Sunday, May 24, 2015

Waiting for the Moon

    Back in the fall, I was at a used book sale at the library. There I saw a book that I decided to buy. It sat in my to-be-read pile for a few more months until I picked it up and started reading it. I was hooked.
Recently, I tried to explain the plot of Kristin Hannah’s Waiting for the Moon to the Rockville 8. When I started explaining it, I realized that my description didn’t do this book justice. The plot is impossibly implausible—in the opening scene, the heroine, Selena, tries to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff into the rocky waters of the Maine coast. The fisherman who rescues her decides to leave her at a nearby insane asylum where the hero, Ian, lives with his mentally ill mother and an assortment of other equally mentally challenged patients. She has lost her memory as a result of the blow to her head in the fall. The hero has psychic abilities that manifest when he touches someone. Once a gifted surgeon, he cannot practice anymore due to the fact he is afraid to touch his patients. He has retreated to his boyhood home to run a mental institution in his widowed mother’s home.
I know—sounds improbable, right? And yet it works. It’s in the details. The small moments that the author describes are so achingly real. This book takes its time drawing you in, savoring the details. Here’s one of my favorite parts. In this scene, Ian has been away while Selena’s bruises and scrapes healed. This is his first time seeing her since her initial injuries, coming up for air after a swim in the Atlantic.
Selena came up, flipping her soggy hair away from her face like some ancient mermaid. For a split second, he saw her profile, then the curtain of her hair descended again. Sparkling droplets flew behind her in a shimmering, sunlight-brightened veil.
She collected an armful of trinkets and shells, then looped a thick, slimy strand of kelp around her neck and turned toward the beach. 
She splashed through the ice-cold Atlantic water as if it were the sun-drenched Caribbean Sea. With one hand, she shoved the tangled brown hair from her face. 
For the first time in his life, Ian’s knees went weak at the sight of a woman. She was exquisitely, unexpectedly beautiful. Long, mahogany-hued hair cascaded over her arms, dripping plump, silvery tears down the white lawn of her shirt. Her face was a pale oval, dominated by the largest, most liquid brown eyes Ian had ever seen. Her full lips looked ready to smile at any second. 
By the time that Ian and Selena succumb to their feelings, you’re rooting for them. You’re waiting for Ian to come to his senses and claim her and for Selena to relearn how to communicate. The dark moment is a wonderful twist and the ending feels so right it’s like coming home.
What books have swept you away lately? What about it drew you in?






Sunday, May 17, 2015

Top 5 Songs to Rock the Heart

Music plays an integral part in our lives, whether we realize it or not. It shapes and reflects our culture and yet it is a very subjective, individual form of expression. Music can reveal who we are deep down or who we want to be--our personalities, our attitudes, or our aspirations. 

Through music, we first learn the importance of cultivating our internal lives. We discover how what we think matters, and that we’re not alone in those thoughts. Music connects us, shows us our humanity, and helps us understand our struggles are universal and that there are other people out there experiencing the very same situation. 

Music can move us emotionally, bringing us to tears, laughter, passion, happiness, or bolster our courage. It can bring back memories that we thought were lost forever. And soundtracks and singles can mark new memories that will stick with us well into old age. Music can also facilitate healing and restoration when we need to block out all the stressors of life to nurture our spirit.

In light of the important role music plays in my life, and often in my novel writing process, I wanted to share the top five songs on my playlist this week.


1.    Honey, I’m Good by Andy Grammer (Magazines or Novels album)
I love this song. It’s everything I admire in my fictional heroes. The music is upbeat, catchy, and the message honorable.



2.    Love Is Your Name by Steven Tyler
Adore Steven Tyler. He’s the consummate rock star, even when he’s crafting a new country music song. Love this song.



3.    Fight Song by Rachel Platten
Talk about plucky girl empowerment songs, this one is it and will stand alongside Katy Perry’s Roar and Firework in it's message to empower girls & women.



4.    All of the Stars by Ed Sheeran (The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack)
I love most of what Ed Sheeran writes and performs. He’s amazing. The Fault In Our Stars is a good soundtrack album.



5.    Try by Colbie Caillat (Gypsy Heart album)
Again, adore this song because of what it says to girls and women. Great song.



Bonus:
1.    Boom Clap by Charlie XCX (The Fault In Our Stars & Sucker albums)
Because I’m a romance writer I can’t resist this song. Who doesn't enjoy a song about how love makes our heart beat faster ... how it makes us feel? After all, it is our business. 


Tell me about the songs on the top of your play list. I always love finding new artists and new music to add to my iTunes collection. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Gratitude - Count your blessings instead of sheep

I don't know about you, but it seems I've signed up to receive a boatload of life advice, delivered conveniently right into my email inbox every day. Another week, another person trying to teach me 10 basic habits to a better waistline, 5 yoga moves to welcome big money into my life, 3 low calorie dishes I can whip up while I walk the dog...you get the idea.

A lot of times I'm so overwhelmed the healthiest thing I can do it hit the delete key. 

But a few months ago, I clicked through to an article about cultivating an attitude of gratitude (I don't remember which one, but I suspect it was very like this one from the website Mind Body Green). 

For some reason, the idea of a gratitude journal struck me as an easy activity to help me remember my blessings, big and small. To remind myself that the moment might be tough, but my life overall is rich and abundant. 

I started out very hit or miss, letting time elapse between entries. Before too long, though, I developed an addictive daily habit. I now place my journal on my pillow after making the bed each morning and when it's time to go to sleep, like a magnet, my hand shoots to the journal, eager to jot down the moments of grace that helped me make it through the day. To keep it simple, I stick to three items (but with room for wiggling for additions when the spirit moves me). I try to make people and events my focus, over things (but things do count!). 

A bonus gratitude feedback loop: Occasionally I tell folks they've made an appearance in the pages of my journal and why. Letting them know what they mean to me gives them a little boost, which makes me smile, which makes me grateful all over again that they are in my life. Score!

A sample entry might look like:

  • I am grateful for the shared laughter of my R8 peeps, Candy, Evie, Lisa, Marjanna, Misha, and Nichole. 
  • I am grateful for the midday walk and talk with my coworker, Rachel. 
  • I am grateful for the sound of joyful cathedral bells serenading my afternoon work. 

How about you? Do you count your blessings instead of sheep? What three things are you grateful for today? 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tired of Technology: Things I Would (and Would NOT) Miss About Our Age of Wonders

P.S. [PRE-Script] I think I get the prize for longest Rockville 8 blog post title. Just sayin'.

So, the other day, I'm sitting down to write. I've got twenty minutes, and I am determined to get words on the page. This time I'm not going to get distracted by Facebook or email or the weather or looking up how to get squirrels out of the attic. I. Am. Going. To. WRITE.

And then my computer tells me this: Installing update 1 of 15. Do not power down or unplug your machine.

Noooooo! Even as I shake my fist and bellow to the heavens, I can't help but notice that the computer didn't say anything about not drop-kicking it into the bathtub. I give this option serious consideration, and then decide that it wouldn't be worth the broken toe that would inevitably result. I hang my head in defeat, and slink out of the room.

At times like these, I seriously feel like I'm done with technology. Like, I don't want to use anything more advanced than a hand-crank pencil sharpener and a - a - well, a pencil. In that noble (if impractical) spirit, here are three things I would NOT miss about technology:

1) Automatic Updates. After my recent fiasco, of course this is at the top of the list. And yes, I know that I can switch the options on my computer so it doesn't automatically update. But (heavy sigh) sadly enough, I never remember that until I get the dreaded message.

2) Advertisements. Of course, ever since Humankind developed communication, we've been trying to sell stuff to each other. As soon as Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, a hundred telemarketers set up shop. But seriously, the overkill of distracting ads calling attention to life's imperfections? "Pill to make you happy!" "Face cream to make you look younger!" "Magical elixir to melt the pounds away!" Yeah, thanks but no thanks, guys. I would not miss that!

3) IT Guys. In this day and age, we couldn't live without them, and I have certainly had my life saved by an assortment of IT personnel over the years. Having said that, I definitely would not miss: the eyeroll ("You clicked what?") , the shudder/sigh ("Ugh."), and the general feeling that I should be sitting in a corner with a dunce cap on instead of working at a computer (which, let's face it, sometimes I should!).

And yet...

And yet, we do live in an age of wonders. Regardless of how frustrating technology may sometimes be, it is a (nearly) indispensable part of modern life. Here are the three things I WOULD miss about technology:

1) Connectivity. Although I sometimes (read: "often") get behind on emails and social media, I love being connected to my family and friends. In the space of a minute, I can easily connect with most of the people that I love. And that's a very good thing!

2) Text messages. This is kind of a corollary of number one. I love the practicality and just plain fun of text messaging with my family. Stuff like coordinating grocery runs, making dinner plans, sharing good news. And during the day, my sister and I often text each other lines from our favorite shows (e.g. "Pink wine makes me slutty." - New Girl. "Lone wolves need other wolves." - Supernatural.) I would soooo miss that!

3) Digital Books and Music. I have a deep and abiding love of paper books. There is nothing to compare with the tactile experience of reading a book printed on paper. But I am addicted to the convenience of digital books. I love, love, love being able to carry around an entire library inside a device that weighs only a few ounces. Oh, and digital music? Come on! I remember carrying a Walkman and two cassette tapes in my purse. Now I have my whole music collection in my phone. In my phone, people! That kind of technology is life-enriching and just plain fun!

So, after careful consideration, I guess the pros of technology outweigh the cons. And although I may moan and complain, I can't deny that I enjoy the fun and convenience of this marvelous age in which we live.

Okay, technology, you win this round. But I'm keeping my eye on you. Don't try any funny stuff!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Retreat!

I’m co-chairing the big annual retreat for my local chapter of RWA this year, and it’s happening next weekend, whether we’re ready or not. Although, just to be clear here, right at this moment, there are no unanswered emails in my inbox so as I write this we AREcurrentlyready.

So, if you’re registered for the retreat, Don’t panic!

As the Geoffrey Rush character in Shakespeare in Love says, when they ask him how it’s all going to work out: “The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

“So what do we do?”

“Nothing,” he says. “Strangely enough it all turns out well.

“How?”

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery!”



Because of all this, though, the word “retreat” in all its various forms has been much on my mind. And I’ve decided to use it.

There’s the zen form of retreat:


But right now, when I look at that lovely istockphoto image, I know deep in my heart that those rocks do not represent zen or a retreat into serenity. Those rocks are fricking weapons… and not for nothing, but I'm pretty sure that says something.

Then there’s the battle form of retreat:


Ah! Now we’re getting closer…

I’ve been living my life for the past few months, telling myself, “After the retreat, things will get back to normal.”

Before the retreat duties picked up, it was, “After the holidays, things will get back to normal.”

Before that, it was, “After the summer, things will get back to normal.”

And when I said “normal” what I meant was “And I will get back to writing.”

I’ve come to understand that will never happen. Life will never be “normal” and I need to write anyway. I need to make writing my normal.

I seem to have been very good at filling my time with writing-related activities. It’s time to start cutting them loose. Start cutting me loose. Because, to paraphrase a famous line, talking about writing is like dancing about architecture…

Time to stop dancing. Time to stop putting “normal” off until after the next big event.

Time to stop. Period.

And my first stop will be to stop blogging with the Rockville 8.

Hopefully they won’t kick me out completely, and if I ever get my zen back and stop wanting to throw rocks, maybe I’ll find my way back to blogging about the writing that I’ll actually be doing. That would be cool.

Right now, I don’t know how that’s going to happen. It’s a mystery!

But I’m hoping it will all turn out well…

Monday, April 6, 2015

Confessions of a Technology Refugee

I have computer burnout. I’m not even talking about writing. Between the day job, receiving endless emails from my daughter’s school to check the website to find some vital piece of information, taking online training classes for a certification I need, and filling out endless forms found on whatever website that keeps my life going, I’ve basically had enough. By the time I actually get to WRITE, which is the one thing I really want to do on the computer, I feel like I can’t sit for another minute in front of a glowing screen.

So, during a trip to Michael’s to get craft supplies for my daughter’s social studies project, I saw it—the answer to my prayers.

The sketch book in the sales bin.

The steampunky cover drew me to it but what I found inside was just what my tired brain needed—blank space and lots of it. Fresh, virgin paper. No visual information staring back at me, nothing to click to distract me from allowing my imagination to run wild.
The Notebook
Notice the papers sticking out.
Even a mystical notebook can't be
everywhere at once
.


I’ve been writing down my story ideas for my newest WIP and plotting in it ever since. I’ve discovered something about myself during this. I need to hand write during my creative process, at least some of the time. Once I have a clear pathway, then the computer is fine.

Turns out others have actually studied this. In “Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing” by Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay 
(DOI: 10.5772/8710), the authors state, “Typically, handwriting is…a slower process than typewriting. …the visual attention of the writer is strongly concentrated during handwriting; the attentional focus of the writer is dedicated to the tip of the pen, while during typewriting the visual attention is detached from… the process of hitting the keys. Hence, typewriting is divided into two distinct…spaces: the motor space (e.g., the keyboard), and the visual space (e.g., the screen).”


What does this mean to a visual person like me? That I want to savor the creative process and slow it down by writing my ideas in a notebook but when I want to get to work before I forget what I was thinking, I grab my computer. Each has its uses. The added bonus is that shaking things up by going back and forth between the two processes keeps my brain percolating new ideas.

The authors also address my ennui with technology. “Writing has always been dependent on technology; indeed, in a very literal sense, writing is technology, for… without the crayon or the stylus or the laptop, writing simply is not possible. From using clay tablets and animal skins via the medieval manuscript and the ancient papyrus roll, to the mechanization of writing with the printing press and the current digitization, writers have always had to handle physical devices and then [apply] these to some substrate. The outcome of the writing process has always relied on the skillful combination of technical/manual skill and intellectual/aesthetic aptitude.”

So, does this mean that the ancients sometimes threw down their papyrus roll and wished for the good old days of the chisel, hammer and cave wall so that they could get in touch with their creative roots?

What methods get your creative ideas flowing?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marching To The Beat Of Your Own Drum by Michelle Monkou

Today's guest blogger is the wickedly talented author, Michelle Monkou. Join us at R8 this week as Michelle talks about Marching to the Beat of Your Own Drum. Welcome, Michelle.



In my college day, I joined the newly formed Drill Team. We marched in formation where uniformity, smooth transitions, difficulty of choreography, body placement and alignment and so much more mattered. If there was going to be a solo performance, the person did her part and then, fit right back into the formation so we could move as one. The performance was a hit when our peers cheered from the bleachers and then offered a rousing ovation at the end.

And that was probably the last time that I participated in anything where I’d been in step with others, matching my movements with the group, and staying in my lane.
One to Love is released April 1, 2015

You see, from the moment that I can remember my parents and teachers reading to me, they unlocked my imagination to release a creative spirit that would no longer be caged. From the childhood books by Enid Blyton that made me want to head off to boarding school for the fun times, or from the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series and creepy Alfred Hitchcock series that made me fall in love with suspenseful tales, or the beginning of my love for romance with my high school consumption of Barbara Cartland’s and Harlequin/Mills and Boon’s books, I devoured story after story because it fed my voracious appetite to jump in and stay a while.

That love for books probably decided my college major in English. I can still remember my passion for the Arthurian legends and talking about them in class. Add Dickens, Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Dante to the mix and my reading palette expanded, soaking it all in. After college, the writing bug hovered and zapped me at the right time with a wonderful infectious desire to start writing my own stories.

Once I carved that outlet for my imagination, I knew that being an author was my passion. While people offered advice about the hardships of writing, the odds of success, the difficulty to making a living from writing, and on and on, I still kept at the dream. I’m not going to bash the messengers for accuracy to some of their messages.  I think it’s always necessary to be aware of the realities. But that’s when the drum beat sounds for only me to hear--a beat in rhythm with my steps, my passion and desire to be a writer.

Going on 13 years from the first book, Open Your Heart, published by BET Books, to my upcoming April release, One to Love, with Harlequin Kimani, I have enjoyed this sometimes solitary, offbeat journey marching to the beat of my own drum.



Michelle Monkou is a multi-published author with over 20 books in print and digital. She began her writing career in 2002 with Black Entertainment Television (BET) Books, Arabesque imprint. She writes contemporary romances, paranormal/urban fantasy, and publishes her backlist and original stories on her independent digital platform, Stella Maris Publishing. Her stories speak to the heart and offer that happy-ever-after ending for the romance fiction reader.

Michelle is also an active participant with romance writers’ advocacy efforts. She served on the boards and as president of Washington Romance Writers as well as president of the 10,000-member Romance Writers of America organization. She’s a weekly contributor on USA TODAY’s Happy Ever After Blog providing commentary on romance fiction.

She resides in Maryland writing many more stories to fill the hands and e-readers of romantic bookaholics. Michelle's One to Love is available for purchase this week. Preorder your copy now and catch Michelle's fabulous other titles if you're looking for your next great romance novel to read. 

Find Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleMonkou and on Facebook or visit her at her website to find out about her latest releases.