Some Amazing Reviews of All This Time!

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“Stunning!  Exhilarating!  Vibrant!  I was privileged to read this book on Memorial Day weekend, and it was quite fitting.

Tiffani Burnett-Velez reaches right in to the core of all of the mangled emotions that stir inside both; the Service Members and the families that await their return, as our US military serves time in battle over in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I read this story with my mouth agape, I bet you will, too.” From Annie at Chick Lit Plus. Read more here…

“All This Time by Tiffani Burnett-Velez was a great story.  I can’t say enough things about this book because it is in the genre of books that I love the most.  I also loved this book because it brings issues that people are dealing with in our country and brings attention to them.” From Margaret at The World as I See It. Read more here…

What Am I?

There’s a scene in Erin Brokovich where one of the women who’s suffered terribly from cancer asks, “Are you still a woman if you have no breasts or a uterus?” She had a radical mastectomy and a hysterectomy, because the toxins in her drinking water caused breast and ovarian cancer. I’m having my 10th surgery on Friday, and I’m wondering a similar thing.

Now, my surgery is simple in comparison to other other surgeries I’ve had, and it’s not as serious, but I’ll be sick and swollen and deformed, once again, for a week or so, and I get tired of this. Yesterday was a good hair day, and my generally pasty skin looked a little sunburnt. This is an improvement over my usual look, so it pained my heart a bit to know that I’m getting part of my jaw removed and replaced with grafted bone on Friday. It certainly won’t matter if I have a good hair day then. My head will be the size of the faded orange basketball that my son leaves laying the yard and my eyes will be little purple black slits in the center of a serious ugly.

My scoop neck t-shirts sit funny on my shoulders now that I’ve had the thymectomy. I have to take hormones for the rest of my life due to the hysterectomy I had at 36, the one that stopped the ovarian cancer just in thinking stages, when the cells were only threatening to start looking funny. But lots of women in my family have had it. Some have died. I had to do it. I’m alive. That’s good. Very good. But without the hormones, I’m as tired as an old lady and can’t think to drive. At least, we don’t really need our thymus glands, so say the professionals. I haven’t really missed it, and I think it’s nice that I didn’t get the thymic cancer that was already forming. Sometimes, I wonder what the heck is wrong with me? Did I drink bad water when I was growing up in heavily pest-controlled California fruit country? I mean, who has all of this in one lifetime without some sort of chemical push?

And then there were all the kidney surgeries, and let me tell you, they were the worst, because when you have to walk around with a semi-flexible rod coiled inside your kidney, it makes the many stones seem like minor lower back strain. But I’ve been pretty much stone free for a year, so that’s  something and I didn’t need the transplant that the nephrologist was threatening because of all the scar tissue. And I haven’t had a respiratory collapse in many years, thanks to the thymectomy. So, no need for ventilators. I still use the cane quite often, but I haven’t needed the wheelchair in forever. I just save it for more athletic friends who have knee surgeries from all their heroic 5Ks and such.

I will never get ovarian cancer, and my chance of breast cancer is less than 3% now, so I just throw the stupid mammogram slip away each year. Please. One more scan, blood test, EMG, EEG, EKG, MRI, laparoscopic surgery? No thanks. But if I don’t have Friday’s surgery, my jaw will literally rot. Probably soon, too, because like a moron I’ve ignored the problem for 15 years. Surgeries can sometimes not be avoided. I hang my head and go to the store for bucket loads of chocolate pudding.

Someone called me an “ugly doll” this week. Not directly. Only indirectly, of course, but I understand the point. It’s assumed that I sit around in bad pants and sweaty coffee stained t-shirts, because I’m a writer. Well, I have a Southern mother, so I, at least, wear nice shirts (that hang funny now). It’s true that I don’t brush my hair every day. I’m a lazy turd where such things are concerned.  And while catching a glance of myself in the mirror last night (something I rarely do, because I don’t think about my appearance too often. No time) I thought, “That’s definitely not right. I haven’t been doll sized in decades. Since the first grade when I got the chicken pox. It goes back, at least, that far.”

I’m almost 5’8″, and I was known as “Big Tiff” in the 5th grade, because I towered over all the pretty little Mexican girls in my southern California elementary school, with my big East German olympic swimmer shoulders and my broken Indian nose. It’s true, I’m almost .25% Choctaw, and my nose has been broken four times. I have my tanned grandfather’s nose, only broken and pushed to the right. And, just like him, there’s nothing doll like about me. I have big bones and a giant head. And come Friday, I’ll look a Viking who’s just lost a horrendous bar fight, I suppose, like the Okie I am. People are always saying insulting things about Okies in novels. It perplexes me, because I’m proud of my Oklahoma heritage, and I think that makes me even more accurately named “Big Tiff”. It sounds like the name someone might give an F5 tornado or a clumsy mud wrestler. I could picture myself surviving either horrible situation.

So, I’m grateful for the surgery that’s going to replace my rotting honky-tonk jaw, but I’m also not looking forward to the many days of bruising and terrifying accidental glances in the mirror. I know I’ll scream and it will sound like a Sasquatch mating. And this 10th surgery since 2002 begs the question, if you don’t have a uterus, normal kidneys, a thymus gland, tonsils, or part of your jaw, and several other surgeries I’m just not interested in talking about, are you going to morph into some sort of cyborg – whatever that is?

I really do wonder about what an 80 year old me will look like, if I live that long. Good grief. I’m tempted to make 2016’s New Year’s resolution – AVOID SURGERY! But on January 2014, I wrote GOOD HEALTH THIS YEAR! and 10 minutes later I was being rushed to the hospital for a kidney stone. So, I’m just going to pretend that all of this is normal, and should anyone shockingly spy my appearance on Friday afternoon, I’m going to say (through a bloody, drooling, mouthful of cotton gauze), “I meant to do this.” Maybe they’ll think I just had Botox like the rich white ladies who live far away from my farm country neighborhood.

For the Love of God and Dogs

Tiffani Burnett-Velez

Tiffani Burnett-Velez

And, it happened again. Just as soon as I was finding my legs after a horrible week of backlash, because I gave a simple, stupid Pro/Con list on a blog that approximately 7 people cared about,  I found that a truly horrible person had connected my blog site with a rant about how I couldn’t possibly have written 36 articles in a week, owned a small press some time ago, went to college, or did whatever the heck she thinks I’m incapable of doing. She took the time to mock my children and my husband, and my generally, good life as well. I don’t know where her hatred comes from. It baffles me and put me in a fog all day. I’m a pretty tough person, but this person’s venom really has me wondering why in the world I write publicly at all. In private, the words come out so much more easily. There are no judges. There is only me. Public opinion is certainly not worth the effort. Only the stories matter. Hemingway is shelter (see last post). Life is too short, as well. I spent the night in the ER with a friend and I will have surgery this Friday. I have a neuromuscular disease that takes away whole hours of my day, weeks of my month. I certainly do not have time for this kind of weird anger.

So, I’m taking a break off from writing novels for a time. I will definitely continue ghost writing countless articles a week for various businesses and websites (even though, I guess, that’s a seriously strange thing to believe), and I will take pride in the small press that I once ran and the novels I have had published (however many sales or not), but I’m pretty well burnt on the writing community. For now, I’m disappearing as Tiffani Burnett-Velez the Novelist and will remain just Hey You, the nerdy girl with the Civil War book in her hand. This should make the hate-filled person swell with pride enough that maybe she’ll go far away back into her corner where the Mean Girls sit, and I will find comfort in my porch swing and just writing essays about religion and Labradoodles again. It’s where all great thoughts come from anyway-for the love of God and dogs.

Blessings, all.

All The Best Wishes

I’ve been writing since I could first hold a pencil, but first published pieces weren’t until 1996. I still have the t-shirt my first magazine sent me after they loved the piece so much that they felt guilty for not paying more. I wear the t-shirt, on which is written Pennsylvania Magazine, when I go hiking at Hawk Mountain, a jagged edge of the Blue Mountain and one of the highest peaks in PA, about an hour from my house.

The shirt is not the kind of thing I’d normally wear. I would have never bought it at a store. It’s literally a rectangle, and I have shape, a woman’s shape, so I have to tuck it in and fold up the sleeves like my mother did to her t-shirts in the 1980’s. I don’t like having to do this, but the material is so thick, it’s the only way to make it cooler in the drippy humid Pennsylvania summer. Even a fraction longer on the arm, and I would feel like I was wearing a sweater.

But it lasts like no shirt I’ve ever owned, and it’s impossible to wear out. I’ve had to figure out ways to make it work, but somehow, it always feels great when I put it on. I do it once a year when I go on a hike, a hard hike. It reminds me that I am something, that my writing career is a very similar sort of gift, a wrangled one that has to be fitted and refitted, but one that is durable and made of the highest kind of thread count – real stuff, solid shape.

The year before I got that t-shirt, I printed out my favorite writer’s signature and taped it to the top of my old PC. All the best wishes, Ernest Hemingway. I pretended he was talking to me, wishing me the best on a well practiced discipline and a sliver of talent, that thing that showed up in first grade and was the only reason I was allowed to remain in my tightly wound Catholic school.

And my favorite writer gave me back a few wonderful gifts in return for summoning his presence. He left a host of brilliantly written novels that I will study for the rest of my life and the idea that “one true sentence” is the best place to begin writing anything of value. One of the great things about the masters is that they teach long after they are gone. I don’t just read Hemingway, I hear him, and I try to hear him well. Sometimes I fail. Already, I have read places in this essay where I probably have. Less is more. Discovering that we share a birthday was the added bonus. Now, every July 21st, I celebrate for both of us. It’s our day, whatever that means, and I sit on my porch swing and I wonder what he’d have been like if he had not taken his own life. What would a 115 year old Ernest Hemingway be like? What was he trying to say in The Sun Also Rises? I imagine he’d say, Keep going. Don’t stop the hard work. He was always talking about embracing the hardest parts of writing and straightening up to them like a bull ready to charge. Hold out the red cape. Let him come at you, and if he gets you, do it again, and if he misses and even if the crowd cheers you wildly, do it again.

A t-shirt and a faded print out of a dead writer’s signature. These two things have sustained me many times when nothing else could. Before there were paid writing gigs, there was determination and a hope. If he can work that hard, I can work that hard. If I make a good showing, something will come of it. And then I put on the t-shirt once a year and go for a hard hike, one that reminds me of writing, because it always starts out so easy and beautiful and the breeze is soft and cool and the water bottle is still full. And then the hill gets rockier and steeper and the only thing I can do to keep from turning back, is to pause briefly at how far I have come. I can’t concentrate on how far I must go, and I can’t veer off on a trail that might look as though it’s an easier route, because no route is easier if it’s really going to lead to the mountain top, to the peak where the eagles like to nest and the red tailed hawks meet you eye to eye. This is true at Hawk Mountain and it is true with writing. So, I carry on, taking rests and sometimes looking for a short cut, but quickly realizing that it’s not going to work that way.

Where writing and hiking differ is when stones are thrown. That’s never happened to me on the hiking trail. I’ve met up with rattlesnakes and beehives, and I’m deathly allergic, so both are scary. I’ve been tripped and I’ve had my legs give way from overuse of my already diseased and weakened muscles, but I’ve never turned back on those hikes that mean something to me, and all of them do. I’ve only abandoned unmarked routes leading away from the intended path, no matter how many people have encouraged me that this was not exactly what was planned, but that it “might still work”. It doesn’t work for me. It’s not the path. While hiking, I always think of writing.

Since Monday, I have written 36 articles, edited two beautiful essays by emerging young writers, worked on rewriting 90% of a doctor’s website, scrubbing it of all the previously plagiarized pieces created by the last writer. I spoke extensively with a new client about helping him maintain the written memory of his young boy whose life was snuffed out by evil before he even made it to kindergarten, and I was paid for all of it, and, yet, I was called a hack this week by a few people who claimed I don’t know the value of hard work or what the writing life is like, because I have an opinion that I’m not ashamed of. Some openly stated that I simply didn’t have what it takes to be “in it for the long haul.” Well, I’m no Ernest Hemingway. I’m not even as prolific and talented as hundred other writers I can think right now, this minute. But, I’m pretty sure I understand the long haul. I wrote my first published article in 1996. I printed out All the best wishes in 2000. I put on the Pennsylvania Magazine t-shirt for the first time in 2002.

Three novels later, thousands of articles in hundreds of magazines and newspapers in the US and Europe, a small press ownership, a senior editing position at literary magazine, a myriad of assistant editing positions at several more, a teaching career, a bachelor’s degree, a masters degree, an MFA journey…I’m pretty sure I know what a long haul is, and so to the off shoot trails and the stone throwers I say…

All The Best Wishes,

Tiffani Burnett-Velez

ernest_moveable feast

My Year With Booktrope

A lot of writer pals said they were going to “follow closely” my journey with Booktrope. From the minute I was accepted there, I was told, “I’m curious to see how this unfolds for you.” And, I promised that I would relay back to everyone how it was going once I reached the one year mark, and this is where I am now. So, here are the pros and cons, and here is how my experience has been:

PRO: Booktrope is NOT self-publishing. CON: I made more with my self-published book on Kindle this year, like 200 times as much, with a fraction of the marketing and no team behind me.

PRO: Booktrope is NOT self-publishing CON: You still have to do most of the work yourself, without an advance (just as with self-publishing), and you’re just as tired at the end of the day.

PRO: If you’re a decent writer, Booktrope will give your book a chance. CON: If you’re a crappy writer, Booktrope will give your book a chance.

PRO: Booktrope is a family. CON: Booktrope is a family, but sometimes, you really just need them to be a publisher.

PRO: Booktrope is a nice place for your book to find new life or get its first legs. If you find a supportive team there, it can do a world of good for your tender writer skin. CON: I don’t have tender writer skin, so sometimes I don’t need all the instruction that, say, a new writer would. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I still get loads of info and instruction from the community that I really don’t always need.

PRO: I’ve made awesome friends! On great Facebook days, it’s like I’m at the world’s best writer’s conference. CON: I want to move past the conference.

PRO: I’ve sold eight books since March 12th. CON: I’ve sold eight books since March 12th, and yet, my Book Manager works her butt off to sell my book.

PRO: My Book Manager works her butt off to sell my book by getting me a ton of great reviews from wonderful book bloggers and reviewers. CON: All the book bloggers and reviewers get a free copy of my book, so…I’ve only sold eight books since March 12th.

PRO: If you have a day job, Booktrope is one of the best publishing options on the market today! CON: If your day job is writing novels, you will have to get another job if you are writing for Booktrope. Thankfully, my day job is as a writer, so I write copy and get paid. I write for Booktrope, and get reviews on Amazon.

NOTE: My experience is very similar to the vast majority of writers at Booktrope. It’s not remotely unique, and if anyone tells you it is, just smile and nod your head like you can’t understand what language they are speaking. I market, and know how to do it very well. My book is not being ignored, because it’s crap. It’s being ignored, because its only marketing platform is Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Like I said, my self-published book has far outsold it – over a 1,000 copies since the end of November 2014, and with a lot less social media effort. In one week, alone, I sold 500 copies, because Kindle featured it and people liked it. I never even Tweeted or shared on Facebook that my novel was featured. I just sat back and watched what would happen, because I wrote that book, because it needed to be written. The money was never expected from it. Still, it came.

I receive emails every week, or so, from a stranger telling me that they have now become a reader of my self-published book, and that it spoke to them. But I haven’t gotten anything like that from more than three paying readers on my Booktrope novel. I get paid to market for all kinds of people and businesses, and I do it quite successfully, so it’s not that I can’t and don’t market my work. Social media is just not the best way to sell all novels, and it is definitely not the ONLY way to sell them, but this is pretty much how Booktrope sells books, and you enter the game knowing that. Also, don’t believe anyone who tells you that they had no idea this was how their book was going to be marketed, because you sign a contract, and you are well informed of this fact. If you’re a writer at Booktrope, you know exactly how your work is going to be marketed. For me, personally, the only “what if” I had was, “what if social media really sells books?!” It doesn’t sell a lot, not in most cases. There are always exceptions. I can’t think of too many. But like all my writer pals who said they wanted to see how everything would unfold here, I wanted to see it, too, and now I have. And I like Booktrope. They’re a gift if you don’t need money, and I’ve known one or two people in my life that really don’t. Unfortunately, they’ve never been writers.

Booktrope is a wonderful online community that verbally values its writers. The staff offer endless “you can do it!” support and advice and constantly repeats the encouraging mantra, “Go write more books!” This is great, and I love all the connections I’ve made there. But I’ve had to go back to writing copy part-time in order to pay my bills. That was sort of depressing. I had this idea that, maybe, I’d make a couple hundred bucks a month writing stories. Not with Booktrope. I don’t work full-time. I have a neuromuscular disease, four children, and a few fat dogs and cats, so I don’t have time for all that. But I do have time to write this blog post for those who wanted to know how my Booktrope experience has been after a year of working with them. It’s been pretty good. I can’t complain about anything but money, because Booktrope doesn’t claim to be anything it isn’t. It not a mega publisher that will make all your wildest literary dreams come true, and newsflash! Such publishers do not now, and have never, existed. A writer has to make their own success just like all other hot blooded Americans. What Booktrope does claim is to offer a technical platform for writers, so they can have their books professionally published, designed, edited, and marketed through social media for free. With a good team, you get that.

Peace in the Weird Places

“MoSchaukel”
Wikipedia

When last we spoke, My Dear Readers, I was lamenting (and ripping all my hair out) over the never ending work in my life, and I didn’t mean the writing work. I meant the driving and the supporting and the uplifting of a bunch of people every day, all week. But I think God heard my crazy nighttime prayers, the ones where I was gnashing my teeth and thinking that my mental doom was imminent.

You see, on Friday, during a hot rush hour drive to a homeschool even with my Brilliant 10 Year Old, an elderly man rammed his car into the side of my brand new Honda. You’d think I’d be sad about that, but, like my beloved Johnny Cash says, there’s a silver lining behind every cloud.

At first, all I could think about was whether or not my son was okay. Once the air bag deployed, and smoke was filling the car, I was dragging him out of the car and checking him over for even the slightest injury. But he was fine. He was only slightly startled, not even rattled. The boy has nerves of steel, I tell you.

And once I determined that he was okay, I checked on the old man whose watery eyes darted from me to my son and I assured him that we were okay. I patted him on the back, “We’re okay. Everyone is okay,” I said to him. “It’s just a car.” And my car is, most likely, totaled. Kaput, as my character, Annalise Bergen, might say.

But to tell you the truth, I have spent so much of the last three years driving my children, friends, and family from place to place, that I have come to loathe sitting in any car for more than  a few minutes. Driving is hard work. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s hard on the bones, hard on the eyes, hard on the tired Myasthenia Gravis arms, and great wear and tear on a busy mom’s psyche.

Know what my favorite things in life to do are? Spending time with my family, talking to God on my porchswing, talking to my dogs on my porchswing, writing, reading, and baking. My oven broke a few months ago, right after the farm country acid water ate right through my new washer and dryer, just after the children broke three windows around the house. So, I don’t cook much anymore, because there’s nothing to cook in. I have burners, but I can’t bake, and the dials on my stove have been worn to nubs, so I have to guess on the temperature anyway, and we have to drive a fair distance to wash clothes for six people, at least, once a week, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste money on a third set of Maytags for the Ugly Old Farmhouse. So, you think I’d be destroyed by one more broken thing. New alert: I have three boys and a girl who knows how to keep up with them, and then some. Everything is broken all the time, so I’m numb not destroyed, but, something weird has happened with the death of my car.

Since my car has been absent, and my hands sustained third degree burns from the airbag chemicals (who knew?),  I have been forced to sit on the porchswing with God and my dogs and I, once again, have had time to look at my husband from across the room, and I was reminded – he’s Hot and Latin and I am very lucky to have him. Also, I have more time to double check my children’s homework and spend time talking to them again about college plans, high school life, and the fate of superheros. And I’m not puking from the stress of all that driving either.

Now, the middle child inside my brain, doesn’t feel compelled to say, “YES! YES! I’LL DO ALL THE THINGS! EVERYTHING YOU ASK! WHENEVER YOU ASK! FOR ALL OF YOU!”

Instead, I have been forced to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry I can’t DRIVE you over there,” or “Sorry! No car! Can’t go!” and my introverted, antisocial self is once again at peace. Who knew that burned hands and solitary sitting could produce such sudden and gifted calm? It took about 48 hours to fully adjust to, but I can feel myself breathing again, and in my own way,  I see this as a sort of answer to a desperate prayer. I’m home and not OVER THERE.

Book Tour!

All This Time is on tour – online and in person :) 

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My Dear Readers, you can find me here…

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from April 27 – May 8, 2015. And you can find me here…

Hava Java  Allentown, PA

Hava Java
Allentown, PA

on Sunday, May 17th at 2pm, with live music, a reading, and great coffee!

And, in the planning stages are…Indies in New York book signing event and Philly Author Fest! More info to come. Hope to see some of you there.