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Friday, December 27, 2013

Goals for 2014

It is that time of year to evaluate how my goals for the current year panned out, and to establish new goals for the coming year, in this case, 2014.

Blog Goals

On January 14th, I wrote a blog post about goals for this blog. I promised to:

  1. No matter what I write about, I will focus on it being entertaining. That has to be the number one goal.

  2. I will do a fiction story a month, probably a flash fiction, but I’m not guaranteeing it will only be those.

  3. I will do something funny. Whether that be a “comedy” routine, or a character interview, etc., once a month.

  4. I will endeavor to post once a week, around Monday or Tuesday, not counting announcement posts, or future how-to articles, so readers will know what to expect.

My success on #1, I'll have to leave it with the readers how successful I've been at that. Based on commenting, my most entertaining post have been those on marriage leading up to announcing the publishing of my book, Healing Infidelity. Otherwise, it has mostly been crickets chirping on most posts. However, page views have slowly declined over the year. That could be due to the shift in my blog content, so a natural drop off of how-to seekers coming my way. Or it could be I've not succeed as well at being entertaining. It could be my more eclectic approach to be entertaining means I alienate more than I'm gaining.

On #2, I've been pretty successful. Though none of the stories made it into the top ten most viewed posts. That said, I think those may be my most productive aspects for several reasons:

  1. It forced me to write short fiction. I'd practically abandoned it in my focus on novels over the past years. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to write it.

  2. Writing is always productive work for a writer.

  3. I still feel the primary goal of the blog should be to entertain, and the best way to do that is to tell an entertaining story.

  4. At the end of the year, I'll have a new anthology book I can create and sell.

  5. The best advertising for my novels is showing I can write fun stories. People that sample my writing will be more likely to consider buying my novels.

For those reasons, I plan to continue writing one original short story/flash fiction a month in the coming year.

On #3, I didn't keep up with it as I had planned. If I'd kept people in stitches all year, maybe I'd been more successful. Who knows.

#4, I posted at least once a week all year, but fell off the wagon during November, and picked back up in early December. However, when during the week varied quite a bit. Plenty of times I posted late in the week instead of early.

So, after evaluating things, here is my goal for my blog during 2014:

  1. Continue to work on the entertaining factor.

  2. Post one original story a month on the blog.

  3. The rest of the time to post some combination of comedy, theology, how-to articles. No promise on a schedule.  What ever floats my boat, but with the goal to be entertaining and if it fits, informative.

  4. To post at least once a week, probably around Thursday or Friday, but no promises.

Novel Goals

Though I don't think I wrote it down last year, I recall setting a goal to publish 4 novels in 2013. As it turned out, I've ended up with 2 new published books, Healing Infidelity and Virtual Game. I also published a couple of novelette-length books. One, the Virtual Hero ebook, and a non-fiction booklet, Celebrating the Fullness of Christmas. Didn't hit my goals, but did take some steps forward.

You'd think my lack of success would mean I should trim my expectations back. Nay, my friend. Here is my list of books I hope to publish in 2014:

  1. The Magic Within - New series. Written and in editing.

  2. Reality Game - Virtual Chronicles series. Started writing, barely. Will need to finish it and go through the process.

  3. Underground - Need to change the name, but is my serial experiment. Partially written.

  4. Healing Infidelity Through Faith - Follow up to Healing Infidelity, written more specifically to the Christian market. Just started writing.

  5. Poetry Book - No name yet, but plan on publishing a compilation of my poetry.

  6. Anthology - Not set in stone since some of my monthly stories went into the Virtual Hero novelette, so may want to wait and make it a 2013 - 2014 anthology.

  7. Devotional - Started writing a devotional on the parables. I want to finish that this year.

So, yeah, I plan on keeping busy writing this coming year.

In addition to that, I'll being doing weekly blog post at Speculative Faith blog and Healing Infidelity blog. So pray for me. I'm going to need it.

Also, if you want to keep up with this blog, you have the option of subscribing by RSS feed, or by email. So you don't miss a thing. Thank you for your support over this past year. Looking forward to an even better year in 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 Top Ten Blog Articles

I'm giving thought to my blog, to decide what, if any changes I want to make to my approach for 2014. At the end of 2012, I saw an increase in my blog readership. One of the high viewed articles was my Christmas story I had posted. I believe it did so well due to the message about changing the name of Christmas, which seemed to resonate with a wide audience and get shared around.

So I concluded from that data at the time that people would mostly want to be entertained. In fact, it made sense to me that the best way to convince people that my published books would be entertaining to read, would be to show I could accomplish the same on my blog. To that end, I decided for 2013, that I'd post once a week at a minimum, one short story, one humorous article, one writer's article, and one theological article per month. As the year progressed, I pretty much did one article a week up until November. And the planned article subject schedule didn't stick completely save I did successfully post one new and original short story each month.

Problem is, none of the short stories made it into the top ten. The highest ranked one is The Three Little Pigs, or How to Invest Wisely at 13th. Readers spent an average of 5.5 minutes reading it. That probably ranked highest out of my stories due to people searching for investment advice from my comedic retelling of the fairy tale. Probably not what they were looking for, but read it anyway. The next story doesn't make it into the first 25.

Ironically, despite my focus, the articles in the top ten are all non-fiction oriented. A combination of my ebook publishing how-tos, related to my book, How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software, and the ones on marriage introducing my book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair.

Following is my list of articles in descending order:

#3 for many years, being the oldest in the list, ranked #1. Now #1 is by far ahead, with more than double the page views of #2, 2,826 views during 2013. My quandary is that while I'm great with providing the non-fiction how-to's and thankful for the traffic they generate, I know that traffic is probably not going to be that interested in checking out my fiction. They come to get info they've searched for and are not likely to be in the mindset to buy fiction while they are here unless it is totally an impulse buy.

As I evaluate the direction to take with my blog this coming year, this is an opportunity for my regular followers to throw in their opinions of what they'd like to see. More theologically oriented articles? More how-to's? Continue the free monthly fiction stories or pare them back? Add something I've not been doing?

Another consideration. From feedback I've received, my novel's most rabid fans are in MG and early YA. If I were to target that audience with this blog, what kinds of articles would you expect to see here? Probably not how-to articles.

Thanks for your input, and I look forward to another year of interaction.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Does the Tree Say?

"Dad, what about that one?" asked Jerry.

Doug wiped the accumulated snow from his glasses. "Too young, son." A live Christmas tree, she wanted. The artificial tree had sufficed for years. Why her sudden desire for a live one? It only added more work to an overburdened to-do list.

His boots crunched the new fallen snow as they weaved through the trees. The crisp smell of freezing air prompted him to tighten his hood while he cradled an ax in his elbow against his body. Jerry, his five-year-old son, dashed ahead of him.

Doug recalled Joan's words, "I want a live tree. Not the farm-raise trees they sell in the lots. I like my Christmas tree wild and fresh!"

What had gotten into that woman? It was a tree. Not a fish. But she had her heart set on one, so he was traipsing through a forest in knee-deep snow, trying to find a wild Christmas tree.

"Dad, Dad! I found one. Come and see!" Jerry's young voice pierced the still air.

A full moon lit the sky, highlighting his path. Doug rounded a large, snow-laden fur. He froze.

The perfect Christmas tree glowed, casting shadows from surrounding trees. Its light wasn't a reflection of the moon, but radiated from within. Doug sucked in a deep breath.

"See, Dad. Isn't it perfect?"

Doug let the ax handle slide through his glove until he gripped the end. "She wants wild? This should fit the bill." He picked a clear shot to the trunk and waved his left hand. "Stand back, son. Don't want to hurt you."

Jerry hopped, clapping his hands. "Yippe!" He moved backward five leaps.

Doug placed the ax head against the trunk to line up the swing. "Let's get this over with." He pulled the ax back until it lined up with his shoulder, then swung down with all his might. The blade connected with the wood.

A bright light flashed, blinding Doug. A force shoved him off his feet, burying him into the snow on his back.

Doug blinked a few times. His eyes focused on the night stars from within his icy-walled canyon. The tree-tops reached into the night sky.

What had happened? Doug wiggled his fingers and toes. Didn't feel like he'd broken anything. He pushed himself up with his elbows. "Jerry, you okay?"

A growl echoed through the cold air. The face of a fox sat inches away from Doug's.

Doug gulped. "Nice foxie."

"Who gave you authority to cut down the tree?" The fox's nose flared.

Doug's jaw dropped.

"Come on human scum. Who?"

"You're . . . you're talking!"

"And you're stalling." The fox bared his fangs. "Confess! By who's authority?"

Doug shook his head. Had he hit his head on a rock? He felt the back of his skull for a wound but found none. Why was a fox asking him this question, even if it could talk.

Doug rubbed his forehead. "My wife, Joan."

The fox cocked his head. "Don't know any Joan." He turned his head behind him. "Clive, you take over. I'm not getting anywhere."

A fluttering noise broke through the night air. An owl's face peered into Doug's ice canyon. "My, my, my! What have we here? I should think one would consider the repercussions when considering random acts of violence against trees."

Doug rubbed his eyes. An owl with a British accent? Now he knew he was hallucinating. "You don't have any lips. How can you talk?"

Clive flapped his wings. "Sir, I don't consider offending me a plus to your case. If you'd be so good as to answer our questions, we'll be done with it and on our way."

Doug breathed deep. Nothing to do but play along with this bizarre story line. "Mind if I sit up?"

"See," the fox said. "The hairless pup is worthless."

Clive's head rotated behind him. "That's quite enough, Mr. Furball." He pivoted his eyes back to Doug. "If you'll answer our questions, please proceed."

Doug pushed himself into a sitting position. Clive perched on a branch protruding from the snow drift. Mr. Furball sat on his haunches by a tree a few feet away. The glowing tree radiated beside them. A hole in the snow in the shape of an ax marked the location of his tool.

But no sign of his son. "Did you see a little boy?"

Clive ruffled his feathers. "Enough! You'll answer our question first."

Doug sighed. "What question was that?"

Clive let out an owl hoot. "Who!"

Doug smiled. Now the owl was making a pun. He might need a shrink after this. Or at least a drink. Maybe a drink with a shrink.

Doug scratched his whiskered chin. "You mean on who's authority? I told you already. If that isn't good enough, I don't know what you're looking for."

"Unless you're name is Joan, and you don't fancy that name at all, that is no answer."

They probably had some city hall run by a mayor badger that issued permits. There's no way he could guess. "I don't have anyone's authority. All I wanted to do is get a Christmas tree. Is that a crime?"

Clive glanced at Mr. Furball. "So you do have authority to cut down the tree?"

Doug stared at Clive. "I do?"

"You just said it. Who?"

Authority? "Uh, the Doctor?"

Clive folded his wings over his head.

Mr. Furball dashed toward them, sliding to a stop, snow falling into Doug's lap. "What does the tree say?"

Doug fixed his eyes on the tree, its tip pointing into the vast array of stars. He raised his eyebrows. "Christmas tree. Christ. Jesus Christ."

Darkness swallowed Doug. His eyes flickered open. Paramedics swarmed around him as he lay in the snow.

"He's responding."

Jerry's face popped into view. "Dad! You'll be all right."

A paramedic pulled plates from his chest. "Mr. Stilwell, your son saved your life. He used your cell phone to call 911. You had gone into cardiac arrest. Luckily we were in the area."

Doug frowned. He had been hallucinating. Yet it had felt so real. He glanced toward the tree. It lay on the ground, the trunk cut cleanly in two. Only the moonlight glistened against the snow stuck to its leaves.

In the distance, an owl cried out, "Who?"

Doug yelled back, "Who!"

Jerry smiled. "The tree points to Him. That's why you're alive."

Doug grinned. It took his son, a fox, an owl, and a tree to drive home the truth. Christmas isn't about a list of whats, but a who. Who the tree points to.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Growing Through Tragedy

Good stories are about people encountering conflict and how dealing with it causes the character(s) to become more than they are. Usually stories take that to the extreme. I've often said if I had half of the bad things happen to me that Sisko does in Reality's Dawn, I'd be in a mental ward.

Sometimes, however, bad things do happen to us. Most of us have experienced them. If you haven't, you likely will at some point. The rain falls on the good and the bad. God hasn't promised to prevent tragedy from raining on His children, despite what some prosperity gospel preachers might say.

The real question when tragedy hits isn't "Why me?" It's "Who will I become because of this?"

Like my fictional characters, how will facing painful situations help me to grow as a person? If fiction, especially Christian fiction teaches us anything, it should teach us that attitude.

Earlier this year I revealed that I discovered my wife of 29 years had been having an affair, back in May 11, 2011 upon the release of our book, Healing Infidelity: How to Build a Vibrant Marriage After an Affair. I'd consider that trauma the worst I've had so far in my short life. The betrayal left a wake of destruction for both of us, which after two years, we still deal with.

While there are plenty of negatives from it, God has also made me, made us, better people for having gone through it. Our recovery has made us and our marriage stronger than it has ever been.

This year I'm faced with a new betrayal. My body. I've been officially diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. It has already cut my typing speed in half. As the years go by, I can expect it to get worse and worse, barring a medical breakthrough. Currently there is no cure, nor do they know what causes it in most cases. It is currently the second largest neurological disorder in the world, so I have plenty of company.

I debated telling very many about this. I'm not doing so to get sympathy. Prayers would be appreciated, though. Nor is it a "woe is me" lament. I mention these things for two main reasons.

One, because these events, bad as they are, have become part of my identity. If you want to know me, those events along with many others make me who I am today. I'm not going to introduce myself to people as a guy with Parkinson's, like some gay people tend to do. But it is part of my history. Barring God removing this "thorn," it will be my future.

Two, to show that God can take what was meant for evil and bring good out of it. God can use this disease to make me a better person, closer to Him. He can use it toward my salvation.

How? I probably don't know all the ways He'll do that. But I've already got one plan in mind. I want to write a fiction book using a person with Parkinson's as the main character and donate the proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

The point is the big crisis we face in life can make us or break us. That is the point of most of our stories. It is the point of our lives. That is how we grow.

What crisis in your life has God used for your good?