I’ve walked all the way to Nevada since quarantine started.

At the end of this week, I’ll hit 500 miles of walking since school ended and quarantine began, which is approximately the distance from my home near Portland to some spot just south of the Oregon-Nevada border. The first thing I did when I got home on Friday, March 13th–a bizarre day with snow and all kinds of unanswered questions from my students (“When will we come back? Will there be a graduation?” Answers: “We still don’t know,” and “Not the kind you’re hoping for”)–was make an over the top to-do list that went something like this: Read a million books! Write a million books! Train for a marathon! Clean the entire house, room by room! It was overly ambitious and I knew then that some of it wouldn’t happen (who ever cleans their house that thoroughly just for fun?), but it was the only way to slow the crazy train that was barreling through my brain that day.

Here’s the reality of the past four and a half months, though: almost immediately, I threw out my back so badly that I hobbled around and had to see the chiropractor for weeks on end. So instead of whipping this 45-year-old body into running shape, I hit the pavement and started walking. A lot. Almost everyday. My longest days of walking were the days I hit 8 or 9 miles. I have rarely missed a single day, and it’s kept me sane. (Although some might say that 500 miles of walking the same neighborhood streets and paths borders on insane.)

And I had THE HARDEST TIME focusing. I know I’m not alone here, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I love to read. Love, love, love it. But finishing a book? Getting through more than two or five pages before I felt compelled to skim the news sites or to get up and do something else? Impossible and maddening. It took a few months before I could actually lose myself in a book the way I’m accustomed to doing. And then finally–just yesterday–I read a whole book in a day (true crime, in case you’re wondering; couldn’t put it down). Unfortunately, this inability to read did not slow down my book purchasing, so I have many, many books still to read. Many books. It will take months. I have a whole shelf of unread books in my book case.

And now–sigh–the writing. Well, as you can imagine, it’s gone the way of reading. It’s become painstakingly slow. And this tears at my heart, because writing is usually as much of a predictable escape for me as reading is, and I’ve been virtually unable to do it. I’m working on book 8 in my Christmas Key series and it’s…plodding along. I do still love to write that series best of all, so it will be finished, but it’s slow. I’ve been gradually pulling back the layers of a trilogy with one of my writing partners and we’ve relied on getting into our Google doc together at a distance to pull us forward, but after this much time to only be 20,000 words into a story is disappointing. But we both feel it–it’s hard to find motivation and inspiration and dedication when everything about the world just feels so…blah. And as for my other writing partner–my 16-year-old darling girl–it’s much the same. I’ve pitched something new to her and even found us inspiration for book covers, but she flops over listlessly on her bed as I talk about it, eyes on her phone as she says, “I don’t know, Mom…maybe,” and then giggles and insists on showing me yet another horrible video on TikTok.

The fact that we’re all in the same boat soothes me just a little. This way I know that the days slipping away without me feeling ultra-productive with my writing aren’t through some horrible fault of my own; they aren’t a sign that I’ve lost my desire to write permanently. I know I’ll look back on this time in the future and wonder how I couldn’t have written more. I’ll say, “What did you do all day? What did you possibly do with those months? That year?” And the answer will simply be, “I survived. I got through it. And I walked.”

Hey, if I walk another 500 miles, I’ll be in Vegas!

Six weeks to read and write…six weeks to read and write…

I’m working with that as my mantra as I mentally adjust to the news yesterday that our school system is closed here in Washington state until April 27th. Because I teach seniors, I have some fairly panicked eighteen-year-olds in my life, wondering what’s going to happen with grades and graduation, and all I can tell them is: “It will all work out, and someday you’ll tell your kids and grandkids about this crazy year!”

As for me, I had to come home yesterday and immediately set up a plan for myself. My daughter is sixteen and can drive and do most things on her own, but essentially being trapped for six weeks with a workaholic husband (also a teacher) and a bored teenager is a recipe for disaster! So for my own sanity, I piled up the books I want to read (at first count, I’ve got eight, though that pile may grow as the days stretch on infinitely), and I plan on completing two writing projects and publishing a third. And as if that isn’t enough, I also decided to do a six-week half-marathon training schedule just to get out of the house and clear my head as necessary!

So that should keep me busy! But in the meantime, I put out a book last week that was really poorly timed. I’m running a free promotion this weekend (with paid advertisements), but as we’re all glued to our televisions and the news and not yet settled in with the fact that books might become our best source of entertainment in the coming weeks, it’s getting virtually NO downloads! I’m not even considering yet the fact that maybe it’s just not a marketable book (because imposter syndrome is always lurking close by for those of us who create things and hope that strangers will buy them!), and instead I’m blaming my book getting lost in the shuffle to Coronavirus madness!

But if you do decide to switch off the news coverage for a few hours and just read and enjoy the March snow (for those of us in the Portland area!), The Year of the Rabbit is free this weekend on Amazon and I’d be thrilled to have you download it! If that’s not your cup of tea then hang on–I’ve got romance novels in the works and the 8th full-length Christmas Key book coming this spring! And I’ve got SIX WEEKS to write them! So stay tuned!

Oh, and stay safe–happy reading!

Stephanie

I read more this year than I wrote…and that’s okay!

Last year (2018), my Goodreads “Year in Review” wrap-up horrified me: I’d only read 18 books the entire year. EIGHTEEN. Sure, I’d written and published enough to make me happy, but if a writer isn’t feeding herself other people’s words, then she’s really missing out, and potentially living in a vacuum of her own words! Reading for pleasure has always been one of my biggest hobbies, and this year I swore I’d fix things. My goal was to read 50 books in 2019, and I’m happy to say that (with another week to go of Winter Break and a stack of unread books still to be conquered) I’m at 54 completed.

Plenty of people read more voraciously than me–54 books is slightly more than a book a week for the whole year–but I’m still proud of that number. My writing dropped drastically (I think this year I published one full-length book in my Christmas Key series as well as one novella, and I also finished a standalone work of fiction that I’ve been writing since 2013 that’s still unpublished) but I’ve had so many weekends and evenings where I’m completely lost in a book that I loved that it’s been worth it to take a little breather from the writing.

Some of my favorites this year have been: well…all of them! I loved the dark and twisty books I read about serial killers and FBI profiling; I adored the memoirs; I fell headlong into literary fiction, and I even sampled some mystery (probably my least favorite, to be honest.) I went on a reading jag with “beach books”–as in books that take place on beaches (specifically tropical places) and I found a series that I bought in one fell swoop because it reminded me a little of my own tropical beach series and it seemed like a good idea to read in my own genre! So it was a busy reading year, and I loved every minute of it.

As for writing…I think in 2020 I’ll aim to strike a balance. I need to start waking up early before work to get my writing time in again (totally dropped the ball on that) and then use my evenings for reading, as I’ve been doing. And now, I’m off to finish book #55 before New Year’s and to keep adding chapters to the first draft of the next book in my series, which I just officially started today!

Happy New Year and happy reading!