Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Quote: Benjamin Franklin

“He that can have patience can have what he will.”~ Benjamin Franklin

This one speaks to my number one flaw: impatience. I actually have very little patience. I can't stand lines or big crowds. I can't stand to wait for anything. I even had to battle impatience in my writing. I would rush through scenes to get to what I wanted. I even ended my first novel early because I was ready for it to end. There's no wonder why it was never published...and didn't even get over 100 pages. People ask why I don't drink coffee. I can only imagine how much more antsy I would be on caffeine.

I like this quote because it is a reminder that patience is truly a virtue. I need to be more patient with my life. I need to be patient with people and events. I need to be patient with goals and stories. I just need to be patient. I need to slow my life and allow things to take their natural course. As I tell my students from time to time: breathe. Relax. And don't worry so much.

Happy Monday, everyone. Are you ready for the New Year?

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Three Successes this Year to Welcome the New Year

It is crazy for me to think that this time next week we will be in a new year. I love to close a year by reflecting on goals set at the beginning and establishing new ones. This is the first year my goals changed in the middle of the year…therefore I accomplished little of what I had originally intended. And yet, I count that as a success. I flexibility in goal setting is important. So, here are three successes in my writing career this year.
1. Independent decisions: I have been listening to the debate and analysis between traditionally published and independently published, both sides projecting a sort of doomsday analysis of the other. But, by the end of the year I finally decided to take the plunge. I am in the process of leaving my current publisher, which means my books may be unavailable for a short time in 2014. But, I see this as closing a big chapter in my life. It is one that I have mixed feelings about. Could I have gone a different way, maybe. But, who’s to say that would have been better? No, I do not regret the chapter I ended. I have learned a lot. But I am ready to take this new adventure and see where it leads. Hope and possibilities are etching my horizon and I am both excited and scared. 

2. I am still learning and growing as a writer: I finished my second Odyssey online writing class at the beginning of the year. All of the classes and books I encountered this year have made me aware of the aspects of what makes a book great. I understand my craft better and therefore I am able to be a better writer. I am thankful for Odyssey program and strongly recommend it to any who wants an honest analysis of their writing. I am bummed I can’t do the class again in 2014, but that doesn’t mean I can’t grow. I will always search for ways to improve and be better. And, more importantly, I wish I never get to the point where I have “maxed out” and cannot grow anymore. 

3. I have been blogging regularly for a year and a half: what?? How did that happen? I once told my family that I couldn’t do a blog because I had nothing interesting to say. I still debate the “interesting” part, but I have been doing this blog for a year and a half, more than once a week for a year now. Sure, I went from five days to three, but I still view it as a success. I thank everyone who takes the time to read my thoughts and I hope you find some sort of enrichment. 

So, here’s to 2013. It was not the best of years, but also not the worst. And here’s to the opportunities to come in 2014. Life is what we make it, and the sky is not nearly the limit!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

In honor of the holiday, I'm skipping my post today. But, I will leave you with pictures of one of the things I love most about what my city does: Santa's in the park! A bunch of artists painted these Santa's as a charity project. Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you all have a blessed day, even if you are not celebrating this particular holiday. :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Quote: Bette Midler

“If only I'd known my differentness would be an asset, then my earlier life would have been much easier.”~ Bette Midler

I love this quote probably for obvious reasons. I think I've said, growing up I was always different. I interpreted stories different in school. I was interested in things that my peers were not. I was always somewhat of an odd ball. As a teenager, I felt almost ashamed of this. I hid the fact that I loved to write from my peers. In high school I wanted to be invisible, fearing rejection.

I wish I had this quote. I wish I could go back to that insecure girl and tell her what she will become. That her differences are what makes her special. That I would never trade those differences, not for all the missed heartache. Life may not be perfect. I may not be perfect. But my differences do not set me back. I do not have to overcome them. They make me excel. They make me happy. They make me who I am, and I would never change that. Life certainly would have been a lot easier if I had known and accepted that growing up.

Christmas is almost here! Are you ready??

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Where is the Christmas Spirt All Year Long?

It seems like I have been talking a lot about the “Christmas Spirit” this month. It comes honestly. December is full of stories that discuss this concept. In fact, one of my favorite movies, “Elf,” discusses the idea of Santa’s sleigh losing power due to a lack of Christmas spirit. But, what does that even mean? And why is it only in Christmas stories? 

I tried to think of the stories and movies I have read regarding Christmas. Regardless of whether they are about visiting family, getting the newest toy, protecting the house from thieves, revisiting past and present and future actions, or wandering the streets of NY for the first time, they all have the same theme: selflessness. So, maybe the “spirit of Christmas” is a lack of selfish thinking. It is a time when we are supposed to put other’s wishes above our own. Don’t people say the season is about giving and not receiving? Okay, now that we’ve defined it, let’s move on to my next question….why is it predominantly only in Christmas stories?

I found a quote along these lines by Bob Hope that was too big for my Twitter account: "My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” I was marveling at the television shows I’ve been watching lately. Most of them have love triangles with characters changing who they say “I love you” to almost every season…if not more than once in a season. I also find my books behave in a similarly selfish fashion. They are about people attacking their own goals and putting their own needs above their own. Just stop and think of books you read this year and I’m sure you can think of more than one that fit this description. 

So why do we have to do a “Christmas” story to discuss this?…or a Hallmark movie, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I can name quite a few where characters think of others before themselves…even to a fault. I guess my disappointment is the exchange between these stories and those that go for edgy in exchange of plot. So, my desire for 2014 is to find more books that showcase the best aspects of human nature. The world is a rotten place, but there is a lot of good in it still. I’m tired of doomsday reporting and arguing. I want my books to make me love life again in 2014.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from Maya Angelou…and yes, I know it is a stretch to say it was related to this post, but I love it way too much not to share: “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Less than a week left till Christmas. Are you ready??

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to Save time During the Holidays

My least productive month for writing has to be November and December. I think I have already discussed that I hate writing in the winter, which is weird because I love the winter. While there are other constrictions, the biggest hindrances are the holidays. I love them. Family, food, gifts, guilt-free goodies. What is there to dislike? But, the limited time I have gets taken up by baking, then Christmas parties and shopping and more baking. Just when I think it’s over, there’s New Year’s parties and football. So, where’s the writing? I’m not sure because I have been failing to find the time.

Taken from Microsoft Clipart
I went about looking for time-saving ideas online. I actually started laughing because it was as contradictory as writing advice. I find that refreshing, but that could just be me. Anyway, some said to procrastinate and others said not to—the one for it had a valid point but was still probably a little misguided. One said to learn to multitask, and another stated people are 40% less productive if they multitask. One article said to accept the fact that not everything will get done. I don’t know what world that author lives in, but it is not mine—although a care-free life is more and more appealing to me right now.

I decided to really think about all this and come up with a list of my own four things.

1. Disconnect. This particular one was referring to disconnecting from technology since it is way too much of a distraction and stress creator. I wanted to mesh this with the idea of time. I used to lug my huge laptop around everywhere just in case I had time to write. Then I had to plug it in and boot it up. By then, I’ve wasted quite a bit of time. So, disconnect from technology. Carry a notebook and jot down scenes while you wait in lines or whatever. Small moments can add up. You can type them later, but I bet that will still save time in the long run…and at least it’s productive.

2.  Make a schedule. I like this one…probably because I am super organized and schedule oriented. But I think it has value. Set time for things and schedule it in. I normally wake up early to write. Unless it’s dark and cold…then the snooze button is way too appealing and my bed way too warm and inviting.

3. Listen to books on tape while cooking. I loved this advice, especially because then the “reading” time can become “writing” time later.

4. Breathe. I actually like one of the advices along this line…although it doesn’t help save time as much as mental status. Just breathe and know things will happen. Set priorities and relax. I always need to remind myself of that.

As the holidays approach at warp speed, stay sane. And feel free to share any time-saving advice of your own. I need all the help I can get!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday's Quote: Ernest Hemingway

"There is no friend as loyal as a book."~ Ernest Hemingway

This quote speaks to me on a personal level. When I was in the 6th grade, I lost every single friend I had. I have come to realize the event was a power play amongst girls, who can sometimes be the worst humans when in teenage form--not so much sugar and spice and everything nice. I have also come to cherish the event. In all honesty, I probably would not have become a writer if it weren't for that event. It defined me, but also allowed me the option to look at myself and not worry about pleasing the "popular" opinion. That is the best blessing I could have asked for...even if I would never wish to repeat it.

This quote was the most liked on my Facebook page, which causes me to wonder if others have had the same experience. People let us down. They abandon us. They betray us. There is safety in books. But there is no interaction. I think books can sometimes be too comfortable. I see people hiding in them, not wanting to experience life. So, while books are loyal and always there for us, we also must remember to seek real experiences...even if they can be unpleasant at times.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Three Reasons to Attend Writer's Conferences

Recently, I have been hearing a lot about new writer’s conferences happening around the country. I haven’t been to a conference in about three years, choosing instead to do online writing classes. As I see organizations gearing up for 2014, I have thought about three reasons why I think attending writers conferences are well worth the cost. 
1. This one is probably the most obvious: they are great places to network. Most good conference allows authors to mingle with agents and editors. Let’s face it, most of the time an agent or editor is just a name on a form; someone we have never met but hope to wow in our one page query letter. Attending conferences was the only way I really started to see editors and agents interact. I could see their personalities as well as view the business from their perspective. That, in turn, helped me understand what I was getting myself into…well, at least a little.
2. It rejuvenates depleted energies. I have heard it time and time again. Writing is a solitary, lonely profession. It seems like a simple concept, and yet it is one that I sometimes forget. I was just asking myself the other day why I felt so depressed and gloomy. Then I remembered. Oh, yeah, I’ve interacted more with characters than humans recently. It’s good not only to get out, but also to interact with other writers. As a teenager, I was insecure about myself. I was weird…probably still am. But, when I got into a room full of writers, I realized everyone else was “weird,” too. We could laugh about it together. But, more importantly, we can be reminded why we love the profession. I think that is still true. My readers are fun to interact with, but writers are just different. We speak the same, bordering-schizophrenic language and that’s exciting.
3.  There is always something to learn. After a while, the cannon does repeat itself. There are only so many words that can be said on character development or plot structure. Even the conversation about types of publishing and how to sell oneself tends to move in a circular fashion after a while. I remember telling a good friend that I had “outgrown” a particular conference. I tried a few more and then finally came back to the original conference. So, if you feel in a rut, try something new. Each program will have a different theme (one was writing sucks, we suffer and then die, but, hey, I did take away valuable tips on writing style). Keep changing, but don’t stop going. There is always something to learn. The moment there isn’t, it’s time to leave and try something else. 
So, there’s my list. There are plenty more reasons, but these are the top. So, I hope you find a great conference in your area. My favorite so far is the Tony Hillerman writer's conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What about you? What ones did you love since I will need one next year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Two Favorite Christmas Characters

There are two characters that I love the most from Christmas-themed stories. The first comes from a book, although I’ve only seen the play, and the second comes from a movie. 

. Scrooge: I think love this character because I relate to him in so many ways. First, I am very grouchy toward people who begin to celebrate Christmas before Thanksgiving is finished. Second, I am not a very patient person and the holidays always test that patience. There are long lines. There are more people in the stores. The lights I’m trying to string up do not turn on when plugged in. The gutter hooks are on backwards which means the light string does not line the house in the manner I was attempting. The Christmas Tree branches are bending in weird directions and look a little more like “Nightmare Before Christmas” rather than “Miracle on 32nd Street.” All of this requires patience that I just don’t have. And yet I participate like everyone else because I do enjoy the season. 
I also like scrooge because he is the representation of a changed man. He starts the story so horrible as a human being. Then he begins his moments of reflections. I would venture to say this story is the first paranormal literature…the man talks to ghosts. Anyway, he soon finds the error of his ways and changes. That is the story on a simplistic level. But I also equate it to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” We see Scrooge in his “original” world. He crosses through his passages into the “new worlds” and must battle through the gatekeepers (the 3 ghosts) to progress through his journey. In the end his character “dies” and is reborn back into the original world a new person. I love the hero’s journey in any of its forms, so there is no surprise why I love this story as well. 
2. Buddy the Elf: I know, I know I go from classic to goofy. But that’s how I roll. There are a few reasons why I love this character. The first is because he is the symbol of child innocence wrapped in a man’s body. While this is funny, it is also nice. One of the “rites of passage,” so to speak, into adulthood is a loss of innocence. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was not true? However, I also like this character because he embodies the Christmas spirit. He lives to make people happy, make them laugh, and sing merrily. He isn’t plagued by self-doubt or social taboo. He isn’t concerned with getting the best/most expensive gift. He is content and happy with himself. If only we all can be like that.
So, there you have it, my list of the top two favorite holiday characters. What are yours?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday's Quote: George Bernard Shaw

“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”~ George Bernard Shaw

I had a conversation the other day with a gentleman who was claiming that many people do not live up to their true potential. His argument is that people don't take the time to figure out what their passions and talents are. They also don't look into what jobs would foster these aspects. The argument was appealing...the "secret of a happy life" type of discussion.

When I read this quote, I thought of him. I know I live with a slight fear that I am not living the life I was meant to. I question my choices in life, hoping I am making the "right" decisions. I think Shaw has it right, though. There is not some secret path that we have to find. Life is not a board game. It is about creating yourself. The world is open and I can be whoever I want to be. That is a nice thought.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

My Favorite Modern Christmas Novel

I find it interesting that Christmas has the most “holiday specials” on television than all other events, however, I can only think of a couple Christmas books that are centered on Christmas. I imagine this would have more to do with the publishing industry versus the production industry. It would be tough to get a book published on the holiday, and then the sell time would be shortened as well. Not many want to read about Christmas in the middle of July. But there are a few Christmas stories…mostly plays…but they are the “classics.”

So I thought I’d take a moment to highlight one of my favorite Christmas stories from the more modern era. I read this one in middle school when I was really into Mary Higgins Clark. The title is All Through the Night. Clark somehow captures the Christmas spirit in a mystery/suspense novel. I think the reason for that is because the mystery revolves around reuniting an abandoned child with her mother…and the mother is not some druggie who didn’t want her. Clark combines the power of family with the spirit of Christmas, which is pretty interesting. The second thing that gives me “warm” Christmas feelings while reading are the festive scenes that surround the story. It opens with one of the main characters trying to learn to play “All Through the Night” on the piano, the child is involved in a Christmas pageant, and the ending scene that takes place at Carnegie Hall. 

I think writers can learn a lot from Christmas stories. Think of any movie or TV presentation. If it’s not a satire in which Santa is filthy with a sailor’s mouth, then there are two common aspects. One: the setting has to be related to Christmas. There can’t just be twinkling lights in the background. There has to be Christmas music. It would be good if there were a pageant or concert. Festivities need to be in the air in order for it to capture the magic of Christmas. The second thing they all have in common is that most are character pieces. Even in Clark’s novel, what drives the story is not necessarily reuniting mother and child (the symbolism even there is Christmas themed). It is the characters that drive the story. We care for them. We want to see the reunion because we sympathize. 

Christmas stories highlight the power a story can possess when character and setting align. This shouldn’t be a story where Christmas decorations can be exchanged for Halloween. The setting has to be a part of the story. And I have to care about the characters. I don’t care about a woman who abandons her child…unless she had a very compelling reason. Then I do care and I want them reunited. Sure, there are different “writerly” aspects to a story, but when an author really links the setting and characters with the plot…that’s when magic happens. 

Do you have a favorite Christmas novel?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Can Books Define Us?

It is funny how life seems to synchronize sometimes. Over the past week, I have come across the same idea. It started with Christmas decorations. My favorite holiday is actually Thanksgiving, but I have more decorations for Christmas. In fact, my house looks a little bit like Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicholas threw up in it. Yet, I can’t help but get into the spirit of the season as I decorate my Christmas tree. It takes me back to childhood.

Anyway, as I was decorating my tree, I began to see myself in the ornaments. This idea was compounded by my city’s charity event. Every year, clubs and organizations build themed Christmas trees. The one that I found funny was a Duck Dynasty theme—I immediately thought of my brother. How much of your tree reflects who you are? Mine are all teacher, dachshund, or Christian related. Since most are gifts, I find it interesting none are writer related, but those would complete a Christmas tree that accurately reflects the main aspects of my life. 

Now for the symmetry…all last week people were posting “cards” on Facebook that discussed their “true love” being someone who reads the same books. I have come to understand that I have a “thinking” nature, so by the time I made the Christmas tree revelation I started to question the books I read. If someone looked at the books on my bookshelf, could they define who I am as a person? It’s an interesting concept. I think if it had merit that dating services would somehow be connected to online bookshelves like goodreads or shelfari. Or, better yet, that dating services would invade these places. Soon, I’ll sign into my accounts and see the advertisements proclaiming “find single readers in your area!”

I like to think I am open-minded, but I have had a few people recommend books to me. If they are “acquaintances,” I find their recommendations are not very “good.” I also have found the personalities of my friend recommending the book within the text. So, when I give a 5 star review, what I’m really saying is this book is totally me. Interesting thought.

Here’s one last one, which might be one too many for this Wednesday morning. Can this analysis extend to the books I write? Are they simply 400 pages of my own philosophies and beliefs? Again, can someone understand who I am by reading my characters? The idea was strengthened as I plan for my next novel. I actually told a friend I needed to research because the character is nothing like me (I was condemned to a happy childhood). 

I think everything we do are expressions of ourselves. Others simply need to notice them. I can also use that to understand the people around me more—and in the spirit of the season find wonderful Christmas gifts! Or maybe my academic background has sent me on an overly analytic thought process.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday's Quote: Albert Camus

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."~ Albert Camus

I tend to be a pretty negative person. I think it comes from two factors: One, I over-pressure myself to set/achieve goals. Two, I am a complete perfectionist and expect others to be as well. I discovered a few years ago that this negativity and disappointment was slowly eating away at me. I was living my life, but not enjoying it. As a child, I remember participating in Oprah's gratitude journal. The practice was to write three things I was grateful for every day. I made another rule--because that's what I do--that I could not repeat the gratitude for at least a week. That way, I really had to look at the small things in life. It transformed the way I saw the least while I participated.

I am no longer doing that, but have rested on my faith and mindset. I try--although fail on some days--to find the light in my days. I love this quote because it reminds me that, even when everything may be dark and dreary in my life, I have so many things to appreciate. I am a lucky girl and I have to remember the blessings. I have to enjoy the sunrise instead of letting it happen unnoticed. I have to take a moment to breathe instead of focusing on the fast-lane drive toward the "pursuit of happiness." I have to remember that the day is dreary only if I let it be. Because I am in control of my outlook. Inside of me lies an invincible summer.

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