Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas to Me

You know those ugly dog contests? Two months ago, my kitchen could have won one of those awards—for kitchens. I’d gotten to the point I wasn’t sure I could duct tape the dishwasher closed one more day. So, you bet your bottom dollar I celebrated when the renovations for our kitchen wrapped up late last week.

And now I'm tempted to make a bed on the floor and live there.

More Before pictures...

I hated the cabinet doors so much, one day while my husband was away on a business trip, I ripped them off and painted them. I do things like this. My husband loves me still.

The pulls for the lights hung down so far that you hit your head every time you walked by them. And that lower corner cabinet didn't budge. So many things did nothing to endear me to that old kitchen.

And now more of the After pictures...

I can't stop staring at the backsplash!

And the lights make me smile.

The space has opened up entirely. It feels so much bigger. So much more room to cook &

to dance! 
(Caught my youngest doing just that last night.)


*Meet you back here in a few weeks. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2016

When a Book Inhabits

I’ve been spoiled by reading some great books lately. I’m reading a particular one slowly. I want it to last. I’m cherishing the messages within.

In WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR, Dr. Paul Kalanithi faces his own mortality, after wrestling with conceptualizing this in his own patients for years. The book description states, “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.”

I find I gravitate toward books where the main character or memoirist faces a challenge that specifically presses into an area where they’ve grown accustomed to feeling like an expert or somehow contented. Reading a book like this becomes a lesson for me, grasping how people react when their lives are radically stretched, when the comfortable becomes severely uncomfortable. I suppose it cycles back to my fascination with humankind and resilience.

I’ll openly admit I think about life and death matters somewhat frequently. I can’t say if this is a result of my older sister being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in her late teens or if I’m just wired to think deep about such matters.

It’s lines like the following in WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR that burrow beneath the minutiae of buying groceries and crossing off lists. “There is a moment, a cusp when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”

And this: “Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question: ‘What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?’”

Some books are quickly forgotten. Then there are those that inhabit us, they stay with us forever, influencing how we think and the way we view the world. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR has nested inside me.

Have you read a noteworthy book that’s inhabited you lately?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Feeling Festive

We’re all deer souls around here. Finally got our tree up. 

Youngest sprinted the end of a local Santa’s Run this past weekend. She was Blitzen

Sneaking peeks in the backyard, hoping to spy our resident Vixen (we really do have a female fox in the neighborhood). 

Oldest has been rehearsing for a special Christmas performance at a professional hockey game. She’s a solid Dancer

Middle child still crushin’ on Bieber. Ha, what a Prancer

Some Christmas presents have been purchased. I’m all Cupid like that. Some mailed. Dasher on the fly. 

Making lists and checking them twice. Another Prancer in da house. 

And someday . . . someday our kitchen renovation will be complete. Then we’ll go nuts with Comet.

Whew. All Donner.

But do you recall . . . 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Onward. Upward. Through.

One of my mom’s closest friends passed away this past weekend. As I digested this tragic news, I got
to thinking about my time here. And then, without warning, the hard questions infiltrated . . . as they have a habit of doing in moments like this.

I asked myself if I’m living fully.

Am I allowing fear to stop me from pursuing a dream?

Have I grown numb to living life on autopilot?

Am I putting relationships first?

Why do I keep fighting against thoughts that I know aren’t based in truth?

How much time have I wasted clinging to shame, regret, jealousy, and anger?

What’s stopping me?

And that’s where the questions slammed into a roadblock. What isn’t stopping me feels like a more fitting question to ask. Excuses. Past mistakes. Broken relationships. Bruises and scars. Fear of failure. The weight of other’s anger. Distractions. Insecurity and doubt. Mind traps—lies I’ve chosen to believe.


There are castles to see, waters to sail, books to be written, girls to raise, a husband to dance with, a dog to walk, family and friends to embrace, people to inspire. There’s a whole world out there for me to engage with.

I have so much more life to live. I’d rather fight through the mire, than sit idly by.

It’s worth it to ask the hard questions in order to squeeze the most out of this short time we’re allotted here.

Onward. Upward. Through.

Monday, November 21, 2016

8 Tips to Help You Thrive through the Holidays

If you’re like me you want to do more than simply survive the holidays. You want to make special
memories and meet the New Year with energy and zeal for life. Most of us know, however, the holidays can suck the life out of us if we’re not mindful and intentional.

I’m offering a few tips that have helped me thrive through this particular busy season in the past. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Identify Your Safe People

Ah. The splendor of family together. Great Uncle Ben with his inappropriate jokes. Or Cousin Sandra who spends the entire Thanksgiving meal talking about how poorly turkeys are treated. Then, of course there are the real doozies. Dad with his hypercritical opinion about your new boyfriend or your sister-in-law with her passive aggressive way of telling you she hates you (eh-hem, your haircut). Ah . . . family. Gotta love ‘em. That may be so, it really helps to know who (whether in the family circle or not) you can consider your “safe” people. Friends or that super close sister you can call up or huddle together with as they remind us we can do this, only twenty-four more hours. Safe people are the ones you trust. They uplift and encourage. You don’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them or cringe whenever they open their mouths.

Once you figure out who at least one safe person is in your life, thank them, then let them know you might be reaching out over the holidays.

Move Your Body

Nothing simmers my stress level quite like a long walk (even in the cold). Get outside. Participate in a spontaneous dance party. Get your lungs pumping and your arms flailing. Check out how Cousin Sandra does the whip and ney ney.

How You Treat Others Stays with Them Longer than the Gifts You Give

The Fitbit will break. Those gorgeous dishes you’ve admired for months will all be chipped in three years. The snow blower will be given to a neighbor when you learn you’re moving to Dallas. Gifts are fun to give and get, but no gift will ever compare to consistent and selfless love. Memories of kindness live on forever.

Lower Your Expectations

Whenever I say this I realize it sounds pessimistic. My intention is coming from the exact opposite place. When we go into a situation expecting everything to go perfectly our hope is quickly dashed at the slightest insult or disappointment. However, if we go in knowing there will be moments of awkwardness and pangs of discomfort, we may find we’re pleasantly surprised at the end of the day.

Let Go Quickly

Piggybacking off the last point, those insults and disappointments are likely to come. We’re all flawed humans with a lot on our plates and even more on our minds. We come in to family settings with fears, and secrets, jealousies, and a lot of history dragged behind us in sacks far bigger than Santa’s pack. This is true for all of us. The more we encounter one another with this sense of understanding and grace, the quicker we might be able to let the little things go.

Brainstorm Non-Explosive Topics

I dare you look up after the Thanksgiving prayer and ask everyone who they voted for. Or you could light an explosive in the middle of the table if that’s easier. Be mindful that certain topics are bound to set certain individuals off. Remember those Santa packs of fear and secrets we all dragged in? Think about who you’re with and what’s likely to slit a huge tear down the fabric of those packs. You shouldn’t feel like you need to steer clear of real conversation, only consider refraining from topics that really should come with warning labels.

Shorten Your To-Do List

Some years I’ve sent Christmas cards. Others I haven’t. No apologies or explanations. I get to what I get to. I assume the same for others and try not to get offended easily. We’re all slammed. Fight stress by deciding right now that you’ll cut three or four things off your usual to-do list. You’ll notice it won’t kill anyone and it may even save you a little of your sanity in the process.

Take Time Alone to Reflect

I’m about to tell you something that might shock you. I’m an introvert. Yep, it’s true. I’m also a learned-extrovert. But my real energy and restoration comes from time alone, moments spent in reflection, writing at my computer, and prayer. This is how I come back to myself when I’m peopled out. The holidays are a prime time to get peopled out fast. Safeguard your propensity to stress by stealing a few minutes away by yourself. To think. To plan. To remind yourself there are only twenty-four hours left with these crazy people. ;-) Who knows . . . they might be hiding out in the bathroom saying the exact same thing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Nod to Eleanor Roosevelt

I’ve spent the past week talking to people, listening, and seeking to understand. Still working on that last one. I’ve been searching for words. Powerful ones, ones that will make a difference. I find myself fumbling at the start of this week. I’ve decided to post the following quotes, thankful that Eleanor Roosevelt tapped into her passion, harnessed her wisdom, and used her voice.

Consider, applaud, and reflect upon each meaning and the implications as you take on the week.

“If anyone were to ask me what I want out of life I would say—the opportunity for doing something useful, for in no other way, I am convinced, can true happiness be attained.”

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“I could never be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”

 “Character building begins in our infancy and continues until death.”

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

“One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

“There is not human being from whom we cannot learn something if we are interested enough to dig deep.”

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

5 Ways to Tell if Your Main Character is Trying to Deceive You

It’s imperative to be simpatico with your main character. As authors, we are granted the privilege of crawling around inside our character’s minds, exploring their motives, their greatest fears—we are rulers of their world. It’s key to note that you don’t always have to agree with your main character or like what they’re doing, but you must be able to tap into the deepest recesses of their thoughts and experiences.

For the sake of this article, I’m going to sidestep the entire chicken/egg argument, you know, characters actually explorations of the inner conscience of authors, etc. Thatll only serve to confuse us. Instead, imagine your main character as someone in your life. Suddenly there are signs of friction. There’s been a disruption. You can tell—they are working to deceive you.

Now what?

Well, it’s important our characters trust us. Because if they don’t trust us as we write them in the everyday depictions, what will happen when we put them through grand torture and test their stamina to the breaking point?

Characters cannot be allowed to go rogue on us. If they’re showing signs of deception, it’s important to sniff them out so we, as authors, can snuff it out quick.

5 Signs Your MC is Attempting to Deceive You

She’s Acting out of Character

Your main character loves to take twenty minutes showers, then walk out the door and give a fiver to the homeless woman on the corner. This has been the routine every day for five years.
Not today. Today he rolls out of bed and hits the pavement without showering. He doesn’t skip a beat, walking right past the homeless woman.

Initially, this is kind of exciting. He’s leading you somewhere, you think. Could be.
Or this could also be a perfect example of how something is up with him. He’s veered off script and it will be obvious to readers. As most authors know, there has to be a reason for this—a motive.
If your main character has suddenly begun to do all kinds of things atypical for him, such as making uncharacteristic life-changing decisions, it could be that something exhilarating is about to happen.

Or it could be that he’s trying to deceive you.

She Won’t Reveal Her Secrets

This tends to be my first indicator something has gone askew with one of my characters. Everyone has secrets. One of the number one goals of an author is to excavate a character’s life and past until you strike gold. Secret gold.

Consider it a flashing red sign when she begins hiding her insecurities and regrets.

There will be days your characters stubbornly refuse to open up. That’s not what I’m referring to here. At some point, you’ll break through that. Here I’m referring to when your main character gets purposefully illusory. You get the sneering stare, the eyes that slink to slits. She dares you to crack her impenetrable core. You take on the challenge, prepared for work, but she’s not only running away from you, she’s figured out a way to turn into a ghost, disappearing entirely.

Time to take matters into your own hands.

You Catch Him in a Lie

I’m not talking about when he lies to others in the book. That’s nothing. Those type of lies occur all the time, sometimes they even beef up the plot nicely. No, he’s lying to you.

This could manifest simply. One day he winces the second an Adam Levine song comes on the radio, then he switches it off. His face contorts into a disgusted grimace. He loves Adam Levine. You had to listen to him prattle on for hours about how he met him when he was eleven, how his entire life changed that day.

What’s going on here? He either lied to you when he gushed about how much he admires Adam or he’s lying now. Could he have changed, you ask. Could something else be bothering him? Sure, but you can see that’s not what’s happening. You know him that well. The extent of his repulsion is evident. He shivered, as though the music was infecting him. There are no other triggers to blame.
Time to dissect what’s really going on.

He Keeps Making Excuses

Rationalization 101. He knows you know. He’s seen how you squinted at the page when you reread the part about the odd decision he just made. Not only is it out of character, but now you find that he’s turned back into a twelve-year-old. He’s blaming his past. He’s saying he doesn’t feel well. He’s not owning anything—not a single thing. He ping-pongs between rationalizing his strange behavior and deflecting (hmm…sounds a bit like the recent debates).

Bet you anything he’s hiding something. Time to check closets and peek under beds. This character is covering up. For the sake of your novel, whip off those covers.

She’s Coercing the Entire Cast of Characters to Turn on You

A bully can’t stand to be alone in their cruelty. So what do they do? They recruit others. And if she, for any reason, has decided she wants out of this book, you may very well witness her recruiting other characters to bail on you. Bailing can come in many forms. They might all decide to fall flat on the page simultaneously. Or, if she’s effective in her convincing, your characters might muddle together and play a characterization game of Mr. Potato Head, switching traits as readily as passing food around at Thanksgiving dinner. Stomp out the rebellion. Get to the source. Figure out why she’s being such a bully and be clear about who’s who. And remember what my good friend Bono says about the bastards grinding you down—don’t let them.

Whew. And you were probably thinking there was already enough to concern yourself with when it comes to writing a novel. Who knew you had to worry about your characters trying to deceive you? Well, *wink wink* is it really your main character doing these things to disrupt the plot—or is it you?

 Had to bring that chicken/egg thing back in somehow. ;-)

Monday, October 31, 2016

41 of My Favorite Things

It’s my birthday. I’m a whopping forty-one today. To celebrate, I thought it’d be fun to share a list of things that make me go hmmm, in the best of ways. I’m breaking my favorite things into four categories for your reading pleasure. Cheers and thanks for reading!

In Nature
Peonies in full bloom.
The fox that frequently visits my backyard.
Ocean, lakes, streams, any and all bodies of water.
The sound of wind in the trees—anything to do with trees, changing foliage, flowering leaves, the buds when they return, forests and an isolated tree in an open field. Even the sound of birds in the trees. (Like how I just snuck about seven in one?)
Mountain views.
Lightning slashing through a black sky.
A canopy of stars overhead.
The after-rain smell of the earth.
Sunrises and sunsets that won’t let you look away.

About People
When someone laughs so hard quirky sounds explode from their mouth.
The raised veins on an old lady’s hands.
My role as a wife and a mother, the day in and day out commitment to my family, watching them grow, experiencing my own growth.
People who still hold doors open for others, who wave at their neighbors, who ask you how you’re doing and wait for an answer . . . those people.
Cheeks pinking while playing in the snow, seeing and feeling this even as my fingers go numb.
Small acts of bravery, humility, and heroism. Big acts of the same.
Those who appreciate differences, value conversation, and strive for connectedness over divisiveness.
When people let loose on the dance floor without a care in the world who is watching them.
Those who reach out and take risks when they’re scared, hurt, unsure, or feeling vulnerable.

Birchbox – Great products. Have lined up with this company for years. Love that two women started it.
Farmgirl Flowers – Have never used, but I’m obsessed with the idea. And the flowers are stunning!
Bobbi Brown makeup – Have used in recent, aging years. A huge fan. Subtle, the way I love wearing makeup.
Dove – Sometimes buy. Sometimes don’t. I’m a huge advocate of their message to women and girls.
Biolage – Works for this shampoo snob.
Soma – It does certain figures good . . . like mine. ;-)
Shutterfly – Good products. Great deals. I keep coming back.
Ghirardelli chocolate – Never have had a bite I haven’t enjoyed.
Swan Creek Candle Co. – Summer Rain scent rocks my world.
Daisy by Marc Jacobs – My signature scent.

Best thing to believe in: God, His faithfulness and character.
Best stupid thing I frequently say: Crap.
Best new TV show:  This Is Us.
Best hobby: Refinishing furniture.
Best addictive site: Pinterest.
Best endorphin charger: Running.
Best name in Hollywood: Benedict Cumberbatch.
Best non-sexual feeling: Having my hair washed.
Best sense of understanding why I’m here: When I write.
Best rush: Galloping on a horse, speeding in a boat, driving with the windows down.
Best slightly rebellious decision: Listening to music louder than the recommended level and busting out into song or dance or moving across country to be with my fiancé.
Best high: The excited feeling I get when I’m about to start a book I’ve been waiting to read.
Best sign-off: Cheers!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Only Thing that Matters

“Once again the only thing that mattered was the work, except now he realized that the work was

The joy gets lost. There are dark seasons, seasons when you forget why you’ve invested so much time and effort into a calling that seldom produces the results you hope for. Before you think I’ve gone all doom and gloom on you, I’ll say there is an alternate perspective. It’s not easy to embrace. In fact, it’s only when you’ve endured the broken, humble seasons that you discover if you have it in you to rise up and take hold of this more hopeful view.

I’m referring to life as a writer, but highs and lows are experienced in any artistic profession. It’s dangerous when you begin to build in your mind a sharp expectation of how things should be. That’s what happened in the book I’m reading, BEFORE THE FALL. This painter named Scott clung to certain ideas of how it was supposed to look for him when he hit thirty, then forty, finding himself increasingly disappointed his career didn’t pan out the way he’d envisioned. And when he fell short, the love for his craft was compromised until ultimately his craft was compromised. The joy got lost. It wasn’t until Scott was reminded of another passion he had as a boy that his love of painting reignited. Not the search for approval, awards, or accolades. The life-giving pull toward his calling.

There is no separating yourself from the things you make, he thought.”

Yes, we create distance when it comes time for reviews or when we move on to a new project, but the fueling discovery that Scott lands on is that we are the real works in progress.

If we’re growing and challenging ourselves and becoming more in touch with humankind while we craft, well then isn’t that the point?

Does the end product not matter then? Of course it matters. But I happen to believe we reach the best results when we fling off all expectations, when we unabashedly throw ourselves into our art, when woulds and coulds and should haves are ash under our feet.

Our greatest potential shows up only when we become aware that we are the real work being created.

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?

Monday, August 22, 2016

What Not to Write

I bet you’ve seen the show that aired on TLC for ten years, the one where Stacy and Clinton raid closets and turn even the dowdiest dresser into a fashionista. Today I thought I’d put my own spin on that show by doling out insight I’ve gleaned throughout my years as a novelist—What Not to Write.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are no hard and fast rules, so I’m not presenting any kind of mandates today. The following are simply suggestions based on knowledge I’ve acquired in the industry. Take them. Or leave them. But if I were you, I wouldn’t try to publish them.

While crafting your novel here are six things not to write…

A Flowery Bouquet
You want your voice to sparkle and shine so you force all kinds of flowery language into your sentences. Survey says, “Eh.” Stephen King makes some great points about this in his book, On Writing. The goal is for your story to flow. You don’t want readers to get tripped up by your purple prose. And you might think it would be cool for readers to oh and ah at your vocabulary, but the ultimate result is of peonies in prose is that the reader becomes entirely distracted. Story fail.

A Book without a Skeleton
Please don’t get so attached to your pants that you refuse to do any plotting whatsoever. I know, I get it. I’ve always been more of a pantser than a plotter, but if you jump in without any sense of where the story is headed, no idea of tension to introduce, ways to stretch your character, then you’re bound to lead the reader down multiple rabbit holes. This = more complicated edits. I’m trying to save you here. Books without bones to hold them in place bring me to…

The Loco-Emotive Journey
I’m guilty of this one. The first book I ever wrote (13 books ago) belonged in a journal. Why? Because it ended up being a long emotional journey. While I instantly gravitated to writing women’s fiction, which is character-driven, I’ve learned how essential it is to have a strong plot to carry a novel forward, to give it a backbone. Don’t make the same mistake I did with your first book and write an emotional geyser.

Copycat Craze
You’re going to write the next Gone Girl. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Newsflash. You’re not the only one with this plan. Thousands of other people have clued in and think it would be awesome to make a killing by publishing a book similar to something else that has accrued great success. So they basically craft a copycat story. Multiple problems with this folks. #1. Readers are fickle. What’s hot this year likely won’t be next year or by the time you polish up your echo title. #2. It’s a bit like cheating because we’re being gypped of your voice—of the all the uniqueness you could bring to a book. #3. You’re better than this. The world doesn’t need another of anything. We need more firsts. Originals. Don’t fall prey to the copycat temptation.

The True-to-Life Enemy Tell-all
Know that person in the cubicle next to you who drives you crazy, the one with the widow’s peak, massive dimples and annoying habit of interrupting…yeah her. Don’t describe her to a T. Don’t do it for laughs. Don’t do it for cathartic release. Don’t do it for revenge. Get creative. Not only because you don’t want Cubicle Cathy to sue you, but because there’s a lot of material out there. It’s a blast to turn characters into Mr.  & Mrs. Potato Head creations. Widow’s peak here. Loud gum chewing there. Utterly unrecognizable in the end.

Teaching Preaching Jack Reacher-style
Readers are quickly turned off if they feel like you’re preaching at them, trying to pass on an overt moral belief. I get it. It makes me feel uneasy when I sense an author is trying to teach me a lesson Jack Reacher-style. The in-your-face approach to novel writing is better left unexplored. With that said, I’ve learned something with every novel I’ve written. In the process of crafting a work and developing characters, I’m always amused at how much I grow. This should be your goal as an author. See what your characters might possibly want to teach you. It’s adds a certain humility and delight of discovery to the process.

Can you think of anything else not to write?

*Picture is of me as a kid. My three older sisters stuffed me in this old lady dress and wig. I was miserable. It’s my perfect example of what not to wear because even then I didn’t want to wear it. ;-)

The Nest Part II

Life and its mysteries. The day after I wrote my last post, I headed to our basement to continue the packing process. Look what I came ...