SPACE...THE FINAL FRONTIER...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Professor Cancer

The last year has been difficult.  Four surgeries and a cancer diagnosis have taken a toll on me.  I wasn’t always able to get in front of the computer.   But I didn’t give up writing.  I may not have been writing with regularity but I did carry my notebooks and pens and wrote in them.  I brainstormed in the hospital.  Some of the ideas conceived on the pain meds aren’t fit for public consumption.  But I did keep my brain percolating.

When something negative happens, I like to find the good parts of the situation.  I thought about what I learned this past year and came up with this list.  Though some of these have been said before, I found out they really are true. 

You can get through this.  Even if you think you can’t. 

Don’t allow yourself to dwell on what might happen.  Set short-term goals to get from one thing to another.  Only think about the next step in the process.  Example: Doctor’s appointment on Tuesday.  

You are stronger than you think.  I found that I could take a lot more than I thought.  So can you.   

There are many people who love you and who would miss you.   People tell you how much you mean to them when they think they will lose you.  One friend sent me a utube video of friends who shaved their heads for the friend who had cancer.  She told me she was glad she didn’t have to do that for me.  This was one of the handful of times that I cried.  But it was a good cry.  

Don’t worry so much about small things.  Like cream, what’s genuinely important rises to the top and the trivial sinks to the bottom.

You are not in control. The more tightly you hold on, the less control you have.  All you control freaks, please take note. 

Reach out to others when you need them.  I often feel badly for asking for favors. Learn to do that when you need it.  Plus, others will often volunteer before you even have to ask. 

Let yourself deal with your issues in your own time and in your own way. Realize that you will be dealing emotionally with this long after it is over.  Accept the fact that facing your frailty can be a long process. 

I want to write more than ever.  Looking forward to being able to get back to my normal writing schedule kept me going.  Focus on the things you love, and visualize doing them. 

I enjoy helping other people.  I want to pay forward the wonderful things that people did for me since I realize that it won’t be possible to pay each and everyone back in kind. 

People and things that I love, I love more deeply.  People and things that I dislike, I dislike with less intensity. I focus on what I truly care about.   What I don’t like, I’m able to let it roll off my back more easily. 

Be careful with what you consider important. You only have a certain amount of time on this earth.  Spend it doing things that are important to you. 

People act differently when they hear you have cancer.  You have to show them that it’s permissible not to.  My family didn’t treat me as they normally do.  You have to be as normal as possible and honest about your feelings and it will help them to do so as well. 

It’s good to cry when you need to. It loosens the knot in your stomach and eases the tension.  But don’t let it go on too long.  Otherwise, you won’t be able to function.  Keeping your usual routine is key. 


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Romance Novels: Why I’m Still Standing

Photo Credit 123RF.com
Life hit me pretty hard in the month of August. Just this past week, I sent my oldest off to college (yes, my first to fly the nest). If that isn't enough to send a mom into a tailspin, then having to do it while holding down a demanding day job that sucks more and more family/personal/writing time would certainly push most people over the edge.

Yes, the day job went from zero to eighty in the month of August. Perfect timing, right? Not so much. By Thursday of this past week, I was at the end of my rope--emotional from leaving the kiddo 2oo miles away, I returned to a job that keeps changing from hour-to-hour. That day, I was pulled off one project to start another. Add to that a vehicle breakdown and another personal family crisis that blew up, and I was holding on to the knot on the end of that rope and felt myself slipping. 
Photo Credit: 123RF.com

What did I do? When the dust settled and I got back home and crawled into bed, I did as any good romance reader-writer would do, I pulled out my Kindle and I fell into a romance novel.

The only thing that has kept me sane this month has been my love of reading romance novels. Seriously. It’s why I started reading romance in the first place. When my life is crap, I can escape into someone else’s world. I can push aside everything that’s wrong for just a little while and get a break from the emotions, the stress, the demands that seem to claw at me 24/7. Yeah, I’ve got one of those minds that won’t shut off. I don’t find oblivion in a bottle, I find it in a book.

What I’ve learned is when I hit that wall, or I’m hanging on by just a thread, when my life rockets to out-of-control, I need to take a breather, pull out my Kindle, and read a romance. Only by submersing myself in story--in a romance novel, where a hero and a heroine have problems that they overcome to find their happily-ever-after--can I find rest. Some might say, oh, well, you’re burying your head in the sand. Ignoring your problems. No. I’m finding a spot of peace in a chaotic world that at that moment I can’t handle. It’s my only harbor some days. And I clutch it tightly with both hands. Yes, I’m a romantic. I’m in love with falling in love. I’m an optimist. Life can suck that all out of you if you let it.

Photo Credit: 123RF.com
So when life gets me down and pushes me too hard, I turn to my safe harbor, my Zen place, and I read a romance. I know I’m not the only one who does this. I hear it again and again from women who read romance. How they find respite from the hardships of their lives when they read romance novels. I applaud them and I say hell, yeah, go for it. I know, firsthand, how hard life can be and how often I can attribute my ability to push through a tough situation or to remain standing in the midst of a crisis to some great romance novel that has swept me away for an hour or two and given me a break from my own life.

And this is also why I write romance novels. There are women out there just like me who need to find that next demilitarized zone so that they can handle whatever it is that life is throwing at them. There is peace from the chaos. Grab it with both hands--and if it comes through your Kindle by way of your favorite romance author--even better. At the end of the day, all that’s important is that you maintain your sanity and you’re still standing. If you’re still standing when the dust settles, you are stronger than your problems. Plus, when you give your brain a break, you can usually figure out a solution to overcome the slings and arrows of life.
Photo Credit: 123RF.com

So, go, find your Zen place today. Pick up a book. Be good to yourself. I’m here cheering you on.


I’d love to hear from you if you've ever experienced the saving grace of reading in times of trouble. We all like to know we’re not alone. ;0) And that’s what romance does for us, it helps us build community. So give me a shout out and comment if you've been there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Opportunity Costs - Balancing Yes and No

Over the past few days I've been thinking about opportunity costs. Here is a highfalutin' definition that I don't quite understand, but sounds official and deep and all, just in case you're interested in the real deal. My own home grown take:

An opportunity opens itself up to you. What will it cost you to say yes to it? What will it cost you to say no? What will it cost you to make a yes/no decision and then change your mind?

One weekend this spring my day job and my writing life collided in the form of two conferences that fell on the same dates. My options were attend one or the other. I couldn't do both.



"Torta casera argentina con crema chantill√≠ y duraznos" by Carlosdisogra - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - 

I couldn't have my cake and eat it too, dang it. 

I chose the writing weekend, which worked for me, but the costs included: I had to pay my own way (literal cost), I missed out on time with my work colleagues, I missed out on some professional training (ephemeral, but no less real costs).

In fact, I felt so bereft that I arranged for some of those day-job colleagues to come to town for a weekend getaway - a mini-conference of our own. In saying yes to this gathering, I had to say no to the August session of Lady Jane's Salon Silver Spring, where the Rockville 8's own Mackenzie Lucas was reading from her upcoming release, Courting Cinderella.



It's times like this when I wish I had a clone so I could be in two places at once.  

Now, in the scheme of things, one might say neither of these examples was a high stakes decision. But in each case, I had to do weigh the costs of saying yes or no.

This fall, I will begin a term on a non-profit board that meets on Tuesday nights once a month. Saying yes to this means I miss the opportunity to attend my Tuesday Nights Write group on the night(s) in question. I will lose butt in chair, fingers on keyboard time, but I will trade the time for a chance to expand my knowledge about something important to me and give back to the community.

Saying yes to a night of TV can help relax you after a stressful day, or spark story ideas, or create a situation where you'll overeat, or keep you from writing. Saying yes to a publishing contract can net you a monetary advance and increased distribution/visibility, but it might tie up your rights for longer than you're comfortable with. Saying no to a volunteer position might mean more time to spend on your writing or your family, or it could keep you from expanding your network of contacts and/or being Jill On The Spot when other opportunities arise.

This week I'm plunging into a Fast Draft session. For the next two weeks, I'll devote my "free" time to working exclusively on my book and post my progress on a social media accountability group. Saying yes to this, means I'll have to say no to: TV, pleasure reading, pool time, video games, hanging with friends who aren't writing (and cleaning the house, which is possibly not that big a loss....).

Do you ever wonder about your opportunity costs? Has there ever been a time when it hurt to say yes to one thing because it meant the other opportunity/ies were lost forever? When saying no was the stupidest decision you ever made?

Just how do you balance yes and no?






Monday, August 4, 2014

Five Places to Find Bargain eBooks

by Misha Crews

I love a good bargain, don't you? Regardless of what we're buying, saving a few bucks always makes the find even sweeter.

And as for books... well, books are pretty much the greatest things in the universe, am I right?

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite sites to find free and bargain eBooks. Hope you enjoy!

Pixel of Ink

A pioneer in the "free books to your inbox" field, Pixel of Ink has been around since the beginning of the eBook revolution. Visit their website, subscribe to their mailing list, and you'll receive a daily email of free and bargain books. And if you're interested in faith-based books, you can also visit their Inspired Reads website.

Free eBooks Daily

This plucky newcomer likes to specialize in indie books, which makes them very near and dear to my heart! Visit their website, or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter to get instant updates on free books.

BookBub

As a reader, the thing I like most about BookBub is that you can customize what kind of books are emailed to you every day. BookBub has built a reputation for providing subscribers with excellent reads. Visit their website to subscribe to their daily newsletter. 

Book Gorilla

With a name this silly, it's got to be a good service! Sign up for Book Gorillla's daily email newsletter to learn about free and bargain books from new authors as well as bestsellers.

Ereader News Today

Specializing in Kindle books, Ereader News Today offers readers an email newsletter service where we can choose the genres of books we'd like to hear about, and a highly searchable website where free and bargain Kindle books are listed. It's the best of both worlds!

Have you ever tried a bargain book email newsletter or website? What do you think of them?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

That Post-Conference Pay-Off

You came. You saw. You conquered . . . almost.

For writers, conferences like International Thriller Writers' Thrillerfest, Romance Writers of America's National Conference, and Killer Nashville are golden opportunities to learn, connect, and have fun. But just like gold, conferences can be costly. Between travel, hotel, plenty of meals, the cost of conference registration, maybe a new outfit or two, and--let's face it--all the awesome books you'll buy in addition to the ones you'll be given, a writer can spend a pretty penny. So how can a writer be sure to get her money's worth? She needs to focus on the post-conference pay-off.

Without focusing on the post-conference pay-off, a writer is only making a partial return on her hefty investment. But that doesn't have to happen to you. Here are my top tips for making the most of your conference experience after you come home.

Step one: Put those business cards you collected to work for you. After the event and while some names and faces are still fresh in your mind, jot a few notes to yourself about the people who gave you those cards. What did you talk about? Did you like the same books? Did you write in the same genre? Send a few of those folks an email letting them know how much you enjoyed discussing common interests or wishing them good luck with their queries. Sure, it can be daunting to email someone you just met, but you're investing in others and there's never anything wrong with that. Down the road, you might find you've developed a real friendship or a helpful professional contact. That person might faithfully buy all your books one day--or become famous and blurb them.

Step two: Put a technique to work for you. If you sat-in on a great seminar about plotting or a panel about breaking through to a larger readership, study your notes once you're home and set aside time to give this new technique a try. Change can be hard, but by tackling one technique, perhaps over a weekend, you're ensuring the money you spent to hear about that idea was well spent. This is an investment in your skill set. And any investment in you will pay-off after the long haul.
Step three: Put it all in perspective and let a fresh mindset work for you. By the time you leave the conference and walk through your own front door, chances are you'll be beyond exhausted. But then, it's back to the day job, the laundry, and life. From that perspective, it may look like you slid backwards instead of gaining ground at the conference. So print off a few photos and put them in your work space to remind you of the fun you had at that publisher's party or out to eat with your pals. And in the coming week, eliminate one chore so you can catch a little time on the couch or chase some more shut-eye. If you say it's all right to skip mowing the yard, odds are it really is all right. So let yourself relax and recover. Remember, we don't have to do it all. And we don't have to do it all right now. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And going to a conference can be as high a priority as doing the dishes. So invest in your mindset. It's worth everything.

Now, there you have my top tips for the post-conference pay-off. What do you do after you get home to make the most of a conference?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stitching and Starching My Way Through Story

In the last few weeks, mom has been sorting through her linens, opening up blanket chests, linen closets, under-the-bed storage thingies. Out come the linen table clothes and napkins, the hand embroidered or tatted or pulled-thread finger tip towels, the crocheted throws in some of the most hideous shades of vomit, dad's layette set - all in pink because for whatever reason, my grandmother Gwen loved dad in pink (which in honesty with his dark hair, pail skin and blue eyes, he did look good in pink - or muted red as he preferred to call it), Victorian children's clothing, a cotton and lace underskirt from the turn of the last century which mom promised would look wonderful under a long skirt (...). And it goes on, with representation from both sides of the family. I felt like a Betty Neels heroine counting the linens. Mom has kept a few pieces, but mostly my siblings and I took what we wanted. Because you can never have too many linen table clothes or napkins. And my powder room just screams finger-tip towels.

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the idea that all of history, all the past, everyone's past, gave rise... to me. I could draw on anything and everything for my writing and my creativity. I simply had to own it. The other idea was finding my place to be - which I think was from a poem/short story about the bull in the ring, pitted against the matador, finding his place to finally die. I know, that is one of the random bits I learned in English and creative writing under the mustachioed gaze of Dr. Martin Galvin. (Another was putting in a detail about a character - like he always sat with both feet flat on the floor - to add authenticity. But that is getting off track.)

Some people feel that sense of past when they walk into an old church or cathedral. Others, it comes from walking down a street in Europe or Jerusalem, feeling the footsteps of those who walked before. For me, it comes from handling these old objects, sometimes accompanied with notes. I imagine how proud Grandmother would have been, how carefully she ironed each towel or clothe.  I imagine the frugality of a wise housewife, sewing a small flower applique over a cigarette hole in a tablecloth.

In Kathleen Gilles Seidel's book, Please Remember This, heroine Tess Lanier opened a shop selling vintage linens. That character always rang true with me, because I understood the quiet love for women's handiwork. She wasn't a "big" heroine, who at a relatively young age ran a national chain of stores, or even the type of heroine that everyone wanted to shag. She opened a small store in a small town where she was a stranger and her mother had achieved notoriety. The book was about the relationships of mothers and daughters, and isn't that what linens are all about?

Sure, sure, my brother took one of our great-grandmother's bed spreads because he totally respects the hours of work that went into it. But by and large, these items, particular the very old pieces, were no doubt part of a dower chest, like the one my grandfather made for his bride, with the sheets and pillow cases the young girl started making for her home.  This sense of future, of running her own home and raising her own children, is woven tightly into the pillow cases and dresser scarves. They are haunted, in a sense, by the hands that made them, the hands that used them and the hands that carefully folded them away in tissue paper. 


When I create a character, and write that his foot is always tapping, jiggling, twitching, somewhere in him is a matriarchy that at some point carefully folded away tea-towels. Maybe they were poor, maybe they were unbelievably wealthy, maybe they hated every moment holding the needle. But they were there. I may never, ever mention his feminine antecedents in the whole of the book, but his history is still comprised of them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why "101 Dalmations" is the Perfect Story

One of my favorite books as a young child was the Little Golden Book of “101 Dalmatians.”  It has everything that I love as a story.  The plot is genius.  And there is nothing in it that shouldn’t be there—no extra fat to the story to distract from driving the plot forward.

First, it has a romance.  Pongo and Perdita (the Dalmatian couple), Roger and Anita (the human couple), fall in love.  They “meet cute” in the park, each walking their dog.  Pongo and Perdita decide to help everyone out by getting their leashes hopelessly tangled around their “human pets” and facilitate a meeting that ends in everyone living happily ever after.  Or, so they thought.   But, the author has other ideas.
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
Second, the stakes are high.  Pongo and Perdita have pups.  They are kidnapped by an evil friend of Anita’s and hidden in the country to be skinned for a coat.  This is life or death drama.  If Pongo and Perdita don’t rescue their children, they will die.  The stakes don’t get much higher than that.  The odds seem stacked against the two city dogs as they follow the barking chain (information passed from dog to dog within hearing distance) that leads them to unfamiliar territory to their pups who they must save from one of the creepiest villains ever created.

From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
This leads me to my third point.  The story has a great villain.  Cruella DeVille.  Even her name is terrifying.  With shocking half and half hair, jagged cheekbones, arrowhead jaw, sunken eyes and skeletal frame draped with fancy clothes, her looks scream “evil” before you understand her intent.  She is a “friend” of Anita’s who spots the pups while visiting and wants to buy all of them for their coats.  Both couples are horrified and send our villain packing.  Cruella, who is unaccustomed to hearing the word “no,” hires two criminals to kidnap the pups. 

From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."
Fourth, the goal of the story is clear and overarching to the story.  Find and save the pups from certain death.  One clear goal drives the story to the finish line, through many twists and turns, obstacles, near misses and the heart stopping ending when the pups are saved and Roger and Anita are reunited with all of them.
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."


Last, it has a satisfying ending.  Cruella knew that it would take many pups to make a coat worthy of her.  She stole other Dalmatian pups from all over England, keeping them in one place to be slaughtered together when she had enough to make her coat.  Pongo and Perdita rescue all of them rather than leaving the orphans to a certain death.  Roger and Anita realize that their small flat can’t accommodate all of them so they decided to move into the country.  At the end, the reader gets the payoff of a happy ending and learns the meaning of the title.  Ninety-nine pups plus two adult dogs equals 101 Dalmatians. 
From Disney's "101 Dalmatians."

Great children’s stories illustrate that a plot doesn’t have to be labyrinthine to be good.  By possessing these elements, a classic story was created.  Each of these points, when fleshed out in the story, are all that are necessary to keep the reader’s interest and drive the story forward.  As an older child, I read the original story by Dodie Smith, “The One Hundred and One Dalmatians” that the Disney movie was created from.  I recommend it to anyone.

I’ll paraphrase the last line from my first version: “Pongo and Perdita, Roger and Anita, all live happily ever after on a Dalmatian Plantation.”

Girly sigh…


What are some of your all time favorite stories from childhood?  What makes them that way?