Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Land of Nada

I usually take a blog break this time of year but at the rate I've been posting, it looks like I'm already on my holiday blogging break. I did however write a post for Christmas on my website:

I was layering on the decorations on the Christmas tree at the hotel in San Pedro where we live now. Adding more lights, more shiny balls, beads, red and gold wrappy things. One of the workers came by and complimented my work.
I said, “Is it too much?” He said, “No, it is pretty. It’s good that you are doing that.” I said, “In the U.S., Christmas is a time of excess. It’s all about too much. Too many decorations, too much food, too many sweets, too many presents, too much everything.”
I asked him if it was like that in Guatemala, although I already knew the answer. He smiled and said, “Nada.” (nothing)
Go here to read the rest, and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season. See you again in January!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Amazon Reviews: A Joke or Not?

There's been a lot of news lately on author blogs about Amazon's latest clearing out process of reviews that don't "fit their guidelines."

I don't review books on Amazon since as both an author and a publisher, they don't allow it. Plus they might look more closely at my own books and start eliminating positive reviews. And leave the one-star reviews like "worst book I ever read."

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Amazon's review policy, it's always fun to discuss. Here's a few on WiDo books that have made me chuckle.

"I honestly can't remember this book at all even though I know I've read it. Here, Amazon, here's your review. Now you can stop asking me." (Predator Girl by S. B. Roozenboom)

"Hi I am going to the store with my family and my dog we need lots of dog food." (Arizona Guy by Raymond Spitzer)

"Maybe more stars if I were in my teens and I was a girl. Good story though." (Perilous by Tamara Hart Heiner)

"and one good looking author. I look forward to seeing more of your books, so keep it going. and I be reading." (Predator Girl by S. B. Roozenboom)

And another one clearly annoyed by Amazon's repeated requests to submit a review:

"Cannot give any good rating on this book as I didn,t finish reading because I thought it was boring." (Red-tailed Rescue by John Irby)

So on one hand you have Amazon begging people who have downloaded books to please, please, please, for the 40th time will you tell us how you liked it. And on the other hand Amazon takes off reviews from serious readers.

A thoughtful review comes down while a comment about going to buy dogfood stays up. I don't know about you, but regardless of where the discussion takes us, I'm amused by all this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tweaking a Book After Publication

My novel Lighting Candles in the Snow (WiDo Publishing, 2012) never sold as well as my other books, an understatement since it never did well AT ALL. Ever. It's the only one that dropped below a million ranking on Amazon Kindle and stayed there.

Finally, it came time to do a bit of tweaking. The ebook has a new cover, and the summary has been tweaked also.

Newly divorced Karoline London needs to heal and find her normal again, as older sister Suzie keeps reminding her. But what does Suzie, married to the ideal husband, know about the shattering effect of living with someone tormented by addictions? 

When Karoline meets a handsome new man, things just might be looking up. Until the day she learns about a tragic event in ex-husband Jeremy's childhood. 

Faced with the horrifying experience that shaped the man she used to love, Karoline reconsiders what she thought was real. In the process, she comes to know the true meaning of love and forgiveness.

My husband said, "As long as we're making changes, how about you take out some of the swearing?" He and I do not swear in real life. However, this book isn't about us. It's about a divorced couple, the divorce driven by a troubled man and what happened to make him who he is. There are characters in this book who do swear, although not that much since I toned it down. But in the world represented by my story, yes, there would be swearing.

Seriously, I don't believe that's what affected sales of this novel. I write different genres and each of my books has its own audience. The audience for Farm Girl will be different than the one for Lighting Candles in the Snow. And generally, those who read Candles gave positive reviews. My favorite is from an unknown reader: "my life is played out in her story. I'wonder how this woman can know enough about addiction? seems so very real. o hell it is real."

As I've stated on this blog, I write what I want and don't concern myself with genre. It may hurt book sales overall, but I don't worry about that. When a story idea comes to me, I go with it and let it come to life with the characters that show up. I don't turn any of them away, even if they swear.

I'd like to see this book get more attention. What do you think about the new cover? And any feedback on the summary? I'd love to know what you think. It's gone to WiDo's summary expert for review so may change again when he gets back to me, but please share your insights!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Karen Walker on Turning Negatives into Positives

Today I'm hosting my longtime blogging friend Karen Walker! I really connected with her memoir Listening to the Whispers, so I'm eager to read Karen's debut novel, The Wishing Steps.

Thank you Karen, for hosting me today.

If you’re a glass half empty kind of person like me, if that’s what comes naturally to you rather than seeing the glass half full, you tend to view things from a negative perspective. The problem with this is that it keeps us stuck feeling badly about ourselves and the people and world around us. So I’ve had to train myself to find the silver lining when the bad stuff happens. And the truth is, I’ve either learned something I needed to learn or some powerful insight was revealed, or whatever it was I thought I wanted or needed wasn’t really going to be good for me.

I’m here at Karen’s blog because I’ve written a novel, The Wishing Steps. I actually can’t believe I’m able to write that sentence and have it be the truth. I. WROTE. A. NOVEL. Okay, here’s the negative: Who do you think you are – you think you can write a novel? You’re a nonfiction writer. You can’t write fiction. You get the idea, right. These are the things I heard inside my head through most of the six years I was pulling this story out of the depths of my soul. Now, here’s the positive. I. WROTE. A. NOVEL. I did it. Despite the voices. Despite the doubts. Despite the fears. And here I am telling you about it.

After I completed the book, I decided I wanted to be published traditionally. Nice dream, yes? I knew in my heart of hearts that the likelihood of that happening was slim to none, but I needed to try. I don’t think I was being negative in that regard. Just realistic. Anyway, I heard back from one of the publishing companies that they wanted to read the manuscript. Yippee. I’d never gotten that far before. Days passed and I anxiously waited. Two readers from the company wrote critiques explaining why they thought the manuscript wasn’t okay. I was devastated. It validated all those voices I’d been hearing about my inability to write fiction.

But then I shifted into a peaceful, grounded, meditative state and read the critiques again. Both readers had read the book as if it was historical fiction and every criticism was related to why it didn’t work as historical fiction. Ahhhh! The book isn’t historical fiction and I’d neglected to say that. The positive which came from this experience is my writing an Author’s Note that appears at the beginning of the book which addresses the issues these readers had.

Life is difficult. We have moments of joy, perhaps even days or weeks. But then something happens to pull us off our center. I’m learning, one day at a time, to tune into my thoughts and feelings so that I’m not operating on automatic pilot. When I stay tuned in, I can catch those negative thoughts and shift them before they become stuck in me and I become stuck in the muck of negativity.

Now that my book is out in the world, I know there will be people who won’t like it, who will criticize it and perhaps me for having written such a book. All I know is that I was called to write it and I can’t allow other peoples’ opinions to make me feel bad about something that is so deeply meaningful to me.

 Here’s the scoop on The Wishing Steps, Three Women and a Single Story That Unites Them Across the Millennia

“Totally engrossing. A must-read for today’s wise woman!”Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin, minister/priestess
Brighid, Ashleen and Megan: Bound through time by a curious light, a mysterious voice and a call they dare not ignore. Yet in obeying this strange force, the women must face soul-searing trials that call into question everything they know and believe — about themselves and about the world around them.
“Guaranteed to inspire you to a deeper level of spirituality and a new appreciation for Goddess.”Rev. Clara Z. Alexander
Karen Helene Walker is a widely published essayist and author of the 2009 memoir, Following the Whispers. When she isn’t writing, you will often find Karen performing in nursing homes and retirement communities as part of the Sugartime or Sophisticated Ladies musical groups, traveling with her husband of 20 years, Gary, or relaxing with a good book at their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit the author’s website at
Author photo
The Wishing Steps is now available for purchase in both print and ebook versions at: You can also purchase it as an ebook on Kobo, I Tunes, and at Barnes and Noble.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Refined Art of Doing Nothing

My husband and I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to the US for a son's wedding. It was refreshing to see friends and family, rewarding to shop at Dillards for designer clothes at 65% off, fun to drive everywhere and pop in and out of convenience stores for 2 for 1 hot dogs and giant cups of fountain soda, exciting for my husband to realize he's still a master behind the wheel in traffic.

Back in Panajachel, we took a deep breath and slept like babies, wakened by the chorus of tropical birds welcoming the dawn. I easily and quickly fell back into the routine of my simple life:

Washing clothes by hand and hanging them on the line to dry.
Sipping hot water with lemon while seeing the sun play on the drifting curtains.
Watching the butterflies and hummingbirds taste our garden flowers.
Weaving my way among the honey bees to pick basil, glad I didn't get stung.

In the States we were constantly on the go, meaning "in the car". We bled money. We couldn't sleep longer than 5 or 6 hours a night. There was no time for naps. There was no time to do nothing.

Although happy to have enjoyed precious moments with loved ones, at the end of it we returned to Guatemala exhausted and broke.

It's good to be home.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Storming the Castle

I was asked to do a guest post for the IWSG website about submitting to a small press. Many writers seeking publication with a traditional publisher may not realize how many options are available for them beyond the Big 5.

And as I say in my post, "After many rejections, writers can feel like publishing companies are the enemy and their editors the army blocking entrance to the castle. In fact, editors want to open the castle gate and usher in the right person. Publishers don’t exist without writers and manuscripts but it needs to be a good fit."

To see the full post go here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Calm down Everyone, it's only the End of the Ebook Boom

If you're an author watching your ebook sales and rankings, you've no doubt noticed the decline and may be wondering what happened. It all relates to the ebook boom and its subsequent collapse. In order for something to go down, first it had to be up. And ebook sales were up, up and up.

When Amazon came out with the Kindle, customers not only bought it like crazy but downloaded books in huge quantities to fill their new devices with reading material. This led to the ebook boom of 2009, and it lasted about 2 years before things changed. What happened?

In 2011 and 2012, ebooks were being published as fast as people could write them, everyone wanting to get in on the big money. In 2013, the ebook market had become highly competitive, with new titles still flooding Amazon while readers had become more discriminating.

As a result of these two converging elements, sales dropped considerably. Also, during this time, Netflix and Amazon Prime with their streaming of movies and TV shows were growing larger, their offerings expanding as more people began live streaming entertainment, a strong competitive force to books and reading.

In 2014 and 2015, publishers who rode the ebook wave from 2009- 2012 and invested unwisely began closing up shop. Many writers have become discouraged because they aren't seeing strong sales, when the promise was so sweet only a few years ago.

Being sensitive artistic types, we tend to take it personally, thinking it's our fault for not marketing enough or not writing well in the first place. Some blame the publisher for not promoting, or for a weak cover, wrong pricing or any number of mistakes they imagine were made.

Poor sales are not your fault, not the publisher's fault, not even Amazon's fault, although you'll see numerous complaints about what Amazon has done to hurt ebook sales.

Don't look for someone to blame. It's simply the nature of the book publishing business reflected in ebooks. In the time it takes to write and publish a few new books, this market went crash and burn. Both publishers and writers have felt the pain.

For a couple glorious years when ebooks were new, high sales fueled high investment, and people were making money. Those who in the past wouldn't have sold many books, like the self-published selling not very good books for .99, and small publishers who normally struggled to break even, were surprised and astounded to discover a gold mine with books on the Kindle.

But like all bubbles this one had to burst, and it has. About the only entity not feeling the pinch is dear old Amazon. Besides their highly profitable self-publishing services, Amazon is also a traditional publisher with a dozen imprints. No matter which way the coin falls, they're prepared to win big in the book industry.

In addition, they've consistently pushed for lower ebook prices. I can't fault this thinking. For a few dollars a month, people stream unlimited entertainment into their homes, creating very strong competition for books. This explains Amazon's Kindle Select program, which offers the consumer unlimited ebooks for a monthly fee, similar to Netflix for movies.

The current lull in ebook sales is due to very real reasons. A million new books a year! All while Kindle owners are jaded, swamped with promotional notices, and no longer downloading free or bargain books in huge numbers. Everyone has become much more discriminating with what they download to their devices.

The bubble has burst. I'm not happy about it but I accept it. What to do next?

Believe in your talent. Believe in your work. Believe in the joy of writing and reading. But be extremely realistic about book sales, and try not to get discouraged when they don't happen like you hoped.

Also, in such a competitive arena, now is no time to give up on marketing!

 For me, if I hear about a book on Kindle Unlimited that looks interesting, I'll download it since I'm a member. If it's not on Kindle Unlimited, probably not. KU has been a huge selling point for me as a reader.

What kinds of promotions do you feel work best as an author or as a reader?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Writing and Wellness and My Darkest Moment

Author Colleen Story maintains one of the most helpful, informative writer websites I've seen. It's called Writing and Wellness, dealing with every kind of trouble we writers may experience from depression to writer's block to chronic back pain, along with a lot of positive encouragement too.

On Colleen's blog I regularly find inspiration, motivation, helpful publishing information, marketing tips, as well as that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you find another writer going through the exact same thing as you.

Colleen asks each writer she interviews about their darkest moment, which of course being a glass half empty kind of person, is my favorite paragraph to read. It's always hopeful to read about what miserable thing someone else has experienced and overcome.

This week I'm honored to be the featured writer on Writing and Wellness. I explain how blogging helped me get through my darkest moment. The link to my interview is here.

Speaking of darkest moments, today is the 14th anniversary of 9-11, the bombing of the Twin Towers, which for most of us alive now was the darkest moment in our nation's history. I suppose for the previous generation it would have been the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I do remember the assassination of President Kennedy, as I was 15 years old when it happened.

And then the Viet Nam War I remember also as a dark time in our nation, where US citizens screamed obscenities and spit on our returning Viet Nam war veterans. These young men were just kids who'd been drafted. It sickens me to think of that particular time in our nation during the late 1960s when our country was bitterly divided over a war.

Although 9-11 was a tragic event one of the good things that came of it was unity, although temporary, within the various political factions in our nation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG Post: Hello Followers, Do I Know You?

A lot has changed with blogging since I first began Coming Down the Mountain six years ago. I remember my first follower I didn't know from somewhere else-- Simon Kewin. I was totally amazed how this person found my blog from who knows where and decided to follow it. I still visit Simon's blog and have read several of his books. He's an amazing writer I discovered through blogging.

Many of my early friends are no longer active. It takes more work to get the same results as early on when blogging was new and exciting. Back then it was easy to get followers. You went out, followed people, commented on posts, they'd follow you back. This was a rush since it meant people were reading your posts and liked them enough to click the follow button.

When someone follows me I like when they also leave a comment, so I can identify them and follow back. Anyone who comments regularly on my blog, I add to the sidebar so I can quickly see when they've written a new post.

I feel bad if people follow me and I miss following them back. To me, it's common courtesy. Just like if someone comments on my posts and I neglect to return the favor. From childhood, my mother drilled the Golden Rule into me: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." That sums up my life (and blogging) philosophy.

I often wonder how well I'm keeping up with my idea of blogging etiquette. Do I follow everyone who follows me? Do I comment on bloggers who comment on my posts? I hope so.

If you follow or visit my blog and I never visit yours, please let me know in the comments, leaving your blog's URL, and I will remedy the oversight.

Is there anything about blogging you're anxious about? Or are you feeling carefree and on top of the world today?

This is the IWSG post for September.  Go here to find more IWSG posts!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No Rules

I appreciate all those who weighed in on my last IWSG post about the doubts concerning my blog and website. And also those who made comments on the previous post about my grandson's no punctuation masterpiece.

It reminded me again of what I already know: where creativity exists, there are no rules, no right or wrong way to express one's art. Except that the right way is to express it and the wrong way is block oneself due to fear of breaking some rule or making a mistake.

True joy comes from fearless creative expression, learning what works and what doesn't as you go, like this little guy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When a 10 year old writes a story with passion but no punctuation and you know if it was a school assignment he'd have gotten a bad grade but it's so good you want to give him a prize or at least publish it on your blog

We went to Bufallo Wild Wings and dad decided he wanted to do the wing challenge so asked if they still did it and they said yes so then they told the manager and he got this big red light like a siren but without the noise and he put it on the table then he got a microphone and all the speakers in the cafe were saying to find the red light and watch that table because my dad was doing the wing challenge. So my dad had to finish 12 wings (with bones) that had the spiciest sauce on them in under 6 minutes. So the guy hit a buzzer and dads time started the guy was watching our table the entire time but dad finished with a 5:53.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Insecure about my Website and Blog

I almost forgot about the Insecure Writer Wednesday post this month until I saw all the posts from others showing up. This is my favorite day of the month to go bloghopping. I find these IWSG the most real and interesting posts, and I don't like to miss any of them. You can sign up here.

Lately I've been feeling unsettled about this blog and my author website layout. I can't seem to get my book covers consistent or laid out properly. I get emails about people willing to "fix" my professional website to "reflect" my author image blah blah blah, but I'm really hesitant to pay money to someone for things Blogger and Wordpress make fairly easy to do yourself.

I guess if I just spent the time at it, I could figure it out. Blogger I know needs the covers a certain size. With Wordpress, the more I work on a page, the weirder it gets, and I'm afraid to do too much or I'll mess up what I have. Clearly I don't have the skills required to make my author website look "professional."

One day I'll figure out what to do. But that day has not yet come, and meanwhile my book covers are all weird sized and out of order. If you have any advice for me, I'll be happy to listen, even if it confuses me even more.

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Favorite Inspirational Writing Book

I have certain books I go back to again and again to get inspiration when my creative impulses seem to be buried under the tedium of daily routine. One of these is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938.

I downloaded it on my Kindle simply because it was free one time, and a book about writing. I really didn't expect it to be worth much, having been written 75 years ago when the world, and especially the writing and publishing world was so very different. I certainly didn't expect it to become my go-to little book when I need a kick in the pants to get back to working.

It's written in such a simple, flowy, free and easy style, it feels like you're sitting in one of her writing classes. And in between such obvious statements as "With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good. It has stretched your understanding" there are wonderful little gems like this: “The imagination needs moodling,--long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

Why do we need to idle and dawdle for long hours if we want to write? Because of this: "inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

It's a short book of just over 100 pages, filled with nuggets of wisdom that are so applicable to the stresses and strains we experience in our modern world, those things fighting against our creativity. I think this is why it has struck such a chord of familiarity with writers today who are joyfully rediscovering Ueland's book.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” --Brenda Ueland

What are your favorite inspirational books, writing or otherwise?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Joy in the Small Things

My daughter recently sent me a picture of the box of clothes she was getting rid of because, as she said, "wearing them no longer brings me joy."

I thought of the clothes I wear all the time that no longer bring me joy. Two pairs of pants I used to love but now have stains on the cuffs I can't get off. Shirts that don't quite fit me right or the colors are faded. A knit dress several years old that's now pilled. The list was quite long and disheartening.

These small imperfections I try to ignore because new clothes are hard to come by where I live in Guatemala, and I only go back to the States once a year. That's a long time to wait between shopping trips.

Then I began to think of other things that take up my time and energy which do not bring me joy. Not a lot, I must admit, because at my age I've learned how to bring joy into my life even with mundane tasks. But still, there are a few areas for improvement. Like the clothes.

Have you ever given up something when it no longer brought you joy?

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Information is Too Much?

In this age of information overload, how much online sharing is too much? As authors with books out, we understand the necessity of getting our name and work out there. People have to know about a book in order to buy it, and bookstores and libraries aren't where readers go anymore to discover new books and authors.

With millions of books out there, a physical bookstore can only hold a tiny fraction of them. Besides, what about the unknowns who have written good stuff just waiting to be discovered?

And thus we love Amazon with its unlimited shelf space, and the e-reader with its unlimited storage space.

Writers face this new frontier of book publishing with hopeful enthusiasm for the possibilities. Yet the problem of discoverability remains. With so many to choose from, how will anyone find your book?

We get on social media, figuring the more people know about us, the more we will sell. I wonder if this trend causes us to not only spread ourselves too thin but overshare in the process.

Image result for F. Scott fitzgerald photoRemember back in the far distant past when the mystique of the writer was part of the excitement of reading their stories? I used to wonder about the people who wrote my favorite books: what was their life like, how did they get their ideas, were they anything like the characters they wrote about? What kind of house did they live in? What was their favorite food? What did they look like beyond the author photo on the back?

We don't need to wonder any longer. It's all out there for the world to see. I know my life is. Read one of my books and want to know more? You'll find everything in a few clicks. This concerns me sometimes.
Not about my identity being stolen or being stalked by eager fans or having my picture taken without makeup. It's that I, who used to be such a private person hating anyone to know my business, now freely share so much of it online.

Blogging especially does this to a writer. You need a topic and there's your convenient daily life including pictures for variety. Besides, as writers, this is what we do. We write. And write. And write. We write about what we know, which is ourselves and our families and our activities, our good days and bad.

Seriously, there are times I'm tempted to delete my blog, wipe the slate clean and keep a nice, spare website with very little personal information. Do you ever feel that way?

But then reality hits. We no longer live in the day of author mystique. A writer who avoids social media might be diminishing the chance of success. So there we have it. The conflict between oversharing and the need to make oneself and one's work known on social media.

A few have found a nice balance between the two. Most have not. There's a well-known women's fiction author whose books I used to love, until I started following her Facebook fan page where she posts long, boring updates about her everyday routine. I can't get past the first sentence. Since I liked her on Facebook, I've had no desire to read any more of her books. Her Facebook oversharing has taken away my interest.

Do you think social media can hurt a writer more than help? 

How do you feel about oversharing with your own blogs or with others you've read? How much is too much? 

Think the pendulum will ever swing back toward writer mystique? I kinda wish it would, how about you?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What, I have to admit to being insecure?

I didn't realize how difficult it would be for me to come up for topics each month for the Insecure Writer's Posts. After all, insecurity and anxiety are a way of life for me and always have been.

My entire life-- at least since kindergarten when I told my mom if I got sick to not pray for me to get well since I wanted to die and not have to go to school--I've dealt with my fears in a specific way. By either denying they exist to take away their power, or facing them head on before they get me down.

So the first Wednesday of the month comes around and I think, What? I'm supposed to sit here calmly and confess to my insecurities all matter of factly, like it's some normal thing?

Honestly, Insecure Writer Wednesday freaks me out every time. It's like having to go to the dentist. Or to the doctor for a physical. I'm even anxious about getting a pedicure. What if they take too long? Ask too many personal questions? How much should I tip? What if I don't want to tip? And don't even mention when I need a hair cut.

I think about Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. She played the character brilliantly, an absolute mess of anxieties and insecurities and unreasonable fears. We all loved her and the role earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress while catapulting her career to superstar status.

If I could play insecure like Diane Keaton played Annie Hall, then it would be great. People would love me and take care of me and throw money at me and everyone would want to be my friend. Woody Allen is the same. He's so adorably neurotic people have been in love with him and throwing money at him for decades, even when he had an affair then married his adopted daughter.

"She was Mia's adopted daughter," he said, pushing up his glasses. Oh, right, people said, here's a million dollars.

When I feel anxious, I turn to stone. I freeze, most likely with a scowl on my face. If I do talk, it'll be something inappropriate blurted out at the wrong moment, making people back away. I can't do adorably intelligent neurotic like Diane Keaton or Woody Allen. My insecure is "Whoa, what's wrong with this woman??"

So well, it's the first Wednesday of the month, la di da, la, la, la di da, well, let's's my granddaughter...

She looks a lot like me at that age except she's afraid of nothing and everyone loves her and wants to take care of her and be her friend. I bet she's going to love kindergarten.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Down With Conformity

I came of age in the Sixties when conformity was a bad word. Everyone wanted to be different, to act different, to rebel. I did my own share of rebelling to be sure, but I never did drugs.

When I got to college and went to a few parties and saw unpleasant results of alcohol, I stopped drinking and stopped going places where people would be drinking.

When I transferred to the University of Illinois my sophomore year, drugs were hitting campus big time and what I noticed was that the people who seemed most against conformity were all looking and acting and thinking exactly alike.

Rebellion had become the new conformity. It made me turn away from rebellion and become my own kind of non-conformist.

I see this happening everywhere in our world today. People are afraid to express an opinion that differs from what's socially and politically acceptable. If you do, things can get ugly. You get called names like racist, homophobic, religious nut case, far right Republican, a bigot, intolerant.

I am none of those things, yet I have my own thoughts about issues, and I will rarely express them because if I'm not conforming to the politically correct view, then I'm something ugly.

What ever happened to free speech? What ever happened to a thinking society and open discussion of issues? It's like we're going backward in time to a society crippled by prejudice and fear and strict conformity.

I am so tired of the name-calling, the hostility, the ranting back and forth. People are unfollowing and unfriending on social media, and probably in real life, when they find out their friends have the "wrong" political ideas. Did you know in Hollywood there are closet Republicans? People afraid to be found out for their political and religious beliefs for fear of losing their jobs.

I don't care what side you're on politically, just stop it. Everyone should just stop it.

By the way, in case you think you know my views and can categorize me, you're wrong. I have a gay son and I'm very happy he is with such a fine person as his partner. I know neither of them chose to be the way they are, and I wish them all the happiness that is possible to them in this world. But marriage? Marriage is ordained of God and is between a man and a woman.

Let the name calling and unfollowing begin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rainy Season

While many of you in the U.S. are feeling the heat and drought conditions, in Guatemala we are deep into the rainy season. In the morning it is sunny and everyone is outdoors before the clouds come and the rain hits.

Gotta do laundry and hang it out to dry.

Gotta walk to the market before the water is pouring down the middle of the streets.

Gotta just get out and feel the sun on your skin.

Later in the day when it's pouring rain, wifi can get spotty. Sometimes the electricity goes off altogether.

If it gets cold and dreary, I've got a supply of wood ready for the fireplace.

It's nearly impossible to go all through the rainy season without getting caught in a downpour without an umbrella. When that happens, people stand inside stores or under shelter, watching for a tuk tuk, or just waiting for it to lessen a bit.

One of the best rains happened last year when we were at the hotel. It was evening, the electricity went out, it was dark. We stood on the balcony and watched the rain filling up the street as the parking lot across the way turned into a flood.

The main street of Panajachel during a light rain:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Deciding What to Write

As a writer, figuring out what project to work on next is part of the job. As a blogger, wondering what to post can be puzzling. Blogging is personal, and posts with heart are what appeal to me. I appreciate those who share something of themselves: things they're going through, insights, ideas, successes and failures, ways they've changed.

Writing books is not as spontaneous as blog writing. There's a form for each genre which must be respected. A book is a lengthy enterprise, not to be dashed off in a spurt of inspiration. Maybe the first draft can be written like that, but to achieve a professionally finished work, the spurts of inspiration must be supplemented with hours and hours of sometimes perplexing drudgery.

This is why I only write the book I want to write. Whether it's marketable or popular isn't a consideration, at least not in the early stages. John Truby in The Anatomy of Story, says to "write the story that will change your life."

As I look back on my six published books, I realize each one of them fit this principle. Each one was important for me to write at that particular time, and the writing of it changed my life in a significant way. When I hear from a reader, or see a review that shows me my book also changed a reader's life in a significant way, it means more to me than all the royalties in the world.

One of my absolute favorite reviews on House of Diamonds exemplifies exactly what I mean:


 "As a reader who is struggling to start a family this story was my worst fears put to paper. But it reminded me also of the love of a being more powerful than all who does what is best for us whether we see it or not. It was honestly what I needed to read to put my current struggles in perspective and I recommend it to anyone who feels they can't deal with their struggles. Thank you Ms. Gowen for writing this book, it was just what I needed to read."

Recently I've been struggling with what to write next. At first I was doing the third book in my Diamond series. After all, it's been four years since the second, House of Diamonds, came out. And it is supposed to be a Mormon Family Saga. What kind of saga only has two books in it?

Despite it making perfect sense for me to write that next Diamond novel, I just couldn't do it. I finally put the rough draft away for another time. Apparently this isn't the story to change my life at the moment. Whenever I worked on it, I'd get upset, revisiting a time in our family's experience I was not ready to face. I want so badly to write that book but right now I just can't.

Instead I'm eagerly working on something else. That's my clue I'm on the right track--how I'm excited when I think about it, getting ideas, looking forward to my writing time, jotting things down in a notebook when I'm not at my computer.

As writers, we think a lot about sales and marketing. We have to as part of the job. But maybe we should be considering what means so much more than money: changing a life. Especially one's own.

And if in the process our work changes someone else's life for the better, then we have truly done a fine job.

"Every story I write creates me. I write to create myself." 
--Octavia E. Butler

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Insecure about Twitter?

For my Insecure Writer (IWSG) post this month I choose Twitter. I've been insecure about how to utilize it in the past and have tried different methods and approaches. In fact, I've reinvented myself on Twitter numerous times.

I've at last come to the conclusion: There is no one right way or wrong way to use Twitter. All those rules you see about Ten things not to do on Twitter! You can bet someone is doing every one of them and highly successful while breaking all the "rules."

Like all social media, a Twitter account needs a purpose, a focus for the activity, and it must be enjoyable or why bother. Set your own rules. Mine are that I don't RT any tweets with sex or profanity, just plain creepy, or what I deem inappropriate. Regardless of what anyone else does, these are my personal boundaries as I fill my timeline with the cleverness of others.

I'll tweet the occasional book link, a Goodreads review, or a good article related to writing or publishing, but more often I'm tweeting and retweeting pithy comments about life in general. It's a word game for me. How clever can one be in 140 characters or less? Some of the best tweets are only a few words long and one reason why I find Twitter to be a challenging and enjoyable word game.

Do you ever see those accounts with 50K followers and wonder how they got them? One of my Twitter friends, has an excellent formula. In Gen's words: "Small accounts would be big accounts if they understood that all they have to do is write one decent or indecent) tweet a day and retweet."

That's the secret right there. Retweet and star the good stuff (believe me, it's easy to find with all the  cleverness out there) and then you put one decent tweet of your own out each day. It shows you're in the game and know how to play, and like-minded people will follow you, RT and star you, and it turns into a lot of fun.

This is how I'm playing Twitter right now. Bottom line: there's no need to be insecure about Twitter! It's fun, it's easy and it's fast, making it a very effective social media tool. Find your niche, set your boundaries then tweet away!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Paying for Publicity and Book Promotion

I came across a post today on Book Marketing Buzz titled "Why You Need $10,000 to Promote Your Book" , and I had to click over to see if he was joking. I follow this blog and enjoy many of the posts related to book promotion and updates in publishing trends. But this post shocked and surprised me.

For one thing, very few writers have this kind of money to use on marketing a single book. This is why we're using social media to such an extend, because it's free. And it can be a very effective way to get our names and work noticed while having fun too.

Another thing, there are absolutely no guarantees that any kind of marketing program will bring sales to match. I hired an advertising person when Farm Girl first came out and the one thing she said, and what every professional marketer will tell you, is this: We can promote for you but we cannot guarantee results. 

The subtle warning is, "Let me tell you up front you might be throwing your money away. Are you okay with that?"

At WiDo Publishing, there are books that have been highly promoted by the authors and still don't sell very well. On the other hand, we've seen instances where an author has done very little beyond write and then sit back, not even writing anything else for years if at all, yet this one book will take off and sell consistently month after month.

Throwing money at a product will not guarantee success. If it were so, the big publishers would be spending a specific amount on each one they publish to create bestsellers. All a publisher or a writer can do is put the work out there and go through their promotional plan, whatever that happens to be, and then hope it catches on with the reading audience.

There's no explaining which books at WiDo have been top sellers and which ones have not. It hasn't come down to promotional dollars or advertising or marketing savvy. In the end, it comes down to whether the reading public connects with the book. And this can be a mysterious blend of ingredients involving timing, genre, promotional efforts that hit their mark, cover, price, summary, what's going on in the world at large--you name it.

There are awful books out there that catch on (Gone Girl cough cough, 50 Shades of Gray cough cough) and excellent ones that never go anywhere. A high-powered advertising budget isn't going to determine or create a bestseller.

But what do you think? Do you feel if only a publisher or writer does enough marketing or spends enough money, a book will sell?

While you're thinking about it, let me do my own plug on my cookbook, Farm Girl Country Cooking: Hearty Meals for the Active Family, which is free for a short time on Kindle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Blogging Burnout Anyone?

Today is the post day for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and although I'm not real clear on what I'm feeling insecure about today more than any other day, I do like to hop around and visit other blog posts. This is my favorite day of the month to go blog hopping, because the IWSG posts tend to be sincere and heart-felt.

As for me, I'm burnt out from posting daily for April. I kept up with writing my posts but didn't seem to find time to go visiting others on the list. This is a shame since it's part of signing up.

Pretty sure it's my last year to do the A to Z Challenge. I've participated each time since Arlee Bird initiated it, one year with two blogs at once. Two years in a row I've posted on Guatemala, last year as a new resident, this time with things a tourist might enjoy. Three times would be too much and besides, I think I'm done with heavy-duty blogging responsibilities like that.

Having cut back on blogging during the previous couple years, I'll probably continue in that vein, posting only two or three times a month. This works for me, keeping me in the loop without creating too much pressure.

I'm not really insecure about my blog since I've been moving in this direction for awhile and it feels right for me. But after five years of blogging and promoting blogging and some years even spending 20 hours a week on it, it feels weird to finally accept and acknowledge and even embrace entering a more low-key phase with it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Location of Zarahemla and the Waters of Mormon

For my Z post last year I wrote about Zarahemla, a key city and land written about in the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ and companion to the Holy Bible.

People often question the location of this ancient city in the American continent, and wonder where Zarahemla could be.

I'm borrowing my Z post from last year's Challenge,  Where is Zarahemla and Does it Matter, and changing it up a bit to connect it with another interesting Book of Mormon geographical location--the Waters of Mormon.

The Waters of Mormon were a short distance from the City of Lehi-Nephi. The prophet Alma and his people left Lehi-Nephi under duress and persecution from King Noah.

Escaping to the forest in the borders of the land, the people gathered at a body of water called the Waters of Mormon. Here Alma taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ and baptized them in His name.

The group then traveled from this location for eight days, and stayed for a time in a valley they named Helam. Another twelve days journey from Helam took them to the City of Zarahemla.

For a group of people to walk or ride in wagons pulled by animals-- (we don't know what their transportation was so this is an assumption, using the way large groups of people traveled across the Western plains in the U.S. before gasoline-fueled vehicles)-- it would take about 20 days to travel from the Waters of Mormon to the City of Zarahemla. This is geographical background that can be helpful if one is wondering about the location of these two Book of Mormon places.

Now, where might the Waters of Mormon be located?

To the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints native to Central America, it is not a question. They are convinced the Waters of Mormon are one and the same with Lake Atitlan. At the time of Alma, the Waters of Mormon are described as containing "a beautiful fountain of pure water” (Mosiah 18:4-6) where the people entered and were baptized by immersion. For this reason, it became a sacred place to the people and the church of Jesus Christ at the time.

Currently Lake Atitlan is a huge land-locked body of water much larger than how the original Waters of Mormon are described. However, the lake has a life-giving spring that bubbles up from the center, and because there's no drainage, the rains fill it up each year as the level continues to rise, rise, rise.

In addition to the spring, there is the legend of the Xocomil, the wind that blows across Lake Atitlan and carries away sins. These two elements would seem to validate the idea that Lake Atitlan is indeed the original location of the Waters of Mormon. And if so, it isn't too difficult to ascertain the approximate location of our Z letter, Zarahemla.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Young and Old

I think I'm most fascinated by the very young and the very old people of the Mayans, although seriously they all are beautiful to me...

The school kids with their fresh happy faces, looking so healthy and energetic

The fathers who watch over everyone in their family
The mothers who quietly go about their work, usually with a child close to them

The farmers in the fields, or out selling their wares

The older brother or sister walking with a youngster, holding a cloth over the little one's head to protect him from the sun.

I have images of all these in my mind if not on my camera. Most likely not on my camera since I respect the people too much to be sticking a camera in their faces without permission, as tempted as I am to do so.

But the very young, the babies held close to their mothers, peeking out at the world with their round beautiful faces and bright clear eyes...oh how I love to see them!

And the very old, bent over, often barefoot, trudging up the hill carrying a load of some kind or pushing a cart.

Once there was a tiny, wrinkled old woman who must have been 80, with a strap around her forehead that held a huge bag of firewood, all of which had to weigh much more than she did.

The very young and the very old of the Mayans are among the most beautiful people I have ever seen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


There's a wind that blows across Lake Atitlan and it has a name, Xocomil, pronounced "Sho-ko-meel". Like many traditions and legends in this area, the Xocomil has sacred origins. I'm going to talk about those further in my "Z" post, as they are connected.

The indigenous people have a belief that when the wind blows across Lake Atitlan, it takes away their sins. This is part of the fascinating story I'll discuss in my last post of the A to Z Challenge.

We are almost done!!! Only 2 more letters to go....

I'll leave you with a picture of Lake Atitlan, with the clouds gathering to bring Xocomil across the water in the late afternoon to carry away our sins.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What's the Weather Like in Guatemala?

A young man from Costa Rica said Panajachel was too cold. If you are wanting a very hot, tropical climate when you come, you may be disappointed. Be sure to throw in a sweater to go with your shorts and flip flops.

Guatemala has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season--December to May-- is sunny and warm during the day but can get cool in the evenings. The Lake Atitlan region is at an elevation of up to 5000 ft, and the higher up areas can get quite cool. Also, there's no central heating in hotels, homes and restaurants, nor air conditioning either. I suggest bringing something warm for sleeping, in case the bedding at your hotel isn't sufficient.

During the day, it can get hot as you walk around town, and that's when layering works best. A jacket or sweater for cool mornings can be shed during the day and put in your backpack, ready for sunset. I like to put in my flip flops too, in case my feet get too hot in shoes.

If your eyes are sensitive to the sun, bring a couple pairs of sunglasses. I'm never without mine. Buying them locally can be pricey, as it's one of those "the tourists will pay for them" items.

In the rainy season-- May through November-- the time to go out is in the mornings when the sun is shining. Take an umbrella in case you get caught in the rain which nearly always starts by 1 or 2 pm.

That's when I like to be home next to my fireplace, with plenty of dry wood nearby.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Guatemala is a country the size of Ohio, and it has close to 100 active volcanoes. It's not like they're going off all the time. I'm not afraid of them either. It's like the earthquakes in California or the tornadoes in Illinois-- it's a part of life that may or may not affect you, and it's pointless to worry over it.

The volcanoes make beautiful settings for pictures, whether clouded in mist or silhouetted by the sunset.

One did erupt near Antigua, which is just south of Guatemala City. But it wasn't like the City of Pompeii or anything. There were evacuations due to ash in the air and a lot of heavy cleaning after. Definitely some excitement when a volcano erupts, and of course danger too.

But anywhere you live will have its natural disaster waiting to happen, whether its earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, drought or the eruption of the nearest volcano. We have our 3 day emergency kit ready, just in case.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Unique place to visit

There are so many reasons I'd recommend people come and visit Guatemala. I remember when our son in law first told us about it, I thought "I'll never go there." I was afraid to travel out of the country, and especially afraid of anywhere in Central America. The horror stories one hears, you on TV and in the movies. Once we'd arrived I couldn't believe how comfortable and safe I felt.

When one decides to visit another country it's usually for something specific, like food or scenery or shopping or perhaps family who lives there. Guatemala has all of these things, and if you're related to me, there's even family!

To me, the most unique element and what you hear visitors mention over and over, is the people. The people of Guatemala are what make this place beloved to me. They are generally hard-working, spiritual, family-oriented, happy and exceedingly friendly.

I truly enjoy living among them. If for no other reason, come visit Guatemala, and especially the Lake Atitlan region, for the people.

When my little granddaughter lived here with her parents for six months, she too felt comfortable and safe among the people of Guatemala. Here she is photo bombing a group picture. She jumped right in and when her mom tried to get her out of the shot, they said, "Oh, no, let her stay and be in the picture." How can you not love people like this???

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Transportation once you're here

There are several ways to get from Guatemala City to Panajachel, most common for tourists being the shuttle vans. Usually your hotel will line this up for you. Once you're here, shuttle vans can take you to other areas of Central America as well. Along the street are many places listing times and places and prices.

Within Panajachel the easiest way to get around is on foot, but if you are carrying a load or just tired of walking you can flag down a taxi, or tuk tuk. They're everywhere and cost only 5 quetzales, or about 75 cents U.S., to get anywhere inside town. This is per person, so if there are 2 or 3 of you together, you can add up the cost. It's good to know in advance since if you're obvious tourists, the tuk tuk driver may double the price.

Our hotel provides free bicycles to guests, and although I'm nervous about riding a bike on these crowded streets, this is the main form of transportation for local families. As in the US, a husband and wife will each have their own car, in Pana they'll each have their own bike, some equipped with extra seats for carrying a child or two.

And there is the ever present chicken bus, the best way to get to Solola or other places inland. It's only 3 quetzales to go one way to Solola, a larger town than Panajachel. Many residents go on Friday when Solola has their big market day.

 For all the villages around the lake, there's the extensive water taxi system. This is more expensive than a chicken bus, costing 25 quetzales per person to cross the lake.

The middle class residents will have a car or motorcycles. Personally, I'm happy just to walk, with the occasional tuk tuk or bus ride.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoe Shine Boys

Kids in Panajachel go to school half days, either in the morning or afternoon, with many of them working when they aren't in school. They'll help their parents at home or with their businesses, or they might even have their own little enterprise.

One of these is shining shoes. I've never seen girls with shoe shine kits, only boys, around the ages of 7 to 14. They do an amazing job of it, too. Sometimes several work together, one doing the shining while the others seek out customers.

My husband has always shined his shoes every week for Sunday and taught our boys how to do it as well, but now he's happy to pay a little kid to do it for him. The charge is about five quetzales, or 75 cents U.S, but they do such a good job cleaning and polishing, most people will give them more. Bruce usually pays 10 or 20 quetzales for a shine.

One afternoon when we were relaxing at an outdoor table eating lunch, this shoe shine boy came and asked Bruce if he needed a shine. He didn't, but the kid looked so forlorn and hungry, I offered him a sandwich and the rest of our big bag of Cheetos. He ate the Cheetos and half the sandwich, wrapping up the rest for later, or maybe for a little brother at home, then he just sat there quietly on his little shoeshine box keeping us company.

He showed us his shoes, how they were coming apart at the soles, and I saw they were too large for him besides. But you can see how nicely shined they are! I gave him 20 quetzales for a photo, figuring this could take care of my S post. He's putting his shoe on his kit to demonstrate how he gives a shine to a customer.

Many of the children who work in town don't get a lot to eat. This little boy is 14 but looks a lot younger. I was glad he came around while we were eating so I could share our lunch with him. There are many hungry people in this area, and although we can't feed everyone, I decided early on that when I had an opportunity I'd share what I could.

If you come to Panajachel, you'll be approached numerous times by shoe shine boys. They'll polish and shine a leather purse for the ladies, too. It can be a nuisance how they always come up to you on the street, but just remember, they're working for a living, not begging, and the little they ask for the job they do goes a long way in helping out them and their families.