Friday, April 11, 2014

Long Cold Lonely Winter?

After my second head-cold, I decided to blame winter on all my ills, bad moods, inability to sleep at night and everything else I could toss on the heap. In the grip of frigid and windy nastiness, it was easy enough to do. I got out the makeshift desk I use when I want to work in the living room, and huddled there with my heavy down-filled blanket wrapped around me. Right in front of the pellet stove. And still froze my knuckles off. I hibernated even more than I usually do, refusing to go outside for anything other than shoveling, haunting the barn for bags of wood pellets to feed the stove, and tromping out to the mailbox. I grumbled, a lot.

This has been the worst winter on record for many regions across the US. Record lows. Record snowfalls. Record winds. Record yuck. Nobody seemed to escape the mess; reports would come in from various family members all over, and it was the same everywhere. Slush in the streets, cars spinning out on the freeway, ice coating the trees, inches of snow on the patio, breath-stealing winter air. And that was just in Atlanta.

Twice a year, I go home to Alaska. I have family in Fairbanks; darling daughter Sue Ann, handsome son-in-law John, and my adorable granddaughter, Faith. I spend at least a month playing Mom/Grandma catch up, and one of my trips invariably hits in mid-winter. Just the luck of the draw, I suppose. Friends and other family members always ask me why on earth I don’t travel north during the summer when Interior Alaska is at its most glorious. Well, this winter I finally had an answer that made them shut up in a hurry:

“My winter in Fairbanks was better than your winter, anywhere else!”

And I wasn’t lying even a little bit.

I landed at Fairbanks International Airport on February 9, mid-afternoon. I’d left Albany, New York early that morning wrapped in a heavy winter coat that I barely took off even on the plane. I wore my Uggs instead of packing them (my feet never got overheated during the entire trip). And thinking ahead to what February in Fairbanks usually meant, I steeled myself for the worst.

I spent the next thirty days with my coat unzipped, my hat abandoned and my gloves tucked in my pockets instead of on my hands. Oh, I’d have had to bundle up if I’d spent any amount of time outside, of course. Yet I took Faith outside sledding one day with no hat and never even noticed the lack.

I basked in the windless calm of a standard winter day in Fairbanks, secure in the knowledge that some things don’t change regardless of what kind of crud “Ma” Nature can splat on the rest of the world. I returned to New York refreshed, energized, and warm.

But not for long, because immediately I caught a cold. Then after I fought it off, I got sideswiped with bronchitis. I’m still coughing and blowing my nose. Go figure.

I guess what I brought back from all of this has less to do with the vagaries of winter and more to do with attitude. I think in some ways you can persuade your body to accept and then believe the opposite of what it expects to accept and believe. I lived in Fairbanks for many winters and I know what February is going to bring to my table: forty below, ice fog, black ice on the roads and the need to plug the car into the nearest available hot box so the engine doesn’t gag and die. What I tend to forget it also brings: calm, clear, crisp, gloriously bright albeit short days and long, snuggle-in-your-jammies nights. In that respect, my month of Arctic was blessedly, familiarly normal.

It’s all the other junk this winter that tossed me for a loop and made me want to stab Mother Nature with the nearest icicle I could break off the rain gutter.

Attitude is everything when dealing with unseasonably weird weather. Maybe you’ll catch the flu anyhow even if you were diligent and took the shot. Maybe this summer will be just as disappointing when it finally decides to show up. Whatever we all get, I’ve decided I’m not going to let it bother me, because we can’t control what mean old Mommy Nature dishes out.

But mainly because I’m headed back to Fairbanks this summer—sometime after RWA and San Antonio—and this time hubby Don can break away long enough to go with me.  ::Happy Dancing amongst the mosquitoes::

We’ll take some time, soak up the long, long days, enjoy our family; marinate ourselves in DEET so we can spend lots of time outside. Maybe we’ll stay longer than a month. Maybe we won’t come back until break up, 2015.
Yep, attitude is everything.

Char Chaffin is a member of AKRWA and CNYRW, a die-hard displaced Alaskan, and has just published her third novel, Jesse’s Girl. She goes home to Fairbanks when she can, hangs out on a sixty-acre farm in Upstate New York when she can’t, and divides her time between writing her next novel and being an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate Publishing.
You can find her here:

Book Trailer for Jesse’s Girl:

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Joy of Victory, the Agony of… Too Much in My “In Box”

Many years ago when I decided my second career would be writing romance novels, I, like many other newbies, was elated. I could stay home in my pjs, a wonderful thing after thirty-two years of professional dress and seven o’clock staff meetings.

I could cuddle up to the fire and dream of naughty and enticing themes in the calm warmth of my living room. I would be queen of my schedule and master of my future. No secretary would buzz a warning of some client on a rampage about to tackle my peace of mind with unsolvable dilemmas. I could watch all the things on television I had missed in working long hours and constantly taking or teaching night or weekend classes at UAA. I could do lunch with my husband. I could take a vacation any time of the year I wanted instead of working a holiday into the district’s school schedule.



Everyone needs a fantasy, right? The grass is always greener, so they say. Right?


I quickly learned I didn’t own pjs, and as a full time writer I couldn’t afford to go shopping. Only veteran writers with published books and income can shop. I had forgotten that cuddling up to a fire in the calm of my home only put me to sleep. And I slept very well! I found out my secretary was the true queen of my schedule and she was so much better at it than I could ever be.

And master of my future…I wasn’t even master of my keyboard, let alone something as enormous as my future.

As for watching television, it was a giant time suck and a brain drain. I found myself critically evaluating every show I saw while eating everything in the cupboards as tasty commercials subliminally fed my mini binges.

I no longer worked long hours and kept pace with the night shift. In fact, I worked no hours and no night shifts. My husband got into the habit of calling me two hours before lunch so I would be on time and fully dressed.

Pathetic you say? Pretty much. My mid life career crisis didn’t last long as I have always been goal oriented and a bit of an over achiever.

So I pulled myself up by my slouchy sweat pants and faced the blank screen on my Mac. About a month and a half after I had become a “full time writer” my husband came home and actually found me at my computer writing. It was a beginning.

The challenge of finding yourself in a one-woman, self-dependent occupation is that you are alone and completely at the mercy of your own devices. The joy of a one-woman, self-dependent occupation is you have no one else to congratulate when you finish your first book, but yourself.

You find out that you are responsible for everything. You find out that you are not really alone and your own devices can fill a couple hundred pages if you commit them to paper. Those naughty and enticing themes sell. The joy of victory is so sweet…

Then comes the reality of writing as a career. It’s much harder than being an educator. Talk about burning the midnight oil. My characters demand their lives be committed to pages before I can sleep. Themes invade my mind and cry out for validation. I end up with more stories than I can ever write and readers who want more, faster. My email in-box is filled to bulging with requests for the next story, criticisms on my current books and deadlines that must be met. Covers must be developed, copies sent for review.

It’s exhausting… and wonderful… and satisfying… and a full time endeavor. If someone tells you “Oh, anyone can write brainless romance,” they are correct. But it takes a talented, dedicated author to construct, write and produce a romance novel. And that is just the beginning.

But I did it!

I developed, wrote and self-published my first romance novel. It only took a gallon of sweat, a quart of tears, $25.00 dollars for an ISBN number, $210.00 for a professional cover, many midnight critiques, and the unwavering support and assistance of friends and family. Oh yeah… and five years.

Becoming a romance author is not for those who sleep in, cuddle up to the fire and dream or do lunch out a lot. But it is for me.

>--- Miriam Matthews