Chasing Inspiration

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections - A Little Hope

Dóchas. It's a Gaelic word that means hope.

There is something about this word that makes me smile, light up inside, actually. I don't know if it's because the word sounds so foreign or if it's because a favorite character in a series I read used the word as the name of women's shelter. Dóchas. Doesn't it just look nice on the page?

This time of year, my thoughts turn to hope. It's a time of reflection for me. Another year has gone by and while I could kick myself for all the things I meant to do but didn't, and for all the opportunities I let slide by, I try to look at the year, discover the lessons and the hope. And look to the future.


The future is bright with hope. Okay, looking at world events, you could argue that things aren't looking bright at all. War. Death. Destruction. Judgement. Where's the hope in that? The hope is that we can make different choices. That we can learn from what's been done and fall prostrate before God with hearts that wish to change, that long for peace. That who we are as individuals can make a difference.

My future is heavy with promise. I have dreams of writing, coaching and training. While I'm only inching closer to fulfilling these dreams and earning a paycheck from them, I have learned from this year that I have the right stuff within me. What I need to do now is continue on the path I've chosen and seek out opportunities. This year has taught me that the opportunities are there. I just have to open my eyes and my heart to them. And risk. Oh, that's a big scary word. To me, it means to leap into the unknown and hope I land somewhere. It means not being able to control the outcome. And anyone who knows me knows I like to be in control of things. But the things I want to do have so many elements I can't control. I can only do my best and then hope it was enough. And if it wasn't enough, I can learn and go a different way next time.

Hope is a part of transformation, I think. If we don't hope for something new, something better, we have nothing to urge us forward toward becoming better people. Hope is like air for me. The few times I have lost hope, I have been like a person drowning, fighting to stay alive and yet knowing the futility of that fight. I give up and stay stuck in the situation. It's like being caught in mud and unable to free yourself. Not pretty and definitely not fun.

But, the minute hope flares up within me it burns away the muck. I'm free to become. And that's what hope represents to me. That freedom to become.

Dóchas just seems to say it all for me. It feels richer than Hope. It feels...more. And right now, as I look at the precipice of 2012, I want more.

So, my friends, may 2012 be your year of Dóchas. Of hope. Of so much more!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Finding the Place

In two of my current works in progress (wip) I'm making up small towns on a very large lake not far from where I live. My past books have been set in Oregon and Florida. I decided to write a little closer to home while I work on creating a sense of place in my work. I live here, so you think I should be able to describe things well, right?

No. The art of description and creating a sense of place isn't necessarily connected with being familiar with a place. The art of description has more to do with how well you use words to portray the place to your readers. It helps to know how the place feels, smells, sounds, tastes and looks. It helps to know the flora and fauna and the weather. But you can be dry as a desert when you try to describe it to your readers.

For example, in my contemporary romance a house is almost a secondary character and I wanted to give people a feel for what the heroine sees when she returns to this house for the first time in years. I got caught up in describing the trim and how the paint had chipped off, leaving slashes of weathered gray across the colorful paint. I described the sagging porch and the weeds that were choking out the small herb garden along the walkway. Everything about this house was described accurately and well. But the description didn't portray the feel of the house, how it loomed on the edge of the water, how it appeared to be a whore trying to masquerade as a lady due to the garish colors the renters had painted the outside. The reader didn't get to sense that there was something lurking in the shadows or how Lana interacted with the house. In other words, it was dry and clinical and didn't give a true sense of what you (or Lana) would experience being there.

So I rewrote. And rewrote. And rewrote. Finally, I put the scene away and did some mind mapping on the scene using the senses as my guide. What did Lana see, hear, feel, taste, intuit, etc. With that information I went back to the scene and rewrote. I think I have it now. I think I have what I admire so much in Nora Robert's writing - that sense of being there and experiencing the place. I may have overdone some things, but that's what editing and first readers are for.

I wrote down the experience in my little craft notebook and will go back to that exercise during other scenes in the story where the location plays a vital role. And it will. I'm too impacted by my external world to not write that way.

Finding a place isn't this complex for every writer or every story. Some books I've read don't have a firm sense of place or location and it works for that story. My mind works differently so I'm sure my stories work differently. For me, it's not just about the plot or the characters but where and how they exist and the world around them. I find it all so fascinating.

Curiosity: When you read, do you find yourself longing to be there, right where the character is? Or does place impact you all that much?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Today is Hallowe'en. In days of yore this would have meant I was prepping the house for trick-or-treaters. It would also mean that the husband's family may have had a monthly gathering to celebrate October birthdays and carve pumpkins. I admire people who can carve them with intricate designs, but I always feel bad for the poor pumpkin I am asked to carve. I can't carve worth crap and my pumpkin faces always look messed up rather than funny or scary. So I have put a ban on myself to keep me from inflicting harm on the poor things. It was the humane thing to do.

Where we live there aren't any children who go door-to-door requesting candy. Yes, there are children, but the malls and community centers around our neighborhood do a wonderful job of hosing trick-or-treat events inside. Which is a good thing as the weather being nice is a crap shoot. That and drivers don't seem to want to slow down on our street, making navigation much like a Mortal Kombat version of Frogger.

I miss those days of yore. It was always fun to see the kids in their costumes, which would often inspire me to get into costume myself. It was also always fun to see delight in those happy faces when I would drop a full sized candy bar into their bags. That's right, no fun sized candy at my house for Halloween!

Tonight I will be working on the budget for November instead of being part of the Halloween festivities. What are your plans for tonight?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Change Is In The Air

 Life is in transition right now. Nothing huge like a death, birth or joining, but still a transition.

The transition is internal. I'm making a switch in my behavior and my belief system about who I am. Some of this has been the result of a study I did called Captivating. Some of this has been bubbling up for years. To summaryize, I am not simply the product of a broken world or my past mistakes. I am loved. I am beloved. And I have a purpose. Amazing what knowing that will do for a girl.

I'm being reacquainted with my purpose, but I know that it has to do with healing and with reconcilation and that writing is a key part to it all. I also believe that everything I have done up to this point has not been in vain. It has all been building toward who I am now.

I'm also excited because of how this fits with my current story. It's almost like the story is a metaphor for my journey. Mallory, the heroine of my tale, is on a journey. She doesn't realize it at the time the story opens, but she is. And her journey is going to take her into the mouth of hell before she realizes who she is and what her purpose is. I can relate.

The mouth of hell part of her journey is based on her choices and the choices of others. I'm a firm believer in free will. We all make choices in life that lead us toward or from our purpose. And each other. I know I've lived my fair share of those experiences. Mallory is going to live through hers. The key is that I have lived through them. I have survived. And in doing so, I know more about who I am. And what I want in life.


That seems to be a theme in my life right now. Something worth exploring as I move forward with the story, with work, with the renovations and with my relationships. Change isn't a bad thing. It's rather neutral, really. So why not take it for a spin? You never know where change might take you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Every Little Bit Counts

I belong to an email loop for my writer's group called Club 100. It sounds really elite doesn't it? Brings up visions of authors who have written 100+ books, right?

Trust me, it's nothing as glamorous as that. And if it were, I definitely wouldn't be on the list. I've written exactly 6 manuscripts and none of them are published. Or apparently publishable in their current incarnations. Which is fine. I've learned a lot from writing these books and I wouldn't trade the lessons of experience for anything.

Club 100 is a motivational email loop. The original goal of the group was for everyone to write 100 words a day. There is some solid rationale behind this goal. First, you are writing every day. The only way to finish a manuscript is to write. There are no short cuts. You must write that book in order for it to exist.

By writing daily you are building a habit. It's hard to sit in that chair and stare and the page or computer screen until intelligent words spill forth. But the more you write, and the more consistent you are with time and place, the easier it is to sit down and immediately shift from the worries of the day job, family, money, etc. to the story. This is an important lesson and one that took me years to learn. Now that I write daily I find I waste little time on trying to put myself in the story. Amazing!

By making a goal of 100 words you are taking what may be 400 plus pages and breaking it down into less intimidating numbers. As with any large project, a person can be overwhelmed when they focus on that end number. Then the negative self-talk and doubt creeps in. "400 pages? I can't write 400 pages! What the hell was I thinking? That's it, I'm packing up my toys and going home."

That type of self-talk is what keeps a lot of people from finishing. And without that finished manuscript, there is no chance of becoming a published author. Ever. But, if your daily goal is 100 words, and you consider that 100 words is less than one manuscript page, suddenly that book becomes a lot of little, bite sized goals that don't look so scary.

Here's the coolest thing about being part of Club 100. I started out with a 100-words-a-day goal and in the last 6 months I've been able to write 3 pages in the same hour that it used to take me to write 100 words! I'm hoping that over the next few months I'll be able to increase that to 5+ pages.

If you're an aspiring author of anything - journal article, non-fiction book on the zeitgeist of morality and higher education, or commercial fiction - this methodology of building the writing habit and breaking down the whole of your manuscript into small, daily goals will take you far.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Going After It with a Club

 I was thinking about the quotation at the top of my blog today. Jack London was a smart man. Right up there with Nora Roberts.

In an interview for Borders bookstores, Nora was quoted as saying there isn't a muse, that a writer can't sit and wait for the muse to be channeled. Writing isn't effortless. My personal experience certainly mirrors this sentiment. The days where I have waited for the muse to come knocking are the days nothing gets added to the page. Those are the days I find excuses to clean the oven, fiddle with the mending, reconcile the cheque book. Those are the days I do anything but get down to the business of writing.

Jack London said you can't wait for inspiration. I don't know if he meant those flashes of the perfect scene or the vibrant and oh so right setting. I don't know if he meant that niggle at the base of your skull when something you see, hear or smell triggers an emotion or moment in the plot. I imagine he doesn't mean those serendipitous moments that come to us all. What I imagine he means is that we can't wait for that lightening bold that says, "Here I am! This is what you are to write next. And it will be brilliant!"

Writing is hard work. All creativity is work. Joyous, torturous, wonderful work. But work nonetheless.At least it is for me. I won't be so arrogant as to speak for anyone else.

I love writing. I love birthing a story, nurturing it from a small, embryonic idea to a full blown plot with character arcs, story arcs, subplots, twists, turns and resolutions. That seed of an idea becomes a child and then a gangly adolescent, more mature, filling out but also awkward and full of grease. Finally, after what feels like years, the story becomes an adult and able to move out of the house to flourish or fall all on its own. This all takes work. A story, no matter how it may flow from the soul, is not born miraculously in complete and final form.

Ideas don't either. And if I were to sit and wait for that perfect idea I would always remain an untried, unpublished and ineffective writer. I would aspire, but never achieve.

Jill Barnett once stated that some of her books were born out of a desire to learn something about the craft of writing. She learned her craft by experience. Not by waiting for inspiration. Like Jack, Nora and Jill, I don't want to wait for fickle Lady Muse. I want to write. I want to refine my craft and bare open my soul. I want to go after inspiration with a club!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

It's been hard to stay focused on the writing these last few weeks. Which is making me grumpy. Really grumpy. I have about three stories floating around my head and I want to put them all on paper, but I get confused with which details belong to which story.

So I tried a technique I learned from my writing coach. I sat my characters down and one by one I started asking them about themselves. Very Gestalt of me, yes? Actually, it felt more Freudian but that's a conversation for another time.

As I asked these characters about themselves, I tried to ask them about the people in their lives and about what brought them to their story. Slowly I compiled a list of characters, some of their pertinent history along with some extraneous details I wasn't sure were going to make it into the story, but helped me to get to know these people just the same.

Then I started a mind map with all the characters, a color for which story thread they are involved in (romance plot, suspense plot, secondary relationship plot, etc) and began to detail through color and symbol which story they belonged to. In doing so, I have also mapped out the beginnings of a turning point diagram. Who would have thought this could have been so doable? Certainly not me.

I'm still grumpy. I still don't have much time for writing. I do feel better about getting some of those ideas out of my head and on paper. My brain feels less cluttered and I can get back to Jason and Mallory. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

15 Minutes

 Why is it that whenever I try to organize my home office, I seem to create more of a mess? I've been tasked with clearing out the office so we can move on to the next phase of our renovations. But I'm procrastinating. I don't know if it's because I can;t stand the thought of having to uproot all my books and set up in a temporary space for the next couple of months or if I really just have too much crap and I'm at a loss at how to deal with it.

I didn't use to be this bad. There was a time in the not so distant past that there was never a stray paper in the house and everything had a place of it's own. Since we started renovations six years agoI haven't been able to find my stride. The house is in this limbo state and has been since we bought it. Most things don't have a permanent home so things have piled up and chaos has finally become my good friend. This is one friendship I really want to let go.

So in an effort to get this monkey off my back, I'm going back to a method that worked for me in the past. 15 minutes.

The theory is that when things become chaotic, or when faced with a task you do not want to do, you set a timer for 15 minutes and work hard for those 15 minutes on a specific task and then you stop. You can do15 minutes a day, 15 minutes every hour, 15 minutes every half hour. Whatever works for you. Just remember to take a break from that task and do something you enjoy. That's the reward for the 15 minutes of work.

Funny thing, this works when I'm not in the mood to write. I sit my butt in my chair, set the timer and start writing. Eventually, I'm past my 15 minutes and my fingers are fighting to keep up with the scenes in my head. That's my reward. I get such a high from being able to finish a scene, a chapter, an entire book. No other accomplishment compares. Though I'm hoping getting my home into fighting form and keeping it that way comes in a close second. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Inspiration Unplugged

I had the most amazing weekend. Husband and I left the congestion of city living behind and spent three days at a cabin on an out of the way little lake.

There is no internet at this cabin. Cell phone coverage is spotty and there isn't a landline. No cable or sattelite TV. There is one TV station that has signals strong enough to break through the tree coverage, and even that reception is hit or miss. All of this forced us to unplug and enjoy the quiet and solitude.

I want to say I missed my internet community of friends while I was away, and on some level I did miss being connected. One another level I was pleasantly surprised with how much energy and time I had to be and to create. I did bring my netbook with the intention of writing (not to play Angry Birds, though Husband believe's that was the netbook's sole purpose), but I also gave myself permission to not write. I gave myself permission to just be - I state I have not been in for some time.

The combination of being unplugged along with the lack of expectations freed up some of the blocks I've had with the story. All day Sunday flashes of scenes and plot twists danced from my subconscious to my conscious and I felt compelled to pull out the netbook and capture everything and everything poured out faster than ever. I think I need to unplug more often.

It goes to show that sometimes creativity requires a lack of agenda and schedule. Sometimes the brain needs to be left alone. When the story is hitting the wall, perhaps it's time to unplug and play in the sandbox of life building sandcastles.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Wall

It was fantastic! The story was gelling, the characters working with me instead of arguing incessantly with each other and fighting my every thought and request. Images were dancing across the page - lush gardens heavy with plot twists and turns, the rich perfume of creativity gliding through the air and enveloping the computer monitor. It was a perfect writing moment, harmonious and brilliant.

And then it happened. That thing all writers dread. The garden dried and withered to dust and I was left with nothing more than a hard and barren courtyard hemmed in on all sides by walls. Tall, slippery walls. You know the type. You can't scale them. You can't jump up and grab the top and muscle your way over them. They block the sun and keep you prisoner there in that dry, barren place. Empty. Helpless. Alone.

Days crawled by and still the words didn't come. I was stuck in that desolate shell of a garden, no relief in sight.

I looked about my home office and my gaze settled on a picture of an almost forgotten moment. The 2001 RWA national conference in NYC had been of those moments in time where everything moved in slow motion, with precision and ease. All the pieces fit, all the colors blended and my drive to write was reconfirmed over and over again. The picture was of one of my writing goddesses and myself just after she gave an informal chat at the hotel bar. It was in that moment that she shared some of her writing successes, her writing schedule and the things she would do to overcome writer's block - consistency and going back to the time when you and the writing were a single entity and all was right with the world.

I visualized a day everything was humming along - how I was sitting, what music was playing, whether I had my water fountain on or not. I imagined the emotions that flowed through me as the story had appeared as if by magic from my fingers to the screen. I set a timer, turned on the music, made sure the fountain was full of water, sent forth a silent prayer and breathed.

Then I closed my eyes, placed my fingers on the keyboards and invited, no begged my heroine to tell me what she was about to do next.

Slowly, painfully so, letters formed words, words sentences and sentences mated to become coherent thoughts. By the time my timer went off an hour later there were complete pages on my monitor. 10 of them to be exact. I went back and read, cringing at the stilted thoughts. It was rubbish. All that work for nothing.

Then I looked again, and there just beneath the rubble was a vine. A small and tiny vine barely peeking above the cracked clay at my feet. Life! I followed that vine, nurtured and encouraged it for about another hour and was rewarded with tiny, fragile flowers of story. By the time the boy came home from work I had about 4 pages of something worth keeping and some loose ideas of things to come.

I write this in my blog so I can come back and remember that I don't have to wait for fickle Lady Muse to visit me. No, I can chase her, grab hold of her ankles and laugh at her shocked look as I dive head first into a story she keeps telling me can't be written without her. Take that, Lady Muse!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Soundtrack Friday - Anniversary Edition

Tomorrow I celebrate 17 years of marriage. I usually joke that it's been 17 long, hard years, but the truth is it's mostly been good. Even through the lean years marriage has been good to me. To us.

Last year I took the husband to see one of our favorite bands, Rush. They were on top of their game with their Time Machine tour and are always the band to see for great music and amazing entertainment, like this video that was played at the end of the concert. Ah, good times.

I was at a loss at what would top last year's Rush concert and the delayed but amazing U2 concert back in July when I realized bigger isn't always better and sometimes small and intimate is the best.

One of our favorite blues artists is Susan Tedeschi. We saw her at a jazz/blues fest up in Saskatchewan before she cut her first studio album and have been following her musical career ever since. Several years ago we were lucky enough to see her perform at the Minnesota Zoo. The amphitheater isn't a huge venue and if it rains there is no shelter. But there are no bad seats and you feel like you and the band are close enough to have a chat over cocktails. Aside from Rush, it is this concert at this small venue we talk about most often.

When I heard Susan and her husband Derek Trucks were going to be performing once again at the zoo, and the evening before our wedding anniversary no less, I knew I had the perfect gift. So tonight the husband and i will be heading to the zoo to hang with Susan. Happy Anniversary, husband. I love you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paperback Writer

"Anyone can write a book. I mean really, how hard can it be?"

If I ever hear those words uttered ever again in my lifetime I swear I'm going to drop-kick someone through a window. I'm not violent by nature but even I have a breaking point.

A friend, who is aware of my rather eclectic taste in reading material, noticed both my wip and a copy of a romance novel I had with me on the table at the coffee shop where she bumped into me. Of all the genres and sub-genres of fiction, romance consistently gets a bum rap. People think its trite, formulaic, easy to write, and often a waste of time. My friend picked up the book, took one look at the title and snorted. Not laughed. Snorted.

Rolling my eyes a little bit, I looked at her and waited for her to explain her outburst. No prompting is necessary, believe me.

"Why do you bother with this? It's all heaving breasts and turgid passion and all that crap. It's not real writing."

Not real writing? Not real writing! You explain to me how developing characters, devising a plot and creating relationships within that plot is not real writing. You explain all the blood, sweat and tears I've put into my work and how it can be anything but hard word and real writing!

Will romance change the world? Probably not, but name one of Oprah's Bookclub novels that ended turmoil in the Middle East or put a stop to world hunger. Romance is what it is. Genre fiction with a formula - a happily ever after ending. You know the main characters will end up together. The interesting part is how. What's their journey. Besides, you tell me that there isn't a "formula" for most genre fiction and I'll have to wash out your mouth. Mysteries are at the core a whodunit. Fantasy novels feature stories set in fanciful, invented worlds, an alternate and more fanciful version of our own world, or in a legendary, mythic past. I could go on.

Romance can contain suspense, comedy, tragedy, mystery, history, fantasy. It can be based anywhere with any combination of character archetypes. Sure, there are poorly written romances - I know, I've suffered through many of them. But there are amazing romances as well! Judith McNaught has written some moving stories, rich in emotion and wit. Nora Roberts is astounding when it comes to creating a sense of place within a story. Emma Holly writes rich plots with such honest and vibrant sensuality you become lost in her worlds. Marjorie M. Liu makes me want to weep with her rich plots and lyrical writing. Patti O'Shea has deftly created worlds that feel just as real as the one we live in now.

These are just a few authors who write wonderful stories. Stories people! Not tomes, epiphanies, diatribes or sagas. No great American novels here. Just stories. Wonderful stories about flawed people.

So I asked Ms. Book Snob if she's ever read a romance. "Nope, wouldn't be caught dead reading them. Unlike you."

Ignoring the slight, I snatched the book from her hands and turned to a section of the story where the two main characters are playing poker. Great details, witty dialogue, a subtle sense of sexual tension. You feel as though you're in the Northwoods cabin during a thunderstorm, sitting at this elegant wood table that seems out of place for a cabin, shuffling cards and shooting the breeze with the hero and the heroine.

Ms. Book Snob's mouth gaped like a guppy. "That could be out of any of the books I read."


Just when I think she's starting to understand, she flicked her hand at my wip and muttered, "This writing thing must be easy. I bet anyone could do it."

No, it's not easy. There are days its not even fun. There are days where the words don't come, the characters don't behave, the scenes are shit and all I want to do is toss the computer off the deck. Then there are days when I write like a woman possessed and laugh with the voices in my head rather than argue. Days when I know the words I've written are golden, forming not just sentences and paragraphs but weaving the tapestry that is my tale. Those days make it all worthwhile. But they don't make it easy. At least not for me.

So, to all the Ms. Book Snobs out there, go ahead. Try to write a book. Try to write a romance. I dare ya! Then you come and tell me just how easy it was. Until then, you have no right to comment. Or complain.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Magnum P.I. and Me

I periodically suffer from migraines and the wee dark hours of the morning one decided to wrap its cold dark arms around my head and squeeze. So I decided to fight back and sleep in.

Once I came out of my drug and pain induced haze, I decided some form of sustenance was required, stumbled to the kitchen to contemplate my nutrients options. Cereal, that always works for the after migraine munchies. As I looked in the fridge for milk, a rogue thought pops into my head, "Hmmm, I wonder what's on TV?"

Sunday is not known for great programming so I turned to a station that faithfully airs old syndicated TV shows. Imagine my surprise when Tom Selleck winked at me from across the screen. I had a moment of girlish giggles and then I settled in with cereal in hand to what what I assumed would be a comforting blast from my past.

Imagine my shock and horror as I realized that:

a) It's never clear why this magnanimous and anonymous Robin  allows Magnum to freeload off his estate. And where do I find such a fictional person to allow me to live the life of a kept woman? No, really, someone tell me please.

b) Magnum is hounded by flashbacks to Vietnam and yet this definite sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is never discussed in a healthy manner. Nor does it seem to impair Magnum from making a living as a P.I. And why is he named after a firearm anyway?

c) Hawaii is apparently overrun by the criminal element but still a damned fine place to live.

d) Tom Selleck in painted on jeans or short shorts is not as sexy as I remember him being.

I couldn't reconcile the poor writing and plot holes of the episode unfolding before me with the eerie appeal of Tom Selleck, who was the main reason I watched Magnum P.I faithfully in the 80s. It was almost hypnotizing the way it sucked me despite the trite dialogue and slow pacing. If you took out the "dramatic pauses" and one or two of the twenty thousand red herrings you could get the show down to a nice action packed half hour.

As my migraine haze burned off I starting thinking about one of my unpublished stories and wondered what readers reactions would be to some of the scenes I included for artistic indulgence. Would they be as sympathetic to the plight of Jordan and Quinn as I? Or would they want to throw the book against a wall and leave it there in a heap? Was I really being witty and charming in my writing or did it all boil down to trite dialogue and lame plotting?

Just as I felt the migraine creeping back in I heard a character from a previous book whisper in my ear, something she did quite often when I was writing her book. Yes, I know its strange, stranger still to admit I hear voices in my head. I'm an author damn it! I'm supposed to hear things.  Jordan insisted on telling me that I can't please everyone. And that this is the story of my now, not my future.

Apt words. Jordan is so smart.

Seriously, that little voice is right. We grow and we mature, I hope. As we do, what we find to be inspiring or even entertaining changes. In my teens Magnum was sexy and charming in a little boy lost sort of way. Today he could tip the scales toward irritating and whiny in a Peter Pan complex kinda way. What I look for in literature and genre fiction has changed. I look for deeper relationship connections and less preaching. I look for subtle themes as I no longer require a baseball bat to the head to get the importance of some stories. I like diversity in plot and I like to see characters grow as a result of their journey.

And some day I will grow beyond my current skills as a storyteller and look back on what I have written and wonder what was so amazing about it. That's growth, and honesty. And we need both to be inspired.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Soundtrack Friday

I bring my iPod to work and listen to various random songs during my work day. I do this in part because it amuses me and because I have so many songs between my music and Husband's music if I didn't have the music on a random rotation there would be entire albums I would never listen to.

This week Evanescence has come up on the random rotation so often I almost thought my iPod was malfunctioning.  The group makes up such a small portion of my music library that the songs don't come up on rotation often. Taking this as some sort of sign, I started listening to the emotion in the music and the imagery in the lyrics. As I would listen I could tangibly see or feel things from my current story. This doesn't happen often. I'm not that writer who gets sucked into the world of the story so deeply it's like I've become a part of that world, so when it does happen I try to take notice.

I started playing just Evanescence whenever I opened up my manuscript and sure enough a song would play that fit the scene I was working on in some way. I guess in addition to some of the other songs that have made their way to my WIP soundtrack I'll be adding quite a few Evanescence titles. I just hope I don't hate the music by the time I'm finished.

Here is one song that haunts my writing at the moment. I have three characters who don't feel they are good enough for something. All three have different reasons for why they feel the way they do, and while many people in life feel this way, all three think they are alone and unique in feeling, well, not good enough. Self-absorbed much? Yes, they are, but they are also on journeys that will hopefully lead most of them to some lightening bolt realizations about who they really are.

Good Enough by Evanescence plays beautifully some of the emotion and beliefs my characters cling to as they navigate their world. It's haunting and hopeful and terribly sad at the same time. I play it and I can tap into something in the story I couldn't before.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Minimalism and Me

Last week I wanted to lament the time that got away from me due to the busyness that has been my life. Instead of whining and mourning the time I will never get back, I decided to make some changes to my life. Easier said than done.
The first thing I realized is that in order to make positive, lasting change in my life I need to determine what is and isn't working for me and my family right now. I've taken some time to ask my husband some questions about his vision for our future and his expectations of our partnership. Then I had to shut up and listen to some hard truths. What I have walked away with is this:
  1. Less is more
  2. I am not Wonder Woman, I don't have to try to do everything all by myself, I can say no or ask for assistance
  3. When making agreements, write them down, make them actionable and follow through now not later
  4. Less is more
  5. My family doesn't need routines, my family needs meaningful habits
  6. Communication about wants, needs and expectations is crucial 
  7. Less is more
Okay, I really only have five things I walked away with instead of seven, but the "less is more" notion is something that I know in my head but for the last couple of years has been this voice whispering in my mind that simplifying isn't about being organized and building routines/habits. It's about less. Minimalism.

I'm not a minimalist. I have a closet full of clothes. Books everywhere. Cluttered surfaces (mostly paper which I swear breeds overnight!). My kitchen has more items than I'll ever use in a week or even a month. Then there's the crap in the basement. And perhaps this is part of my problem.

The more I have, the more I need to do to keep things in shape and the more time I have to put toward maintaining and/or justifying the things I have. What if I were to let go of the stuff? What would happen then? Would life become simpler because of this new less is more attitude? Or would it cause more stress? Is my stuff really taking away from the things I want to do? Are the activities I clutter my days with getting in the way of my passions and dreams?

I'm going to use books as an example. I love books. When I got married I owned maybe 20 books. I rarely purchased books in the first few years of marriage. I used the library a lot or I borrowed books from friends. Then one day I wanted to read a series the library didn't have and I couldn't get via interlibrary loan. So I started purchasing books. I bought them new or used. I received them as gifts. And my collection started to grow to where it is now at well over 2000 books. Where are all these books? Most of them are in boxes. Why? Because we are in the middle of renovating the house and bookshelves aren't high enough on the list yet. That and I think my husband keeps hoping I'll get rid of most of these books so he doesn't have to build as many bookshelves.

These books give me great joy and cause me great stress. They bring me joy because I love being surrounded by the written word. I love the stories and emotions and thoughts and knowledge books can share.  Given the opportunity, I will sit on my favorite chair with a pot of tea and will read endlessly for hours while the world passes by. Books are a passion.

My books are also a source of stress. I spend money I don't need to on books that often are purchased and then stacked somewhere unread until I have the time or desire to pick up a particular title and read it. Books collect dust, clutter surfaces and can get in the way of my space, time or relationships. My TBR (to be read) piles and boxes continue to grow and sometimes I'm paralyzed because I have so many choices of what to read that I don't get around to reading anything in my TBR piles and instead buy new books to read. You get the picture.

If I went with the "less is more" philosophy with my books, I would only keep books that had meaning and purpose in my life right now. I wouldn't hold on to series I've read and don't intend to read again. I wouldn't keep books because the author signed them or because I happen to know the author and want to support him/her. I would be ruthless about what in my TBR piles I'm actually going to read versus what I'm holding on to out of some meaningless habit to keep the books until they have been read.

After my heart to hear with the husband, I decided that since I had to move all the books being stored in the home office off the shelves while we move a window, I'm going to try some of this "less is more" attitude. It's going to hurt, but I'm going to commit to two shelves of books instead of five. If a book doesn't make it back into the office they don't get to stay in the house. I will find them good homes. I will catalog the books so I know what I used to own, if I ever read it, what purpose it had for me at the time. I need to free up the space so I can free up the office.

Books aren't bad. Stuff isn't bad. I'm not mad at my stuff, but I'm seeing now how some of the things in my life are distracting rather than uplifting. Sure, this less is more thing isn't saving the world, but I'm hoping it's a start to making those necessary and timely changes I need to make to move forward, and to have a happy, healthy family.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Keep it Simple, Breathe, Write

I was reading a blog by an author I admire and, if I had the balls, would ask about mentoring. But I don't so I haven't and probably won't ever. I'm a wuss like that. I'm fine asking for an autograph, admiring from afar, even pimping said author's books. But ask about mentorship? Hells no!

Anyway, I was reading this blog post by author Vicki Pettersson* where she talks about fear and writing loosely. I've been writing for over 10 years but I've been that writer to shy away from things that cause me fear so I drop what I'm writing for the next, easier thing. I should say I used to drop what I was writing for the next, easier thing. Sure, I have several finished manuscripts but I've always written something that felt easy and the stories always seem to fall flat.

For Mallory's book, aka the book that will not die, I'm trying to embrace my fear. I'm a pantser, not a plotter so I've packed off my inner critic to Siberia while I get this draft written. In this draft I learn about the characters, the world, the conflict and I write a whole lot of stuff that will need to be cut because it's necessary for me to know, but not for the story over all. I wish I could be a plotter right now because that would make things easier. Instead, I write a timeline as I go to help me remember events, characters, etc. There are a lot of inconsistencies in my early drafts. I hate it, but it's how I write. I've tried outlining ahead of time, but it doesn't work.

Anyway, back to fear and writing loosely. I'm afraid of this story. I think it has the potential to be great but it also has the potential to be complex and as an unpublished author, I'm not sure I'm ready for complex. I'll be the first to admit my craft sucks. Since I don't plot ahead of time, this partnered with craft of suckitude makes complex very difficult.

I'm afraid I'll write this story, I'll go through all the what ifs, the character development, the world building, everything and the story will always suck and I will not have done Mallory and Jason justice. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in front of the computer and almost had a panic attack due to fear of my own inadequacies.

Then today Vicki had this to say:
All of this is a circuitous way of explaining a very circuitous process … and an admonition to keep going when your eyes are crossed and your mind is muddled and you’re starting to forget why you’re writing your story at all. That’s where a lot of stories flag and writers quit and they move on to the next idea that seems shinier and simpler (until it’s not). Hold your ideas loosely, keep it simple. Breathe. Write.
Today, that's what I'm doing. I'm holding my ideas loosely, keeping it simple, breathing and writing. Vicki, you don't know me, but those words, they helped to loosen the knots in my gut and unfreeze my fingers. Thank you for your willingness to share some of your writing journey. It's greatly appreciated.

*If you haven't read Vicki Pettersson's Signs of the Zodiac urban fantasy series I encourage you to try the series. I found this series to be a delightful departure from the vampires, shapeshifters, witches and fae that dominate the market. Don't get me wrong, I love books with the above plots, but there's something deliciously dark and different about Vicki's series.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Light at the End

I have re-learned something in the last few months:  No matter how hard things get or how busy life gets, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Last week I blogged about how exhausted I was and how that exhaustion has awakened me to the need to refocus. One of the things I let go was my gratitude journal. How can I see the end of the tunnel if I'm not focusing on the light? I don't know about you, but I don't think I can. So I sat down last weekend and did some soul searching. Amidst all the things going on in my life, what am I thankful for?

I'm thankful for friends who offer me solace, comfort, understanding, advice and merriment. I'm thankful these friends take me as I am, because there are times I'm not pretty or uplifting. I'm thankful they stick by me even when I drop of the face of the earth and are willing to reconnect when I finally come up for air.

I'm thankful for my husband for many of the same reasons as above. I'm thankful he is skilled and gifted in ways that compliment my own skills and gifts, but in ways that also challenge me. I'm thankful for his never ending patience.

I'm thankful for my faith. I don't talk about it a lot. I'm of the earn the right to be heard philosophy so don't use my blog as a platform for my faith. That said, it's a large part of who I am and and I believe without my faith and without God there would be no light for me to look toward.

I'm thankful I can dream. I belong to a community of coaches and people who dream big dreams and don't want to stop there. They want to make dreams come true. Over the last year I thought I had lost my dreams, or at least my ability to dream. I hadn't. Those dreams were resting, waiting for me to have the energy to seek them again. Life would be so very grey without dreams.

So, I'm thankful. Now what? Where is that light at the end of this tunnel I've been in?
I think it has to do with friends, family, faith and dreams. I have friends and family surrounding and supporting me. I'm not an island and I'm not alone. This is a gift and a lightness I forget when I'm in the midst of the chaos. I have faith which, when I let it, gives me great joy and lightness of being. I have dreams to do great things and with my community and faith, I have a feeling these great things will happen.

That's the light. It's not a plan, it's nothing concrete. It's that pinprick of hope shining brightly in the dark showing me there is an end and if I follow that pinprick it will continue to grow until out of the darkness will emerge the exit to this tunnel. All I have to do is continue walking forward, one step at a time.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Summer Madness

My life has been a bit full lately. I would say the last few months have taken their toll. My husband has been in classes and he's a bear when he's not able to relax. I helped plan and organize a family wedding, hosted said wedding and hosted family for said wedding, which was in May. I've had additional family staying with us since the middle of June. Work has been busy and I racked up a lot of hours - I think if there was comp time I could take a month off just on the extra hours I've worked since November.  My dad had surgery and is looking at the potential of more surgery. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. We lost a friend to cancer. Friends have been married, children's been quite the summer.

My mind has not been in the game. It's been focused on all these other things. My creativity has suffered. My sleep has suffered. My focus has become fuzzy and frayed around the edges.

I didn't realize I hadn't visited my blog in almost two months because it's hard for me to believe it's now the beginning of August. Where did June go?  I certainly don't remember being around to enjoy it. As for July, I would love to forget the heat wave that sucked the life and intelligence right out of me.

It hasn't been all bad. It's just been tiring. Even good things can be exhausting and that's what I am, exhausted. It struck me a week or so ago as I got ready to attend the U2 concert that I was truly exhausted. Body, mind and soul. It's not difficult to see how I got here. With all the good and not so good things going on in our lives over the last few months I've let my needs for rest and renewal disappear.

Last week I hit my wall and was sick for 4 days. Not the kind of sick where I could still do things like read or knit or even walk the dog. I was the lay-in-bed-and-do-nothing-but-slip-into-delirium sick for at least two and a half of those days.

I decided to reprioritize. I do this every so often and I think it's a good thing to sit down and figure out what really matters in each phase of our lives. What was important last year may not be this year. Things change. And that's okay.

My blog is still important, though my focus may be shifting. My health and well being is very important so I'm streamlining and letting go of some things that are good but suck the energy right out of me. Writing is important to me and it's high time I treat it like it is instead of like something I'll get around to when I have time. My family is important to me so I need to find balance in being a good partner and in developing my own pursuits.

That wall was a good thing. It helped wake me up so I didn't keep down autopilot road. Now that I'm awake, I anticipate great things.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Soundtrack Friday

Jason is having a conflict of faith. Oh wait, you don't know who Jason is, do you. Let me back up.

In my current story there is a character who is a priest. Episcopal or Anglican. Maybe Catholic. He hasn't told me yet and like a good little writer I'm leaving that ambiguous in this first draft. Anyway, Jason is a man of the cloth. He became a priest because the good people of the town that took him in as a child expected it of him. It was also a way to channel his emotions regarding Mallory into something he felt was valuable and autruistic. I think he also did as atonement. From what, I'm not yet sure. I'm not even sure he knows this was part of his motivation.

So, Jason has been a priest for about 8 years. Long enough to know the collar doesn't fit him but too long for him to easily turn his back on his vows and his people. He doesn't question that God exists. With all he has experienced in his life that there is a higher power is a given. His conflict stems from a growing unrest. An unrest that has increased since Mallory quietly returned to town.

The first time I got into Jason's point of view this song was playing on the radio. It doesn't quite have the same depth of anguish Jason was feeling at the time but it is almost his anthem. Jason is quite frankly a character who is questioning where he belongs and if he will ever find that love and acceptance he's been searching for all his life.

When I think of Jason in the beginning of his journey, I think of Collective Soul and their chart topper Shine. I especially like the remastered version on their website (see the link to the website) and can't wait until it's available on iTunes. The beat, the lyrics, everything about the song helps me to get deeper into Jason's head.

For this week's Soundtrack Friday, I bring you Shine. Enjoy!

Collective Soul - Shine [Video] by AtlanticRecords

Collective Soul Hits by collectivesoul

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Socially Inept

Social media. It's supposed to be an author's best friend. Even an author like me who hasn't sold a single thing and is still feeling her way through the writing and publishing world. Some days it feels easy. I send out a few tweets, respond to a few Facebook entries, write something for the blog and I'm set.

Then I remember I don't blog, tweet or facebook under the same name. I haven't even determined what name I'm going to try to publish under. I don't have any consistency with what I do. I blog several times a week and then I don't blog for weeks. I use Twitter every day for weeks and then I disappear. Facebook isn't even a tool I use with my writing or to gain an audience. It's my personal account that isn't searchable or easily accessible.

So what's a girl to do when she feels socially inept when it comes to social media? She finds experts like Kristen Lamb and reads said experts' blogs to learn the tricks of the trade. Just today Kristen had a lovely post about blogging and how blogging isn't necessarily easy for writers. It takes work to build a platform that is conducive to building community. And if I got the gist of her blog post - Rock Stars and Writers: Yes,  We Really Do Work - correct, blogging and other acts of social media can be about building community.

If I treat blogging as community, what would that change with what I post? I haven't the foggiest yet. I'm still spinning in that whole "I am social media challenged" phase of the game.  But I do know I'm going to consider what community means to me and what type of community I want to have here in the world of social media. I also know I have some learning to do. Right, just when I thought the only research I would have to do is within my books, here I go needing to research on how to blog.

You would think having blogged sporadically for five years I would have all the working knowledge I need. I've come to the conclusion that if this is ever going to be for more than anyone but myself I need to admit my lack of knowledge and do what I tell my coaching clients to do  - gird myself with knowledge and understanding so I can make and achieve attainable goals.

Kristen Lamb has two books that have recieved soem good reviews from several of my peers so I think I'm going to take some of that research book budget I have and save toward buying these two books:
I'll let you know what I think once I get them and start reading them. The old research book budget isn't as big as it used to be, but I don't have a lot of fiction books I'm purchasing this summer so maybe I can squeeze them in with my fiction purchases. *grin*

What are your favorite ways to use social media to build community? What type of community are you attempting to build? I would love to know!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Acknowledge, Apologize, Amends, Repeat

Sometimes I can be an idiot.  And sometimes by being an idiot I can do such stupid little things that can really impact relationships.
Take this weekend for example. I was coordinating an event and had asked a friend to help out. She has an expertise I do not, so being the smart, intelligent woman I think I am, I asked her to provide her expertise for a portion of this event. I had every intention of paying her. Every intention of asking her ahead of time what I should set aside for payment. Instead of following through on my intention, I let it slip in between the other details of getting things ready.

Then Saturday came, again with the intention of making sure my friend was paid for her expertise, and excellent work. And still my brain let go of this very critical item. It occurred to me after the fact, too little too late.

I hate it when I feel someone has taken advantage of me. It rubs me completely the wrong way and can get in the way of relationships. I try to not be that person and it shamed me to know I had been that person this weekend. If I felt that way, how much worse did my friend feel?

What do we do when we realize we hurt someone and put our relationship on the line?

I don't know about you, but I worry about it and often let it fester, forgetting that the quickest way to initiating resolution is to acknowledge, apologize and make amends where amends can be made.  I don't know if it's human nature to dwell in that space where I know I've done something wrong and hurt someone to the point where all I can see is the worst case - she will hate me; there's no way to make it right; how can he ever see past this - but this is what I do. Have done it ever since I can remember. Maybe it's the writer in me, telling myself stories about what's happened instead of seeking the truth of the situation. Maybe it's my lack of confidence that whispers to me that once trust is broken it can never come back. Maybe it's my own past experiences raising their ugly heads. Regardless, it's not all about me and by staying in that negative space, the worry and actions become just that - all about me.

So last night, as I thought about my friend and surrounded myself with my issues, I stopped myself and what I needed to do became clear as crystal. I got over myself and decided to do what I needed to do - acknowledge, apologize and make amends. I have to trust now that when my friend says everything is okay, that everything truly is okay. And I need to take this life lesson and remember that when working with anyone, make sure expectations are discussed up front so everyone is on the same page. I know this. I live this in other areas of my life. I let myself forget this in the busyness that became my life as I was coordinating this event.

I would like to say I'll never forget again. I can't make that promise, even to myself. I can say with absolute conviction that I will be more intentional, especially when engaging the services and expertise of people I care about.

Acknowledge. Apologize. Make amends.  It doesn't always resolve issues and sometimes trust does need to be rebuilt. Or our picture of a person needs to be refocused so we can see past the hurt.  Owning up, being sincere and attempting to right the wrongs is definite movement toward reconciliation.  So are those two simple words - I'm sorry.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why I Write

I gave up writing for a while.  Or I thought I did.

I've been writing fiction since elementary school. I didn't seriously consider writing for fun and profit until about 10 years ago, at which time I joined a writer's group and started hanging out with writerly types and stalking  spending time with published authors.  I produced about 5 manuscripts and countless partial novels that are stuffed inside a virtual drawer on my computer. I queried and sent out my stories and was both ignored and rejected. This didn't phase me - I've heard often enough that rejection is a part of the writing game and any author who has not been rejected by a publishing house hasn't been trying hard enough.

I gave up writing about three years ago. It was a conscious decision because my muse and my mind weren't speaking to each other any more and I couldn't write. I would stare at a blank page on the computer screen or in my notebook and not have anything to say.  So I set it aside and went on with life.

Except I didn't really stop writing. As soon as I put the need to be published aside and tucked my self imposed deadlines into the black abyss that is my home office, I started seeing stories again.

Not long stories. Short quips and scenes. I amused myself to no end with them, just living them out in my head. Until one day, the character who is the bane of my existence and the reason for my self imposed writing embargo whispered a scene in my ear that had me sitting up abruptly in bed (she never did have good timing) and craving a pen and paper so I could write this gem down.  For years I had been struggling with this character, trying to understand who she was and what story she was trying to tell. I have three drafts of the first third of her book on my computer and each one is different except for a few things - her name, the location of the story, and the fact that there is something "other" about her. Oh, and a priest who is in love with her and not in love with being a priest, but that's another story for another day.

I've been writing, albeit slowly, ever since. And through this process I've discovered why I write. I don't write because I want to make a career out of it (though that would be nice). I don't write because writing is soothing and relaxing (it isn't, at least not all the time). I don't write because I'm a good writer (I have a lot to learn...I'm an okay writer).

I write because there is a story burning deep inside me and it won't let go until it has been told. The way it wants to be told. I would love to get to the place where I write because it is fun and I get paid to live in my head and lie for a living. I would love to write because I'm disciplined and because storytelling has become effortless. I don't know if I'll ever reach those places. In the meantime, I write because if I don't I'll have Mallory harping on my shoulder for the rest of my life and trust me, no one wants that.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Soundtrack Friday

 I've been remiss with my blog again. Sorry! If I have any readers left I'll be amazed, lol! I have no excuse except it's spring and right now this spring has felt more like an extension of winter so my creative self took a cue from Punxsutawney Phil, looked outside, did not see it's shadow and went back into hibernation for a few more weeks.

Not quite true, but true enough. The weather has been very cool and grey for April and I need me some sunshine to start shake off the winter doldrums. Winter has been hanging on by her talons this year - it snowed just last week and it tried to snow this week. My poor creative self has been suffering, and when my creative self suffers, I get lazy.

So, in honor of the sun finally shining and my creative self deciding to get off her ass and grab herself some motivation, I give you Bruno Mars and his light and fun, if not self-absorbed, Lazy Song. If you're a fan of the official music video, you can find that here.

I'm not a huge fan of the video, so I did a websearch for a more acoustic version. *gasp* I did something that was actually not lazy! I guess that means spring truly is here. LOL!

So here's to lazy days, and to the shining sun and to a weekend where I will be so busy I will wish I could take a day where I'm not doing anything. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

How I See Me

I heard a song on the radio today. I mostly listen to talk radio when I drive to and from work because if I don't I'm flipping channels and not paying attention to the road. And if you've seen me drive you know I need to pay attention to the road. This morning, because I hit the wrong button on the car radio, I ended up listening to a Bruno Mars song. A song I've heard before on Glee but haven't caught Bruno singing. First, Mr. Mars, you have a new fan. I will be rushing out to by your CD later today and I will be cursing the fact I didn't budget to go to your concert! I may have to see if I can get rush tickets because, boy, you're amazing!

Back to the story. As I was driving and listening to this song, it was almost as though I heard a voice whisper in my ear, "Pay attention to the lyrics. It's important." So I set my eyes on the road, turned up the volume and listened. And cried. Not wept, just teared up and had damp cheeks.

Songs don't usually hit me where I live. I can find lyrics that are meaningful but it's the instrumental pieces that move me with deep emotion. I felt polaxed by the simple, open lyrics of this song by a man young enough to be my...very young cousin. *grin*

I struggle with feeling beautiful. I struggle with feeling cherished. I'm married to a wonderful man who I know loves me. We've been married for so long I sometimes think we forget to tell or show each other every day just how much we love. How amazing the other person is. I also have a history of being that person who spent her life on the outside looking in. So I struggle sometimes feeling a lot less than perfect and definitely not beautiful. Not as I am in this moment, anyway.

Women often don't see themselves the way others see us. We see our percieved faults and forget the beauty - be it internal or external. We can allow our insecurities to shade our self-view. And we're masters at comparing ourselves to other women. And coming up short with what we see.

I know I'm a master at this game. I play it cunningly and very well. Where I should be my own best cheerleader, I'm my own worst critic. I can see the beauty in other people, and I love to share that beauty with them. I fail, however, to be in tune with what makes me unique and beautiful and amazing.

So when that voice whispering in my ear told me to listen, and I did, I found myself listening to the words I know my husband and friends have told me over and over in the past but didn't sink in because I had too much baggage, too many barriers. And I found myself crying.

If you haven't been living under a rock you know the song I heard this morning on the radio. You may think it's a fun pop song - and it is. I hope you stop and listen to it, really listen the next time you hear it. This song has a message all women who are loved need to hear. That we are wonderful and amazing just as we are. That others see us and see beauty and perfection. That those things we don't like about ourselves may just be some of our best assets. Especially when viewed through the eyes of someone who loves and cherishes us.

If you haven't heard the song, or paid attention to the lyrics, I suggest you do. If you're a man who loves a woman, keep telling her how amazing she is to you. I promise, some day she will start to see herself through your eyes. 

Just The Way You Are - By Bruno Mars

Verse 1
Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they're not shining
Her hair, her hair, falls perfectly without her trying
She's so beautiful, and I tell her everyday
Yea, I know, I know, when I compliment her she won't believe me
And it's so, it's so sad to think that she don't see what I see
But every time she asks me, do I look okay, I say

When I see your face, there is not a thing that I would change
Cause you're amazing, just the way you are
And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl you're amazing, just the way you are, hey

Verse 2
Her lips, her lips I could kiss them all day if she'd let me
Her laugh, her laugh she hates but I think it's so sexy
She's so beautiful, and I tell her everyday
Oh, you know, you know, you know I'd never ask you to change
If perfect's what you're searching for then just stay the same
So don't even bother asking if you look okay, you know I'll say

When I see your face, there is not a thing that I would change
Cause you're amazing, just the way you are
And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl you're amazing, just the way you are

The way you are, the way you are
Girl you're amazing, just the way you are
When I see your face there's not a thing I would change
Cause you're amazing just the way you are
And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile
Cause girl you're amazing, just the way you are, yea

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Soundtrack Friday

I have no story for this week's song. It's haunting. It tells a story in and of its self that needs no additional words from me. And I love Susan Tedeschi. Have since I first saw her at Saskatoon's Jazz Festival back in 1999. In fact, the husband and I try to see her in concert every chance we get. Susan solidified my husband's love affair with blues, for which I am eternally thankful. :)

Enjoy Susan's live rendition of Angel from Montgomery. And some day when you're reading something I've written, I hope the words on the page convey the same honest truth that Susan's music brings.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today I'm Thankful For...

I started off today grumpy. Has nothing to do with turning 40 and everything to do with daylight savings time robbing me of a precious hour of sleep. I'm always grumpy a few days after we change to daylight savings.
Instead of being grumpy and bringing the people I share an office with down, I decided to intentionally find things today I'm thankful for. This ties back to my posts on gratitude here and here. While I haven't been posting daily the things I'm thankful for, I have been keeping a journal. I'm forced to be a little more creative with each day to find those things I'm thankful for and to be authentic with what I choose to highlight.

Today proved no different. I could write a list of the things I'm not thankful for without even thinking. This wasn't going to help my mood so I went to the office kitchen, made a cup of green tea and let myself sink into thought.

Here is what I came up with:
  1. I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional through projects as large and complex as the one I'm working on now. Without these opportunities I think I would sit back on my accomplishments and stagnate.
  2. I'm thankful for people who have my back and are willing to let me know when I missed something or have made an error - before I go too far down a path that would lead to sticky results.
  3. I'm thankful for authors who write about the redeeming power of love and show me through story that at the end of the day it is love that saves all.
  4. I'm thankful my muse isn't fighting with me anymore and that I'm making progress on my stories even if my plotting is still my weakest link. I can fix plotting. I can't fix a blank page.
  5. I'm thankful laughter is contagious.
I looked at this list through out the day as I was tempted to sink back into feeling grumpy and low and behold it is now 5pm and I'm ready to head home with a smile on my face and a lightness of being.

Hmm, maybe there's something to this gratitude stuff after all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Contemplations on Goals and Birthdays

I turned 40 today. Don't worry, I'm not about to jump off the edge of reality and fall into the mire of midlife crisis. I'm actually looking forward to this milestone birthday. I hear from many friends that they really started to shine in life when they reached 40. I'm hoping this is true for me, as well.

While I'm excited about 40 I'm feeling reflective today. 40 is an exciting age to be. I'm excited for it. I welcome it with open arms and a huge smile.

I also approach this new decade looking back. I was thinking about this yesterday. I'm at midlife, unless I live to be 100. I haven't accomplished some of what I hoped to by this point in my life. Some of that is because goals and wants and needs changed over time. Some because I realized the goals I had set were not in any way realistic.

40 also means that there is less time to do some of the things I had wanted to do by now. Since I'm in that reflective mode and want to see opportunities rather than loss, below are my thoughts on a couple of the big items.

I am not published - by a formal publishing house or self published. I wanted to have several published novels under my belt by this time in my life. I don't. I have several unpublished novels under my belt so while I'm mildly disappointed I don't feel I've missed the mark with this goal. Until the last year or so it wasn't realistic to self-publish in any way that would allow the author to actually make money. As for a traditional publishing house, that is up to the whims of the powers that be, not up to me. I will continue to pursue traditional publishing but I think I will also find a critique partner this year or a mentor so I can grow as a writer. If I'm good enough I may pursue self-publication. This is not lost time. This is the right time and I firmly believe that.

I haven't traveled beyond North America. I want to travel to Tuscany, Venice, Ireland, Scotland, London, Bath, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, and many additional places. I haven't. We bought a house that needed much fixing up and that is where our money and time has gone. I had hoped that by now we would have at least one trip under our belts but no. In the next 5 years my goal is to have at least 2 overseas excursions beneath my belt - with or without the husband.

I wanted to have a coaching business by now. I recognize that a couple of things have stood in my way. I'm not certified by any of the BIG certification programs and that makes me feel I should get certified before I build my business. It's more a CYA thing than a competency thing, but it does keep me from moving forward. Choices around where to spend money have continued to bump this down the list but the husband and I have an agreement that once the house is done (please let it be not too much longer) we will have the funds to pay for certification. Yay!

I also know nothing about running my own business and honestly am a little freaked out about not having a consistent paycheck. In the next couple of years along with a writing mentor I want to find someone who has been there and built their business to see if they would be willing to mentor me. Knowledge is power and my fear is based on not knowing. I may always have at least a part time job but it would be nice to remove the fear and barriers to see if I can really make a go of coaching.

Those are my big items and as I approach 40 I can see with clarity what I need to do to move forward with these dreams and take them to the next level. I don't think that has anything to do with turning 40. Or maybe it does. Maybe with age comes that crystal clarity and as I approach a milestone marker in my life I recognize that life isn't forever and if I want to take dreams into reality I need to make conscious and actionable goals. Or maybe it's just I needed to grow up more in order to really truly reach for these goals.

Either way, I'm now 40. I'm excited and while a lot of life has been lived, there is so much more life waiting for me. I'm looking forward to seeing what doors open.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Soundtrack Friday

 I've been listening to a lot of interesting music lately. Mostly because the characters in my head keep telling me they listen to this music or because it fits with story flow and emotion.

As I'm writing Mallory's story I'm also working on what I thought was going to be a nice easy contemp romance. HA! It seems the characters in my head don't like easy. And since plotting doesn't work for me at this time I go with with they tell me. Sorry all you plotters out there. I've tried everything and all I end up doing is screwing up the story. This is why it takes me so. freaking. long. to. write. If you have a way to plot that works and is doable for a dyed-in-the-wool pantser, please share!

Lana, who is the heroine of my nice and easy contemp that isn't, puts on music while she works on renovation projects in her house. She listens to Matchbox 20, Death Cab for Cutie, Florence and the Machine, Bruno Mars, and when things are really intense or screwed up she listens to heavier music. Dark music. Music I don't own and while I hear the driving beat in my head I couldn't tell you who performs any of it. If you know of any really dark heavy music that isn't your traditional hair band or 80's metal group, please let me know. I need to down load something to the iPod to appease her.

The more I get to know Lana the more I know she's been kicked around in life but has come up optimistic. Her favorite movie is the motion picture Ever After. Which is kind of fun because it's also one of my favorite movies. In this movie we have a Cinderella story where Cinderalla needs to know she is loved but doesn't need someone to save her. In fact, she does a lot of the saving herself. I love stories like that. Apparently, so does Lana.

In honor of Lana, and the fact I'm writing again, on this week's Soundtrack Friday I bring you Texas and their song from Ever After - Put Your Arms Around Me. Enjoy!

Texas Put Your Arms Around Me
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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Mire of Uncertainty

I'm starting to get back in the swing of things after my blogging hiatus. I've been thinking a lot about my friends who work for the company that will not be named and are facing lay-offs. It's hard to move forward when you don't know what the future holds. None of really do know the future but when times appear stable and secure we feel we have control over what will occur tomorrow, next week, even next year. When life tosses in chaos and ambiguity, we can be thrown off our game. That has happened to me more times than I care to count. And I have panicked. I'm learning to step back and not give head to my emotions.

My provocative thought for today has to do with living in the mire of the unknown.

Og Mandino, an American essayist, stated:
 If I feel depressed I will sing. If I feel sad I will laugh. If I feel ill I will double my labor. If I fear I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent I will thin of past success. If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.
 He also said:
Count your blessings. Once you realize how valuable you are and how much you have going for you, the smiles will return, the sun will break out, the music will play and you will finally be able to move forward the life that God intended for you with grace, strength, courage, and confidence. 
 I'm reminded by these quotes that while we don't have total control of the future with it's mire and muck, we do have control over our reactions and our thinking. We can think ourselves into panic and anxiety or we can master our emotions and move forward.

Which reality you live is up to you.

I'm not going to lie and say it is easy, but I believe God looks down on us with favor and that when we live within that favor we find peace and rest and can master our emotions. If you don't believe in God, I think you can still find that refuge from turmoil. It's in the choices you make and the realization that you are valuable and you have purpose and meaning.

Which reality will you choose?

I hope my friends who are feeling this very real uncertainty can find some peace this weekend. I hope they can reflect on their successes and know that regardless of whether they have a job at this company come next week or not there is something special waiting for them. I also hope they know they have support. When we live in uncertainty we often feel we are alone. We're not. This is the time to take stock of who is there to support us emotionally, socially, economically and even spiritually.

Who do we know who can help with job leads and establishing ourselves professionally? Who can commiserate with us in our time of loss and need? Who can kick us in the pants when we need to stop living in our emotion and start looking at action? Who can hold walk the road with us in understanding and compassion? Who can remind us of our successes and meaning and celebrate with us?

No, we're not alone. And we don't have to stay stuck in the mire.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blessings in Disguise

 I worked for a great education company from 2002 through 2008 when I was laid off due to restructuring. I learned a lot while I worked there, made a lot of friends and grew as both a person and a professional. At the time I was laid off I took the change philosophically and knew there would be additional opportunities for me ahead. To be honest, I had been trying to move out of my role as project manager into a role that was more training and coaching oriented so the lay off meant the world was my playground.

I landed a new job about three months after the lay-off (and about 3 weeks after my last severance payment). The end of my tenure at this great company was truly a blessing. I know others were impacted differently and didn't see the blessing this end could be. As I talk to people who were laid off at the same time I was, they all seem to be in better places. Blessings.

I just learned today that this same company is reducing it's workforce by 8% and that this 8% will come from support staff. This means people I worked with are going to be impacted. I haven't heard yet if any of my colleagues are going to be saying good-bye to their jobs but I'm sure some of the people I know will be leaving this company and not by choice.

It's always hard to have a job taken away. The most difficult thing for me was knowing that it could take a long time to find new work. That lack of security touched me in a deep place. I am a woman who values security. The exercise in losing my job taught me that security doesn't come from a steady paycheck. It comes from doing work you are passionate about and surrounding yourself with people who love and support you. It comes from planning for emergencies when the times are good so you have a cushion when the times aren't quite what you were hoping for. It comes from faith. I have faith in my family and faith in God. Other people have faith in other things. Faith gives us hope.

I'm really glad I was laid off back in November of 2008. I found a lot of blessings through what could have been a devastating event.  Those same blessings may have come to pass if I hadn't been laid off, who knows. All I know is that today I have a stronger sense of who I am and what I want to do when I grow up. I found I had more support than I ever dreamed. I learned I was stronger than I thought I was. And I lived out the lessen that when one door closes another opens.

I pray for my former colleagues who are living in uncertainty and perhaps will lose their jobs due to this work force reduction (what a civil way to describe a lay-off).  I hope the world offers them blessings they would not otherwise have without this life event. If I've learned only one thing in my life it is this - even in the darkest moments there is something good and right waiting just within grasp. All I have to do is reach out and grab it.

My gratitudes for today:
  1. I'm thankful for the people in my life who lift me up when I can't raise my own head far enough out of the mire to see the opportunities for myself.
  2. I'm thankful my husband and I took Financial Peace University before I was laid off because we had the forethought to build an emergency fund - something we continue to build to this day.
  3. I'm thankful I was able to reconnect with my creative side and that the story I've been working on off and on for years has finally bloomed in my mind. Now, to make the time to write it down...
  4. I'm thankful I have a great boss who takes the time to know me and my goals and is supportive and encouraging. 
  5. I'm thankful that I'm starting to see the gift in all of life's moments. I'm not there yet, but I can start to see those gifts more clearly than I could in the past. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Timely Intentions

A friend asked me what it took to find time to write. She's a mom with three children - a teenager without wheels, a tween who lives in high drama, and an active 4 year old. She works. She carpools. She cleans. She is truly the chief operating and finance officer for her family. She wants to write a book on her journey as a mom but didn't see how she could add that on top of an already busy life.

I thought about her question and the first thing that came to my mind was, "how does she do it?" She balances so much and still manages to have an organized house, well adjusted children and from the outside looking in it appears she has a healthy marriage. I struggle to keep the house organized and I don't even have children!

More and more I understand we are all gifted with the same hours in a day. All of us. We all have 24 hours. We all choose what we will fill those hours with. If we don't choose for ourselves, someone else will choose for us. 

I used to bemoan the fact I didn't have enough time to write. A good friend who is willing to hold up a mirror and call me on my crap suggested I do a time study where I would write down what I was doing every 15 minutes. I used my daily planner and every 15 minutes wrote down what I was doing. It was enlightening to see how much time I spent getting side tracked, how much time I spent surfing the web aimlessly after I accomplished a task such as paying bills or emailing a friend. Then there was the amount of time I spent reading. And the day dreaming.

None of these activities are negative on their own. Pile them together and I saw that my days were getting away from me because I was allowing my inner ADOS (attention deficit ohhh shiny syndrome) to dictate where my time went. The saying that where we spend our money and our time tells people a lot about what we value and who we are suddenly rang true for me. I said I wanted to write but how I spent my time told a completely different story.

That day I started to live with my eyes open and with intention. I'm still learning. There are still those days where at the end of it all I feel like I have accomplished nothing. Those days are few compared to a couple of years ago.

So, when my friend asked me what it takes to find time to write I answer it takes intention. Time management, it's a myth. Living lives with intention and being consciously aware of the choices we are making and how those choices impact our desires and commitments, that's a reality. Making time to write, go back to school, volunteer, learn a new skill, that's all about intention.

Are you walking awake and with intention? If not, what's getting in your way?

To continue the theme of gratitude, today I'm thankful for:
  1. Cadbury hot chocolate mix
  2. Being able to speak honestly with my husband and know I am heard even when we have those difficult discussions
  3. Knowledgeable people in my life who I can turn to when I need advice, especially this week with Velcro Dog 
  4. Friends who have amazing fashion sense who I can email with my fashion questions. I would be lost without you!
  5. That my car is working again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Catch Me, I'm Falling

I was going to post about the second book I picked up over the holidays but I haven't made it past the first chapter. Not because it's not any good. On the contrary, it's a great book but  I want to focus on one thing at a time. That's a part of this mire I find myself navigating - I want to do float from good idea to good idea and I can't seem to find purchase enough to see one idea through. So I'm sticking with gratitude and generosity right now.

I want to practice gratitude. It was difficult today. We had yet more snow. I  developed a killer migraine. My car is still in the shop and the dealer we purchased it from is being a little smarmy. So today I'm digging in deep to find five things that in this moment I am very grateful for.
  1. I am grateful I have a warm home and can afford the heating bill that comes with living in the snow belt in the winter.
  2. The traffic was really light on the way home, which made it really easy to get home quickly after work.
  3. My husband took the dog for his evening walk, which is usually my job. He did it with grace and love which is such a gift.
  4. My husband is a wonderful man who out  of the blue will bring me chocolate or ice cream. Sometimes both.
  5. While it's still snowing outside, I am thankful about how magical fresh snow makes the winter landscape look.It's inspiring.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Mire and The Gratitude

For a while now I have felt as though I'm starting over. I'm caught in this between world of what I used to be and how I am becoming. Perhaps starting over isn't the right term. I'm in this mire of becoming. I call it a mire because for the last couple of months it has felt mucky and boggy. I'm not stuck, but my forward progress is very, very slow. And messy.

2010 is over and we are in the second week of 2011. I turn 40 in just under 2 months. I'm itching to move past the mire and become already. Realistically I know becoming takes time, but living in this mire has made me impatient to see at least a glimpse of the end result and to know I won't be caught here forever.

Over the holidays I picked up a couple of books that I'm reading. Normally I would pick up books on writing, life coaching, money management, organization or a topic that has something to do with a book I’m writing. This time I did something different. Something to help me move forward.

One of the books I purchased is One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity by author Debbie Macomber. Just as the title states, the book is about intentional acts of generosity and how these acts can change our lives. From her website:
Debbie Macomber, through the power of story, invites us to live with open hands, offering who we are and what we have to God, to use in the lives of others. When we do so, lives—including our own—are changed in ways we couldn't have imagined. All it takes is one simple act.
The book is divided into seventeen easy to read chapters and each chapter ends with some thoughts or call to action to help the reader apply the lessons within the chapter. I read chapter one this weekend and one of the calls to action is to start a gratitude journal. I used to be very good at journaling. I found some of the journals from my early marriage while cleaning boxes the other day and I was so glad I chronicled those moments of my life. Part of my mire, I think, is founded in not really taking the time to reflect. And definitely not taking time to be grateful. If I learn nothing else from this book I think it is that I need to take the time. Starting today I will be posting daily 5 things for which I am grateful.

Tomorrow I will post more on the second book I picked up. For now I’ll end with some gratitude:
  1. I’m grateful for a patient and partnering husband who gets me and allows me the space to be.
  2. I’m grateful for a loaner vehicle while my car has been in the shop for the past 3 weeks
  3. I’m grateful we built ourselves an emergency fund so when issues like said car come up we aren’t scrambling to figure out how to pay for repairs.
  4. I’m grateful I work for an amazing manager! You know who you are.
  5. I’m grateful for authors like Debbie Macomber who remind me that there is so much to be grateful for in life.