Category Archives: Inspirational

My top picks for 2011: posts and pals

In reviewing my top three blog articles I wrote in 2011 I thought it funny the ones people navigated toward, and still do. Then I realized one is comic, one is heart-touching, and one is edgy.

And I guess it represents what we are drawn to when we connect to one another. Things that make us laugh and things that make us feel – sentimental or dark. And here there are, in case you missed them.

#1 I Like Big Butts: Real not Fake
In my 9 year old’s eyes, anything with “butts” in it is tops for him.

#2 Pumpkin Pie Forever
My son also adores my home made from fresh pumpkins pumpkin pie. Good kid.

#3 Saving the World: One Book at a Time
My son has so many stacks of books he once spread his hands out at them and noted “So many books, Mom! And not enough time to read them all.”

Looking at my blog stats also got me thinking about my own top 10 list.

And I don’t mean the 10 pounds on top of me from the holidays.
Or even the 10 tops I can’t fit into from the 10 pounds I gained.
Or the 10 new gray hairs on top of my head.

We all need our best buds to help navigate the war zone

No. I was thinking that I wouldn’t even be writing this blog – or even getting published – if it weren’t for my Top 10 people and resources this year.

I’m sharing them here with you. They may become part of your top list too. These are in no particular order. They have been amazing  in different ways including providing valued  advice on the writing craft and business, as well as peer and promotional support. They are people you will want to check out! There are so many more I could add, but perhaps that’s for another post.

1. Kathryn Craft
Amazing developmental editor, writing teacher, and cheerleader. She’s now embarking on a new path publication with her recent signing with agent Katie Shea of the Donald Maass Agency.

2. Philly Liars Club
Especially members: Jonathan Maberry, Marie Lamba, Gregory Frost, Keith Strunk, Don Lafferty, and Kelly Simmons.
Aspiring and published authors can’t get any better support than from this bunch of super-power authors who are very accessible. Their advice on the craft and business of writing in free forums, classes, and workshops is priceless. Tons of advice on their website. Check em’ out!

3. Stacy Green
We started our path to social media and publication the same time and have leaned on one another when it was much needed. She’s also got a great blog. You won’t want to miss her Thriller Thursday posts! For those of us that just can’t help reading about serial killers.

4. Janice Gable Bashman
A supportive writing peer who extends a hand with great advice. Being a fiction and non-fiction author as well as an editor, she’s got the chops to help you out. She also runs a fantastic blog showcasing tips and advice from authors.

5. The Author Chronicles
I am privileged to know many of these writers through writer meet ups and classes. These 5 writers launched their blog this year that is chock full of info on the publishing industry, writing resources and tips, and just darn inspiration. You will want to follow them!

6. Marketing Tips for Authors
Author and social media guru Tony Eldridge runs this blog and it’s a must to subscribe to. A valuable library for any writer on networking, social media, marketing, and more. Tony was nice enough to invite me on and you can catch my article here on Utilizing a Career in Marketing and Business to Get a Book to Market.

7. Author Jody Hedlund
Jody is a historical Christian writer, which doesn’t match what I write but her posts are a wealth of information for writers of all genres. She is an author who “does it right” in her marketing and social media, plus she’s just super nice. Mimic what she does. This is one time I say, drinking from the Kool Aid is a good thing.

8. Lucas Mangum
Lucas is an author and friend who is a champion at rounding up writers for his Awesome Reading Fests that he coordinates several times a year. He believes in getting writers in person to share across genres. It’s at many of these events I’ve met online friends who have become in-person friends too. We need more people like Lucas. If you’re in the Philly suburbs attend one! The Author Chronicles posted on a recent event.

9.Joe Konrath
Want an honest take on the publishing industry off the cuff and the numbers and stats to go with it? Then mark Joe Konrath’s blog to read. He bucked the publishing system and won.

10. Nathan Bransford
Agent turned author. Follow his journey to publication. Archive dating back a few years and his essentials on publication.

Okay, a few mentions here because I said I wouldn’t go past 10!

Been a great 2011! Appreciate the elephant of support from my peers

Agent Rachel Gardner: Get advice on your all aspects of writing and getting published from the agent’s mouth

Kristen Lamb: Author and comedian on the writing craft and business advice

The Kill Zone: Get insider perspectives daily from the hottest thriller and mystery writers.

Happy New Year!

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Filed under Authors, Inspirational, Writing Community

Christmas past lives on in the present

Christmas is here again. A blend of old memories from Christmases past and new ones being made.

It took a long time for me to feel at peace with the Christmas celebration changes of the last few years as our lives changed. Suddenly, the steady Christmases of my childhood and youth were gone. My parents sold the Upstate New York country home I grew up in and moved south.  I no longer could “go home” for Christmas and see all my childhood friends. I got married and moved away. We had a child.  New people were in my life now. And things kept changing. Christmas left me with an uncomfortable feeling then, one of constant change and uncertainty. It made me sad. I wanted to skip over it.

The old Westerlo, NY Homestead

For a long time the loss of my childhood Christmases hung heavy on me. My mother once said she didn’t have Christmases growing up during the Depression. I do believe she made up for that later in life by lovingly decorating and entertaining with grace and warmth. And I had always envisioned bringing my husband and son “home” to that warmth for Christmas. But that would never be. Especially since my mother died.

But then I discovered this past year, as my son turns 9, that I finally accept the change because it won’t go away. Change goes on and on. And as I embrace my memories now, I realize no one can take them away. Now is the time to look forward and enjoy creating those special Christmas memories for my son. He is the next generation and I am the past. What he remembers now will be part of him forever. Just as I remember.

I’m taking my son to Upstate New York the week after Christmas to visit friends. On our way home we’ll wind up the Helderberg Mountains to drive by my old homestead. I know from a recent visit the once showcase home now stands worn, overgrown, and abandoned-looking by homeowners without a care.

But that’s not what I see.

I see glittery, snow covered fields as I climb the last hill home. Lights burn soft, falling on snow from the farmhouse windows. Smoke curls from the chimney as I pull into the stone driveway and park in the barn. I pass holly and bows strung on the lamp posts welcoming me home. And as I knock the snow from my boots upon entering, the smell of mincemeat pie, rib roast, and Yorkshire pudding float around my head in a delicious wreath.  I see my mother in an apron ready with a big hug, a glass of wine, and a loud “Hello!” I see the tree with decorations of decades twinkle a soft sentimental greeting. The fire pops while candles flicker a peaceful glow.

And there out the bay window over the pond, I see the North Star rise in greeting over the hills spread out before us. The hills I once sled down on Christmas Eves gone by. I can still breath in the crisp stillness that lay over the fields under the moon in a humble sleep. I watch the flip of a beaver tail as he swims under the frozen-over creek on the way to his dam. I see fireplaces blazing at each end of the house and a table filled high with food as laughs and hugs abound. I see folks gather round the center hall piano to sing lively tunes with eggnog in hand.

I see it all.

And always remember those so-trendy Christmas outfits!

Memories of Christmases past live on in me. Christmas is now about creating memories for my son. My memories will always shine inside me. And now my son’s memories will live on through me.

What sort of Christmas memories live on in you?

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Filed under Inspirational, Seasonal

Writers & Depression: Battling the Holiday Blues

With the holidays here also arrives an increase in depression for many people. Writers? Depressed?

Sylvia Plath

We’ve all heard about it.  Creative genius and depression seem to go hand in hand with many. I know. I suffered depression for many years. And the holidays come with their own heavy, gray veil to be pushed aside.

We know them. Writers who committed suicide.

Sylvia Plath. Virginia Woolf. Anne Sexton. Hunter S. Thompson. Ernest Hemingway.

Why? In the case of Hemingway 4 other immediate family members also committed suicide. Was it then a hereditary disease? Read a fascinating interview with Hemingway in the Paris Review by George Plimpton to peek inside his mind as a writer.

When asked what kind of training a writer needed Hemingway responded with… “Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.”

Harsh words. We don’t need the hanging though. We lash ourselves enough as writers. Genes aren’t everything though.

Look at the day in the life of a writer….
Alone. With your own thoughts. Inside. Sitting for long periods. Writing drivel one day, genius the next. On a roller coaster of doubts about self worth tied to your work. It is personal, this business of writing. Waiting for validation you are any good. For years. And years. And years.

I’m adopted and recently found out my natural father killed himself. He didn’t die by car accident as I had been told. The “car accident” included plugging up the tail pipe to suffocate by carbon monoxide parked outside a church. This scares me. Is there such a thing as a suicide gene? Did Hemingway have it? Will my son have it?

I don’t know. But I have to believe we can overcome it. I hope.

Health magazine lists writers as one of the top 10 professions to have depression. This may be true, but I also think we are living in a time where we  have the best chance of not being depressed as writers.

Why do I think this?

Because we are in a time now where we are connected to one another more. As authors today we hear that it’s critical to have an author platform. We need to blog, be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, attend writer conferences. We are now not so alone in our writer world. We are connected. And I have found even online interactions lead to in-person meet-ups, and that’s where we can find the camaraderie that can keep the blues away. Some times. Not always.

Maybe with our connecting more the writer depression rate will go down. Maybe we’ll be replaced on the top 10 jobs to be depressed with plumbers? They work alone in dark places too, right?

I fed into the belief for years that if I let go of my depression I would be letting go of my creativity. In discovering the opposite my writing has flourished. I am the most content in years and the most productive in my writing. I finished my first book and a second and a third and starting a fourth. All sorrow-sober.  That’s in a two year span, while working part time as a freelancer and managing a family.

My mom, was not the creative type nor could she understand my sadness. She was tough Depression-era farm girl stock. She would say “Just get up and go do something!” That was her fix. Simple but it works for me now. When I find sorrow weighing me down for no reason I do just that. I get up and leave it behind me. It usually works. I know I have too much at stake to lose.

If depressions reigns its ugly head I push it away with positive things. I don’t want that dragon to come back. Its fire only destroys now, it doesn’t breathe life as I once thought.

My Depression Ward Off List
Get outside every day.
Exercise every other day at least.
Connect with people. Even if you don’t feel like it. A 5 minute chat with an old friend can do amazing things to the brain.
Do something. Anything. Go to a new store. Drive to a park and walk. Cook!
Write a list of all the good things in your life and re-visit it regularly.
Get off the computer and do something physical with a friend or family member – play a board game, go biking.
Wait. It will pass, hopefully.
Do NOT feed the dragon.  Dragons hurt us.

I know sometimes these actions need to be forced. I know some people need medication to help them through. Having a battle plan helps.

As a writer, do you battle depression or just get the holiday blues? How do you fight it off?

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Pumpkin pie forever

This was the first autumn in
years I didn’t cook my pumpkins. And without pumpkins there’s no fresh pumpkin pie.

But this year there would be no orange pulp to cook, puree, and squeeze through cheese cloth. No dough rolled out from my mother’s worn, wooden rolling pin. No flour dotted pages to turn on the warped old cook book (the one I didn’t need anymore as I knew the recipe by heart). It was the first cook book I ever had. The one given to me from my mother to make my first kitchen complete. The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cook Book.

This year the book would sit on a shelf. There would be no home made whip cream laced with nutmeg and vanilla to grace that gooey pumpkin custard. No flaky crust to hang down from the over sized pie dish with flowers on the bottom. My mother gave me that too.

I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened. Too busy. On vacation. For the first time it just didn’t feel important. I had proven to my mother once that I made a better pumpkin pie than her. She said so. And the truth was in her saying.

It was even good the year she pulled my pie from the oven and with one slip of her hands she flipped it over upside down on the oven door. We looked at each other and laughed. And as the guests waited in the candle-lit dining room with the cornucopia on the table, we quickly scooped up the mush and arranged it perfectly back in the crust. No one knew.

That was before the cancer came. Her body was strong and vibrant then, like her.

I think I’ve gotten my mother’s gravy down. The jury is still out. And my mother will never be able to tell me so. But I’ll know. Then there’s her southern biscuits to be made with sorghum, lemon meringue pie, and mincemeat pie.

There’s no rush. I have time ahead of me. Lots of time. And her notes in the margin to help. That swirly, on-the-go, right-slanted script I know by heart. It was shaky at the end. Unsteady and weak. But not this handwriting. The one in my cook book is dynamic and purposeful.

Like my mother. Like me.

I don’t have to prove my pumpkin pie to
anyone anymore, least of all my mother. She’s been gone these last two Thanksgivings, but I know she’ll be part of my pumpkin pie forever.

Even if I don’t make it.

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Do you give your characters theme songs when writing?

I know some writers who listen to music while writing. Some even craft soundtracks like my friend, Jess Cooper. She goes to Pandora’s Box to find music that fits her mood for particular a book she’s writing and builds a soundtrack. Jonathan Maberry notes he ratches it up at a local coffeeshop or bookstore with tunes for the writing of that day. Eric S. Brown swears by Weird Al.

Some writers I know write in complete silence, like Michael Ventrella. I am one of those, but I also find a dark corner alone in Wegman’s cafe provides a low buzz that fills the void around me in a blend perfect for my writing at times.

What I can’t do is write with music on. However, I do search for theme songs for my characters. To feel close to my writing I listen to the songs in the car and right before sitting down to write. And then I shut it off. But I hear the song in my head and it fuels the moment I’m in. I feel the character and their situation from the music and it drives me with passion.

My husband doesn’t like it. Why? Because I fell in love with Country a few years ago. (Gag, he says). But heck, where else can you find fitting angst to inspire words on the page but from Country songs?  Country has it all…lost love, out of work blues, hard times, no-good family and lots of drinking. Need inspiration? Check out the Top 100 Country Songs of All Time.

For my new novel it’s Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night album that sends me colliding with my characters. My protagonist’s theme song is Dierks Bentley’s Love Grows Wild. My husband is glad to not share these private moments. (But just to get him back I sneak in his car and switch all his radio stations to Country ones.)

I’m starting a new novel now and I can’t even listen to the music from my last novel. It confuses me about how I feel for my new characters.

Besides being an author, my next #1 dream is to be a country singer. Got to git me a guitar, harmonica and a fringe skirt. My husband might run off if that happens though. But he’ll sure miss me waving goodbye to him in my cowgirl boots and hat as I line dance across the porch.

Is this a writing quirk that just I have? Do you find theme songs for your book that you don’t actually listen to when writing?

Share with me how music fuels your writing – or doesn’t. Even if you ain’t a country gal.

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Do your dreams affect what you write?

Do you dream about the same thing over and over?

For years I had theme dreams. How I wish they were of nice things. Meadows. Carnivals. Melting ice cream cones on a beach. I’d even take being naked in public.

Machete Man

Nope. Mine were scary. A man with a machete looking to whack off my head. Or falling through snow to a burning lava river below. Slice and burn. Not my choice to exit this world. And I can’t forget the wolves racing across the tundra to devour me.

Of course I never actually died in these dreams. I always wake up just before being diced. Dreaming in color just makes it that more vivid.  Especially when its monster armadillos riding motorcycles throwing giant cupcakes at you.

I think we are fascinated with dreams. My friend Jessica Cooper wrote a great YA book about dreams called REM, which recently made it to the Top 50 semi-finalist round with Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.  Read my interview with her here on it. In REM when a group of kids discover a machine to record their dreams they soon discover how using it transforms them, in fantastic and terrifying ways.

Perhaps we’re better off not remembering our dreams – or re-living them over and over. Perhaps they need to stay as dreams to ward the dark away.

But back to machetes. I ran for miles in my dreams avoiding decapitation from that unknown machete wielding maniac. He swung blades of steel seeking my neck. Across dark woods. Through houses. Down lonely roads. He chased me.

Then one day a crowd came. They surged onto the machete murderer and whacked him to death with garden hoses. He disappeared and never returned. For the first time someone came to help me. And they destroyed the thing that haunted me most. They gave me hope. Someone finally came to my rescue.

Maybe this is the reason I write from the darker side with a touch of hope.  No matter how dark things are, there is hope for salvation. And then it hit me. The machete man was awfully familiar to the antagonist in my book, A Human Element, being released by Echelon Press in March, 2012. The power of dreams, right?

I looked up what this machete terror-filled dream could mean. When someone wields a machete at you it’s time to be brave enough to walk away from a situation that may be causing you to feel threatened and under attack. Check out what your dreams could mean here.

Death by garden hose

The man with the machete has never returned. I think he hides inside me and comes out when I write, and that is the only place he’ll remain safe from now on. If not, I’ll send back in the angry hoard of garden-hose attackers to get him good.

I wouldn’t mind the garden hose dream.  To dream about them suggests a washing away of mistakes, thereby giving a fresh opportunity to grow as a better person. I’ll take that.

Do you have theme dreams and do they affect what you write?

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What inspires us to write: inspiration from grief

As you know my book, A HUMAN ELEMENT, is being published in March 2012 by Echelon Press.

I wish my mom were still alive to be a part of that. But here’s the thing. If she were alive I would not have finished writing a book. I would not be getting published. I wouldn’t be here right now doing this if it weren’t for my mom.

She died from cancer 2 years ago. This strong and vibrant woman. I watched her become a shadow. And then I watched her go. I took care of her in the final moments. Then she slipped away. And I knew I had to make my dream come true. Write my first book. And then another. I had wanted to do it for years.

My mom loved to read to grandson, Joshua. Wish she could read my books now.

My mom’s life was gone. Mine half over. But mine was still here to conquer. She was always my #1 champion. I had to now my be champion.

She was my mom. My safety net. My battle of wills. She defined who I am and who I hope to be.  She was the world’s greatest character, the shining light to so many. And she’ll now be the model for a character in my newest novel.

So, I guess you could say I wrote from grief. It healed me. It comforted me. It made me feel like I was doing something for my mom.

The author, Michael Kimball, wrote his novel US from this sort place. How true his words are in this article and here.  “There is a lot of love in grief”. That is true and comforting, isn’t it?

Another author who wrote from grief is Ann Hood. She lost her will to read and write after her 5 year old daughter died suddenly from virulent strep. She eventually took up knitting to comfort her. From her healing grew the tale The Knitting Circle about a woman who loses her 5 year old daughter to meningitis and how knitting comforted her during a time of terrible anguish.

Maybe someday I’ll write about those last few days and moments with my mom. But it’s still too close for me just yet.

Me and my mom. She was the best (and afraid of water!)

So I wrote for my mom first. It was my way of talking to her then. To heal. To accomplish something I told her I always would. Now I have and I can write for me. My first book maybe the one that sits in a drawer. Don’t we all have one sitting in a drawer? Someday I’ll come back to it. Maybe. But that book led to another. And now another. And now a 4th one I am starting. All in 2 years. What a long way I have come.

So, thanks Mom. For bringing me to what I always wanted to do in my life. Write books.

I know I am not the only story like this.

What drove you to sit down and write that first book? Was it a special person or an event? What keeps driving you?

I found some answers here by other authors on what inspires them to write. Is one of these yours?

How did you finally write your first The End? Tell me here.

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