Here we are, the end of 2023, and time for my annual blog post about my creative pursuits from the past year, my plans for the year ahead, and listing favorite books I read.
In many ways, 2023 was a wonderful year for me as a creative person. I had a lot of experiences and opportunities that gave me joy. I started the year as an author with two books scheduled for release and ended the year running a large community theater.
While on the outside, the year seems full of nothing but triumphs, it was challenging in many ways and has led me to a very difficult decision.
I'm quitting writing.
If you want to know the whole story, read this post. It's a little long-winded, as I have a lot to share. If you’re only interested in knowing the books I enjoyed and recommend, skip ahead.
As many of you who read my blog (or know me personally) are aware, I divide my life between four things: my writing, my theater, my teaching job, and my family. I’ve been doing theater all my life and majored in Theatre Arts in college. I started writing seriously right after college and have been pursuing that career since my first published story in 1995 and my first produced play in 1994 (that I got paid for, anyway.) I have occasionally taken breaks from performing to focus on my writing. That was my plan for the first half of this year.
I had finished directing a play in October 2022 and decided not to be part of any theater productions for the next six months. This was so I could be available for the editing process for both my books that were going to be released, do publicity on them, focus on making TikTok promo videos every single day, and work on writing my second romantic women’s fiction novel.
It was working out great at first. I got three quarters of the way through that novel. It felt like I was getting some excitement building about my upcoming releases. The only thing I stepped in to help with at the theater was doing costuming for Arsenic and Old Lace, which didn’t take too much time.
And then Dragon Surf came out in late February from Fire and Ice YA Books. I was excited about the beautiful ocean sunrise cover design by Caroline Andrus. My co-author Jeni Bautista Richard was thrilled. People were liking and commenting on my posts. I know full well that this younger YA contemporary fantasy novel that has boy characters and nary a hint of romance isn’t exactly the kind of book that hits bestseller lists. Still, I hadn’t put out a book like this in a few years and thought fans of my earlier novels like Cry of the Sea would be eager to read it. It was Jeni’s first novel, and therefore I figured we'd get a lot of her friends supporting her. The story is a load of fun. I really thought it would find an audience.
It has not.
Even at a permanently discounted price, I can’t seem to get much interest in this story – not with dragon books like Fourth Wing coming out in the same year. It has been very difficult to find people to review it (although the people who have really enjoyed it). I know there is an audience for this story, but I’m not sure how to reach them. It’s been incredibly frustrating. I’ve worked on this novel for years, and I was thrilled to see it finally get published. I knew that this would be my last attempt at writing a YA novel. It’s simply too hard of a market to penetrate, and I don’t write fantasy romance plots that everyone wants.
Soon after Dragon Surf came out, I got cast in the musical Memphis in a bucket-list role. It was an incredible experience! One of my best friends directed it, my stepdaughter choreographed it brilliantly, the cast was phenomenal (my husband and son-in-law were both in the show too). Honestly, one of the best shows I’ve ever been part of. I had planned for this break from writing. When I wasn’t at rehearsals, I continued to do work for my upcoming book release in July and publicity for Dragon Surf. The show ran throughout June, and my next book released the second week of July.
I had been putting all my hopes into Anything but Graceful to revive my writing career. It's my first full-length romantic women’s fiction novel. My first book with some spicy scenes. Between this book and the two Nashville Songwriter Romances, my plan has been to turn my writing career toward romance and away from writing for young readers.
I thought this was the kind of book more of my friends would be interested in reading, so I really believed more of them would pick it up. The main character is my age. She’s a dancer. There’s a lot of theater and dance in the book. It’s about second chances in romance and career. It’s about friendship. It’s about courage and inner strength. I’m incredibly proud of this book published by Satin Romance Books, and I LOVE the cover (also by Caroline Andrus).
I had over 150 people agree to read it on NetGalley, TikTok, and Instagram. Most have not left reviews. The ones who did leave reviews on NetGalley or Goodreads didn’t always give it high star ratings, but the verbiage of their reviews was mostly complimentary. Romance readers are picky about things and don’t give out those 5 stars easily, I’ve learned. So far, only one person has left a review on Amazon. One. The book came out in July. To my knowledge, not a single friend of mine has read it. At least they haven’t told me if they did.
To say I’m disheartened is an understatement. To realize that after all these years of writing and publishing books that I don't have a following at all, is a tough pill to swallow.
Thankfully, I had something to look forward to. My musical Songwriter Night (originally written to be a full cast audiobook entertainment during the height of the pandemic) was being produced at The Keeton theatre in Nashville in September.
So, right after Anything but Graceful came out, I was directing rehearsals for that. The show couldn’t have come out any better. The cast was incredible. We sold our goal in tickets, and everyone seemed to enjoy this sweet romantic comedy. I’ve rarely been more elated in my life than I was for those two weeks in September. I was especially thrilled that Caleb Dinger, who wrote the music and edited the audiobook was able to take leave from his position with the Navy Band Northeast surprise me at a performance. My friend Jane Thompson was music director and helped write the additional songs we put in the stage version. My daughter and husband were both in the cast.
The ping-ponging of my emotions as I struggled with the failure of my books while reveling in the success of my original musical was intense, folks. I hid it from most people, but it was (and still is) difficult to see the work of my heart both ignored and lauded at the same exact time.
And it didn’t help that sales of my sequel to Songwriter Night: Songwriter Showcase, didn’t go up. Very few people who saw or were part of the show felt any curiosity to read what happens next to these characters.
My plan for the year had originally been to take another break from theater after Songwriter Night closed and get back to writing, but those plans changed.
First of all, I hadn’t written a word on my new romance novel since the dismal release of Anything but Graceful. While I thought the story was super cute, and I loved where it was going, my motivation to write it was gone. And something else unexpected happened.
In August, the position of Managing Administrator opened at the theater where I do most of my work as an actress/director. The current production, Singin’ in the Rain, was in need of assistance to get back on track. My husband (tech director for the theater) and I were called in to help get that show’s set built and to assistant direct. Right after Singin’ closed, and while I was still in rehearsals for Songwriter Night, I was hired into the MA position. Now I was running a community theater that produces six shows a year, and I had a LOT to do to get caught up!
I have been at that theater nearly every single day since September 2nd, helping with the shows in rehearsal or production. Directing, assistant directing, assisting my husband with the sets, looking into rights for the 2024-2025 season, hiring people for production teams, doing marketing for the social media pages, attending board meetings, presenting at events, and understudying a role for a weekend. It’s a lot of work. Zero time for writing. Even getting this blog post written feels a little like I’m stealing time from other things I should be doing.
At any rate, here I am on December 30th with no plans to continue doing any writing at all for the time being. My heart isn’t in it, and I don’t know how to make the time to do it anyway. I haven’t even been making my TikToks. I went from one a day to maybe one a week or less. My focus for now will be on theater, and I’m okay with that choice. I’m passionate about theater, and I want to make The Keeton a place where people know they can count on a quality experience, whether they are part of the crew, performing, or in the audience. I’m currently directing Evita, which will go up in February. I’ve chosen the shows that will take us through to June 2025. In other words, my blog post this time next year will look a little different.
And now, at last! My favorite reads of the year! This year I got through 43 books. As usual, the majority of the Big 5 published, well known titles on my list were audiobooks. I tend to read more indie and small press published books on my Kindle. My tastes are all over the place, and I read what appeals to me at the moment. That said, I read a lot more women’s fiction this year because I had my own women’s fiction novel published. I have discovered I absolutely adore this genre and liked most of the books I read. I didn’t read nearly as much YA – so little that I don’t have a category for it this year.
Favorite book from a big publisher: Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes
Runner up: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
My mom recommended Someone Else’s Shoes to me, and I’m so glad she did. It was an absolutely charming novel with a complicated plot that never got boring. I was completely entertained by this story and was sad when it was over. Brilliant.
Lessons in Chemistry was fascinating. I thought the writing was superb and the story was fascinating. I hope to watch the TV show at some point.
Favorite indie or small pub book: Twice Cursed by Zemi Morris
Runner up: The Girl Before Me by Laura Wolfe
This author is so adorable on TikTok. I accepted one of her ARCs for this clever take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It’s a “what happens after” which I enjoy so much more than actual retellings. I think she has a sequel in the works which I look forward to reading. You know I always have Laura Wolfe somewhere on my list. She writes a good mystery, that gal.
Most surprising book of the year: And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones
I picked this out as a freebie on Audible. Time travel books aren’t usually my thing, but this one had me hooked. The main character finds he can travel back in time, but he has to learn how to do it and master the skill so he can go back and save his sister from being killed as a child. Great fun. The second book wasn’t as good, and I’m not sure if I’ll go on to the third book or not. It gave a lot of the same vibe as Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
Favorite thriller/horror book: Holly by Stephen King
Runner up: The Haunted Forest Tour by James A. Moore and Jeff Strand
Speaking of Stephen King. He can write as many books starring Holly as he wants to. I will keep reading them. I love this character. This book is the most chilling book of his that I’ve read in a while, which is interesting because it didn't have anything supernatural about it. I legitimately got scared listening to this and was sincerely concerned about several characters getting killed and eaten. The Haunted Forest Tour might not actually be a good book. It was wild and full of monsters and monstrous things. I listened to this right around Halloween and it hit the mark. Completely absurd horror fun.
Favorite series: The Last She and The Last City by H. J. Nelson
I pick a favorite series based on if I want to keep reading it. So far, there are only two books of this apocalyptic tale about a world after a virus killed all the women (but one). I liked them both. I don’t know that they were the most original stories, but they were told really well, and I’m eager to know what happens next. I also enjoyed Julie Kagawa’s Talon series, although I did skip a whole book and didn’t actually realize it until halfway through the final novel, if that says something.
Books that didn't live up to the hype: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
Runner Up: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
There are those books that everyone raves about, you know. Well, I thought Fourth Wing was good. It wasn’t anything worth gushing about. Frankly, I thought the romance part everyone raves about kind of ruined the dragon riding/war training plot of the story. Hello Beautiful had great moments, but I just didn’t like the characters very much and found myself not caring what happened to them.
Favorite Book of the Year: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Runner up: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
I recommended The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo to my mom, so we're even with good book recs. It's lush, romantic and full of Hollywood. I enjoyed every syllable of this book. It made it happy, angry, sad - all the feelings. I may read it again sometime, and I never do that. I listened to the audiobook of Tom Lake which was read by Meryl Streep, and I recommend doing that for anyone who want to pump up their experience of this sleepy novel. This book had a back-and-forth-in-time story similar in flow to my own novel, ABG, and that was fun to discover. All the acting, theater, and specifically Our Town references went straight to my theater heart. Lovely book.
Well, there you are! More than I’ve written at one time in months! I’d love to hear from you and what books you enjoyed or recommend for me to put on my TBR for 2024. Please leave a comment. I wish you a very happy new year!
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.