Friday, June 24, 2016

Author Self-Care Tips


I often see authors talking about depression, anxiety, and other issues they are struggling with on a daily basis.

Working at home as a writer can be really difficult. It's isolating. It can be lonely, physically exhausting, and emotionally exhausting.

I have a few personal tips that have helped me, and I thought I would discuss them today.


1. Keep the lights on!

As soon as my husband went off to work, and the kids were off to school, I used to turn out all the household lights to save on the electric bill. I only kept on my office lights. But I noticed something. The darkness was oppressive and melancholy--especially during the winter months when there was very little natural light/sunshine entering the house.

I tried a little experiment. I kept on the kitchen and living room lights. It made a huge difference in my mood. When you're trapped in the house all day writing, your space is very important. If it's cluttered, you feel unsettled. If it's dark, you feel down. I noticed right away that my mood improved when I was surrounded by light vs. darkness. That sounds melodramatic, doesn't it? Hee hee. Well, it really worked. Try it!


2. Put the food away.

If you're trying to diet/stay healthy and work from home, it's tough when the kitchen is always five steps away. Also, food can be a distraction when you're trying to get work done. My kids have bags of chips and cookies everywhere. It's way too easy to grab a handful of potato chips when the bag is lying open on the kitchen counter.

I make a point to clean up the main kitchen island. The only thing allowed on there is a bowl of fruit. All cookies, chips, and other snacks must be wrapped up and put away in the pantry. Out of sight, out of mind. No more mindless snacking.

Just because you are working at home does not mean you need to eat constantly. And when you *are* hungry, it's good to have healthy snacks ready to go. Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and good protein will keep your mood elevated. Having a shelf in the fridge with pre-cut veggies/fruits, cheese sticks, mini yogurts, and other healthy snack foods is a great idea.


3.  Add morning structure.

It can become overwhelming to have eight hours of freedom, especially if you are prone to anxiety. I have a to-do list for the morning to get me started. It includes making my bed, starting the first load of laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and walking. The two "W"s on my list are walking and writing. I walk for at least 30 minutes--which clears my head and helps me to percolate about my book--and then I come home and write for at least an hour. Usually, that turns into 2 hours, but as long as I can check off "1 HOUR WRITING" on my list, I feel like I've accomplished something.

The to-do list is really critical for folks who have trouble getting organized and staying on top of their anxiety. That structure makes you feel in control and like you are achieving your tasks. Also, by having "A WALK" on my list, I am forced to get dressed, get outside, and not hide like a hermit in my house all day. The walk is incredibly important for both physical and mental well-being. More about that later!
 

4. Take a social break.

Living in isolation is not good for your soul. Sometimes we need quiet time to concentrate and work. And sometimes we need to reach out and connect with people. Social media--in theory--can be a great way to accomplish this. However, more often than not, social media can be rage-inducing or depressing or horrifying. Too many disturbing news stories, animal torture pics, etc.

When you need a pat on the back or some support, make sure you have a way to connect with your friends. A private Facebook page where you can vent is fabulous. A group text where you can discuss the latest Tom Hiddleston news is also wonderful. Private emails are good, too. Just make sure you have a way to be in touch with the folks who know you, love you, support you.

One more thing...never underestimate the power of a pet connection! One hug with my dachshund Lucy can change my whole mood. There's a reason that research shows folks with pets are happier. Unconditional love and affection is everything!


5. Get outside and move.

This is a biggie for me, and probably for a lot of other writers. We all remember those deadline days when you never change out of your pajamas, you forget to eat, and you sit in a chair for ten straight hours finishing your book. That's not healthy for mind or body. And probably not that great for your book either!

I make sure to walk every morning. It makes me feel connected to my environment, my neighborhood, and to a larger world than my little office. It's great for your physical health, and it's vital for me working on my book. I walk and think!

I also try to add some errands into each day that force me to get out of the house. It could be something as simple as heading to the post office or picking up dinner at the grocery store. For folks dealing with anxiety, sometimes getting out of the house can feel daunting. Making--and achieving--little goals is a good thing.


Any other bright ideas to combat depression, anxiety, or help with at-home work?

Hope these tips help!

Penny


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

RISD Inspiration: New and Oldham


I was lucky enough to visit the RISD museum over this past weekend, and I got to meander around the incredible Todd Oldham exhibit (All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion).

This event runs from April 8-September 11, 2016. I HIGHLY recommend it. First of all, the RISD Museum (Providence, RI) is fabulous. Touring the museum is a refreshingly intimate experience. The Todd Oldham exhibit is stunning. From the smallest button (which he created himself)...


...to the most glorious awe-inspiring gowns...








 ...the creations make the observer realize each and every piece in this collection is art. Oldham's sources of inspiration are sometimes geographical/ethnic, sometimes pop culture, sometimes pure fun. The piece below is made of pipe cleaners!


Everything is mixed. Patterns, fabric, accessories, inspiration. So many colors, textures, forms...it seems like it would be overwhelming, but everything works. It's delightful!



If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, head over to Providence. You won't be sorry!



All my best,
Penny


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Penny's Top 5 Tips for Social Media Greatness!


Here we are...swimming in a sea of social media options. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest.

Here we are...bored shitless. Or offended. Or confused. Or...whatever.

People have different needs/motivations/interests in terms of social media. Got it. And I understand that many authors are using social media purely to get a sale. However, it's not going to be very effective when you're boring the bejimminies out of everyone. No one will want to buy your books.

When I get a friend request at Facebook, or a Twitter follow, and I'm considering..."Should I accept this? Should I follow back? Is this person worth checking out?" I consider several points. There are certain things that definitely draw my attention and make me want to read/friend/check you out.

And there are other things that make me fall asleep/leave/vow to never purchase a book from you as long as I live.

Here are some things to think about...


1. DON'T SKIMP ON THE VISUAL.


What does this girl have to do with my article?

Absolutely nothing. But the image got your attention, didn't it?

If you want someone to read your post, announcement, Facebook rant, you first need to capture their attention. Having a shit-ton of text, with no images, is not a good idea. Let the image grab their attention, and then follow up with some entertaining content/text.

It works!


2. DON'T BE A BILLBOARD.



If I check out your Twitter account, and every single tweet is BUY MY BOOK or a tweet about a review ABOUT YOUR BOOK or a retweet ABOUT YOUR BOOK, I'm out.

To be honest, I don't understand why anyone would follow someone doing that. It's like white noise. I guess they mute it.

At least take the time to interact, ask questions, chat with folks. This goes for Facebook, too. There is nothing worse than a Facebook author page that has 27 straight posts about MY BOOK MY BOOK MY BOOK.

I get it. You wrote a book. You want us to buy it.

I'm out.


3. BE YOU


I know there is a new trend going right now about "super secret identities." Here's what I think about secret identities, and shady deceptive practices, and gimmicks used to bump up sales.

I don't trust you.

If I don't know who you are--or if I find out you're someone else--I don't trust you.

Do not underestimate the power of reader trust. Be you. Be yourself. OWN YOUR SHIT. This is part of your branding...being authentic.

Gimmicks wear off and lose appeal. But you being yourself, and owning your shit, is for the long-haul.

I want to see who you really are on Twitter...posting pics of your walk around New England. And I want to hear you chatting about how your dog just had puppies on Facebook. And I want to see the picture of your perfect cocktail from the girl's night out event on your Instagram account.

These things are authentic and real and show me your true personality.


4. BE APPROPRIATE


There is a fine line between keeping it real ("I had a bad day at work!") and TMI ("Here's a picture of my oozing scab that was removed at the ER!"). I don't want to see your scab or your ingrown toenail or hear about how you puked your guts out all night long after drinking too much beer.

T. M. I.

I do want to see pics of your garden, hear about your latest vacation to Aruba, and offer support when you're having a bad day because you just put down your dog. You don't always have to be happy and perky. On the other hand, some things should not be discussed on social media.

Like scabs.


5. INSPIRE


Who are my favorite friends on social media? Some are authors, some are bloggers, some are readers, some are just random people I met on-line.

They entertain me.

They inspire me.

They make me laugh. They make me think. They offer support. They are thoughtful, cool, talented.

They are passionate.

They post incredible pics of their artwork. They commiserate with me about raising teenagers. They offer an excellent sangria recipe when I'm hosting a party.

When I'm having a good writing day, I'll post a snippet of my latest work-in-progress on Facebook. My friends get excited and chat with me about my book. That support keeps me going.

If you want to connect on social media, be yourself. Have fun. Be authentic.

Because, let's face it, what you're really doing is selling yourself. Are you boring? Are you funny? Are you kind? Are you snarky?

If peeps get interested in YOU, then maybe they'll be interested in what you do.

What an amazing concept!


Keeping it real in the Boston burbs,
Penny

Monday, June 6, 2016

Optimistic Fiction


Since I am approaching my 50th birthday at the end of June, I'm trying to wrap up my 6-month Professional Mid-Life Crisis.

Good luck to me! Hee hee.

I have been searching for a place for me and my writing...a community that values quality, integrity, and originality.

I tried to squeeze myself in the cozy mystery genre, but I realized that my heart wasn't in it.

I thought about mystery, horror, women's fiction.

But I keep coming back to the same issue. My "heart" wants to write love stories with happy endings. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I belong in the romance genre anymore.

So, instead of trying to squeeze my round self (extremely round...*wink*) into the square peg, I'm making up a new term for what I want to write.

Optimistic Fiction

What is it? What are the things I care about as a writer?


1. Original content.

I'm interested in original characters, storylines, concepts. No copycat books, trends, series. No bandwagon-jumping. Original, unique writing is key.


2. Character-driven fiction.


3. Hopeful themes, faith in people, inspiring characters.

I'm not interested in dark topics/themes like rape, abuse, torture, cheating, etc. I like fiction that is hopeful, inspiring, and showcases the good in people.


4. Real heroes.

That includes men, women, children, elves, dachshunds, etc. Characters who are loyal and heroic. Heroic acts are not always huge, over-the-top events. Sometimes they are small and subtle. But they're still critical.


5. Quality.

It's very important to me to produce a quality book. I hire professional editors, cover artists, and formatters. I care about grammar, craft, storytelling.



6. Love stories.

How does love affect our lives in every way? Friendship, family bonds, romantic relationships.


7. Integrity in publishing.

No manipulative stuff to make a bestseller list. My focus is creating a well-crafted book, and I'm still learning. I would rather spend my time working on craft than gaming the publishing system.


8. Stories for all ages.

Children, adults, universal themes.


9. Happy endings.

Non-negotiable. It doesn't matter if I write romance, humor, fantasy, or children's fiction. My books have a happy ending. It's a sure thing.


10. Optimistic Fiction.

When you finish the book, it makes you happy. It's a simple concept. It's the whole reason I was attracted to romance in the first place.


Now, if someone asks me what I write, I answer "Optimistic Fiction." It's a lot easier than saying love stories-and comedy-and holiday fantasy-and super heroic weenie dog tales-and over-forty romance...and...

And the best part? I don't have to worry about the person saying..."Romance? Oh! Like 50 Shades of Grey?"

No, not like that at all.


Feeling optimistic,
Penny



Friday, May 27, 2016

Delighted About Culinary Delights!


Am I still in the midst of a mid-life crisis, as the 50th birthday approaches?

Yes.

Am I getting a bit better about things? More philosophical? More settled? More at peace with the world?

Yes.

Recovering from bilateral pneumonia--a relapse--and the cough-from-hell definitely helped out!

Am I SUPER excited about my bucket-list trip to Iceland coming up in August?

YES!

Mr. and Mrs. Puffin say hello!

Am I still searching for "my people"...aka, readers who like mature characters, a good story, real romance, and aren't turned on by dialogue like "I'm gonna bang you so hard, baby!"

Yes.

So, what to do? How to find new readers?

Well, I have news for old readers and new readers!

For old readers/fans/people-who-put-up-with-my-rants, folks-who-like-Tom-Hiddleston, etc...

New content is coming soon. I am working on two books, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF JOHN B. HAMILTON AND THE BLUEBERRY PIE. (Check out fun Pinterest board!)





And the other new project is SWEET DESTINY, the final Klaus Brothers book, which will be released next Christmas (2016). (Check out fun Pinterest board!)




Now, for the NEW readers...

I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR YOU, FAR AND WIDE! WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?

Don't be afraid. I'm not as scary as I look...

My eyes aren't always this crazy, I swear!
I decided a fun way to find some new readers would be to offer a sampler collection of my work...and it would be REALLY fun to do this with Julia Barrett, who also writes award-winning foodie fiction stories.

So...Julia and I put together a collection of foodie romance, all previously published stories...

A TASTE OF HEAVEN (Watson) --full-length novel
BEAUTY AND THE FEAST (Barrett) --full-length novel
APPLES SHOULD BE RED (Watson) --novella
DINNER WITH A HIGHLAND GHOST (Barrett) --novella

We are offering this collection for an awesome introductory price...$2.99 (digital only). Here is our cover, blurb, and all purchase links.

If any of my loyal readers have friends who might enjoy Scottish chefs, cussing, delicious recipes, grumpy old men, gnomes, sexy ghosts, and a sensual feast in the Napa Valley, send them our way!

Here are purchase links, cover, and blurb! Carry on!







Blurb:

-->
Award-winning authors Julia Barrett and Penny Watson are thrilled to present a sampler collection of foodie fiction.

If you like Top Chef, Julia Child, the romance of the Napa Valley, and the mystery of the Scottish highlands, then you will love CULINARY DELIGHTS: Four Delectable Foodie Romances.

CULINARY DELIGHTS includes previously published content (two full-length novels and two romance novellas).

***Collection includes ten original recipes by Julia Barrett***


A TASTE OF HEAVEN by Penny Watson

Forty-seven-year-old widow Sophia Brown enters a cooking competition determined to reinvigorate her life, not expecting to find a giant Scottish obstacle blocking the path to victory. Elliott Adamson has one goal in mind...winning. But a smoldering attraction to his amateur partner may derail his plans.

“Lots of humor, romance, and a touching story of second chances.” (KIRKUS REVIEWS)

Best of 2015 Lists at Babbling About Books, Heroes and Heartbreakers, Smexy Books, and Fiction Vixen


BEAUTY AND THE FEAST by Julia Barrett

Eva Raines is an uncomplicated country girl about to embark on a new adventure as a personal chef in the Napa Valley. Wealthy entrepreneur Gabriel Abbott has no idea the sound of a woman's voice and the taste of her decadent food hold such seductive powers. When they finally meet in person, the chemistry between them is hot enough to ignite a barbecue.
“Spicy, sensual, and masterfully woven.” (MANHATTAN BOOK REVIEW)

Amazon #1 Bestseller, Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Contest 3rd Place Winner

APPLES SHOULD BE RED by Penny Watson

What happens when prim-and-proper Beverly and cranky curmudgeon Tom are forced to spend Thanksgiving together? A beer-can turkey, a stolen gnome, and some unexpected chemistry...in and out of the kitchen.

“Sexy and heart-warming.” (NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS)

2015 CoRWA Award of Excellence Finalist, 2015 DABWAHA Finalist


DINNER WITH A HIGHLAND GHOST by Julia Barrett

Restaurant-owner Emma Steen leaves scorching Arizona behind and arrives in Scotland hoping for a much-needed breath of fresh air. She never expects to encounter another living person on her first hike to Loch Ness, let alone a kilt-wearing bare-chested Highland hottie.
Pity he's also dead.

"Get ready for a romance story that will give you goose bumps in the best possible way...within the pages of Dinner with a Highland Ghost is one of the most complete, heartfelt, romantic and beautiful stories I've read in a while." (LONG AND SHORT REVIEWS)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Jewish Collection (Contemporary Romance) by Julia Barrett


My good friend Julia Barrett has a new book out this week! The Jewish Collection--Contemporary Romance Volume 1. I met Julia on-line after I saw a review for Beauty and the Feast. I read it, loved it, emailed her, we started a long-distance correspondence, and we became great friends. I talk to her every day on the phone, and we have visited each other in Napa and Boston. She is an incredibly talented writer, as well as a loyal friend and lovely person.

Her background and education are fascinating and impressive. At the age of 17, she went to Israel and lived on a kibbutz for a year. She became fluent in Hebrew. When she returned to the U.S., she attended and graduated from the University of Iowa, where she majored in creative writing and minored in Jewish Studies. Her Jewish identity is an important part of her life, and it's reflected in many of her stories. This collection is the first volume and it includes three of her books that I really enjoyed...

Beauty and the Feast...a sexy award-winning foodie romance set in the Napa Valley (See my full review here). This book manages to combine mouth-watering recipes, the romantic backdrop of Napa, and a super sexy romance.

A Matter of Taste...a sweet quickie novella about a woman who inherits a cookbook from her Jewish grandmother and finds a magical recipe for love.

Pushing Her Boundaries...an awesome survival-adventure romance based on a real life experience. (Full review here)



I highly recommend this book as a great introduction to Julia's talented writing and storytelling abilities.

Purchase links...

iBooks

B/N

Kobo

Amazon

For more information about Julia Barrett, check out her website.

Here's a photo from a few years ago when Julia visited me in Boston. Yep, that's Ming Tsai hanging out with us at Blue Ginger!

 

HAPPY RELEASE DAY TO JULIA!

Love, Penny


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

25 Writing Tips from Watsonville

 
I realized the other day when I read one of those articles about "BEST TIPS FOR WRITING" I usually roll my eyes and yell out "No!" "Stupid!" "I don't think so!"


So I thought it might be fun to do my own writing tips. You know, writing tips from an alternate universe.

Penny Watson's Writing Tips


1. Don't write.

That's correct. Walk, garden, go out to lunch with your friends.

Stuff that happens...your brain starts popping and jumping and thinking of cool story ideas and how to fix chapter 17 and a funny piece of dialogue.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is not to write.

The writing every day thing...bah. Some days I'm not "in the zone." Some days are "thinking" days or promo days or just putzing around in the garden days (aka, HAVING A LIFE).



2. Best thing for writing...WALKING.

I'm obsessed with walking. Why is it good for writing?

It's good for your body. It's good for your brain. It's good for your memory and mental well-being. It combats depression. It inspires you. It connects you to your community and environment.

When I walk, I write. In fact, I have trouble getting started with my writing if I skip my morning walk. I need it.


3. Adverbs are not Satan. They're fine.


4. Adjectives are not Satan. They're fine.


5. Passive voice is not Satan. It's really not.


6. It's all fine...just don't over-do. Too many adjectives make your writing cluttered. Mix up passive voice with active voice. If you use an adverb, make it a damned fine adverb.


7. Fragments are fine.


8. Isolated. Words. Can. Be. Fun. Especially if you need a bit of drama. Or even melodrama. Just don't over-do.


9. Don't read books that are too similar to what you're doing at the time. Read something totally different. You don't want to confuse your writing voice.


10. Sometimes the best preparation for writing is...cleaning. Decluttering. You know how sometimes you can't write when the bed is messy and the kitchen is filled with dirty dishes? Cluttered house = nagging feeling you need to do something. Clean the dishes. Make your bed. You feel lighter, freer, able to concentrate on your story instead of the piles of mail on the dining room table.


11. Word count can be pointless.  Case in point...NaNo. Writing 50,000 words of crap is not such a great thing. I know. I know. Folks are all...but you can edit the crap later. Sometimes 50 words or 100 words or even one freakin' sentence, or maybe just re-editing chapter 3 is good. You don't need a set word count for every day.


12. You don't need an outline. And by this, I mean a very detailed outline. Maybe a rough idea? Something jotted down? Maybe it's swirling around in your brain. Don't feel like a failure if you don't have 14 plotting charts with color-coded post-its. Some folks love that biz, some folks don't.

You don't need it.


13. REALLY IMPORTANT....LISTEN TO THE NIGGLE.

That feeling...that feeling...the one that says "this sentence sucks"...yeah, it does. Highlight it in red.

That feeling...that you need more deep POV for the heroine...yeah, you do. Make a note at the beginning of the chapter, highlight it in red.

That feeling...that your sex scene is awkward and needs more emotion. Yep, too much bump and grind...add some dialogue and emotional POV. Make a note, highlight in red.

GO BACK AND FIX ALL THE RED SPOTS.

Done.

Listen to your gut feeling. It's the most important thing. YOU KNOW HOW TO WRITE.


 Use the force, Luke! YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!

Your gut is more important than your critique partners, than beta readers, than your editor, than your mother. LISTEN TO YOUR NIGGLE.


14. For God's sake, DO NOT GO TO THE AUTHOR LOOPS while you're trying to write your book. Don't worry about what's happening at Barnes and Noble and Amazon and KU and the latest plagiarism scandal and which blogger is secretly a bestselling author. Avoid the melodrama. Focus on your writing. Honestly, being on "top" of what's going on in the industry will not get that book written.

It's okay to read about the Kardashians. Unless they're writing a book. Then avoid.


15. Don't think about how to sell it. How to market it. Book covers. Blurbs. Price point.

THINK ABOUT THE STORY.

The meat of the sandwich, not the special sauce. It's all about the meat.


16. If you have writer's block, there's a reason.

There's something wrong with your book.

Maybe a character arc is missing? Maybe the sex scene is too soon. Maybe the tone accidentally switched from humor to dark and gritty and you lost that cohesive feel.

There's a problem. That's why you can't write.

Let your brain figure it out....SEE #2...WALKING.

Once you figure out what's wrong, you will start writing again.


17. Use your thesaurus.

I freakin' love the thesaurus. I learn new words. I think about a different way to say something. Maybe I want to say something different, but the first word that jumps into my head is a cliché, and the thesaurus bumps me out of that. Some days I spend hours on the thesaurus saying stuff like "Damn. I forgot about that word. That's a good word."

The thesaurus is not Satan. Use it.


18. You don't always need a dialogue tag. In fact, too many dialogue tags slow down the pacing and make your writing cluttered and awkward, she said awkwardly.



19. When you're done, you're not really done. Wait 2-4 weeks, and read your book again.

All those niggly problems will pop for you and you'll figure out how to fix them.



20. Don't be afraid to write lean, a skeleton, and add meat to the bones later.

Don't be afraid to write too much and slice and dice later.

It doesn't have to be perfect.

On the other hand, it's good to write "clean." You don't always have to puke it up. Sometimes you can polish as you go along and it makes revisions MUCH easier at the end.

I can't leave a chapter behind if it's super messy. It bugs the bejimminies out of me.



21. Always have a goal for each thing you write. NOT A PUBLISHING GOAL. A writing goal.

Try first person POV if you've never done it.

Try weaving together two unrelated story arcs and see what happens.

Try writing a new genre.

Push yourself creatively. When you keep writing the same thing over and over again it gets stale. You get stale. Your books get stale. And you can't make croutons out of your book.



22. When you're in the zone, keep going.

You can get take-out pizza for dinner.


23. Learn to write efficiently. After I had my heart attack, I could no longer sit for 8-10 hours writing.

Now I stand (at a standing desk)...for 1-2 hours. 3, if I'm pushing it.

I've learned to become faster and more efficient at writing.

Also, if you get 1000 words done, you get 5000/week (I don't write on the weekends). That's 20,000 words in a month. That's a novella. Done. One month.


24. Don't have too many people read your book. The truth is...YOU KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO DO. Yes, you could have other people tell you what to do. Or, not. YOU KNOW.

Have one person read it. I like one person who's an author, and one person who does NOT read my genre and is a normal reader. Good to get that perspective...not if this works as a "romance"---but just, does this work? Period.


25. Have fun. Yes, it might be your job. But if it's a joyless task, your book won't sing. You get that magic when you enjoy writing the words. Have a good time! Write something that gets you jazzed up and happy.


And thus concludes the profound writing knowledge of Penny Watson.

Yes, I'm aware that other authors do not agree with these tips.

Please take with a grain of salt. And maybe some lime and tequila with the salt, too. Definitely the lime and tequila.

Over and out,
Penny

Monday, March 21, 2016

I Write for Twenty


This is another episode of the "Mid-Life Crisis Series"...enjoy!

It seems like most writers are always trying for "more." Once they accomplish one goal, they're moving onto the next one. They want to sell more books, make another bestseller list, get a bigger contract, add more followers onto social media. I actually don't remember the last time I heard an author say, "Gee, I'm super content with my career exactly how it is. It's perfect."

Stop snickering.

Yeah, no one ever says that. As soon as you achieve one level of success, you're already looking at the next level. With barely a breath to enjoy that one shining moment.

I guess this sort of goes with the territory of working in a creative and highly competitive field.

Several things have happened recently that made me appreciate what I have, and not focus so much on what I don't have.

1. I saw a post about hate mail. Some poor author posted a hate email she received from a reader. I guess when you hit the "big time"--and have thousands of readers invested in your books--they can get ornery if things don't go just right...according to them. I've seen plenty of authors talking about hate mail.

Benefit of being small fries: No hate mail. I get very sweet thank-you notes from grannies (just got one this week!). So far--knock on quirky wood--I've only received kind and supportive notes, via email, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. I've received home-made gifts in the mail. I have a small posse of fans, and they are gracious and lovely.

2. Pressure of trad contracts. I've seen this happen repeatedly over the last couple of years, and it's heart-breaking. Newbie authors attain the writer's dream...agent, publisher, contract. But sales are lackluster, and eventually--after a humiliating rocky road--the authors lose their contract. The pressure to sell squashes all creative excitement. Their writing careers are about numbers and money. It's depressing as hell, especially since many of these authors are extremely talented.

Yes, being indie is a huge amount of work and fraught with the unknown. But at least I'm the only one concerned or not with my numbers. It's my choice.

3. Out-of-control fan girls/street teams. I've heard horror stories about crap going on with big reader loops, street teams, fan girl groups. I've also seen review comments that make me think restraining orders are not far off.

My little group of fans are refreshingly normal. We chat about gardens, glass, and Tom Hiddleston. I love my little posse!

4. I wish I could find the link for this, but alas, I cannot. Somewhere on social media I saw a post that said something like...Even if you only have twenty readers, that's fabulous. Don't be disappointed, be thrilled with those twenty.

It can be incredibly frustrating to publish a book and feel like we're floating in a sea of the unknown. Lost at Amazon, swimming in a pool of Stepbrother books and Motorcycle guys.

But I thought about this sentiment for a long time.

What if you only had twenty readers?

Only twenty.

Would you keep writing?

What if they adored your books. What if they sent you sweet thank-you notes and recommended you to their friends.

What if you got comments like this...

"It will be bittersweet [to read your final book]...I don't want the series to end."
"Find some Klaus cousins and write more Klaus books. That is all."
"This series is so unique and interesting...hope there is a way to continue it."
"What she said."
"This was my very first Penny Watson book and turned me into a fan of your quirky, unique stories."
"Loved these books!"
"I freakin' love these books so much."
"I reread your [Klaus books] every Christmas season...they're my favorite Christmas reads."
"I am addicted to Penny Watson's quirky romance stories...shortly after my son was born, my husband gave me an e-reader and the very first book I bought was Sweet Inspiration...On a constant watch for her next release..."

These are comments from eight readers. Lyn, Nanci, Regina, Rita, Kathleen, Stacey, Elizabeth, and Wendy.

Thank you, ladies.

I write for eight.

I write for twenty.

I write for one.

5. I will never make the USA Today bestseller list with this strange, quirky holiday series. I will never make six figures. I won't get a traditional publishing contract for the Klaus Brothers.

But I will make some readers happy.

I will make myself happy...writing something that is old-fashioned, creative, and sweet. Romantic. And one-of-a-kind.

For the first time in a very long while, I am appreciating my small niche. I have a wicked loyal posse of author friends, who are bright and funny and talented. I have a non-trendy, nichey group of books, with older characters, elves, and old-fashioned love stories.

I appreciate my place in this world, and I embrace my uniqueness. And my supportive readers and colleagues and friends.

I Write for Twenty.

All my best,
Penny

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Four Mini Reviews: Mail-Order Brides, A Tsunami Mystery, Filipino Power, and a Rock Star for the Win


Valentine's Rose by E. E. Burke

Oh, how I love a mail-order bride! This is one of my favorite tropes in romance, so I decided to take a chance on a new-to-me author, E. E. Burke. What a breath of fresh air. This short novel made quite an impression. It is beautifully written, the characters pop off the page, the romance is sweet and satisfying, and the story was chock full of fascinating details about the history of the railroad industry. Also, just look at that gorgeous cover! My only disappointment was that the sexual tension between the well-to-do British hero and the poor Irish heroine was fantastic--but without any relief since the book is "sweet" (kissing only). E. E. Burke also writes a sexier series called Steam! which I am definitely checking out. There will be more books in this series, and I'm looking forward to them since the secondary characters were promising, too.

Highly recommend this if you're looking for a quick, satisfying read with excellent quality writing.



The Kizuna Coast: A Rei Shimura Mystery by Sujata Massey

This is one of my favorite mystery series, with a really appealing main character who is half-Japanese and half-American. Sujata Massey masterfully blends art, history, and culture with compelling storylines (devastation of the Japanese tsunami and its after-math) and fascinating characters. Rei pulls us into her life straddling two cultures and gives us touching insights about both. The details about life in Japan--including food, art, cultural differences--bring these books alive. The mystery in this book was satisfactory, but once again it was the characters and the horror of the tsunami event that made me fall in love with this book.

Another winner. Loved it.


Under the Sugar Sun by Jennifer Hallock

This is an impressive debut by indie author Jennifer Hallock. It's also the first romance/historic fiction I've read set in the Philippines in the early 20th century. Since my husband/children are Filipino, I was super excited to dive into this story. Hallock's strengths include exquisite writing (especially considering this is her debut novel), and a rich attention to detail (this author has clearly done her research) that was blended nicely into the narrative. The pacing was good, and the nuance of this historical time frame was handled extremely well. The romance started off strong, but some questionable decisions by both the heroine and hero at the end of the book were frustrating. Overall, I still liked it, and I'm looking forward to reading the prequel novella, Hotel Oriente.

Hallock is definitely an author to watch. She has talent galore and a dedication to research that brings her historic fiction to life.


Young Teacher by Bobbi Ruggiero in '80s Mix Tape

I have a confession to make. I'm not too big on the whole "rock star trope" in romance. Nevertheless, when Bobbi Ruggiero had me beta-read her novella, I was shocked. This story--inspired by Don't Stand So Close To Me, the 1980s hit by The Police--is not what you'd expect with a rock star book. There is sweetness and romance and an adorable twist on the older woman-younger man trope. (She's the student, he's the teacher!). I loved this story. It's emotional and romantic, and Ruggiero's love of music comes shining through. Bobbi (who I affectionately call Bobbi Baby) is another new author-to-watch. Her writing voice is clean and modern and easy, and her fresh take on an old classic trope was fabulous.

Well played, Bobbi Baby. Well played.


That's all for now! I'll have some more reviews next week at Happy Heart Reads.

Ciao,
Penny

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Romance is Dead


I've been thinking about the romance genre lately, and here's my observation.

I'm going to use a food analogy, since I love food. And analogies.

You can't clump all food books together into one category. Some food books are cookbooks, some are travel journals, some are fiction and some are non-fiction. Some are about baking bread and some are about restaurant life and some are about making sushi in Japan.

And if you insisted that EVERY book about food had to be categorized under the same umbrella term--FOOD--it would be confusing and ineffective and make no sense.

Some folks are looking for cookbooks about French food. And some folks want to read about Anthony Bourdain's experience as a sous-chef. And some want to read culinary cozy mysteries.

And so we have sub-categories, created by publishers and booksellers to facilitate sales and help customers identify the correct book for their "taste."

So what does this have to do with the romance genre?

At some point we need to realize that romance doesn't actually exist. There is no romance genre. You could argue that it must have a central love story and a happy ending, but even those parameters are no longer applicable.

The thing is...every reader has a very personal idea about what "romance" is--in general terms, and for the genre itself.

Some folks think books with criminal motorcycle club dudes who humiliate their "women" are romance.

Some folks think books with abduction, torture, and rape should be categorized as romance.

Should erotica and romance be clumped together under the same umbrella? Christian inspirational books with stepbrothers and stepfathers deflowering the new virgin in the family?

Just because these books have relationship arcs does not mean they belong in the same group. If your book has more than one person in it, it includes relationships. These relationships may or may not include love stories and/or sex.

Some "romance" novels have no sex.

Some "romance" novels have graphic orgies.

Honestly, erotica, erotic romance, and romance have no business being clumped together.

But it gets even dicier than that. Because the core concept of "romance" is now blurry.

This group is fragmented for a reason.

Simple, really.

BECAUSE WE DON'T BELONG TOGETHER.

We just don't.

Just like the reader who is obsessed with baking bread could give two shits about Anthony Bourdain's chef experience, the Christian inspirational "romance" reader is appalled by books with stepbrother orgies.

And the person who loves "edgy" NA books thinks the squeaky clean Harlequins are for fuddy-duds.

We don't belong together.

But the publishing industry knows one thing. ROMANCE SELLS.

Romance novels sell...A LOT.

And so, if you slap "romance" on a book description--with a generic cover and title and blurb--your sales will rise.

What does this mean?

It means that the term "romance" as a publishing tool is meaningless. It could be used on a porno book just as easily as an inspirational.

It means that readers have a more difficult time finding books, unless you're sticking with tried-and-true authors you trust.

I think arguing about what "real" romance is--as a genre--is a pointless task. Romance is a personal thing, conceptually and genre-related as well. There are readers who still point to Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood historicals and say "that's what real romance is supposed to be."

And there are new romance readers who have never heard of these authors. Their ideas about romance are totally different.

Trying to fit all these books into one category is ridiculous. It's not helpful for the reader searching for the right book, and it's certainly not helpful for the authors who are trying to find appropriate readers.

But I don't think the industry cares. It cares about making money. And "ROMANCE" sells.

So who cares if your romance novel doesn't actually include a hero or a happy ending?

I care, cried the dinosaur.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Telling A Story


I guess it's time for an update.

If you're expecting a perky update about my latest WIP, you're shit out of luck.

This update is about that festive life event known as the "mid-life crisis." Although, technically, I'm not sure I'm really at the mid-life point. I'm about to turn fifty. I suppose this is payback since I've been making fun of my husband's mid-life crisis for years. (I think his started at quarter-life and continues to this day).


My mid-life crisis doesn't have anything to do with feeling time-challenged. I'm fine with growing older. My mid-life crisis concerns what path to take. Which is quite common for folks in this predicament.

So, what's the problem? Here's the problem. I'm at a fork in the road. It's possible this fork has more than two tines, but let's just pretend there are two for the moment.

I write stuff. And I'm an independent author. That means *I* get to decide what to write. No agent, no editor, no publisher tells me what to do. I make the decisions about my career.

On one side of the road is the path EVERYONE TELLS ME TO TAKE. Also known as "how to sell books, you big dumb-ass" and "market-driven" and "time to grow up, sweet cheeks." On this road we have series. Lots and lots of series. Because this is how romance authors sell books and gain a readership. We have books about popular topics, like NA angsty sports heroes with six-pack abs and tattoos. Interestingly enough, there's not a ton of romance in this romance (from my vantage point, old-school romance reader clinging fiercely to my Julie Garwood books). But the readers love it.

On the other side of the road is the PATH OF CREATIVE FREEDOM. This path has nothing to do with commercial success. You write any topic that interests you. You focus on craft and unique storytelling. It's not super popular at the moment. And it's hard to hook those readers when you keep jumping around different genres.

I know the "right" thing to do in order to sell more books. Write a series, nothing too weird. Jump on the bandwagon of popular topics. Be an aggressive promoter and learn how to game the system. If you think those books just pop up on Amazon with all 4/5 star reviews, hundreds of them, and it's just a natural and spontaneous occurrence, I have a bridge to sell you.

That's not how this works.

That's not how any of this works.

But I have never been market-driven. I've been story-driven. Even if my stories are weird, and blend genres, and push limits. That's how I've done things.

And now, at the ripe old age of almost-fifty, I have to decide if I'm trying to sell books. Or trying to write truly unique stories that might not fit into a tidy little marketable box.

And to add a bit of extra angst into the mix, the romance genre I fell in love with--twenty years ago...yep, I'm old--no longer exists.

What the hell am I going to do with this fork? Bend the tines? Throw it into a fire? Admit defeat and open a flower shop?

I feel like I've been banging my head against the wall for a long time, and I have a big fucking headache.

I've been getting great advice by many smart and wonderful people.

And I have an extremely cool, small, devoted group of readers. Clearly, folks who also like to think outside of the box of the typical romance novel. Folks who appreciate older characters, different types of stories, mixing Yeti into a holiday tale, and are not off-put by the occasional cuss word.

God bless us, everyone!

I have about a dozen books in the queue. A lot of the books are already partially written. Some of them are a sentence of an idea. Just one image that sparked something.

I know the ones I *should* write.

I know the ones that make rational, reasonable sense. That would continue to mold my "brand" and grow a consistent readership.

I know.

(You can see where this story is going, right?)

But the one that keeps nagging at me to write it doesn't fit in any tidy box. It's raw and intense and like nothing I have ever done before.

Like a tornado clearing a new path?

I'm not sure if Penny is going to write this one.

I'm pretty sure Nina is going to write this one.

Hi. My real name is Nina, and I'm going through a mofo mid-life crisis.

And so I climb into that Thelma-and-Louise convertible, perched on the edge of the cliff.

Surprisingly, I feel relief. Trying to squeeze into this box has been sort of stressful.

Jumping off the cliff is liberating.

Stay tuned for more...


Talk soon,

Nina





Friday, January 22, 2016

What's Going On?



What's going on?

1. This is release week for THE FALL OF THE RED QUEEN by Lexxi Callahan. This book is intense, crazy sexy, emotionally satisfying, and best of all...COURAGEOUS! Lexxi took a villain and made her the heroine of the book. There are twists and plot surprises galore, and things aren't always as they seem. Madlyn is a fantastic character. I highly recommend this book...I loved it. It made me cry at the end. And it's only 99 cents right now!



2. Happy Heart Reads is LIVE! Our new website is up, and it has book reviews, Happy Hour give-aways, travel articles, movie reviews, tons of great recipes, puppies and kittens, music, and other happy items. Please stop by and say hello.

It's alive!


Have a warm and snuggly weekend. Watch out for the snow!

Penny


Friday, January 8, 2016

Time to Celebrate!


Time to celebrate!

Today is launch day for HAPPY HEART READS, 
the new website created by me, Laura K. Curtis and Lexxi Callahan. It's a place to celebrate happy news and positive events.
We'll be exploring great books, film, travel, food, pets, and more! Every Friday afternoon we'll be hosting a Happy Hour with give-aways...stop by and share your favorite links, articles, news.



Today we'll have posts on cookies, goofy dog outfits from Etsy, and Happy Hour--which includes a give-away of our favorite books of 2015!

And this evening we are hosting a Facebook party and giving away a Kindle Fire, more books and prizes!

Check it out here: FACEBOOK PARTY 

This is a great way to get ready for the new year.

Time to celebrate! 


See you soon!
Penny

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016!



HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Here's to a wonderful 2016!

All my best,
Penny

Monday, December 28, 2015

What's Coming Up In 2016!


What's Coming Up In 2016?


1. A new website, HAPPY HEART READS, with Lex Callahan and Laura K. Curtis. A positive perky hang-out place with Happy Hour every Friday afternoon. Stay tuned for more information...the website will be up and running on January 8.

We are hosting a Facebook Launch Party on January 8 (Happy Hour) from 6-8 pm. Please add it onto your calendar and stop by to chat about favorite comfort reads, post pet pics, and win prizes!

2. Some new books...


 THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF JOHN B. HAMILTON AND THE BLUEBERRY PIE

--inspired by Twitter conversation and the book BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL
 --atypical NA/YA story with a hint of paranormal



 TIPPING THE BOAT

--romantic comedy novella
--in SILVER BELLES, an over-40 anthology coming Christmas 2016
 --with lots of other amazing authors...I can't wait!
--curated by Laura K. Curtis



SWEET DESTINY

Klaus Brothers Series #5
The Final Chapter

--holiday romance
--the final installment of the Klaus Brothers Series
--Wolfgang's story
--set in Cranville, VT, the same town where Ami and Marcus live (from LUMBERJACK IN LOVE)...get ready for appearances from some favorite characters!



3. Some events...

NECRWA Conference
April 29-30, 2016
Burlington, MA
Workshop Presenter



Warm Up Your Heart with a Little Romance Author Panel
Mount Kisco Public Library
February 13, 2016


LET'S GET READY FOR 2016!