Friday, January 5, 2018

Lessons from 2017

Yes, a crazy burst of inspiration led to this story
Isn't it crazy how long ago 2017 sounds? :-D

I'm really excited about this brand new shiny New Year. My goal is a healthier and more productive year, and I think that's a reasonably realistic goal.

By the standards of when I began writing (back in year one), last year was a reasonably productive year. I wrote two novels (The Monet Murders and Murder Takes the High Road) and three short stories ("Plenty of Fish," "Halloween is Murder," "The Boy Next Door").  I put together a couple of print collections (If Only in My Dreams and the two Boy Meets Body collections) a couple of audio books (The Monet Murders, the Point Blank box set) and a slew of translations and box sets. I experimented with Kindle Unlimited (which I will blog on, but let's cut to the chase--HELL NO). I hosted a fan/writer retreat on Catalina Island, I attended Bouchercon mystery conference, visited the SO's homeland (Canada, but really Montreal), got a puppy. And that's just the stuff I remember off the top of my head. Once upon a time, yes, that would have been considered a busy and productive year!

Oh. And I started a number of projects I didn't complete by the end of the year: Blind Side (ARGH), The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, Seance on a Summer's Night.  Ouch.

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

There was ill health and depression (my own and the SO's) and other adventures.

It was not the year I planned on. But that's life, right?

And it's possible that this will not be the year I'm planning either. GULP.

The thing is, I can't really apologize for life (and my brain) being what it is. I won't deny that the angry emails and comments did affect me (not in an encouraging or productive way) with the end result that I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a machine--or a data entry clerk--and the nature of creativity is such that sometimes inspiration and creative impulse--or lack therein--supersede schedules and best laid plans. I'm sorry I didn't produce the stories I'd hoped to produce on schedule, but unfortunately that is not how creativity works. Ill health and depression and stress take a toll. For those who don't get that, there is really nothing more to say.

But it took me a while to get to the place where I could say that with confidence. For a lot of my life I was a people-pleaser. Someone who worked very hard to make everything okay for everyone else, even when that wasn't realistic or healthy for me. And, if I'm honest, I'm still prone to people-pleasing. :-)  Which is fine, so long as it isn't coming at the price of my own creativity and mental health.

I've been a writer--or at least a storyteller--since before I could read. Seriously. As a little kid coloring in my coloring books I regaled the other little kids with stories about what we were coloring. I never viewed writing as a get-rich scheme, and while I understand that it has indeed become that for some, it has never been that for me. Do I earn a living at this? Yes. Is it a comfortable living? Some years it is more comfortable than others--it is always precarious and there is no retirement plan. (If you think that doesn't matter, your spouse is the breadwinner in your family unit.)

I did not become a writer so that I could end up more stressed out and harassed than when I was a corporate overlord--except without the steady paycheck. :-D That's one of the conclusions I came to this year.  I do believe in discipline and commitment and staying on schedule, but the creative life has to allow for deviations, for inspiration, for lack of inspiration. That's another conclusion I came to this year. I'm not driven by market or what's selling or where there's an opening or blah-blah-blah. I write what I am moved to write. It's an awkward thing. I can't just crank out the words like there's no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow and I will still be writing and living with the consequences of that tomorrow. I've been a professional writer since I was sixteen. I'm in it for the long haul, as I've already proved. A lot of what I knew is gone forever. But a lot of what I believe in remains true--and will always remain true--craft matters and heart trumps algorithm. You show respect to the reader by delivering the best book that is in you--and that respect is repaid in reader loyalty.
Yes, there will probably be surprises

My plan for 2018 is still to deliver the stories I was unable to deliver in 2017. Blind Side, The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, In Other Words Murder-- and the non-fiction Mr and Mrs Murder. To that end I've accepted ZERO contracts with any publisher. The Magician Murders will proceed as planned. The only other scheduled stories are The Haunted Heart: Spring and Slay Ride (and those are not due until the fall of 2018) . That's the plan and while there may be delays or the occasional surprise story, I intend to stick to it to the best of my ability. I read some, frankly, idiotic comments last year about my willful discarding of deadlines. The reality is those long-anticipated books will bring in the most cash for me, so of course I want to do them. I like money as much as the next person--and I need it as much as the next person. But I'm not going to half-ass those stories--or any stories--and I'm not going to force them at the expense of my mental or physical health.

Speaking of which, that's another of the big lessons from 2017. I plan to focus on health in 2018. Writers tend to be...unhealthy. We sit on our asses in our own little world and that creates fat butts and fat brains. I want to maintain the fitness I gained the hard way in 2017.  Both the physical fitness and the mental fitness.

Other plans for 2018? There will be a new website. Mine has become...cumbersome. If I can possibly get in, I'm thinking of going to GRL this year.  And finally, I will never again schedule any projects to be written during the holidays. REMIND ME OF THAT ONE. I HAVE A TENDENCY TO FORGET THAT RULE.

Stuff will happen. That's what I love about every new year.

What did you learn from 2017? What new strategies will you implement in 2018?


  1. There's a lot here. First, and foremost, please remember to refill your well each day. Without renewal, our creative souls begin to wither. Second, you can't unread hateful comments, but try to put it all in perspective. You can't control what others say, and it says more about them than it does about you. If you write for the joy it brings to you, your readers will also share in that enjoyment.

  2. I am struck by your memory of telling stories about the images as you colored in your coloring book as a child. I remember having other children come to me in kindergarten, asking that I color in their pages for them. We are what we are, Josh, and no amount of scheduling can change that, and no amount of apologizing should be necessary or expected.

    My daughter gave me a little plaque with the opening lines from Ode, the Arthur O’Shaughnessy poem.

    We are the music-makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
    Wandering by lone sea-breakers
    And sitting by desolate streams;
    World losers and world forsakers,
    On whom the pale moon gleams:
    Yet we are the movers and shakers
    Of the world for ever, it seems.

    You are a mover and a shaker. Never fear. Your written world will progress just as it’s meant to be. The readers, like myself, will just have to be content to see how the year unfolds. It is our privilage to do so.

    May your 2018 treat you kindly, Josh.

    1. Thank you so much, Karan. I love the opening from Ode. :-) And I love the image (and the idea - it's surprisingly powerful) of other children wanting you to color in their pages.

  3. I learned that I'm stronger than I think I am.

    I would continue to be strong emotionally, mentally & physically. Otherwise, I would no longer want to live my life as it becomes more exhausting every single day. If it weren't for my sunny disposition, I don't think that I would have gotten this far. I don't think that I would have lived this long. #StayStrong Brace myself for the trials life would throw me. And live...longer.

    I've read this certain post in a blog about authors being human after all. Some readers tend to forget that fact. I wish that they'd finally be enlightened & see their wrongdoings.

    Here's to stress-free, productive & most importantly, healthier year ahead. Thank you for being an amazing author! <3

    1. You are stronger than you think -- but my wish for you is that you not continue to be tested so much.

      The problem with the internet is people tend to forget both commonsense and common courtesy, and end up saying things they would never say in real life -- and often don't even really mean.

      We all love to think that we are the kind of person who encourages and supports creativity, that being around us would energize and inspire other creative people. I know some of the people who say the stupidest things would be shocked to realize they are the absolute opposite of all that.

    2. Thanks a lot for the words of encouragement, Josh. <3

      I say the stupidest things all the time! LOL! I try to be as good & as sensitive to others' feelings, though. And that is what I think what matters most.

  4. Hi Josh - this post really struck a cord with me. 2017 was a really hard year, not unlike yours, where I learned the difficult lesson that one must not sacrifice one's health to be a people-pleaser, and to stop putting myself forward automatically as being the one who has to sort out all the mess. I hear you with regards to the depression and ill health - those hit me rather hard in 2017, but I have decided that in 2018 that slow and steady, may not win me the race, but may just save my sanity and preserve my health.
    I just want you to know that to read your work is a joy for me. I reread all your books, because I like the "cut of your jib", and that you are an incredibly talented author. Through your words, I am transported into other people's lives, and I really care about those characters. So, I am glad that you will choose to ignore those horrid people's comments - you are most definitely not a machine; you have heart, a creative spirit, but above all, you are human (and allowed to be so!).
    So, here's wishing you and your nearest and dearest a happy, healthy, and successful 2018, Josh! I wish you all the very best, and I look forward to reading your new works.
    2018, here we come. :-)

    1. Hello, CG. Thank you sincerely for these very kind words. And here's wishing you too a happy and healthy 2018. I'm becoming a big believer in slow and steady. :-)

  5. I love your surprise stories! They are so much more enjoyable knowing you were writing what you wanted to write!

    What I learned from 2017 is that it sucks to get old and sucks more to have aging parents. But I am grateful I still have them. What I hope to implement in 2018 is better time management, spending more time with my family and just enjoying life instead of enduring it. Happy 2018!

    1. Yes to both of those. My parents are still in relatively good health, given their ages. My dad more so than my mom. It's very difficult watching the people you love age - and it's difficult feeling your own mortality too.

  6. Oh, I just wanted to remind you not to schedule any projects for the holidays.
    What did I learn? That tiramisu is not really that hard to make.

  7. Take care of your health. Your books are worth the wait, however long that may be, because there are well-developed characters and actual plots that do not rely on page after page after page of just explicit sex to sell books. Like I said...well worth the wait.

    1. Thank you for saying so. I hope it's true -- it's certainly what I aim for.

  8. Josh, I'm not much of a commenter, but I thought it was worth saying, I appreciate your work, I'm glad you committed to a lifetime of it; with so many years and future creativity to look forward to, I'm sorry that angry comments and emails are occurring in the now for people that want it NOW. You're worth the wait and I look forward to seeing Perry and Nick, whenever they check in.

  9. Hi Josh, just a quick note of support to let you know that there are readers out here who appreciate all that you have gone through in the last year. Every December as a Xmas present to myself I re read all your books and I can tell you that sometimes I find it very hard to hold out until December!
    I too got a puppy last year and whilst it can be chaotic to say the least, if ever I need a pick me up I just look into her eyes and see her absolute devotion and her joy of life shining back at me and I can't help smiling. Try and take the time to enjoy the rewards and riches that a puppy can bring into your world. They tend to put things into perspective for me anyway.
    It is not your job to feed impatient readers appetites so try not to put pressure on yourself. Easier said than done I know. Give your pup a hug and look after yourself.

  10. Your past year sounds very productive to me. I agree completely that you shouldn't force yourself to write simply to meet a deadline. It should bring joy as well as hard work. Caroline

  11. There were some ridiculous comments out there. I dissed on them as much as I could. I don't think anyone's creative best works to a deadline, and it is ridiculous to throw a tantrum expecting it will make a difference. What I am glad about: thank you for all you wrote last year, and that your health and SO health and well being have seriously improved. Clear thinking and good living in 2018! (And don't forget to Save Frequently...and back up your hard drive)

  12. I can’t believe or understand how people can write upsetting and nasty emails about whether or not you produce a book. I think it is a gift when one is produced and it is not done to my terms!!!
    My lessons from this hear are to listen to my body, stay healthy but not to over burden myself

  13. Josh, Though I cannot wait for all your series to come out(I have almost all your books),the only way they will is if you are healthy. So do what you must for yourself, and I will just wait and reread your books until new ones come out. I learned, also the hard way, to relax more and to take care of myself. Have a good 2018. JC

  14. I'm appaled reading people write to you angry emails. It's rude, and unfair. Things happens and life get out of control despite our plans, so I don't see their point. Nobody can think you don't want to write those stories, it's you way of living after all. I hope this year people think first before pressing the sending button.
    I'm excited about everything that you've planned for this year, among those there're some of my favourites. So, if everything is delivered I'll be happy, and if not, too. Whatever you write will be welcome.

  15. I totally understand that life can throw one a curve ball when you're chugging along... My toddler was diagnosed with brain cancer right before Thanksgiving , Just as we considered how things have been going so wonderfully for us. Your stories give me an outlet, make me smile at the end and I really appreciated it . Looking forward to reading your new works when they come out!

    1. Your trouble puts my own in perspective. I'm truly sorry to read this. I hope your little one will soon be on the road to recovery. Wishing you all health and happiness in 2018.

  16. I find it hard to believe the garbage so-called fans spew. I'm sorry you were subjected to their vitriol.
    I've learned that some years are better than others--stuff happens and I muddle through by living in the now. Life's short and I tell my friends and loved ones how much they mean to me and spend more time with them. I've learned to take better care of myself and to rest and eat when needed. Most of all, I've learned acknowledging another person with a smile or kind word can make a world of difference.
    Josh, take the time you need to get healthy. Glad you and the SO are doing better. When you publish, I will purchase.

  17. I do not understand people who send angry e-mails and comments to the authors of the books they actually take their time to read and possibly 'enjoy' just because the publication of the books have been delayed or etc.

    Writers are not robots. They get tired, feel like not writing at times, and want to do other things as well - just like everyone else.

    Having enjoyed the books, all readers should do is just appreciate what the writers have put so much of their effort into - PERIOD

    Josh-san, take your time. And when you feel up to getting connected to your lovely characters, then please bring them into the world, so US the readers can meet them again. :)

    LOTS of HUGS from Japan


  18. Angry emails? Are you kidding? What happened to thank you Josh for your amazing body of work and grateful that you have all of these writing projects for us to look forward to. In your own time. After all, aren't we all doing the best we can and we should be supporting each other. So thank you Josh.

  19. All I have to say is, you put an itty bitty refernece to the THE THREE INVESTIGATORS into 'The Boy Next Door' and I absolutely adore you for it.

    This comment might feel like a strange fit to the post you wrote, but I thought a little apreciation might be in order.