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.

Products
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.

Randomness
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
him.”
Noah Hawley, BEFORE THE FALL

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.

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