Monday, June 19, 2017

When It All Comes Together


A getaway, an exceptional meal, and an inspiring book do wonders when it comes to providing clarity. I’ve been seeking a specific decision on something for years. It wasn’t until my family hopped in a car and drove eleven hours away that I received the insight I’ve long awaited.

We first headed to my mom’s, then pushed on to Miami Beach. 



I don’t know if it was all the time I had in the car to think, the change of scenery (not having to do laundry and other mundane tasks that so readily distract), or if being freed up from the pressure of trying to make our recent move make sense and translate as the best thing ever for my kids allotted me the kind of clearheaded thinking I’ve been craving.
  
I could attribute my recent revelations to this five-star meal my family gorged on in Miami Beach. We were treated to some of the best soul food I’ve ever tasted at Yardbird. I’ve dined all over the country and this restaurant is one of my favorites. It wasn’t just a meal, it was an experience. From ambience, to daring and delicious favors . . . I swear this food had something to do with the clouds clearing. (It could have had something to do with that tasty Watermelon Sling drink I ordered. Maybe moonshine really does it for me.)




I also think it had a lot to do with the messages I kept reading in this book. It blessed me with a special dose of inspiration.
  
And now I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking what the heck did she get clarity on and why did it take so much to get her there? I sort of wonder the same about the latter, but I’m here now and that’s what matters.

Where’s here?

I’m ready to say with confidence I will be releasing another book before the end of this year. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because I love publishing books. I love when you read them. I love knowing my stories and characters are connecting.

Thank you for reading. I can’t wait to share more!

Until next time . . .

Monday, June 5, 2017

This Place is Buzzing


I love that I moved to a creative hotspot. Last week I had the privilege of spending time with two talented authors. Both imparted wisdom and encouragement. Both are going to take the publishing industry by storm (so excited to be able to witness when that happens).

Today I’m looking forward to getting together with a local writer’s group.

Tomorrow I’m heading to a book launch I’m really exciting about. The book looks fantastic. I’m also eager to meet up with one of the rock star authors who endorsed my latest book.

And last night I spent time with a new neighbor friend who is interested in starting a blog about parenting and gardening. Sold. I want to live in her garden and I related with every single profound thing she said about parenting. I passed on tips, motivators, and inspiration that have helped me over the past eight years I’ve been blogging.

(these beauties are in her yard)


I moved here thinking I was going to be low-key about the whole writing gig. That was my plan. I guess writers just gravitate to one another somehow or I realized that I’m in this for good and these creative souls, well, they’re my people. I need them. And I’m home with them.

Meet you back here again June 19th.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Found My Funny


I was invited to a book launch a few weeks ago that left me in awe. Prosecco poured liberally, prizes and giveaways, talented guest speakers, the fattest blueberries you’ll ever see, but my favorite part was hearing the author read snippets from her book, The Amy Binegar-Kimmes-LyleBook of Failures.

I knew instantly I had to buy the book. Then I reached out to the author.

Between reading the book and connecting with the author I’ve been absolutely spoiled by funny in the past few weeks. Which is exactly what I needed. It’s what the world needs more of. When tragedy dominates the news I tend to slip into a mild funk. Humor is one of the only things that has the ability, the chutzpa, to lift me out of it. And man, oh man, did Amy Lyle’s book bring the funny!

It’s my favorite kind of funny too. Honest, vulnerable, life story humor—candidly shared moments that leave you feeling thankful you’re not alone, as soda (or Prosecco) spurts out your nose after laughing too hard and fast. I read several scenes aloud to my husband. I reread other scenes, certain the author hadn’t just written what she did. I was wrong. Lyle holds nothing back. And I have to say it’s refreshing.

Do yourself (and the world) a favor and buy this book. Read it (and don’t skip over the footnotes…you’ll thank me later).

Go find your funny!


*Happy Memorial Day!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Necessity to Create


There are days when I’m overwhelmed with a need to create something—anything. This isn’t a rare occurrence either. My fingers itch to make something out of nothing. And sometimes, the more “nothing” the original thing is, the more rewarding the final product. A blank page. An ugly furniture item. An unlikely canvas.

Last Friday, I searched our basement until I found a piece of drywall nearly severed in two. I stood back and put my imagination to work. I decided the drywall would do just fine. I whipped out whatever paints I knew existed in the house. I found inspiration online, then went to town.

Here’s what I painted.







I’m no Michelangelo, but nothing compares to the time I spend creating. A calm sweeps through me, somehow managing to simultaneously settle me and revive me. I’m not ashamed to admit creativity is my sanity.

“I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories . . . Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” 
Ray Bradbury


Monday, May 15, 2017

Personal Space



We recently bought a new TV. And it’s great. It is. However, I’ve noticed something that feels a little strange and I’ve finally put my finger on it. There’s almost too much detail. There are times I click it on and I feel like the actors are hanging out in my living room. It’s taken me a while to adjust. I’ve gleaned something else from this new TV watching experience and it’s mildly off-putting.

The screen doesn’t leave any room for my imagination to kick in. All the pixels and minute details are filled in for me.

This happens in books, too.

I read a cool quote the other day that touches upon this exact point. Annie Proulx emphasizes, “I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience.”

I wholeheartedly agree. An adept novelist gifts the reader with their own reading experience. The act of writing for me is an intensely personal exploration. The act of publishing is a sacrificial process of letting go. Why letting go? Because it’s up to the reader to fill in the gaps, to filter in their own life experiences as they read. The story ultimately becomes theirs to interpret.

The following are indicators an author has neglected to leave enough space for the reader.

Too Many Details
Like my TV, the author has inundated the reader with a litany of details. Every unnecessary one inserted in the story slowly robs the reader of identifying with the plot and/or characters. Details should be chosen wisely. Use them, absolutely. Details can do wonders to bring a book to life. However, make sure not to pixelate the reader to death.

Formulaic
If you’ve read my blog before, you probably know I’m not a huge fan of math. It shouldn’t surprise you then that I also don’t love formulaic writing. It’s another imagination stealer. Plot your heart out. Know where your story is headed, but don’t color-by-number your writing. It limits all that your story can become, at the same time as dulling down the impact for the reader.

Pretty Little Bow Writing
I’m all for an uplifting or satisfying ending that provides resolve for the reader. I think an author does a reader a disservice when they insert a tidy, clean ending or plot path, assuming that’s the only way to do things. Life is muddy. I’m not suggesting authors need to royally screw up the lives of all their characters (although that certainly can help strengthen a plotline). I am suggesting an author will seriously want to consider their motivation for making things pretty. If it’s too pretty and spotless, readers will struggle to identify. Imagination will suffer.

No Room for Reflection
Even in the best suspense novels (especially in the best suspense novels) authors find a way to allow the reader to digest what’s going on. They play with pacing so the reader has a moment to reflect upon what the main character is going through—they’re given an opportunity to really feel it. To empathize. That is the crux of good writing. Nuanced pacing. It’s writer’s gold.

Premature Solutions
Don’t resolve problems too quickly. Let suspense grow yeast-like in the reader’s mind. Give them time to make guesses, to fret, to become more invested in the story. If an author doles out rapid fire solutions the story loses its ability to root inside the reader’s minds. Connection is lost.

I love a realistic, gripping story, but not at the sake of sacrificed imagination. I still want to read and wonder. I want my own memories and moments to fold into the stories I’m reading. It’s difficult for this to occur when an author has unintentionally impeded a story from strumming imagination. Sometimes, as authors, we’re so obsessed with making things communicate as real, we forget to leave space for the reader. It’s worth paying attention to. Your readers will thank you.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Starting Somewhere (My Initial Reaction to 13)


I’ve spent the past few days a little heartsick after watching the 13 Reasons Why series on Netflix. No, more than a little heartsick. See, the thing is I have been wrestling with how much of a reaction to reveal, with how I want to respond and I still don’t think I’m ready to. Not yet. Not fully. Maybe never fully.

I watched it because two of my favorite people on this planet were interest in watching and knowing more. I knew what I was getting into. I read the book. I’d heard and read enough about the series. 

I watched and endured flashbacks of so many moments in my childhood and teen years when I feared my sister would actually, this time, be successful in her attempt to take her life. I watched well aware of my own stubborn demons.

I watched and I came away feeling more things than I’m even able to put into words at this time.

I will. Someday.

And I have. With and for two of my favorite people on this planet. We’re talking about it.

And that, as with so many things for me in this life, is a start.



“This is motherhood for you,’ said my own mother. ‘Going through life with your heart outside your body.”
―Jennifer Weiner

Monday, May 1, 2017

Navigating the New


It’s been over nine years since I’ve moved to a new area and even then, as I found myself surprisingly returning to the state where I grew up, it didn’t exactly feel new. The smells, mannerisms, landmarks, and expressions all felt a bit like coming home.

Moving this time conjures an undeniable and unavoidable newness. Southern hospitality is as welcome as it is startling. My brain hurts trying to log the names of roads, classmates, schedules, and restaurants we’re told we have to check out. Even the grocery store, something I used to tackle in under a half hour, now takes almost an hour.

Everything is new.*

There are days I crave the familiar. The comfortable. The things and people I know and love.

But you’re an adventurer I remind myself. This is exciting. You love the prospect of all that’s yet to be discovered—to be experienced.

True. But I’m also human and I find, not only for my sake but for the sake of my whole family, it’s good to be honest about the deluge of change. It’s exhausting at times. And scary. And lonely.

I’ve decided to take my time. To dip my toes in, when in the past I might have leapt in. I have no idea if this is an older, more mature me emerging. Or if it’s the evidence of my scars. Or if a maternal muscle is flexing. It could be an amalgamation of both wisdom and caution. Whatever it is, it makes sense for now.

Instead of flinging my doors open and taking the world by storm, I’m tilting my head to the rain and letting the droplets fall where they may. Because like Mary Oliver once wrote, I too believe

“…the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things
.”

*I lived in Georgia twenty years ago, but for less than a year…not quite long enough for much to root.

**Told you I’d be back. ;-)

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Went to My Own Funeral Last Night


This isn’t a riddle. I’m fully alive and last night I had the overwhelming pleasure of being around some of the dearest people I’ve met in the past nine years. I sat quietly as they stood and shared into the microphone some of the most loving things anyone has ever said about me.

See, I’m leaving. Moving van set to arrive soon. I heard many of these rock star women say how much they’ll miss me. I wish I had a profound way to communicate, a larger-than-word way, more-tender-than-hug way to speak into these women that they’ve changed my life. They helped me to believe in myself as a writer, a friend, and a loving human being. They embraced me at my quirkiest and hung on through the years.

I’m scared as I’m about to embark on a new adventure with my family. I’m also excited.

And I can’t think of a better crowd to sort through this tumble of feelings with than the one I was graced by last night.

Goodbyes are hard. But they also remind us of what we value and all that has rooted deeply inside.

So now you know, I wasn’t actually at my funeral. But I experienced a rare and unparalleled glimpse of the sort of impact I’ve had on others for the past decade.

Like I said, they’ve changed me.

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” ― Charlotte Brontë

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” ― Ray Bradbury


*Will be taking a brief blogging hiatus due to big life changes. Will return May 1st. You can count on it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Write Amount of Pressure

Tension is key for a thriving plot. It doesn’t hurt to experience a little tension when it comes to accomplishing a writing task either. It’s all in the way you choose to react to the ticking clock. A little pressure never hurt anyone. In fact, it can bring out the best in you.
If you’re willing to see things through a unique lens.
I realize some people work better under pressure than others. I’m going out on a limb to say that anyone can succeed when the flames get hot. It’s all about taking a note from a mind-blowing story from the Bible, and doing the Shadrach-dance the second our fingers feel the heat.

Five Ways Pressure Can Inspire Our Best Work
It Sharpens Our Perspective
Tension forces us to come to terms with how badly we want something. When we’re counting the hours we’ve invested and the lack of sleep we’ve sacrificed, giving up suddenly seems foolish.
We Launch into Fight Mode
Adrenalin-charged, we take to the task with a rejuvenated fervor. No backing down. We feel our muscles thrum and our brains tingle. Game on, we think, as we throw ourselves into the current project. We will reap the rewards for going in and staying in with a winning mindset.
We Learn to Trust Our Guts
There’s no time to consult ten different people or to Google every last doubt away. When our time is crunched, we get the privilege of learning something foundational that has the potential to spoke out into every facet of our lives. We evaluate our writing with ruthless, yet discerning judgment. We don’t contemplate what works and what doesn’t. We just know. Because it’s a waste of time to double-guess ourselves. And there’s no time to waste.
We Refuse to Bow to Excuses
Procrastination is the ultimate Ice Queen. If we know we have time, most of us are likely to take it. Don’t get me wrong, time’s a beauty. I’m a huge fan of allowing plot ideas to marinate and novels to organically unravel. However, without any kind of flame stoking the fire, our work is at risk of turning to ashes or ice. We’re tired. We’re too busy. We’re not good enough. Spear that Ice Queen and get to it, flamethrower in hand, and imagination on fire.
We Develop Our Author Voice
One of my favorites thrills as a writer is when I stamp a watermark of myself on the page. Here’s the tricky part, time is necessary when it comes to authors discovering voice. No way around it, to possess a strong writer voice it takes years of discipline.
Another way to look at this…when are you most likely to divulge your secrets? When do things have the potential to get crazy real? Answer: When your feet are to the fire. In small bursts of pressure-filled time we can dig up some of the best that exists inside us. It’s the pressure that coaxes it out from where it may have remained dormant for years if all continued status quo. Flames refine us.
I frequently create self-appointed deadlines. Keeps me on my toes. Keeps my material fresh.
Make tension work for you.

Now, Abednego. (Or as I hear it in my head, I’d better go.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ice Wine


Because we have a disarray of boxes all over our house, and I have more to do than I could possibly cross off any list, I’m going to keep today’s post short & sweet.

It was my turn to select the food and drinks for book club last week. We read the psychological thriller, THE ICE TWINS by S.K. Tremayne.

I decided to have a little fun in the liquor store while choosing wines. I took my time wandering the aisles until I came across these five…


Do you believe we had some left over?


How

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dark Matter



It’s fun to think back to the days when elementary school teachers challenged students to respond to books by creating dioramas. Remember dioramas? Cut up shoeboxes with paper characters, reenacting a splice of the story in the eyes of a child.

There are books I’ve read as an adult that tickle my brain about what I might do with a shoebox and a thick stack of construction paper.

The latest book that piqued my imagination was DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch.

I went on a complete adventure as I read this genre-bending masterpiece. It accomplished what any great work should—it caused me to think about the theme, the characters, and the story world long after I finished reading.

DARK MATTER bumped up against the big bold timeless question of what if.

That’s the real reason I’m telling you about this book—why I loved it. It didn’t skim the surface or provide some mild, fleeting entertainment. Some part of it rooted. Its vines wrapped around the wild and luxuriant vines of my imagination and didn’t let go.

Now to brainstorm what else I’d put in my DARK MATTER diorama.


*I’ll be spreading the word about some other fantastic books in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Going Green


You’ve probably heard moving is stressful. Maybe you’ve even been through it and can distinctly recall the agony you felt waiting to hear on a contract or the exhaustion that overtook you after making beds and vacuuming for showings.

We’ve moved around a bit, so going into it this time I knew I had to do some things that would make the entire process less painful. Less stressful. For me that meant having a project.

So I went green.

I got my interior designer game on and studied HGTV (and Pinterest) like it was nobody’s business. Except I made it entirely my business. I went all Edward Scissorhands on an old fake Christmas tree we planned to throw out. I created wreaths. I cut the underside of a boxwood bush in our yard, and painted a terra cotta pot white. I grew to love Granny Smith. By the time of the first showing, there were deliberate splashes of green all over my house.


Why green?

It tends to get a bit gloomy where I live this time of year. I beg for the leaves to reappear on the trees come mid-April.

Shades of green speak life. Renewal. Clean.


 All the things I want a future buyer to feel.

The good news is we’re coming into the final stages of this wacky transition period and I haven’t completely lost my marbles.
Completely. ;-)


Monday, February 13, 2017

Greetings from Edit Land


I’m immersed in revisions. And this is a good thing. There’s nothing quite like having direction and running with it. I like to joke that entering a season of editing closely compares to visiting a famous hotel in California. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave. At least it feels that way. I’ve frequented my novel a lot in my dreams lately. Ideas for plot changes filter through conversations. Even in the midst of a fairly significant life transition my family is going through, I still find myself hacking through details in my book. It feels glorious. It’s not that I love editing. I don’t particularly enjoy coming across ridiculous mistakes I’ve made, slashing chapters, disappearing characters, or the laborious task of reimagining entire sections of my book.

But I do love working toward improvement. I’m all in when it comes to that.

If I’m a little quiet on social media you’ll understand why.


I’m playing Edit Twister




or coaching my dog how to tackle edits on the days my brain is mush.


*posting again on Feb. 27th.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Look Closely



See the faces in this picture? These are a few of my book club peeps and hear me when I say these women help make my world go round. Also, I’d like to mention in these tumultuous times, that in our group of twelve, there are at least six faiths represented. Did we plan to establish a religiously diverse book club? No. It just worked out that way and I’m that much more enlightened because it did. I can’t tell you how happily my brain buzzes after an invigorating book discussion with these women. I find I’m often challenged, though not threatened in my own faith. Because I firmly believe only that which rests on a weak foundation is threatened by the differences of others.

I’ve wrestled for weeks about how vocal to be about what’s happening in our country and I keep coming back to my actions—people will pay attention to how I’m living more than what I’m saying. So read this. But I also invite you to observe how I act online and in person. Hold me accountable. (Don’t vent or spew…but if you see me doing wrong to another human being, excluding, or being hateful, you are welcome to come to me and confront me about it. I believe in being open to change. And I’m certainly humble enough to know I screw up on a daily basis.)

Back to my peeps though for a second. I love God. He’s been good to me and changed my life in countless ways. I want others to know that love. However, I’m also really curious to hear about how others are living their lives. I appreciate listening to what motivates and drives them, what rituals and traditions they may espouse to, learning about their unique faith. Here’s a real kicker…the women in my book club have various political leanings as well. Would we choose to shut someone out, to oust them, if they opposed our viewpoint? No. That’s not who we are. Instead, if I may say so, I think most of us feel that someone who doesn’t share our same views actually has the ability to edify us if we’re only willing to hear them.

That’s just it.

It starts with us. We need to be willing. We need to let others in. To cut the fear. To stay accountable. To remain open and nonjudgmental.


And we need to look closely at our own behavior before we try to convince anyone else of anything. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cover Hunting


Among a slew of other things keeping me busy lately, I’ve been spending time online cover hunting. 

I’m excited to share that I plan to release another full-length novel next fall. There’s a lot that goes into the process of building a book. Edits, marketing, and book design to name a few, but one of my favorite tasks involved with the creation of a book is selecting a picture that evokes the exact mood I’m going for in my novel.

This can take months.

I’ve enjoyed throwing some ideas out at my cover designer. She has a real eye for what works and what doesn’t and I’ve thoroughly appreciated collaborating with her on my other books.

As the date inches closer, you can expect to receive more details about this new book. For the time being, I’ll leave you with a teaser. I’m having a blast searching for a cover that exudes both an enigmatic and alluring appeal.


Any book covers catch your eye lately? What was it about them that grabbed your attention? 



*In need of a break. See you again on February 6th!

Monday, January 16, 2017

More to Learn

I was hanging out with two of my girls the other night trying to figure out what to watch when, after a few lousy starts on Netflix, we all agreed upon Planet Earth. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve seen glimpses of the show before, but not from start to finish and I have to tell you…it’s magnificent. The creative camera angles. The descriptive narrator. Stories unfolding all around us. And we’re mainly unaware.

That’s the part that really got to me—how much exists that we’re generally oblivious to. It struck me that this is true in every category of life. If we adopt this perspective with relationships, to learning as a whole, if we embrace a humble, open-minded approach, then we might be surprised by our findings.

Watching a single episode of Planet Earth stretched the way I think about the term expert. Our planet has been graced with some wonderfully intelligent people, folks who fought for change (nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and individuals who’ve come up with ingenious cures and inventions.

But I’m encouraged to know there is so much more out there to be done. So much more to learn—to fight for. This reality could easily feel daunting, discouraging, or even frightening. (Have you seen some of the creatures that inhabit the bottom of our oceans?) I choose to think of it as exciting. Because I understand I’m a part of this discovery process.

And so are you.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Identifiable



You see this picture and instantly your mind leaps to Starbucks. Perhaps your next thoughts are more than just thoughts, they’re your frequent orders. Or associations. Pumpkin spice. Hope my chair is free. Laughing with a friend. God Bless caffeine. You get my point. You see one partial image and your mind goes places.

This happens with books. Without studying the cover, after reading the first few pages, I can often tell if I’ve read another book by the same author. I should partake in one of those blindfold challenges to test this claim. I’m instantly aware if I have a Jodi Picoult book in my hands or a Gillian Flynn. Author of the bestselling YA novel, SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson has one of the strongest, most identifiable voices in the industry.

How can I identify an author by only reading a few pages or paragraphs even? Because any author who’s spent time on their craft has cultivated their voice. Before you roll your eyes and get wigged out by a word that feels as definable as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, take a deep breath. You get more about voice than you give yourself credit for.

Take the Starbucks logo. It’s green and white. There’s a star on top of some wavy-haired mermaid’s head. Crazy recognizable. Even when it’s partially covered. It doesn’t hurt that Starbucks has slowly been planning world domination. (I laugh because when I lived in Seattle there really was a Starbucks on one corner and another directly across the street.)

Author’s leave these kind of hints—these watermarks—in their novels as well. Their words are colored by a specific manner of punctuation and language pattern. Personal experience seeps through each sentence.

I’ve heard mentoring authors coach aspiring writers by telling them to copy a respected author’s voice until they grow comfortable with their own. I’ve never been a huge fan of this advice. Why not? Because I happen to believe a significant piece of finding your voice has to do with an individual’s unique experience. I also think it’s a way to try to hop on a fast track when the real skill of mastering voice comes with time and years of putting in the work. I’d reword this advice instead to encourage writers to read copiously, to study their favorite authors and pay attention to what defines their voice, then to invest the time and energy into getting words down on the page in order to stir the embers of their own voice. There are fires waiting to be stoked.


Here’s a great article on voice I read recently.