Life Update: MRSA, Cleveland Vacation, Freelance Writing, and Book Awards!

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Me at the USS Cod Museum in Cleveland, Ohio

As June 2016 draws to a close, I thought I would do a quick life update. Things have been kind of crazy lately between health problems, summer vacations, book releases, editing and freelance writing, vlogging, etc. So here are a few highlights (or low points) of my recent days:

*We went on an actual vacation for the first time in a few years! We went up to Cleveland, Ohio and went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the USS Cod Submarine Museum, the Cleveland Zoo, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and Lake Erie. I found some awesome driftwood while walking along the beach, drooled over the Michael Jackson and Nirvana memorabilia at the Hall of Fame, rode a camel, and ate way too much junk food!

*My hubby is fighting off another MRSA infection, which makes me afraid we are both going to be passing it back and forth again. Even with all the bleaching and cleaning we do, that stuff is hard to keep from spreading!

*I am proud of the fact that my career in freelance writing and editing continues to expand, with many repeat customers and brand new clients! My favorite projects are those that align well with my natural interests (specifically children’s writing and poetry), but even some of the more technical jobs have been more fun than I expected! These jobs allow me to continue to do what I love to do and work at home!

*My YouTube vlog, Maranda’s Toys & Books, continues to grow! I have been pleasantly surprised to find out I’m not the only nerdy adult who still loves collecting dolls, ponies, action figures, and other things from her childhood! I am even getting some free toys and books to review on my channel which is pretty darn awesome!

*My new middle grade children’s book, “Creepy, Funny & Just Plain Weird: Stories and poems for kids“, has already been nominated for a children’s book award! Fingers crossed that I win! If you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try!

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5 things I love about being an artist

"Molten Ascension", watercolor 5.5" x 8.5"
“Molten Ascension”, watercolor 5.5″ x 8.5″

Since I recently wrote a blog post about “5 things that can suck about being an artist”, I thought it would be good to balance it out with 5 things I absolutely LOVE about being an artist!

1) Getting to work mostly at home, whenever and wherever I desire and in whatever clothing I desire (usually pajamas). It also rocks to be able to listen to whatever music or tv show I want to while working.

2) Making something out of nothing. There is just something so magical about taking a blank sheet of paper or canvas and creating something brand new that is one-of-a-kind. It is especially exciting when I have a great idea in my head and see it taking shape before me. To me it seems to be a tangible way to “make dreams come true”.

3) When people really connect with something I have created and tell me how much they like it. There is nothing that makes me happier than hearing someone say they have “fallen in love” with an artwork of mine or that something I made inspired them or made them happy. I even get all happy inside when people on Facebook like, share or comment on my artwork. (So if you are a FB friend of mine, keep that encouragement coming! It means more than you know!)

4) This might be weird, but I really love shopping for art supplies. It is one of my favorite things to do. Second only to shopping for books. When I get into an art supply store and see the aisles of paint, brushes, canvases, pencils, pens, etc., I just feel so happy, almost like I used to feel as a kid when I got to do “back to school” shopping and pick out all my cool supplies for the coming year. I guess that is the nerd in me coming out.

5) Lastly, when I am in the “zone”, painting or drawing, I feel it is almost like a meditative state, where all my worries, cares and physical problems recede and the “true” me gets to express itself for a while. Even though I have many chronic pain issues, when I create, even the aches and pains seem to take a back seat to my soul and its desire to connect to something on a deeper level. I’m not sure if that is the case for everyone (perhaps it is due to my Aspie ability to focus on special interests), but regardless, I am grateful for it.

5 things that can suck about being an artist

"Beam Me Up God", watercolor 8" x 8"
“Beam Me Up God”, watercolor 8″ x 8″

1) No matter how many artworks you create or sell, there is always this niggling voice in the back of your head asking, “Am I really talented or is all this a fluke? What if my artistic muse abandons me and I never make another meaningful work of art?”

2) There is a point in almost every artwork that I start that I feel it is total crap and just want to rip it to shreds. Sometimes resisting that impulse is extremely hard. Often, even the best, most successful pieces of artwork I have created barely escaped the shredder.

3) The whole Money vs. Love issue. Do you create what you love, even if it doesn’t sell, or do you create what you know will likely sell? I have tried to do both but find it doesn’t work for me to try to create anything just because it is “popular” or will sell. I inevitably lose interest in the project and get depressed because I am not being true to myself. Luckily, my art is selling more and more even though I am following my bliss instead of the dollar signs. However, I realize that my situation is not the same as anybody else’s and some people have to do what they have to do to pay the bills and put food on the table. I respect them for that and hope they can also find time to do whatever feeds their soul.

4) People just don’t realize how expensive professional art materials can be! How many artists get the look asking why they charge so much for their art? I used to wonder that too when I would see a hefty price tag on a piece of art…but now I understand. Most of us really don’t make much profit from handmade things…even if they seem expensive. I’ve also noticed that people are often confused by how much it costs to ship artwork, especially if the object is large, heavy, being sent to another country or the buyer wants special postal services.

5) The absolute worst thing about being an artist in my opinion? When you go through a dry spell and nothing (or at least not much) sells. It can make you want to give up entirely and wonder how people like Van Gogh kept going when they never sold much of anything (of course then I remember that he did cut off his ear and eventually committed suicide – which doesn’t cheer me up much). In the end, I guess it is the passion and the obsession that keeps us going…and hopefully the depression from feeling unpopular even lends itself to a deeper display of emotion that improves our work or adds a new depth to it. At least that is how I like to look at it.

Should book reviewers charge fees?

money-backgroundI know many indie authors and others in the literary world have vastly opposing opinions on the matter of whether book reviewers should charge fees for their services. I struggled with this issue a lot myself as a book reviewer. On the one hand, you want your reviews to be unbiased, honest and taken seriously. However, on the other hand, as a reviewer, I know that it does take a lot of time to read and review books. Each book, depending on the length can take anywhere from 30 minutes (short picture books) to a few hours to read through, especially when you are reading with a critical eye to be able to give a fair review. Add to that the time it takes to write up the review, post it online and promote the post and you can easily spend many hours creating a good book review.

For a long time I did offer free or donation-based reviews. The trouble was that I became so overwhelmed with all the time and effort of reviewing everyone else’s work that I started to slack off on my own writing and book promotional duties. For a while I tried to balance it all, but eventually realized that if I were to justify all the time I was using writing reviews, I should ask for at least a small compensation for the time and effort on my part. I never did approve of those reviewers that charge ridiculous reading fees up to several hundred dollars and think that many of them exist simply to take advantage of excited indie authors who are having a hard time finding reviews. I decided right away I WOULD NOT be one of those guys. So I decided to charge between $15 and $25 for reviews, depending on the length of the book. I still generally don’t even earn minimum wage per hour for actual time spent reading and reviewing, but I’m ok with that because I do love the work.

I know not everyone agrees with my decision and I’m ok with that. I definitely believe everyone should go with their gut when it comes to doing what feels right, but I hope they can at least understand my point of view as well. I should also mention that I do sometimes still do unpaid reviews. I occasionally trade reviews with other authors if their books are in a similar genre and I still do some reviews just because I love a book or an author and I want to share my thoughts.

Even with the reading fee, I am still careful to pick books to review that interest me too, after all, there are some genres I just don’t feel like I can do justice to in a review, because I don’t know enough about the genre. That is why I tend to stick to children’s, young adult, women’s, nonfiction and poetry genres.

Well, that is my view on things. Feel free to leave a comment below and express your opinion.

The stuff that is life (or what I thought would never happen to me, but did anyway)

Do you ever wonder how in the world your life ended up where it is now?  I must admit, sometimes I look back on the past and scratch my head in puzzlement.  Ten years ago (when I was 18) I was sure I would never marry, never have kids and I figured I would grow up to be an old cat lady.  I didn’t really have much in the way of ambitions…I had always wanted to be a writer, but felt like that dream was unrealistic and that I should face reality and get on with life.

Now, at the age of 28, I have been married for 8 years to the greatest man I have ever known…and have actually been happy!  I always thought I was far too independent, opinionated and moody for any man to put up with me longterm, but my husband actually seems to enjoy living with me.  Truly, wonders never cease.

When I was 18, I was also convinced that I didn’t like children.  Some of you who know me now may be shocked by that fact, but I really thought I couldn’t stand the little buggers.  Of course, now I think that was simply because I was the baby of the family and was rarely around younger children.  Plus, I often found that my own peer groups were full of dunderheads and nutters.  Now I actually go out of my way to spend time with kids.  Between fostering, working with the kids at church, substitute teaching and writing for kids, I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe kids.  In fact, I am actually looking forward to the thought of adopting a couple of my own!

As for my work life, I thought I would live out my life working at a bookstore or some other retail joint.  An unexpected foot injury when I was 19 derailed those plans, but it actually turned out to be a good thing.  Because of that foot injury, I was forced to get office jobs (which I hated enough, that I became determined to make my dream of becoming a writer a reality).  Now I have two books on the way, have met some of the coolest writers, editors and book lovers around, have pulled in a decent amount of extra income and LOVE my day job.  Of course, I realize that if we get into another financial bind, or if the economy falls too far I will likely have to work again, but at least I know now that I can make my dreams come true (with a lot of help from above)!

So what is the point of this post?  First of all, I am SOOOOOOOO thankful that my life didn’t turn out the way I had planned!  And second of all, never give up on your dreams!  It’s ok to let your childhood fantasies evolve into reachable goals, but never give up on dreaming entirely.  You will miss out on so much if you do.