I've been having a little trouble with the ending to A Very Hero Christmas. With the help of two sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches and a large cup of very strong, black tea this morning at Tim Horton's, I found the threads of tying up the overall storylines.
A friend teased that the cover looked like it was for a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I guess in its own way this story needed to be just as touchy-feely, something I was trying hard to avoid because of my own mixed feelings towards the holiday.
I don't normally push the last minute envelope like this, but I need to get back to wrapping up the story since its drop date is Sunday.
When we left off, DH and I were sleeping in our ice-covered car in the convenience store parking lot at the exit for Stratton, Colorado, off of I-70. Well, us, six other passenger vehicles, and approximately three dozen semi trucks. Plus another dozen tractor-trailers parked along the road berm.
The environmental temperature of our sleep area has been an ongoing battle between DH and me for nearly twenty-six years. I definitely prefer a warmer sleeping environment than he does. Add in the fact that I simply can't sleep if my feet are cold, and well, the heater war was on!
My cold feet would wake me up, and I would turn on our car's engine and fall back asleep. DH would wake up sweating and turn it off. We went back and forth the entire night.
I have to say if you're stuck sleeping in a car all night, you could do worse than a Hyundai Sonata. Even DH, who nearly six and a half feet tall could stretch out.
When I woke up about three a.m. local time, fog had rolled in, I could see anything past the parking lot, but the ice on the windows was dripping. As I settled back down, I knew we'd be able to get on the road soon.
DH woke up when the convenience store lights flicked on at 5:30 a.m. We, along with the rest of the sleeping travelers, used the restroom, bought some caffeine, and filled our fuel tanks before heading out. Predawn light was very welcome at that point. And even better, my joints weren't locked with pain. Yay, CBD gummies!
A few miles up the freeway, we passed the reason the fire truck and one of the ambulances were dispatched the night before. Another eastbound semi had slid into the median and caught fire. The cab and engine compartment were nothing but burned out husks.
At that point, DH and I were both thankful we'd pulled over for the night.
On the plus side, DH got to enjoy the grandeur of approaching the Rockies shortly after dawn. Without a cloud in the sky, the snow-capped mountain tops gleamed.
Denver rush-hour traffic did not gleam. However, we made to the hotel at 9:00 a.m. The Hilton Garden Inn at Union Station gets a five-star rating from me for having a room ready for us. (DH had called them the night before and told them about the ice storm. The person at the front desk said a room would be ready when we arrived, but we'd been screwed over by hotels before so we weren't holding our breath.)
Unfortunately, DH's boss was already sitting at a work station in the lobby, so he had to go back down as soon we hauled the luggage to our room. Don't worry. He was able to get a shower when the team broke for lunch. I'd gotten one as soon as we arrived. I also located the nearest Starbucks (inside the grocery store directly across the street from the hotel) and crack open my laptop.
The rest of the week went smoothly. DH's co-workers started heading out Saturday afternoon, but we stayed an extra night. Vacation, remember?
We left fairly early on Sunday morning because more freezing rain was actually forecasted for eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The trip back through Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri were uneventful. However, another storm was rolling down from Canada for Monday. It wasn't supposed to go any further south than Lima, Ohio, by 6 p.m. EST.
No problem, right? It's seven hours from our friends' house to our apartment. As long as we were on the road before noon, we'd be fine.
WRONG! DH woke me up shortly before 9 a.m. It was already sleeting in St. Louis. I was dressed, and we had the luggage packed and loaded before 9:30. Hugs were shared, and we set out to get gas and breakfast on the way out of town.
The gas station was less than five minutes from Becky's place. By then, the sleet had turned to snow.
Many kudos to the Illinois and Indiana DOTs! They kept the roads salted and cleared as we made our way east. The trouble hit when we left I-70 for I-75.
The snow had come farther south, earlier and deeper than predicted. Traffic gradually slowed to a crawl as night fell and snow fell thicker. DH followed a Penske semi with an obviously experienced driver. The numerous ODOT trucks simply couldn't keep up with the precipitation.
We could see the marks where a plow had been through less than an hour before, but the freeway was already covered in snow. Three of the vehicles that sped by us ended up in the ditch or the median. We lost count of how many other accidents we saw, including one involving an ODOT truck and a pickup with a trailer hauling horses. I hope all of the critters were okay.
Finally, we reached our exit. The county and township plows hadn't been through, but we kept the same slow, steady pace and made it home.
The storm extended all the way south into Knoxville, Tennessee. Our town topped off with four and a half inches of snow, but our stupid superintendent refused to cancel school. But hey, this is the same idiot who didn't salt the high school sidewalks after an ice storm when GK was a sophomore.
So that was our quasi-vacation adventures. On the plus-side, I got lots of good info on the city of Denver itself, especially the old industrial section they're renovating and turning into multi-use structures. I got to visit Mile High Comics to get some reference materials for the 888-555-HERO series. And I got to try marijuana, or at least a derivative, for the first time. Despite the scary travel conditions, it was a productive business trip.
Some time ago, DH and I planned to a trip to St. Louis to see friends and family. In the midst of getting everything ready, we learned Genius Kid wasn't getting leave after all. Such is the ways of military life.
Also in the middle of everything, DH's division was sold to another company. The new employer, based in Denver, wanted to have a company-wide face-to-face event.
The same week we were supposed to be in St. Louis.
DH and I looked at each other, then at the map. What if we went to St. Louis on Tuesday like we planned and simply drove out to Denver on Wednesday in time for the company-wide meeting on Thursday?
For those of you wondering why we didn't just fly, DH doesn't get on airplanes any more. He freely admits to his phobia. The last time he got on a plane was for his grandmother's funeral in 2002, but that was only because he couldn't make the drive from Houston to Toledo in time.
The new employer coughed up the money for everyone to stay at a downtown hotel, which was awesome foresight on whoever organized the event. It was essentially neutral territory for old and new employees to get a feel for each other.
The new employer also didn't have a problem with me tagging along since we were supposed to be on vacation. Denver turned into a work/research trip. I wrote on my NaNo project and did some research for Denver as the setting for a duology under the Alter Ego name.
Everything started off okay on Tuesday. We stopped to vote, picked up breakfast, and dropped off Bella at the doggie hotel on our way out of town. Other than road construction in Indiana and an accident in St. Louis itself, we made decent time. We had a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant with our friends Becky and Tony and caught up with them.
Wednesday started as a gorgeous day, sunny and clear. Temperatures climbed into the high 60's as we crossed Missouri and the first half of Kansas. No sign of inclement weather on our path west according to the radar and news reports. We stopped for a decent lunch because we knew we wouldn't get into Denver until 11 p.m. local time.
After dark, the temps plummeted into the 30's. The real problems started about twenty miles before we reached the Colorado border. Spritz hit the windshield. When DH flipped the windshield wipers, the moisture smeared and stayed.
"Please tell me that's road mud and bug guts," I pleaded.
"It's not," DH said.
We cranked up the heat on the defrosters. I checked local weather while DH slowed his speed in the freezing rain. Nothing was showing up on the radar until we reached the border. A little splotch of pink showed up on the radar right in the middle of our path on the interstate. We decided to go on to see if we could get out of it.
Conditions disintegrated fast. DH followed a semi. The experienced truckers know what they're doing. Speed dropped some more until we were all crawling along about 30 miles per hour. Then we and the semi in front of us started sliding all over the place.
This was about 9 p.m.CST. We were nowhere near any hotels. We followed the semi to an exit and pulled into the same convenience store at a little burg called Stratton. The store had a massive parking lot, and there were already a dozen tractor-trailers parked there.
We went inside to use the restroom and get some snacks. More and more travelers pulled into the lot.
As DH and I debated what to do, a man named Tim asked where we were headed. When we said Denver, he shook his head. He worked for CDOT and had been called into work three hours early. "You're not going to make it to Denver tonight."
The story was the same for all the locals who came in. The damn freezing rain came out of nowhere, and the roads were covered with black ice. DH checked for local hotels, but the closest ones were sixty miles away and filling up fast.
The husband of one of the clerks also worked for CDOT. She texted him about the travelers pulling over. He called her and said everything had gone to shit. He was having difficulty staying on the interstate himself as he salted.
That was the deciding factor for a lot of us. We would sleep in our vehicles and wait for morning. The clerks made sure everyone had a chance to use the rest room and had enough fuel to last us through the night before they closed up at 10 p.m.
I bought a fleece hoodie because I didn't feel like rooting around our luggage in the freezing rain for something warmer. I also bought some CBD gummies with melatonin in the hopes they would help me sleep.
DH and I sat in our car. The parking lot was on enough of a rise we could see east side of I-70. More truckers pulled into the parking lot over the next hour. When it filled, the truckers lined up along the median to wait out the weather.
A fire truck and an ambulance from Stratton headed west. Another ambulance headed east. Our hearts stopped for an instant when the eastbound ambulance slid on ice, but the driver regained control. Once his flashing lights disappeared, there was no one, and I mean no one, on the interstate.
DH ran our engine for five minutes while we adjusted our seats. With my overshirt as a pillow, my jacket as a blanket, and the hoodie's pocket to keep my hands warm, I was fairly comfortable. DH turned off the engine, and we fell asleep in our very own ice cave.
If you're reading this on Monday, DH and I are on our way home from Denver, Colorado.
DH took last week off, and we were headed to St. Louis. However, DH's employer sold his division to another company. The new employers wanted to throw a big welcome party (which is kind of nice) so everyone could get to know each other. To top it off, they were flying everyone to Denver.
Well, we were already roughly half-way there. Not to mention, DH no longer does planes. At least, not without sleeping pills. As I told the flight attendant on our honeymoon, "Trust me. You want him drugged."
So we drove the rest of the way to Denver for DH's meeting and I used it as a research trip for one of Alter Ego's books. However, copious notes for the new book aside, I probably holed up in the hotel room or the nearby Starbucks for a good chunk of the stay to work on my NaNo project.
The real question is how much pain I'll be when we get home. Let's keep our fingers crossed that I'm as healthy as I think I am.
Is it just me or have a large number of indie writers turned to writing how-to books for writers instead of writing fiction?
Yes, money's down for a lot of writers when it comes to fiction.
First of all, the complaints are coming at a normal time of the year. August-September is filled with parents and grandparents dealing with new schedules, new schools, and new kids' clothes. It's all our readers can do to deal with their own job, homework, and dinner before they collapse on the couch in exhaustion, only to run the same race the next day.
There's not too much you can do about the natural yearly highs and lows of books sales.
Secondly, I know I can't just put out a book and make a ton of dosh anymore, but I expected that with a maturing system. A lot of folks seem to think the gold rush should have kept going forever. Those writers with business experience realized it wasn't going to and made adjustments. Those who haven't? Well, they have seen a sharp decline in sales.
Why? Because there's a surplus of material. Hell, I've got 559 books in Kindle right now. I've read maybe 100 of them so far. That doesn't count the 1,000+ paper books, and the Nook and iBook books I haven't read yet.
Do I think people should stop writing? Nope. That's not my worry.
It's seems like more and more writers are supplementing their income by writing and selling industry-related how-to books. But a lot of these folks don't have the expertise they claim they have.
Or worse, they advocate gray hat or black hat tactics that will lose a new author not only their money, but their retailer accounts and their reputations.
"But, wait!" I hear some of you saying. "You put out a book on business planning a few years ago."
Yes, I did, but it was based on experience as a lawyer writing up business plans, both for personal use and for clients. By the same token, I took the book down when I didn't have enough time to update it properly. So much was changing so fast in the early days of indie publishing. The last thing any new writer needed was outdated information.
And that's probably the difference. I took my ethics seriously as an attorney, and I still do as a writer. I believe we should be making money from our art. Not from speaking engagements. Not from shilling get-rich-quick schemes to people with stars in their eyes.
Does this mean every self-help thing is bullshit? No, but take a hard, HARD look at who's offering it and what their bonafides are. And I don't mean their fucking Amazon rank. That number is irrelevant. It doesn't tell the whole story of someone's income, much less their entire career.
In any time of chaotic change, there are those looking to make a difference and those who want to suck those dreams and dollars from anyone. Take a hard look at what anyone, including me, is offering.
Ask the hard questions. Follow the money path. Who's actually profiting from your time and your money? What are you really getting from the services and/or products offered?
Most of all, remember that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true.
It's okay not to know everything. None of us does. But you and your work are the most important things, and you need to do everything in your power to protect them.
I'm in a weird position in that I basically had to start over with my career this year. My sales gradually fell from 2014 through 2018 simply because I was lucky if I got one book out a year. When I did manage to publish, it was at random times during the year.
I can honestly say there are two things that work in getting reader eyeballs on your stories:
1) A new release triggers interest in all our other works.
2) Publish on a consistent and manageable schedule.
New releases doesn't mean a new novel every month. Put out a single short story or a novella in between bigger novels. If your schedule is too tight for new work, publish an anthology of previous short works, or a collection from a series.
When I say publish on a consistent schedule, post your publishing schedule for the year in a public place, like your website, and stick to it. You don't have to release a something every month.
And now, some of you are freaking. "But, but, SUZAN! You published nearly every month in 2019!"
Yeah, I did. Because I WROTE a good chunk of those books during the chaos of 2014-18, including during my stint with breast cancer. So it was a matter of finishing and/or polishing the new works this year.
And shit still happened in happened. A Matter of Death was supposed to come out in June. However, my father passed away in May, and I knew the novel wasn't going to be ready because my headspace wasn't there. So if something major happens, cut yourself a break and don't beat yourself up over it. Let your readers know there will be a delay, and why if you're comfortable enough.
You'll find readers can be very patient when it comes to reader life rolls as long as they know what's going on.
Will I be releasing eight stories in 2020? That's what I've been trying to figure out over the last couple of weeks.
There's a couple of Justice Thalia short stories I've written. Do I release them singly, or do I write a couple more and release them as an anthology? Some readers want new Anthea novels, Others want new HERO books. There's a little paranormal mystery series I've been toying with. It's a spin-off of Bloodlines that has been nagging at me for several years.
So you see, I've got to figure out how I'm doing all of this. And that doesn't include a fun, one-off side project I really want to write, even though it probably won't sell a damn.
Back to my original point, release new content, release it consistently, and let your readers know when to expect it. And as always, YMMV.
Yes, DH and I finally made it to a movie! Our first since viewing Rocket Man back in the middle of June. I don't know how much is the lack of anything we want to see or simply our lack of time. It seems like there's a lot of reboots and sequels.
But one sequel I have been looking forward to was Zombieland: Double Tap. I loved the original!
There's not a whole lot to spoil if you've seen the first movie, but I'll give the warning anyway in case you didn't see the first movie. We start by catching up with our original quartet ten years after the initial zombie outbreaak: Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock, and Wichita.
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1) Double Tap doesn't go for the gross-out jokes of the first movie, but the laughs are still there (hint: blue suede shoes), and there's a little more emotional development amongst the characters.
2) Love interests are developed for both Tallahassee and Little Rock.
3) The mid-credits cameos is so worth staying for!
1) What? Absolutely, no Twinkie jokes? Unfortunately, the Hostess brand was bought by another company between the two movies, and the new owners probably didn't have much of a sense of humor in regards to their product's freshness and quality since they were trying to resurrect a zombie brand. BWAHAHAHA!
2) Really? Dumb blonde jokes? *sigh*
Overall, Double Tap is a worthy successor to Zombieland. I give it 9 out of 10.
This year's project is A Touch of Mother, the fourth novel in the Justice series. Anthea and Luc are back home after the events of A Matter of Death, but that doesn't mean all is quiet and peaceful again in Orrin...
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