How Do you Define a Year?

Leslie Karst here. Today, I am pleased as all get-out to welcome fab writer and super-fun gal, Tara Laskowski, to the Chicks. Tara was already well-known for her short stories (one of which won the Agatha last year), but has now also published a terrific novel, One Night Gone, which has just been nominated for a coveted Lefty Award! Take it away, Tara:

As 2019 wrapped up, I had a few people tell me some variation of, “Wow, you had the best writing year ever.” Other friends, thinking of some of the tragic losses my family had, sympathetically said, “You’ve had such a tough year.”

That got me thinking: Can you really define a year in such simple terms as “good” or “bad”? A year is such a long time.

In many ways, I did have the best writing year of my life in 2019. I won an Agatha Award in May, published one of my favorite short stories I’ve ever written in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in July, and saw my debut novel One Night Gone on the shelves in October. I traveled to England for both a wonderful flash fiction writing conference and a much-needed family vacation. But 2019 also brought numerous rejections, a bunch of failed stories, and lots of self-doubt. I lost a beloved uncle to cancer, my husband’s father died, and we had to put our 16-year old cat down. So, was it a good year? Or terrible?

It seems that we humans love to compartmentalize time. To think that if we are going through a rough patch, it’s just a bad week or a bad month or a bad year, and that the turning of the calendar pages will make it all better. I’ve been guilty of this, and I still am.

I think it’s easy for anyone, but maybe more-so for writers, to dwell on the what-ifs. To worry about not being good enough, not having enough time. To focus on all the awards we didn’t win, the best-of lists we didn’t make, the negative reviews that stab deep. It’s easy for us to talk about what’s terrible in our year and forget about all the amazing things.

But I’ve been trying to get better at being more mindful, at looking holistically at the good AND the bad, and taking it all into consideration.

One thing that’s helped in this is my daily planner. I started using a Panda Planner (thank you, Clair Lamb!), and it includes a daily gratitude component that encourages me to think about the small things I’m grateful for each day. There is no place in my daily planning to write all the things I am frustrated about or worried about. Though some days I feel like it’s a massive struggle to come up with one single thing to be excited about, I force myself to do it. And in doing so, it makes all the “bad” things shift back, seem less glaring.

And it’s those small things that seem to make the most difference. A wonderful happy hour with new friends. Delicious coffee. Finishing a great book. The homemade soap that a friend made me, or tea shipped from the U.K. (because it’s better over there), or the comforting warmth of the heat in our den. Someone emailing me to tell me they really enjoyed my novel. My son tackling me with an “octopus hug.”
I may not have finished all the projects I started, but I did start them. I didn’t read as many books as I wanted, but, boy, the ones I did read were so wonderfully delicious. I look back fondly at the times I did get together with friends, at the conferences and the readings and the book launches I did make it to.

So, looking back on 2019, I cannot say for sure that it was a bad year or a good year. But I can say that it was a full year. And for that I feel very blessed.


one night gone cover final


About One Night Gone: One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. There, she finds herself lured by the promise of friendship, love, starry skies, and wild parties. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes.
Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all…

“A subtly but relentlessly unsettling novel.”
—TANA FRENCH, author of The Witch Elm


Tara Laskowski


TARA LASKOWSKI is the award-winning author of the debut novel, One Night Gone, and two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. She was the longtime editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly, is an Agatha Award winner, and a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.


Readers: Do you tend to dwell on the negative or the what-ifs, or are you good about seeing the whole picture of your life? Do you have any tricks or techniques for appreciating the small (or big) things to be grateful for?

26 thoughts on “How Do you Define a Year?

  1. As I get older, I’m learning to live in the moment more and more. That doesn’t mean no aspirations or plans, but it does mean continually moving on from both wins and losses. Keeping your head in the past robs the future. Carry on!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love this so much, Tara. I’ve always relished that calendar page turn, but the last few years it means a bit more because January is also the anniversary of the surgery that removed a tumor from inside my spinal column. Gratitude? I’ve got it in spades! Writing successes and failures are just a blip when I think about everything that could have gone wrong and how learning to walk again, albeit a bit wobbly, gives me some real perspective on those days I feel less-than.

    I’m so happy for all your successes and your attitude is deeply inspiring. We’re blessed to have you in our orbit!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Thanks for sharing, Tara. I agree that it is so easy to think about the what ifs. I work at a youth social services agency for my day job and one of the things the company always focuses on is what we refer to as finding the “strengths and successes” in every situation, every day, and so on, no matter how small. That approach helps me at work and at home. And it makes the big successes even more enjoyable.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s great that you work somewhere that helps you emphasize the good stuff. Too many work cultures are toxic. I also think there’s such value to paying homage to the very small stuff. Like Cool Whip. Which I just finished a dollop of on my fruit, and it was very tasty. 😉

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Tara, thank you for the reminder to count the blessings among the things we do each day: some good, some not so good. I’ve been doing this for years and it helps to keep the light on no matter how dark the day. Congratulations on your nomination.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. It is very good to have that perspective. I tend to define my life based on the most recent happenings, which isn’t right at all.

    Congrats on the good parts of you 2019 and 2020!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. When I worked as a lawyer, I had many days when I’d be so stressed or upset I’d be near (or at) tears. But then I hung up a National Geographic map of the universe in my office, and on days like that I’d go stare at the map. Talk about perspective.

    So that’s my technique when the bad things seem to taking over my life: put them in perspective with the rest of your life, and with the world around you. It tends to work.

    Thanks so much for joining the Chicks today, Tara, and congrats on the Lefty nomination–so well deserved!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Tara, I’m so delighted you’re here and, wow, what an incredibly powerful post.

    I so agree about the human desire to compartmentalize experiences by the clock or calendar. If only life were so tidy! I love your planner’s gratitude component. You’ve inspired me to be more intentional in counting those blessings. In fact, tonight we’re implementing “say one thing you’re grateful for” at dinner.

    Huge congrats on the Lefty nom!! Looking forward to seeing you.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Wonderful post, Tara — thanks for visiting today with the Chicks! Like you, 2019 was a mixed bag for me — some very good and some pretty awful. I hope with the perspective of time it’s the good that I recall! Congrats on the Lefty nom! You and Art are definitely good for the mystery community. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Tara, this is so beautiful. I’m very sorry for your losses. And I have been thrilled to see you celebrated for your terrific writing. Congrats on your Lefty nom and can’t wait to see you this spring. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A year seems to me to be a kind of arbitrary divider, and whether it’s a “good” year or a “bad” year varies according to my moods. There’s always ample evidence for both descriptions. I’m beginning to learn, though, that depressing descriptions of the “bad” do no one any good, least of all me. So I try to focus on the “good,” be grateful for the learning, and see the positives in it.

    Congrats on your Agatha and your Lefty nomination. Good luck!


    Liked by 3 people

  11. What a lovely post, Tara! It’s heartening to see that many of us share these feelings—and you put them so eloquently. I bought a beautiful new planner, but so far I’ve only filled out my name and phone number on the front page. I’ll be sure to fill in the gratitude lines each week, though. Congrats on the Lefty and the amazing new book!

    Liked by 1 person

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