The end of an unforgettable year.

We’ve all read the jokes and seen the memes about what a dumpster fire this year has been; heck, now that it’s December 12th, we’ve almost lived through it! So what else is there to say about 2020? It’s been hard. Just every last thing about it has been ridiculously challenging.

I know we’ve all been impacted by it in such different ways, and I feel like someone who is incredibly fortunate to have a job and my health (as well as that of my family), so all I can say is that it’s cast a pall over everything and that sometimes the days felt like we were swimming through thick mud. Fallen by the wayside were motivation, joy, and creativity, and I think we’ve all had to dig deep this time of year to pull forth the kind of holiday cheer that’s normally elicited by Christmas music or holiday traditions. For many of us (myself included) that meant putting up the tree and the lights way too early, but the glow of colorful lights glinting off gaudy ornaments is what’s keeping me going right now. That and my favorite Christmas songs on repeat.

As far as writing, that’s part of that “lack of creativity and motivation” I mentioned earlier. There were so many days I wanted to put my fingers on my keyboard and write. I tried. I looked at the early days of quarantine and the long summer as time to really roll up my sleeves and get stuff done, but there were days–soooo many days–when all I could do was pick up a book and read. Tie on my shoes and walk for miles. Watch reruns of The Golden Girls and drink coffee. But now that we’re wrapping up The Craziest Year of All Time, I’m looking back and thinking, “Wow. I managed to put out four books this year!” Granted, I wrote most of Year of the Rabbit about seven years ago, and just about all of Lights, Camera, Love before that, but still, adding four books to my published catalog this year is going to be something I look at as a win. And I wrote Hearts Ahoy entirely during quarantine, which sometimes felt like trying to get blood from a stone!

Not to mention that I just put out the 8th full-length book in the Christmas Key series this week–Dancing Barefoot. Every time I think about ending Christmas Key and moving on to something else, I realize that I’m not ready to let go yet. To me, the place is real. The people are real. Each time I sit down and start to write about the characters who live there, I’m transported and I realize that to say goodbye to them would be a loss for me, and frankly, I still need them. So there’ll be a book 9 (that’s a 100% guarantee, since the cover is already done and waiting for publication!) and there will also be more romance novels. At the beginning of 2020 I set the lofty goal of publishing 10 romance novels this year, but I’m okay with getting two out–I really am! I have the covers for the next two romances set in stone as well, so that keeps me moving forward. I’m not setting any goals for 2021 just yet because 2020 isn’t even done and who knows what the next 19 days will bring (Seriously! Remember how many days this year we all went, “And what fresh hell is THIS?”), but I’m feeling creative again! So get ready for more from me…lots more!

In the meantime, happy holidays to you and yours, and I wish you health, happiness, and only good things in 2021!

Stephanie

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

So here’s my writing plan for 2020.

I’m going to write romance. Most of the stuff I write already has a romantic element (because who doesn’t love love?), but I want to try my hand at your more traditional “will they or won’t they?” kind of love story. The type where you have what’s known in romance as the “black moment”–that second where the hero and heroine seem destined not to get together after all–but which resolves itself into the Happily Ever After that all romance readers crave.

I can’t say that this is a pursuit borne of a true passion for romance novels, but more of a challenge to myself to start writing some (hopefully marketable) new work. But more than that, just to start writing anything again. Last year–as I mentioned in a previous post–I read far more than I wrote, and I thought I’d start 2020 strong, so I came up with this new goal: 10 Romance Novels in 2020. I researched the most popular romance tropes (these would be things like: love triangles; forbidden love; and second chance love), and I read up on the most-loved sub-genres of romance: bikers; chick lit; adventure; comedy; and things like sports, rock and roll, or medical field romances. I tend to favor contemporary works and also realistic fiction, so I think it’s safe to say that none of my stories will be set on Mars in the future, or in a post-apocalyptic world, or the Old West, but I reserve the right to change my mind–who knows what will come out when I start writing!

I’ve got my first romance almost in the can here–a “fake relationship” trope under the subgenre “love in the workplace,” and I’m going to dive right into the next one as soon as I have this draft complete and sent out to my trusty first readers. I’m nowhere near the fervor that used to drive me to get up at 5 am on workdays and get 2,000 words in before anything else, but that’s okay–it has to be. I have no idea whether I’ll actually get ten books written this year, but now that I’ve said it out loud here, I’d guess better give it a shot!

Happy 2020!

The series that I want to write forever.

I’ve officially been writing Christmas Key books now for ten years, and I find that it’s the easiest thing to just fall right into. I can take a break from writing about Holly and her neighbors, but the minute I open up a fresh document and start typing, I’m transported to an island paradise and I’m living amongst these people as if they’re real humans. I mean, to me, they truly are real humans!

I’ve detailed my journey with Christmas Key in the past, but I’m still amazed at how many years I spent turning that first book over in my mind and re-working it. I submitted it to Harlequin Romance in 2009 and got a request to read more, but ultimately they passed, saying that the book had less to do with a solid romance between the main characters, and more to do with the island and its inhabitants. Which is absolutely true, and definitely what I love most about the books!

I’m currently seven full-length books into the series and I’m working on the third novella (after writing short “how did they get to Christmas Key” background novellas on both Jake and Coco, I’m now working on one about Bonnie. It’s been fun to choose a timeframe in each character’s past and to look at their lives more closely, and this one is no exception! I’m writing about what brought Bonnie to the island, about when she arrives and starts to get to know everyone, and about her budding friendship with a seventeen-year-old Holly, who will ultimately grow up to be mayor and the main character of the series.

Novellas are fast and fun to write, so I’m hoping to get this done and released in the next month or so, and then I’m on to other projects (including Book 8 of the Christmas Key series!) I hope summer finds you well and that you’re reading all kinds of interesting things!

Putting out two books in one month (and what it’s really like to work as a mother-daughter team).

May was a busy month. I released Book 7 in the “Christmas Key” series–Polish the Stars–as well as Elizavetta, the third book in the “American Dream” series that I write with my daughter. That would actually be more impressive than it really is, except that it took us two years to put out our co-authored book. Yes, two years. We started that book in 2017 and worked on it in fits and starts between the time my baby girl was thirteen and still wearing braces, until now, as she nears the end of her drivers’ education course and the finish of her freshman year of high school.

Why did it take so long, you ask? WELL, let me tell you a few things about mothers and teenage daughters, the most important thing being that we don’t always get along. Nor do we always feel like doing the same thing at the same time. What started as a blissful project back in 2014 with Iris turned into a bit of a battle as we worked our way through Book 3. When we first wrote together, it was always sitting side-by-side, her head on my shoulder as we talked and typed out our ideas. Over the years, we’ve had times when we didn’t totally agree on the way things were going in a story and so it would bring us to a standstill, but we’ve also had times when we each found the other nearly impossible to work with.

Months have gone by where she would ask me to write and I’d be tired or just not in the right frame of mind, or I’d ask her and she’d say “I’m busy now–maybe later,” which roughly translates to “I’m watching some crappy show on Netflix and I’m enjoying it too much to shut it off and be creative.” And that’s fine–of course it’s fine! We both have to be in the right mood to work on a story, and when we’re not, we’re just not. We have the right to be individual humans.

I’ve also accused her of not wanting to write with me anymore (melodramatic Mom Moments where I’m like, “But you used to love to write with me! Maybe you just don’t want to be my writing partner anymore!”), and she’s accused me of enjoying my other series more than ours (“You’d rather work on your Christmas Key stories than on ours!”) It’s difficult to write with someone else–I’ll admit that freely–but the rewards are amazing. I’ve done it now with two different writing partners, and to be fair, the same thing happened both times: sometimes one of us wants to write, and sometimes the other person does. But not both at the same time. And that’s okay! When the magic happens, it really happens. And that’s worth waiting for.

But ultimately, the beauty of writing with my teenage daughter is knowing that–even when she doesn’t feel like talking to me about other things–if the stars align just so, she might still put her head on my shoulder and disappear into a fictional world for a while where we make all the rules. She might want to talk about the characters we’ve created together, and we might finish a project and get that same feeling of satisfaction we’ve gotten before, just knowing that we did something special together. And–if I’m really lucky–we might get to do it again. Possibly even this summer, which is mere weeks away.

So maybe two books in a month is impressive after all, given that one of them flowed freely from my fingertips from first words to publication in three months, and the other took faith, cajoling, patience, and partnership over the course of two years to finish. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll check them out!

Happy reading!

New Year’s resolutions for 2019 (and how much I made from my books in 2018).

My only resolutions this year have to do with writing. (That’s a lie–I also want to lose ten pounds, read fifty books, sleep enough, and be amazing at everything. But the need to focus is forcing me to be a bit more realistic!)

I want to treat this like a business and not a hobby. It won’t take away the fun of writing, because that’s an escape that will always bring me joy, but it will force me to learn the dreaded part of being an indie author: marketing and sales. Sure, there are stories about people who write, release their books, and become best sellers, but for most of us, there’s a whole other side of the process that we’re not so good at, and that’s crunching numbers, learning algorithms, and promoting ourselves. I need to embrace that stuff far more than I do.

I want to write more consistently. A couple of years ago I started waking up during the 5 o’clock hour on work days just by my own internal clock. I’m back at it again this year, and when I get up, get the coffee going, and put my fingers to the keyboard, I can easily get 2,000 words written before work. I don’t get writer’s block, I’m never in-between projects and stuck without ideas, and I can fall into writing and lose myself anytime and anyplace, much like people who can fall asleep on airplanes or in cars (lucky bastards!) So it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it consistently. Every single day.

I have several things in the works for this year, and I’d like to surpass my own goals. Up next for release is Book 3 in the American Dream series I write with my daughter (there needs to be a whole other post on why THAT book has taken so long, but we’re close!); a standalone title that I’m working on with my other writing partner, Omar; another novella and another full-length title in the Christmas Key series (novella #3 and book #7!), and whatever else I decide to work on.

I want it to be a productive and prolific year. I’ve been immersing myself in writing-related podcasts in the car and at the gym, and I’m going to absorb the lingo and the ideas to the point that I understand it all and know what needs to be done. Last year with just a little advertising I made $18,000 from my books. I know that qualifies pretty firmly as a part-time side hustle, but I think with a bit more know-how, I can double that and start coming closer to what I consider a “wow–impressive!” amount of money. So here’s to 2019 and all the opportunities it will bring. And here’s to thousands and thousands of new words and lots of joyful writing time!

Happy New Year!

Living the dream…halfway.

I’ve been working on writing and self-publishing now for about four years, and I want to be the first person to tell you that it’s not as easy as it seems. The writing part is easy–that’s the fun stuff. But the editing, the advertising, the nuts and bolts of it…that takes work. I started by looking up as much information as I could, reading message boards (I still do), buying books about self-publishing, and searching for other people’s success stories. So now whenever someone tells me they want to publish a book and asks if I can just “give them the basics,” I take a deep breath and sigh. The basics are: write, dive into the indie author world, research, and go for it. 

All I ever wanted to do when I was a kid was be a writer. Well, that’s not entirely true–my mom used to ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my first response was always “happy.” But my second answer was “a writer.” And now that I’ve published my 10th full-length novel, I think I can officially say that I’m a writer. Some people love what I write (thank you, wonderful people!), and some people hate it, but that’s okay. That’s what it means to be a writer or to create anything, really. For every person who gives me a review that feels way too personal (“I hope she’s not really a teacher–her grammar is horrible!” or “This feels like a middle-schooler wrote it. It’s trash!”), there are a handful of other people who ask when the next book is coming out, follow me on social media and say nice things, and buy whatever I put out. And this is thrilling! What an amazing feeling to have humans I’ve never met enjoying the things that I make up in my brain! And they’re so supportive and friendly…it’s wonderful. It makes it all worthwhile.

So now I can officially say I’m a writer, and I love that. But I feel like I’m only living the dream halfway, because I’m not doing it full-time. That’s the next goal, and it’s a “someday” goal. I deeply love my day job (in spite of the people who think my writing is so bad that I shouldn’t be a teacher! *insert a million laughing/crying emoji here so you can see what I think of that*) and I don’t want to quit that to write all day long yet, but…it’s in the future. I can see it: sitting in coffee shops with my laptop and the characters in my head; working in my writing room in the backyard with my storyboards and handwritten notes; books and books and books to my name. That’s when I’ll be living the dream all the way. 

But for now–this is incredible and totally satisfying. I just released Book Six in the Christmas Key series this week–Baby, It’s Warm Outside-and that felt like an incredible accomplishment. To think that I’ve somehow taken a story that started in my head ten years ago and turned it into nearly half a million words over the span of six novels and two novellas is…wild. To anyone who has read my books or just cheered me on–thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means everything to me to be living my dream even halfway, and it means even more that people care enough to be supportive! Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

When ‘Christmas Key’ comes to the Big Screen.

**insert laughing emoji face with tears streaming**

I mean, a girl has to dream, right? Because whether I’m reading or writing a book, the characters and places come to life in my head, and at a certain point it really is like watching a movie, isn’t it? This has been a busy month so far, with school starting up again (our school district decided high school needed to start an hour later, so not only is our schedule bumped back, but I took on an extra class at the end of the day, which means I’m now getting home at 5:00…not exactly teacher’s hours anymore!), and I also managed to get Book 2 in my Christmas Key series, Wild Tropics, published and out into the world. I’m really proud of being in the middle of an actual series now, and I’m currently working on a novella about Jake–one of the main characters–that will give some background information about how he ended up on a tropical island in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

But as I work on my stories, of course I have ideas about who the characters are, and who they look like. So, without further ado, allow me to cast the Hollywood version of Christmas Key:

Holly Baxter, Christmas Key’s 30-year-old mayor: I see her as sort of a blue-eyed Keira Knightly. Pretty, but kind of serious. A little quirky. Embed from Getty Images

Jake Zavaroni, Christmas Key’s only police officer and Holly’s ex-boyfriend: Jake Gyllenhaal. Good-looking. Honest eyes. Looks like he’d be a tough but good-hearted cop. Embed from Getty Images

Bonnie Lane, Holly’s assistant at the B&B: 50-ish, a Southern belle who loves men. A real saucepot–like a Golden Girls era Rue McClanahan, with a thick accent and a Blanche Devereaux sense of humor. Embed from Getty Images

River O’Leary, Holly’s love interest who visits the island from Oregon: 30-ish, tall, good sense of humor, ex-pro baseball player for the Mets. Paul Walker–no question. Embed from Getty Images

Maria Agnelli, the island’s resident cantankerous octogenarian: 86, a widow with a sharp tongue and a kooky streak. This is where my love of the Golden Girls becomes obvious (okay: we can call it an obsession)–Maria Agnelli is 100% Sophia Petrillo. Embed from Getty Images

Cap Duncan, owner of North Star Cigars: looks like a pirate who walks around with a parrot on his shoulder. A little grumpy with a lot of secrets. I picture him as Donald Sutherland with slightly longer hair and a gold hoop earring. Embed from Getty Images

Leo Buckhunter and Dr. Fiona Potts, Holly’s uncle and his girlfriend, Fiona, who is both the island’s only doctor and Holly’s best friend: Buckhunter is a grizzled, tattooed Matthew McConaughey in my mind, and that never wavers. Fiona is a petite, smart, funny woman in her 40s, and although I think of her with more strawberry blonde hair, she’s definitely a Reese Witherspoon. Embed from Getty Images

Coco Baxter, Holly’s mother: late 40s. Self-involved, self-centered, self-serving. She and Holly aren’t close, and while she doesn’t technically live on the island, she visits all the time and her negative presence is always felt. I see her as a crisp (though not British) Kristin Scott Thomas. Remote and with an attitude, but beautiful. Embed from Getty Images

I’ll be sure to let you know when the movie premiere is so you can be there! **insert another laughing/crying emoji again here**

Happy fall!

RRBC Book and Blog Party 2016!

Blog Party 1

Welcome to this stop on the blog tour! This is our first time participating, and we’re really excited to join you from Vancouver, Washington. We’ll have two winners today here at Redbirds & Rabbits, and all you need to do to enter is comment on this blog post. Our two prizes today (both randomly drawn by the RRBC team) are:

  • One $25 gift card to Old Navy (perfect for back-to-school shopping!)
  • One paperback copy of There’s Always a Catch, the first book in my Christmas Key women’s fiction series. Along with the book, I’ll send you some “book swag” like a magnet and my own homemade soundtrack of songs inspired by There’s Always a Catch and the forthcoming Wild Tropics, which is book #2 of the series!

It’s exciting to have you join us from wherever you are on this beautiful planet, and we’d love to tell you a little bit more about ourselves. My name is Stephanie, and I’m the mom. Holland is my 12-year-old daughter, and we’re the co-authors of a series that Holland dreamed up two summers ago. From her original idea, we decided to write books about what it might feel like for young girls to move to America. Each book is about a girl from a different country, and the main character’s story follows her as she moves to our country and gets assimilated. We published our first book, Iris, about a year ago, and we’re incredibly excited to announce that we just put out our second book, Mai, a few days ago.

Iris-FINAL.jpg          Mai-f

In addition to the books I write with my daughter, I also pen a women’s series based on a fictional island off the coast of Florida called “Christmas Key.” The main character, Holly Baxter, is the 30-year-old mayor of a tropical island where the only traffic comes from slow-moving golf carts driven by retirees; the commute to work involves getting sand between your toes; and happy hour means salty margaritas with a view of the ocean. The only drawback for Holly is the lack of romantic options on Christmas Key! Book one, There’s Always a Catch, came out in the spring, and book two of the series, Wild Tropics, will be out in September.

TAAC-CK-BK-ONE-f          WildTropics-TAAC-f

And finally (as if two series and being a full-time teacher wasn’t enough!) I write YA under the pen name Reed Hall. My first YA book, @Robertopancake, came out last year, and it was a book that I absolutely loved writing. The whole thing was inspired by an exchange about music that I had with a kid on Twitter back when the site first became popular, and it moved me to write this book from the perspective of a teenage boy. The real @Robertopancake kindly gave me permission to take his (often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking) teenage boy tweets out of context and use them in my own fictional tale. The result is a book that I’m still incredibly proud of, and the main character is someone I love as if he’s a real, live boy (and many of my readers have said they wished he was real!).

Robertopancake - High Resolution

Thank you for stopping by today–we’ve loved being a part of the Rave Reviews Book Club the past few months, and this blog tour has been a great example of what a wonderful, supportive community it is. Happy reading and writing, everyone!

~Stephanie & Holland

And now we can officially call it a series.


Mai-f

It feels like it’s taken an eternity, but we finally hit ‘publish’ today on the second book of our middle grade series. I’ve gone into writing both the American Dream Series and the Christmas Key Series with the understanding that they would be multi-book ventures, and I’m constantly working on one or the other. But at a certain point, time starts to drag on and it feels like those who know me best are wondering whether I’ve just given up on publishing more. I have not.

The journey from idea to actual finished product is a long one, and the edits alone are enough to make a sane person crazy (how many times can you actually re-read the same scenes before you start dreaming about your characters like they’re real people? How many times can you tweak and re-tweak your dialogue and description? Doing it several times more probably wouldn’t hurt the final version, but it does start to hurt your brain!), however, the excitement of getting something completed and sending it out into the world never gets old.

And so we now present to you the story of Mai Nakahara, a Japanese girl who moves from Tokyo to Honolulu with her family. By the time Mai’s family moves to America to help run her aunt and uncle’s restaurant in Hawaii, she’s pretty much gotten used to living without the arm she lost to cancer. But life in Honolulu presents its own challenges: a giant ocean she’s too afraid to swim in, mean girls to ignore, and horrible sports to play in gym class. Fortunately, there are also some good things about Mai’s new home, and with the help of her cousin, her new friends, and a famous one-armed surfer named Chloe Hayes, Mai discovers that the only real obstacle to her own happiness is believing in herself.

You can check out Mai: The American Dream Series Book Two on Amazon.