Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Starting with a Clean Desk

I'm not good at change. Seriously. After all of the military moves into brand new unknown places, new houses/apartments, even new weather patterns over 20 years, I'm still not good at change. Even planning a two week trip is emotionally strenuous.

So, when it's time to change my work space, specifically the desk I've used for the past 10 years since we moved in here, my emotions act like the flipping world is ending. Okay, slight exaggeration.

And it's not really the desk. The desk was a trigger for the bigger things that are changing, for much bigger uncertainties. But that's how it works. It may seem like a really little thing sets people off and leaves others looking at them as though wondering what demonic spirit suddenly crept into their otherwise pretty normal demeanor. It's never actually that little thing. It's always something bigger, something deeper, something possibly unsaid, pushed aside. Maybe it's even something we didn't know was bothering us so much until the trigger happens.

The thing is, if you face that trigger, go ahead and clean off all of the piles of to-do stuff, to-save for later stuff, unmarked CDs that might have something important on them, the menagerie of writing utensils, bits of small pieces of papers with quotes written on them, or story thoughts, or music you want to look up, the drawings a sweet little one brings in while you're trying to work that get set on a pile somewhere, the coins scattered here and there for some odd reason, paper clips, receipts that should have been tossed forever ago... and the dust, of course ... if you go ahead and face it, clear it off, put it away, that emotional response turns from a trigger into an inspiration.

It'll be fine. It'll work out. Clear away the old dust and such, take the plunge, and the blank slate on which you can start again will feel far more manageable than your beloved mess of comfort. The fear of the task is almost always worse than the outcome. Sure, there is still an adjustment period. One desk is absolutely not like another desk. They all have their good and bad points, their design issues that have to be worked around. Still, there is the clean slate. The new start.

It's tough to consider. It's tough to get started. But forging on through it feels better than running from it or pretending it's not there.

My desk is only one small piece of the to-redo and reorganize and purge pie that is about to come. A big task lies ahead. But the image of the cleared off space makes it feel worth the effort.

So fine, the world is not going to end because I update my desk. Or because I get rid of stuff sitting around here for no real reason other than that change is hard and letting go is hard. Really, it's not. Stuff is stuff, and stuff constantly changes. It's fine. It's not easy, but it's fine.

Here's hoping you can find the courage to clear some of the decks that are holding your ship down farther into the depths than it needs to be. If this pack-rat "don't change anything!" mass of anxiety can live through it, I imagine most anyone can.

Thanks for still being here through my "write a post as it comes to you" off and on blog adventure. And remember, knowing the rules (such as "you must write a post every week to keep your audience") is a good thing, but so is knowing when to break them. Nah, you don't have to. You have to do it the way it works for you, whatever "it" happens to be. Some will stay, some will go. It's all fine.

I'm wishing everyone who stops in here, and everyone who doesn't, a very nice, creative, warm 2018.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fantastical and True

"Production was moved to Mexico City as New York City union regulations wouldn't allow Chagall to paint his own sets. In Mexico, Chagall tackled the backdrops while his wife worked on the costumes, which he finished with hand-painting." 

Few, if any, true artists are only good at one kind of art. Many writers also paint or sew. Many dancers also write. Several big name singers are known for their painting and photography. It's an artistic nature that longs for creativity, usually in may forms.

While I'm not a big Marc Chagall fan (I lean far more toward realism in my arts preferences), I can appreciate that he cared so much about doing his own backgrounds for his ballet concepts that he moved his show to where he could design it as he wished. It was definitely New York's loss. The quote says his wife worked on costumes, but Chagall did much of that himself, even playing with different fabrics and layering techniques in order to get the looks that were in his head. When artists are allowed free rein, they can do some incredible and widely varied pieces/productions, making it more truly self-representative.

Which leads me to indie authors.

Every time I turn around, I hear "indie authors Must, capital M, hire someone to do their cover art and they Must hire someone to edit if they want to be deemed professional!"

I understand no artist can do every different art in a professional manner. I get it. Many writers do full well need to hire out cover work to avoid a reader/critic looking at it and thinking "amateur Photoshop job" which leads to not even bothering to go farther. I've done that myself with books. Yes, once a reader has "unprofessional" in her head, it floods over the whole work, fair or not, true or not. However, some of us writers are also art trained and/or design trained and the never do it yourself rule doesn't apply. Get opinions, of course. Always get opinions, no matter how professional you think you are.

And yes, we all need someone else to read our work to catch things we can't catch because we're too close to the story. Does that mean we have to pay $1-2 per page for a "professional" editor? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we have dear family members and friends who are actually good at catching the "that doesn't make sense" lines and story arcs as well as typos. And maybe, just maybe, after someone catches those story arc and awkward sentence issues, some of us can go back through subjectively and carefully enough and are familiar enough with spelling and grammar rules to do our own copy-editing. Yes, some of us can, just as Chagall aptly designed costumes as well as painting his own backdrops and working on choreography for the dances.

Rules often go way too far. We have to know when to listen and when to move somewhere else to stay on our own path, figuratively, or literally if it calls for that.

Yes, many artists are fantastically multi-talented. In this day of the Big 5 publishers where a children's author cannot, with few exceptions, also illustrate her own books regardless of how skilled she may be at getting the images she sees for her stories onto paper, when the Must Nots gladly curtail the creative process due to bookkeeping issues, when the slush pile reader hired by the pubs toss aside beautiful books because he doesn't like the main character's name, being the same as an ex he is still angry with (yes, it happens), when a writer Must have an agent to submit a book to one of those big guys and agents only accept what's "in" right now, and if accepted, that publishing date can be 2-10 years in the future, or held and not published (also happens), the fantastical authors can easily be left behind.

This is why I self-published. This is why so many of us, to include those who have been previously or are still traditionally published, some by the big guys, are moving into self-publishing. It's not a last resort because everyone said no thanks. It's a freedom of choice and self-expression thing.

I have nothing against traditional publishing. I have a novella contracted and published and I may give that another try. Sometimes that works great. Sometimes it doesn't. If that works for an author, wonderful! If it doesn't work due to creative differences, try the other path.

[Be careful, though, about following too many rules now established for that other path, indie publishing, It's come into its own by now, which means many self-titled experts have jumped onto the Musts for Indies thing, since the Musts are everywhere. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're right for some authors but not for every author. As an indie, it's up to you. Never forget that part of being indie.]

The truth is that some of us need paid help and some don't. Some of us can do better covers than many of the self-titled "experts." Some of us write so far outside the mainstream that self-pub is our only option. Some of us can out-write the "big" name bestsellers with no real struggle and are still mostly unknown because we don't have the "big name pub and big money" backing us.

Some of us simply must move to where we can fulfill our own visions without the gate keepers putting up, well, gates.

It is not the easier path. Most of us do most of the editing/publishing/marketing duties solely on our own, to include building and maintaining our websites and blogs and social media accounts, buying our ISBNs, doing research into which printing/distribution companies are likely to be best for our needs, uploading our books and covers per specs, and keeping up with industry info. It's a huge multi-tasking job. It's time-consuming. It's brain-tiring. It's frustrating. It often seems completely unproductive. But we do it for love. We love writing. We love our stories, our characters. We have things to say that might not fit the current "you must say this" standard.

It's only passion that keeps us running, as most of us pay very few bills with this thing that takes so, so much of our time as we work it around kids, jobs, spouses, houses, injuries, health concerns, sleep... you name it. It's tough. It takes courage. But it's a must.

"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."

Albert Camus

While you're checking books off your shopping list, maybe try one of these intrepid indies along with the big names. They should all have excerpts available, usually on their websites where you can also learn more about them. To make it easier, I'll invite those I know to share their own links plus links to their favorite indie authors in the comments.

Indie authors only here, please. I'll do a separate post for small press authors.

"To encourage Literature and Arts is a duty every good citizen owes his country."

George Washington


Quote: Inside The Fantastical Costume World of Marc Chagall

Image: The Making of Markova

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The hardest part...

"The hardest part about writing a novel is finishing it."

Writing a well-constructed novel is much like putting a river-spanning bridge together. If you miss a piece, your reader is likely to slip through your grasp and be disconnected from your virtual world.

It can be hard for an author to know when we've missed a pertinent piece since we know the story backward and forward. The piece is already in our head. We know where and how it fits. Translating it is the problem. Since readers can't see inside our heads, we have to be sure to get it in words.

I always get somewhat nervous about writing The End (figuratively). Did I get everything in that needs to be there? Do I have extraneous stuff I should take out so I don't take more of the reader's time than needed? The big trick is not stopping too soon, but also stopping soon enough.

It's the same as with painting. Recently, I've gone back to my art. I've never done a lot of painting; mainly I've worked with pencil and charcoal. So while I'm not a novice artist, exactly, I'm a fairly novice painter. While I worked on my latest piece, I could feel the similarities with the way I build a story.

1) Get the basics down.

a) With painting, that means put a rough sketch on the canvas so I know where I'm heading.

b) With writing, that means get the first rough draft of a story on paper.

2) Research details.

a) Since I was painting a fence with Black-Eyed Susans, even though I know generally what they look like as seen from a road, I looked them up to find the detail I needed to make them realistic.

b) My current WIP (work in progress) is set in Williamstown, WV, so I did internet and in-person research to make sure my characters were living in a realistic setting.

3) Add in the bulk.

a) The next step in the painting was to build up the background by adding the main parts: the sky and the grass behind the flowers, the basic brown of the wood fence, the basic green and yellow of the flowers.

b) In the story, this step means filling in some backstory, adding personalized character traits, building up secondary characters, and plenty of note-taking/outlining to be sure it's still heading in a particular direction.

In Progress. ©LK Hunsaker. All Rights Reserved

4. Fill in the little extras that make it pop.

a) After I got the canvas filled in so I had a viable painting of Black Eyed Susans and a natural log fence (that transformed itself from the flat boards I planned to full round logs as I painted), I knew it wasn't done. It needed more pop. More variation. More color. So, I decided to add some purple flowers around the bottom. After adding those, I also added a few aqua straggler flowers meant to look like they decided to join the crowd unplanned. This added a fullness/completeness to the canvas.

b) After I had the WIP fleshed out, it was time to read back through to try to eye it as a reader would and pick up on inconsistencies and missing pieces. It also meant changing sentence structures for better impact and clearing out too many repeated words and present participles (one of my personal writing things to watch) in order to help the flow.

5. The big finale

a) With this painting, I kept eyeing it thinking it wasn't quite right. It was a bit too cartoonish and not quite realistic enough. Finally, it struck me that I was missing the highlights. Yes, Black Eyed Susans are yellow and the shading helps to define their shape, but in the sunlight, parts of the petals appear more white than yellow. Ah. So I added highlights and voilá, more reality. While the painting is no Van Gogh or Monet, I'm happy with it as a good slightly-more-than-amateur effort. It's pretty enough to enjoy.

b) With the WIP, I also kept thinking it wasn't quite right, even if I had hit "the end" and sent it out to a few beta readers. Something about it bothered me and so I couldn't release it. It sat for a while as I did other things, such as work on the painting, and then it came to me. The solution was similar, but far more complicated to fix. It ended too soon. As with a painting, you can't go on too long, but you can't cut it too short, either. You have to have those highlights. And so, the WIP went back to step #3 for a rework. It ended too fast, was resolved too quickly, and it wouldn't have. The story needed a somewhat bigger canvas.

The hardest part of art is knowing when to keep going and when to stop and say The End. Only the viewer/reader can truly say whether that happened at just the right point.

For the creator, it's truly subjective since we can see where we were trying to go whether or not it got where we intended. Once it has a life of its own, the impact it creates is far beyond our control. That's not an easy thing, either, but that's another story.

For a final image of the WIP, check out Shadows of Rust & Reels by Ella M. Kaye once it's published. It's part of the Artists & Cottages series.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Up and Away

Sketch in progress for the next Thoughts & Sketches journal:
Music & Motion
I don't know how others can make and stick to a regular schedule. Honestly, I don't. Stuff happens. Constantly. Unexpectedly. It just happens. Yes, you can often plow through the stuff and just stay on that schedule, and often I do, but often I don't. I get waylaid.

My every weekend blog posts were going along swimmingly and then ... stuff happened. So I'm late. Two weeks late. Ah well, everyone has other things to do and I don't imagine anyone noticed too much.

Last weekend it was a nasty virus. Now, I generally work through viruses. I'd hardly get anything done if I didn't. But this one even knocked hardy hubby off his feet for a couple of days, so it's no surprise I'm on Day 11 of this thing or that my knocked off my feet days were last weekend and I didn't even think about a blog post. Couldn't get my head together that much. What's past is past. We just keep moving along.

And I'm rambling because I don't have a valid topic for this weekend's post, either.

The weekend before ... well, we had to put my puppy down to stop his suffering. Not actually a puppy, Axel was about 10 years old. It's hard to know for sure since he was a shelter dog. They said he was two years old when I contacted them about wanting an easy-going lab mix good with kids, partly as a companion for our then two-year-old female lab that hates to be alone. He was pretty puppy-ish, so he was likely about the age they said. They'd also said he hadn't been abused, because I'm wary of bringing an abused animal into a household with children. I know that's not true by the way he used to duck when we picked up a stick for fetch. He didn't fetch. He ducked. At first.

It took him some time to realize he was quite safe and he stopped being so guardian about his food after a while, also. He'd known too much starvation before the shelter took him in, so much so he'd lost most of his hair. It had come back in fairly well under their care. Sadly, they were just about to put him down at the time I called because they couldn't house train him at all and no one wanted him.

I wanted him the moment I saw him, but they hesitated about letting him be an outside dog (although he already had been) until they came to see the shelter we had up and the big fenced yard where he could run. It was either let us have him or put him down. Easy option once she came over and met our other puppy and saw the accommodations.

We added glucosamine to his diet to fix a limp and his hair was very soon bright and shiny and thick again. He learned not to duck when a man approached or when someone picked up a stick or when we threw a rock for our lab. His favorite trick was to raise his front paw as though shaking hands when trying to get my attention. He was my puppy; he firmly attached himself to me, although that hadn't really been the plan. He never did fetch. He looked at us like, Really? Why? Our lab, on the other hand, only fetches rocks. Why? I have no idea.

I always expected because of his rough start, his wouldn't be a terribly long life. He developed a very fast-growing tumor on his head all of a sudden and then showed signs of pain and rapid slow-down. You know when a dog looks at you a certain way, it's time to let them go. So I let him go. When I said goodbye to him, he looked at me and raised his paw, and then turned away. He knew.

I'm sure there are plenty of people shaking their heads at the idea of having outdoor only dogs, but you know what? That's ridiculous. Full size dogs are well equipped and often much happier outside as long as they have shelter and can run. He was a happy dog, and healthy other than what someone else did. Shelters would have a better time helping animals find good homes if they would consider the circumstances, breed, and temperaments of each animal rather than sticking to a "no adoptions for outdoor dogs" rule. Is it better to make them live their lives in a shelter or to just put them down than to allow them a happy home and companionship? Not hardly.

If Axel could have answered that question, I bet he would have agreed with me.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Flitting and Waiting

As I watch my 2- and 3-year-old grandchildren play, I marvel at their differences. They are opposites in many ways and yet each represent their own parent well and still show sides of their parent's sibling. They're quite the mix and match of my own babies. (Of course they each have traits of their other parent, as well, but I saw my babies grow up and naturally find it easier to pick up on what I remember.)

The elder toddler by 3 months is like his mom now: matter-of-fact and highly organized, he puts one thing away before he moves on to something else, after playing with that one thing for some time. He likes to line up his toys in lines or recently in circles, enjoying the design of it, the orderliness and heaven forbid anything interfere with his planned order. Like his uncle, when he focuses on something, he is intently focused on it. Also like his uncle, he's socially wary and watchful but very kind-hearted and sweet-natured. He appreciates and welcomes help when he wants to do something that isn't quite working out.

The other one is like her dad in that she's very artsy and musical. She's also like her aunt and her dad both as young children, swirling about from one thing to another and back and forth, leaving a wake in her trail of blocks and crayons and puzzle pieces she likes to dump but not put together and she's always moving on to the next thing. Now and then something will catch and hold her attention and heaven forbid you take her away from it. Like her aunt as a child, she loves people and talks to everyone, whether or not they're willing to talk. She will give them "that look" if they ignore her. Also like her aunt, she is very much I Can Do It Myself (which she calls "me-self" currently).

It's interesting to watch them develop their innate personalities regardless of what goes on around them. The world can do as it wishes, and their parents can guide them, but they are who they are and they know inside this is perfectly okay.

I see myself in both little ones. I want things as they are supposed to be, in order and organized, and I don't appreciate anyone else interfering with the way I have things, but this often doesn't come out externally since I also jump from interest to interest and disorder naturally follows, which drives me nuts, but it doesn't change, no matter how I try.

Some things just are as they are and it's okay.

The photo above is my newest project, or newest part of a new project, a series of yellow flower based paintings on 8 x 10 canvas. I'm far better at drawing than at painting because I've done far more of it, but I've had the urge to paint lately, in between my urge to work on clay, so although I have one yellow flower painting in progress already, partly painted and waiting, I had to sketch this one because I saw the idea for it and wanted it in progress. Eventually, I'll add paint. For now, it waits because this weekend, I'm back to the rewrite of the novel that was "done" other than edits which is now getting a makeover with a changed, expanded ending. I also have the next Thoughts & Sketches journal underway that I work on when I feel like it.

In retrospect, that novel in progress needed to wait a bit. Ideas from day to day life and inspirations have infiltrated the story and by now I realize it wouldn't have been right if I'd pushed to just get it done. You have to listen to your instincts. It wasn't ready, so it had to sit and wait while I flitted around with other things.

Sometimes you have to Do It and get it done and other times you need to sit back and wait. Some call it procrastination. I call it all in due time.

Those two little toddlers are exactly right. They are perfect just as they are and I hope they can hold onto that belief regardless of what the world tries to tell them. Grandma will be standing by ready to argue back with the world.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Sale After The Big Day

⇐ Hey, I'd be just as happy with it for 50% off. Who doesn't love a good deal?

AKA I didn't do the Valentine's Day Romance Books push this year. I'm not sure I've ever bothered, actually. Probably, I have. After all, I've been at this a while.

I'm not a big Valentine's Day fan. It's fine. I don't mind it at all and I'm glad people, at least some people, have a lot of fun with it, but it's personally not a big deal. (That doesn't mean I'm not enjoying my dark chocolates with no creme fillings from our local independent candy store. I am, trust me. But I wouldn't have held it against my husband for not doing so. He does plenty on other days without being told to do so by a calendar.)

Anyway, I write romance, kind of. Not what many would call romance since it's not genre fitting. It's lit fic meshed romantic artsy love stories with up endings. Women's fiction, more or less but not precisely.

It is relationship based, but even action adventures feature romance in some way.

Since I buck the trend in my writing, I figure I can do the same with the whole Love For Sale thing.

I have a good stock of print books sitting on my shelves (and in boxes) and they're not doing any good sitting around here. So, an after Valentine's Day romantic literary women's relationship books sale. In print. (My ebooks are already marked as low as makes any sense. My prints are in line with bookstore prices, but when I order bulk, I get a good discount. So...)

Prices include media mail shipping within U.S. and matching bookmarks.
They will be personally signed!

This is the first published original edition. I only have a handful of these left, but if you want one signed:
Original price $14.95, 220 pg trade paperback
Sale price $10.00 (Limited quantity with no re-order, so what I have is what I have.)

This is Finishing Touches (2003) combined with its sequel Final Strokes (2013) in one edition.
Original price $15.95 420 pg trade paperback
Sale price $12.00

These two novels are related but can be read separately. OTM was written first, but M&T is set 9 years earlier.
Original price $14.95 each 360/372 pg trade paperbacks
Sale price $12 each or both for $22

I only have a handful of these left, as well, and it's not much of a discount because the original price is already very low.
Original price $7.95 196 pg trade paperback
Sale price $7  (I can reorder this, so if I run out, the wait may be a bit longer but at the same price.)

Not a romance, a picture book that has a lot of adult fans.
Paperback Original Price $8.95  Sale price $6
Hardcover Original Price $14.99  Sale price $12
(comes with a coloring page instead of a bookmark)

These prices are good through February 2017 only. After that, they go back to retail price when ordering through me directly (with free shipping in US). Information about each book, with excerpts, can be found on my website: LKHunsaker.com

To order, I accept and prefer Paypal. Please email Loraine [at] LKHunsaker.com (no spaces, no caps needed) for Paypal address.

If you're outside the U.S. shipping costs make it unviable to mail books at prices lower than you can get them through your own bookstores. If you order any of my books and would like a signed bookplate, email your mailing address.

I haven't forgotten my other books! Stay tuned for Rehearsal news and sales.

Questions? Ask here or email.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I Think I Can...

The novel I'm working on right now (most often working on, since I always have at least a couple in progress) deals with a clay artist. The problem with writing books about different arts in different places is that I always want to do that kind of art and go to those places. Not exactly a problem, but, well, all different forms of art take different skills and techniques, not to mention the time factor. Yes, some of your learned techniques will carry over, but basically, you're starting back at the beginning with each new art form.

The photo above shows a failed attempt at a basket weave project.

Yes, I've been working with clay while working on the novel -- okay, not at the same time since my keyboard would be unhappy -- and so far it's more support research for the story than anything approaching actual art.

Back in high school, our art teacher was wonderful about instruction (real instruction, not just try this and see what happens) in different media. Thank you, Ms. Kruzan! I learned a heck of a lot in those four years, even though I'd already had a good bit of art training via relatives. One of the things I loved most was working on the wheel. We had very limited time with it and I came up with a very small uneven little bowl, but I loved that little bowl for the memory of playing with the wet clay on the wheel.

In college, I took a ceramics class and was excited about getting my hands dirty and creating vases and bowls and such. However, the young male professor was too focused on his pet students and the rest of us were just there and he made me very uncomfortable. Plus, we never got to use the wheel. It was all hand work. The wheel was ceramics 2 which I didn't take because of the teacher. I do still have the vase I made using coils.

Fast forward....  So I'm writing about a bipolar artist who uses clay as therapy, as something she can control and keep to herself. It has seriously refueled my interest in pottery. When a local winter fest advertised a local potter would be demonstrating Raku Firing for pottery in which you do not need a kiln to turn dry clay into ceramics. I couldn't turn that down. Yesterday I got all geared up to actually talk to him about it and hubby and I took off to the park, only to find out it wasn't yesterday. It was today. But today it's rained all day and the Firing was cancelled. Kind of hard to burn wood in rain. Sigh.

Never mind, I figured. I'll just do more experimenting myself. Well, that turned out a huge failure because the strips I so carefully measured and cut and covered in plastic started to dry as soon as I started to use them and they broke right off. Hm. That's okay, as Holli would say. It's just clay and I can start again.

I don't have a wheel, but that may come soon, after I've had more time for handwork in order to get the feel of the clay and it's intricacies. It's actually not a failure unless you give up, and I haven't. I'm keeping that clay wet and will go at it again, maybe after a bit more research.

If you're interested, I do have a Pinterest board for the story in progress with plenty of examples of gorgeous clay work done by those who know what they're doing. And hubby and I are talking about going to take a 6-week class with the potter who was going to do the firing today. You never know, I may have to revisit the clay art in a future book.

Shadows of Rust & Reels Pinterest board

Watch for a video trailer to come, not made by me.

(The little painting below was done by me and will be a puzzle once hubby gets to it.
This was and is one of my all-time favorite children's books.)

After all, attitude and determination define success every bit as much as any finished project. Everything takes practice...

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Wrong story? Leave it.

“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.”
Mo Willems
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

We use the library often. When you have a little one in the house, even when you have a good supply of books for them at home (which is a must!), you can quickly get tired of reading the same books over and over and over and... At least I do. Besides, there is a huge treasure trove of incredible stories out there waiting to be discovered and it's a lot of fun picking out a bunch and finding which your own little ones like best and which they don't ask for more than once.

The quote above is from one of the "read to me 'gain" picks in our current stack of borrowed books. It is a funny book. Even if you don't have a little one, it might amuse you. It amused me. The quote at the end was the kicker. What great advice!

Also, this week, I ran across a comment that a child fearful of interacting in a group needed a social story. What, I asked, is a "social story"? Instead of waiting for an answer, I looked it up. I'm glad I did. Developed by autism consultant and speaker Carol Gray, a social story is intended to assist those with autism fill in missing information most of us already have and take for granted. While the aforementioned child is not autistic, he does have a certain social situation fear. This social story idea would, I think, also be wonderful for social anxiety whether or not it's at the disorder level.

You can find more detailed info here: Carol Gray

In short, social stories help someone be more comfortable going into an unfamiliar situation. (My non-professional-but-with-psych-training interpretation.)

We all have fears. How nice would it be to have someone at our side who understands the fear and knows the situation well enough to explain what's about to happen before it does? Of course that option is not always available. We don't all have that person who can do both of those for us. As a parent, you can watch for nervousness and fear and use words and your knowledge/experience to calmly explain to your child what you're about to do and what can be expected from a situation.

For yourself: what about writing it out?

I know fear and anxiety. I know how terrifying it can be. What if, before we walk into a feared situation, we write 1) what we expect will happen, 2) what scares us about it, and 3) how likely is it the situation will actually be as frightening as we expect? Also, 4) if it is actually that frightening, what measures will we take to control the fear/anxiety?

The stories we tell ourselves are pivotal in shaping our lives, actions, and attitudes. [For more on that check out Narrative Therapy that emphasizes the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.]  What if, after writing out our fear/anxiety, we focus on telling ourselves a new story? Instead of saying, "I can't do that because of my fear," try saying, "Okay, I acknowledge the fear, but I can handle it."

It might take many repetitions before it starts to sink in. After all, how often has the "I'm afraid" story circulated through your thoughts? You can rewrite your story if you refuse to give up, if it matters enough to you, if you're willing to take your own reins and pull them onto another path. Too much of what we believe has come from what we've heard about ourselves (Narrative Therapy). Much of that has come from others, often from way back when we were children and we don't consciously remember hearing those stories, but they have become part of who we are. Much of it, though, is what we've told ourselves too often.

Don't like your current story? Rewrite it. Leave it behind.

Simple idea, not easy to do. Still, it is doable. First, like the Little Engine That Could, you must think you can.

I've added a new page here on my blog to include favorite reads by my grandchildren. The lists are barely started and will grow as they find more favorites.

I just finished this book yesterday and highly recommend it:

Watership Down
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book about a bunch of rabbits making a journey is generally about the last thing I'd pick up, but when Richard Adams stopped running in December 2016, I decided to buy this book since I knew the name of it well but not more than that...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Less Walk, More Talk

In my Rehearsal series, I have two young women who debate the biggest current event issue of the month. I wrote the scene/book years ago when it was less of a hot topic, but it is set in 1974 and it was a hot topic of the time, as well.

This month on following weekends, there was a "Women's March" on D.C. and a "March for Life" on D.C. Surprisingly, or what should be surprising, the two groups have been presented as polar opposites. The big question going around appears to be, "Do women have rights to their own bodies or do they not?"

Well, that's what the media is putting out, anyway, and how it's coming off. All over social media, women (and some men) are at each other's throats about the issue and breaking up friendships over differing opinions.

That's a real shame.

The thing is: We all want the best for people as a group. We simply disagree on what the "best" is or what's "right" or not.

But, we're looking at people as groups, not as individuals.

During all of this polar opposite left vs. right arguing, maybe we should take off our shoes, put down our signs, and talk to each other like the individual people we are. No yelling. No name-calling. No stereotype shaming. Just talk. Look each other in the eyes. Look past the political issues and at the person to whom we're speaking.

That can be hard on social media, particularly when we're talking with people we've never met, arguing with people we know nothing about, and assuming a heck of a lot we don't really know.

What's really sad, though, is the friendships I see breaking up. People who formerly respected each other, who have laughed at the same jokes, mourned at the same events, enjoyed the same music or books or movies, suddenly turn on each other based on one political issue. Suddenly, we're putting the issue first instead of each other and we refuse to see common ground.

There is common ground. There is. The biggest is that we all, honestly, are trying to do what we passionately feel is right. We are.

That's a good thing. Passion is good. Caring enough to fight for a cause is good. It is. What isn't good, and isn't helpful, is looking over the person to debate the issue. Issues are about people. Individuals. Once we look past that, nothing can get solved.

The two characters begin their fictional story at 19 and 23 but they go way back to childhood. The older has helped protect the younger for years, and as they grow, that starts to turn the other direction. They do disagree about what to do when there's an unwanted pregnancy. They each have their valid reasons to feel as they do. During some point in their discussion, one tells the other she's always been more moral than most people and most can't live up to her standards. The second young woman thinks about this a bit and argues the point. She says it's not about morals. It's about what you can deal with and what you can't.

Through it all, the ups and downs and disagreements and different outlooks, these two young women listen to each other. They consider the other viewpoints. They are respectful and willing to bend somewhat, enough to remain friends. They can agree to disagree and let it go when they can't bend. And they do that. They remain friends.

We all have plenty we're dealing with on a regular basis. We all have different and similar obstacles, different and similar viewpoints. Some of us need a constant challenge while others shy from too much challenge whether because we're already overwhelmed or because it's not in our nature. We can all only do what we can do, and we need to respect that.

There is never only one right answer.

The important thing is to stop looking only at sides and issues and start looking at each other as vulnerable, loving, caring, passionate, concerned individuals with valid points and opinions. Disagreeing with an opinion does not make in invalid.

Within all of my books, I have dissenting characters. There wouldn't be a decent story without it. We're not all supposed to see things the same. We're supposed to listen to each other, help each other grow, hold each other up through our struggles. We cannot help one thing through attack and slander and rudeness. It will never work. We must listen to and respect each other.

Or leave each other alone and go on with our own lives. I have characters who make that choice, as well. It's often the only possible denouement to a climax that ends in stalemate.

It's often only about what we can handle and what we can't, and that's different for each of us.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him march to the beat which he hears,
however measured or far away."

Henry D. Thoreau

The Rehearsal Series is an epic musical saga beginning in Spring, 1974 and running into the mid-Eighties over a series of six books. Family, parenting, and friendship mix into a story of lingering and passionate romance.
A Different Drummer is the first book of the series now split into sections for easier download. Overture is the prologue and it is a free download.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Journey Forward

Change can be tough.

Some people love change; they love the sweeping movement of whatever comes next and look forward to it. They move their furniture around just for something different with what they have. They may even update their wardrobe once a year because wearing the same old things more than one season is abhorrent, or at least boring.

Others of us, though, don't deal with change so well. We're comfortable with what we know and are likely to hold onto something just because we have it. We keep our furniture in the same positions and our cabinets in the same order. Last minute "Let's go do this just because" plans don't generally go over so well. We need time to consider, to reroute what we thought we were going to do, or we say no thanks, I'm good here.

You can probably guess by now which one I am. I like familiar. I try to park in the same aisle in whatever store I frequent and I tend to stay with the few stores in my routine. My furniture, as much as possible, has been where it landed when we moved in here over nine years ago. Okay, it moves for cleaning and then moves right back, but you get the idea.

When you marry someone who moves and travels for a career, that can cause a problem for those of us who need stability. But, because something is uncomfortable, that doesn't mean it's not the right choice.

We humans are made to adapt and overcome. We are. Even the most unwilling of us can learn to be more flexible, can at least sometimes say "Sure, let's go" to last minute plans, and we can pick up and move to an area in which we've never been, complete with small kids and dog, and resettle every couple of years or so. We may not ever learn to like it, but we can do it.

It's good for the soul to learn to do things you don't like to do. It is. That's where growth happens. That's where humility happens. That's where strength happens.

There's nothing better for building self-esteem than in doing what you thought you couldn't and getting through a hurdle you believed was unbreachable. They aren't. Those hurdles are meant to be breached. They've only been thrown in your path to help you grow.

The other day I was browsing the jewelry on a local business American made right here down the road site [Wendell August] and ran across the bracelet you see above. Journey. With a compass. That was made for me, I thought. I have a whole series subtitled "It's About the Journey." The compass also reminds me of a ship's navigation through rough seas.

I had to have this beautiful bracelet as a reminder of who I am, a writer, and a hearty soul on a not-so-easy journey who has had to face a whole lot of fears and trepidation. Because life is about the journey. It's about what we do with it while we're here. It's about how we affect those around us. It's about what we leave behind.

A journey would be plenty boring, indeed, if not for the changes, the last minute detours, and the hurdles. We can complain about them, or we can spend that energy considering how to breach them and come out stronger.

And in between, we can reach for something soothing in order to recharge, to unwind, to prepare for the next hurdle. That said, I'm off to restart my yoga.

PS. Yes, that is paint on my hand. I've been painting Black-eyed Susans behind a wood fence. Creative relaxation is always nice, too.

What is your favorite way to unwind and what challenges have you been proud to overcome?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Snap is only the Climax

The point someone snaps is not the big story. That's only the climax. The real story is what happens before then, and after.

How much of what we hear is only the climax? How much of what we judge is only a fraction of the story?

I'll have to tell on myself here. There's this person I've had a professional relationship with for a few years, and from the beginning, she rubbed me wrong. It's very possible, and likely, that feeling is mutual. That's fine. We can't be buddies with everyone just because life throws them in our path. It does make things professionally awkward at times, however. This little issue has been a little thorn in my side, only a little thorn since our paths only occasionally cross, but a thorn.

I immediately found this person rather arrogant, sometimes flat out rude, abrasive, too in-your-face (which matters a lot to an introvert like myself), and highly competitive (I'm only highly competitive with myself. I want us all to achieve as much as we can, fairly). Needless to say, I've avoided interactions as well as possible.

And then something odd happened. I found out what was tripping her easily-tripped trigger. Since I believe in privacy, although said person is very unlikely to ever read this post, I won't go into the root causes for those things I found disturbing. Let's just say she's had some things to overcome, starting early in life, and much of her resulting actions are defensive. I feel for her. I feel for that little child who grew up needing to be defensive. Most of us do to different extents, but that's also something to remember. We all have things in our backgrounds that make us think and act and believe as we do. We would do ourselves better justice to remember that, to not be so self-focused due to our own issues that we don't stop to see we're all just little children who had to grow up the best we could despite the odds, be they light or heavy or somewhere in between.

How many years did I spend avoiding this person when she probably could have used a better listening ear and more understanding heart? If she's still defensive, she still has things she's trying to work out. Avoidance doesn't help that. Not bothering to talk about more than the job and the weather doesn't help that.

We're so flooded with information that flies at us from all sides and we're so busy arguing our own points that maybe we've forgotten how to truly connect to another. Where they are now is only a tiny bit of their story. Maybe we could stop and ask why. What's happened that makes you feel that way? What end goal are you trying to work toward? What's preventing you from reaching that end goal? Do you need a hand?

Yes, I'm as guilty as anyone for seeing an opinion I find ridiculous and unfounded and rolling my eyes instead of pausing to ask why. Of course we can't do it with everyone. No one can keep up with the inside story of all of the people we run across in these days of 500 "friends" and 2,000 "work acquaintances. But if someone's opinion matters to you, maybe it should matter to you to find out why they feel as they do.

If it doesn't, there's always the scroll on past option.

Maybe we can move away from the center of the bridge, start back at the beginning, and then move forward to the other side together rather than to keep standing in the middle going nowhere like Dr. Seuss's Zax.

If we do this more often, maybe, just maybe (as Dr. Seuss would say), maybe we could keep that snap from happening just a little more often than we do today.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Humble Rabbit

“Well, I've got an idea," said Rabbit, "and here it is. We take Tigger for a long explore, somewhere where he's never been, and we lose him there, and next morning we find him again, and--mark my words--he'll be a different Tigger altogether."
"Why?" said Pooh.
"Because he'll be a Humble Tigger. Because he'll be a Sad Tigger, a Melancholy Tigger, a Small and Sorry Tigger, an Oh-Rabbit-I-am-glad-to-see-you Tigger. That's why."
"Will he be glad to see me and Piglet, too?"
"Of course."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"I should hate him to go on being Sad," said Piglet doubtfully.
"Tiggers never go on being Sad," explained Rabbit.

― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Sometimes, we are indeed our own worst critics.

Other times, we find it impossible to see things about us that we really should see, the not so shiny and bright things. It can be hard for those who care about us to tell us what we should know; they don't want to be critical or make us feel bad. And yet if a stranger tells us something maybe we should hear, it's too easy for us to think, "they don't know me" or "they don't get it" or "they're just being mean" and brush it off. Yes, sometimes those things are true.

Sometimes they aren't.

Defensiveness is a survival trait and we need it. Some of us, though, take it too far. Generally, the most defensive among us have very real reasons they're so defensive. We need to try to realize why we are if we are and try to work on that, for our own good. Journaling is a wonderful way to discover hidden parts of ourselves. We can't fix it until we understand it.

Realizing our faults can be a long battle, and once something happens that makes us see something we wish we hadn't seen, it can feel a bit earth-shattering, or at least a bit soul-shattering. We all go through it, at least any of us who are trying to grow and learn and bloom rather than shutting ourselves off in our "I don't care what anyone thinks" defensive stance. Many will never come out of that stance. I find that sad, because although it's hard to do the work of growth, the results are pretty incredible. The benefit of the hard work and sometimes soul-shattering acceptance of faults is well worth the end result of self-individualization.

We're not supposed to be perfect.

Repeat: We are not supposed to be perfect. We're not even supposed to try to be perfect. Like a character in any good novel, we're supposed to grow between point A and point B. If there is no growth from the beginning of the book to the end of the book (generally only a small part of one character's life), the reader is left wondering why she bothered to read it. Growth matters. Even if it only matters to that character, it matters.

How often do we all hop around like Rabbit thinking about how others annoy us without stopping to look at how we annoy others? Or about their faults without looking at our own faults? It's a humbling thing when you do bother. Of course we all have them and we all know we all have them, but do we stop to seriously take a look at them? Instead of spending the energy to get someone else lost in the woods so they'll learn a thing or two, maybe we should, now and then, let ourselves get lost in the dark, murky, scary woods of our own thoughts or actions or quirks or faults.

My own humble Rabbit moment came just yesterday. Actually, it's been building, but it whacked me upside the head yesterday. How many times have I read someone else's book and considered what was wrong with it? That's partly the downfall of the trade; it gets hard to read just for pleasure when you're constantly trying to critique in the guise of learning and improving. But I'm a tough reviewer. I am. I'm not mean about it and if I can't find more good than bad to say, I won't bother. Still... I remember thinking some time back that an author with several books, with the later books not being nearly as good as the first, needed to step back and slow down and renew the basics of what made her a good author in the first place rather than pushing the publication dates due to contracts and expectations of the industry.

Hm, well, yesterday it came to me that I've been doing the same lately. A book a year is the standard. Two books a year for the romance industry is fairly common. I've been doing one to two a year, even with having my work time cut in half the past couple of years. But I've had a lot of heartburn and soul-searching with this most recent book because it's "ready to go" and yet my gut said it isn't. I couldn't figure out why. Until yesterday. While I was reading someone else's contemporary romance and was drawn right into the scene from the imagery.

Ah. Imagery. Somewhere along the line, I lost that in favor of getting the story out.

So, the WIP is on hold until I can reclaim my former enjoyment of just the writing itself, of playing with pictures through words rather than considering how long it's been since the last one was out.

I'm a humble rabbit right now. If you don't see new books coming out for a while, know I'm still working. I'm just not pushing. Pushed art is no longer true art. They will be ready when they're ready.

Did you know callas need to go dormant for a few months in between growing seasons? No wonder the two I've been trying to coax along "back to health" aren't cooperating.

Sometimes you have to sit below ground and just take a break.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Rising Together

My husband and I visited Phoenix, Arizona in November. We were actually visiting my daughter and her family as they welcomed the newest member of their household, our third grandchild. Since Baby was in no hurry, we had time to roam a bit and take our 2 year old grandson to a couple of parks in the area before she came.

He has one he loves, and he tells his mom where to turn to get there when they're in the car, but for a bit of a change, we took a different route and ended up at this little park. It's actually in Glendale rather than Phoenix, and it's a small park with a pretty nice small playground that includes drums. I had to love that. I even got a photo of Little Boy playing the outdoor drums similar to one I have of my son playing outdoor drums at an amusement park way back when he was little.

I was most attracted, though, to the little pond with a water fountain. So, we took a walk around the pond where there happens to be a statue:

From this view, it looks like a little girl perched on a rock as she looks out over the pond and fountain. That, in itself, would be charming, but when you move to a different angle, this is what you see:

It's actually a little girl pulling a little boy up onto the rock with her.

The thing about the park that took most of our attention were the inhabitants of the picnic tables scattered around the area. Four or five of them held adults sitting under shade of shelter or trees, complete with their belongings. Now, being from a small rural area, this isn't a normal sight for us. It was a bit of a shock, actually. Everyone hears about "the homeless," but how many of us see them? It was a beautiful day for November, quite warm, and the fun of our park time with the grandson we only see on occasion was sobered by sympathy for these people who had no comfortable home to go back to after enjoying the park. What can we do? we wondered.

As we were getting ready to leave, I was charmed by a group of older men that claimed the nearby table and sat down to play cards, like in the movies you see so often. That's also not something we see anymore. Way back when in my little hometown, there was a group of older men who used to sit and gossip on the bench in front of what used to be the hardware store. They're long gone now and I expected so were the days of card and checkers and gossip (yes, men do gossip) in a public gathering place. It was nice to see and I had to snap the photo.

If you look at that photo closely, you will also see the other inhabitants of the tables, not there to play games.

Just before we left, a small car pulled into the parking space and three boys barely in their twenties got out and scouted the area. I'll admit it made me a bit nervous. They were walking quickly and went around the perimeter of the park space pretty fast and I was glad we were leaving, wary of their intent, especially having the 2-year-old and our very expectant daughter out there.

Then, those boys returned to their car, open the trunk ... and pulled out bags of bottled water and plastic zip bags full of snacks and proceeded to take them around to all of the picnic table inhabitants.

Not what we expected. The news is full of stories that can't help but make you wary. But when we saw the scene from another angle, the story was fully different.

Because the news is also full of racial strife stories, I'm going to add that the homeless and/or mentally challenged (since it's impossible to tell the difference without talking to them) were black and white, male and female, and the group of boys were both black and white, working together to help their neighbors. There was no strife. None of them feared the others. They were only making a simple acknowledgement of what the statue plaque says: we must rise together.

It was a lesson well learned, and I post it here in hopes that we can all look beyond the stories flooding us, the one-sided stories full of strife, and start seeing it from other angles. Who was it who said: Look for the helpers in a catastrophe? They're always there. And remember there are far more helpers and helpful spirits than those who mean harm. There are. We only have a harder time seeing them.

I wish all of us a beautiful and more peaceful 2017. That will only happen if we help make it happen.

art credit: Rising Together [1994, bronze, Dennis Smith at Bonsall Park, Glendale AZ].