Friday, January 11, 2019

10th Year Book Anniversary: Life Lessons


Ten years ago, in 2009, my first book was published.

It was a quirky take on the legend of Santa Claus, complete with drunken elves, five rambunctious brothers, and romance under the Christmas tree. It had won a couple of awards, and was picked up by a small publisher who offered holiday options.

Here I am, 10 years later. A decade has passed. How did that even happen?

I have now published one children's book, all five installments of the Klaus Brothers Series, an award-nominated short story with "seasoned" characters in their sixties, a rated G snowbound-in-a-cabin quickie, a novella about a treehouse designer, and an award-winning women's fiction about a reality cooking show.

In the meantime, I survived a heart attack, raised two kids, a husband, and a wiener dog.

I've been in three critique groups, attended countless conferences, offered workshops from Florida to Maine, co-hosted an indie publishing symposium, won a bunch of awards, sold a bunch of books, accumulated reviews--the good, the bad, and the ugly--mentored other authors, befriended many readers, ran a review site, and learned more about the publishing industry than I really ever wanted to know. I even had a film company express interest in one of my books. This amounted to nothing, but it added a bit of excitement to my author journey.

Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about what lessons I've learned over the last decade. Yes, I've learned a lot of lessons. 


But when you really get right down to it, I can sum up a decade of learning into two points...


1. Focus on the writing.

2. True friendships are the golden nugget.


The Writing: I started my writing journey as an eight-year-old, lugging around a dingy white notebook with my first story scribbled in extremely feminine cursive.

I was eight. I didn't know anything about marketing trends, agents, or conferences.

All I knew was that story I could not stop thinking about was growing and expanding and becoming something exciting. I had discovered the "thrill" that a writer experiences with the birth of a novel.

And, after a decade of publishing bullshit, I now know that the "thrill" is still the most important thing.

Really, the only thing.

It's true. I see a lot of authors get caught up in the other stuff--dollar signs in their eyes, and awards season, and so bent out of shape when they get a bit of criticism. But the truth is, if you have the heart and soul of a writer, that "thrill" is the reason you're doing this.

As it should be.

True Friendships: Doesn't matter who or what you are. Teacher, social worker, stay-at-home mom. Scientist, author, Hollywood actor.

Pretty soon you figure out those true, loyal friends are the golden nuggets of your life.

They deserve your time and energy and love. And you learn to push the backstabbers, who are sometimes dressed in sheep's clothing, off the proverbial cliff.

Those true friends are with you every step of the way, whether you're rich or poor or depressed or useful. Long after you write your last book, you'll be laughing together at the nursing home and listening to 1980s Madonna songs.

Hold on tight to those people.

✯✯✯

That's it.

Those are the lessons.

I expect those same two lessons will still be appropriate years from now.

I find it interesting that over the last twenty years of writing, I've come full circle. Started as an enthusiastic writer, became fully immersed in the publishing world, and then found my way back to this basic place where writing is the focus.

It's a good place to be.

Love and good wishes to all the storytellers out there,

Nina/Penny


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Confessions of a Quirky Author


This is the time of year when we reflect upon the past twelve months and think...what just happened?

Did I accomplish the things I wanted to? Did I succeed, fail, let myself down, surprise myself?

Yes to all these things.

This is also the time of year when we think ahead to the next twelve months. A fresh new start! What will I accomplish? What will be my successes? What will be my failures?

Many things.

True confession time: I have had the SAME TWO THINGS ON MY LIST FOR 3 YEARS.

Didn't get them done in 2016, didn't get them done in 2017, didn't get them done in 2018.

And so, in an extremely unfortunate and discouraging turn of events, these SAME TWO THINGS are now on the list for 2019.

These 2 things:

1. Get rid of diabetes.

2. Finish BLUE.

They say that when you are truly ready for change, the change will happen. 

Re: diabetes. I started to lose weight (15 pounds), but my A1C hardly budged. I got very discouraged.

I know how to diet. I know how to exercise. I know what I need to do to make this happen. AM I READY FOR CHANGE?

Am I ready? Yes, I am.

Determined. Ready. THIS WILL NOT BE ON MY LIST FOR 2020!

In 2020, I will not have diabetes. 

Re: BLUE. After years of writing romance, I switched to a new genre and a new format. This book has changed so many times, I can barely keep up with it. But I know in my heart, this is the best thing I've ever written. Also, the most challenging and the most difficult.

The writing is always easy for me. But having so many choices about my characters, the story--and how to get there--is tough with this one. 

I need to buckle down, choose a central theme, and write. Write, write, write, and find the story in those words.

FINISH BLUE WILL NOT BE ON MY LIST FOR 2020.

By 2020, BLUE will be finished. 

Easy days: When the number on the scale is down, when the words flow.

These are the days it's easy to stick with the goals.

Hard days: When the number on the scale is up, when the book feels like a hot mess.

These are the days you have to push through to get to the other side.

One thing I know for sure about 2019...there will be easy days and hard days. 

I have to get through all of them to achieve my goals.

My goal for 2019: 
TO HAVE A BRAND NEW SET OF GOALS FOR 2020

That's my goal. To wrap up these things that are hard, challenging, life-changing.

I've pushed a little bit, they've pushed back. Forward and back.

This year I will push back all the way.

So, that's sort of a quirky goal for 2019. To have a new set of goals for 2020.

But there you go.

To everyone who is planning to push back all the way...

WE GOT THIS!

xoxoxo

Neen



Monday, December 24, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

5 Quirky Christmas Films


There are all types of holiday movies. Some are sappy, some are goofy, some are romantic, some are sweet.

My favorite holiday films are a little bit quirky, different, fun.

Here are five adorable movies that have become Christmas traditions for my family...



The Snowman

My son was utterly mesmerized by this 1982 film when he was little. It is based on the book by Raymond Briggs and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. It is a whimsical, moody, charming holiday movie with almost no dialogue--just a haunting, emotional musical score. This story is magical and lovely. One of my all-time favorite Christmas films. 




Elf

Not only is this one of my favorite holiday films, it's a favorite for any time of the year. Will Ferrell brings his wacky, weird energy to the character of Buddy the Elf, who is raised in the North Pole, but then ventures forth to Manhattan to find his biological father. The quirkiness of this film includes random cartoon characters popping up in the North Pole, a fist-fight at Gimbels Department Store, a raucous break-dancing scene, and plenty more hilarious scenarios. This is a movie that both adults and kids will adore.




Olive the Other Reindeer

This animated holiday movie hits all my quirky high points...adorable main character voiced by Drew Barrymore, evil villain penguin voiced by Dan Castellaneta, and an entire ensemble of kooky gems. It has suspense, music, and of course, a wonderful happy ending. Schnitzel the Reindeer is Michael Stipe (from REM), and his rendition of WE'RE NOT SO BAD is hilarious. (Watch it here). My kids were addicted to this one. Super charming illustrations and lots of quirky humor.





Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

This 1964 stop motion animated television special is a classic for a reason. It includes a nerdy elf wanna-be dentist, a sort-of jerky Santa, an entire island of misfit goofy toys, and a reindeer with a red light bulb for a nose. My favorite nutty part...an Abominable Snowmonster with hidden talents. Singing elves, catchy tunes. We watch every year!




How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Animated classic from 1966 based on the Dr. Seuss book. This adorable made-for-TV film has all the quirky weird sensibility of a Dr. Seuss story with a great musical score.  The Grinch is one of the greatest villains of Christmas history. But never fear, it has a precious happy ending, and a lovely Christmas message for adults and kids. Forget about all the remakes...the original Grinch is the one to watch.


Do you have any favorite quirky holiday films you watch every year? Let me know!

HAPPY QUIRKY CHRISTMAS,

Nina/Penny

Friday, November 30, 2018

Now Available for Purchase...A LUMBERJACKY CHRISTMAS!



I decided to try a little experiment. I'm using Draft-2-Digital for the first time with a new release.

I usually offer my books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo only.

D2D will allow me to sell via Apple (iBooks), as well as offer other library options.

This super short story--A LUMBERJACKY CHRISTMAS--was available as a download on my website a few years ago, but I'm not sure how many folks actually saw it/read it.

I decided to make it available for purchase so it would find a larger audience.

It's a very short story--only 4,000 words--but it definitely captures the sweetness and hopefulness of the holiday season.

Here's the blurb...(purchase links, too!)

Happy Holidays to all! xoxoxoxo

Love, Nina/Penny


❆❆❆


From award-winning author Penny Watson...

A super-schmaltzy, super-sweet, super-beardy, super-short snowbound-in-a-cabin holiday romance.


**Previously available on Penny Watson’s website**


Genre: Holiday Romance
Length: Super short story, 4000 words

Looking for a super-schmaltzy, super-sweet, super-beardy, super-short snowbound-in-a-cabin holiday romance?

You just found it.

David Green is an award-winning children’s author searching for inspiration. Hannah Morgan is an illustrator who is unlucky in love.

When they find themselves stranded in a cabin on Christmas Eve, can they possibly create their own special story...together?

Book includes 4,000-word quickie and an excerpt from National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award-winning A TASTE OF HEAVEN.


❆❆❆

Ebook only 99 cents!

Apple


Sending love and sweet treats to you!

Nina/Penny

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Review for KINGDOM OF THE BLIND


Buckle up, people! 

I have many, many thoughts about this book, and series in general, and Louise Penny.

In no particular order...

1. The beginning of this book is strong. As always. One of Louise Penny's strengths is her beginnings. She sucks you right into the story with the characters, the mystery, the unknown. Everything feels profound. She throws in poetry. Philosophy. Art.

Strangely, however, the familiarity of the characters/town we know actually dragged this story down. That is no longer a strong point for the series, but a detriment. 

At one point, there was a scene with our familiar cast of characters, in their familiar setting, and I thought to myself..."I've read this before." It's getting redundant, and that's a bad thing. Dialogue feels recycled, character reactions feel recycled, even the twists/big reveals are things we've seen before (Gamache has a big secret...yeah, we know. HE ALWAYS HAS A BIG SECRET).

2. There are certain scenes/moments/events in this book with huge impact. The collapse of the house, the angst-filled scenes with Amelia returning to her old life. I love the whole symbolism of the house collapsing/the family collapsing. Penny did an extraordinary job bringing that symbolic event to life. 

Unfortunately, these are overshadowed by many tedious scenes that dragged and ruined the pacing of the narrative. Too many scenes with financial folks, figuring out documents, etc. These bits were dull and ruined the energy and flow of this story.

3. Pacing was a problem. The flow of the story felt disjointed. Usually, I find that Penny does an excellent job blending high-action scenes with internal POV, character bits with setting and storyline. But it was pretty choppy going in this book.

4. I love fiction that blends multiple storylines. This is a trademark for the Gamache Series. Sometimes, it works very well, and sometimes it's not as successful.

The parallel storylines for this book--the Baumgartner will and the continuation of the drug storyline from the last book (GLASS HOUSES)--did not work well together, IMO. There has to be both contrast and commonality for blended storylines to work. 

The mystery about the Baumgartner family started very strong, then fizzled and died.

The storyline about Amelia had its strong moments as well, but the "twist"--Gamache has a secret from everyone else--is something we've already seen in this series. That reveal was disappointing.

The "reveal" about the Baumgartners also lacked punch. It was fairly expected.

That was the biggest disappointment about this book for me...it started with a lot of energy and suspense, and it all sort of fizzled out and died by the end. 

The "post-mortem" scene at the end (everyone sitting around and discussing who/how/why-dunnit) was painful. It was an uninspired way to resolve the main mystery of this book.  

I do appreciate a few new characters thrown into the Three Pines world--even the promise of romance for some of our regular characters--but that is not enough to pump fresh life into this series.

5. My big assessment about The Gamache Series: This series has lost its magic. Louise Penny has not, however, lost her magical touch as a writer. She just needs to use her "powers" with a new project.

She needs a new town, new characters, maybe even try out a new genre.

She has a lot left to say, and a wonderful way to say it. But Gamache and his buddies and Three Pines have been wrung out like a wet sponge. 

I got the feeling several times that Penny is writing her "default" setting with this series. I honestly feel like it's wasting her talents.

6. Most series drag on too long. There's a fine line (or not) between exploring and re-exploring the same characters/relationships, watching them change and grow. At some point, it's done.

You know a series is still working when you return to that world and it's like putting on a favorite snuggly cardigan and going along for a wonderful adventure with "friends."

I didn't get that feeling this time. My friends felt flat and almost cartoonish. The mystery became predictable and underwhelming. 

Even Gamache, who is one of my all-time favorite characters, was missing something.

Overall grade for KINGDOM OF THE BLIND: Disappointed.

Here's hoping Louise Penny tries something new and different soon. I would really like to see that happen!


Signing off from Watsonville,
Penny/Nina

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Simple Living Holiday Edition: How To De-Stress Christmas


Last year I had a wee little freak-out on Christmas day.

After months of shopping and cooking and card-writing, the actual BIG DAY was a disaster.

Everyone was in a bad mood, especially ME!

I decided that I was going to make some big changes this year and turn the whole holiday around for my family.



Here's my plan for the 2018 HOLIDAY SEASON...


1. Cut out the cards.

Every year I spend a ton of time attempting to find the perfect family photo (you know, all four of us with our eyes open...good luck with that!), and then I have to design a card, order the cards, go to the post office, stamp/address hundreds of envelopes, etc. I hate it. Cards are expensive. They are wasteful. Bottom line: WHO CARES!

They're out.

(Wheeeeee! I FEEL BETTER ALREADY!)



2. Focus on experiences, not gifts.

My kids are not little anymore. Christmas morning is a big deal when your kids are young. All those presents under the tree...their eyes light up. It's magic! And fun.

Then...your kids grow up. They want gift cards and a new iPhone.

Last year there were too many gifts and a lot of complaints, and I'm done with that.

This year, I am replacing the gifts with experiences.

Ideas:

***Attending the Nutcracker Ballet

***Glass-blowing class for the kids to make a tree ornament

***Attending the light show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

***Going to a musical performance

***Winter hike in the woods/Owl Prowl

***Make hand-made wreaths/holiday flower bouquets

***Make (and give away) Christmas cookies!

I think my family will appreciate this. We need to spend time together. That's more important than stuff.



3. New Christmas Eve tradition, inspired by Iceland.

It's called Jolabokaflod. It means Yule Book Flood. Icelanders exchange books on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading.

BE STILL MY BOOK-OBSESSED HEART!

Unfortunately, even though my husband and I adore books, my kids are less excited about them.

But, I will not be deterred!

I am going to get my son books about the environment and science and photography (his passions) and my daughter books about style and fashion and art (her passions) and my husband travel journals and books about fly-fishing (his passions), and I'll give "Santa" a list of books I'd like, too.

I think I'll add holiday books to the list as well. It's nice to collect books about Christmas/other holiday traditions.

This is just one more reason to love Iceland!



4. Establish new/old Christmas morning tradition.

When I was young, my family had a fairly formal Christmas morning breakfast. My mom set the table with her Christmas china, and we had a full breakfast and hot chocolate and Christmas candies.

It was super sweet and lovely.

My family has gotten into the unfortunate habit of attacking the tree and gifts first thing.

I don't like it.

So...it's out.

We will be reinstating the "Christmas Breakfast" tradition at our house. The kids can help. I have A LOT of Christmas dishware.

This is a more relaxed way to start the day.

Less about the stuff, more about the experience.



5. Edit the decorations/stuff.

I never saw a Christmas shop I didn't like. 

We have nutcrackers and angels and elves and snowflakes and Santas and lights and big trees and little trees.

And...cripes. It's just all too much!

So, I'm learning to "edit" with my decor. EVERYTHING does not need to be displayed every year.

(Repeat that three times and make a wish!)

Last year I chose a few select things to put out. It looked a lot better, and it was easier to clean up after Christmas.

This tip brought to you by Project Runway. EDIT EDIT EDIT!



How about all of you? What do you do to decrease your stress over the holidays?

Let's chat!

xoxoxo

Nina/Penny