Thursday, June 28, 2018

Summer Hygge


When I was searching for the meaning of life (*mid-life crisis...cough cough*) I came across the term "Hygge" and was instantly smitten. It's a Danish word that embodies a feeling of coziness and contentment. It essentially evolved as a way of surviving brutal winters without going stark-raving mad. In other words, if you have many months of darkness and cold, you need to figure out a way to embrace that weather and find the good and beauty there. 

Winter Hygge practices may involve snuggling under a cozy blanket, sipping hot coffee in front of a fire, and playing outside in the snow.

But Hygge is more than a season. It's a feeling...a way to live in the moment and find happiness.

Summer is actually the perfect time to practice Hygge, especially if you love nature and being outside.

Here are ten of my favorite ways to slow down and savor the moment during the summer season...


1. Walk outside and enjoy nature. This is probably my favorite outdoor experience. I love the wind on my face, checking out flora and fauna, and the silence and perspective I get away from civilization.

I recommend walking in a forest where it's shady and cool. Or, if you don't mind people (hee hee)...walking near the beach so you get a lovely summer breeze. One of the best summer spots is Sachuest Point in Middletown, Rhode Island. You can bird-watch, walk along the cliffs, and then grab a Del's lemonade on the way home. Bliss!




2. Make sun-tea. This is such a satisfying old-fashioned ritual. Take a clear pitcher, add 6 tea bags (I like Decaf Ginger Peach from The Republic of Tea), add water, and then place in the sunshine. Once the tea has steeped, you can remove the tea bags and add fresh herbs (lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint), or even slices of fresh fruit. Serve over ice. Refreshing!





3. Swim outside. There's a big difference between swimming in an indoor chlorinated pool packed with kids and swimming in a fresh water lake. Swimming all alone. Just you, a view of the mountains, and maybe a couple of fish near your feet.

My favorite and most invigorating swim was at the Basin Harbor in Vergennes, Vermont. The water (Lake Champlain) was freezing cold. Makes you feel alive! Fabulous experience.




4. Cook outside. Summer cooking is simple, easy, and so delicious. The farm stand is filled with fabulous fresh veggies and herbs. Who wants to turn on the oven when it's hot? No one! Time to fire up the grill.

Here's one of my favorite simple summer meals... a grilled veggie salad. Slice up zucchini, red onion, and orange/yellow peppers, grill until they have a nice char, toss with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve over greens and sprinkle with a bit of feta or goat cheese.




5. Garden daily. Another necessity in my life. It combines beauty, science, and creativity. Not only does it feed my soul, but it feeds my family. Gardening is calming and life-affirming, as well as practical (tomatoes for lunch!). BEST HOBBY EVER

Every day I do a bit of weeding and check out the new developments--what has bloomed, what fruits are ripe and ready to be picked, what herbs are sprouting. I also snip a fresh bouquet to place on my kitchen window sill. I usually add fragrant herbs for a nice scent in the house. I'm especially partial to lemon, so I like to trim lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon basil, etc.




6. Socialize outside! One year I put white Christmas lights on my deck during the winter, and then after the holidays, I left them there. (No, I wasn't being lazy. I totally meant to do that!) Unexpected discovery: my deck was transformed into a whimsical spot for the summer. Add some bouquets of fresh flowers on the table, a few candles, and voilà! You now have the perfect spot to entertain. Make some summer cocktails, hang out under the stars. You can even create a summer cocktail bar with various fresh herbs from your garden. Party time!





7. Read outside. Kindle, print book. Doesn't matter. Reading is more relaxing when you are hiding in a shady spot with a gentle breeze ruffling your gorgeous silver hair. *wink* Personally, I like to hide under the big umbrella on my deck with a glass of sun-tea and my latest favorite Harlequin Presents. As one does.




8. Plan a local road trip. My only rule about travel...try to make it simple and stress-free. Otherwise, you need a vacation after your vacation. 

My family drove up to Maine recently. It's an easy drive, and we stopped for lobster rolls, to see the lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth, and had an incredible visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, which is nothing short of stellar. Confession from a Botany Geek: I was so taken with this gorgeous and inspiring spot, I cried. Twice. This garden is a hidden gem of the best kind. If you get a chance to visit, take it! 




9. Open your windows! I'm a fresh air nut. You know how some people love A/C and some love fresh air? I want the air. Even if it's filled with pollen, I still want the air.

After a long tough New England winter, I love getting a summer breeze in the house. I also love the view of my window boxes spilling over with flowers and herbs. It's a nice way to enjoy the weather.





10. Visit a farmer's market. Some shopping I hate: CLOTHES! Ugh. And some shopping I love: antiques, plants, and FARM STANDS. The best! There is something that is quintessentially summer about meandering through an outdoor market.

I just had a lovely time with my mother and sister at the farmer's market in Sewickley, PA. It had herbs and baked goods and pottery and wine and gorgeous plants and food stalls. One of the nicest markets I've seen.

I'm also partial to the farmer's market in Norwich, Vermont, where I used to get salad mixes with greens and flowers and herbs. So charming!


✺ ✺ ✺

So, there you have it. Ten of my favorite ways to enjoy the moment during the summer months. There's no reason you can't enjoy that cozy, happy Hygge feeling even if the weather is hot and sunny.

Just take a step outside and slow down your pace.

Hoping all of you have a wonderful summer,

Penny/Nina


Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Fallacy of Constant Visibility


I'm giving a talk in a couple of weeks about anxiety, stress, and finding ways to be happy in the midst of a writing career.

Twenty years ago, the pace of the publishing world was much slower. You submitted a manuscript (in print, via snail mail), and you might hear back in eight months. Then, maybe you would land an agent, and it would take another year to get a publishing contract. And then another year or two before the book was released.

There was still anxiety and worry and desperation, but the time line was different.

Now, things happen in days.

Thanks to indie publishing, books can potentially be cranked out in days. Not saying that's good, just saying it's happening.

Feelings of desperation and worry and anxiety are so ramped up right now, if you're not constantly in the public eye, you feel like a failure.

I've seen authors recommend staying "current" every 2-3 months in some way. Either releasing a new book, doing a special promotion, something. 

Constant visibility.

And if you're not doing that? You feel worthless, like no one cares, like you are no longer important in the writing world.

I'm gonna call HUGE bullshit on that. Right now.

Something I discovered after doing a Book Bub ad...there's a big difference in readers-addicted-to-cheap-deals and readers-addicted-to-YOU.

Readers looking for cheap deals are looking for daily fixes, and this drives the idea that romance authors MUST-DO-SOMETHING-EVERY-DAY-NEWSLETTER-NEW BOOK-SOMETHING-SHEER PANIC!!!

I sold a lot of books with Book Bub, but did I gain a lot of long-term readers? That's the kicker. I think a bunch of those consumers are looking for a freebie or a cheap deal, and do not necessarily develop author-loyalty.

I'm looking for author-loyalty. Readers who really dig my books, my voice, my vision. 

I know, even if it takes me 1 year, 2 years, 10 years to release the next book, those loyal readers will buy it.

This push for constant productivity and visibility is making lots of money for promotional businesses. It's also encouraging less-than-stellar books on the market. I see plenty of books with no editing at all. 

This is the way I look at it...

For readers who want free/cheap books, and lots of them, and daily new deals, there are plenty of books to choose from. Tons.

For readers who want to read a Penny Watson original, there are books for them, too.

These are two different types of business models, and it's fine to pick one or the other.

But for folks who feel like they are failures if they can't keep up this pace, please stop and think...

Amy Tan had four years between THE KITCHEN GOD'S WIFE and THE HUNDRED SECRET SENSES. Did we forget about her? Did she become irrelevant? No.

Pink, the singer, took time off to be with her kids. Did we forget about her/not care about her? No, she's awesome. We didn't forget.

Maybe, instead of seeing ourselves as a disposable commodity, we should see ourselves as artists. It takes time to create art. It's special and unique and worth-waiting-for. 

It's a different way of looking at this writing business, and it's a different way of dealing with stress and the current push for constant visibility.

I'm not satisfied with seeing my colleagues sell a lot of books. I also want them to be happy and not feel crushed under the stress of this business.

Go ahead and take your time if you need to. We will all still be here when you're ready for us.

You're worth waiting for!

All my best,

Penny/Nina

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Another Rousing Edition of Penny's Quirky Summer Reading List!


What does "Summer Reading" actually mean?

Mindless? Easy-breezy? Entertaining? Stuff you can read on the beach and it's okay if some sand gets on your pages?

Not sure exactly, but I'm assuming it's the opposite of "The History of Bosnia" which is--true story--a book my husband once brought to the beach. 

Anyway, I have seen a lot of "Summer Reading Lists" over the last couple of months, so I decided it was time to put together something a little bit quirky and varied and eclectic. 

Time for...PENNY'S QUIRKY SUMMER READING SUGGESTIONS, a weird mish-mash of some of my favorite reads.** 

**Includes horror, mystery, gothic thriller, romance, women's fiction, a cozy, and of course a bonus HARLEQUIN PRESENTS. 

Here we go...



1. THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING by Louise Miller

Women's Fiction

Fun and charming tale about a city girl-baker who moves to Vermont. Excellent choice for a foodie fiction lover. Also includes quirky characters, lots of Vermont details, and a meandering story that is summed up with one word: ADORABLE.




2. CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters AMELIA PEABODY SERIES

Mystery

This series is absolutely brilliant and so very entertaining. Amelia Peabody is the no-nonsense hilarious protagonist, as well as budding archaeologist and Egyptologist. This series has it all...mystery, romance, history, humor. Guaranteed to get you addicted. You can read the whole series this summer while you work on your tan.




3. GLASS HOUSES by Louise Penny

Mystery

Book #13 in the Gamache Series. Another entertaining installment of this wonderful mystery series, filled with fascinating tidbits about human nature, history, humor, and poetic prose. I love Louise Penny!




4. INFESTATION by William Meikle

Horror

This was my first story by this author, and I heartily enjoyed the fast pace, interesting cast of characters, and horrifying sci fi creatures. Good summer fun for horror-lovers!




5. SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY by Deanna Raybourn

Historical Thriller/Gothic

Raybourn hits all of my high notes with this book. Includes the perfect balance of humor, plot, excellent writing, fabulous characterization, and eerie gothic creepiness. I just love Raybourn's subtle sense of humor and the sparkling dialogue. Recommended to me by my friend Laura K. Curtis, and now I'm addicted to this series. Thanks, Laura!

Lovely book. Read it.




6. THE MARINE'S SECRET DAUGHTER by Carrie Nichols

Harlequin Special Edition

A discovery on social media! Carrie is a friend on Facebook, so I decided to check out her book. Low on the angst, high on the sweet romance. Set in New England. Love the family dynamics. Perfect beach read.




7. WANT IT by Elisabeth Barrett

Contemporary Romance 

Love this author's writing and voice. It's fresh and fun and impressive. This series has a bunch of beardy brothers, their distillery business, and some angsty romantic melodrama. It is set in Portland, and includes family drama, lots of laugh-out-loud humor, and sex. Yep, it's pretty sexy. *Penny blushes and tries to look nonplussed* In other words...go ahead, people, say it with meaning...THE PERFECT SUMMER READING! 

Very good!




8. THE SUBURBS HAVE SECRETS by Barbara Wallace

Cozy mystery w/ romance

This is the start of a brand-new cozy series, and it's adorable. 40-something heroine, a very sexy chief-of-police, lots of blonde bitchy mummies in the 'burbs, and excellent secondary characters who pop off the page. It's a winner!




9. SUMMER AGAIN by Julia Gabriel

Contemporary romance

Yeah, you sort of have to include a book with the title SUMMER AGAIN on a summer reading list. 

Fun 2nd chance romance set at a family camp...has a real "Dirty Dancing" vibe which I loved. Very romantic. Swoony goodness!



10. THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne

Contemporary romance

This book was unexpected and funny and sexy. The beginning has one of the best starts to a novel I've read in the last ten years. Spot-on humor and charming details and LOADS of sexual tension make this one totally worth a read, especially if you're sitting under an umbrella on the beach with an icy cold frozen cocktail. MAKE THAT HAPPEN!




Now time for the BONUS HARLEQUIN PRESENTS...

This was a pretty difficult decision, since I've read probably 2,000 HPs over the last year. Geez! But this one is a favorite...


**HP BONUS ROUND** 



REDEMPTION OF A RUTHLESS BILLIONAIRE by Lucy Ellis

Harlequin Presents

I'm not embarrassed to say I've already read this one about a dozen times. SWOOOOOOON-I-LICIOUS! I have a thing about Russian heroes. Oh boy. This has Russian hero + adorable widow heroine with quirky daughter + scheming grandfather + charming British village, all mixed together with the perfect amount of angst and conflict = The Perfect Summer Treat.

Also, one of the funniest, most awesome "meet-cutes" ever. I laugh every time I read it!


Also...I'm going to recommend you eat some ice-cream...




...and pick some flowers...



...to round out your summer fun.


Badge of honor for list-makers...
Please share with your readers!



HAPPY SUMMER TO ALL!

Love, Nina/Penny



Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Embrace Your Writing Instincts


Once upon a time, I had a critique partner tell me you had to fulfill three tasks with each paragraph you wrote.

To be honest, I can't remember the rules.

I'm not really a rule gal.

But I do remember one thing. It occurred to me that if you are trying to follow a lot of rules with every word you write, it might inhibit your natural storytelling ability.

It might even incapacitate you and give you writer's block. Make you anxious and worried. 

With every word.

I couldn't believe this writer was thinking about three rules instead of just letting her story flow.

Most writers are natural storytellers. 

It's in our blood.

And, as natural storytellers, our instincts are pretty sound.

We know how to hook the listener/reader/viewer. We know how to build tension. We know how to create conflict. 

I'm sure there are a lot of rules we can follow. But at what cost?

I think writers often underestimate their natural instincts.

You know when something is working and when it's not.

If you listen to that inner critic/editor/gut feeling/instinct, it will most likely steer you in the right direction.

Learning about writing "rules" from books, workshops, conferences, critique partners can help you polish up those words. Tweak the manuscript. When it's time to revise and edit, those helpful tips can make your story shine.

But don't let someone else's advice drown out the most important thing...your own voice.

And most importantly, don't let those rules incapacitate your creative output.

We all know it's fine to "puke" up the words and edit later.

I usually find that my initial instincts with a story are spot-on. Not perfect, but the instincts are solid.

Many times I'll go around in circle, trying and rejecting different ideas, and I end up back at the beginning, because the initial concept was right.

We have absorbed thousands of stories in our lifetimes, from books and movies and real-life news and our own personal experience. All of those things become part of who we are as writers, and they make our instincts stronger.

Final word for the day...TRUST YOURSELF!

You got this!

All my best,
Penny/Nina

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