Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Resolutions for Writers

I thought I’d post some resolutions particularly appropriate to writers so here they are:

1) I WILL finish the damn book.
2) I WILL send out the book or story or article or poem or.....
3) I will find ways to make writing fun.
4) I will find ways that work for me as a writer and not worry whether other writers do things this way, too.
5) I will care about what I write.
6) I will do research necessary to my writing but I will not get lost in research in the place of writing.
7) I will put my beloved characters in jeopardy when that will make it a better book.
8) I will listen carefully to feedback AND I will trust my deepest instincts.
9) I will protect the manuscript/idea/writing until I am ready for that feedback.
10) I will write through the fear—knowing that EVERY writer is afraid at some point that this time this project won’t work out.
11) I will celebrate every success—even if no one else does.
12) I will nourish the spark of faith in myself and the joy of writing that was there when I first began.
13) I will write. I will write first for myself and then for the world. No matter what, I will write.
14) I will remember there is life outside the writing, too, and I will not let my sense of self-worth be tied entirely to the writing.
15) I will celebrate all the successes and all the strengths in my life.
16) EVERY DAY I will find reasons to smile and laugh.
17) I will occasionally clear off my desk.
18) I will ways to promote my work that energize and don’t drain me.
19) I will not read negative reviews if they upset me.
20) I will celebrate and remind myself of the readers who do love my work.
21) I will celebrate the success of my fellow writers and commiserate with them when they have a setback.
22) I will never let myself forget why I write and what it means to me and to those who read my work.
23) I will remember to sometimes get up from my chair and move around.
24) I will realize that maybe taking the time to do something that truly makes me laugh might be better than playing that 300th game of computer solitaire.

May 2007 bring all of us health, happiness, and much success!

April

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

I sit here looking at my tree and smiling, enjoying the peace of nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to do except what I want to do. My daughter and I opened presents this morning. Last night we went to a candle lighting service.

Some thoughts about the past few days...

My daughter got in late Friday and Saturday we went into Austin. A good bookstore, a coffee shop with live music, another place with live music. Moments of laughter and of contemplation.

This morning laughter as she opened a present I bought 2 weeks ago not knowing why. Pierced earrings--but I didn't know until she stepped off the plane that she had gotten her ears pierced.

Fresh baked Finnish coffee bread. Music playing.

Deeply needed rain the past two days has changed over to a gloriously blue sky and sunshine.

I wish for all of you today peace and joy and a passion for life and writing. I hope that this Season has brought you joy and closeness with friends and/or family. I hope that the New Year will bring health and happiness and much success.

I believe that we are all connected--no matter what our superficial differences may be. The success of any one of us is a triumph for all, the joy something to share, the frustrations something we all know as well. May 2007 be a year in which we can see the best in each other, listen—truly listen—to each other ESPECIALLY when we disagree, and together begin to create a better world, each in our own way.

Blessings to all,

April

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Friend Began Chemo...

Several of you have asked about my friend who has breast cancer so I thought I’d post an update. She began chemo this week. They didn’t want to wait until after she and her husband took a trip for their anniversary because the form she has is so aggressive.

True to who she is, she didn’t wait for her hair to fall out (they told her it definitely would) but went ahead and got her head shaved. She got a wig and started chemo when they told her to. Because she’s not the sort to give up. Because she’s not the sort to avoid what needs to be done.

She says the staff is wonderful. And there are all sorts of advances in diagnostics and treatment these days. That’s the good part. The frustrating part is how long it took to get in to get the mammogram and then the biopsy. If her primary care physician hadn’t intervened it would have been even longer. Now she’ll need not only the chemo but radiation after that as well.

Not exactly a typical holiday topic to blog about, I know. And yet....maybe it’s not such a bad thing to remember that even as most of us focus on laughter and joy and fun at this time of year, we all know people who may be dealing with challenges in their lives. For some it’s a loved one lost this past year and this is the first time this holiday will be celebrated without them. For some, like my friend, it’s a physical challenge. For some it’s a financial challenge. For others, it’s...whatever it is. If we remember this and do not just assume everyone is having a wonderful time we will hear the note in the voice, the words perhaps tentatively spoken that will let us know this person could use a little extra support right now. This is a person we might want to show extra kindness.

I read today that this is a time of year when we all feel the sense of oneness—that we are all bound together and differences are all superficial. This is the time of year when we seem to come closest to understanding that what happens to any one of us affects all of us. We cannot hurt someone else without hurting ourselves. We cannot ignore someone else without ignoring a part of ourselves.

I often tell writers as they begin to plan out their stories that it is not the circumstances of the lives of their characters that matter nearly so much as what the characters do with those circumstances. It’s as true in life as it is in our stories.

I hope all of you are finding ways to bring joy into your own lives at this holiday season and into the lives of others around you as well.

April

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Perfect Christmas Gifts for a Writer

A few days ago, a friend asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t have an answer. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of the perfect gifts for a writer can’t be bought. Here’s what I suspect is every writer’s secret (or not so secret) wish list:

1) An agent who believes heart and soul in the writer and his/her work.
2) An editor who believes heart and soul in the writer and his/her work.
3) Wonderful reviews.
4) A place on the bestseller lists.
5) Time and quiet to write.
6) Never ending inspiration.
7) Fellow writers with whom to share the ups and downs of being a writer.
8) Faithful readers who will follow us no matter where inspiration takes us.
9) Belief in ourselves so that even in those difficult moments when we know the story is going wrong and we don’t see how to fix it we will have faith that sooner or later we will figure it out.
10) Love and laughter and sunshine because without those what’s the point?
11) Wonderful books to read because we were all readers first.
12) Movies that make us laugh and cry and think.
13) Places to go to inspire us.
14) People to meet to inspire us.
15) A maid to clean the house and a cook to fix wonderful meals so that we can focus on our writing.
16) Fireplaces for chilly evenings.
17) Good champagne and chocolate to celebrate our triumphs and drown our disappointments.
18) The ability to always find laughter and joy and faith within ourselves so that nothing ever discourages us from sharing the stories we have to tell.

Wishing all of you love and laughter and kindness and abundance this holiday season.

April

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Spinning Stories

If we’re writers, we see story possibilities everywhere. Decorating a Christmas tree we may find ourselves spinning stories about an unusual ornament or what it might have been like long ago or even what we wish things could be like now. That’s one of the advantages of having a good imagination. We can always create stories, imagine new possibilities, and envision worlds we would love to visit.

The question is: How do we use that imagination? Do we imagine the things that could go wrong in our lives or do we imagine what could go write? I’d argue that imagining what could go right is the optimal strategy. How often have we put off doing things because we were afraid they wouldn’t work out? I’m not talking about taking reckless chances; I’m talking about things that could enrich our lives.

If you are a writer, how many times have you put off writing afraid that it wouldn’t be good enough? How often have you put off sending out what you wrote for fear it would be rejected? Imagine instead that what you write will be wonderful. Aren’t you more ready to sit down and write? Imagine an editor calling ecstatic after reading your manuscript? You probably would feel more like sending it out.

We get to choose what kind of life we want to lead. Do we want to live a life where everything always goes wrong—because that’s where we spend our time even if only in our thoughts—or a life where most of the time things go right because that’s where we spend our time and emotion living as we imagine the future?

Ideally we live in the moment. If you ever manage to figure out how to do it, please let me know! Until then, I know that I will choose to spend my time focusing on what might go right and therefore feel better, most of the time plus have the courage to do new things.

Imagination is a wonderful thing. Aren’t we writers lucky to have it?

Wishing all of you a wonderfully imaginative week!

April

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

Words have tremendous power. They can cause someone to see a person or issue or the world in a whole new way. Say something hurtful to someone and you can see in their body language the power of the blow that’s been dealt. Say something encouraging or hopeful and you can see the same power only this time in a positive way.

One of the most powerful words we have is “thanks.” It can change our world the more we use it. Today I’d like to give thanks for some of the wonderful things in my life.

I am profoundly grateful for my children. Each is a blessing and each has taught me to see the world in a way I otherwise would not. With the perspective of several years, I can even look at my ex-husband and be grateful for the good he brought into my life at the same time that I know more than ever that the divorce was right for both of us.

I am grateful for all the friends in my life—both the new ones here in Texas and the friends I still am in touch with from the past. The internet is something I am grateful for every day because it helps me stay in touch with friends all around the country as well as with clients I coach. And I’m grateful that it gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts through my blogs. Not to mention that the internet is a wonderful research tool.

I am grateful for my home here in Texas. I am also grateful for all the opportunities to travel and give workshops.

I could go on and on. I’ve come to believe that focusing on what we are grateful for is one of the most powerful ways to live and to bring more good into our lives. What are YOU grateful for today and every day?

I am grateful for all of you who read my blogs. May the coming days, weeks, and months give you many opportunities for saying “Thank you” to the people in your lives and to the universe/God.

April

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Five Things You Might Not Know About Me

I’ve been tagged by Sharon Schulze so now it’s my turn to post 5 things you might not know about me. When she tagged me I thought it was a great way for visitors to any of our sites to get to know some other authors whose blogs (and books!) they might enjoy reading. Plus a fun way for visitors to get to know more about all of us. I hope you'll follow the links along the path of the tagging.

Back to my list. Given that I tend to be pretty open about myself, it’s going to be hard to think of 5 things people don’t know but let’s see what I can come up with...

1) I love country music.
2) I’ve gone snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Hawaii on Oahu.
3) I designed and made a large dragon needlepoint tapestry for my son when he was an infant.
4) I love rum raisin ice cream.
5) I grew up believing I was tone deaf and only at the age of 53 discovered that within 24 hours could teach myself to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy note perfect on the violin. (Note: I played cello in high school but was so bad they once held a concert and didn’t tell me and instead brought in someone who had already graduated to play the cello—and this was after 3 years of lessons!)
6) I’m an optimist. I believe it’s possible to rise above any trauma or challenge in our lives. Okay, so that’s not much of a secret. Anyone who has ever heard me speak knows I incorporate those ideals into every workshop I present. What isn’t widely known, however, is that I have a blog that deals with precisely those ideas. It’s called Thriver’s Toolbox and is for anyone who wants to overcome self-doubt or life challenges.

All right, so I couldn’t stop at 5. Anyone who has ever taken a workshop from me knows that I always have lots of information to share! Now I’m going to tag Karen Harbaugh and Beth Pattilo, wonderful and talented writers I know..... I hope you’ll check out their lists!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Washington, D.C.

WRW, the Washington Romance Writer’s group was wonderful! Gave my Book in a Week workshop there and loved having all day to cover the material. I still didn’t have time to cover everything, of course. But that’s how it always goes.

I love giving workshops. I love knowing I make a difference when I do. I love making writing easier and more fun and sharing tools that can make us more effective writers. At the same time, I’m always energized by the ideas people at the workshops have to share and I always come home eager to work on my own manuscript.

I also got to see an old friend from high school. This is someone who had the courage to be himself in school and as an adult found a career that involved something he enjoys. It was wonderful to be able to reconnect with him. We vowed to keep in better touch in the future.

Flying back home I found myself spinning stories about some old maps my friend showed me. I also found myself wondering about other people I knew in high school and wondering how they are doing.

How many of us, I wonder, avoid high school reunions, feeling that maybe we’re going to feel the same way we did back then? And for many of us, high school was a time of insecurity, wasn’t it? Seeing this friend, though, made me wonder what it would be like to go to a reunion. What would it be like to see how everyone has grown and changed? To discover a side of them I didn’t get to know at the time? That was such a difficult time in my life anyway that I wonder how much I missed seeing about my fellow students.

And, of course, it had me working out how various characters in a novel might react to going back to a high school reunion and what it would help them realize about themselves. But that’s what we writers do. I’m not sure, if we’re writers, that we can keep life and writing separate. If we did, I suspect our work would ring hollow. It’s when we’re willing to look at and dissect our own emotions and those of others that we find the means to bring characters to life and maybe even offer new ideas of how one can face life’s challenges.

Here’s hoping everyone has a great week! I’ll be voting tomorrow and hoping that someday it will be possible to truly discuss the issues and listen, really listen, with respect to each other knowing that none of us has a lock on wisdom or truth. that we each have something to offer, and that deep down we all just want to be safe.

April

Monday, October 30, 2006

Do You Ever Wonder

Do you ever wonder why a reader reads our books? Or why you hear over and over again—show don’t tell?

Readers connect—or don’t!—with a book on a gut emotional level. Even when the book is nonfiction—history or science or philosophy—if the person is reading it by choice and not simply because he or she needs to do so for work, I believe there is an underlying emotional connection to the material.

With thrillers, part of the appeal, I believe, is the secret desire so many of us have to be heroes. For science fiction or fantasy where the theme is “stranger in a strange land” there is the connection of all the times we have felt that way. For romance, well, the deepest human need that exists is to be loved. Babies can literally die from lack of love.

What does this mean to us if we are writers? It means we need to keep always in our minds that our readers need a way to connect emotionally with our characters and/or the situations in which they find themselves. Readers don’t necessarily have to feel they would make the same choices, only be able to understand why our characters make the choices and take the actions they do.

This also means that the strongest opening to a novel will be one that resonates on a gut or emotional level with readers or it will be one that evokes laughter. Readers who quickly feel that they like the characters and want to spend time with them will keep reading. Readers who laugh and believe they will be entertained will keep reading. Readers who want to believe in the fantasy of power being offered will keep reading.

Example: Consider the impact of the following two possible openings for the same book.

Sarah sat down to pay bills. There probably wasn’t enough money in the checking account because her sister had taken most of it last week when she left town with her biker boyfriend. Now she was afraid her landlord might throw her out of her apartment before she could get a second job to pay the bills.

OR

Sarah was going to kill Martha. She had it all planned out. She’d tie Martha to a stake, pile up all these bills at Martha’s feet, and light them with a match from her sister’s purse. It wasn’t as if she could afford to buy her own matches, after all. Not since Martha had emptied out Sarah’s purse and bank account and took off with that low down, no account biker who came through town last week.
Yup, Sarah had it all planned out. The only problem left was how to persuade her landlord not to throw her out before she found a way to get the money to pay her rent and other bills. Briefly she wondered how hard it would be to rob a bank but then concluded she’d probably end up feeling sorry for the teller and give it all back. Nope, she was just going to have to work two jobs. Again.


The second opening lets the reader deeper into Sarah’s world. Hopefully it makes the reader laugh a little and really feel the desperation that lies under Sarah’s fantasy, see her determination to succeed and ultimately care what happens to her.

So...how will you let your readers into the emotional world of your characters? How will you create emotional points of connection for them?

And if you are a reader, what draws YOU into a book? What do YOU remember most about the best books you have ever read?

April

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Writing Through Difficult Times

I’m often asked by my coaching clients or when I give writing workshops how we can keep writing through difficult times. It’s come up in my own life—sick kids, death of a parent, friends in need. It came up again this past week. My friend fighting breast cancer had a set back and ended up in the hospital for several days. A few other things pulled at my attention as well. But I have an editor and an agent who asked to see a manuscript that needs a few revisions first.

So it’s fresh in my mind. How do we write in times of stress? (And who doesn’t have stress in their lives?)

These are the questions I ask myself and suggest my clients ask themselves:

1) Why do I write? Why does it matter to me to be a writer?

2) Why does THIS particular project matter to me?

3) What do I love about my writing?

4) What’s the cost to me if I don’t write NOW?

5) How can I honor the concerns in my life AND write?

6) How can I bring laughter into my life, every day, even if something terrible is happening or has happened as well?


I know MY answers. They are what keep me writing even when it’s difficult. My answers won’t necessarily be the same as yours or any other writer. Each of us needs to know what matters to us.

Ironically, as I turned to books by fellow writers and discovered gems by Lois Winston and Irene Peterson and Caridad Pineiro, I was reminded how often readers have written to me to say that my books got them through a difficult time and it was one more reason to go back to my computer with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the project I’m working on. (Which is why books by Eloisa James, Mary Jo Putney, Anne Stuart, Jennifer Cruisie, Terri Brisbin, Elizabeth Keys, and others are still waiting to be read.)

I even realized that the darkness that had crept into the writing before I went to the NJRW conference because I was worried about my friend could be replaced with a lightness that makes me laugh as I rewrite the scenes. (Note: I hadn’t worried about the darkness, even though my initial vision for Black Cat of the Family was lightness because I’d been hearing editors wanted dark paranormal. But guess what? The editor wants to see the lighter version—a reminder that my initial instincts were on target and I should have trusted them.)

So how do you write in stressful times? What are your answers to the questions above? It’s worth asking yourself the questions and brainstorming strategies when things are going well because it’s much harder to do so when you are under stress. And I truly believe that tapping back into the writing can give us an intangible something that helps us cope with those challenges.

I hope that each of you find your own answers to the questions above and the strategies that will allow YOU to write when you most need and want to do so.

April

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Conference and Politicians

Okay, so I was just going to write about the New Jersey Romance Writer’s Conference that took place last weekend. It was, as always a wonderful event! There were, of course, terrific speakers, wonderful and welcoming NJRW members, and excellent editors and agents who attended.

I love writer’s conferences. I love speaking at them and sharing what I know that can make writing easier, more fun, and more effective. I love being inspired by and learning from other authors. I love the energy, the enthusiasm, the wisdom and the sheer joy that abounds at these things. I came away with renewed confidence and impatience to get back to my own work.

Now about politics....

There is a politician in Texas who thinks it’s okay to trash romance novels. Fred Head seems to think that writing about love and honor and commitment and making love within the bounds of a loving, monogamous relationship is somehow wrong. He calls it pornography. I am deeply disappointed that he feels he has a right to treat romance writers and readers with such disrespect. I am deeply disappointed that he would rather take cheap shots at his opponent Susan Combs than deal with real issues. I feel angry that he thinks we don’t matter.

I suppose I’m angriest because I believe so deeply in what I and other romance writers write. I believe in hope and love and commitment and optimism about life. I believe we need a genre that is dedicated to the issues, hopes, and dreams of women. I believe we need a genre that shows both men and women triumphing over the challenges in their lives. I believe we need a genre that explores the ways men and women can come together that empowers both of them so that each is stronger and safer and more capable than if each was alone.

I am a feminist. It’s one of the reasons I began writing romance novels. In my lifetime I have seen a profound change in the roles for men and women and I believe one of the great challenges we have is to explore these new possibilities.

I also write romance novels because I believe there is too much darkness, too much pessimism in the world. I believe that we romance writers show a way to live that focuses on taking action and triumphing over challenges rather than being victims.

I write romance because in a world where love is often treated so carelessly, I believe we need models of men and women who do treat love with the respect it deserves. We need to read about people who are committed to fidelity and monogamy and do the work it takes to have a relationship that lasts.

Fred Head has chosen to attack something I dearly love. In doing so, he has lost my respect and any chance I would ever vote for him for any public office ever. He owes Susan Combs and every romance author and every romance reader a profound apology.

April

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Courage

She wore a bracelet sent to her by members of the Masai tribe in Africa. Two playboy bunnies stopped by to wish her well. She was surrounded by friends and we laughed and joked and cried with her the night before she went in for surgery for breast cancer. It was aggressive breast cancer, moving very fast, they said. She had chosen a double radical mastectomy. We knew they expected to keep her a week in the hospital to recover.

That was Thursday night. The surgery was Friday. She came home on Saturday. It was her choice. She wanted to be home where she would be more comfortable and could sleep better. She wanted to be where she could be surrounded by friends and loved ones and her dogs.

She was and is still in pain, but every day, all day, she moves around, gets up and down and does what she can—careful not to strain herself, but determined to do whatever it takes to heal and be well again.

That’s courage.

She’s already prepared for the months ahead. Her hair is cut short in case it falls out. She has a collection of hats ready and big, splashy earrings. She’s figured out how she will do the things that matter most and still make sure she gets the chemo she needs.

For those of us who are writers, this is the kind of woman many of us want to write about—someone who triumphs over every obstacle put in her path, someone who goes on when others might give up, someone who continues to laugh and love and LIVE in the face of terrifying adversity, someone who is passionate in everything she does. In short, she is the heroine of her own story.

May we all find courage to face the adversities in our lives and live and love and laugh as we do so. May we all be the heroines of our own stories. May we all have whatever courage we need, when we need it.

April

Friday, September 29, 2006

Breast Cancer, Pt.2

This is for the guys out there. The ones who have a wife or daughter or cousin or sister or friend or any woman they care about coping with breast cancer—or any serious challenge, for that matter. It’s from a letter I wrote to a friend in that situation--because breast cancer doesn’t just affect the woman herself. I wrote it because it’s really scary watching someone you love go through something like this and this is when you need each other more than ever.

**************

When women are scared or going through something tough, we want and need to know that someone knows and understands and cares what we're going through. In other words, you don't need to have solutions for (my friend). What she most needs is to know that you understand how scared she is. She needs to know that you care how scared she is and that it matters more to you than any change to her physical appearance. She needs to hear you say it. She needs to know it's okay for her to be scared. She needs to hear you say you'll be there for her no matter what.

Then she can focus on doing what she needs to do.

I'm guessing you're in shock and scared and going through hell, too. And it's going to be tough to do that for her. If you can do some things that make her laugh, maybe make you both laugh, that will help. If you can surprise her with little things that make her smile, that will help.

One thing I've learned about really tough times is that making sure I do things that make me smile, every day, is makes a huge difference. It is a reminder that I won't always feel this way. It is a reminder that no matter what horrible things are going on in my life, I have the power to choose to be happy--even if only for a moment or two. And I believe that choosing to smile or laugh a little every day gives us resilience that helps us have the strength to cope with those difficult times.

(My friend) instinctively knows she needs to find ways to laugh--no matter how hard that may be. Encourage that, if you can. Find ways to laugh with her. If all a silly movie does is distract you both for a little while, it will help. If all a walk in the park does is let you both feel closer to each other, that will help. If a silly card or a small box of chocolate makes her laugh or smile that will help.

You don't have to fix the cancer. You can't. That's a job her doctors and her body will have to do. But you can help her through it by letting her know you know how scared she is and that you'll be there for her.

And it's amazing how much of a difference that understanding can make to a woman. You'll find that (my friend) is stronger if she knows she doesn't have to be. You'll find that she's less scared if she knows it's okay if she's terrified out of her mind.

****************

To all the women out there fighting breast cancer, you are in my thoughts and prayers. To the men who love women fighting breast cancer--or any major challenge--I hope these words will help you feel less powerless to be there for those women and bring you closer together.

April

Monday, September 25, 2006

Cancer

No, not me, but a dear friend has been diagnosed with cancer. It seems to be an aggressive form. One day there was apparently nothing there and the next day she felt a large lump.

I’d like to rail about the medical system—and how it took 4 weeks for her to get the mammogram and another week or two before they could do the biopsy. I’m waiting to hear how soon she can have surgery and what else the oncologist will recommend.

If you haven’t read it and can find a copy, Barefoot in the Grass is a wonderful book by Judith Arnold. It’s a romance novel about a survivor of breast cancer. I’ll be giving my copy to my friend.

I want to rail at the unfairness of fate that my friend had to first fight Hepatitis C and now breast cancer. I remind myself that she was told, when diagnosed with the Hepatitis C, that she only had three years to live and that was almost 15 years ago.

We’re telling each other jokes and citing statistics on all the women who have survived breast cancer. And secretly crying about it, too. This is one of those times I wish I wasn’t so far away. Fortunately I’d already planned to be in New Jersey in October and I’ll get to see her then.

I’m a writer. That means I know I’m storing up all my memories of these moments, these days and weeks of worrying, and sooner or later the emotions will pour out onto the page. Because that’s what we writers do. We put into words the fears and hopes and all the other emotions human beings feel. So that others will know they’re not alone. So that others will know what it’s like to feel these things.

I watch my friend and I admire her courage and ability to make jokes. I know it’s what let her survive the Hepatitis C and it’s what will get her through this as well. And I wish we didn’t live in a world that had things like cancer to deal with.

April

Monday, September 18, 2006

I Won!!!

Okay, so we’re told as kids we’re not supposed to brag but...I love this manuscript so much! And I’m thrilled to be able to say that Black Cat of the Family won first place in the Paranormal category of the PASIC contest!

So I’m celebrating.

And I think that’s important—that if we are writers, we celebrate every victory, big and small. Because let’s face it, this is a crazy business. Things can go wrong that we have no control over. If we don’t celebrate the good moments, the victories, who will?

I love that the PASIC contest is called the Book of Your Heart contest. It allows those of us known for other things, to try something new. And I think that’s also important—to make sure that we sometimes do try something new, do find ways to keep our love of writing alive.

Sometimes the changes will be within the context of the books for which we are known and sometimes we may need to do something totally new. Black Cat of the Family falls somewhere in between.

Did I mention it would make a great series?

I’m also finding another totally new idea begin to germinate. The idea came out of my trip to California to speak at the East of Eden conference. At one point, at a dinner, I was literally scrambling to find a scrap of paper on which to write the first two lines! So often conferences do this—trigger new ideas for us or ways to transform the stories we are working on.

Well, anyway, I’m celebrating. I hope all of you are finding reasons to celebrate in your own lives.

April

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11

I was going to go to the NJ shore that day with my daughter before she went back to Stanford. A friend called and said, “Turn on the tv.” That’s how I learned we were under attack.

I was living in NJ then. My husband had family in NYC. We all had friends there.

As I drove to the shore with my daughter, the roads were mostly deserted except for emergency vehicles going the other way, headed north to NY.

We saw the best and the worst of humanity on that day and the days that followed.

I hope we never forget that we are all—whatever race, nationality, religion, belief—connected. We cannot hurt each other without hurting ourselves.

I hope we never forget that sometimes we are the ones who have to take action—no matter how scared we may be—to stop harm from being done.

That day was a turning point for me. It helped to shape my decision to ask for a divorce. It helped to shape my determination not to write anything in which I did not truly believe. It helped to shape my determination to make a difference in whatever way I could.

One of my privileges was to be able to suggest ways, a year or two later, that the mother of someone who died on 9/11 could write about her pain without being overwhelmed. I now use the advice I needed to create for her to help others who want and need to write about painful events in their lives.

I still remember talking with my daughter. She was due to start back at Stanford in one week. Did she want me to drive her across country or would she wait and hope planes began to fly again? She chose not to live her life controlled by fear and decided she wanted to fly back to Stanford as the planes did begin to fly again.

I cannot forget 9/11 or the horror and grief this entire nation felt. I also cannot forget that if we turn our hate and our anger on all who are different or who are Muslim, then the terrorists have won for they will have taken from us part of what has made this nation so great—the willingness to welcome those who are different into our midst. We lose too much if we replace love with hate. And if we only hate, then we will inevitably create more hate in the world and we will be even less safe.

It is hard not to want to lash out, not to want to hurt those who hurt us. And I believe we should do whatever we can to stop terrorism. In doing so, however, we MUST remember that if we do harm to those who did not harm us, no matter how much they seem to look like those we fear, then we destroy ourselves and we invite future anger and terror from those who might have become our friends.

April

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Allure of Magic

This is something that has come up on one of the Book in a Week loops I host. Why are paranormal romances doing so well right now? For the same reason, I believe, that inspirational romances are doing so well.

This is a time of fear for our country and for the world. Ever since 9/11, people have felt afraid. It has affected how we vote, how we travel, how we interact with each other and even what we want to read.

In times when the world seems out of control and no place seems truly safe, people want to believe in something greater than themselves. And they turn to spirituality to provide hope. People also find stories of magic or the paranormal enticing. What if there was magic or some super power that if could keep us safe?

I suspect that’s one of the reasons I’m having so much fun writing my paranormal historical.

And I’m not sure all of this is a bad thing. The safer we feel, the less likely we are to lash out at others, trying to keep ourselves safe. The safer we feel, the more kindness we will want to extend to others—even those who WE THINK are different than we are. The safer we feel, the more we will live our lives, truly live them, rather than hiding to try to keep safe. The safer we feel, the more we will encourage our children to explore all the possibilities before them. And every act of kindness, every act of courage, every act of tolerance and understanding has a positive ripple effect in the world.

So enjoy paranormal or inspirational romances and then perhaps practice your own random acts of kindness and courage and understanding and discover what positive ripple effects you can create in the world!

April

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Writing Surprises

I plan out my books. I create emotional story arcs for my characters. I work out all sorts of details in advance. Then I start writing and my characters start surprising me. And I love that! It means the characters are coming alive—for me and therefore for the readers.

Right now, my black cat of the family is discovering things he didn’t know about his bride and I’m discovering those things at the very same time! The bride, meanwhile, is cooking up schemes to bring her new husband back into line and about to have some surprises of her own.

One of the things I love about writing is that element of surprise. I think that if I knew everything that was going to happen in my books beforehand I’d never end up writing them. Other writers can plan out all the scenes in advance and write from beginning to end with the characters doing just what they should.

That’s the great thing about writing—there’s no one way that everyone has to write. We all get to do it in whatever way works best for us! And thank heavens for the diversity—both in what we write and how we write. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if all books were the same?

Wishing all of you happy reading and the writers among you happy writing!

April

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Grief

Grief comes in odd moments, at odd times. We can go months, sometimes years, feeling as if we’re fine with something and then have grief over a loss hit us again.

I don’t regret getting divorced. We were hurting each other too much to stay married. My life is better and happier and I think his may be better too, now. I hope so. And yet...

And yet, last week I got hit by a wave of grief over the hopes and dreams that died with my marriage.

If we’re writers, it’s important for us to understand that emotions don’t always play out smoothly and neatly. We can create characters with greater depth if we allow for that and use it in our writing.

It’s also important to understand just because we’re human beings and will face times in our lives when we feel what we don’t want to feel.

Why did it hit me last week? A number of reasons, I suspect. One may be that a friend is going through a divorce with issues similar to some of what I dealt with and so I’m reminded of the sadness of accepting that what I always thought would be happily ever after didn’t turn out to be.

Another reason may be that as I work on my latest manuscript, I’m laughing and remembering how good it can feel to be connected on so many levels with another person. As my hero and heroine play tug of war over something each of them feels they should have, I’m reminded that in healthy relationships people can disagree—and not hurt each other in doing so.

Or maybe it’s recognizing all the changes in my life and knowing those changes are good ones so that I’m able to take time to grieve the losses I didn’t let myself grieve when all my energy went into building a new life for myself.

Life is complicated. If we recognize that and give ourselves permission to feel what we feel—as we take the steps we need to take—then we are likely to always keep moving forward. And as writers, when we let our characters be human and feel emotions at times when no one would expect them to, we bring those characters to life in a way that not only can make the story more compelling but also perhaps help provide a kind of roadmap for readers coping with unexpected emotions in their own lives.

April

Friday, August 11, 2006

Heroes

What makes a great hero—in real life or in writing? I’d like to know what you think. In the romance field, it is the hero who will make or break a book. It is the hero an editor or agent looks at first.

When I’m coaching writers I tell them for romance it means a guy the female reader wants to take home with her and keep in bed for, oh, say a month or so!

But what else matters to you? My own take on heroes in romance novels is that:
1) The reader wants to know the hero can and will keep the heroine safe. (One of the appeals of the “bad boy” hero is that often he can do that better than anyone else.)
2) The hero lives by an internal code of honor. It might not be the same as anyone else’s, but it’s his and he lives by it. If he’s perceived as or thinks he’s bad, he’s still got that internal code and part of what the heroine discovers is that he’s really good at the core—or can learn to be.
3) The hero is sexy and adores the heroine’s sensuality and helps her accept and adore her sensuality as well.

Of course, in real life, I’d add a few things. In real life:

¨ I believe that kindness and respect are part of true/real love.
¨ I believe that it’s important to find someone with whom we are the people we want to be. (As in the poem: I love you not only for who you are but for who I am when I am with you.)
¨ I believe in partnerships—neither diminished by love but each helping the other be more than either would be alone.
¨ I believe in lovers helping each other achieve their dreams.
¨ I believe in fidelity and commitment and honor.

Hmmm, not so very different from most of my books, after all. But that’s part of the fun of being a writer—I get to share what matters to me, the vision I have for what true love could be like, the ways men and women can support and enhance rather than diminish each other!

Who are your favorite heroes and why?

April

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Home Decor

For those who have been following my home d├ęcor saga and journey of growth over the past year (or more!).....

IKEA is opening a store near me months ahead of schedule. I am so delighted! I’m looking forward to adding some more touches to my home including some sort of bed for the guest room. Ideally it will be a couch of some sort during the day but be able to become a bed at night.

Did I mention that I’ve set up a sewing area in my home? At one end, my bedroom has bay windows that overlook the garden. I put a couple of wooden tray tables (thank you Goodwill!) there side by side and set the sewing machine on them. One of the swivel chairs (Craigslist) from the kitchen set is my sewing chair. I love being able to sew and look out at the garden. No, everything doesn’t come out perfectly but several things look really good and I smile every time I wear them.

The other night a friend of my daughter came into town with her mother. The young woman is moving to Austin. It was lovely to have them over for dinner and be able to share with them resources and places I love and think she might find useful, too. We talked and laughed and even ate fresh bread I made with the bread maker I got at a yard sale across the street.

The young woman commented that I have the same laugh as my daughter and said I must hear that all the time. I never had before and realized it’s because when she was growing up, I’m not sure her friends ever heard me laugh.

I say all this because I know some of you out there are going through transitions of your own. It can be scary, not knowing what the future holds and wondering if you will make it. But if we go forward, if we constantly ask ourselves what good could come out of each moment, then our lives can and will become better and better—even when there are dark times, too. You will make it, you will be able to laugh again, you can create a life that brings you as much or perhaps even more joy than the one you thought was going to be yours forever.

Now, climbing down off my soapbox.....

In a few days I’m going to post a post for writers. I’m going to be talking about heroes.

Hoping all of you find ways to smile or laugh this week and moments to treasure—no matter what you may be going through.

April

Monday, July 31, 2006

Contest Finalist

Well, I’m feeling pretty good today. My entry in the PASIC Book of Your Heart contest is a finalist in the paranormal category. (The PASIC contest is either the only one or one of the very few for unpublished manuscripts open to published authors.)

Why did I enter a contest instead of submitting directly to publishers? One reason is that my agent retired a year or so ago and I haven’t gotten around to getting another one. What with moving and working on building my coaching practice and other work and the emotional fallout that’s inevitable with divorce, I wasn’t doing a lot of writing. In other words, life happened. That plus a gap in publishing due to a couple of years of LOTS of life happening, I had that inevitable bout of self-doubt that all writers go through.

If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops you know that I talk openly about that—the fact that all of us who are writers go through moments of self-doubt with every book we write.

I share that with fellow authors (and would-be authors) because I think it’s important to realize that feeling those doubts does not mean they are accurate. We may be really good writers—no matter how we feel!

The manuscript that finaled in this contest is one that has been so much fun to work on! If you’re a writer, then you know the joy of those moments when you surprise yourself and laugh out loud at what you’ve written. It’s been that way with this manuscript. I always fall in love with my characters and even so, these two (hero and heroine) feel special to me. As I’ve worked on this manuscript I’ve found myself thinking: I can’t wait to see what they say or do next!

It’s not that I hadn’t planned out the manuscript; it’s that this is one of those ones where the characters came alive almost at once and started writing their own dialogue and action. If you’re not a writer you’re thinking maybe the men in white coats should be coming for me. If you are a writer, you know exactly what I mean.

Anyway, I wanted to share with all of you my delight that the manuscript is a finalist in the PASIC Book of Your Heart contest.

April

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Interesting Exercise

Here's an interesting exercise that can enrich both your life and your writing:

What are your daydreams? If you’re a writer, what are your characters’ daydreams?

Some people think of daydreams as wasted time but my view is that they are clear indicators of both who we want to be and what we want to have in our lives. Often, they are things we want to have in our lives but don’t believe are possible.

If you’re a writer, then daydreams your characters have can help cue readers into the character’s true internal goals and how that character wants to live his or her life. When the inner daydreams match the character’s outer world in some significant way, the reader will know that the character has found happiness. Unless, of course, when it happens the character realizes that it isn’t what he or she wants, after all. In other words, there are lots of ways to use your character’s daydreams to craft an emotionally satisfying and powerful story.

Does your character put his or her energy and focus into daydreams rather than taking action to make changes in his/her life or does he/she use the daydream as motivation to go after that goal? Is a character in your story bitter because he or she chose not to go after his/her goals and now only has daydreams instead? Does or did a character use daydreams to get through impossible situations that had to be endured and couldn’t have been otherwise?

See? Lots of story potential right there.

In my own life, I’ve lived out some of my daydreams, not gone after some of the others because I didn’t think they were possible. But the last couple of years have shown me that what seems impossible often isn’t—if we find the courage to try. Like living in California, in the Bay area, for a while. Like traveling across country and seeing things I always wanted to see. Like starting a coaching practice for writers. Like buying a house with a fireplace and bay windows. Some were as good as I thought they would be, others turned out to be something I needed to achieve and then, after a little while, let go of.

Funny how my daydreams have become starting points, now, for my life rather than something I did to escape from it.

Wishing all of you daydreams that enrich YOUR lives and if you’re a writer, the lives of your characters as well.

April

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Identity

One of the really useful questions for a writer to consider when creating a character is: Identity. Who is the character as perceived by others and who is the person as perceived by the character him/herself?

Sometimes these two images are the same. Often they are not and much of the character growth in a story can involve bringing the two images closer together in some way.

This gap can be a powerful emotional element of the story. Think about how you feel when your internal image of yourself does not match how the world perceives you. Think about how you feel when your image of yourself does not match your perception of who you ought to be!

Just as these have a profound impact on YOUR emotions, they would have a profound impact on your characters’ emotions and therefore it becomes one more tool in creating both the person growth arcs within your story and the plot itself.

Why do I bring this up now? In my own life and with people I coach, this issue comes up over and over again. There is always a gap between who we believe we are and who we believe we ought to be and in how the world perceives us. Those gaps create tremendous emotional frustration at times.

Part of what I do for myself and for my clients is remind myself and them that:

1) Life is a journey, a process, a series of steps toward our goals.
2) The ideal strategy is one that honors who we are RIGHT NOW and the steps we take toward achieving our goals of who we want to be and how we want to be perceived by the world.
3) The optimal strategy is one that maps out steps to achieve those goals and builds fun into the process.

The irony is that the easier we make the journey for ourselves emotionally, the more likely we are to achieve the goals.

What steps will your characters take to achieve their goals? What steps will you take to achieve yours and how will you build laughter or fun into the process?

Happy writing everyone!
April

Monday, July 10, 2006

Habit of Hope

I’m going to post something that may at first glance seem a bit odd for a writer’s blog. The thing is that I believe that we who write hold tremendous power in our words. We can help readers imagine places and people and situations and POSSIBILITIES they might not otherwise ever know. When I write, I try to imagine how my characters can overcome whatever challenges might be in their lives.

Part of this, of course, grows out of the fact that in my own life I’ve faced a number of challenges and had times when it was easy to feel overwhelmed. I know the difference it made in my life when I began to create a Habit of Hope.

I put that in capital letters because it’s important and not something our culture always encourages. But it’s something I try to give my characters and it’s the way I try to live my life. It’s my hope, often, as I write my books that seeing my characters triumph over difficult odds may encourage readers to believe that they, too, can triumph over the challenges in their lives.

So...what do I mean by a Habit of Hope? Well, let’s begin with what it’s not.

For many people, it’s far too easy to fall into a pattern of feeling discouraged or sad—and often with good reason, given what’s happened in their lives. Unfortunately, this makes life an uphill battle.

So how can you—or your characters!—replace this with a Habit of Hope?

1) Surround yourself with things you LIKE. This includes wearing clothes that make you feel happy and confident, eating foods that are HEALTHY and make you smile, doing things you love.

2) Find ways, EVERY DAY to smile, NO MATTER WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN YOUR LIFE. If you do this when times are good, then when you hit a rough patch you already have this habit. And by smiling, even in the midst of difficult times, you are promising yourself that you will not always feel this way. You are promising yourself that no matter what happens you will ALWAYS be able to find moments of happiness.

3) Make and hold onto a list of everything good about yourself—all your strengths, all your successes, all the good things about who you are. And every time you feel stressed or scared, look at that list and remind yourself of these things!

When we do these things, it changes our lives. We feel more confident, we have more resilience, we see other people and the world in new ways, and our brains literally begin to function more efficiently under stress. And as we change how we see the world, we change how the world sees us as well.

So please, begin today. Seek out things you have that make you smile. Surround yourself with them. Make it a point to find reasons to smile at least three times every day (and even more if you can!), and make that list of successes and strengths and good things about yourself. Create that Habit of Hope. And if you’re a writer, look at the ways in which your characters might be able to have or learn to have habits of hope as well.

April

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

Today we remember the courage it took to declare more than 200 years ago that all men were created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Eventually we realized that everyone, EVERYONE was entitled to those things. Today we remember that freedom carries both rights and responsibilities, including not taking it for granted.

To all those who have worked for freedom, I salute you.

Today it’s also important to remember that no one, NO ONE, has a lock on knowing what’s right or best for our country. We need ALL the voices because it is in listening to other voices that we have the chance to understand factors we may not have taken into account when we formed our own opinions. Other people may have had experiences we never did that are important in understanding what the “right” choice might be in a given situation.

Right now, though, I’d like to talk about a different kind of Independence Day.

Those of you who have read my blog all along, and particularly those of you who followed my journey across country two years ago as I tried to discover where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do after my divorce, you know where I started out. You know that I wasn’t sure if I believed I could do it, you know I wasn’t even all that sure who I was after 28 years of marriage. You know that I had people in my life who didn’t want me to make that journey and didn’t understand why I was. And you know that for most of my life I didn’t believe that I deserved to be treated with respect.

What changed everything was making the decision that I was going to be free of the past and become who I was meant to be. I was going to make that journey and look for a place where I could be happy and successful. I was going to declare myself free of all the old assumptions I had about myself and free of being bound by the opinions of others. That was MY Independence Day.

And because this is a blog for writers as well as a blog about life, I’d like to suggest that if you are a writer, you ask yourself:

What is my hero or heroine’s Independence Day? What is the moment when he or she realizes that life will never, can never be the same again? What is the moment in which he or she lets go of the assumptions and conditioning of the past to reach out and grab for happiness? What triggers that Independence Day and what happens because of it?

Happy writing and Happy Independence Day!

April

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Characters and Families

One of the things both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has done is remind me how important it is, as we create our characters, to ask what their relationships are with their families. Good or bad, those relationships will have profoundly shaped how our characters see themselves and how they interact with others, though always in ways that are unique to who they are.

So....when you create a character, ask yourself how they got along—or didn’t!—with their mothers and fathers. Ask yourself about their siblings. Do they have any? Did they get along?

Everything we encounter in our own lives becomes fodder for the writing. At the same time, we can recognize that someone else might react differently than we have to a given situation or relationship. That’s part of the fun of writing, isn’t it—to imagine how else it might have been or what else we could have done?

And if someone isn’t a writer, it’s still a useful exercise to ask oneself how else one could look at those primary relationships in our lives. How might we have interpreted things differently? What might have motivated those other people in our lives? What would it have been like if things had been different?

It is the relationships and assumptions and expectations we never stop to question that trip us up and hold us back. But we don’t have to let ourselves be limited. Writers or not, we can use our imaginations to wonder and perhaps discover new possibilities and new ways to look at the world and the people around us.

Happy writing and imagining!

April

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

I hope that for you this is a day to remember a wonderful man who made you feel loved and valued and safe and he is still part of your life. If so, cherish that gift!

This is for everyone else.

This is for those who have lost a loving father. I encourage you to remember those wonderful times you had with him and maybe write a letter to him telling him what it has meant for you that he was your father and how he helped to shape the person you are.

This is also for all of you who didn’t have a wonderful father.
1) Remember any moments when he was loving—and do it for YOU because remembering those moments helps YOU.
2) Remember and value any men in your life who have ever helped you feel loved and valued and safe.
3) Write a letter to your father, a letter YOU WILL NEVER SEND! This is for YOU. Write it out on PAPER—there’s a reason that’s important. Write out all the hurt and anger and love you feel and have felt for him. Give yourself a good 15 minutes to do so. Then, when you are done, if you have a safe place to do so, crumple up the paper, put it in a bowl and burn it. As it burns, let go of the hurt and anger as much as you can. (If you can’t burn it, rip it into tiny pieces and flush it down the toilet!)
4) Write down all the reasons your father SHOULD have loved and valued you and how a loving father would have treated you. Keep that paper. Read it and remind yourself often that this is what all children deserve—including the child you were.
5) Celebrate all that is good in your life and the wonderful person you have become.

I wish all of you could be celebrating a wonderful, loving father, still a part of your life. But know that if you are not, you are not alone today.

April

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Creativity

What do you do when you hit a road block in the writing? First off, odds are you read. And the great thing about that is as writers we learn from everything we read. If it’s poorly written, we see what doesn’t work. If it’s written well we learn. Even when we don’t consciously analyze what we’re reading, on some level the brain seems to take it in.

Or we do research. Lots of us love research—sometimes too much.

What else do you do? Is it something creative? Over the years I’ve learned that if I do something creative—whether it’s knitting or sewing or artwork or whatever—it seems to help. For example, at one point, when I was stuck on a manuscript, I started knitting a sweater—one of my own experiments in design. Trouble was, I’d barely knit a row and suddenly an answer would pop into my head for what to do with the story I was writing. Took forever to get that sweater finished but it sure helped with the writing!

In a way, it’s as if by doing something relaxing and fun, the brain lets go of the anxiety about finishing the writing. And if the activity is creative, the brain seems to be able to draw on that creativity to work on the writing at the same time.

So...the next time you get stuck on a manuscript, do something else creative and see if it works for you as well as it works for me!

April

Monday, June 05, 2006

New and Different

What will you do today that’s new or different from your usual routine? What will you try that you’ve never tried before?

Studies suggest that doing new things helps keep us mentally alert. My own observation is that doing new things has other benefits as well.

1) If we’re always doing new things, we’re less likely to get bored.

2) If we’re always doing new things, we’re always having the opportunity to discover new things we love.

3) If we’re always doing new things, we have more opportunities for success.

Does that last one surprise you? Do you cling to what you know because you figure that those are the things you can do? Does it feel safer that way?

My experience is that that sense of safety is an illusion. What if things change and we have to do something new? If that’s a rare experience for us—doing something new—then each new situation will feel scary. On the other hand, if we are always doing new things then we will have had enough experiences of liking the new food or activity or enough success at trying some new activity that change won’t scare us. We’ll know the odds are good that we can cope with this challenge, too.

There is also this: I say all the time that it is the assumptions we never think to challenge that trip us up the most often. Are there things you assume you can’t do? WHAT IF YOU’RE WRONG?

I grew up believing I was tone deaf. That’s what everyone told me and heaven knows my experience trying to play the cello in high school would seem to have proven it! And yet....and yet....about three years ago a little voice inside challenged me to let go of all my beliefs about myself and just experiment. See what I could do that I didn’t know I could do. Among other things I tried, I bought a violin. To my astonishment, I discovered I could hear whether or not the strings were in tune. To my astonishment, within 24 hours of beginning to play, I could play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in perfect tune. (And yes, I used an electronic tuner to verify that I was.)

We grow up taking in all kinds of messages about ourselves and about the world around us. Only when we try things we didn’t think we could do or experiment with new foods and activities can we realize how mistaken some of those messages were.

So I encourage each of you, today—and every day—to do something new or different. It can be a little thing and you may not like it. But what if you do? What if there is a whole world of experiences out there waiting for you that will enrich your life?

Happy experimenting!

April

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day

Officially Memorial Day is to remember and honor those who have fought to preserve this country, the United States. The best military men and women have acted with great courage and honor. Many have given their lives.

I’d like to talk today about the example that the best of these men and women have set. Honor. Courage. Doing the right thing even when it’s scary or hard. Doing what has to be done even when you’re so tired you just want to give up.

Most of us will never go into battle and that’s a good thing. Most of us wish for a world without any war. We won’t win medals. They won’t erect statues to us for what we do.

That doesn’t mean what we do doesn’t matter. Each of us has a choice, every day, in how we live our lives. Each of us every day can choose to act with honor and courage and do the right thing—even when it’s hard. Not because someone will give us a medal if we do but because each time we make these kinds of choices, we help to create a better world.

I truly believe in the ripple effect. Everything we do impacts not only those with whom we interact directly but everyone those people interact with on a daily basis. We help to create the world we live in by the choices we make.

When we act with honor and courage, we may inspire others to do so as well. When we act and speak with kindness and compassion, we encourage others to treat those they encounter with kindness and compassion.

If you find it hard to believe that what you do matters, take a day and all day, no matter what the other person does, no matter how you feel, speak and act with kindness toward everyone you meet. Smile even before you know if the other person will smile back. Look for the best in the other person and connect with that. Do what’s right, even if it’s hard. Then watch how the world around you reacts. Some people will be suspicious because this isn’t what they are used to encountering. Odds are, though, that you will find your own day going more smoothly. Odds are you will find other people smiling at YOU. And though you may never know it, odds are that your kindness will have an impact on people you will never see or hear about.

I had an example of this just the other day. It was the last class of my Build a Novel course. People were talking after class and one woman commented that not only had my class impacted her writing but it has changed the way she interacts with her child. If she hadn’t spoken up, I would never have known that what I said and did in class had an impact on a child I don’t even know.

Most of us will never wear a uniform, never go into battle but each of us, every day, can work to bring about a better world—for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. Each of us can help to preserve the best of our culture and society. WE can live up to the ideals of seeing each man and woman and child as created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We can, by our example, help to create and preserve a society in which people act with decency and compassion and kindness and courage and honor.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

April

Monday, May 22, 2006

Believe in Yourself

Every time I coach, every time I teach, every time I write, I am reminded how important it is—and sometimes how hard—for us to believe in ourselves.

It matters to everyone, but perhaps profoundly so to writers because we often spend months or sometimes years working on projects, not knowing if anyone will like them or not. Even if we sell our manuscripts to an editor, there’s no guarantee that readers will buy our books. It’s hard sometimes to hold onto faith in ourselves—especially if we were not raised to believe in ourselves. That’s why I talk about it so much in my workshops.

Exercise: Make a list of every success you have ever had in your life—big or small, writing or non-writing. Keep that list handy and add to it with every new success. And when you hit days where you wonder if you can cope with some challenge life—or the writing—has handed you, pull out that list and remind yourself that you do have the skills to do so.

I do believe that within each of us is the ability to face whatever challenge life faces us. I also believe that when we can hold onto that faith in ourselves, we are more likely to succeed simply because the brain functions better, more efficiently when we are calmer and not afraid. Believing in yourself is a powerful thing.

By the same token, believing in someone else and helping that person to believe in him or herself is a powerful and wonderful gift you can give. Think about it. Odds are the people you remember most vividly (in a positive way), the people you would do anything for, are people who believed in you when you needed it most.

Create that list of your successes for yourself. When you are faced with self-doubt, pull out that list and use it to help remind you why you can and should believe in yourself. Let others know, too, when you believe in them. You never know when it could change someone’s life because at the right moment you said what they needed to hear.

Wishing you all a wonderful week,
April

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

For all the mothers out there—Happy Mother’s Day! I know the work and love and sacrifices that go into being a mother.

This post today is for all those who find this a difficult day. Maybe you’ve lost your mother recently. Maybe you are a mother and you’ve lost a child or your children are far away. Maybe you wish you were a mother and aren’t. Maybe you find yourself second guessing things you did as a mother or things your mother did for/to you—or both. Maybe the people you most hoped would value what you do as a mother don't.

There are lots of reasons this can be a difficult day for many people. And if it is for you, as I find it is today for me, then maybe it will help a little to know you’re not alone.

Motherhood is tough. Children are 24/7 and there is no perfect set of rules on how to raise them. Nor is there any guarantee on how they will turn out, no matter how hard you try to love them. Some mothers succeed spectacularly and some fail spectacularly and each leaves a lasting legacy in the souls of their children—though not always the legacy they hoped to leave.

Growing up is about coming to terms with your parents and learning who you are distinct from them. It’s about learning to fly though sometimes you have to escape the nest and sometimes you get shoved out a little too soon. If you’re lucky, you get just the right amount of time in the nest and then all the love and encouragement you need to fly. If you’re a mother, the challenge is in knowing just when to let go.

If this is a happy, wonderful Mother’s Day for you I’m glad. That’s how it should be. Enjoy the day and time with your mother or being honored for being a mother.

If this isn’t a happy Mother’s Day for you, be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not the only one who may find it hard to celebrate Mother’s Day today.

April

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fire Ants, Hail, Strong Winds...

Do you ever have those days when you wonder what’s going to go wrong next? I mean, I love my house. I love the Austin area. I especially like the people here. And a lot is going right in my life now. I’m teaching a writing class that’s going really well and working on a manuscript and even doing a some (very) short term work for the census bureau right now.

But there are those days...

--I wake up and discover yet another fire ant mound in my yard and that an old one is coming back.
--I hear that a roof can be totaled and look just fine and it’s happened to EVERY HOUSE a few streets over from mine and now I'm wondering about mine--especially since a roofer left fliers on every door on MY street.
--The back gate I couldn’t afford to get fixed before now hangs by a thread and every time we have another thunderstorm with hail and high winds I worry I’m going to wake up and find it’s now in the middle of the street.
--I wonder if I can afford to keep paying a lawn service so I get a mower and discover halfway through mowing the front that I just can’t do this any more—especially not in the heat (plus hitting two fire ant mounds doesn’t help...).

It’s days like those that make me want to crawl back under the covers and just not get up for, oh, say a month! Mind you, I know that in the scheme of things none of this is really serious. I know there have been times in my life I’ve faced much greater challenges, so what’s the big deal? But hey, on some level I’m a wuss. A bunch of little things can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Why am I sharing this here? Because I figure that at least a few of you occasionally have your equivalent days, right? I figure that it might help to share some of what works for me when I have days like that. (Because, hey, I know from experience that crawling back under the covers does NOT solve anything, darn it!)

First thing is to reduce or get rid of the sense of panic that things are going to spin out of control and I’m not going to be able to handle them. Those of you who have been reading here awhile know that I encourage my coaching clients to make lists of all their successes, of everything they have managed to do right in the past. It’s days like this such a list matters because I can look at my list and remind myself that I have coped with challenges in the past and succeeded. I can do this.

Deep breathing helps, too. Especially if I pair that deep breathing with an image of a cool and quiet and SAFE place so that I can feel my body relaxing. And as I relax, my brain begins to function more efficiently. Which means that the odds go up that I will be able to figure out a solution to my problems/challenges.

I remind myself that I don’t have to handle everything at once, RIGHT NOW! I can choose one issue and focus on that or I can take small steps toward addressing each challenge and as I see a clear path, act on it.

I can picture it as part of a scene in a book. What would my character do? What would I want my character to do?

Life always throws challenges at us. We can’t control that. What we can do, each of us, is to figure out the strategy that works best for us. We can make the lists of past successes so that when we have moments of self-doubt, we can pull it out and remind ourselves that we have the ability to succeed. We can take the few minutes to do deep breathing and calm any sense of panic so that our brains can work better. We can take one step at a time knowing that eventually it will all be dealt with in the best way that we can. And when we do succeed in solving a problem, we can celebrate—celebrate that we were able to resolve it and then ADD IT TO OUR LIST OF SUCCESSES. That way, when the next challenge occurs, it’s one more bit of proof that yes, we CAN cope with whatever latest practical joke the universe plays on us.

Wishing you a better week than mine....

April

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Writing and Life—People

For those of us who are writers, writing and life are intertwined. What we write can affect how we perceive the world around us and the world around us affects what we write. I was struck this week, as I dealt with some issues in real life, that it can be an advantage being a writer.

If we are writers, we are used to putting ourselves in our characters minds and hearts. We are used to looking at issues and situations from viewpoints other than our own. This is a useful skill in real life as well. If we can look at difficult people we must deal with and put ourselves in their shoes, we are likely to be able to find solutions to problems. We are likely to be able to speak to them in ways they will hear and we are likely to actually hear clearly what they are saying to us.

If we must negotiate, the optimal strategy is ALWAYS one that is win-win. If we can use our skills as writers to figure out the other person’s bottom line and find a way to meet it and meet our own at the same time, we are not only more likely to get an agreement, it is more likely to be an agreement that all parties will abide by.

If we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the way we put ourselves in the minds and hearts of our characters, we are less likely to find ourselves trapped in anger and hurt and other negative emotions that hurt us. We are more likely to be able to hold onto whatever was good about the relationship—or perhaps even evoke good from someone not usually known for kindness or consideration or other behaviors we value.

If someone has hurt us in the past and we can use our skills as writers to understand why, we can realize how we might wish to change our words and actions or realize that these things would have happened no matter who we were or what we did. And we are less likely to carry the hurt so deeply through the rest of our lives. We are more likely to be able to let it go.

If we want to persuade someone to see an issue from our point of view, then our best option is to use our skills to see first what the other person’s hopes and fears are and how they see the issue. If we treat the other person’s beliefs and feelings with respect, they are more likely to listen to ours with respect. If we can address their fears and hopes in what we say and still support our own position by doing so, that’s when we are most likely to be able to convince someone that we might be right.

None of this means we must give up who we are or adopt the other person’s positions or beliefs as our own just because we understand how they think or feel! We can still listen to and value our own instincts and knowledge. And sometimes that is hard for us to do if we find it too easy to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I know this was a mistake I made during my marriage—to assume that he was more likely to be right about things than I was, especially because he was always surer that he was right.

So if you are a writer (and even if you’re not), look around at difficult situations and people and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See how you can use that to create win-win solutions—and that includes a winning solution for YOU as well as for the other person.

April

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Going Back

Last week I was back in New Jersey. In the house I lived in for over 10 years. Taking care of my adult son with Down Syndrome while my ex was out of town. It was a strange sensation. I am light years from being the person who lived there just a few short years ago.

It was good to see my son and help to get his behavior at least a little back on track. And to see my daughter who flew in for Easter. I was happy to see a few dear friends.

But it was also hard to be in that house and see it changing, to see the garden disappearing, to wonder why I ever stayed so long—in the marriage, I mean.

We make choices based on our best guesses about what’s right for us—and sometimes those around us as well. Sometimes we choose well. Sometimes it takes us a while to realize we’ve made a mistake. Sometimes things change.

I wouldn’t go back if I could. At the same time, I recognize the good things that did come out of that marriage. I wish it had all been different. I married believing in happily ever after. It didn’t work out that way. So it was very strange being back in that house with all the memories.

It was hard, too, seeing my son. Realizing that much as I wish I could make his life easier, he must choose to make the changes in his behavior that could let that happen. I look at him and see all the years I gave everything I had to try to help him and know I couldn’t have done more. In the ways that really matter, his life is in his hands. Down syndrome or not, he must make certain choices that will determine the quality of his life. There is a limit to what his father or I can do for him. But that truth still hurts.

It was both a good trip back and a difficult one. I am so much happier than I was despite the challenges of being on my own. I discovered, though, that I am not yet completely done grieving for the loss of all the hopes and dreams I had when I married my ex and when I embarked on the adventure of motherhood.

But if we felt no emotions, we could not be writers.

April

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Back to Life

Okay, back to writing about life. Sort of. As I often say, I don’t think writing and life can be separated if you’re a writer and today’s post is no exception.

No doubt you’re surprised to see two posts so close together from me but things are about to get a bit hectic. In part, that’s because I’m going to deal with some...challenging people in my life. Affection, love, and exasperation sometimes come all mixed together. We can love someone dearly and yet know we can’t be with them—for everyone’s sake involved. Or we want to see people we care about but circumstances don’t allow us to do so and sometimes it’s tempting to tell ourselves we don’t want to so that we don’t miss them so much. Today’s post is about seeing people—really seeing them.

All of us see life through the filter of past experiences AND the things people we trusted have said over the years. In addition, it’s human nature to want things to be clear cut. That means that we tend to see people as good or bad. If someone has hurt us, we may be reluctant to acknowledge that they may have been good to us, at times, as well. And if they are sometimes wonderful to us, we may be reluctant and it may take us a long time to acknowledge that sometimes they are horribly destructive as well.

What I’d like to suggest today is that it’s powerful—both in real life and as writers—to step back and really try to see people we know as they are, setting aside all our past filters, all our past experiences, all our past perceptions about a given person.

I believe that within every person is good. I believe that all harm comes out of a given person’s fears and self-doubts. That’s been true in my life even when the harm has been the most extreme. If we allow ourselves to see that, it can be transformative and help us move past those hurts to create a new and healthier relationship with that person—especially in situations where we cannot entirely or do not want to entirely cut that person out of our lives. And even if we do need to walk away entirely, it can keep us from holding onto anger that would otherwise be destructive to US.

It’s very powerful to look past the obvious to see what we may never have noticed or understood or let ourselves see before. It’s powerful to look at characters we are creating and ask ourselves what we don’t know about them as well. If we do, our characters will be more multi-dimensional and interesting to readers. A villain who is all evil is boring. So is a hero who is all good. Showing the other side of each—hero and villain—makes for a much more compelling story.

As many of you know, I have a son with Down Syndrome. He also has behavioral problems. As I deal with him soon, I will be trying to look at him with new eyes to see if there is a new way to reach him. I will be trying to put myself in his place and understand why he does what he does. I don’t know if I will be able to have an impact on those behavior issues, especially because I’ll be on his home turf, rather than mine, but I will try and at the very least, perhaps the impact of this visit will be different for ME, regardless of the impact on him.

So whether you are dealing with challenging people in your life or a writer wanting to create compelling characters, try asking yourself: What don’t I know about this person? What other way to see or interpret this person’s words and actions could there be? How can I connect to whatever is the greatest good within this person?

If you are working on creating a character, ask yourself: What is this character’s greatest flaw? What are this character’s self-doubts and fears and how does he or she react when someone triggers any of these? What is the good within this character? How does he or she perceive him or herself? How does that image vary from what others see? Do the character’s words match his or her actions? If not, why not? Who does the character WANT to be?

Writing and life are inextricably intertwined for writers. What we learn from one can help us with the other. How will you see the people in your life and the characters you create differently this week?

April

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Synopses

If you’re a writer, you know what I’m talking about and odds are you don’t much like writing them. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about synopses so I thought I’d share here my philosophy about them.

First, it’s important to understand how synopses are used so that you can write an effective one.

Editors use synopses to:

1) Decide if the story meets the expectations of the genre.
2) The author can write a complete story with no huge, gaping holes.
3) Has compelling characters and situations.
4) Help sell a manuscript he or she wants to buy to the editorial team (who will not have had a chance to read the entire manuscript).
5) Create cover art and back cover blurbs.
6) Help the sales and marketing teams know what your book is about.

Writers can use the synopsis to:
1) Make sure the story has no gaping holes.
2) Judge if the manuscript has all the essential elements for the target genre.
3) Gauge if this is a compelling story. (i.e. Would YOU buy this book?)

What do I mean by all of this? Well, let me begin by using the example of a synopsis for a romance novel.

Readers (and editors and agents) will look for a story with:
1) A satisfying romance.
2) A hero the reader wants to take home with her (and keep in bed for a month).
3) A heroine who deserves the hero.
4) Characters who grow and change in some way.
5) A plot that makes sense.

Readers—including editors and agents—care about these things in that order of priority. This means that when you write your synopsis, if it’s a romance novel, you want to make sure the focus is on the romance and how that plays out. You want to make clear how and why your hero is compelling and how the heroine deserves him. You want to show how your characters grow and change. And finally you want a plot that makes sense BUT the plot elements will be discussed primarily in terms of how the events move forward the romance and/or the character growth and/or reveal information about the hero or heroine. If you do this, then you are making it easy for an editor or agent to see that your story will be appealing to readers.

If you were writing a mystery, the order of priorities would be more like the following:
1) Satisfying mystery with no gaping holes.
2) Compelling characters—though it might be the villain who is most compelling.
3) An interesting setting or context within which the story plays out.

Every type of book has reader expectations that must be met and that’s what you want to highlight in your synopsis.

Synopses are not fun to write but they can be an extremely useful tool—both for yourself as the author and for your publisher once you sell.

April

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Real Writer

That’s a very insidious phrase—real writer. Often it’s used as in: You’re not a REAL writer unless you... OR You’re not a REAL writer if you don’t....

And if we don’t fit whatever that is, we may start to doubt ourselves. We think that getting published will make us REAL writers. Except that published authors start thinking, I’ll be a REAL writer if I make the best seller list or make X dollars for my next book.

Bottom line? You are a writer if you write. You cannot control the outcome but you are a writer if you write.

If we do not take ourselves seriously as writers, no one else will. Heaven knows it can be tough enough even if we do! I know published authors (and I was one) whose writing was treated by family as not real, not important, not a career. I had friends who didn’t respect what I did. And heaven help me, most of the time, if a stranger found out that what I wrote was romance!

We are writers if we write. What we write matters. (I have an essay on my website that I wrote shortly after 9/11 about the importance of what we do.) Each of us will choose to write what it is we are supposed to write. Each of us has our unique perspective and gifts to bring to telling a story or sharing information.

Respect what you write. It doesn’t have to be perfect to deserve respect, just as human beings don’t have to be perfect to deserve respect. Respect yourself as a writer. You are doing what many people dream about but never actually get around to doing. Respect that writers need time to daydream. Writers need time to play. How else can we stay in touch with that part of us most uniquely suited to imagine new stories? As children we had no trouble playing make believe! It’s only as adults that we worry if our make believe will be “good enough.” We need time to stay in touch or get back in touch with that child we were—the one who knew how to be fearless in playing make believe and in imagining how the world could be.

When we write, we help others see the world and people in a new way. We may share wisdom and understanding that is sometimes badly needed. Each of us will do it in our own way and each way matters because just as we are all different as writers, readers are all different and for each of us there are readers out there who may be touched to the core by what we write.

What if we are never published? I have never yet known a writer who regretted writing something that came from the heart. I have never yet known a writer who regretted searching for ways to connect with others mind to mind and heart to heart. I have known writers who tried to write what they thought they were supposed to write or what might be respected or well paid who regretted the time spent—but that was often true whether or not they ended up getting published.

If you write, you are a REAL writer.

April

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sentence Structure

This is something that has come up a couple of times this week with writers I know so I figure maybe some of you out there might find it helpful to think about, too because if you're a writer, sentence structure is an extremely important tool. The sentences you write need to match what is occuring in the scene you're writing or the reader will feel a dissonance.

In an intense situation, how do you communicate—with yourself and with others? Odds are you use short sentences and short, blunt words. It’s when you’re relaxed that you may wax eloquent with long sentences and complex words. Doesn’t matter whether the emotion is anger or passion or grief or love. When the emotion is powerful, the words are in short supply.

If you use this in your writing, then just by using short, intense sentences and words you can convey the depth of emotion and/or sense of urgency your character is feeling.

By the same token, if you want to convey a sense that the characters are relaxed and everyone is safe, longer, more eloquent sentences will do that. You will be showing the reader how the characters feel rather than telling them.

If this sounds odd to you, watch people around you when they are in the caught up in powerful emotions.

Mind you, if you’re a writer, you already do that. One writer friend of mine jokes that we writers are all nosy. We can’t help watching and listening to people and making up stories in our heads about them. I think that if you read a book that captures your heart and resonates deeply with you, it’s a given that the author IS a people watcher.

Often writers long for the day they can be home full time to write. And it’s wonderful to be able to do that but.... But a writer NEEDS to be around people, too. So sometimes that day job is just what a reader needs to spur him or her on to write effectively. If you have to work to support your writing habit (and most writers do), take heart in knowing it adds to the depth and power of your work—or it can, if you let it.

So...watch people around you. Notice how their speech patterns vary depending on the situation. Notice how they move, what they do with their hands, how they stand, sit or walk, how they breathe. And use it to make your writing feel real.

We, as writers, are privileged to have the chance to mirror for others what they might not see or notice on their own. We’re able to put into words what they may instinctively know but cannot articulate. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. And sentence structure can help us do so more effectively. So whether you loved or hated grammar in school (and it was NOT my favorite subject!), if you want to be a writer, really pay attention to these details and it will make your writing increasingly powerful.

April

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tornados

Those of you who followed my trip across country two years ago may remember the email I sent out titled 15 minutes ahead of the tornados about my drive from Oklahoma to Dallas. Ever since I moved to the Austin area I’ve been happily telling people that while Texas does get tornados they never come to Austin. That, of course, was just asking for trouble.

Last weekend, late Sunday night, they started warning that tornados might be headed for Austin. There were things showing up on radar that looked very scary. At least one tornado had already touched down in this storm’s path.

Fortunately, the storm started to fall apart right before it reached here. We still got heavy rain and some areas of Austin had small hail. But it was nothing like what they feared might hit. And I found myself thinking of that trip 2 years ago when I was driving 15 minutes ahead of the tornados.

I often get caught up in feeling as if I should be accomplishing more. It’s only when I stop and remember where I was a year or two ago that I realize how much I’ve done. On that trip, 2 years ago, I didn’t know where I was going or what the circumstances of my life were going to be. I still carried the weight of all the negative things anyone had ever said to me. It wasn’t until Austin, some of you will remember, that I realized I didn’t have to feel guilty about wanting to have a coffee maker! Those of you who were getting my email back then will remember how surprised I was at how easily I fit in everywhere I went and the respect with which I was treated.

I mention all of this for a couple of reasons. One is that I want to show how important it can be to stop and look back and compare where we were to where we are now, to give ourselves credit for how far we’ve come. Because I think it’s way too easy to get used to what we accomplish and discount it, thinking that if WE could do it, how impressive could it be? We find it way too easy to focus instead on what we haven’t done that we think we should have accomplished by now. It’s way too easy to forget that we are on our own path and there may be no clear road map for that path. That we can’t compare who we are and what we are doing with what anyone else is doing because we are all different and what we need may be completely different from what is right for someone else.

I mention all of this also because it is so important to realize that we all carry assumptions about ourselves and those assumptions may be all wrong. And the only way we can discover that is to step outside our comfort zones to challenge those assumptions.

Some of you know that I lived most of my life believing I was tone deaf—until I decided to try to play the violin and discovered that within 24 hours I could play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy perfectly in tune.

It was only when I made this cross country trip that I discovered I really could trust my instincts and my intelligence and my resilience.

Two years ago, as I out ran those tornados, literally 15 minutes behind me, I wondered if I was out of my mind for making that journey. Now, two years later, I am so very glad I did.

April

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Change

How do you deal with change? Does it scare you? Excite you? Do you fight it or go with it?

I ask because someone I know may be about to have an upheaval in her life. And it’s scary—for her and for those who care about her. Now it may not happen. At this point there are only rumors. But it still has an emotional impact—waiting to find out isn’t easy.

She’s got some good things going for her. She’s young. She’s got great academic and real world credentials. She loves challenges. She doesn’t have anything that requires her to stay where she is.

Those are assets unique to her. I think it’s useful, though, to look also at some things that she has going for her that all of us could think about.

1) She doesn’t carry much debt. She makes a real effort to pay off her credit cards in full every month and to save as much as she can. She defers purchases until after she’s put money into savings and she knows that she also has enough to pay cash. If she can’t afford it, she doesn’t buy it.
2) She stays in touch with friends and family all over the country and she keeps an eye on what’s going on in her field.
3) She is constantly choosing to learn new things and actively seeks out such opportunities.
4) She’s willing to let her support system know what’s going on.
5) She can look at the situation and see that panic won’t accomplish anything. She will defer some purchases and map out a financial strategy—just in case. She won’t allow herself to get caught up in nightmare imaginings.
6) She can look at the situation and ask herself: What good could come out of this?

This last one is the most important. There is real power in asking oneself, in the middle of any difficult situation: What good could come out of this?

Asking that question is important and powerful on many levels. By changing our focus, it reduces the level of panic. That lets our brains function better and we are more likely to see possible solutions to our situation. Those possibilities may lead to good—for us and for others. We may find ourselves with opportunities we would not otherwise have thought of or had the courage to reach for—if it had not been for whatever seems to be a disaster right now.

Change is inevitable. We can’t always control what happens to us—no matter how we live our lives. We can, however, choose how we will face those challenges.

How do you face change?

April