In 2018 I stopped giving myself reading goals, with a few small exceptions, because it created added stress that I didn’t need. Add to that a great deal of the books I read are unpublished, and therefore harder to count and track on a place like Goodreads, and it made more sense to simply keep track on my own.
So what did I make a goal out of? Not number of books or pages or anything like that. My goal was to have half the books I read be diverse stories. Ultimately I prefer diverse stories written by diverse authors, but that’s not always something easily visible. For my own notes I mark down when I know it to be ownvoices, beyond that I simply enjoy.
Why only half? The answer is simple: I already follow a lot of non-diverse authors and have those books in my collection, waiting to be read. I am also building my list of diverse authors to read and follow, because unless one is actively seeking out diverse voices, it’s too easy to overlook them.
So how did I do with that goal? Out of 29 books I read 15 diverse novels. Not bad. And out of those 15 I suspect 12 are ownvoices, or at least a diverse author writing diverse characters. I think it’s important to read when the ownvoice status is known, to help identify potential bad rep when it’s not. No one wants bad rep out there!
Now, 29 books is on the small side, I know. I did also read 6 full length books from my critique partners, beta reads, and contest submissions, along with who knows how many chapters and pages. The 29 is low for one simple reason: my mental health. It’s no secret I’ve been struggling with this, to the point where I’m pretty darn proud of those 29. For me, the hardest part of a book is the beginning. I need something to really grab me and pull me in. There are two I did not finish on my list, but the other 27 I enjoyed quite thoroughly, and those special words were a great help in lifting me out of my funk.
I’m not going to list all of the books I read, but I will mention my favorites, let me see how long this list becomes:
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Hard Pursuit by Sheryl Nantus
Reality Wedding by Laura Heffernan
Toxic Desire and Captive Desire by Robin Lovett
A Lady’s Honor by A.S. Fenichel
Stepbrother Dearest by Penelope Ward
Forbidden Hearts Series by Alisha Rai
Only For A Night and Only For Your Touch by Naima Simone
Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
R is for Rebel by Megan Mulry
Acting on Impulse and Pretending He’s Mine by Mia Sosa
A Princess in Theory and a Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
Scoring the Player’s Baby and Scoring Off the Field by Naima Simone
West Coast Love by Tif Marcelo
Accidentally on Purpose by Jill Shalvis
That “short” list of favorites turned out to be 22 out of those 29 books read, and 27 finished. I’m not able to pick just one favorite, don’t make me! Quite a few of those authors are ones I’ve read before and keep going back for more of their lovely words. And, writer bonus, I know a few of them! It’s a special writerly honor to know people with such talent, and extra special when gobbling up their words.
In case it’s not obvious, I highly recommend those authors and books above. Many of them are diverse, so check them out!
For 2019 I only have two small goals: continue ensuring diverse authors are in my list, and maybe read 30+ if I’m able. That’s it. Life comes with enough stressors, reading should not be one of them. Heck, I actually let go of the diverse goal at one point this year, but since I make a point of out searching for these voices, I still got them in without trying.
I hope your own 2018 read list contains many wonderful treasures in them. And may 2019 bring more!
The end of the year is a time for reflection. Writers tend to compile a list of books read and share some of the highlights and favorites. I hope to do that in a week or so. For now I want to focus on something different, something I don’t talk about often in my personal life but end up sharing a bit in my writer life for the sake of awareness and de-stigmatization: my mental health.
For the past few years I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety, going on and off medication. I’m currently in an okay place. Not perfect but I’m managing with the help of magnesium and inositol and I plan to discuss my anxiety at my next doctor visit.
Why mention this now? The answer is partly in the above: I don’t know how long I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety. I’m sure it’s been a year, or two. But it could be three.
I also have no clue when things turned around.
I want to say it was some time this year, but I’m not sure. It could have been this summer. Or was it last? Perhaps the fact that I can’t answer this question means I’m struggling more than I think. I don’t know. When I look back beyond the past few months they grow fuzzy. Time is speeding by, my growing son reminds me of this daily, and the days blend together. The when and the where and the how long gets lost somewhere along the way.
Good things have happened this year. I think. I had to look up dates to verify that my latest book contract came this year. And I am currently in the editing cave working hard on getting this novel ready for publication! Which is great and wonderful and extremely daunting. That’s the highs and lows of writing. And I’m able to handle it. The joy of my words is not robbed from me, and I’m even able to work a little on the parts of writing that is hardest on my mental health: the marketing side.
Without time stamps I can’t tell you for sure what’s happened this year vs last, with the exception of the last few months and more noteworthy moments. It’s been a long year. And the political environment doesn’t help, and I know it’s been a very long year for many of us, amidst any joys and sorrows.
I’m grateful to be feeling better. Not perfect, not yet, but better. Recovery while life continues, the world is on fire, the family needs you, jobs, ambitions, everything, is increasingly difficult.
I want to take a few moments during the holidays to breathe and enjoy my family. But as always, the holidays breeze past in a flash. Chanukah is over, Christmas is almost here, and there is still so much left to be done in 2018. Before I know it the New Year will be here and I’ll be back to trying to figure out what things happened when, as time continues to speed past and everything blurs together.
This did not begin on such a melancholy note, and yet it appears to be the way things grew. And I’m okay with that. This time of year has so much pressure to be happy and enjoy, but everything happens on top of our daily requirements and all that joy is squeezed between moments of panic and chaos. And still those moments are precious. I haven’t been up to baking lately, not that I ever was much of a baker to begin with. But I’ve told my son we should make cookies on Friday and I’m keeping it in my mind so I can be prepared to do so with him.
Baby steps. Small moments. Time will continue to fly past. Life demands won’t quit. Mental health may be lurking in the shadows, trying to let bygones be bygones.
What’s the saying? Life is what happens when you were busy making other plans. I think that is definitely true.
I do hope this year has been good to you, my readers. And I hope to get the timeline of my life aligned once again. I do know my creative juices are flowing and I have four books desperate for my attention, and two others that deserve it. So, yes, next year is almost here. And I think it will be a good one. I think, I’m not positive but I think, I will be starting it out on a healthier mental state. And that is reason to celebrate.
Over the weekend my husband and I watched The Christmas Chronicles. Husband had started it earlier and thought it to be a typical cliché Christmas movie, but Kurt Russell added a nice new spin to it. So we settled down to watch.
And I eventually stopped watching after the movie inadvertently (or intentionally) insulted me.
Let’s start with the basics here, because just about every Christmas movie ever is guilty of this: the outside view of the street on Christmas Eve. Every single house will be decorated for the holiday, sans the one house where the Christmas spirit is lacking. While I’m sure there are neighborhoods similar to this, let’s call out the elephant in the room:
Not Everyone Celebrates Christmas!
On a normal street there is bound to be a house or two that doesn’t celebrate, or only puts up a reef, or will be going to family so doesn’t bother putting up decorations. But, this is a Christmas movie, so we go for the full on cheer, and by default disrespect every non Christmas celebrating person out there.
But, this is normal, we’ve come to accept this from Christmas movies (not holiday, let’s be perfectly clear because no other holidays exist, unless you’re watching Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights, so holiday movies doesn’t apply). So let’s jump to the next issue:
Christmas must be saved or everyone will suffer!
Here’s a wild thought, how about saving Christmas for those that celebrate it? Because while I may celebrate Christmas with my husband as an adult, Santa never made a dent on my holiday celebrations as a child. (Except for that feeling of being small and insignificant because my holiday didn’t matter.) My parents purchased my Chanukah gifts, end of story.
Back to this movie. At one point, while the kids are starting to work together with Santa to save the day, he mentions how bad things happen when Christmas is ruined. For example, the dark ages.
Hold up a moment! Let’s ignore the fact that we’re blaming the dark ages on Santa having a bad day. We’re now saying that no other religions matter. That no one who doesn’t celebrate Christmas matters.
I will be the first to admit that the majority of people, at least in my country, celebrate Christmas. But there are people like me that celebrate Chanukah. There are people who celebrate Kwanza, or the Chinese New Year, or nothing at all. Or even another holiday that I’m not immediately thinking of, and my apologies for excluding you as I know it sucks to be excluded. These Christmas movies forget about us. Ignore us. And in the case of The Christmas Chronicles—insult our existence.
Just once I’d like to see a movie incorporate us into their cheer. Heck, Santa’s having a bad day, why not have a bunch of non-Christmas celebrators save the day? Because the rest of you are already celebrating or rushing around for last minutes gifts and treats. We’re the ones with not much to do.
This is why every year I say I’m going to write a Chanukah story. This is why this year I happen to have a solid concept outlined and even though I won’t have the chance to work on it for a few months, I’m going to work on it. And if I wrote screenplays, you can bet I’d be working on one of those. But I also know that regardless of the validity of my complaints, my ability to sell this novel will be challenging. Because the majority celebrates Christmas, to the point where they don’t see those of us who don’t. To the point where heaven forbid we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
I digress. This movie insulted me and I started playing with my phone rather than watching, because the end all of Christmas dominating our world left the taste of bile in my mouth. To be clear, the movie did seem like a cute, cliché, typical Christmas movie, and Kurt Russell did seem to have a fun time in this role. But the wording, the acknowledgement, needed a lot of work.
I exist. And even though I now celebrate both, even though my kid celebrates both, he still is taken aback by how little Chanukah is represented.
Write your Christmas books and movies, please don’t stop. But keep in mind the rest of us and maybe toss us a little holiday cheer while you are at it. Because while you all are ringing bells and caroling and hanging lights, we sit in the dark corner feeling small, ignored and forgotten.
I have a hearing loss. To quote Lady Gaga “I was born this way” so I’ve had this hearing loss my entire life. As a kid I called myself impaired and disabled, those words always felt a little funny to me. Because I never really accepted these terms. I remember seeing a handicapped parking spot and wondering how I was similar and different from a person who needed this spot. I never felt impaired, I felt different. And society frowns on impairments and disabilities, which only helped broaden my confusion.
Then I learned ASL, and discovered the Deaf Community didn’t identify as disabled. No, we identify as part of a linguistic minority. And I felt at home. This felt right. I am different, not impaired. There’s nothing wrong with my ears. I switched from calling myself "hearing impaired" to "hard of hearing" and I started feeling whole with this term. This was me.
But then I “met” the disabled community on twitter. And they showed me that the word disabled is not a bad word. That the more people that embrace their disability and use the words proudly, the more we can cut the stigma.
This made sense to me. As a Hard of Hearing person I often straddle the hearing and deaf lines, blending in and not blending in. My voice sounds hearing so I truly have an invisible disability, even when I speak. Unless someone looks in my ears or I self-identify, I am not known to be anything different than abled.
But I’m not abled. I’m not hearing. I’m disabled. I’m Hard of Hearing. I know my culture prefers not to be identified as disabled, but we also recognize and accept our connections with other disability communities. We know each group views themselves through different lenses, their own lenses. Together we can help and support each other.
So while I don’t often think of myself as having a disability, I am disabled. There’s no shame in that. In fact, my ears are the reason why I am who I am today. I’m proud of them, I’m proud of who I am. In support of my peers across the board I will identify as disabled. Because there is nothing wrong with that term.
Being a Pitch Wars mentor means reading many, many, many submissions. This can be a query and a few pages, or straight through a full novel. I’m looking for something that grabs me and refuses to let go.
I also notice some trends. This is true for anyone who reads multiple submissions. Certain trends, be it themes or weaknesses pop up. It’s actually a great learning tool and I encourage people to consider intern reading positions when possible.
As a mentor, I’m not looking for something perfect, I’m looking for something I can fix. And across a lot of my subs, both from what I requested and not, I started to see a pattern. I want to mention this here, because I’m only going to be able to help two authors, but if I put it here maybe I can help more.
And to be clear, this does not mean you have the problem, this does mean that it’s worth looking into to strengthen your story.
So what’s this problem? Get to the point already, right? Exactly. I’m noticing stories with lagging beginnings. Stories that I feel take too long to set up the plot, or too long to get to the point.
The story starts on page one. From page one the author needs to grab the reader and pull them along. Yes, there are slower moments needed and there’s backstory and set up required, but check yourself. Limit it to only what’s needed.
I think a lot of this stems from the earlier drafts, when the writer themselves is getting to know the story. This doesn’t mean these words are bad. It does mean that some of them might be more for the writer than the reader.
I don’t have a magic formula here, because every novel is different. This is where beta readers and critique partners are great, they can point out lagging areas and help show a writer where they need to tighten the plot.
Another way of looking at this stems from the query. If a query mentions this kickass plot point early on, and in reading the novel it takes forever to get to this point, then something is off and not working. There needs to be an early hook that grabs the reader, not just a later hook that needs far too much development. (Again, your mileage may vary, each story is different.) Perhaps this means the query is focusing on the wrong part of the story. But often times when a writer works out a query or synopsis, those devices can show potential weak areas of a story and start a needed revision.
Writers, check out your novels. How long does it take for the main plot to get moving? And I don’t mean set up, I mean in action. If I read a query about a Zombie orgy on the planet Mars, and the story begins with the orgy members slowly meeting and developing a bond over a bowl of brains, I’m going to be itching to get them to Mars and to that orgy! That’s why I picked up the book!
I think this is especially important for authors who are starting out. If Stephen King or Nora Roberts writes a novel that starts out slow, the readers already know where the payoff will be, they will gladly follow along, waiting for things to pick up. But a no name Susie Smith hasn’t already made those promises to the reader. The opening words are those promise and that promise needs to start ASAP, otherwise Susie’s book is going back on the shelf.
Here’s a revision tip for all: check out that opening and build up to the plot. Make it tighter. Even if the story isn’t lagging, there’s usually some tightening that can be done to make things stronger.
There are two main ways one can view hearing loss. On the surface they are as a disability or as a linguistic minority. The differences go much deeper than that but the bottom line is that one side is not happy to have a hearing loss and would prefer to be hearing, the other side is happy as is.
I’m part of that second group. I’m happy as is. But that came after years of not being happy, of not liking my “impairment.” I get both sides but I no longer have any desire to be fixed.
Others don’t always know this. And that’s fine. But I ran into a funny situation on my Instagram feed. I’ll show you the picture first, let’s see if you can figure it out:
Now, that’s a cover of my second book with Avon, where the cover artist did an amazing job adding a hearing aid to my male character. That character is Devon and he identifies as Deaf. He does wear hearing aids, because he has some usable hearing and feels he benefits from maximizing that. There are many people out there like him.
The quote, however, talks about a “healthy lifestyle.” Now, Devon has a thing for boxing, but I don’t think that’s what the poster means. I clicked on their account and found out, not to much surprise, that they are a hearing device company.
Ignoring the healthy bit for a moment, I find it odd that they chose my book cover, when just a day prior to their comment I posted a picture of myself getting fitted for a new hearing aid mold. Surely that would be a better match for a “healthy” lifestyle, wouldn’t it?
Back to the “healthy” bit. My health has nothing to do with my ears. In fact, regardless of how one views their hearing loss, their physical health is a separate entity all together. Hearing health? Sure, I’ll buy that for those that look at things in that light. But health in general? Nope.
This stems back to the beginning notion, how one views hearing loss. This company steps into my world, where I celebrate ASL and hearing loss and love my ears as they are, and proclaims that I am not healthy without my hearing aids. That I’m doing a good job by wearing them. Well, quite frankly, that makes me want to rip off my hearing aids and turn off my voice. And if I did, guess what? I’d still be healthy. (Or as healthy as my physical health is.)
This assumption from those that work with assistive listening devices always rubs me the wrong way. I love my audiologist, because I found a place that accepts me as I am. That respects that I want to maximize my ability to hear, but I’m not interested in correcting or going above and beyond. My right ear is deaf, it will always be deaf. It’s not a problem, it’s not a negative, it’s an is. In fact, because of that ear changing I have learned so much about myself, understood so much about hearing loss, that if anyone offered me a magic pill to fix it I’d refuse. Or I’d see if it works for getting back to my wedding weight and fixing my turned knee. But not my ears.
This isn’t the first time a hearing professional has stepped into my world with their audist views and smothered me with it. It won’t be the last. But to enter on a book cover…huh? I mean, have you read the book? Because my main characters are strong Deafies who don’t care to hear.
Company, you picked the wrong tree to bark on. And your comment makes no sense. My next hearing related post will be of this nature: look at the awesome color of my new hearing aid mold! Not: I can hear so much better now! Because that’s not how I roll. That’s not who I am.
The hearing world tried to make me ashamed of my hearing loss. They worked at “fixing” me. It took my own personal journey to understand I didn’t need to be fixed. So don’t bring that attitude into my world without an invitation. Don’t spread that attitude to my readers. Because my readers who have hearing loss, they are fine as they are. Whether they are deaf or hard of hearing. Whether they don’t care about hearing sounds or want to gain "normal" ranges. Whatever their personal views are of their ears are perfectly fine. It’s not up to me to make those decisions. All I’m going to do is tell them they are fine the way they are and support them if they feel differently. Because I’ve been there, I get it.
I also get that outsiders, even some of those in our world in a professional capacity, don’t understand. And it’s not because they can’t, it’s because they refuse to.
If this company is reading, I hope you’ve learned something. And I hope you will tread more carefully in the future. You might have tools that I could benefit from. I won’t be. I’ll find other options that matches my beliefs.