Wednesday, May 2, 2018

In the works...


BLUE

(Stuff I'm writing...)


LIFE LIST



The Happy Camper
with Bobbi Ruggiero


TRAVEL

(Where I'm going...)


May

Cambridge School of Weston
Weston, MA


June

3 Rivers Romance Writers
Pittsburgh, PA


September

Northern Hearts Conference
Toronto, Canada


October

Moonlight and Magnolias Conference
Atlanta, GA



What I'm doing...

GARDENING SEASON IS FINALLY HERE!



What are you doing? How is your garden? Travel plans?
Writing plans?

WE CAN DO THIS!

Love,
Penny/Nina

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Slow and Steady Wins the (Weight Loss) Race

I guess it's never too late for an old dog to learn some new tricks.

Case in point: Slow and steady wins the race.

Any other inane proverbs for this post? Let's wait and see!

Here's my story...in 2010, I had a heart attack.

Following the heart attack, I lost about 50 pounds.

How did I do this?

Fear.

I was freakin' scared out of my mind.

There is nothing quite like the fear of death to motivate you for a diet.

I worked out 2-4 hours/day. I hardly ate a thing. I was totally exhausted. I lost all of that weight very quickly.

I also spent my entire day focused on my diet and exercise.

Coz...FEAR OF DEATH! 

At some point, I realized I was not going to die if I ate a cookie.

So, I ate a cookie. Then...I ate another cookie.

I continued to walk every day, but not for four hours.

I ate more foods, even cookies.

Eventually, I gained back some weight. Not all of the weight that I'd lost, but enough to make it imperative that I get back on the right track.

I realize that my super strict I-Don't-Want-To-Die diet was not sustainable in the long run. It was way too strict and too fast. 

But I like FAST and DRAMATIC results!

Drama! Excitement! Not working!
Now, for the grown-up realization...

Sometimes FAST and DRAMATIC is not the best way of doing things.

Sometimes, making small changes and being PATIENT is the best way.

And slowly, like a frickin' turtle, you will lose weight.

I'm not a patient person. I like fast, dramatic results. So this whole new approach to diet/exercise is torture!

But I realized something this week.

It's also working.

I lost 3 pounds. It took a while. I feel better.

I still walk every day, about 30 minutes-1 hour as time permits.

I still eat a lot of greens and super foods.

I try not to eat after 8 PM, and I try to eat a small appetizer-sized dinner if possible.

As the weather gets better, I will add an extra evening walk into my daily routine.

I will see results, but not overnight. 

Did I mention I'm not a patient person? Sob.

So, yes...this is working. 

And yes...it's slow-going.

And yes...I am not patient and it's hard for me.

But hopefully, in a year, I will be in a better physical place.

I CAN DO THIS!

SLOWLY!

LIKE A FREAKIN' TURTLE!

Slow down, honey. What's the hurry?
Sigh.

Off for my morning walk!

Love,

Penny/Nina

P.S. One last proverb...

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

*grumble*

Friday, April 13, 2018

Building a Community

Lucy the Wonder Weenie
Story Time
Tribe includes humans, animals, insects

Today I'm going to propose something radical.

A different way of looking at a writing/publishing career. 

Instead of focusing on SELLING BOOKS, how about focusing on BUILDING A COMMUNITY?

Over the past few years, the focus in romance publishing has become very business-oriented. I see cheat sheets for how to make a best-seller list. I see a frenzied sense of urgency about how often to publish, how much to spend on advertising and promotion, how important it is to jump on band-wagon trends.

I also see a focus on short-term sales and success and not the long-term. 

I see advice like...you need to have readers' attention every three months or they forget about you. 

What if...they didn't forget about you?

Not because of your book release schedule...but because they genuinely like you?

How about that crazy idea?


Whoa. That's crazy!

Everything feels faster, and more stressful, and more urgent.


But what if...you look at long-term happiness instead of short-term sales?

What if you focus on BUILDING A COMMUNITY instead of promoting your books all the time?

A community that will last. Not just readers looking for cheap/free books or the next deal. But a genuine community of people who are interested in YOU. Whether or not you have a book out. 

Maybe those people you interact with won't mind if you don't have a book out every 3 months. Maybe they'll just want to hang out with you and see pictures of your garden or dog or latest vacation. 

Maybe they like chatting with you about books by other authors.

Your community should include colleagues who are genuine friends and not just interested in tit-for-tat relationships. (What's that? This: I promote your book, you promote my book...otherwise, I'm not interested in having a relationship with you).

What would happen if you did this? Focused on your community first?


PROS OF BUILDING COMMUNITY

1. Set up for long-term success. Can weather the ups-and-downs of a long-term career.

2. It enhances your life regardless of publication schedule.

3. It is beneficial in both personal and professional ways.


BUILDING A COMMUNITY means you are focused on real relationships, not just selling books.

It improves not only the quality of your life, but it will also bolster your long-term career.

Your professional life will have ups and downs. Having a strong community to support you = resilience over time.

How can you build a genuine community? 

You need to assemble your tribe.

Our tribes should enhance our lives. We should be able to share things--both good and bad--and trust that our tribe members are loyal and have our best interests at heart.

Sometimes we want to share things that are silly and inconsequential. Like Tom Hiddleston pictures.
Having a good day?
And sometimes we need to talk about profoundly important things. Either way our tribe members keep us going, keep us inspired, keep our spirits up.

Your tribe will change over time, depending on what you need, and what you can give. You may need to edit your community.

You gather around the tribe you need, the tribe that feels right. The tribe that fits.

Writing is a lonely occupation. There is a lot of isolation. It feels like swimming in shark-infested waters, and that's when having your tribe is the most important.

They throw you the life raft when you need it most.
Don't worry. You got this!
Younger writers are thinking about the here-and-now and the latest news and the latest trends.

Authors who have been in this business for decades have seen trends come and go, but they realize your longevity has to do with other things.

Good basic writing. An excellent story. Luck.

And...personal connections. Your tribe. Your community.

There is really no down-side to building a community. It's there when you have a book out. It's there when you have writer's block.

It's there when your fig tree finally gets a fruit!


Figs for dinner!
It's there for the long-run. 

If you work on building your community and maintaining those relationships, your life will be better regardless of book sales.

And that's a good thing.

So very appreciative of my posse/tribe/community,

Penny/Nina

Monday, April 9, 2018

Embracing Real Life


Recently, one of my friends asked--on Facebook--if it were possible to promote a book without social media.

This led to a lively discussion about promotion and how readers find out about books.

I pointed out that the majority of my friends--who are all big readers--do not even have a Facebook account. They don't use Twitter or Instagram. Nothing. They are too busy living their real lives and/or not interested in social media interactions.

But they read a lot. How do they find their books?

Number one by a long shot: Word-of-mouth. 

In effect, real life interactions, not on-line.

I think the idea of not having any social media accounts is absolutely shocking to most of my writer friends. Most authors I know rely heavily on their on-line presence for promotion, as well as support and news. We just assume that everyone lives like this. But they don't. And in fact, most people are totally clueless about all the melodrama we take for granted in the publishing world.

My interest in this topic is broader than book promotion. It ties into my research about "how to find your happy" and the notion that many people who spend a lot of time on social media are NOT happy. They are anxious and depressed. Is there a connection?

Of course there is.

Is there a way to pull the good stuff out of social media and minimize the bad stuff?

It's possible, but sometimes difficult. I have deleted almost all accounts, but I still have Facebook. I have a wonderful tribe there, and I am reluctant to give it up. This tribe includes friends, family, readers, colleagues. People who genuinely care about each other.

By muting/unfollowing/blocking, it is possible to curate your accounts into something positive and uplifting instead of something that makes you want to fling yourself off a bridge when you read it.

However, I will say this. I have made a concerted effort this year to live a REAL life, and minimize my on-line life, and it is most definitely making me happier.

I am giving workshops to schools, writing groups, and at conferences. Traveling all over the place. Taking classes. Forcing myself out of that warm cozy introvert space and connecting with people in real life.

This is both wonderful and exhausting, but I'm forcing myself to do it.

Being engaged in the real world is helping my peace-of-mind, but how does it affect a writing career?

In my opinion, it comes down to this...who is your audience? How can you connect with them?

If you have a younger audience, they are more likely to be on-line. If you have a more mature audience, like my friends, they will probably find out about their books from friends, book clubs, or perusing a book store.

I know authors who give talks at libraries, at book clubs, local events. They are more interested in making personal connections within the community, and hoping to start a word-of-mouth campaign in this manner.

I know authors who have huge on-line street teams that work for certain kinds of books and certain audiences.

You need to figure out how to connect with your readers, and to be honest about what makes you happy.

If you are miserable doing Facebook parties, avoid them. 

If you are too shy to give a talk at the local library, skip that.

You need to find a way to conduct your career that intersects with your own personal happiness. 

Another way to think about this whole thing...will I sell books by taking a long walk in the woods?

No.

Will I be happier?

Yes.

And...trickle-down effect: I write better when I'm happier. I also get inspired about writing topics when I'm walking in the woods. More inspiration: travel, meeting people, leaving the house (hee hee, that's a joke, but not really).

We might not always see the connection between living in the moment/being engaged in real life and our writing careers, but it's there.

Off for my walk,

Penny/Nina



Saturday, March 31, 2018

Trying Something New


File under TRYING SOMETHING NEW...


1. Block Print Art Class

I am taking an art class for the first time in 30 years. Or maybe longer! It's a block print class, and I already went to our local art store and bought tools and ink and paper so I can work on some projects at home, too.

PASSIFLORA is above.

Below is KINGFISHER...



The class has a nice bunch of ladies chatting about our kids and birds and life and stuff.

Woo hoo!

2. I am trying a totally new process for writing...juggling more than one project at a time!


In the past, I've been a one-project-gal. I decided to try something new...so now I'm rotating between a literary fiction, romance novella, and a women's fiction. I work on one WIP for a bit, stop, then move onto the next one.

The first day I tried this, I whipped off about 1100 words on the novella. When I moved onto the lit fiction manuscript, I saw it with clearer eyes and a better perspective. 

This process is like a palate cleanser. When I get to project #2, my brain is already warmed-up, and I'm refreshed and more productive.

Each of these projects uses a different part of my brain, and strangely enough, jumping from one thing to another makes me write faster and depend more on instinct. This is important since I tend to over-think my lit fiction.

Never too old to learn new tricks...


3. I'm getting a tattoo...

No! Not a real tattoo! A fake tattoo! I'll take pictures and post them when they arrive. They are gorgeous vintage flowers--colorful and sweet.

That's my sort-of-wimpy attempt at being a hipster. Now I just need a man-bun. Hee hee!



4. I'm making a vintage jello mold for Easter...

Remember these?


My mom used to make these yummy jello salads with fruit. I'm feeling nostalgic, so I'm going to attempt one of these for Easter dinner. My husband thinks I'm crazy!


Off to shop for Easter dinner! Hope all of you have a great weekend.

Lots of love,

Penny/Nina

Monday, March 26, 2018

Time to play...What the heck should I make for dinner?


How often does this happen to you?

You're running around, getting stuff done, and all of a sudden you realize...it's 5 pm and you have no clue what you're having for dinner?

It happens practically every night at my house. Every once in a while I get on a super organized kick and try to plan out my meals for a week.

And then the next week, I'm back to panic mode at 5 pm.

With that in mind, I have a great dinner option for those of you who need quick, easy, and versatile!



Chicken Saté with Peanut Sauce 
and Cucumber-Radish Salad


First up...the chicken!


Chicken Saté

Ingredients:

Pack of boneless skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
Lemon Juice (fresh from one lemon)
One clove garlic minced (if you like garlic)
salt/pepper to taste

Throw everything into a ziploc bag and shake it up. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes while you do other stuff (like read a romance novel...not that I've ever done that while cooking dinner)

When you're ready, throw the chicken on the grill.

Done!

While the chicken is cooking, I make the peanut sauce.

Note: If you want to make this fancy, you can cut up the chicken into cubes, and then thread them on a skewer. But because I'm lazy, I skip that part and usually use chicken tenderloins which are already small. Coz...I'm lazy!**

**NOTES FROM PENNY, THE LAZY COOK

**Also, make sure you don't lose track of time while reading your romance novel or you might burn the chicken...not that *I've* ever done that (*shifty eyes*)

**Recipe is modified from one I found in In Style magazine, I think? I clipped it out years ago.



For Peanut Sauce...

Peanut Sauce


Grab a medium-sized pot. Scoop in...

1/2 cup peanut butter (I use low-sodium, low-sugar Jif)
1/2 T chili powder
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 and 1/4 c. canned coconut milk (I use lite)
1/4 c. soy sauce (I use low sodium)
Juice from 1/2 lime
(Chop up the other half lime for a Corona or to fancy up your plate later)

Mix everything together over med-high heat until it bubbles and sauce gets thick, stirring often.**

**This sauce is so good, you'll want to marry it. I sometimes make a pot of spaghetti noodles and toss some of the sauce with it to make peanut noodles for my vegetarian daughter. You could also jazz up the noodles with other veggies, scallions, etc.

**Or just eat the sauce with a spoon while reading a romance novel.



Radish-Cucumber Salad

One bunch radishes, sliced thin
One cucumber, sliced thin and chopped into quarters, or however you like them
2-3 scallions chopped up
handful of peanuts
pinch of sugar
couple of Tablespoons of white rice vinegar
salt/pepper to taste

Throw cukes, radishes, scallions into a bowl. Toss gently. Drizzle vinegar and pinch of sugar on top. Toss some more. Season with salt/pepper. Then sprinkle some peanuts on top.

**This recipe is modified from a Martha Stewart version


**I also make a bag of Trader Joe brown rice in the microwave. Takes 3 minutes. Done!


Order of dinner preparation:

1. Put chicken in ziploc to marinate.
2. Make cuke-radish salad. Throw all of the peanut sauce ingredients into a pot on the stove.
3. Toss chicken on the grill.
4. Heat up/stir peanut sauce while chicken grills.
5. Remove chicken from grill. Arrange artfully on a platter with limes and flowers and stuff like that. Or...just eat it. Serve with brown rice and peanut sauce and radish salad.

Last night I served this dinner, and I also had a bowl of chopped honeydew melon. Nice and sweet for dessert!

This is fast, easy, and you can save some peanut sauce for other recipes.

Thanks for playing another round of "What The Heck Should I Make For Dinner?"

Have a great week!

Penny

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I'm 51. What Can I Do?


I've been thinking a lot lately about age. And women. And what we can do, when we can do it.

And really...who can stop us?

Maybe you need a bit of inspiration. Or a reminder that not only does life not end at fifty, but maybe it starts again at 51.

Last year I turned into a hermit.

Really.


I didn't write. I didn't travel. I didn't participate. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I was discouraged.

But I made it through that year. And I watched my kids--both of my adorable kids--make the transition into a new life, new schools, with open hearts and so much courage it humbles me. They had to tackle challenges, which they did. They got over some incredibly tough bumps. And they changed their lives for the better.

And I thought...okay, they did this. I can do this. I can break out of this shell and find the courage to get back into the world.

So I decided to dip a toe back into the waters of the outside world, and I applied to be a speaker at a conference. It was safe for me. A conference I've done plenty of times before, with people who know me. It's about 10 minutes from my house.

It was safe.

And guess what?

I failed.

I was rejected.

At first I didn't know what to do. This was my first attempt at getting back into the swing of things. My safe option. And I was rejected? Was the universe trying to tell me something? That I waited too long? I was too old, out-of-the-trendy loop? I had nothing left to offer?

I ruminated about this and percolated and struggled with it, and I finally came to a pretty important decision.

I think the universe was trying to tell me something.

No more playing it safe.

If you're gonna break out of that shell, break the fuck out of the shell.

All the way out.

Try something new, something different, something big.

Meet new people. Give new talks. Travel. Have an adventure.

That first rejection gave me the courage to try for EVERYTHING. Because, honestly, what did I have to lose?

So what if I got more rejections?

And I did. I got more rejections.

But you know what else? I got some fantastic opportunities, better than I ever imagined.

I'm traveling to Pittsburgh and Florida and Atlanta and Toronto. I'm talking about craft and writing and self-care and writing journeys. Things that matter to me.

I'm giving a talk to high school kids about the publishing industry.

My daughter is coming with me to Florida.

I've never been to Atlanta or Toronto. In addition to meeting new people and authors I admire, I get to meet on-line friends IN REAL LIFE. Meet face-to-face with folks who have supported me for years on-line.

That's pretty freakin' huge.

And for the first time in 25 years, I'm taking a class.

An art class.

I was nervous the first night. My print wasn't great. It was okay. But...I did it. I showed up, I participated, I tried something new.

Finally, I decided that this book I've been wrestling with is something bigger than I realized.

It's literary fiction. Is it scary to try something I've never done, break a personal writing mold for myself that is so hard that some days I am totally dumbfounded by this entire process?

Yeah, it's scary. But also exhilarating. 

Bottom line is that I believe I can do it.

I can do anything.

I can start something new at 51, and I will succeed.

I am not afraid of rejection. Or wrinkles. Or gray hair.

I embrace my decades of experience and know my wisdom will guide me through anything I choose to tackle in my life.

Eventually I'll get to the new flower business. And maybe that horror novel that is banging around my head.

I'm not gonna lie. There are days I want--desperately---to crawl back into that shell. It's safe in there, and quiet. And I can turn invisible if I need to.

But if I don't kick my own butt at 51, when will it happen?

And as I look back over my life, filled with all kinds of stuff, good and bad--I realize this was a good lesson to learn. At 51. 

You can play it safe, or you can be willing to try new things, to fail, to push, to experience.

Suddenly this year feels different. So much different than the last year. I'm not so tired. I'm not discouraged. The failures slide right off, and I'm onto the next thing.

I wasn't ready for this at 20. Or 30, or 40. And clearly not at 50.

But at 51, I can do this.

I'm 51. What can I do?

Anything.



Love to all,
Penny

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Beyond The Unicorns



Betrayal, lies, deceit, theft, false identities, professional jealousy, backstabbing, manipulation.

Sounds like a TV movie? A suspense thriller?

It could be.

But it could also be practically any week of the year in the romance publishing world.

Why does this matter?

Because someone, somehow, thought it would be a good idea to promote the concept that the romance world is filled with wonderful people who are always supportive and kind and trustworthy and have your back.

It's the rainbows-and-unicorns thing.

And yes, there are some stupendous people in the publishing world. Talented, lovely, gracious people who are true friends.

But just as with any other profession--and perhaps more with this one, because it is a creative field, and thus includes an immense amount of competition--there is another reality that is the opposite of unicorns and rainbows.

Some people suck.

A lot.

There is a huge amount of money to be made in publishing, and there are people willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get a piece of that chunky pie.

Just because the romance world is primarily women does not mean this harsh reality does not exist. Women are just as likely to be fiercely ambitious as men.

The stakes are constantly rising. More money, more manipulation, more greed.

It's hard to know who to trust. Sometimes, you make mistakes. Someone you think is a cool person who has your best interests at heart actually has *her* best interests at heart.

The first time you deal with this betrayal is like getting sucker-punched. Not only do you feel crushed emotionally--finding out a friend is not really a friend--but you also feel like a chump for giving and caring and helping, and getting tossed into the garbage at the end.

I have heard betrayal stories that are truly horrifying. One person had a betrayal so hideous that if it happened to me, I would have quit writing altogether.

But she didn't.

God bless her, she still has a smile on her face, and determination in spades. And probably a good heaping dose of caution now, which is not a bad thing. It's about self-preservation in this business.

What happened to her, and how she handled it, shows her strength of character and inspiring optimism in a field that is filled with landmines.

I'm sorry if this post seems cynical. It's supposed to be about having realistic expectations, and resilience after getting beat up, and optimism and faith in yourself after setbacks.

Romancelandia is not unicorns and rainbows.

It's the real world, filled with good people, and kind people, and cool people, and plenty of assholes, and wolves-in-sheeps-clothing.

Over time, your skills at sniffing out bullshit become honed, so you're less likely to get blind-sided. But regardless, it's a horrible feeling. 

Some folks are not looking for real friends in this business. They are looking for professional relationships, people who are tools for them, to use to get ahead. And they will climb over a pile of people willing to help to get to the head of the pack.

The trick is to figure out who those people are, and who your true friends are, and then squeeze those true friends tight and never let them go.

So, my advice to newbies starting out and old-timers who are still struggling with this competitive business is this...

Be cautious.

Be smart.

Be careful.

Know your true friends and hold them close.

Don't let the users get you down.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities and work on your strength and resilience. 

This is the real world, not Fabio with his hair blowing in the breeze, gazing adoringly at his gorgeous heroine.

The romance world is more like a middle-aged man with a pot belly and a bald spot. 

Real, but not necessarily a bad thing.

We can do this.

Over-and-out,

Penny


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Five Fun Quirky Films



As you all know, I love quirky stuff. Including movies!

The weirder it is, the better.

I especially respect film makers who are willing to take a risk and break out of the generic mold...even if it means the movie won't experience huge blockbuster status.

Here are some of my favorite quirky films, including some horror/sci fi in the honorable mention category.



STRICTLY BALLROOM

This 1992 Baz Luhrmann film has all of my favorite things wrapped up with a bow. Quirky kooky Australian humor, wacky characters, an adorably sweet romance, fabulous soundtrack, and spine-tingling dance scenes. The costumes, the music, the whole ballroom dance vibe is the perfect backdrop for a bizarre Australian movie with one of the greatest happy endings ever.

Ever.

Watch it!



MOONRISE KINGDOM


Wes Anderson is all about quirk. Just the stunning visual component of his films is a good enough reason to watch. The colors, the composition. Swoony goodness! But it's the bittersweet characters, all struggling in their own way, that draw you in and make you hope for a happy ending. This is another crazy love story with a superb ending that will satisfy any romance lover.

Bonus: Bruce Willis!



WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

This 1971 film based on the Roald Dahl book is pure gold. It captures the whimsy and wackiness of the original story, and casting Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is one of the greatest casting decisions in the history of film. (And I'm not even going to discuss Johnny Depp. Just...no) Everything about this movie is perfection...the crazy story, the fantastic characters, the Oompa Loompas, the music, the SPECTACULAR scenery. This film is brilliant in every way. A+ QUIRK!

Also, so many quotes! "The suspense is terrible...I hope it'll last." Hee hee!



THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY


2013 film with Ben Stiller. There is a sweetness to this quirky movie that I adore. Walter Mitty's life is so miserable he spends most of his time fantasizing in a dream world instead of dealing with the tedium of his real life. What happens when this poor schmo finally gets the courage to break out of his shell? So many wonderful things! Great music, kooky scenarios--including a hilarious scene with a shark that made me snort laugh--and a sweet romance. 

Bonus: Gorgeous Icelandic scenery, which inspired our family trip to Iceland.

Whenever I need a dose of happy, I watch this one again. It's a keeper!



BEST IN SHOW


If you love dogs, and you love dog shows, and you love comedy, then BEST IN SHOW is your quirky selection! This is the perfect setting for a bunch of nutso characters obsessed with their pets and this canine competition. It includes laugh-out-loud humor and hilarious performances by Christopher Guest and his comedy group. Clever, snarky, and snort-laugh fun.

Bonus: Eugene Levy


Looking for more quirky options? If you like horror, I would recommend TREMORS, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and SLITHER. If you enjoy sci fi parodies, try SPACE BALLS and GALAXY QUEST.

I also recently watched and loved THE SHAPE OF WATER, a creepy quirky fantasy.

Some oldies-but-goodies include GROUNDHOG DAY, FARGO, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, RAISING ARIZONA.

Do you have any favorite quirky films? Let me know!

Have a quirky day!

xoxoxo

Penny/Nina