The Secret of Success

Fun fact: I’ve never been financially stable. Not one year in my entire adult life.

I’ve scraped by. Some years, the years I considered windfalls, were still relatively slim. Others, I never would have made it without help from my family.

I live in the home I grew up in, with other family members. I share a car. I don’t go on fancy vacations. Or eat out. Or get my hair done.

Is this a sacrifice?

It’s supposed to be. But I don’t feel as though I’m missing anything. I don’t get excited by designer handbags or flights to Hawaii. I get excited by tools of the trade (and every year, it seems as though I need another subscription to another piece of software for formatting or design or some other aspect of book creation).

What I’ve struggled with over the years (the lede’s buried a bit here), is the question of whether this is success. We’ve all been conditioned to consider one’s finances as the true indicator of success. If it’s in the bank, your idea worked. Congratulations. We’re told that our main goal–or perhaps the only goal–is income. An accumulation of wealth. Anything that doesn’t pay out wasn’t worth our time. And, by extension, if it isn’t already popular, I, as a consumer, shouldn’t be interested in it, either. Because monetary success = good. (This attitude obviously helps to keep unknowns from breaking out and making that oh-so-precious money, of course.)

In 2016, I saw two different books release from two different Big 5 publishers. My writing take-home that year? Four figures. (It’s important here to note that’s not the full amount I made on those books–but because of how advances are divided up, that’s what I made that year.) That line of reasoning didn’t help relieve the disappointment, though. And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a disappointment. Something I felt should be hidden away, not admitted to.

In the years since, I’ve felt myself letting go of these feelings. Not because I was trying to. They just slowly dissipated. The same way I felt myself letting go of checking on my online stats every two seconds. My dream was to become a writer. By hook or crook, I am a writer. I get up every single day and immerse myself in stories.

What is that, if not success?

There will always be people who buy into the idea that monetary success is the only success. Often, these are people who are happy to share what they make each year–because they’re proud of it. They aren’t having four-figure years. They have new cars and pictures of Hawaii. That’s fine. It’s not wrong. It’s their definition. It just doesn’t happen to be mine. 

My definition (I’ve said this so many times the last few years) is, simply, this: Success is getting your teeth kicked in and then getting back up the next day and putting your heart into your work all over again, with the same passion and enthusiasm you felt the day before. Not letting the outside world convince you what you’re doing isn’t worthy of your time. Holding on to your passions, even when other people think it’s foolish.

That’s it. 

Because the thing is, I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s definition of success. Only mine. 

The same is true of you–you only have to live up to your definition. 

That, it seems, is the true secret of success. 


I’ve talked about it here before, but my little dog Gus is epileptic. Up until now, I was hesitant to use Pheno–a big part of that is it requires regular blood draws, and Gus fights them like you wouldn’t believe. We’re talking hand-to-paw combat with the vet techs. Imagine a thirteen-pound dog on a silver exam table, on two back legs, arms over his head, one leg raised in the crane kick position (a la The Karate Kid). Yeah. That’s how Gus fights them.

Gus chilling on my lap.

Buuuuut…he had two bad seizure episodes in January–a two-day event early on, and another event late in the month, with cluster seizures, that sent us to an emergency vet visit.

Which means that we’re now on Pheno.

It takes some time to adjust. Right now, Gus is thirsty and hungry and tired and is a little unsteady on his feet. We’ve all been calling him Drunk Uncle.

Right now, I’m not getting a ton of words down. I’m mostly just trying to be with this little guy as he gets acclimated. (And whispering to him, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you just behaved during your blood draw in a few weeks?”)

Really, though, aren’t those some of the most important moments in life? Just being around when the people or creatures in your life need a little comforting.

Drawn – A New Love

This year, my New Year’s resolution is to learn Procreate (an iPad drawing app) in order to master handlettering and illustration techniques. This, of course, is all about adding new design elements to the books. I’ve wanted to do it for years, but this year, I’m actually taking the steps.

Inspired by Carrie Jones’s Be Brave Friday, I’m going to post my progress this year. So far, the steps have been small. But I’ve learned a ton. 

The thing is, I don’t have much to say about it–yet. But that’s true of any beginning. All you can say is that you have an idea and you’re committed to it. That, and I love drawing at the end of the day. It’s good for the ol’ soul.

For now, here’s my first completed project. You can find it on Every Tuesday, which has great Procreate tutorials:  

2023 Goals

To be honest, I was a little bummed at my ’22 output. I had a ton of ideas and partial drafts and not nearly as many finished products as I would have liked.

I’ve said it before, but ’22 was rotten. Everything broke. I got Covid twice. I was in an unending cycle of feeling crummy and repairing some random something in the house and dealing with dog seizures and all the everyday life stuff–cooking dinner and putting away laundry and mowing and changing oil and painting windows and, and, and…

It all does a number on finishing projects.

So the finished-project goal for ’23 is enormous. Nine projects. Nine. They all got started and quickly derailed by ’22. I’m completely aware I may (read: probably) not get every single one of these done. But I’m committed, this year, to sticking with a single project until it’s completed (and not getting derailed by anything short of a literal tornado). It’ll be fun to challenge myself to get as much done as I can.

I’m currently hard at work on finishing my MG (project #1 on the list), and have already begun my New Year’s Resolution (which is in addition to the nine projects): learning handlettering in Procreate. I mean, resolutions should be fun, too, right?

Anyone else setting crazy goals this year?

Updates coming soon!

Next Door Getaway

So the house next door is now an Airbnb. It’s been a bizarre experience.

The thing is, I’ve lived in my neighborhood forever. I grew up here. I lived here while I was going to college. I’ve seen generations grow and move (and, sometimes, return). The usual patterns of a neighborhood have been fascinating. Wasn’t it Eudora Welty who spoke of the importance of staying in one place, of watching those life patterns, and letting it inform the work?

Something like that.

Anyway. The house. It’s nothing fancy, in (obviously) an older neighborhood. The chain link’s got rust on it, the street has cracks, and when it rains, the neighborhood floods. A few years ago, the flood drew lightning and knocked out electronics all down the street. (Bye, bye, my six month old computer.) I’ve known the string of owners of the house that’s now an Airbnb since the eighties. I know all about the year-old dog buried in the backyard (struck by a car) and the little girl’s name carved into the wooden swing. I know the history of it.

And knowing the history, I guess, makes it seem a little heavy. Which is the opposite of a vacation.

Now, this is what a vacation home should look like.

But the people who rent it don’t know any of that. They know it’s a quiet neighborhood and the people are nice. The house is well put-together and clean. They wave happily at me when they come out with their dogs. Last month, they were taking pictures of the colored leaves on the trees, and everyone who comes seems to marvel at the getaway-ness of it all.

All in this place that has never, not in my entire life, been a getaway place.

It’s all relative, of course. One person’s everyday is another’s special escape.

But I have to admit, it has made me look at it all with fresh eyes.

My neighborhood, the great escape.

Life With an Epileptic Dog – November Epilepsy Awareness Month

My dog didn’t have a seizure today.

But he might tomorrow.

He might even have one tonight in the wee hours.

Or in a week or two–maybe toward the end of the month. I might get two or three seizure-free months.

But he’s going to have one, at some point. The only question is when.

That’s the hard part of having an epileptic dog. The unknown.

To make things worse, I don’t know how he’s feeling. I don’t know if he gets warning auras. He certainly doesn’t act any differently before a seizure. Occasionally, I notice he doesn’t eat as much on days preceding a seizure. But then again, there are times when he’s not as hungry and eats less on days he doesn’t have a seizure.

So maybe the food thing doesn’t mean anything.

It’s an enormous job taking care of an epileptic animal; recent studies have shown veterinary professionals far underestimate the impact of epilepsy on pet owners. As a member of several online groups for owners of epileptic dogs, I can tell you I’m in no way alone in making lifestyle changes to care for my animal. I was already working from home, but I turn the world inside-out to make sure Gus is never by himself–I only have a small number of people who are willing to watch him, afraid he’d have a seizure while I was gone. I give prescription medications (two of them) five times a day. I also cook food, and give supplements: gelatin, honey, fish oil, taurine, probiotics, cbd. Gus’s seizures have always been triggered by sleep (and are mostly at night), so I keep him close to me when I’m sleeping. In the summer, when the bed is too hot, I block him off in a cool area with a baby monitor so a seizure will be sure to wake me. I have a seizure protocol: ocular compressions, honey or ice cream when he’s coming back to awareness. Sometimes, it seems the post-ictal phase is worse than the actual seizure–the pacing, the confusion, the whining. It can go on for a half hour or more (which is really short compared to other dogs). I also try to give extra food (a seizure is a little like running a marathon, and replacing those spent calories sometimes helps shorten the post-ictal).

When he’s not seizing, Gus is a goofy, sweet little dog. He loves cats and people, and is firmly convinced that walks are not for exercise but for allowing the neighbors a chance to visit with him. He’ll do anything for liver. He is terrible at barking (how is that even a thing???), and talks incessantly in strange throaty noises: whines and gurgles and growls and gargles. He can’t wait for you to take off your shoes so that he can run off with one. He likes to wear sweaters and to sit inside the storm door, watching the comings and goings of the street. He hates the vet, and engages in hand-to-paw combat when the techs attempt to draw blood (just kidding–sort of). He’s smart, and if you are stretched out on the floor, he will try to lick your ear.

He’s a hundred things, and epileptic is just one of them.

It’s a strange disease; it’s a big thing, and yet, during those calm in-between-seizure times, it’s not. Epilepsy isn’t necessarily terminal, though a seizure can certainly turn life-threatening if it doesn’t end quickly. We’ve been there with Gus–he went into status epilepticus, and we had to rush him to the vet, where the entire medicine cabinet was thrown at him to get it to stop. He was even on oxygen for a while. The vet said if we hadn’t been home, we would have returned to a dead dog. (Which is why I have such a small number of people willing to be alone with him.) But then again, it’s not cancer. It’s not heartworm or distemper.

And still, it’s always there. Kind of lingering in the background. I try not to get him overtired (which is why he has a stroller). I try to avoid food dyes and commercial food with rosemary as a preservative. I jump, my heart thumping around crazily, every time a strange noise hits my ears. (Was that Gus? Is he seizing???)

That’s true of any chronic condition, though, I guess–it’s just always there. You never get to take a day off from a chronic condition. You never get to board a plane and go on vacation from diabetes or arthritis or Alzheimer’s.

I am inspired, every day, by the devoted pet owners I have met in online forums. So many of us are out there every day, exchanging dog food recipes or giving each other advice or a place to vent. Taking dogs on vacations, helping each other out with medications or emergency vet bills. So many kind-hearted people who are fighting for their dogs to have the happiest lives possible for as long as possible.

I’m in the same boat–I’d do anything for this dog. But come on–with a face like that, how could I not?

The Best Place to Write

I’ve always thought the best place to write was outside (something about being in a place without walls makes me feel like there’s no walls on my imagination). Autumn has definitely arrived in the Ozarks; before long, I won’t be able to write outside at ll.

For now, though, it’s pretty nice under my favorite writing tree:

All Kinds ‘a Stuff

I’m hard at work on copyediting the latest book (a mystery!).

I also spent the better part of the last three weeks trying to figure out how to get blood from my little epileptic dog, Gus. He definitely has the obstinate Peke streak; it took four attempts, two happy visits with techs (no medical procedures, just treats and pets), and additional trips to the facility to get him to be more accepting / less stressed. Oh, and extra meds. I swear, the day we finally got the draw, he was on more drugs than a ’70s-era rock star.

I do have some extra goodies, though:

Signed Limited Edition – The Art of the Kiss

The first edition of my Art of the Kiss was an incredibly limited run. Less than 50 copies were printed. I still have a few available, and am selling them (with personal inscriptions) at my Etsy store.

The Full Ruby’s Place Collection – Signed and Personalized

The original four books in the Ruby’s Place series are available in a single lot, also at my Etsy store. All four books also come signed and personalized (with free shipping).

Ruby’s Merch

While you’re at it, check out the run Ruby’s Place merch at my Zazzle store. Everything from sweatshirts to coasters to magnets. Something to enjoy while sinking back into the original Ruby’s Place series.

And now…back to my copyedits!