This month’s insecurity: Am I annoying???

I probably am. Ugh, yes, I am definitely annoying.

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThis is an insecure writer’s support group post, please join us if you are an insecure writer! Visit the main page here to sign up or read the other participant’s posts. This is a blog hop 🙂

So I’ve been thinking lately about all the people in my life who’ve gotten to know me, and then bailed out. All the failed or faded friendships. All the internet “blocks” and de-friendings. I know I should not dwell on that, I should instead focus on those wonderful, patient, and kind souls who actually like me and have stuck around, but I can’t help it!

I obsess over what I did to make them dislike me so, what wrong things I said. Was it one thing? Or just my personality in general? I wish I knew, so I could improve myself, or even just apologize. Maybe their reasons are dumb, and I won’t feel so bad! I don’t know.

If I AM annoying, how could I tell? Is there like a maximum number of enemies you can have and still be a decent person? How many de-friendings is normal?

It does have a negative impact on my writing, because I start to wonder if my poor social skills are translating into my character’s interactions. Are my characters just as dorky as I am? Is my dialogue obnoxious?

I’d love to hear if anyone else worries about this stuff. Also if anyone has tips or advice about limiting this particular kind of social anxiety. Comment below! (You might have to click the blog title to open this post again & comment)

Happy Memorial Day!

Today I will march with my Girl Scouts in our town’s memorial Day Parade. (Assuming the rain holds off and it’s not cancelled!) I’ve been going for the past five years or so, and I really enjoy it. It’s a small parade, not many vets, lots of kids (boy scouts, girl scouts, marching bands) and some local law enforcement and firefighters. Mostly the audience consists of the families of the marchers. A thin crowd, many of whom disperse immediately upon picking up their kid, so that by the time the mayor gives a speech honoring our veterans, hardly anyone is left to see it. I always stay, and I strongly encourage my girls’ families to stay, too. I am so disappointed and embarrassed by how few people are there to actually honor our local veterans! I wish I could do something to increase attendance.

A few people in my life have been surprised by how strong my feelings are about Memorial Day. See, I am a real “tree-hugging liberal” and I am always speaking out against war. So people sometimes assume I am not pro-military. Which, honestly, is dumb. I guess some people think military personnel just loooove fighting, and we should encourage conflict if we want to support them? Stupid.

Though lately, people seem to have a very warped view of what is “patriotic.” Wave a flag, sling some mildy-racist comments, and boom! Instant patriot. So strange and sad to me that in a country founded on tenets of religious freedom and open immigration we now have thousands cheering for xenophobia and religious persecution, and calling it patriotism.

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I hope whatever your Memorial Day entails, you take a few minutes to remember the reason for the holiday: those who lost their lives in service to our country. Also please remember these fallen are men AND women, of ALL races, ethnicities, religions, and sexualities. People from all walks of life, who entered service for many different reasons. Many fought our nation’s conflicts for reasons they personally might not have agreed with or even fully understood.

I will never support war, but I have immense respect and gratitude for our warriors. Happy Memorial Day ❤

#IDAHOT

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, & Biphobia: A worldwide celebration of gender and sexual diversities (Also known as “IHAHOT”) Thank you for visiting my blog on this day! 🙂 This post is a contribution to the Hop For Visibility, Awareness, & Equality. Visit the hop’s main page and read the many great posts! Learn more about IDAHOT here.

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This year’s IDAHOT theme is “Mental Health and Well-Being.” Many studies have found a correlation between social stigma (or discrimination) and mental health problems. It seems like we’d hardly need a study to tell us that, though. If you feel your community is against you, it’s going to have an impact on your emotional well-being and self-image eventually. And if you live in a society where you are bombarded with the message that you are abnormal/wrong/other, you are likely to internalize that as well.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing what I do is I get to glorify and celebrate a more ideal reality: where families don’t kick their kids out for being gay, where LGBT people find love and acceptance, where there’s always a happy-ever-after. I know that not everyone lives in that kind of world, though. Although we have come a long way, there is still a lot of hate.

One thing this recent election and the hub-bub about the “bathroom bills” has done is revealed just how commonplace hate is. No matter who wins this election, the damage has been done. Hate speech is not only acceptable now, it’s televised. Racists and bigots have been validated and now feel free to speak their secret hate, to wear it on their sleeves, to even be proud of it.

When I drive around my town and I see the Trump signs in neighbors’ yards, the “make America great again” bumper stickers, I feel sick, and more than a little scared. I am a cis woman, married to a cis man. How must those signs feel to a trans person? Or a person in a same-gender marriage? How does that impact their mental health and well-being?

Recently a conservative “watchdog” took it upon herself to harass a 15 year old trans girl at my local high school, all in the name of “protecting” children. It was horrifying, but the end result was…kind of okay. The local newspaper ran a story about the issue, calling out the self-appointed watchdog on her bullying. Hundreds of people spoke up on behalf of the trans teen and a petition quickly formed to have the page removed. The local paper gave the teen her own article, to state her side of things. In it she spoke about all the support she’s received and said she feels safe at school, and always has.

Seems a happy ending. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Those names spewing hate on that Facebook page? Those are parents in my community. People whose kids will be going to school with my kids. People who might themselves be interacting with my kids, and the other children I know and love. The school in question? That’s the high school my kids will attend in only a few years. So while the end result was positive, and the principal, superintendent, mayor, and many, many residents all spoke up for tolerance and love, the whole incident was still unsettling. Mostly, it hurt to see familiar names, local people, speaking such hate.

I’m wondering how I deal with the aftermath of it all. How do I interact with these people, now that I know their bigoted views? How do I forget the ugly comments I saw? Should I even try to forgive and forget, or should I keep my kids away from these people? Or do I wait until I personally hear them say something, or until they do something to me or mine that warrants a reaction? I suppose in that case the question of whether or not we can coexist would be answered, because I’d speak up and there would likely be an argument, and we’d probably not interact ever again.

What about the LGBT kids in my community? How will this impact them? Will they believe their neighbors think they are gross or dangerous? Will they be afraid to come out? And what about the bigoted kids? Will they think it is okay to be assholes, now? That their hate is justified?

I used to think that changes were happening so fast! I was proud of my generation (gen X!!), and the open-mindedness I thought we possessed. I believed we were so much “better” than our parents, and I thought every generation would become less bigoted, less racist. Now, twenty years later, I know better. Changes are happening, and yes every generation grows more accepting… but it is a much, much slower process than I’d ever imagined. I think social media has helped, and so has television, by bringing things into the public spotlight, offering many different viewpoints, showing people how diverse humanity really is. But it’s still a slow change.

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As I write this the US Justice Department has just filed suit against North Carolina for their “bathroom bill,” the Obama administration has spoken out, and it seems this particular fight for trans rights will end on a positive note. Of course this makes me happy, though I don’t imagine the war is won by any means. I know there will be backlash, and I know the damage simmering hate can do when it goes unchecked and unnoticed. But for now, these issues that made me so uncomfortable about my kids’ future high school community seem to be resolved.

In some ways, this bathroom bill stuff is a good sign. It’s an acknowledgement of the existence of transgender people. It’s getting people talking, too, and showing support. It’s making people think about their prejudices. Change isn’t usually easy or painless: most positive change has been bought with blood, sweat, and tears. I think we all need to be as brave as possible, to speak up whenever we can against hate, and to keep an open mind.

I believe LGBT romantic fiction helps create positive change, too. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans Romances help to “normalize” LGBT people, by offering a glimpse into how beautiful and loving an LGBT relationship can be to those who might not have any personal experience or real-life interaction with LGBT people. And for those who might be struggling, feeling alone or marginalized, representation that is positive, joyful, deep, and respectful is super important. I’d like to think the books in my genre have helped people with their mental health and well-being, if only in small ways.

You know what else is great for your mental health and well-being? Going to the beach. Seriously, studies have been done and I’m not going to argue with them! The beach is good for you. As an incentive for you to go to the beach (or the lake or the pool or just lay out a towel in the sun, play “ocean sounds” on your iPod, and pretend. I’m not judging) I will ship one lucky commenter (chosen at random) a sweet hand-made beach bag and two Amelia Bishop paperbacks to read on the beach! Continental US only, please, I’m poor. Winner will be drawn on May 25. Here are some pictures:

Yes, I made it, and yes, it’s HUGE. It holds a family’s worth of towels, or everything a solo-beach goer might need for a day in the sun. (Really. I tested it, as evidenced in the pics!) And all the sand will sift right out. I washed it and dried it in the sunshine, so it’s ready to go!

Comment below (your thoughts about IDAHOT or this post) for your chance to win 🙂

Visit the other hop participants, too: B. A. Brock  Jamie Fessenden  Rory Ni Coileain Erica Pike  Andrew Jericho  Tempeste O’Riley  The Macaronis  Elin Gregory  Alexa MIlne Nic Starr  Evelise Archer  Sue Brown  Elizabeth Varlet Raven J. Spencer Sharing Links and Wisdom  Lisa Horan  Archer Kay Leah  Alexis Duran  Jules Dixon  R.M. Olivia  Heloise West  Angel Martinez  Moonbeams over Atlanta – Eloreen Moon  Helena Stone  AM Leibowitz  L.D. Blakeley  Lila Leigh Hunter  Sharon Bidwell  Nicole Dennis  Lexi Ander  Barbara G.Tarn  Kaje Harper  JMS Books LLC   JM Snyder  Dean Pace-Frech  Kimber Vale  Jacintha Topaz  Prism Book Alliance®  Eva Lefoy   Lou Sylvre  Anne Barwell  Viki Lyn  Sean Michael  Remmy Duchene  Sharita Lira writing as BLMorticia  Barbara Winkes  Bronwyn Heeley  L. J. LaBarthe  VJ Summers  Nikka Michaels  Caraway Carter  L M Somerton  Taylor Law  Anastasia Vitsky  Draven St. James  A.V. Sanders  Lynley Wayne  DP Denman  M.A. Church  Andrew J. Peters  Dianne Hartsock  M. LeAnne Phoenix  Cherie Noel Chris McHart

What is my work worth?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeHi! This is a post for the insecure Writer’s Support Group, we post the first Wednesday of each month to air our writerly insecurities. Join us! Or just hop around and read our posts, and feel less alone in your own insecurities.

Usually I try to keep my IWSG posts fairly short (I think it is a group rule actually) but this one will be a little longer. Sorry! I haven’t posted to this blog in almost a month, and I’ve got a few extra words to say.

So let me start at the beginning… My favorite genre, the genre I read and write in most, is Gay Romance, or m/m Romance. And in m/m, the drama level is generally higher than normal for some reason. I’ve learned to deal. It does suck me in sometimes, though! The latest drama storm has a few centers. One is about the way readers will “read and return” e-books to amazon, or pirate our work, or just demand lower prices. Overall, this sucks. But let me break down the layers of suckage:

Layer 1: Amazon lets people return a digital book, no questions asked, within 7 days of purchase. In some ways, this practice is good for me as an author. It means buying my books is a zero-risk decision. Don’t like my book? Send it back. So people can feel free to click that “buy” button without worry. The trouble is, it is SUPER easy to keep on reading for free by returning. Even if Amazon catches on and cuts you off, you can just make a new account and keep on scamming. I have very few returns, so I don’t personally have a big problem with this Amazon policy, but it does hurt some authors, and I will back them up before I back up Amazon.

Layer 2: Pirates. There always will be thieves, we can’t stop that. But book thieves are an odd breed, who somehow think they are doing us authors a favor when they steal our books. As if we get some kind of power or boost just by being read. Uh, no. I’m not Lord Voldemort, and simply saying my name (or reading my words) does not pay my mortgage. Pirates don’t help authors. That is a lie they tell themselves because they know damn well they are doing something wrong. It might help them sleep better, but it is still a lie. Yet I can’t stop pirates, I am powerless against them, so I guess I should not waste my energy worrying about them.

Layer 3: Readers want lower prices, would prefer all books be free or .99. And oh yes also they’d like books to all be over 200 pages, please, otherwise it’s not really “worth it.” I will admit I have a lot of sympathy for the price issues. As a reader I also balk at books over $5. Romance readers are THE BEST readers, and I’m not just saying that because I am one (okay maybe that’s why) but because we read a lot. Most of us can happily tear through a novel a night. And at $5 or more per book, well, that means we can easily spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year on our reading habits. That’s…nuts. So we constantly search the current free lists, subscribe to bookbub, and whine about “overpriced” books. I get it. I’m with you. BUT: I also write and self-publish, which takes a lot of time and money, and when people tell me that my art isn’t worth as much as a cup of coffee, it hurts. And it also means I have to write less, because if writing isn’t paying the bills, then more of my time has to get diverted to a job that brings in real money.

So all that is one part of the drama. Another is about an author who is really a group of authors. I guess someone noticed that an author was popping books out at a crazy pace, and those books were all making rank, and they got suspicious. It might sound distrustful or mean but I do understand their worry. With the abundance of plagiarists and scammers out there, especially (it seems) in m/m Romance, their suspicions were reasonable. (And how sad is that? 😦 ) The author responded by admitting they are actually a group of authors working together to produce books quickly, and that explained that. But it left me with an odd feeling. I don’t begrudge this author-group their success, still I don’t like what it means: that a single author’s chances of “making it” are slim. Amazon’s algorithms reward new releases and readers reward quantity. But even the most prolific of us can rarely get more than three books out in a year. How can we compete with “authors” who can put out one or two a month?

All these things devalue writing. Treating books as less valuable than almost anything else you can buy sucks. (Seriously what can you buy for $3 nowadays besides an e-book??? And how many of those things will entertain you for hours? Make you laugh, cry, think, feel??? Let me know when you think of something.)  Expecting authors to be like machines, who need to pump out product at impossible rates while still interacting with readers and posting blogs and tweeting and instagramming and whatever else also sucks. These expectations, combined with Amazon’s algorithms and policies which shower the top earners with more exposure while keeping the unknowns unknown, make it a minor miracle anyone can earn even a hobby income from publishing these days.

It all leaves me wondering: what is my work worth?

Is it only worth what people will pay for it (so, basically, nothing)? Or is it priceless, as art, with an intangible value beyond dollars and cents? Is it worth your time? Is it worth mine? Is it worth less if people don’t like it, and more if my star-rating average is higher? I have no idea.

What I will say is a giant THANK YOU to those who buy, read, and review books. Not just my books, all books. You are keeping authors in business, literally. You are awesome! I love you.

I also love my fellow authors who constantly try to produce great books, who share their tips and tricks, who dive in to author/reader communities even though it can sometimes be a crazy jungle of feelings and opinions, filled with innumerable dangers. You also are awesome! Thank you for being part of my community.

I want to keep producing quality, carefully crafted books. I want to earn some money by doing that. I also want readers (and society at large) to appreciate the diverse beauty and multi-faceted influence of fiction. I wish I knew how to help these things happen. Any ideas? I’m listening.