Monday, October 17, 2016

Work Hard & Play Hard Mentality

I raked a lot of leaves yesterday. My youngest jumped up and down elated when I gave her the signal it was okay to run and leap in. She flung her arms in the air and rolled around, giggling, full of life. She even swam in the leaves, communicating in an instant what a blast she was having.

If you’ve spent time raking leaves, you know the kind of exertion it takes. Especially if you have a massive maple in your front yard that sheds at the slightest puff of wind. There’s blood, sweat, and tears involved. Or at least one of the three if you’re doing it right.

Work. Hard work put in.

It’s motivating, while gathering leaves in gargantuan piles, to meditate on the smile that will be on my daughter’s face when she dives in the bed of bright autumn foliage. Yesterday, I was thinking about how raking parallels with writing a novel. Whipping up a novel isn’t child’s play. You need discipline, tenacity, and the tested ability to throw your pride out the window on a daily basis. There are characters to carve out and plot lines to dissect and rewrite a million times. There are words to chop and chapters to switch around. Writing a novel isn’t like having a gigantic tarp under your maple ready and waiting to catch every leaf that falls. No, ideas need to be dragged together. Sweatshirts need to be shucked and long sleeves rolled up. It’s a dirty, bedraggled experience.

And we, the authors, we do it for you.

We do it for the smiles, for our readers to get the feeling you’re swimming in a world gathered up just for you.

The way I see it, I work hard, my readers play hard.

And that makes me smile.

Monday, October 10, 2016

18 Steps Closer to Me

Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge just how vulnerable and personal to be online. I like to say I’m an open book, but I’ve encountered situations over the years that have caused me to take a few steps back. Besides, we all know there are some real nut jobs out there. (Eh hem. Creepy clowns and a particular presidential candidate.) With that said, I like taking risks and sharing with you because through the years many of you have reached out and (thank you, thank you) helped to support my writing career. Many of you have chosen to be vulnerable with me.

Remember the game Red Light, Green Light played on elementary school blacktops all across the country? There are days when I feel a bit like I’m playing that game on social media. Some days are big time Red Light days, begging me to hunker down and shut out the world in order to get my work done. There are other stretches of time I have no excuse for my agoraphobic tendencies—it has a lot more to do with the necessity to retreat, to cling to quiet.

Just for fun today I’m going to green light it on eighteen things about me that may or may not come as a surprise.
  1. I tweet more when it’s sunny out.
  2. There is one movie that’s guaranteed to pull me up out of a funk and it’s the only movie I never get sick of. Give up? Bridesmaids. Gets me every time.
  3. I’ve never stepped foot inside an Ikea.
  4.  I’m often told I look tired. Reasons are probably because…A. I look tired. B. I am tired…or a trusty combination of the two.
  5. My youngest is addicted to magic tricks lately. It’s not unusual for me to find odd items strewn around the house as part of her props, a cracked egg emptied of its contents, cards stuck together, or a plastic thumb. I’m just thankful the dog hasn’t come across the latter.
  6. I could eat Mexican food every day for the rest of my life and be a happy woman.
  7. During my preschool years, I lived in Germany. My mom would take me shopping often and in the elevator I had a lovely habit of “speaking German” to my fellow Europeans. It was my own special blend of gibberish.
  8. Some of the clothes I wear (especially when I’m chilling at home) I’ve owned for over twenty years.
  9. I didn’t do the big hair thing in the 80s. I did, however, cut my own bangs. Let your imagination go where it may.
  10. I took clarinet and viola lessons in grade school and distinctly recall “fake playing” during the concerts. I was that good.
  11. I sprint the end of every jog I go on.
  12. I haven’t found a show I love since LOST. I have hope in This Is Us.
  13. One of my older sister’s birthdays is two days before mine. Two of my girls have birthdays two days apart. All three of my girls have birthdays within eight days of each other.
  14.  I’ve lived on the East Coast and the West Coast and several places in between.
  15. I have a thing for ampersands.
  16. Rainbow Brite was my hero as a kid. I mean, c’mon, she had a unicorn. I also liked He-Man.
  17. My family enjoyed skiing in Austria when I was little. Some of my first memories are of relaxing in the ski lodge eating a yummy breaded recipe stuffed with rich raspberry jam, topped with butter and poppy seeds. When my husband and I were invited to bike through Austria ten years ago, I asked every restaurant about this delicious dessert until we finally found it on one of the last days of our trip.
  18. I ate mayonnaise and bologna sandwiches like it was my job when I was ten.

Okay, your turn. Green light! 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Four Reasons Your Characters Might Resist Being Written

Most novelists have experienced the elusive character, the one who stubbornly conceals her personality when you’re needing her to open up. There are dozens of tricks to break through to a character like this. Writing a journal sketch from their perspective. Interviewing them. Many of these tricks work. But what happens when they don’t?

When a character simply refuses to be written, it’s time to take a closer look at why this is happening. Characters are smart. They want to help the novelist succeed. They’ll fight being written for a few key reasons.

Why a Character Might Resist Being Written. . .

They Have No Goal
A novel is at its greatest risk of wandering if your main character is goalless. Before I even begin the first page I make sure I’m familiar with what my characters want. What is it she’s most hoping to gain? What is he most afraid to lose? What can’t she live without? What would kill him figuratively and literally?

Be it internal or external, a character without a goal is miserable and they won’t let you get far. The people in your novel have goals. Search them out. Think about your character’s aspirations when you’re writing each scene because these goals should impact every scene in some way or another.

Give a character a strong goal and you’ve accomplished a major score.

They Feel Like a Caricature
No one wants to be a counterfeit. Your characters want to feel real more than anything. Because they are real. In your mind they are and that counts. That’s enough. Take the time necessary to allow them develop fully, to understand the core of who your main character is—her values, fears, strengths and weaknesses, those she loves the most, those she can’t stand, etc.

Characters aren’t the only smart ones. Readers are smart. They’ll sniff out a slap together character quicker than you can say fake.

Their Life is too Strong an Echo of Yours
Everything is hitting too close to home. It’s all getting a little too up close and personal for you. So you back off. And guess what? Your character follows suit. Because she’s reading your anxiety and behavior. She’s feeling your fear. And even though she’s rooting for you to power through this most vulnerable journey, she’s beginning to doubt you can.

Here’s where writing what you know gets dangerous. You aren’t the character. Sure, I’m imbued in every single character I’ve ever created. But none of them are me.

Characters crave a life of their own and even though you, the author, may have endured something tragic and you’re attempting to put your main character through a similar experience, remember to give them rights to react in a way that only they can. Tap into what you felt, absolutely. Use that. But then at some point, witness how your character responds.

Unless you’re writing memoir, a transfer must occur. This hardship is being passed to another. You can let go and watch how doing so enables you to write more freely.

They Refuse to Change
I keep hearing the lyrics from Peter Pan in my head, the lost boys singing about how they’ll never grow up. Okay, that’s their gig. Got it. But this might be the exact reason your character wants to bail on your novel. Characters long to change, to grow, to end up at the last page as someone more fully realized. And the best way to get your characters to this place is to test them, to put the hurt on them so to speak. If they willfully won’t bend mentally, physically, spiritually or in any other way pay attention. You haven’t found something that pierces them enough.

Some of the best books I’ve read detail wondrous evolution of character. In particular I’m thinking about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Me Before You.

Do your characters a favor. Give them opportunities to grow and change. They’ll thank you for it by showing up on the page and coming alive like never before.

Monday, September 26, 2016

In the Works

I wanted to give you some updates about what’s been going on with me lately. Often people will ask me if I’m currently writing something. Pretty much any time this is asked of me, the answer to this question will be yes. I am always working on something. As many of you know, crafting a novel is broken down into several stages. Plotting. Writing. Editing. Editing. Editing. And while I’m caught up writing novels, I also have a blast brainstorming other projects.
Here are some things in the works for me:
  •          I’m excited to be visiting our local newcomer’s book club in November. I was thrilled when the representative for the newcomer’s group let me know they are planning to read my books as a way to help spread the word about my writing. My town has demonstrated such a wonderful show of support. P.S. I’d love to be a part of your book club! Contact me and I’ll work hard to make it happen.
  •     Over the summer I fell into a bit of a start pattern. I started over five novels, waiting for one to grab hold of me and convince me to keep with it. Finally one did just that and I’m deep into the characters and tension of that plot. Looking forward to releasing this book. I’m shooting for late spring/early summer of 2017, but as happens in this industry, that could change. What I can share so far is that this book is women’s fiction and the characters have completely rooted into my heart.
  •  I’ve been feeling a real fire lit under me to continue plotting a nonfiction idea that’s been percolating for years. Will keep you posted about this. It’s beyond exciting for me.
  •  I’m also still working through details as I develop a new website. Release date TBD.
  • Finally, I’m pursuing a few works on the traditional publishing front. I feel hopeful things will come to fruition, but the wait keeps me grounded.

That’s the gist of my writing-related projects. What has your focus lately?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gone to the Dogs

I’m hurting for sleep right now. Between kid nightmares and the humidity, I’m a walking blur.

So, I thought what better to write about than…dogs?

I was following updates an old friend of mine posted on Facebook over the weekend about a missing dog. His family Beagle pup had scampered off and had been missing for five days. He’d taken his kids to different places where people had either heard a dog howling or where there’d been a sighting. My heart twisted when I read updates that after numerous search efforts the dog was still nowhere to be found.

I kept imagining how I’d feel if our dog was out there somewhere.

Which is why I cheered when I read that on Saturday a hiker found my friend’s dog. My family cracked up at how celebratory I was. The best was seeing pictures of the Beagle peacefully sleeping, nestled in his dog bed. Home again.

I’m a dog lover. The books Marley & Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain rank in my top ten list of favorites. It will come as no surprise I spent a good deal of time visiting with dogs at my daughter’s soccer game yesterday. Dogs belonging to the opponents (if that doesn’t explain the extent of my affection for dogs I’m not sure what will).  

I’ll never forget the aptly timed and poignant thing the vet said to me when I took our fourteen-year-old Samoyed to be put down. I was a bawling mess. When I finally calmed enough and stopped heaving, the vet looked at me and said, “I completely get it. Sometimes we love these guys more than people.”

Crazy, but true.

Any other dog lovers out there completely get it?

*picture is of our almost three-year-old Samoyed making her Happy Monday face. ;-)

Monday, September 12, 2016

10 Ways to Fry Your System

I wanted to share a few ways I’ve figured out how to fry my system. They’re tried and true. Trust me,
have a go at these and you’ll be stressed to the limit in no time.
You are welcome.

The 10…

Expect Perfection from Yourself & Others
I’m not a perfectionist, but I find it’s the moments when I demand perfection from myself or others that I am quickly disappointed. Push yourself, yes. Help others to know what you value and expect. But also leave room for imperfections. Sometimes those allow for the most effective and life-impacting growth.

Consume Too Much & Sit All the Livelong Day
I combined these two into one because they are sort of a gimme. And they’re covered in every health magazine every single issue. Overindulgence of food or drink (especially on a regular basis and not just when you wedding crash or celebrate a big birthday) is guaranteed to leave you with little energy to spare. Lack of exercise will turn your body to jelly and it won’t just hurt to climb the stairs, it’ll hurt to walk from one room to the next. Think, no one wants to carry you through life. Better to carry yourself with strength.

Forget to Laugh
Take yourself too seriously. Go ahead, try it. See how it works for you. I really believe laughter is one of the greatest medicines known to man. It often accompanies humility and perspective. They’re a mighty fine threesome.

Go Hard All Day & Night
I have this tricky thing that’s been happening with me lately. I’ve been doing some insane plotting and writing in my sleep. Wonderful, you say. Double duty, you think. To which I respond, no--emphatic no. I can personally attest to the fact that burning the candle at both ends like this compromises my peak brain function during the daytime hours. Go hard, yes. But structure hours for this. No human is meant to mimic a fake pink bunny playing the drums twenty-four-seven.

Entertain Negative Thoughts
Wallow in them. Believe every lie at its core. Marinate in the absurd, the outlandish and the malicious. Have a party for these thoughts and watch for yourself how they’ll trash your place and leave it a bloody mess.

Invite Worry into Every Relationship & Scenario
Moms have a secret oath we agree to the second our babies leave our bodies. Somewhere inside us we buy into the misguided notion if we worry we can sway the circumstances or the end results. Given this one is born from a strong sense of caring, you don’t need me to tell you worry is a magnificent timewaster. I’ve allowed hours to tick by when I’ve worked myself into a tizzy about four hundred devastating potentials only to be mocked when not a single one of my imagined scenarios plays out. How’s that for quality time management?

Answer to Everybody but Yourself
Pull an Igor and make everyone else in charge of your life. Become a people pleaser with little sense of pride. Great way to lose a solid sense of yourself. And tire yourself out faster than I can say, “Yes, Master.”

Become a Slave to Technology
Better yet let the Internet, your phone, or social media own your day. Whew, I’m wiped out just thinking about trying to keep up with the ever-changing scope of online communication.

Be Afraid of Changing a Routine or Life Pattern
Something’s not working? Stay the course, the exact same course you’ve been running hard at for five years. Then again, you could always take a risk. Mix things up. Learn to breathe again by stepping out.

Believe Doctor Visits Are for Sissies
A few months ago a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer. She could have blown off her cough. I know I have a tendency to put off a call to my doctor, convincing myself that everyone in my family (and the entire world) come before me. I’m so thankful my friend made that doctor’s appointment because she gave herself the chance to fight beautifully and that’s exactly what she’s been doing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more joyful person.

I know you can’t wait to go try some of these. I won’t keep you. Go for it. What have you got to lose? Oh, that’s right. Your health, energy, strength, stamina…and so much more.

What runs you down the quickest?

*Bonus, just for giggles overbook your schedule and over-commit yourself. C’mon, you know you want to. ;-)

Monday, August 29, 2016

From Seedling to Story

It’s the job of a writer to create images in the minds of our readers. To illuminate moving pixels in their brains. Pixels that spark questions. Questions that cause the reader to crave more.

I don’t know what happens to most people when they see an image like this. 

I instantly feel a story move around inside me, testing the waters, seeing if it’s ready to be born. Often the embryonic seedling is comfortable in its womb, unwilling to blossom into anything more than a pondering, a fleeting curiosity. Multiple scenarios—what ifsflit around my head, like a halo of fireflies. But then there are times when an image like the above will conjure something from deep inside me, striking the center of a ripe idea, coaxing it to fruition. Or, at the very least, to climb out from where it’s been hiding and become a rough draft on the page. Messy ideas, dripping. Sluiced with amniotic remnants.

Until the day it stretches its limbs and becomes fully alive. Braver. Sturdier. Daring independence.

I know then that it is my job to raise the idea well. To listen. To invest time in understanding. To groom and do the hard work. I also know it would be cruel to ignore what has so beautifully and mysteriously found a way to the surface. In the process of bringing a story idea to life I’m at all times partaking in a nuanced and complicated dance of both nurturing and letting go.

It’s the best way I know how to honor both the story and myself.

So, what do you think about when you see an image like the one above?