How did I get here?

At the end of this year I go on Medicare—and the next year I start collecting Social Security. While I have my share of aches and pains, I don’t feel “elderly” or like a senior citizen. But I imagine if I went out and did something crazy and they wrote about me in the newspaper, they would probably toss in some adjective to let the readers know I was old—in their estimation.

I suppose in years I am considered old. But that’s not always a bad thing; age does have some perks. It gives us the experience to look back on life and reassess how we view things. One thing I have been reassessing—how did I get here?

Before I go on, I want to tell a story my husband tells. Before entering high school his school counselor asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Being just thirteen, he told her he had no idea. She did not receive the answer well and berated Don for not knowing what he wanted to do when he grew up.

We often laugh at that counselor’s naïve belief that people choose careers by thirteen—especially when we found ourselves—me in my late forties and him in his early fifties—trying to figure out (once again) what we wanted to do when we grew up.

Careers people settle in are often not about an early plan—it’s often about a deck of card they are handed and how they choose to play the deck. Some people follow their passions—while others seize opportunities they find along the way. And sometimes, it is a combination.

Early on I wanted to write fiction. As a child I loved making up stories. In sixth grade I wrote the class play. The summer of my freshman year in high school I wrote my first novel. And as a senior in high school, I was co-editor of our school newspaper. During college I wrote a screenplay, which I later adapted to a novel. 

My major in college was Communications, and before enrolling I decided to change my career path and tell stories through a camera instead of words. My emphasis was photography—a career I never seriously pursued after graduation.

Until about ten years ago, I might have considered myself one of those people who seized opportunities along the way, without some grand masterplan. My first job, beginning at age 13, was working for the Havasu Palms store, at my parents’ resort, something I did every summer throughout high school and college. 

I also did other side jobs during this time—canvasing for Westinghouse and selling Avon. After I got married I worked for a while at the water company my husband worked at—he basically got me the job. After that I substitute taught, before becoming a mother.

I opened a gift shop for a while when we moved to Wrightwood—big mistake. And then I went back to my first love—writing. But instead of fiction, something I didn’t think I could earn a living with, I started a community paper and wrote non-fiction—local articles on history and current events. 

I had the paper for over five years and then that deck of cards dealt me a hand I felt obligated to play. My husband and I moved with our children to Havasu to take over my parent’s resort when my father became ill. 

We managed Havasu Palms for over ten years, and when the lease was about to expire we opened our own restaurant. Like my gift shop years before, a mistake.

This takes us to the time my husband and I had to reinvent ourselves, me being in my late forties and him in his early fifties. While we both had college degrees, well-paying jobs were scarce in Havasu. And who wanted to hire us? Already that age thing was working against us.

To get by, we briefly substitute taught, but then got our real estate licenses and started a new chapter in our lives. It was a lot of fun, and we did relatively well, but had you asked me in college if I wanted to sell real estate, I would have laughed at the thought.

With the economy downturn of 2008 I left real estate—my husband remained—and I returned to my first love, writing.

I realize now, I have come full circle. I am exactly where I am meant to be.  Looking back, I understand the gift shop and the restaurant were things I was supposed to do—but not succeed at. They were life lessons, my story fodder for the career I had been training for all my life.

You see, during all those years, I still wrote. When my children were small and I was a stay at home mom I wrote short stories, a recipe book, and then a book of poems which I published years later—with the help of my daughter who illustrated the book for her senior project in art school (Motherhood).

I never stopped writing stories. When I had the gift shop I wrote a (never to be published) romance novel. When I managed Havasu Palms I wrote another romance novel (Coulson’s Lessons) and my first Havasu Palms book (Where the Road Ends, Havasu Palms Recipes and Remembrances.) 

Today I feel extremely blessed. I’m actually making a living doing something I sincerely love—something I have wanted to do since I was a small child. It took me a number of years to get here, but I have enjoyed the ride—even those times of extreme hardship and sorrow. As one of my writer friends, Suzie O’Connell, says, it’s all story fodder.

(Photo: Late 1980s Bobbi Holmes editor/publisher of Mountain/Hi-Desert Guide.)

Real Life Character Development

I suspect authors who write successful stories involving relationships tend to be people watchers or amateur phycologists—the kind of person who tries to figure out what factors shape people or as the cliché says, what makes them tick. Or what makes them tick in a certain way.

Our relationships with others shape who we are.  Take marriage for example. Two people get together and marry, and it’s a good bet that ten years later each person from that marriage will be a different person from who they were before they met their spouse—even if the marriage dissolves before the ten-year mark—different from how they might have been had they married someone else.

I can see it in my own children. I see ways my daughter is a slightly different person because of her relationship with our son-in-law, and the same is true of our son and his wife. I am sure their spouses have also changed, yet from my viewpoint it’s impossible to say how.

What we hope for is that the spouses complement each other—or bring out the best traits in their mate. Unfortunately, some couple combinations are toxic, and they bring out the worse in each other—like Bonnie and Clyde.

When young and in-love we don’t always see the potential for a toxic relationship—such as one that might turn abusive down the road—yet those signs are probably there.

When I dated one of my first boyfriends I remember him saying, “A girlfriend of my will never own her own car.”  I was about 14 at the time and remember thinking to myself, “Well, I guess we won’t be dating in two years when I get my license.” I didn’t argue with him or debate the subject. I simply kept quiet and figured when that time came, we would not be together anyway.

However, an older and wiser me realizes that was a major red flag. This was a person who wanted to control his girlfriend. Had I foolishly fallen hopelessly in love with him (or imagined I had as girls do at that age) could I have allowed him to shape me into a submissive version of myself?

There was another red flag in that relationship. I remember once he overheard a conversation I’d had with one of my parent’s friends. The friend had asked me about my plans for the future. I went on to tell how I was going to college and spoke of all the things I wanted to do—none of which included this boyfriend or any relationship for that matter.

Later, my boyfriend scolded me for what I had said, telling me I was too boastful—over confident. I will admit I felt embarrassed and asked myself, “Had I spoken out of turn? Spoken too freely of my dreams?”

Fortunately, we broke up by the end of that school year, and the next year I changed high schools.

Had I married someone like that, I suspect I would be a very different person today. Although, I would like to think I wouldn’t have stayed with a controlling man. Yet, can I really say that? Can anyone?  Other circumstances surrounding us at the time we come to that road might have more to say about the outcome or how we respond than what’s in our hearts.

I never thought about it when I was a young girl, but I do believe we should be diligent in our close relationships. We need to look for those red flags and avoid going down a road we may later regret.

The man I married is worlds apart from my first boyfriend.  I married a man whose ego does not require me to be less so he can feel like more. And for that, I am every day grateful.

The writer in me probably thinks about these things a little more than the non-writer, because I am always mindful of what shapes those characters chattering away in my head. But, it might be a good idea for teenagers to be more aware of those red flags in potential relationships. It might save them a world of heartache. Of course, that probably won’t happen, because teenagers—and adults alike—like to imagine they can change someone. Yet they forget, in the process they too change.

Stormy Weather: Cockygate Hits the Indie World

On Friday I watched as Twitter exploded with something that has since come to be known as #cockygate. I suspect by now most serious indi-authors already know about it. In fact, one popular writer’s group with over 21K members closed its virtual doors by putting up a Taking a Break sign and informing members that they were shutting off all postings for the rest of the weekend and suggesting its members all write, edit and spend time with their families. While all those are good suggestions, #cockygate was still a thing when Monday arrived. Maybe even more so.

For those who haven’t been on social media and ask what is cockygate?

It’s about a romance author named Faleena Hopkins who has trademarked the word “cocky.” I know she has at least two trademarks for the word. One trademark is for the word when written in a specific font style (a font she didn’t have the right to trademark according to its creator). The other is simply for the word cocky. According to Hopkins, her trademark means the word cocky cannot be used in any romance book title or series.

Already there is a petition being generated to ask the United States Patent and Trademark Office to revoke her trademark. The last time I looked it had over 16K signatures. Including mine. I know of at least one attorney who claims he has submitted a request to have her trademark revoked, and RWA and other big hitters in the publishing industry are reportedly looking into the matter.

Online, Hopkins has been called a bully for the letters she sent fellow authors, demanding they change book tiles or face serious legal action, and some authors are having their books removed from Amazon based on Hopkin’s claim. On the other side, Hopkins is calling her many distractors bullies, in their treatment of her.

Hopkins’ trademark may not directly impact me, yet that doesn’t mean I’m not paying close attention to this case. While book titles can’t be copyrighted (in fact it is very common to have a number of books with the same title), it seems it might be possible to trademark a common word and prevent other authors from using that word in their book titles. If that is true—well, the possible ramifications are troubling. If an author publishes a book not knowing one of the words is trademarked—or about to be trademarked, it can cost that author significant time and money retitling the book. And if Amazon pulls the book—which seems to be happening—and disables the author’s ability to edit the book to bring it into compliance, it can be a devastating loss of income for the author.

I cringe at the thought someone might decide to claim ownership of Haunting or Ghost when it applies to book titles in my genre. Before #cockygate that seemed like a silly notion. Not so much now.

I suspect most authors have no problem with Hopkins trademarking an original logo or multi-word series name. It’s the fact she’s claiming ownership over one common word, and she’s not even the first romance writer to use the word in a title or series. Other romance authors used cocky before her.

I can understand an author’s desire to protect his or her work. I can even understand the resentment an author may feel when they believe other people are stealing their ideas. However, some authors go too far and get over-possessive, even a little paranoid. Take for example book covers.

Some over-possessive authors need to realize it’s simply the nature of the business. BookCover 101 teaches us that it’s not about having a unique cover as much as a cover that fits with the genre—a book that screams to the reader, this is the type of book you are looking for! It’s the reason Fabio was on so many romance covers back when trade publishers ruled the industry.

It also drives me crazy when an author gets possessive about stock images he or she has used on a cover. The reason those stock images are so affordable is because you aren’t purchasing exclusive use rights. In my opinion, an author has no right to jump on another author for using the same stock image.

If an author wants a unique cover, then hire an artist to create one. The house on my Haunting Danielle series was created by my cover designer; it’s not a stock image. I have the exclusive use rights. If you don’t want to see the images you purchased showing up on another book cover in your genre, then you need to pay a photographer and models to create something unique.

Authors can also get possessive over character names. Considering there are millions of books out there, and even more characters, I find it silly to get territorial over a first—or even a last name. I’ve heard of some authors contacting other authors and demanding that they change their character’s name because it’s the same name they used in one of their books. I can’t help but shake my head at the overblown ego of such a demand.

However, if an author has a right to be annoyed, it would probably be the bestselling author Janet Evanovich. And who could she could be annoyed at? Me.

When I named one character Joe Morelli, (Joe for my son-in-law and Morelli for a family friend) in the first book in my Haunting Danielle series, I was unaware of Joe Morelli of the popular Stephanie Plum series. To make matters worse, both Joes are cops.

It’s not something any reasonable author would intentionally do. If a Stephanie Plum fan happens to read one of my Haunting Danielle Books, it could very well piss them off. Readers get attached to their favorite characters. Why would I intentionally do something that could annoy potential readers? Why would any author?

Had I known about the original Joe Morelli before I had more than two books out in the series, I would have changed my character’s name. But it was too late by then. I’ve come to realize this sort of thing happens. It’s simply the nature of the business. And seriously, if I wasn’t aware of Evanovich’s popular character, then it’s a little absurd for other less-known authors to imagine someone is looking over his or her shoulder, waiting to grab a character.

In this business of self-publishing I think we need to be building our bridges, not burning them. Unfortunately, there seems to be a major bridge fire burning out of control on social media.