Thursday, October 30, 2014

Life is hard. Be kind.

Life is hard. 

You don't know what others are experiencing.

Many years ago, I worked in a large office. A couple of ladies there always made birthday cakes for co-worker's birthdays. It was their thing, and they enjoyed sharing their creations. 

One woman, I'll call her Alice, worked alongside us. She loved the birthday celebrations. She was always first in line to snatch a piece of cake. But Alice was not always pleasant. She was often short tempered and a bit confrontational. And she was a know-it-all. 

After several months of celebrating one birthday after another, her big day was approaching.

I overheard the cake ladies saying they weren't going to make her a cake. "Wouldn't that put her in her place?"

Alice was a prickly person who rubbed others the wrong way. I'm not even sure she realized it. She reminded everyone that her birthday was the next day and left work with a big grin, probably imagining the birthday cake she expected to receive. 

The thought of her being humiliated and disappointed sat on my shoulders like a sheet of heavy, wet canvas. I was not one of the cake ladies. I didn't really have the time nor the inclination to make a cake. But I did.  

Life is hard.

I don't know what forces combined to make Alice the person she was. But she didn't deserve to be treated in such callous manner. So I made her birthday cake. That day I was the recipient of several eye rolls from co-workers. Perhaps they thought I was a chump. 

But life is hard. 

Maybe Alice had been hurt once too many times. Maybe she invented a big, tough persona to protect herself. Or maybe she was just a selfish, mean person. I don't know. 

All I know is that I didn't want to see someone be singled out and hurt. I didn't want to witness a heart being broken.  

Maybe I was a chump. But I still believe you should give someone the benefit of the doubt, err on the side of kindness. Even if you're wrong, you've done the right thing. 

Life is hard. Be kind anyway. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eight ground rules for achieving your dreams

Do you have a dream? A goal?

Is there a desire that has burned in your heart for years? 

Or has a new vision popped into your mind?


Here's the secret to staying motived so you meet your goal: 
Don’t wait until you accomplish your goal to be proud of yourself.
 Be proud of yourself every time you endeavor to reach your dream. 

Be proud of every step you take to meet your goal.


Here are eight ground rules for achieving your dreams:

  1. Know that creativity is a process, not a product.
  2. Get started. Don’t quit.
  3. Recall the delight you experienced in claiming that big dream.
  4. Be brave. Pursue your dream despite the fear you may fail.
  5. Understand that failure doesn’t mean it’s the end. It means try again, harder!
  6. Establish discipline:
    • Be clear about your vision.
    • Be clear about what’s at stake.
  7. Be Content:
    • Contentment is being thankful for what you have.
    • Contentment must be learned, and you can learn it.
  8. The success is in the obedience.
I wish you all the success in the world, but mostly I wish you joy in your journey because at least one person will be impacted by your diligence, YOU!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I know, it's hard to forgive, but . . .

Have you forgiven? I have. 

It's not easy. 

I was badly wounded by people I loved and trusted. It nearly destroyed me.

I realized to move forward, I must forgive. Then I became a serial forgiver, having to forgive over and again the same ones who hurt me so badly. 

I'd forgive. But the feelings of hurt, rejection, and shame would return. And so would my bitterness. Those people were no longer in my life and were a thousand miles away, but every once in a while the pain would pop up as fresh as the first sting of betrayal.

So I'd forgive. Again.

It's not easy.

It took me over a decade to come to grips with the pain of betrayal and rejection. 

It's not easy.

I chose to embrace this thought, "When we forgive it doesn't mean the pain never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives."

Did you catch that? Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer has control over our emotions. 

If you've been wounded, I hope you can forgive. Forgiveness gives you a sense of power that allows you to face the pain and move beyond it. 

Forgiveness gives you freedom, and that freedom opens a door. 

Forgive. 

It's not easy. 

But forgive anyway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Slow down, and breathe . . .

Like most modern gals, I’ve got stuff to accomplish and a to-do list that goes on and on. So, every day I get up and get to work.

That’s good, right?

Maybe not.

One of my biggest flaws is that I fly through the hours, the days, the weeks, and the months intent of getting stuff done.

The past two weeks I’ve been watching the changes in my maple tree. It’s something I look forward to every year. Each morning I check out the rich color that seems to change hour by hour. When my tree is at its most blazing beauty, my kitchen glows orange.

Because of my yearly tree ritual, I’ve slowed down this week—just a bit—and sat, sipping morning coffee, absorbing the magic of autumn’s changing wardrobe.

And Psalm 90:12 popped into my mind:

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.

I'm going to try to slow down a bit, to be mindful of time flashing by. That's a good idea, especially at this time of year because we know you'll blink, and it will be 2015.

Be blessed, friends! Slow down. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Choose hope. Don't wear your grief on your sleeve . . .

It was a rare gray afternoon in Denver. The sky was moody, clouds pressing down, rain soaking the world. I sat at a traffic light, wipers moaning across the windshield when I looked ahead and to the right. 



"GRIEVER."

Why would someone put a license plate like that on their car? 


Had their heart been so wounded by loss that they were compelled to shout it to the world?


Had they given up on hope? Claimed a new identity?


I've grieved mightily in my life—for relationships that fractured and for well-loved people that slipped into eternity much too soon for my liking. 


But I never quit moving forward. I never quit believing life would again be joyful. Honestly, at times I had to force myself to believe. I had to remind myself that I was, indeed, a prisoner of hope. I trusted that the good and the sad in my life was a condition of being human, and that God would redeem the pain and sorrow. 


To overcome my grief at failed relationships, I had to learn the practice of forgiveness. To overcome my grief at the loss of life, I had to accept that pain would be a part of my life for a season. After all, grief is hard work. But I believed grief would not last forever.


And in the end, I passed through that veil of grief. In the end, there's always hope. Always. For me, because of Whom I place my hope in. 


Friends, don't lose heart. Don't allow circumstances to ensnare you with grief. Don't cling to sting of the loss of a loved one. Don't give up hope. 


When I was trudging through some of the darkest days of my life, I chose to give myself a new label. I chose to become a prisoner of hope. I believe that choice helped to propel me forward. It caused me to think of myself in a new way. 


I hope "the griever" has a legitimate reason for that license plate. I hope whoever it is doesn't stay locked in that place, claiming that label.


Choose hope. Choose life. Choose to keep pressing forward.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Recommendations with a dose of encouragement

I've been a bit remiss lately in sharing some titles that I've loved. 

Today I want to tell you about two non-fiction books that have moved me. Yes, occasionally I read books other than novels. I don't read much non-fiction books, so when I pick one up, finish it, and recommend it, you know it's good. 


Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World by Lucille Zimmerman has the distinction of being the only book that I've ever bought multiple (lots!) copies of and handed out to women in my life.  

This book is a wake-up call to women to remind them to carve out space for themselves. Renewed encourages you to care for yourself. It's a how-to on how to live happily amid the stresses of everyday life. READ IT. It's like a spring breeze after a frosty winter. It will wake you up and help you to appreciate the little things in life that contribute to your peace and satisfaction. 









Another book that blessed me is Secrets to a Happy Life by Bill Giovannetti. This book illustrates how God is working in your favor, how to move past negative emotions that ensnare your thoughts, and how to choose to be happy. Secrets to a Happy Life uses examples from the life of the OT Joseph, and boy did he have some difficult circumstances to live through. 

I found the stories told and lessons explained in this book to be so relatable. Bill's writing made me stop, think, and pray about thoughts concerning past events that floated on the periphery of my consciousness, often dragging me down when I least expected it. 


Over a decade ago, I endured a huge ache in my life that I'm still recovering from. Reading this book was another piece in the puzzle to refining my response to that life-changing event. 


The chapters are divided into 11 secrets to happiness--all issues that impact everyone. The secrets contain beautiful, profound, and affirming words. We aren't promised a perfect life, but this book shows us that we can choose a happy life. 


Both of these books are keepers. They'll live on my bookshelf for those days when I need a bit of wisdom to pick me up and keep me going.  


Thursday, October 09, 2014

13 Pieces Advice From Famous Authors

Morguefile.com photo
Writers and would-be writers are always looking for wisdom from those who’ve gone before us.

I’ve assembled some thoughtful comments and put them in a Q&A format for you to enjoy.

Question: When is the best time to begin a writing career?
Answer: "Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way." ~Dr. Seuss

Question: From where does our writing ability come? Is it inborn? Learned?
Answer: As Mother Teresa said, "We are all pencils in the hand of God."

Question: Is it difficult to learn the craft of writing?
Answer: "Yes, it's hard to write, but it's harder not to."
~Carl Van Doren

And here's more advice on writing from other authors:
"Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go."
~ E.L. Doctorow

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."
~Barbara Kingsolver

Question: How much time should a writer commit to his/her craft?
Answer: "The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything."
~John Irving

And as author Ray Bradbury said, "Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed."
Another thought to ponder is, "Either marry your work - take it seriously and do it every day - or date it - write only when you feel like it - but know which you are doing and the repercussions of both."
~Anonymous

Question: Is writing all about sitting at a computer and pounding out a story?
Answer: Not necessarily so. As Victor Hugo said, “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labour and there is invisible labour.”

Question: What about word count? Is there any advice on pacing yourself?
Answer: "The faster I write, the better my output. If I'm going slow, I'm in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them."
~Raymond Chandler

Also, "If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I'd type a little faster."
~Isaac Asimov

Question: Must you have all the answers when you sit down to write your story?
Answer: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
~E. L. Doctorow

Question: How do you know you've reached a level of success?
Answer: "Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed."
~P.G. Wodehouse

Question: Is there a secret to becoming a successful author?
Answer: "The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write, and keep on writing."
~Ken MacLeod

And I leave you with a final thought: " May I never grow too old to treasure 'once upon a time.'"
~Anonymous

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Publishing Industry News

It's that time again! Hop over to the Novel Rocket blog and check out this month's industry news column (written by yours truly).



There's an added bonus this month, an exclusive interview with Sandie Bricker. Sandie is the Managing Editor of BLING!, the new romance imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Defining Moments

I’ve been thinking about defining moments lately. As an author, they populate my books. As a human being, they have shaped my character and my choices.


I’ve often heard good fiction characterized as real life without the boring parts. That’s very true, and both fiction and real life have defining moments.

 Defining moments can be good as well as bad. The good -- the day you know you've found "the one," or the birth of a child. Some defining moments are obvious, like the death of a parent or when a loved one gets in a car accident. But there are some defining moments that come to you quietly in a crystallized realization while you're simply taking a walk, or else they can seep into your bones when you overhear a conversation not intended for your ears.

The funny thing about defining moments is that they may not be honest interpretations. What if someone perceives a situation differently than it is? What if a misunderstanding causes someone to have a defining moment? It’s easy to see that happening in a child’s life: I didn’t pick up my room, so mommy and daddy are divorcing. That kind of thing.

A friend told me of a defining moment that occurred at the birth of her first child: “Oh, my goodness. I can’t die for at least 20 years.” The realization that flooded her brain shocked her, but then she knew it was because her dad died while she was a very young woman.

Margaret, my character in my current wip (work in progress), is slowly experiencing some defining moments that will eventually shape the rest of her life. I’m having fun playing with the way she comes to discover herself. After all, fiction is real life without the boring parts.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Is there psychology involved in buying books?

Morguefile.com photo
I bought some peaches the other day. Not headline-making news, but consider this, I knew that I had peaches at home in my fridge. 

The reason for my impulse purchase was because the clerk at the store stopped me to tell me how delicious the peaches were. She said that she really looks forward to eating one when they’re this fresh and ripe. She made those peaches sound like the most delicious fruit on earth. I bought them because she hand sold them to me.

Having someone talk up a product adds perceived value to that product. Seeing the clerk’s eyes light up while she talked about the sweet, juicy fruit made me want to experience the same pleasure.

If you’re wondering, yes—this is writing related. Anyone who is concerned that the book market is down can do something about it. You can talk up some great titles that you loved to your friends and family. We can all influence the purchase of books by influencing those in our circle to purchase good books (or even borrow them from the library).

Often when a new book comes out the author and publisher will find influencers to talk up the book. Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful tool. I’ve been an influencer and have had influencers. It’s fun to put a book into someone’s hands and say, “This is a great book. I loved it, and I bet you will too.” I’m not bashful, and when I’m browsing in a bookstore and see someone looking for a book, I’ll strike up a conversation and recommend some books. It’s as easy as selling ripe, juicy peaches.

Oh, and those peaches? D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Refreshing Your Creativity

Beautiful Castlewood Canyon where I love to hike.
As a creative person, do you ever feel the need to refresh your creativity? I sure do.

Writers can get overwhelmed trying to find a new way to communicate the ordinary and everyday moments that make up life. As Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (verse 1:9)

Aargh! What’s a writer to do?

First, don’t panic. True there is nothing new under the sun, but you can make a concept feel new with your particular way of communicating an idea.

Sometimes it just takes a (brief) break from writing to get your creativity sparking. Here are a few ways to get the creative urge back:
• Read. Often after reading a good book I get the urge to sit down and write. Enjoying the way another author turns a phrase or characterizes the people who populate a fictional world can get you thinking about how you would write a scene or breathe life into a character.
• Listen. Music can evoke a mood or take you to a different world. Sometimes when you listen to music you can hear it from the point of view of one of your characters or you can create a character who would be moved by the composition you’re listening to. 
• See. Taking a field trip to a museum can open your mind to many art forms. I enjoy renting the audio commentary available with some art exhibits. You get information on a new culture or a different period of time. You learn what the artist was experiencing when that piece was created or what the artist was trying to express. 
• Inhale. Take a walk and concentrate on the fragrances you encounter. Whether it’s a city street or a prairie trail the scent of your environment can trigger a memory or a wish that set your imagination and creativity in motion. 
• Taste. Go out to eat. Imagine how your character would feel about the restaurant, the food, and the company. Listen to the sounds around you. Design a scene for the reasons some of the other diners are eating there. Let your imagination fly. 
• Be. Sometimes giving yourself permission to sit and relax in a hammock or a chair in a busy shopping mall and just think and observe can unlock creative ideas.

What about you? Do you have any suggestions for unlocking creativity?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Debut novelist Ane Mulligan & Chapel Springs Revival

I'm happy to host my friend Ane Mulligan today. I met Ane several years ago at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference, and we hit it right off. Chapel Springs Revival is Ane's debut novel. I'll let her tell you about it. 

Ane Mulligan:
I want to introduce you to Claire and Patsy. They're not quite Lucy and Ethel, but they tend to stumble into trouble and catastrophe. Bighearted and loyal friends, these two will lead readers on a romp through miscommunication in marriage.

Years ago, I overheard a gal say she married before learning God had a husband chosen for her, so she was going to divorce hers and find the perfect one. I pulled her aside for a "Titus 2:4" moment, then logged that incident in my mind for further exploration.

A few years later, God reminded me of that conversation. I thought what if a woman in her late forties found her marriage is ho-hum? When she became a Christian, she thought life and her marriage would be included in the new creation part. But her thighs are just as big, her husband just as ornery, and he still won't go to church with her. Toss in a BFF whose husband had grown non-communicative and was never home, and I had the foundation for a story.

I ran with it.

From God's nudge and that first "what-if," Claire Bennett, Patsy Kowalski, and the small village of Chapel Springs were born.

Claire is tired of being nothing more than a sheet-changer, a towel-folder, a pancake-flipper. She resolves to emulate her Great Aunt Lola, who refused to be slighted by any man. Why, the first morning Aunt Lola's husband forgot to kiss her goodbye, she packed her bags, went off to Hollywood, and became a big star in silent films. Would Claire really do what Great Aunt Lola did?

When Patsy's nest became empty, she thought her husband would retire and they could finally do some travelling, but he hasn't mentioned slowing down. In fact, he's not talking much at all. When he starts coming home well after she's in bed, she becomes convinced he's having an affair. With Claire's help, Patsy's determined to catch him with the trollop who's trying to break up their once happy home.

As I worked on the plotting and backstory for Claire and Patsy, I saw the same things I'd heard the young women say at church: Patsy focusing on what her husband did wrong, and Claire is trying to find Mr. God-Ordained-Right.

Now, Claire has a tendency to be judgmental. She blurts out exactly what she thinks. She also moves before she thinks, which leads to a number of catastrophes. Patsy tries to hide her troubles; pretend they don't exist and they'll go away. Only it never works.

While Claire is eyeballing and discarding every man she sees, she and Patsy are determined to revive their marriages. At the same time, Chapel Springs could do with some reviving. The town has grown shabby and the tourist trade has declined. Complicating matters are a pair of curmudgeons, the mayor and his cohort, who would prefer to see the town stuck in the fifties and closed to outsiders.

I had so much fun with these characters. Claire is funny, a loyal friend, and someone I love spending time with. Besides, every time she turns around, she's in some kind of trouble. It's a blast just following her. And everyone needs a friend like Patsy, someone who has your back.

I’ve completed the sequel called Chapel Springs Survival. Can Claire and Patsy, and the town, survive their revival? That story grew out of something our son did. While it turned out to be wonderful in his life, the manner in which he revealed it called for Mama's retaliation. It went into a book (insert evil laughter).

It's my hope that through humor, readers will see God's hand in their choice of a husband. God is a faithful keeper of little girls' dreams for a knight in shining armor.

Chapel Springs Revival

With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It's impossible not to, what with Claire's zany antics and Patsy's self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is their marriages.

With their personal lives in as much disarray as the town, Claire and Patsy embark on a mission of mishaps and miscommunication, determined to restore warmth to Chapel Springs —and their lives. That is if they can convince their husbands and the town council, led by two curmudgeons who would prefer to see Chapel Springs left in the fifties and closed to traffic.

***

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion.

You can find Ane on her Southern-friedFiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.



Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Publishing Industry News

It's time to hop over to the Novel Rocket blog to check out this month's industry news column (written by yours truly).

There's a lot going on, check it out!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grace and Second Chances, part two

*Continued from 6/ 24


Second chances. There comes a time when we all need one. After all, who’s perfect?

Lately I’ve been thinking about second chances in regards to many things—relationships, dreams, challenges. Too often we just give up. We don’t extend grace to others or to ourselves. Earlier in the week, I posted about a disastrous lunch I had with a new friend. Go here to read about it.

A few years ago, I experienced another similar lunch. The only difference was that I was the awkward one. I was “going through something,” and truly wasn’t myself. When I got into my car after lunch, I wept. I realized that in my state of mind—I was deeply hurt and upset by a situation that had nothing to do with my lunch date—I was uncomfortable meeting someone new.

Unfortunately to mask that, I was chatty. Too chatty. Ridiculously chatty. When the lunch was over I realized I hardly had gotten to know her. That regret still weighs my heart. I reached out with an email apology and followed that a while later with a FB message, but she never addressed the lunch or apology.

We’re still FB friends, and we occasionally interact and see one another socially, but I grieve the loss of what could have been a pleasant friendship. 

The pain I feel is because grace was not extended to me. Ouch. 

Grace is extending favor, good will, kindness, love—a second chance. 

But sometimes second chances can be about your personal goals and dreams. Have you abandoned a dream? 

I'm a writer, yet I haven't published since 2008. Yeah. Since then I've written two more novels. But they just weren't ready to go out into the world. I worried. I fretted. I rewrote. I more or less quit writing. 

I thought I'd be okay with that, but ultimately it saddened me to think my author days were over. So I decided to focus on one of those books, and I rewrote it. Again. 

I extended grace—a second chance, to myself and my writing. Nothing may come of it other than the satisfaction of knowing I'm not a quitter. 

So last week I started writing (REwriting) my novel again. For the sixth time. And you know what? I've slashed pages and cut characters, and I think it's better than ever.

I still don't know what the outcome (publication) will be, but I was kind to my dreams and, as always, I placed them in the Lord's care. What will be, will be.

So when it comes to grace, please err on the side of kindness—to other and also to yourself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grace and Second Chances, part one

Second chances are like a fork in the road. They can lead us in a wonderful new direction. 
Second chances. There comes a time when we all need one. After all, who’s perfect?

Lately I’ve been thinking about second chances in regards to many things—relationships, dreams, challenges. 

Too often we just give up. We don’t extend grace to others or to ourselves.

Many years ago I hosted a play date for my son with a boy from his preschool class. The mom came also and brought her two younger children who were the same age as my younger kids. When we’d rub shoulders picking up our kids from school, she seemed lovely. I anticipated a nice lunch and a pleasant afternoon.

My expectations were not met.

The afternoon was a disaster. Try as I did, I couldn’t engage that lady in any kind of pleasant conversation. She seemed self absorbed and shallow. The kids had a dandy time, but the few hours she sat in my living room felt like an eternity. 

About two months later she started asking me to bring my kids to her house for a play date. My first thought was that she must be nuts. We had nothing in common. She had NO desire to find out anything about my interests, or me, yet she claimed she was looking for friends for her kids and herself. I was able to make excuses a few times, but then her continual invitations became awkward. What she wanted was a second chance. So, reluctantly, I accepted.

I try to err on the side of kindness, but I expected the afternoon to be a disaster, a repeat of our first get together.

I was wrong.

I had a wonderful time! She was fun and engaging. The afternoon flew by. I would have never had such an enjoyable luncheon if I had not given her a second chance. I would have never known the truth about our first meeting if I had not extended grace towards her.

Turns out, the first play date occurred on the day her husband left the family. She didn’t want to disappoint her children who were looking forward to the fun. Her husband decided he no longer wanted to be married, and told her that when she was half-way through her third pregnancy. He stayed eight weeks after the baby was born to give her time to regain her strength. In hindsight, I see that she was as gracious as could be, under those circumstances.

That happened nearly 30 years ago, and I think about it often. I’m grateful I was moved to give her a second chance. Sometimes people aren’t as they first seem.

A few years ago, I experienced another similar lunch. The only difference was that I was the awkward one. . . 

*To be continued 6/26.