Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Stories for a New Year

First, I need to note that I'm postponing my Book in a Week class to later in the month. I need to go back east to see my son and can't manage the class at the same time. I'll be posting here when I know for certain when the class will actually start.

Now....about the new year.....

Human beings are storytellers. We tell ourselves stories about our own lives and the people around us all the time. Those stories can help or hinder us depending on how we tell them. In the worst case situation, we're telling ourselves stories that hurt us and never even realize they ARE stories! If we fall into the trap of believing they're truth, we are unlikely to change or rewrite those negative stories into something that will help empower us.

Why am I bringing this up now? I think New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is a good time to stop and ask ourselves what stories we're telling ourselves and ask ourselves which ones we might want to rewrite. If we do, we have far greater chance of making true changes in our lives than by making resolutions we may not believe we can fulfill anyway.

Example: Which seems more likely to work? To tell ourselves we have to stop eating chocolate because it's making us fat or to tell ourselves we're someone who doesn't need chocolate or to eat more than one piece at a time?

I know the power of expectations—and that's what's inherent in telling ourselves stories. If we expect someone to behave badly, studies show they will. If we expect someone to succeed, studies show they are far more likely to do so. What then if we apply those ideas to ourselves? If we're writers, we're used to creating stories, so why not create stories about ourselves that will empower us to achieve our goals?

I don't know about you, but I'm realizing that telling myself I'm stupid about something isn't very likely to make me succeed at whatever it is. On the other hand, I've got a much better shot at it if the story I'm telling myself is that I'm smart and successful and able to see possibilities and figure out ways to do things—even if they are different from how anyone else would do them.

I find myself thinking about all of this now because I will be seeing my son in his new environment, in the group home. I know that it's important to think carefully about what I will tell him about this big change in his life, the story I will help him create for himself. I look at the world, too, which seems in chaos and I know that I have the best chance of weathering the crises if I have a story that tells me that no matter what I will find a way to do so.

As I say often in my workshops: the brain works best when we are relaxed. It literally cannot function as well when we're scared. So...the optimal strategy is to find stories that help us move forward in our lives.

What are the stories you tell yourself that you might want to rewrite as we enter this new year?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 2008

Christmas Eve is bittersweet for me. I love the sense of hope I see, the generosity of people, the joy on children's faces, even the look of bewilderment on my dog's face as she stares at the Christmas tree and tries to figure out why it's there.

I'll enjoy seeing my daughter tonight and having her sleep over. I'll talk with my son on the phone and wish he weren't so far away. I'll light a candle for my father who died on Christmas eve years ago. As I said, it's a bittersweet time for me.

We have choices. To focus on what's wrong in the world and what worries us or to count our blessings and find reasons for joy EVERY DAY. I'm putting in a plug for the latter because I truly believe it's what's best for us and for the world.

It is when we remember our past successes and celebrate any and all reasons for joy in our lives that we are most likely to think of solutions to our life challenges. It is when we hold onto that sense of self-worth and faith in ourselves that we are most likely to find ways to become even more the kind of people we want to be. It is when we allow ourselves to celebrate who we are that we are most likely to be able to open our hearts to others.

When we know what brings joy, we can do that which expands the amount of joy in the world—and make it a better place for everyone no matter what challenges exist.

Wishing everyone much joy and peace, good health and success now and throughout all of 2009!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Next Online Class

Please note that there is a discounted fee if you have taken the class before and wish to take it again.

I realize a lot of people are focused on the holidays right now but January is coming up fairly quickly and I wanted to let people know that I'll be offering my Book in a Week class at the beginning of the year because I suspect that lots of people will be ready to jump back into writing after the holidays. (Or some of you may want to give—or ask for-- it as a gift.)

Online Class: BOOK IN A WEEK

Cost: $60 ($35 if you have taken this class before and are taking it again)
Dates: January 5, 2009 to February 6, 2009
Deadline to sign up: January 2, 2009
Format: All lessons and discussion are handled via email so you can take the class in your pajamas at 3 in the morning if you want!

I truly believe that when we are in tune with who we are as writers, the process becomes easier and we become better writers. This class is designed to help you discover what and when and where and how YOU write best. It is designed to take you back to those early days when you couldn't wait to write your book. It's designed to remind you of the joy and the power of playing “make believe” as a child—to let you sidestep any limits you may be setting on yourself and your ability to write.

This class will take you through every step of the writing process—from beginning to brainstorming all the way through sending material out to be published.

Weeks 1-3: Preparing to write the first draft of a book in one week
Creating compelling characters or how to write about real people in nonfiction
Planning plot elements or structure in a nonfiction book
Significance of names
Effective paragraph and sentence structure
Using imagery and sensory detail to add impact
Writing effective dialogue
Creating a productive writing environment
Enlisting the support of those around you
Mentally gearing yourself up to write faster (and better) than you thought you could

Week 4: Intensive Writing Week (January 25 to January 31)
This is about discovering how writing fits into YOUR life. You can't do it wrong. You won't fail. No matter what happens you will discover more about yourself as a writer than you thought possible during that ONE WEEK of writing!

Week 5:
Evaluating the writing experience
Making revisions
Sending out material

Bio: April Kihlstrom is an award winning author of 31 published romance novels. She offers coaching to fellow writers as well as classes and workshops on writing and has spoken at many conferences including: the Romance Writers of America national conference (romance) and the East of Eden conference (non-romance).

Testimonials from students who have taken the class:

“I have taken several online classes, none of them writing related. Still, none of them have been as well planned, documented and executed as BIAW.”

“Wow...Let me begin by saying Thank you Thank you Thank you! What an amazing process and generous amount of information given in a relatively short amount of time!”

“This course was certainly value for the money. A price can't be placed on the invaluable information and experience you imparted during this course.”

“I'm a better writer. I'm a faster writer. I'm a more confident writer.”

Payment for the class may be made by check or by Paypal.

To sign up send an email to with Book in a Week in the header and in the body of the email please put: your name and whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal. Also, please let me know if you have taken the class before.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Season

As usual, I find myself way behind on so many things. I haven't begun writing out cards. My shopping is well, barely started. I did put up my artificial tree this weekend and now much of the challenge is persuading my dog Sophy that it is NOT for her to chew on—not the branches OR the ornaments!

Partly it's the weather. We stayed unusually warm until very recently. We still have some days that hit 70 degrees and I'm used to much colder temperatures in November! NOT that I'm complaining. I like the warmer weather. It just means that it doesn't always feel like the Christmas season as early as it would back in the northeast.

Partly it's the economic chaos. Like everyone else, I'm mindful of what I can afford and how I choose to spend on gifts. I always try to choose gifts that will be meaningful but this year it feels even more important not to waste money just to buy SOMETHING.

I find myself thinking about Hanukkah, too. For close to 30 years, it was part of my life. I loved the lighting of the candles and the concept of the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days. I don't light a menorah now but when I see the candles in the store, I'm swept back to moments when that was part of this Season for me, too.

As a writer, this gives me a chance to look at the Season with a new perspective. How might characters in a novel act and react differently in a year like this? What would be emotionally compelling—and not just in obvious ways? How might a character create peace and calm in the midst of financial disorder? How might a character find new and meaningful ways to celebrate Christmas with her children when money is tight? How might friends in a story help each other out when no one has any money? How might a character find success when everyone says it's impossible?

So I have my tree up, I've begun to brainstorm what I might get my children for Christmas and perhaps by next week I'll be starting to send out my Christmas cards. Meanwhile, I'm taking moments to savor what I love about this time of year. I'm letting myself question, too, all the old assumptions about what HAS to be part of this Season.

How about you? Are you ahead of schedule? Behind? Right on time? Are you rethinking anything about what you do for this time of year?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Giving Thanks

Like everyone else, this week has had me thinking about the blessings in my life. And especially now, with all the chaos in the world and the economy, I suspect it's especially important for us to remember those things aren't the sum total of our reality.

I'm grateful for my kids. I'm grateful my son is in a wonderful group home and can learn limits and social skills he hasn't before. I'm grateful my daughter is doing so well in graduate school and is such a marvelous young woman!

I'm grateful for my dog Sophy and the way she makes me laugh, even if she does like mud a little too much. (See her blog post about it here: Sophy's Dog Eye View of the World.

I'm grateful my ex and I are on good terms.

I'm grateful for my friends—whether here in Austin or all around the country.

I'm grateful for my fellow writers and the chance to offer my writing classes online. I'm grateful for the chance to share what I know and to learn from my fellow writers as well.

I'm grateful for my house.

I'm grateful for Austin and the rain we're getting now as well as the blue skies and sunshine and warmth we get most of the year. I'm grateful for all the creative people in Austin and everyone else as well—it's a terrific mix.

I'm grateful to have enough to eat and clothes to wear. (A friend's mother made the observation that we are rich if we have things to give away—whether money, food, clothes or household goods. A great way to look at life and so very true!)

I could go on and on. And some days I do. Realizing how much I have to be grateful for is a good antidote to fear or worry or jealousy.

Here's hoping each of you has your own very long list of things to be grateful for!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Revisions Workshop and Next Book in a Week

As promised, here's the information about my next workshop. For those who have asked about the next Book in a Week workshop, that will start in early January. I have details up on my website April Kihlstrom and will post here later in December but this gives you a chance to mark your calendars. Note that because I've had a number of people ask to take my classes more than once, there's a discounted rate if you've taken the class before.

For now, the next workshop I'll be offering is Revisions the Easy Way (called Revisions the Practical Way last time around).

Cost: $30 ($20 if you have taken this class before and are taking it again)
Dates: December 1, 2008 to December 12, 2008
Format: All classes via email so you can read them and post responses any time of day.
Deadline to sign up: November 28, 2008

Class size will be limited so that students can ask questions, post homework responses (if they so choose), do brainstorming, etc.

Course description:
I believe there is a far easier AND MORE EFFECTIVE way to make revisions than to start with page one and go through to the end. This class will look at a layered approach to making changes with the knowledge that every change has a ripple effect AND there are questions one ought to ask oneself before one does anything.

Lessons are designed to take the author through the revision process in a way that minimizes the rewriting time.  It is based on the concept that if one asks the right questions—in the right order—before one begins rewriting, the process is easier and faster and more effective. 

To sign up for Revisions the Easy Way send an email to with the title of the class in the subject line and in the body of the email please let me know whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal.  (Note: Please let me know if you have taken the class before.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fires, Guest Blogging and Feeling Under the Weather

My apologies if I'm not entirely coherent today. I've come down with a bad cold. But I did want to post about the fires in California and ask for your good thoughts for all the families and firefighters affected by them.

It's easy, sometimes, to tune out news about places distant from where we are. But it can suddenly hit home too. I just found out that my brother's home was destroyed by those California fires. He and his family are safe. But his home is gone. And so is the building where he teaches his classes at Westmont College.

He's not the only one. Too many people have lost their homes in this latest round of fires. Too many people have been injured or killed. It seems as if these kinds of disasters are growing more frequent. Or maybe it's that we've become more aware of them. Either way, a lot of people could use your good thoughts and prayers right about now.

On a much happier note, I'm blogging at the Wet Noodle Posse blog this week on Wednesday, November 19th. I hope you'll go check it out. I'll be talking a bit about Book in a Week and why I believe in it so much as a way to grow as writers.

Which reminds me....I should settle on dates for my next online classes. I'm leaning toward a 2 week class on revisions for the beginning of December and my next Book in a Week class to start the beginning of January when I figure lots of people will be ready to dive into writing again after the holidays. Look for more information in next week's blog.

Meanwhile, please keep everyone affected by the California fires in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Veggie Chili

I make vegetarian chili a lot at this time of year. It's comforting and healthy and easy and uses up whatever veggies I have in the refrigerator. I use a crock pot and that makes it even easier because it simmers all day. I make it just for me and it usually lasts 3 or 4 meals—depending on how hungry I am, whether or not I add some rice, how many veggies I have on hand, etc. You may want something very different but here's how I do it:

can of beans or dried beans
can of tomato sauce or paste or diced tomatoes (depending on my mood and what I have in the cupboard)
diced zucchini
diced onions or pepper or whatever other veggies I have handy
chili powder to taste
enough water to create a good consistency
optional: rice (added an hour or so before I want to eat along with extra water so it stays the right consistency)

If I'm using canned beans, everything goes into the crock pot at once. If I'm starting with dried beans, I start them 2 or 3 hours earlier. With canned beans I can start it around noon. If I'm using dried beans I try to start it by 10am at the latest. I start it on high for about half an hour (to heat up the water) then turn it down to low for the rest of the time. (My crock pot only has two settings—high and low.)

I top the chili in my bowl with shredded cheese and sometimes make biscuits or bread sticks to go with it.

I suspect true chili aficionados would be horrified by my chili but...I like it. As I said before, it's easy, warms me up, is filling and healthy.

What are some of your healthy comfort foods at this time of year?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hiding Our Treasures

Despite all the cartoons, I've never had a dog that actually buried things. Until now. I was out for a long stretch today and when I came back gave my dog Sophy a rawhide treat. She ran outside and came back in a couple of minutes later. No treat. I looked outside. No treat. I asked her where it was. Obediently she took me to the spot where she had buried it and when I asked her to, she dug it up and brought it back inside. I reassured her that she didn't have to bury treats any more because there would always be treats for her. She settled down to happily chew it then.

I found myself wondering how many of us do the same thing—hoarding talent or ideas or money or...whatever out of fear there won't be any when we want or need it/them? How many of us are afraid we—and what we care about—won't be safe?

I think that it's this kind of fear that lies behind the deep divisions in this country as we go to the polls to vote. What I hope we remember—no matter who wins—is that we ALL want to be SAFE. We ALL want to know there will be ENOUGH when we need it. The louder the voices, the nastier the smears, you can be sure means the greater the fear. Because ultimately all conflict, deep down, is about some kind of fear.

If we're writers, we may hoard our ideas—or even our manuscripts—out of fear that someone will steal them. But if we don't take the risk of sending those manuscripts out then we can't get published at all. When we share challenges and ideas someone may think of possibilities that would enrich our writing in ways we would never think of ourselves.

It takes courage to face our fears and look beyond them to the possibilities. Just think what a difference it would make—in our lives, in our country, in the stories we might write or read—if we all did so.

Whatever your views, I hope you vote on Tuesday—or have already voted.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Well, it's beginning to feel like Fall here—even if it is still much warmer than it would be places I've lived most of my life. Time to begin making soup, baking more, bundling up when I take Sophy for early morning walks. Well, okay, at least putting on a light jacket!

It's also the time of year I feel like curling up with good books—and working on my own. That's why the timing of NaNoWriMo is so great. For those of you who are writers and don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month. Here's the website for NaNoWriMo. It's a good way to really get yourself in the habit of writing every day—or at least most days—and perhaps writing faster than you thought you could. It's a way to do it and get lots of support from other writers.

We're obviously living in a time of change. Even for non-writers, keeping a journal or in some way writing down how we feel or think about what's happening can be a useful way of coping with the anxiety that times like this can produce.

Here's hoping all of you are enjoying Fall where you are and perhaps taking pen in hand or typing on the computer as we go into the days and changes ahead.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Week that Got Away

This is one of those weeks that got away from me. You know the kind I mean. Just when you're ready to unwind and relax you remember you have a meeting—and it's one you want to attend. Just as you sit down to write a blog post the phone rings and someone you care about needs help with something. The dog figures out how to pull down the drapes . Or your kid says, “Mom, I think I might have a concussion.”

Everything turns out okay but....the week gets away from you.

One of the blessings of a week like this is the reminder to double check what someone tells you—rather than getting upset before you check if it's true or maybe can be changed. It was a reminder that much of what we worry about turns out okay. Why put energy into worrying before we have to? And it was a reminder that sometimes it's better to laugh than get angry at the surprises life hands us. (The drapes went right back up with no damage.)

If you're a writer, how do your characters handle situations like these? What do they do or say that's both unique and universal? (Example: It's universal to fall in love. It's unique if the way the person shows that he has is to give the other person a dragon figurine because he knows that to her it represents the strength she wishes she had and which he knows she does.) How do different characters handle things differently? Who worries? Who refuses to worry? Who goes still and who gets active? Who goes for walks and who insists on staying by the phone and talking to friends?

One of the blessings of being a writer is realizing there are all sorts of possible answers and that there is rarely only one that's right. It can make us more understanding of others and help us realize that we can choose which one serves us—and those we love—best.

Here's hoping you're all having great weeks and they're not getting away from you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Plea for Civility

Right now emotions are running high—as they always do right before major elections. We see ads running that are misleading at best and outright lies at worst. Fear drives people to take stands denouncing anyone who disagrees with that person's position. Today I'd like to make a plea.

Please listen with respect to someone who supports the person you oppose. Listen for the fear that lies behind that support. And then listen to your own arguments and hear the fear in your own voice. We all want what's best for this country. Where we disagree is in what might provide that solution—or who might provide that solution.

I don't believe anyone has a lock on wisdom. Our best shot of creating a happier, healthier and yes, safer country and world is to work together, all of us treating each other with respect as we do so.

I understand ambition and I cringe every time I see or hear someone abandon their principles in order to succeed. I admire those who are willing to acknowledge that someone with whom they disagree could be a good and decent person anyway.

It's hard to do that when we are afraid and yet paradoxically it's our best shot at solving whatever crisis is scaring us.

If you are a writer, how do your characters deal with disagreements? Do they listen with respect? Do they attack? What in their past experience has shaped how they deal with disagreement? What does it mean to them? What do or could your characters who disagree learn from each other?

Even if ultimately we or our characters must take a stand, our best shot of persuading others to stand with us is to begin by listen to and hearing and respecting the fear that shapes the other person's position.

Stepping off my soapbox now. But just imagine what kind of world this could be if we all began by treating each other with respect.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Next Online Writing Class

I alway feel funny about listing my writing classes. And yet I know they make a difference. And I offer writing classes online because I really do want to make a difference. This one is timed to match up with National Novel Writing Month--even though it isn't just for people who write novels.

I know what it's like to feel self-doubt and over the years I've learned that every writer does. I offer my classes to share what I've learned works—and what doesn't—in hopes of making the writing process a little easier and better for all of us. In that spirit, I again offer my BOOK IN A WEEK online writing class timed to give students a jump start for NaNoWriMo this year.

Online Writing Class: BOOK IN A WEEK

Prepare for NaNoWriMo—even if you're writing nonfiction. This 5 week class begins October 13, ends November 14 and includes an intensive writing week from Nov. 1 to Nov. 9 that would be a great start to NaNoWriMo. Who knows? You might even write the entire first draft in that one intensive writing week!

Come discover how to write better and faster than you ever have before AND how to have fun doing so. This first three weeks of this class will help you prepare to write your book and the final week will help you look at your intensive writing week to see how, what, when, and where you write best.

Cost: $60
Dates: Oct. 13, 2008 to Nov. 14, 2008
Format: All lessons and discussion are handled via email so you can take the class in your pajamas at 3 in the morning if you want!

Bio: April Kihlstrom is an award winning author of 31 published romance novels. She offers coaching to fellow writers as well as classes and workshops on writing and has spoken at many conferences including: the Romance Writers of America national conference (romance) and the East of Eden conference (non-romance).

Testimonials from students who have taken the class:

“I have taken several online classes, none of them writing related. Still, none of them have been as well planned, documented and executed as BIAW.”

“Wow...Let me begin by saying Thank you Thank you Thank you! What an amazing process and generous amount of information given in a relatively short amount of time!”

“This course was certainly value for the money. A price can't be placed on the invaluable information and experience you imparted during this course.”

“I'm a better writer. I'm a faster writer. I'm a more confident writer.”

Payment for the class may be made by check or by Paypal.

To sign up send an email to with Book in a Week in the header and in the body of the email please put: your name and whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal.

As always, feel free to pass this information on to anyone who might be interested.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I was going to blog again about Sophy or perhaps about writing conflict in a novel. But this week it seems perhaps more pertinent to talk about crises and how we—and our characters—cope with them.

So long as we see ourselves hostage to what others do, we will feel trapped and scared. We also are not likely to take those steps that can help us create the lives we want to have.

I've posted before about finances and how to be financially stable. I've posted how to unclog a toilet if you can't get hold of a plumber and don't have or don't want to use a plunger. None of what I posted is guaranteed to always work or always protect you, but....these are steps we can take that have high odds of helping us achieve what we want to achieve—financially or domestically with the toilet.

In every area of our lives, we choose in every moment how we will handle challenges and crises. Will we wring our hands and worry? Perhaps even become news junkies? Or will we take a deep breath and look at what we CAN do? Every little step we take improves our odds and takes away some of the fear because it reminds us that we are not totally hostages to fate.

By the same token, if we are writing a novel, it's useful to ask ourselves how our characters handle challenges and crises. Do they try to control everything—including things over which they have no control? Do they take steps to resolve the issue? Do they turn it over to some higher power? Do they perhaps look for the opportunities that might be created by the crisis? Do you have two characters who have diametrically opposed strategies? That can create conflict—in life OR in a novel.

If you've read my blog for any length of time you can probably guess that I'm not panicking. I have taken the steps I can take to keep my financial house in order. And I choose to put my energy into getting on with my life rather than worrying about things over which I have no control anyway.

How do your characters (if you're a writer) handle crisis? How do you? How might your characters (if you're a writer) learn to handle things differently? Is there something that you, as a person, could do to improve the odds of your financial situation--or any other challenge you face?

Just as our characters can change and grow throughout the progress of a novel, so can we.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lessons Learned From My Dog

You're probably expecting something about taking time to play or nap or love unconditionally. And I could easily write a blog like that. But since this is about WRITING and life, I'd like to talk about a different aspect of what I'm learning from Sophy. (See her blog here: Sophy's Dog Eye View of the World)

One of the lessons I got this week from Sophy was to remember that there are regional differences in all sorts of aspects of life. What is a common issue one place may rarely occur in another—and vice versa. Factors such as habits of other dog owners, climate, etc. can affect things in ways one doesn't even know to watch out for if one is new to an area—OR TRYING TO WRITE ABOUT A PLACE ONE HAS NEVER LIVED.

I won't go into details because it's really gross, but let's just say I spent a morning I didn't want to at the vets because of a problem that never occurred with any other dog I've owned before because I've always had dogs in northern climates. Pests that die out over the winter (I presume) up north apparently don't here in this much warmer climate.

It was a reminder of how many things can be different that one never thinks about—unless one visits or moves to a very different part of the country than one has lived in before. Little things like what's blooming or what one wears at what time of year. Bigger things such as expectations for what's “proper” behavior in all sorts of situations. Or what's involved in home maintenance. (Up north we never had to water the foundations of our houses. Of course, I also never had a teenager apologize to ME when I accidentally bumped into the teenager!)

In life, this means realizing what we think of as the way everyone must think or feel could very well not be universal. It means realizing there's more than one way to see things and that by being open to that possibility our lives could become richer.

In writing, it explains the popularity of the “stranger in a strange land” theme. Differences make for great plot points, potential conflict, humorous incidents, even drama.

There is tremendous value and power in questioning our assumptions. After all, it is the assumptions we don't even know we have that are the ones that trip us up most often. And if we're writers, they are wonderful fodder for the stories we write!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricanes and 9/11 and Other Storms of Life

Here we 're waiting to see if Hurricane Ike will hit us dead on or turn aside. It seems the forecast changes practically every hour. And it brings back memories of the year my daughter was starting college. We lived on the east coast then and she was headed to the west coast. She was trying to pack, not knowing if her flight would even be able to leave in the morning as her dad and I frantically pumped water out of our repeatedly flooding carpeted family room thanks to the remnants of a hurricane that raged outside. Fortunately the hurricane blew through faster than expected and my daughter made her flight just fine.

A couple of years later, it was 9/11 that hit the morning my daughter and I were headed to the shore for a couple of days together before she flew back to college. We were in shock and worried about family in NYC and friends who might have been there. We walked the beach and talked about her options to get out to the west coast before classes started if the planes stayed grounded. We talked about life and what mattered and of the grief we felt over all those lost lives.

My daughter will come over for dinner tomorrow night and we may reminisce. If the storm continues to head our way I'll bring in all my potted plants and anything else that could be tossed around by high winds. I'm ready if we have a few days without power.

What I think of most as I think of these experiences is the different ways people I know—including me—handled these situations. I remember the good things that people did to help each other in difficult times. I celebrate those who found a way to focus on something besides themselves and their own fears.

Every crisis is a chance for each of us to rise above our fears. Each crisis is a chance for us to look at our lives and decide what matters most. May we always remember the lives lost on 9/11 and may we always celebrate the courage and concern for others that we also saw that day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My Fishbowl Theory of Life

Periodically I like to repeat my Fishbowl Theory of Life—because I think it's important. So many of us think so often we're the only ones who feel the way we do. But...

I have this theory that we are all standing on the outside of a fish bowl. We can see a couple of people to our left and a couple of people to our right, but we look inside and think we see all these people inside having fun, being the "real" writers or leaders or popular or self-assured people or....whatever our issue might be. And the reality is that EVERYONE is on the outside of the fish bowl and when we think we're looking inside we're really looking through it to the other side and seeing people who are looking back thinking we're the ones inside the fish bowl!

There are different levels of expertise in any group. And that's a good thing! We learn from each other. On any journey, some are farther along the path than others but....we all begin with just one step, no matter what it might be. As we go we find our way.

When I teach my writing classes, I smile every time I think of each of my students finding his or her voice. No matter what comes of what each person is writing, if he or she cares about it, it will change that person in big and little ways one doesn't expect. I tell writers: You will never regret time spent writing what you care about--whether or not it ever gets published.

Can you tell I believe in dreams--and in taking action to make those dreams real?

The next time you feel on the outside of anything in any way, remember, we're all on the outside of that huge fish bowl--we just don't realize the blasted thing is empty!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This Week

It's been an interesting week. Sophy and I are still negotiating how we will coexist. I've discovered she can open gates and patio doors. She's discovered that when I'm at the computer I'm working and not likely to play. I've set up a blog for her and will be posting stories from her point of view at Sophy's Dog Eye View of the World.

I had my air conditioning quit working on Saturday and by the time it got resolved, it was 90 degrees in my house. But it got fixed and didn't cost me a fortune and I'm so grateful that's all it was.

I don't have much contact with my ex-husband's family. This week though they have been very much on my mind as someone I was once close to deals with the diagnosis of a debilitating illness. My heart goes out to all of them and to my daughter who wishes with all her heart there was something she could do.

Different friends are dealing with different challenges and we swap stories of how we've succeeded in the past—reminding each other that we are not hostages to fate but rather can choose how we will respond to life and the challenges that come with it.

Here's hoping each of you finds some joy every day and time to play and reasons to believe in yourselves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Happens

In writing, as in real life, it isn't what happens that matters nearly so much as how a person—or character in a novel—acts and reacts because of a given event.

Faced with a crisis, one person will retreat, another advance as though waging war on the challenge. If someone else is in crisis, one person will approach with compassion and wanting to know how to help, another will withdraw afraid of having too much asked of him or her. In a crisis, one person will come up with a solution and insist it is the only one that can work. Another person will listen to all possibilities and be open to choosing one that is not his or her own.

Ironically, it is the person willing to listen who is likely to have the best ideas (because he or she listens to and learns from others) but odds are the idea chosen will be the one pushed by the most forceful personality who insists on only considering his or her own.

Each person's style is likely to have been shaped by the past as well as by innate personality.

In writing, it's important to look at WHY your characters do what they do and to stop and consider all sorts of possible actions and reactions for a given character. As you show those actions and reactions changing, you are showing the reader the character growth that is taking place.

In real life, there is power and wisdom in stepping back and asking oneself if one's actions and reactions are really serving one well—and to consider changing if they aren't.

PS Sophy and I are settling in nicely. I'm discovering how clever she is and she's discovering that there are limits to what's allowed. She's sweet and affectionate and I'm so glad I adopted her!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

She's Here!!!

Well, I have my new dog. I'm calling her Sophy—after The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, of course.

She's a spaniel/setter mix—I think. Since she came from a shelter, there's no way to be sure. She was fostered for several months so she's in many ways already trained. Good thing since she's probably about a year old and weighs 45 pounds! (I'd thought she was probably around 30 until I saw the vet's paper.)

I'm going to see if I can insert a photo or two here....

She's a sweetie. She did bark once—when we saw a rabbit as we were out walking. And she definitely wanted to chase it but when I said “NO!” she happily continued walking with me.

She did wake me up at 4 am thinking maybe it was time to play—and I am sooooo NOT a morning person! But I got her back to sleep and it all worked out fine.

As you can tell, I'm enjoying having her here. I love dogs. I think there is so much to be gained by having one. Where else can you get unconditional love? Where else can you find someone always willing to play? And is there anything more soothing that petting a dog who loves you when you've had a long, hard day?

Okay, so I can think of a couple of answers for that last one've got to admit it ranks pretty high up there on the list!

As for writing, well....I'm enjoying the new Book in a Week class I'm teaching and, as always, finding new ways to tweak my lessons for the class. to the vet to pick up her heartworm medication (I was so excited to get her yesterday that I left my purse at home! I had her leash and a blanket for the back seat of the car—you know, the important stuff—but I forgot my purse! But that's okay because there are a couple of things I should probably pick up at the pet store, too.)

Can you tell I'm having fun?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Found My Dog

Well, I've found my dog. Still need to have the adoption approved since I found her at a local shelter but...I found her. She's not at all what I thought I would fall in love with but she's a real sweetheart. Probably mixture of spaniel with something else slender.

Even though she comes from a shelter, she'd been fostered and has obviously had a fair amount of training. She has a sweet temperament, isn't a huge barker and not once did she try to pull me over when I had her on the leash. I go through the process to have my application approved. (I'm glad they're careful to try to make sure the place the right animal in the right home.) Once that's done, she'll be spayed, micro chipped, vaccinated and tested. All very good things.

Sometimes it's good to discover that things don't turn out the way you expect—but maybe even better.

Once she's home with me—assuming the application is approved—I'll see if I can figure out how to post pictures.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dog Search Continues

Yesterday my daughter and I visited a local shelter. The Town Lake Animal Center in Austin is huge and has lots and lots of animals. We even saw some chickens! I filled out the questionnaire and got approved to adopt a dog. $75 for a pet that has been given its shots and has already been spayed or neutered is a real bargain. They get 50 to 100 dogs a day so I had high hopes.

We looked. I saw dogs with lovely temperaments and knew they would make great pets—for someone else. I saw a couple I liked—and of course they already had the “adopted” sticker on their cages. Did put in a request to be called for a dog on the “other side” (where newly brought in animals are kept) in case he becomes adoptable and the person ahead of me chooses not to adopt. I won't know until I have a chance to interact with him if he's the right pet for me and I almost hope the person ahead of me on the list has fallen completely in love with him. Every animal deserves to be adopted by someone who will love them and bond to them deeply. That's how I've felt about the dogs in my life in the past.

So....I'll keep looking. Saw a Papillon the other day with a woman in a store and might look into one of those. We'll see.

I'd love to hear your experiences finding a pet or looking for one or having one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

NJ and Dogs

I could tell you about my week in NJ. On the plus side, I got to spend time with my son who has Down syndrome and I visited an amazingly wonderful group home. On the down side? Driving a car on the freeway after midnight when a tire had been down to 12 pounds earlier in the day (that my ex forgot to warn me about until the next day). Toilets overflowing. Pipes spewing water all over the laundry room (and into the carpeted family room). And so on. I think I'd rather talk about dogs.

I'd like to have a dog. I'd love to have a collie but I'm not sure I can handle a dog that big any more. So maybe a sheltie? Of course, in Austin, both shelties and collies are hard to find. Well, with the heat we get and their long fur....need I say more?

So I'm at a bit of a loss. I'm not sure whether to look for a sheltie or consider another kind of dog. But if not a sheltie or collie, what breed? Generally I'm more drawn to dogs with long rather than shorter fur. Since I'd probably have the dog inside more than outside and take it for walks, smaller is probably better than bigger. A mellow temperament would be a bonus.

I'm not asking for much, am I? I have checked out dogs for adoption from shelters and rescue groups. Nothing clicked and I'm not about to adopt a pet lightly. I'd rather not get a dog than get one I'll regret.

So who knows? I may get a sheltie or I may not get a dog at all or I may find a mixed breed I love.

Anyway, I'd love to have suggestions on types of dogs—both warnings and recommendations!

Friday, July 18, 2008

next Book in a Week class

I realize some of you have already taken this class. If so, please pass the information on to anyone who you think might be interested. If you're going to RWA National conference in San Francisco and you haven't taken this class yet, it might be a great way to harness the writing energy you have when you get back!

Book in a Week

This class will run 5 weeks from (August 11 to September 12)
Cost: $50Deadline to sign up: August 8, 2008Note: Class size will be limited to 35 students maximum

Class Description: Book in a Week

I truly believe that when we are in tune with who we are as writers, the process becomes easier and we become better writers. This class is designed to help you discover what and when and where and how YOU write best. It is designed to take you back to those early days when you couldn't wait to write your book. It's designed to remind you of the joy and the power of playing “make believe” as a child—to let you sidestep any limits you may be setting on yourself and your ability to write.This class will take you through every step of the writing process—from beginning to brainstorm all the way through sending material out to be published.

Weeks 1-3:
Preparing to write the first draft of a book in one week
Creating compelling characters or how to write about real people in nonfiction
Planning plot elements or structure in a nonfiction book
Choosing the right character name
Effective paragraph and sentence structure
Using imagery and sensory detail to add impact
Writing effective dialogueCreating a productive writing environment
Enlisting the support of those around you
Mentally gearing yourself up to write faster (and better) than you thought you could

Week 4:
Intensive Writing Week (August 30 to September 7)
(This is about discovering how writing fits into YOUR life. You can't do it wrong. You won't fail. No matter what happens you will discover more about yourself as a writer than you thought possible during that ONE WEEK of writing!)

Week 5: Evaluating the writing experience itselfMaking revisionsSending out material

The class will be run by having members sign onto an email loop and lessons will arrive via that loop. Lessons will also be posted in the file section of the email loop so that students can download any missed lessons directly. There will be opportunity for discussion on the loop.

April Kihlstrom is an award winning author of 31 published romance novels. She believes Book in a Week is a way to recapture the joy of writing and write faster and more effectively at the same time. Always a slow writer, April was lured into attempting Book In A Week by a group of writers on Genie. Much to her surprise, she discovered it was a technique that worked well for her and she really could write the first draft of a book in a week! Since she began using the book in a week method, Romantic Times has called her a “rising star” and a “diamond of the first water”.

April offers coaching to fellow writers as well as classes and workshops in writing to both romance and non-romance writers and has spoken at many conferences including: the RWA national conference (romance) and the East of Eden conference (non-romance) .

Payment for the class may be made by check or by Paypal. To sign up send an email to with Book in a Week in the header and in the body of the email please put: your name and whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal.

Monday, July 07, 2008


I have several friends right now dealing with financial crises. They're not alone. Lots of people are. I thought I would post a few things that might be useful when it comes to finances. I'm not an expert. These are strictly lessons I've learned through reading or from experience:

1) 0 interest transfers to new credit cards come with a huge catch. If you charge anything on that card, you pay interest and NONE OF YOUR PAYMENTS go to pay off the interest bearing charges until the zero interest charges are completely paid off.

2) If you are in trouble with your mortgage, talk to your bank but go in with a plan you can show them of how you believe you will be able to pay in the future if they give you a temporary abeyance.

3) If you can't afford to pay cash, you can't afford it. That doesn't mean you can't charge something, only that you need to know you would be able to pay cash if you had to. Exceptions? A house. College loans (within reason). Maybe a car. Unexpected medical bills.

4) Calculate the true cost of what you buy. Everything you buy with credit costs a lot more than anything for which you pay cash—unless the credit card bill is paid in full each month. So when you look at the price of something, tack on the amount of interest you will pay over its lifetime to decide if you can afford it—or really want to spend that much.

5) Financial institutions are out to make money. They will tack on fees and interest any way they can. If a credit card or loan offer looks too good to be true—there's a catch, often a huge one.

6))You don't have good credit unless your credit score is over 750. Otherwise you're going to be charged higher interest on everything.

7) You can sometimes negotiate interest rates on credit cards. Know what interest rate you pay and what the best interest rate is that's currently being offered.

8) There are lots of scammers out there offering to help “fix” your credit or help you with your home that's going into “foreclosure”. You're much better off, in almost all cases, dealing directly with creditors yourself.

9) Don't cancel credit cards. Get the balance down to zero, cut them up if that will help, but don't actually cancel the account (unless there's a fee for having the card). The reason is that the more credit you have available THAT YOU ARE NOT USING, the higher your credit score. The longer you have had a credit card, the better in terms of your credit score.

10) With credit cards look at the true cost of having them—yearly fee (if any, preferably none), interest rates, rules about when an d how they can raise interest rates, late fees and penalties (if that applies to you), etc.

11) Know that with debit cards, businesses can put “holds” on your account for more than the cost of your purchase! This can cause you to overdraw your account even though technically your purchases are within the amount you have in the bank.

12) Get to know which things are luxuries for you and which are true necessities. Separate emotion from your spending. Be realistic about what you can afford.

None of these things are new. Just wanted to share them in hopes that they might help a few people out there.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Who Are You?

In life, we often wear masks. As a speaker I heard this weekend said, there's Who we are, Who we THINK we are, Who we pretend to be, and Who others think we are.

In novels, this is also true for the characters we create. And often it is the differences in those 4 images that generates plot. If you're a writer and you're stuck planning out a story, a useful exercise might be to write down for each major character the answer to those four categories.

By the same token, in real life, it can be useful to look at those four categories about ourselves. Looking at the discrepancies might give us insight into what might be causing problems and how maybe, just maybe, we can address the issues and resolve some of them. It's not for the faint of heart, of course, but the results can be very powerful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Online Public Speaking Class

If you've taken any of my online classes or ever heard me speak, then you know that my goal is to always make material easy, intuitive and fun. I'm about to offer a class on public speaking for writers (though anyone might find it useful). Lessons will be short, easy to follow, and give you real tools to be effective as a speaker and maybe even have fun doing so. I'll talk about pitching to an editor/agent, giving workshops or other presentations, handling interviews with print reporters as well as on radio and television.

Here's the information. The class is being offered through the Outreach chapter of RWA so you'll need to use the link to their website if you are interested in signing up!

TITLE: Public Speaking for Writers
DATE: July 7 – July 18, 2008
INSTRUCTOR: April Kihlstrom
LEVEL: Beginner to Advanced
COST: $10 Outreach Member/Others $20
Deadline to receive application and payment: July 5, 2008

Course Description:
Does public speaking make your stomach clench and your skin go cold? Do you panic at the thought? This 2 week online course will show you simple techniques to make anyone a more relaxed and effective speaker.

Topics will include handling interviews, offering pitches at conferences and presenting workshops. Everything from creating content for an effective presentation to how to dress to handling those pesky physiological responses will be covered.

By the end of this class, you'll be able to enjoy getting up in front of a crowd—or at least know you'll be okay.

April Kihlstrom is the author of 31 published romance novels. She has achieved the rank of ATM Bronze in Toastmasters, won speaking contests, taught public speaking in California, been interviewed on television and presented highly acclaimed workshops at both national and regional conferences.

To sign up, please go to Outreach International Online Campus. Click on current classes then look at July to find mine.

I hope you will consider signing up for this course--especially if public speaking in any way intimidates you. It doesn't have to! As I said above, my goal will be to make this fun, easy and intuitive.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Today, of course, I find myself thinking about fathers and I came up with a list of some of the qualities of a good father (or mother, for that matter...)--whether in fiction or in real life:

1)Sees and nurtures the best in the child—and helps the child build on those strengths.

2)Encourages the child to believe in him or herself.

3)Loves deeply and gives of himself AND sets good limits on the child's behavior.

4)Helps out the child whenever it's a good idea AND knows when to step back and allow the child to discover what he or she can do on his/her own.

5)Admits mistakes and knows how to apologize.

6)Cheers on a child's success AND knows that surviving failure can be just as important and sometimes more so and helps the child know that failure is NOT the end of the world but only a beginning to the next steps forward.

7)Teaches the child financial responsibility, how to handle credit and the value of deferred gratification.

8)Reads and reads to his child and encourages a love of learning—whether book learning or life skills.

9)Encourages a child to be true to him or herself AND to think about others as well.

10)Sets an example of moderation in all things.

11)Is willing to be silly and play like a child.

12)Is willing to be a grownup and make the hard decisions when that's what's called for.

13)Cares enough to set limits and hold to them.

14)Shows the child how to be as safe as possible in a sometimes uncertain world AND encourages that child to LIVE, really LIVE even if that sometimes entails risks.

15)Understands that the harm a parent does goes far deeper than any harm anyone else can do and the good goes deeper as well--and he chooses to do the good.

I have known some wonderful men in my life. I am profoundly grateful to those men who helped me feel safe or helped me to grow to become the person I am now. Some of those men have done both. Some have been friends or married to friends and it was/is a joy to watch how loving some relationships can be.

Today I honor all those men who have been truly loving fathers—or tried their best to be.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sewing and Life

I'm probably late posting again. That's because I've been sewing. My daughter is going to a friend's wedding and I've been making a dress for her to take with her. She is so beautiful these days and the dress looks so lovely on her.'s finally done.

As I was sewing, I found myself thinking that just as with writing, asking the right questions beforehand can save one a lot of grief when sewing. Questions like:

What will she wear this for?
What will the climate be?
What is her personal style?
What colors look best on her?
What fabric drapes well for the kind of dress I want to make for her?
What's the optimal strategy for THIS pattern with THIS material?
And when the unexpected happened—as it always does, whether in sewing or writing or life—what's the optimal way to address THIS challenge?

The upshot is that my daughter now has a dress she says is the nicest thing she's ever owned. She's thrilled, she looks great in it, it should be perfect for the climate and situation.

You'll notice that most of the questions are about what was right for HER. And that's the key. We're all different, our situations, emotional states, etc. are unique to who we are. If we start with what's right for us and go from there, we have the best chance of figuring out something that will work effectively in any situation—sewing, writing or life. (Note: This doesn't mean being utterly selfish! If relationships are important to us, then that goes into the equation, too..... And if we begin with knowing ourselves and what's right for us, then we're more likely to find ways we can stretch in new directions and be able to help others, too.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

I've never had to go to war (though some might argue my childhood WAS a war zone, it's still not the same thing). I haven't lost a family member to war either. I've been lucky that way.

I think too often we've found ourselves in wars that should never have happened. But that doesn't take away from the courage of those who have been sent to fight in them. Today I want to take a moment to salute those who have gone to war—both those who died and those who came back changed because of what they saw and did and what happened to them.

My generation was the last to face the draft. It's hard for me to imagine the courage it took to go to war when there was a draft and the courage to choose to go when one doesn't have to go—as young men and women are doing every day now.

Today I want to honor those who have had the courage to be in the military and do what they can to keep us all safe. And to pray that soon this world finds a way to exist in peace so that no more men and women--of any nation--have to go to war. That we find a way to resolve disputes without fighting.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Time to Think

I know I'm a week late posting my blog. Sometimes I need a little extra time to think. I've been doing that the past couple of weeks—mulling over life, this writing business I'm part of, and the world in general. I don't want to waste your time with words that aren't worth reading.

My son may be going into housing. He lives with my ex-husband and has Down syndrome and is 31. It will be a momentous change for him, for my ex and in some ways for me. I hope that it will lead him to new levels of maturity. I worry he won't be able to adapt or they won't be able to handle him. I think about the extended changes this may create in all our lives. Please keep him in your prayers.

A friend will be undergoing surgery again in June. Her 8th? 9Th? since she was diagnosed with breast cancer close to two years ago. She has no markers for the cancer any more but her body has had a hard time recovering from each surgery. Please keep her in your prayers.

I've finished my most recent online class and will soon be teaching one on public speaking (especially for writers) through the Outreach Chapter of RWA (details to be posted soon). Debora Dale recently had a blog interview with me about Book in a Week at—if anyone is curious what that's like, read it here: How Writers Write - An interview with April Kihlstrom . At any rate, I've been mulling over what other classes I might offer and on what kind of schedule. If you've got a class you'd like to see, please let me know!

My daughter just took her qualifying exams in graduate school. She's brilliant and wonderful and worries about not only succeeding but also making a difference in this world. She will—I have no doubt of that. I also know she needs to know I love and believe in her. And that got me thinking how much we all need to hear that someone loves and believes in us—no matter what. How often do we think to say it to those closest to us? How often do we hear it when we need to most? What difference might it make in our relationships if we heard and said it more?

I've lost my battle to save my zucchini plant. The birds tore it to bits before I realized what was happening. I'm still hoping that at least one of my two tomato plants will produce fruit. And I'm still experimenting and thinking about ways to deal with those pesky fire ants.'s been a week or two of reflection for me. Hope all is well with all of you!

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Power of Storytelling

I'm finishing up teaching my Revisions class online and I find myself thinking again about the profound power of storytelling. It's how human beings have always tried to make sense of the world and the people around them. Stories carry power. Some are true, some are not. It's not always clear to me which matter more.

It's one thing to recite statistics about, say, cancer. It's another to hear the story about the woman who lost her sister to cancer or how the children coped with the loss of their mother. It's one thing to see statistics concerning the massacre in Rwanda and another to hear the personal story of a woman who survived. It's one thing to be told we can be who we want to be and another to read about a woman like us who is true to herself and not only finds someone who accepts her but who loves her BECAUSE she is who she is.

Stories have power. And we writers get to create them. And in our stories, we can make things come out right in the end. Or, wrong in the end, if we want to provide a powerful warning about some danger.

Days like this, I can't imagine anything I'd rather be than a writer.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

That Time of Year

Well, it's that time of year. Planting tomato and zucchini plants, stress for kids in college, HOA meetings.

My daughter and I had lunch at a wonderful spot in Austin this Saturday—the Eastside Cafe. Wonderful food and they have a gorgeous garden where they grow produce. Plus plants for sale. One zucchini plant and one tomato plant have gone into the ground in my back yard. Mind you, I had to get some fresh dirt first. What I have isn't the best in the world.

My daughter and I swapped grad school stories. Discovered there were things I'd never told her before. And I found myself thinking how much things have changed.

My HOA had its annual meeting this week, too. We were reminded that we're going to be annexed soon. Don't get me wrong—it's a lovely town. I'm just not so thrilled knowing how much my property taxes are going to go up as a result of our annexation! Lots of intense emotions, too, about choices the HOA will have to make about what to turn over to the city and what to keep. I found myself thinking I could see both sides and honestly didn't know which the better choice would be. Eventually I slipped out and walked back home, thinking how nice it was that I COULD walk home from where the HOA was meeting.

Mind you, this time of year also brings the annual fight against fire ants and I've had to mow my lawn quite a few times already but....still, it's a nice time of year.

Oh, and if you're curious to know more about my online Book in a Week class, Debora Dale has posted an interview with me on her blog.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Every year at this time, I think of my cross country journey in 2003. It ultimately led to me settling here in the Austin area. I think with fondness of that adventure. (And I thought gas prices were high then!) It was, as one friend said at the time, a journey in emotional as well as physical miles.

Despite the concerns of some friends, I was perfectly safe going on my own. I learned a lot about myself. I learned it was okay to take wrong turns—sometimes that led to the most interesting experiences and it would turn out all right in the end any way. I learned that I could fit in anywhere. I learned that I liked people everywhere I went. I learned to let go of a lot of assumptions I had about myself and life. I learned that change was what life was all about.

Because of what I learned on that journey, I try, every year, to go new places and do new things. None of it is as grand as that cross country journey, but it doesn't have to be. Each new experience helps me grow. Each time I step outside my comfort zone, my comfort zone expands. And that's A GOOD THING.

What ways do you step outside your comfort zone? What are some of the experiences that are most vivid in your memory?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Do You Choose?

Who are you as a person? What are your priorities? How do you make choices? What are your fears? What are your hopes and dreams?

It's useful to ask ourselves those questions. Once we know, we can decide whether those answers are working for us or whether we want to rewrite them—and thereby improve our lives.

If we're writers, it's even more useful to ask ourselves these kinds of questions. If we pay attention to our own emotions and emotional responses to situations and people, then we have material for our writing, too.

Example: What is it that has allowed you at times to rise above your fears and do what's right even if you were scared or it wasn't what you wanted to do? Knowing the answer gives you a starting point for how a character in your story might grow or rise above his or her fears. If you write nonfiction, then knowing your own emotional high and low points and what works for you gives you a starting point for realizing what will matter to readers.

EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT A WRITER, it is useful to ask this question! All of us find ourselves at times in situations where, if we could change so that we rose above our fears or past patterns of behavior, it would get us out of a crisis or make life easier in some way. If we know what lets us rise above our fears and past patterns, then we can consciously choose to make sure that whatever worked before is present NOW as we set about making changes.

Isn't it great to know that we CAN rewrite our lives? Just because we've always had a fear of heights or had trouble managing money or told ourselves we couldn't do X, Y or Z doesn't mean we have to keep being that way!

And if we are writers, just think of the fodder for setting up turning points for our characters or in nonfiction recognizing what our readers' concerns (and possibly objections) will be.

So what questions can you ask yourself this week? What changes could you make in your life if you did?


PS I'm setting up an online class on REVISIONS THE PRACTICAL WAY. (April 25 to May 9, $25). Full details are on my website April Kihlstrom.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Unexpected

It’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking we know people by what we see. If we do so, however, we miss 9/10ths of what might be there.

When you pass the overweight woman in the store, do you stop to realize she might have been an aerobics instructor?

When you see the college professor, do you picture him hiking in the woods or playing a guitar?

When you see the harried mother in the airport, does it occur to you that she might be a high powered attorney?

When you see the young man with Down syndrome does it occur to you that he might play the piano?

If you are a writer creating characters, do you think to give them the unexpected talent or background or hobby?

Our lives will be richer if we look beyond the surface to see what we might not usually stop to notice or ask about or wonder. Our lives are richer when we truly look at people, look beyond our expectations and see the person who might defy every one of them. And the stories we write will be infinitely more interesting if we add dimensions to our characters that go beyond the surface to make each one unique.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Playing When We Write

How often do you play when you’re writing? How often do you let yourself remember the sheer joy of playing make believe as a child—and then extend it to your writing?

Last week I suggested playing “what if” with our lives. If you’re a writer, you know it’s an invaluable tool when planning a book. How often, though, do we put limits on how far we will push “what if”--especially if someone has reacted negatively and said: You can’t do that in a _________ book?

We need to be aware, of course, of reader expectations. And it’s useful—if we can—to fit what we’re writing into what editors are looking for. At the same time, some of the most memorable books have been those that broke the rules.

So the question becomes: How do we balance what expectations are with the vision we have for our own work?

My personal bias is to let there be no limits IN THE FIRST DRAFT of our project. Let our imaginations have full rein and see where the story goes. Then we can step back and look at whether or not what we have will work and what changes we might want and need to make.

I know there are some brilliant authors out there whose first draft is essentially ready to go to an editor. For most of us though, we’re going to be making revisions anyway. Why not see where our imagination takes us? If you are one of those writers who writes an essentially single draft book, then at least in the planning stage, before you start to write, let your imagination soar. You might think of things that will enrich your story immensely.

The key in taking such risks, I believe, is understanding the TRUE reader expectations—and finding a way to meet them. This isn’t necessarily just the stated conventions of the genre. It’s also about the EMOTIONAL payoff the reader wants to get from the book.

The other key is knowing what matters most to YOU about what you’re writing. Perhaps tweaking how you use certain elements will allow your story to fit the market a little better.

There are risks to writing outside the box but how will we discover the possible rewards if we don’t try?

Monday, March 24, 2008

What If....?

This time of year is always a reminder to me that rebirthing ourselves over and over again is a natural and powerful step to take all through our lives. By that I mean stopping to think about where we are, how we got here, and whether changing any of our assumptions about our lives and ourselves—and our writing—might be worthwhile.

We make assumptions every day about how things are and who we are—as individuals and as writers. Often those assumptions are things we were taught by our families or society and often we outgrow them or discover they were never true in the first place—IF we stop to challenge them.

It’s so easy to go through life never questioning our assumptions but we do so at a very high price—cutting ourselves off from wonderful possibilities we might otherwise have. Some of the most wonderful writers out there didn’t listen to conventional wisdom—and we are all the richer because they didn’t. Some of our greatest inventions came from people who didn’t listen when they were told it couldn’t be done.

When we were children, we knew how to play make believe and ask: What if? What if we did that with our lives now? What if we asked ourselves: Could we be wrong about the person we think has insulted us? What if they were saying thinking something entirely different than what we think we heard?

What if we could do that thing we were told we couldn’t do when we were children? What if we aren’t tone deaf or incapable of doing math or shouldn’t even think about picking up a hammer or wrench?

What if we can find joy even on the most difficult of days? What if it’s okay to have fun as we move forward in our lives and take on new challenges? What if we can get our finances under control? What if....?

What if we stop and ask ourselves: What assumptions do I want to challenge TODAY? What new possibilities do I want to bring into my life NOW--even if I didn't know I could have them before? How can I expand my expectations for what’s possible for me—as a person AND as a writer?

How about you? What ways could you enrich your life AND your writing by asking: What if...?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why Do We Write What We Write?

If you’re a writer, do you know why you write what you write?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Sometimes I know the answer. Sometimes I have characters who demand that I tell their story. Sometimes it’s an idea that intrigues me. Sometimes I haven’t got a clue; I just know that I have to write something.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that whether or not I consciously know where a story comes from, it will always in some way be connected to something I’m sorting through in my own life. It might be the theme of faith and honor and courage or it might be watching someone I love struggle with a difficult challenge and hurting for them. It might be how to balance self and responsibility to others or it might be the power we have within us to overcome any challenge and change our lives—if we believe we can.

I know that my experiences affect what I write. I also know—as Barbara Samuel said so eloquently in a speech a few years ago—that what I write impacts me as well.

I guess it keeps going back to that saying: It’s easy to write. Just open a vein and bleed all over the page.

Except that sometimes it’s laughing all over the page or simply embracing that connection that in our best moments we as writers have—heart to heart with those who read our words.

At least that’s how I see the answer to the question of why I write what I write. How about you? Why do you write what you write?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Next Class

I've been putting off announcing the next classes because I was trying to decide on timing.--what with Spring Breaks and Easter happening in March and Passover in April. What I finally decided is that I would offer the classes anyway and hope for the best. I promised a number of people that I would offer the Book in a Week class again in March so here it is...

The lessons will be designed in such a way that they can be done at your own pace but in the order they are sent out. If you've ever heard me speak then you know that I believe in making the writing process as easy and intuitive as possible. That's what this course is designed to do.

Book in a Week will run 5 weeks from (March 17 to April 18) (There will be no lessons the weekend of Good Friday/Easter.)
Cost $40 (this time only--the price may go up in the future)
Deadline to sign up: March 14

To sign up send an email to April with Book in a Week in the header and in the body of the email please put: your name, the class you wish to take and whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal. (You can either use the send money option in Paypal or ask me to send you an invoice.)

Note: Class size will be limited to 35 students maximum

The class will be run by having members sign onto an email loop and lessons will arrive via that loop. Lesons will also be posted in the file section of the email loop so that students can download any missed lessons directly. There will be opportunity for discussion on the loop.

Class Description: Book in a Week

In this class, writers will be taken through every step of the writing process—from beginning to brainstorm all the way through sending material out to be published.

Weeks 1-3: Preparing to write the first draft of a book in one week
Creating compelling characters or how to write about real people in nonfiction
Planning plot elements or structure in a nonfiction book
Significance of names
Effective paragraph and sentence structure
Using imagery and sensory detail to add impact
Writing effective dialogue
Creating a productive writing environment
Enlisting the support of those around you
Mentally gearing yourself up to write faster (and better) than you thought you could

Week 4: Intensive Writing Week (April 6 to April 12)

Week 5: Evaluating the writing experience itself
Making revisions
Sending out material

I look forward to having some of you take the class!

Happy Writing everyone!

PS I don't expect to always post here when I'm offering a class. You'll notice a button at the side to sign up for an email loop that is set up to let people know when I have a class being offered.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Life With All Its Ups and Downs

It’s been an eventful week. On the downside, a friend’s house burned down and she lost her two dogs in the fire. I’m not mentioning names because I don’t know whether she wants it made public yet or not.

On the plus side, Irene Watson of readerviews gave a presentation at the Writers League of Texas this week. She was very down to earth and answered every question the audience had. I haven’t used her site or used any of her services and suspect they may be more useful to the self-published or unpublished author but it was nice to see someone talk bluntly about some of the challenges for new writers.

And a truly bright spot this week was a performance by Joe Hartman in Overwhelming Underdogs at the Arts on Real Theater here in Austin. (city theatre) I went because he’s the son of a friend and found myself laughing through the whole performance.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What Is True Love?

It's Valentines Day this week so of course I have to write a blog post about love.

As a romance writer, I write about love all the time. But what is true love?

Whenever I ask myself that question, I think of a poem by Roy Croft. To paraphrase, it begins something like this:

I love you not only for who you are, but for who I am when I am with you.

That seems to me a very powerful statement and an excellent question to ask about any relationship we (or our characters!) are in. Do we like how we act and react when we are with this person (or group)? Do we like how they behave?

If we can’t answer yes to both questions then maybe we need to look at whether this is a relationship we want (or our characters want) to be in—as it is now. It may be possible for the relationship to change or for us to grow in some way so that we can answer yes to those questions. And that’s the goal—to be able to be better and happier and healthier together than we each are alone. If we cannot be together without damaging one another, then the best and most honorable thing to do might well be to end the relationship.

It seems to me that with true love, we bring out the best in each other and lovingly encourage each other to be happy and achieve our dreams and be the best people we can be.

If we write romance novels, it’s especially important to ask in what ways our hero and heroine will help each other grow and become happier and healthier people. It’s important to know how we’re going to show the reader that this relationship will allow the hero and heroine to become the best they can be. That’s when our readers will cheer for the hero and heroine to be together and truly be able to believe they will live happily ever after. Not that things will always be perfect or go smoothly, but that the hero and heroine bring out the best in each other and the reader can believe that ultimately they always will.

Here’s wishing all of you true love in your own lives!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Online Writing Classes

I’ve been giving Book in a Week classes in person for a long time and I know they make a difference. I was teaching a modified version on line through an educational website for a while but I’m just now wrapping up a 5 week version online. The response has been so positive that I’ve decided to offer online classes on a regular basis—details still to be worked out.

In the meantime, I’ve set up a notification only email loop so that people who might be interested in taking online classes from me can sign up to get notices about such classes. I’ve got a sign up button on my website and one on this blog—right below my picture here. You won't get much email and I won't ever share that information with anyone else.

I love teaching this class. I love empowering people with ways to find their own voices. I love knowing I make a difference.

As I said, details are still to be worked out. I know I’ll be offering Book in a Week again as a 5 week class and I have requests for an online class on revisions. Please post if there’s a class you’d like to see me offer—perhaps an area of writing that’s a challenge for you. (I’m sure I can think of classes but I’d really like to offer classes that I know people want to have.)

Words have power. Writing gives us a voice. Even if we only write for ourselves, putting into words what matters to us can our lives in ways we don't expect.

Here I am—hoping to empower the world.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I Love to Read

I’m currently reading contest entries for the RITA contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. These are published novels and I’m struck by how much I love being drawn into a story. I love finding characters I want to spend time with. I love finding characters I cheer for as they grow over the course of the story and find true love.

I love to be surprised. I love when an author finds a way to handle a situation that I would not have thought of—so long as it’s consistent with how someone might really act or react.

I love having a story tug at my emotions. I love even more when the story causes me to explore my own ideas and feelings and challenge assumptions I’ve held in the past.

I love books that make me think, that expose me to situations or places or people I might otherwise never know.

In many ways, it’s easier for me to read a book than to watch a movie. I think it’s because I get to decide how the people look and sound. I get to fill in all sorts of details in my mind instead of a director doing so—possibly in ways I dislike. I get to put the book down and think about what I’ve read and then pick it up again and go on with the story.

Maybe that’s why I love to teach and coach other writers. I love the idea that maybe one day one of my students will write one of those stories that tug at my heart and make me think and enrich my life.

Gee, can you tell I love to read?

Friday, January 25, 2008


Magic. That’s what we do as writers. We create worlds that didn’t exist before—or reveal them in ways most people don’t see. We put words to emotions and offer possibilities others might not think of.

If we write mysteries, we get to create a world in which justice prevails.

If we write science fiction we get to create worlds in which we might like to live.

If we write romance we create a model for the best of how men and women can come together—empowering both and diminishing neither. We get to write about honor and commitment and caring about the people around us. We get to write about men and women being true to themselves—and still finding love. And isn’t love the most fundamental of human needs?

We get to create magic. We get to go places most people never see. We get to make events work out the way we want them to.

If we write nonfiction, we get to share knowledge and ideas that otherwise people might never discover. We get a shot at changing lives, advancing knowledge—and perhaps even changing the world in which we live.

There’s real magic in what we do as writers. I hope that none of us ever forget that as we write our books. It is a trust that readers place in us and it matters.

I hope that if you are not a writer, that you feel a sense of magic as you read books. I hope they bring joy and hope and understanding and knowledge into your life so that you feel it is at least a little richer for having read a given book.

Happy writing and reading, everyone!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Joy of Writing and Believing in Ourselves

As I put together the lessons for my online writing class I find myself thinking that if my students take away only one thing from the class, I hope that it’s how to have a sense of fun as they write. I know what it’s like to try to write under pressure or when it feels dead serious. I know how much easier it is if it’s fun.

I also find myself thinking how much getting published means to writers. There are more options than ever these days and I think that’s a good thing. It also means there are more potential pitfalls and possible avenues for rejection. Which, ironically goes along with what I talked about in the first paragraph—wanting to have a sense of fun when we’re writing.

One of the exercises I gave my students this week—and one I give my writer life coaching clients—is to make a list of every success you’ve had in your life and a list of everything you like about yourself and/or all your strengths.

The reason I give that exercise is that it’s much easier to detach from outcome and let go of the fear of rejection if we find our validation within ourselves, if we know we are capable of success in our lives—no matter what happens with a given manuscript.

The irony is that I believe we write (or do anything in our lives!) the best when we are able to let go of fear and believe in ourselves and have fun doing it. That’s when our creativity and resourcefulness are most likely to kick in.

Here’s hoping that no matter what the challenge in your life this week, you’re able to find moments of joy and ways to believe in who you are and your ability to accomplish whatever it is you need or want to do.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Opossum in My Back Yard

The other day I saw an opossum in my back yard. Wish I’d thought to grab the camera! It was very cute and made me smile and I found myself thinking once again how blessed I am to be here.

I’ve started teaching my online class and I’m so excited about having the chance to share what I know with so many other writers. I love making things easier and more fun—including writing!

I also find winter a time when I get a new sense of self and how I want my life to go forward in the coming year. This is when I dream big dreams and begin to take the steps that make them happen. I suspect it’s no coincidence that some of the biggest steps I’ve taken in my life began in winter.

What changes do you look forward to making in your lives this year? What dreams are you dreaming? What wonderful new possibilities do you see opening up in your life this year? And what JOYFUL steps could you take to make them happen?

Note that I capitalized the word “joyful.” That’s because I believe that changes grounded in fun, in things we care deeply about, that make us feel good are the ones we are most likely to make and to succeed at.

Wishing for all of us—YOU and me—joyful changes this year!